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.
Topics covered in this article:
Trade Wars of the United States
‘Dalit’ Cannot be Reduced to ‘Scheduled Caste’
Legalising Sexualities in a Patriarchal State
A Less Acknowledged Source of Gandhi’s Ideas of Trusteeship
Topic 1: Trade Wars of the United States
- In the past few months, President Donald Trump has authorised a series of protectionist measures, the likes of which have not been seen in the post-war decades.
- The first salvo was fired in early March 2018, with the imposition of tariffs on imports of steel and aluminium from all countries except its immediate neighbours, Canada and Mexico.
- The President of the United States (US) then turned his attention to China, announcing that relatively high tariffs would be imposed to counter, what he perceived was “unfair” trade practised by the second largest economy.
- Both acts of protectionism were promptly responded to by the targeted countries, resulting in a virtual trade war between several major economies.
- In particular, China adopted a tit-for-tat strategy, escalating the conflict. Over the past two months, the two countries have raised tariffs on $100 billion worth of bilateral trade, and both have threatened to expand the net much wider.
What is trade war?
- Trade war is an economic conflict between two or more nations regarding trade tariffs on each other.
- This type of conflict usually arises because the nations involved are trying to improve imports or exports for its own country.
- The last time the world saw trade war was in the 1930s when countries had tried to boost their trade surplus. The result was a massive slowdown around the world, which eventually resulted in the Great Depression of the 1930s.
What is protectionism?
- Protectionism is the economic policy of restricting imports from other countries through methods such as tariffs on imported goods, import quotas, and a variety of other government regulations.
- Protectionist policies help immune the producers, businesses, and workers of the import-competing sector in the country from foreign competitors.
Why protectionism is gaining prevalence?
- To protect indigenous industrial sectors especially infant and sunrise sectors.
- High unemployment rate
- Slow growth recovery post global financial crisis
- Rising apprehensions with respect to immigrants leading to xenophobia
Dimensions of Trade War
- President Trump’s tariff war, the first step towards which was taken on 1 March 2018, has had, until now, two dimensions.
- The first was to raise tariffs on steel and aluminium sectors, which was seen as “an important first step in ensuring the economic viability of [US’s] domestic steel industry.” This decision targeted countries supplying these products to the US, except its two immediate neighbours, namely Canada and Mexico. Affected as a result were a number of countries, including Brazil, Korea, Argentina, India and the EU.
- The second dimension, unveiled on 22 March 2018, was President Trump’s directive to the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to take all possible actions against China, including using penal tariffs on its exports, for “harming American intellectual property rights, innovation, or technology development.”
Undermining the WTO
- Not to be restrained by Trump administration’s trade protectionism, most countries adversely affected by its unilateral actions of trade protectionism have responded by taking “rebalancing measures.” This has raised the grim prospects of a trade war, reminiscent of the early 1930s.
- Nearly nine decades ago, the trade war had escalated in absence of global trade rules, but today, major economies seem to be walking the same path, this time by disregarding the multilateral trade rules that have evolved over the decades. Pushing the framework of trade rules governed by the WTO to the brink can seriously disrupt global trade, the implications of which can be far-reaching.
- While a trade war between the US and China would have an adverse impact on global economy, the unilateral actions taken by the two countries bypassing the rules-based multilateral system under the World Trade Organization (WTO), could have a far serious impact on global economic governance.
Benefits of free trade policy over protectionist policies
- It brings benefits of specialization especially to developing countries.
- It allows developing countries greater access to market.
- It encourages international competition and trade.
- It encourages freer movement of goods and services thereby making globalisation more efficient.
- Freeing trade reduces imported-input costs, thus reducing businesses’ production costs and promoting economic growth.
- Consumers have the opportunity to purchase goods and services at a comparative lower price.
- Role of international organizations like WTO etc and other regional organizations like ASEAN, NAFTA etc need to play an effective and engaging role.
- Global free trade will eventually prevail over protectionist policies so it is high time countries worldwide come together to promote the cause of free trade.
Topic 2: ‘Dalit’ Cannot be Reduced to ‘Scheduled Caste’
- The recent advice by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) to the media to refrain from using the word “Dalit” by implication introduces a moral hierarchy in the use of words.
- Following the petition submitted by some Buddhists from Nagpur, the government argued that the word Dalit has to be avoided because it is morally offensive and humiliating and the term “Scheduled Caste” is preferable as it has been given constitutionally.
“Dalit-Harijan-Depressed Class” Nomenclature Controversy
- The word “Dalit” comes from the Sanskrit root dal- and means “broken, ground-down, downtrodden, or oppressed”.
- “Dalit” refers to one’s caste rather than class; it applies to members of those menial castes which have historically borne the stigma of “untouchability” because their traditional occupations were deemed to be impure and polluted by the upper castes.
- Dalits, in a way, are ‘outcastes’ falling outside the traditional four-fold caste system consisting of the hereditary Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra classes; till a few decades ago, there were physically and socially excluded and isolated from the rest of the society.
- The term was believed to have been first used by Jyotirao Phule, founder of the Satya Shodak Samaj, in the nineteenth century. He used the term for ‘untouchables’ and victims of caste based oppressions. It was B R Ambedkar, the ‘father of Indian Constitution’ and a victim of caste oppression in his early years, who popularised the term ‘Depressed Classes’, which is the anglicized version of Dalit.
- ‘Harijan’, meaning ‘children of God’, was a term first used by Gandhi to refer to Scheduled Castes in 1932. He even started three journals in English, Hindi and Gujarati in the same name in 1933. The exact origin of the word is subject to debate.
- Gandhi’s idea of using the word ‘Harijan’, many argue, was to avoid other words like ‘untouchables’ or ‘bhangis’ which were then used to refer to Scheduled Castes, because they were strongly stigmatised. He used the word ‘Harijan’ to bring the untouchables closer to God, and thereby to those who believed in God, which was the rest of Hindu society.
Issues with the usage of the word Scheduled Caste
- The upper-caste students who did not like the SCs making it to the college were accused of disfiguring the constitutional term, Scheduled Caste, by fracturing it into a crooked and, hence, derogatory term, “schaddu.”
- This deformation of the term by the upper castes is deployed as a weapon against the SCs to morally coerce and torment both the actual and potential beneficiaries of the category.
- The term Scheduled Caste is also morally corroding. Codified into a certificate, the term no doubt works as a gate pass to the opportunity structures, but it also tends to corrode the social solidarity of the oppressed, leading to infighting among the SCs only to prove who among them is an authentic SC.
- Since the word Dalit expresses the totality of exploitation, discrimination, and patriarchal domination, it cannot be accused of posing any danger to the solidarity of the oppressed.
- Dalit is also irreducible to Scheduled Caste in another and perhaps more fundamental moral sense. Unlike Scheduled Caste, it does not carry the burden of having to prove its authenticity.
- In a differentiated society, the state has a design to impose and inculcate the term Scheduled Caste in a universal manner.
Final Conclusion of the Author
- The word Dalit is irreducible to the term Scheduled Caste.
- The state’s attempt to impose one single term on the symbolic and cultural universe of Dalits is both unfair and unwarranted.
Topic 3: Legalising Sexualities in a Patriarchal State
- The Supreme Court’s judgment on 6 September 2018, which read down Section 377 to declare that sex in private between consenting adults is legal, is an ode to self-determination of identity.
- The five-judge bench, in four separate but concurring judgments, has now affirmed that LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) persons are entitled to equal rights under Articles 14, 15, 19, and 21, and other fundamental rights that the Constitution provides its citizens.
- Section 377 will continue to apply to sex with minors, animals, and to non-consensual sex.
What is the case history of Sec 377?
- Naz Foundation filed the first major case, Naz Foundation vs. Government of NCT of Delhi & Ors against Section 377 in 2001. However a two-judge Delhi High Court Bench dismissed the case in 2004, terming it as a mere academic challenge to the constitutionality of a legislative provision.
- The Supreme Court ordered Delhi High Court to hear the case again. As a result, in a landmark decision on 2009, the High Court decriminalized Section 377, ruling that consenting intercourse between two adults was not illegal.
- The verdict declared that Section 377 of IPC was violative of Articles 21, 14 and 15 of the Constitution.
- However, the verdict was challenged by Suresh Kumar Koushal, an astrologer and journalist, along with 15 others, in the Supreme Court on July, 2009.
- On December, 2013, a two-judge Supreme Court Bench upheld the appeal and recriminalized gay sex.
- The 2013 verdict left it to Parliament to consider the desirability and propriety of deleting Section 377 IPC from the statute book or amend the same., if it so wished.
- The verdict was criticized across the world, it led to widespread protests across India, and LGBTQI activists observed a “Global Day of Rage”.
- After review petitions filed by Naz Foundation, the Union government, and others in 2014 were quashed, the court in February 2016 referred a curative plea to a five-judge Bench.
- The boost in the arm came through two important Supreme Court judgments that helped the anti-377 movement to get back on track.
- In 2014, in the NALSA judgment, the SC accorded the transgender community the right to be called the third gender, separate from male and female.
- Transgender individuals could now seek legal, political and economic rights, and remedy against discrimination
- It led to a reopening of the conversation regarding homosexuality.
- The second landmark judgment in terms of LGBTQI rights came on August 2017, when a nine-judge Bench of the Supreme Court ruled that the right to privacy was a fundamental right.
- The order said that privacy included the preservation of personal intimacies, the sanctity of family life, marriage, procreation, the home and sexual orientation.
- The judgment put Section 377 in direct opposition to the legally protected fundamental right to privacy.
- In July 2018, a Constitution Bench, led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, re-opened the entire issue, saying a section of people could not live in fear of the law which atrophied their rights to choice, privacy and dignity.
- The petitioners have argued that the presence of Section 377 IPC in the statute books makes it clear that the constitutional guarantees of equality, fraternity, dignity, life and liberty are not extended to them.
Analysis of the issue
- The recent judgment has been welcomed by activists and LGBTQ persons, who have admired its insistence on the right to dignity for the identity that one chooses for themselves.
- The NALSA (National Legal Services Authority v Union of India 2014) judgment has been instrumental in making this possible.
- The recognition of transgender persons as the “third gender” showed the way out of gender binaries, emphasising that “gender identity” is one of the most fundamental aspects of life.
- Crucially, the judgment defined gender identity as each person’s deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex assigned at birth.
- The amount of protection that the law provides is determined by the level of privilege one wields and other intersectional positions in society, and it can be argued that the decriminalisation of sexual acts in private would do little to limit the harassment LGBTQ persons are subjected to in public spaces and the discrimination they face in employment opportunities.
- A lot has been talked about how Justice D Y Chandrachud’s judgment opens the door to “the full range of constitutional rights,” that is, for equal rights to marry, adopt, property, and employment.
- There is hope that this could lead to affirmative action that can structurally address the economic exclusion of LGBTQ persons, and an anti-discrimination law to protect against discrimination in housing and education.
- It is important for us to remember that India’s promise of freedom to its LGBTQ citizens cannot be a tokenistic “inclusion;” it cannot be wrapped in the morals of heterosexuality.
- The fight for equal rights and dignity cannot be fulfilled without disrupting patrilineal kinship and masculine norms of nationhood.
- The 377 judgment is a massive step forward, but society has to unlearn gender roles for it to be meaningful.
- Periodic sensitisation and awareness programmes for all government officials, particularly police officials is the need of the hour.
Topic 4: A Less Acknowledged Source of Gandhi’s Ideas of Trusteeship
Concept of trusteeship
- Trusteeship occupied a prominent place in the Gandhian thought. Gandhi wanted to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. However, by this, he never meant absolute equality between the haves and have-nots.
- He envisaged that food, cloth and shelter are the basic needs of the human beings. So, the excess wealth or property of the rich can add welfare to the society. The wealth and talent should be considered as a trust of the whole society and as ‘trustee’ the individuals should handle it for the betterment of society.
- Gandhiji differed from the Marxian concept of property. When Marx advocated a classless society and State-ownership of property, Mahatma Gandhi viewed that property should not be snatched away from the rich or capitalist people; rather they should consider themselves as trustees of the property. This would bring a lasting benefit to the society and State at large.
Features of Trusteeship
- Trusteeship; a hammer for capitalism: Trusteeship aimed at reforming the capitalist society. It advocated that rich people should change themselves and should come forward to use their property for the betterment of society.
- State regulation of trusteeship: The State should come forward to regulate the system. In that case there would be no discrimination. The wealth or the rich will be appropriated by the State and regulated by the order of the State. It will be done in the most peaceful way so that violence will not occur.
- Fixed maximum income: Under this system, a maximum income will be fixed by the State. A fair wage should be fixed for the working class people. The State should see that there exists a reasonable balance between the maximum income and minimum living wage.
- Social welfare: The trusteeship system should aim at social welfare. Under no circumstance, the welfare of the society will be hampered. The rich people should come voluntarily to join their hands with the common people and decide measures for the welfare of the society by the appropriation of the extra wealth possessed by the rich people.
- Production as per social requirements: The production should cater to the need of the society. No personal choice of the rich should guide the production pattern. On the other hand, keeping in view the necessity of the large bulk of Indian population, things will be manufactured.
Trusteeship and Isavasya Upanishad
- Gandhi once said that if all Hindu scriptures were destroyed, but if the Isavasya Upanishad was preserved, that Hinduism would survive.
- While Gandhi’s attachment to the Bhagavad Gita and the Ramcharitmanas has received considerable attention, the economic argument in the very opening lines of the Isavasya deserves greater attention.
- It is a call to enjoy the worldly gifts given to a person while simultaneously refraining from coveting another’s wealth.
- Trusteeship represents a significant and in some ways a unique Gandhian insight into a variety of vexed problems that all students of political economy are sooner or later forced to confront.
- Gandhi’s insights have universal validity and in some respects may be very useful in the current discourse on agency problems, corporate governance, corporate social responsibility, wealth management, philanthropy, etc.
For more EPW articles, read “Gist of EPW”.