Behind the Fog

When secrecy can harm the very purpose of having an intelligence organization in a State

Sitting in a café with friends sometimes makes one want to talk of complex global concerns. If for nothing else, then just to sound erudite to the person sitting on the table next to yours. And then there are times when this royally backfires.

So as my friend and I sat discussing intelligence agencies around the world, he mentioned China and that one word brought a hard-stop to the discussion. None of us could name the Chinese intelligence agency. Not that we are encyclopedias and that our not knowing, was a total shocker but still we could recall no mention of it in newspapers or in broadcast news. Anywhere!

I quickly made a run-through of all the intelligence agencies that I could recall- CIA, Mossad, R&AW, ISI but all the mind-palace efforts couldn’t help me stumble on the name. So finally, we pulled out our smartphones to clear the mystery.

-Ministry of State Security.

MSS was formed in 1983 and oversees counter-intelligence, amassing data from around the globe and political security. Not so astonishingly, it can even arrest citizens on violation of state security matters, unlike other intelligence agencies around the globe.

The MSS doesn’t work for the welfare of the people but for the maintenance of the Communist Party’s autocratic rule.

The Chinese name for MSS is Guojia Anquan Bu or GAB and it handles operations for Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, spy handling, cyber security technical intelligence and foreign liaison.

During its initial years, Deng Xiaoping didn’t want the MSS to recruit spies but to employ businessmen, journalists who would have a natural existing cover to aid questioning of any sort on the international front. He thought that operating from under the MSS would have more information fall into China’s lap than via a façade of institutions, which would end up raising more eyebrows and investing in cover-ups than actual work.

There is a second civilian intelligence agency called MPS- Ministry of Public Security which supports information security research and engages to a lesser degree in domestic intelligence operations. Military intelligence, on the other hand falls under PLA(People’s Liberation Army).


Most countries with populations more than 5 million have intelligence agencies asset up. Even Hong Kong had managed to set up a “political department’ to cater to such needs before it was returned to China’s control. But in a county of 1.3 billion such as China, talk of such an organization is taboo and non – existent in mass media conversations or official documents.

How do the citizens perceive the ‘intelligence agency’ which has transformed into ‘secret service’? Many concerned netizens have asked for reforms urgently to ensure transparency and instill a supervising mechanism in place for the Chinese intelligence. But first of all, China needs to officially admit the existence of such agencies which can allow for accountability by people or even relevant government agencies.

It has become a trend for scholars of comparative politics to overlook intelligence agencies as mere components of government information processing units. They miss the crucial role played by them in maintaining state power and in formulating international policies. The matter of policy interventions by an unchecked intelligence community, functioning on certain biases will lead to misguided decisions that can spell disaster for the country.

Taking US’s example, its intelligence agencies moved from “non-existence” to public scrutiny after the1960s, which led to unearthing of many scandals and direct control by the White House and Congress. Now, however damaging, be these scandals, they are atleast proof of the checks in place and reflect on the active-passive state of the agency.

But then yet again, ‘transparency’ in a secret service organization seems incompatible. Doesn’t the nature of the work itself incorporate discretion ? Also, the Snowden leaks have revealed, how little tabs governments can actually place on top intelligence bodies.


China differs in another aspect — of reporting the information to the government. It does not have an official way of integrated reporting into considered strategic analysis, or the ability to distill assessments into a single holistic view. Chinese intelligence agencies, both military and civilian, also have components that operate at the provincial level, leading to regional differences in their analysis, performance and equipment. With multiple layers between the intelligence sources and China’s leaders, it’s probable that what reaches the top levels has been influenced by multiple procedures and biases, leading to a less reliable finished intelligence product. It’s important to remember that an authoritarian system isn’t necessarily a unified one.

The primary purpose of the MSS today is to be the panopticon in China. In Michel Foucaults’ Discipline and Punish, he mentions the Panopticon to be a circular building with a tower in the middle from where an observer can watch anything and everything – Non-stop surveillance. But for Foucault, panopticism wasn’t an intrusive term but an encouragement to economic productivity and social harmony.

But what he doesn’t take into consideration is what happens when the watchman starts abusing such all prevailing power, which is exactly the case with MSS and MPS today.

Hope China clears the fog.

The Hole in The Plot

The Yettinahole Diversion Project is a disaster in the making and the Karnataka government doesn’t seem to care.

The ever-burgeoning need for water, both for domestic and industrial purposes have led to a drying out of local rivers and lakes. The Karnataka government has now turned to diverting the west-flowing rivers to the drier eastern belts of Karnataka. The Yettinahole Diversion Project plans to divert head waters of the Gundia River (a tributary of the Kumardhara, which is a tributary of the Netravathi) in the west and transfer this water to the other end of the state, in the east.

The ambitious and dangerously erroneous project is all set to cost the taxpayer Rs.13000 crores to divert nearly 24 TMC (or 672 billion litres) of water from the head-waters of the Netravathi river towards the water-scarce districts of Kolar, Ramanagara, parts of Hassan, Tumkur, Chikkaballapur, Bengaluru Rural and Devanahalli Industrial Area.


But where is this 24 TMC to divert?

Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES) of Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc), which is under The Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India and the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India has published a report in April 2015 titled: Environmental Flow Assessment in Yettinaholé Where is 24 TMC to divert? The entire catchment yield is just 9.55 TMC according to the study! This stands to be 60% less than the estimated yield by KNNL – Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Ltd. The estimation being faulty comes as no surprise, when one looks at the methods deployed to measure the riverine flow. Instead of measuring each diverted stream, just measurement of one stream was taken in a nearby catchment. As per IISc study, the water demand in the catchment is 5.84 TMC & water required for maintaining environmental flow is 2.84 TMC

The entire project falls in an ecologically sensitive area, according to the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (Kasturirangan report). Deforestation, loss of riverine fauna, impaired nutrient flow in rivers, are all lined up in the near future. But KNNL has denied the need for an ecological assessment saying that drinking water projects are exempt from the purview of the Environment Protection Act. But the catch in this statement is that only 60% of the diverted water is going to be utilized for drinking purposes while the rest 40% is going to be stored in minor irrigation tanks and used for other purposes.

Prof. S.G. Mayya, Department of Applied Mechanics and Hydraulics, National Institute of Technology, Suratkhal has major issues with the name of the project itself, which he says is grossly misleading—“First of all, it is not Yettinahole diversion, it is Netravathi Diversion. It would have been Yettinahole Diversion if water only from Yettinahole catchment and its sub-catchments was diverted, but here 90% of water being diverted is from the downstream of Yettinahole catchment, actually from the Netravathi catchment. So calling it Yettinahole Diversion is misleading and fraudulent. I don’t know why the government continues calling it Yettinahole Diversion.”

Why do such glaring gaps exist, between the facts used by the government and those unearthed by the independent experts? Why was there no inclusion of the communities living downstream of the Yettinahole, who would be affected by the diversion? Why has the KNNL put up no figures to indicate the displacement of people in such communities? Regarding the rampant deforestation that is due, no concrete numbers regarding how many trees would be cleared out, for the project has been given out? The economic value of the region is higher (> 200 Billion Rs.)than the diversion project and therefore emphasis should be given on the need for conservation of the livelihood of dependent population and the green cover.

Reports that the Karnataka government had already allocated Rs 2,800 crores and had assigned contracts worth Rs. 1,000 crore even before the environmental assessments were done and clearances sanctioned, are terrifying.

The 2015 study by IISc, meanwhile had given some suggestions on how to tackle water scarcity in the eastern belts of Karnataka instead of proceeding with the project. Some of the solutions were- decentralized water harvesting, restoring existing lakes and ponds, improving native vegetation in catchments, soil and water conservation through micro-watershed approaches.

The Yettinahole Diversion is the government’s faulty band-aid solution for political gains which will lead to large scale repercussions, if not mended in time.

Swati Sudhakaran is currently pursuing Masters in Public Policy at Mount Carmel college in collaboration with the Takshashila Institution.

Case of the Missing Apartheid Billions

South Africa’s struggle to get out of the net of corruption and recover what it is owed.


Swati Sudhakaran is pursuing Masters in Public Policy at Mount Carmel college in collaboration with the Takshashila Institution

Washing the footprints?

Technological advancements helping industries reduce their carbon footprint.

The Paris Agreement made the 194 countries make a promise to themselves and the world- shifting to cleaner fuels and reducing carbon footprints. But on the other hand, countries like India with a huge coal-dependent energy consumption and expenditure needed a method to use fossil fuels while also simultaneously letting off them and not releasing the same levels of CO2 as before.

Amidst major apprehensions on how to proceed,a small plant at the industrial port of Tuticorin is showing the way by capturing CO2 from its own coal-powered boiler and using it to make baking soda.

Crucially, the technology is running without subsidy, which is a major advance for carbon capture technology as for decades it has languished under high costs and lukewarm government support.

The technology gaining traction from all corners of the world, is the brainchild of CarbonClean Solutions, a startup by 2 students of IIT Kharagpur- Aniruddha Sharma and Prateek Bumb. They reversed the mechanics of how to go about CCS- Carbon Capture and Storage in which release of CO2 into the atmosphere is controlled by various means.

Typically, this is achieved by first treating the combustion exhaust gases from the coal plant to remove the small amounts of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides (which can cause undesirable reactions in the next step). Then the remaining mixture, containing mostly nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and water, is passed through a chemical called monoethanolamine (MEA). This chemical reacts selectively with only CO2, and the rest of the gaseous mixture is safely released into the atmosphere. Later, the MEA-CO2 mixture is heated, which releases nearly pure carbon dioxide to be used as a raw material.

Carbon Clean Solutions has synthesized a new chemical, called CDR-Max, that does the job better than MEA. Max is less corrosive too than MEA which protects the steel chambers in which purification is done

Debate over carbon capture has mostly focused until now on carbon capture and storage (CCS), in which emissions are forced into underground rocks at great cost and no economic benefit.

Carbon Storage methods are numerous:

  1. Can be absorbed by coal beds. Also enhances methane recovery.
  2. Can be injected into depleted oil and gas reserves below 2600ft
  3. Dissolved into the sea below 3300 ft via a fixed pipeline or ship
  4. Released via offshore platform to form ‘lake’ in the ocean bed.


There is already a global market for CO2 as a chemical raw material. It comes mainly from industries such as brewing where it is cheap and easy to capture. Many new startups,along the lines of CarbonClean like Carbon8 have started tapping into this potential market.


Swati Sudhakaran is currently pursuing MA Public Policy at Mount Carmel College in collaboration with the Takshashila Institution.

Jal, Jangal aur Zameen

Even after 69 years of Independence, India’s tribal communities have to fight tooth and nail for their basic rights.

Swati Sudhakaran@TheMindMap

2016 saw the completion of the 10th year of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, commonly known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA). The right promises to safeguard the interests of the tribal communities and give them management and habitat rights over forestlands.


The FRA came under a lot of flak in the recent years for being a ‘misguided piece of legislation’, keeping in mind, its colossal systemic failures and criminalization of the victims while the perpetrators continued destruction of the adivasis’ home and livelihood, all in the name of development. Projects for dams, forest conservation and wildlife conservation like Project Tiger have become ways to evacuate tribals and to tag the remaining persistent ones as encroachers.

In the absence of the land patta proving their ownership, most tribal communities are helpless and the law is not coming to their aid. Gram Sabhas, which would have worked as shields, to protect the tribal land and voiced the interests of the community, often get excluded from the decision-making process itself, like when mining licenses are provided on tribal lands.

The present NDA government wants to further industrial interests but does not want to amend the FRA, which would invite a huge political furor. Hence it is looking for other ways to do away with the consent of the village communities. The FRA is a major jumble of one too many laws and thus impinges the applicability of the other laws like the Forest Conservation Act and the LARR, 2013, entangling the tribal communities in legalese.

FRA also moves away from the basic constitutional principle of right of the individual. It takes rights of the individual tribals and merges them into the community rights of the tribal Gram Sabhas.

Forest officials often view the tribal communities’ involvement as a dilution of their own powers over the forests. Also the Ministry of Tribal Affairs is understaffed and under-resourced in implementing the FRA. There is an implicit attitude that FRA hampers development by not allowing allocation of land for industrial purpose whereas the opposite is true. Lack of understanding on the part of forest officials, on how tribal communities function and conserve resources, adds to the present woes.


Community Forest Rights (CFR) have been more of a joke in India where it’s not about the allocation of forest rights in terms of forestland but the simple reallocation of the village’s agricultural and utility land in the name of the community. A futile activity at the best, such allocations take away a major chunk of the tribals’ forest management rights.

Baiga Community in Dindori district, MP

But as if to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Act, the Baigas in Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh have gained the right to their habitat. This is for the first time habitat rights have been given under the FRA. Habitat rights go beyond the individual and community rights conferred under the Act and encompasses their whole culture and way of life. It is a holistic right to conserve the livelihood of the tribes in the face of a concretized draconian model of forced development.

The Baiga community is one of the 75 PVTGs- Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups and as per a new amendment in 2012, all PVTGs were eligible to receive habitat rights. The Baigas worked together with the district administration, forest activists who were concerned about the tiger reserves and mapped out the entire reserves so as to not intrude within the tiger occupied spaces.

India’s tribals deserve protection, but not patronization. The FRA reeks of a poor system of governance of tribal welfare in India, where development of tribal land takes precedence over development of tribal lives. One positive case of rehabilitation in 10 years is just not good enough- neither for the tribes nor for the Indian State.


Swati Sudhakaran is currently pursuing Masters in Public Policy at Mount Carmel College in collaboration with the Takshashila Institution, Bengaluru



Need for a Universal Health Coverage

Challenges for an Universal Health Coverage in India

Swati Sudhakaran@TheMindMap

A new global index to assess the development of countries in meeting their SDG goals has indicated that India ranks 143 among 188 countries in health index. Many Indians may be happy with this because we rank better than Pakistan and Bangladesh, but we are, in fact, placed below countries like Syria, Iraq and Ghana.

If the aim was to turn the healthcare into an export sector to advance medical tourism, we have succeeded with our 5 star hospitals and cost effective treatment to people.The medical tourism industry according to the Confederation of Indian Industries is at $3 billion as of October 2015 and is expected to touch $7-8 billion by the end of 2020.

But Universal Health Coverage (UHC) still eludes Indians. The BJP, in its manifesto, had promised health assurance to all Indians and vowed to reduce out-of-pocket expenditure on healthcare. Presently, the government spends on average Rs 4,895 per year on every person covered under CGHS (who are a few million), while the average public spending for the health of all Indians (who are some 1,250 million) is about a fifth of that. Policymakers need to get out of the scandalous selective choosing of whom to cover and hence should actively push for a UHC.


India’s public expenditure on health at 1.4 per cent of the GDP is one of the lowest among the SEARO countries, with Myanmar being the only exception. It is also the lowest among the BRICS countries.

Governments of UK and Thailand have successfully implemented UHC with both its underlying characteristics- good quality healthcare and of not exposing citizens to financial strains during treatment.

WHO recommendation of one doctor for one thousand people, we have one doctor for 1450 people. With this ratio, nearly a quarter of the posts are lying vacant and the situation is all the more severe in rural areas which have a deficit of six lakh doctors. The doctor population ratio in rural India is about 1:3200. The situation here, is worse than Vietnam and African countries like Algeria.

India is among the 194 countries that are aiming to attain Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by 2030 under the commitment to attain Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The state of healthcare has deteriorated to the extent that one serious illness in a middle class family can push it below the poverty line. Poverty caused by medical expenditure is increasing significantly in both urban and rural India. Recently, there was a news report that in Mumbai, an individual may have to spend two years of his family’s annual income for treating a disease like TB.

The country at present suffers from the triple burden of disease — the unfinished agenda of infectious diseases; the challenge of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), linked with lifestyle changes; and emergence of new pathogens causing epidemics and pandemics.

Nearly 60 per cent of the total health expenditure is incurred by patients directly for which there is no provision for reimbursement or insurance. It shows that it is imperative for India to have a well-designed health insurance scheme which will act as a safety net for these people. The formulation of relevant healthcare policies with effective tools for implementation and monitoring are the need of the hour. We are losing six per cent of our GDP to preventable illness and premature deaths.

WHO has designed a Universal Health Coverage Profile for member countries entailing four parameters of assessment.


The first parameter is reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health. According to data from the Health Ministry, India loses over 44,000 women to pregnancy-related complications every year, which means one woman dies every 12 minutes for want of care.

The second parameter is the country performance on tackling infectious diseases. Only 39.5 per cent of the population has access to improved sanitation.  Only 41.4 per cent population seeks tuberculosis detection and treatment facilities while 44 per cent population is covered under HIV detection and treatment facilities.

The third factor is the burden of non-communicable diseases. About 30 per cent Indians have high blood pressure. Lifestyle diseases are cropping up faster than usual, spiking the numbers.

The fourth component of the assessment includes basic hospital access, density of health workers, access to essential medicines, and compliance with international health regulations. India has only six hospital beds per lakh and close to two surgeons per lakh population.

Data or rather accurate data is a source of empowerment. On 12th December, i.e. Universal Health Coverage day as commemorated by WHO, a data portal system was launched to keep a track of the progress towards UHC and also to indicate the points at which countries needed improvement.

It is important for policymakers to address how the spending needs to be done on universal healthcare rather than how much.

Swati Sudhakaran is currently pursuing Masters in Public Policy in Mount Carmel College in collaboration with the Takshashila Institution.

IoT’s LaLa land

The Internet of Things is changing the way we live- One Device at A Time.

Swati Sudhakaran@TheMindMap

Technology and magic are similar in a lot of ways. Not a whole lot of people understand them but most people are amazed by what they manage to achieve.

But people wish upon technology or magic to make life easier for them and that’s exactly what the ‘Internet of Things’ aims on doing. The phenomenon of the Internet of Things is already here but a massive paradigm shift in the way we live is about to hit us in less than a decade. Are we ready?

What is IoT ?

The Internet of Things lives by the rule that everything that can be connected, should be connected; from pace-makers, automobiles, alarm clocks to one’s toasters.

But IoT is much more than the hardware- the beacons, wearables, connected machinery and infrastructure; and the software- cloud, protocols, augmented reality, that facilitate its functioning. It’s the ability to add a sensor and connectivity and hence attach a data stream to any object, systems or a network of systems.


In healthcare industry, for example, insulin pumps and blood-pressure cuffs that connect to a mobile app can enable people to record, track, and monitor their own vital signs, without having to go to a doctor’s office. IoT encourages people into healthcare and engages them into self-monitoring and regulation which leads to better disease management and substantial financial savings for the patient.



Ultimately, the user wants to automate his environment according to his adjusted settings that allow maximum productivity to get work done without his intervention. This stands to be the main idea behind a lot of the new ‘smart’ devices and infrastructure around us today.

IoT In India

  • With the major themes this year being Smart Cities, Smart Classes, Smart Homes, ubiquitous broadband etc., IoT was bound to gain traction.
  • The entire market of IoT is expected to grow to $15 billion by the year 2020 from the present $5.6 billion due to the push from the industrial IoT sector, as reported by NASSCOM.
  • CISCO Investments has already backed a lot of IoT accelerators and startups like Ayla Networks and EVRYTHNG.
  • Bolt, a start-up based in Goa, enables enterprises to build scalable IoT products in just a day’s time. It is basically connecting users to the IoT platform providing both the hardware and the cloud services. They help firms create personalized dashboards to visualize data, monitor device health, send text alerts etc. In all developers just have to focus on the end product, leaving visualization, analytics, network connectivity, storage and scalability to Bolt.
  • One of the biggest boons of IoT in India is energy conservation and its implementation in agriculture. SmartAgri built by scientists at CERN allows farmers to get colour coded messages via the cloud on their mobiles regarding moisture content, pH levels and mineral content in the soil.


Control, Privacy and Security

We have to be ready for a flood of data and services to take over life as we know it. At the foundational core of the IoT is the embedding processes which are going to be pervasive and so ensuring that they are secure will be one of our top priorities in the future.

Up until the age of IoT, our relationship with the Internet was autonomous, consensual and optional. It revolved around us switching on and off our smartphones, laptops and iPads at our will and walking away from the cloud( as much as we could). Adding sensors to ‘things’ also puts them into a zone of vulnerability where they are prone to getting hacked. A team of researchers at Microsoft and the University of Michigan recently found a plethora of holes in the security of Samsung’s SmartThings smart home platform, and the methods were far from complex.

Control of ownership when it comes to data is complex. With sensors now tracking our actions on the devices connected, they monitor and rate the level of control we exert and also cause changes in the nature of our relationship with the device.

The 2015 Icontrol State of the Smart Home study found that 44% of all Americans were “very concerned” about the possibility of their information getting stolen from their smart homes, and 27% were “somewhat concerned.”

IoTs will leave us wanting a more protected environment but getting a full-proof immunity may well be impossible given the penetration of IoT in the near future.

IoT is on the prowl to disrupt and revolutionalise life at work and at home to connect devices rather than individuals, at a larger platform.


War and Peace

The historic collapse of an almost-historic peace accord.

A mere formality gone wrong?

What could have been an historic peace accord to put an end to a  war that had devastated Colombia for the past 50 years and was touted to be the longest running civil war of Latin America, was voted out by the Colombian people.

The plebiscite was supposed to be just a step to be ticked in the checklist of getting the peace accord in action. A fait accompli. But maybe the selling of the plebiscite as such is what led to its defeat. Why go to vote Yes if the vote is already certain? This may explain the low voter turnout of less than 37%.

Though the ‘No’ camp won by a slight margin, it says a lot about people’s perception about the decision making procedures in the country and its execution.

What was the War about?

The war had started out as a minor tussle between the government and left wing guerrila group FARC- Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. FARC had risen from the remnants of the La Violencia period of agrarian rural warfare that had gripped Colombia in the 1920s. Like the requisite ingredients to blow up a civil war, the Colombian civil war too had a mixture of socio-political and economic factors. But the aim of achieving social justice for the citizens led the communist FARC to adopt to some pretty gruesome means like drug trafficking and child soldiering and they lost their earlier popularity with the masses.


US interference cannot be far behind whenever civil disturbances are in order.The Peace Corp set by JFK in 1961 was an effort to contain communism and the volunteers of the Corp were to help the natives in agricultural development, education and health amenities. Instead they started collaborating with the American mafia and led to a spurt in the growth of cocaine and narcotics in Colombia.

But the network and will of the FARC soldiers to keep the fight on, has seen a huge downfall in the recent years. In 2002, the no. of FARC soldiers was near 20,000 but recent studies have shown the no. to have dwindled to 6000-7000 soldiers. Discontent and hope to rejoin the society is high among FARC soldiers who just want to lead ‘normal lives’ again.


Src: Google Images_President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Timoleon Jiminez


What’s the Big ‘DEAL’ about??

The peace talks had started in 2012 in Cuba, between Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader and negotiator Timoleon Jiminez. It went back and forth for 4 years, until in 2016, a consensus had been reached. They had finally arrived on a 6 point plan which would have formalized the cease-fire and would have confirmed that the weapons possessed by FARC would be “beyond use”.

According to the 297 page agreement the FARC leaders had agreed to hand over their weapons and to be monitored by UN inspectors. They would have formed a political party which would have an assured 10 seats in the Congress in the 2018 and 2022 elections.

Amnesty was to be granted to those FARC members who confessed of their crimes i.e instead of facing prison, they would engage in social work- helping victims and de-mining war zones, repairing damaged infrastructure etc


Src: Google Images_People upset over the No vote.

So why did the people vote No?

The ‘No’ wasn’t a denial for the peace accord but for the terms under which it was being finalized. The local phrase in trend to comment on the accord was “swallowing toads”. People felt betrayed by the though that the FARC leaders who committed grave crimes against humanity will not be serving jail time.

Former President Alvaro Uribe, whose father was slain by the FARC, had led the campaign for the “No” vote said that people had wanted justice and not impunity for the FARC leaders. While his military approach to deal with the rebels, was the reason they agreed to the peace talks in the first peace, Uribe feels that the present accord is in major need of corrections to serve the interests of the citizens.

Social media played a huge role in yielding influence. Many have blamed it for being a platform of misinformation spreading stories like the state of Colombia, post the accord, would be much alike Venezuela where the narco-traffickers work hand in hand with the government or that the accord would be the first step in establishing a communist regime in Colombia.


Women soldiers of FARC feel that gender equality exists more in the guerrilla army than in the Colombian society

Homophobia and gender insensitivity could also be a reason, as many voters were supposedly against the gender provisions made in the accord especially the segments on LGBTQ. A sub-commission on gender and women issues had submitted its suggestions as to how the reintegration of female FARC soldiers into the society, should take place. Their points had found a place in the accord but the strong opinion circulating in the media was that these issues could be tackled under a separate slab and were not as urgent.

A lot also fell on the campaigning style of the 2 camps. The Santos government actually put forth questions that were biased to the accord and placed emotional blackmail of sorts by retorting to statements in ads, that those who vote No are actually supporting the continuation of war.

The No camp could effectively communicate to people, in simple messages about the dangers of the peace accord while the Yes camp could never really portray its benefits. This goes on to show how manipulation works in modern democracy. Under the garb of political assertion of the masses, leaders work the questions in a certain way to get a certain response.


The Nobel Twist

The announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize just days after the thrashing of the peace accord is a positive development for Santos. Awarded in recognition of his efforts to bring peace to Colombia, the Nobel does add the much needed strength to his cause. The award is also a tribute to the victims of the conflict and to all parties that cooperated in the peace talks.

The Nobel surely softens the sting of the Uribe camp and implicitly shows the support of the international community to be with the Santos government.


What NEXT?

While largely uncertainty looms over the next course of action for the Colombian government, the FARC-EP has maintained its stance on peace-keeping but with FARC leaders thinking that they have already given too many concessions, the possibility of them agreeing for jail team for their members is highly unlikely.

Thought the Santos government is quite unpopular now, Santos still has command over the congress and can still garner up support with the right strategy. The recent meeting of Uribe and Santos after almost 6 years to discuss the changes in the accord is a major step-up in the process.


Renegotiation under process

Even if the renegotiated peace accord gets voted through by the people, problems for the government wont stop there. There are numerous issues to be confronted even then such as reintegration of the FARC soldiers, some of them children, into the society. To make those  who have only known a life of violence abide by rules and follow societal norms will be a mammoth task.

But lets not jump the gun. The government has to keep aside the haste and arrogance it portrayed the last time and work on an inclusive accord and democratically fair plebiscite.

Swati Sudhakaran is pursuing Masters in Public Policy at Mount Carmel College, Bengaluru


Marred in Marriage

To see the man who vowed to be by your side through thick and thin, turn into a vicious animal driven by power or lust, is any wife’s worst nightmare.

Swati Sudhakaran@TheMindMap

The four letter word that has come to engulf women around the world– Rape. The dreadful blanket it weaves around a woman’s life is suffocating and maleficent.  But the pain and the mental trauma are far worse when the perpetrator of the crime is a known person… one’s own husband.

The sacrosanct tradition of marriage in India is a reflection of the skewed relation of authority shared by the husband and the wife. Though certain things have changed for good measure presently, the norm of the ‘dominant man’still prevails in a lot of cases.  The man calls the shots, both inside and outside the bedroom. The reversal of the ‘power’ equation in marriages these days, is a huge factor for the increasing no. of marital rapes. With the rise in women employment and empowerment, men need the constant reassurance of their status quo and use sex to salvage their insecurities.

“Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape,” states a 2013 amendment to section 375 0f the Indian Penal Code. Since marital rape has not been accounted as a crime, the actual stats are difficult to collect and comprehend. A conundrum is faced in the phrase ” not being under 15 years..” when marriageable age for women itself is 18 years. This shows how out of sync, the law is, with the present times.

The kind of argument, put forth by MPs and Ministers like Ms. Maneka Gandhi, to defend or altogether deny the existence of marital rape, quoting reasons like ,”level of education, illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament” does no favours to India’s global persona or to the institution of marriage.

The J.S. Verma committee constituted to look into existing legislations and provide suggestions to counter and curb sexual violence, post the Nirbhaya case of 2012, had recommended criminalizing marital rape. Unfortunately, this had been overlooked by the government.

Many would question the necessity for a Marital Rape law when the Domestic Violence Act (2005) covers sexual abuse.  But the need arises as the Domestic Violence Act is only a civil act which only ensures protection and compensation to the victim and no jail term for the convict. The notion of justice that should be meted out in case of a criminal offence like rape is hence distorted.


Cruelty by husbands and relatives under section 498‐A of Indian Penal Code is the major crime committed against women across the country, with around 909,713 cases reported over the last 10 years, or 10 every hour. Though marital rape is not segregated from the other abuses, one cannot be so blind so as to negate their existence (Ahem Ms. Maneka Gandhi)

A 2013 global review by UN Women stated that up to 70% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence, atleast once in their lifetime from an intimate partner,

The problems that lead to marital rapes are abundant and right in front of our eyes, if only we agree to open them. Knowledge of basic etiquettes regarding sexual intimacy is lacking in the Indian cultural space. Men are often not educated on how to emote and express sexual desires without being tagged a pervert or a lust driven monster. Marriage is often treated as a freepass for sex in India, or to compensate for the lack of it previously. The stigma attached to sex before marriage also leads to penting up of sexual frustrations that vent themselves out, post marriage. Also, in a culture where a man’s sexual prowess is highly valued, men are under a great deal of pressure to exert force in the bedroom.

Ms. Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister for Women and Child Development, stated that in India, marriage is a sacrament and hence the question of marital rape doesn’t arise.

The total absence of support to women from the natal home is another factor. There have been countless narratives, where the woman has been told by family, friends and even police to ‘adjust’. How does one adjust to brutal shredding of one’s self esteem and respect?

Lack of sexual experience prior to marriage leads women to think that this is the only way their sexual life could be. A sense of agency is a must for women to start acknowledging marital rape as a crime first of all and not acclimatize to it.

One of the major issues with marital rape lies in the difficulty to prove it. It is unlike other cases of rape, where the semen  and signs of external struggle are evidence enough.  Here the semen is of the husband which he could argue was the result of consensual sex. How to prove instances where the wife was asleep or ill or just not in the mood for it? And what if the wife refused to go through with sex, having said yes initially?

It’s time the government transcends the cultural barriers and looks for solutions that maintain the privacy of the marriage and also effectively address the situation.  A mandatory counseling workshop for about-to be married couples should be introduced, post the completion of which only the marriage certificate would be handed to them.

Free marriage counselling including sessions with sex experts should be initiated by the State, post marriage too. If the State grants the legal sanction to two individuals to get married, then the State should also extend the adequate apparatus to look into the well-being of that ‘sacred institution’.

Another important question to be raised is the sustenance of marriage post the rape? How does a marriage survive that? Sensitivity in legal procedures handling marital rape should be present as it is something that affects the entire family.

Sex is an important part of marriage and if the husband senses sexual inactivity from his wife, he should address it instead of forcing himself on her. This again, sadly, comes from the age old notion in India where a woman’s No means a Yes. We required a ‘Pink’ to shove this one down some people’s brains.

In conclusion, as rightly said by civil activist Prof Sujato Bhadra, “We need to do away with the term ‘marital rape’ just like we don’t have something called ‘marital murder’. Rape is rape. Murder is murder”.


Swati Sudhakaran is currently pursuing Masters in Public Policy at Mount Carmel College, Bengaluru


The P Word.

Palliative Care, though around for 20 odd years in India, needs a focused rejuvenation.

Swati Sudhakaran@TheMindMap

India is the worst place to die. Don’t take my word on it. Consider the Quality of Death Index of 2015 which ranks India 67th out of 80 countries, below South Africa (34), Brazil (42), Indonesia (53) and Sri Lanka (65). The index prepared by Economist Intelligence Society ranks UK at no. 1 which makes it a pretty decent place to say our final goodbyes.

The index is prepared by considering 20 odd criteria such as palliative healthcare, human resources, affordability and quality of care and community engagement.

Palliative Care, the concept of pain management and care-taking that started tentatively in the mid-1980s in India but faced multiple problems in its expansion in the next two decades like – population density, poverty, restrictive policies like opioid prescription and lack of institutional interest in palliative care.

It showed a surge in the latter-half of the 1990s, with centres coming up in Delhi (CanSupport), Chennai (Jivodaya), Bangalore (Karunasraya) and other states like Assam and Goa. But the rise is still insufficient considering the population boom in India over the years.

What is palliative care?

As defined by WHO, palliative care is “an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psycho-social and spiritual.”

It is often seen as only being for cancer patients, but actually has a much wider arena of care-giving to most incurable diseases like HIV and even chronic neurological problems. The core team is of doctors, nurses and social palliative workers. Nutritionists, pharmacists, massage therapists may also be a part of the team. The care can start as soon as a conclusive diagnosis is provided and the treatment is initiated.



Why Palliative Care?

In simple terms, palliative care improves the quality of life of the patient, something that is often overlooked by doctors in the course of locating the tumor, or finding the cure for the illness. The trauma -both mental and physical, endured by the patients in the course of the treatment often make them detest life itself and the plight of the relatives also takes a downfall upon seeing the distress of their loved ones. Symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, constipation, nausea are taken care by them. The solutions to such symptoms follow a simple course but as mentioned, are often neglected in the larger scheme of medical healthcare in India.

To take the instance of Rajkumari, age 75 years, who was experiencing discomfort in swallowing food, due to the blisters that had developed in her mouth, a common side-effect of chemotherapy. She refused to intake food because of the pain and this led to the entire family not eating.Enter CanSupport, a palliative care for cancer patients. They administered a few rounds of mouth washes with sodium bicarb in water and Rajkumari felt relieved almost instantaneously and she resumed eating, to the great relief of the family.

Palliative Care focuses on improving the quality of life irrespective of how long the patient has to live and whether or not a cure is available.It has often been referred to as the Jaadoo ki Jhappi from Munnabhai MBBS.

Palliative care deals with the tough confrontations that lies ahead in the patient’s life regarding his/her illness. The balance of hope and denial have to be worked out with care.Truth can be soothing if administered in the right dosages at the right time. It has been said, “Break bad news well and you will always be remembered, break bad news badly and you will never be forgotten.”

The Kerala Model

Kerala, though it covers only 1% of India’s land mass and contains 3% of India’s population, has now more palliative care services than the rest of the country put together. Two-thirds of the country’s palliative centres are in Kerala.

The Kerala model of Palliative Care has been known to work. The Neighbourhood Network in Palliative Care, a community-owned programme in Kerala, is a project that evolved out of a series of need-based experiments in the community.


The initiative has now grown into a vast network of more than 500 community-owned palliative care programmes looking after more than 15,000 patients at any given time. It has a workforce of more than 15,000 trained community volunteers, 50 palliative-care physicians and 100 palliative-care nurses, according to WHO’s Global Atlas of Palliative Care at the End of Life, 2014, report.

A relatively recent development had been in the period 2005-08, when on the request of Pallium India, The Government of Kerala appointed a committee to draft a policy on palliative healthcare in the state. The policy came into being in 2008 and its implementation has been left with the National Rural Health Mission which has been a success.

The Obstacles Faced 

The Narcotic Substances and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) act of India brought out in 1985 made procurement of morphine very difficult and also attached a stigma to its usage. It imposed heavy penalties on even small clerical errors and needed 4-5 licenses all valid at the same time , procurement of which required the concurrent functioning of multiple departments of the government. Thus, gradually pharmacies stopped stocking morphine such that in the year 1997, India saw a massive drop of 92% in morphine consumption, whereas the global consumption during the same period went up by 437%.

Though the NDPS has now been simplified, it has still not been implemented by State Governments. The National Programme in Palliative Care, which had been instituted in 2012 also suffered in propagating further due to budget cuts.



There are some things that are definitely looking up for the palliative industry like the National Palliative Care Strategy (2012) that has been sketched out. Also with AIIMS starting the first MD in Palliative Care and a DM in cancer pain management shows that palliative care has been finally acknowledged as a proper discipline.

Palliative Care requires lot of passion and commitment as its services go beyond the biomedical aspects of life to the right of living with dignity while accepting death as an inevitable part of life. It is the absence of such services that lead patients to demand for mercy killing or euthanasia. Hence it becomes imperative to combine medical treatment with palliative care to provide holistic treatment to the patient.


Swati Sudhakaran is currently pursuing MA Public Policy at Mount Carmel College, Bengaluru