Current Affairs and News Analysis for UPSC Civil Service Examination and State Civil Service Examinations.
Prelims GS and Paper II – IR/Indian Constitution/
Personal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018 – Leprosy
The Personal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018 was recently introduced in the Lok Sabha. Also, Supreme Court has been hearing a petition to uphold the rights of people with leprosy and the repeal of discriminatory laws.
What are the concern ?
- Over 110 Central and State laws discriminate against leprosy patients.
- Some of these colonial laws predate leprosy eradication programmes and medical advancements.
- These laws stigmatise and isolate leprosy patients and are coupled with age-old beliefs about leprosy.
- Now, modern medicine, especially multi-drug therapy, completely cures the disease.
- In independent India, the law has been an instrument for social change.
- Nevertheless, the process of removing the discrimination has been worryingly slow.
- Recent developments signals hope at removing discrimination in law and society against the leprosy-affected.
- One of them is the introduction of the Personal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018 in Parliament.
What is the Personal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018?
- The Personal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018, seeks to make a start in amending the outdated statutes.
- It attempts to end the discrimination against leprosy persons in various central laws:
- the Divorce Act, 1869
- the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939
- the Special Marriage Act, 1954
- the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
- the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956
- The Bill eliminates leprosy as a ground for dissolution of marriage or divorce.
- The amendments omit the provisions which stigmatise and discriminate against leprosy-affected persons.
- The Bill is meant to provide for the integration of leprosy patients into the mainstream.
- It was introduced keeping in view the UN General Assembly Resolution of 2010.
- It talks on elimination of discrimination against leprosy-affected persons and their family members.
- India has signed and ratified the Resolution.
- However, the Bill is only a small step in addressing the issues.
What are the other measures?
- The Lepers Act of 1898 was repealed only two years ago.
- Recently, the Supreme Court asked the Centre about bringing in a positive law.
- It relates to conferring rights and benefits on persons with leprosy.
- It also intends at deeming as repealed, all Acts and rules that perpetuate social stigma.
- An affirmative action law recognising their rights and benefits can serve a larger purpose.
- It may help remove misconceptions about the disease such as physical segregation of patients is necessary.
- Besides, the 256th Report of the Law Commission came up with a number of suggestions.
- It included the repeal of discriminatory legal provisions.
- It listed for abolition of personal laws and Acts on beggary.
- While governments may have to handle the legislative part, society has an even larger role to play.
India and Pakistan: Indus treaty
A delegation of Indian officials arrived in Pakistan to hold talks on issues relating to the implementation of the Indus Waters Treaty between the two countries, the first bilateral engagement between the two countries since Prime Minister Imran Khan took office.
What is the treaty ?
The Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) deals with river Indus and its five tributaries, which are classified in 2 categories:
- Eastern rivers: Sutlej, Beas and Ravi
- Western rivers: Jhelum, Chenab and Indus
- All the water of eastern rivers shall be available for unrestricted use in India.
- India should let unrestricted flow of water from western rivers to Pakistan. The treaty says that India can use the water in western rivers in “non-consumptive” needs (such as irrigation, storage and even for electricity production).
- The treaty allocates 80% of water from the six-river Indus water system to Pakistan.
- A Permanent Indus Commission was set up as a bilateral commission to implement and manage the Treaty.
- Though Indus originates from Tibet, China has been kept out of the Treaty.
Female genital mutilation
What is Female Genital Multilation(FGM)
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a procedure where the female genitals are deliberately cut, injured or changed, but where there’s no medical reason for this to be done.
It’s also known as “female circumcision” or “cutting”, and by other terms such as sunna, gudniin, halalays, tahur, megrez and khitan, among others.
Form of FGM
- Type 1 (clitoridectomy) – removing part or all of the clitoris.
- Type 2 (excision) – removing part or all of the clitoris and the inner labia (lips that surround the vagina), with or without removal of the labia majora (larger outer lips).
- Type 3 (infibulation) – narrowing of the vaginal opening by creating a seal, formed by cutting and repositioning the labia.
- Other harmful procedures to the female genitals, including pricking, piercing, cutting, scraping or burning the area.
Why in News?
- FGM is in news after a group of Dawoodi Bohra women who were subject to FGM, recently began speaking about it publicly.
- Bohra community describes it as khatna, khafz, or female circumcision – is the ritual cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia.
- The practice is found in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and within communities from countries in which FGM is common.
- FGM is mostly carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15.
- The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women. FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered acceptable sexual behaviour.
- It aims to ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity. Practitioners often believe the practice has religious support.
- Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.
- FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women.
You must know
- WHO strongly urges health professionals not to perform such procedures.
- In 1997, WHO issued a joint statement against the practice of FGM together with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
- In 2008, WHO together with 9 other United Nations partners, issued a statement on the elimination of FGM to support increased advocacy for its abandonment, called: “Eliminating female genital mutilation: an interagency statement”.
- In December 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the elimination of female genital mutilation.
Mains – GS III / Indian Economy; Infrastructure
A.P. emerging as electronics hub
- Foxconn and Holitech, a leading Chinese manufacturer of compact camera modules supplying exclusively to smart phone maker Xiaomi, inks pact with Andhra Pradesh to establish unit at Tirupati.
- AP Minister is heading to China, scouting for more investments in the electronics manufacturing sector.
- AP government’s objective is to make the State a hub for electronics manufacturing but not limit the scope to mobile phones. It targets to meet the requirement of even the defence establishments.
- P. government has also roped in Reliance Jio to set up its mobile phone and set-top box making unit near Tirupati in 125 acres.
- Flextronics, a major player in designing, assembling and testing of printed circuit boards, is setting up its unit in the electronics manufacturing cluster at Tirupati.
‘Jaipur Foot’ camp in Vietnam
- External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj inaugurated the ‘Jaipur Foot’ camp in Vietnam (free India-made prosthetic limb to 500 Vietnamese beneficiaries).
- The initiative aims at deepening India’s strategic cooperation with Vietnam and Cambodia — the key countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region.
Mains – GS Paper II
Myanmar Army had ‘genocidal intent’: UN Report
- Myanmar’s military carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Muslim Rohingya with “genocidal intent”.
- Commander-in-Chief and five generals should be prosecuted for the gravest crimes under international law.
- Report calls for the UN Security Council to set up an ad hoc tribunal to try suspects or refer them to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
- It calls for targeted sanctions against individuals most responsible for crimes.
- The report also criticised Facebook for allowing the world’s biggest social media network to be used to incite violence and hatred.
Iran asks UN to act against ‘economic strangulation’ by U.S.
- Iran demanded the UN’s top court to suspend U.S. nuclear-linked sanctions against Tehran, accusing Washington of plotting its “economic strangulation”.
- The Islamic Republic launched a suit at the International Court of Justice over U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to reimpose the sanctions that had been lifted in a 2015 accord.
- The sanctions target financial transactions and imports of raw materials, cars and aircraft among other things.
- A second wave of punitive measures is due to hit Iran, targeting its vital energy sector including oil exports.
Ways to Read Constitution
The arguments before the Supreme Court around the entry of women of a certain age to the Sabarimala temple in Kerala raise issues about religious freedom, gender equality and also constitutional interpretation.
- Ban is against freedom of religion, right to equality and right against discrimination.
- The petitioners have argued that discrimination based on biological reasons is not permissible going by the constitutional scheme.
- A specific argument made in the court, based on Article 17, it was argued that the exclusion is a form of ‘untouchability’ since the exclusion is solely based on notions of purity and impurity.
Arguments against petition:
- The Devaswom Board and others in support of the ban have cited it as an age-old custom.
- It forms a part of ‘essential religious practice’ of worshippers under Article 25 of the Constitution.
- It was also urged that matters such as who can or cannot enter the temple are covered under the rights to administer and manage religious institutions, under Article 26.
- Argument under Article 17 was resisted on the contention that the prohibition of untouchability was historically intended only to protect the interests of the backward classes.
- The claim is that the makers of the Constitution never envisioned including women within the ambit of untouchability.
A specific acknowledgment
- Article 17 is emphatic in its wording: “Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of untouchability shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.”
- It is peculiar since it abolishes a social practice in any form. All the other provisions in the same chapter lay down substantive fundamental rights.
- In spite of the specific equality and anti-discrimination guarantees in the Constitution, Article 17 is inserted to specifically acknowledge and remove the social stigma associated with certain castes.
- It was enacted in an attempt to eradicate historical inequality.
The first approach — the ‘original intent’
- This approach is based on the intent of the framers of the Constitution when they drafted the text.
- For example, an originalist will adopt a certain understanding of a constitutional right — say, the right to same-sex relationships under the right to liberty promised under Article 21 only if she is convinced that the drafters intended that.
- She may argue that the framers never thought of such a situation and, therefore, a same-sex couple cannot have a constitutional right under Article 21.
- A similar argument has been made in the debates in India on homosexuality.
- Article 15 enjoins the state from discriminating on grounds such as religion, caste and sex. By relying on the originalist approach, it was asserted that the makers of the Constitution meant the word ‘sex’ under Article 15 only in the binary sense of ‘male and female’.
Over time, originalism as a method of constitutional interpretation has been subject to serious criticism for being too rigid and inflexible. The Canadian Supreme Court, while rejecting originalism, said that such a method would mean that “…the rights, freedoms and values embodied in the Charter in effect become frozen in time to the moment of adoption with little or no possibility of growth, development and adjustment to changing societal needs.”
The second approach — the ‘living tree’ doctrine
- It involves understanding the Constitution to be an evolving and organic instrument.
- For the living tree theorists, it matters little what the intentions were at the time of Constitution making. What matters the most is how the Constitution can be interpreted to contain rights in their broadest realm.
- The moral reading of the Constitution, propounded by Ronald Dworkin, also complements the living tree approach.
- Dworkin says in Freedom’s Law that “according to the moral reading, these clauses must be understood in the way their language most naturally suggests: they refer to abstract moral principles and incorporate these by reference, as limits on government’s power.”
Originalism in India: an evaluation
- The ‘living tree’ approach — being an alternative and a finer reading of the Constitution — supports a broader interpretation of Article 17.
- Even if the framers of the Constitution intended this provision to address a specific category of discrimination, the constitutional court can adopt an interpretation to include women under Article 17.
- Women have been kept out of Sabarimala because of menstruation. As a distinct class, they are being discriminated against.
- If certain castes are considered ‘impure’ because of their social status, menstruating women are considered to be so because of their gender. The criteria are different but the effect of exclusion is common.
- It seems that such an interpretation does not do any violence to the language and content of Article 17, but only emancipates it.
- The treatment which homosexuals experience today is similar in kind to that which ‘untouchables’ experienced and which prompted the adoption of Article 17, in that the treatment of homosexuals likewise flows from their social status.
- This is a case where discrimination is based solely on sexual orientation.
- Therefore, in essence, the Sabarimala case is a test case not only for freedom of religion and women’s rights but also for constitutional interpretation.
- It presents to the court an exemplary opportunity for an alternative reading of the Constitution.
- If the court indeed reads Article 17 to have a wider meaning, it will signal a new era of transformative constitutionalism in Indian jurisprudence.
Dragon in the room: India – China relations
A year after the resolution of the gravest border crisis in recent times between India and China at Doklam, there are signs that things between the two Asian neighbours are finally moving back to normal.
Post Doklam developments:
- The march towards normalcy started with the SCO summit last September and got an impetus with the informal summit between Indian Prime Minister and Chinese President in Wuhan in April.
- With the visit of Chinese Defence Minister to Delhi, and his discussions with his Indian counterpart, the two countries seem to have arrived at a path which will minimise chances of a major conflict and prevent differences from becoming disputes.
- General’s delegation comprised top officials from the Central Military Commission, the highest military decision-making body, and the Western Theatre Command, which is responsible for the entire Chinese border with India.
- Both countries have decided to expand the engagement between the armed forces relating to training, joint exercises and other professional interactions.
- Both sides have also decided to work towards a new bilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on defence exchanges and cooperation to replace the earlier MoU signed in 2006.
- Bothe the countries agreed to work towards full implementation of the on-going confidence-building measures along the disputed border, a lesson from the Doklam crisis.
- This is based on the strategic guidance provided to the two militaries after the Wuhan summit, and will involve working out SOPs and mechanisms to avoid tensions between soldiers on the disputed border.
- This will be achieved by having greater interaction at lower levels — at unit and brigade level — an idea which came from the Chinese.
- Officials will now work out a standard protocol for these meetings, which should then allow the two sides to deal with Doklam-like situations with restraint and maturity.
- India and China have still not been able to operationalize a hotline between the two armies, even as Indian attempts to upgrade border infrastructure continue to raise Chinese hackles.
- Reports suggest that Chinese soldiers continue to occupy parts of Doklam, and the ghost of 1962 continues to drive India’s mistrust of China.
- Beijing has also been courting India’s neighbours in South Asia, thereby diminishing India’s area of influence and causing anxieties in Delhi.
- But the biggest elephant — or dragon — in the room is the disputed border between India and China, which shows no signs of resolution even after scores of rounds of talks between diplomats of the two countries.
- The two Asian neighbours need to find a way to move forward on the border dispute if, as PM Modi put it, India-China relations are to be a factor of stability in the world.
Connecting the dots:
- Explain in brief the history of territorial disputes between India and China. Also give an insight into recent Doklam standoff and its aftermath.