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Life, Death and the Meaning of Suffering: Notes From A Learner’s Diary

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Even while pandemic and war engulf us, we should not forget to rethink the deeper essence of life and death. 

This small piece of writing is based on the idea of self-reflection and it reflects upon the necessity of mental well-being of a person in the present times. Very recently, a famous film actor Shushant Singh Rajput committed suicide and this has sparked off the debate on mental wellness once again. How and where are we divorced from our companionship with life? Why is our mental well-being intrinsically woven with faith in life? Even at the time of epidemics and wars, we need to reflect upon these questions. 

Here in a small town of Bihar, my days begin with the sweet chattering of birds. When I come out of my room in the morning the first thing which catches my eyes is the lush greenery all around.  I rejoice fragrances of various beautiful flowers, watching them blooming and changing their colors… all around me it is the celebration of beauty and music of nature. 

What does it mean seeing greenery, or listening to the bird’s chirping? There can be many ways of seeing and hearing. Here, I will talk about only three. The first way is that we see things but then we don’t actually see it at all, we ignore. Similarly, we listen many voices all around but then we don’t receive them all. Receiving is important in the context of life.

What, when, how we receive things, depends upon our state of mind and heart. The second way of seeing or listening reflects our intellectual mind. We appreciate a flower or landscape or any sound of the nature from our intellectual mind. Intellectual mind perceive things according to our existing perceptions. And the third way is that we communicate with everything as a living process .This way reveals a deep silent spontaneous process of being together with each and everything, basically which brings a sense of unity and experience the harmony and love within. It is a very lively process. Because this is the state of living when consciousness of different things starts communicating each other. 

When it comes to living life not just passing the life the way we receive it, the way we communicate with each and everything becomes important. In our education system we are not taught the art and science of self-reflection. This self constitutes of physical, mental, emotional, vital, and psychic being. Our education system and all educational spaces including family and society identify only upon the two beings mainly, the physical and mental. Our mental being is usually trained to set the focus on the targets of our materialistic life and ignore all other things. Our mind has been conditioned according to the need of material well-being and for the survival. The first two ways of seeing are taught for survival and competition, which take us nowhere. These two ways of seeing and receiving things has trained our mind in such a way that we forget the importance of mental well-being in our life. Our education system never gives such space to learn how to select and reject things for our mental well-being. At some point of life we stop learning. We learn according to our ambition, rest of the things around us, we don’t reflect upon. 

What happens when we stop the processes of self-reflection? Is there any connection between our mental condition and what we are experiencing today?

 We are witnessing suicides; Suicide of farmers, laborers, students, and even celebrities. They are committing suicide because of hunger, depression, sickness, competition, fear of failure and success, fear of survival, etc.; but no reason cannot be placed to justify this kind of unnatural conclusion of human life. These reasons cannot be the actual reasons of suicide. Here in this article I am simply going to reflect on life in terms of learning. 

Why does one commit suicide? (Please do not take these words in the context of farmers and laborers suicides because I do not find myself capable enough to reflect upon the distress of farmers and laborers.) Every single act of suicide reminds us of something. This ‘something’ needs to be understood in terms of the life of each one of us. The purpose of this article is not to judge any individual who decides to conclude his or her life by committing suicide. 

Our society doesn’t recognize mental well-being as one of the crucial necessity of our life. Here, we are going to reflect how we are missing this essential aspect of our life .

Self-Centeredness and the Self-Reflection

Somewhere in our life we start cumulating things in our mind with our mind’s own limited understanding. This habit of accumulating things in mind and heart becomes poisonous. It is our ego who cumulates such beliefs and perceptions in our mind. Ego teaches us to become self-centered. We think of everything in terms of I, me and mine. Ironically, even when we think of others or think about the world, we do it with the attitude of self-centeredness. And we live our life as if we are here on this earth just for passing the time. Usually, we do almost everything very casually – we enter into a relationship as time pass, we marry just for enjoyment, we take up job and spend time doing it casually, we plan family like ritual, we do social work as time pass, we shout slogans, we govern the government without any vision of unity and equality, we vote and even we kill each other so casually… I might sound very ridiculous but mostly all what we do is originated from our ego, usually we ignore that self-centeredness fails to create loving, harmonious space in our life which gives us sense of unity with each and everything in our life. . We are running from the Self, because we are self-centered.  

Self-reflection is missing from our lives. Neither education nor social structures teaches us to reflect upon the Self, to face our ego, to see it and to understand the cause of it. We have not learned to take our ego simply as some food which has been left in our body without digestion. And all what we need to do is to just throw it out or wait for digestion. Foolishly, what we do is that on the top of indigestion we over eat. 

The process of self-reflection has no place in our education and society. Question is same why does someone commits suicide? The answer is because one stops learning. Learning is the core of self-reflection. When we are able to see our weakness, our ego, our limitations then we also become capable of transforming them into the light, peace, joy and love. Suppose I am carrying ego and I recognize it, others also recognize it that she is carrying ego, what is bad in it if I have to accept it, even publically. Simply, it is ego, I have to come out of it, and I will. That’s not as difficult as it seems. It is difficult because neither in the family, nor in any other social structure, in our school, colleges and university we get such harmonious and loving environment to overcome our weaknesses. Here, I do not want to go in details of education policies and educational and family structures. Even, in the last few years I have stopped discussing and debating on it because neither civilians nor politicians work for Truth-Consciousness. What is this Truth-Consciousness? In a very simple word it is the higher or highest consciousness which brings our consciousness to the state of Unity- Unity within the self, unity in family, unity in society, unity in nation, unity in world, unity with nature, unity with whole universe and cosmos. But we are following the path of Division. All of us. 

Let me quote one of the interviews of actor Sushant Singh Rajput. (I am not follower of any actor nor I am a well-informed film lover. It was just the news from a telecasting and I saw the clippings of one of his interviews. In a particular portion of that interview he was talking about his dreams and philosophy.) He said that for every 3 to 6 months he makes list of 50 to 60 dreams to do.  He quoted great philosopher and educationist Jiddu Krishnamurty by saying, ‘The moment you pin point your limits instantly you become limitless’. I really do not know what he understood from Jiddu Krishnamurti and from other philosophers, but what I understand from his explanation brings some attention to very simple reflections. 

Dream of A Learner

What is a dream? Dream is simply not a mental construction which we can write in our list. It cannot be like list of things which we brought every month from Rasan ki Dukan.  After going and passing through very tough examination of life one day we feel all of a sudden a seed of the dream is on our palm. Dream is a sacred piece of art which life gives us as a gift. Dream cannot be born from our high ambitions and ego. It emerges from the truth of our existence, from the simplicity of self-reflection not from our self-centeredness. And here, when we fail to fulfill the dreams, everything starts becoming dark, we are overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness, all positive thing starts looking gloomy. We fail to understand our situation in terms of our inner weaknesses, and we count our limits in terms of what we have not achieved materially. The limit is our lack of learning from life. To be limitless is not simply making list of mental dreams and achievements. 

A learner cannot commit suicide. A teacher can commit suicide if he stops learning. Here, teacher means one who thinks that she or he knows lot and can teach the world.

Every suicide, every death, every civil or political or religious riot, every massacre, every war, every disaster, every epidemic reminds me every minute that dirt is inside me, the cause of all suffering and pain of this world is within me and I have to clean myself. And since childhood I have dreamt of a place where everybody can get harmonious, loving environment for self-reflection so that they can cultivate the knowledge within. 

Mental well-being cannot be achieved through any particular method. Every individual is unique and with full of immense possibilities. So, every person has to find his/her own way of cultivating the knowledge within. Everyone has to explore the dialogue with the Self, with the nature and open to learn even from the tiny-small thing to any situation of life. When I visited Aurovalley I found exactly the same place I often see in my imaginations, in my Divaswapan. 

Aurovalley

A place for self-reflection and learning

Aurovalley is a place of silence and concentration to find one’s consciousness. It is situated in Raiwala in Dehradun district. Aurovalley welcomes everyone who wants to get free from all narrowness and limits in the service of Truth-Consciousness. This Ashram is based on the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

  No one can teach Self-reflection to anyone. It is only when we come into the contact with such harmonious, quiet and naturally silent atmosphere the self-reflection process begins to open, grow, and develop within us. The founder of Aurovalley, Swami Brahmadev, believes in the free progress learning. The atmosphere along with Swami Brahmdev’s very quiet presence encourages everyone to reflect on the all sorts of narrowness to let flourish the immense possibilities of the self. Swami Brahmadev does not recognize himself as teacher or guru. He never teaches anyone anything very directly, by instructing or commanding or suggesting. Although his silent presence never allow anyone to live with narrowness. 

We do not need any teacher or any method to grow our consciousness, to grow our ‘Self’. We just required a harmonious, silent place in our life, in our society, to reflect on the truth and requirement of unity. 

Our education, our society, our world needs more spaces like Aurovalley. An educator like Swami Brahmdev whose silent presence as a learner enriches and guides us in the path of self-reflection. Certainly that does not mean for that we need huge building structures, number of rooms or acres of land, hills of Himalaya, huge mango garden etc. what we all need is the way of seeing and receiving, an aspiration, respect and love for life and each other ; then automatically we would be able to create place like Aurovalley around us, a place and space within-  where consciousness becomes as vast as sky, heart fill with rooms for each other with a deep sense of unity, a presence for each other like garden of paradise…then we would become catalyst for each other. Yes, we need more Aurovalleys to spread the work of self-reflection all over the world so that we walk towards truth-consciousness, unity, love and peace; not suicide, death, sickness, racial and religious hatred, war etc. We are learner, and we are also dreamer, we are the warrior of future and present who have to first conquer victory on the past and weakness and limitations of the Self and then we have to conquer the all weakness of our society, nation and the world. Without cleaning the self a warrior cannot be trained. How can we march towards life from death without conquering all sorts of dirt within and around us? 

 Let us create Aurovalley within and around us. Let us take a step towards a new education which will teach us to be a learner forever, to take care of our own mental well-being so that we ourselves don’t become a burden for us and motivate us to live a blissful creative life no matter what.  

 Shephali is an independent writer and researcher working in the domains of education, philosophy and literature. 

To Give or Not to Give the Pending Board Exams: Why CISCE’s Offer Reflects Insensitivity

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CiSCE
The CISCE's recent decision to give the choice to write the pending Board exam to Class 10 children is in effect a non-choice.

The Council for Indian Certificate of Secondary Examinations ’s (CISCE) recent decision to give the choice to write the pending Board exam to Class 10 children is in effect a non-choice. It reflects deep insensitivity on part of the Council to both children’s fears, anxieties as well as parents’ concerns and opinions. It’s a no choice because irrespective of children’s decision, they will still be evaluated and the mode of evaluation will depend on the school which could be either  internal assessment or the performance of the child in the pre board or exams already given. This seems to have little validity as all their life children have heard that it’s their performance in boards which really matters and the internal  exams are simply practice exams. On the other hand, the child’s performance in the boards under the present trying conditions when the threat of COVID-19 is still looming large is even less valid an indicator of a child’s competence, preparedness or talent. Both which ways, the child has to bear the brunt of the superficial and erratic conditions under which her performance is being judged.

The real catch here is that the children are not just going to be evaluated but their evaluation will have important consequences for their future. For example, it may decide their continuity or admission to a particular school or college. While in some states, children admitted once to schools remain till class 12, unless they fail or drop out, a few states like Maharashtra terminate their studentship in class tenth and regard class 11 admissions as being fresh. Based on the performance of students in class 10 boards, they admit or don’t admit their own student. It is strange that while they take pleasure in taking credit for the child who secures a very high percentage in boards regarding it as their success as well , they have no qualms or hesitation in abandoning  their own student  who gets an embarrassing 40 or 50% in Boards. While the successful child’s performance is perceived as a collective effort, a not so successful child’s abysmal performance is dismissed as his personal failure. 

More importantly, this decision of the board reiterates/sends three important messages to the children- 

  1. Learning in school is totally divorced from learning in life. Since the board exams test  children’s memory and expect short , crisp answers in accordance with a fixed format ,  meaning of learning is confined to ‘memorizing inert content from prescribed textbooks and reproducing it well in examinations.
  2.   Projection of that learning is far more important than learning per se. Come what may, exams, especially the Boards cannot be skipped. 
  3. Children’s concerns don’t really matter. They neither matter in what/how they are taught nor how they are assessed.

The council’s decision to somehow hold the exams through Saturdays , sundays etc even at the cost of risking children’s lives is bizarre This stubbornness to hold on to exams as a means of assessing children’s performance reflects the alienating nature of our education , particularly school system where children’s voices do not matter and they merely serve  as guinea pigs in the entire   system. it also shows how cut off the school is from the real world. At a time when the world is going through a crisis of incomprehensible proportion and magnitude,  where  neither children nor adults have witnessed anything of this kind, where social distancing has become the norm, where it is safer to mistrust everyone including  one’s own relatives or friends is , where illness and loss of life has become rampant, where people are dying of hunger , poverty , joblessness and where children are predictably confounded and scared , the Council’s insistence on still holding board exams seems to be a totally meaningless exercise. Besides  eliminating students for future rewards and justifying failure and success, Board exams have never really  served any meaningful purpose. Infact they cause enormous stress to not only students but entire families of these children. To hold them in these bizarre conditions of a pandemic , a global hysteria where every single individual’s only concern is to save one’s life, this decision seems to be totally callous. 

This option of appearing or not appearing for the board can serve as a real choice only if the marks achieved in them either which way are totally cut off from what children are aspiring for in the immediate future. Children wanting to change schools could be assessed on any other criteria – a fresh entrance or an interview etc and those wishing to continue in the same schools should be accepted unconditionally. The Council’s concern should be to allay children’s fears and ensure them a safe and secure future and not burden them with a decision whose implications they either don’t understand or understand but don’t control.

 

Disha Nawani is Professor & Dean at School of Education, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

Dear Migrant Workers, We Have Disappointed You Once Again

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Migrant workers returning back to their home. Image credit - Photo: Xinhua / via The Hindu

If there is one image from the coronavirus pandemic days that will forever remain etched in our memories, it will be that of thousands of migrant workers taking arduous journeys back home amid meagre food, water and monetary resources. 

This image of struggling migrant workers will remain etched in our memories for the intensity of pain that it evokes, the breakdown of the state apparatus that it indicates and the uncountable dreams and aspirations that it finds scattered before its very eyes. 

It is as much a powerful image as it is a disturbing and deeply penetrating one. There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic and the associated lockdown have caused unprecedented economic losses for the country and its migrant workers are among a section of the population which has been most severely affected by it. 

With widespread loss of livelihoods and jobs and meagre savings that were already exhausted in the first couple of days of the lockdown, the last couple of weeks have been nothing less than a thoroughly devastating experience for most Indian migrant workers. 

According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy(CMIE),it has been estimated that more than 122 million people have lost their jobs in the month of April alone and 3/4 of these were composed of small traders and wage earners.

Crisis of the Migrant Worker: A Major Portion of the Problem

There is no doubt about the fact that the crisis in which migrant workers find themselves is unprecedented in more ways than one and it points towards a greater existential crisis for India’s poor and struggling population. 

The crisis of the migrant workers forms the major component of the looming crisis and there is no way in which we can choose to ignore it. While earlier government responses seemed to have little potential of offering comfort to the migrant workers, the government seems to have now woken up to some degree to the extensive human tragedy. 

It has recently announced a Rs 3,500 crore food support programme for migrants. But how will the government ensure that such a scheme is not just confined to papers and reaches out to the affected population? The government has been obsessed with establishing identity and registrations through extensive paperwork and has made it a criteria for the beneficiaries of most schemes, but how will the government make sure that the benefits reach the migrant class, which in most cases lacks the essential documentations?

Another important challenge that faces any policy related decision as far as migrant workers amid the pandemic is concerned is associated with the lack of critical data on the circulation of migrant workers, about how they are recruited and what are the challenges that they are exactly faced with during an economic emergency, such as the coronavirus associated lockdown? 

Over the years, the governments have been able to do little to develop some sort of systematic understanding of the existence of migrant workers and the extent of the migrant exodus. This crisis, must compel the government to specify its process of collecting data and worlds closely with the stakeholders who work on issues of the migrant and labouring class.

Will the Distressed Migrant Worker Return Back?

One of the most important challenges that the pandemic has unleashed and brought to the table is regarding the absence of social safety for migrant workers. It is clear that the migrant workers in India have little or no safety fallback and that it seems unlikely that migrants who used to travel from one state to another for work, will want to come back unless they are guaranteed some protection. 

A large number of major sub-sectors use migrant workers to a great degree and these include textiles, stone quarries, construction, mines, brick kilns, small-scale industries, crop transplanting, sugarcane cutting, rickshaw pulling and street vending, fisheries, domestic worker, security services, sex work, small holes and restaurants among a host of other activities.It is estimated that the economic contributions made by migrant workers to the Indian economy is nothing short of 10% of India’s gross domestic product(GDP). 

Internal migrants compose the greater portion of this labour force, highlighting the reality that people are forced to migrate from one state to another to support their families and allow for direct money flow to their families. Yes, the poorest of the poor looks at inter-state migration as the only option to sustain amid lack of skills, low literacy levels and extremely disadvantaged economic backgrounds. 

It is ironic that despite having such an overwhelming presence in India’s workforce, migrant workers are largely undocumented and data on movement intricacies continues to be missing. 

This is a shocking state of affairs in a country that runs on the work of migrant workers. But isn’t this only a symptom of a greater underlying disease, that negates the presence of the poor and marginalised sections of the population and does not even care to collate and collect data on the section? 

Will the lessons that we have learnt on the inadequacy of data on the migrant class equip us to move with a more well-planned post COVID-19 strategy?

What are the Conditions Under Which a Migrant Worker Toils and Labours?

The life conditions of the average migrant worker is marked with extreme poverty and helplessness. The working conditions in which they are compelled to work, especially in the unorganised sector see them amidst extreme exploitation and even hazards. The conditions in which migrant workers find themselves in terms of both life and livelihood show us their relative disadvantage, generational neglect and continued ignorance and marginalisation in the hands of the state. 

They find themselves in indecent/inhuman work conditions, often exposing their lives to risk and a compulsion of poverty that doesn’t allow them to resist or break free from the oppressive shackle. 

What adds to their pathetic plight is the fact that in a large number of sub-sectors, formal contracts don’t exist and the working and living conditions of the migrant workers are largely determined by the contractors. 

With years of state neglect and lack of policy outreach, these migrant workers know that there is no protective hand above them.  

Owing to extreme poverty and illiteracy, in most cases migrant workers are unaware of their rights and are seldom able to organise themselves fruitfully for political mobilisation.  A large section of India’s migrant workers who get employment in its mega cities come from states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, while states like Gujarat, Delhi and Haryana absorb most of them.

But despite the fact that an overarching trend can be seen in the patterns of internal migration, it is still very difficult to establish any type of trend as far as the inter-state migration of migrant workers owing mainly to the complex sub-contracting practices and placement by recruitment agents, where migrants are seldom documented for in the books of the employers. Data on women migrant workers is also extremely weak because they find themselves in less visible forms of work or occupations.

The Need for Understanding Exclusionary Practices Against Migrants 

There is an urgent need to strengthen our understanding of the exploitation and vulnerability that migrant working men and women and their children face. Their lived experiences of exclusion/marginalisation and the reasons why they are compelled to migrate, all throw important light on the pains and traumatic situation that migrant workers find themselves. If such data is collated, it will help inform policy building in a more informed fashion. While we have a plethora of rich ethnographic research on important issues around the lives of the migrant class, but there is an urgent need to collate data and statistics on the migrant class and issues that surround their life.  If this data is collected and combined it will inform policy decisions and guide governmental actions in a much better way. 

In conclusion there is an urgent need to recognise and acknowledge the gravity of the migrant crisis and draw on the critical lessons that we have learnt about them amid the lockdown. This alone will help us build a sound and effective post lockdown strategy. 

BJP Announces 125 Day Jobs-Campaign to Address Employment Issues of Returnee Migrant Workers 

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MIGRANT WORKERS CORONAVIRUS
Image Source - http://www.trickhatmedia.com

If there is one thing about the coronavirus and the associated economic lockdown that has emerged as a major challenge before the Indian government, it is the extreme shortage of livelihood opportunities in the country and the resultant large scale unemployment and rising poverty. Lakhs and lakhs of Indian migrant workers have been robbed of their jobs in both the formal and the informal economy and most of them have also been compelled to return back to their native villages, after the announcement of the nationwide lockdown left them with little options to survive in the metro cities. 

The announcement of the nationwide lockdown left lakhs of Indian migrant workers without any source of livelihood. 

 It is in this context that in a latest development, the PM Narendra Modi led government has announced the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan, a massive public works campaign, to provide them work in 25 government schemes. 

PM Narendra Modi is all set to join the campaign from 20th June from the Khagaria district of Bihar, which will be going to polls later in this year. It looks like the election campaign in Bihar is in full speed despite the pandemic and the BJP is in full election mood. It has already organised a virtual rally in the state on June 7.

The total outlay of the 25 schemes are all part of the budget scheme and has a total of funds Rs 50,000 crore.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said that the election campaign in Bihar will run for 125 days and will cover 116 districts of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Odisha. These states have accounted for the largest number of returning migrant workers ever since the lockdown first started.

The criteria for choosing these districts included that there should at least be 25,000 returning migrants. The government said that it had arrived at the decision after through skill mapping of the majority of workers and will ensure that the scheme tackles the issue of employment and loss of livelihood.

 Based on the skill and capabilities, the government has conceptualised and planned a series of rural public work schemes that are targeted to empower and provide livelihood opportunities to returnee migrant workers.

The government also promised to ensure that there is no lack of funds and that the scheme will incorporate all migrant workers who have been forced to return back due to the pandemic and the associated lockdown in the country.

The Coronavirus Pandemic and the Question of Digital Divide in the Indian Educational Landscape

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e-learning
E-learning may be in fashion this lockdown, but can it be seen as a democratic option?

The proposition that learning can only take place in the domain of schooling is a myth that all of us have been compelled to live up to until the Covid-19 pandemic infectiously engulfed the entire world. The outbreak of the novel Covid-19 global pandemic has led to the closure of educational institutions and this has significantly affected more than 290 million students across 22 countries and more than 32 crore students in India, according to UNESCO.

The recent order mandating the creation of shelters in different parts  of the country by the government of India due to the pandemic has definitely refined the learning process in the form of e-schooling as education/the pursuit of the academic curriculum cannot wait. 

Conventional classroom teaching is no longer an option and educational institutions are increasingly turning to e-learning. 

Online teaching is something that many institutions are contemplating. The unprecedented rise and success of digital platforms and Apps such as Google Classroom, Zoom, Udemy, EDX, Cisco WebEx meetings, etc are creating alternative learning pathways to avoid a disruption in the educational process. 

According to a survey conducted in India that spans across 14 states and covers more than 38,564 parents, it was reported that the reliance upon E-schooling has grown and 61% families are opting for it. The convivial way of learning will ensure creativity unlike schools, because here the tools of learning will be in the hands of people, and that’s the silver lining in the cloud. The reliance upon E-learning is increasing rapidly, and is going to rule the roost in the times ahead.

Is the school only about compulsory attendance, memorisation and rote learning through the ritualisation of a fixed curriculum, graded learning and examinations? E-schooling has changed the entire conception of institutionalized learning. And has provided for the need of continuing educational activities despite the closure of formal/concrete classrooms.

As we advocate the paradigm shift in learning methods in the changing scenario, the question that arises is whether this overnight change is equally accessible for all sections of the student populace?The majority of marginalised students are unable to explore online resources due to the dearth of e-learning know-how and paucity of required infrastructure that includes laptops, tablets, smartphones and internet facility. So is it fair to reach one set of students smoothly through the internet while reaching the other set becomes a day dream?

 Living in a country where socioeconomic divisions are deeply rooted, access to computers, and internets is scanty, it is time to rethink the sheen that we attach to online teaching-learning .
The growing digital divide with embedded gender and class divides is growing at an alarming rate and has created turmoil for unprivileged students who do not have access to internet or those who are struggling with spotty broadband and poor connectivity, such as students residing in J&K where connectivity is limited to 2G. There has been a huge disparity in terms of access from electricity to internet connectivity.

While digital access has been one of the hindering factors for most of the students in India, there is also a gender dimension to the inequality. According to the latest report of UNESCO, due to the outbreak of Covid-19, girls are going to be hit the most as it will lead to increase in the drop-out rates and further entrench gender gaps in education. 

In India majority of students hail from a conservative families where the boys are much more likely than their female counterparts to use a computer and own smartphones with internet. As per the Internet and Mobile Association of India report, in 2019, while 67% men had access to internet, this figure was only at 33% for women. 

Thus, the online mode of learning is becoming unaffordable for the marginalised sections as it requires top-notch smartphones along with super-fast internet connections and ample of mobile data. This has led to a dangerous kind of pedagogical alienation which is even worse than the Marxist notion of labour alienation.

Amid increasing uncertainties regarding the opening of institutional arenas and the need to safeguard the Right to Education, there is a desperate need to bring a revolutionary change in the pattern of education in the country. These disruptions in the delivery of education should be a major concern for policy-makers to figure out how to drive engagement at scale while ensuring inclusive e-learning solutions and tackling the digital divide. If the educational institutions remain closed for longer periods of time, then it is important for schools and universities to subsidise smartphones, focus more upon content-full delivery rather than assigning assignments which are becoming difficult to access especially for students residing in remote areas.

Orusa Karim is a Research Scholar at the Department of Sociology, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.

The Last Chance For A Viable Two-State Solution to the Israel-Palestine Conflict

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ISRAEL-PALESTINE
Israel and Palestine must discontinue their prolonged and devastative war and must resolve to live with mutual harmony and peace.

Notwithstanding what has been commonly discussed, if the Netanyahu government moves on its plan to annex nearly 30 percent of the West Bank, which will include the Jordan Valley and Israeli settlements, it would precipitate major adversarial repercussions for Israel.
To begin with, violence between Israelis and Palestinians will substantially increase and potentially lead to an endless war of attrition; it may well cause abrogation of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty and Egypt could follow suit; it will reverse the collaborative relationship between Israel and the Gulf States, specifically Saudi Arabia; it will aggravate the conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah, which could lead to an escalation in violence; it will embolden Iran to take further punitive actions to undermine Israel from the Syrian front and through cyberwarfare. It may precipitate the dismantlement of the Palestinian Authority, which will force Israel to take care of more than 2.5 million Palestinians, specifically in terms of economic development, jobs, and healthcare. And it will force Israel to substantially bolster its security apparatus to protect the settlements from terrorism, which will cost billions of dollars over the next 10 years.
Moreover, the annexation will polarize Israeli society between those who support versus those who oppose annexation. It will certainly further isolate Israel internationally; the EU as a whole or individual member states will undoubtedly impose some sanctions on Israel and support the BDS movement. It will potentially rupture the relationship between Israeli and American Jews, who largely support a two-state solution, and strain the relationship specifically with the Democratic Party in the United States, especially if Biden becomes president in November. Finally, Israel will become a pariah state loathed by its friends and hated and threatened by its enemies.
None of this, however, may deter Netanyahu because of both ideological as well as religious motives – that is, the Likud party supports the annexation for nationalist ideological reasons, and religious parties for Biblical reasons. Both sides believe that the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) is part and parcel of the Jews’ biblical and historic ‘land of Israel’, and that the Jews have the exclusive right to establish a state on their ancestors’ homeland.
The question is, what might deter Netanyahu at this juncture from moving ahead with annexation? The only way the Palestinians can freeze Netanyahu today is if they immediately announce that they are willing to negotiate a peace accord, and send that message unambiguously to the US. It is equally important that the Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia and joined by Jordan and Egypt (who are already at peace with Israel), offer to recognize Israel conditionally upon entering immediately into good-faith negotiations with the goal of reaching a two-state solution, which can satisfy much of what all the stakeholders are seeking.
The framework for such a peace agreement will entail the following principles, the details of which will be negotiated between the two parties:
a) Significant land swaps to allow Israel to annex the three major blocks of settlements, along with the settlement of Ariel, and perhaps a few other settlements for specific, justifiable reasons—geostrategic, religious and close proximity to an existing large settlement;
b) The Jordan Valley will remain Palestinian territory while Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian forces jointly maintain security;
c) As stipulated by Trump’s Peace to Prosperity plan, “Jerusalem will remain the sovereign capital of the State of Israel, and it should remain an undivided city.” I further agree with Trump’s December 2017 statement that “We are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders. Those questions are up to the parties involved.” Along those lines, East Jerusalem will become the capital of the future State of Palestine. The Muslim holy shrines at the Temple Mount will remain under the custodianship of the Hashemite Kingdom, but must be freely open to people of all faiths to visit;
d) Hamas should be included in these negotiations. However, if Hamas refuses to participate jointly with the PA, Israel can hold bilateral talks with Hamas, but negotiations with the PA should proceed as intended;
e) The Palestinian refugees will be resettled in the Palestinian state, or compensated if they choose to remain in their current place of residence, as the right of return is no longer operable under any circumstances;
f) The current security cooperation will remain in place to ensure that both Israel and Palestine continue their collaborative efforts on all fronts to prevent radicals from either side to undermine the peace accord;
g) A joint commission should be established focusing on economic development, largely financed by the US, the Arab Gulf states, and the EU.
To ensure success, the negotiations should be conducted under the auspices of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United States to ensure that Israel and the Palestinians are negotiating in good faith and remain committed throughout the process to reaching an agreement. And to prevent undue stalling, the negotiations should be limited to a period of one year, up to 18 months to reach an agreement.
While this plan does not meet all the requirements of the players involved, it certainly meets much of what they envision.
The Trump administration will be able to claim the ‘victory’ that the Peace to Prosperity plan has been implemented, almost in its entirety, as long as the Palestinians will be ready to reach such an agreement within 4 years.
Israel will be able to claim success as this framework meets Israel’s national security concerns, and allows it to secure the Jordan Valley, and annex the three major settlement blocs plus Ariel, where nearly 85 percent of the settlers reside. In exchange, Israel will have to provide land swaps in equal size, and contiguous to the West Bank. It will further cement Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which will be recognized by the vast majority of Arab and Muslim states.
The Palestinians will be able to realize what they have been seeking—an independent state of their own. They must, however, accept the reality of coexistence with Israel. The plan will also solve the Palestinian refugee problem and offer the Palestinians the opportunity to develop their own country with the support of Israel, the Arab states, the US, and the EU.
The Arab states will achieve their primary goal—a comprehensive peace with Israel, with full cooperation and benefits that peace can engender, including access to technology, economic development, and regional stability. This will also mitigate Jordanian concerns that further annexation of Palestinian land could lead to making Jordan the Palestinian state. Moreover, such a plan will also stifle Iran’s regional ambition and substantially reduce the Gulf States’ security concerns.
This plan will also have very significant positive implications for the region. Iran and Hezbollah, who have been threatening Israel, will no longer have their justification for doing so once there is a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
As I have said time and time again in the past, Israeli-Palestinian coexistence is not one of many options, it is the only option. They must now choose the quality of their neighborly relations and decide whether they want to live in peace and prosperity, or continue to indefinitely shed each other’s blood.
The confluence of regional and international events offers the last chance for a viable two-state solution. Time favors neither side. The Palestinians must not miss yet another opportunity, and Israel will be foolish to assume that annexation is the answer to its long-term security and peace, or a fulfillment of a biblical promise, which is nothing but a perilous illusion.

 

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

LGBTQ RIGHTS/ When Will India’s Sexual Minorities Get the Dignity They Deserve?

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LGBTQ
The rights and dignities of the LGBTQ community will alone pave way for an egalitarian social order.

The very idea of human rights is premised on the assumption and acceptance of the notion that all human beings are equal and thereby deserve to be seen and treated equally in the eyes of law. 

It also means that we all agree to the idea that all human beings deserve to live a life of dignity and that all human beings irrespective of their socio-cultural, religious, ethnic, gender or economic backgrounds deserve to be treated with equality.

 Anything that undermines the dignity of people or takes away from their human rights is to be considered a violation because it goes against/violates the principle of equality and paves way for discrimination. 

We find ourselves at a time in the world’s trajectory where the human rights and dignity of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sexed are becoming extremely important themes for political awakening at a global scale. The adoption of new laws and policies in recent years, including the adoption of measures to legally protect and promote the rights of the community have begun to shape up a previously unprecedented trajectory in the assertion of rights by the LGBTQ community.

The LGBTQ Community and the Constitution of India

If one were to look at the key ideals that the Indian Constitution is based on, it would be equality before law and equal protection under the law as guaranteed by Articles 14 and 21. 

It was in 2014 that the historic NALSA vs Union of India judgement came out and the Supreme Court of India decided to protect the rights of the transgender people under the mandate of the Constitution of India. In September, 2018, the Supreme Court went ahead and decriminalised adult consensual same-sex relationships under the Section 377 judgement review. 

Both these and several other subsequent judgements are considered to be important and even landmark moments in the history of the rights and dignities of the LGBTQ community in India. 

They are considered to be landmark judgements both in terms of the expansive readings of constitutionality that they brought to the forefront and the way they underlined and asserted the rights of the LGBTQ community as equal members of the Indian society and also because it empowered and strengthened the LGBTQ community to a great extort. Both of these judgements will forever be marked in bold letters as far as the struggles and hardships of the LGBTQ community is concerned and will be remembered for their ability to drastically change the discourse on the community’s rights.

The erasing away of the relic of exploitative British rule and the empowerment of the members of the LGBTQ community under the Indian Constitution by extending them legal protection is indeed a huge success of the movement. But what we must understand is that, although this a welcome move, it cannot be seen as sufficient. 

The LGBTQ community in India may be completely free and equal citizens under the Indian Constitution and the legal framework but has such an ideal percolated to how they are treated in their day to day lives within the wider social domain? 

This only goes on to highlight the wide range of efforts that need to be made at the societal level in India and in rest of the world to overturn the exploitative and repressive anti-gay laws.

Indian Diversity Results in Differential Treatment of LGBTQ Community Members

We know that India is an extremely diverse country as far as cultures, ethnicities, religious, life-practices and societal orientations are concerned. This has a deep impact on the way members of the LGBTQ and even the LGBTQI are treated. 

The disparity between the urban and the rural parts of India,  the differences of perception that people hold about the community in various lingual, ethnic, religious, caste and class groups is highly diversified and created much complexity on the ground. 

Although how a group looks at or relates to the community is diverse and not necessarily predictable, what we cannot deny is the fact that the LGBTQ or the LGBTQI community in India is not a small one and that it has a strong and assertive voice which is determined to reclaim its equality and dignity at all costs.  

Yes, today we find ourselves at a time when the draconian Article 377 has been abolished, we condemn and feel ashamed of practices such as Homophobia and Transphobia and the LGBTQ pride movement has spread with great intensity across the world.

We have indeed come a long way but there is still a lot that remains to be done and initiated if the country and the larger social order are really to become conducive to the dignity and welfare of the LGBTQ community.

But are we ready to change?

Many members of the LGBTQ commute still feel uncomfortable due to hostile and inhospitable social-cultural conditions to express themselves, bring their identities to the forefront and live their lives without the fear of being resisted, judged, ridiculed and mistreated for who they truly are. Members of the LGBTQ community are human beings , holders of human rights and they deserve to be respected and accepted for who they are.

Decoding the Galwan Face-off Between India and China

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India-China Standoff
Image for representational purposes only.

The situation between India and China is very serious, thanks to the tensions that have been escalating at the borders. This is the first time since the war of 1962 between the two countries that Indian soldiers have had to die at the border of Ladakh. 

Even before, the last series of deaths at the Line of Actual Control(LAC)were a result of an ambush of an Assam Rifles patrol in Arunachal Pradesh by the Chinese troops in 1975. 

But if we were to look at the real military standoff between India and China at the Nathu La in Sikkim in 1967, in this conflict over 88 people from the Indian Army lost their lives and more than 300 soldiers died. But after a series of serious and semi-serious conflict with China, both the countries signed various agreements for maintaining peace and tranquility at the border from 1993 onwards.

But since then, this is the first time when at least 20 soldiers have lost their lives including a Commanding Officer in Galwan on Monday. 

It was in 2016 after the occurrence of the Uri attacks that the PM Narendra Modi led government had ordered surgical strikes across the Line of Control. 

But what is worth noting this time around is that a large number of soldiers were killed without the occurrence of firing from either side. The fact that it remained restricted to a physical brawl does not imply that the escalation isn’t intense enough. 

With both China and India being superpowers, the growing escalation of tensions is surely a matter of worry for both the nations. 

Keeping the history of tense relations between the two countries in mind, it is a better India to refrain from war especially as both the nations are battling the devastating pandemic. 

It is hoped that matters don’t worsen further and both the countries can strike towards deescalation. 

Being Gay,With Pride: An e-Festival with a Difference

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LGBTQ
Sangama organised an online festival to collect financial aid to support underprivileged members of the LGBTQ and transgender community.

The Transgender and LGBTQ community is one of the worst affected sections of the population amid the coronavirus pandemic and the slowdown of economic activities across the world. In a country like India where most members of the transgender and LGBTQ community face widespread economic disparities, social exploitation and absence of economic policies that address their financial concerns, and thus their anxieties and worries have only amplified over the months. 

Thus the pandemic and the coming of the lockdown has impacted the community in India quite adversely. 

But as a step to extend support and aid to the community and especially to the underprivileged and daily wage workers from the community, a fund-raising festival had been organised by Sangama.

 This was a two-day online festival called ‘Sangama ePride.’  Sangama is an organisation that works for the wellbeing of the transgender and LGBTQ community and operates from Bengaluru. 

The festival was held from June 12-14 and featured many content creators from the LGBTQ community like Rani KoHenur, Shiva Raichandani, Raheem Mir and NABI among many others. These diverse content creators belonged to diverse feeds such as music, art, theatre, yoga and dance.

This was a measure taken to bring together influencers from the LGBTQ community and raise funds and support work for underprivileged members of the community and organise relief work for them in Karnataka. 

The festival had been started in 1999. The organisation has been constantly trying to bring into the public discourse, an open-ended and dialogic assertion of sexuality, diverse sexual preferences and gender identity.  

The organisation has been closely working on the issues surrounding health, livelihood and rights of members from the transgender community. 

The organisation claims to have helped over 5,800 sex workers and transgender people in Karnataka in April and May.

Life-Saving Drug Dexamethasone Emerges as Potential Key to Covid-19 Pandemic 

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Dexamethasone
Will the discovery of Dexamethasone change the world's response to COVID-19?

As far as medical science is concerned there has been a major breakthrough with regard to the discovery of a drug against coronavirus. Yes, this discovery of the drug named Dexamethasone is considered to be a breakthrough as far as treatment for the coronavirus is concerned. It has been discovered by scientists in the United Kingdom and is a generic steroid drug. The drug is known to have worked wonderfully in the treatment of coronavirus affected patients and it has reduced the deaths by up to one -third in severely ill and hospitalised patients. The results are a part of the United Kingdom based RECOVERY trial, which is one of the world’s biggest randomised trial of drugs in order to treat COVID-19 in affected patients.

This is the same study which had earlier reminded us that contrary to popular perceptions, the usage of the malaria drug Hydroxychloroquine wasn’t a workable solution in the treatment of coronavirus affected patients. 

In the trial which ultimately led to the discovery of the new drug, a team led by Oxford University conducted the test on 2,104 patients who were given the drug and compared that with 4,321 patients who weren’t given the drug. 

The drug was found to cut down the risk of death due to COVID-19 in patients who were on ventilators or for those who were on oxygen. 

This is the only drug that has been found to have the potential to reduce the risk of mortality in severely ill COVID-19 patients and is a significant breakthrough. 

What is also quite a good news is that Dexamethasone is quite an inexpensive drug and can be used across the world to save lives. There are currently no approved treatments for the COVID-19 and the disease has caused more than 431,000 people to die across the world.