GS-1, Social Empowerment, Uncategorized

Cabinet approves Pan-India implementation of Maternity Benefit Program

The Maternity Benefit Program will provide compensation for the wage loss in terms of cash incentives so that the women can take adequate rest before and after delivery and not be deprived of proper nutrition.

Objective of the Scheme
i) To provide partial compensation for the wage loss in terms of cash incentives so that the woman can take adequate rest before and after delivery of the first living child.

ii) The cash incentives provided would lead to improved health seeking behaviour amongst the Pregnant Women and Lactating Mother (PW&LM) to reduce the effects of under-nutrition namely stunting, wasting and other related problems.

Who are the beneficiaries?
All eligible Pregnant Women and Lactating Mothers (PW&LM), excluding the Pregnant Women and Lactating Mothers who are in regular employment with the Central Government or State Government or Public Sector Undertakings or those who are in receipt of similar benefits under any law for the time being.

How much monetary benefit?
All eligible will receive a cash benefit of Rs.5,000/- in three installment

Why is this required?
Highest number of maternal death due to absence of medical help
2- High maternal mortality rate (167 per 100,000 live births in 2011-13)
3- High Infant mortality rate (41 per 1000 Live birth)

GS-2, Social Empowerment, Uncategorized

Paid maternity leave increased to 6 months

The Union Cabinet has approved amendments to the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961 to increase paid leave for expectant mothers from three months to six and a half months. The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill of 2016 will now be introduced in the Rajya Sabha.


  • The amendment bill seeks to increase maternity leave to 26 weeks in all establishments, including private sector. The act is applicable to all establishments employing 10 or more persons.
  • The bill also provides 12 weeks leave for commissioning and adopting mothers and makes it mandatory to provide creche facility for establishment where the number of workers is 50 and above. At present, the Maternity Benefit Act does not provide any maternity leave for commissioning or adopting mothers.

Significance of these amendments:

Maternal care to the Child during early childhood is crucial for growth and development of the child. The amendments will help 18 lakh women workforce in organised sector. They also help women devote time to take care of their babies and enable an increase in the women’s labour force participation (WLFPR) rate in India. The labour force participation rate (LFPR) in India is around 40%, but for females, it is only 22.5%. The gap in male-female labour force participation is such that the LFPR for rural women above 15 years is only 35.8%, while for rural males it is more than double at 81.3%, according to a 2015 research paper by the government policy think tank NITI Aayog.


The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, protects the employment of women during the time of maternity and entitles them of a full paid absence from work to take care for the child.

GS-2, Social Issue, Uncategorized

Have we lost the dowry battle?


National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows a rising graph in the number of dowry cases registered:

  • 9,038 for 2012
  • 10,709 for 2013
  • 10,050 for 2014

Men’s rights activists will tell you this is proof of the law’s misuse. And even the Supreme Court has pointed out in 2014 that section 498A has “dubious pride of place amongst the provisions that are used as weapons rather than shield by disgruntled wives”.

What is the extent of that misuse?

  • It’s hard to say.
  • Sometimes a case is filed and it is completely cooked up—a crime which, under the Indian Penal Code, is punishable by up to six months in jail. At other times, the complaint may be genuine but there is an out-of-court settlement or mediation, leading to that complaint being withdrawn.

More telling perhaps is another set of data, the one on dowry deaths: 8,233 in 2012; 8,083 in 2013; 8,455 in 2014.

That’s more than 23 women killed a day, one per hour, for dowry.

Why this isn’t a public emergency baffles me. Why this isn’t a leading social crusade with government and non-governmental organizations is inexplicable.

  • The Narendra Modi government has launched a slew of laudable social missions, from Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP).
  • And while BBBP’s desperately needed aim is to reverse the decline in child sex ratio, a pan-national programme such as this one could easily accommodate a strong anti-dowry message.
  • After all, it doesn’t take reams of academic research to understand the link between dowry and declining sex ratio.
  • A study by data journalism website IndiaSpend finds that states with the highest dowry deaths between 2005 and 2010 reported the greatest decrease in child sex ratio for the same period. For instance, in Uttar Pradesh, the state with the highest increase in dowry deaths (from 1,564 in 2005 to 2,217 in 2010), there was a corresponding decline in child sex ratio, from 916 girls for every 1,000 boys in 2001 to 899 girls for every 1,000 boys in 2011.
  • Simply put: The dowry market makes girls a bad investment .

Wedding gift:

  • Dowry, or to use its more acceptable euphemism, wedding ‘gift’, is now so ingrained in our cultural beliefs that, in Tamil Nadu, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam manifesto promises eight grams of gold for every wedding and there is not even a flutter of protest from either activists or opposition parties.
  • Some ads of different brands on the tv, shows that no marriage is complete without gold. Ads are not obligated to push social messaging. But the consumerist trend percolates down.
  • There are those who argue that a voluntary ‘gift’ of gold or a motorcycle or a flat or a fridge is not dowry but mummypapa’s thoughtful gesture to help a young couple get started in life.
  • This is an extremely grey line.
  • At what point does a ‘gift’ cease to be voluntary if it is dictated by either an outright demand, a not-so-subtle suggestion or even social pressure and ‘custom’?


  • Nearly 60 years after the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, we need to ask why there is more, not less dowry; why the big fat Indian wedding has got bigger and fatter.
  • But perhaps the real tragedy about dowry is not that it continues to blight our lives.
  • The real tragedy is that we no longer seem to believe that this is a fight worth having.
  • Perhaps there is an unspoken admission that this is a battle we have already lost.
GS-2, Indian Polity, Uncategorized

Domestic violence Act misused: Centre

The government recently told the Rajya Sabha that provisions of the Domestic Violence and Anti-Dowry Acts are being misused and several NGOs had also given reports supporting it.


Records show that only 13 persons were convicted out of the 639 charge sheeted in 2014 under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005. Many fake cases are being registered under the act and there the Act is also being misused.

Way ahead:

Even while admitting that misuse does happen, the government has made it clear that it’s focus is on women safety and any dilution to it could not be allowed.

  • Legal experts say that there have to be checks and balances. Eradicating these acts is not the solution as there are still several genuine cases and such women need protection. There ought to be a better mechanism to deal with such cases. Instead of immediately arresting people upon a complaint, the police should first probe before taking action.


The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 was enacted to protect women from domestic violence.

  • It is a civil law meant primarily for protection orders and not meant to penalize criminally.
  • The Act provides for the first time in Indian law a definition of “domestic violence”, with this definition being broad and including not only physical violence, but also other forms of violence such as emotional/verbal, sexual, and economic abuse.
  • The act does not extend to Jammu and Kashmir, which has its own laws, and which enacted in 2010 the Jammu and Kashmir Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2010.
GS-2, Social Issue, Uncategorized

Beti Bachao Beti Padhao

  • Aim: To generate awareness and improve efficiency of delivery of welfare services meant for women
  • Launched on 22 January 2015 with an initial corpus of Rs. 100 crore
  • Joint initiative of Ministries of Women & Child Development, Health & Human Resource Development

Districts Identified

The three criteria for selection of districts:

  1. Districts below the national average (87 districts/23 states);
  2. Districts above national average but shown declining trend (8 districts/8 states)
  3. Districts above national average and shown increasing trend (5 districts/5 states- selected so that these CSR levels can be maintained and other districts can emulate and learn from their experiences)
  • First Phase:

100 districts have been identified on the basis of low Child Sex Ratio as per Census 2011 covering all States/UTs as a pilot With at least one district in each state

  • Second Phase

The scheme has further been expanded to 61 additional districts selected from 11 States/UT having CSR below 918



  • Implement a sustained Social Mobilization and Communication Campaign to createequal value for the girl child & promote her education
  • Focus on Gender Critical Districts and Cities low on CSR for intensive & integrated action
  • Mobilize & Train Panchayati Raj Institutions/ Urban local bodies/ Grassroot workers as catalysts for social change
  • Ensure service delivery structures/ schemes & programmes are sufficiently responsiveto issues Of gender and children’s rights
  • Enable Inter-sectoral and inter-institutional convergence at District/ Block/ Grassroot levels


  1. Centre: A National Task Force (NTF) headed by Secretary WCD
    State: A State Task Force (STF)
  2. District: District Task Force (DTF) headed by the District Collector/ Deputy Commissioner with representation of concerned departments
  3. Block: A Block Level Committee headed by SDM/ SDO/ BDO
  4. Gram Panchayat/ Municipality: Respective Panchayat Samiti/ Ward Samiti
  5. Village: Village Health Sanitation and Nutrition Committees
GS-2, Social Issue, Uncategorized

Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana

  • Launched on 22 January 2015
  • Small savings instrument for the girl child
  • Account can be opened in a post office or a public sector bank

Who is eligible?

  • Girl child only
  • Child should be Indian citizen
  • Age limit: On the date of opening the account, the child’s age should 10 years or younger

Who can Invest?

Parent, or Legal Guardian of the eligible Girl child

Investment limit:

  • In 1 year, minimum Rs 1000/- needs to be invested., thereafter in multiples Of 100/-
  • Maximum of Rs 1,50,000/- can be invested
  • Deposits can be made in lump-sum or spread out manner
  • No limit on number of deposits either in a month or in a financial yearssa-poster

Operation of the account:

  • The account will be opened and operated by the guardian of a girl child till the girl child, in whose name the account has been opened, attains the age of 10 years
  • On attaining age of 10 years, the girl child may herself Operate the account


  • Deposit needs to made until 14 years from opening of account
  • Deposit under scheme will mature 21 year after opening of the account


  • No Premature Withdrawal is permitted
  • However, maximum up to 50% of deposit amount can be withdrawn for marriage or higher education of girl child, once she reaches 18 years of


  • Scheme Tenure is 21 years from date of opening, or when the marriage of the girl child happens; whichever happens earlier
  • Account will compulsorily have to be closed after marriage of the girl child
  • In case after maturity of the account (21 years) the girl child does not marry, and if account is not closed after maturity, balance will continue to earn interest as specified for the scheme from time to time
Big Picture, GS-1, Social Issue, Uncategorized

Religion and Women’s Rights

Debate over Religion Vs Women’s Rights is back in focus after the detention of over 350 women by the Police in Maharashtra. Hundreds of women activists were stopped by the police when they attempted to enter the Shani Shingnapur Temple situated in Maharashtra to challenge its 400-year-old tradition of allowing only men to enter its main shrine. After a public outcry of the incident, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra has urged the temple authorities to hold a dialogue with the activists.

Women activists argue that in the 21st century different and progressive thinking is required. However, temple authorities maintain that the men-only tradition has stood for centuries and it would be wrong to change it. On the other hand, opposing this argument, women activists say practices like sati have ended or changed for the better; hence tradition is no excuse for continuing with regressive practices.

More interestingly, the incident comes at a time when women cutting across religious lines are challenging centuries-old taboos the world over. It is not just about women’s right to enter a temple. Muslim women are questioning discriminatory religious laws. Elsewhere, Christians are challenging the Church’s rules on abortion and contraception. There is also a petition demanding that women be allowed into the Haji Ali dargah. In many places of worship, there are areas that women cannot access for different reasons, prime among them being ‘purity’. These are age-old practices and only now are women coming together to challenge it, through on-ground activism, social media campaigns and petitions.

Going a step further in the raging debate over gender discrimination at Shingnapur, and at Sabarimala where women of a certain age group are not allowed, activists say religious trusts must amend such patriarchal practices, built up by gender prejudice rather than any principle of worship being vitiated. This is an argument that goes beyond even the constitutional rights as enshrined in Articles 14 and 15 and involves a higher natural principle of gender equality, which must be upheld. A huge change in attitude is called for if a genuine change of heart is to take place soon.

The constitution of India allows to everyone to follow religion of their choice and also allows anyone not to follow any religion. While the Constitution protects religious freedom, clause 2(b) of Article 25 allows the state to intervene in religious practice. The Untouchability Offences Act threw open temple doors to all castes, and many states passed laws extending those rights to all classes and sections of Hindus. Women activists question; if temples have no right to bar dalits or untouchables, why should they be allowed to bar women? Hence, it is the responsibility of the government to mediate and try to solve the issue.

But, institutions like Shani Shingnapur and Sabarimala argue that they are defending particular customs of their own. But traditional taboos against women cannot pass constitutional muster, unless the guardians of the tradition demonstrate that discrimination is an “essential practice” for the religion. The chief minister has taken the right call, speaking up for the women and saying that traditions should evolve with time. The fight is now clear: who controls religion? Women across faiths are asking this question. The answer might not be palatable to all. The world has changed and religious institutions need to move with the times and ensure there is no discrimination.

Editorials, GS-1, GS-2, Social Issue, Uncategorized

Failing the Test of Gender

The Supreme Court of India recently ruled that appointment of archakas in Tamil Nadu temples as per the Agamas was not a violation of the right to equality. The Court said, the exclusive right given to a particular group or denomination to enter the sanctum sanctorum of a temple and perform rituals cannot be construed as a practice of untouchability.

  • Citing a century-old ruling of the Madras High Court in the Gopala Moopanar case, the Supreme Court justified its decision. In the Gopala Moopanar case, the court had held that the exclusion prescribed in the Agamas was not on the basis of caste, birth or pedigree. The Moopanar case revealed how some Agamas even excluded Brahmins from the sanctum sanctorum and duties of performance of pujas.
  • The Court also cited the Constitution Bench judgment of 1972 in the Seshammal case, where it was said that Agamas were the “fundamental religious belief” of a particular sect.

What has the court ruled now?

The Supreme Court, through its order, has made it clear that appointment of priests should conform to the Agama practices prevalent in a particular temple, even if it meant that archakas (priests) were appointed from a given “denomination, sect or a group” in the State.

  • Both sides with contrasting views- the orthodox, who oppose any government interference in the appointment of priests, and some reformist groups that want the posts to be thrown open to all castes-have welcomed this decision.


A 2006 government order issued by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) regime in Tamil Nadu allowed any Hindu with requisite qualification and training to become an archaka (priest) in Hindu temples in Tamil Nadu. This was challenged before the Supreme Court.

  • The government had even launched Agama training schools in several temples, to impart the required training and qualifications to become archakas in Hindu temples.

What are Agamas?

They are the rules that govern temple construction and worship and dictate the eligibility of those to be appointed to important religious positions in the temple, including the priests.

  • Agamas in Sanskrit mean “that which has come to us.” They expound a variety of subjects and they are really the stylebook, on which Hindu rituals are based.
  • Agamas incorporate a fundamental religious belief of the necessity of performance of the poojas by Archakas belonging to a particular and distinct sect/group/denomination, failing which, there will be defilement of deity requiring purification ceremonies.

Agamas Vs Fundamental Rights:

In the present case, the Supreme Court had two important aspects to adjudicate on-

  1. First, it had to ascertain if the government order violated the freedom of religion enshrined in the Constitution by being invasive in essential practices vital for the survival of the particular religion.
  2. Second, it had to ascertain if the Agamas, which the petitioners insisted had to be devotedly followed in the appointment of priests, violated Articles 14 and 15 (right to equality) and 17 (abolition of untouchability).Article 17 came into play as Agamas invoke the concept of defilement and pollution of the idols in case its rules are violated.

The apex court, relying on a number of past pronouncements and the arguments presented before it in the current case, took the view that denominations are not caste- or class-based. The court held that if the Agamas in question do not proscribe any group of citizens from being appointed as archakas on the basis of caste or class, the sanctity of Article 17 or any other provision of Part III (fundamental rights) of the Constitution or even Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 will not be violated. And hence Agamas do not violate Fundamental Rights as mentioned under the Constitution.

The concept of Gothra:

The petitioners, who had challenged the 2006 government order, said in their submissions to the court thatdescendants of particular rishis (sages of yore), in other words ‘Gothra’, alone could be appointed as priests and so this is not restricted to the Brahmin community. Brahmins who do not fulfill this rule cannot touch the deity.

  • While this might be the claim, it is a recorded fact that most Agama temples with any considerable history have Brahmins alone as priests. The simple fact is that it is mostly Brahmins and few others high in the caste hierarchy who still know which ‘Gothra’ they belong to and might have documented evidence to prove their case.
  • But, for a community that was for long treated as outcastes and practically kept away from all functions of the religion, judgments such as these would keep them away from the sanctum sanctorum forever. Thus, according to some experts, Agamas violate the fundamental rights.

Determination of eligibility:

Another important problem the judgment creates is who would determine if a person fulfilled the eligibility to become part of a particular denomination given that the court itself has admitted the difficulty in finding experts in this field.

  • While it has kept the doors of the judiciary open in case of a dispute, the fact that the priestly functions of an Agama temple will now remain in the hands of a few is the ultimate outcome of this verdict.

What has been ignored by the court?

The court has ignored the question whether there is any scope for women to become priests under Agamic rules. It has ignored gender discrimination in temple worship, in general, and in Agama temples, in particular.

  • In the entire 54-page judgment, the word “women” finds mention only once, that too in a citation.
  • In the judgment, the court cites how certain Agamas clearly specify from where members of different communities could worship the deity. The lowest in the caste structure, it says, should be content with seeing the gopura (temple tower). But, The Agamas do not address the question of women donning the role of priests at all.
  • Women have always been systematically kept out of priestly roles with menstruation often cited as the reason. In none of the major Agama temples in Tamil Nadu would one find a woman archaka. In fact, it is only in the absence of the Agamas that women have achieved entering the “holy of holies”, as the sanctum sanctorum is claimed to be.


The purported non-existence of caste-based discrimination, as cited by the apex court, is not enough to pass the tests of Article 14, 15 and 17. It is important here to revisit the language of Article 14, 15 and 17. The first two bar discrimination on the basis religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. The third is also clear in its dictate: “Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden”. Thus, it should be essential for any custom, denomination or usage to pass the test of gender to be declared as being in consonance with the Constitution.

GS-1, GS-2, Social Issue, Uncategorized

Splendid decade, human development in India

  1. India’s ranking on Human Development Index (HDI) rose by a notch in 2014 — to 130 th  from 131st a year earlier.
  2. With a score of 0.609 on HDI, India stands well below the average score of 0.630 for countries in the medium human development group.
  3. But it is marginally above the South Asian countries’ average score of 0.607. India stands higher than neighbours Bangladesh and Pakistan but lower than countries like Namibia, Guatemala and Tajikistan, even Iraq.human-development-index-diagram-1024gii20componentsgiinew-picturemdpi
  4. After adjusting for inequality, India’s HDI for 2014 falls from 0.609 to 0.435, indicating a loss of almost 29 per cent due to inequality in the distribution of the HDI dimension indices.
  5. life expectancy at birth in India has over the past decade risen from 64.5 years (in 2005) to 68 years in 2014.
  6. mean years of schooling have increased from 4.8 to 5.4 over the same period
  7. During these 10 years, per-capita incomes in India have risen significantly, from $3239 to $5497 (at 2011 purchasing-power parity).
  8. On the gender development index (GDI), with a value of 0.795, India ranks behind Bangladesh (0.917), Namibia, Guatemala, even Tajikistan
  9. On the gender inequality index (GII), India fares poorly in 2014, standing 130th among 155 countries, well behind Bangladesh and Pakistan, which are ranked 111 th  and 121 st , respectively.
  10. 12.2 per cent of Parliament seats are held by females. The comparable proportion is 20 per cent for Bangladesh, and 19.7 per cent for Pakistan.
  11. only 27 per cent of adult women have achieved education up to at least the secondary level.
  12. Compared with India’s 190, MMR for both Pakistan and Bangladesh is lower at 170.
  13. According to multidimensional poverty index (MPI), 55.3 per cent of India’s population were multidimensionally poor in 2005-06, while another 18.2 per cent lived near multidimensional poverty.

However, since these estimates are based on data that are almost a decade old, the country’s standing as on date is likely to be better than that estimated in the report.

  1. When the World Bank decided to raise its global poverty line from $1.25 a day (in Purchasing Power Parity, or PPP, terms) to $1.90 in October and update the data for countries, it showed among other things that India had witnessed the fastest-ever decrease in the percentage of its population below the poverty line between 2009 and 2011.
  2. India’s Human Development Index value went from 0.462 to 0.609 between 2000 and 2014, a far higher increase than in the previous 15-year period. This was driven by improved economic growth and increase in life expectancy as a result of improved health care, and less so from improvements in educational outcomes, which have been harder to achieve, especially for women.
  3. If India’s women were their own country, they would be 30 ranks lower on the HDI than the country as a whole is now, with far worse educational outcomes dragging them down.
  4. Indian women are at a particular disadvantage in the workforce; the high proportion (up to 39 per cent of GDP by one estimate) of unpaid care work that falls on women alone pushes them out of the workforce, resulting in one of the world’s lowest female labour force participation rates.
  5. Coming at a time when there is a fear of social sector budget cuts, these reports show that India must build on its human development successes with better redistributive justice.

Thank You!

GS-2, Indian Polity, Public Admin 2, Social Issue, Uncategorized

Panchayats and Gender Imbalance

With the passage of Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Amendment Bill 2015 in March this year, Rajasthan became the first state to insist that candidates for the panchayat polls meet minimum educational qualifications. The minimum qualification required was Class VIII for sarpanches, Class X for the zila parishad and panchayati samiti elections and Class V in tribal reserved areas.

  • Amid criticisms, the state government went ahead and conducted elections. However, results of the elections were quite surprising. Two hundred and sixty sarpanches were elected unopposed, compared to 35 in 2010. Among regular panchayat members, 46% were elected unopposed. And the elections were dominated by men.
  • The unopposed election of candidates at the most basic grassroots level in such large numbers would be worrying in any democracy. According to experts, such policies defeat the basic purpose of the 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act.

Following the footsteps of Rajasthan, even Haryana government made functional education—matriculation for all, except for women and Dalit men (Class VII) and Dalit women (Class V)—preconditions for contesting the panchayat polls.

  • It should be noted here that these new requirements have disenfranchised 68% of Dalit women and over 50% of all women from contesting panchayat elections in Haryana.
  • And such policies are not suitable for states like Haryana. Haryana is a state with one of the country’s worst sex ratios (877 women for every 1,000 men, well below the national average of 940) and a female literacy rate of 66, just above the national average of 65.

How such policies are creating gender imbalance in the country?

  • Women in public life in India at all levels face systemic violence and discrimination. For many girls in India, school is a struggle and they battle unimaginable odds for the right to study: lack of infrastructure, general lawlessness, mindset of parents etc. Thus, it appears that being educated or not is not their choice, it’s made for them by society.
  • Such policies also make panchayat seats open to very few women from the elite section of the society, often with political backing acting as proxy candidates for men in the family. Ultimately, this will lead to unequal representation.
  • In rural areas of India, the literacy rate of women is only 45.8%— in tribal areas it is 25.22%— as opposed to the corresponding male literacy rate of 76.16%. The law therefore excludes the majority of potential women contestants. Thus, the educational qualification norms, on top of the existing massive inequality in literacy rates, will reduce women’s participation in politics.

Minimum education criteria also penalize an older generation of women and prevent them from seeking a measure of empowerment and change through elections. The panchayat election is the entry point for women into political sphere. Shutting the doors for most of them will endure far greater repercussion in women representation at higher level.

Constitution and Gender Balance:

  • Gender equality is embedded in constitutional provisions, including substantive equality where the states are also empowered to make special provisions for women in order to undo the historical disadvantageous position of women.
  • The 73rd and 74th Amendments of the Constitution in 1993 provided for reservation of seats in the Local Bodies of Panchayats and Municipalities for women, laying a strong foundation for their participation in decision-making at the local levels.
  • But, policies creating ineligibility on the basis of education takes away the space created for women in political participation by the 73rd Amendment. This affects women and the marginalized more because of the stark contrast in which women are positioned at the receiving ends of access to education and other basic needs.
  • The measure also excludes some women from the possibility of exercising their political right to contest elections thereby defeating the very purpose of reservation of seats for women in the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act.


According to the Supreme Court, a minimum education qualification would enable more effective discharging of various functions that panchayat members are expected to fulfil. It is true that education is a desirable qualification for politicians and, for that matter, citizens. But, according to experts, such experiments in India should begin with a top-down approach, starting from Parliament and the assemblies. The 1 million women in panchayats and the 80,000 women pradhans have earned their stripes. It’s time to reward, not penalize them with such policies.