Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Will you Give It Up?

The GIVEITUP advertisement screams out loud at every other traffic light, bus stop or fuel station. All those happy and proud faces of different communities from seemingly well-to-do classes throw an emotionally charged thought at the onlookers. The hoardings are right in your face. But not one hoarding bothers to explain the scheme well. Where is the money going? How much are we really saving? Are we calculating the advertisement costs? Can you really help a Below Poverty Line family cook a meal with your given up subsidy? What exactly are the benefits given to such families through your share? Are there any waivers on installation, processing fee? Are the re-fills offered at concessional rates to poor families? In what sense are we or the government helping? None of these questions are clarified. Even the Bollywood biggie on pleads that we Give Up the subsidy because, ‘giving makes you feel good’. Really? These advertisements could have done so much better to explain the issue rather than making it emotionally overwhelming but logically drained.  

As a matter of fact, a fall in international crude oil prices should bring down the prices of petrol, diesel and subsidized LPG gas; yet, there seems no change in their prices. Instead, there has been steady growth in prices of commodities during the then UPA as well as today’s elected NDA government.  In addition, government is confusing people by not making firm decisions on this issue. In December 2015, Petroleum Minister hastily decided to discontinue LPG subsidy for those who annually earn 10 lakh and more; after two months’ lapse, in February, petroleum ministry felt a need to revise the said decision and directed state-run oil marketing companies (OMCs) to insert “suitable question in the automated interactive voice response/SMS platforms for ascertaining the income status of the consumers” as well as during phone calls for refills, which is to be initially operationalized in metro cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru etc. On the other hand, IVR platforms for booking LPG is not user friendly as there are many complaints being registered that commoners unknowingly pressed 0 (zero) on their handsets and Gave Up their subsidies for the whole year, making it altogether a complicated process.

Interestingly, the apex court in its interim order has clarified non-requirement of Aadhar card to get government subsidies. Despite the order, officials are forcing applicants to furnish Aadhar details for availing subsidies on their LPG cylinder, thus indirectly forcing them to give up availing the subsidy.

In India, where citizens try to make ends meet, amidst the misery of a multitude of taxes, the Give It Up campaign seems like a sheer emotional atyachar, expecting everyone to be troubled about others’ kitchen and gas. Every kitchen has its own issues to worry about. Dal, onion, paneer, milk; with everything going beyond budget one wonders what to cook with LPG?
Tuesday, 9 February 2016


Goddess! A female deity whose supernatural powers are worshipped with grandeur and yet her sanity; purity often doubted. We worship the goddess in our women but our women shall not worship our gods, not always!

Women and their right to worship is indeed becoming a serious matter. The ban on entry of women in Shani Shinganapur temple, Haji Ali Dargah and Sabarimala temple is causing a stir. These prohibitions and their implications are shouting out for judicial intervention.

Sabarimala case is a recent example of the status of Indian women in modern society and the role of judicial system in delivering justice to them. Sabarimala is a Hindu pilgrimage centre in Kerala for men of all ages, caste and creed. However, females of menstrual age are prohibited entry to the temple because of the story of Ayappa, a celibate and historical figure. According to the folklore, Ayappa was born to destroy Mahishi - a female demon who could only be vanquished by a child born of both Shiva and Vishnu. She had been cursed to live as a demon, but her killing reversed the curse. When released from curse, Mahishi asked Ayappa to marry her. He refused the proposal stating that his mission is to go to Sabarimala where he would answer his devotees’ prayers. However, he assured that he shall marry her when devotees stop coming to Sabarimala. Since then the temple has hundreds of devotees gathered, except young women.

The reason for prohibiting women of menstrual age is unclear.  Popular notion says that young women may be a distraction for Ayappa, while another theory points out women’s sympathy towards Mahishi’s long wait for Ayappa. While the reasons remain uncertain, somewhere, somehow, the concept of menstruation or being unclean has always been used under the garb of ‘religious grounds.’  

Article 25(1) of the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion.

Considering equality as a right of every individual, regardless of gender, race, caste creed and sex; Naushad Ahmed Khan, President of Indian Young Lawyers' Association (IYLA) filed the PIL on Sabarimala issue. Many religious institutions have opposed the PIL. However, in its recent order a Supreme Court bench observed “It is our view that the temple cannot prohibit entry except on the basis of religion. Unless you have a constitutional right, you cannot prohibit entry.”

Can menstruation be a religious ground? Indian courts have a tough call to take.

While the detailed hearing and the decision of the Apex court in this matter is awaited, we only hope that ‘new doors of – access, justice and equality’ are opened up for women.