rule of law

What exactly is anti-national about shouting ‘Pakistan zindabad'?

It’s worth trying to understand what is meant by 'anti-national'.

Some months ago, Barkha Dutt was in Mumbai to record a “We The People” show about the execution of 1993 serial blasts convict Yakub Memon. At one point nearing the end, Dutt offered the mike to a young and clearly Muslim woman in the audience. This woman spoke briefly about her sense that justice is selectively applied in this country, and the insecurity she felt as a result.

How many people agreed with her, I don’t know. But her words seemed to ruffle a few feathers in the room. As I was leaving, a man came up and said, pointing to the woman: “How can she talk like that? These people held a big funeral for Memon! How is that supposed to make the rest of us feel about them? Isn’t that anti-national?”

His anguish, his discomfort over what had happened at Memon’s funeral, was clearly genuine. Therefore I was sure he would remember, as many of us do, another funeral in this city in late 2012.

Selective memory

Referring to the man who had died then, Justice BN Srikrishna’s inquiry report into the 1992-'93 massacres in this city said that he was “like a veteran General [who] commanded his loyal Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by organised attacks against Muslims.” During those same massacres, the man who had died wrote several editorials in his party mouthpiece making many statements about his fellow-Indians. One such statement was this:

“Pakistan need not cross the border and attack India. 25 crore Muslims in India will stage an armed insurrection. They form one of Pakistan’s seven atomic bombs.”

These lines effectively labelled an entire section of Indians traitors by virtue of their religion. So consider them in the light of Section 153B of the Indian Penal Code, which says:

“Whoever, by words either spoken or written, makes any imputation that any class of people cannot, by reason of their being members of any religious group, bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India... shall be punished with imprisonment up to three years or fine or both.”

Did that editorial violate Section 153B?

For this man’s funeral procession, perhaps two million people poured onto the streets, dwarfing any funeral – or any event, really – before or since. For his cremation, he was wrapped in the Indian flag and given a gun salute. The spot where his pyre stood remains as a memorial to him; the government of Maharashtra is considering allotting land for a bigger memorial to him, and is actually building it using public money. In other words, millions of Indians this man called traitorous will actually contribute towards a memorial to him. How is all this supposed to make the rest of us feel? A photographer who covered the event found an answer in his father’s reaction:

“I told him he got state honours and his face sank… As I was about to leave, he asked, still unsure if I had told him correctly, ‘They gave him a gun salute?’”

Points to ponder

At Dutt’s show, in the space of a half-minute or so, I tried to tell the anguished man all this. I’m not sure he fully grasped what I was getting at, but he did look at me in some astonishment. I’m not sure why.

“Anti-national” is an empty, meaningless and yet destructive label to fling about. And as we all know, it has been flung about a great deal in recent days and weeks, especially on two well-known university campuses.

Merely saying it is meaningless, though, may not persuade anyone. After all, recent days and weeks also suggest that plenty of us are falling over ourselves and each other to call people anti-national. So perhaps it’s worth asking some questions instead:

  • If you distribute swords to a crowd that then slaughters several dozen Indians, is that distribution anti-national?
  • If such a sword-distributor is subsequently appointed as a minister, is that appointment anti-national?
  • If you become rich beyond any known source of income because you dip liberally into public money, is that dipping anti-national?
  • If you lie in performing your constitutional and judicial duties, is such lying anti-national? If you applaud such lying, is such applause anti-national?
  • If you pronounce that you will not be bound by the verdict of this country’s courts, is that pronouncement anti-national?
  • If you label one in every six Indians anti-national because of their religion, is such labelling anti-national? In fact, if you label anyone anti-national, is such labelling anti-national?
  • If you beat up journalists doing their jobs, is such beating anti-national?

I could go on, of course. But perhaps the point is clear. If you are really intent on painting some people as anti-national for some reason, you should be aware that others will find equally good reason, using irrefutable logic, to paint your heroes – maybe even you – as anti-national too.

At a meeting I attended in the wake of the JNU fracas, a burly lawyer rose from his seat. Given what some lawyers had been up to in Delhi, this might have set off a ripple of unease in the room. But this man walked to the front and mounted a passionate defence of JNU and free speech. Among other things, he suggested that the true test of a commitment to free speech comes when the speech offends – even, or especially, to the extent that you are tempted to lash out with that label “anti-national”.

“So I want to know,” he asked, “exactly what is anti-national about shouting ‘Pakistan zindabad’.”

Worth a thought.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.