Gist of EPW May Week 1, 2019

The Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) is an important source of study material for IAS, especially for the current affairs segment. In this section, we give you the gist of the EPW magazine every week. The important topics covered in the weekly are analysed and explained in a simple language, all from a UPSC perspective.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. The Weight of a Vote
2. The Realities of Voting in India
3. Challenges for Transgender-inclusive Sanitation in India

1. The Weight of a Vote

Context

  • NOTA as a passive device absolves individuals of their responsibility to engage with the political reality.

Voting in India

  • It is needless to mention in an electoral democracy that the right to vote is of seminal importance.
  • The votes that are exercised can decide not only the immediate winning prospects of the contesting candidate, but have decisive bearing on the very future of democracy.
  • Thus, the normative weight of a vote in such a democracy is enormous. But, in recent times, the right to vote has become a matter of interesting debate.
  • The consideration of the right to vote as a valuable asset and the anxiety to lose this asset seems to have prompted some candidates, even from the dominant political parties, to extract votes by issuing threats to voters.

NOTA in India

  • NOTA is a choice of negative voting in certain electoral systems to help voters express their dissent for all the candidates competing in an election.
  • It is based on the principle that the spirit of democracy is upheld by giving citizens a platform to voice their dissent while simultaneously participating in the electoral process
  • Through this provision of negative voting, in principle, it is possible for the voters to send a clear signal of discontent or protest.
  • NOTA’s entry into India was through judicial means. In 2004, People’s Union for Civil Liberties filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court questioning the constitutional validity of the Conduct of Elections.
  • While deciding this petition in September 2013, the Supreme Court directed the ECI to introduce NOTA in electronic voting machines.

Analysis of NOTA

  • NOTA essentially tends to rest the moral initiative with a voter, who can then enjoy moral authority over their constitutional duty.
  • Further to it, NOTA is treated as moral protest and hence has its basis in negative responsibility, which would mean that my NOTA vote is the result of the poor quality of the candidates, for which I am not responsible.
  • It is not always the case that NOTA acquires its moral strength based on the universal criterion of assessing the calibre of a candidate on moral grounds. There could be other social reasons that may result in the exercise of NOTA.
  • The electoral politics in reserved constituencies continues to be less competitive and, hence, makes it less motivating for voters to avoid the NOTA option.
  • NOTA tends to separate the individual from the principle of collective responsibility because the individual does not take the responsibility of being indirectly responsible for the production of such bad politics.

Value of a vote

  • It is not the voters, but the candidate who decides the weight of a vote.
  • It has been the experience of the sex workers, Adivasis, and voters from the minorities that they were never approached by candidates for their votes.
  • These candidates seem to have assessed that the actual political cost is much lesser than the enormous moral gain they make by not approaching these sections.
  • This is confirmed in the moral feelings of the electorally neglected lot, who develop a sense of insult and humiliation when not approached. The voters have an empty right to vote, but no right to be approached by candidates on an equal basis.
  • They feel that they have the strong desire to vote, but feel that their vote is considered less valuable as compared to other voters who are frequently approached by candidates.
  • These voters ­being approached would thus grant equal value to them, irrespective of their social and gender backgrounds.
  • One’s age makes the “adult” a biological state of being that defines universal adult franchise
  • The right to vote carries value not just as a biological but also as a moral condition by assigning equal value to every vote irrespective of gender and religion.
  • It is in this moral sense that the right to vote ­becomes universal.

Conclusion

  • The NOTA performance in India has not been subjected to any academic analysis possibly because the numbers are low.
  • As a significant tool to express dissent through electoral participation, it is worthwhile to capture the early indicators and patterns in NOTA usage.
  • The trends so far show that at least a small number of Indian voters have come to see NOTA as an instrument of protest against many things that they believe is problematic with the political system of the country.
  • However, it will become a meaningful means of negative voting only if it becomes a “right to reject” rather than being a symbolic instrument to express resentment as it is now.

2. The Realities of Voting in India

Introduction

  • A large scale internal migration in India has deprived the voting rights of many especially those working in the informal sector.
  • There is no law or any policy initiative looking at this issue.

India’s Electoral Process

  • India as a federal republic and as the largest participatory democracy in the world ensures all its citizens the right to universal adult franchise.
  • This entails that every citizen of India aged 18 or above has the freedom to vote in any election in the country.
  • However, each citizen of India is tied to a specific place to cast their vote, that is, their vote is not portable across regions. This is where the issue of migrant voting rights comes in.

Stats

  • Economic Survey, 2017, provided an estimate of internal work-related migration using railways data for the period 2011–16 (GOI 2017).
    • The results showed an average interstate migration of almost nine million people a year.
  • While migrants from the Hindi heartland of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh largely move to Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Gujarat, those from the eastern states of Jharkhand and Odisha travel not only to Kolkata in West Bengal, but also to Kerala, in increasing numbers.
  • According to the 2011 Census, 51 million migrants moved within India for economic reasons, constituting nearly 10% of the labour force. This gives rise to a concern about the political voicelessness of these migrant workers who are unable to practise their voting rights because of economic migration.
  • There are no statistics available on how many migrant workers have changed their constituency to vote at their current work location.

Nature of Migration and Voting

  • There is a preponderance of informal sector employment among the economic migrants. Most of them are employed in the informal segments within larger sectors like construction and manufacturing, on a rotational basis.
    • A lot of these workers are seasonal migrants who look for work during the off seasons of agriculture.
    • As a result, their migration is temporary, and as such it makes no sense for them to change their voting areas to their place of work
  • Moreover, even if they did decide to vote in the destination, the lack of knowledge of local politics and larger agendas leads them to stay away from local politics.
  • The incidence of low daily wages constrains both the decisions and the feasibility of any impromptu movement of these migrant workers, even if it is for executing their voting rights.
    • The main issue faced by workers is the economic strain of quitting even a day’s work to go back to their hometown and vote.
  • Besides sending remittances, there is also the pressure of expectations from family and peers that the migrants will bring back gifts from the cities during their home visits.
    • While such gifts are signs of prestige to the families, to the migrant worker these are economic dampeners of their decision to travel to their home constituencies for voting.

Response of the State

  • Answering to a Lok Sabha question in 2016 the ruling government had admitted of the lack of data on migrants at a nation-wide level, with the numbers given in the Economic Survey 2016–17 being the very first estimates of the number of internal migrants in the country (GOI 2016). Consequentially, the issue of voting of the internal migrants also gets ignored.
  • In another response the Govt said apart from the Interstate Migrant Workers Act, 1979, there is no central policy or legislation that looks into the issues of internal migration, nor has there been widespread studies on the various social dimensions of this phenomenon
  • Again, in responding to a Rajya Sabha question in 2018 on the provision of proxy votes for overseas voters and internal migrants, the government had stated that while an amendment to the Representation of the People Act, 1951 is underway to allow proxy voting for overseas voters, no such provisions are in place for the internal migrants

Conclusion

  • While these migrant workers might be interested in casting their votes, the reality of their work lives and the various socio-economic hurdles that they need to overcome act as barriers to achieve it.
  • Given the large number of workers who stay away from their hometowns and registration centres, this puts into question the very essence of participatory democracy, where every vote from every citizen should carry equal importance.
  • This there is a growing need to look into these issues, policy mechanism addressing them taken up and ultimately a voice of every citizen is heard in Participatory democracy

3. Challenges for Transgender-inclusive Sanitation in India

Introduction

  • India has made important strides in improving access to toilets for households and communities in the past few decades.
  • There has been an increasing recognition that effective sanitation for all needs to reflect the requirements of not only women and girls, but also, disabled, elderly and transgender persons
  • In recent years, the discrimination and violence faced by transgender persons have slowly been recognised outside of academic circles.
  • However, the inclusiveness of the policies and their implementation remain low, and more needs to be done in terms of research and actual application.

Steps taken to address issues with respect to Transgender

  • There have been incremental increases in the legal recognition of the need to provide transgender persons with legal rights to access public infrastructures, education, housing, etc.
  • The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016, provides visibility to transgender persons and their legal rights.

Issue Area

  • As an outcome, transgender persons in India currently live under a legal, policy, and social framework where they are recognised, but have not been fully integrated into society.
  • As a consequence of the underlying discrimination against the transgender community, toilets remain as sites of social exclusion and violence in their day-to-day lives.
  • Transgender persons are exposed to sexual harassment and violence if they use the men’s toilets and are unwelcome in both women and men’s toilets as “it is widely believed that they are seeking sex work when they visit the toilets”
  • This leaves them with few options and many of them continue to practice open defecation, or wait to find a safe time to use the toilets.
  • Currently, the transgender community faces dangers of infection, violence, humiliation, and corruption in their daily lives as they manage their sanitation needs.

Areas that need introspection

  • Moreover, the definition of transgender sanitation requires to expand and include the needs of transgender persons who menstruate, are disabled, or are post-operative.
  • For example, countries in the West such as the United Kingdom now use the term “menstruator” to indicate that other genders and not just women menstruate.
  • In India, menstrual hygiene or even childcare is rarely bought up while designing sanitation solutions for the transgender community—indicating the scope of the knowledge gap between what transgender persons need and what is being offered through the sanitation programmes.

A look at numbers

  • As per the 2011 Census, there are 4.88 lakh transgender persons in India and over 55,000 children under the ages of six who are identified as transgender.
  • Under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBA), a total of 1,04,802 toilet seats in community toilets have been built and another 1,29,809 toilet seats are under construction
  • While the data on how many of these seats are designed for transgender persons are not easily decipherable, a simple internet search of public toilets in India for transgender persons reveals that such toilets continue to be a rare exception.

Some Notable examples

  • In states like Tamil Nadu and Mizoram, there are instances of the transgender community’s sanitation needs and concerns being recognised and translated into some form of public toilets.
    • However, these exercises have been exceptions and not a commonplace practice.
  • The Government of Manipur along with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and leaders from the transgender community came together as a part of a larger initiative towards economic and social inclusion of transgender persons into the mainstream society. As a part of the initiative, the Manipur government has introduced separate toilets for transgender persons during various festivals and in some parts of Imphal, a step that was appreciated by the transgender community.
    • However, these toilets have not addressed the issue of their safety and dignity

Conclusion

  • Therefore, to design inclusive sanitation, recognition of the sanitation needs of adolescents and minors who identify as transgender is necessary. This requires a rethinking of not only public toilets but also toilets in schools and colleges
  • To really achieve sustainable and safe sanitation, there is a need to examine, more deeply, the obvious and the nuanced barriers to safe sanitation for transgender persons.
  • Toilets, either earmarked for transgender persons, or gender-neutral toilets, satisfy some of the basic needs of the transgender community but can leave them exposed to violence and harassment. This violence and harassment experienced by them while using toilets is an extension of the violence they face in other spheres of their everyday lives. Therefore, to have transgender-inclusive sanitation, it is essential to recognise the need for tackling transphobia through policy, law, employment, and social integration.
  • Moreover, having a toilet that explicitly broadcasts a transgender person’s identity to others may not be desirable to all transgender persons, as the underlying transphobia can make them vulnerable to violence.
  • Finally, there is a need to expand the meaning of sanitation for transgender persons to include menstrual hygiene and reproductive care. In short, transgender-inclusive sanitation requires a deeper understanding of their social, cultural, biological needs through various life stages.

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