Opinion Columnists 04 Jun 2016 Delhiberations: Who& ...
The writer is a senior foreign correspondent and the author of Sri Lanka: The New Country

Delhiberations: Who’s shining a mirror on our blots, and why

Published Jun 4, 2016, 12:31 am IST
Updated Jun 4, 2016, 12:31 am IST
Child Soldiers International logo
 Child Soldiers International logo

Earlier this week, two surveys by international organisations punctured the balloons of wellness released into the skies over New Delhi’s India Gate, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s big bash to celebrate two years in office took place recently. The 2016 Cities in Motion Index by a Barcelona business school and its allied Centre for Globalisation and Strategy told us scathingly that four Indian cities are far from smart and anything but “liveable”, compared to other world metropolises. Out of the 181 surveyed, Mumbai gasped to 167, Delhi slouched at 174, Bengaluru collapsed to 176 and Kolkata slumped at 179. Small comfort that we beat only Lagos and Karachi.

The other study gave India “world leader” status, but in human trafficking. The Global Slavery Index 2016, compiled by the Australian Walk Free Foundation, told us 18 million Indians are still ensnared in bonded labour: as beggars, prostitutes but also, curiously, as “child soldiers”. All journalists know that statistics should be taken with a large sack of salt. First, the CGS’ name that combines “globalisation” (a euphemism for neo-imperialism emanating primarily from powerful Western investor-nations) and “strategy” itself speaks volumes.
There are several trade agreements: between India and the European Union, the CGS’ home, as well as other superpowers.

Some, like the EU, are hanging in limbo, largely because foreign investment must additionally and rightfully boost India’s own mammoth if sluggish industrial capacity, be it through JVs or by stimulating competitiveness. The India-China rivalry for world supremacy both as import and export leaders is not restricted to the two neighbours alone: there are a slew of lobbyists for and against each of them, across the West. The other, worrying statistic on bonded labour by GSI 2016 deserves introspection and action, as human indices must be of paramount importance to any eme-rging superpower reaching out to Western nations who use (or ignore) “human rights” as it suits them, to gain advantage and influence in any and every sphere of bilateral relations.

However, a closer look at the report reveals some misleading implications. India’s population is 1.2 billion, while China’s is 1.38 billion. At 3,287 sq km, India’s size is about a third of China’s 9,597 sq km. It doesn’t take a doctorate in mathematics to assume that India is, therefore, more densely populated per sq km than China. Nor is it a secret that India’s democracy and free media disseminate much more information than secretive, totalitarian China. Still,  the GSI reports that 1.4 per cent of India’s population, i.e. 18 million people, live in bonded servitude but in China’s case — based on little or no reliable evidence from behind the Great Wall — it is merely 0.2 per cent, or 3.3 million people.

The most startling aspect of the GSI survey is its claim of “child soldiers” being deployed in over 197 Indian districts. A footnote reveals a solitary source: a three-year-old report by another NGO, the London-based Child Soldiers International (CSI). But what was the methodology used by the Londoners? “Desk-based research, gathering information (from)... national and international NGOs, Unicef, journalists and other national stakeholders”, reads the explanation on CSI’s website.

Overlook the dubiousness of the “national stakeholders” and think hard when, other than in Naxal-hit states, did you last hear of  “child soldiers” in 20 districts of J&K, 106 districts of Andhra, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal ?  Or in 71 districts of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura?

CSI, in turn, tries to play safe by attributing that claim to India’s home ministry. But the MHA report on Naxalism merely said these areas were either “conflict-affected”, “disturbed” or as hit by “left-wing extremism”. Does that confirm the presence of “child soldiers”? CSI predicts that question too.  “Because of the risk of children’s involvement in hostilities, this report focuses on the armed actors active in these regions.” But before it skims over underground rebel groups, the CSI report outlines the minimum recruitment age for the other “armed actor”, the Indian armed forces and various other paramilitary and border security units, in great detail.

The ludicrous implication? That the Indian state itself is primarily guilty of recruiting “child soldiers”. “The minimum age... varies between 16 years and six months for the Navy, 17 years and six months for the Army and 17 years for the Air Force. CSI has been unable to confirm whether the minimum age for recruitment in the armed forces is established in law. The government maintains it sends recruits to operational areas only after they attain 18 years... An inadequate safeguard against child soldier use,” the report says.

“There is a likelihood of under-18s being militarily deployed in the event of a crisis. For this, prohibition in law of direct and indirect participation in hostilities is needed, and must be backed up by pre-deployment screening systems, which are lacking in India,” it notes, and ominously adds that the CSI “remains concerned”. Of course, our cities are far from wonderful and it is exhausting to live in any of them. They are urban messes, whose planning was left not to professionals but to hobby architect-babus and junket-hungry officials with zero training in engineering or urban layouts.

“Smart cities” are still light years away. It is even more heartbreaking to see our children and the poor still in the clutches of ruthless criminals, despite grand promises by all governments in the past 70 years to eradicate slave labour.  India has a long history of exploitative colonial rule, so some caution over headlines screaming-damnation to the emerging Asian power is always a good idea. We must look hard at and consider emergency surgery for our ugliest features in the mirror. But do consider who is shining it in our faces, and why.




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