social security net

Rural elderly send Modi Rs 7 – a day's pension – to protest stagnant social benefits

Central government's contribution to social pensions has remained at Rs 200 a month for ten years.

On May Day, hundreds of people working on the Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Scheme in Jharkhand each donated Rs 5 to the government on May Day to protest the fact that their wages had increased by only that amount. On Thursday, hundreds of pensioners donated Rs 7 – equivalent to a single day's pension – to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“The Modi government must be facing huge shortages,” said 76-year- old Chhagni Devi, who had come to Delhi from Taragarh in Rajasthan's Ajmer district to join elderly poor people from several states had gathered to protest the central government's stagnant allocations to social pensions.

The government has failed to revise the figure since 2006, or index it to price rise and inflation. As a result, payments under the official pension scheme have remained a meagre Rs 200 a month for the past ten years.

As Chhagni Devi put her thumb impression on a letter signed by hundreds of pensioners and attached a demand draft to be sent to the prime minister, she explained her problems. With no other source of income, Chhagni Devi said that she and her husband buy medicines and essential supplies from their combined pension.

Badami Devi from a village in Ajmer has not received her pension for six months.
Badami Devi from a village in Ajmer has not received her pension for six months.

Activists from Pension Parishad, the coalition of social movements that had organised the protest, pointed out that the Modi government had allotted Rs 12,152 crore to social security this year, which is 0.08% of the gross domestic product. According to an Asian Development Bank study in Asia and the Pacific, even much smaller countries do better than India on the social protection index: Sri Lanka spends 3.2%, Thailand 3.6% and Nepal 2.1% of GDP on social security.

Most of the government's pension expenditure goes to civil servants, who form a very small proportion of the elderly in India.

In principle, the Ministry of Rural Development's National Social Assistance Programme or social pension is meant to cover all eligible people below the poverty line – those older than 60, widows over 40, and those with over 80% disability or multiple disabilities. But the government has capped the number of beneficiaries in each state, which means that in many states even those eligible cannot get pensions. Chhagni Devi said she had she started receiving her pension only three years ago, 16 years after turning 60.

Sixty five-year-old Kushma Devi, who earns Rs 30-Rs 40 per day mending shoes in Bihar's Vaishali district, said she had not been able to get a pension despite several applications to the authorities.

Kushma Devi's application for social pension was not accepted.
Kushma Devi's application for social pension was not accepted.

Bitoli Devi, a MNREGA worker from Makrera village in Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh, said she used her Rs 300 pension to buy vegetables, flour, and clothing, but was finding it increasing difficult to support herself as prices kept increasing.

Several beneficiaries reported facing disruptions and harassment for months after their pensions were shifted from post offices to banks under the union government's Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile platform. Mool Singh, a 63-year-old small farmer from Rajasthan said he had not been able to get his pension of Rs 500 (the Rajasthan government add Rs 300 to the allocation of Rs 200 by the centre) since it was moved from the post-offce to a bank.

“I visited the bank four times, but bank officials turn me away saying I have not got pension in my account in six months,” said Singh, pointing to a blank passbook of the Baroda Rajasthan Kshetriya Gramin Bank.

Mool Singh, who owns a small plot of plot on arid Ajmer is worried his pension has been discontinued without informing him.
Mool Singh, who owns a small plot of plot on arid Ajmer is worried his pension has been discontinued without informing him.

While the Pension Parishad is demanding a universal, non-contributory pension of at least Rs 3,000 a month for workers in the unorganised sector, the Modi government has launched a contributions-based pensions scheme, the Atal Pension Yojana. Under this, beneficiaries will get payouts based on monthly contributions over a minimum of 20 years. For instance, a 40-year-old worker must contribute Rs 291 every month for 20 years to get a pension of Rs 1,000 when she turns 60.

Social activists pointed out that those over 40 years of age cannot join the Atal pension scheme. Besides, it will not be possible for casual labourers who lose or change jobs frequently to maintain steady contributions over a period of 20 to 25 years. As a result, the scheme will exclude a large number of poor in the unorganised sector, they note.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”


“Like what?”


A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”




“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:


This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.