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Open letter to Deputy Speaker Himachal Jagat Negi on siding with private companies, mocking at labor laws

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Rakesh-Singha

My Dear Jagat Negi Ji,

For quite sometime, certain issues have been agitating my mind, therefore this letter to you. I, also choose to make it public.

You are well aware, under the Parliamentary form of democracy adopted by us, the office of a Speaker and Deputy Speaker of a Legislative Assembly is a honorable position. They are given to those who are not partisan in their conduct. In public discourse, a person holding this high position is expected to be judicious, fair and must direct his conduct clear above any narrow partisan interest.

I do not know what were the compelling circumstances which forced you to side with the Patel Engineering company in an industrial dispute with its workers. This dispute has a background of more than 120 days strike since 17th March, 2016. Remember the genesis of the dispute has a longer history. It goes back to September 2013. You would recall in early 2013, the workers of Patel Engineering had built up courage to demand the enforcement of the law of your govt.

The law of payment of minimum wages declared and notified by your govt, the law to provide earned wages before the 7th day of each month, the law to provide the wages in presence of an officer of the principal employer to be counter signed by him accompanied by a documentary evidence of a wage slip, the law of providing a weekly off, the law of providing the social benefits attached to the Provident Fund Act, the law of providing accommodation and living conditions as per the various provisions of the contract labour (regulation and abolition) Act etc.

Just examine how justice was done with the workers. Instead of directing the company to implement law, the leadership of the workers was terminated from service. The management in order to ensure that the workers do not raise the demands again, terminated Jeet Negi the president of the union, Rajvansh the secretary, Baldev the vice president, Soam Dev an active member of the union along with two other activists. Their only crime was to organise the workers so that the labor laws could be implemented.

I am grateful to the judicial system of this country, those who knocked on its door against this unjust act were provided justice. The labor court ordered in the month of May 2016 that the termination of Jeet Negi, Rajvansh and Baldev was illegal and directed their reinstatement. Soam Dev Negi did not have money to fight a legal battle and after having faced humiliation by the sub-contractors he decided to end his life. He committed suicide on 18th Nov 2013 by jumping into the Satluj river. His body was recovered six months later on 24th April 2014. The painful death of Soam Dev the only earning hand of the family, becomes even more painful when one learns that the cause of his death has not been investigated till date.

I want to know from you, are you the MLA of only the Rich, the Patel’s, the JP’s, the Jindal’s, the contractors etc. How long will the poor have to suffer and die like Soam Dev died.

Is the version of the people correct? They say in order to protect the pecuniary interest of your brother Mohinder Negi who is a big contractor under the Patel Company, you have become totally intoxicated by the ill-gotten money. Is it correct the stone crusher belongs to your brother? Is it correct people have complaint against the illegal mining being done for this stone crusher? Is it correct that he is illegally operating it by violating the condition attached to its operation? You may be correct to state why your brother and relatives are not allowed to make money when the others are doing so.

You and your brother want to treat the police as your personal army. Do you know in an industrial dispute the police cannot take sides, either with the industrialists or with the workers. But you desire that they should stand with the exploiters. Are you not ashamed you ordered a few days back to arrest 95 workers under a false and fabricated case of attempt to murder. Once the workers were in police custody you ordered their home to be raised to the ground by plying of a bulldozer. They have become homeless with all their lifelong savings having been destroyed, their bedding, their clothes, their utensils and all the little savings they had made in their life time, all have been buried under the mud. Even tyrants do not carry out such inhumane acts. The bulldozer has buried their life long earnings, but it cannot burry their history.

I can assure you, you have broken their homes, but you and your government cannot break their courage to fight back the ruthless exploitation. The fight will continue till they get justice.

With Regards

Rakesh Singha

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Himachal Watcher.

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Govt and People Flaunting Interstate Travel SOPs Costing Himachal

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HP govt interstate travel sops

Shimla– Though the Himachal Pradesh Government has now announced imposition of strict curfew, similar to a lockdown, there is no doubt about it that both the government and the public underestimated the second wave of the pandemic armed with double mutant- more deadly than the first one. The government in the state was hardly able to take timely decisions at its own and those taken appeared to be ineffective and half-hearted. My own experience is a testimony to the carelessness shown by the government, as well as, the people during inter-state travel. 

HP Govt was one among the many states that made it mandatory for people entering the state to register with COVID e-pass and to carry a negative RT-PCR report. The measures taken by the government seemed commendable to me until I faced the ground reality.

A week after the official notification was issued, I travelled to the state capital city from New Delhi – one of the major hotspots. Rigorous checking and contact tracing is the need of the hour, but what’s happening at the border is far more different than what is expected of the officials.

It shouldn’t come to us as a surprise if fake e-passes in the names of Donald Trump and Amitabh Bachhan are being produced. This matter should put light on the negligent approach of state authorities. As much as we trust the government bodies to contain the virus, they are dangerously failing. In my own experience, I wasn’t asked to produce a negative RT-PCR report upon entering the state, nobody in the last 72hrs tried to contact trace me. I travelled to Shimla in a public transportation bus, on the eve of 4th May 2021. On entering the state border, the assigned official made no extraordinary attempt to check the passengers. Many were travelling without e-pass and RT-PCR test reports. I even asked the official to check my RT-PCR report, to which he showed no concern. It is due to careless mistakes like these that made India one of the most affected countries in the world.

I also noticed that many passengers were not carrying e-passes, either because they were not aware of the need to carry them, or because they didn’t take this mandatory condition seriously. The sheer ignorance of common people and those who are appointed to keep check of the situation is the reason why we are heading towards a catastrophe. The onus is on us, too. I made sure that I travelled with e-pass, so that the state government stays aware of my movement. I got my test done so that I don’t infect the virus to others unknowingly. I am also observing home isolation for a period of 14 days because there’s no harm in following the precautionary measures.

India is in the second wave of this deadly pandemic, and it is time we take responsibility for our actions. The primary reason for the rise of the second wave in India is the rampant violation of COVID protocols.

Now that the state government has decided to implement a curfew similar to a lockdown, I expect that the new Covid protocols will not have any loophole. This time people along with the administration will have to stay prepared to face the reality. The virus can be stopped, but only with our combined efforts.

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HER EXISTENTIAL ANGST

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crime against women in india -Her existential angst

 “ We have been bearing the torture of losing our daughter. Despite all our efforts, repeated assurances and Court orders, we have not got any justice.”

Just another voice among those thousands of voices demanding justice for their daughters who had been raped. And just like that this voice would also fade away in times to come, while some voices would not even get the chance to surface. Yet, a question like ‘Was she being careful enough?’ is thrown at her, holding her accountable as if she brought this upon herself. Society would then have the audacity to not spare her with their further shallow remarks on what sort of clothes she was wearing, or at what time of the day was she out, or was she of ‘easy virtue’, or her age being the factor since her ‘youngness’ might have been all over the place or was she venturing out with her relatives as it’s safer like that.

These assumed ‘causes’ or rather myths set at the hands of society need a stern blow. Each time her dress is shredded into fragments and used as a weapon against her is normalising the gruesome sexual assault. How is it that restoration of modesty in Her dress code would guarantee its inverse proportionality to your perverse mindset?

She is vulnerable outside at every moment, 24×7, so the time of the day at which she is out does not make any difference. Rape is reported every 15 minutes according to the crime data released by the NCRB from 2018. A total of 32,033 cases of rapes were lodged in 2019. India recorded an average of 87 rape cases daily in 2019 and overall 4,05,861 cases of crime against women, a rise of over 7 % from 2018. This distinctly indicates that she is susceptible to rape every second of every minute of her entire life.

Categorizing her as one with ‘easy virtue’ is done by the society at the drop of a hat. Fine, she will face the consequences of partying late in clubs, drinking, having relationships but dare not use this as a vindication of rape. Barring her from following the lifestyle that she wants for herself since it’s her life, alone would not curb crimes against her. So stop moral policing the victim.

Moreover, her age and ‘youngness’ does not constitute her of getting raped as its not just young women who become victims of such heinous crime. NCRB data shows, in 2015, 10,854 cases of rape under Section 376 of the IPC & Section 4 and 6 of Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act were registered. In light of this data, I ask of you, what sort of ‘youngness ‘ did a newborn child of merely two months have offered or a grandmother as elderly as 86 years old?

She is aware of the fear of the unknown, but what about the fear of the known? As stated by NRCB in 2017, the accused were known to the victims in 93.1% cases, as many as 16,591 rape cases were against the family – friends, a certain cousin, uncles, employers, neighbours, friends, online friends, live-in partners, separated husbands of the victims or for the matter of fact their very own fathers, brothers and grandfathers. She suffers torment as a consequence of trust that she had in them – an acquaintance rape.

As if all of this wasn’t enough already, some very well ‘ educated ‘ men like Markandey Katju, although reiterating that he “ condemns the Hathras Gangrape” and calls for “ harshest punishment of the culprits”, however in all his capacity still stoops down to justify rape. In his long post, he chose to put all the blame on women and how they are bound to bear the brunt of crimes against them since “ sex is a natural urge in men”, he further adds that because India is a heavily populated & a conservative society so having sex is acceptable “ only through marriage” and as it is our country is facing massive unemployment due to economic crisis, therefore, men are deprived of sex, the result of which is an increase in rapes.

 Now I Am unable to comprehend the logic that Mr Katju intends to state. Do women not experience any sexual urges or people like him and society at large consider that aspect ‘ unnatural ‘ for us? Or do men alone have claimed the patent for the same ? And as far as unemployment and economic crisis are concerned, why are women made to be the punching bags for the lack of governance? What exactly wrong did Manisha Valmiki and another Dalit girl in Balrampur do to deserve such sinister men? Manisha, a Dalit girl was raped by four Thakur men in Hathras. Her neck and spinal cord were damaged and her tongue was sliced. Even several days after this beyond the dreadful incident, BJP MLA Rajvir Diler says “ no rape occurred”, the hospital kept her in the general ward for six days while she was groaning and suffering in immense pain, the police cremated rather burnt her body without her family’s consent. Just days after she passed away fighting for her life, yet another Dalit girl in Balrampur was raped by two men. Both her back and legs were broken, lethal injection was given to shut her mouth and post all this horror she was murdered.

Both these cases are about Caste as much as it is about Gender. It is not debatable, even then MLA Rajvir Diler says “ There is no caste system in the village, everything is fine” ( SAB CHANGA SI – familiar enough ?). He is the same MP who accepted casteism and sat on the floor during his MLA days stating “ I Am the son of a Valmiki. I cannot break away from tradition. Let the world change, I won’t.”

The sheer privilege you must have to tell me not to make this about caste when discrimination predominantly based on gender and caste is practised daily in this country. Everything comes down to the “social conditioning” that one is brought up with. The problem mainly lies when we consider mere literacy as the sole criteria for educating Men. By doing this we only make them irresponsible in numerous ways. Rather have your boys learn about patriarchy, its toxicities, the boundaries that they are to remain in,* gender equality and respect, than plainly focusing on them being employed to support their families. And by the way, don’t “not all men” me for this because there are an inordinate amount of men who do inhumane and degrading things to women and would still have the guts to blatantly tell us that women somehow have it easy.

The aforementioned brutal rape of Dalit girls is a reflection of how mean and cruel we as a society have become. In fact, several days prior to when this atrocious crime took place, one of the powerful Bollywood actress who is celebrated across the nation for her outstanding performances, Kangana Ranaut posts an apathetic tweet, “ Caste system has been rejected by modern Indians, in small towns everyone knows it’s not acceptable anymore by law and order its nothing more than a sadistic pleasure for few, only our constitution is holding onto it in terms of Reservations.”

If you fail to see the caste angle in such crimes, you are being willfully ignorant. The only time we think caste is dead when it doesn’t affect us directly in any way. Therefore imparting “moral education” in all social aspects is our responsibility as a society because caging women in a set of constraints would not awaken the sense of morality in Your men and not acknowledging the caste system would not stop hate crimes against them. So, it’s about time for “moral reckoning.”

  1. Now the question arises; what is our government doing about it?
  2. It can build sky-high temples for all it cares.
  3. Exonerate the 32 accused in Babri Masjid’s demolition.
  4. Form an SIT amid nationwide outrage.
  5. Unleash police impunity by detaining at least 100 protestors from India Gate who were protesting against Hathras Gangrape.
  6. Can’t call out UP Police who burnt victim’s body in the middle of the night while having her family locked inside their houses, she wasn’t even given dignity in death.
  7. Rashtriya Savarna Parishad comes out in support of the Thakur rapists

BJP MLA Surendra Singh shares his bigoted ‘theory’ stating that girls need to be taught ‘sanskaar’(culture and values) as then only rape could be prevented since ‘shasan’ (governance ) and ‘talwar’ (sword) can’t stop anything.

Nonetheless, we see hoardings of “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” everywhere. It never served the purpose, Dr. Priyanka Reddy, a 26- year old veterinary doctor from Shamshabad in Hyderabad was gang-raped and found dead with her body partially burnt under Chatanpally bridge. She was well educated, independent, and empowered woman, yet she could not be saved from getting raped. The police resorted to impulsive justice and unlawfully killed the culprits. Did this impulsive treatment of justice deter the four Thakur rapists from committing the same crime? This is not justice, it’s a ploy to shut down our demands for accountability from the police, judiciary and the government. Is the death penalty by hanging the solution to India’s rape crisis? Where it takes years and years of courtroom sessions as we all saw in the Nirbhaya Rape case. All of this is just a band-aid on a deep wound.

We need actual Judiciary reforms starting with having a better representation of women in higher Indian Judiciary. Till date we have no woman Chief Justice despite three women judges currently sitting in the Supreme Court, there seems to be no possibility as of now that we will have the first woman Chief Justice in the near future. There are already five male judges lined up to succeed in the present CJI until 2025.

In spite of their proficiency, hard work and struggle women lawyers are not recognised except for very few second-generation lawyers. According to the Supreme Court’s list of senior advocates, only 4% are women i.e 16 against 400 men. Even though Maharashtra has the highest no. of women lawyers, yet accounts for only 3.8% of senior women advocates in Bombay High Court.

 Many pragmatic studies show that having even one woman on a 3- judge panel affects the entire panel’s decision-making in gender discrimination cases. When I previously mentioned Markandey Katju as a ‘ very well educated man’ by that I meant a man of high calibre, who was a former Supreme Court Judge, nevertheless made a long cold remark lacking in depth of intellect. No wonder justice is delayed or almost denied to the rape victims.

The entire structure of dispensation of justice needs revamping, otherwise, the victim shall no longer be the woman alone, but humanity at large. While you all tell us to wait as bringing in reforms in Judiciary, in men, in the social structure as a whole is a perennial endeavour and will take time, just assure us with your answer; how much more and for how long do we women Endure?

Image Credit: Pexels@Loanne Adela Low

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.

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Till we meet again: Shimla Water Crisis

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All About Shimla Water Crisis

The Honourable Supreme Court in its conclusion to the case Narmada Bachao Andolan Vs Union of India and others on October 18, 2000 states:

Water is the basic need for the survival of human beings and is part of the right of life and human rights as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India and can be served only by providing a source of water where there is none.

At the time of writing this article, the water crisis in Shimla is effectively over but the fault lines have already been drawn. The crisis placed the beautiful town of Shimla in the global spotlight for all the ugly reasons and highlighted the fissures in this fragile place.

Every source of media whether Indian or Western underscored the problem and compared it to the Cape Town Water crisis. A few went a step further and used the words such as “Day Zero” or “Water Wars” in respect of Shimla without exactly understanding the gravity of the situation and the message the words carry.

Day Zero is when in any town or city the authorities shut off the water supply except hospitals and other vital institution with the majority of residents lining up at water check-points for their daily supply.

Water wars need no introduction except that it takes place between the haves and the have-nots.

All this was done without giving a thought to one’s social responsibility as a citizen or a source of information no matter authentic or apocryphal.

Shimla & Cape Town

Shimla is no Cape Town; it will have to walk several hundred miles to become something even remotely close to it. Cape Town had suffered three years of unprecedented drought, which depleted its water reservoirs supplying water to the city. Due to this, the city had advised its residents to prepare themselves for the purported Day Zero, the year being 2018.

However, before that Cape Town had already embarked on the path for conservation in the year 2007 and had prepared Water Conservation and Water Demand Management Strategy (WC/WDM).

If there existed any prescience in a city in a third world country, then it was Cape Town. Before the introduction of the programme, the water consumption in the city was growing at the rate of 4.7% per annum.

But through its excellent management strategies and innovation Cape Town was able to reduce water consumption growth at a rate of less than 2% per annum. It resulted in a reduction of water wastage by 20% and total water savings of 30% approx.).

For its sustained efforts and successful conservation, Cape Town won first prize for Adaption & Implementation in C40 Cities Award 2015 beating 91 cities including Copenhagen and Paris.

The city did not encourage the tourists to stay away- rather it launched “Save Like a Local Campaign” requesting tourists to keep their water usage to under 87 liters per day, the same restrictions placed on residents. In Cape Town, the Mayor can anytime come knocking at your door to check the water management.

In this city only, the top 100 water user streets were publicised. Water tariffs were structured to cater to poor households. And our intentions are to see ourselves at par with this city, a city that even in times of distress has maintained its dignity.

South Eastern Queensland

Entire Australia suffered drought in the 2000s due to climatic disturbances with South East Queensland being the major casualty. During the beginning of the drought, the per person usage of the Queenslanders was 300 liters per person per day for washing, eating, drinking, and gardening.

Come the year 2015, it was reduced to 169 liters per person per day. Even before the worst phase of drought began in the year 2007, the outdoor water-related restrictions were already in place since 2005.

It was then, that the Queensland Water Commission launched the Target 140 campaign. The campaign emphasized voluntary residential indoor water saving practices, behaviors and attitudes.

The campaign was a success since it achieved a permanent behavioral and attitudinal change. Over a sustained period of eight months of the campaign, the average daily water consumption dropped from 179 liters to 126 liters per person per day.
This change effectively resulted in savings of 20,680 million liters of water.

Shimla

Life is always full of options, and one such option is “Fight or Flight” and we the people of Shimla choose the flight option when we requested tourists to skip Shimla this summer.

This might have worked for now with tourists staying away from Shimla but this may not work every time. And it will be not long before we realize that such exhortations will strip Shimla of its Soul first and silver later.

We the people of Shimla take pride by seeing ourselves in one of the richest and educated towns in the country. But it is high time, we realize that the next summer is only 300 days away and this crisis is not to be wasted.

We need to learn, how other cities of the world managed to come out of such crises and set examples for the whole world to see. It needs to be ensured that the crisis is not given a rerun the next summer but it will involve drudgery (being primal) on the part of everyone living in Shimla or loving Shimla.

Initially, on the macro level, we need to focus on both the supply side as well as the demand side. First, we should begin with the cheaper solutions i.e. the demand side solutions. The stakeholders in this being residents, hotels, tourists and it can be done by a change in our attitudes. Our behavior and attitudes should reflect the water saving practices which over a period of time become the norm for us.

Incentivising water saving would be the step to go forward on the similar lines of Carbon credits, how about Blue credits. Next would be the supply side solutions, i.e. the costly ones, augmenting the resources catering to Shimla, be it the upcoming Government Schemes or the existing supply schemes.

The city under all circumstances should be prepared for the worst day if it so ever comes.
On a micro level, the dead water or zero revenue water should be reduced, which would effectively mean overhauling the supply systems, so that there are no leakages.

Equipping our buildings with rainwater harvesting systems and similarly incentivising this practice would also go a long way in recharging the groundwater.

Meanwhile, improving the city drainage system would mean that outpouring does not end up in the city sewers. Replacement of the old and antiquated water meters, so that the profligate users are identified and brought to justice.

Taking of Shimla from grey to green by increasing its greenery would ensure that we do not give into concrete. The publishing of Water Report every year, before the onset of summer, outlining water availability in the upcoming months, would ensure that all the stakeholders are made aware in advance of the upcoming water situation.

And all this would begin with a realization of our rights, of our authority and an adage, which goes by Of the People, By the People, For the People, always in the back of our mind.

Water scarcity is here to stay and if there is any chance, it is going to go northwards only.

By Maneet, Shimla

Disclaimer: Himachal Watcher may not share the same views and opinions as expressed by the author in this article. 

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