Friday, September 4, 2015

Reservation as affirmative action



Morung Express Editorial

Reservation is a controversial topic where common ground is hard to find. Opinion is largely shaped by personal experience, whether one is a benefactor or a victim of Reservation. The voice of anti-reservation is getting louder and louder that the word Reservation now carries a negative connotation. Reservation is seen as reverse-discrimination, something which kills talent and devalues accomplishment because people are chosen not on the basis of merit but on the basis of the social or racial group to which they belong. But if that were the case, why and how did Reservation came into being?

Reservation has a negative connotation because of the way it has been used. So, it is helpful to understand the concept of ‘affirmative action’, synonymously used for Reservation in some other countries, to know the purpose of it. Affirmative action is the policy of favouring members of the disadvantaged who suffer from discrimination. It is an act of justice which tries to compensate for past or present discrimination. It is a means to right a wrong. Therefore, affirmative action conceptually has a noble purpose. But it is in its abuse that the purpose is defeated and the noble policy is tarnished.

Students from a school in Myanmar border of Nagaland simply cannot compete with students from a top private school in Kohima in NPSC exam (exceptional cases are there, but not generally). Therefore most of the government officers happen to be from the bigger towns, whose sons and daughters again fill their places after retirement. The cycle continues for generation after generation. Unless there is a helping hand in the system, the past and the present discrimination will continue into the future. Reservation is not the panacea for the situation stated, but it is one way of righting a wrong, or levelling of playing field. It is when the Reservation system does not serve its purpose that things go wrong. Suppose a student belonging to the same community as those students in Myanmar border passed NPSC through Reservation, but he is the son of a high ranking officer settled in Kohima, Reservation has not served its purpose. In such situation, we can say that there is a ‘creamy layer’ which needs to be wiped off. 

Suppose a community which has benefitted from the Reservation for long has started to treat it as a birthright, things can go wrong there too. Reservation system is hard to fix because it has to be dynamic. It needs to be periodically reviewed so that if the objective is achieved, it has to be taken off, or renewed in case it needs extension. The UN realises that affirmative action ‘in no case entail as a consequence the maintenance of unequal or separate rights for different racial groups after the objectives for which they were taken have been achieved’.   

Some people hold self-contradictory view that they are against Reservation when they are not in the reserved category within the State (BT reservation), but do not have a problem claiming Reservation at the national level (ST reservation). Many people who benefit from Reservation oppose other kinds of Reservation like Women Reservation when there is clear evidence that gender discrimination is as serious, if not more, than the discrimination by which they are getting benefit of affirmative action. Also, when certain people who shouldn’t be in the reserved category any longer continue to cling to it, it is not justifiable and causes resentment among un-reserved people groups.     
  
Does Reservation diminish quality of work and destroy merit? Affirmative action is an act of compensating discrimination. To start with, those who suffer discrimination start from a point of disadvantage. It can be historical or an ongoing form of discrimination by which the playing field is not a plain one for them. But to devalue the quality of those who are in the reserved category is to undermine their worth, potential, and intelligence. There is evidence that people who came through affirmative action are able to catch up well and do even exceedingly well.    

The debate on Reservation should not lose sight of the spirit behind it. It is a mark of a compassionate society. But it is something which has to be constantly revisited and refined through a scientific and objective methodology.

Dr. Sao Tunyi works as an Epidemiologist at Directorate of Health and Family Welfare, Kohima. Feedback can be sent to saotunni@yahoo.co.in, or visit his blog www.thatchhouse.blogspot.in  

The driving force of Rani Gaidinliu celebration



Morung Express Editorial

It is noteworthy that Rani Gaidinliu was never venerated as now in Nagaland. She has been popular among her followers belonging to a section of one community. But except for a small pocket in Peren district, Heraka is concentrated more in Manipur and Assam. So, what has changed so that the temple and the memorial hall should come up in Nagaland, the later to be in the Capital city of Kohima? Besides, Gaindinliu is not simply a neutral figure, but a controversial figure in Nagaland. Heraka is not a major religion in Nagaland either. So, why should the centre of the centenary celebration be away from the centre of action and be held in a rather indifferent or even hostile place? The only things working in favor of constructing the temple and memorial hall in Nagaland are two persons: Governor PB Acharya and Chief Minister TR Zeliang.

Gaidinliu was a Naga no doubt and the community she belonged to. It is not an issue of antagonizing a particular Naga tribe by Nagas of Nagaland. It is not about opposing Heraka. There are other Nagas who still follow traditional religious practices and are neither Christians nor Hindus. Gaidinliu opposed the Naga movement perhaps because of her anti-Christian stand and trying to protect the traditional way of life. When Christianity first came to Nagas, the early Naga Christians have faced a lot of persecution from fellow Nagas. So, what Gaindinliu did was nothing extraordinary then. But the crux of the matter is that Rani Gaidinliu is projected as a pan- Naga Hindu spiritual leader through which the RSS/VHP found a window to enter the Naga society to spread its hindutva tentacles. This is something which the followers of Heraka also should oppose because their Religious leader is being simply used as a tool. Heraka was a non-Christian non-Hindu reformation movement of the traditional religious practices among the Zeliangrong Nagas. ‘Rani’ was a title given by Nehru for her fight against the British. But ‘maa’ is a religious title which Hindus later infused to make Heraka appear more Hindu.

Every religion has the right to propagate itself and find new believers. Religion is a matter of conscience and willful decision. India is a secular country where everyone has the freedom to practice and spread his/her religion without fear or manipulation. But the agenda of the RSS-led BJP has always been to make India a Hindu nation. Majority of Indians are Hindus, as shown in the latest census figures released a couple of days back. But there are people in the country who were never Hindus. It is a lie that India was a Hindu nation in the past. Before Nagas became Christians, they were not Hindus. Likewise, Heraka was and is not Hindu. The Hindu symbols and images which are now found in Heraka religion were later insertions by VHP. 

Therefore, the use of government power, machinery and resources to manipulate people and spread a religious ideology among a people who are not willing is an infringement on a basic constitutional right. Governor of Nagaland has every right to practice his religion. But to use his official position and influence to repeatedly serve his missionary endeavors is a serious offence. The Chief Minister in this occasion may feel helpless against his political masters and vote bank. But he is answerable to the people of Nagaland and more importantly to whoever/whichever ‘God’ or ‘god’ he serves.   

Dr. Sao Tunyi works as an Epidemiologist at Directorate of Health and Family Welfare, Kohima. Feedback can be sent to saotunni@yahoo.co.in, or visit his blog www.thatchhouse.blogspot.in  

Benefits of tobacco taxation



Morung Express Editorial

Nagaland government raised taxation on tobacco products from 18% to 25%. This is a right move in the right direction. But comparing to the Philippines which raised tobacco taxes by as much as 340% and experience of other Indian States, what the State government did was far from enough. The World Health Organization released a document very recently called ‘The economic and health benefits of Tobacco Taxation’ which has strong evidences for the benefit of increasing taxation on tobacco products.

There is evidence that increasing the price of tobacco products is one of the most effective measures to reduce tobacco consumption. It is estimated that doubling the price of cigarettes reduce consumption by 40%. In South Africa, average daily consumption of cigarettes came down from 4 cigarettes per adult per day to 2 cigarettes per day over a decade since the taxation increased from 32% to 52% from 1993 to 2009. In France, as the taxes increased, smoking prevalence reduced, corresponding lung cancer rates fell sharply, and revenue from tobacco taxation increased substantially.

There is misconception that increasing the price of tobacco disproportionately affect the young and poor people. Evidence shows that the poor are more responsive to increase in price and this has positive impact in avoiding disease and death due to tobacco. Since the richer users are less affected by price rise, monetary burden of higher tobacco taxes will fall heavier on them. Example from Canada shows that lower income groups experience greater decline in tobacco deaths on increasing taxation. It is argued that livelihood of the poor are affected who are employed in the tobacco industry. However, evidence shows that the annual financial loss due to tobacco related diseases is greater. Likewise, when tobacco price increase, young people are more likely to reduce consumption of tobacco than older people. 

Increasing tobacco taxation does not only have direct health benefit, it is an important source of revenue which can be leveraged to fund tobacco control activities or other health program. At least 30 countries have earmarked tobacco tax revenue to fund health activities. This is a good opportunity for a State like ours where fund for healthcare is always deficient. The phenomenal 340% increase in tobacco taxation received strong political support and 85% of the fund generated is earmarked to the Universal Health Care Program. Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO said that tobacco taxation offers a ‘win-win’ situation where extra income can be generated while reducing consumption.

More than half of adult Nagas use tobacco in one form or the other. The WHO document says that a 30 years lag exists between tobacco use rates and many of their associated illnesses. So, the impact of current users is not felt yet and unless the trend is reversed, the increasing use of tobacco will not only chock the health services but also cripple our economy. Non Communicable diseases like cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and chronic lung diseases are already the leading cause of death in the world and tobacco use in one of the major risk factors. To control tobacco use through increased taxation doesn’t cost much. What it needs is a strong political will to pass the law. Following the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will go till 2030 has identified tobacco taxation as a ‘phenomenal’ intervention in tobacco control policy. We should step up to the opportunity and increase tobacco taxation to at least 50% as recommended by former Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan, or even higher.

Dr. Sao Tunyi works as an Epidemiologist at Directorate of Health and Family Welfare, Kohima. Feedback can be sent to saotunni@yahoo.co.in, or visit his blog www.thatchhouse.blogspot.in