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Daily Editorials

Is Democracy Dying

CONTEXT:

  • When democratically elected governments cease to be held accountable by a society weakened by poor health, low morale and joblessness, demagogues are prone to blindness and ineptitude.

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KEY DETAILS:

  • The old question has a new urgency because global surveys are everywhere reporting dipping confidence in democracy and marked jumps in citizens’ frustrations with government corruption and incompetence.

  • Young people are the least satisfied with democracy — much more disaffected than previous generations at the same age.

  • Most worrying are the survey findings for India, which is fast developing a reputation as the world’s largest failing democracy.

    • In its Democracy Report 2020, Sweden’s V-Dem Institute noted that India “has almost lost its status as a democracy”.

    • It ranked India below Sierra Leone, Guatemala and Hungary.

DEMOCIDE:

  • Democide is the murder of any person or people by their government, including genocide, politicide and mass murder.

    • Democide is not necessarily the elimination of entire cultural groups but rather groups within the country that the government feels need to be eradicated for political reasons and due to claimed future threats.

  • Democide is usually a slow-motion and messy process.

    • Wild rumours and talk of conspiracies flourish.

    • Street protests and outbreaks of uncontrolled violence happen.

    • Fears of civil unrest spread.

    • The armed forces grow agitated.

    • Emergency rule is declared but things eventually come to the boil.

    • As the government totters, the army moves from its barracks onto the streets to quell unrest and take control.

    • Democracy is finally buried in a grave it slowly dug for itself. As the government totters, the army moves from its barracks onto the streets to quell unrest and take control.

  • During the past generation, around three-quarters of democracies met their end in these ways.

    • The military coup d’états against the elected governments of Egypt (2013), Thailand (2014), Myanmar and Tunisia (2021) are obvious examples.

DARK SIDE OF DEMOCRACY:

  • When a constitution promises its citizens justice, liberty and equality, the splintering and shattering of social life induce a sense of legal powerlessness among citizens.

  • The judiciary becomes vulnerable to

    • cynicism

    • political meddling

    •  state capture

  • Massive imbalances of wealth, chronic violence, famine and unevenly distributed life chances also make a mockery of the ethical principle that in a democracy people can live as citizen partners of equal social worth.

  • If democracy is the self-government of social equals who freely choose their representatives, then large-scale social suffering renders the democratic principle utterly utopian. Or it turns into a grotesque farce.

  • People’s dignity is destroyed by

    • Domestic violence

    • rotten health care

    • widespread feelings of social unhappiness

    • daily shortages of food and housing

  • When famished children cry themselves to sleep at night, when millions of women feel unsafe and multitudes of migrant workers living on slave wages are forced to flee for their lives in a medical emergency,

    • The victims are unlikely to believe themselves worthy of rights, or capable as citizens of fighting for their own entitlements, or for the rights of others. 

  • The brute fact is social indignity undermines citizens’ capacity to take an active interest in public affairs, and to check and humble and wallop the powerful.

    • Citizens are forced to put up with state and corporate restrictions on basic public freedoms.

    • They must get used to big money, surveillance, baton charges, preventive detentions, and police killings.

CITIZEN DISEMPOWERMENT:

  • Citizen disempowerment encourages boasting and bluster among powerful leaders who stop caring about the niceties of public integrity and power-sharing.

    • They grow convinced they can turn lead into gold. But their hubris has costs.

  • When democratically elected governments cease to be held accountable by a society weakened by poor health, low morale, and joblessness, demagogues are prone to blindness and ineptitude.

    • They make careless, foolish, and incompetent decisions that reinforce social inequities.

    • They license big market and government players — poligarchs — to decide things.

    • Those who exercise power in government ministries, corporations, and public/private projects aren’t subject to democratic rules of public accountability.

    • Like weeds in an untended garden, corruption flourishes.

    • Almost everybody must pay bribes to access basic public services.

    • The powerful stop caring about the niceties of public integrity. Institutional democracy failure happens.

WHAT REALLY DEMOCRACY IS?

  • Democracy is much more than pressing a button or marking a box on a ballot paper.

    • It goes beyond the mathematical certitude of election results and majority rule.

    • It’s not reducible to lawful rule through independent courts or attending local public meetings and watching breaking news stories scrawled across a screen.

    • Democracy is a whole way of life.

    • It is freedom from

      • hunger

      • humiliation

      • violence

    • Democracy is public disgust for callous employers who mistreat workers paid a pittance for unblocking stinking sewers and scraping faeces from latrines.

    • Democracy is saying no to every form of human and non-human indignity.

    • It is respect for women, tenderness with children, and access to jobs that bring satisfaction and sufficient reward to live comfortably.

  • In a healthy democracy, citizens are not forced to travel in buses and trains like livestock, wade through dirty water from overrunning sewers, or breathe poisonous air.

    • Democracy is public and private respect for different ways of living.

    • It is humility: The willingness to admit that impermanence renders all life vulnerable, that in the end nobody is invincible, and that ordinary live are never ordinary.

    • Democracy is equal access to decent medical care and sympathy for those who have fallen behind.

    • It’s the rejection of the dogma that things can’t be changed because they’re “naturally” fixed in stone.

    • Democracy is thus insubordination: The refusal to put up with everyday forms of snobbery and toad-eating, idolatry and lying.

WAY FORWARD:

  • Until and unless we don’t realise the real sense of Democracy we can’t live with dignity. It is the need of hour to strengthen the voice of public against Democide which takes away the rights of the people. Only with people’s participation it can be achieved.

SOURCE: Indian Express

Battle Against Trafficking

CONTEXT:

  • July 30 is United Nations World Day against Trafficking in Persons. It is also a time to reflect on India’s human trafficking crisis.

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KEY DETAILS:

  • Between April 2020 and June 2021, an estimated 9,000 children have been rescued after being trafficked for labour, according to a child rights non-governmental organisation (NGO).

    • In other words, 21 children have been trafficked every day over nearly 15 months.

    • The Childline India helpline received 44 lakh distress calls over 10 months.

    • Over a year, 2,000 children have arrived at its shelter homes and 800 rescued from hazardous working conditions

PANDEMIC INDUCED VULNERABILITIES:

  • The corona virus has resulted in loss of income and economic crisis, causing families’ reduced capacity to care for children in the long-term.

  • It has also caused, in some instances, loss of parental care due to death, illness or separation, thereby placing children at heightened risk for violence, neglect or exploitation.

  • The increase in Internet access in current times has also led to cyber-trafficking.

  • An August 2020 report by a member of a child rights group in India notes that popular social media platforms and free messaging apps are often used to contact young people.

  • Often, the trafficker or middleman lures the person to a place under the pretext of offering him/her employment.

  • Once removed from their locality, they face challenges of limited resources, unfamiliarity with the area.

  • Threats of violence from the trafficker, and, importantly, the absence of any identifiable authority to approach other than the police — who are often seen as threats themselves — make it nearly impossible for trafficked persons to report the incident.

  • A recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime on the effects of the pandemic on trafficking echoes these findings.

  • It says, traffickers are taking advantage of the loss of livelihoods and the increasing amount of time spent online to entrap victims, including by advertising false jobs on social media.

  • In addition, there is an increased demand for child sexual exploitation material online due to lockdowns.

ISSUES:

  • The Government admitted in Parliament as recently as March 2021 that it does not maintain any national-level data specific to cyber trafficking cases.

  • The efficacy of certain schemes launched by the Ministry of Home Affairs to improve investigation and prosecution of cyber crimes remains to be seen.

  • India is still classified by the U.S. Department of State as a Tier-2 country in its report on global human trafficking.

    • This means that the Government does not fully meet the minimum standards under U.S. and international law for eliminating trafficking, but is making significant efforts to comply.

    • The lack of implementation is illustrated by the state of the Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs).

  • AHTUs are specialised district task forces comprising police and government officials.

    • In 2010, it was envisioned that 330 AHTUs would be set up.

    • RTI responses in August 2020 showed that about 225 AHTUs had been set up, but only on paper.

  • With focus now shifting to the new draft anti-trafficking Bill the point to be highlighted is that there is no shortage of anti-trafficking policy in India.

  • Where the system is found lacking is in the implementation of the laws.

  • Significant discussion is required on the provisions of the Bill, particularly with respect to bringing in the National Investigation Agency and increasing the punishment for offences, including the death penalty as an option in some cases.

  • It is not proven that more stringent laws, particularly the death penalty, has any greater deterrent effect on crime.

  • The draft Bill also provides for AHTUs/ committees at the national, State and district levels, but as noted, their effective functioning cannot be taken for granted.

SOLUTIONS:

  • If properly staffed and funded, Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) could provide crucial ground-level data on the methods and patterns of traffickers, which in turn can strengthen community-based awareness and vigilance activities.

  • Global practices such as in Nigeria, Africa, should be encouraged in India, in consonance with a larger framework to protect women and children by incentivising education and creating safe employment opportunities.

  • Special attention must also be paid to the challenges prosecutors and judges face in trafficking cases.

    • There were 140 acquittals and only 38 convictions in 2019, according to government data.

    • This points to a failure of investigation and cannot be solved by the draft Bill’s provision that accused traffickers must be presumed guilty unless they can prove the contrary.

  • Further, trials can drag on for years, with victims sometimes withdrawing their complaints after being intimidated by traffickers.

    • Proper case management must be introduced to give meaning to the “fast track” courts.

  • Monetary compensation and psychological counselling should be provided within a time-frame so as to provide support to make their life back on the track.

  • Rehabilitation should be done precisely under the designated authority so as to make sure the safety of victims.

CONCLUSION:

  • As most of the trafficked are children in the age group of 14-16 the most productive years for children to nurture their skills, it is necessary to stop this menace as soon as possible.

  • By stopping trafficking we could harness the human capital and thus make life of children much better.

SOURCE: The Hindu