The Daily Fix

The Daily Fix: Persecuted Pakistani Hindus are allowed refuge in India, so why not Rohingyas?

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The Big Story: Communalising shelter

In 2015, the government announced that it would allow minority-community refugees from Pakistan and Bangladesh to stay on in India even if their visas had expired. This decision, said the government, had been taken on humanitarian grounds, given the persecution religious minorities face in the two countries.

However, the humanitarianism that was claimed as the basis of that decision does not seem to ring completely true. Even as the Union government was making space for Hindu refugees from Pakistan and Bangladesh, it was threatening to expel Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic group in Myanmar who are often called the “world’s most persecuted minority”. Not only are they stateless – their own country does not recognise their citizenship – but Myanmar has over the past weeks been accused of committing genocide on the group in the hope of ethnically cleansing them. If humanitarianism is a value New Delhi holds dear, India should open its gates for the Rohingyas too. Instead, the Union government is keen on deporting Rohingyas who are already here.

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear a petition asking for the Union government to desist from its attempt to deport Rohingyas. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to discuss the issue with top Myanmar officials when he stops in the capital, Naypyidaw, on his way back from China. It’s clear that the Union government’s recent decisions have been driven by political considerations. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s ideological framework imagines India as a land of Hindus. This philosophy drives it to fashion a communal refugee policy that sees persecuted peoples through the lens of their religion. The court, however, should have no such explicit considerations.

India, it might be noted, has no laws on how to treat refugees. But even though India is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, these rules are now widely seen as part of customary international law, applicable across the board. One of the core principles of the 1951 convention is non-refoulment: a state cannot force refugees to return to a country “where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”. In international forums, in fact, India has repeatedly backed this principle.

Can the Supreme Court then apply this customary international law to help the Rohingyas? Precedents exist to allow it to do so. In Gramophone Company Of India Ltd vs Birendra Bahadur Pandey, the Supreme Court was of the opinion that as long as it did not run into conflict with Indian law, customary international law can apply in the country.

The Supreme Court should break free of the BJP’s cynical politics and apply the law to the case of the Rohingyas, ensuring that India honours the principle of non-refoulment.

The Big Scroll

  • A people without a home: Rohingya refugees in Jaipur told to leave by end of August, reports Abhishek Dey.
  • India cannot deport Rohingya refugees without violating international law, explains Rineeta Naik.
  • “If I were a bird, I would fly home to Burma”: Jammu’s Rohingya refugees hit by wave of hostility, reports Rayan Naqash.
  • In Delhi’s Rohingya camp, a refugee couple describe their 40-year search for a place to call home, reports Abhishek Dey.

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  • The Right to Information Act needs to be protected against attempts to dilute it, write Christophe Jaffrelot and Basim U Nissa in the Indian Express.
  • Beware of the wrong lessons from Doklam, argues Srinath Raghavan in the Mint. The Doklam standoff needs to be seen for what it was – an indication of the steady deterioration in the ability of India and China to deal with such situations


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‘This is illogical,’  said a senior official involved in the drafting of the standards at the bureau. ‘You set the standards for the output first and then design the products and the processes to ensure a certain quality of output. You don’t design the product first and then decide the standards based on what you have.’”

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Relying on the power of habits to solve India’s mammoth sanitation problem

Adopting three simple habits can help maximise the benefits of existing sanitation infrastructure.

India’s sanitation problem is well documented – the country was recently declared as having the highest number of people living without basic sanitation facilities. Sanitation encompasses all conditions relating to public health - especially sewage disposal and access to clean drinking water. Due to associated losses in productivity caused by sickness, increased healthcare costs and increased mortality, India recorded a loss of 5.2% of its GDP to poor sanitation in 2015. As tremendous as the economic losses are, the on-ground, human consequences of poor sanitation are grim - about one in 10 deaths, according to the World Bank.

Poor sanitation contributes to about 10% of the world’s disease burden and is linked to even those diseases that may not present any correlation at first. For example, while lack of nutrition is a direct cause of anaemia, poor sanitation can contribute to the problem by causing intestinal diseases which prevent people from absorbing nutrition from their food. In fact, a study found a correlation between improved sanitation and reduced prevalence of anaemia in 14 Indian states. Diarrhoeal diseases, the most well-known consequence of poor sanitation, are the third largest cause of child mortality in India. They are also linked to undernutrition and stunting in children - 38% of Indian children exhibit stunted growth. Improved sanitation can also help reduce prevalence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Though not a cause of high mortality rate, NTDs impair physical and cognitive development, contribute to mother and child illness and death and affect overall productivity. NTDs caused by parasitic worms - such as hookworms, whipworms etc. - infect millions every year and spread through open defecation. Improving toilet access and access to clean drinking water can significantly boost disease control programmes for diarrhoea, NTDs and other correlated conditions.

Unfortunately, with about 732 million people who have no access to toilets, India currently accounts for more than half of the world population that defecates in the open. India also accounts for the largest rural population living without access to clean water. Only 16% of India’s rural population is currently served by piped water.

However, there is cause for optimism. In the three years of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the country’s sanitation coverage has risen from 39% to 65% and eight states and Union Territories have been declared open defecation free. But lasting change cannot be ensured by the proliferation of sanitation infrastructure alone. Ensuring the usage of toilets is as important as building them, more so due to the cultural preference for open defecation in rural India.

According to the World Bank, hygiene promotion is essential to realise the potential of infrastructure investments in sanitation. Behavioural intervention is most successful when it targets few behaviours with the most potential for impact. An area of public health where behavioural training has made an impact is WASH - water, sanitation and hygiene - a key issue of UN Sustainable Development Goal 6. Compliance to WASH practices has the potential to reduce illness and death, poverty and improve overall socio-economic development. The UN has even marked observance days for each - World Water Day for water (22 March), World Toilet Day for sanitation (19 November) and Global Handwashing Day for hygiene (15 October).

At its simplest, the benefits of WASH can be availed through three simple habits that safeguard against disease - washing hands before eating, drinking clean water and using a clean toilet. Handwashing and use of toilets are some of the most important behavioural interventions that keep diarrhoeal diseases from spreading, while clean drinking water is essential to prevent water-borne diseases and adverse health effects of toxic contaminants. In India, Hindustan Unilever Limited launched the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, a WASH behaviour change programme, to complement the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Through its on-ground behaviour change model, SASB seeks to promote the three basic WASH habits to create long-lasting personal hygiene compliance among the populations it serves.

This touching film made as a part of SASB’s awareness campaign shows how lack of knowledge of basic hygiene practices means children miss out on developmental milestones due to preventable diseases.


SASB created the Swachhata curriculum, a textbook to encourage adoption of personal hygiene among school going children. It makes use of conceptual learning to teach primary school students about cleanliness, germs and clean habits in an engaging manner. Swachh Basti is an extensive urban outreach programme for sensitising urban slum residents about WASH habits through demos, skits and etc. in partnership with key local stakeholders such as doctors, anganwadi workers and support groups. In Ghatkopar, Mumbai, HUL built the first-of-its-kind Suvidha Centre - an urban water, hygiene and sanitation community centre. It provides toilets, handwashing and shower facilities, safe drinking water and state-of-the-art laundry operations at an affordable cost to about 1,500 residents of the area.

HUL’s factory workers also act as Swachhata Doots, or messengers of change who teach the three habits of WASH in their own villages. This mobile-led rural behaviour change communication model also provides a volunteering opportunity to those who are busy but wish to make a difference. A toolkit especially designed for this purpose helps volunteers approach, explain and teach people in their immediate vicinity - their drivers, cooks, domestic helps etc. - about the three simple habits for better hygiene. This helps cast the net of awareness wider as regular interaction is conducive to habit formation. To learn more about their volunteering programme, click here. To learn more about the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, click here.

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