CAST OUT CASTE: OUTLAWING CASTE DISCRIMINATION IN UK

31 Mar

By Shraddha Kakade

Source:www.Lawyersdefencegroup.org.uk

Source:www.Lawyersdefencegroup.org.uk

Earlier this month on 4th of March 2013, Dalit groups in Britain and their supporters were rejoicing their victory. The House of Lords had voted in favor for including the concept of caste as an aspect of race in the Equality Act 2010. Further, if the bill gets approval of the House of Commons, it will soon become unlawful in Britain to discriminate on the basis of caste in areas of employment, education and the provision of services.
As I read the developments on this issue in UK, what surprised me most was that some section of Indian diaspora had unfortunately maintained their caste-based identity and more regrettably continued discrimination and harassment of lower caste on the basis of the same. Before we get to the broader debate on this issue let us understand some concepts:

• What is caste?
In Dr Ambedkar’s formulation, “Caste is a system of graded inequality in which castes are arranged according to an ascending order of reverence and a descending scale of contempt”. That is, as you go up the caste system the power and status of the caste group increases; as you go down the scale the of contempt for the caste increases as these caste have no power, are of low status and are regarded as dirty and polluting.
The complex caste system is rooted in traditional Hindu system, it is an identity ascribed since birth, pre-ordained much like other identities of race or gender in which individual has no control in determining which caste H/She will be born into.

• Caste in UK
The first case of alleged caste-discrimination was reported in Britain in 2010. Vijay Begraj and his wife Amardeep are contesting this case from the Birmingham Employment Tribunal since Britain has no legal framework on caste based discrimination.

Vijay Begraj had worked his way up as a business and financial manager in a law firm, where Amardeep (now his wife) worked as solicitor. Over a period of time both decided to get married and as Vijay recalls their parents had no problem with their alliance. The trouble began when Vijay’s bosses in the law firm learnt that Vijay was a Hindu Dalit (Lower caste) and his wife a Sikh Jat (Upper caste).
Vijay recalls, “My three bosses found out that a girl from their community was planning to marry someone from a ‘lower’ caste.” He says that from warning her that “these people are different creatures” to sending him emails with excerpts from the scriptures reminding him of his ascribed subordinate status, his superiors at work did everything to dissuade them from marrying. Their detailed account— harassment, snide remarks, denial of pay hike and promotion, culminating in his dismissal after seven years in service and her resignation— has been placed before the tribunal.” (The Indian Express)

In UK, caste or caste-based discrimination is a foreign concept, the Government’s reluctance on caste legislation, as pointed by a news report was also due in part because of uncertainty over its prevalence in UK. In order to ascertain whether there is caste based discrimination and harassment in Britain in the areas covered by discrimination legislature, i.e. Education, Provision of goods and services and work, the Government Equalities Office commissioned a report, the findings of the report suggested that such discrimination was found in Britain.

KEY FINDINGS OF THE REPORT:

*The term ‘caste’ is used to identify a number of different concepts, notably, varna (a Hindu religious caste system), jati (an occupational caste system) and biraderi (often referred to as a clan system). The examples of caste discrimination identified related to jati.

• Caste awareness in Britain is concentrated amongst people with roots in the Indian subcontinent (who comprise
five per cent of the population). It is not religion specific and is subscribed to by (and affects) members
of any or no religion.
• The study identified evidence suggesting caste discrimination and harassment of the type covered by the
Equality Act 2010 in relation to:
-Work (bullying, recruitment, promotion, task allocation;
– Provision of services; and
– Education (pupil on pupil bullying).
• The study also identified evidence suggesting caste discrimination and harassment which may fall outside the
Equality Act 2010 in relation to voluntary work, harassment, demeaning behavior and violence.
• The caste discrimination and harassment identified in this study was by higher castes against the lowest
castes.
• There is no clear evidence on whether the extent of caste discrimination and harassment is changing. There
are both positive and negative influences at work.
• To reduce caste discrimination and harassment the Government might take educative or legislative approaches.
Either would be useful in the public sector. However, non-legislative approaches are less likely to be
effective in the private sector and do not assist those where the authorities themselves are discriminating.
Relying on the Indian community to take action to reduce caste discrimination and harassment is problematic.
• Equality Act 2010 provisions on religious discrimination cannot cover caste discrimination and harassment as
effectively as caste-specific provisions would.

source: Dalit solidarity Network (DSN) dsnuk.org

source: Dalit solidarity Network (DSN) dsnuk.org

Moreover other reports publishe before this Government Study, like the Dalit Solidarity Network UK report in 2006, the Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance in 2009 have too, well documented the existence of caste-based discrimination and harassment prevalent in UK.
Hence, a number of Dalit rights activist and Anti caste discrimination alliances, groups have been long demanding for the UK Government to outlaw caste-discrimination and make necessary legislation to this effect.

One can say 4th of March 2013, was a decisive victory for these groups as The House of Lords voted in favor of including caste in the Equality Act 2010, but the battle is just half won, as The House of Commons is yet to vote on the Amendment.
Let us now, look at some of the Arguments and counter-Arguments that took place in the UK Parliament over the amendment.

• Debates over this Amendment
The UK Government two main arguments against the amendment were:
a. There is not enough evidence to suggest that there is caste-based discrimination in UK
b. It will not enforce legislative measures but recourse to educational Programme to end discrimination

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Dalits, along with other members counter-argued…

Source:www.bbc.co.uk

Source:www.bbc.co.uk

The Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries of Pentregarth — who introduced the amendment — said the British Dalit community had reached 4,80,000 and evidence showed they suffered discrimination in education, employment and the provision of public goods and service.
“Nothing could be more significant and effective in reducing discrimination on the grounds of caste than to have a clear-cut law that discrimination in the public law would not be tolerated,” he said during the debate in Parliament.

Further other member argued, “We are still wondering how much more evidence there needs to be. Plenty has now been amassed over the past 10 years and documented from the Dalit Solidarity Network UK report in 2006, to Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance in 2009 and the National Institute’s ‘robust’ report in 2010.”

Lord Avebury asked ‘why should caste be treated differently…to any other protected characteristic’? (i.e.: Equality legislation includes characteristics of race, religion, sex). He added that the government’s inadequate proposals so far, only advocate education as a means of eradicating caste, without providing for legal safeguards.”

• My opinion over the issue

I agree with the decision of The House of Lords to include the term Caste in the Equality Act, it is true that the bill is yet to be passed in The House of Commons. I am of the opinion both education and Legislation is required to fight this social menace.

I disagree with the UK Government stand that caste-discrimination and prejudice can be dealt effectively with education Programme alone. Education can definitely help sensitize public, create awareness among the police and other public officials about the connotation of the term but without any legal framework, people who have faced or potentially are at risk to face discrimination shall not have legal recourse to address caste-based discrimination.

As far as the argument of the whether caste based discrimination exists in UK goes…
Several reports both by the Government of UK and other private Groups( which have been mentioned above) have suggested that caste-based discrimination does exists, waiting to amass more evidence, would mean only delaying the Legislation of outlawing caste.

One can also argue that despite India having Abolished Untouchability (Art 17, Indian Constitution) and discrimination based on caste through several other legislations and constitutional safeguards caste-based harassment, discrimination has not been completely eradicated from our society though there has been evident progress.

I locate this problem in attitude of people. If you recall the first case of caste discrimination reported from UK mentioned about, Vijay Begraj, born in Britain believed that it was his only identity but his bosses through their discriminatory treatment to him redefined his identity, reminded him that he is ‘Hindu-Dalit.’ Thus through this instance it is clear that identity is not just how individuals define themselves but also the way it is defined by others.

Hence, if we are as a society to eradicate caste based discrimination having constitutional and institutional framework, educational programmes is necessary but until and unless there is change in the attitude of the both the oppressor and oppressed we will not be able to cast out caste.

Reference:
1. (n.d.). Retrieved from • http://kractivist.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/no-escape-from-caste-prejudice-even-in-uk-discrimination-humanrights/

2.(n.d.). Retrieved from http://m.indianexpress.com/news/house-of-lords-votes-to-outlaw-caste-discrimination-in-uk/1083499

3 .(Dalit Solidarity Network U.K. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://dsnuk.org/2013/03/05/dalit-groups-win-the-day-4th-march-2013/

4 .Governmnet Equalities Office . (2010). Caste discrimination and Harrasment in Great Britain.

5 .Nair, S. (2013, March 26). Retrieved from – http://www.indianexpress.com/news/uk-wakes-up-to-caste-bias/1093262/

6. Rath, Kayte; BBC News Political reporter. (2013, March 5th). Retrieved March 2013, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21659744

7. The Economist, Erasmus- Blogs on Religion and Public Policy. (2013, March 7th). Retrieved from The Economist: http://www.economist.com/blogs/erasmus/2013/03/stamping-out-caste-system-0#comments

India – China Relations Potentials of Cooperation and Dissonance

30 Mar

 BY Sumedh Lokhande 

Image

Source: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-12-05/china/35619433_1_oil-exploration-south-china-sea-hong-lei

 Something important is happening in Asia which the whole world is watching with eagerness and anxiety. The two most populous countries of the world have started their march towards the core of the international economic system and seem to be marching at a fair speed. It may be early into the present century but there are unmistakable allusions by various Think Tanks all over the world that the current century is going to be shaped largely by the actions of these two Asian giants.

India-China declared 2012 as the year of India-China friendship and co-operation. High-level mutual visits, agenda for cooperation in a number of areas, burgeoning trade and investments, multilateral cooperation marked the positive direction in bilateral relations even as some core national interests continued to bog down the relations between the two countries. Their relation has travelled a long way from a position of conflict to being major collaborators in some aspect of their bilateral engagements in the last 60 years. The question is how to explain this relationship between India-China? Does this relationship gives us allusions of cooperation or is just an illusion and how long it will last? In this article I have tried to study the points of convergence of interest and the potential of rift between the two Asian giants in future.

 

Potentials of cooperation

 

Border trade connectivity

India and China are said to cooperate in bilateral trade through their land borders under Bangladesh China India Myanmar regional forum (BCIM) established since 1999. China in the long run looks at it as a vital physical economic entry into 1.3 billion people market of South Asia; whereas for India it will open access to other business centers in the western, eastern and south-eastern China which will help in developing its northeastern region.

 Image

 Source: http://www.energybangla.com/2013/02/26/2543.html#.UVHBpxxHKWw

 

The border trade between India and China is conducted along three mountain corridors Gunji in Uttarakhand, Namgiya Shipkila in Himachal Pradesh and Nathu La in Sikkim. Beside trade this connectivity can also help to promote tourism in this region. Sikkim connects the major Buddhist destination in India and its neighbouring countries Bodh Gaya, Rumtek, Tawang in India Lumbini in Nepal and Taktsang in Bhutan to Jokhang and Potala in Lhasa.  The Nathu la trade route, if opened to tourist traffic, could integrated the tourism industry of Himalayan states in the north-east and other regions with similar features in the neighbouring countries like China, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and Nepal.

 The Chinese central government has set a high priority on the resumption of trade through India trough sub regional arrangement along with Bangladesh and Myanmar as it will play a major role in developing in southern Tibet region and south western Yunnan province. Further China will have easy access to the ports of West Bengal and Bangladesh through which it can trade its goods directly to its western region as the distance between Lhasa, Tibet and Gangtok, Sikkim is roughly 590 kms. 

 But India is reluctant to commit itself to this initiative. My contention is that the reason why India chooses to go slow and remain cautious about this sub regional arrangement with China is directly related to a non-economic issue, namely, the intermittent flare-ups on border issue and China’s claim over Arunachal. Further, India also apprehends economic trouble as it will further help China in dumping its goods in India. As a result, despite several visits by trade, development and investment officials from Yunnan Province hardly US $ 1.125 million worth of goods were exported and imported through border trade in 2012.

 

Cooperation in Climate Change

India and China have emerged as defenders of the global South in the international climate change arena which has been polarized into a North versus south negotiation. The climate change debate today is centered on whose responsibility it is to clean up and protect the environment. For years, India and China have presented a united front in various international negations and agreements. Both nations have asked developed nations to slash their carbon output and at the same time have refused to accept the cap on their carbon emission as it will hurt their growth.

In 2009 they made it official and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for exchange of views on energy conservation and efficiency, to increase cooperation in renewable energy and forest management, to deepen mutual understanding, and strengthen coordination by enhancing cooperation.

The economic and social benefits of cooperation in Climate change could be huge for both countries as they both are in search of renewable source of energy as it will reduce their burden of importing large resources of oil, natural gas and coal and will also reduce their carbon emission without hurting their growth. Take for instance Government of India wants India to emerge as a global leader in solar power generation. It not only has a Ministry of New and renewable Energy, but has also set-up the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar mission and is providing capital subsidies, for solar power generation. On the other hand China’s ambition is to become a major player in solar industry, and have already managed to reduce the price of their solar panels by 75% over their US counterparts. As a result China could be strategic partner for India in achieving its dream of generation 20, 000 megawatts of grid-connected solar power by 2022 under its Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission.

Energy Sector cooperation and competition

 According to World Energy Outlook in 2030 the world’s energy needs would be well over 50% higher than today. China and India together alone will account for 45% of the increase in global primary energy demand in this scenario.

Today China has already surpassed USA in terms of energy consumption and continues to import increasingly large quantities of energy to support its rapidly growing economy. India promotes itself as a major importer of energy from all possible sources and has emerged as a major energy market in the world. In short,increasing energy consumption is making it a necessary condition for them to cooperate, seeing it as their common interest to sustain their growth. Are they, really cooperating? The two countries collaborated in four cases, viz., Sudan, Syria, Iran and Colombia. In Sudan (March 2003), India paid $750 million for 25% of oil share while the Chinese company CNPC paid $441 million for 37%. In Iran (September 2006), India got only 29% shares while China got 51%. Further China has successfully out bid India in four other oil fields Angola, Kazakhstan, Ecuador and Nigeria and India is collaborating with other nations to compete with China e.g. India-Vietnam joint oil exploration.

It is clear that, even while cooperating in energy sector they are competing with each other; here China has upper hand over India due to its vast economic resources.

In the Following video Venu Rajamony a Senior Indian Diplomat talks about challenges and opportunity for India in energy security.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Izs-sr8tFjQ

 

Potential of dissonance

 

The dams on Brahmaputra River

Despite a well-functioned relationship between India and China in recent decades, the Brahmaputra River may pose new challenge to the continued supply of fresh water for both countries in the future. China is constructing a major 510 MW hydro-power dam on the Brahmaputra River. This project in Zangmu in the Tibet Autonomous region (TAR) began to be built in 2010 and is expected to be complete in 2015. When India rose concern over this dam China assured that the Dam is a small project which will not have any impact on the river’s downstream flow into north-east India. But this year in January China has given nod for three new dams on the Brahmaputra river and one of the three approved new dams is bigger than the Zangmu Project.

A 640 MW dam will be built in Dagu, Which lies 18 km upstream of Zangum. Another 320 MW dam will be built at Jiacha, and the third dam will be built at Jiexu, 11 Km upstream of Zangmu.

ImageSource: http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/china-gives-goahead-for-three-new-brahmaputra-dams/article4358195.ece

This has alarmed Indian side as it can have a major impact on ecological system of India’s north eastern region and once the dams are completed, the control on the water of Brahmaputra will be in the hands of China. If China blocks the water in Brahmaputra it will lead to famine in Northeastern region of India. Further, the dams will block the flow of minerals through water and block the fish migration. All this will adversely affect the ecology and led to environmental imbalance of this region.

There are also reports suggesting that China in the long run wants to divert this water towards its northern and eastern region. However, with the three new approvals under the energy plan, four hydropower projects will now be built- on the main stream of the middle reach of the Brahmaputra which are enough to increase India’s water crisis in near and midterm future.

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  Source:  http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/china-gives-goahead-for-three-new-brahmaputra-dams/article4358195.ece

 

As  a result its high time that India takes this issue seriously as it could be too late very soon.

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Source: http://cartoonistsatish.blogspot.in/2011/06/chinas-swallow-india-mission.html

                                                                                            

India and  China -Pakistan relations

From the very beginning, China has been projected the threat factor that could push India to cross the nuclear threshold. Further China has assisted Pakistan to lay hands on nuclear weapons. Today Nearly 70% of Pakistani battle tanks and 50% of combat aircraft are of Chinese origin. Since the beginning of this century, China has embarked upon massive modernization of its armed forces. This Chinese modernization programme forces India to pursue an effective deterrence programme. According to an Indian intelligence report China has at least 25 nuclear-tipped medium-range ballistic missiles based in Tibet, along with an undisclosed number of nuclear-configured short-range tactical missiles. These deployments are singularly India-specific as they have the range to strike major Indian cities or engage military formations in the Himalayas.

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Source:http://www.indiandefencereview.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Tibet_Location_Nuclear_Arse.jpg

Given the gap in the conventional military capabilities between the two countries, it has become imperative for India to build credible deterrence with nuclear weapons. For instance India’s Agni 5 Nuclear Missile has created deterrence as it can hit all major Chinese cities including Shanghai and Beijing.

Following video gives us Chinese perspective on Agni 5 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0VbXs3_Izw

Although China views USA as its main strategic rival in Asia-Pacific region, it has actively sought to contain India by providing nuclear weapons capabilities to Pakistan. The current two Pakistani nuclear reactors Chashma 1 and Chashma 2 are Chinese made. China has also provided nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan, for e.g. it traded ring magnets used to produce enriched uranium for missiles in the 1990s. China and Pakistan reached a formal agreement last month to construct a third nuclear reactor in the northern province of Punjab. The secret agreement for the Chashma3 reactor was signed in Beijing which calls for the state- run China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) to construct a 1,000 megawatt power plant at Chasma.

Further India has a long term ambition to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group NSG, but China is opposing the move and instead supporting Pakistan for the same. This all-weather friendship between China and Pakistan can cause an India China conflict; e.g. after the2008 attacks in Mumbai a senior Chinese leader gave an on record statement that if India attacks Pakistan it will annex Arunachal Pradesh as southern Tibet.

                                                                                                             

India China and the big fight in Indian Ocean

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     Source: http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/739276.shtml

Both, India and China, seeking to develop economically rapidly need abundant and regular supply of many resources. China’s oil consumption doubled between 1995 and 2005, and it is estimated that it will grow even faster between 2005 and 2015 surpassing US consumption. As a result its demand for oil and gas will keep on increasing. Similarly, India’s energy consumption accounts for about 3.5% of the world; making it the fifth largest consumer, with its ever increasing population and its desire to become a superpower will force it to increase its primary energy supply by at least 3 to 4 times and its electricity generation capacity by 5 to 6 times  by 2031.

 Today, nearly 80 % of Chinese trade, particularly oil, and 97% of India’s trade are through the sea lanes of Indian Ocean. Beside this two-third of world’s oil trade and one-third of bulk cargo is carried through this region. India considers Indian Ocean as its own lake and justifies its legitimacy in these waters. On the other hand, increasing economic interest and the need to protect its trade lanes in this region has made China increase its naval presence. For this purpose China has collaborated and developed sea ports in a number of littoral states surrounding India. These ports can be used both for civil and military purposes.

This strategy is popularly known as String of Pearls, which India feels is to keep India boxed within South Asia and contain its Influence over Indian Ocean.

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Source: http://www.theworldreporter.com/2009/06/chinese-string-of-pearls-theory.html

India has tried to counter balance this strategy with its so called Necklace of diamond. Under this strategy, it is building military relations with key countries in the Indian and Pacific Ocean with Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, with our neighbouring countries in South Asia along the Chinese trade lanes. Last year India commissioned NAS Baaz, India’s first naval air station at Campbell Bay, the southernmost island of the Andaman and Nicobar group of Islands. This will enhance its surveillance capacity not only in the Straits of Malacca but also the Straits of Sunda and Lombok.

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Source: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1120710/jsp/frontpage/story_15711340.jsp

 If one closely looks at the region stretching from Indonesia to Japan it resembles a necklace with Australia as its diamond. Further it has also developed relations with the gulf countries particularly Iran where it has invested in developing Chabahar port to counter China’s Gwadar port in Pakistan.

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 Source: http://defenceforumindia.com/forum/subcontinent-central-asia/5536-chabahar-port-vs-gwadar-port.html

The above scenario makes it clear that Indian Ocean is one core area of divergence, if not conflict, as China which is not an Indian Ocean Power is investing a lot of diplomatic and military power to become one. On the other hand, India which is not a South or East China Sea power, is working hard to project itself as one of the main power by developing relations with littoral nations in this region. One can say that this is the crux of India China Strategic rivalry. These are important ponderings because the shape of the twenty-first century international system depends largely on the future juxtaposition of these two countries

Conclusion

The recent interactions between India and China in the last one decade indicate moves toward normalistaion of ties on certain issues such as bilateral trade, climate change etc. and yet stalemate on certain issues such as border dispute, defense ties etc. India is also not entirely comfortable with directly engaging China within any multilateral arrangement, wherein India may be a lesser player vis-à-vis China. The New Chinese President Xi Jinping has assured India that China would pay “great importance” to developing bilateral ties and expects to carry out close cooperation with India to create a brighter future of their bilateral trade. At the same time he also had given the nod to develop Chashma 3 nuclear reactor for Pakistan which is said to be India centric. As a result India should look at these developments with caution as there is a saying in international diplomacy: Watch what countries do, rather than what they say.

 Further since India and China share the same neighbourhood similar compulsions and similar self-perceptions they are bound to compete directly and also over the neighbourhood in all matters, most important among them being security in the future to come. For the time being they are trying to avoid direct confrontation, demonstrating commitment to cooperation and friendly relations.

ImageSource:http://www.globaltimes.cn/NEWS/tabid/99/ID/719288/Geography-limits-mutual-Sino-Indian-influence.aspx

 

References

1.http://endthelie.com/2012/10/21/india-china-ties-improve-but-strategic-rivalry-not-over/#axzz2KOkXXk1V

2. http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/IndiaandtheOutgoingChineseLeadership_RNDas_141112

3. http://ipcs.org/event-details/release-of-ipcs-task-force-reports-991.html

4. http://www.elp.com/news/2013/03/09/energy-cooperation-in-bcim-region.html

5.http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BN/0809/ClimateChange#_Toc222285933 

6. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aFyFHkF6C3Fs

7. http://english.cbcsd.org.cn/dynamic/proseminar/3173.shtml

8. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303836404577476090216555460.html

9. http://chinawaterrisk.org/resources/analysis-reviews/china-water-portrait-past-future/

10. http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/china-gives-goahead-for-three-new-brahmaputra-dams/article4358195.ece

11. http://www.ipcs.org/article/india/india-china-and-bangladesh-the-contentious-politics-of-the-brahmaputra-3840.html

12. http://csis.org/files/publication/twq12winterpant.pdf

13. http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_pakistans-new-loc-bunkers-have-made-by-china-stamp_1788414

14. http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2013/03/22/news/foreign/china-to-supply-nuclear-reactor-to-pakistan /

15. http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/china-news/chinese-pakistani-reactor-hints-at-nuclear-weapons-cooperation-368740.html

16. http://www.indiandefencereview.com/spotlights/the-challenge-posed-by-chinas-military-posture-in-tibet/

17. http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-03-05/india/37469245_1_defence-budget-defence-expenditure-indian-defence

18. http://www.sikharchives.com/?p=4365

19. http://www.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-india-to-counter-chinas-threat-by-necklace-of-diamonds/20120131.htm

20. http://www.india-seminar.com/2011/617/617_c_raja_mohan.htm

21. Pramod Kumar, “Asian Maritime Diplomacy: an Economic Analysis”, World Focus, January 2013.

22. ArunodayBajpai, “India’s Maritime Strategy: Challenges and Response”, World Focus, January 2013.

 

‘CONSUMER IS SOVEREIGN’; ‘CUSTOMER IS KING’: Errrr REALLY?

24 Mar

 

 By Shraddha Kakade

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Every year 15th of March is observed as the World Consumer Rights Day, the minute I hear the term consumer rights, I instantaneously recollect the melody of series of advertisements issued by PrasarBharati in public interest, with the vigilant jingle, ‘JagoGrahakJago’(wake up consumers wake up). Despite these efforts by the Government of India and numerous other voluntary organizations which strive to create awareness about consumer rights among the public, how many of us are aware of our consumer rights?, the legislations available for protection of the interest of the consumers? ¬¬ very few. Majority of us continue to overlook or silently suffer the unfair dealing in our day to day lives, be it the adulteration of food, misleading advertisements, poor quality of services or be it paying more than the MRP price for products, or allowing the vegetable/fruit vendor to use stone instead of weight among others. With increasing number of people shopping online new set of challenges have developed, where consumers no longer see the seller or the product .

Thus this blog is my attempt to understand what rights as consumers we have in India and what are the laws pertaining to the protection of consumer interest.

Why 15th of March?

It was on 15th of March, in 1964 John F Kennedy the then President of United States of America called upon the US congress to accord its approval to the Consumer Bill of Rights. During his speech Kennedy equated National interest with protection of ordinary American consumer rights and remarked, “If a consumer is offered inferior products, if prices are exorbitant, if drugs are unsafe or worthless, if the consumer is unable to choose on an informed basis, then his dollar is wasted, his health and safety may be threatened, and national interest suffers.”  The rights provided through the bill are: i) Right to choice, (ii) Right to information, (iii) Right to safety and (iv) Right to be heard.

Thirteen years later President Gerald Ford added one more right, i.e. the right to consumer education. Other rights were gradually added; Consumer International (Umbrella Organization for 240 consumer organizations in over 100 countries) expanded the rights to further include right to healthy environment and right to basic needs.

Ultimately it was on 9th of April 1985, United Nations General Assembly adopted a set of general guideline for consumer protection and the UN Secretary General was authorized to persuade member countries to adopt these guidelines through policy changes or laws. These guidelines constitute a comprehensive policy framework outlining what governments need to do to promote consumer protection in following seven areas: Physical safety;  Protection and Promotion of the consumer economic interest; Standards for the safety and quality of consumer goods and services; Distribution facilities for consumer goods and services; Measures enabling consumers to obtain redress, Measures relating to specific areas (food, water and pharmaceuticals) and Consumer education and information programme.

Though not legally binding, the guidelines provide an internationally recognized set of strategy, particularly for governments of developing and newly independent countries for structuring and strengthening their consumer protection policies and legislations. (Singh &Chadah)  

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Source: Foreign Policy Blog.com

Consumer Protection Act 1986

In India the Consumer Protection Act was accordingly passed on 24th of December 1986 based on the guidelines provided by the UN. The objective of this Act was to better protect Indian consumer’s interest, to make provision for establishment of consumer councils and establishment of authorities to settle consumer disputes and address their grievances.

As per the Act, a ‘Consumer’ has been defined as

-Any person who buys goods for consideration, and any person who uses goods with the approval of the purchaser.

-Any person who hires any service(s) for a consideration and any beneficiary of such services, provided the service is availed with the approval of the person who had hired the service for a consideration.

Moreover, the consideration for either the goods or services may be either paid or promised, or partly paid or promised, or provided under a system of deferred payment.

Other than the consumer other complainants may include a registered consumer organization, central or State Government & one or more consumers, where there are numerous consumers having the same interest.

The Act enshrines the following Rights for consumers:

1. The right to be protected against the marketing of goods which are hazardous to life and property;

2. The right to be informed about the quality, quantity, potency, purity, standard and price of goods so as to protect the consumer against unfair trade practices;

3. The right to be assured, wherever possible access to variety of goods at competitive prices;

4. The right to be heard;

5. The right to seek redress against unfair trade practices or unscrupulous exploitation of consumer; and

6. The right to consumer education.

The complaint can be handwritten/typed by the complainant and no stamp or court fee is required, also the rigors court procedures have been done away and replaced with simple procedures allowing consumers to seek easy and inexpensive means of redress.

The C.P. Act applies to all goods and services, excluding goods purchased for resale or for commercial purpose & services rendered free of charge & under contract of personal service. The provisions of this Act cover ‘Products’ as well as ‘Services’.  The products are those which are manufactured or produced and sold to consumers through wholesalers and retailers.  The services are of the nature of transport, telephones, electricity, constructions, banking, insurance, medical treatment etc. etc.  The services are, by and large; include those provided by professionals such as Doctors, Engineers, Architects, and Lawyers etc.

The Act provides a three tier, quasi-judicial consumer disputes redressal Authority (Consumer Courts) at District, State and National level. They are known as District Forums, State Commissions and National Commission. Depending upon the compensation claimed by the complainant he/she can file a case, i.e. For consumer claims up to 20 lakhs District courts, State Commission for above 20 Lakhs but less than one crore and National Commission for claims above one crore.

The Act also provides for councils at district, state and national level, with the aim to help the respective governments in adopting and reviewing policies for promoting, protecting the rights of the consumers also for the purpose of spreading consumer awareness. This council has a broad composition including citizens and number of interest groups, constituted on basis of public-private partnership for better feedback and thereby reviews of the policy.

 How does the Act empower you and me?

The consumer protection Act in India is considered as notable social welfare legislation, as we studied above under the provisions of this Act, a complainant can ask for protection of his interest in a wide range of subject, say against bank which refuses to give back fixed deposit after the maturity period, defective electronic appliances, wrong medical treatment being administered, or against educational institutions on the grounds of it being a fake university, for examination not being held or results not given out or against the builder who failed to provide amenities assured in the construction project etc. Thus let us now look at some recent cases in which this Act has helped protect consumer rights:

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Source: hesvic.iphindia.org

In Kanpur, in mid-January 2002, a complainant Prince, son of Santosh Kumar had visited Dr R C Gupta while he was suffering from fever. Dr Gupta examined the patient and gave him prescription and advised him to visit the clinic in a week for check-up. However the complainant claimed that despite a week the medicines did not provide any relief and on visiting Dr Gupta’s clinic on stipulated time he complained the same however Dr Gupta only enhanced the dose of medicine prescribed in old prescription. After consulting another Child Specialist the complainant was told that so far he was being given wrong treatment, he is suffering from Meningitis. On January 29, complainant again consulted Dr Gupta and he referred him to a home (Nursing). During examination doctors observed that he was suffering from meningitis and brain TB and so far he received wrong treatment. Owning to the wrong treatment, the complainant got handicapped and lost his eyesight. The complainant had sought a sum of Rs 19 lakh as damages caused by the wrong treatment given by Dr Gupta. The District forum President LB Singh and member Sumanlata Sharma observed that doctor was negligent towards his duties and his act comes under the preview of dereliction of duty, therefore he was liable to pay a sum of Rs 2 lakh as damages to the complainant.

 Is awareness enough? What about consumer responsibilities?

It is commendable at one level that we have Acts and Organization which work conscientiously to protect and promote interest of the consumers. We observe that several efforts are made by the Government in this direction, like establishment of National consumer Helpline to inform consumers on actions they can take on consumer protection related issues, establishment of ‘Consumer Online Resource and Empowerment Centre (CORE Centre)’ for providing consumer related information, guidance and consumer complaint guidance mechanism through the online medium, or involving academic institutions in conducting research and programs to enhance public awareness, this all is noteworthy. But education and awareness does not in itself solve problems of apathy. A larger attitudinal change is necessary in our consumption habits thereby making all these changes effective.

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Source: files.wordpress.com

Consumers today are not sovereign as much as we would like to believe, we make consumption decisions not always guided by rationale but by factors like branding and marketing. Hence our responsibility as consumers does warrant a mention here. For example: Studies have revealed a large percentage of adolescents in US suffer from obesity owning to growth of fast food culture. Marketing of such food stuff creates association between consumers and the perception of happytimes, enjoyment without quite highlighting the consequences of daily junk food consumption. Today Fast food culture is seeing steep growth in Indian market too, thus it is essential for young consumers to assess what our needs are, eating junk food in moderation (without getting addicted to its fat and sugar) and importantly going beyond spurious marketing veil.

Secondly women consumers have a larger responsibility as they make not only half the world consumers but also make 80% of all purchase decisions for home and children. Marketers being aware of the working women pressures have come up with instant, two minute snacks and similar ideas amidst such developments it is essential for buyers in general and particular women to ensure the nutritional merit of the food product before making the purchase decision.

Having consumer protection legislations and organizations or even aware populace is not enough though.  What we need is a consumer culture opposed to unfair dealing, both small and big. ‘Awareness’ accompanied by ‘Alertness’ enables the ‘consumer to be king’ in the true sense.

 

Reference

(n.d.). Retrieved from http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=34182

(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.consumerhelpindia.com/education.html

(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.legalhelpindia.com/consumer-protection-act.html

(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.goforthelaw.com/articles/fromlawstu/article82.htm

(n.d.). Retrieved from http://consumergoods.indiabizclub.com/info/consumer_rights

Government of India.(n.d.). Retrieved from http://business.gov.in/consumer_rights/issues_problems.php

Government of India.(n.d.). Retrieved from http://business.gov.in/consumer_rights/issues_problems.php

Singh, S., &Chadah, S. (n.d.).Consumer Protection in India some Reflections.

CYBERSPACE, EGYPTIAN REVOLUTION and DEMOCRACY.

24 Mar

The recent revolution famously dubbed Egypt spring showed that cyberspace provided secure and relatively uncensored platform for the people who successfully toppled the dictatorial regime of Hosni Mubarak. The role played by social media in Egyptian revolution has been hailed across the world as success of cyberspace in bringing civic participation, mobilizing popular protest for democracy. 

The term cyberspace was first used by Canadian writer William Gibson, a science fiction writer.Hesuggests that cyberspace should be regarded as a qualitatively new world-a frontier in which electronic communication becomes a place. Cyberspace demanded a new set of metaphor a new set up of rules and behaviours. Space created by cyberspace allows people to communicate with others; as Sterling notes, this place is not real but it is serious and earnest.

Cyberspace proved useful in Egyptian revolution mainly because of four important factors which are not applicable to traditional mass media: 1) Anarchic nature of internet;  2) Interactive features which allow direct feedback to individual articles and opinion; 3) Longevity of material; and 4)  Citizen journalism i.e. possibility for website to create  contents through contribution of its readers or common citizens. Cyberspace bridged the gap between resentment against government in people and inability of traditional controlled mass media to effectively mobilize people against government by providing them much needed communication space. This revolution is considered by many as Facebook or twitter revolution. These scholars and media persons cite the importance and valuable contribution social media in Egyptian revolution as a proof for their hypothesis. However the cyberspace- virtual world is not the only factor which led to thisrevolution. On the contrary social media was only an effective tool and technical platform which helped Egyptian to communicate with each other, organised and mobilize peoples without much control of government. However entire credit of this change is rested with fearless people rather than social media as such.

 In Egypt during the Hosni Mubarak regime, traditional mass media was controlled and censored by the government. No dissent whatsoever was allowed against Mubarak regime. However ironically, social media internet and mobile phones were not only allowed even effort was made to increase their penetration in society in order to boost the national economy. In Egypt 15% to 17% of the population who are active internet users are mostly youths, who were the driving force behind the Egyptian revolution.

 

Internet played a very important role in the mobilization of people by spreading their resent against regime among and making them confident enough to protest.This was important as earlier participation was low due to the fear of police crackdown. But when it became evident that a large number of people were against the regime, people’s participation increased; they felt secure in large numbers. Cyber activism wasalso a major trigger for street activism.

Egypt was experiencing protest movements and street marches even before Tunisian revolution. The most vivid failure of previous protest and marches was theirinability to mobilize public on massive scale. A group called April 6 movement realized in their first effort the trouble of using social mediaalone as medium for democratic movements i.e. many online sympathisers but unable to organise them offline. There was a need to find missing link between public anger and actual public mobilisation to bring about real change.

 

Cyber activism during Egyptian revolution:

The National Coalition for Change used a well organised communication network that includesFacebook, Twitter and YouTube to spread the message about protest. Facebook’s largest impact was in the mobilization of protesters.  April 6movements“We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook page invited people to join the protest to be organized on January 25, 2011. More than 50,000 people responded. Facebook enabled organizing the protestor by spreading information to of people and in an instant and this shared between their friends. Facebook was far faster than leaflets with added benefit that receiver is trusted source. Google Moderation and Tweeter allowed anyone to comment on the subject and voting on subject. Tweeter allowed users to create a subject for discussion and post a comment. The “We all are Khalid said” Facebook page become the important sources of information and advice for protester’s. Face book was used as an advocacy and press management tool by certain opposition groups. For example protester used their hand held mobile devices to document any incident of suppression and to upload them immediately to face book and attracting attention and rolling support. Twitter was used for citizen journalism and mobilisation during the revolution. On Tweeter images were posted showing satellite maps marked with arrows indicting where protester could go to avoid pro-government mob. As Mary Joyce stated Egyptian activist used digital technologies to broadcast general information, mobilise protester and evade censorship and surveillance.

Egyptian revolution was not only a political struggle but also a communicationstruggle between government and activist. On January 28, 2011 Egyptian government shut off the internet and mobile phone service for entire country that lasted almost a week. It forced activist to find more innovative solutions such as setting up fine transfer protocol, using landlines to connect internet services to neighbouring countries for posting tweet, Mores code, fax machine and ham radio. They also posted ground reality on ISP Noor, the Egyptian stock exchange website. In every case protestors wereresilient and creative in circumventing these blockages. The outside world mainly US NGO, other internet groupshelpedEgyptian protester to circumvent blockages. Citizen journalism also played a major role in Egyptian uprising. Idle andNunn’s noted that activist were not only tweeting to other Egyptian but also to international community. Protesters uploaded rawvideos of police brutality to YouTube and other videos sharing site. The events which traditional journalists werehesitant or unable to report citizen journalist, bloggers and tweeters report them correctly. Therefore cyber activism, civic engagement and citizen journalism played a very important role in Egyptian revolution.

Cyber activism after Egyptian revolution:  Transition to democracy.

Cyber activism did not end even after Mubarak stepped down; in fact the referendum for new amendment to constitution is vivid example for ongoing online activism. Though many online activists were opposing this referendum the voters overwhelmingly passed it. On 7th September 2012, in general election people elected Mr. Mohammad Mors as their new president. He enjoys the support of Muslim Brotherhood, biggest political organization that survived Mubarak regime. Egypt’s new president Mr. Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood are going in direction that is opposed to democracy in Egypt. The growing influence of MuslimBrotherhood,radical Islamic extremism, stronghold of military elite and delayed transition to democracy put the success of revolution in doubt. Women, who played important role in revolution, are being pushed back into their traditional role and now largely absent from the public sphere.

There is growing demand by extremists and fundamentalists to implement “Shariat” law. Mohammad Morsi government is facing protests and these are being met with heavy hands of state. These protesters demand the gradual transition to democracy and it does not appear to happening. Military elitists are striving to maintain complete control over power.

Thoughcyber activism is up in arms against these recent developments it unfortunately seems to be ineffective in controlling these slow but firm footsteps towards extremism. Economic structure of post revolutionary Egypt is mainly influenced by corporate and military elitists. This control is depriving Egyptian educated youths from achieving their potential. European economists are in favour of open economy with special industrial zones for revival of Egyptian economy. This will never allow Egyptian youths to achieve their potential as it will establish strong hold of International and national business groups and elites on Egypt government which will focus on economic growth and profit making rather than employment generation. Egypt is an important ally for US to safeguard its own interest in the Middle East. Therefore US intervention in newly elected Morsi government is just a matter of time. There is strong fear that this US intervention will eventually undermine the capacity of Egypt government to address problems of Egyptians as it happen in many regimes where US intervene. This all draw very gloomy picture about future of Egypt after revolution. Online activism is proving increasingly inefficient to direct post revolutionary Egypt towards what they aspired during revolution.

Is Cyberspace the new place of protest?

Cyberspace is considered as an alternative to traditional institution of political mobilization. It is non-hierarchical, anarchic in nature and canundermine real world exclusionary criteria and rigid differences. It is a platform for public participation, for civic engagement and hailed as competent to revive vibrant democratic culture in the world.  Jasmine revolution in Arab world and role of cyberspace inform of cyber activism which toppled totalitarian regime in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya are now widely consider as a success story of cyberspace. Some of the scholar’s called this as a Facebook revolution.  However this revolution cannot be called as a Facebook revolution as such. As aptly shown by many scholars in Middle East and from across the world it is the grievances of people, their ability to withstand suppression by the regime, readiness to sacrifice for the freedom and bravery is the leading factor in Jasminerevolution and not the Facebook as such. Social media, no doubt, provided the much needed link between public anger against regime and actual mobilisation of people but it is flawed to considered social media as the catalyst of change. Virtual worldcan play and do play a supplementary role in transformation. However, it is naive to label virtual world as amedium of revolution or transformation.

In fact there are enough evidence to show that commercialization of virtual world is gaining pace. Manyextremists’organisations utilize cyberspace for spreading its own agenda. In virtual world, national boundaries, ethnic and cultural status, economic interest, political and ideological inclination, historical events are creating new forms of hierarchies andstrengtheningexisting hierarchies of real world. Deliberation and serious discussion in cyberspace is relatively much smaller in quantity than expected. Pornography, cybercrime, identity theft, cyber bullying are indications of undemocratic nature of cyberspace.

Though many scholars still believe that cyberspace have potential to revive vibrant political and democratic culture but the event in Egypt especially after revolution, America and world over proved otherwise. In America, president Barak Obama’s innovative methods of e-campaign and public support gathered by it was also held by many as success of cyberspace in democracy. Obama’s e-campaign was far more active and vibrant in compare to other presidential candidate’s campaigns.  His popularity and opinion reached to general public via internet where deliberation and two way-direct communications via video-conferences and town hall meetings. This trend was a proof of civic engagement and itmade Obama a president who acts in accordance with public opinion. However this Obama administration is not an anti-establishment in nature. In fact it supports and strengthen the establish pattern.Obama’s choice of Chuck Hegel as a new Secretary of State, a known supporter of War on Terrorism, increased drone attacks in many parts of the world, continued support for totalitarian governments in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya until the rise of strong anti-regime sentiment, covert attempts of regime change in Libya and Egypt under the guise of NATO intervention, deliberate escalation of internal conflict in Syria, hesitation to increase level of taxes on super rich in America, coming under the influence of various business associations and interest groups, adoption of not so people friendly economic policies in US shows  how Obama successfully pretends to act in accordance with public opinion. But in reality he serves the interest of establishment. This indicates that cyberspace may generate strong civic engagement and people participation on various important issues but is not effective in converting that success in form of policy formation in accordance with public opinion. Events in post revolutionary Egypt also indicate similar failure of cyberspace.

Cyberspace is coming under increasing threats of censorship all over the world. Many governments, democratic and totalitarian alike, are striving to censor and control cyberspace with various legal and statutory provisions. New and advanced technology isallowing governments to censor and control the so called ‘anarchic’ cyberspace more and more. The cyberspace or internet make over centralization possible, rejecting decentralised region specific governance in the world as Internet enables thecentral authority the ability to evade geographical and territorial obstacles.  Further itenables governments across the world to constantly surveillance citizen and thus making them as a subject rather citizens. Cyberspace also provides a tool to control and interfere in the privacy of citizen to an unimaginable level; with each passing day it is gradually becoming a medium which serve the interest of establishment rather than bringing back vibrant democratic culture in the world.

Cyberspace and virtual world is necessarily depends upon the real world for its existence. Any change in virtual world is necessarily flown from the real world and not vies versa. Virtual World by definition cannot exist without the support of and influence by real world. Therefore it is wrong to consider cyberspace as a medium to revive a democratic culture.

Transformation and change in existing exploitative power structure must happen in the real world. Virtual world may encourage and supplement real world activism but cannot supplant latter and exist without it. This phenomenonwas aptly shown by the study of Egyptian revolution. Political change is therefore a must and technology cannot solve the problem. In fact the idea that technology can bring about change is part of neo-liberalism which depoliticizes the issue and glorifies technical solution to political problems.

References:

 

1)    Dr. KhamisSahar and Vaughn Katherine, “How Civic Engagement and Citizen Journalism Tilted the Balance” http://www.arabmediasociety.com/articles/downloads/20120313094800_Khamis_Cyberactivism_updated.pdf.

 

2)    Phelps Edmund, “Corporate Threat to Arab Spring”, http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/the-corporatist-threat-to-the-arab-spring#BGKrBfpfU1dYyTtg.99.

 

3)    SaadEddin. Ibrahim, “Historic Elections in Egypt”, at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/historic-election-in-egypt-#jSgLLQ224B7KcrCT.99.

 

4)    Shlomo Ben-Ami, “Egypt’s Revolutionary Coup”,http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/egypt-s-revolutionary-coup#Fdc0KXZjv5fOQ7UV.99.

 

 March 18th 2013 is last date of accessing both http://www.project-syndicate.org  and http://www.arabmediasociety.com/articles/downloads/ websites.

Brazil Without Misery?

23 Mar

This article is an attempt to scrutinize the current ‘Brazil Without Misery (Brasil Sem Miséria)’policy of President Dilma’s administration. In doing so, I’ll be looking into the various initiatives under the policy like Busca Ativa; Brasil Carinhoso; Pronatec; Unidades Básicas de Saúde; and Bolsa Verde. Synchronously; I’ll deliberate into the benefits and loopholes of this policy. I’ll conclude by making some recommendations about this policy and provide a final response to my article title.

“We want to eradicate extreme poverty by 2014 and make Brazil the first developing country to achieve the first of the UN millennium development goals”

– Tereza Campello (MSD) [Langellier Jean-Pierre, 2011]

3c

The policy, ‘Brazil Without Misery’ is a poverty alleviation program aimed at eradicating poverty by 2014. It was launched in June 2011 by Dilma Rousseff, the President of Brazil.  It is an extension of the Bolsa Familia policy initiated by Rousseff’s  predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. In addition to Bolsa Familia, Brazil Without Misery has introduced a number of programs such as Bolsa Verde, Brasil Carinhoso, Busca Ativa etc. In the following paragraphs, I’ll be critically looking into the various initiatives/programs under Brasil Sem Miséria and its attempts at eradicating poverty.

“I did not have a job card or an elec­toral card, and my daughter’s birth certificate was wet. I did not even know I had the right to receive the Bolsa Família”

–      Beatriz [MSD, 2012, p.10]

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As a result of Busca Ativa, Beatriz now receives the Bolsa Família and David is enrolled in a Pronatec course.

Source: MSD, 2012, p.10

One such initiative under Brasil Sem Miséria is the Busca Ativa. The Busca Ativa or The Active Search is the strategy adopted by Brasil Sem Miséria to find and register all extremely poor families. This has proven to be a success as it also acts an impetus for the Bolsa Familia program. The Busca Ativa has registered 687 thousand families [MSD, 2012, p.6] who were previously not included in such schemes. This was done through the Cadastro Único (Single Register). The Cadastro Único provides access to such schemes and hence  a number of families are reaping the benefits of such schemes. Out of the 687 thousand families located, 39% are in municipal­ities with over 100 thou­sand inhabitants, 75% are in urban centers, 58% are in the North and Northeast regions, and 14% belong to spe­cific populations [MSD, 2012, p.9] like Indians, quilombolas (descendants of  Afro-Brazilian slaves), family farmers, pick­ers of recyclable ma­terials, the homeless, etc.

“The positive impact is even greater on those in early childhood: 2.7 million extremely poor children 0 to 6 years of age will be lifted out of extreme poverty”

– Tereza Campello (MSD) [SECOM, 2012]

The Brasil Carinhoso (Brazil that Cares) aims at increasing the investment in early childhood (0 to 6 years) as a means to reducing poverty. It has extended Brazil’s Family Grant benefit to extremely poor families with children 6 years of age and under, thus guaranteeing a monthly income of at least R$ 70 a month per person. The initiative has reduced the number of families living in extreme poverty in Brazil by 40 per cent [SECOM, 2012]. This program shows that Brazil is concerned about her future generation. Furthermore, the work done by Brasil Carinhoso will help Brazil in achieving the fourth millennium development goal of reducing child mortality rates.

“We face the prospect of a rigorous process of economic development and we need skilled labor to maintain this growth in a sustainable manner”

– Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil [Mari Angelica, 2012]

Pronatec (National Program of Access to Technical Learning and Employment) was developed by the City of Rio Branco through a partnership by the Secretaria Municipal de Cidadania e Assistência Social (Semcas) with Senai. Pronatec Brasil Sem Miséria offers initial and con­tinued formation courses, which take from 160 to 240 hours/class. It is the municipality’s responsibility, through the Social Assistance Unified System (Sistema Único de Assistência Social, Suas), to identify through the Single Register (Cadastro Único) the potential candidates for the qualification cours­es. Today, Pronatec Brasil Sem Miséria is oriented to those registered in the Cadastro Único who live in munici­palities with over 50 thousand inhab­itants in the North, Northeast, and Center-West regions, and with over 80 thousand in the Southeast and South regions [MSD, 2012, p. 27]. Such skills will increase the employability of individuals; thus, culminating to a resource rich population.

Pronatec will help Brazil to provide technical skills to its population. Formerly, such technical education training schools were mainly seen in the states of São Paulo, Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro etc. However after the implementation of Pronatec, technical education and training has reached even the poorest, particularly people in the Northeastern states. Besides job capacity generation, this program has also led to social equality among states. However a major problem facing this program is the inequality of education in terms of quality and subsequently opportunity. Thus, when it comes to searching for a job, many of the students from Pronatec schools are unable to compete with their counterparts. However on the upside, this program aims to create 200 new schools and generate 8 million opportunities for professional training by 2014.

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Dona Maria do Amparo and her grandchildren have health at home and in the UBS

Source: MSD, 2012, p.23

Unidades Básicas de Saúde (Basic Health Units) or UBS are established in territories with the highest social vulnerability. The idea is to fight the vicious circle where poverty leads to disease; disease reduces working ca­pacity, which makes the earning of livelihood more difficult  and this in turn leads to more poverty, which, in turn, increases the likelihood of disease. [MSD, 2012, p.23]. To deal with this Brasil Sem Miséria has collaborated with the Family Strategy (Saúde da Família). Hence, teams consisting of doctors, nurs­es, dentists, and community agents  take care of the patients in their respective households or UBS.

“The Green Grant is above all a recognition by the federal government that it is essential to offer an incentive that combines guaranteed income with preservation of the environment”

Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil [Ortiz Fabiola, 2011]

The Bolsa Verde (Green Grant) was launched on September 28th 2011 by President Dilma Rousseff . The policy seeks to overcome extreme poverty in rural areas through sustainable family farming production. An amount of R$ 300 is paid in every quarter to families. Grants are transferred through the Bolsa Familia card [Portal Brasil, 2011]. Bolsa Verde aims at instilling sustainable practices in people living in the forest area. This is done by giving poor families financial aid under the condition of preserving their surrounding environment. In doing so, the policy envisions that Amazon will be protected by the families dwelling their.

Critics of Bolsa Verde argue that in order to receive this subsidy, families have to live within conservation areas or extractive reserves (sustainable use protected areas). Furthermore R$ 100 a month is very little remuneration for families to conserve the rainforest. Many families who have registered under this scheme are still awaiting their status. This is because more than 8,000 families are already included in the list of applicants. This has resulted in a lack of faith in this policy and thus families are going into commercial activities such as cattle ranching

Overall, the federal, state and the municipal levels of government have to coordinate so as to ensure the smooth functioning of the plan. For example, in the city of Rio de Janei­ro, the poorest population is receiving the Bolsa Família (federal), the Renda Melhor (state), and the Família Carioca (municipal). In addition, Brasil Sem Miséria requires greater social participation. The elimination of extreme poverty can only happen when citizens become conscious of their environment. Hence, being primarily a people driven plan, the success of it will only come from the people. Thus, it becomes imperative for Brazilians to continue supporting such initiatives which will result to the achievement of the ‘greater’ good.

“Brazil turns a decisive page in our past history of social exclusion. On this page, it is written that over 2.5 million Brazilian men and women are leaving extreme poverty.”

– Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil [SECOM, 2013]

In conclusion, I do believe that Brazil is Without Misery and the program has proven to be a blessing for the Brazilians. The Brazilian Government remains one of the few governments committed towards the achievement of the first millennium development goal. In doing so, it has also address other millennium development goals as well. Such an initiative should indeed be encourage in other countries. As seen by the Brazilian experience, a similar experiment or policy will help countries to deal with the various loopholes in the achievement of their millennium development goals. Furthermore, Brazil can play an active role in the international sphere. IBSA Dialogue Forum, BRICS can be an effective starting point to cooperate on issues like poverty and development. Nonetheless poverty still exists in Brazil. However in the minds of the Brazilians it has disappeared thanks to the successful implementation of such policies. This makes one to ponder whether ‘Deus é brasileiro (God is Brazilian)’.

By: Kester Pereira

REFERENCES

 ——————————————————————————————————————

Langellier Jean-Pierre (2011): ‘Brazil declares war on ‘chronic poverty’, The Guardian, June 7th

Mari Angelica (2012): ‘R$1bn technical education program launches’, < http://itdecs.com/2011/04/r-1bn-technical-education-program-launches/ > (last accessed March 21st 2013)

Ministry of Social Development (2012): ‘Brazil Without Extreme Poverty Plan’, Ministry of Social Development and Fight against Hunger, Government of Brazil

Ortiz Fabiola (2011): ‘BRAZIL: ‘Green Grant’ May Do Little to Protect Amazon’, Inter Press Service, Oct 11th < http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/10/brazil-green-grant-may-do-little-to-protect-amazon/ > (last accessed March 18th)

Portal Brasil (2011): ‘Brazil launches National Poverty Alleviation Plan’, < http://www.brasil.gov.br/para/press/press-releases/brazil-launches-national-poverty-alleviation-plan/newsitem_view?set_language=en > (last accessed March 18th)

SECOM (2012): ‘Brazil Without Extreme Poverty celebrates its one-year anniversary with 687,000 new families enrolled in Family Grant Program’, The Secretariat for Social Communication, Government of Brazil

SECOM (2013): ‘Brazil lifts 22 million people out of extreme poverty since 2011’, The Secretariat for Social Communication, Government of Brazil

United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report (2011, HDRO (Human Development Report Office) United Nations Development Programme,

Child Soldiers: When children lose their childhood

22 Mar

Childhood should be carefree, playing in the sun; not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul” – Dave Pelzer

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source: sites

A child soldier may be defined as ‘any person less than 18 years of age who is a member of or attached to the armed forces or an armed group, whether or not there is an armed conflict.’

The age limitation of this definition is based upon the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child which is the most widely ratified convention in existence, which defines a child as any person under the age of 18.

In a recent incident in January 2013 the police in the southwestern Baluchistan province have arrested children from the age group of 8 to 17 years, during a raid near the provincial capital, Quetta. The United Baloch Army (UBA) a separatist group fighting the Pakistani government for years, has deployed a new weapon in its arsenal; child bombers to carry out attacks.

UBA had lured the children, who came from poor families, to leave packages containing homemade bombs in markets, dustbins and on routes used by police and security forces. The militants choose the youngsters knowing that police would not suspect small children.

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source: esenatorehumanrights

Some of the children did not know what the packets contained and what they were doing. While some of the boys aged between 10 and 17 years have confessed to being involved in a dozen blasts in the city. The militant group paid them 25 to 50 dollars to drop of packages carrying bombs with timers.

For years, militants in Baluchistan a province rich in natural gas have been fighting for self rule. They complain that the government has paid little attention to them and their economic needs. While it’s the largest province in Pakistan it’s the poorest in per capita income. The terrorists exploit the innocence of the children to commit the crime.

Estimates suggest that as many as 300,000 or more child soldiers are active in conflicts around the world. 40% of armed forces (including national armies, militias, gangs, terrorist organizations and resistance forces) in the world use children. Child soldiers have been used by armed groups in recent and ongoing conflicts in Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and South America.

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source: behance

With the spread of communication, technology and increasing interdependence among countries we assume that every child has equal rights to education, employment, safety and security but this is not true. Till today many children suffer terrible hardships and are used to fight in conflicts they know little about. Research has shown that children need not necessarily be combatants. They may perform a variety of other tasks both military and non military including; scouting, spying, sabotage, training, acting as decoys, couriers, guards, porters, sexual slaves  and forced labour.

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source: images.nonexiste

Child soldiering is often portrayed as something new, a product of the post Cold War flow of cheap guns and money to the world’s most failed states. This is not true. The fact is that child soldiers have been around for a very long time. The Spartans of ancient Greece, for example relied heavily on boys as young as seven. Later the British Navy recruited young lads to serve as cabin boys and cannon prepping powder monkeys throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Large numbers of children fought on both sides in the U.S. Civil War.

According to an Amnesty International report in 2000, “Both governments and armed groups use children because they are easier to condition into fearless killing and unthinking obedience. Children are a cheap and plentiful resource for military commanders in need of a steady troop supply to war zones. Their underdeveloped ability to assess danger means they are often willing to take risks and difficult assignments that adults or older teenagers will refuse.”

Numerous factors influence the recruitment of young children into conflicts they include; poverty, starvation, separation from their families, physical or sexual abuse, lack of livelihood and education. Children are most vulnerable in areas where conflicts have raged over a long period of time. If children are born into and raised in a conflict zone, they are more likely to be de-sensitized to violence.  Many children volunteer to fight as they have few other options for a livelihood outside of an armed organization. The military or militia is seen as a meal ticket and a place for safety and security.

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source: tumblr

 While some children volunteer for recruitment many others are conscripted or forcibly recruited and may be serving against their will. The most distressing method of recruitment is without a doubt kidnapping. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda has the worst record of abduction, stealing tens of thousands of children over the past decade alone.  UNICEF reports that the LRA has abducted children as young as 5 but mostly between the ages of 8 and 16 years, often after killing their parents in front of them. Ugandans may be at highest risk of abduction, but children in other nations have plenty to fear as well. The Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a rebel group operating in Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2002, was notorious for raping and mutilating the civilian population. It was often coerced children who perpetrated the acts. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, fighting for independence from Sri Lanka, relied on children for their suicide bombing missions during their decade long campaign.

In countries like Bhutan, Burundi, Myanmar, El Salvador, Ethiopia and Mozambique children have even been kidnapped while at school. The “Child Soldiers Report 2008” notes that the same is true in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Warlords in Afghanistan and Angola’s National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) have employed a quota system in which they demand that villages each hand over a certain number of youths. Those villages that don’t oblige are attacked.

In fact, both Britain and the United States also recruit 17 year olds, technically still children, on the grounds that they are not allowed into combat (though both have admitted to putting under 18 year old soldiers on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq in the recent war against terror ). Australia, Austria, Canada, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and New Zealand all have similar policies.

Additionally the lines between compulsory, voluntary and forced recruitment are often blurred. Children may be subjected to various political and economic pressures that provide them with little alternative than to voluntarily join armed forces or armed groups.

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source: mideastparalleluniverse

Military commanders use proven tactics to produce unquestioning obedience in these homesick children while transforming them into killers. New recruits are often forced to kill or perpetrate various acts of violence against others, including strangers, escapees or even members of their own village or family. Coercing the children to harm or kill people they know has the added benefit of discouraging them from attempting escape, as they know they will no longer be welcome back home.

Some groups also practice cannibalism, making young recruits drink the blood or eat the flesh of their victims. While recruits are often told “It will make you stronger.” The real motivation is to force children to quiet their emotional reactions to seeing people killed and demolish their sense of the sanctity of life and their tendency to show respect for the dead.

In addition, drugs are administered to deaden the effects of conscience: amphetamines, crack cocaine, marijuana and tranquilizers help disengage the child’s actions from any sense of reality. Children who refuse to take the drugs are beaten or killed.Revenge is also used as a motivator. The children are told to visualize the enemy, the rebels who killed their parents and their families. While these tactics are very successful, the violence deeply affects the young consciences.

The international community primarily deals with child soldiers through deterrence (prosecuting the adult recruiters) and demobilization (taking away the children’s guns and sending them home). Neither approach goes far enough. In the first case, prosecutors hope to set an example for future would be offenders. But most recruiters think they will not get caught. Others knowing that only those who lose the fight get hauled before international courts desperately employ child soldiers to avoid defeat.

latuff2.deviantartSending children home via disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) program is another favorite method of post conflict planners. These programs are meant to get children and adolescents out of armies and back where they belong in schools or in jobs. But here again, results are mixed. They often fail to understand the local economy and therefore train children for the wrong professions.

The biggest challenge of all in ending child soldiering lies in the types of conflicts that employ the young. Children tend to be recruited in brutal, long running civil wars, the kind that simmers for years or even decades. Unfortunately, these wars constitute the main form of armed conflict today. Until they stop, the recruitment of children will never stop.

We must act ahead of the problem through regulation, fighting organized crime and trafficking, nation building assistance and development. Thus making the world safer and a more responsible place for children to live in.

by Steffi Ebnett

References

 Child Soldiers Global Report: “Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers” 2008 http://www.childsoldiersglobalreport.org/

Global March Against Child Labour Report on the Worst Forms of Child Labour, 2005 http://www.globalmarch.org/resourcecentre/world/bolivia

Jo Becker: “Child soldiers: A worldwide scourge” March 22nd  2012 http://articles.latimes.com/2012/mar/22/opinion/la-oe-becker-icc-child-soldiers-20120322

 Lewis D. Eigen: “child soldiers are unfortunately nothing newNovember 2nd  2009, http://scriptamus.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/child-soldiers-are unfortunately-nothing-new/

http://www.amnesty.org/en/children

Mark Drumbl: “Review – Reimagining Child Soldiers in International Law” http://thinkafricapress.com/legal/reimagining-child-soldiers-international-law-mark-drumbl

Paris Principles and Guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups, http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/pdfid/465198442

Volker Druba: “The Problem of Child Soldiers”; International Review of Education, Vol. 48, No. 3/4, Education and Human Rights July 2002. pp. 271-277

 

When in Rome err… India, do as the Indians do

22 Mar

By Vincy Abraham

blackboard-backgrounds-wallpapers (1)

Every Indian (and possibly Italian) newspaper and news channel is abuzz with the sticky diplomatic mess that India and Italy find themselves in. So what went wrong?

It started in February 2012, when two Indian fishermen were gunned down off the coast of southwestern Indian state of Kerala. Two Italian marines on board of an oil tanker, MV Enrica Lexie were accused of killing the Indian fishermen. In their defense, the marines stated that they had mistaken the fishermen for pirates. For the past year, the two marines have been in-and-out of courtrooms and remanded to the custody of the government. They were granted permission in February 2013 by the Indian Supreme Court to return to their country to participate in the country’s general elections for a period of four weeks.

However, the Italian government on 11th March 2013 announced that the marines would not be returning to India for their trial. To complicate matters, the Supreme Court (SC) then ordered the Italian Ambassador Daniele Mancini not to leave the country.

And bam! What we have is a full-blown diplomatic row (of course, it had started much before the latest intervention of the SC). I have closely followed the development of this case for months (partly because it involves my home state of Kerala). I must confess here, I had gotten used to the pacifist stand of the Indian government on most issues but this case proved to be different. Now, I don’t know whether to credit this sudden assertion to the electoral advantage it could provide for the UPA in 2014 or the fact that it deflects the attention from the Finmeccanica VIP helicopter bribery scandal or that this could be a chance for Mrs. Sonia Gandhi to prove her allegiance as some critics have challenged. Whatever the case, India has taken a stand. I have outlined, in the following paragraphs, a general sketch of my understanding and opinion on the 2012 shooting and ongoing diplomatic strain and why I believe the Indian government’s stand is correct to a large extent.

Enrica Lexie Source: The Hindu

Italy believes there are three major accounts of discrepancies, that is, in terms of the location of the incident, the legal jurisdiction over the case and diplomatic responsibilities of India.

Firstly, in terms of location of the shooting, undisclosed Italian government sources revealed to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera that the ship was positioned thirty-three miles off the southwest coast of India when the incident occurred and therefore, it lies outside the Indian contiguous zone. Coming to the issue of legal jurisdiction, Italy has cited the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Suppression of Unlawful Acts (SUA). Arts. 6(1)(1) and 6(1)(3) of the SUA are used to justify their claim jurisdiction over the case.

And the last bone of contention between the two countries is the diplomatic responsibilities of host State, India. At the heart of this contention lies the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961. Under the Vienna Convention, the Italian Ambassador enjoys diplomatic immunity particularly under Articles 29-31. Article 29 states that the “person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable [and] he shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention”. The diplomatic agent also enjoys “immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving State” under Article 31.

Though there are a number of valid arguments presented by the Italians, there are also a number of reasons why I feel Italy’s stand is incorrect.

Firstly, the Indian government reports that the incident happened within India’s Contiguous Zone which accords India the right to “prevent infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary regulations within its territory or territorial sea” and to “punish infringement” of the same under the UNCLOS. As stated earlier, Italy claims that the incident occurred outside the contiguous zone (but within India’s Exclusive Economic Zone) and Part V of the UNCLOS extends economic jurisdiction of the coastal State. True, the UNCLOS does not mention legal jurisdiction over the area, still one cannot deny that the incident occurred within a zone that only the Indian State has exclusive economic right over.

Source: middlebury.edu

Secondly, Italy has argued that since its marines were onboard of the Enrica Lexie and when invoking the principle of exclusive jurisdiction of the flag State, Italy has claim jurisdiction. This concept of exclusive jurisdiction of the flag State comes from Art 92 (1) of the UNCLOS which declares the nationality and jurisdiction of the ship with the State’s flag. Thus, the UNCLOS confers jurisdiction to Italy alone. However, both India and Italy have signed and ratified the SUA Convention in 1988 that criminalizes certain acts as enumerated in Art 3 of the convention. This gives India claim jurisdiction under Art 6(1)(1) and Art 6(1)(3).

Source: biendong.net

If the incident had occurred outside the Indian contiguous zone, as Italy claims, it would be governed by the Lotus Case. Without going into too much detail, the Permanent Court of International Justice ruled that the state most affected by the incident had jurisdiction over the investigation (back then, it was Turkey). However, the Geneva Convention on the High Seas overwrote this principle and stated that it is subjected to the exclusive jurisdiction of the flag State except in exceptional cases; this was reflected in the UNCLOS couple of years later. But the SUA provides that exception as anticipated by the Geneva Convention.

However, the way I see it (on account of the conflicting international laws) and purposely applying the Lotus principle here, the victims were Indian nationals on an Indian ship and thus, this affects the Indian state and therefore, the marines should be tried in an Indian court but under international laws. But essentially whichever State reaches the perpetrators first have practical jurisdiction and the principle that operates here is that of aut dedere aut judicare (that is, to “extradite or prosecute”). And in this case, it was India who claimed this practical jurisdiction.

Thirdly, experts have claimed that since these marines are elements of the Italian State, they enjoy sovereign immunity. They are Vessel Protection Detachment and not Private Armed Security Guards—that is, agents of the State. Another issue closely related is the fact that the marines had mistakenly fired at the fishermen, therefore they can lay claim to sovereign immunity. Had they fired at the fishermen intentionally with malicious or personal gain, this case of sovereign immunity would not be upheld. I agree with the Indian argument with regard to this. The claim of sovereign immunity is faulty in the sense that the ship in question was a commercial oil tanker (not a naval ship) and that it had employed these marines on a contract basis as Vessel Protection Detachments. This meant that the VPDs were not discharging sovereign duties at that moment in time and therefore cannot be considered as sovereign subjects.

The two Italian marines Source: corriereobjects.it

Fourthly, India and the Indian SC have, to their credit, played nice and by the book. When Italy had asked for parole for the marines to go home for Christmas, the Kerala High Court (HC) obliged. When Italy asked for parole the second time, so that the marines could return to vote in their country’s general elections, the SC obliged. This time the Italian Ambassador himself vouched for the return of the marines for trial. Italy has, however, taken a three-sixty degree turn and stated that India acted in a breach of international law. Reports suggest that the marines are believed to have gone back to active service without as much a trial under the Italian law or the Italian Military law.

With regard to the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations, the Italian government is certainly right. The Vienna Convention accords the diplomatic agent in Arts 29 and 3—diplomatic immunity.  But one should not forget that that the Italian Ambassador to India had filed a written affidavit before the SC taking responsibility for the return of the two marines to stand trial in India. The Italian government in essence retracted its promise and then stated that the marines would not return.

Daniele Mancini Source: ibnlive.in.com

The Italian Ambassador could be tried for the contempt of court, but he has been quick to claim diplomatic immunity. However, the most obvious choice before the Indian government would be to declare the envoy as persona non grata. This could also invite a retaliatory action on the Indian envoy in Italy. Regardless of what may happen, I strongly believe that this is a breach of trust and a contempt of court by the Italian government and the Italian Ambassador.

Fifthly, one scholar’s reading of the incident also reveals that this could have also been a case of ethnic profiling. The timeline of events presented by the two States describe conflicting reports. However, it is true that the Italians had believed that the fishermen were pirates and therefore may have fired in self defense. But the fishermen were unarmed during the shooting. It is indeed strange that the marines did not register this fact while firing (about fifteen bullets were found in the fishermen’s boat)—so can this be interpreted as ethnic profiling? Possibly so.

Another aspect that startles me is that the Italian ship did not report the incident of death or the supposedly pirate attack to local Indian authorities. It was only when the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre picked up radio blips and narrowed down to four ships. It then sent out a call for pirate incidents, only then did the Enrica Lexie respond.

Who suffers? Source: cloudfront.net

And lastly, in all this talk of international law, let’s not forget the two innocent fishermen who lost their lives. They were possibly the only breadwinners of their families and one can only imagine the trauma they have been through the past year. I refuse to see this issue merely as a legal or jurisdictional issue but a humanitarian one as well. It clearly involves a violation of the basic human rights of the victims. Their right to “life, liberty and security” as the UDHR itself embodies was without doubt violated and this fact should not be ignored in the diplomatic-jurisdictional tussle between the two governments.

To conclude, the issue of justice is central to this case—both for the victims and for the marines. And only time will tell the extent and degree to which the present stance of the Italian government would sour the relationship between the two countries. But personally, I feel that Indian government will need to take a firmer stand in this issue while ensuring that it does not violate international laws, norms and upholds justice for all parties involved.

References:

Bellish, J. (2012, February 22). Denver Journal of International Law and Policy. Retrieved March 18, 2013, from Denver Journal of International Law and Policy Web site: Armed Maritime Security and the Enrica Lexie. http://djilp.org/1798/armed-maritime-security-and-the-enrica-lexie/

Guilfoyle, D. (2012, March 2). European Journal of International Law. Retrieved March 19, 2013, from European Journal of International Law Web site: Shooting fishermen mistaken for pirates: Jurisdiction, Immunity and State Responsibility. http://www.ejiltalk.org/shooting-fishermen-mistaken-for-pirates-jurisdiction-immunity-and-state-responsibility/

Roy, S. (2013, March 18). Denver Journal of International Law and Policy. Retrieved March 18, 2013, from Denver Journal of International Law and Policy Web site: Homicide at Sea: Which Vessel is the Pirate in the Italy -India Conflict. http://djilp.org/3711/homicide-at-sea-which-vessel-is-the-pirate-in-the-italy-india-conflict/#fn-3711-1

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Retrieved March 19, 2013, from Wikipedia Web site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Italian_shooting_in_the_Arabian_Sea