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South Asia

Will Horror and over a Thousand Dead be a Watershed Moment for Bangladesh?

Duncan Green's picture

​A huge and chaotic conversation over how to respond to the appalling Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh (where the death toll has now passed an unprecedented 1100) is producing some important initial results, in the form of the international ‘Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh’, launched last week.

I got a glimpse of the background on Wednesday at a meeting of the Ethical Trading Initiative, which brings together big brand retailers, including garment companies, trades unions and INGOs like Oxfam to work on wages and conditions in company supply chains. The Accord got some pretty rave reviews – ‘absolutely historic’, said Ben Moxham of the UK Trades Union Congress; comparable to the 1911 Chicago factory fire, according to one of the big clothes retailers at the meeting.

So what does it say? The Accord covers independent safety inspections, publicly reported; mandatory repairs and renovations; a vital role for workers and trade unions, including a commitment to Bangladesh’s Tripartite Plan of Action on Fire Safety (a national initiative). A key, and controversial aspect is that the Accord will include a legally binding arbitration mechanism, which wins a lot of trust from civil society and trade unions, but has spooked a number of companies based in the litigation-tastic USA (not all though –  part of Tommy Hilfiger’s in there, while Abercrombie and Fitch have said it they will join).

A Crucial Step in Fighting Inequality and Discrimination: The Law to Make India’s Private Schools Admit 25% Marginalised Kids

Duncan Green's picture

This guest post comes from Exfam colleague and education activist Swati Narayan 

This summer, India missed the historic deadline to implement the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. This landmark law, the fruit of more than a decade of civil society activism, has many path-breaking clauses. For the first time, it bans schoolteachers from offering private tuition on the side – a rampant conflict of interest. It also legally prohibits corporal punishment.

Most powerfully, it insists that every private school must reserve 25 percent of classroom seats for children from poorer or disadvantaged families in the neighbourhood. This quota is by no means a silver bullet. After all, eighty percent of schools in India are government-run and in dire need of teachers, infrastructure and more.

Nevertheless, this masterstroke, which aims to piggyback on the rest of the mushrooming for-profit private schools, single-handedly opens the door for at least 1 million eligible children each year across the country to receive 8 years of free education.

Challenges for Community Radio in India's Rural Development

Abhilaksh Likhi's picture

India’s 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017) talks of challenges emanating from the economy’s transition to a higher growth path, the structural changes that come with it and the expectations it generates. One pertinent challenge in India, in the context of economic growth at the rate of 8%, is the extent of progress towards the multi dimensional process of inclusive growth. Without doubt, the latter should result in lower incidence of poverty, significant improvements in health care, universal access for children going to school and increased access to skilled development.

These parameters are more critical for an estimated 833 million people in India who continue to live in rural areas and a very large proportion of whom, both men and women, are either wholly or significantly still dependent for their livelihood on farm as well as non-farm activities. A plethora of centrally sponsored flagship rural development programs such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) have been given special impetus aimed at building rural  infrastructure and providing basic services with the aim of reducing poverty. These are mandated to be implemented by the provincial governments through institutions of local self governance in the gaze of the well oiled administrative district machinery and increasingly in collaboration with the civil society.

An unprecedented injection of public funds during the 12th Plan Period through decentralized governance, calls for a renewed focus on the dynamics of grassroots empowerment that could enable rural communities to access information about their rights and entitlements made available under these programmes, both by law and policy. This consequently also has implications for accountability in the reach and impact of the public delivery system that the poorest approach. The key question, thus is, what kind of an accessible communication medium, amongst today’s robust social media, should be utilized during the next four years extensively to sensitize and empower the poorest in rural areas in partnership with civil society?  Secondly, what are the governance challenges that need to be identified in the above partnership to make the benefits of the envisaged inclusive growth more transparent, participatory and bottom up?

The Key’s in the Keyboard: New Technologies Can Help Enhance India's Agricultural Productivity

Abhilaksh Likhi's picture

Agriculture in India still remains the main source of livelihood for the majority of the rural population and more importantly the small holding farmers. With an average annual growth rate of 3.3%, the major challenges facing this sector include a shrinking land base, dwindling water resources, the adverse impact of climate change, shortage of farm labour, increasing costs and uncertainties associated with the volatility of international markets.

A pertinent factor that continues to impinge upon these challenges is the lack of timely information about market prices, crop varieties, production techniques, seasonal risk and disease control strategies. The critical question thus is — how can we effectively apply information and communication technologies (ICTs) in agriculture to mitigate the factors that lead to the physical isolation of the rural smallholder during the ensuing 12th Five Year Plan period.

Aadhaar Enabled Service Delivery to the Poor in India

Tanya Gupta's picture

The poor are nameless, faceless, and therefore, powerless.  Throughout history, the act of naming is linked to power.  In 2010, the poor of India were named.  Aadhaar is a unique 12 digit identification number that can used to get social benefits from the Central Government and the State Government by Indian citizens. 

Most importantly, perhaps, direct cash benefits are supported.  The ability of the poor to withdraw their direct cash not only empowers them, but also minimizes corruption-based leakages of entitlements from the system. Moreover, the delays in receiving the money they are entitled to will also be reduced through the use of micro ATMs.  A micro ATM is basically a mobile phone with a fingerprint device for real time authentication. 

Of Protests, Politics, and Policies

Anupama Dokeniya's picture

The recent massive streets protests against the brutal and deadly assault on a young woman in a private bus in India capital, New Delhi, have been likened to the Arab Spring of India, a definitive turning point in the country’s political evolution. Clearly, in both its composition and content, the protests resonate with, not only the revolutionary street demonstrations in early 2011 in many countries in the Middle East, but also with a number of other movements that have burgeoned in countries across the world over the last couple of years. In the wake of the Arab Spring, and supposedly drawing inspiration from it, demonstrators occupied the financial centers of the US and Europe, conjuring up images of the 1960s. Unrest over austerity measures in European capitals hit by the global financial crisis continued. In the UK and Chile, students took to the streets protesting against high university fees. And in India itself, the anti-rape protests came on the heels of an anticorruption movement, unparalleled in its mass participation, media attention, and longevity.

India's Fight for the Right to Education

Duncan Green's picture

Education is fine example of the strengths and weaknesses of judicial activism in India. The Right to Education (RTE) Act was passed in 2009, arising out of constitutional amendment in 1999 that redefined the right to life as including education (!). Private schools challenged the act, especially its requirement that they reserve 25% of places for lower castes, but the Supreme Court upheld it.

To see what all this means on the ground, I duck out of my boring conference and head for Madanpur,  a colony for slum dwellers ‘rehabilitated’ in 2000 – i.e. their previous homes were steamrollered and they were shunted to the margins of Delhi. Its current population of 145,000 earns income from construction, domestic work etc – almost entirely in the informal economy.

Oxfam India’s partner, the slightly ungrammatical EFRAH (Empowerment for Rehabilitation, Academic and Health) is an RTE activist NGO working with schools to implement the Act – part support, part watchdog (‘they like us, and they are afraid of us’). There is plenty to work on, as the gap between the Act and reality is great: it mandates school management committees with equal teacher/parent representation, but there are none to be seen in Madanpur.

India's Middle Class Debate Continued: Should NGOs be Looking in the Mirror? Guest post from Bipasha Majumder

Duncan Green's picture

On my recent trip to India, I discovered some talented bloggers – here’s Bipasha Majumder, Oxfam India’s Communications Officer in Mumbai, writing in a purely personal capacity on the Great Middle Class Debate. She also writes a personal blog.

I have had discussions and I have had heated discussions.  Sometimes I have just let the question float in the air, sat back and observed what others had to say.

Whichever way you look at it, one thing is very clear. The great Indian rising middle class is just not bothered. They are largely happy and keen to contribute to the ‘growing’ economy. But when it comes to any kind of contribution to a cause, especially those related to poverty, there is a big wall of apathy around them.

India's New Middle Classes - Friends of Progress or Apolitical Mall-Rats?

Duncan Green's picture

One of the topics that kept coming up during my recent trip with Oxfam India was the role of the rising middle classes. We had a great debate with Aseem Prakash from Jindal University, who is in the middle of a paper on this (I’ll link when it’s published). According to Aseem, different definitions yield numbers for India’s middle classes ranging from 5 million ($10-$20 per day) to 214 million ($2-$4 a day). What’s not disputed, however, is that the numbers are rising rapidly as India’s economy continues to boom.

Behind the numbers are some increasingly complex dynamics, as a new commercial middle class, including rising numbers of so-called ‘lower caste’ entrepreneurs, joins the post-independence middle class of mainly dominant-caste government technocrats who placed their faith in the power of the state to lead India’s rise.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Over two billion people now connected to Internet but digital divide remains wide

“While citing the rapid development and growth of the Internet, a top United Nations official today urged greater efforts to bridge the ongoing digital divide and ensure that everyone around the world can harness its benefits.

There were 2.3 billion Internet users worldwide at the end of 2011, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo, said in his address to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which opened in Baku, Azerbaijan. In addition, mobile broadband reached more than 1 billion subscriptions, while the use of fixed broadband was estimated at 590 million subscriptions.

“While this progress is surely significant, we have a long way to go in our collective efforts to bridge the digital divide,” he told participants, noting that only a quarter of inhabitants in the developing world were online by the end of 2011.”  READ MORE