First Generation Learners
Several studies revealed that primary and upper primary education in government sponsored/government aided schoosl are weak and its quality is poor due to several reasons. That's why, parental attitude towards government sponsored/government aided schools have been changed. They prefer private schools for the education of their wards. This changing scenario is even observed in rural areas where the private educational facilities are available. These parents have well-off background in terms of economy, education and so forth. In fact, parents are more dependent and rely on the private education system, including private tuition for special guidance and care of their wards.

But what is the condition of first generation learners whose parental backgrounds and attitude in terms of above all parameters are in an adverse situation? First generation learners neither get parental guidance nor private tuition. Some efforts like midday meals and other have significantly increased enrollments and attendance of these 1st generation learners in government institutions. But what about the quality of education is? Several studies reported that the majority of these pupils ofsuch a category are poor in literacy and numerical skills. They are unable to read and write properly. Anyway government efforts have been capable of covering these 1st generation learners under school education. But ultimately the quality of education is not enough to accelerate their higher education as an agent of change and to break their vicious cycle of backwardness.

It is evident that 1st generation learners have fewer opportunities to continue and progress in their education. Their economy, social position and home environment are the prime hindrances. In addition to this, their parent education is also a basic problem for help, guidance and monitoring of their day to day performance and progress. They do not usually get any alternative guidance for their education.

Unfortunately, this pandemic has disrupted their educational attainment. Further, this situation is adversely affected their daily lives changing slowly. No schooling is an opportunity for them to be idle or to engage in work for assistance to their parents, and they gradually enter into the parental occupation. Therefore, idleness would be caused by involvement in the obnoxious environment. It would increase juvenile delinquency and it would increase the crime against these children. Then, child labour population, including trafficking and missing children would increase. Especially, girls' children would be victims of early marriage, maltreatment. In brief, the rights of the child are being violated and it turns to weak position. It would bring darkness in their future hood.
HarasankarAdhikari, Kolkata

A Call
There is a deep concern among the policymakers on the drastic fall of GDP growth rate. The concern is legitimate so long as it is viewed as the availability of resources for developmental work by the state. But so far, GDP has been an indicator of capitalist development for accumulation of capital in the hands of few private owners of means of production and corporate giant to increase inequality in the society, more pronouncedly in the neo-liberal phase of global capitalism. India is no exception in emphasising the GDP growth rate from this perspective.

In this context, the fall of GDP growth rate is not always bad provided the Government plans to support the domestic economy ensuring social welfare, workers rights, domestic productive investments, and expansion of domestic market by curtailing unproductive expenditure and corporate-bailout packages. But unfortunately, the present Government in power is pursuing an economic policy that links the Indian market to the US imperialist interest and supports the corporate owners, especially the Adanis and Ambanis. This policy which is detrimental to the interest of the Indian people vis-à-vis nation deepens the crisis further. Thus, this policy finds the power-that-be in the terrain of authoritarian state and compels the state to apply coercive measures, state-repression through curtailment of working class and human rights. This is the domestic ramification of Government's present policy persuasions.

In the external front, sitting on the harum-scarum policy of economy and politics, the present dispensation tries to stir up pent-up patriotism of masses by mendacious self-praise and Hindutva jingoism. As this is fundamentally anti-people and anti-Indian, they resort more to reactionary policy of arms race and arms purchase than relying on the strength of the united power of the Indian masses to fight external aggression, when it is imperative to curtail defense budget for revival of domestic economy. The economy of defence production is a short-term measure for generating a small number of employment opportunity and it does not contribute to even reviving the capitalist economy in foreseeable future. This vicious cycle continues to weaken the nation in combating external pressure or aggression and compels the state to compromise with the interest of the nation.

In the event of rising power of Chinese expansionism in South-Asia, the Government policy is destined to doom and defeat. In the backdrop of the US economic downslide, the aligning with the US which is inclined to serve its own interest in the midst of US-China rivalry, to garner support from the US to serve India's interest in the growing Chinese hegemony in South-Asia is misplaced and misconstrued and detrimental to the interest of Indian people.

But the Indian masses cannot accept the policy persuasions which lead them to misery, unfreedom and submission to the arm-twisting of external power. And that sets dual agenda for the working classes vis-à-vis the Indian people to fight for the rejuvenation of Indian economy, domestic production, workers' rights, people's welfare, right to health, right to natural wealth, and at the same time to oppose Chinese expansion and the US imperialist game-plan to rouse the Indian masses against all external aggressors unitedly with working class of all countries including China, because War, aggression and expansionist power are antithetical to the interest of the working class and people of all countries.
Subhash Deb, PCC, CPI-ML

Democracy for Sale
Some were arrested for protesting. Some were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Katya Novikova was detained while attempting to cross the street in central Minsk. She was dragged by her neck and thrown into an unmarked police vehicle, then held for two nights in an overcrowded cell.

She told openDemocracy she was refused medical assistance and saw prisoners beaten by officers.

Thousands have been arrested in Belarus during protests over rigged elections, with President Alexander Lukashenka–'Europe's last dictator'–leading a brutal crackdown to silence dissent.

So far, they've failed. Yet the opposition remains a fragile coalition: Yury Glushakov reports on the tensions between the various groups jostling for the future of Belarudeep reporting on the vested interests.

Meanwhile in Britain, a powerful elite continues to profit from COVID-19. A joint investigation by open Democracy and The Guardian this week revealed how the UK government has spent £56m on COVID-19 consultants. Most contracts were awarded without competition–raising fresh anger about the "COVID cronyism" of Boris Johnson's government.

From lucrative PR deals for Tory allies, to dodgy deals for Tory-backing property developers, openDemocracy has been at the vanguard of reporting on this fast-emerging political scandal.

But it doesn't stop there. As our Investigations Editor Peter Geoghegan's new book 'Democracy for Sale' lays bare, a toxic combination of "rightwing ideology, dark money and weaponi-sation of social media" is undermining faith in politics and in democracy itself.

Drawing on openDemocracy's forensic investigative journalism over the last three years, Peter's book shows us "a broken political system that is ripe for exploitation again. And again. And again."
Mary Fitzgerald,
Editor-in-chief, openDemocracy

Prisoners and Prison Conditions
Covid-19 pandemic is rapidly spreading in Odisha too. While reports in the mass media state that jail inmates are getting increasingly affected by the pandemic in states like Maharashtra and Assam, similar reports today claim that 33 under trial prisoners and 10 staff of Berhampur Circle Jail, District Ganjam have tested Covid-19 positive.

As on March, 2020 there were 15789 prisoners in as many as 91 prisons including sub-jails, special women prisons and open prisons in the state Odisha. Of them, over 12195 (77%) were under trials and 3594 (23%) were convicts.

As the prisoners are cut off from their near and dear ones and confined in the four walls of the prison, they are prone to mental distress even in any normal situation. Recently, the State Human Rights Commission realizing the gravity of the situation had directed the state government to take immediate steps for amelioration of prison conditions. Naturally, when the state government imposed restrictions on family or relatives meeting prisoners due to the pandemic, inmates became more vulnerable to mental distress. Though the government has introduced e-mulakat in the prison, it is a fact that many of the jails are not equipped with electronic devices to conduct such meetings. Secondly, the courts are not functioning normally due to pandemic restrictions. As a result under trial prisoners are being deprived of getting justice in due time which, in turn, is fuelling their mental distress.

Jan Adhikar Manch welcomes the steps taken by the government of Odisha when the Supreme Court in March, 2020 directed all state governments to constitute high-powered committees to take steps to release prisoners to decongest the prisons. However, it is shocking to see today the grave situation in Berhampur jail. Also, the Manch is worried to learn from the family members of Shri Nirakar Nayak, an under trial prisoner in the Surada sub-jail Ganjam district, that nearly 50% of jail inmates are suffering from fever and cold which are considered as primary symptoms of Covid-19. We apprehend that similar situation may have arisen in other prisons, especially in the severely affected districts like Ganjam, Khurda, Cuttack and Jajpur. In the recent past, the mass media had reported that some under trials of Rourkela jail had also been affected by Covid-19.

It is in this context that Jan Adhikar Mach demands the following:
1.   Conduct Covid-19 tests in all the jails of the state, especially where the inmates are showing primary symptoms like cold and fever.
2.   Send convicts home on parole to de-congest the prisons.
3.   Make the necessary arrangement with judicial authorities to grant immediate bail to all under trials not charged with serious offences.
4.   Grant bail to imprisoned women with children on priority basis.
5.   Grant bail to pregnant women, elderly and differently abled persons.
6.   Conduct weekly health check-ups of inmates to diagnose early symptoms.
7.   Make immediate arrangements to employ doctors and supporting medical staff to provide adequate health checkups and health facilities to all prisoners.
Biswapriya Kanungo,
Convenor, Jan Adhikar Manch, Odisha

Vol. 53, No. 19, Nov 8 - 14, 2020