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Male Accountability at Home

LETTERS

Issn 0012-9976

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State Discourse on Poverty

P
overty and hunger emerged as a spectre of the Indian state in the 1960s when the possibility of a Red Revolution haunted the political establishment. The first major attempt to measure poverty in India was undertaken by V M Dandekar and N Rath in the late 1960s as a counter-insurgency measure. Poverty studies gained sufficient strength in the 1970s and by the early 1980s managed to take away “a sufficient chunk of international funding for social science”.

Estimation of poverty is a great paradox in India. Jean Dreze drew our attention to this paradox: Nothing is easier than to recognise a poor person when you see him or her. Yet the task of identifying and counting the poor seems to elude the country’s best experts.

The recent controversy regarding poverty estimates in India testifies that measurement of poverty is an organic part of the assertion of state power. Let us narrate the controversy in the language of Harsh Mander: Ten years ago, in a landmark case in the Supreme Court (SC), the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) demanded a legally enforceable right to food. During the past decade, the SC has passed a number of orders, steadily expanding the duties of governments to end hunger and malnutrition. Matters came to a head when the petitioners presented damning evidence of rotting foodgrains, demanding that such critical wastage should halt in a country of immense poverty and hunger. They suggested that these stocks be distributed to all households in the 150 poorest districts. The government opposed this, saying that state-subsidised food should be targeted only to poor families. The SC asked the government to explain how it estimates the number of poor households in the country. The Planning Commission replied in its affidavit that Rs 26 and Rs 32 a day for rural and urban households, respectively, “ensures the adequacy of actual private expenditure…on food, education and health”. This affidavit was widely reported and ordinary citizens understood, for the first time, how governments estimate poverty in India.

It may be mentioned in this connection that under attack for its Rs 26 and Rs 32

october 15, 2011

per capita cut-off for rural and urban poverty line, the Planning Commission admitted (on 3 October) that the benchmark was “very low”, but said that it would not alter or withdraw its affidavit in the apex court on the issue as it was “factual”. However, in a damage-control exercise, the Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh declared at a press conference (as reported in the media) that the government favoured delinking of food entitlement and other social programmes from the present poverty line, which was derived from the Suresh Tendulkar Committee’s findings.

The assurance given by two important officials that the government will deliver economic and social justice to deserving citizens, whatever be the official poverty lines, seems elusive. Our recent experience suggests that the government offers special “development” packages only to those regions which are characterised as “disturbed” in the counter-insurgency discourse of the State.

Arup Kumar Sen

Kolkata

Male Accountability at Home

T
he article “Gender Equality in Local Governance in Kerala” by Praveena Kodoth and U S Mishra (EPW, 17 September 2011) was enlightening. It gives valuable information on how men view elected women representatives and the problems faced by the latter for want of previous experience.

All political, social and religious institutions/organisations cherished the growth of the family as the basic functional unit of society and wanted the same to be continued uninterrupted. However, on the pretext of ensuring their safety and security, men took advantage of women’s vulnerability thus enslaving them. In addition to giving birth and nurturing his progeny, a woman also had to meet her husband’s need for well-being as well as shoulder the responsibilities of the family/ extended family round the clock. Women’s issues caught the world’s attention when the UN placed it at the centre of global issues demanding an early solution. Women all over the world have made rapid strides in

vol xlvI no 42

EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

LETTERS

empowerment. Gender equality in local governance in Kerala would be another critical step forward.

The problems confronting elected women representatives are many and varied. But history shows that women will rise to the occasion in a congenial environment over a short period of time. Inefficiency arising from lack of political and administrative experience may be overcome through capacity building. Creating a congenial working environment is more the contribution of their elected male colleagues. Gender accountability in office may manifest in the form of a “ready to help” attitude and “we are all elected equals” attitude. However, what is noticed is an unhealthy ini mical attitude as if some undeserving intruders have entered their domain. This undesirable psychological approach manifests in character assassination, malicious gossip, relegating women to unimportant positions, preventing them from participating in the decision-making process, and ridiculing them in front of others. It is relevant to note the younger participant’s comment that “he (the oldest participant who tolerated women’s participation) could afford to say so because (at his age) he did not stand to lose very much”. This sends the dangerous message that the feudal patriarchal hangover still continues untamed.

Increased male accountability at home can provide an enabling environment for women to perform better in the political/ labour market arena. Recently, an elected woman representative revealed in an interview to the media that every day during the lunch break she goes home to wash the clothes she had soaked before she left for office! Male accountability at home would improve if time spent in household work is counted as value generating economic activities and wages akin to the International Labour Organisation’s “decent job” prescriptions are allocated.

Mary George

Thiruvananthapuram

The Beltway Mob

T
he Beltway Mob – the senators, their advisors and consultants clustered round Capitol Hill in Washington DC – have a pedigree going back at least a couple of thousand years, to the Roman senators around degenerate Caesars; to the priests of the Spanish Inquisition; and more recently to the apparatchiks of Stalin who perpetrated mega-massacres. The Beltway Mob are kept good company today by the Pakistani military who in the name of a merciful God export terror abroad and import oppression at home, and the Indian political class who though descended from austere Gandhians are among the most rapacious people in power today.

The Beltway Mob have destroyed a great nation, and brought discredit to a people who constituted themselves on the principle “that all men are created equal”. The ongoing siege of Wall Street shows that at last Americans realise that their nation is unequally and cruelly divided between the 1% rich and the dispossessed rest, with at least 20% of their undernourished children living in homes being seized by unprincipled banks, and with fathers who have lost any hope of getting jobs.

This destruction of the cherished dreams of a great people did not happen in a day. Wars and foreign conquests brought Americans windfalls of ill-earned wealth. It is the Beltway Mob that smoothed conscience and perpetrated a gigantic fantasy, like their ancestors in Rome or in Whitehall, a hundred years or so ago. First, the easily sold lie that the people they conquered were barbarians, of different names, Boadicea, Tipu Sultan, or more lately Gaddafi of Libya. The second lie that people must sacrifice their sons in short wars, that unfortunately time and again turned disastrous, to bring civili sation and well-being to the conquered. The third lie that they themselves were selflessly dedicated to the public good everywhere.

A new American president has to prove he also has the heart and stomach of his predecessors, when it comes to war and pillage. Bill Clinton, who feared to be soft, quickly recovered his ratings by bombing a pharmaceutical firm in the Sudan. FDR was spared the need to commit a ferocious act by the second world war, which luckily for him was the right war, and it also brought in jobs for the many and profits for the few in unimaginable quantities. The charismatic Jack Kennedy put the small emerging country of Cuba outside the pale and started the Vietnam war, so he was also alright, but not quite right enough as his tragic end proved.

Now, President Barack Obama needs to do a lot more since he is black and his middle name is Hussein, so he has unleashed the latest act of international banditry on Libya, hoping to be re-elected in 2012. Then, in his last term he hopes to achieve some social good, before he turns into a lame duck. We can already see his eight years in office divided into the first two of big talking, the next two of rightwing moves at home and wars abroad, the third two years of attempting to fulfil some promises, and the last two looking back to ensure a chair at Harvard. This is the deal the Beltway Mob offers him.

The American people can do more. They are by and large likeable, openhearted and friendly, and with strong local traditions of democracy built around their town halls. They are hardworking and innovative – as Pablo Neruda said “We like not your military face, but your unassuming hand covered in oil”. It is that hand we all want to grasp. Now with the siege of Wall Street comes a chance for Americans to see what this mafia has wrought in their name, at home and abroad; here is a chance to fall back on their own sturdy independence and shun banditry abroad; to cut their dispossessors to size and enforce reparations; to clean up Congress as they would their own town hall; to disperse the Beltway Mob to their homesteads; to make Obama the president they wanted and not just another Uncle Tom.

Vithal Rajan

Hyderabad

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Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
october 15, 2011 vol xlvI no 42

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