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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 17, New Delhi, April 10, 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Apr 10, 2021

Saturday 10 April 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, April 10, 2021

Over the past seventy years the United Nations officialdom came to provide the space and place for debate and helped international and global commitments by the nations of the world to a more just world. A vast array of databases and statistical resources and indicators have been drawn up and managed by the UN agencies as social and economic benchmarks for the world. But the UN is now getting increasingly corporatized. Private firms & entities have made big forays into the UN system in the atmosphere of neo-liberalism. Powerful International business networks and forums have been taking over more of those spaces– as nation-states privatise and outsource. The world’s economic elites produce a whole lot of their own literature on the state of the world that ranks and re-classifies the world. The World Economic Forum (WEF) is one such highly influential actor in the neoliberal order, where corporations set the new social & economic agenda for the world. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021 that has just been released shows that India now ranks 140 among 156 countries and is ahead of only Afghanistan and Pakistan in South Asia. The report is one more proof of the deep underdevelopment and social backwardness of our society. The gap with the rest of the word is wide and stares us in the face. The economic participation of women in India’s Labour force has been declining systematically over the past decades and now stands at a dismal 22.3%. It would take over a hundred years if India were to catch up with the rest of the world. India’s political elites which seek recognition and a seat at the high table of the security council of the UN can certainly boast that it has nuclear weapons and a high defence budget, but they can hardly demonstrate a commitment to improve social and development indicators. India continues to fare badly on many Human Development Indicators and has been faltering in ensuring food security and nutritional levels that are now comparable with Sub Saharan Africa. The new political elites keep beating the drum of wanting make India into a 5 Trillion dollar economy. Who is to gain in this race? Big Business, of Course! Private corporate think tanks and consultancy firms are shaping state thinking on any number of social questions. Their assessments and prescriptions are driving national policies. Social inequality has grown in the past decades and the wealth of a few has continued to expand massively. We are witnessing a very ugly spectacle of India’s establishment trying to sell off much of its public sector (that was built with much care in the post-independence period) and wind up the commitment to build a welfare state. If social spending was a yardstick then we can easily see levels spent on Health, Education, Protection of the Environment are dismally low and commitment on these fronts is more fiction that reality. Everywhere the model of Public Private Partnership (PPP) has been replacing the old state of its language. Not only is representation of women in practically all sectors of society pretty low, crimes against women continue to grow and the perpetrators continue to have protection among powerful social groups in some of the biggest states of India [1] [2]. Thanks to private and political consultants on paper we have a government committed to – ‘Beti Bachao! – Beti Padhao!’ (Protect Daughters! Educate Daughters!) but these remain more for propaganda purposes and sloganeering. The right-wing ecosystem that has come to dominate the public sphere and has considerable social echo in India is more driven by ideals of patriarchy and conservative family values that are meant to confine and restrict the role of women. The social-democratic and left opposition have hardly demonstrated their own practical commitment for a fairer gender representation. Their own internal organisational culture too remains thoroughly male-dominated. Can the progressive social movements reinvent themselves as accelerators for women’s autonomy and representation and show the mirror to the opposition political parties? If there is no ground-level fresh social rethinking from alternative movements to democratise society, only private consultancy companies will drive the proposals for social policy on deal with Gender Gap to Climate Crisis.

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In 2016 France and India signed a multi-billion-euro defence contract for the sale of 36 Rafale war planes made by the French defence firm called Dassault. This deal has been mired in controversy ever since on charges of corruption. A major campaign effort by a section of India national opposition parties was attempted in 2016 that demanded a parliamentary scrutiny over the deal, approached the court on charges of wrong doing but this led nowhere as the Supreme Court of India dismissed the cases twice and the Modi Government scuttled all attempts at enquires. Nearly the same has been the case in France where too a cover-up has taken place. A few days ago Mediapart, an independent online news portal in France revealed that Dassault paid one million euros to a middleman who is already under investigation in India in connection with corruption charges in another defence deal. The French anti-corruption watchdog Agence Française Anticorruption (AFA) discovered this but decided to shelve the investigations. This has made news with India’s opposition and a section of the media. Government Defence contract rules in India have strict provisions that disallow ‘middleman’ and ‘payment of commission’ in any defence procurement deals. If the revelations by Mediapart are true heavy financial penalties should be imposed on Dassault, and the company be banned, a police case be registered and a full investigation by India’s Enforcement Directorate should be started. The Congress Party of India and the section of the Left have demanded an independent enquiry into this matter. But, given the powerful political and financial interests at work it is highly doubtful that there will be any investigations.

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Tributes:

Marshall Sahlins, the Chicago based American cultural anthropologist known for his ethnographic work in the Pacific and for his contributions to anthropological theory passed away on April 5, 2021.

Shashikala a veteran Hindi film actress died on April 4, 2021. Between 1949 and the late 1960s Shashikala played small roles in over 100 films including those by prominent directors V. Shantaram, Bimal Roy among others.

Fatima Zakaria the former editor of the Mumbai Times, and later the Sunday editor of The Times of India. Zakaria was also the editor of the Taj magazine of the Taj Hotels. She died in Aurangabad on 6 April 2021.

Datta Iswalkar the Bombay based Trade unionist who organised textile workers in the aftermath the 1982 Bombay textile strike passed away on April 7, 2021

Riyaz Punjabi the former vice chancellor at the University of Kashmir passed away on April 8, 2021

Comrade Sundar Navalkar, a noted figure in Bombay’s older Maoist circles passed away on April 9, 2021 she had turned 100 in September 2020. She was a co-founder the Maharashtra Committee of the CPI (ML) and had been the editor of Marathi journal ‘Jasood’ founded in 1973.

We pay our tributes to the above figures

April 10, 2021 – The Editors


[1Hathras case: Victim’s family and lawyers threatened inside court premises on March 5 https://sabrangindia.in/article/hathras-case-victims-family-and-lawyers-threatened-inside-court-premises

[2In March 2021 A rural feudal customary caste court of elders - Khap panchayat in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar district barred women from wearing jeans, tee-shirts, skirts, and men from wearing shorts, saying they are part of western culture and hence forbidden. But then, what is Indian culture? And who has the power to decide what is Indian and what is culture?
https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/up-khap-panchayat-bans-jeans-for-women-shorts-for-men-101615372968267.html

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