1. ‘Aggressive and passive steps taken after Galwan clash’1971 win against Pak. was India’s finest moment: Lt.Gen. A. Arun
After the 2020 Galwan Valley skirmish, India has put in place aggressive and passive measures that have made such a clash near impossible hereafter, according to Lt. Gen. A. Arun, General Officer Commanding, Dakshin Bharat Area.
“Consequent to what happened in the eastern Ladakh, a lot of measures have been put in place. Some of them are aggressive. Some of them are purely defensive. It requires a combination,” he said. Lt. Gen. Arun was delivering the keynote address at a seminar on the 1971 India-Pakistan War, ‘Liberating Bangladesh: India’s Finest Moment’, organised by The Peninsula Foundation and the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, University of Madras.
“Today, we are referring to it [the victory] as India’s finest moment. We can argue that many moments have happened since then, which can also be counted as India’s finest moment. But this remains probably the largest and one of our initial finest moments. It was a trendsetter. It made Indians believe in India and to that extent, it was probably the biggest nation-builder we could have had,” Lt. Gen. Arun said. He said the 1971 war was a “just war” because India did not have any intent to annex any country’s territory, and 93,000 prisoners of war were returned. “We captured 15,100 sq. km. in Bangladesh. We returned it all,” he said.
S. Gowri, Vice-Chancellor, University of Madras, delivered the special address. Later, a panel discussion was held on ‘India’s Just War: Looking at Achievements and Lessons’. Lt. Gen. P.R. Shankar, former Director-General of Artillery; Commodore R.S. Vasan, former Regional Commander-Coast Guard Region East; and former Ambassador M. Ganapathy took part. The session was moderated by Air Marshal (retired) M. Matheswaran.
2. Why the electoral reforms Bill is a problem
The Aadhaar project is again being used for purposes far beyond the stated purpose of ‘welfare’
The Government has rushed the passage of the Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 in Parliament, also amending the Representation of the People Act, 1950 by facilitating the linking of a person’s Aadhaar number with electoral roll data.
The amendment provides that an electoral registration officer may “require” an individual to furnish their Aadhaar number in order to establish their identity. Even persons already enrolled “may” be “required” by the officer to furnish their Aadhaar numbers in order to authenticate their entries in the electoral roll. Registered voters have the option of providing their Aadhaar number to Government authorities. The amendment states that no one shall be denied inclusion in the electoral roll, nor shall their names be deleted from the electoral roll due to their inability to furnish the Aadhaar number “due to such sufficient cause as may be prescribed”. Such individuals may be allowed to furnish alternate documents, as prescribed by the Central government.
There are various substantive and procedural concerns with the amendments passed. First, although the Government has termed these measures as voluntary, the provisions of the amendment belie this. The electoral officer clearly has uncanalised discretion — since the law does not prescribe any guiding principles — to decide when an Aadhaar number may be “required”. Moreover, the Central government has the final say in prescribing the conditions (“sufficient cause”) under which an individual will be permitted to enter or remain on the electoral rolls, in case of her “inability” to furnish their Aadhaar.
This means that the Central government will decide what reasons are considered acceptable for a voter to remain on the electoral roll. Interestingly, the law does not even consider a situation where an individual may be opposed to linking her Aadhaar number to the electoral database — further undermining the voluntary premise of the amendments.
Burden of proof shifts
In this manner, the burden of proof has been reversed. Instead of the Government proactively ensuring registration on the electoral rolls (such as through house-to-house verification) to achieve universal adult franchise, the burden now shifts to individuals who may be unable/unwilling to link their Aadhaar to justify their retention on the rolls. In fact, deletion from the voter rolls will happen without any procedural safeguards since at the moment, the law does not provide for a right to a hearing before such deletion.
Such a step has real world consequences. In 2015, media reports highlighted how lakhs of voters in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana were reportedly excluded from the electoral process due to the practice of linking Aadhaar numbers with electoral ID. Right to Information replies indicated that such deletion was carried out without any door-to-door verification of the identity of individuals. The Supreme Court of India had to finally intervene to stop the linking process since the constitutionality of the Aadhaar Act was under challenge then.
Second, there are concerns that the amendment will result in political profiling. By linking electoral IDs with Aadhaar numbers, it is much easier for the Government to track which voter has accessed welfare subsidies and benefits using their Aadhaar. This can be used by political parties to selectively target their messages to specific voters, using information that is not publicly available.
Political profiling using Aadhaar data is not unheard of. In April 2021, the Madras High Court asked the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to ascertain how confidential information held by it may have been leaked in light of “credible allegations” that only mobile phones linked to Aadhar cards received bulk SMS messages to join WhatsApp groups of a particular political party during election campaigning in Puducherry. Given these concerns, it is worrying that the amendment is conspicuously silent in reiterating the secret nature of such data or prohibiting the Election Commission of India or any other agency from sharing such information.
There are also procedural concerns that relate to the manner in which the amendment was passed. The Government introduced the Bill on December 20 and passed it on the same day in the Lok Sabha, while pushing it through the Rajya Sabha on the next date (December 21). Members of Parliament were not given time to understand or debate the implications of the amendments. Despite calls for division of vote in both Houses, the law was passed on the basis of a voice vote. This undermines the fundamental premise of a parliamentary democracy — to allow elected representatives the opportunity to voice the concerns of their constituents over laws that affect them.
This is especially important since the Government has failed to provide any empirical data that demonstrates either the extent of the problem of bogus voters in the electoral roll (justifying this extraordinary measure) or the success of Aadhaar in de-deduplication. It is now well known that the Aadhaar database is beset with errors and exclusions. This is partly because there is no verification of the authenticity of the demographic information on the Aadhaar database, i.e. the UIDAI does not independently authenticate the information provided by an applicant at the time of enrolment.
In fact, both the Calcutta High Court and the Allahabad High Court have refused to rely on the authenticity of Aadhaar data, noting, “There is definitely something amiss with the Aadhaar enrolment process if important demographic information such as the name of the applicant’s father, as in the case in hand, can be falsified and even go undetected.”
Finally, it is worth questioning how the Aadhaar project is once again being used for purposes far beyond the stated “welfare” purpose that was upheld by the Supreme Court of India inthe Aadhaar judgment as the basis for the introduction of the Aadhaar Act as a Money Bill in Parliament.
It is likely that some of these issues will be litigated before the Supreme Court. One can only hope that unlike other issues such as electoral bonds that have been pending for years, this challenge will be decided expeditiously. The success of our democracy may very well depend on it.
3. Changes to marriage age will contradict other laws. Defining a child by age should be done only when it enables rights, and it may even criminalise young people, say experts
The amendments proposed to the anti-child marriage law defines a child as someone under the age of 21 and contradicts laws where the legal age of competence is recognised as 18. This, experts say, may criminalise young people.
The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which seeks to raise the age of marriage for women to 21, amends the definition of child to mean “a male or female who has not completed twenty-one years of age”. It overrides personal laws of Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Parsis, as well as the Special Marriage Act, 1954.
The Lok Sabha has referred this Bill to a Standing Committee after MPs demanded a deeper scrutiny and wider consultations.
Senior advocate Indira Jaising tweeted: “How patronising and patriarchal to call someone over the age of 18 a ‘child’, ready and fit to vote but not to marry, is this constitutional morality.”
The 61st Constitution Amendment Act of 1988 defines the voting age for elections to Parliament and the Legislative Assemblies as 18.
The Majority Act, 1875 defines the age of majority as “the age of eighteen years and not before”, and as 21 years if a guardian is appointed.
Under the Indian Contract Act, 1872 a person should have attained the age of majority in order to be able to enter into a contract.
The law to punish sexual crimes against children, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 too recognises a child as someone under the age of 18 years and thereby implies that the age of consent for sex is also 18 years.
The law that deals with juvenile offenders (or children in conflict with law) and children who need care and protection, that is, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2015 does the same.
Under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education, 2009, that guarantees access to education, a child is someone between the ages of six and 14 years. Whereas under the anti-child labour law or the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, which prohibits the engagement of children in all occupations and bans adolescents in hazardous occupations, a child is “a person who has not completed his fourteenth year of age” and an adolescent means “a person who has completed his fourteenth year of age but has not completed his eighteenth year”.
“At one level, we say that the age to enter into contracts and to vote is 18 years. We are recognising that a person has the mental capacity to make decisions that will affect her life commercially or as a citizen, but at the same time when it comes to her personal life, she doesn’t have the right to make decisions. The proposed law makes an artificial distinction. By making marriages under 21 years invalid, we are criminalising those who marry under this age and depriving them of protections under law,” says Divya Balagopal, senior advocate, Mundkur Law Partners.
Tweaking the definition of a child by amending the age criteria should be done only when it enables, and not when it deprives someone of their rights, warn experts.
4. Karnataka’s anti-conversion legislation
What is the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill? Which other States have a similar legislation?
The Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021 introduced in the Karnataka Assembly aims to prohibit conversion by misrepresentation, force, fraud, allurement of marriage, coercion and undue influence.
According to the Bill, any person intending to convert will have to inform the district magistrate at least thirty days in advance, following which an inquiry will be conducted. After getting converted, the person has to again inform the district magistrate within 30 days and must appear before the district magistrate to confirm his/her identity. Not informing the district magistrate will lead to the conversion being declared null and void.
The offence of conversion will attract a jail term of three to five years and a fine of ₹25,000 for people found violating the law and a jail term of three to 10 years, and a fine of ₹50,000 for people converting minors, women and persons from the SC and ST communities.
The story so far: Amid vociferous opposition, the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, was introduced by Home Minister Araga Jnanendra on Tuesday during the winter session of the Assembly in Belagavi. The Bill envisages stringent provisions for forced or induced conversions. The Basavaraj Bommai led government wants to prohibit conversion by “misrepresentation, force, allurement, fraudulent means, or marriage.”
What does the Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill aim to check?
The Bill proposes a maximum punishment of 10 years of imprisonment for forcible conversion of persons from Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe communities, minors and women to another religion. The Bill prohibits conversion by misrepresentation, force, fraud, allurement of marriage, coercion and undue influence.
According to the proposed legislation, complaints of conversions can be filed by family members of a person who is getting converted, or any other person who is related to the person who is getting converted, or any person associated with the person getting converted.
The offence of conversion is cognisable and non-bailable and will attract a jail term of three to five years and a fine of ₹25,000 for people found violating the law and a jail term of three to 10 years, and a fine of ₹50,000 for people converting minors, women and persons from the SC and ST communities. The Bill also envisages a compensation of ₹5 lakh to victims of forced conversions.
What about those wishing to convert willingly to another religion?
After the law comes into force, any person intending to convert to another religion will have to inform the district magistrate at least thirty days in advance. The person executing the conversion must also give a notice one month in advance, following which an inquiry will be conducted by the district magistrate through the police to establish the real intent of conversion. Not informing authorities will carry a prison term of six months to three years for persons who are converted and one year to five years for the persons carrying out the conversions. After getting converted, the person has to again inform the district magistrate within 30 days after conversion and must appear before the district magistrate to confirm his/her identity. Not informing the district magistrate will lead to the conversion being declared null and void.
Post conversion, the district magistrate has to inform revenue authorities, the social welfare, minority, backward classes and other departments of the conversion, who will, in turn, take steps with respect to the entitlements of the person in terms of reservations and other benefits.
How many States have enacted the legislation?
Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have laws restricting religious conversion. Penalties for breaching the laws can range from monetary fines to imprisonment, with punishments ranging from one to three years of imprisonment and fines from ₹5,000 to ₹50,000. Some of the laws provide for stiffer penalties if women, children, or members of Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) are being converted. Some other States, including Manipur, are reportedly “considering similar laws.”
Odisha was the first State to enact anti-conversion legislation, the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967. Madhya Pradesh enacted the same the following year.
How has Parliament handled anti-conversion bills?
After independence, Parliament introduced a number of anti-conversion bills which were not enacted for want of majority approval. In post-Independent India, the first Indian Conversion (Regulation and Registration) Bill was introduced in 1954, which sought to enforce “licensing of missionaries and the registration of conversion with government officials.” This bill was rejected. This was followed by the introduction of the Backward Communities (Religious Protection) Bill in 1960, “which aimed at checking conversion of Hindus to ‘non-Indian religions’ which, as per the definition in the Bill, included Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism,” and the Freedom of Religion Bill in 1979, which sought “official curbs on inter-religious conversion.”
These bills fell through for want of majority approval.
Research indicates that in the 1980s, the focus of anti-conversion laws was Muslims seeking to convert non- Muslims, while Christianity has received its share of attention since the 1990s.