Sunday, December 29, 2013

Today's newspaper articles

Today’s collection of news articles are all from “The Diplomat” website.

The first talks about the recent diplomatic spat between India and the US and why the Indians have reacted they way they have.

The second is a link from the first article (these articles have lots of links !!).

The third article talks about the backlog in the Indian judicial system – 30,000,000 cases !! No…that’s not a typo; that’s the actual figure:

The Case Against India’s Diplomat

There are complex historical reasons for India’s outrage over the recent arrest of one of its diplomats.

By Omer Aziz for The Diplomat
December 27, 2013

Consider the following scenario: a diplomat in New York is found to have slaves in her home, an abject violation of U.S. laws. After investigation, U.S. authorities arrest and search the diplomat, who as a consular official has only limited diplomatic immunity.

Would the diplomat’s home country be justified in vehemently castigating U.S. officials?

Replace the word “slave” with “underpaid domestic worker,” and we have precisely the situation confronting the U.S. and India. The diplomat in question, a consular official named Devyani Khobragade, allegedly falsified documents and lied on her visa application about the wages she would pay her housekeeper, Sangeeta Richard. If providing fraudulent information were not enough, Khobragade then surreptitiously paid Richard a paltry wage of $3.31 an hour, breaking U.S. labor laws. For a nanny, this wage would be considered lavish by Indian standards, but the nanny was employed in New York and thus her employment was subject to U.S. rather than Indian laws. The affidavit filed in the Southern District of New York clearly states that Khobragade filed the visa application herself.

While Khobragade has repeatedly insinuated that she was mistreated and underwent a cavity search, the U.S. attorney has called this “misinformation.” According to the attorney’s statement, Khobragade was given two hours to make phone calls, was placed in a cell with only female inmates, and was even brought coffee. Nevertheless, Indians have taken to the streets in droves to protest U.S. action, encouraged by jingoistic news reports that highlight the diplomat’s arrest but say nothing about the housekeeper. With barely 900 Indian Foreign Service officers, each Indian diplomat occupies one of the most elite positions in all of Indian society, while the millions of housekeepers in India toil in anonymity. Indeed, according to the Global Slavery Index, India has the highest number of slaves in the world at 14 million. Yet official India claims there is only “one victim” here.

There is nothing to suggest that Bharara — who is originally from India and has prosecuted Wall Street Bankers, terrorists and the Gambino crime family — was pursuing rogue justice. The Indian government was vitriolic in its response, dismantling security barriers protecting the U.S. embassy, stopping import clearances, and demanding the personal information of teachers at U.S. schools in India. A former Indian External Affairs Minister demanded the Indian government expel gay partners of U.S. diplomats. The current External Affairs minister called for an official apology, despite admitting that the “worst that could be said about [Khobragade] is that she did not comply with the amounts” that Richard should have been paid. In other words: she may have broken the law, but we want an apology.

Why the Anti-Americanism?

All this might normally be associated with the retaliation of one of America’s traditional enemies. But it is hard to reconcile with India, an English-speaking democracy led by an Oxford-educated economist. Beyond the immediate headlines, however, India’s almost pathologically angry response is steeped in two hundred years of history. The country’s colonial hemorrhaging and its post-colonial policies as actualized by Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India’s first prime minister, help explain why New Delhi responded as it did.

Leaders of all political stripes in India have, since 1947, stood up to Western powers, a position that evolved from the traumatizing effects of colonial plunder. In only a few generations, India had gone from being a world leader to a British subject, from accounting with China for nearly half of global economic output to having a life expectancy of just 27 years in 1931. The amputation of Indian territory in the creation of Pakistan only reinforced its absolute insistence on sovereignty, while Mohandas Gandhi’s non-violent protest against the white viceroys ruling India came to inform the moralizing rhetoric and third worldism India would come to espouse. Satyagraha or “truth force” was Gandhi’s guiding light, and since his time, the didactic and the moral have been central to India’s foreign relations.

To combat the exploitation of developing nations, India’s post-independence leaders helped inaugurate the Non-Aligned Movement as a way of maintaining autonomy during the Cold War. In practice, however, India allied with China — a likeminded country wronged by colonialism — in the 1950s under the banner of Hindi-Chini-Bhai-Bhai or “Indians and Chinese are brothers.” In the 1970s, India tilted towards the Soviet Union, an ostensible socialist ally. Nehru’s government voted against the 1947 UN partition plan for Palestine and was the first government outside of the Arab world to recognize the PLO, prefiguring India’s recognition of a Palestinian state in 1988.

Only in 1991, when India’s currency reserves fell to six weeks worth of imports and the government had to ask the IMF for a bailout, did the pro-market shift begin. Even then, the country went ahead and tested nuclear weapons in 1998 and somehow managed to unite the U.S., UN, China, EU, and Pakistan in their condemnation of its bellicosity. Even after the issue was resolved and George W. Bush made India a central priority — in effect exempting the world’s largest democracy from international nonproliferation norms — India has maintained an uncompromising independence in its foreign relations.

For example, eight years after the U.S.-India nuclear agreement, there has been little progress in actually starting nuclear cooperation, because Indian leftist parties see it as a sell out which turns India into a U.S. dependency.

Anything remotely affecting Indian sovereignty then, from global sanctions on Iran — for which India was granted an exemption — to the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan — over which even banal U.S. offers of mediation are firmly rebuffed — is a politically sensitive issue across the country. New Delhi calls it “strategic autonomy,” which is another way of telling Washington, Moscow, and Beijing that no external power can tell India what to do.

Pursue Justice, But Carefully

This brings us back to the arrested diplomat, who was recently moved to the UN where she has full diplomatic immunity. India perceived the U.S. attorney’s actions as encroaching upon its sovereignty — a sovereignty that, after decades of protest and millions of lives lost, is considered sacrosanct. To compound the perceived slight, India saw the treatment of its diplomat — who was strip-searched but not cavity searched as she alleged — as humiliating. In South Asia, women are seen as the “honour” of the family, caste and community and a strip search would be considered unconscionable to most Indians and Pakistanis. While this attitude towards women leads to patriarchy and misogyny in pockets of Indian society, it is a reality U.S. law enforcement officials should have factored into their approach before arresting Khobragade.

Even as the U.S. expresses “regret,” its justice system must not be compromised for the rich, even if India does feel aggrieved. In its colossal diversity and complex relations with world powers, India must remember that moral justice was a principle upon which it was founded and that beyond the nationalism and the hurt feelings, there just might be an inkling of satyagraha involved here as well.

Omer Aziz is a writer and journalist from Toronto. He was most recently a Commonwealth and Pitt Scholar of International Relations at Cambridge University. He tweets at @omeraziz12.


Modern-Day Slavery: India’s Other Shame

Study: India accounts for nearly half of the world’s slaves.

By J.T. Quigley for The Diplomat
October 19, 2013

Of the estimated 29.8 million people living in modern slavery worldwide, nearly half are in India. This harrowing statistic comes from the 2013 Global Slavery Index, published by Australia’s Walk Free Foundation. It is the first comprehensive index of global slavery, covering 162 countries, and defining slavery as:

“The possession and control of a person in such a way as to significantly deprive that person of his or her individual liberty, with the intent of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer or disposal. Usually this exercise will be achieved through means such as violence or threats of violence, deception and/or coercion.”

The per-country rankings are estimated using three variables – a composite estimate of the number of people in slavery, an estimate of the level of human trafficking from and into each country, and an estimate of the prevalence of child marriages. The first annual Global Slavery Index draws on 10 years of research and is endorsed by the likes of Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair, Bill Gates and Richard Branson.

India topped the list with a staggering 13.9 million estimated slaves, most of whom are “Dalits” (sometimes referred to as “untouchables”) – members of India’s lowest caste. China ranked a very distant second, with 2.9 million. Pakistan came in third, with 2.1 million. No other countries on the list broke into the millions.

In a country that has been overwhelmed by recent media reports of violent – sometimes deadly – gang rapes and a seemingly complete disregard for women’s rights, India is reeling from yet another national disgrace.

“Sixty-six years after independence, India has the dubious distinction of being home to half the number of modern day slaves in the world,” reported The Times of India. “The study says that in India there's some exploitation of foreign nationals, but by far the largest proportion of slaves are Indians exploited by other Indians within the country, particularly through debt bondage and bonded labor.”

“Meet the world’s Number 1 slaveholder: India” read a headline on The First Post. “It’s a shameful statistic. The report is going to raise hackles in India. It will be perceived as another way for the West to lord it over us,” the article continued.

The figures from the Walk Free Foundation are actually lower than estimates by the U.S. State department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which assesses human trafficking and forced labor.

“The [2013] TIP report released by the U.S. State department had put the number of people in some sort of forced labor at an estimated 20 to 65 million : men, women, and children mainly in debt bondage to a local landowner, forced to work in industries such as brick kilns, rice mills, agriculture, and embroidery factories,” said Hindustan Times.

“The TIP report cites instances where women and girls from the northeastern states and Odisha have been sold or coerced into forced marriages in states with low female-to-male gender ratios, including Haryana and Punjab and forced into prostitution.”

Although India ranked first for the total number of estimated slaves, it ranked fourth per capita – behind Mauritania, Haiti and Pakistan. Iceland, Ireland and the U.K. make a three-way tie for having the fewest number of slaves.


Justice Delayed is Justice Denied: India’s 30 Million Case Judicial Backlog

India’s legal system has the most backlogged cases of any in the world – what can it do to fix the problem?

By Ram Mashru for The Diplomat
December 25, 2013

The spotlight has remained firmly fixed on India’s legal system over the past few weeks.

First came the accusation that a retired Supreme Court judge had sexually harassed an intern, followed by the Supreme Court’s reinstatement of Article 377 of India’s penal code, an anachronistic provision that bans gay sex. Figures on the chronic backlog of court cases, released last week, are a further indictment of the country’s beleaguered legal system.

Four years ago India’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, informed the Lok Sabha (the lower house) that India had the largest backlog of cases in the world, and figures from this year estimate that as many as 30 million cases are pending. The Hindustan Times reported last week that over four million of these are High Court cases, with a further 65,000 cases pending in India’s Supreme Court.

According to Markandey Katju, a retired Supreme Court justice, judges should have no more than 300 cases pending at any one time, but backlogs for individual judges stretch into the tens of thousands. In 2009, the Chief Justice of the New Delhi High Court released a damning report in which he claimed it would take 466 years for the court to clear its backlog. Despite spending on average less than five minutes per case, in 2009 the court had 600 cases that had been lodged over 20 years ago.

The implications are serious. Due to the backlog, most of India’s prison population are detainees awaiting trial. Courts in Mumbai, India’s financial hub, are clogged with decade-old land disputes, hindering the city’s industrial development. And the pursuit of justice, ordinarily a costly endeavor, has only been made more expensive by chronic delays. As a result, India’s legal system has increasingly become the preserve of the country’s wealthy and well connected – a development that exacerbates the discrimination already faced by India’s minority and low-caste groups.

In the last few years in particular, successive Ministers for Law and Justice have taken on the job promising urgent reforms. Ashwani Kumar said, when taking office in 2012, that addressing the backlog was necessary to maintain India’s “constitutional democracy,” to adhere to “the rule of law” and to “guarantee order and stability in society.” But despite the scale of the problem, little has been achieved. Kapil Sibal, who took on the Law and Justice portfolio in May of this year, similarly pledged “radical structural reforms.”

In 2008 India’s government set itself the target of having 50 serving judges per million people by 2013. Last year, when it became clear that India was far short of this goal, a less ambitious 5-year plan was announced: a doubling of the number of judges in “subordinate” courts (excluding High Courts and the Supreme Court). India’s current ratio stands at less than 15 judges per million, and even if the new target were achieved, India would still be nowhere near the United States, for example, where there are over 100 judges per million.

India’s federal structure is part of the problem. The responsibility of dispensing justice is split between New Delhi and the states, and the latter are responsible for employing and paying new judges. In addition to judicial shortages, courts are desperately underfunded. Kapil Sibal further promised to overhaul the “opaque” process of judicial appointment, promising a “transparent” process based on “integrity” and “competence.”

These structural reforms are both urgent and necessary, but few have hopes of things changing soon. As Jagdish Verma, a retired Supreme Court judge, complains, even elementary measures, such as longer court sittings and more working days, have yet to be implemented.

These reforms non-withstanding, inefficiency and corruption remain the biggest problems. Advocates and court administrators routinely try to fix trials by bribing judges or intimidating witnesses. Much of the corruption is covert. Refusing to register cases for the violation of strict formalities – incorrectly spaced legal documents, for example – is one of the many ways in which the process of administering justice is frustrated.

There are some signs of progress: an All India Judicial Service is being considered to improve the quality of subordinate judges, reforms to legal procedure have limited the number of adjournments in civil and criminal cases, the number of cases pending due to “bounced cheques” – another corrupt trick – is down, and since being set up by the federal government in 2001 over 1000 “fast track” courts have disposed of more than three million cases.

The multi-pronged reforms are a long-term project and judges will first have to be brought on board with any significant changes to their profession. Until then, the backlog continues to erode trust in India’s legal system, the status of India’s judiciary and faith in the rule of law. Part of the outrage that followed last year’s horrific Delhi gang rape case stemmed from the fact that the law had failed to deter offenders. Fast-track courts, dedicated to cases of sexual crimes, were opened across the country to address this sentencing and trust deficit. But speedy justice presents its own challenges.

Certainly “justice delayed is justice denied” but the opposite, that “swift justice is injustice,” is also true. Though fast track courts have whittled away India’s backlog, judges and observers have raised concerns about the quality of justice being administered.

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