#9thApril was a busy morning in central Kashmir’s #ShiaMuslim majority district of #Budgam. After all #Bypolls were being conducted for a #ParlimentarySeat. While voting was still underway a mob appeared out of nowhere and started pelting stones and the paramilitary forces (read #CRPF) made a distress call to the army fearful that things could get really violent. #MajorGogoi who was leading his men made a spontaneous decision to grab the person leading the #StonePelters and tie him to the Army jeep. Then using this person as a #HumanShield the Army was able to disperse the violent mob, save a number of precious lives and diffuse the entire situation without any casualties reported. As soon as the incident came to the attention of the #MainstreamMedia it caused a huge furore with questions being raised about the use of a human shield. Was this the first incident of stone pelting in the #Valley or was this the first time that human shields were being used in the Valley? The answer to both questions is NO.
The first reported incident of stone pelting by the local population goes back to 1990s when the
conflict was at it’s peak and usually such protests would be led by #SeparatistLeaders many of whom have today joined mainstream politics. Be that as it may, fact remains that even back then this was a tricky issue with no ready solutions available to the #Army. But it must be noted that post #2008 stone pelting as a form of protest against the Army has become a favorite among the Kashmiris. One of the options that has been used for some time in order to disperse a mob is firing #TearGas shells but unfortunately in the Kashmir Valley this move has proved counter productive in effectively handling large mobs that are violent and appear virtually out of nowhere. The other option has been to use #PelletGuns but due to the terrible repercussions on the protestors hit by these pellets this method has come under sharp criticism by human right groups.
Coming to the matter of using a civilian as a human shield it might be interesting to note that this has happened in the Valley several times in the past as documented by #IndependentJournalists covering the #Conflict in Kashmir. Where civilians were made to walk in front of the paramilitary forces while they conducted operations in sensitive areas. But as explained above the armed forces have their work cut out with the options to deal with such protests being limited. Lest we forget the Army routinely finds itself on the other side of the barrel and in places where there is an armed conflict and/or insurgency it is always a fine balance that the law enforcers have to strike. Easier said than done especially when there are lives at stake. In the matter involving Major Gogoi the actions of the Army and the government to fete the officer has only further complicated matters. All this even as an inquiry was ordered into the whole episode thus sending out conflicting signals about the stand of the current regime on the whole matter.
In all this a top retired Army officer publicly stated that using human shields was part of the #SOP (standard operating procedure) in counter insurgency operations in the #NorthEast. But the current Army chief has ruled out this being a part of the SOP in the Valley. After all it cannot be denied that these methods do violate the #GenevaConventions of war and are not the best way forward. Critics point out that even in #Israel where the use of human shields was once a common practice it has been outlawed since #2005. Hopefully the Major Gogoi incident will be a one off which will not recur anytime soon. But in the volatile Valley of Kashmir nothing is ever certain. Ever. Watch this space for more.
Last week resident doctors of a government hospital in the national capital went on strike alleging that relatives of some patients had assaulted a doctor. This comes on the back of a massive #Strike by over fifty thousand resident doctors in the cities of #Delhi and #Mumbai as recent as end of last month. Worryingly these type of protests are becoming more and more frequent over the last many months. The doctors are wary about the kind of security measures that are in place at these government run hospitals and want it to be reinforced. That it is usually the lesser privileged who frequent government hospitals is a fact. So does it mean the common man has suddenly got more assertive and violent even? Far from. The root of this problem is elsewhere and unless that is addressed these strikes by doctors will go on unabated. And it is the patient who ends up suffering. At the end of it.
A Supreme Court order pronounced no less than 30 years ago spells it out in no uncertain terms that junior doctors (read #ResidentDoctors) should be working no more than 48 hours in an entire week. Speak to any resident doctor across the country and they will tell you that reality is something else. they end up working for twice the number of hours and the average a junior doctor works no less than a 100 hours. Do the math and that is like 14-16 hours daily. Worse most of these hospitals are under staffed due to which you will find many of these folks working for 30 hours at a stretch. And any person who is overworked and deprived of sufficient rest & sleep is unlikely to be in the best frame of mind to do any work. Be it a cab driver, a customer service rep or a #GovernmentHospital doctor it does not want matter. Working under duress is never easy and will always have repercussions. And bad ones.
There is worse. Forget security in many of these hospitals the rooms are small and shabby, there is no access to clean drinking water, sleeping cots or proper sanitation facilities either. And the same goes for paraphernalia like study tables, mattresses and locker facilities which are all found lacking. The solution to this problem lies in completely overhauling the existing system of healthcare in the country, especially the pitiable condition that most state run hospitals are in today. If one were to go by figures, the #WorldHealthOrganisation (WHO)recommends a 1:1000 doctor to patient ratio but in most of India you just have one doctor for almost 2000 patients. Not only do we need better facilities at the existing hospitals but the number of doctors as well as hospitals has to also go up dramatically. Interestingly it is not just the developing nations like India that lack a proper healthcare system and even some developed countries like the USA have had their own troubles with this.
Things need to be done on a war footing but unfortunately for most state governments (no matter which party is ruling) quality and #AffordableHealthCare is not the number one priority. Take the example of the general #Budget presented by the current FM #MrJaitley who increased spending in health sector by a whopping 27% to take it up to 47,000 crores. But compare this with the defense budget where 2,75,000 crores have been allocated and you will know what one is talking about. Perhaps they could take a leaf out of the book of the #AAP government in the capital of Delhi. This fledgling party has led the way with it’s unwavering focus on the above mentioned sectors. Also appreciable are it’s sustained efforts to improve the conditions of government run schools and health care centers. The future is bright.
Urdu poet Majrooh Sultanpuri once wrote ‘Main akela hi chala tha janibe-manzil magar, Log aate gaye aur karwaan banta gaya’ which loosely translates to ‘I embarked on this journey alone. People kept joining me and it became a movement’ That is pretty much what happened with the Women’s March on Washington as well. What began as a protest march driven predominantly by feminists demanding equal rights for women soon grew in scale to include other issues like birth control, ethical treatment of immigrants, threats to the environment, racial profiling and health care reforms too. These are all issues affecting not just American citizens but everyone everywhere. And worryingly these were all issues on which the President Donald Trump aired controversial views in the run up to the elections. No wonder that Trump ended up antagonising half the world even before he had assumed office.
Which is why when the Women’s March on Washington took place on January 21, 2017 it found resonance in every nook and corner of the world. From Paris to Copenhagen, Mexico to Canada, Tokyo to Nairobi,Delhi to Bangkok millions of people came together to march in protest against everything wrong that Trump stood for. Even in Paradise Bay, Antarctica that is perhaps the most remote place on earth home only to penguins and seals environmental activists concerned with Trump’s attempts to repeal the EPA (Enviromental Protection Agency) begun by the previous President Obama organised a protest march. Celebrities, artists and singers like Madonna, Helen Mirren and Michael Moore rubbed shoulders with fiery activists like Tamika Mallory, Angela Davis and Gloria Steinem to drive home two very important points. One, that the President is not the country. Rather it is the people that are the country. And two, that the world is watching every move of the US President very closely. But like all great things the beginning of this great event was also rather small. Innocuous almost.
It was in November last year. One day after results of the most tumultuous Presidential elections in recent years were announced thousands of dismayed Americans were still coming to grips with what had just happened. Many took to the streets where they registered symbolic protests against the emphatic victory that Republican candidate Donald Trump had recorded. Others took to social media. One of them was a sixty year old retired attorney from the remote island of Hawaii who suggested that women undertake a symbolic march to Washington. She created an event on her social media page and it was tentatively decided that the march would coincide with the new President elect’s swear in ceremony. The rest, as the cliche goes, is history.
The writing was on the wall and everyone knew this was coming. From the time a controversial old clipping of Donald Trump surfaced on the internet. Trump was quick to blame his rival Presidential candidate and her supporters for this attempt to smear his image. But the damage was done. In this clip Trump was seen using derogatory language in reference to women and coming across as misogynistic. His imitation of a differently abled journalist did not win him any fans either. For this act of his, Trump was pulled by at a recent award function by acclaimed American actress Meryl Streep. Nor did his apparent dislike for same gender marriages, LGBT rights and African American voters.
In what is usually considered the ‘honeymoon’ period for a new President, Trump is already under considerable pressure. In the aftermath of this historic march it remains to be seen whether he softens his stand on these above mentioned issues. If not we are in for more acrimony and bad blood over the next few years of his term. For the protestors, the question is this. Can all these diverse forces put aside their collective differences and organise themselves into a viable political alternative?
Twitter Gallery from all over US – on Women’s March Day – #womensmarch