How did Readers Engage with EPW's Scholarship in 2020?

How did Readers Engage with EPW's Scholarship in 2020?

EPW goes beyond being just an academic journal in that it also acts as a forum for the exchange of ideas across the social science disciplines—sociologists respond to political scientists, political scientists debate economists, and economists take on historians. Now, with EPW Engage, a new respondent has been added to the mix—you, the reader.

It is up to you, dear readers, to take these debates forward. In this feature, we take you through some of the feedback we received for nine compelling articles that were published in 2020.

What Is So Wrong with Online Teaching?
Indian Cinema and the Bahujan Spectatorship
The Curious Case of PAN–Aadhaar Linkage
A New Normal with No Room for Dissent
Crisis of the Congress
Women’s Right to Property Ownership
Inadequate Urban Transportation Facilities Leave the Poor in India High and Dry
COVID-19 Should Make Us Re-imagine the World Order
Privatisation and the Voluntary Retirement Scheme
What Is So Wrong with Online Teaching?
Saumyajit Bhattacharya

To mimic a class situation, a student does not only need a gadget and internet connectivity, the sheer physical space around them is also so crucial.

The minimum one needs is a quiet and isolated space, where one is not disturbed by ­others’ presence.

Given, the grossly unequal burden of domestic work that women share at home, often the female student has to take up these additional domestic responsibilities during the lockdown; she may not have the flexibility to attend an online class when she is supposed to carry on some inflexible domestic task.

Lakshmi Chatti

Virtual classes widen the exposure of a student for they can access the lectures or deliberations of experts in the field who are not part of the institution to which the student belongs.

The advantages notwithstanding, they cannot be the substitutes of physical classes, they can at best play a complementary role. In a classroom, the teacher can feel the pulse of the student and can instantly adapt oneself to the needs of the students.

Furthermore, science teaching depends very much on the physical laboratories where the student needs to experiment oneself. In modern times, social sciences have taken applied form and no more does theoretical analysis suffice. Field studies, interactions with respondents, etc, are integral parts.

Regina Sudheer-Alexander

An online class can be a temporary measure, a fill-gap measure, which would be in just one semester because several students are likely to drop out or disengage.

Like it or not the bulk will be from the already disenfranchised given their socio-economic weaknesses mentioned in the article. Is that what India wants or needs?

Diversity is of the utmost importance when it comes to the profession of teaching. The star teachers are those who are comfortable on screen, and teaching and learning are reduced to acting gimmicks.

I myself felt very uncomfortable taking online classes when I was working!

Indian Cinema and the Bahujan Spectatorship
Jyoti Nisha

Bahujan spectatorship relates to an oppositional gaze and a political strategy of Bahujans to reject the Brahminical representation of caste and marginalised communities in Indian cinema.

It is also an inverted methodology to document a different socio political Bahujan experience of consuming popular cinema.

Jitendra Suna

Powerfully articulated article on cinema, caste and the Indian state. Two points I would like to point out here. First, on Bandit Queen, the author should have worked a little more on the politics around the movie, which is missing. That is why the author’s position towards the director is soft.

Phulan Devi herself opposed the portrayal of many instances of her life in that movie. Various newspapers and news channels have reported about this. The director has his own motives to popularize this movie and to make it international.

The second point is about "hope," which the author has for Indian cinema while seeing a few movies. I slightly disagree with that. For example movies like Kala are not the result of mainstream cinema. Individual Dalits have made efforts to bring aspects of caste to the centre of filmmaking in a dignified way of representing its community and lives.

Prachi Kanaujia

The author has highlighted points which—before reading this article—I did not find to be problematic at all. Now, I cannot help but think how Article 15 would have turned out to be if the police officer was Bahujan and his/her subordinates were upper caste.

That would have made for a more realistic and a different story on so many levels because it could have possibly addressed the alienation that Bahujans often experience living amidst the so-called progressive upper castes who often practice subtle ways of caste discrimination.

The Curious Case of PAN–Aadhaar Linkage
Anupam Saraph and Sanjana Krishnan

Aadhaar and PAN are being merged by the Ministry of Finance. This decision does away with the robustness of the previous method that placed the responsibility to identify and allot the PAN on the Assessing Officer by shifting the allotment away from the assessing officer to UIDAI (the agency that issues Aadhaar).

UIDAI does not take responsibility to identify anyone. UIDAI has confirmed that it does not certify the identity, address, date of birth, resident status or even existence of any individual, or know the documents on which the information is based.

Isn't the insistence to link #Aadhaar with #PAN by the Ministry of Finance (MoF) a consequence of World Bank's eTransform Initiative launched in 2010?

MoF is working under the influence of the World Bank Group since the days of Pranab Mukherjee. It does not seem to have agency of its own.

What advantage if any is the govt seeking to derive by linking PAN and Aadhar?

Anupam Saraph and Sanjana Krishnan
Limited information available in the public domain about the government's justification. The government (Binoy Viswam v Union of India and Ors) claimed that linking of Aadhaar with #PAN is consistent with India’s international obligations (Binoy Viswam v UoI and Ors 2017: p 144, para 121).

Is biometric identification unique and constant? Or this could vary with age or other compelling factors like physical exertions?

Anupam Saraph

You are correct. Not only is biometric, not unique or constant, but UIDAI cannot identify anyone uniquely based on biometrics.

You correctly identify that the percentage of PAN holders paying tax has dropped since 2013. However, India's direct tax collection has increased every year since 2020. Can this improvement be attributed to PAN-Aadhaar linkage?

Anupam Saraph
It is reporting tax collections, not increase in taxpayers or tax filers who were onboarded with #Aadhaar. By increasing the inactive #PAN MoF and CBDT do not increase tax compliance. The percentage of PAN holders paying tax has dropped from 32.87% in 2012–2013 to 22.23% in 2017–2018.

And “collections” are routinely a larger amount than tax actually due, which means that they are inflated numbers. Just look at the tax refunded due to “over collection.”

Sanjana Krishnan

The collection could go up, but is it because of the link? Correlation is not causation. Has this increase happened ceteris paribus? The bigger, central concern is the loophole provided to create fake PANs for tax avoidance. We can't track what money is lost through this loophole.

A New Normal with No Room for Dissent
EPW Editorial

The ruling government has failed all tests of reason and reasonability in its treatment of anti-CAA protests. The protests have been met with the brutal force of the state, especially in Lucknow and Delhi.

At other times, the government has tried to quell the protests by randomly imposing Section 144, and detaining protestors and taking down their names, thus creating an environment of fear, especially for the younger generation of protestors.

Narendra M Apte
The Grand old party called Indian National Congress has lost mass support. It is making a feeble attempt to win it by opposing CAA. It is perfectly okay to make peaceful protests or pass resolutions in State Assemblies against CAA.

As I see it, principles of secularism cannot be interpreted to say that the majority should make all sacrifices and minorities (a term which some politicians use to describe people of Islamic faith) be allowed to maintain a separate identity. True secularism will survive in our country only if it serves the interests of the majority community and also of all minorities.

Rosen John

This edit serves to rip apart the hypocrisy surrounding the promulgation of the CAA and highlights the sinister intent of this government is using religion as a prop to set adherents of one faith against another.

This regime's bias against Islam and Muslims goes back a long way to a time when invading marauders destroyed temples of Hindus and allegedly converted many to Islam, under the shadow of the sword. This hatred was nurtured and sustained by the oral traditions for which India is renowned and a chasm has always existed between adherents of the two faiths.

A weakening of the power structure in the Congress and a lack of consistent credible leaders gave space for anti-Congress-ism to manifest itself in the proliferation of parties, first as the Swaraj Party and then as the Jana Sangh which later metamorphosed into the BJP, aided and tutored by the RSS. From a mere 2 seats almost two decades ago to the present where it romped home with a majority, the BJP has been consistently stoking the fires of hate that now manifests itself as the #CAA.

We need to reject this pernicious piece of legislation by flooding the streets and highlighting to the world at large that if things continue the way they are at the moment, India as a nation we know it to be, will cease to exist.

Crisis of the Congress
EPW Editorial

Respect for the party workers’ efforts is the pre-eminent condition to realise inner-party democracy. A letter from 23 Congress leaders to the interim president of the party, and the subsequent meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) has once again brought the question of the leadership and organisational direction of the party to the fore.

Narasaiah Panjala

In a loose sense, there is two-party democracy at work in India—a ruling alliance opposed by a united opposition. One-party rule is a thing of the past. The present rule is, however, an exception. Students of democracy are aware that a strong opposition party is a check on the undemocratic rule of the party in power. They are pained to note that such a possibility is a remote dream in the near future.

The Congress party is expected to at least emerge as a strong opposition party and work as people's voice. But the party leadership is not working in that direction. Observers of its working are of the strong opinion that it is working on the basis of unquestionable loyalty.

A recent letter by some of the leaders to review it's working expressed the feelings of its own people. This is misunderstood. Old-timers and Democrats are interested in the future of democracy and the country. Their views should be understood in the right spirit. If the leadership doesn't act now, it can't act tomorrow, because it will be too late to rebuild the party.

Rosen John

This is a welcome edit and beautifully captures the hypocrisy of the 23 letter writers without saying so directly. The Congress party was once a movement and at the time nearing Independence, Mahatma Gandhi had advised that the party be disbanded and a new one take its place. That suggestion was never given the attention it merited then, and it will not form the main plank of the discussion now.

In the current scheme of things, grassroots party workers stand alienated and the regional and national satraps and acolytes, who are now feeling the heat of being marginalized, are now beginning to assert themselves.

In the space of six years, Rahul Gandhi has reinvented himself as a leader who has never compromised his principles and who has never resorted to expediency over principles in asserting himself, even when many thought it foolish to do so, especially during election time.

He must listen to the party workers who would give him a bird's eye view of local party politics and the forces that combine and conspire to defeat the INC. He must shed the trappings of a lord to the manor born and reinvent himself even further by showing one and all that he is not afraid of challenges and that if need be; he will pave the way for others to take over the party's leadership.

At the same time, he would be well-advised to understand his mother's silent, thoughtful and precise ways of functioning, where she never gave journalists writing opinion pieces the fodder they so desperately sought by maintaining a Sphinx-like silence during the time she was in power at the helm and during which time she led the Congress to victory and helped its reign over the country for a decade.

Women’s Right to Property Ownership
EPW Editorial

Women’s right to property ownership becomes right when it yields concrete results in women’s favour. In acknowledging the right of Hindu daughters to their fathers’ properties, the Supreme Court in Vineeta Sharma v Rakesh Sharma (2020) has restored the original intent of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005.

The interpretation of this important social reform law was marred by conflicting and contradictory judgments by two-judge benches of the Supreme Court, and the three-judge bench in the Vineeta Sharma case has cleared the confusion. While the 2005 amendment guaranteed the rights of women to property on paper, its implementation on the ground, as reflected in property ownership by women, remains ineffective.

Naresh Saxena
The 2005 Amendment to the Hindu Succession Act can benefit millions of women dependent on agriculture for survival. However, neither the Department of Land Resources in GOI nor the Ministry of Women & Child Development has issued a single circular asking the states to implement the law. States also have by and large ignored its implementation.

For instance, UP added unmarried daughters in the category of those who inherit agricultural land in 2008, but married daughters are still not included. The result is that anti-women laws and practices merrily continue in the States. Section 46(1) of the Rajasthan Tenancy Act places women at par with lunatics and idiots.

The Department of Land Resources should launch a campaign to correct revenue records and ensure that women’s land ownership rights are properly recorded by the states with intimation to women. Monitorable targets should be set for the district collectors to ensure timely implementation of the law.

It may be prudent to make these rights inalienable and non-transferable for the first twenty years on the pattern of pattas under the Forest Rights Act. Further, the civil society should prepare and circulate pamphlets to Members of Parliament that enable them raising concerns about women’s rights to land and property in Parliament.

Bibha Tripathi
Vinita Sharma’s case is final till the matter is referred again to a constitutional bench. The patriarchal set up is not going to be changed easily. A father is supposed to be extremely generous towards his daughter if he provides equal education to her at par with the son. While marrying, the issue of dowry always creates conflict between the daughter and her in-laws. The tradition of getting affidavits regarding relinquishment of the claim over the right to property is now becoming the new normal. It is not only the in-law's family doing untoward incidents with the daughters-in-law rather it is also the family which takes all preventive and precautionary measures to ensure that it gets only a male child.

Now the time has come to rethink the criminalization of dowry. Ensuring the birth of a girl child, providing equal education and ensuring inheritance and providing equal share in the ancestral property by the family itself is still needed. However, the judgment has assured that even where there is no 'will' there is also a way.

Inadequate Urban Transportation Facilities Leave the Poor in India High and Dry
Vineet Abhishek

The haphazard and unplanned growth of Indian cities has led to a severe crisis in terms of urban mobility, resulting in congestion, vehicular pollution, and road accidents.

Compounding the problem of urban mobility, a pitiable public transportation system has severely affected the poor in accessing avenues of education, employment, among others.

Jayant Prakash

When we can have air-conditioned metro services in larger cities, why can't we have state-level train services in relatively smaller states where connectivity is a major issue?

Vineet Abhishek

While there are intercity train services on many routes in many states, a lot more can be done to ensure quality better services. Initiatives like Bangalore Commuter Rail, Hyderabad MMTS are a step in the right direction.

But again, these are big cities. Smaller cities and towns in India are larger than the large cities in the US and Europe! This totally makes the case for a suitable public transit system—be it bus-based, or commuter rail-based—fully integrated with bicycle and pedestrian facilities in the towns.

All that is needed is sensitivity, mature policy planning, an outlook towards public transport, and, perhaps, a right degree of political willingness.

How can we make public transportation a safe option for women? Is giving free passes to women in Delhi buses a step towards it?

Vineet Abhishek

While cities like Mumbai and Delhi have been at the forefront in this regard (earmarked coaches and seats, subsidised fares, CCTV cameras, etc), a lot more needs to be done.

As mentioned in my paper, the fallout of faulty urban planning gets amplified in our cities and is starker in our public transit systems. Many reports have pointed out that women don’t feel safe using trains and buses. This leads to accessibility issues. If half of our citizens don’t feel secure, that’s bad news for public transit systems. Gender issues are not prioritised enough across the globe. India's situation is far worse.

The solution lies in making public transit agencies accountable for the safety and security of women commuters. Strict and proactive enforcement of various rules in this regard can go a long way. Ensuring that the hinterlands are connected via public transport with last-mile connectivity (as simple as a well-lit and safe access road from the neighbourhood to the transit stop) can also be effective. Regarding free passes to women in Delhi—if free passes can lead to higher usage and increase the accessibility for women, then it will also definitely have a major impact on the economic activity of the city.

The inequity reflected in terms of access to urban infrastructure—as pointed out by you in the Bandra-Worli Sea Link example—is this a pan-India phenomenon or just a local case in Bombay? I see this as a policy failure and lopsided planning initiative as even public transport vehicles are not allowed.

Vineet Abhishek
From the various projects we see, it seems this kind of inequity is stark and prevalent across the country. Take the case of all flyovers. While most don’t stop some modes of transport upfront, they are highly unsafe if we are not in our cars. Take the case of elevated walkways—the message that is being given is that pedestrians can be inconvenienced to give motorists a barrier-free path! This needs to change. Various west European cities, even far smaller ones, can act as very good templates for us.
COVID-19 Should Make Us Re-imagine the World Order
Zorawar Daulet Singh

Across the world, authorities are grappling to contain the virus with degraded or underfunded public health systems.

As a bio-security crisis brings the world to a brink, the dominant neo-liberal vision of world order must be displaced by humane globalism and institutions that actually supply public goods.

Harsh

COVID-19 has the world in a much worse place in comparison to SARS. It has also affected global political and economical patterns. Before this disease, the superpowers like the USA, Russia and China had both political and economic power. Before the pandemic, wars were the reasons for large numbers of deaths. These countries had managed to keep the world away from war.

This time the war is against a virus. Now the world should rethink its economic and political systems. In global economics, the neo-liberal system that currently exists only benefits the rich while the poor people have nothing.

Digvijay Sinh

Many would believe that the slowdown of the economy is entirely due to the pandemic, but that is true only up to some point. The failure of the state in implementing strong policies and maintaining law and order combined with disagreements between the centre and the state are also part of the problem.

Also, since World War 2, countries have tried to achieve a neo-liberal economy which emphasizes more on rule-based order and only benefits the privileged few. For the global economy, a new-liberal state presents more negative effects than positive ones. Neither has it reached its full potential and nor did it provide any benefits to the middle classes—the vast unskilled labour or the semi-skilled workforce.

Thus, this system needs some drastic changes in order to be globally sustainable and beneficial.

Vedanshee

The global economy is undergoing a huge recession due to the novel coronavirus which has affected nearly 70% of the world population.

Despite the economic loss and failing strategies, the authorities are relying on health care sectors till its permanent cure is invented. This bio-crises has exposed the absence of multilateral cooperation among the countries as each of them is trying to save their own population.

Unlike World War 2, this crisis can’t be brought down by mere wealth or power. We need adequate medical facilities and interconnections between the societies. Neoliberal reforms’ emphasis is on the free market system instead of an individual’s health. “Neoliberalism” or “the one world market” has deteriorated the health standards as it focuses more on economic development. Covid-19 has taught us the adverse effects of neoliberalism and how it has deteriorated the level of public health infrastructure.

Privatisation and the Voluntary Retirement Scheme
Vinoj Abraham and Ritika Jain

The voluntary retirement scheme of public sector enterprises is built on the narrative of overstaffing and inefficiency.

We argue that VRS is one of the instruments through which labour flexibility is ushered in public sector enterprises, which often end in privatisation.

Ramachandran G
The article ... directly hit the nail on its head saying that the intention of the Government is to privatise ... While it says that policy is one of the reasons for the present situation, unfortunately, they could not probably get data on how private players were helped to increase the market share by following unethical practices while BSNL/MTNL suffered for following the rule book.

The affordability of services at an ARPU [average revenue per user] of ₹70 has been steadily increased in the last two years by unethical practices and making people slave to data whether they actually require it or not and it now hovers around ₹200. Whereas BSNL still keeps the customer requirements in mind and they need to pay around ₹100 only in spite of the slight increase in tariff.

Van Namboodiri

The present difficult position of BSNL is mainly due to the anti-PSU, anti-BSNL policies of the government as also undue favour shown to private companies discriminating against BSNL, its own company. The government, in fact, withdrew from all the assurances given to BSNL and its workers at the time of formation of BSNL.

Prasad

Total losses of PSUs are more than Rs. 1 lakh crore. Just to give a perspective, the entire Himachal Pradesh GDP is Rs. 1.53 lakh crore. BSNL was earlier making profits because it had a monopoly which, by economics principles, is not a good situation. When competition from private companies started, BSNL could not sustain the revenues. At the same time, the customers benefited in a big way as the telephone charges dropped hugely (because of competition).

This has been the story of most PSUs (like Air India, HMT, Pawan Hans, etc). Many countries, including China, Russia, Brazil, France, are divesting of state-owned companies. In fact, most of the rich countries in the world have very few state-owned enterprises.

Narendra M Apte

Implementation of VRS may not be the most ideal way of increasing per employee productivity (and profitability) of BSNL employees, but I suppose there was no other sensible option.

In case you missed it

Ed: Comments have been taken from EPW’s Disqus forum and social media. They have been edited for clarity and length.

Curated by Anandita Chandra and Abhishek Shah

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