Sanjay Dutt, Zaibunissa Kazi, and an important question.

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A little over a week back Sanjay Dutt, the so-called ‘khalnayak’ of Bollywood, convicted in an arms case of the 1993 Mumbai bombings, was given an early release from jail on account of his good behaviour. He was welcomed pompously by the media and his fans like a victorious Caesar returning to Rome.

Nobody talked about Zaibunissa Kazi.

Kazi,  now 73, was arrested for the same offence as Dutt and was awarded the same quota of punishment. And yet there is an inconsistency in the leniency delivered by the apex court.

Kazi, who is suffering from various ailments including a malignant tumour in the kidney, thyroid issues and cholesterol, has had her plea for mercy rejected by the previous and the incumbent governments. She is serving her five-year sentence in Yerwada jail. Even former Chairman of Press Council of India and retired Justice Markandey Katju appealed to the President of India and the Governor of Maharashtra to pardon Kazi as well on humanitarian grounds. “I am of the firm opinion she also deserves a pardon,” he wrote. “I make no distinction between a celebrity and a non-celebrity.”

Dutt, possibly due to his family’s political affiliation, somehow managed to be acquitted under the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA). Such wasn’t the case with Zaibunissa who was instantly stamped with the tag of a terrorist.

Zaibunissa’s involvement in the ammunition hoarding case still remains unclear. It is reported that Zaibunissa agreed to go to the police station on April 17, 1993, for being questioned about Abu Salem, who had posed to her as a real estate agent. Within two days she was booked and arrested under TADA.

“Ramdev and a section of Sanjay’s supporters in the BJP, including his lawyer Hitesh Jain who is also an RSS activist, have been instrumental in securing the actor’s early release,” reports The Telegraph.

Dutt has received numerous paroles and furloughs. He has comfortable spent 155 days of his sentence at home. He received a parole in August 2015 for 30 days for his daughter’s nose surgery which was extended to 60. He even got parole to attend New Year celebrations. He had his sentence reduced from six to five years of jail. He went to jail in May 2013 and was back home for the first time on furlough in October. Now he is being released 103 days early on grounds of good behaviour.

Unlike Dutt, Zaibunissa Kazi won’t be getting a hero’s welcome whenever she is released. She will forever be outcast as the woman who aided the bombings. Kazi’s daughter Shagufta also applied for her mother’s early release on grounds of good conduct and medical history earlier this January. She hopes that it won’t be rejected this time around.

Dutt’s early release is not in question here. The question is that does Zaibunissa Kazi, who is already suffering enough deserve a pardon any less than him just because she is not a celebrity with political connections? How long will we ignore the accountability of the actions of celebrities? How long will the Salmans and Sanjays of B-town keep getting away?

 

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Economic growth is fine, but what about healthcare?

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India is climbing up the ladder on the world economic front at a vigorous pace. Aided by multiple factors such as the plummeting oil prices and a relatively low exposure to the current global financial turbulence, the International Monetary Fund expects India to have a growth rate of 7.5% in the next fiscal year (2016-17). It is expected that India will easily surpass China which is going through a slowdown having undertaken financial restructuring.

With the statistics and figures showing a flowery future for the country money-wise, it is easy to neglect one important aspect where India has been shambolic – Healthcare.

You might be wondering sitting in your urban bubble that the healthcare in India is more than adequate. That stands true until you realize that on an average 21.98% of India lives in abject poverty (Source: RBI Annual Report). This figure does not include those in the lower middle class which have a hard time affording health care.

Infant mortality is one of the biggest healthcare related issues the country faces. The infant mortality rate (IMR) is the number of deaths of infants under one-year-old per 1,000 live births. According to the CIA World Factbook and the 2015 revision of United Nations’ Population Prospect, the Infant Mortality rate in India is 41.81. This figure makes India stand at 126th rank in the world when it comes to infant health care. India’s IMR is worse than some rather underdeveloped and war-stricken countries like Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Gaza Strip, Libya and Ghana. The IMR is one of the most shocking indicators that show the status of social welfare in our country.

Another issue we face is malnutrition. The World Bank estimates that India is one of the highest-ranking countries in the world for the number of children suffering from malnutrition. The prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world and is nearly double that of Sub-Saharan Africa with dire consequences for mobility, mortality, productivity and economic growth. And although the latest government statistics on malnutrition state that it has fallen from over 45% to under 30% ever since the new government has come to power; a lot of the fall is attributed to the betterment of health in economically richer states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Kerala. In states like Assam, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar, the condition continues to worsen. It is a very stark contrast.

Flamboyant in his speeches, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the National Health Policy in 2015 to offer universal healthcare; a plan that was expected to dwarf even Obamacare. However, the actual situation feels as if more food is portrayed on the plate than there actually is.

India is a low-middle income country as per the World Bank classification. In a decade, the growth in expenditure on healthcare in India has decreased from 4.3 percent to 4.05 percent. In a talk at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) in 2012, it was noted that India spent about $40 per person annually on health care whereas the United States spent $8,500. The entire GDP of India was $1.6 trillion then while the US health care spending alone was $2.6 trillion.

It is true that the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, in the latest annual budget, announced proposals in the Health Protection Scheme and the Jan Aushadhi Yojna to make healthcare more affordable and accessible to poor families. But we all know the state of such government schemes in our country. Either their implementation is inefficient or the process is so muddled up that people find it hard to access these schemes.

For a country like India which ambitiously aims to compete with large economic powers like the United States and China, it is a shame that the country isn’t adequately armed to protect the health of its citizens. Whether these proposals make a difference or not, is a story worth following.

Why Indians need to worry about the next U.S President?

“In America, anyone can become President. That’s the problem” – George Carlin

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It is a three way race for the White House

The United States elections for Presidency are coming up and with the primaries underway, we have a clear idea about the stance of the candidates towards various public issues. It seems though as if the three major contenders are – Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. But as Indians, we might find ourselves wondering why should we care about who becomes the next US President?

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Obama joined the 2015 Republic Day Celebrations with Modi in Delhi

India generally shares a good foreign relationship with the US. The picturesque male
bonding between current US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has only seen the relations strengthened.

The two major issues which will directly affect Indians due to a change in Presidency are immigration(H-1B) and education(J-1). Both these issues are visa-related issues. The H-1B visa which has a cap of 65,000 a year, are required by skilled foreign workers in that country. The J-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa issued by the United States to research scholars, professors and exchange visitors participating in programs that promote cultural exchange.

India’s $146 billion IT outsourcing industry has been a huge beneficiary of the H-1B visa program but over the past year there has been a growing discontent among the skilled workers of the US, who believe that it is a way for big companies to hire cheaper foreign workers. Ever since the Paris attacks, America has hardened its stance on immigration and consequently the presidential candidates too have expressed their concern. Hillary Clinton, who has been a long standing political representative of the US in India as former First Lady and Secretery of State, has previously worked for the increasing the cap of H-1B visas. However her stance still remains cloaked in a carefully worded manifesto. Bernie Sanders and Donald trump however have clearly posed their disagreement with the current immigration policy of the country.

If the caps of these programs are reduced it would mean several Indians, especially IT professionals and research students, will be denied a chance to further their careers in the US. It could mean that the next Sundar Pichai or Satya Nadella will be greeted with a rejected visa application. One might see the silver lining as it would help India in retaining all these skilled people for work in their own country. But as of now, Indians need to keep a close watch on the Presidential race.