Tag Archives india

Beware of calls to ‘rescue’ India’s ‘Covid orphans’

Beware of calls to ‘rescue’ India’s ‘Covid orphans’

News reports of children being orphaned by Covid-19 deaths in India raise the spectre of a generation of children without adequate parental care. But international responses that favour solutions like ...

COVID-19 and Conflict | Why virtual sex work hasn’t helped sex workers in India survive the COVID-19 lockdown

COVID-19 and Conflict | Why virtual sex work hasn’t helped sex workers in India survive the COVID-19 lockdown

Virtual sex work, although around for many years, has become an alternative to traditional sex work during the global COVID-19 pandemic. In India, like elsewhere, sex workers due to a ...

COVID-19 | “Stay safe” conversations that illuminate the glass walls between her and me by Mausumi Chetia

Disasters are lived in different ways by different classes of people. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the differential impacts of disasters lie in the blurred spaces between populations fortunate enough to focus on ‘productivity-during-lockdown-times’ and others who focus on ‘providing-food-for-their-children-and-having-a-home-during-lockdown-times’. For generationally disaster-prone or disaster-torn populations of India, this global pandemic is only widening the class gaps that have characterized local realities for the Indian society for centuries.

My husband and I recently witnessed thousands of daily-wage workers and families marching towards a bus terminal near our home in Delhi. From there, they would take buses to their hometowns. Many were travelling on foot, too, trying to make their way to their homes hundreds of miles away from Delhi after the entire country was placed under lockdown from 25 March. This involuntary exodus of workers from India’s many cities that has continued despite fatal consequences is an oxymoronic act that seems to oppose the social distancing measures prescribed by the WHO and related suggestions from developed nations. It is not that these workers are unwilling to keep safe—it is simply that a substantial part of India’s population, including these workers, cannot afford to do so, as has been emphasized repeatedly.

My current research looks at the everyday lives of families facing protracted displacement due to the disaster of riverbank erosion along Brahmaputra River in Assam, a state in India. The families I engage with for my research source their income from daily wages. As economic activity suddenly ceased in March, the small stream of income stopped. Consequently, many of the workers were not able to travel back to their families, as they usually would when on leave or a break period. Many male members of these families are currently trapped in the towns within Assam where they work. They were unable to travel to their homes, many miles away, not only because of the physical cost of walking or taking a bus home, but for a different set of reasons as well.

Conversations on care and health that are classes apart

Pic 11
Rita and her friends after collecting firewood for cooking from a neighbouring paddy field. February 2020

A few days after the Delhi exodus, calls from concerned families I work with increased significantly. “You should have just stayed back here with us,” Rita Saikia, a regular caller, often quips. “Come back to the village whenever you can.” Megacities like Delhi have much higher infection rates than rural places, as many of the rural inhabitants I work with recognize.

Besides the exchange of well-intended thoughts and mutual worries, these telephonic conversations are constant reminders of the class differences in the everyday lives of people that surround us, beginning with those of the researched and the researcher. Ironically, despite my power position over the families I work with for my research, they offered me what they thought I did not have in Delhi: a sense of safety they felt in the countryside. Here, thus, they were able to close the distance between the researcher and the researched. Nevertheless, the challenges that these families are facing are colossal in comparison to those I am facing, such as not being able to travel to my university in Europe or being anxious about my inability to work on my dissertation as effectively as I would have liked to from home.

Rita[1] is from one of my host families in one of the villages where I spent time conducting research. With no other choice, she has been managing the household and two children all by herself this entire period. Ajeet, her husband, is a construction worker surviving off daily wages. He is currently stuck at one of his work sites, around 100 kilometers away from his family village. For now, the family is surviving from its meagre savings. Rice has been provided by the children’s school and another one-time ration (of rice) provided by the local government. Quietly hiding away from the eyes of authorities, Rita, along with other women from her village, regularly goes to collect firewood behind their village in the dry paddy field. Refilling the cooking gas cylinder from their savings is a luxury they cannot afford right now.

Ajeet had left the family’s only mobile phone at home, so he calls his family once every three days from his co-worker’s phone. Last night, their younger child of four cried himself to sleep because his father’s call was disconnected before the child could speak to him. The mobile credit had probably run out. The older child of six years smiled and casually said to me, “you know pehi[2], Deuta[3] will not come home now even if the virus dies, but only later. He needs to bring the money home.” This understanding of the daily realities and hardships, and the acceptance of the hardships of life, contrasts sharply with how more privileged people experience the coronavirus pandemic, like any other disaster.

Amidst all of this, the annual season of extreme winds in Assam has begun. Homes of three of the research families have been battered by these winds. The families plan to complete the rebuilding process once the lockdown is relaxed, unable to do so during the lockdown. In addition, come June, the monsoon will make its appearance, inviting the annual visit of the floods, erosion of the banks of Assam’s rivers, landslides and associated socio-economic insecurities that are now compounded by those the lockdown has brought about. A slowing economy post-pandemic and consequential decrease in sources of income, along with exposure to the said disasters, will significantly push these already displaced families further to the brink of poverty.

Living through the intersections of inequalities

Poverty is both a driver and a consequence of disasters[4]. The year 2020 could become one of the most barefaced examples of this. Many socio-economically and politically insecure populations elsewhere in India and in the neighbouring countries of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Indonesia etc. are also disaster-prone or -torn. Once the world gets back on its feet post-COVID-19, these populations are set to face increasing human insecurities in their everyday lives arising due to the pandemic and its after-effects, like the families in Assam.

A society’s many aspects are unclothed in the aftermath of a disaster[5], which continues to reinforce social inequalities[6]. Disasters, therefore, including the current pandemic, hardly manage to break the walls of class structures – political, economic, social, and so forth. If anything, they increase the height and depth of these walls – between societies within a nation, between different nations, and, most definitely, between the researcher and the researched.

Pic 1
The Brahmaputra River at the backyard of one of the families’ home (from the research). January 2020

[1] All names of research participants have been changed
[2] Assamese word for paternal aunt
[3] Assamese word for father
[4] https://www.preventionweb.net/risk/poverty-inequality
[5] Oliver-Smith, Anthony, and Susanna M. Hoffman, eds. The angry earth: disaster in anthropological perspective. Routledge, 2019.
[6] Reid, Megan. “Disasters and social inequalities.” Sociology Compass 7.11 (2013): 984-997.

This article is part of a series about the coronavirus crisis. Find more articles of this series here.

Mausumi ChetiaAbout the author:

Mausumi Chetia is a PhD Researcher at the ISS. Her research looks at the everyday lives of disaster-displaced people in Assam, a northeastern state of India.

COVID-19 | How Kerala’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting inadequate responses elsewhere in India by Sreerekha Sathi

COVID-19 | How Kerala’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting inadequate responses elsewhere in India by Sreerekha Sathi

The Indian state of Kerala seems to have addressed the COVID-19 pandemic remarkably well, limiting the amount of virus-related infections and deaths through its assertive approach. Kerala’s outlier position in ...

Inside Delhi’s Doorstep Public Services Delivery Scheme by Sushant Anand

Inside Delhi’s Doorstep Public Services Delivery Scheme by Sushant Anand

Informal brokers and middlemen are essential for the delivery of public services in India. In 2018, the government of Delhi launched a programme that seeks to formalise these informal public ...

Do skill building training programs improve labor market outcomes among rural youth in India? by Bhaskar Chakravorty

In India, 54% of the country’s population is below the age of 25 and faces a high rate of unemployment. The government of India is implementing job-linked skill building training programs to improve labour market outcomes among disadvantaged rural youths across India. The study[1] conducted in rural Bihar suggests the outcomes to be short-lived while caste discrimination and low paying job placements play a crucial role in negating the initial returns of the training.    

India is an example of a developing country facing a pressing need to devise strategies to provide regular employment to its youthful population. India is among the youngest nations in the world, and the expected ‘bulge’ in the 15–59 age group over the next decade offers an opportunity but also a challenge. The opportunity stems from the expected global shortage of 56 million young people (15–35 years), and India could potentially serve as a worldwide sourcing hub for skilled manpower (Ministry of Labour and Employment 2014). On the other hand, a failure to provide opportunities to the youth population as they enter the labour market may translate into a ‘demographic disaster’ rather than a dividend.

The twin challenge of creating jobs while at the same time bridging the skill gap is well recognized by the Indian government. Consistent with this policy priority, on September 25th, 2014, the government launched the ‘Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushal Yojana’ (DDUGKY), a program for training, skill building and job placement intended for rural youth from poor families.

The scheme implements skill development through a public–private partnership mode, whereby registered private sector partners or project implementation agencies (PIA) plan and implement skills training and placement program for participants. The scheme is supposed to train rural youths of the age group 15–35. They are eligible as candidates if they belong to below poverty line (BPL) category or any member of the family is a member of a self-help group (SHG). Depending on the course, the training can be of three, six, nine or twelve months. Training courses offered by the PIA are approved by the National Council for Vocational Training (NCVT) or Sector Skill Councils (SSCs). Post-training, PIAs are required to place a minimum of 70% of trained individuals in jobs which offer regular monthly wages at or above a minimum monthly wage of Rs. 6000. Post-placement financial support of Rs.1000 is provided to the on-job candidates for a duration of two to six months.

The intention of the DDUGKY and other similar skills training programs is to attenuate unemployment and poverty, but this is possible only if social structures do not hinder voluntary participation in the program. If there are differences at the level of program accessibility based on caste, gender or other social markers, either in program participation or in job placement after training, then increasing government spending and augmenting the supply of trained individuals may achieve little towards the final goal of enhancing welfare and equity.

To understand whether skill building programs improve the labour market outcomes and social mobility among disadvantaged youth, the study was conducted with 263 DDUGKY participants of a three-months residential training program and 263 non-participants in mid 2016 in the Darbhanga district of Bihar, India.

The analysis of the findings is based on comparing individuals who had attended a training course sponsored by the scheme (termed “DDUGKY participants”) with individuals who had applied but did not eventually attend the training (termed “non-participants”). Analysis showed that the scheme is very well targeted, and more than 90% of those who attended the training and showed an interest in the scheme belonged to below-poverty-line families. While the NGO appeared to have well-qualified personnel, the bulk of the participants (64.6%) were not satisfied with the training they had received. With regard to employment effects, 42% of the graduates were placed immediately after the training, which translates into a 29% percentage point impact of training on employment.

However, these gains were short-lived and within two to six months after training, the impact of the scheme on employment was statistically not different from zero. About a third of the placed graduates left their jobs due to caste discrimination and a third exited as the salaries offered were too low to cover their expected living costs. While employment effects were zero, the training did help graduates move from agricultural to non-agricultural positions.

In conclusion, the analysis presented here focused on one training course in one district of rural Bihar. While this study does not paint a very optimistic picture of scheme-induced employment effects nor is it overtly negative about the scheme itself. Indeed, in the current case the positive effects of the scheme appear to have been partially undone by deep-rooted discrimination. It is entirely possible that other courses offered in other parts of the country are able to achieve higher placement rates and that trained graduates are not subject to post-placement discrimination.

Notwithstanding this possibility, what this study highlights is the urgent need for credible analysis of the slew of skills and job training programs that have recently been launched by the government. These should focus not only on initial job placement but also examine employment status after a time lag. Finally, while simply dictating job creation through such skills training courses and demanding 70% placement is unlikely to succeed, the analysis presented here shows that employment effects in the range of about 15% are likely to deliver a nonzero return.

[1] MA Dissertation (2015-16) at International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Hague, The Netherlands

Image Credit: Atharva Tulsi on Unsplash

About the author:

BhaskarBhaskar Chakravorty is a development professional with more than 13 years of experience working on a range of development issues. At present, he is pursuing a PhD at Warwick Institute for Employment Research (IER) and is a Chancellor’s International Scholar (CIS) at the university. Previously, he completed a MA in Development Studies with specialization in Poverty Studies and Econometric Evaluation of Development Policies from the ISS. He was awarded the prestigious Joint Japan World Bank Graduate Scholarship (JJ/WBGSP) for undertaking the MA program.




What is happening to civic space in India? by Nandini Deo, Dorothea Hilhorst and Sunayana Ganguly

What is happening to civic space in India? by Nandini Deo, Dorothea Hilhorst and Sunayana Ganguly

We were fortunate to be part of a two-day workshop on civil society relations in India, organised in the framework of a research on advocacy in the Dutch co-financing programme. ...

Does attending preschool benefit Indian children at a later stage? by Saikat Ghosh

Does attending preschool benefit Indian children at a later stage? by Saikat Ghosh

Despite having one of the world’s largest early childhood education and care program named ‘Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS)’ in operation since 1975, the impact of such provisions on children’s ...

What does Modi 2.0 mean for the world’s largest democracy? By Meenal Thakur

The mandate of India’s general election silenced the ‘if not Modi then who’ debate which had been brewing given the country’s economic instability and rising communal polarization.  The historic re-election of Narendra Modi as India’s Prime Minister fundamentally re-ordered the country’s political landscape and reaffirmed people’s faith in him to fulfil their economic aspirations. While critics are wary of the ethno-nationalism that fueled social turmoil under the new government, others look forward to Modi’s promised vision of a ‘New India’ in his second term.

Political analysts called the phenomenon a ‘Modi wave’ that gripped the nation, when in May 2014, Narendra Modi – leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was first elected as the Prime Minister of India by the greatest mandate the country had witnessed in over 30 years.

Five years later, Modi was expected to come back to power but with reduced numbers, however, Modi proved the naysayers wrong. Not only did he get re-elected, but his party won 303 of the 542 parliamentary constituencies, breaking its own record of 282 in 2014. The Modi wave, stronger than ever before, consumed whatever came in its way. BJP candidates, including one with terrorism charges against her, piggybacked on Modi’s popularity and rode their way to the Parliament. The biggest casualty being India’s Grand Old Party- The Indian National Congress which was sent back to the pits as it failed miserably to even win enough seats to become the leader of opposition.

The two sides of Modi’s staggering victory were captured by the Time Magazine days before the election ended. The magazine’s May cover called Modi “India’s Divider-in-chief”- a play on his religious nationalism which has resulted in a hostile environment for Muslims who constitute 14% of India’s population.

However, the magazine also carried a counter-view –‘Modi the Reformer’ where it pinned Modi as India’s best hope for economic reform. A similar line was towed by many publications and political analysts back home- India needs change, the opposition is in shambles and Modi remains the only person who can deliver.

The unassailable megalomaniac

This election and the BJP’s historic mandate raises fundamental questions about the values of secularism and liberalism that are the cornerstones of the world’s largest democracy. While India has taken pride in its diverse social fabric- something that its founding fathers and mothers had cherished deeply as the nation’s strength- Modi’s victory acted as a mirror to the Indian society. Blow by blow, he decimated the popular perception of ‘Unity in Diversity’ and appealed to the darkest corner of the middle-class Hindu’s mind.

Modi fanned, and vehemently so, the burning yet unexposed cauldron of religious intolerance in the Indian society. Issues of rising unemployment and farm distress raised by the opposition were overshadowed by Modi’s hyper nationalism. A strategically crafted election campaign coupled with Modi’s gift of the gab roused powerful emotions in the electorate who were made to believe that Modi was the one who would protect the cow (a sacred animal for Hindus) and the country (in the wake of attacks by Pakistan-based terrorist groups).

To be sure, if the BJP’s thumping victory was a result of a toxic ethno-nationalism which painted the country saffron (the colour of India’s Hindu right wing), it also reflected a resonance with Modi’s economic and foreign policies in the last five years. To his credit, Modi’s first tenure saw improved relations with the United States, China, and Japan. Hugging his counterparts on foreign visits not only made for great optics but also earned him the praise of millions of voters for putting India on the world map.

Back home, his social sector schemes helped him expand the BJP’s voter base from upper-caste Hindus and penetrate the lower caste votes.

Road ahead

The pro-incumbency votes mean that people still believe in Modi’s hallmark motto ‘Sabka saath, sabka vikas’ (Collective effort, inclusive growth) and expect him to deliver on reviving economic growth and addressing rising unemployment and farm distress.

Just a day after the BJP government was re-elected, unemployment figures were released showing unemployment at a 45-year high in India. Many allege that the government suppressed the information until the election was over. While the Modi government’s aversion to transparency is the subject matter for another article, let’s just say that the next five years will make or mar the aspirations of millions of unemployed youth constituting more than 50% of the country’s population.

The government also has the task of reviving India’s aviation sector and continue working on the hard-pressed infrastructure sector with the same rigor as shown in its previous term. Challenges will also arise in the health sector for which the government has announced affordable universal health coverage, popularly known as ‘Modicare’- another testament to Brand Modi.

Economic policies aside, Modi’s next term will also shape what political scientist Yogendra Yadav calls ‘the idea of India.’

Concerns have been expressed about the alarming rise of anti-intellectualism as well as subversion of democratic institutions under the BJP government. For example. the appointment of Hindu nationalist ideologue, Swaminathan Gurumurthy (the key person credited with advising Modi to undertake the disastrous demonetization drive in 2016) to the board of the Reserve Bank of India in 2018. However, this is just one of the salvos of the BJP government privileging Hindu religion and identity politics over science and rationality. BJP ministers have in the past dismissed Darwin’s theory of evolution as unscientific.

The next five years will also be crucial for minorities (mostly Muslims and Dalits) who have suffered episodes of mob lynching by self-appointed cow vigilantes who seem to be getting emboldened since the BJP came to power. Silence on Modi’s part and inflammatory statements made by BJP leaders to incite communalism do not bode well for the minorities in India.

The absolute majority with which Modi won has bolstered the already aggressive Hindu right wing and has heightened fears of India heading towards an authoritarian democracy. Nevertheless, the mandate also gives him the legitimate power to decide, act and deliver and, take India on the path of progress.

Meanwhile, the world watches India to see whether the absolute power wrested in Modi would make our worst fears come true. I hope not.

Image Credit: narendramodiofficial on Flickr

Screenshot_20190707-213122About the author:

Meenal Thakur is from India and is currently pursuing her masters in Governance and Development Policy at The International Institute of Social Studies. A former journalist, she wrote on politics and development for one of India’s leading national dailies before joining ISS.

Brokering India’s public service delivery by Sushant Anand

Brokering India’s public service delivery by Sushant Anand

Informal mediation peopled by brokers, touts, middlemen has over the years embedded itself within public service delivery. Even as they are not within the government system, brokers have come to ...

Do teachers discriminate in occupational expectations and grading? by Shradha Parashari

Do teachers discriminate in occupational expectations and grading? by Shradha Parashari

Marks assigned by teachers tend to motivate students, have bearing on their career choices, admission to universities and affect students' self-esteem. Existing literature shows that teachers may hold preconceived stereotypes ...

Religion within development, or development within religion? by Fernande Pool

Religion should not be considered one among many wellbeing dimensions that development enables people to engage in, but one among many ontological sources that enables people to engage in development, Fernande Pool, postdoctoral researcher at the ISS, argues. A truly inclusive and respectful dialogue on development would go beyond a secular/religious binary and allow for alternative sources and conceptualisations, whether embedded in religious or non-religious sources.

What is the place of religion in development? Since the 1970s, development practitioners and theorists have gone ‘beyond GDP’ to describe people’s wellbeing. Committed to value-driven, human development, they have started to pay attention to religion. In human development, religion is no longer merely considered an obstruction to, or instrumental to, development, but itself is a valuable part of wellbeing. Yet, if religion is regarded as one dimension of wellbeing, the development framework usually remains secular, whereas this does not align with the lived reality everywhere. So I argue that we still need a cognitive turn.

Engaging development through religion

My contribution is based on two years of ethnographic research with devout Muslims in an Indian village I call Joygram. I suggest that religion should, when appropriate, not (only) be considered a sub-category of development—something development allows people to engage in. Instead, it can form the basis from which to engage with development to begin with. Human development implies some normative ideas of what being human means and what kind of society would allow one to be ‘more human’.

For the research participants, notions of what being human means, and the ethical freedom to discuss these normative ideas, are embedded in the Islamic dharma. To approach religion as a sub-category in an otherwise secular development framework excludes these religious life experiences and ideas from the outset. The scope of this blog is merely to show how different ontological notions underpinning human development can be, and that a proper understanding of these differences requires a cognitive turn.

Including different ontologies

A next question to ask would be: if secular and religious ideas of being would be considered as equally valid in an inclusive dialogue on worthwhile development, would development interventions be not only morally better as a process but also better in terms of their outcomes? A brief example from Joygram seems to suggest so.

In Joygram, the values driving development, including conceptualisations of the human person, life, and society as mentioned above, are embedded in what I call the Islamic dharma: the locally specific, all-encompassing ethics of justice and order to which religion—in this case Islam—is integral. Muslims in Joygram foster a dynamic concept of the human as emerging from divine submission and constant interactions within social networks. First, humanity emerges from the acknowledgment of the eternal indebtedness to the creator-god for the gift of life. Subsequently, the being is made a ‘human person’ through exchanges within a network of social relationships.

So, Joygramis believe that relationality comes into existence before the individual. This doesn’t take away, however, that every person has a right to the same human dignity. It is just that the human is conceptualised differently from, for instance, the human as a sovereign individual in most liberal theories. What it means to be human is deeply embedded in dharma, which includes religion. So without the notion of dharma as the basis for dialogue, one cannot even begin to talk about humans, let alone human development. Indeed, outside dharma, there is no humanity, because there are no values. So, if development in Joygram is to be worthwhile, it has to be embedded in dharma, too. Development dialogues outside the space of dharma would be reduced to purely technocratic and instrumental measures.

The need for a cognitive turn

A dialogue on development that would include and respect the Islamic dharma would require a cognitive turn, otherwise the starting position of a discussion is still within the hegemonic secular ontology. This is not unlike the cognitive turn required to shift the focus from GDP to individual capabilities. Perhaps development should not merely take religious values into account, or enable or liberate people to engage in religion. A development dialogue could be more inclusive if it acknowledges that the entire meaning of the world, the human, and key values like freedom and dignity may be informed by religious ideas and experiences. This means allowing for alternative conceptualisations of being human, but also of autonomy, relationships, and so on.

This does not mean, however, that universal values have to be discarded in favour of cultural relativism. It means, rather, that certain universal values or development goals, such as Martha Nussbaum’s list of basic capabilities, may be pursued on the basis of different ontological grounds. The Joygrami worldview and Nussbaum’s capability approach are not incompatible, even if they are based on different notions of what being human means. Yet in Joygram, the capabilities would be striven after within dharma, not as side by side with dharma, because then they would lose their ultimate value.

I reiterate that religion is more a complex social phenomenon than a static and compartmentalised set of norms and symbols, and dynamic religious ideas of being and sociality interact with ideas of being and sociality outside of that discreet religion—if there ever was one. Religions constantly change, partly because of those interactions, but also because of internal reasoning. Moreover, religion is nothing special, yet central: it seems likely that every human being lives with ideas of being and sociality, whether consciously or not, and there are always elements that transcend everyday life, whether directly associated with a particular religion or not. A truly inclusive and respectful dialogue on development would go beyond a secular/religious binary and allow for alternative sources and conceptualisations, whether embedded in religious or non-religious sources.

Image Credit: Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar / CC BY-SA 3.0

About the author:

Picture-d5a9-41db-ab99-ac23fa465eb8.jpgFernande Pool is a Marie Skłodowksa Curie “Leading” Fellow at ISS. Her current ethnographic research with Muslims in the Netherlands aims to destabilise hegemonic conceptualisations of religion and secularism, wellbeing and development. Her PhD thesis, completed in March 2016 at the London School of Economics anthropology department, explored the ethical life of Muslims in West Bengal, India. She is the co-founder and co-director of Lived Religion Project and AltVisions



Development Dialogue 2018 | Do children entering preschool early develop more quickly? by Saikat Ghosh and Subhasish Dey

Development Dialogue 2018 | Do children entering preschool early develop more quickly? by Saikat Ghosh and Subhasish Dey

Despite fierce debate among scholars regarding the age at which children are ready to enter preschool, the issue remains contentious. This article based on an empirical footing argues that earlier ...