REGIONAL CONCERNS

First India-China border talks under Modi likely to make progress on Line of Actual Control

With strongmen leading both countries, discussions that begin on Monday could get a fresh impetus.

With two political strongmen, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, at the helm of their billion-plus nations, prospects of the two countries finally getting down to working towards settling their vexed boundary dispute have increased.


National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, as India’s special representative, sits across the table from China’s state councillor, Yang Jiechi at the imposing Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Monday for the 18th round of boundary talks. The Chinese leader will also be calling on PM Modi on March 24 morning.


The importance of this round lies in the fact that it will be the first one to be held by the Modi government, which is working towards an even tighter strategic clinch with the US than the previous Manmohan Singh regime. As New Delhi and Washington move closer, a sense of uneasiness prevails over this in Beijing.

Even as it bitterly jostles with its neighbours in the contentious South China Sea, China is getting increasingly worried about the ongoing American rebalancing of forces towards the Asia-Pacific region. It will need to keep its borders with India calm and peaceful.

Modi, who is slated to visit China in May, would of course like to brandish a breakthrough with China to top off his continuing focus on foreign policy since he took charge last year. Equally, Xi Jinping, who is now two years into his presidency, too can play an important role in moving a step forward on the boundary issue.

Testing waters

But we should not expect miracles.

The long-standing dispute over the 4,057-km long Line of Actual Control is too complex to be resolved in the near future, even if Modi and Xi show extraordinary political will. A resolution would require both the Indian Elephant and the Chinese Dragon to be ready for concessions and compromises.

This is easier said than done when it involves the competing claims over thousands of square kilometres of territory form two Asian giants who are geo-strategic rivals in the region and beyond. For instance, If China claims the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, spread over 90,000 sq km, India wants to reclaim the Aksai Chin area in Jammu spread over 38,000 sq km.

The two sides will primarily use the opportunity to test the waters and gauge each other, especially in the backdrop of China dealing with a new, stronger, right-wing Indian government this time. It will also have to reckon with a new SR in Doval, who unlike his predecessor Shiv Shankar Menon is no China expert.

The two sides could then work to give it final shape for it to be a substantive outcome when Modi visits Beijing in May. Modi stressed this need for clarification of the LAC to ensure “peace and tranquillity on the border” to “realise the potential of our relations” when Xi visited India in September last year.

Stuck at the second step

After the SRs kicked off their first round of talks in October 2004, India and China did manage to ink the ‘Agreement on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for Settlement of the Boundary Question’ the very next year.

This was the step one of the three-stage roadmap drawn up by the two sides. However, in the decade since, the two have not been able to work out step two, which entails a framework agreement for a boundary settlement.

They have not even been able to exchange maps for the western sector (Ladakh) and eastern sector (Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh) of the LAC, with Beijing dragging its feet on this critical step. The only exchange of maps that has taken place is for the least contentious middle sector (Uttarakhand, Himachal) over a decade ago.

The third and final step of the SR mechanism would be to provide the basis for the delineation and demarcation of the India-China boundary.

As the discussions to resolve the dispute have proceeded at a snail’s place, China has assiduously built and upgraded its military infrastructure all along the LAC over the past decade. Jolted out of its stupor, India is only now trying to play catch up.

In the absence of a clearly demarcated boundary, soldiers from both sides repeatedly cross the LAC to strengthen claims to disputed areas leading to frequent troop face-offs and confrontations.

Chinese incursions

In April-May 2013, for instance, the 19-km deep incursion by the People’s Liberation Army into the Depsang Valley in the Daulat Beg Oldi sector of eastern Ladakh led to a 21-day stand-off between the two armies. It even threatened to derail then PM Manmohan Singh’s impending China visit but was eventually resolved in time for him to go ahead as planned.

The episode led the two countries to finalise the ‘Border Defence Co-operation Agreement’ to defuse troop face-offs. The story, however, was repeated, with another prolonged confrontation in the Chumar sector of eastern Ladakh last September, which coincided with Xi’s visit to India.

But in both the incidents, as in other confrontations over the years, not a bullet was fired from either side.  This augurs well for the management of the border dispute. But what is now needed is its resolution to rid the two countries of the continuing problem bedeviling their bilateral ties.

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Removing the layers of complexity that weigh down mental health in rural India

Patients in rural areas of the country face several obstacles to get to treatment.

Two individuals, with sombre faces, are immersed in conversation in a sunlit classroom. This image is the theme across WHO’s 2017 campaign ‘Depression: let’s talk’ that aims to encourage people suffering from depression or anxiety to seek help and get assistance. The fact that depression is the theme of World Health Day 2017 indicates the growing global awareness of mental health. This intensification of the discourse on mental health unfortunately coincides with the global rise in mental illness. According to the latest estimates from WHO, more than 300 million people across the globe are suffering from depression, an increase of 18% between 2005 and 2015.

In India, the National Mental Health Survey of India, 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) revealed the prevalence of mental disorders in 13.7% of the surveyed population. The survey also highlighted that common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. Perhaps the most crucial finding from this survey is the disclosure of a huge treatment gap that remains very high in our country and even worse in rural areas.

According to the National Mental Health Programme, basic psychiatric care is mandated to be provided in every primary health centre – the state run rural healthcare clinics that are the most basic units of India’s public health system. The government provides basic training for all primary health centre doctors, and pays for psychiatric medication to be stocked and available to patients. Despite this mandate, the implementation of mental health services in rural parts of the country continues to be riddled with difficulties:

Attitudinal barriers

In some rural parts of the country, a heavy social stigma exists against mental illness – this has been documented in many studies including the NIMHANS study mentioned earlier. Mental illness is considered to be the “possession of an evil spirit in an individual”. To rid the individual of this evil spirit, patients or family members rely on traditional healers or religious practitioners. Lack of awareness on mental disorders has led to further strengthening of this stigma. Most families refuse to acknowledge the presence of a mental disorder to save themselves from the discrimination in the community.

Lack of healthcare services

The average national deficit of trained psychiatrists in India is estimated to be 77% (0.2 psychiatrists per 1,00,000 population) – this shows the scale of the problem across rural and urban India. The absence of mental healthcare infrastructure compounds the public health problem as many individuals living with mental disorders remain untreated.

Economic burden

The scarcity of healthcare services also means that poor families have to travel great distances to get good mental healthcare. They are often unable to afford the cost of transportation to medical centres that provide treatment.

After focussed efforts towards awareness building on mental health in India, The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF), founded by Deepika Padukone, is steering its cause towards understanding mental health of rural India. TLLLF has joined forces with The Association of People with Disability (APD), a non-governmental organisation working in the field of disability for the last 57 years to work towards ensuring quality treatment for the rural population living with mental disorders.

APD’s intervention strategy starts with surveys to identify individuals suffering from mental illnesses. The identified individuals and families are then directed to the local Primary Healthcare Centres. In the background, APD capacity building programs work simultaneously to create awareness about mental illnesses amongst community workers (ASHA workers, Village Rehabilitation Workers and General Physicians) in the area. The whole complex process involves creating the social acceptance of mental health conditions and motivating them to approach healthcare specialists.

Participants of the program.
Participants of the program.

When mental health patients are finally free of social barriers and seeking help, APD also mobilises its network to make treatments accessible and affordable. The organisation coordinates psychiatrists’ visits to camps and local healthcare centres and ensures that the necessary medicines are well stocked and free medicines are available to the patients.

We spent a lot of money for treatment and travel. We visited Shivamogha Manasa and Dharwad Hospital for getting treatment. We were not able to continue the treatment for long as we are poor. We suffered economic burden because of the long- distance travel required for the treatment. Now we are getting quality psychiatric service near our village. We are getting free medication in taluk and Primary Healthcare Centres resulting in less economic stress.

— A parent's experience at an APD treatment camp.

In the two years TLLLF has partnered with APD, 892 and individuals with mental health concerns have been treated in the districts of Kolar, Davangere, Chikkaballapur and Bijapur in Karnataka. Over 4620 students participated in awareness building sessions. TLLLF and APD have also secured the participation of 810 community health workers including ASHA workers in the mental health awareness projects - a crucial victory as these workers play an important role in spreading awareness about health. Post treatment, 155 patients have resumed their previous occupations.

To mark World Mental Health Day, 2017, a team from TLLLF lead by Deepika Padukone visited program participants in the Davengere district.

Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.
Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.

In the face of a mental health crisis, it is essential to overcome the treatment gap present across the country, rural and urban. While awareness campaigns attempt to destigmatise mental disorders, policymakers need to make treatment accessible and cost effective. Until then, organisations like TLLLF and APD are doing what they can to create an environment that acknowledges and supports people who live with mental disorders. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.