News Wrap


The Cleanliness ‘Swatch Bharat Mission’ is to make India ‘‘open defecation free’’ by 02 October 2019. Even though since 2015, about 50 million toilets have been constructed in rural India and 3.8 million in cities and towns, and 2,48,000 villages, 203 districts and five states (Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Uttarakhand and Haryana) are now open defecation free, the toilets are often used for storage or other purposes, since the chronic lack of water supply renders them unusable. The occupation of manual scavengers is linked to caste and the link between occupation and caste in India, is as strong as ever. The men and women who actually wield brooms are ubiquitious, though not always visible. Relentless abject misery continues for the people who clean fifth, clear garbage, clean septic tanks and unlock sewers. Manual scavenging persists in many parts of India, despite the 1993 law banning it with the amendment to the 1993 Act, passed in 2003, entitled the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, the definition of a manual scavenger has been expanded to include those who clean septic tanks, open drains and railway tracks.

The 2011 census indicates that in rural India, 1.82 lac households have at least one member working as a manual scavenger. After the expansion of the definition manual scavengers have multiplied manifold. Despite the government allocating billions of rupees for the ‘Swatch Bharat Mission’, no facilities are provided to the sanitation workers. At Delhi, since August 2017, fifteen people lost their lives, while entering manholes, filled with noxious fumes, from swirling human waste. Young men, earning a daily wage of Rs 250, continue to do the work, without any protective gear or health care benefits. Increasing the number of septic tanks in urban areas, in the absence of a well planned sewage system, is reviving manual scavenging in a big way.

Love Jihad
Allegedly, 80% of Indians who are Hindus believe that they face a concerted predatory effort to entice their women folk from the faith. A populist Hindu organisation’s helpline claims to have ‘‘rescued’’ 8500 girls from ‘‘love jihad’’. The website, ‘‘Struggle for Hindu Existence’’ carries endless titillating stories about Muslim youths luring unmarried Hindu women into wickedness. Evidences of any organised plan of conversion have failed to emerge in repeated police investigations. Claims of ‘‘love jihad’’ have repeatedly been exposed by journalists, as at best fantasies, and at worst, deliberate election time inventions. As per Indian law, there are no barriers to marriages between faiths, or against conversions by willing and informed consent. Supposed ‘‘victims’’ dismiss claims of ‘‘love jihad’’ as nonsense. In Kerala, several newly wed Muslim couples have emigrated to fight for Islamic State. A court in Kerala in May 2017, annulled a five month old marriage on grounds, that the wife, a convert to Islam, had disobeyed her parents, and been lured into a potentially dangerous liaison with a Muslim man. On 03 October 2017, the Supreme Court raised the question whether the High Court in exercise of Article 226 can annul a marriage.

A 28-year-old Hindu woman has filed charges against a yoga centre in Kerala, in September 2017, alleging that she had been held there against her will for over three weeks, abused and indoctrinated, in an attempt to make her divorce her Christian husband. The woman’s affidavit alleged that another 60 women had been held at the centre, in similar circumstances. A Buddhist organisation in Ladakh, the mountainous region on the borders of Tibet, issued a stark warning in September 2017, that all Muslims in the area would have to leave, or risk the consequences, unless Muslim Syed Murtaza Agha ‘‘returned’’ his wife, Stanzin Saldon, to her Buddhist family. Miss Saldon is a thirty-year-old development consultant, who converted to Islam, over five years ago. Videos are viral across India’s 1.2 billion mobile phones, depicting Hindu girls being physically assaulted for inter-faith affairs. Efforts by the ruling BJP to build inter-caste alliances among Hindus, have brought religious differences more to the foreground. State institutions and courts are prejudiced. Hindu vigilantes are hauling couples out of tea shops and charging Muslim boyfriends with ‘‘lewd behaviours’’.

Hill Country Tamils
The first 10,000 ‘‘hill-country Tamils’’ from India came to work in Sri Lanka’s nascent coffee plantations, in 1827, as indentured labourers. Many died, as they marched on foot to isolated camps in the jungle, which they then set about clearing. Many more made the journey, with the prospect of work in Sri Lanka’s booming tea industry, along with famine, poverty and landlessness back in India. The hill Tamils number about 1 million today, accounting for over 4% of Sri Lanka’s population. They live mainly on or near tea estates in the mountainous interior of the island, not in the north and east, home to most Sri Lankan Tamils. Outside the homeland that Tamil separatists fought for during the long civil war, the hill Tamils are marginalised within the Tamil minority. They remain one of Sri Lanka’s poorest and neglected groups. Until recently, many hill-country Tamils were not entitled to vote. The mean income among tea estate workers is a quarter less than that of other rural labourers. Well above, the national figure of 7%, some 11% of hill-country Tamils are poor. More than half drop out of school by the age of 15. Only 22% of estate workers lived in their own houses in 2012, compared to 83% of Sri Lankans. Two-thirds of the accommodation on plantations is in barrack-style ‘‘line rooms’’ or sheds. Hill-country Tamils suffer from higher rates of malnutrition. Fewer than half have access to safe drinking water. Many young hill-country Tamils are quitting the plantations in search of work in garment factories or on construction sites, elsewhere in Sri Lanka.

Vol. 50, No.28, Jan 14 - 20, 2017