Tag Archives: South Asia

Search for Common Ground: Engagement — Not Isolation — Offers Best Hope for Afghanistan

DISARMAMENT & SECURITY .

An article from Search for Common Ground

August 18, 2021 — Search for Common Ground expresses profound concern for the safety and well-being of the people of Afghanistan and urges the international community to engage with all parties, including the Taliban leadership, who can affect the well-being of the Afghan people. We also urge the Taliban to engage with the full diversity of Afghan society, as well as international actors, to support intra-Aghan reconciliation and the protection of the rights of all Afghan citizens.

“International isolation will hurt all Afghans by exacerbating an already-dire humanitarian crisis and raising the specter of renewed civil war” said Shamil Idriss, CEO of Search for Common Ground. “Engagement offers the best promise of securing progress toward internationally recognized standards to which Afghans – and all people – aspire, which are articulated in the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the rights of women and ethnic minorities. While international actors work to assure the safety of their colleagues and partners in Afghanistan, we ask that all who are able redouble their commitment to engaging and supporting the Afghan people and society.”

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Question related to this article:

Is peace possible in Afghanistan?

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In Afghanistan, Search for Common Ground will continue its work as guided by the Common Ground Approach. This is a process that: humanizes people using diverse methods devised by local teams who, themselves, embody the dividing lines that they seek to bridge; mobilizes people to advance common interests, understanding that shared success is the best way to build trust and make allies out of adversaries; and systematizes cooperation through changes in institutions and the culture of conflict resolution. This approach does more than resolve disputes; it changes systems.

Search for Common Ground recognizes that the Taliban, Afghan public, and international community share substantial common ground. All parties want Afghanistan to have standing and participate in the community of nations. All parties want a functioning nation-state that protects rights and dispenses services through functioning institutions. And all parties want basic security and dignity for Afghans in their daily lives. From this foundation of shared wants, peace can take shape.

“Afghanistan is facing a new and uncertain phase. Search for Common Ground encourages all parties to work towards a healthy, safe and just society. Isolation would likely lead to renewed violent conflict, and violent conflict is not a solution,” Idriss said.

(Editor’s note: At CPNN we have received an email from the Director of Search for Common Ground, Shamil Idriss, saying “We want you to know that we are not giving up. Our country director, Zuhra Bahman, and her staff are committed to continuing to work in Afghanistan. We are staying the course because we know that intensive and consistent dialogue between all parties is the key to building a safe, healthy, and just society.  . . Please send a gift today to help ensure Zuhra and her staff have the support they need — because they are needed now more than ever. All donations will be matched by a board member and worth 2X as much.”)

Bangladesh: Dhaka to host World Peace Conference on Dec 4-5

. . DEMOCRATIC PARTICIPATION . .

An article from the Dhaka Tribune

The government has fixed December 4 and 5 to hold the planned “World Peace Conference” as part of the ongoing celebration of birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.


Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen adressing the press in Dhaka on Thursday, May 20, 2021 Focus Bangla

“We have decided to hold the conference in the month of victory, and we are hopeful to make it in-person,” Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen told reporters at his residence on Monday.

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Question related to this article:
 
Are there countries that promote a culture of peace?

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He said that the “Bangabandhu Peace Award” would be introduced and conferred during the conference. Many countries introduce such awards after the name of their father of the nation, like Gandhi Peace Prize in India.

Momen also said Dhaka is not planning to invite any heads of states or governments to the conference, rather the government will gather the world-renowned peace activists, writers, poets, singers and global civil society figures to promote the culture of peace and tolerance.

A national committee headed by Speaker Shirin Sharmin Choudhury has already been formed to organize the peace conference successfully. The committee members sat for the first meeting on Monday.

At the conference, a special discussion would be held on the life of Bangabandhu as Bangladesh is now a model of peace following the path shown by its founding father, the minister said.

He added that Bangladesh, under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is spreading the peace message across the world, which is the “culture of peace.”

South and Southeast Asia: Digital Games for Peace: Creativity, Innovation & Resilience

… EDUCATION FOR PEACE …

.An announcement from the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development

The #DigitalGamesForPeace challenge calls upon youth (aged 18-35) from South and Southeast Asia who are game designers, game developers, or researchers in the fields of peacebuilding, prevention of violent extremism, or intercultural dialogue – to submit their applications for a chance to develop innovative ideas on the use of games for peacebuilding.

What is the Challenge about?

The #DigitalGamesForPeace Challenge aims to harness the creative energies of youth from South and Southeast Asia and the promise of game-based innovations in cultivating pertinent competencies for prevention of violent extremism. The Challenge is being organised by the United Nations Office of Counterterrorism (UNOCT), United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), and United Nations, Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) through the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP).

Who is it for?

Youth who wish to apply must: – Be between (and including) 18 and 35 years old. – Be nationals from or have a domicile in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Pakistan, or Sri Lanka. – Have experience with 1 or more of the following areas of expertise: social and emotional learning (SEL), the prevention of violent extremism (PVE) or (video)gaming. – Have good research and writing skills – Apply before June 7, 2021, 11:59 PM IST

What’s in it for me?

If selected, you will have the opportunity to spearhead a UN project. Further, your capacities on intercultural dialogue, social and emotional learning, game-based methodologies will be significantly improved such that post the project, you will have additional skills to wage sustainable peace in your respective community. You will meet and work with a formidable group of young gamechangers from South and Southeast Asia. Additionally, you will be part of a select group of individuals who will have the opportunity to meet and interact with experts from the fields of social emotional learning, game-design, and prevention of violent extremism.

Questions for this article:

Where can one find games for peacebuilding?

How do I participate?

To be considered for selection, submit the call for application on the link that helps us understand your motivations and past experiences to be a gamechanger. We are also seeking some specific information related to digital games and how you think they have the potential to promote ideas of peace, social and emotional learning and prevention of violent extremism.

Apply to be a Gamechanger

Timelines

Phase 1 (June – September 2021)

Release of Call for applications to shortlist 51 gamechangers between the ages 18-35 years. The shortlisted youth will embark upon improving their capacities on game-based methodologies for peace. This includes exclusively curated training, bootcamps, and mentorship opportunities by thought and industry leaders in the disciplines of game design/development, social-emotional learning, and prevention of violent extremism. The shortlisted youth would then review and test existing games that contribute to building intercultural dialogue and SEL competencies for PVE.

Phase 2 (October – December 2021)

21 selected youth will move into the next phase based on their activity reports and participation in Phase 1. The cohort of gamechangers will ideate, design, and develop innovative projects on the use of games for peacebuilding.

Expected Products

The final products would range from creating a repository of reviewed video games, designing alternate endings to existing games, defining ideal governance practices that define the future of gaming and PVE, designing game storyboards of SEL and PVE, adapting games for SEL and PVE curricula and other possible projects that expand the scope of games for peacebuilding. A team of experts and partners will continue to mentor the gamechangers towards the fruition of their selected project.

Expected Outcomes

1. Youth-led, innovative, game-based methodologies are harnessed to enhance social emotional learning and intercultural dialogue competencies for PVE amongst young people in South and Southeast Asia.

2. Young people in South and Southeast Asia have improved skills capacities for intercultural dialogue and social emotional learning to prevent violent extremism, using the practical guidance developed.

Expected Impact

It is expected that at the conclusion of the initiative, the long term impact will be the use of digital games by young peacebuilders, education professionals and students – to cultivate social and emotional competencies in youth for intercultural dialogue in the South and Southeast Asia Region.

Be a Game Changer! Apply Now!

Interested to learn more? Contact Dani at d.dani@unesco.org or youth.mgiep@unesco.org

International Women’s Day : Images from Europe and Asia

. WOMEN’S EQUALITY .

An article from the Los Angeles Times

Women across Europe and Asia shouted their demands for equality, respect and empowerment Thursday to mark International Women’s Day, with protesters in Spain launching a 24-hour strike and crowds of demonstrators filling the streets of Manila, Seoul and New Delhi.


An artist paints a message on a wall in Sana, Yemen, to mark International Women’s Day. (Yahya Arhab / EPA/Shutterstock; A.M. Ahad / Associated Press)


During a Women’s Day rally in Dhaka, Bangladesh, men hold placards highlighting violence against women. (Yahya Arhab / EPA/Shutterstock; A.M. Ahad / Associated Press)

Spain

Spanish women were staging dozens of protests across the country against the wage gap and gender violence. In Barcelona, protesters disrupting traffic into the city center were pushed back by riot police.

In Madrid, hundreds of women gathered in its central square to demand change. Teresa Sonsur, a 38-year-old social services agency worker, said she wanted to end workplace discrimination.


The 731 crosses at Forti de Vinaros beach in Castellon, Spain, represent women who died in gender-related violence since 2007. (Domenich Castello / EPA/Shutterstock)


A young woman in Barcelona attends a protest during a one-day strike for women’s rights. Right, riot police surround women on a Barcelona street during the general strike for International Women’s Day. (Lluis Gene / AFP/Getty Images)

Turkey


Women gather as they shout slogans and flash the V-sign for victory during a demonstration to mark International Women’s Day in Diyarbakir, (Turkey. Ilyas Akengin / AFP/Getty Images)

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Questions for this article

Prospects for progress in women’s equality, what are the short and long term prospects?

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Asia

Across Asia, women came out to mark the day. In China, students at Tsinghua University used the day to make light of a proposed constitutional amendment to scrap term limits for the country’s president. One banner joked that a boyfriend’s term should also have no limits, while another said, “A country cannot exist without a constitution, as we cannot exist without you!”


Pakistani women rally in Karachi to mark International Women’s Day. (Shahzaib Akber / EPA/Shutterstock)


In Manila, Filipinas hold a march to mark the day and to protest President Rodrigo Duterte’s human rights abuses. (Jes Aznar/Getty Images


South Koreans supporting the #MeToo movement wear all black to rally in Seoul. (EPA/Shutterstock)

Russia

International Women’s Day is a public holiday in Russia, but opposition presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak was one of only a few demonstrators in Moscow.


A member of the Russian feminist movement attends a rally dedicated to the struggle for women’s rights and against the patriarchate in St. Petersburg, Russia. Anatoly Maltsev / EPA/Shutterstock

(Editor’s note: For other photos from India, Turkey, Indonesia, Nepal, Japan, Kazakhstan, Philippines, Pakistan, Germany, Kosovo, Italy, Romania and France, see the report in Al Jazeera.)

India: Activist Disha Ravi, 22, Arrested Over Toolkit, Faces Conspiracy Charge

FREE FLOW OF INFORMATION

An article from NDTV

A 22-year-old climate activist from Bengaluru, Disha Ravi, was the first person to be arrested by the Delhi Police in the case involving “Toolkit” tweeted earlier this month by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg to show support for protesting farmers. The police — which earlier said “Toolkit” was a Khalistani conspiracy — have accused her of being a key conspirator in the document’s formulation and dissemination and alleged that she is trying to revive a Khalistani group.

Video about Disha Ravi arrest

“I did not make Toolkit. We wanted to support the farmers. I edited two lines on February 3,” Disha Ravi told the Delhi court where she was produced earlier on Sunday. She wasn’t accompanied by any lawyer and spoke in the court for herself. The court has sent her to police custody for five days for further questioning. Several opposition parties and activists have condemned the arrest.

Here are the Top 10 points in this big story:

* “Disha Ravi is an Editor of the Toolkit Google Doc & key conspirator in document’s formulation & dissemination,” the Delhi Police tweeted, adding that she started a WhatsApp Group and collaborated to make the Toolkit doc. “In this process, they all collaborated with pro Khalistani Poetic Justice Foundation to spread disaffection against the Indian State,” the police tweeted.

* “She was the one who shared the Toolkit Doc with Greta Thunberg. Later, she asked Greta to remove the main Doc after its incriminating details accidentally got into public domain. This is many times more than the 2 lines editing that she claims,” another tweet by the Delhi Police read.

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Questions related to this article:
 
Free flow of information, How is it important for a culture of peace?

What is the relation between movements for food sovereignty and the global movement for a culture of peace?

Are we seeing the dawn of a global youth movement?

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* “Completely atrocious! This is unwarranted harassment and intimidation. I express my full solidarity with Disha Ravi,” tweeted Congress’s Jairam Ramesh.

* “Some serious charges applied against a 21 year old for sharing a ‘dangerous’ toolkit. As per BJP our nation is so weak that a written document about farmer agitation shared by an international celebrity will lead to its ‘breakup’ The nation is much stronger than this toolkit, BJP,” tweeted Shiv Sena’s Priyanka Chaturvedi.

* “Modi regime thinks by arresting a grand daughter of farmers, under Sedition, it can weaken the farmers’ struggles. In fact, it will awaken the youth of the country and strengthen the struggles for democracy, tweeted CPM’s Sitaram Yechury.

* “The question is when will those people be arrested who continue to issue a literal ‘toolkit’ to break the national and social unity of India morning and evening, giving rise to hatred and division among the masses,” Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav posted in Hindi.

* The 22-year-old is a graduate of Mount Carmel College, one of Bengaluru’s top women’s colleges. The Delhi Police, which arrested Disha Ravi on Saturday evening, claimed she is influenced by terrorists like Gurpatwant Singh Pannu and Khalistani groups like Poetic Justice. Thousands of others are involved in the conspiracy and further investigation into the matter is in progress, the police said.

* According to the Delhi police, incidents similar to what was stated in the toolkit took place on the Republic Day, The police also claims that the Toolkit was made by M O Dhaliwal of Poetic Justice Foundation, which is a Khalistani organization. The Delhi Police called the toolkit a part of conspiracy against the Government of India and filed a case of sedition against its creators.

* On February 3, Greta Thunberg had tweeted the “toolkit” to show support for the farmers’ protest against the Centre’s farm laws that has been in progress at the borders of Delhi since November 26.  She later deleted the tweet, posting an updated one.

* The Delhi Police had asked Google and some social media platforms for help with the investigation. The police had sought email ids, URLs and social media accounts related to the creators of “toolkit”. Later, the Centre asked Twitter to remove 1,178 accounts, which it said were spreading misinformation and provocative content on the farmers’ agitation.

Irate farmers storm Delhi on tractors as tear gas deployed and internet cut off in scramble to defend Indian capital

. . SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT . .

An article from Russian television

Tens of thousands of farmers descended on the Indian capital and stormed the city’s iconic Red Fort complex in protest at new agricultural reforms which could imperil the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of citizens (See CPNN December 12, 2020).


Protesters cheer after overturning a trailer during a tractor rally to protest against farm laws near New Delhi on Tuesday. © REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

Farmers mounted on horseback or driving tractors waved flags and brandished tools and swords as they breached police barricades and made their way to the heart of New Delhi.

Media reports  indicate that internet services have been suspended in parts of the capital at the behest of the government and law enforcement, which is struggling to bring the situation under control. 

“As per government instructions, internet services have been stopped in your area till further notice,” a message from local internet service providers read.

Internet services have also been suspended by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) at the Singhu border near Delhi, where thousands of farmers have made their camp for the past two months. 

Several splinter groups of protesters commandeered cranes and used tractors and ropes to breach police barricades on India’s Republic Day, which marks the country’s adoption of its constitution in 1950.

Riot police fired tear gas but were greatly outnumbered and eventually had to fall back, such were the overwhelming numbers of irate farmers and agricultural workers who eventually stormed the country’s historic Red Fort complex. 

Question for this article:

What is the relation between movements for food sovereignty and the global movement for a culture of peace?

How effective are mass protest marches?


© REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Prime Minister Narendra Modi regularly addresses the nation from the walls of the Red Fort, highlighting its cultural significance. 

“Modi will hear us now, he will have to hear us now,” said Sukhdev Singh, 55, a farmer from the northern state of Punjab.

Tens of millions of smaller producers feel the new government regulations undermine their position in the market and afford more power to larger, private buyers, threatening to upend a vast swath of the country’s economy.

Nine rounds of talks with farmers’ unions failed to end the protests and, though the government offered to delay the new legislation for 18 months, the farmers demanded a full repeal. 

The official number of arrests and injuries has yet to be released but state TV showed images of multiple bloodied protesters.

Somewhere in the region of half of India’s 1.3 billion population are employed in the agricultural sector, underscoring what’s at stake and why the protests were so furious as they swept through the capital. 

Leaders of the march have denounced outlier groups that splintered off from the main protest.

India’s Supreme Court puts controversial agricultural laws on hold amid farmers’ protests

. . SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT . .

An article from rt.com

The top court in India has decided to suspend implementation of new farm laws and form a panel to hold talks, as farmers demand that the legislation be repealed.

The court ordered the temporary stay on the controversial laws, which MPs passed in September, and is forming a committee to hear the farmers’ grievances and resolve the impasse, Chief Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde said at a hearing on Tuesday. “We have the power to make a committee and the committee can give us the report,” he said. “We will protect farmers.”


Police officers detain an activist of the youth wing of India’s main opposition Congress party during a protest against new farm laws in New Delhi, India, January 12, 2021. © Reuters / Adnan Abidi

Question for this article:

What is the relation between movements for food sovereignty and the global movement for a culture of peace?

Farmers have been clashing with police and braving increasingly cold weather to protest. They are demanding the laws be repealed, because they say the new legislation will erode a longstanding mechanism that maintains a minimum support price for crops. The government insists the laws will help modernize India’s antiquated farming system. [See CPNN December 12.]

The court’s ruling came after it heard several petitions challenging the laws, and those regarding citizens’ rights to free movement amid the protest. “These are matters of life and death. We are concerned with laws. We are concerned with lives and property of people affected by the agitation,” Bobde said. “We are trying to solve the problem in the best way. One of the powers we have is to suspend the legislation.”

An advocate for the protesters, ML Sharma, complained to the court that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had not held any discussions with the farmers or their representatives, but Bobde explained: “We cannot ask the prime minister to go. He is not a party in the case.”

Farm unions reiterated their demand for the laws to be repealed and warned the protests could be intensified. They are to hold an urgent meeting to discuss the court’s decision.

India : ‘Delhi Chalo’ explainer: What the farmers’ protest is all about

. . SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT . .

An article from Mint

Thousands of farmers have reached the national capital [the Centre] on their tractor-trolleys and other vehicles, responding to the “Delhi Chalo” call against the agri-marketing laws enacted at the Centre in September.


Farmers having food at a Langar during ‘Delhi Chalo’ protest against farm laws, at Singhu Border in New Delhi. (ANI)

On Saturday morning, it wasn’t clear if they will agree to move to the Burari ground on the outskirts of the city, where police said they can continue with their protest. Many protesters were demanding a better venue in the centre of Delhi. Originally, the protest was meant to be on November 26 and 27.

A look at the protest so far: Day 1: On Thursday, thousands of farmers crossed from Punjab to Haryana. At border points, the Haryana Police tried to stop them, using water cannons and teargas. But later they were allowed through. There were skirmishes with police at other points as well on the highway to Delhi as it passed through BJP-run Haryana. A large group of protesters camped for the night near Panipat. Day 2: Protesters assembled at Delhi’s border at Tigri and Singhu. Police used teargas and water cannons to stop them from breaking through barricades, which included sand-laden trucks. In the evening, they offered to let them into the city and continue their protest at Burari ground. But many appeared reluctant. Day 3: The standoff continued on Saturday morning at Delhi’s border. More farmers were making their way from Punjab and Haryana.

What farmers fear: Farmer unions in Punjab and Haryana say the recent laws enacted at the Centre will dismantle the minimum support price (MSP) system. Over time big corporate houses will dictate terms and farmers will end up getting less for their crops, they argue. Farmers fear that with the virtual disbanding of the mandi system, they will not get an assured price for their crops and the “arthiyas” — commission agents who also pitch in with loans for them — will be out of business. Their demands: The key demand is the withdrawal of the three laws which deregulate the sale of their crops. The farmer unions could also settle for a legal assurance that the MSP system will continue, ideally through an amendment to the laws.

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Question for this article:

What is the relation between movements for food sovereignty and the global movement for a culture of peace?

How effective are mass protest marches?

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They are also pressing for the withdrawal of the proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020, fearing it will lead to an end to subsidised electricity. Farmers say rules against stubble burning should also not apply to them. Key players: The `Delhi Chalo” call was given by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee. Several other organisations including Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh and factions of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) came out in support.

The march is being held under the banner of Samyukta Kisan Morcha. The Rashtriya Kisan Mahasanghathan, Jai Kisan Andolan, All India Kisan Mazdoor Sabha, Krantikari Kisan Union, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda), BKU (Rajewal), BKU (Ekta-Urgahan,) BKU (Chaduni) are among the participants.

Most protesters are from Punjab, but there is a substanial number from Haryana as well. There have been scattered support for the “Delhi Chalo” protest from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Earlier protests: Before “Delhi Chalo” farmers in Punjab and Haryana held sit-ins and blocked roads in sporardic protests. Punjab farmer unions then announced a “rail roko” agitation, which lasted for abour two months, leading to a suspension of trains to the state and shortages in critical areas, including coal for thermal power stations.

At one point, the unions relaxed the agitation to let goods trains through, but the Railways insisted that they will either run both freight and passengers trains or none. The contentious laws The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

The Congress-majority Punjab Assembly reacted to these central laws by passing Bills meant to “negate” their effect in the state. The Punjab Bills, however, are still awaiting assent of the state Governor.

What the Centre says The Narendra Modi government says the new laws will give more options to the farmers to sell their crops and get them better prices. It has assured that there is no move to end the MSP system, and the new Acts do not refer to it.

Before the Delhi Chalo agitation began, the Centre had invited representatives from over 30 farmer unions for a meeting with Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on December 3. An earlier meeting on November 15 had remained inconclusive.

India: Nagaland’s Rebecca Changkija Sema conferred with ‘Mahatma Gandhi National Award’

FREE FLOW OF INFORMATION

An article from The Sentinal of Assam

Filmmaker and social worker Rebecca Changkija Sema from Nagaland was conferred with the esteemed Mahatma Gandhi National Award during the 4th International Web Conference on Global Peace on July 25 by the Mahatma Gandhi Global Peace Forum.

Joining the ranks of Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) who were previous awardees of the Mahatma Gandhi National Award, Rebecca Changkija Sema has broken the glass ceiling for female social workers in India.

Sema is an Advisory Panel Member at the Censor Board Mumbai and the founder of “Northeast Unsung Heroes”. She describes it as a non-profit organization, emphasizing that there are people from all walks of life, who choose to do good for the society and their country who have not received enough recognition.

Questions related to this article:

Where in the world can we find good leadership today?

She reiterates that bringing recognition to these ‘heroes’ translates into them receiving better opportunities further ahead in life.

Sema promotes tourism as well and takes a keen interest in utilizing the talent that comes up from the Northeast region; primarily through social work and cinema. She reiterates that the award has “humbled” her.

“Words are not enough to describe how humbled am today to receive this prestigious award. this is extremely encouraging beyond any words. Thank you Human Rights Saviour to be considering me for @Nagaland #northeast_india #BlessedAndThankful #HumanRights”, she wrote on Twitter.

The Mahatma Gandhi Global Peace Forum is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that aims to promote the culture of peace around the world through the medium of arts, culture and education.

A total of 14 personalities from various parts of the country working in the field of Human Rights were conferred with the award.

“Listening as governance”, by Amartya Sen

. DEMOCRATIC PARTICIPATION .

An article by Amartya Sen in Sixteens

We have reason to take pride in the fact that India is the largest democracy in the world, and also the oldest in the developing world. Aside from giving everyone a voice, democracy provides many practical benefits for us. We can, however, ask whether we are making good use of it now when the country, facing a gigantic health crisis, needs it most.

[Editor’s note: Click here for Professor Sen’s recent recognition by the peace prize of the German Book Trade..


Tackling a social calamity is not like fighting a war which works best when a leader can use top-down power to order everyone to do what the leader wants — with no need for consultation. In contrast, what is needed for dealing with a social calamity is participatory governance and alert public discussion. Famine victims may be socially distant from the relatively more affluent public, and so can be other sufferers in different social calamities, but listening to public discussion makes the policy-makers understand what needs to be done. Napoleon may have been much better at commanding rather than listening, but this did not hamper his military success (except perhaps in his Russian campaign). However, for overcoming a social calamity, listening is an ever-present necessity.

This applies also to the calamity caused by a pandemic, in which some — the more affluent — may be concerned only about not getting the disease, while others have to worry also about earning an income (which may be threatened by the disease or by an anti-disease policy, such as a lockdown), and — for those away from home as migrant workers — about finding the means of getting back home. The different types of hazards from which different groups suffer have to be addressed, and this is much aided by a participatory democracy, in particular when the press is free, public discussion is unrestrained, and when governmental commands are informed by listening and consultation.

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Questions related to this article:

Where in the world can we find good leadership today?

How can we work together to overcome this medical and economic crisis?

(Article continued from the column on the left)  

In the sudden crisis in India arising from the spread of COVID-19, the government has obviously been right to be concerned with rapidly stopping the spread. Social distancing as a remedy is also important and has been rightly favoured in Indian policy-making. Problems, however, arise from the fact that a single-minded pursuit of slowing the spread of the disease does not discriminate between different paths that can be taken in that pursuit, some of which could bring disaster and havoc in the lives of many millions of poor people, while others could helpfully include policies in the package that prevent such suffering.
  
Employment and income are basic concerns of the poor, and taking special care for preserving them whenever they are threatened is an essential requirement of policy-making. It is worth noting in this context that even starvation and famines are causally connected with inadequacy of income and the inability of the impoverished to buy food (as extensive economic studies have brought out). If a sudden lockdown prevents millions of labourers from earning an income, starvation in some scale cannot be far off. Even the US, which is often taken to be a quintessential free enterprise economy (as in many ways it indeed is), has instituted income subsidies through massive federal spending for the unemployed and the poor. In the emergence and acceptance of such socially protective measures in America, a crucial part has been played by public discussion, including advocacy from the political opposition.

In India the institutional mechanism for keeping the poor away from deprivation and destitution will have to relate to its own economic conditions, but it is not hard to consider possible protective arrangements, such as devoting more public funds for helping the poor (which gets a comparatively small allocation in the central budget as things stand), including feeding arrangements in large national scale, and drawing on the 60 million tons of rice and wheat that remain unused in the godowns of the Food Corporation of India. The ways and means of getting displaced migrant labourers back to their homes, and making arrangements for their resettlement, paying attention to their disease status and health care, are also challenging issues that call for careful listening rather than inflexible decisions without proper consultation.

Listening is central in the government’s task of preventing social calamity — hearing what the problems are, where exactly they have hit, and how they affect the victims. Rather than muzzling the media and threatening dissenters with punitive measures (and remaining politically unchallenged), governance can be greatly helped by informed public discussion. Overcoming a pandemic may look like fighting a war, but the real need is far from that.