“The forest was shrinking, but the trees kept voting for the Axe for the Axe was clever and convinced the Trees that because his handle was made of wood, he was one of them.”

Let me start by saying that India did stand together. The year 2020 started with a protest and ended with a protest against the authoritarian Government’s rule and truly brought the citizens of the country together. 

The protest against the CAA-NRC exhibited the resilience of the country’s citizen when they came together against an insidious attack on our secularism. Between December 11, 2019, and March 9, 2020, at least 802 demonstrations were held over the Act, 85% of which were protests demanding that the Act be repealed and the remaining in support of it. Hindus, Muslim Sikhs, Christians, young and old people from all over the country came together to defend the rights guaranteed by our constitution and keep its spirit alive. You are correct that during that period we all witnessed the unparalleled courage, endurance, discipline and spirit of service of our countrymen. While we sit here, we are witnessing another historic protest by our country’s farmers. 

However, Sir with every protest, there has been vilification of the group. the derision of freedom of speech and an attempt to label them as “anti-nationals,” Sir there is a psychological term called “Gaslighting.” 

Gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse that’s seen in abusive relationships. It’s the act of manipulating a person by forcing them to question their thoughts, memories, and the events occurring around them. A victim of gaslighting can be pushed so far that they question their sanity.

The Government, the propaganda the media have tried their best with each protest. With CAA-NRC the government claimed that CAA & NRC are different, when in fact the Hon’ble Home Minister has established the link between CAA & NRC in at least 5 different occasions. 

Now with the Farmers’ protest, the Hon’ble President has stated that there was “extensive consultation” with the farmers. Sir, I must point out that this consultation came in the form of “1.37 lakh webinars and training” which had been held since June 2020 and 92.42 lakh farmers had participated. All these interactions happened after June 2020, i.e., after the ordinances were promulgated. It cannot be said that there were consultations on promulgated ordinances. If there were any suggestions, they should have been incorporated in the draft Bills to replace the ordinances. According to the claims of the law minister, all our farmers are rich as they can receive crores of SMSs from the Government on their smartphones and give their opinions through webinars via their laptops and desktops with wonderful bandwidth and continuous power supply. Nowhere in the Bills has the Government referred to any consultation or claimed that some suggestions were incorporated.  If there were consultations then why were the public authorities denying any information under RTI about these extensive consultations? Why were they relying on wrongful pretexts? The futility of the centre’s claim was obvious as it has considered talks in Bihar election rallies as “consultation”.

On December 11, 2020, RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj asked for specific details regarding the stakeholder consultations. Within 30 days, two Central Public Information Officers in the agricultural marketing divisions of the ministry responded and claimed that they did not have any record of such consultations.

What was remarkable about both the protests is that they were carried by the women. Especially women farmers, who have been active in the Farm protest and are the backbone of these protests.

In India, whenever we talk about agriculture, we think of a man as a farmer. However, as this protest has reminded us, this is far from the truth.

According to the agricultural census, 73.2% of rural women are engaged in farming activities but only 12.8% own landholdings. Due to cultural, social and religious forces, women have been denied ownership of land. This stems from the assumption that farming is perceived as a man’s profession. Accordingly, the India Human Development Survey reports that 83 per cent of agricultural land in the country is inherited by male members of the family and less than two per cent by their female counterparts. Thus, women are mostly left without any title of land in their names and accordingly excluded from the definition of farmers. Besides 81% of the female agricultural labourers belong to Dalit, Adivasi and OBC communities, so they also contribute to the largest share of casual and landless labourers.

The Government too turns a blind eye to their problem of non-recognition and conveniently labels them as “cultivators or &; agricultural labourers” but not “farmers.” Without any recognition, women are systematically discriminated.

Non-recognition as farmers is one of their problems. Adding to their non-recognition are other pre-existing challenges in terms of, unequal access to rights over land, water, forests, etc., gendered access to support systems such as storage facilities, transportation costs, need for cash for new investments, paying off old dues and other services related to agricultural credit, inputs, subsidies, budgets and marketing their products as well as meeting household expenses. Thus, despite their large contributions to the sector, Women farmers have been reduced to the small and marginal sections which are vulnerable to exploitation.

The Pandemic has hit us hard. But what made it worse was the government’s response to it. The steps taken by the government were neither timely nor thoughtful. While the first three cases were reported between January 30 and February 3, it was only after March 2 that reported COVID-19 cases started increasing.

Between March 3 and March 23, reported COVID-19 cases in India jumped from five to nearly 500. To contain the spread of the viral disease, on March 24, at 8 p.m., Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a nationwide lockdown. By midnight, with just four hours of notice, India was under one of the most stringent lockdowns in the world

How can the Government forget that this country has More than 60 million migrant informal workers in Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bengaluru and Delhi who live on daily wages?

The ill-thought-out lockdown led to one of the most tragic exoduses we have witnessed in Independent India. Where migrants rushed to the station, Over the next few weeks, thousands were stranded or were forced to undertake journeys spanning hundreds of kilometres, on foot, to reach their villages. 

The countrywide lockdown imposed on March 24 to contain the spread of COVID-19 resulted in large-scale job losses in both the formal and informal sectors. Economic activity came to a standstill, triggering an exodus of migrant workers from employment hubs in urban India to their villages. According to a Stranded Workers, Action Network’s report in April 2020, 50 %of the respondents had no rations left even for a single day; while 96 %had not received rations, 70 %had not received cooked food from the government; and 78% of the respondents had less than INR 300 left the one who could not leave ate into their savings.

To make matters worse, the government did not maintain any data on the migrant’s deaths. While presenting the Union Budget 2020 in Parliament on February 1, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman outlined the importance of data and said that to meet challenges of real-time monitoring of India’s increasingly complex economy, “data must have strong credibility, “adding that “data is the new oil” has become a cliché.

However, just seven months after outlining the significance of “credible data”, the Narendra Modi Government on September 14 informed Parliament that it has not maintained any data on the number of migrant workers who died while trying to reach their homes after the nationwide lockdown to combat the novel coronavirus was announced. Since no data has been maintained, the government maintains that the answer to the question on compensation and assessment of job losses among migrant workers “does not arise.”

To put this in perspective, OXFAM has reported that more than 300 migrant workers died due to the lockdown, with reasons ranging from starvation, suicides, exhaustion, road and rail accidents, police brutality and denial of timely medical care. They were exposed to inhuman beating, disinfection and quarantine conditions turning the pandemic into a humanitarian crisis

The National Human Rights Commission recorded over 2582 cases of human rights violation as early as in the month of April 2020. Their exodus was considered reckless whereas the reasons that sparked it—lack of income, no access to food and water, fear—remained unexamined. 

Another report states that As on May 28, the reasons for migrant workers’ deaths during their homeward journeys include: getting burnt to death in forest fires, being hit or crushed by truck/bus/trains, exhaustion, heart attack, blood in vomiting, chest pain, asphyxiation after falling in a deep pit, being trapped in snow, stomach pain, breathlessness, hunger, exhaustion, dehydration, fatigue, multi-organ failure, and snakebite, among others.

While Indians stranded abroad were given the option to fly back home through special flights and provisions for quarantining in hotels were made, no such travel arrangements were made for the migrant workers. It was only at the end of May 2020, almost two months after the announcement of lockdown, that the government as a relief to the migrant workers and their families, announced travel arrangements to return to their homes. Buses were arranged for interstate movement and the Indian Railways introduced Shramik special trains for the relocation of the migrant workers

While In March, April and May, India witnessed its worst migrant crisis in several decades as tens and thousands of migrant workers were forced to travel hundreds of kilometres, often on foot and empty stomachs under a scorching sun, in a desperate attempt to escape the cities, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a new fund to deal with emergency or distress situations, like the pandemic. The fund called the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund) was established as a public charitable trust with the Prime Minister as the chairperson and the defence minister, home minister and finance minister as some of the members.

This could have been a relief for overburdened health care but as is common with this government even though it was the money of the citizens, the fund is plagued by lack of transparency. When citizens sought information, they were rudely told that the fund is not a public authority and does not come under the purview of the Right to Information Act.

While the fund website declares that it received Rs 3,076.62 crore in five days to March 31, no details have been declared on the amount received since then. An IndiaSpend analysis found that the fund has received at least Rs 9,677.9 crore ($1.27 billion) till May 20. 

It has also been especially challenging for our Healthcare workers. While we stress on self-reliance, we have comfortably exploited the healthcare worker who has put their lives on risk. The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the stress of an overburdened healthcare workforce. India has one medical doctor for every 1,404 people and 1.7 nurses per 1,000 people, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW). This is lower than the World Health Organization (WHO) benchmark of one doctor and three nurses per 1,000 people.

Frontline health workers such as ASHAs (Accredited Social Health Activists) whose work can be seen as an extension of care work have experienced a phenomenal increase in their work. But the remuneration is way too measly—a mere INR 1000 for the COVID-19 duties assigned to them.

Since the start of the pandemic, India’s healthcare workers have protested the shortfall in PPEsdelayed salary payments, ever-changing quarantine rules, poor to non-existent quarantine facilities, long working hours and disregard for their safety.

The Government boasts of Ayurveda and the healthcare workers but it ignores the IMA Campaign against the Government’s 20 November notification approving surgical procedures for postgraduate ayurvedic surgeons and against broader government efforts to mix traditional and modern medical practices. Despite Ayurveda’s prowess, the association has said Ayurveda medicine has “no equivalents of anaesthesia, critical care, or post-operative pain and infection control.”

The Pandemic lay bare our healthcare system and its many fallacies. Far from self-reliant, we have overburdened the health care workforce. India has one medical doctor for every 1,404 people and 1.7 nurses per 1,000 people, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW). This is lower than the World Health Organization (WHO) benchmark of one doctor and three nurses per 1,000 people.

We have stressed so much on our recovery rate that the government has denied the reality that India had the world’s second-largest cumulative number of COVID-19 positive cases. 

The direct impact of the COVID-19 has been on the poor, marginalized and vulnerable communities. But he government, however, does not report case data disaggregated by socio-economic or social categories making it difficult to gauge the distribution of the disease amongst various communities.

The scare for COVID-19 started in December/January despite this the government did not provide for a health budget which would effectively grapple with the then looming COVID fears. 

Consequently, we inherited a fragile, weak and understaffed public healthcare system where people pay 58.7% of their total health expenditure out of pocket.

Despite this, only half the population has access to even the most basic healthcare services. Data indicates that countries with high out-of-pocket expenditure have poorer health outcomes and have a higher risk of mortality during the pandemic. The consequence of this under-investment is that existing Primary health centre (PHC) facilities in India are constrained in their functioning during COVID-19 pandemic. A study of PHC facilities indicates that 57% reported inadequate ventilation, 75.5 % had negligible airborne infection control measures while N95 masks were unavailable in 50% of the facilities. These factors contribute to suboptimal patient safety and infection control measures.

Again, it is often the poor who have had to bear the consequences of the weak public healthcare system. In contrast, the rich could access personalized healthcare experience at private hospitals

Due to the exponential rise in cases, government hospitals in areas with high case-load were soon overwhelmed. Due to this, state governments asked private hospitals to reserve beds for COVID-19 positive patients. 

Although the government did take steps to make COVID-19 services affordable by including them under Ayushman Bharat- Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY), the scheme only covers the below poverty line (BPL) population leaving out the uninsured poor and the middle class. Moreover, its beneficiary list is based on the SECC (Socio-Economic Caste Census) data, which is outdated. As a result, thousands of people could not avail COVID-19 services under PMJAY. The Parliamentary standing committee on COVID-19 Outbreak raised concerns on the scheme’s exclusion criteria, which caused many of those eligible from marginalized sections of society to lose out on the benefits of PMJAY and hence to pay out-of-pocket for COVID-19 treatment. Moreover, 66% of the SC and 79 %of the ST households lacked awareness about free testing and treatment provisions under the Ayushman Bharat Scheme. Only 14% of both SC and ST households are registered with the scheme, excluding those most in need.

While the middle class and poor alike were struggling to get admitted, the rich, elite and powerful of the country were ‘booking’ ICU beds, even when they did not show COVID-19 symptoms

COVID-19 demanded the single-minded focus of India’s entire healthcare infrastructure all through 2020. The pandemic hogged so much attention across all aspects of our lives that most other issues of public health were put on the back-burner. 

In 2019, the Indian government recorded over 2.4 million tuberculosis (TB) cases–275 cases per hour–including new and relapsed cases and marking an increase of 14.3% from 2018, according to the 2020 Annual TB report of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Across the world, India had the highest number of new TB cases in 2019, according to the Global TB Report 2020. India had three times as many persons with TB in 2019 as Indonesia, which has 8.5% of the world’s TB cases. India also has 27% of the world’s cases of drug-resistant TB, again the highest in the world. Between January and June 2020, India showed “large drops in the reported number of people diagnosed with TB”, recorded the Global TB Report.

India has committed to eliminating TB by 2025 but the pandemic could set back India’s efforts by nearly a decade

Most importantly, it is the children who are bearing the brunt of this. The toll of COVID has resulted in India seeing an increase in child undernutrition, reversing decades of gains.

The share of stunted, wasted and underweight children has grown in the majority of states for which data have been made available. Rates of stunting have risen in rich states such as Kerala, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa and Himachal Pradesh, all of which had lowered their rates of stunting in the previous decade.

The economic survey to points to this. In the 10 years 2005 to 2015, it was coming down from 65% of children to still 55%. But in the last four years, anaemia has gone up terribly.

Same is with Stunting and diarrhoea. Moreover, since one million fewer children were vaccinated in the month of April 2020, they are at risk from other diseases such as Polio.

As I mentioned above, the country’s health care force is overburdened. The need was to facilitate medical learning equally amongst all the sections of our society. However, what we got, as a result, was a discriminatory examination. Not only was it discriminatory in its nature, but the Government insisted that children are forced to give take it in the middle of a pandemic. 

 Tamil Nadu has already been witnessed to the tragic death of Anitha, a bright student with dreams of becoming a doctor who dies by suicide because of the discriminatory exam. It was even more heart-breaking to see five students Aditya, Jothisri, Durga, Motilal, Vignesh, and Subhashree take their lives due to your decision to hold NEET. These deaths occurred within one week in one State. How many more must have suffered due to this decision? We will never know.

NEET at the moment is only helping the privileged class of students from the upper caste, students from the urban area. They have the access to standard, urban schools. Rich students have access to study in urban schools and to attend and study in private coaching centres (for a few weeks of coaching).

The Madras High Court, concerning NEET had noted that only negligible candidates have got admission without undergoing the coaching.

Are we re-creating Manu’s India Sir? Have we forgotten that our constitution guarantees social justice? Sir our Party leader MR MK Stalin vehemently opposes it, describing it as the blatant injustice to the students from rural areas.

Even the 19,000 Students who were offered free NEET coaching through 412 government-run coaching centre, NONE could clear.

It is quite clear, that by allowing “a certain quality of students,” NEET wants to filter out the students from rural, financially and socially backward backgrounds while only retaining the rich upper caste, privileged students. If the government is so sure that this will not be the unintended consequence of this bill then let it maintain data concerning the admissions of the students made with or without taking private coaching classes, which it doesn’t maintain presently.

The State of Tamil Nadu has recognised this problem and built an innovative incentive structure to retain doctors in the rural health system through incentive systems in the admission process for education in medicine, who are specialists and yet willing to work in rural areas. For instance, in 2015/16 (pre-NEET), at least about 300 doctors (50% of the state quota) who completed their MD/MS through in-service quota in government colleges went to work in the rural health system. The NEET will bypass all these incentive structures which have worked efficiently to produce socially inclusive health outcomes.

Not just that the system in Tamil Nadu has upheld social justice. For nine years before the implementation of NEET, the Tamil Nadu government had abolished an entrance exam, granting admission to medical courses based on Class 12 state board marks.


This year has also been particularly hard for students from underprivileged backgrounds. With no assistance from the government, students were unable to access their classes with many dropping out of schools.

Out of the poorest 20 % of households in India, only 2.7 %have access to a computer and 8.9 %to internet facilities. 96%of ST and 96.2 %of SC households whose children are in school lack access to a computer. This is the harsh reality of the country which this government selectively ignored while it went thumping its chest on its make-belief achievements on digital education.

The move online also has its risks. With no comprehensive Sexuality/digital education, children became easy prey to cyberbullying and child pornography. The India Child Protection Fund (ICPF) recorded a 95 % surge in child pornography traffic after the announcement of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Despite this India lags to protect its children. out of the 1023 courts that were announced in 2019, only 918 have been made operational. 

When this Government came to power, it came on the strength of the middle class for it believed that the Modi Government will bring black money, eradicate corruption and bring inflation under control.

But what happened has been the opposite. Tens of millions of low-income and poor households in India are grappling with the cocktail of economic woes. 

After the pandemic disrupted India’s economy and led to increased unemployment and slashed wages, a sustained period of higher food inflation is now pushing millions of families to cut back on food expenditure, threatening a spell of nutritional poverty and malnutrition among children.

In October, prices of most essential vegetables such as tomatoes, cauliflowers and potatoes had increased considerably in most parts of the country.

Food inflation surged to 11%, but it came down only marginally in November to 9.43%. Even before the pandemic, India’s consumer price inflation hovered above the Reserve Bank of India’s mandated 6% upper limit, as the country’s economic growth slowed down to record lows. After the pandemic hit India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sudden announcement of a total national lockdown disrupted the agricultural supply chain. This resulted in the spike in food inflation that India has witnessed during the last few months, experts said.

Even as food inflation has remained high in the months after the lockdown–this has coincided with a trend of unemployment and depressed rural wages–the government did not continue its free grain distribution scheme under the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) beyond November.

This is despite that the food grains are effectively rotting. A study reports134 that despite having a hold of 77 million tonnes of food grain, more than three times the buffer stock requirement before the lockdown, only 2.2 million tonnes of this had been distributed to states. Eventually, public stocks increased to more than 100 million tonnes by the beginning of June 2020, which meant that some of the stock effectively rotted in the storage facilities.

Despite the adverse impact that the lockdown has had on informal, migrant workers and the economy, studies show that the relief packages have been miniscule. An additional expenditure of the government in the first relief package announced was only 0.5 % of the GDP and the total additional public spending promised by all the relief measures announced by the end of May 2020 amounted to only around 1 % of the GDP. Much of it has not reached the intended beneficiaries.

Even after witnessing the struggle of the people who voted for the Government and brought them in power, this Government refused to tax the rich. Kindly note the rising inequality, where the rich became richer while the Govt taxed the Indian middle class

The wealth of Indian billionaires increased by 35% during the lockdown and by 90% since 2009 to USD 422.9 billion ranking India sixth in the world after the US, China, Germany, Russia and France

The government was reluctant to spend on public welfare but the corporate sector and India’s elites were actively subsidized by the Government.

The Government always has this policy of increasing taxes on fuels while it avoids taxing the rich. Media reports have highlighted how the fourth tranche of the Government’s COVID-19 relief package has benefitted a range of corporates like Adani, Reliance Group and Vedanta, among others. The provision of interest-free loans to Medium and Small Enterprises alone is calculated to have been worth INR 3 lakh crore, almost ten times the quantum of funds directly given to the poor (including Jan Dhan, PM Kisan Yojana and transfers to old persons, widows, disabled and construction workers).

For the sake of Corporates and their benefits, the government has wreaked havoc on the working class and the environment. 

Between 2014 and 2020, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) approved 87% of over 2,500 project proposals it received for environment clearance. Of these, 278 projects were proposed to be in and immediately around protected areas such as wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.

In the ecologically fragile Western Ghats region, the MoEF&CC has granted clearances to 76 projects since July 2014. We examined the consequences of building through a forest using the example of a small road widening project, the NH-4A, which connects Goa in the west to Belgaum in the east. In 2019, the coastline along Karwar in Karnataka was categorised as one of India’s 13 “critically vulnerable coastal areas”. Now a port expansion project under the Centre’s Sagarmala programme threatens the coastline. Similarly, with the Kattupalli Port, a project which is prohibited under Coastal Regulation Zone Notifications 2011 and 2019, has reached the stage of the public hearing. the project location is already experiencing environmental damage and is susceptible to more, in the form of coastal erosion

In my State, the Kattupalli Port is being expanded in an ecologically sensitive area which will not only threaten the environment but also the livelihoods of the people of the fishing areas in that area. Despite it being criticised by environment experts and citizens, no Public Hearing as part of the Public Consultation has not been held. I must remind the government that the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has announced to hold a public hearing for the project on January 22, 2021. However, citizens are yet to get a chance to voice their concerns. This is not the first time that the AIADMK government has ignored the pleas of the citizens. The pleas of farmers whose land will now be acquired in the Chennai-Salem Eight lane expressway have also fallen on deaf ears. It’s concerning that a party which has been chosen by the people of Tamil Nadu as an agent of Corporates but against its citizens. Cheaper, climate-change resilient alternatives exist, yet the Centre is allowing a project that endangers forests and wildlife. 

So blinded is the Government by corporated that it is selling the interests of the TRibals and ST Communities encroaching on their land. Envisaged over a decade ago, a new $1.6-billion coal plant in UP aims to pump more electricity into India’s already oversupplied grids. The plant will add to air pollution in the National Capital Region of Delhi, already home to six of the world’s 20 most polluted cities. Also under threat are tens of thousands of trees in a wildlife corridor in Madhya Pradesh, where the plant’s feeder mine is proposed to come up, evicting hundreds of farmers and Adivasi families.

There was a mention if the Tuticorin-Ramnathapuram gas pipeline. I am glad because of this I can bring to the attention of this parliament to the plight of the farmers whose fertile lands are snatched in this project and the process so will their livelihoods. 

Moreover, the 142 KM long Ramanathapuram-Thoothukudi pipeline project is said to be adverse to the ecology as it crosses several canals, streams and forest areas,

Moreover, to attract business, this Government has brought changes to the labour laws. These changes in the labour laws violate the established standards of the International Labour Organisation and are disadvantageous to the workers. This has led to the filing of several Public Interest Litigations (PIL). For instance, the working hours were increased from eight to twelve hours a day. The PILs eventually pressurised the Uttar Pradesh government to withdraw the 12-hour work shift. Many other states, however, have continued with the 12-hour work shift, six days a week which has transgressed the mandated 48-hour week as per global standards.

According to the Mobile Vaani survey, around 57 % reported having pending wages and 20 % had not received any support from their employers in the informal sector. As such, blue-collar workers who are mostly informal and daily wagers have to work longer hours with low wages in premises that lack clean drinking water, toilet, medical and other occupational safety measures in the light of industrial inspection being suspended.

It has to be noted that India has 170 million blue-collar workers. Trade unions fear that 70 % of factories in the states will fall outside the purview of labour laws exposing workers to exploitation with no legal safeguards while large private corporates gain from the dilution of the labour laws are diluting the existing labour laws and their application.

There has been a lot of talk about how we have improved our standing on Ease of Doing business. Sir, what ease of doing business are we talking about? The Economic Survey has pointed out that India has jumped ranks from 69th to 74th when it comes to overregulation. When it comes to using “Improper influence” we have gone from the 74th rank to 107th in the world. 

And the cherry on top is the hurdles for Indians to start their businesses. It looks with suspicion at anybody doing business. There’s a lot of talk about ease-of-doing business but setting a company is still a challenge in our country. Let me draw your attention to the fact that we are 130th in the world when it came to starting business and 154th when it comes to registering property? What ease of doing business are we talking about when even registering property is a challenge?

While the motion boasted on the improvement of women’s economic conditions, I consider that I must remind this House that Seventeen million women lost their job in April 2020. Therefore, unemployment for women rose by 15 per cent from a pre-lockdown level of 18 per cent. This increase in unemployment of women can result in a loss to India’s GDP of about 8 per cent or USD 218 billion.116 Women who were employed before the lockdown are also 23.5 percentage points less likely to be re-employed compared to men in the post-lockdown phase.

Uncertainty, economic hardships and growing anxiety during emergencies often fuel violent and abusive behaviour directed towards women and the pandemic has been no exception. This has unfortunately led to an increase in cases of domestic violence. As per statistics, between March 25 and May 31, 2020, the National Commission for Women (NCW) received 1477 complaints of domestic violence from women in India—a 10-year high than the complaints received between March and May prompting them to launch a WhatsApp helpline for women providing a safer option to those who couldn’t make calls for the fear of being overheard. The number of cases has increased since May 2020. The highest number of cases were registered in July at 660 but have remained at least above 450 each month since June 2020. As of November 30, 2020, cases of domestic violence stand at 4687 compared to 2960 in 2019—a 58 per cent rise.

Moreover, women also bore the burden of unwanted pregnancies. In the first three months of the COVID-19 lockdown, March 25 to June 24, 2020, 47% of the estimated 3.9 million abortions that would have likely taken place in India in this span under normal circumstances were possibly compromised. This means that 1.85 million Indian women could not terminate an unwanted pregnancy, concluded a May 2020 modelling study conducted by the Ipas Development Foundation (IDF), India, a non-profit dedicated to preventing and managing unwanted pregnancies. Of these 1.85 million women, 80% or 1.5 million compromised abortions were due to the lack of availability of medical abortion drugs at pharmacy stores, the study found.

Women who are unable to access contraceptives are likely to make decisions that may not be as per their preference–whether it be the continuation of their unintended pregnancy or second trimester or unsafe abortion. All of these are likely to have profound consequences for their overall health and well-being, including physical health since the unintended pregnancy may not ensure adequate spacing with the previous childbirth, as well as mental health (beyond the lockdown’s impact). Unsafe abortion may lead to morbidities with long-term consequences on health and in the worst case, result in mortality among women.

There would be financial implications as she/her family may have to spend significantly more in seeking an abortion or in continuing with the pregnancy. In an environment of job loss and economic instability due to COVID-19, this could be detrimental to the well-being of the entire family, including young children, like nutrition, family dynamics etc are likely to be impacted. Unsafe abortions are the third largest cause of maternal deaths in India.

Even with the trans community, only lip service was paid to their needs is insulting. Amid a global pandemic, only 30 days have been given to respond to the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules, 2020 with comments, suggestions and feedback. The first draft Rules, released during a national lockdown, posed a similar challenge. While the Government aims to uplift the social status of transgender people, the Rules make no mention of reservation in education or employment, both of which were mandated in the NALSA verdict. Ensuring reservation would be the first step towards uplifting the community but the Rules fail to address this.

You mentioned the LAC border and our brave Jawaans sacrificing our lives in protection of us. We salute their courage sir, but at the same time ask you whether the government has taken any actions against private media individuals who have celebrated their lost lives to boost their TRPs. Moreover, I ask the government to be more transparent over its claims and bolster the support for the Jawans posted ta the LAC. There are reports that China has constructed a new village consisting of 101 homes, approximately 4.5 kilometres within the Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh. The village, located on the banks of the River Tsari Chu, in the Upper Subansiri district of the state could not be seen in satellite images of the same area taken in August 2019, suggesting that the construction was done at some point since then, according to the television channel. China claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of southern Tibet. We must not let the thirst for power belittle our efforts to support our jawans. Additionally, sir, two important issues did not find any mention in your Motion. 

First being the Police brutality. The lockdown that was announced on March 24 was extended four times till May 31. On June 1, the first phase of relaxation of the lockdown began and 19 days later, on June 19, two traders–father and son–in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district were arrested for allegedly violating lockdown rules.

Three days after the detention, son J. Bennicks died in hospital, and P. Jayaraj the next day. They had allegedly endured hours of beating and torture by the police at the Sathankulam police station. On September 26, the Central Bureau of Investigation filed a charge-sheet, booking nine Tamil Nadu police officials for the alleged murders, among other charges.

The incident ignited a discussion on custodial deaths in India and their underreporting. In February, a Scheduled Caste man in Rajasthan, who was detained on theft charges, was also allegedly killed in police custody. In a prison system where nearly two-thirds of the prisoners under trial are from marginalised communities, this incident also highlighted the caste prejudices and over-targeting of certain communities.

In India 2 in 3 prisoners (69%) are from SC/ST/OBC background. Not a single state has complied with 14-year-old Supreme court directives for police reforms. On average, five people die in police or judicial custody every day, but few are convicted in these cases, but the data is scary as well as scarce. Further, three in five deaths in police custody occur within 24 hours of arrest. The low proportion of women in Kerala’s police force affected its ranking on the effectiveness of its police in a 2019 report. The second being the increase in atrocities in caste-based crimes

On September 14, a 19-year-old Scheduled Caste girl was allegedly raped and assaulted by four dominant caste men in Hathras district in Uttar Pradesh. Two weeks later, on September 29, the girl died of injuries in Delhi’s Safdarjung hospital. The state police were accused of delaying the filing of a first information report (FIR) and the forensic examination, and cremating the victim’s body in the middle of the night on September 30, while restraining the family from performing the last rites.

The case triggered massive protests which led to an enquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The CBI charge sheet filed on December 18 indicted the state police for ignoring the victim’s statement and charged the four accused men with gangrape and murder. The incident also highlighted the caste skew that drives sexual violence against women.

Under Section 3 of the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 (Atrocities Act), a range of caste- and tribal identity-based discriminatory actions are penalised. In 2015, the Act was amended to include over 30 offences. However, the National Crime Records Bureau’s annual report on crimes in India has data on just four offences. All other offences under the Atrocities Act are clubbed as ‘others’. Lack of disaggregated data on atrocities means there is no measure of the daily, lived experiences of discrimination that have been penalised under the law.

Also, cases under the Atrocities Act alone constitute just 8.9% of the total crime against Scheduled Castes and 5.3% of crime against the Scheduled Tribes. Of the total registered crimes against SCs in 2019, 91% of the cases are registered for offences under the Atrocities Act read with the Indian Penal Code. Overall crimes against the SC/ST community increased by 18.8% while rape cases increased by 37%.

In 2013, after the brutal rape and assault of a 23-year-old (who was later named Nirbhaya or fearless) in a moving bus in Delhi, the central government set up the Nirbhaya Fund for enhancing the safety and security of women in India. However, the fund remains underutilised with only 66.7% of the amount having been spent. These two cases unravelled our society. We must not let authoritarian excess go unchecked for it will be a travesty for our democratic institutions.

Lastly, this year has taken a toll on a lot of people mental health. While suicides were discussed in the most outrageous undignified manner where the decencies were ignored, Stress, anxiety and sleeplessness are making many people reach out to doctors, counsellors, psychiatrists and helplines, according to healthcare professionals and stakeholders. Past pandemics led to worsening mental health issues and an increase in suicides, according to studies. For instance, the influenza epidemic in 1918 increased suicide rates in the United States; suicides of those aged 65 and above in Hong Kong increased during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003.

          India’s healthcare system remains unprepared to tackle the mental consequences of the disease, the lockdown and financial crisis, mental health professionals, stakeholders and observers say. They had cautioned about the mental health impacts of COVID-19.    

          It is my humble plea that comprehensive data on the mental health impacts or suicides related to the COVID-19 pandemic, deaths by suicide due to COVID-19 be reported.

I will end this by remembering Netaji Subash Chandra Bose. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s portrait was unveiled this year. Netaji was a secularist. He believed in religious harmony and considered Indian Muslims as an integral part of this land. He writes, “The latest archaeological excavations … prove unmistakably that India had reached a high level of civilization as early as 3000 B.C. … before the Aryan conquest of India.” His praise for Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa is certainly a rational counter-argument based on ‘scientific findings’ against the imagination of a Hindu-Aryan origin of Indian culture. He rightly condemns that, “…it was customary for British historians to ignore the pre-British era of Indian history”. British officials described India as a savage land where “independent ruling chiefs had been fighting perpetually among themselves until the British arrived” [Bose quotes them]. Bose negates this narrative and locates two golden moments in pre-British India. However, unlike the present governments attempt to demonise the Mughal era, bose recognises one of the golden moments being created by the Indian Mughals. After all the Azad Hind Fauj (Army)’s motto which is Unity (Ittehad), Faith (Ittemad) and Sacrifice (Qurbani). Thank you.

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