December 24, 2012

(part 3) abuse of women/girls -- india's shame

This editorial contribution I made yesterday to the newspaper I presently work for touches upon the connection between economy, governance and 'rule of law' for Indians and not just foreigners:

Freeing India for one-half of Indians
Governance is not just about economic reforms to attract foreign investments. It is as much about giving Indians the economic confidence

"Rule of law", which is one of the handful of strongest attractions offered to foreign investments in India in Indian government's and private companies' roadshows abroad, has now taken centre stage within the country. 

The weekend protests in the country's capital and elsewhere, driven primarily by young women and aided by their empathetic male counterparts, has brought the rule of law, or rather the lack of it, to the forefront of the consciousness and this time of the country's own citizens. Barring a few unfortunate attempts, towards the end of it, to hijack it politically by a few vested interests, this phenomenon is a rare show of genuine outpouring of concern by one-half of our population of the daily doses of ugly sexual harrasment they face in public places and the consequent dangerous risks of severe crimes such as rapes they are subject to, and which are increasingly bearing out in horrific ways as the gang-rape in Delhi a week ago showed. 

This raises relevant questions of governance and enforcement of law for a government which has never lost a single opportunity to harp about the rule of law when enticing foreign companies and businesses to invest and set up shop in India. Any government which uses this line of argument must then face up to the question of whether not having a rule of law for a crucial half of the country's own population will not have a severely adverse impact on not just the social and political spheres but also the economic sphere. 

From all angles, a long-standing apathy by any ruling government towards ensuring women's right to safety in public places as well as everywhere else is not good for the country. Even in cold mathematical and economic terms, working women pay taxes on the income they earn. They pay service tax and other government taxes on expenditure incurred by them from their incomes for the purchase of goods and services. This does not mean the non-working women and girls have no contribute. They contribute indirectly, by way of managing other needs of the household and family members which enable the working male members to earn his monthly income. 

The entire basis behind a taxation system by a government is that it will provide some essential public services and basic governance in return for the taxes it collects. This includes protecting basic rights of women to move about freely without the real threat of daily sexual abuse. 

Policing is a basic function of a government and the police machinery runs from tax-payers money. It is there for the bigger public purpose and if, as in the case of the capital city of Delhi, one-third of it gets used to provide security to politicians, as again Delhi police does under orders from the home ministry under whom the Delhi police works, then it is an outright failure of government to justify a good portion of the taxes. 

A placard at the weekend protests in Delhi asked "Is this the characteristic of a fast developing country?" The answer is obvious. It is a not a characteristic but it will be a cause for development to slow down more than what global economic factors are already causing it to. No country where any section of the population which does not receive what is due to it from the ruling government can ever prosper in a sustained manner. 

Governance is not just about reforms for freeing up the country's economy for foreign investments but also about ensuring reforms in the police and criminal justice system which protects domestic citizens' basic rights. It is not governance if it can not offer citizens the confidence to carry out basic life-sustaining economic activities.

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