People’s Assembly puts forward a manifesto of demands
On its fifth and the last day, the Assembly demands recognition of ASHA and aanganwadi workers as govt employees
The People’s Assembly being held at Jantar Mantar concluded on Friday 30 November with the release of a draft preliminary manifesto. The manifesto consists of resolutions adopted by the Assembly on issues like health, education, land acquisition and Lokpal Bill, among others. “We will intensify our demands with the People’s Manifesto and will send them to all the political parties before 2014 elections,” declared Aruna Roy, a prominent social activist and founding member of NGO Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan.
Organised by a collective of 56 organisations, the People’s Assembly was called to deliberate on issues affecting people’s rights and bring it to the attention of the Parliament and national political parties. Numerous eminent citizens, politicians and academics from across the spectrum addressed the people who had come from 17 states.
On the fifth day of the Assembly, issues afflicting the women, Dalits and Scheduled Class (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) were discussed. Paras Ram Banjara said that even after more than 65 years of independence there are no provisions to ensure that the benefits of government schemes reach the nomadic tribes. He also highlighted the fact there is no legislation to prevent atrocities against them, like the one meant for SC/STs. After hearing him, the Assembly demanded that the government bring out a white paper on the implementation of special component plan and the tribal sub-plan.
The plight of Dalits still involved in manual scavenging was also heard by the Assembly which agreed that only by education, a change in their mindset can be brought to enable them to break free from their traditional work. To make this happen, it has been demanded from the government that the reservation policy for education and other jobs should be implemented seriously.
Taking up the issues of women, Subhashini Ali of All India Democratic Women’s Federation said, “New words are being thrown to hide out exploitation from us. That is how the government is hiring ASHA workers, health workers, for as low as Rs 500 and Rs 1,200 without providing them with any benefits of labour laws.” She demanded that all these workers be made government employees and their exploitation be stopped.
Questions were also raised about unequal treatment of women, with Aruna Roy saying, “If women are considered equal to men, then even 33 percent reservation for them is less. But the government is refusing to give even that 33 percent.” The general consensus was that the crimes against women would not stop unless they have a fair representation in the law making process and in judiciary.
Representatives from various political parties and social organisations including Congress MPs Manik Tagore and Dr Balchandra Mungekar and National Advisory Council members Mirai Chatterjee and AK Shiva Kumar also extended their support to demands raised by the Assembly.
A panel discussion titled ‘Fourth Estate Inc’ was also held in the evening at India International Center, where Siddharth Vardarajan, Editor of The Hindu said, “The biggest constrain for Indian media is not corporatisation, but lack of imagination, courage and concern.” Expressing his views about the ever increasing demand for regulation of media, Justice JS Verma (retd.) said,
“Independent self-regulation is the answer. If media would not do it, then someone else would do it.” Mrinal Pande, Sukumar Muralidharan and Vipul Mudgal also took part in the panel discussion.
Prakhar Jain is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
Politicians, civil society oppose UID at People's Assembly
On the issue of MNREGA, the rousing demand was to prevent linking it with the UID project
The third day of the Jan Sansad or the People's Assembly saw resolutions being passed by a majority of the gathering on basic issues. The issues deliberated on Wednesday 28 November were MNREGA, education, health, housing, water privatisation and cash transfers.
“The government’s failure to fulfil the commitment of allocating 6% of GDP to education, which was recommended by the Kothari Commission in 1966, is irrefutable proof of the utter lack of political will on the part of successive governments to take this basic right to communities most in need of it,” said Dr Praveen Jha. The resolution passed on education demanded that 6% of the GDP be allocated to primary education. Emphasising that privatisiation of education must be resisted, the resolution passed demanded, “Centre-state distribution of financial shares for Right to Education should be revised so as to enable the states to meet Constitutional obligation of the 86th Amendment. State, district and school level allocations should be determined through need based decentralised planning rather than be determined on the basis of standardised norms.”
The cash transfer scheme came under severe criticism from academicians, activists and politicians. Condemning the proposal, economist Ritika Khera said, “The government offers Brazil as an example for successful implementation of cash transfers. But the context there is very different. They are more urbanised and people have easy access to banks. Further, the cash enables people to access hospitals, education and other basic necessities. In India, the government wants to transfer cash and dissolve all responsibility for providing these facilities to the people.” The proposal suffers from various shortcomings. Gabriele Dietrich pointed out that cash transfer does not guarantee food security and does not provide protection from fluctuation of market food prices.
CPM leader Brinda Karat emphasised the need for people with similar political goals to come together. Critiquing on the Unique Identification (UID) project she said, “The UID will severely rely on hand prints for recognition. But hand prints change over time. More so for a manual worker. If someone's hand print changes over time, the government will refuse to provide them with facilities they are entitled to. If you are an MNREGA worker, they might refuse you your salary.” BJP leader Prakash Javdekar, who was also present at the Assembly, condemned the UID project. Usha Ramanathan stated that the UID project is a mechanism for profiling, tracking and controlling people.
On the issue of MNREGA, the rousing demand was to prevent linking it with the UID project. The resolution reasoned that “workers must not be denied employment under the NREGA if they do not possess a post office or bank account. States like Bihar have issued instructions making bank accounts mandatory for employment under NREGA. In states where banking infrastructure is poor, this will only create another hurdle in programme implementation and deny workers of their entitlements under the Act.” The current provision under NREGA provides 100 days of employment for a family. The Assembly demanded that 100 days employment should be provided on an individual basis.
Shiv Sena leader Bhuasaheb Wakchaure, Congress leader Hussain Dalwai and Raju Shetty of Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana also extended their support to the concerns raised.
People’s Assembly roots for reforms and their implementation
The Assembly pushed for the strengthening and passing of the Whistle Blowers’ Protection Bill, as politicians assured better governance
In the absence of a functional Parliament, the five-day Jan Sansad or People’s Assembly on Tuesday 27 November took matters into its own hands and passed resolutions on issues ranging from the Lokpal Bill to police reforms at the Jantar Mantar. Hundreds of people from across the country who have gathered in the capital for the assembly deliberated over these matters and passed resolutions with a show of hand.
Dharam Chand Kher, 30, from Rajasthan participated actively in the sessions. “We need a Lokpal Bill that is stronger than the one proposed by Anna Hazare,” he said commenting on his decision to favour the resolution on the Lokpal passed by the Assembly. Clarifying his stand on development he explained, “We want development but with adequate rehabilitation. Our people are displaced for projects that are city oriented. We end up losing our land and get negligible compensation. Losing our land is not just a loss of livelihood but a matter of life.” He fiercely advocated an introduction of the Whistle Blowers’ Protection Bill.
Echoing Dharam Chand’s sentiments was Dhananjay Dubey. His brother Satyendra Dubey, former Project Director, National Highway Authority of India, had been murdered in 2003 for exposing corruption in the Golden Quadlilateral Highway Project in Bihar. He said, “Though the present draft of the Whistle Blowers’ Bill isn’t perfect, we should try to push it through. At least we will have some protection then. We can continue to work on improving the Bill later.” Tuesday marked the ninth death anniversary of Satyendra Dubey. The gathering welcomed the resolution to pass the Whistle Blowers’ Protection Bill.
Prakash Javadekar from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) committed himself to the cause of the Whistle Blowers’ Protection Bill. Admitting to the existent nexus between corporate houses and politicians, he said, “Earlier party workers used to be farmers and small shop owners. Today out of 25 workers 10 are real estate agents.”
The other politician to extend his support was D.Raja from the CPI. Critiquing the Congress-led UPA government he said, “The Left parties realise that Foreign Direct Investment is not in the interest of the people. It will only lead to corporate loot. There are so many important Bills related to land and food security that the government has not tabled for this session. Like Ambedkar has said we must build effective public pressure so that the government is pressured to act.”
A demand was placed for a Grievance Redressal Bill and Private Sector Reform. Shanta Bai, 50, from Rajasthan elucidating on the need for strengthening the Right to Information Act said, “The Act is very important and allows people to demand accountability from those in power. But there have been issues in implementation which is why I am in favour of the resolution passed by the Assemble today.” She said, “We are deliberating on issues that impact our daily lives — land rights, forest and pension. I will go back to my village and spread the message.”
People’s Assembly highlights issues of education, land and rights
The five-day assembly has attracted people all over the country to draw Parliamentarians’ attention to pressing issues
“Nyay, samanta ko aadhar, humein chahiye aisa sansar” (We want a world that would have justice and equality as its principles), said Aruna Roy opening the Jan Sansad or People's Assembly at Constitutional Club, New Delhi on Monday, 26 November. A five day event, it has gathered people from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana amongst others. The motivation of the assembly is to highlight basic issues such as that of education, land and women's rights before the Parliament. A people's manifesto for the 2014 elections is also expected to emerge from these deliberations.
The first session of the day saw activists from various social movements taking to the stage. Reflecting on the relevance of the Jan Sansad they threw light on the struggles they have been persisting on. On an optimistic note Kamala Bhasin, academician and women's rights activist said, “Today the biggest fight is between people and profit. And there are three reasons why people will win. We have the strength of numbers, our people's value and sensitivity to nature is better and because we are united.” Talking about the need to strengthen the struggle for equality of women she said, “While we are waging struggles in the public sphere, we also need to be sensitive to the domestic. We talk about democracy and become hypocritical when it comes to our own house.” While world over 100 crore women suffer from domestic violence, in India 40% women are subjected to it.
Critiquing increased privatisation and the withdrawal of the state from sectors of health, education and infrastructure activist Medha Patkar said, “The laws that are being introduced in the country are only increasing inequalities.” Dr. Binayak Sen, Ashok Chowdhury from National Federation for Indian Forest Workers, human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover, activist Harsh Mander and Annie Raja from National Federation of Indian Women were among those present. Advocate Soli Sorabjee, Justice Rajendra Sachar, Leela Seth and Usha Ramanathan also attended the meet.
The sessions also consisted of depositions from local activists reflecting upon the conditions in their area. "One of the major reasons for domestic violence is alcohol. It affects not just the women but impacts the children's future as well,” said Manjula Sharma from Mahila Manch.
The Indian Constitution and an emphasis of its core values played a significant role in the session. It included participants pledging to practise and abide by the spirit, which the Constitution upholds. The last session ended with academic deliberations. Historian Romilia Thapar presenting on education, provided practical suggestions to improve the status of primary education. “Schools should be located in areas that are not well off. They should be built in lower caste localities and people should not get intimidated by upper caste attitudes,” she said. Chaired by academician Kapila Vatsyayan the other speakers were Asgar Ali Engineer and Fali Nariman.
Pointing towards the need for building a theoretical and ideological understanding of contemporary politics, Aruna Roy said, “We need to work towards frameworks that explain the structural changes and ideological positions which drive politics today. This Jan Sansad will be a start towards such an understanding.”