Mains Current Affairs UPSC CSE -Nov Week 4
India’s enduring document of governance
Context: At 69 and stepping into 70, India’s Constitution is one of the world’s oldest and most enduring. At the time of its birth, constitutional experts the world over did not expect our Constitution to survive very long. One of its most incisive critics was Sir Ivor Jennings, the world’s then leading expert on constitutional law.
- In 1951 the University of Madras invited Jennings to deliver a series of lectures on the just born Indian Constitution. Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer, one of the chief architects of the Constitution, attended them and stayed through all his lectures which Jennings delivered in parts on three successive days.
- Alladi also made elaborate notes. Jennings began his address by summing up India’s Constitution in one cynical sentence: “Too long, too rigid, too prolix.” Over the course of three lectures, Jennings elaborated on his views.
- He focused on some primary aspects: The Constitution’s rigidity and its superfluous provisions; fundamental rights and directive principles of state policy; and, finally, key aspects of India’s federalism. Jennings finally handed down a largely unfavourable verdict. India’s Constitution, he declared, was “far too large and therefore far too rigid”, too caged by its history, and too unwieldy to be moulded into something useful through judicious interpretations. Overall, his judgment was that the Constitution would not endure.
- Alladi was distressed and distraught. He started writing a series of articles to counter Jennings’ diatribe and to point out why the Constitution of India would be an enduring document of governance. However, destiny snatched away his mortal remains before he could complete the rejoinder. Posterity however proved him right.
- In the 1960s, the same Sir Ivor Jennings had been commissioned to write a new Constitution for Sri Lanka then known as “Ceylon”. Despite all precautions taken in its drafting, that Constitution lasted about six years.
Findings of a key study
- The endurance, lasting appeal and effectiveness of our Constitution is brought home to us in full force when we peruse a work of the University of Chicago titled “The Lifespan of Written Constitutions, by Thomas Ginsburg, Zachary Elkins, and James Melton” on the longevity of constitutions the world over.
- The study encompassed the constitutional history of every independent state from 1789 to 2006. The study identified a “Universe of 792 new constitutional systems”, of which 518 have been replaced, 192 still in force, 82 have been formally suspended ultimately to be replaced.
- The study discloses that constitutions, in general, do not last very long. The mean lifespan across the world since 1789 is, hold your breath, a mere 17 years.
- The estimates show that one half of constitutions are likely to be dead by age 18, and by age 50 only 19% will remain. A large percentage, approximately 7%, do not even make it to their second birthday.
- The study also discerns noticeable variations across generations and regions. The mean lifespan in Latin America (the source of almost a third of all constitutions) and Africa is 12.4 and 10.2 years, respectively. And 15% of constitutions from these regions perish in their first year of existence. The study however found that constitutions in western Europe and Asia, on the other hand, typically endure 32 and 19 years, respectively.
- The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries have constitutions lasting 32 years on an average. Finally, unlike the trend of improving human health, the life expectancy of constitutions does not seem to be increasing over the last 200 years. Through the World War I years, the average lifespan of a constitution was 21 years, as against only 12 years since. Constitutions, are most likely to be replaced around age 10 and age 35.
- However, the risk of replacement is relatively high during most of this period, and it appears constitutions do not begin to crystallise until almost age 50.
- So, what do constitutions the world over generally do? The study finds that their most important function is to ring fence and then to limit the power of the authorities created under the constitution. Constitutions also define a nation and its goals. A third is to define patterns of authority and to set up government institutions.
- The study shows that there are primary mechanisms by which constitutional changes occur: formal amendments to the text and informal amendments that result from interpretive changes; that constitutional lifespan will depend on: occurrence of shock and crisis such as war, civil war or the threat of imminent breakup; structural attributes of the constitution, namely its detail, enforceability and its adaptability; structural attributes of the state.
- The study also finds that the specificity of the document, the inclusiveness of the constitution’s origins, and the constitution’s ability to adapt to changing conditions will be an important prediction of longevity.
- Constitutions whose provisions are known and accepted will more likely be self-enforcing, for common language is essential to resolving coordination problems. Constitutions, that are ratified by public reference enjoy higher levels of legitimacy.
- Constitutional durability should increase with the level of public inclusion both at the drafting stage and the approval stage.
- That the primary mechanism through which a constitution is interpreted is a court empowered with powers of constitutional judicial review.
Explaining India’s stability
- It points to India being an example of the fact that fractionalised environments produce constitutional stability precisely because no single group can dominate others. Public ratification produces a more enduring constitution in democracies — but not in autocracies. Longer constitutions are more durable than shorter ones which suggest that specificity matters.
- In conclusion the study points out that constitutions work best when they are most like ordinary statutes: relatively detailed and easy to modify.
- The drafting committee of the Constitution headed by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar did not have the benefit of such an advanced study to guide its workings. However, one is deeply impressed with the fact that a distinguished group of seven members of the drafting committee and equally eminent members of the Constituent Assembly worked together and applied practically all yardsticks the study now declares as being indispensable to impart durability to a constitution.
- What is noteworthy is the fact that inclusiveness during the formative years of the Constitution-making debates; specificity of the provisions that produced an excellent balance between redundant verbosity and confounding ambiguity; fundamental rights and judicial review being made sheet anchors of the instrument; a workable scheme for amending the constitutional provisions which the current study found among others important to ensure longevity of Constitutions, were all applied even in the 1940s by our Constitution makers.
- And all this happened when there was no erudite study to guide them on the path of Constitution-making.
- All that our founding fathers and mothers had to guide their work was their strong commitment to the welfare of our nation and their own experience during the long years of the freedom struggle.
- Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was indeed right when he observed: “The life of the law has not been logic. It has been experience.”
Context: Last year, on September 28, the Supreme Court of India delivered a momentous verdict in Indian Young Lawyers Association v. The State of Kerala. There, a majority of 4:1, in ruling in favour of women’s entry into the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, presented to us the most attractive portrait of what the Constitution really means. But today that vision stands threatened. In early November, a sharply divided bench, in Kantaru Rajeevaru, with two out of five judges dissenting, has decided to keep review petitions filed against the original judgment pending, and, in the process, has virtually unfastened the brilliance of the court’s transformative verdict.
Contours of first ruling
- There is no doubt the initial ruling could well have been rendered on narrow and technical grounds. But each of the three judges who wrote opinions for the majority of four chose to read the Constitution expansively, by leaving their respective imprints on the verdict. Their definitive and collective findings, though, are easily deductible.
- First, they ruled that the devotees of Lord Ayyappa did not constitute a separate religious denomination.
- Second, they held that the bar enforced on women aged between 10 and 50 years from entering the Sabarimala temple infringed the equal rights of those women to freedom of religion.
- And third, they found that Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965, on which the ban was grounded, violated not only the Constitution but also Section 3 of its parent law, which promised free access to temples for all classes of Hindus.
- What is more, these findings apart, three of the judges on the majority also expressly ruled that the exclusion of women was, in any event, not an essential religious practice, and was, therefore, undeserving of any constitutional protection (a fourth judge, Justice R.F. Nariman, proceeded on the assumption that the practice was essential but still found it unlawful).
On the ground
- The verdict helped burnish India’s grandest constitutional guarantees, but it also provoked strong criticism. Many felt the court had erred by wading deep into theological waters.
- At the same time, though, the resistance to the judgment went too far. Not only were protests held across the country but efforts made by women to access the temple were thwarted in open defiance of the judgment.
- Simultaneous with these acts of disobedience, pleas were filed in the Supreme Court, in some cases, seeking a review of the judgment, and, in others, seeking an issuance of a writ to once again forbid the entry into the shrine of women of menstruating age. The aim of these petitions was simple: to quench the flames of freedom that the court had helped light up.
- Article 137 of the Constitution confers an express power on the Supreme Court to review its own decisions. But this authority is subject to both parliamentary law and to rules of procedure framed by the court.
- These rules, as the court’s own prior judgments make plain, allows a bench the power of review only when the earlier judgment is likely to result in a miscarriage of justice on account of any manifest error that is clear on the face of its record.
- In other words, the court’s capacity to review its own orders is confined within narrow boundaries: it can neither rehear formerly concluded arguments nor can it reappreciate the evidence on record. There is a lambent logic to this tenet.
- At stake when a judgment is sought to be reviewed is not only the court’s authority — in that its carefully considered decisions are meant to be final and binding — but also, as Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer once wrote, its “precious public time”, which can scarcely accommodate a revival of battles already fought and lost.
- However, the majority’s judgment in Kantaru Rajeevaru simply does not grapple with these considerations. Instead, it offers a welter of ‘ifs’, ‘buts’, and ‘maybes’. It begins by admitting that the petitioners’ endeavour is to resuscitate a debate about what constitutes a practice essential to religion.
- This finding, one would have thought, would have served as sufficient cause for dismissing the claims for review. But, inexplicably, the opinion proceeds to refer to a series of other, unconnected cases where a similar debate might arise for consideration. This therefore necessitates, the judgment holds, an “authoritative enunciation” by a “larger bench of not less than seven judges” of a judicial policy that will “put at rest recurring issues” concerning the right to freedom of religion.
- This holding, though, is baffling for many reasons, not least the fact that the court has already carved a rich jurisprudence touching upon the engagement of religious rights with other constitutional promises.
- The court then says there is a “prospect” of the issues arising in the other cases — including cases concerning the entry of Muslim women into mosques, the conscientious rights of Parsi women married to a non-Parsi, and the validity of the practice of female genital mutilation in the Dawoodi Bohra community — “being referred to a larger bench”. Having conjectured thus, the court stops short of framing issues for a referral and instead speculates, once again, on what some of these “issues could be”.
- As Justice Nariman points out, in a coruscating dissenting opinion that Justice D.Y. Chandrachud concurs with, these findings are entirely beyond the remit of the court’s authority in determining a plea for review. “What a future constitution bench or larger bench… may or may not do when considering the other issues pending before this court,” he writes, “is, strictly speaking, not before this court at all.”
- The majority’s opinion then highlights a seemingly illusory conflict between the court’s judgments in the Shirur Mutt’s case (1954), which was decided by a seven-judge bench, and Durgah Committee, Ajmer (1961), which was decided by a bench of five judges. It is of no consequence to it, though, that this point of supposed divergence made no material difference to the original judgment in Indian Young Lawyers Association.
- Indeed, the opinion fails to draw attention to a single error made in the judgment under review, let alone a manifest error apparent from the face of its record.
A diminished ideal
- Each of us is free to formulate our own views on the court’s original judgment. But the court itself can act on a review petition only within those limits prescribed by law. For the majority to order that the pleas for review be kept pending until the determination of a set of vague and unenumerated questions by a larger bench is, on any reading, extraordinary.
- Had the court found demonstrable errors in the original judgment, it ought to have allowed the review petitions and rescinded its earlier verdict. But it displayed neither the confidence to do this, presumably because it could not find any such errors, nor, more worryingly, did it show the moral courage to dismiss these petitions and make impregnable its previous ruling.
- It is difficult to understand how this irresolution can at all be helpful. In the ultimate analysis, the court’s ruling in Kantaru Rajeevaru only denudes it of its authority and allows people to believe, as Justice Nariman notes in his dissent, that compliance with the law is a “matter of option”.
- The majority’s decision to open up for abuse the limited jurisdiction for review of its own orders that the court has hitherto permitted also has the potential to produce a miasma of public mischief. Only a swift dismissal of the review petitions can help reinvigorate some belief in the now diminished ideal of the rule of law.
Context: On November 20, the government announced that it would sell stakes in several public sector undertakings (PSUs) and even give up management control in some. The Central government will cede full management control to buyers in the case of oil marketing company Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd. (BPCL), Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) and Container Corporation of India Ltd (CONCOR). The government will transfer its 74.2% stake in THDC India Limited (formerly Tehri Hydro Development Corporation of India) and its 100% stake in North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited (NEEPCO) to another public sector unit and power distribution major, NTPC Ltd.
Why do governments divest stake in public sector undertakings?
- Some political parties that come to power believe that “the government has no business being in business”.
- That is, the government’s role is to facilitate a healthy business environment but the core competence of a government does not lie in selling fuel or steel at a profit. That is one reason that divestment is often a priority item in the election manifesto of such parties.
- Two, with governments always having to spend more than they earn through taxes and other means, additional income from the proceeds of a stake sale is always welcome. This is especially so in the case of India now, where it has fallen to the government to spend higher amounts on infrastructure to boost economic growth, along with its commitments on health and education.
- It is true that this is like selling the family silver and that at some point there would be nothing left to sell and cushion the fiscal deficit with, but the argument is, the government should not have been funding these companies in the first place.
- A strategic sale by a government is one where the management control is ceded to the buyer. A divestment could be stake sale to a buyer, via an initial public offering or a direct deal, but in which the government still retains majority and management control.
- A strategic sale is also different from cases where the government transfers majority stake but only to another PSU over which it has control, as happened recently with HPCL (bought by Oil and Natural Gas Corporation) and with Tehri Hydro and NEEPCO in the latest round.
History of disinvestment in India
- Since liberalisation began in India in 1991 under then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, the country saw a steady flow of disinvestment decisions.
- However, privatisation, where buyers took over management control, began later under the National Democratic Alliance governments.
- Arun Shourie, the country’s first Disinvestment Minister, gave an impetus to the exercise. He is credited with the privatisation of Maruti, Bharat Aluminium Company Ltd., Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited and Hindustan Zinc through the strategic sale process.
Why sell a profitable public sector unit?
- One counter to this question would be: why would a buyer pay a premium, or even be interested in a loss-making unit? Air India is a case in point.
- The government has been unsuccessfully trying to sell the debt-laden and loss-ridden airline for a while now.
- Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, which made a loss of ₹7,500 crore for the first half of this fiscal, may not find a buyer easily, even if it were on the block.
What does the government get out of divestment?
- In the latest round, the government stands to get a sum in the region of ₹80,000 crore from a stake sale in the five aforementioned units, which would take the total disinvestment value for the fiscal close to the ₹1.05 lakh crore amount it had planned.
- India is currently facing an economic slowdown in which indirect tax collections are below par. The government has cut corporate tax rates hoping that companies will use these savings for price cuts or dividend payouts, or for investments that create jobs.
- As consumption is highly muted, the Central government may look to place more disposable cash in the hands of the taxpayer through lowering personal income tax rates.
- As a result of cut and to-be-cut tax rates, the government would have less and less cash for its own expenditure in infrastructure and the social sector.
- Further, if the fiscal deficit goes out of hand, the sword of Damocles — of global rating agencies lowering the country’s investment grade — could fall on India’s neck.
- This would make any future foreign currency loans costlier, both for the country and for large Indian conglomerates whose fortunes rise and fall with the local economy.
- Here is where proceeds from strategic sales give the government extra spending cushion.
- This fiscal has been a year without precedent for the government on the fiscal front. The Reserve Bank of India gave the Central government a record dividend payout of about ₹1.76 lakh crore. The joy over this would have been short-lived as the government has had to execute a corporate tax cut — to mitigate the effects of a slowdown — and will suffer an annual loss of ₹1.45 lakh crore.
- So at least meeting the year’s disinvestment target, if not exceeding it, would give the government some respite from the string of bad fiscal news that has been flowing its way.
Stubble burning is not the only culprit
Context: Air pollution in Delhi has always been a topic of discussion during Deepavali. Almost everyone gets into the “act”, the Supreme Court of India and top echelons of the Government not excluded, while children are forced to breathe polluted air. Airwaves are filled with immediate “band-aid” type solutions and television experts finally come around to just one issue — stubble burning by farmers in Punjab. Therefore, the solution also gets simplified; prosecute those who burn stubble (the stick) give them happy seeders by the thousands (the carrot).
- If the problem was that simple, it would have been solved long ago. The intention is not to justify stubble burning, but to point out that it is not the only culprit (though it is an important one) and other factors need to be attended to as well.
- The simplification of the narrative to stubble burning and the argument that all that smoke that comes out of Punjab’s paddy fields lands in the National Capital Region (NCR), particularly in the capital city of Delhi, may not stand scientific scrutiny considering the fact that wind speeds, dispersal rates and settling down of particles are governed by laws of science.
- Recently, there was a reference in a television programme about satellite observations on stubble burning from 2002-17. Reportedly, there has been an increase of 3% in aerosol loading attributable to crop residue burning during October and November every year.
- However, no data was presented on the impact of burning of biomass in urban Delhi, coal fired ovens (tandoors) and coal-based industries, coal-based power plants in the outskirts of Delhi, the exponential increase in sport utility vehicles, or SUVs, in the NCR and so forth.
- As for stubble burning, we need to stop this practice for sure. But how do we do it? Farmers do it out of economic compulsion. The “city centric” argument is that Punjab now produces 25% more rice than what it did 15 years ago, which is good for the country, but bad for Delhi.
- Others argue that the Punjab Preservation of Sub-soil Water Act 2009 is the main culprit. There are many who believe that a generous distribution of direct seeders (or “Happy Seeders” as they are called) should make the difference.
Three ways out
- Essentially, we come to three options: Reduce paddy area/production, allow farmers to plant/transplant paddy before June and distribute “happy seeders”. This will, according to many, address the problem of air pollution in Delhi during October and November.
- Let us start with reduction in production of paddy. Punjab was never a traditional rice cultivator. It took up rice cultivation in response to the national policy of food self-sufficiency. They achieved the highest productivity in the country and contributed maximum among all States to the central pool of rice procurement.
- In the process, the area went up from 2.6 million hectares in 2001 to 3 million hectares in 2017; production went up from 9 million tonnes to 12.5 million tonnes. Punjab dug deeper to get groundwater and caused long-term damage to itself.
- Attempts at diversification did not take off because of the difference in net farm returns and market risks. A rice farmer earns about ₹57,000 per hectare whereas maize in a maize-wheat combination would set them back by about ₹15,000-17,000.
- The farmer will not bear this burden. An estimate by agricultural economist Ashok Gulati suggests ₹12,000 per hectare (keeping power saving in mind) as an acceptable compensation. If the idea is to reduce area of common paddy by half a million hectares, resulting in a reduction of output of 2 million tonnes, the Central government has to step in and support this change for the next five years.
- This half-a-million hectare should be in water-stressed blocks and can be encouraged to shift to maize or any other crop. Another one lakh hectare can shift to basmati production.
Falling water levels
- Coming to the more controversial argument about the Punjab Preservation of Sub-soil Water Act 2009, there exist strong arguments to prevent over exploitation of groundwater especially if farmers cultivate rice in April/May. Though strong evidence is necessary to establish improvement in groundwater levels, there is some evidence to show that the rate of deterioration has slowed down.
- If farmers are allowed to go back to the pre-2009 regime, what will happen to the groundwater in Punjab is anyone’s guess. The elephant in the room, however, is free power to tube wells. Can this amount of about ₹6,000 crore be shifted to a direct benefit transfer as has been suggested by policy experts? Is there a political will? Are the large farmers the real opposition here? This shift could be a game changer.
- A bigger game changer will be a shift to cash transfer in lieu of grains in the public distribution system by the Centre.
- The “happy seeder” is the most talked about solution. Direct seeders do help but have limitations. First, the seeder has to operate within about 4-5 days of the harvest. The effectiveness depends on the moisture (not too moist, not too dry) present in the soil at the time of seeding . This requires a good understanding of soil conditions.
- The agronomic practices need to change particularly with regard to application of fertilizer and irrigation. These machines may be used only during the 15-day window in a whole year. They will remain idle for the remaining 350 days.
- The problem is complex and needs a solution. But the solution should take into consideration the economic condition of farmers, the scientific options available and the willingness of the Central government to change policy and fund a major part of the expenditure. Blaming the farmers alone will not do; citizens need to put in their bit too. We owe it to the children.
Climate change and women of Asia-Africa
Context: Climate change is taking an especially high toll on women from weak socio-economic backgrounds, a new study published this week shows. Research led by the University of East Anglia in England used 25 case studies across three “climate change hotspots” in Africa and Asia to conclude that environmental degradation is reducing further the ability of women to make choices and take decisions that can impact their lives positively, including in adapting to climate change.
- The Asian “hotspots” were in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Tajikistan, while the African ones were in Kenya, Ghana, Namibia, Mali, Ethiopia, and Senegal. The study, involving researchers from India, Nepal, Pakistan, South Africa, and the UK, was published in Nature Climate Change on November 25. (‘A qualitative comparative analysis of women’s agency and adaptive capacity in climate change hotspots in Asia and Africa’: Nitya Rao and others)
- Of the 25 case studies, 14 were in semi-arid regions, six in mountains and glacier-fed river basins, and five in deltas. These areas face a range of environmental risks such as droughts, floods, rainfall variability, land erosion and landslides, and glacial lake outburst floods.
- The predominant livelihoods include agriculture, livestock pastoralism, and fishing, supplemented by wage labour, petty trade, and income from remittances.
‘Feminisation’ of agriculture
- Climate change has led to erratic weather behaviour and altered the nature of soil and water, making occupations like farming less sustainable. As men migrate in search of better work, and since farming can’t be totally abandoned, the women stay back, putting in extra labour into an activity that is no longer that productive economically.
- They do this in addition to their duties of looking after the household and their families, with no male partner to help them — at the cost of compromising with their health, nutrition, and leisure time, which adversely impacts various aspects of their well-being.
- And yet, the study says, the women have little control over how the money they earn is spent, or over what kind of crop is planted on the farm. In semi-arid Kenya, for example, when men move away with livestock in search of better pastures, women lose “control over milk for consumption and sale, and have to work harder to provide nutritious food to their children”.
Earning, but it’s not helping
- With the men gone, more women are entering the workforce. But their income is going into ensuring basic survival, and not helping their ability to take significant decisions, and to adapt to climate change.
- “Household poverty and environmental stress seem to combine to suppress women’s agency even when favourable household norms are leading to improved participation of women in the workforce and voice in household decision-making,” the study says.
- Kenyan women are working to supplement household income, but in risky jobs such as narcotics trade and sex work. In Mali and Ghana, women work on arid land that is often borrowed, without putting in investment that would make it sufficiently productive, and their labour more worthwhile.
Institutions failing women
- While more women are working in farms, farmer associations and markets are controlled by men. In natural disasters, aid-distribution and local governance units are dominated by men, and women have to rely on male relatives. In India, the study says, several rural local body posts are reserved for women, but their decisions are largely driven by men.
- In Ghana, the researchers say, state interventions “seemed to impede both the traditional cohesion within communities and women’s ability to diversify into more lucrative livelihoods. Focusing on cash crops, and providing formal extension services, typically controlled by men, they strengthened cultural norms that excluded women.”
- In the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta in Bangladesh, state interventions in terms of planned relocation “negatively impacted women’s agency”, with available jobs, such as those in export processing zones, being preferentially accessed by men.
- Women self-help groups (SHGs) “are often limited in number and lack the needed capacity, skills and opportunities to be effective and sustainable, especially where individual women and groups are dependent on natural resource systems for livelihood…”, the researchers say.
- “Though membership of an SHG often acts positively for women’s agency, it does not necessarily translate into decision-making authority outside the SHGs and within their homes. This (suggests)… that women’s agency in one institutional site may not necessarily transfer uncontested to another — it is contextual and socially embedded.”
- However, the study says some government measures, such as the public distribution system (PDS) for foodgrains in India, or pensions and social grants in Namibia, do grant women more agency, by taking care of basic survival and giving them more spending power.
Fallout of the #MeToo Movement
Context: When a movement is based on the premise that a woman must be believed simply because she is a woman, it carries the seeds of self-destruction. As a series of tweets unravelled over the last few weeks, it became evident that not all women had been entirely honest when jumping on the #MeToo bandwagon. Worryingly, at least one had played a leading role in the ‘amplifying’ of complaints. ‘Amplifiers’ were those who had called for accusations, collected and broadcast them. It turns out that some of them did not verify the narratives they received; and one amplifier’s own story has been challenged now.
Fallout of the movement
- None of this is surprising to those who observed the direction the storm was taking last year. Within days it had become a free-for-all mud fest where asking for substantiation soon became a crime against feminism.
- But the latest developments again make it clear that the fiercest, newest methods of justice delivery cannot eschew the oldest tenets of ethics. Accusations must be proven before judgment is pronounced.
- #MeToo, unfortunately, took all charges at face value. It was alarming at the time to see the ferocity with which more and more denouncements were demanded, putting immense pressure on women to take part or be cast out of Feminism 4.0. It looks now as if many young women felt forced to submit questionable narratives just to participate in a heady moment in history.
- The fallout of the movement wasn’t light: men lost reputations, careers, friends and incomes. When it happened to powerful men who had preyed on women for years, it felt justified. But it also affected young men like the one at the centre of the new revelations. He confesses that he contemplated suicide at one point. He talks of his debts, of ostracism, of the impossibility of getting a job. If the charges against him are false, it is impossible to dismiss him as collateral damage.
- The least that responsible leaders could have done last year was to ask for detailed accounts, get background, establish context. Even if naming and shaming was hit upon as the only method that would work, it could have been reserved for cases where channels of justice and mediation had already been tried.
- Some diligence could have ensured that only genuine cases went public. And it’s not as if we don’t have a phenomenally large number of those.
- Instead, too many episodes in #MeToo seemed mystifying even then. They came from women with agency, who could have refused to send a nude photo, halted a chat that became explicit, repelled an unwanted embrace. In many cases, the men had no power over the women; often they hadn’t even met.
- The worst you could say was that the men were creeps or womanisers, but neither creepiness nor philandering is a crime. Sexting, for instance, is a big part of the modern relationship landscape. To participate in consensual sexting and then say you are traumatised by an intimate photograph sounds disingenuous.
Rewriting rules of engagement
- There is no denying that #MeToo rewrote the rules of engagement. It forced men to take the idea of consent seriously. It pushed organisations to sit up and take notice of sexual harassment. It ensured that due process mechanisms were set up in institutions.
- Besides taking this agenda further, we could perhaps now explore how boundaries can be drawn and respected in far more explicit ways by all genders in new-age sexual relationships. The digital age needs different mores.
- We are at a point in history when more numbers of women are educated, empowered and independent than ever before. Many liberated, self-reliant young women now live alone in metropolises, working hard, partying hard, living life on their own terms.
- Yet, #MeToo was flooded with women from just this demographic. This might, one suspects, be an indicator of a deeper social malaise or the symptoms of a struggle to cope with singledom and sexual liberation. Is the free-sex concept putting a different kind of pressure upon women? If so, it needs some serious study.
- More urgently, the women need understanding and a helping hand. It takes tremendous courage to retract false statements, knowing how readily misogynists will pounce upon it, but one hopes more women will do so. A clean-up can only help strengthen the movement, while giving all sides a measure of personal peace.
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