Category Archives: Politics

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012- An exploration of Untouchability as a social practice.


 The constitution of India, when adopted was very clear on the need to abolish the practice of untouchability, which has been prevalent in India since the ancient times, by making it a fundamental right, it sought to eliminate the derogatory practice once and for all, enshrining it in article 17 of chapter 3 of the Constitution of India. It reads as follows:

Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of Untouchability shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.[1]

Through this article it was thought, going with buoyant mood of possibilities at that time that the problem of Untouchability as a social practice would cease in all its forms. What however was left out of its preview were those economic dimensions and the hygienic practices of the Indian people at large which made the practice acceptable, necessary and even demanded throughout society. What the article tried to do was give political rights to be free from untouchability, and free from any form of discrimination arising from the practice of untouchability, but left the economic right to be emancipated from the necessity which leads them towards the practicing of manual scavenging. The economic practices, which are primarily based on caste hierarchies prevalent within the India society, such as manual scavenging, the people practicing them come to be the untouchables. The problem then is that this special group of citizens is created by the play of economics and social politics, into the marginalised and the most downtrodden, their identity is based on the profession they are engaged in, which in turn is based on their birth.

In order to fully appreciate the process and the social dynamics involved in the creation of this set of people, who are engaged in the depraved practice of manual scavenging, the caste system as it operates through these dynamics must be understood. The caste system in India historically functioned as an organising principle for the was a hierarchy based on the economic professions of the people. The system was divided primarily into four castes, on the top of the hierarchy being the Brahmins followed by the Kshatriyas, the vaishyas, and the Sudra as the lowest in the caste order. Further within these castes are many sub-hierarchies in operation, making the logic of its dynamics extremely complex and circular. When the basis for this hierarchy is the profession one is born into, thereby birth, the logic of its functioning makes it extremely difficult to move up the ladder without also leaving the ones caste behind. This logic in operation within these caste hierarchies, then makes the Sudra condemned to the lowest form of life within the social order.

Having detailed the caste hierarchy, it is important now to turn to the working of this dynamic with the Sudra caste, which is the space for the marginalised citizens being subject to further hierarchies and caste dynamics. It is within this space where the location of the oppressed is most depraved and humiliating, subject to the lowest of the lowest economic work and social standing, amounting to social invisibility. This is the space where the operation of the logic of caste creates the ‘Dalit’. The nearest sense that the word ‘Dalit’ can convey in the English language is ‘the oppressed’. In India, they are the outcasts or the untouchables. Within this logic of this kind of structural oppression, the paper aims to study the most marginalised within this space the’ Manual Scavenger’ in the light of the proposed Bill called ‘The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012’ or PMRB 2012.

The adjective “manual scavengers’ is used to describe the people from the lowest of the caste bearers, who are engaged in the profession of cleaning human excreta from dry latrines and operating through the municipal disposal services and for private households. This practice of manual scavenging based on caste hereditary is something very peculiar to India. The caste system runs through all the religions, though it is of Hindu origins. The reason for this is that the people of other religions are converts from Hindu or at least most of them converted at some point in history. Even, after they converted they retained their caste only religion was different. We, therefore, find Dalits engaged in manual scavengers from all the religious groups and is not strictly confined to Hinduism. Though religious in origin it has acquired a social legitimacy due to the economic necessity and more importantly through the strict caste barriers, which act repressively not allowing any vertical social movement through its structure, without also losing the caste identity.

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012  prohibits employing a person as a manual scavenger and provides for the rehabilitation of people and their families currently engaged in the profession of Manual Scavenging. The bill seeks to curb the employment of these people as scavengers for the cleaning of the Human excreta in any form and from any place and by anyone or any organisation, government or private. The Bill seeks a blanket ban on the employment of Manual scavengers and also seeks to rehabilitate them. It goes on to set up various nodes to monitor and check the enactment of this Bill. The Bill defines Manual scavengers as:

A “manual scavenger” is defined as a person engaged or employed, at the commencement of this act or anytime thereafter, by an individual or a local authority or an agency or a contractor, for manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling in any manner, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or into an open drain or pit into which the human excreta from the insanitary latrine is disposed of, or on a railway track or any such spaces or premises as may be notified by the central government, before the excreta fully decomposes..[2]

And an insanitary latrine is defined as

A latrine which requires human excreta to be cleaned or otherwise handled manually either in situ or in an open drain or pit into which the excreta is discharged or flushed out.[3]

The definitions as per the Bill has been widened to include any form of the practice of scavenging human excreta from unsanitary latrines, the definition of which has also been comprehensive. The Bill, however, fails to delineate a workable plan for the rehabilitation of the people engaged in manual scavenging. It only states a cash assistance, giving off a plot of land and vocational training. It also puts the onus of rehabilitation on the employers to retain the employee by assigning them to other work at the same emolument as was being paid. It prohibits the construction of new insanitary latrines and the conversion of the existing dry latrines into sanitary latrines. There have been provisions made for a penal action of imprisonment and monetary fines of 1 Lakh and subsequent contravention of 5 lakhs. And, finally, the implementation and monitoring of the act has been givenNational Commission for Safai Karamcharis Act, 1993.

Having highlighted the main provisions of the Bill it will be fruitful to engage with it in the social space of caste dynamics. The parliament had enacted the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (prohibition) Act, 1993, to check this increasingly dehumanising practice. However, the Act proved to be inefficient in dealing with this depravity. While the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012, seems adequate in respect of identifying the problem and its operational space, it doesn’t spell out in clear terms how the rehabilitation will be carried out. Most of the provisions with regard to habitation are monetary and vocational training. The implementation of the Bill has been left to the arbitrariness of the state machinery, which was charged with the implementation of the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (prohibition) Act, 1993. The results for which are far from satisfactory.

What the bill fails to acknowledge is the economic dimension of the Manual Scavenging which has in the first place made this practice rampant. The second fact that the bill fails to acknowledge is that of the rehabilitation of women and children and how the process for their employment will be enforced. The bill sees the primary member of the family be rehabilitated as male, while in reality about 95% of the Manual Scavengers are women and men mostly do the supervisory work. The most important part of the practice is the hereditary nature of the profession amounting to slavery. The issue is not the profession that the Manual Scavengers are engaged in, the issue is about the discrimination they face because of the profession while they have little opportunity of shifting to an alternative profession, because of rigid caste barriers. The issue, therefore, is about their right to live with self-respect, and a socially dignified life as full members of an equal society. This circular prison has to be broken which the Bill miserably fails to acknowledge. The logic of caste dynamics which imprisons Dalits to hereditary Scavenging has to be broken. The viciousness of this logic is the most powerful and self-sustaining social practice in India, which is not even remotely addressed by the Bill. The biggest challenge that the bill fails to recognise is the curse of untouchability, which flows from this rounded logic of traditional caste ‘Duty”, towards the upper castes.

It is a special kind of depravity that India engages in as a society where it chooses to repress the most vulnerable members of the society in the complex web of religion-social-political subtleties. This is the depravity that the Bill ought to attack, the Bill needs to do more to implement the fundamental right which abolished untouchability sixty-four years ago when the constitution makers penned article 17 and article 23 the right against exploitation of any form. Attacking only the economic relationship between the employer and the employee while leaving the social complexities untouched, the bill may end up creating more poor and vulnerable members of the society. While in Europe the practice of manual scavenging was killed with the advent of better flush systems and toilet technology in the early fifties, this result which the bills seeks to replicate will not be successful in India because it is embedded in the social dynamics of the caste system. There is little hope till such time as this dynamics of the caste system are left intact, which dehumanise the people of this nation, who incidentally are also the most vulnerable.

Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (prohibition) Act, 1993, failed to stop this scourge because of faulty implementation and general governance apathy. And, if the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012 is pursued with the same kind of lethargy and apathy will do little to uplift and rehabilitate the manual scavengers. It may end up creating a contraband and rent-seeking officials, which in any case will harm the Dalits the most. The bill is also silent on the state of the health due to manual scavenging and the rehabilitation and medical treatment for those who are already affected with various virulent forms of viral and bacterial infections which affect their skin, eyes, and limbs, respiratory and gastrointestinal systems. Tuberculosis is very prevalent among these caste group who are engaged in Manual Scavenging.

The Scavenging people in effect are victims of bondage slavery which has not been addressed by the bill either. Their debt seem to go on forever because they receive a pittance of less than about Rupees 22 a day for their work (and even this payment can be irregular if they are employed as casual workers, as is the case with most municipalities, or their wages are not paid on time), manual scavengers are forced to borrow from upper-caste neighbours for whom they work, and end up in debt bondage. The rate of interest on their loans is usually 10 per cent, and few can afford to pay off the loan. Thus, the wages they would otherwise receive go towards the repayment of the loan, and they become totally reliant on the few pieces of bread they receive on a daily basis. Their poverty is so acute that, in desperation, some Manual Scavengers resort to separating out the non-digested wheat from buffalo dung.[4]

Without addressing the issue of debt, gender sensitisation, and community assimilation the bill is unlikely to have the desired effect on the lives of the rehabilitated Manual scavengers. Since the problem is just not of the humiliating employment conditions they are forced to work in, but also of the attached social stigma they have to bear because of the profession they engage in. By simply banning the whole profession without the foresight for the assimilation of the retrieved scavengers into the society, the condition of the Dalits will only worsen. Though the penal provisions in the Bill seem adequate to check the violation of the provisions of the bill, the mechanism for enforcement remain the same – lengthy, unresponsive and as is the case with the current governance structures and an incompetent grievance redress processes.

The Bill makes the employing of people for the purpose for manual scavenging a crime but does not explicitly outlaw the practice itself. To be able to outlaw this inhumane practice of Manual Scavenging, the bill must first suggest an alternative to the economics of the profession. By simply declaring it as a criminal offence it does not serve the purpose to curb the practice. There have been many laws that have been passed by the parliament to protect the rights of the Dalits like the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, which have not been able to make much impact. The various acts dealing with Dalits have to be synchronised to speak the same language, and follow an aim of their rehabilitation to actually translate it on the ground within the social space. The redundancy of having multiple laws dealing with different aspects of the discrimination against them, only make the access to justice harder for the Dalits. It would do the government some good to simplify the legislation and create one umbrella bill including all aspects of the discrimination against them and also provisions for their rehabilitation into the mainstream of the society.

It would be ideal for the Bill to be looking into the assimilation of the Dalits into the mainstream of the India society by ways of community leadership. The practices which are discriminatory occurs with this social space. The reformation of this space needs to be looked into along with strong legal provisions for the protections of the Dalits. The patronising attitude of the government and the society at large has to be overcome. Though the legal enactments do make a difference in the societal perception of discriminatory practices, like it did in the case of the Abolition of the slavery Bill in England. However, they are often not enough. The government along with the society must do more to foster harmony and assimilatory attitudes between individuals. The practice of manual scavenging can be eradicated faster and more efficiently if the communities are held responsible for the practice occurring within their spaces of inhabitation. Community participation by the community members will serve well to sensitise the individuals towards a reconciliatory attitude to enable smooth rehabilitation of the Manual scavengers.

The Panchayats should also be involved actively in this process of social discontinuation of this heinous crime against humanity. The Panchayats being the first order of governance structure in India, the leadership role it can play in eradicating this menace must not be discounted. The Panchayats act both in the role of social and political leadership in the villages. The social acceptability of the need for the discontinuance of this practice has to come from there. It is here that the major interactions between people take place which actually change societal attitudes significantly.

The most pervasive and repressive element that plays a very large role in the continuation of this and other discriminatory practices against the Dalits is the sanctity of the religious discourse. Though in a secular republican state religion should not be directed in any manner by the state, in this case, there should be an exception. The state should call the leaders of all religions to partner with it in changing the perception of the Dalits as being outcast and getting into a dialogue stressing the redundancy of the caste system in the modern era. The whole idea of caste-based discrimination flows through the religious discourse, it would, therefore, be fruitful to engage aggressively with all shades of it. The sanctity that religion confers upon this practice can be reversed more effectively by the leaders of those practicing these derogatory practices with the sanctity of religion.

With regard to rehabilitation, the Bill needs to spell out the specifics that will be awarded to the rehabilitated Manual Scavengers. Some of the things that may be considered are:


  1. The women who form the majority of those engaged in the profession should be made the primary beneficiary of the rehabilitation award.
  2. There need to be strong incentives put in place for the Employers to help rehabilitate the people engaged in the profession. The incentives can be tax breaks, one-time rebate for those rehabilitated and recognition by the government through active media participation.
  3. The children of those rehabilitated should be given generous scholarships to pursue an education at the best institutions in the country. This avenue should be exploited to the maximum, and the provisions for the same should be included in the Right to Education too.
  4. New technologies of sanitation should be implemented vigorously where the rehabilitation of the Manual Scavenging people takes place, in order to avoid and relapse to the same profession.
  5. The Panchayats should be held accountable for the dry latrines not being converted in water based flushes.
  6. The land that is allotted should be agricultural, and property rights should be clearly marked out. It has been observed that having clear-cut property rights does lift people out of their poor lifestyle and help them assimilate and improve their social standing.

Former Prime Minster Dr. Manmohan Singh has on several occasions termed Manual Scavenging as the shame of the nation. So have other political leaders, now there is the awareness that the practice is the most deleterious to human health and dignity. But, till such time as we as a nation are not able to convert these words into action much remains to be desired. The Bill though noble in intent and serious in thought will not achieve its desired result if it continues to focus on the penal provisions and vague rehabilitation programs. It needs to recognise the heart of the problem and locate it in the lived community spaces. The observations that have been outlined above in tandem with the provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012, will be better suited to the social diaspora of India.

It is a time for reckoning for us as the citizen in a democracy, that even after 70 years of the enactment of the constitution of India we have been unable to wipe out discrimination and inequality from our society. In a liberal democracy, the true measure of its success flows from the equality before the law, freedom, prosperity and dignity it can afford to its most vulnerable A strong political leadership is required based on the principle of liberty, which can ensure the protection of rights of the most vulnerable, while also implementing a radical reform agenda. Till such time as that, we will have to work towards incremental reforms like the present Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012.

Works cited

[1] The constitution of India

[2] The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill, 2012, chapter 1 section 2 (g)

[3] Ibid, Chapter 1 Section 2 (e)

[4] United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery,27th Session, Geneva, 27-31 May 2002



Law and Women: Religious personal Laws some thoughts with regard to the Uniform Civil Code

The contemporary Indian society is multicultural that is pluralistic with regard to religious laws. These are laws governing different religious groups according to their religious tenants. These laws sometime come in conflict with the common law laid down by the constitution with the promise of the fundamental rights and legal entitlements for every citizen of India, irrespective of their sex or gender. The constitution also has a provision for a uniform civil code under article 44, to be enacted by the state. Religious Personal laws are often do not treat women at par with men. Unlike the constitution, which treats every citizen equally before it, the personal laws discriminate between men and women regarding similar and some case same provision of the personal Laws. This has led to a stream of thinking that enacting a uniform civil code shall equalise the gender field with regards to these laws. However, would it actually make the personal laws more women friendly, is still very much in doubt, and more importantly whether the promise of equality by the constitution can be delivered through it.

With respect to gender we seem to have entered a life of contradiction, upon the enactment and adoption of the constitution. While the constitution give equality to all citizens unrestrained by any external consideration, the personal laws still operated which subdued the idea of equality. The legal system that is follows is the common law system. It is a relic of the British colonialism. While we in India continue to maintain the convention of the colonial laws. The same concepts have been modified and abandoned in England. Within this preview the personal Law system is one of them. It is time to look in to modification and if necessary desertion of these laws in the interest of gender equality.

The article 44 of the constitution says that;

The state shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India.[1]

The post-colonial sate in India has been the architect of the many social reforms in the country after independence yet, no government in power in the last 64 years, has been able to either bring a consensus on the issue nor has been able to enact it. However, it will be out of place to ask questions in the “what if” format? What, however is important, is whether the enactment of the Uniform civil Code (UCC) brings about any perceptible change in the position of equality with respect to women. If would be prudent to stop and ask as to what exactly is the UCC?

The UCC in the Indian context means that part of law which deals with personal & family affairs of an individual and denotes uniform law for all citizens, irrespective of his/her religion, caste or tribe or gender.

Laws relating to crime and punishment which is the criminal justice system is uniform for all citizens.  So are the laws relating to commerce, contracts and other economic affairs?   Procedural laws including laws relating evidence etc. are also uniform for everyone.  Laws of taxation are same for all except that it recognises certain religious customs prevalent in the society, like Hindu Undivided Family (HUF), for special treatment.

However, family affairs such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, guardianship and adoption are legally permitted to be governed by customs of their community. This has been a pre-colonial practise, where the British thought it wise not to meddle with these customary laws of the local population. One distinguishing feature of personal laws is that all of them are gender biased in which women have fewer rights when compared to men. So, keeping in view these infirmities in the personal laws, it is assumed that having a UCC would bring about gender equality.

However, this simplistic assumption misses out on the complexities involved in chalking out such a code. Personal laws are not just laws governing communities, the complexities flow from the fact that they have religious sanctity and further, the courts and the legislature acknowledge it. The woman as a subject of the state underwent a transformation from a gender-neutral with law to a well-defined gender within the social space. This perhaps is what needs remedying.

After independence the first Lokh Sabha to the parliament of India enacted the Hindu Code Bill. It reformed the Hindu personal laws with regard to monogamy, inheritance and succession among others. These provisions tried to rationalise the Hindu personal laws and make them gender neutral to some extent. However, they did not go the whole way. The same is true for the Muslim personal law, that the women are not treated at par with men. However, there has been no attempt made by the development state of India to remedy the same at all, which in the case of Hindu law has been done from time to time. The main contention within the underlying assumption of the UCC is that, having enacted the UCC these contours within the Personal laws in particular and civil law in general will be smoothened to effect gender equality. On the one hand the constitution gives every citizen a fundamental right to equality (Article 14) while on the other, it gives the benefit of non-interference to the minorities in the affairs and activities to protect their cultural identity.

The UCC enacted in any form will violate these two principle because the women in India who are from diverse sections, cultural divisions and religious fabric will have to be treated homogenously, which means the blurring of cultural boundaries thereby infringing on their rights to practice and protect their religion and cultural practices. So the whole process is circular within the logic of the UCC and therefore, should not be used as a tool for gender equality. What needs to be noted and appreciated is the context specific situation of women in India. It has to be seen as the site for politics with specific goals, while the whole leads t to it.

The dilemma faced by feminists asking for a common family law for all Indian women is that they must simultaneously answer the mainstream critics of feminism who challenge the demand for gender-sensitive laws and the men and women of minority communities who demand respect for cultural identity.[2] It must be remembered that the legal system imposed or created by the British in India was in response to a very different society, that of England and not India. The idea behind the legal system was also inspired by liberalism and positivism the new streams of thoughts which influenced the European Nations during the Enlightenment. However, these values and ideas were a farcy cry from those instilled in the Indian society. The infusion of these new ideas underlying the system of justice dispensation in colonial India, brought with them the requirement of homogeneity and rule of law where every person was one and equal before it. This is the where the dilemma of the Indians multiplied due the heterogeneity of the status of a person within their personal laws canons and without from the perspective of the other personal laws.

Archana Parashar put the point succinctly in her writing on gender and law;

Liberalism and positivism have joined to formulate a view of modern law as autono­mous of the economy and society, in contrast to earlier conceptions of law that relied on historical or theological explanations. In this widely accepted view, the legitimate authority of law is dependent upon universal, neutral, and abstract principles. The law defines who is a legal subject and everyone who meets these requirements is entitled to the same rights irrespective of their religion, wealth, gender, or any other characteristic. Liberal legalism in particular finds its legitimacy in this guarantee of non-arbitrariness, of fairness to everyone irrespective of their specific characteristics or differences.[3]

If we are to protect the constitutional promise of equality and the protection and flourishing of diversity we have to look beyond the enticement of homogeneity. India has to relook at the relationship between law and how it sees and places women in the context of conflict with equality. The constitution in effect has looked at women favourably including provision which were progressive and ahead of its time. Some of the articles which bring out the concern for a better status of women as equal citizens of this nation.

The Constitution of India assures equality for both sexes. Article 14 of the Constitution provides equality before law. Article 15 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, but permits discrimination in favour of women. Some Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution of India apply to women specifically. Article 39 states that the State shall direct its policy towards securing that men and women equally have the right to an adequate means of livelihood. That there is equal pay for equal work for both men and women and that the health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength. Article 42 makes provision for just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief. The tone here that can be noticed is one of neutrality. Making everyone equal before the highest law of the land.

The critique of this positivist liberal view of the neutrality and universality of laws flows from the fact that they assume the essential sameness of the male and the female gender. Which led the demand of recognition of this difference in the law and change the laws accordingly by legal feminist. However this went on to raise a debate whether this amounted to preferential treatment. But, the challenge was dissolved with the advent of the post structuralism critique of the unified category of women with differing race, ethnicity, sexuality etc. where every women was construed a different being without a unifying factor and distinct personality based on social and personal memberships.

In the Indian context it would be far better to reason out an approach based on different rights rather than a universalising feature of the UCC. This is also based on the fact, that while the Indian constitution allows for and informs the formal equality of sexes, it does also allow for minority freedoms and religious rights. Within this framework the women in India cannot gain the equality sought without also raising the discourse on secularism and larger concerns of freedom. The recognition of the differences need to be contextualised leading to a fair and just outcome for all the women concerned.

The enactment of the 2005 Domestic Violence [Prevention] Act (DVA) by the Indian Parliament raises a number of relevant issues for Indian women seeking to understand law as a site of struggle, a site where politics can be played out and reasonable outcome expected. The requirements of the women in the south and the north are different. Domestic violence takes place in a very specific and particular socio- economic context, which stems largely from the construction of the women as dependents within law, having no or little economic independence. The religious personal laws deny Indian women even formal legal equality in personal relations be it family or conjugal. In this context it is no surprise that domestic violence becomes a real problem for the Indian women with specific contexts.

This bill has re conceptualised and articulated the problem of domestic violence within the civil law to recognise and redress the problem for the Indian women. However, the redressed mechanisms contained within the laws leave much to be desired. This law empowers the woman to remain at her conjugal home, and make arrangements to come out of the violent marriage. This is made and constructed as a right. The social context of the premium seen on the place of women in her conjugal home serves to block her exit. Moreover, the situation of the women during the time does not change, she still remains a dependent without any actual change in her economic situation. This is where the problem lies, the realistic chance of getting a share in the property remain dull and distant. Till this bill is not placed in the socio-economic context, with regard to the economic situation and maintenance provisions, the act shall remain a chimera.

The religious autonomy that various communities claim in turn invokes a sim­plistic notion of choice. Invariably there is no discussion of who is making the choice and whether the structural nature of hurdles in exercising choice makes it a futile con­cept for most women. With regard to personal matters it could be imagined that law, rather than enforcing religious authority, can facilitate equality by making all family laws gender non-discriminatory. Such a family law would not interfere with anyone’s religious autonomy but neither will it enforce religiously sanctioned inequalities.[4]

Clearly, the promise of gender equality cannot be achieved with the current discourse of the proponents of the UCC. A radical rethinking of the idea of equality promised by the constitution is required and till such time that it is not recognised there can be little hope for the achievement of this promise.


Works Cited

[1] The constitution of India

[2] Parashar, Archana. Brown University; 2008. Gender inequality and religious personal laws in India.

[3] Parashar, Archana. Brown University; 2008. Gender inequality and religious personal laws in India.

[4] Ibid.

Letter to Indian citizens, 1 September 2016: Introducing India’s only liberal party and how it can fix India’s problems.

Dear fellow citizen of India,

Subject:  Inviting you to consider the vision and approach of India’s only liberal party

Our freedom fighters sacrificed their lives for India’s liberty. They would have been deeply disappointed with what India has become. Our governance is one of the world’s worst. Corruption, injustice, insecurity and filth stalks us at each step. Daily life has become very difficult.

The cause is clear to all those who understand: that all our political parties have taken the wrong path. They have broken all principles of good governance. They have created incentives for corruption. As a result, the system is corrupted from the top. It cannot deliver even basic services.

This state of affairs can only be fixed through a total overhaul of our governance system. Such an overhaul will require amendments to key laws. Essential changes needed include state funding of elections on per vote basis to allow honest people to contest elections and elimination of the guarantee of tenure for senior bureaucrats. The government must be held to account for results.  Further, the government must focus on core functions and get out of running businesses. Of course, things must be systematically changed, through a proper transition strategy.

The concerned citizens who created Swarna Bharat Party (SBP) asked other parties to deliver these reforms, but these parties refused. It is a fact that all other parties directly benefit from the corrupt system they have created. Why would they implement any reform?

As India’s only liberal party, SBP is committed to the ideology of liberty. Only this ideology can establish India as a land of opportunity, the world’s richest economy and open society.

SBP offers India three fundamental reform directions:

1.     Reforms of the electoral system and bureaucracy to ensure total integrity and accountability.

2.     A limited but strong government that performs its core functions well.

3.     Maximum liberty for all citizens, consistent with the liberty of others.

We have developed the world’s best manifesto (at Please read it to appreciate the party’s deep thinking about public policy. SBP is the only party with capability to deliver urgently needed reforms. This way India can become a sone ki chidiya again.

After years of preparation, this party is reaching out to the people. A strong start has been made in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Telangana. Preliminary work is afoot in many other states. Our 2015-16 Annual Report ( provides details of our recent activities, including numerous photographs and press cuttings.

This party can only go as far as you want to go. It is up to you to step forward to help make India the world’s richest nation. But first please satisfy yourself about the party’s credentials and capability. We have a Youtube channel in which you can listen to some of our initial party leaders.

Once convinced about our vision and approach, please become a member and help build a strong grassroots presence for SBP. You can become a member by visiting membership fee is currently Rs.100) and volunteer by visiting

At a minimum, please donate generously (monthly instalments in smaller amounts are welcome). You can use our online payment gateway at Or you can write cheque/s payable to “Swarna Bharat Party” and mail them to the party’s registered office at G-249, Palam Vihar, Gurgaon – 122017.

Only Indian citizens, including those residing outside India, are eligible to donate. Donations are exempted from income tax u/s 80GGC of the Income Tax Act.

In conclusion, I once gain offer this party and its vision to you. I invite you to join or otherwise support this platform to make India great again. Together we can achieve our dream for India.

Please share this letter widely with your friends and community.

With regards

(Sanjay Sonawani)

President, Swarna Bharat Party

State Autonomy and the Developmental State in India

Before we start to analyse the concept of state autonomy, it is imperative that we, first understand what the concept of a ‘ state’ means and its relevance. We also need to know the boundaries between the state and the major power groupings in the civil society. So, what is this thing called ‘a state’?

The task of defining a state is an untidy matter, mainly, because it can be looked at as having two dimensions, one is the institutional which is to say what it looks like as a structural entity and the other is the functional or what it does, the functions it executes. The institutional dimension of the state, as put, privileges the two-dimensional definition, forward by Max Weber. This then contains four elements, which are the following:

  1. A differentiated group of institutions and personnel, embodying,
  2. Centrality, in the sense that political relations radiate outwards from a center to cover,
  3. A territorially demarcated area, over which it exercises
  4. A monopoly of authoritative binding rule making, backed up by a monopoly of the means of physical violence.[1]

Now that we have the definition of a state the analysis of its autonomy can be put in proper perspective. The first thing to understand about the state after having defined it is the, question of, what is the power of the state? The power of the state is of two types, first being despotic power and the second infrastructural power.

While exercising the first dimension of the state power, the state has the ability to bypass established norms and the preceding negotiations with the civil society, while the second one is more subtle and also more pervasive, this refer to the capacity of the state to penetrate the civil society, to implement its political decisions throughout its territory, through the infrastructural institutions of the state. The first type was strong in the ancient and all monarchic states but weak in the modern states and the second type is just the opposite, it being stronger in the modern states.

The power of the state flows mainly but not only from three aspects of its situation, first, being the territorial centralisation of the state, secondly, the multiplicities of functions it performs for the civil society as the prerogative of the state and thirdly, the necessity of organizing the natural society into a formal state in the first place. While among these the first was very strong in the ancient and medieval societies and the second in the modern states. The autonomy of the state with regard to its functioning was clear and unchallenged with the use of despotic power over the sovereigns’ territory of the older sates and the feature can also be seen in the modern authoritarian sates like china and Saudi Arabia. However, the autonomy of the state has become a lot ambiguous when we see it in relation to the infrastructural power in the modern states and the multiplicities of function it performs within the civil society. It is here that the boundary of the state and the civil society become hazy and the clear-cut demarcation between two is difficult to perceive.

Therefore, the greater the capacity of the state to impose its political decision upon the civil society greater will be its autonomy and lesser the capacity lesser autonomy it will have. Further, the autonomy of the state will depend upon the degree of centralization of power it exercises upon its territory, the relation of the ruling government and the parliament and the influence of the various mediating interest groups from the civil society. The more the centralization of power the more autonomy it can exercise while implementing its developmental and other political agendas within its domain, like in the case of India after Independence. Since, the congress had the majority in most of the states, the consent required for the implementation of the center’s policy decision, was relatively easy to come by. But, today the case has been reversed and the implementation consent is very difficult to come to, because of many parties ruling the different states.

Moreover, the autonomy of the state is also dependent upon the legislature and the executive in a liberal democratic state. The more the balance between the two, more will be the autonomy of the state to implement the decisions, and less the balance less will be the autonomy of the state. In the modern liberal democratic state, it is often very difficult to form a majority government, whether we see that in India or the UK, the coalition government that is formed restricts the autonomy of the sate by limiting the decision making and implementation power of the state. With so many power centers being formed within and outside the state and with the help of non-state actors, the autonomy of the state has been severely compromised.

The modern state has not been able to form clear policies without being influence by the pressure from the civil society, and the state has also been finding it difficult to implement the policies due to opposition from other parties in the political sphere. The state today has low autonomy but a high capacity to implement the decision. Which in turn leads to the state being unable to develop new policies or respond to new challenges owing to the power of organized opposition[2], and from the civil society groups.

Though the state is able to fulfill basic tasks but public plays a direct role in determining policy and is able to limit state power and scope of activity[3]. This can clearly be seen in the case of the Jan Lokhpal movement where the civil society actors demanded a position in making the bill, while rejecting the sate’s version of it, which, thereby, compromised the autonomy of the state. It went further, and tried to usurp the legislative function of the state itself. In a liberal democracy this is the exclusive domain of the state, which was under direct attack on its autonomy to make and implement its legislation.

To conclude, it will be quite difficult to argue that the liberal democratic state has autonomy, when the practice and the working of it has shown that, the autonomy of the state is infringed on by the opposition as the sate actors and the civil society as the non sate actors, quite often. While in theory we may still maintain that the state has autonomy in practice it does not. The modern sate which has institutionalized the practice of interest mediation through the corporate and various civil society actors, who now have a stake in the policy making and its implementation. This kind of interference which is allowed by the state in the form of public private partnerships in economic development, and the non governmental organization to partner it in implementing some social sector schemes, has severely affect the capacity of the state to govern as an autonomous entity. Therefore, the liberal democratic state is today, not an autonomous state.

[1] Michael Mann (1984). The autonomous power of the state: its origins, mechanisms and results. European Journal of Sociology, 25, pp. 185-213, doi: 10.1017/S0003975600004239. Pg. 188

[3] ibid

Rethinking federalism in India

In a period of widespread discontent and chaos, a period of the increasing clamour for Autonomy and separate states, a period of the waking of the political consciousness and aspiration for managing of their own affairs by local communities and regions, I think it would be a legitimate to ask the question, do we need to rethink federalism in India? I think it is pertinent that every generation in order to move forward, should rethink and rework the underlying ideas that govern them and question those underlying assumptions and if need be dismantle those structures which have out lived their purpose. For my generation the task is humongous but equally important, exciting and worthwhile.

The whole idea behind the reorganisation of the current boundaries of the states in India is also the process to get at minimum government maximising liberty for its citizens and de-centralisation of power and efficient local resources management. These objectives have to be dealt with simultaneously to create a more perfect union. The politics in India has become regional in nature, where the influence of these parties has being having a dysfunctional influence on the central government. India being a centralised form of governance has had a deleterious effect on the democratic institutions as a whole. This trend needs to be arrested if we are to progress into a great nation. The incremental reforms or changes that have been brought about by the government over the past many years have only add fuel to the fire or this regional question- the question of autonomy. The time, I think, has come for a final settlement to the question of Autonomy, which is also the question fundamentally about federalism in India.

The founding fathers of this nation, in their profound wisdom and efficiency thought it right to have a stronger central government in a quasi-federal political setup, mainly to keep at bay the fear of balkanisation of this young Nation. The ghost of partition and the fear of disintegration of the country veiled their foresight. The problems they sought to keep at bay started haunting them immediately after independence and has since only compounded. The ghosts have grown larger and more violent, yet the ability to exorcize them remains imbecilic at best and outright incompetent at worst.

For any nation to progress and develop into a economic and military superpower, it has to have a sustained period of peace and internal stability. With the benefit of hindsight when we lok a history all the great empires were able to develop into great states because they were able to ensure periods of great peace and stability to their citizens. You may look at the roman, Chinese, Maurayan or the British and the American states they all share this character. But, due to the incompetency of our political class and the the failure to find long term solutions to the administrative problems of this country this period of peace and stability has been elusive. There are far too many internal problems in India at the present to haul us into a developed nation category. And, these problems in turn stem from one form or another relating to the question of Autonomy.

Of late the demand for new states and further demand for Autonomy within these sates has been growing, dividing the politics with a regional bias and disruption of public life. The main problem before the policy maker is no more simply how to solve these diverse problems but, how far do they go to get a final settlement leading to a more perfect union. This leads us to call into question the examination of the federal structure of the Union of India. During the drafting of the constitution a strong centralised government may have seemed the best suitable form of governance, but somehow it has failed to work as envisaged. This is not because the political class did not try their best to make it work but, due to the short sightedness of the founding fathers of this nation. The makers of the constitution failed to appreciate the diversity of the nation, when they were resorting to the centralised federation.

The nature of Indian federation is better described as a cooperative federalism where the states act as administrative agencies of the central government. This is where the problem lies. In effect the government has become too big to manage itself. The bigger a government gets the more inefficient and irresponsive it becomes. The idea is to keep the government small and its constituent units smaller. And, this shall be the basic idea guiding us to rethink federalism in India.

More often than is desirable, there is a lot of interference by the centre into the administration of the states. This had not been conducive to a healthy functioning of the federal structure. Now, not all the interference has been direct, more often it is disguised especially through the planning commission. An extra constitutional body is perhaps the biggest anathema to federalism. The sooner this super body is scrapped the better. Then there is the all-pervasive and sanctimonious article 356 of the constitution, where by the union government can at will decide whether a government at the states are being run according to the provisions of the constitution. And, of course the financial relationship between the union and the states which is to the disadvantage of the states. There are numerous others which impinge upon the functioning of the state governments.

Keeping in view these problems I am starting a series of proposals for the Rethinking of the whole federal structure in India. Should you wish to engage in a discussion upon the rethinking of the federal structure you may write to me @

On the futility of the Jan Lok Pal and importance of Election Reforms first.

As we approach the 64thIndependence Day, my thoughts yet again drift towards the state of our union, and the way towards a more perfect one. In the past year a lot has happened that was not in the interest of the idea of a more perfect union. The scams of enormous proportion have hit us. The multiplicities of the protests have been undermining our democracy. A whole lot our citizens dying of hunger, disease and as collateral for state policies in the Red corridor and other militarised zones. It has been quite much the same for the past 63 years. The government merely becomes more dysfunctional every passing year. And we move on.

But during this past year there is something that has been happening which if successful will rupture the public discourse on governance in this nation for the better- Anna Hazare’s crusade against corruption. Though I don’t disagree with Mr Hazare on the need for eradication of the bad governance which has plagued this nation for far too long, I don’t think that there can be much progress on the issue of corruption unless there are large scale systemic reforms beginning with the Elections reforms. The gates of representative democracy have to be guarded not the is the politics of welfare that has to be overturned. Merely punishing a few of those corrupt and vicious will not lead to a corruption free society.

Mr Hazare thought noble in intent and serious purpose is attacking on the wrong side of the problem to find the right solution. Since he had built up a sizable following, and will in the future contest elections I suppose, he is best placed to agitate for reforms that will truly start to clean up the system. Rather than agitating for Jan Lok Pal, he should consider starting a movement for electoral reforms, which will then enable reasonably good and talented people to enter politics and work towards larger reforms. Contrary to what Mr Hazare has been saying the Jan Lok pal bill will only cut of the dead parts while leaving the diseased body intact. Corruption is merely a symptom of a dysfunctional system.

If we were to reflect a little on the general elections of 2009, it will make a lot of things quite clear about the electoral gaps that exist in India which at the same time is a huge opportunity for reform and new politics emerging. And importance of electoral reforms first.

The chart below shows the performance of the National Parties in 2009 General elections:

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For the analysis I am only focusing upon the national parties. There were 7 national parties who contested elections all over India. There are a total of 543 seats in the Indian parliament.

The first observation is, none of the national parties contested for all the 543 seats. Interestingly, BSP was the party which contested the most number of seats, 500 in all and won only 21. The BJP and the INC contested roughly about the same number about 433 and 440 in all wining 116 and 206 respectively. They did not fare any well. The point here is that even after 64 years of independence there is not a single party which can contest from the entire allotted seats. Today there is no party which can claim to represent, the idea of India. This in some respects suggests a compartmented electorate, implying a divided politics. No National party has an appeal throughout the Nation.

The second and most important material for my argument are the number of votes that was cast in the favour of each party.

Total Electors – 71, 69, 85,101 Male – 37, 47, 58,801 Female– 34, 22, 26,300

Total electors who voted -41, 71, 59,281

Total population of India was about 119.8 crores

The observations are quite significant:

1. The total turnout of the registers votes was only 58.19%, 41.18% of the voters did not cast their votes. For a big democracy like India this is very significant numbering 29, 98, 25,820 or about 30 crore citizens. So, according to this almost half of our population goes unrepresented in the Indian Parliament.

2. The largest party to emerge from the general elections was the INC which was able to garner about 12 Crore votes. This in percentage terms translates into 16.61% of total electorate, 28.55% of total votes polled and 0.1% of the total population of India. That was the biggest party! The BJP fared no better garnering 10.94% of total electorate, 18.80% of total votes polled and 0.06% of the total population of India. Same with all the others. The point to take note is that representing only about 30% of the popular votes the INC was able to form the government at the centre. And, with about 20% of the popular votes the BJP became the main opposition party.

Now, the electoral system in India is “first past the post”, which means that there is requirement for an absolute majority the winner is he who gets the maximum number of votes. This could vary as much as 70% for a candidate to merely a 20% of the total votes polled. It is often observed that the candidates mostly only secure less than even 40% votes to secure an election. The chart below shows the figures for the 2009 general elections:


With the current electoral system most of the candidates elected are securing only about 30% votes on an average. As the figures show majority of the candidates don not even cross the 50% threshold, whereas ideally they should. So, the first reform must start here, we need to dismantle the whole system of electoral process currently being followed in India.

The candidates can easily manipulate the votes securing the highest numbers yet be far below the ideal majority. In this first past the post system there is absolutely no conventions that have formed over the years which would have at least an unwritten majority warranted. This should have evolved by now. In what kind of a democracy should we have people wining only 10% of the votes and yet be declared winner. This system is has to be replaced.


These are Some Suggestions for Reforms.

1)      All the election to the state and the central legislatures should be held simultaneously on the same day. Only in cases where a person had died during his term in public office should by elections be held. If all the elections are on the same day the voter turnout is bound to increase, and it will also have the parties be more involved with real issues that matter with the public. In due course it will help in the nation integration.

2)      Voting should be made compulsory.

(1)    Over time this will lead to destruction of the vote bank politics that today has become so blatant.

(2)    Political participation and awareness of issues surround the nation will increase.

(3)    Role of money and muscle over time shall decrease.

3)      The important public office bearers should be directly elected by the people.

(1)    The president, The Vice-president and The Prime Minister should be directly elected by the people during the general elections. The whole of the country should have a say as to who the most important officers bearers are. Over time this shall lead to national integration and also bring out national perspectives and issues to the electorate. Most of the elections today only have a regional focus, this need to be expanded towards having national focus. The majority of the citizens of this nation do not know or cannot identify with the President or the Prime Minister. Till the time the President and the Prime Minister are not seen as true leaders, national leaders national integration will be a far cry.

(2)    There should be a provision where the parties put forward the name of their presidential candidates and the candidacy is open to all the citizens who qualify the minimum requirements of solvency, education at least a graduation from a recognised university and a clean background in terms of his finances and law abiding record.

(3)    The elections have to state funded. This is important if the influence of money has to be mitigated. The state could choose to a reasonable deposit from every candidate standing up for elections. Say, about 5 lakhs from every candidate which would be non-refundable.

(4)    Upon the submission of his name for the candidacy of the President of India, he/she will within a month of such submission also announce the name of his Vice- President and the Prime Minister as running mates. So for the period of the election the {presidential candidate shall be the more important of the three in every respect. However, after the election are over he shall go back to his role as the titular head of the government, after which the prime Minister shall become the de facto head of the executive.

(5)    The Prime Minister shall be free to choose his cabinet from within or outside the parliament. None of the cabinet members shall hold seats in the parliament. This will separate the legislature from the executive in total in respective of every day functions. And, it will have the fantastic effect of attracting on the people who are genuinely interested in policy making and public policy. All the current incentives of being elected to the parliament shall be withdrawn.

(6)    They shall only receive salaries and no other perks.

(7)    The electoral expenditure shall be made public by the Election commission.

(8)    Anyone of the name for election to the Parliament having a criminal background shall be disqualified for life. They will not be allowed to stand for election till such time as the purported charges are not cleared by the court of law.

(9)    Reservation and nominations of all types shall be nullified. They have outlived their purpose and will not serve any purpose by extending them. Every one shall be equal before the law and the electorate.

(10)The Presidential elections shall be conducted as primaries, where the remaining candidate shall be eliminated save for two securing the most overall votes.

(11)For the purpose of primaries the country shall be divided into four zones- North, south, east and west. This is necessary so as to come to the final of two candidates most agreeable to the electorate without the parochial chauvinism to influence their choices.

(12)Finally, in the national general elections the presidential candidates shall have to have at least 50 % of the popular votes to be declared a winner.

4)      Now, these changes are going to be revolutionary and will require revolutionary methods of conducting it. Some of the suggestion would be :

a)      The UID (Aadhar) card shall be made compulsory for the purpose of voting doing away with the election cards.

b)      The use of biometric systems shall be developed.

c)       A system where the UID can be punched from poll booths, ATMs, and personal computers and mobile phones should be developed.

d)      A live feed of the votes shall be done, not waiting for weeks before finally counting the votes. All results shall be declared on the eve of the elections.

If these suggestion are given a serious consideration by Mr Hazare and his team, and the people of India at large I think we can form a consensus and revolutionise the way election s are conducted and election themselves. These if implemented will truly take this country to commanding heights among the world nations.

Instead of wasting time and energy fight for a lesser Jan Lokh Pal Bill, the Anna team should stop to reflect on the benefits of fighting a worthy fight for election reforms.

None of the present political parties are going to take these suggestions, the reason being that if would disqualify the majority of their candidate overnight. The mixed legislature and the executive that they love so much will no longer be under their control. And, most importantly it will expose their claims of being all India party. In this type of an election format there is no group or set of people can actually be placated. The benefit is obvious that we will have able and charismatic leader who will truly represent the people of India and the people represent them. The people shall finally vote as one people for one leader.

Now, there of course will be a lot of disagreement to these suggested reforms, the idea is however to stimulate a consensus for reforms. My purpose is experimental in the sense that I wish to engage as many people to engage into a conversation for an idea of a New India. Mr Hazare I sincerely wish you all the best towards your efforts; however at the same time I should like you to think on a large scale with encompassing vision for the future of this nation on this eve of Independence Day.

If this thought process has some semblance of sense to you. And, if you too think that electoral reforms are the need of the hour rather than the Jan Lok Pal, you may consider furthering our efforts by joining the Freedom Team of India (FTI). You should visit

I dedicate these thoughts for a better India to my fellow countrymen.

Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country – J.F.Kennedy

Jai Hind!

Disclaimer: The thoughts reflected in this write up are my thought and do not reflect the official views of the FTI in any capacity.


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In defence of idealism

Over the years India has steadily wavered towards cynicism bordering on apathy. The idealistic nostalgia of the pre Independence era has all but faded away. Not much progress seems to have been made on many fronts in this country in the past 60 or so years. The mirages of freedom, prosperity and a dignified life for its citizens have left the people disillusioned and rudderless. The crisis in its leadership is gaping. The politics of cynicism and fear is dominant. The era of defiant and revolutionary politics is dead.

It would be a folly to expect these habitual criminals that we have voted to the parliament to change their methods of governance. So, the way out of this mess is that we start to change ourselves and our perspectives of the present politics to a new politics of the future.

A country which woke up to independence from the womb of idealistic thinking and actions seeking such ends, today finds itself devoid of it. The cynical political leaders and the politics of divisiveness of their rhetoric have killed idealism within us. The politics of this country has failed to inspire its citizens to achieve to the best of their abilities. Now the time has come push idealism back into our politics. It is a time for optimism. It is time for a renewal.

I can think of no human being who is not at the same time has not been an idealist at some point in time. It could have been in the youth or the old age, the fact would remain that he wished for a better situation than was currently presented. Some of them held on to it to take up the challenge of leadership others led it fade. In the same breath I could add another question: what is leadership? You may wonder how it is related to idealism. In some sense it is idealism. Every leader is an idealist, but not every idealist is a leader till such time as he does not take up the challenge of leadership. But, what is this challenge of leadership?

The challenge of leadership is the gap between an imagined vision and its implementation. This could occur due to various reasons like – corruption, incompetence, lack of discipline but, to my mind most importantly, lack of inspiration. If one is not inspired enough by his vision of the future, his articulation of it, no matter how eloquent will not inspire others. This is where only a few truly great men have come to is their ability to inspire people and to move them to action that makes them stand apart.

To be inspired is a sustained state of mind, and not many of us can take that for too long, and if action is not forthcoming, disappointment knocks round the corner. This is where the gaps starts to form and cynicism fill it. The challenge of leadership emerges from the failure of people who have left the road half way. India today suffers from this at a grand scale; the forthcoming future doesn’t look too bright either if the gap continues. However, if we can fill the gap and emerge from the challenge of leadership we have a terrific future waiting, all its citizens.

We as citizens of this nation have to start believing that justice, fairness, a good and accountable government are not mere words, but perspective which can be realised into reality. We have to think of the possibilities not the impossibilities. For a dull mind everything is impossible, but for those who choose to be inspired by ideas nothing is. The impossible is something which simply has not been done before, it is a challenge.

The history of human progress is the triumph of idealism, because someone somewhere believed in those ideas, because someone somewhere took a stand to realise it, because someone somewhere choose to give up the comfort and monotony of everyday existence to envision and create the place he lived better. We stand on the shoulders of giants so that we can see further, it is demeaning to human dignity to spend their lives at their feet.

So my countrymen believe that each and every one of you can make the difference, start to believe in the ideas for a new future to be created by us together. Let us be the founders of change.

The problem with India is that the leaders of this nation are not being able to inspire us to achieve the best in us. They have failed us as our leaders. As, as a consequence of which we have resigned to believe in ourselves. The politics of divisiveness and fear is the direct outcome of chasing the chimera of equality, rather than opportunity. This very politics of equality is leading our nation to its ruin.

The time has come to start assembling to leading our country to a fundamentally new direction.

To join in the on-going effort please visit .

Believe in the power of ideas. Be Inspired!

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