Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Monday, January 19, 2009

FAQs: Petition for Absnetee Voting in Indian Elections

These are some FAQs to answer questions about the absentee voting petition.
We are in the process of moving all the blogs to worldpress.
Please visit http://www.voterswithoutborders.org/ for all updates on Absentee Voting/

1. What is a Petition? How are they delivered?

A petition is a request to change some thing, most commonly made to a government official or public entity, usually signed by numerous individuals. A petition may be oral rather than written, and in this era may be transmitted via the Internet. (wiki)

Petitions facilitate grassroots democracy through collective assertion of common demands made to the government. Petitions posted online provide the most effective means to carry the vox populi to the government irrespective of the spatial boundaries that exist between people. Online petitions also help in reaching a wider base and makes use of networking that exists predominantly in this digital age for its transmission.

Petitions can be delivered to the concerned authorities either through electronic means or a hard copy by post or in person. For the current petition, we plan to use both the means.

2. Are petitions effective? Does it work for India?

Petitions deliver results to varying degree depending on the how well it is written, the numerical strength and the reach of petition, and most importantly the issue it addresses.
There are numerous examples of successful petitions toady. Some examples could be found here wiki and e-legislative action) .

Some cases specific to India:
Mid day Meals: Peoples Union for Civil Liberties petitioned the government for 'Child's Right to Food' by successfully filing a Public Interest Litigation. The eventual result of the petition was that the Supreme Court of India ordered the Government of India (GOI) to implement Mid-Day meals programs throughout all the public schools.

Save Tiger: Few years ago a petition to save the tigers from extinction received world wide attention. It appeared in several blogs and news papers. Several NGOs actively took up the issue. The result of this public pressure was what led to setting up of Project Tiger by GOI ( http://projecttiger.nic.in/ ). Thanks to this initiative, the tiger population is already showing signs of revival.

Gay Rights: Naz foundation has recently filed a petition to Amending Article 377 which currently criminalizes homosexual relationship. They filed in PIL in Delhi High Court, which recommended government to decriminalize homosexual and protect the gay rights.

3. How many signatures do you need?

The more the better. The objective is to have as many willing individual as possible who would not only affix their affirmation to their petition electronically but also help in spreading the word. For this petition, we are targeting a modest 10000 signatures.

4. What are our objectives and how do we plan to achieve it?
As stated in the petition, we want the government to ensure that every citizen of India above the legal age limit has the right to vote, irrespective of where he/she physically lives and/or works.
We plan to achieve this by gathering support through petition signatures from as many Indian netizens as we possibly could reach. We have sought support from various NRI organizations and Indian groups, and organizations working on electoral reforms and grass root democracy in India.
We plan to involve electronic (blogs, YouTube) and print media (Times of India, The Hindu, Indian Express) for our support. We are exploring possibility of filing PIL through an Indian organization. We plan to personally submit the final petition Indian embassy at Houston and Washington DC.

5. Why are YOU important?

If you are an NRI- An Indian diaspora that is estimated to be over 20 million. With a substantial proportion of these being non residents currently holding Indian citizenship, they become the unspoken voice of India. The diaspora spread encompasses Indians who are working abroad, studying in universities or they could be part of UN peacekeeping missions or at the very least tourists or visitors in a foreign country. They make significant contributions to the Indian society through business, commerce and socio-cultural ties. Remittance by Indians residing abroad contributes more than $25 billion to India's GDP annually. They have the right to participate in Indian democratic system and their voice should be heard through voting. The existing systems provide no means to exercise their right.

Migrant workers and Laborers: (Includes migrating software engineers, business executives) India has a very young and highly mobile population. Indian railways alone carry 18 million people every day including the polling day. With the liberalization and globalization having set in, jobs are no longer local. People constantly are shifting jobs and are relocating to cities away from their home town ever more rapidly. Exclusion of large section of eligible voters due to transitory travel or temporary shift in residence during the polling day is untenable.

6. Will my voice be heard?

Yes it will be. Do not worry that you are just one person and just by you signing/ not signing this petition will not make a difference. Just realize all it takes is one person to start the revolution. Do your part and do not worry about the fruits of your action. Through all means possible, we will make sure the petition reaches the concerned politicians who legislate and government officials who frame policies on electoral process.

7. What do I need to do?

First of all we all must have a "Yes, We can" attitude. So please read and sign the petition. You can multiply/amplify your voice by spreading the word among your friends, colleagues and organizations you are part of. Urge them to sign and spread the word. This is the way networks work. Networks can spread exponentially provided each node acts as a transmitting agent.Also Join us in orkut and facebook.

Together we can and we will be agents of Change! Remember bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote. Let us say, voting is my birth right and I shall definitely have it!

Voters without borders!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Petition for Absentee Voting in Indian Elections Petition

Petition for Absentee Voting in Indian Elections Petition


We Indians stand united whenever there is a crisis or calamity. The response to recent Mumbai attacks is one such example where millions of Indians around stood in solidarity with the victims and pressurized the Government to act to prevent such heinous crimes in the future.

The common thread that weaves in and out of the any crisis is that the citizens of India have always stood up with or without the government support. But we need able, upright and visionary leaders to steer the country to a developed nation free of hunger, disease ignorance and lack of opportunity. Unfortunately we cannot custom create our leaders but we as citizens of India through the power of voting have the ability to make or break these leaders.

For us, the proud citizens of India, 2009 is going to be a crucial election year. As you are aware, many of us (such as NRI’s and people on temporary move) , being registered voters of India are not able to caste votes due to geographical reasons. As per The Representation of the People Act-1950, voter can only cast his/her ballot in a constituency only if, he/she is "ordinarily residing" in the corresponding area for at least six months prior to the polling date. We are being denied our constitutional right to vote and the right to participate in Indian polity due to our temporary residence. We feel that this needs amendments to allow 'absentee voting' in the largest democracy of the world. Non-resident Indians feel a strong urge to exercise vote and be a part of the democratic setup. We say "My Vote, My Voice".

As a first step towards achieving this goal, an online petition has been prepared addressing concerned ministry. Please take sometime to read and sign the petition. Link to Petition http://www.PetitionOnline.com/abvindia/
Please spread the word and send it across concerned friends/organizations/mailing-lists or through networking sites like orkut and facebook. Questions, if any, contact us. we will be glad to answer. We sincerely look forward to a very eager and enthusiastic response. Let us say "Voting is my might birth right, I shall definitely have it!"

Voters without Borders

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Power of Graphs- google gadget

Here is a google applet of India's development indicators (state wise)



Its an amazing gadget (click insert gadget, motion chart) which you can create using google spreadsheets and time series data!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Article: Social and eonomicdevelopment in India - Demographic perspective

This is a long article that I wrote for publication- read in free time.

As the world sings the saga of India rising, Indians are confounded by the contrasting realities. Everyday as millions of youths chase their dreams in the rapidly growing economy, million more continue to struggle in poverty, illiteracy and ill health. India presents a motley blend of mystery, wonder and despair, which leaves even the experts baffled. The ruling UPA boasts of a 9% growth, and promises 'inclusiveness'; the left on the other hand is vehemently critical of all its measures. The newspapers and the news channels are busy blaming the politicians, praising India Inc and swapping the page-3 news to page 1; the common man is left puzzled while trying to make sense of this chaotic mess.

The question, "How is India doing today?" can be addressed only in relative terms; with respect to its own past and its position in the current world. In a vast country like India, striking regional disparities can be seen due to differences in natural resources, growth rates, initial conditions, political structure and social traditions. Assessing development and tracking its history is imperative to understand the impact of social conditions, politics and public policies on socio-economic development. In this venture, demographic development indicators like poverty level, literacy rate, fertility rate and human development index give us a good measuring stick, through which we can rank our nation on the development ladder.


Poverty level

Poverty level indicates the number of people with low purchasing power and lack of access to basic amenities like drinking water, health care, education etc. The World Bank Development Indicator report (2004) estimates that roughly 1.1bn or 1/6th of the world population lives in extreme poverty, earning less than $1 per day. Majority of the world’s poor live in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and East Asia. In India, it is estimated that about 300 million people live below the extreme poverty line. The number of moderately poor is much higher. After Independence, Nehruvian socialist policies had little effect on reducing poverty. From the 1950’s to mid 70’s the poverty level hovered around 50% and showed no clear signs of decline. The 80's showed a significant decline in poverty: about 13% in a decade (see Fig.1). Land reforms, robust agricultural growth and export contributed to this decline, more than Indira's 'Garibi Hatao' rhetoric. Since the reforms in the 90's, economic development has been robust and dramatic, but the poverty levels show only a marginal decline. In fact, there is evidence that poverty actually increased during the early 90's, and it was only after 1998 that there was a clear indication of declining poverty. According to an NSS survey in 2005, about 27% of population lives below poverty line. There is widespread regional disparity in the prevalence of poverty. Punjab has less than 8.4% poor; whereas Orissa, Bihar, UP have 40% or more below the poverty line. Southern states like Karnataka (25%), Tamil Nadu (22.5%) have poverty levels close to the national average of 27%. Continued dependence on agriculture sector, which employs a staggering 60% of the total labor force and contributing only 20% to GDP has been cited as one of the prime reasons for persistent poverty. The jobs created since liberalization have been mainly in the service sector, giving little scope for the millions of illiterate or semi-literate population to reap the benefits of an open economy. Recent public initiatives like NREGS (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) and Food for Work are attempts to reduce poverty by using the unemployed to build rural infrastructure. There is mixed evidence for the effectiveness of these schemes. Long-term poverty reduction strategies should focus on making growth more inclusive through massive investment in human capital and creating opportunities to tap the human resources there in.




Fig. 1: Poverty rate in India
Source: Central Statistical Organization, Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation, Government of India.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_India


Literacy and Education level


Literacy rate measures the human capital (i.e. productive skills and knowledge) of the population. More literate population generally shows lower birthrate per woman, lesser infant mortality and has better access to economic activities. The performance of India in educating its population has been poor compared to many countries of the world. In 2001 world literacy averaged to 80%, while India remained far below the average at 66%. The literacy growth in India has been steady but slow. Back in the 50's, the literacy rate was just above 18%, and since then we have seen roughly an increase of 10% per decade, with the highest 13% increase in the 90's (see Fig. 2). Constitutionally the states bear the major responsibility of elementary education. Large regional disparities in literacy and learning levels reflect the poor efficacy of many state educational policies. Kerala stands apart with more than 90% literate population, which is largely a result of mass campaigns by people and political action termed as the ‘Kerala model’. States like Bihar, Rajasthan and UP hover around 55%. Surprisingly, the economically better performing states like Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have a literacy rate just above the national average. One of the prime drivers of human development is Female literacy. A literate female invariably takes care of her child’s health, nutritional and educational needs. Higher female literacy has been linked to decreased infant and maternal mortality rates, as well as a decrease in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.

Female literacy was dismally low till the 80's. It increased rapidly from 18% in 1981 to 38% in 1995. Hindi speaking states have shown greater gender disparity and correspondingly lower human development. Failure of states in addressing the educational access problem necessitated central intervention, and in 1976 a constitutional amendment was brought to make education a concurrent subject - i.e. a joint responsibility of state and central government. Some of the major central initiatives like partial implementation of Kothari commission report (1964), National Policy on Education (1986) etc have met with limited success. In 2000, Sarva Shiksha Abhyan (SSA) was launched by the NDA government with the objective of achieving Universal Elementary Education by 2010. Along with SSA, the Mid-day meal scheme was introduced nationwide in 2001. All these helped to substantially increase the enrollment in primary schools to 94% (Pratham ASER survey, 2005). The current trend shows that ensuring access to school for all is within reach and India is poised to achieve complete literacy by 2030. But the story is not complete; the Nationwide ASER survey also showed that the learning level of children is dismally poor in many states. About two-thirds of the students aged between 7-14 couldn’t read a story at grade 2 level, and about 40% of them couldn’t do basic subtraction and division. Drop out rates at primary schools still remain high. Another surprising finding is that children in some states with high enrollment like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka had very poor learning levels. The situation calls for shifting policy focus from access and enrollment to attainment and retention, to ensure that all the children enrolled learn well and complete their primary education.


Fig 2: Growth of literacy rates in India from 1950 to 2001.
[Source: http://indiabudget.nic.in/es2001-02/chapt2002/chap106.pdf]


Fertility rate and population growth:


Ever since Independence, population growth has been recognized as one of the major obstacles in the path of India’s development. Our population has increased three-folds from 360 million in 1951 to 1 billion plus in 2001. The population density of India is one of the highest in the world. One of the prime factors determining the population growth is the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime - termed as the Total Fertility Rate (TFR). The population will begin to stabilize if the TFR reaches below the replacement level of 2.1. However for the population to decline in numbers, it generally takes 25-30 years after reaching replacement level. Most of the developed countries have a fertility rate at or below the replacement; some countries, especially the European ones are experiencing negative population growth. According to UN estimates (2007), the world TFR is about 2.62, while India with a TFR of 2.82 is slightly above the world average.

India has had the one of the oldest family planning programs among developing countries. After Independence, India has made significant progress in reducing the fertility rate. In 1950, on an average 6 children were born per woman, as compared to 2.8 in 2007. If the current decline continues, India will most probably reach replacement level by 2020. In spite of this decline, India performs relatively poor with respect to countries with a similar history of population growth, like China, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Brazil etc. In these countries, population policies, coercive or otherwise succeeded in bringing down birth rates dramatically over the past 50 years. The task is certainly harder in India, especially with social taboos on sexuality and a lack of openness about sexual and reproductive health. Widespread resistance to sex education at school level has an adverse impact on the reproductive choices exercised by women.

There is astounding regional diversity within India with regard to birth rate. Many southern states, especially Kerala (1.7) and Tamil Nadu (1.8) have performed well in controlling their fertility rate. Some states like Karnataka, Maharashtra, Punjab, and AP are on the verge of reaching replacement level. The BIMARU (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh) states strikingly show very high birth rates, with all of them above 4 (see Fig. 3). These states also lag behind in female literacy, which is the key driver in reducing the fertility rate. The situation calls for greater focus in the Hindi-speaking belt by spreading awareness about family planning and reproductive health, sex education etc. In this venture there is more to learn from within the country than outside.


Fig 3: Total Fertility Rate distribution in India in 2001, darker Areas represent greater TFR. Source: www.demographie.net/sifp/EPW%20district%20Feb02.pdf


Life Expectancy and Health

The healthier a person is, the longer he or she lives. The average Life expectancy of population of indicates the physical health conditions of the people. Wealthier population can afford private medical care and generally live longer, while the longevity of poor crucially depends on conditions of public health, nutrition and sanitation services. Developed countries in Europe, North America and Australia have a Life Expectancy at Birth (LEB) of over 75 years, whereas the poorest countries in Sub Saharan Africa have a life expectancy of less than 45 years. India, China and most Asian countries have seen a dramatic increase in LEB after the 1950’s. In the late 1940's, on an average Indians used to live for 33 years. We then had a steady increase in life expectancy to 65 years in 2001 (see Fig 4). Elimination of small pox, and a sharp reduction in deaths due to Cholera and Malaria contributed to this increase in LEB. States now show relatively less variation in life expectancy; Bihar (61yrs) slightly lags behind Maharashtra (66 yrs), even Madhya Pradesh (57 yrs) with the lowest LEB among Indian states is not too far behind. Swaminathan Iyer argues, “increased longevity has been the greatest single benefit to Indian citizens since independence, a benefit spread across all states and income levels”. A word of caution has to be exercised before generalizing an increase in longevity to excellent public health. There are many other indicators of public health like Infant mortality, maternal mortality and malnutrition, in which India lags behind even some developing countries. In the name of structural adjustments, the government spending on public health has in fact decreased after the Economic liberalization. With a mere 1% of GDP allocation, India’s public health spending is among the lowest in the world. There are only 40 doctors per 10,000 people in India, where as in United States, it is as high as 2300. The scarcity of doctors can be addressed if we allow greater private participation in setting up medical colleges and hospitals. Only when we address these issues can we hope that our people will be healthier while the country is getting wealthier.


Fig 4. Life Expectancy of Indian’s from 1941-2001
Source: Registrar General of India (2003) SRS Based Abridged Life Tables.


Human Development Index

The inaugural UN-Human Development Report (1990) notes, "Physical expansion of economy, as measured by per capita GDP, does not necessarily mean that people are better off in the larger sense of the term, especially with regard to health, freedom, education and leisure time. People are the real wealth of a nation." Many countries in the world have shown good social development in spite of relatively poor economic conditions; for India the opposite appears to be true. To measure the quality of life, Amartya Sen and Mahbub-ul-Haq in the early 90's came up with a composite index called the Human Development Index (HDI). HDI (a number between 0 and 1) is based on a combination of factors like literacy, education level, life expectancy and per capita income. Countries with HDI greater than 0.8 are typically considered developed countries, 0.5 or below indicate an underdeveloped country. India has an average HDI of 0.63 (medium) and ranks 127 in the world according to the UNDP report-2005. India's high GDP growth contrasts with the poor human development indicating a failure at the social front. Achievements in literacy, access to public health and gender equality are far from impressive. The UNDP report adds, “Pervasive gender inequalities, interacting with rural poverty and inequalities among states are undermining the growth into human development." Regional disparities are clearly reflected in the varying degree of Human development. With an HDI of 0.85, Kerala is comparable to some European countries in quality of life, and presents a paradox of high social growth and poor economic growth. Contrastingly, some economically progressive states like Karnataka and AP have fared only moderately in this measure. BIMARU states rank at the bottom in state rankings of HDI. India’s failure in raising human development reflects the myopic vision of political leaders and policy makers; to them per capita growth has overshadowed the need for equity and inclusiveness. The ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme), considered the largest nutritional program in the world, has failed to deliver due to poor governance and rampant corruption. Public schools in many states are unsuccessful in checking high drop out rates and the ever-prevalent teacher absenteeism. Hardly 40% of the grains under the PDS (Public Distribution System) ever reach the people below poverty line (BPL). The ‘exclusion error’ and ‘distribution error’ in PDS are so high that it is considered one of most inefficient ways of income transfer to the poor. All these inefficiencies and inadequacies are reflected in the HDI.


Comparative study- India, China and South Korea


Before the 1950's more than two thirds of the humanity was poor. The problem area of the world was Asia, which had most of the world’s poor. The second half of the twentieth century saw dramatic changes in the demographic profile of the world. Many eastern countries emerged as economic giants, marked by the rise of Asian tigers in the 1960's and China’s reforms in 1978; where as India's liberalization in the early 90's is relatively recently. On the social front most of the East Asian countries have shown tremendous progress, reducing poverty increasing health and wealth of people. It is insightful to compare the India's journey through development with other Asian countries such as China and South Korea.

At the end of the world war-II (1945), the education and health status of people in these countries (India, China, South Korea) were similar. The literacy rates at 18%, 20% and 22% respectively, were comparable. During the fifties and sixties, South Korea massively invested in education; literacy grew at an unprecedented rate to 87% by 1970. This phenomenal rise in human capital coincided with the onset of economic boom pioneered by Gen. Park Chung-hee in early 1961-62. Consequently Korea saw a dramatic reduction in poverty over the next two decades. By the late 80's Koreans were no longer considered third world citizens.

China comes closest to India in terms of history and population. In the 1950's, beginning of the Mao era, China was socially and economically very backward. Although Mao has been criticized for his whimsical socio-political policies, his leadership saw high growth in the health and education sectors. Life expectancy and literacy rates rapidly improved during his regime. The controversial coercive 'one child policy' helped reduce the fertility rate significantly. In the late 70's, when Deng Xio Ping opened up markets, China was sufficiently advanced in its social indicators. People from all sections of society could reap the benefits of the opening of the economy. Manufacturing-led growth generated enormous wealth and employment; consequently over the next twenty years, China saw one of the most dramatic declines of poverty in history, lifting about 300 million people above the poverty level. The current HDI of China stands at 0.75 - very close to that of the developed nations. Experiences in these countries shows that participatory growth was largely led by the presence of good social infrastructure and human capital before the opening of markets.

In contrast, India showed a relatively slow and sluggish growth in the social sector before opening of the markets in 90's. With a literacy rate of just 55% and an HDI of 0.51, India was just above the margin of an underdeveloped country. The liberalization and globalization of the economy created enormous opportunities for the educated masses hailing mainly from middle class families; most of the people at the bottom layer were left completely untouched by the wave of liberalization. This growth didn't create the manufacturing or service jobs accessible to an illiterate/semi-literate rural population. Over the years that followed, poverty levels didn't show any drastic reduction. India’s HDI has increased slowly, but not at a rate commensurate with the per capita income growth.


Conclusion


The failure at the social front in the era of liberalization has been reflected with increased inequality and social unrest. While the GDP growth is absolutely essential, it should be seen more in terms of hitherto unseen social opportunities. To achieve inclusive and participatory growth, public policies should focus on substantial investment in human capital, ensure their efficient delivery through good governance and create opportunities for economic participation by all sections. The lessons learnt from the journey through our own past, and that of the world, tell us much about the road ahead in realizing the VISION 2020 of a developed India.


About the writer:
The author is a doctoral student in Physics at the Pennsylvania State University, PA, USA. He is also pursuing 'Minor' in Public Policy and Demography, with works focused on Education Policy. Jolad's details may be seen at:
http://www.personal.psu.edu/~saj169/MyWebpage/index.htm

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Schools for the poor: Chance or Choice?

Touted as an unsinkable ship of social progress, public schooling in India has been showing dismal performance for several decades. In spite of steady increase in funding, government schools have shown stagnated or stunted growth.

Consider the following facts: In India 82% of children in rural area and 47% of urban areas attend public schools. At any given time one in four teachers are absent from work at government schools in India (world bank and KSG Harvard study). Even though the enrollment rate in primary schools has stood around 94%, more than 40% of these children drop out after primary school. What is alarming is that learning level among these children is far below the minimal standards. ASER 2005 study shows that more than 60% of the children in 7-14 age group cannot read a simple story at grade 2 level, leave alone basic math skills.

Inspite of the above grim picture, one might cite examples of some specially targeted school systems (like Kendriya Vidyalaya's) showing considerable achievements, but they come at the expense of enormous inputs over a relatively small set. Attempts to scale up small successes working within the public system has achieved only marginal successes. The situation contrasts with percapita expenditure of government on these children. City governments in India spend Rs 1,000-1,700 per child on education? Not every year.. but every MONTH!! [School Choice]. State wise, for example Karnataka spends about Rs600 per child, per month, which is more than the average cost of private schooling. Studies show that on an average, children in private schools perform far better than public schools.

Why is this so? Is there something inherently wrong with public schools? No one denies the primary role of government to ensure education as a public good to available to all children in the society. But, the government is only a tool for the purpose of education, it just happens to be a wrong tool [1]. Government is inherently inefficient in delivering public goods. Bureaucracy, Un-competitiveness, hierarchical structure etc, have made public school system one of the most corrupt public sector in India. If not for the public schools how do we ensure universal access and equitable quality in education? I believe that best solution is to fund students -not schools, through educational vouchers.

An education voucher is a coupon offered by the government entitling a student to take education at any school of his choice. It is a tool in the hands of a poor student to exercise the same choices in education, as are available to the richer students [2]. School vouchers improve quality through competitive market mechanism. Private parties set up schools in order to attract students. Market forces make them to use the available resources in the most efficient manner and provide better quality of education. Underperforming schools will eventually phase out since every student, irrespective of socio-economic background is now empowered to choose the school of his/her choice.
Thus money from the market follows the student and not the underperforming schools. Eventually even the government schools have to compete with private schools to attract students and thus enriching the quality. The innovativeness of voucher system is to empower the poor to be a consumer in education market. Markets delivers the best products (here education) at the most competitive price. Voucher system has dual advantages: the efficiency and accountability of private sector, along with equity and universal access of the public sector [See: CCS-concept note].

Not everyone accepts the choice based of funding. Voucher critics argue that school choice system leads to commercialization of education, eventually destroy the public education and thus defying the purpose of universal elementary education. These critics argue from the ideological position that education, being a public good, should be delivered only by government. Their belief that private sector with its profit motive cannot deliver the public goods is quite wrong. For example, environmental protection is a necessary public good, and one most effective used method to reduce carbon emission is 'carbon trading'- a system based on markets with government playing the only as regulator. To combat poverty, Mohammad Yunnis (last year noble laurete economics) pioneered micro credits for poor in Bangaldesh , again based on market principles.

Let us come out of arguments, be scientific and ask, are there any evidence that the voucher system has worked in reality? YES... Voucher programs have been implemented in different forms in countries as diverse as Sweden, Chile, Holland, USA, UK, New Zealand, Czech Republic and even Bangladesh [CCS]. There is sufficient evidence to show that in many of these countries Voucher system has led to increased performance of schools, better test scores and learning levels.

"It will not work in India- India is different!", critics say. They don't have a clear idea why it might not work, they just say India is different!. But, is there any data to show that it has not worked (I should remind them of Sherlock Holmes words, "It is fatal to hypothize before one has the necessary data.")? NO.. Where as, I believe that it will work better in India. In India, public sector has performed worse than most countries, where as private sector performance is comparable.

Setting aside one's beliefs, ideologies or prejudices, we should seriously look into whether Voucher system works in India. I hope, medium scale experiments (say at the district level) will be carried out to measure the feasibility and effectiveness of Voucher system. If it works, we have a good solution to the long standing problem of under-performing school system in India.

References:
  1. School choices overview
  2. CCS India education choice campaign
  3. School choices India
  4. Kingdon, G. “The Quality and Efficiency of Public and Private Schools: A Case Study of Urban India”, Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, 58, No.1: 55-80, February 1996.
  5. Public and private schools in rural India, Karthik Muralidharan

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Indians dont have Sex, babies just happen!

Rahul Bose's comment on IBN live's Rising India , 'In India nobody has sex, suddenly babies happen!' , has more to it than just a pun.

There is a sharp contrast between the perception of 'tabooed Sex' and reality. There is more to it than just explaining the presence of billion plus population with no talk on Sex. Economic liberalization has not changed the social conservatism. We are not comfortable with the issues of sex and sexuality. Politicians are equally adamant in perpetuating this system. Three southern states-Madya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharastra, successively banned the Sex education in schools. This happens in a country which has the second highest number of AIDS cases in the world. Consider Karnataka education minister Basavaraj Horatti's statement "In today's world, we need moral education and not sex education”. Politcians have a tendency to equate sex education with pornography (I suspect probably they have only seen the latter :) ) and impose their opinions and prejudices on people without having the faintest idea about their implication. Studies in US indicate that 'there is little or no correlation between sex-education and promiscuity'. Studies world wide (US, Europe and Africa) show that sex education and awareness at early stages of childhood are key factors in reducing AIDS and other STDs along with developing a healthy sexual attitude.

There is another stronger reason for making sex education part of the curriculum in elementary schools. A grim story was revealed recently in the first ever nationwide survey on child abuse. One out of every two children in India is abused physically, emotionally or sexually. Consider the following facts: 88% face physical abuse from parents, 53% face sexual abuse, every 2nd child reports emotional abuse. Boys are equally vulnerable to abuse as girls. 70% of children have never reported the abuse! (Based on CNN-IBN discussion on Why kids are not safe in India?).

Parents and society are equally to be blamed for this messy situation. Physical abuse is apparent in almost every family. Even in schools, about 60% of the teachers beat up their kids. Indian society has infused every parent to treat their 'children as their commodity' and exercise their full authority over them. Rarely ever we talk about 'rights of child'. Little do we realzie that in more than 80% of the cases parents are the emotional abusers. Renuka Choudry says "we have unwittingly victimized the kids in one way or the other".

What is rather worrisome is that in a society which "apparently" treats sex as 'sin', more than 50% of the kids face sexual abuse. Most often the abusers are the one of who are "trust"worthy to the family like relatives, cousins and friends. Children are afraid to talk about this with their parents out of shame and guilt. Parents are hesitant to openly about relationships, sex, good touch versus bad touch. Loveleen Kackar, the author of the report says "there is actually a conspiracy of silence among parents, policy makers and the civil society". " Its happening everywhere but we are just putting it under the carpet. We put ban on Sex education, we don't want our kids to talk about sex. " says child rights activist Gerry Pinto.

One question keeps haunting me, 'when will we come out of this self imposed cocoon of conservatism and face the reality?' When will our politicians ever realize the consequences of their prejudice? Why do they want to hold back to the past?

If we wish to stop more than 100 million children from the wrath of abuse, it is time for the civil society to take strong action.