Peace and justice In paving the way for a Ram temple in Ayodhya, the Supreme Court prioritised communal harmony over all else
There comes a time when the need for peace and closure is greater than the need for undoing an injustice. In allowing a temple to come up through a government-appointed trust at the disputed site in Ayodhya, the Supreme Court has apparently chosen a path most conducive to social harmony. To compensate the Muslim litigants, who were deprived of the centuries-old Babri Masjid through an illegal act of demolition, the court has asked for the allotment of a five-acre plot of land elsewhere in Ayodhya that may be used for building a new mosque. That this is more of moral consolation by way of a political compromise and less of adjudication in recognition of their religious rights is obvious. The final award will always be a source of discomfiture for those to whom closure goes beyond ensuring peace in a communally polarised environment. But what is most welcome about the 1,045-page verdict of a Bench of five judges is its unanimity. For, it sends out a message that the judiciary has, with a single mind, ventured to give legal burial to a prolonged dispute that began as a minor litigation, expanded into a divisive political cause, and became a festering wound on the body-politic for years. The fact that the case is over at last must come as great relief to all peace-loving people.
This sense of relief masks the bitter truth that the fear of a Hindu backlash if there was an adverse verdict was genuine. After nearly three decades of unrelenting pursuit of communal polarisation, the majoritarian, revanchist forces in the country have fatigued their secular adversaries into passive acquiescence. The Bench indeed has done well to record its revulsion at two incidents that represented an onslaught on the psyche of secular India:
the desecration of the masjid in 1949 when Hindu idols were planted surreptitiously under its central dome, and
the planned destruction of the whole structure by the foot soldiers of Hindutva on December 6, 1992.
But what is most disappointing about it is that the relief spelt out by the Bench may amount to legitimising the very demolition it unequivocally condemns. Having declared that the suits are representative of the two communities, organised violence by one party ought not to have been ignored. It is common knowledge that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which spearheaded the temple movement with the active backing of the Bharatiya Janata Party and organised the demolition of the mosque, got a foothold in the litigation through an individual who represented the deity, Ram Lalla, as “a next friend” in a fresh suit filed in 1989.
A reading of the judgment reveals that the outcome is not wholly in line with the evidentiary conclusions the court itself reaches. It notes that archaeological evidence — procured only because excavation was made possible by the demolition and as such not available to the parties at the time of institution of the suits — only shows the existence of a 12th century Hindu religious structure underneath, but does not prove any demolition or explain what happened in the intervening centuries. It acknowledges that namaz was offered at the mosque between 1857 and 1949, and declares that Muslims did not abandon it, but offers no relief even though their religious rights stand proved. The entire disputed area covering both the inner and outer courtyards are awarded to one side contrary to its own conclusion that Muslims had a right, albeit a contested one, in the inner courtyard. While it holds that Hindus had possessory right over the entire outer courtyard to the exclusion of Muslims, it does not decide whether they had exclusive title; on the other hand, it rejects the Muslim claim solely on the ground that they failed to prove “exclusive title”. Also, the court says evidence of Hindu worship was available for a period prior to 1857, while there was proof of namaz only after 1857, without accounting for the fact that it was in that year that a massive riot took place that led to the British administration putting up a railing to divide the mosque from the Hindu shrines in the outer courtyard. The case has been decided on the balance of probabilities that Hindus have proved a better title than Muslims.
While it is true that “preponderance of probablities” is the standard of proof in civil law, it is doubtful whether this can be invoked to the exclusion of an acknowledged right belonging to the other side.
It will be disappointing to the country as a whole if the judgment in favour of Hindu litigants does not end the belligerence of Hindu organisations that ran the movement to build a temple at the very spot on which the Babri Masjid stood until that fateful day in 1992. For none can deny that the politicisation and communalisation of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute left in its wake a trail of violence and led to terrible loss of lives and property across the country. To the toxic effect of the sectarian strife set off by the temple movement through processions and the infamous ‘rath yatra’ of BJP leader L.K. Advani, one can attribute many deadly riots and a wave of retaliatory bombings by Islamists since the late 1980s. There would be a real sense of justice only if those who plotted and executed the demolition are convicted in the ongoing trial in Lucknow. The rulers of the day owe this much to the nation. And in the spirit of the ‘new India’ put forward by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it would be in the fitness of things if the VHP and other organisations which participated in the demolition are expressly excluded from the proposed trust to build the temple. In paving the way for the building of a temple for Ram on the spot believed to be his janmasthan, the Supreme Court held up the faith of millions of Hindus. But it cannot allow the judgment to be perceived as an endorsement of any challenge to the rule of law in the name of faith.
Centre gets responses to draft Social Security code
Govt. had asked for public suggestions
The draft code on social security, which subsumes eight existing laws covering provident fund, maternity benefits and pension, is being further worked upon after a recent round of public consultations, officials of the Labour and Employment Ministry have said. A draft of the social security code, one of the four codes that are part of the Centre’s labour reforms agenda, was published on September 17 for public comments and suggestions till October 25.
Officials said over 400 comments or suggestions have been received. The draft might be finalised in time for the session of Parliament beginning on November 18, an official said.
However, many trade unions are against the proposal for provident fund, pension and insurance funds to be administered by a central board, and a national pension scheme that employees can opt for.
Recently, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, said it had rejected the draft code in its comments submitted to the Ministry. The BMS said in a statement that the first draft had provisions for the right to social security for all and establishment of a central apex council, headed by the Prime Minister, but these were missing from the latest draft.
Modi, Shah promise Centre’s help
West Bengal Disaster Management Minister Javed Khan said 2.73 lakh families were affected in Cyclone ‘Bulbul’ and 1.78 lakh people moved to relief camps in nine places. At least 2,473 houses were destroyed and 26,000 partially damaged.
Mr. Khan said 46,000 tarpaulin sheets were distributed to people whose houses were damaged in the cyclone.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Sunday and assured her of help in relief operations. Mr. Shah said 10 teams of the National Disaster Response Force had been deployed in West Bengal and six in Odisha. Additional 18 teams were kept on standby.
Ms. Banerjee cancelled her trip to North Bengal and said she would conduct an aerial survey of the affected areas around Namkhana and Bakkhali when the weather cleared.
“Later, I would take a meeting at Kakdwip with administration to review relief and rehabilitation measures of the cyclone-affected people. I am also planning to visit the cyclone-affected areas of Basirhat of North 24-Parganas on 13 November, 2019,” she tweeted on Sunday.
The storm is likely to weaken into a deep depression and then into a depression as it moves east- northeastwards over coastal Bangladesh, the Indian Meteorological Department said on Sunday.
Maternal deaths on the decline: report
Survey from 2015 to 2017 also reveals highest casualties in the age group of 20-29
MUMBAIA special bulletin on maternal mortality has revealed that Indian women in their 20s make up for the biggest chunk of maternal deaths. The report by the Sample Registration Survey (SRS) from 2015 to 2017 shows 68% of deaths were among women in the age group of 20-29. The three-year data also reveals a positive development of reduction in the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) as compared to 2014-2016.
“It is heartening that the MMR of India has declined from 130 in 2014-2016 to 122 in 2015-17. The drop has been most significant in empowered action group (EAG) States from 188 to 175,” the report said.
The SRS had categorized the States into three groups — the EAG States comprise Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Assam; southern States consist of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu; and Other States cover the remaining States and Union Territories. “Among the southern States, the decline has been from 77 to 72 and in the Other States from 93 to 90,” the report said.
As per the World Health Organization (WHO), maternal death is the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy. The WHO says the MMR dropped by 38% worldwide between 2000 and 2017. However, an estimated 810 women died every day in 2017 from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
According to gynaecologist Dr. Ashok Anand, who is attached to State-run JJ Hospital in Mumbai, women have to prepare their bodies and be fit for pregnancy. “Unfortunately, the aspect of fitness is simply ignored.”
JJ Hospital carries out 8,500 deliveries annually. Dr. Anand said bleeding, hypertension, and infections are among the leading causes of maternal deaths. He said the highest number of deaths are seen in the age group of 20-29 because most women get married and get pregnant in this age group. “This is also the most fertile age group.”
Nearly 4% of deaths were in the age group of 15 to 19 which highlights the problem of early marriages and teenage pregnancies in the country. The sustainable development goals set by the United Nations target reducing the global MMR to less than 70 per one lakh live births by 2030.
Defining ‘national interest’
A long-standing goal for India, articulated by multiple governments from across India’s political spectrum, is to generate a high level of sustained economic growth.
Such growth matters for two reasons: within India, it will create millions of jobs and secure a stable future for India’s young population, and externally, to facilitate India’s rise as one of the poles in a multipolar 21st century. The Prime Minister articulated this same vision, in 2014, in his first Independence Day speech as Prime Minister, arguing “India cannot decide its future by remaining isolated and sitting alone in a corner. The economics of the world have changed and, therefore, we will have to act accordingly.” His path to “acting differently” was focused on “promot[ing] the manufacturing sector.”
Soon after his speech, he launched the “Make in India” programme, encouraging global companies to manufacture products in India. He articulated the goal of the initiative as “We launched the Make in India campaign to create employment and self-employment opportunities for our youth. We are working aggressively towards making India a Global Manufacturing Hub.” This articulation of India’s economic interests is particularly relevant in the context of India’s decision on RCEP.
Concerns and imperatives
In defending India’s withdrawal from the RCEP, the government has articulated three key concerns.
The first is the negative impact of joining the agreement in key constituencies in India, particularly farmers and small business owners.
The second is the lack of concessions within the final agreement on key demands for India such as work visas and liberalisation in services.
The final is regarding India’s trade deficit, and how those deficits would expand under the RCEP, given that India currently runs deficits with 11 of the 15 other member states. This concern is particularly acute when it relates to China, with India fearing an influx of cheap Chinese imports into India.
These concerns, particularly on the fears of Chinese imports and its impact on Indian domestic manufacturers, are legitimate and wellfounded. Indeed, the Minister for External Affairs, S. Jaishankar, has argued that India has faced “unfair restricted market access” from China when it exports to the country, and Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale has pointed to “millions of non-tariff barriers” in China while accusing China of dumping.
However, the answer to these concerns is not India’s withdrawal from the agreement.
As academician James Crabtree has noted: “India had already won concessions, including implementation delays stretching into decades and safeguards to protect sensitive sectors like agriculture.” Moreover, as Arvind Panagariya, former Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog, stated in a TV interview, existing WTO rules “allow us to impose safeguard duties and anti-dumping,” which India has used and can continue to use against China when it comes to unfair trade practices.
Value chain integration
Beyondthese concerns, India has enormous strategic and long-term economic imperatives to join the RCEP. India’s ambitions to become a global hub for manufacturing means that it is the country’s long-term national interest to be integrated into global value chains.
However, in Asia today, there are effectively now two economic structures — the RCEP and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) — which will effectively determine global value chains for manufacturing in Asia for years to come. India, now a part of neither architecture, will continue to remain unintegrated in such supply chains, and will see its ambitions of becoming a global manufacturing hub further delayed.
Returning to India’s articulation of its national interest, this delay in integrating with global value chains will impact India’s internal and external ambitions.
The World Bank found that when coupled with domestic reforms, joining such global value chains can “boost growth, create better jobs, and reduce poverty”. India’s own evidence shows that jobs linked to global value chains earn one-third more than those jobs focused on the domestic market. The inability to accede to the RCEP and ensure India’s integration into these emerging global value chains means India will lose out on a key opportunity to create such high-quality, high-paying jobs.
Moreover, India’s absence in both of Asia’s two key economic architectures will take away from India’s goals as a regional and Indo-Pacific power, as well as a prospective global power.
Given India’s own ambitions to generate growth and jobs through spurring manufacturing within India, and becoming a key player and rule-maker on the world stage, India’s decision to withdraw from the RCEP is not ideal.
India now faces a choice:
Does it translate this withdrawal from the RCEP into a commitment for domestic reforms to prepare itself for the next opportunity to integrate itself into the global value chains and unleash indian manufacturing?
Or does it revise its ambitions and, as the prime minister said, remain “isolated and sitting alone in a corner?”