Letters to the editor

Readers' comments: Leftist media's obsession with a particular brand of secularism needs to stop

A selection of readers' opinions.

Speech debate

Narendra Modi may have a few problems he needs to sort out, such as responding faster to atrocities against Dalits and minorities, but the obsession of the Leftist media with one particular brand of secularism also needs to stop (“Why Modi’s 50-day speech did not include the word ‘mitron’ – nor mourn the demonetisation deaths”). It just seems as though certain sections of the media are dead set against Modi and the BJP and are unwilling to give them a fair chance. Can the secularists also explain why the Sachar committee report showed that Muslims had fared badly in over 60 years of secular and democratic India? Something tells me that secularists might find a way to blame the Hindu rightwing for this too. – Aakash

***

I read this article with great interest and it is well written. Of course, being a seasoned journalist, Ajaz Ashraf will not be naive enough to expect any reader to agree 100% with his views. But the undertone of communalism brooding in his mind seems to have been transferred to a third party – in this case to Modi – as it is easy to label someone on whom a label has been stuck by your fellowmen in the media. So, Ashraf has seamlessly incorporated the following sentences in his article which, to me reflects his mindset better than that of Modi’s.

Ashraf says: “By contrast, Muslims, by and large, do not vote his party – and, therefore, he didn’t feel the need to take a morally correct position.”

He adds. “In other words, Modi’s is an ever-changing moral universe, dependent on whether it is conducive to being used instrumentally for acquiring votes and power.”

Happy journalism and Happy New Year – Anirudh

***

I was surprised to see people enjoying New Year’s Eve. Clubs were full , airplanes were full I went to receive friends at Bangkok airport and saw many who had come for the holidays. It prompted me to wonder, where is the shortage if money and is it made-up? – Shiv Narayan Khare

***

It is a great pity that all you can do is regurgitate what has already been spewed so many times and in so many variations already. We all know the ilk of all the politicians. When has India ever voted for the best? They’ve only ever voted for the vilest or at best among the worst.

If anybody, including the writer, whom I presume is a patriot, has some fixes for the myriad problems that face every Indian from birth to death, please present it and seek our criticism of it bravely.

Here is someone who has broken from the status quo and has taken it on his chin.
Own up and show what positive and radical change you are prepared to take and share that with the English and non-English speaking population of India for comment. – Manoj

***

Oh my! So the political debate in the country should centre on whether or not the word “mitron” has been used? You have a bright future in political philosophy. Keep it up. – Bhadrakaali

***

It is easy to criticise Modi. But does Ajaz Ashraf wish for Modi to behave like MaunMohan Singh? Every leader, even Obama, can be criticised for what he did or did not do. 2014 elections were a reflection of what the people wanted. When 2019 arrives, we will see what the majority thinks! – Kalburgi Srinivas

No substance

I couldn’t finish this article because it is poorly written (“The demonetisation policy feeds on a divide, and that says something about Narendra Modi”) Do away with headlines and then a ton of lines with a back story template. It’s ridiculously long. Keep it to the point please. – Ishan

Old notes

Our government perhaps intends to introduce Rs 1,000 notes with a new design and don’t want hoarders of old notes to confuse or cheat innocent public by circulating the same along with new notes (“Why is there now a 4-year jail term for keeping demonetised notes (that are worthless anyway)?”). – Nagesh Bhandarkar

***

You mean you actually want to preserve banknotes with the signature of Raghuram Rajan, which the government is working so hard to remove? – Kamal Lodaya

Cash crisis

Because of errant bank workers, the government has somehow failed to show the expected results of the demonetisation exercise (“Demonetisation: Kotak Mahindra bank manager arrested for helping Paras Mal Lodha exchange old notes”). Actually, people of India and the entire process should give the government support and only then things will change. – Sanjay

Right to secrecy

The RBI is correct in not disclosing the reasons for the demonetisation exercise (“RBI refuses to answer RTI query seeking reasons for demonetisation of Rs 500, Rs 1,000 notes”). The safety of the country is very important. The applicant has ignored his responsibility to the nation.
I am also an RTI activist but I am very responsible while asking for information.
Information pertaining to the president and his office, the prime minister and his office, the armed forces, the CBI, RAW, chief justices and Supreme Court judges are beyond the purview of the RTI. – Siddhu Jonnalagadda

The long run

Remember, in the words of John Keynes, “In the long run we are all dead” (“Demonetisation meant for long-term structural transformation, not for short-term gain: Narendra Modi”). – Jawahar Mohamed

Grading educators

Most teachers in Delhi University don’t appreciate the significance and importance of accreditation (“No DU college got the NAAC’s top grade in its latest round of accreditations”). Every teacher feels that what they do is best. Academics at DU are teacher-centric. Most teachers don’t know what the best modern teaching and learning practices are. As a former dean of DU, I know that the university gets very good students and its academic system is reasonably good, but implementation by teachers is severely lacking. Student assessment system is out-dated, no emphasis on student learning and continuous improvement. Students do well because of the environment, academic facilities and competitive culture prevalent in the university. – PS Grover

Star bright

Rajesh Khanna’s popularity was not on the wane in 1974 – in fact that was the year had three big hits (“The rediscovery of Rajesh Khanna the actor in ‘Aavishkar’”). It is only post 1975 that he lost his stardom, despite which he was always referred to as a superstar.

He remained the highest paid star till 1979 and shared the honour with Amitab Bachchan till 1983.In 1983, he did make a comeback with three hits, among which Avtaar was a super hit.

Rajesh Khanna was a miracle born out of an affair with destiny itself. He had a charm that even fate could not resist. The biggest difference between him and all other stars was that he had devotees whereas others had fans.

He came into existence as a reel god – perhaps that was the real god’s intention. – Kannan

Economic blow

This is a brilliant article, thank you so much (“Modi ‘miscalculated the Indian ability for jugaad’: Statistician Pronab Sen on demonetisation fiasco”). It answered some of the many questions and concerns that I have had over these past months.

I am an Australian and was in India for the Pushkar Mela when demonetisation was announced. I like to experience this festival every year, staying sometimes for three months, and it has been very hard to see the devastating effect of demonetisation on the poorer people of this area in Rajasthan. It has also been difficult (and sometimes distressing) for me to understand the psyche of Indians, how so many are happy to see this as a positive move without looking at the overall picture. – Sandy

Body politics

This is a thought-provoking article (“Immanuel Kant said sexual desire is morally wrong – he may have had a point”). I didn’t study much about Kant’s philosophical discourses, but the way his views on sexual desire have been presented here, it looks like his arguments were based on the sexual objectification of a person. There is a clear distinction we often tend to forget, between objectifying anyone’s body and anybody.

When a person lusts for another person’s body, he or she objectifies that other person’s body, not the other person. That other person, subject to consent, then, can act as a medium to fulfil the first person’s sexual desire by offering his or her body for sex. And the matter of consent comes in because we own our bodies, not because we are our bodies.

This assumption of objectification of a person happens only when we tend to identify ourselves too much with only our bodies. We can take the examples of a lot of performing arts and sporting activities too here. People often get infatuated with somebody who has a very beautiful singing voice or exceptional dancing skills etc. But this infatuation doesn’t really objectify the musician or the dancer, instead it objectifies their specific gifted talents.

So the solution lies in a) not associating ourselves with our bodies, b) controlling our desire to a level that does not end up exploiting another person and more importantly, respecting the consent from the other person as well, and c) balancing our desire for sexual pleasure with the sense of fulfilling the partner’s desire though sex. Interestingly many of these points have been discussed in many religious philosophies as well. Srijan Acharya

***

Sexual desire, like any desire, can be seen as morally wrong only if one accepts some moral standard against which it is to be judged. The desire during sex is not inherently objectifying but can become so when the person is no longer attuned to the other.

In contrast it is the living, breathing, person that brings a dimension to sexual encounter that is absent in masturbation and squelched to various degrees in prostitution. It is with effort that we de-humanise others so as to act in ways foreign to our true agency.

The fact that we begin to lose those personal boundaries and come as close to conjoined, unified beings during sex is not in itself wrong or bad.

It is impossible not to desire. Even Buddha, desired to be free from desire. The desire is not the issue. The proper type, degree, and context of that desire are justified only in relationship to some higher purpose.

In Christian Theism, sex is seen as a gift from god that functions to reflect his unity and completeness of being in the trinity. It is complete between (here comes the unpalatable part) one man and one woman in the context of lifelong, committed monogamy through which they go from being in love to learning how to love, from novelty to deeper knowledge of the other, from submission-domination against which the feminists rightly railed to mutual submission through servanthood (this is a choice to submit my will for the benefit of my partner, an active receptivity that brings something to each they cannot produce for themselves – and this is what protects from objectifying my partner).

Being lost in ecstatic pleasure is the reward for the fullest appreciation and desire toward the whole of his or her being and actually is a form of worship. Only when removed from those constraining and defining marital boundaries of permanent allegiance do we begin to lust and objectify our partner. For there is no standard of goodness, or love, or commitment, or worship involved when we cut ourselves free from that god-centred anchor. Without this, we cannot even be sure of what we desire or when it is perfected or perverted. – Thomas Weeston

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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.