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Afghanistan’s Rigid Cultural Norms; A Serious Challenge for Girls’ Education

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Photo Credit: Rumi Consultancy/World Bank

The Afghan government, headed by Hamid Karzai, the first elected president of Afghanistan after the collapse of Taliban’s government in 2001 and its international donors with millions of dollars and other resources embarked a new era in Afghanistan. Since then the governmental and non-governmental organizations funded by international donors built many schools, recruited and educated teachers and instructors, and families started sending their progenies including girls to school. There is not an accurate statistic regarding the number of girls who went to schools during this period, but there is a widespread consensus that, since 2001, millions of girls who were deprived ofgaining education during the Taliban’s rule, found access to education.

Now that almost eighteen years have passed since the collapse of the Taliban’s regime, the status of education particularly girls’ education is not as good as it was expected. Roughly two-thirds of Afghan girls do not go to school according to the recent report published by the USAID. As the security situation worsens in Afghanistan, the progress that has been made towards girls’ education may result in a reversal. Despite the infusion of millions of dollars by foreign countries and other international independent institutions, the Afghan government could not fight with rampant challenges especially rigid cultural norms that ban girls’ education in Afghanistan. Girls are often kept at home because of harmful gender measures and these issues impede their education. Even on the basis of highly optimistic figures about the participation of girls in education, there are millions of girls in the country who have never been to school, and many more have just gone to school for a short time.When it comes to obstacles to girls’ education in Afghanistan, the government and other relevant institutions often mention insecurity the main reasons for the exclusion of girls from schools. They rarely touch the issue of cultural norms that deprive girls from education more than insecurity.

When the Taliban government collapsed in late 2001, the new Afghan government and its supporters, the countries that participated in the United States-led coalition in Afghanistan, faced with two major challenges: how to re-establish the educational system for half of the school-age population in a country with a high poverty rate and how to help girls who were excluded from education during the Taliban’s era to go back to school.To achieve this goal, the Afghan government, international donors, and foreign countries invested hugely in girl’s education in Afghanistan.They taught that by building schools, providing educational materials such as textbooks and other educational resources would help Afghan girls obtain education. There is no doubt that these aids paved the way for Afghan girls to find access to their basic rights – education. But unfortunately, neither the Afghan government nor the international organizations working on developing educational programs paid serious attention to one of the key challenges to girl’s education – the prevailing rigid cultural norms among the communities and families that ban hundreds and thousands of girls from going to school in Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, there are still a large number of tribes and communities who assume women as home keepers and believe that they don’t’ have any kind of responsibilities outside the home. Given that they are not interested too much in sending their daughters to school. They still consider some of the common social norms as taboos such as schooling girls. Regardless of the fact that housekeeping and home affairs should be done well and appropriately, girls need to gain education. Some communities in Afghanistan think that schooling girls are a disgrace and for justifying their reasons, they refer to religion that actually, there is not any religious justification for halting girls from obtaining education. Among the number of Afghans who consider girls’ education as taboo and forbidden, it is believed that women should raise their children and not spend their time in school. Being ignorant of the fact that raising children can be done better if a mother acquires education. However, these and dozens of other traditional beliefs in Afghanistan have caused a large number of girls to be deprived of going to school.

To fight with the abovementioned challenges, the Islamic Republic Government of Afghanistan passed the Law on the Prohibition of Violence Against Women in August 2009. This law for the first time in Afghanistan considers child marriage, forced marriage, compulsory self-immolation and other 19 types of violence against women, including rape as a crime, and for those who commit imposed a penalty.Although the Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women is an essential step in the eradication of violence against women and girls, it does not help girls have access to education. In other words, the above law does not help girls and women in the fight against the rigid traditional norms and values that ban them from gaining education.

According to the Constitutional Law of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, education is the right of all citizens and is provided free of charge by the state.To this end, the government is required to design and implement effective programs in order to promote the balanced distribution of education throughout Afghanistan, to provide compulsory secondary education. This constitutional principle stipulates the need for access to quality and balanced education services for all citizens of the country, regardless of cultural, linguistic, ethnic, gender and physical status. Article 44 of the 2004 Constitutional Law of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan specifically deals with the education of women. According to this principle, the government is obligated to plan and implement effective programs for the balancing and development of women’s education. Another part of the government’s obligation is to comply with a number of international treaties. These treaties include Third Millennium Development Goals and Education for All. Under the two treaties, the Afghan government is required to provide all children with access to primary education.

The Prevailing Challenges towards Girls’ Education

Early and Child Marriage:More than half of the girls in Afghanistan aregetting married before reaching the age of 19, of which 40% are between the ages of 10 and 13, 32% at age 14 and 27% at the age of 15. The United Nations holds that seven million and 300,000 girls are getting married before reaching the legal age around the world every year, of which 12 percent are Afghan girls.According to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, the main reasons for the rise of forced and underage marriages in Afghanistan are poverty, unfair socialization, insecurity, and the continuing impunity culture. But researchers argue that illiteracy is the main reason for child marriage in Afghanistan.So, as girls get married, they do not continue their education. When they are kept ill treated as their parents, their daughters encounter the same fate as they faced after getting married.

In a country where a third of the girls marry before age 18, the marriage of children leaves many girls out of education. The minimum age for marriage for girls is in accordance with Afghanistan’s Constitutional Law is 16. In practice, the law is less enforced, which is why most girls are married before the age stipulated in the law. The consequences of marriage for children are very detrimental and lead to the exclusion from education. Other losses due to child marriage include serious health hazards, including the deaths of girls and their children due to early pregnancy. Girls who are married at an early age may also be more likely to be victims of domestic violence than girls who are married at a later age.

Resistance anti-Teaching Girls by Male Instructors: In Afghanistan, many families are not willing to accept male teachers for their daughters. When the first girl school in Kabul was established in the early twentieth century, it was faced with a shortage of female teachers, and the government inevitably appointed male teachers to teach at girl schools, and this is still a problem for girl’s education in Afghanistan. With increasing female students, girls encountered more problems. In Afghanistan, in the remote areas still, families disagree with the presence of male teachers in girl schools. Despite this traditional belief, in many regions of Afghanistan, male teachers teach at girl schools. But, generally, a shortage of female teachers prohibits girls from going to schools. This problem gets more serious and severe, when girls grow older because traditional families in Afghanistan don’t let their daughters continue their education in presence of male teachers.

Unfortunately, there are not enough schools for girls in Afghanistan. Girls have two options either go to boy schools which are far away from their vicinity or leave education. Hence, some families prevent their daughters from traveling to another area for long periods of time. On the other hand, in some provinces of Afghanistan due to lack of facilities, girls and boys are allowed to study in the co-ed classroom, which is not acceptable for many families due to the dominant traditions and the culture governing in Afghanistan. Thus, many Afghan girls are left out of school in areas where the government cannot provide separate classrooms for boys and girls and schools don’t have adequate educational resources such as instructors, classrooms, and other supporting materials for teaching. And, families are not allowing their daughters to study together with boys in the one class.

Resistance against girls being taught by male instructors is not the same in every province of Afghanistan. This problem has been solved in the areas where the cultural barriers to girls’ education have been reduced, where households, school administrators and community elders have supported girls to complete their schooling even with male teachers. Those girls who are completing their schooling either with female teachers or male ones can enter higher education institutions and will be hired as teachers in girl schools after graduation. This has led to a minimization of female teachers in girl schools in some regions of Afghanistan particularly in the central provinces of Afghanistan. This achievement has strengthened both the presence of women in the community and the cultural sensitivity of preventing girls from entering school and university. This cultural and public awareness provides the ground for a new tradition in which families try to encourage their daughters to complete their education to become teachers to support other girls in their communities.

This change in attitudes towards the education of girls is more rampant in the central regions of Afghanistan such Ghazni, Bamiyan, and Daykundi provinces. Also, this attitude to helping girls go to school as boys have been developed in some ways in Badakhshan Province and some northern provinces of the country. But in other provinces, with the exception of the cities of the country, girls continue to be educated with serious cultural limitations. Even with educational facilities, families do not allow their daughters to go to school and families that allow their girls to go to primary school but ban them from going to secondary school.

Exclusion of Sexual Abused Girls from School: Besides war and conflicts that lead to girls’ exclusion from education, girls on their way to school also face unwanted crimes and abusive practices, including abduction and sexual harassment in Afghanistan. There are many reports of kidnapping of girls on the ways to schools by criminal gangs. Abduction is similar to acid attacks that have widespread effects on girls’ deprivation of gaining education. Kidnapping and sexual harassment cause many Afghan families in their communities to keep their children, especially girls, at home because sexual harassment and kidnapping can harm the honor of a family. So, it can have devastating consequences for girls ‘reputation and personality in their communities. That is why it is difficult for parents to bear it. Therefore, sexual harassment and kidnapping is also a key obstacle toward girls’ education.

The stigmatization and social taboos related to rape lead to many girls being abandoned by their families. Victims are penalized doubly over: they become social outcasts, whereas their violators go free. Several of these victims are schoolgirls. The weakening effects of sexual violence among the communities and families inevitably spill over into education systems. Girls subjected to rape typically experience grave physical injury – with long consequences for school attendance. The psychological effects, together with depression, trauma, shame, and withdrawal, have devastating consequences for girls’ education. Many girls drop out of school after rape pregnancy. Moreover, concern and terror of sexual attacks will lead families to prevent their daughters from going to schools. Fear of social stigmatization from sexual abuses is an important factor in household decisions on whether to send their children to school or not.

The question is here that Afghan families instead of fighting with stigmatization sexual harassment and kidnapping, they succumb to it. And most importantly, girls who been sexually abused are both the victim of sexual harassment and social stigmatization that it carries thereafter. Again, this social stigmatization depends that how families and communities interpret the consequences of sexual harassment and abuses. Since many families and communities still are in this believe that girls who have been abused sexually should be kept at home, and leave pursuing their education, hundreds and thousands of Afghan girls are deprived of education, as a result. This approach of families toward sexually abused girls that they should not go to school is rooted in the rigid cultural norms among communities. While studies indicate that one of the best ways to help the victims of child sexual abuse is providing education.

Gender Stereotype and Cultural Discrimination Against Girls’ Education: Gender stereotypingis the practice of ascribing to an individual woman or man specific attributes, characteristics, or roles by reason only of her or his membership in the social group of women or men. A gender stereotype is, at its core, that belief may cause its holder to make assumptions about members of the subject group, women and/or men.But a large body of literature demonstrates that stereotyping often results in violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals.An example of this can be the incapability of the justice system to hold perpetrator of sexual violence accountable on the basis of stereotypical views about women’s appropriate sexual behaviour.

Cultural discrimination against women includes those differences of treatment that exist because of stereotypical expectations, attitudes, and behaviors towards women. The findings of the Special Rapporteur demonstrate that stereotype about women’s role within the family leads to a division of labor within households that often result in poverty for women and lower levels of education. A stereotype is harmful when it limits women’s capacity to enhance their personal abilities, pursue their professional careers and make decisions about their lives. The view that rearing children is women’s responsibility, is a negative gender stereotype among the families and communities. Likewise, in Afghanistan, because of the predominant cultural and gender norms among the families and communities, boys’ education in the majority of families is given priority to girls’ education, or girls’ education is not generally of interest or is acceptable merely for a limited period.

Women in Afghanistan are discriminated because of dominant beliefs of patriarchy from childhood, even before birth. And part of the reason that Afghan girls are experiencing severe gender discrimination is pertaining to the dominant discriminatory cultural norms among the communities in Afghanistan. They are born with discrimination and die with discrimination. Lack of public awareness of human rights standards, low levels of literacy, poverty, incorrect traditions, lack of laws that support the presence and participation of women in society are among the factors that increase discrimination and, as a result, deprive women of their rights and freedoms.According to Kristensen (2016), 70 % of the women whom the author interviewed said that they experienced discrimination in different manners.Many of the women whom the author interviewed had unique stories about their lives – how their brother was free to choose the education he wanted, while they were not permitted, either for economic reasons or because they had to get married instead.One of the stories that Kristensen cites from her interviewees is extremely shocking – “When I was little my parents had a bad financial situation. So, they just sent my brother to school, said you’re a girl. Girls do not need to go to school, because, finally they do marry, and they don’t need to learn.”In a traditional country like Afghanistan, women and girls are suffering from gender discriminations against them that are mainly rooted in the cultural norms of their communities and the gender stereotypes of men toward women.

Girls’ Education and the Dominated Patriarchal Codes: Social scientists define patriarchy as the power of man over women. They argue that patriarchy refers to males’ ideology, privileges, and other principles are perceived for subjugating the females’ roles and functions in the societies. Patriarchal societies are known for marginalizing the feminine.They typically ignore or trivialize what is concerned with feminine characteristics.

Given the above definition, a country like Afghanistan that has a strong patriarchal attitude toward womanhood. In Afghanistan, because of the predominance of patriarchal attitudes and behaviour in families and communities, the power of patriarchy regulates all relationships by means of education, and it serves the interests of the patriarchal society. Therefore, equal opportunities for women and men are not provided in the social, political, economic, and educational spheres. Men can easily implement their projects in different areas, but women will face a lot of problems in the same arena. In the patriarchal society like Afghanistan, the cultural norms do not provide women with equal opportunities for gaining education and working outside the home. Thus, women are left marginalized.

Since education as an important tool in the relationship of power, it can be the root stone of gender inequality in traditional society, and women are the main victims of this gender inequality. Afghanistan, as the country with the most patriotic power in the political, economic and social spheres, some prevents and communities either by cultural means or on the basis of the patriarchal principles deprive girls from their basic human right – gaining education. Additionally, women are not counted as members of society as their men counterparts, and it has been embodied in some communities due to the control of education by patriarchal society. So, as education is an important tool that can question the values ​​and norms of patriarchal society over the long term, communities’ elders and family’s decision makers (males) knowingly ignore girl’s education.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Cultural barriers are one of the main obstacles to the growth and spread of girls’ education in Afghanistan. A large part of these cultural norms is learned through the process of socialization that shapes our lives. In this context, one of the most important ways of development and transformation in each society is to challenge and ignore the norms that for various reasons are no longer responsive and meaningful for a group or stratum. Without breaking the norms of the old, the divine, the one-sided, the unequal and the incompatible with the style and the modern conditions of life in the contemporary world, the society is dying and ruining. The key to the dynamism and transformation of a society and culture is based on the critical and challenging approach toward the value systems and norms of that society. This process starts with the breakdown of the norm and ends with the transformation of values.

Studies and researches demonstrate that educating people can play a significant role in the transformation of cultural norms and rigid cultural values.Since in Afghanistan mostly girls are the victims of these rigid cultural norms, educating them can be one of the best and most effective ways to eliminate discrimination and gender inequalities. Because when girls gain education, skills, and, the capabilities required for their presence in the society, they can fight with the political, economic, social, gender, and educational inequalities in their living communities. The Afghan Ministry of Education as a responsible entity in providing education should pay close attention to the education and training of girls and women and provide special programs in this regard. These actions require that certain mechanisms should be created by the Ministry of Education and other relevant entities for fighting with the predominant rigid cultural norms that impede girls from gaining education. In addition to government responsible entities, educating girls is one of the best investments that families and communities themselves can make it happen because educated girls, for example, marry later, will have healthier children, earn more money that they invest back into their families and communities, and play more active roles in leading their communities and families.

All in all, the findings of the current research indicate that preventing girls from going to school on the basis of cultural norms prevailing in communities, been a major cause of child marriage, violence against women, discrimination against women and girls, and gender inequality in Afghanistan. Therefore, I would argue that Afghan families instead of halting their girls from going to school and keeping them at home, should fight with the predominant cultural norms that underlie their interpretation of girl’s education. They should help their daughters obtain education so that they can help the other girls who may encounter the same fate in the future. Escaping from the problems either social problems, cultural problems, or economic is not a rational solution, instead, facing and fighting with them can help the entire communities to secure their well-being and development in the societies. Therefore, families should help their daughters gain education and provide them with equal opportunities as their sons.

Hamidullah Bamik is a Fulbright Scholar, education policy analyst, and a social development researcher. His research focus is on girl’s education and women empowerment, gender equality, good governance, and socio-economic development in South Asia but particularly Afghanistan. He has worked with World Bank Capacity Building Projectsat Supreme Audit Office of Afghanistan from 2013 to 2018 as a capacity building consultant. Currently, he is working as a social development researcher at Asia Culture House, a non-profit cultural and art organization based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Additionally, he is a frequent contributor on sociopolitical, socioeconomic, and social developmentissuesto Outlook and Etilaatroz, the two leading Newspapers in Afghanistan, and Modern Diplomacy, a leading European opinion-maker with far-reaching influence across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

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Kashmir Bleeds, International Community Sleeps

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The most beautiful part of the World “Kashmir” bleeds while the International community sleeps. Snow-covered mountains, lush green pasters, blue skies, blue lakes, excellent climate, rich culture, best food, unique race – one of the most pretty races on this earth, makes Kashmir “Paradise, but India has turned it a living hell. Nine hundred thousand troops enforcing curfew since the 5th of August 2019 has turned Kashmir a prison, where 8 million people are under siege, for the most prolonged period of curfew in the known history of humankind. No food, no medicines, no fuel, no electricity, no basic neccessaties of life, yet, the brave people of Kashmir survived and kept their struggle for their legitimate right of self-determination.

Seventy-three years ago, Indian illegitimate occupation armed forces entered Jammu & Kashmir in a stab to subjugate the Kashmiri people. To this day, the brave people of Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (I.I.O.J.K.) have remained committed in their resolve to confront India and stand firm in their quest for the right to self-determination.

On the 5th of August 2019, India took further illegal and unilateral actions to change the internationally recognized disputed status of I.I.O.J.K. and alter the demographic configuration of the occupied territory.  Pakistan and the Kashmiris have unconditionally rejected this blatant travesty of law and justice. For over one year, the scale and impunity of the Indian Government’s human rights abuses have increased manifold. Through the deployment of additional troops and exceptional media and communication blackout, occupied Jammu & Kashmir has been turned into the largest open prison in the world. The world community is calling India out on its oppression, and its cover-up as one of the world’s so-called largest ‘democracies’ has been undeniably exposed.

Pakistan, along with all other nations and individuals, with human conscious, calls for the urgent lifting of the military siege and media blackout, immediate stop to the violations of human rights of Kashmiri people, release of Kashmiri leaders and youth, and an end to impunity allowed to Indian occupation forces under draconian laws.We urge the international community to play its role in exerting pressure on India to reverse its illegal course in I.I.O.J.K. and restore the Kashmiris’ fundamental human rights.

We express complete solidarity with the people of I.I.O.J.K. and assure our Kashmiri brothers and sisters that the Government and people of Pakistan remain shoulder-to-shoulder with them. Pakistan will not concede in its support until the Kashmiris realize their legitimate right to self-determination in harmony with the United Nations Security Council resolutions.

India has turned Kashmir into a volcano, which may burst any time, any moment, and may cause disaster not only to India and Pakistan but may engulf the entire region or the whole world. It is worth mentioning that India and Pakistan both are nuclear states and possess enough piles of lethal weapons to eradicate each other. Mostly, the Government in India has been hijacked by Hindu extremists, and one can expect any abnormal action from them. Or by mistake or accidentally eruption of war, might lead to nuclear war, or World War III.

India is already involved with China, and a war-like situation exists. India is holding parts of Nepal illegally and at odd with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Maldives, Sikkim, Bhutan, etc. The extremist Government in India may initiate any misadventure and endanger humanity.

The U.S. is backing India and supporting it to counter China. But, history tells, that when Americans are your friends , you do not need enemies. Former Securty Advisor in Trump Administration, Mr. John Bolten, who has worked with President Trump closely, understands him much better than anyone else. He is of the opinion that President Trump supports India, but if a war broke out between China and India, President Trump might no longer support India. Is India able to confront China???. Let the Indian think tanks and intellectuals decide it.

However, the region is highly populated, with 1.4 billion population of China, 1.2 billion population of India, 220 million population of Pakistan, and almost similar to Bangladesh, etc. The loss of humanity may cross all previous records.

The international community may awaken and take preventing measures to avert any possible disaster.

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October 27th: The Tyranny Continues in Kashmir

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October 27 marks the beginning of Indian Occupation of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. It is forever scarred in the collective minds of the Kashmiri people as the day they became occupied.

The Kashmir conflict began in 1846 with the illegal, immoral and inhumane sale of the historic state of Jammu and Kashmir to a non-Kashmiri Dogra family for services rendered to the British Raj. From that point, onwards, Kashmiri’s have long for self-determination. Yet, tragically, their legitimate aspirations were crushed with the grotesque, irregular and illegal ascension, by the brutal foreign ruler Maharaja Hari Singh who did not have the consent of the people.  With the arrival of Indian soldiers – the historic Black Day of Occupation begins its most recent and insidious manifestation.

The Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir obtained independence on August 15, 1947, when British paramountcy lapsed.  At that moment, under international law as understood by Indian National Congress, The Muslim League and Great Britain, sovereignty in Kashmir devolved on its peoples, not its autocratic Maharaja.  Indeed, Kashmir was beset by wholesale domestic revolt against the Maharaja when independence arrived, and widened in the initial months thereafter. To save his despotism from collapse, the Maharaja requested the assistance of the Indian military on October 27, 1947, after ostensibly signing an Instrument of Accession to that nation. British Scholar, Alistair Lamb has convincingly demonstrated that the Instrument of Accession was as bogus as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or the Donation of Constantine.  An original has never been found, and there is no plausible explanation for a disappearance if an original had ever existed. 

The people of Kashmir are constantly reminded of the resolution # 47, adopted on April 21, 1948 that states that the future status of Kashmir must be ascertained in accordance with the wishes and aspirations of the people of the territory. This resolution was agreed upon by both India & Pakistan, negotiated by the United Nations and accepted by the Security Council.

Ambassador Warren Austin of the United States said it the best in the Security Council on January 24, 1948, “…When India accepted the accession of Kashmir, it made its act stand for a great principle by stating as a part of the acceptance, that it was conditional on fair plebiscite being held to determine the will of the people of Kashmir with respect to accession. I think an example was made in history at that point.”

India, however, was soon undeceived of its delusions over Kashmir’s political yearning. Recognizing that its people would never freely vote accession to India, it contrived excuse after excuse to frustrate a plebiscite. When the United Nations proposed arbitration, a reference to the World Court, or any other method of resolving minor demilitarization quarrels, India nixed them all. After a few years, it dropped all pretense of acceding to a referendum by unilaterally proclaiming its annexation of Kashmir. India’s proclamation has never been accepted by the United Nations, which continues to list Kashmir as a disputed territory who future status is yet to be determined by its people.

History proved the British Prime Minister Clement Richard Atlee wrong when he said on November 7, 1947, “…he (Pandit Nehru) undertook that the will of the people should be ascertained, and he proposed that this should be done under the authority and supervision of the United Nations…I can’t believe that Mr. Nehru’s pledges have the sinister implications.”

India’s creepy design was also confirmed by Bertrand Russell who said in 1964 “ The high idealism of the Indian government in international matters breaks down completely when confronted with the question of Kashmir.”

So, a false narrative was concocted by India, out of nothing more than thin air, in a vain attempt to intellectually subjugate a people. This challenge is most serious, since it resonates, even today with more vigour. How often do we hear outlandish statements like, ‘Kashmir is an integral part of India’? These statements do not exist in a vacuum. They are loaded and violent. This form of violence is more insidious, more difficult to confront, for it is attempting to indoctrinate Kashmiris about their past, their present and direct them to a future that does not belong to them.  They had become the objects of history rather than the masters of it.

Another serious challenge that people of Kashmir face, when attempts are made to confine the Kashmir dispute to a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan as if Kashmiris were inconsequential. This charade of sorts represents an outrageous attempt to restrict discussions of Kashmir, to India and Pakistan to the exclusion of the most important party to the conflict – the people of Kashmir.  Today, this strikingly ignorant political strategy has collapsed after the Abrogation of Article 370 & 35 A on August 5, 2019 and no longer is considered an honest initiative for resolving the Kashmir dispute. It has not achieved any of its desired objectives of bettering relations or resolving Kashmiri aspirations for self-determination. It is evident that this policy has proven a colossal failure. If, in more than 73 years, the ‘bilateral masquerade’ has produced nothing more than cheap photo opportunities, then it is better to once and for all, put this show to an end.

The world powers and the saner elements in both India and Pakistan need to realize that the bilateral talks between India and Pakistan have always remained barren. And trilateral dialogue between Governments of India, Pakistan and the leadership of Kashmir — without any precondition from any side — is the only way to resolve the issue of Kashmir once for all. Participation of Kashmiri leadership in the dialogue process is the sine qua non that will help to achieve the lasting peace and tranquility in the region of South Asia.

In fact, a ‘Kashmir Quartet’ should be established that includes Kashmir, Pakistan, China, and India. Moreover, outside intervention and mediation should include the United Nations. The chairmanship of the Kashmir Quartet mediation should be undertaken by a person of international stature, such as Kjell Bondevik former prime minister of Norway or President Mary Robinson of Ireland.

Today, the challenge before us is that a new generation in Kashmir has been raised with blood and tears for which death no longer poses a threat for what can death do that life has not done before: their suffering is freeing them from fear. Kashmiris’ fearlessness has led to the powerful protests and the largest demonstrations in recent years. The presence of hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Srinagar, marching towards the office of the UNMOGIP, is a proof that the freedom struggle is not a terroristic movement but a movement that is indigenous, spontaneous, peaceful and popular. 

Now, is the time that Mr. Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General of the United Nations brings the situation in Kashmir to the attention of the Security Council under the provision of the Article 99 of the United Nations Charter. It is here in the region of South Asia that not two but three nuclear powers have been eyeball to eyeball for the last one-year? The Article 99 authorizes the Secretary General to ‘bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security’.  If not now, then when can Article 99 be invoked to bring peace and stability to the region of South Asia.

The UN Secretary General should listen to Mr. Gross, US Ambassador to the UN who said in the Security Council on December 5, 1952, we feel that it is the role of the Security Council to assist the parties in seeking to reach agreement.

So, now is no time for complacency or temporizing.  And the chilling suffering and misery of the Kashmiri people continues every day a peaceful resolution is deferred.

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Promoting Projects and Practices in Community Health in India

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Street scene in India, August 2020. © UNICEF/Vinay Panjwani

One of the most populated countries in the world, India has been facing problems with regard to well-being of its citizens while sustaining their developmental needs. The need for better health facilities, and developing antidotes for new kinds of pathogens and viruses have made the task more challenging. The respective governments, pharma companies, and testing labs are trying to develop safe trial mechanisms and developing safeguards for protecting the lives of vulnerable sections of society. Within India, the community health programme involves the non-governmental sector, healthcare professionals, economics aspects and social interaction through people and voluntary workers. While the health ecosystem exists, the problem has been finance, support and critical knowledge repository. India did well to address issues such as polio vaccination and creating community awareness for regular medication against tuberculosis. There is a mounting impact of chronic diseases in economic and social sectors, need for quality health services in the wake of changing demographics, and increasing life expectancy have made matters more complex.

In terms of understanding the requirements for building better resilient and health-conscious societies, it is important that the vaccines, lifesaving drugs, and medicines should be developed with certain generalised regulations which can improve the health of the society and address problems faced by people living across regions. While India is a subcontinent comprising of all geographical features, it is also a cauldron of different ethnic communities, and physical features which provides exceptional opportunities for testing and developing medicines which can cater to different physical and pathological profiles of people. Within India, one can find people with different levels of immunity. As the eating and food habits have been different, there is higher incidence of diabetes, hyper tension and cardio diseases in a cross-section of people. It has also been seen that people who are above 40-70 years of age have been more vulnerable to pandemics, and other communicable diseases. A sizeable mortality profile of people suggests that.

In this context it becomes very important that medicines which should be developed should have a better shelf life and give results which can be corroborated with testing facility, with a cross-section of people. The results have usually varied with regard to people with different eating habits and also nutrition factor. Pandemics such as COVID-19 have brought to the fore that India has better resistance mechanisms which has helped in relatively less mortality rate when these people have been infected with COVID-19. The duration of sickness because of COVID -19 has varied from five days to more than three weeks. In such certain times, it has been found that because of lack of any effective medicine or any sure shot diagnostic mechanisms the treatment has prolonged and the recovery has been slow. In terms of legal and other regulatory mechanisms, it has been found that most of the clinical trials which are done in India enroll the vulnerable  and poor people and human trials are conducted. There is a grey area of medical compensation and addressing post-tests complications from legal point of view.

For India it has become imperative to develop projects and conduct feasibility studies through government mechanisms rather than through medical companies. While projects have been undertaken to study different kind of diseases that school children and adults will be facing in the next two decades, it has been found that most of the complications will be related to teeth, eyesight, anxiety and mental well-being. However, in the case of pandemics and community health programmes it has been encouraging signs that initiatives such as creating awareness with regard to AIDS, mental well-being, depression and anxiety disorders have been fruitful and rewarding with institutionalising counselling and telephone helplines. Most of the programs have been done and supported by NGOs as well as a few voluntary organisations.

The projects and programmes which can be initiated in India should address core issues. Firstly, the incidence of non-curable diseases, depression, immunity disorders, other issues related to community transmission, and the development of proper safeguards and awareness with regard to pandemics and life-threatening diseases. Secondly, the COVID-19 has opened a Pandora’s box with regard to the incidence of diseases which impact community, and thereby also affect government health budget. Lastly, it is necessary that India will have to create medical soldiers and inform voluntary workers so that the community transmission and community health well-being should be addressed on a priority level.

As the COVID vaccine is in different trial stages, many countries are looking for testing facility in India and also conduct human trials, as legal structure in medicinal trials is still in infancy. India needs to address the issue of IPR on developing vaccines and medical history should be addressed jointly as it has been found that many western countries have been purchasing medical history of the patients living in developing Asia, providing vaccines through great testing mechanisms and subsequently using copyright laws to deny cheap medicines to the larger community.

 In this regard it is important that India should conduct research on immunity vectors of its population and develop generic drugs which can help in protecting communities from most transmissions. It is also pertinent to note that in terms of the temperature variance across India it provides unique testing opportunities in different conditions. However, there is a need for a holistic approach and therefore it is important that training and sensitisation of the personnel working in this field is of paramount importance. Initiatives related to preventive and therapeutic services is critical. Also, looking for quick alternatives would save the lives of personnel.

Just like any emergency, there is a need for rapid action medical force which can provide immediate assistance and better cognitive abilities track critical illnesses and the reasons thereof. It has been seen in the case of midwifery and associated postnatal diseases that it has worked wonders with a better equipped and knowledgeable person existing in each society for better assistance and awareness.

The critical importance of voluntary workers is that with sufficient technical assistance (which might come from government and state units) gives them confidence and also strengthens their application of knowledge for better informed public health practices and policies. Technical assistance and quick action through centralised control centre has to create the first line of defence in case of a pandemic. 

The institutes which have been working in this field are Public Health Foundation of India, Indian Institutes of Public Health and All India Institute of Hygiene & Public Health, which have been disseminating information through online workshops, seminars, and social media. They have created affiliates and sister agencies working in the field all across India. Networking of public health institutions in medical education need to address issues such as environmental health and countering new kind of diseases which are dominating.

This clearly highlights the fact there is a need for understanding pandemics, developing awareness among communities about public health, and stress on hygienic environment, conducting long term  research on emerging diseases and promoting research in tropical medicine.

India need to allocate separate fund for public health initiatives and promote exchange of medical workers with third world countries for better understanding the nuances of medical and health research. In fact, in most of the think tank meetings, public health and awareness is not listed as topics whenever Track II dialogues are held. There is also a need for better practices in public health, education, and developing health demonstration projects, barefoot nurses and doctors, strengthening an eco-system of education, training, and scholarship. Developing traditional medicine and making it easily accessible should be the bulwark against diseases. Restructuring Community Medicine/ Preventive and Social Medicine colleges which impart this kind of education in developing countries is required as the number is relatively less. Across developing world scholarship in community medicine and hospital administration is low and needs structural financial support. The data collection and diagnostics apparatus need micro management to create better response chain. COVID-19 has provided the reason for public health to be taken as a national initiative.

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