22nd October 2018
Answer questions in NOT MORE than 200 words each. Content of the answer is more important than its length.
Links are provided for reference. You can also use the Internet fruitfully to further enhance and strengthen your answers.
GS II- SOCIAL-LABOUR
Q1. Discuss the problems faced by migrant workers in India. How can the labour laws solve the issue?
- Migrant workers work in unskilled or semi-skilled jobs in a wide range of activities such as in agriculture, brick kilns and construction work, salt pans and domestic work, petty services and trades (food and street vending) as well as in textiles and garments, embroidery and diamond cutting and polishing, small engineering and electronics and also small and big factories.
- Segmenting the labour market and creating a separate labour market for migrant workers – who are easy to exploit – has been a common strategy of employers across India. The pathetic conditions migrant workers face have been widely documented. They earn low wages, work very long hours without any overtime benefits, and are almost without any leave or social protection. Lakhs of unskilled and migrant workers live on worksites in makeshift huts (usually made of tin sheets) or on roads, slums and in illegal settlements not served by municipalities. They are neither able to save much to improve their conditions back in their home States nor save enough to live comfortably in Gujarat. They go back home only once or twice to celebrate festivals. Semi-skilled workers with some education and skills (such as those in diamond cutting and polishing units, power looms and factories) get slightly higher wages and earn some leave. However, these workers are also exploited in multiple ways and are mostly unprotected. Factory owners, employers and traders are only too happy with such a situation as they earn huge profits from wage labour exploitation.
- Local workers resent the presence of migrant workers who they feel take away their jobs in factories and other places on account of being cheap labour. The recent attacks on migrant labour after an incident in Gujarat late last month, involving the sexual assault of a 14-month-old girl, allegedly by a migrant labourer from Bihar, appears to be have been a consequence of this resentment. Many migrant workers have now rushed out to their home States out of fear despite several local people having been taken into custody on the charge of inciting violence against migrant workers. There have been reports of an estimated 60,000 to more than a lakh workers leaving the State. Those who have stayed back now live under constant fear.
- Under the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act and other labour laws (for unorganised workers), migrant workers are legally entitled to all their basic labour rights. These include minimum wages, regular wage payment, regular working hours and overtime payment, and decent working and living conditions which include taking care of the health and education of their children.
- Under the same Act, the governments of the States from where migrant workforce originate are expected to issue licences to contractors who take workers away, register such workers and also monitor their working and living conditions in other States. But most State governments remain indifferent to these laws. Gujarat has taken a few steps but these are far from adequate
- In the end, the real solution to this issue would be to enforce all relevant labour laws for migrant workers so that segmentation of the labour market becomes weak, and workers (local and migrant) get a fair and equal deal in the labour market. This will also weaken unfair competition between local and migrant labour and enable migrant workers either to settle down in the place of destination or to go back home and make a good living there.
GS II- POLITY-LEGISLATIONS
Q2. Discuss the need to amend the laws protecting antiques in India.
- The construct around a civilisational history frequently emerges from untouched archaeological sites. Consequently, the premium has long been on archaeologists guiding a nation on what constitutes its history, memory and culture. This ingrained notion has foundationally resulted in the framing of India’s laws based on a singular view of what constitutes an antique. To hang onto this view in today’s age is destructive as can be seen from the fate of antique collecting across India. The prevalent assumption that is constantly alluded to is that every object held by an institution or a collector must have been surreptitiously removed from a shrine or a sacred site.
- But a civilisational history cannot be constructed purely by an archaeological agency. While it is an important component, other groups such as littérateurs, historians, anthropologists and curators also contribute valuable insights into our material culture. However, the framing of our laws has not happened in conjunction with any of these disciplines. This was because at the time of law framing, the agenda was to preserve India’s material culture which was then under threat much like material heritage of several source countries across the world was. What was thus valid for India at the time of Independence no longer fits in with the requirements, reality and needs of a confident modern-day state that seeks to understand its past.
- The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 has consequently long outlived the purpose for which it was drafted. While a promised amendment has been floated on the website of the Union Ministry of Culture, its status is still largely unknown. The laws that consequently govern the ownership of historical objects, their purchase and sale have, with increasing frequency, been a disincentive for the average collector. Cultural vigilantism and the presumption of guilt without trial, public shaming and the resultant media trial have led to a state of affairs that is dangerous – casting a long shadow on the production of knowledge of our past.
- Registering antiquities with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has long been a cumbersome and difficult procedure for most collectors, with the state simply not equipped to handle the needs of a growing populace of collectors. Compounding this is the rule that every object over a 100 years is an antique. To ascribe importance by virtue of religious sentiment, age or provenance (seldom proven) to every significant and insignificant work of art will sound the death knell for scholarship or our understanding of what constitutes a beautiful work of art or even a significant national treasure worthy of appreciation. To promote a view that once sacred objects today only belong to temples and thus deny the process of regeneration of these living cultural sites is a myopic view stemming from a lack of understanding of the role and purpose of these objects, the temple economy that maintained them, and also the constant process of renewal that occurred within historic sites.
- With every passing year, the number of objects that shift from 99th year to a 100 year status will soon result in the transfer of vast numbers of objects to a status of national antiquity. Is the state geared to handle and maintain this vast emerging enterprise? This is where the role of private connoisseurship, individual collectors, trusts and foundations come into play. Their proactive agency has safeguarded the heft of ancient Indian art from being channelled abroad or, worse, being destroyed. It is well within the rights of every citizen to acquire and collect objects of their past that they feel imparts a sense of memory, history and an understanding of our culture. What should definitely govern this acquisition is a legal process of buying. However, vigilante movements claim temple robbery provenance without a shred of proof, emerging as a bullying tactic and becoming the dominant narrative on artefact ownership. These movements neither follow the rule of law nor do they respect the ASI’s time-honoured process of registration of such artefacts.
- The present situation also gives rise to an interesting question. If, as is being presumed, every object in a private collection is the result of temple desecration and robbery, then what of objects that have been registered under similar norms across all our public institutions? Is the government of India ready to repatriate the several idols in its various collections or give up the Aurel Stein collection of Central Asian antiquities at the National Museum, New Delhi, to the Buddhist communities of China? To hold public institutions to one standard and private collectors to another is just one of the several anomalies of the current narrative. Why is there a blanket assumption that every public institution holds treasures that were not pilfered or acquired through the same channels that are available to private collectors? An urgent amendment to existing laws is a need of the hour to save our material culture from being examined purely from the prism of religious sentiment and to foster the creation of secular spaces where everyone can enjoy and appreciate our past.