G-20: Much ham, less burgers

Hamburg just ended the 12th G 20 annual conference, on the evening of 8th. Besides being a busy northern port of Germany, it is the foremost city of commerce, having headquarters for publishing brands as Springer, Spiegel, beyond that Airbus, Adobe, Levers, also known for the UNESCO Institute of Lifelong Learning. It was not a co-incidence that it was followed by protests, arson, and looting by crowds swelling into tens of thousands for the next 24 hours. Such protests however are not uncommon during or after any global summit, including the UN General Assembly.
The G-20 was expanded from a rather close club of G-8, signifying the 20 wealthiest nations of a rather poor world. The driving agenda was that global GDP would only pick up, if there were more players.
That being the original handle, there always are other issues to be settled, the most repeated ones being environment, disarmament, treaties not having been well adhered, immigration, and inter-nation border issues. Terrorism is the one that comes up all the time, as a part of popular prayers, as, “..forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…” Hope God keeps a log book on such meets.
The background, in terms of commitment to environment, was expected to be firmed, after a startling withdrawal by the US in the recent Paris meet. This got no positive signal, much less, an assurance for future. I smell diplomacy here. Perhaps US does not wish to be a headmaster, having suddenly discovered its frailty in endless wars, trade, manufacturing. Other countries that are greener, can be invested with such responsibility. It is re-assuring, that India is sticking to its targets.
There were concerns regarding the nuclear experiments of North Korea, particularly its claims of an ICBM test almost on the eve of the summit. There were explicit criticisms that the US did not take it up. A journalist’s view of what should be said, or unsaid, often differs from real diplomacy. Such summits don’t end with chartbusting songs as Michael Jackson’s “.a better place, for you and for me..”. Perhaps, “..you say it best when you say nothing at all.” are more apt, for one does not what is in store tomorrow~
The formalities as they go, were rather complete, with Chancellor Merkel welcoming POTUS (president of the US), and other delegates. One to one interactions and press conferences were broadcast between Mr Putin and Mr Trump, as with PM Li of China. China did express its displeasure over the high- altitude radar system deployed by US for South Korea to keep a check on North Korea. The Chinese feeling was that it was a spy on its own activities.
It is a different matter, that it is of little consequence to others when China keeps such vigilance on its own neighbours. Including threats that fall beyond pre-decided diplomacy. Truly, no treaty or talk is valid beyond the time when the ink on the paper dries up! An immediate concern for India was the Doklam impasse. Not that India would signal its distress, on what it can take up as a sovereign nation, there is a well delineated arena in all such summits, known as the “side-lines”.
Before we come to what may be read into the situation, it may be clarified, that all such summits run on three parallel arenas. These are, “Lines, side-lines, and underlines”.
The two PMs, Mr Modi and Li, did meet. Moreover, Sherpa Pangariya’s tweet, of the US President meeting “good friend” Modi in an impromptu interaction, certainly was not to ask him how to un-knot oneself after the fifth step, once irretrievably locked (considering his long stature) in a particular yogic asana. It could well be about the said Sino-Indian impasse. I presume a certain understanding has been reached.
The other side-line PM Modi availed of, was a meeting with British PM May, regarding the return Kingfisher Mallya He may have talked to the Brazilian PM, for allotment of fifty visitor tickets to TMC members to see Phutball as is played in Brazil phor a month, and eben chance to meet great Pele, and gibe him some tips, apfter next year’s meet. That is the only way to appease “Mamta Didi”, for that shall drive an instant wedge in the party!
The call to the PM of Norway had a reason. Norway is classified as one of the richest countries. Also ranked the same in terms of per capita GDP. It has enormous resources in terms of oil, and ferrous based alloys as aluminium. It has a net positive output and trade surplus compared to EU, which through treaty is its largest trading partner. Norwegian economy has made its way up significantly through FDIs.
To bring the points in sequence, “the Line” regarding environment was somewhat sidelined, the “side-lines”, were adequately made use of, and the “underlined”, was the speech by the IMF President Christine Lafarge, that world trade should expand, lauded Chancellor Merkel for her COMPACT association with Africa, and PM Modi vouching to lift India amongst the top 50 countries in terms of ease of doing business. Certainly a balanced statement, considering that presently India ranks 19th or 20th amongst countries that import from the global GDP!
Maybe, this deliberation goes to give Ahmedabad (also Amdavad), the status of a heritage city! But the true reason may be different. As most “Amdavadis” shall concede instantly, he showed his business acumen in making two International trips on a single ticket. All he must have billed the government would have been the Tel Aviv journey. Hamburg, was a break in return journey! “Ek ticket ma bey jagya phari avyo. Pachhi, khawanu, rehwanu, beeja ney khaatey maa !” ( visited two destinations in a single ticket. Besides boarding, lodging was paid by the opposite party!) I believe, the President of IMF, must have noted the genes of a crack businessman PM, and applauded India’s growing sense of economics!

Dickensian dilemma of growth and secularism faces India

Some of us remember from our schooldays the opening lines of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” This is not only the most famous beginning of an English novel but it also captures the contradictions in our present-day life in India. Let me illustrate with two recent events.
We celebrated ‘the best of times’ at midnight on Friday, June 30, when what seemed like a distant dream became a reality as the goods and services tax (GST) replaced 17 state and central taxes to make India one common market. It was a visionary constitutional moment as our states voluntarily gave up some sovereignty in taxation for the common good.
Ironically, when the English are fighting for symbols of sovereignty, Indians chose a mature path of ‘pooled sovereignty’ based on a sobering recognition that freedom to act independently in our interconnected world is an illusion. The GST is not perfect but it is good enough to get started.
A week earlier, it was our ‘worst of times’ as we mourned helplessly the killing of 15-year-old Junaid Khan. He came to Delhi to stitch a new suit but never got to wear it. On the way home, he was attacked by a mob that accused him of being a beef-eater. “He was a child… How could they hate us so much to have killed him so brutally?” asked his father. Junaid’s slaying is the latest in a string of anti-Muslim attacks by anonymous, bloodthirsty mobs, who form randomly in different parts of the country and are thus harder to prevent.
How does the mind come to grips with these two conflicting events? Charles Dickens wrestled with a similar dilemma posed by the French Revolution, which offered a ‘spring of hope’ by ending an oppressive old regime but also brought in its wake death and destruction in a ‘winter of despair’.
In India today, we are struggling with a moral dilemma between development and secularism. But why must we choose — why can’t we have both secularism and growth? Unfortunately, the Congress party will give us secularism but not growth and Modi’s BJP will give us growth but not secularism.
Congress has historically promised both but only delivered secularism because of its flawed economic model. As a result of the cumulative impact of the reforms post 1991, it did preside over high growth between 2003 and 2011. But then it promptly made a false trade-off between growth and equity and predictably GDP growth plunged after 2011, destroying millions of jobs.
As a result, Indian voters booted it out in 2014, and brought in Modi, who promised a more credible path to growth via job creation. Many in the middle-of-the-road who voted for the BJP were aware of the stain of Gujarat 2002 but felt theirs was a calculated risk.
Since then, economic recovery has been slow, the promised jobs have not yet come, and we face the risk of sacrificing another generation. The sporadic attacks on minorities, meanwhile, have wounded our civilisation’s foundational value of ahimsa.
It seems odd to morally equate the ideals of secularism and development. Writer Ajaz Ashraf says it is a ‘leap of moral imagination to establish equivalence between the Gujarat riots and the imperative of creating new jobs’. Ethical theories measure morality based either on ends or means. Utilitarians and political leaders, who seek ‘the greatest good of the greatest number’, judge an act based on consequences or ends.
Thus, Vidura, the royal counsellor in the Mahabharata, tells the king that he should sacrifice a person for the sake of a village and the village for the sake of a nation. The opposite theory is based on duties and judges morality on the actor’s motives. Since killing undermines the duty of ahimsa, duty-based ethics would choose secularism over development while utilitarians would do the opposite.
Ethical dilemmas are not easy to resolve. Platitudes are cheap — ‘means matter more than ends’; ‘one life is worth more than lifting millions out of poverty’. When there is a conflict between duties, utilitarian ethics is more useful. If a party emerged one day which would deliver growth and secularism then our moral dilemma would disappear. In the meantime, each of us must make an informed but unhappy choice.

Rain- Thy Names are Myriad in Nagaland

Let the rain that is sweet fall
Let medium rain fall
Not the rain that is too strong
So that it breaks the young rice
Not the rain that is not enough
But give us the medium rain
That will help the grain to grow
Let the rain that is sweet fall.
(A prayer for rain in the Chokri language, by a priest in Thevopisü village, Nagaland)
When you grow up in a place where it rains five months a year, wise elders help you to get acquainted with the rain early. They teach you that it is ignorant to think it is the same rain falling every day. Oh no, the rain is always doing different things at different times. There is rain that is gentle, and there is rain that falls too hard and damages the crops. Hence, the prayer for the sweet rain that helps the crops to grow. In Nagaland, where there are as many names for rain as the Eskimos have for snow, the wise learn early to read the clouds. Some of the commonly known rain-weeks are called satare, cienare, gaziere and rüciere — named after ciena, sata, gazie and rücie, all plants that alternately bloom in August and September
The monsoon in the Naga hills goes by the native name, khuthotei (which means the rice-growing season). It lasts from May to early or mid-October. The local residents firmly believe that Durga Puja in October announces the end of rain. After that, one might expect a couple of short winter showers, and the spring showers in March and April, with their smell of petrichor. Finally, comes the “big rain” in May, proper rainstorms accompanied by heart-stopping lightning and ear-splitting thunder. I have stood out in storms looking at lightning arc across dark skies, a light-and-sound show that can go on for hours. Perfect bolts.
This is the season when people use the word sezuo or süzu to refer to the week-long rains, when clothes don’t dry and smell of mould, when fungus forms on the floor and when you can’t see the moon or the stars for the rainclouds.
But you learn not to complain. Rain, after all, is the farmer’s friend and brings food to the table. Naga rituals and festivals centre around the agricultural rhythm of life, which is the occupation of about 70 per cent of the population.
The wise learn to read its ways. I grew up hearing my grandfather say, “It’s very windy this year. We’ll get good rain.” If the windy season was short and weak, he worried there might not be enough rain for the crops. I learned the interconnectedness of the seasons from childhood, and marvelled at how the wind could bring rain. Another evening, many rainy seasons ago, my paternal aunt spied the new moon and fussed, “Its legs are in the air, we’re in for some heavy rain.” She was right. That week, a storm cut off power lines and brought down trees and bamboos.
A major festival of the Ao tribe called Moatsü — which means “young rice stretching” — is celebrated in May. Rice being the staple crop of the region, rice-growing rain is vital. The harvest festival, which comes at the end of all the agricultural labour, is celebratory and allows people to take a well-deserved rest from their hard work. They feast, marry, give thanks to the creator-deity and store grain for the following year. But minor festivals punctuate the agricultural year to ensure that farmers get little breaks to rejuvenate themselves, and give them something to look forward to in the midst of the ceaseless rain. The hardy villagers work in the sun and rain, both of which are merciless towards the workers:
The Eskimos boast of having a hundred names for snow. Norwegians in the north can describe all kinds of snow by an equal amount of names: pudder, powder snow, blaut snø, wet snow, slaps, extra wet snow, snøkyng, tight snowfall, tørrsnø, dry snow, and at least 95 more categories of snow. Likewise, Nagas have names and names for rain. Some are common, some are passing into history.
Nuoba teirü, mud rain, is the rain that suddenly falls on a perfectly sunny day. Tülümhüzü is the Chokri name for rain that comes as a short thunderstorm, darkening the skies in seconds but spending itself quickly. (Most of the rain-names here are from the Chokri language (spoken by the Chakesang tribe). The pre-monsoon rains go by the name, Garunyi sö Süzu. When someone calls it by this name, it means the monsoons are not far behind at all.
The rains are also called after flowering plants and people believe that the blossoming of those plants draws out rain. Once the monsoons set in, field work is carried out in earnest and the work of uprooting and transplanting paddy in flooded terrace fields is done. The months of intensive labour are June, July and August. In August, as the phrogü plant begins to bloom, a rain will fall. This August rain, also called phrogü, is a sign that the time for cultivation is over. If any new grain seeds are sown, they may not sprout; even if they do sprout, they are not likely to bear grain. The rain acts as a kind of farmer’s almanac.
The urban population of school-goers and office-goers naturally dislike the monsoon and its accompanying problems of landslides, muddy streets and periodic infections. For non-farmers, the month of September can be depressing, when the rainfall is incessant and the awareness persists that the monsoons will last out till October.
One needs to have the heart of a farmer to remain grateful for the watery days, and be able to discern — from what seems to the uninitiated as a continuous downpour — the many kinds of rain. Some of the commonly known rain-weeks are called satare, cienare, gaziere and rüciere — named after ciena, sata, gazie and rücie, all plants that alternately bloom in August and September. The native belief is that the flowers draw out the rain.
Each rain period has a job to fulfil: October rain is also called shemüre süzu. This rain helps garlic bulbs to form. Kümünyo Rüce Süzu is another rain that has the same function. Kümünyo is glutinous rice, and the rain helps the rice bear grain. Without it, the ears of rice cannot form properly. End October is the most beautiful month in the Naga hills, as the fields turn gold and wild sunflowers bloom over the slopes, all heralding the harvest. Prayers go up for protecting the fields from storms, and the rains are called back because the grain needs to stand in the sun and ripen. The cycle nears completion a few weeks before the harvest, and the rain does retreat so thoroughly from the reaped furrows that the earth quickly turns hard. The months of rain become a distant memory until it starts all over again.

Half Century Of Progress Precedes ASEAN Stronger Emergence

This year on 8 August, South-East Asia celebrates an important anniversary: it will be 50 years since the Bangkok Declaration, which established the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), was signed. The organization at the time was much smaller, with a combined population of just 184 million. Member states were largely undeveloped; even Singapore, the wealthiest member, only had a GDP per capita of $600. Indonesia, the largest and poorest member, had a GDP per capita of $56. Almost three-quarters of ASEAN’s population lived in rural areas.
Half a century of population growth and the addition of six new members has tripled ASEAN’s population to 625 million. Only China, India and the European Union have bigger populations. ASEAN countries have also undergone significant development. Singapore is an advanced economy. Thailand and Malaysia are comfortably middle-income. The Philippines has one of the region’s fastest growing economies, helped in part by a highly-educated, English-speaking and globally competitive population. Indonesia’s massive and growing population will make it one of the world’s most important countries, and Vietnam’s rapid growth may make it a model for economic development and poverty alleviation akin to China.
ASEAN’s record of development, poverty alleviation and conflict resolution is a true success story. Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, has called ASEAN a catalyst for peace, a geopolitical miracle and the most successful regional organization after the European Union.
But ASEAN’s economic success has brought with it new challenges. One example is ASEAN’s forests, some of the world’s oldest, which were cleared to make way for agricultural and commodity production: ASEAN’s forest coverage has been reduced from 72% in 1970 to 42% today. More than that, the solutions to these challenges will not come from outside the region. ASEAN’s next 50 years will take place in a wholly new geopolitical, economic and environmental context. The solutions previously used by other countries are no longer feasible in a world marked by increasing interdependence, growing disparities, environmental degradation, climate change and increasingly strict resource constraints.
But there will also be new opportunities to develop even bolder ideas for regional cooperation and coexistence, along with strategies that may be better than what has come before.
Seeing through the haze
Let’s take one repercussion of ASEAN’s development that is visible every dry season – the annual haze that blankets Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. The haze is driven by slash-and-burn agriculture on the island of Borneo, where both palm oil plantation owners and smallholder farmers forced off their land are cutting down the forest to open up new land. The exposed peat, after a forest fire, can smoulder for months, releasing smoke, pollution and carbon emissions into the surroundings; during the 2015 haze season, Indonesia released more emissions in three weeks than Germany had in the entire year. It is estimated that over 40 million Indonesians were affected by haze in 2015, one of the worst haze seasons. All this environmental damage was caused to push the overproduction of palm oil, whose prices have halved since its peak in 2011.
ASEAN has been on the whole unsuccessful in combating the haze, largely leaving Indonesia (with its strapped resources) to combat the fires alone. But the haze crisis presents an opportunity to more tightly knit the region together. Reforesting and reflooding Borneo and Sumatra, and creating a forest monitoring system would be a worthwhile ASEAN project. Even more important could be the creation of new regional institutions, such as an ASEAN reforestation fund, an ASEAN resource investment bank or even an ASEAN resource management court.
More fundamentally, ASEAN could help drive the transformation of Indonesia’s agriculture sector away from exploitative plantation crops towards high-value, smallholder farming. These would provide an alternative source of revenue for Indonesian farmers. Yet building such a sector takes time and support. ASEAN could provide infrastructure investment, market support and easy access to ASEAN economies to those farmers trying to develop a less destructive agricultural sector.
Urbanization in ASEAN
Another major part of ASEAN’s development has been urbanization. When ASEAN was founded in 1967, over three-quarters of its population lived in rural areas. Only Singapore, Jakarta, Manila, Bangkok, Surabaya and Bandung had populations greater than 1 million. Today, these cities, along with Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Yangon have populations of over 5 million. ASEAN has almost equal urban and rural populations, and according to projections, will be majority urban by 2025.
But ASEAN’s cities are not built for this massive influx of people. Major urban infrastructure such as housing, drainage, flood protection, water supply, sewerage and public transport is seriously stressed. Roads in Jakarta, Manila and Bangkok are crammed full of cars. There is rarely enough safe and secure housing for the flow of new arrivals, leading to the creation of large slums with poor access to electricity, water, sanitation and other social amenities. Public social services, such as education and healthcare, are also stressed.
Then there is the fact that all these cities are in the tropics. Building materials and limited airflow lead to a heat island effect, where air temperatures increase by several degrees. Those lucky enough to live with air-conditioning use up more energy to cool their homes (and release more heat outside), while most unlucky residents swelter in overheated homes and workplaces. This leads to productivity losses and poor quality of life. This is not progress.
Luckily, current data suggests that most urban ASEAN residents live in large towns of under 500,000, and that the fastest growth in ASEAN’s urban population is in mixed-density cities (those with a population of between 1 million and 5 million). But risks remain. Will the urban population remain this balanced, especially as economic opportunities in the commercial centres overtake all other areas? Will mixed-density cities become high-density urban catastrophes? And what does this mean for the rural sector, which risks getting neglected in the rush to the city?
The flip side of urban migration is the potential withering of ASEAN’s rural economies. Agriculture remains an important part of the economy, especially in less-developed economies like Cambodia. Many people still rely on their farms to provide a comfortable life for themselves and their families. Yet governments have often focused too much on urban development over investments in the countryside. If the rural sector withers away, a large rural population will lose their livelihoods and, by extension, their cultures and traditions. But if food security and rural development is achieved through large agribusiness and mega-farms, then ASEAN’s smallholder farmers could be turned into landless peasants. This would be a tremendous loss.
Grow Asia, an initiative from the World Economic Forum, has presented several objectives for ASEAN’s agricultural development. The region needs to achieve food security, reducing imports from abroad. It needs to lift 200 million people out of poverty, many of whom live in rural areas. It needs to do so while protecting the environment. And, finally, it needs to help smallholder farmers, who make up the large portion of ASEAN’s agriculture sector but are hurt from low productivity, volatile prices, and poor access to technology and markets. ASEAN’s many rural residents will not be helped if the solution is large agribusiness companies evicting them from their land or turning them into cheap labour.
Lessons from Cambodia
Achieving all these goals is a daunting task. But these were the three objectives that a team of around 30 business leaders set about achieving in cooperation with one of Cambodia’s largest conglomerates, Soma Group. The group looked at Cambodia’s rice sector, which produces some of the world’s best rice, yet could be described charitably as a bit of a mess. There is too little drying capacity, and too much milling capacity. Smallholder farmers cannot get access to high-quality inputs, machinery and expertise, and are often not given the training to use them effectively and sustainably. Cambodian rice can be easily withdrawn at several points in the supply chain, limiting the amount of high-quality milled and polished rice that commands a premium in world markets.
Despite these challenges, the group created an original model of contract farming that could tackle these challenges. Contracts would give farmers access to expertise and inputs in exchange for supply commitments at a guaranteed price. Farmers would be monitored and trained in the latest techniques to ensure that inputs were not overused. And, assuming everything works smoothly, smallholder farmer yields would increase without evicting them from their land, and the higher revenue would encourage more farmers to join the system.
An ASEAN revolution
These are only a few of the challenges that will emerge in ASEAN and its member countries over the next 50 years. Ideas for dealing with them will need to come from within the region, and so ASEAN needs to start building institutions that can generate, refine and test these ideas. One thing it could do is build an independent “ASEAN University”, which could develop new solutions in a location close to the source of Asia’s problems.
Given the progress ASEAN has made in 50 years, the temptation is to see a linear trajectory of development and progress. But it would be too simplistic to pin all hopes on a Fourth Industrial Revolution as the key to the future of the region. If the sustainability challenges, which will affect hundreds of millions in the region, are to be tackled, then ASEAN will need to first address of some of the pre-industrial practices that prevail and create a socio-economic revolution of its own that reflect its realities.

 

A tale of two worlds: Digital globalisation v/s political globalisation

A leader of a global industrial company – which has survived and thrived through the ebbs and flows of globalisation over the past century – brought out the remarkable recent shift in the narrative of globalisation when he lamented to me that “globalisation is not a zero sum game as current geopolitics makes it out to be”. He went on to add, ironically, that despite the geo-political rhetoric they are continuing to grow strongly, especially their global services business, as the world becomes even more tightly integrated digitally.
These two seemingly conflicting narratives of the world, the geopolitical and the digital, have fundamentally transformed the half century old model of globalisation. This dichotomy is further influenced by the seemingly opposing geopolitical approach of the two leading economic powers, US and China.
While the United States has overturned its late 20th century policy as the champion of open borders and global trade and is embracing economic nationalism as a bargaining lever to achieve its objective of ‘fair trade’, China is pushing a new geopolitical order with its One Belt One Road initiative. In both cases, the loss is that of multilateralism which underpinned the growth of globalisation over six decades since World War 2, despite economic hiccups like the oil crisis of the 1970s or the dotcom bust in 2000.
This dichotomy of the two worlds is playing out in the metrics of globalisation. The negative geo-political narrative of growing protectionism is reflected in ‘old’ metrics that show a downward trend with slowdown in the global merchandise trade affecting the trade multiplier on global GDP. Similarly global FDI intensity (as percentage of total global investment or global GDP) is also falling and together has brought down global GDP growth from a high of 4.5% in 2010 to around 3%.
On the other hand the digital narrative is all about growth in the number of globally connected consumers, which has gone from 0.7 billion in 2003 to over 3 billion. The number of globally connected machines is growing even faster and currently number over 6 billion, which is forecast to more than treble to over 20 billion by 2020.
This growth in digital connectivity has lead to an explosive growth in global data from 100 gigabytes in 2002 to over 20,000 GB in 2015, and it is expected to cross 60,000 GB by 2020. So while the merchandise trade is slowing down services trade, especially digital services trade, is growing strongly.
These two world narratives have led to very different ‘winning’ strategies, both at the level of countries and companies. While overall global growth has slowed, we are also seeing greater divergence in growth rates among countries, especially emerging markets, a marked contrast from the convergence among developing county growth rates that defined the last two decades of globalisation.
Developing countries that have strong services exports and strong domestic consumption continue to grow while many commodity and even manufacturing export led economies struggle. Clearly a very different winning formula from the manufacturing and merchandise led export growth model of the second half of 20th century.
Similarly, the fastest growing companies are those who have built their business models around services and digital platforms, selling to digitally connected consumers or businesses. Examples are companies like Fitbit and Uber who are building multi-billion dollar global businesses not in decades but months and years by leveraging this rapid growth in digital integration. Perhaps the most dramatic example of such growth was Niantic, the makers of the PokemonGo game who reached billion dollar revenues in just six months from over 100 million consumers in over 125 countries.
At a recent conference in US where i presented my thesis of new globalisation resulting from these two narratives, the head of a global consumer company articulated the unfortunate tale of the two worlds very nicely when he said that in the current political climate where anything ‘global’, ‘world’ or ‘united’ is almost demonised, whereas anything ‘national’, ‘us versus them’ and ‘protectionist’ is heralded, people lose sight of the fundamental and undeniable truth that protectionism and nationalism have never in history created wealth for society at large.
He went on to add that the most important question for him was how should corporations position themselves in this battle of two worlds? Should they jump on the bandwagon of protectionism as some global firms are doing by abandoning some markets which was very “convenient” politically in the short term, but destroys value in the long term? Or should he consciously ignore the political noise and instead fully embrace the rapidly converging global consumer trends?
A non-trivial choice to say the least, with no easy answers. But it is important to remember that ebbs and flows of globalisation are not new. Over the last century and half, the world has witnessed several major waves of globalisation.
Each time, globalisation’s momentum was halted by some crisis. After each reverse, globalisation was redefined and emerged stronger than ever – but also in a very different form. Hopefully the current era will be no different and the two worlds will converge as the inexorable logic of the market and consumers bring about the alignment of the two worlds. And prove once again that globalisation is not, and never was, a zero-sum game.

Gender Equality vs Masculinity

Most men in the Middle East do not believe in women’s equality. This was what can be concluded from a recent survey conducted by UN Women. The 10,000 respondents who were questioned belonged to Morocco, Lebanon, Palestine, and Egypt. Questions included whether they believed men should get preferential treatment over women (most thought so), whether efforts should be made to increase women’s equality in the economic and political spheres (no), and in some cases whether it was okay for a man to beat his wife (over half of the men in Egypt said yes). Almost all men (90 per cent) in Egypt believed that men deserve the final say in matters of the home.
We don’t, of course, need a survey to know that gender equality does not have a lot of supporters among the men of the Muslim world. Iterations of this belief can be found in the newspapers of the region. Men who do not believe in equality go on to inflict punishment on the women who anger them; they belittle and harass others who share their workplaces, and generally mistreat those they encounter. In this sense, none of the details of the survey are at all surprising, not the approval of abuse and not the condoning of discrimination in jobs and at home.
Here is what is surprising. A large number of the women questioned in the survey believed the same things as the men who would like to discriminate against them. In Egypt, 58.5pc women believe that men “should have the final word” in decision-making related to matters at home.
With women pitted against women, their enslavement is perceived as acceptable, even recommended and praised.
Similarly, just less than a third of Egyptian women agreed that it is okay to sometimes beat a woman. Nearly three-quarters of women, like men, believed that men should be given preferential treatment over women in jobs. A little less than a third of women did not think that women should have the option to work outside the home after marriage.
These are shocking results, not simply because of the attitudes they point to but also because they lay bare the cultural architecture that continues to enable the poor treatment of women in Muslim countries. Women currently raised in the Middle East nations surveyed, and in the Muslim world at large, are essentially being schooled in self-hatred, are being taught to think constantly and consistently like men so that they never identify with or support other women.
When a woman hears a story about another woman being beaten, she does not rail at the injustice or cry out at the cruelty; instead, she blames that woman. She must have done something to provoke the man, she must be the one at fault and not the one actually wronged. A similar logic is evident in questions of who deserves what — the woman at the office is the enemy of the woman at home; there is no solidarity, no sisterly feeling. There is only male mentality and male morality; women suffer but sympathise with men.
The results of a similar survey in Pakistan would likely not have been much different. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has reported horrific crimes against women including rape, gang rape, acid attacks, beatings, torture and, of course, ‘honour’ killings. According to HRCP figures, a number of women commit suicide in the country and hundreds of others are killed in the name of honour. Laws passed in recent times to curb violence against women have not been effective in actually doing so.
The general acceptability of domestic violence in Pakistani culture was recently underscored when a commercial for a washing machine featured a man making light of domestic violence. That commercial, which featured a well-known actor, was never aired but it could easily have been. As in Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine and Morocco, domestic violence is considered a man’s right, the basis of jokes, but never ever a crime.
Within this dark reality, it is difficult to imagine change as a possibility. Gender discrimination and hatred and poor treatment of women obviously have wide acceptability in society. Similarly, dismantling the cultural apparatus that would enable women to think like women, identify with other women and resist the dominance of men, is very difficult. The result is a world in which women have few rights, are often mistreated but yet say nothing and do nothing. Dependence enables apathy and cultivates hopelessness; self-hatred enables malice and cruelty.
The repercussions are evident in every corner of every home — mothers-in-law pitted against daughters-in-law, sisters against sisters, aunts against cousins. With women pitted against women, their enslavement is perceived as acceptable, even recommended and praised.
Pointing out the dynamics that reveal how women are pitted against other women is not to exonerate the men who dominate the system, who make and enact the rules and means via which women are sentenced to lifelong inequality and perpetual dependence.
In the end, men who treat women badly rob the latter of their humanity, reduce them to the status of an animal, a being who cannot make decisions, who can be beaten and disciplined and whose capacity never extends beyond carrying out orders.
Change requires an understanding that morals and society can never be constructed on the architecture of discrimination; bossing women around can make men feel good and powerful for the moment, but it can never lead to justice or progress or virtue. Giving up on gender equality means giving up on the quest to be good, and many of those who live in these parts of the world seem to have done just that.

Rising Tiger Falling Dragon

President Xi Jinping has been anointed one of the three “core” leaders of China along with strongmen Mao and Deng giving him sweeping powers over the vast Chinese Army and the Politburo. President Trump has started to vacate the seat at the centre of the head table of World politics as he focuses on America leaving China to assume that they are the natural successors to this seat and therefore the leader of the World.
The Chinese spokespersons or their state run mediums threaten every world leader who has the “audacity” to meet Dalai Lama. They do not like anyone who tries to do business with Taiwan. President Xi’s recent threat on the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong of “not crossing the red line” was alarming but Hong Kong residents, knowing the consequences, silently accepted it. China has exhibited its military power in the South China Seas and has claimed islands that do not belong to it. They genuinely believe they have the right to protest against anything they do not like but they are not willing to accept any protests against their actions.
China has done it all with absolutely no concern for what others may feel. But these threats are now beginning to sound hollow. The sabre rattling is sounding scratchy and tired.
“Either you are with us or against us” is the policy followed by China and for the past two decades most countries, eager to do business with this large market or keen to get their investments, have complied in stoic silence.
But all is not right with China. The Chinese economy, the reason for the arrogance of its leaders and its spokespersons, is slowing down noticeably and dramatically. Labour unrests are growing everywhere either because of unpaid wages, layoffs in record numbers or because sufficient new jobs are not being created. The population is ageing and, it has often been said, that China will grow old before it gets rich.
The debt of the country at US$ 25.6 trillion (one trillion equals 1000 billion) has ballooned to 250% of gross domestic product leading most economists to voice their concerns of an impending bubble bursting and tsunami waves of debt will be felt all over the world. Unemployment, pegged at 4% by Government statistics is believed to be at least three times this figure by Fathom Consulting. Forex reserves has dropped from US$ 4 trillion in early 2014 to just over US$ 3 trillion in 2017. No one asks where this US$ 1 trillion has been spent in three years.
China needs a minimum growth rate of 7.4% to ensure that the Chinese citizens continue to be gainfully employed. In a translucent society, where financial numbers are suspect and statistics are “managed”, no one knows what the correct position is in China leaving everyone to speculate. Huge infrastructure projects are lying idle and ghost cities can be seen everywhere.
Chinese investments all over the world are facing serious challenges. The port in Sri Lanka is a financial disaster for Sri Lanka and China is taking 80% equity and therefore opening up an opportunity to set up a naval base. Bridges are collapsing in Kenya and infrastructure projects in Africa are either sub standard or running behind schedule. The Pakistanis are questioning the China Pakistan Economic Corridor as they are beginning to realise that the Chinese have taken away promised jobs and the power plants promised are actually second hand thermal power plants from China. Pakistanis now fear that they will become another province of China but have to hang on to the only “all weather friend” they think they have.
On the political front, the love affair of China with USA is over. President Trump has sold arms to Taiwan, violating China’s self-stated “one China policy” and has refused to listen to the empty threats of China. If he goes ahead and imposes tariffs on Chinese products,
the famous sweatshops of China will go into a tailspin. The South East Asian countries, overawed by the financial power of China have started to understand the bully that China is and are hoping to find another market before they can push back on the so-called largesse of China.
Contrast this to what is happening in India, a nation with more than two thirds of its population under the age of 35. Indians now have a strong democratically elected leader whose popularity continues to rise.
Prime Minister Modi won a majority in Parliament and has, barring a couple of state elections, consistently won with sweeping numbers. He has not hesitated in taking tough decisions much to the chagrin of some of India’s hawkish neighbours. His tough stand against Pakistan and India’s surgical strikes has been acknowledged with respect.
The Chinese have gotten used to a hesitant Indian leadership who have generally tried to take the middle path against Chinese push backs. The recent Chinese incursion into Doklam on the Bhutan border and Modi’s unwillingness to back down despite the Chinese rhetoric has won him even more admirers both in India and outside. The Chinese, used to getting their way everywhere, are unsure and making meaningless threats.
Foreign Direct Investment in India is at an all-time high. Demonetisation and the introduction of GST has made the ruling party stronger. The stock market is at an all-time high. The Indian economy is now the fastest growing in the world and will continue this momentum for the at least next decade. And, Prime Minister Modi is just getting started. He should easily lead his party to a thumping majority in the parliamentary elections in 2019.
Mr Modi’s whirlwind diplomacy in the last three years has won him many friends and admirers. Unlike his Chinese counterpart, Modi knows how to connect with the wealthy Indian diaspora. His ability to balance opposing groups around the world has opened up economic opportunities for Indian businesses outside India and for foreign businesses in India. Strong bonds with USA and Israel will help India not only in getting more investments but also shore up our already strong defence capability.
The three decades starting in the early eighties belonged to China. The next three decades, starting from 2014, definitely belong to India, now beginning to be accepted as a super power in the world.
China does not like being on the back foot but then does the World really care?

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Strategy-free force

In a recent Wall Street Journal column, President Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, and senior economic adviser, Gary Cohn, wrote: “The world is not a global community but an arena where nations, non-governmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage”, and “we embrace” this “elemental nature of international affairs”.
Under the slogan ‘America First’, and led largely by his generals, Trump seeks to reassert global primacy through raw military and economic power. In almost every conflict where it is engaged, the US has escalated or threatened to escalate the use of force, even in the absence of a long-term strategy.
Unfortunately, the preference for military options can be contagious. Other powers, like Russia, Iran, Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have not been reluctant to resort to force. Even mini-money states, like the UAE and Qatar, have embarked on foreign military operations. If military force becomes the first rather than last option for states, international relations will be transformed into a Hobbesian jungle of all against all.
In almost every conflict where it is engaged, the US has escalated the use of force. The wars in Syria and Iraq reflect this dystopian reality. Latest events — the US downing of a Syrian government aircraft and the Russian demand that US aircraft not fly west of the Euphrates — have confirmed the danger of a direct US-Russia conflict in Syria. Once the militant Islamic State group is defeated, Iraq’s three-way (Shia, Sunni, Kurd) crisis will revive, with the Sunni minority turning to Saudi Arabia for support against the Shia-led government in Baghdad.
The Kurds in Iraq and Syria will try to break away, but face Turkish and Iranian opposition and may be ultimately betrayed by their Western sponsors (again). Even after its defeat in Mosul and Raqqa, IS will survive in some form, perhaps merging with other Sunni extremist groups, or escaping to new locations, like Afghanistan. Its campaign of global terror will remain potent.
The Trump summit in Riyadh virtually declared the opening of hostilities against Iran. Predictably, Iran blamed Saudi Arabia for the subsequent terror attacks in Tehran. US Secretary of State Tillerson has upped the ante by referring to the prospect of regime change in Iran.
The recent Iranian missile strikes against IS in Syria were an unsubtle message to the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia that Tehran has the will and capacity to retaliate against hostile actions. Iran could inflame West Asia and the Levant; rain Hezbollah rockets on Israel; threaten Saudi oilfields and US bases in Afghanistan; mobilise Shia minorities to destabilise shaky rulers in the Gulf. The Saudi-UAE vendetta against Qatar reveals the fault lines within the Sunni alliance which can be exploited by Iran in the context of the wider regional confrontation.
Afghanistan is about to endure another cycle of violence as the US digs itself deeper into the Afghan quagmire. The new US ‘surge’ (of 4,000 troops) may prevent the collapse of the US-installed Kabul regime, at enormous human and financial cost; but it will not deliver either military victory or force the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. Pressure on Pakistan to eliminate the alleged safe havens may prove counterproductive. A focus on fighting the Afghan Taliban will erode the prospects of collective action against IS and other terrorist groups, like the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, etc which are present in Afghanistan and pose a threat to the entire region.
Kashmir could spark another India-Pakistan war. The popular Kashmiri revolt against Indian rule has persisted for over a year despite Indian brutality, Pakistani impotence and world indifference. In the run-up to the 2019, Indian general elections, Prime Minister Modi may try to deflect attention from India’s Kashmiri quagmire by escalating the Line of Control ceasefire violations or even attempting a (real) cross-LOC ‘strike’. The ensuing Pakistan-India conventional conflict will not remain limited and could easily escalate to the nuclear level. President Trump should press Modi in Washington this week to accept his offer of mediation to avoid a disastrous Pakistan-India war.
So far, Trump has avoided the Thucydides Trap by holding back from an overt containment of China. He has conditioned the US position on trade on Beijing’s ability to restrain North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.
However, extreme Chinese pressure on North Korea is unlikely since this may lead to regime collapse, millions of refugees, Korean unification and US troops on China’s border. Beijing’s preference is for a freeze in North Korea’s missile and nuclear programmes and reciprocal military restraint by the US and its allies. If attempts to evolve a deal collapse, the military option may come back to the fore and Sino-US differences on trade, the South China Sea and other issues may revive, generating tensions across Asia.
Despite the early optimism in Moscow, Trump’s campaign desire for a cooperative relationship with Russia has been stymied by the American ‘establishment’. On the contrary, the new unilateral anti-Russia sanctions imposed by the US Congress last week are an indication that US-Russian tensions will persist and probably escalate. Close ‘encounters’ between Russian-Nato air and naval forces are now commonplace and could lead to a military incident.
The balance of power in Europe favours Russia. Its absorption of Crimea is a reality. Ukraine’s division is unlikely to be overcome except on Moscow’s terms. Nato’s forward deployments, and/or installation of an advanced ballistic missile defence system, will evoke strong Russian responses even as support of several European countries, which desire cooperative relations with Russia, wavers.
To manage the several simultaneous political, economic and technological transitions under way, and meet the existential challenges of climate change, demographic explosion, poverty, terrorism, refugees and communicable diseases, the international community requires intense cooperation and collective action.
Such cooperation is impossible while states are allowed to have recourse to the untrammelled and unilateral use of force. It is essential to revive unconditional adherence by states to their UN Charter commitment to refrain from the use or threat of force in their international relations

How Foreign Travellers Documented Indian Monsoon

The monsoon has come again, swathing the skies,
Wafting through the breeze the rain fragrance beguiles.
This old soul of mine, echoes in thrill,
Watching the gathering clouds drill.
Steadily over the meadow, grows the rain clouds shadow,
It is here, shouts the heart, it is here sings the song
Delights eyes, rushes towards life.
The above lines from Rabindranath Tagore’s poem ‘Abar esheche ashar’ (The monsoon has come again) perhaps best describes the current mood in an India that is walking out of a dreadful summer, entering a period of joyous monsoons. The smoky dark clouds, the ethereal downpour that follows and the sweet petrichor, has forever been the highlight of Indian ecology and culture. The season of rains in India has a uniqueness to it, a sentiment of hope and joy attached that is unlike the perception attached to rains anywhere else in the world. Tailing behind the scorching tropical heat, the Indian monsoon is a time for relief. A time to rejoice and prosper. The passionate outburst of rain showers that take place in the middle of the year has been extensively chronicled by foreign writers in India, accompanying expressions ranging from horror, awe and alarm to amusement and longing.
Poets, travelers, lovers and everyone else in India have for centuries considered the monsoons one of the best incentives to strike pen on paper. One wonders though, that in a country that has for eternity been the centre of attraction for foreign travelers, traders and invaders, how must have the tropical rains appeared to the outsiders?
Indian monsoons, monsoons, rainy season, rains in India, Mumbai monsoons, monsoon in India, Indian rains, rainy season in India, weather in India, Indian history, Indian Express ‘To the tryst in the rain’ (1680-85) (Source: Dogra Art Gallery, Jammu)
Historical documents suggest that the Indian monsoon along with the tropical summer were the biggest factors that led to the retreat of the Macedonian invader Alexander the Great and his army. The passionate outburst of rain showers that take place in the middle of the year has been extensively chronicled by foreign writers in India, accompanying expressions ranging from horror, awe and alarm to amusement and longing. Here we put together the historical accounts of four foreigners who were awed by the monsoons in India.
Indian monsoons, monsoons, rainy season, rains in India, Mumbai monsoons, monsoon in India, Indian rains, rainy season in India, weather in India, Indian history, Indian Express During his time in India in the early 19th century, as an officer of the British East India Company, Tod travelled far and wide and documented the history and geography of the Indian subcontinent. (Wikimedia Commons)
The British oriental scholar is best known for his work on the history of Rajasthan. During his time in India in the early 19th century, as an officer of the British East India Company, Tod travelled far and wide and documented the history and geography of the Indian subcontinent. The 12th chapter of his book, “Travels in Western India, Embracing a Visit to the Sacred Mounts of the Jains, and the Most Celebrated Shrines of Hindu Faith Between Rajpootana and the Indus,” documents Tod’s experience in the city of Ahmedabad where he was met with the Indian monsoons. Describing his experience of greeting the rains,Tod says the following:
“I was happy to come to an anchor at this place, and to ride out, in such anchorage as I found here, the increasing wrath of the monsoon.”
“Whatever amusement there may be in reading the wanderings of a traveller in India, when the ‘waters are out’ there is not much enjoyment for him, and still less for those about him.”
For the rest of the chapter, Tod comments upon the challenges faced while travelling during the monsoon including the difficulty in passing the horses, the scarcity of supplies and the horrors of a monsoon storm. “You get up and paddle for slippers in vain, and find that the force of the torrent has broken the embankment raised in the evening, and petty rivulets meander under your bed,” writes Tod.
Indian monsoons, monsoons, rainy season, rains in India, Mumbai monsoons, monsoon in India, Indian rains, rainy season in India, weather in India, Indian history, Indian Express In his work, “The travels in India,” Tavernier refers to his face off with tropical monsoons on several occasions throughout the book. (Wikimedia Commons)
The French traveller and merchant, Jean Baptiste Tavernier had made a number of voyages to the East, between Persia and India in the 17th century. Tavernier documented his experiences in a number of publications. In his work, “The travels in India,” Tavernier refers to his face off with tropical monsoons on several occasions throughout the book. In the beginning he writes about the precautions that need to be taken by sailors while travelling in the Indian seas, since the Indian climatic conditions are not conducive to sea voyages all year round. “Navigation in the Indian seas is not carried out at all seasons as it is in our European seas, it being necessary to take the proper season, outside which no one ventures to put to sea. The months of November, December, January, February and March are the only months in the year in which you embark at Hormuz for Surat, and at Surat for Hormuz.”
Tavernier describes the social and geographical implications of rains in India throughout his book. “When it rains in India the water falls like a deluge, and in less than an hour or two small streams rise 2 or 3 feet in depth,” he writes. Describing the city of Lahore, Tavernier writes that “the town is large and extends more than a coss in length, but the greater part of the houses, which are higher than those of Agra and Delhi, are falling into ruins, the excessive rains having overthrown a large number.”
Indian monsoons, monsoons, rainy season, rains in India, Mumbai monsoons, monsoon in India, Indian rains, rainy season in India, weather in India, Indian history, Indian Express In the second volume of his work, Bernier devotes a special section to the rains in India. (Wikimedia Commons)
The French physician and traveller, Bernier had made his way to the Mughal court in the 17th century during the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan. His work, “Travels in the Mogul empire AD 1656-1668,” is a detailed account of the socio-political conditions in the Mughal empire, including the war of succession that followed Shah Jahan’s death. Apart from the political events though, Bernier writes in length about the Indian geographical and human landscape of India during his time.
In the second volume of his work, Bernier devotes a special section to the rains in India. “The sun is so strong and violent in India during the whole year, particularly during eight months, that the ground would be completely burnt and rendered sterile and sterile and uninhabitable, if Providence did not kindly provide a remedy, and wisely ordained that in the month of July, when the heat is most intense, rains begin to fall, which continue three successive months.” he writes.
He further notes in detail the atmospheric conditions leading to rainfall in India and remarks on the fact that the intensity of rains in different parts of India varies according to the kind of summer heat the region received. “I had almost forgotten to notice another fact which fell under my observation while living in Delhi. There never falls any heavy rain until a great quantity of clouds have passed, during several days, to the westward; as if it were necessary that the expanse of atmosphere to the west of Delhi, should first be filled with clouds, and that those clouds finding some impediment, such as air less hot and less rarefied, and therefore more capable of resistance; or encountering other clouds and contrary winds, they become so thick, overcharged and heavy, as to burst and descend in rain,” notes Bernier.
Indian monsoons, monsoons, rainy season, rains in India, Mumbai monsoons, monsoon in India, Indian rains, rainy season in India, weather in India, Indian history, Indian Express Frater finally visited India to trace the Indian monsoons from Kerala to Cherrapunji, and produced in 1990 a book by the name “Chasing the monsoon: A modern pilgrimage through India.” (official website of Amazon)
Talking of contemporary times, the British-Australian travel writer, Alexander Frater’s account of monsoons in India is considered to be a modern day classic. Frater had been enamoured by the idea of Indian rains through the stories he heard from his father as a child when he grew up in the South Pacific islands in the mid-twentieth century. He finally visited India to trace the Indian monsoons from Kerala to Cherrapunji, and produced in 1990 a book by the name “Chasing the monsoon: A modern pilgrimage through India.”
Frater’s account moves from being a blissful longing for the torrential rains he had heard so much about to the emotion of awe on facing the deluge which he considered to be a “roaring cataract of falling, foaming water.” There were moments when he greeted the first rains, like that in Cochin, and then there were others when he just missed them, like that in Goa.
“At 1 p.m. the serious cloud build-up started. Two hours fifty minutes later racing cumulus extinguished the sun and left everything washed in an inky violet light. At 4.50, announced by deafening ground-level thunderclaps, the monsoon finally rode into Cochin. The cloud-base blew through the trees like smoke; rain foamed on the hotel’s harbourside lawn and produced a bank of hanging mist opaque as hill fog. In the coffee shop the waiters rushed to the windows, clapping and yelling, their customers forgotten. One, emerging from the kitchen bearing a teapot destined for the conference room (…), glimpsed the magniloquent spectacle outside, banged the teapot down on my table and ran to join them crying, ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!,” wrote Frater about the arrival of monsoons in Cochin.
For Frater, the monsoons in India remained the ideal romantic phenomenon, that was key to the country’s charm despite its impoverishment. “As a romantic ideal, turbulent, impoverished India could still weave its spell, and the key to it all – the colours, the moods, the scents, the subtle, mysterious light, the poetry, the heightened expectations, the kind of beauty that made your heart miss a beat – well, that remained the monsoon,” writes Frater.

Sunday Special: The Polygamy Myth in Islam

A news headline that grabbed my attention recently was from the Pakistan about three men who among them have fathered nearly 100 children making their modest contribution to Pakistan’s skyrocketing population, which is being counted for the first time in 19 years. Allah, they say, will provide for them, a standard reply of most Muslims in Pakistan.
Fortunately in India, religion is not a factor for high birth rate among Muslims. Nor is the birth rate comparable in the two countries. While in Pakistan it is 3.7, in Indian Muslims it is 2.4 ( national average 2.3) (2016 World Population Data). It is clear that the prevalence of family planning among them is the lowest of all communities but that is because they are at the bottom of the ladder in education, economic status and the access to health services – the main determinants of fertility behaviour. That can be analysed in a separate article. Here I examine if religion is the contributor to high birth rate. This is a subject which is characterised by mass ignorance and it is time someone explodes the myths.
At the centre of the debate is the belief that Islam encourages polygamy which leads to a spurt in population growth. The reality is that though Islam does permit polygamy but it is subject to not one but two conditions – that they are orphans and will be treated with absolute equality.
“And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry those that please you , two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then [marry only] one”. ( Al Nisa:4.3)
The polygamists conveniently miss both the conditions. This is the only verse in the Quran that refers to polygamy and that too in the context of fair treatment of orphan girls. The emphasis of the Holy Quran is very clearly on monogamy.
Is polygamy widely prevalent among Muslims? The only report on the subject is that of the Committee on the Status of Women in India, 1974, which revealed that polygamy was not exclusive to Muslims but was prevalent among all communities of India: tribals (15.2), Buddhists (9.7), Jains (6.7) and Hindus (5.8). Muslims were, in fact, found least polygamous(5.7).
Polygamy is not even statistically possible in India as the number of women per 1000 men is only 940. Experts have opined that polygamy cannot lead to high birth rate, since the number of polygamous men, small though they are, would leave an equal number of men unmarried. It is also observed that second wife of a man has lesser number of children than the first/only wife. A study showed that the average number of children from the second wife of Muslims was only 1.78 as compared to 4.67 from the first wife.
Polygamy apart, what does Shariah say about family planning?
Quran and Hadith are replete with verses and traditions supportive of the concept of family planning. It is extremely important to note that nowhere has the Quran prohibited family planning! There are only interpretations, whether for or against.
Anti-family planning interpretation is based on the following concepts: Tawakkul (Reliance on Allah), Qadr (Predestination), and Rizq (Provision).
“Do not kill your children (for fear of poverty); We make provisions for you, and for them too.” (Sura 6:152 and 17:31). “And Allah has made for you, your mates from yourselves and made for you, out of them, children and grandchildren.” (Sura 16:72). “Your wives are as tilth unto you, so, approach your tilth how you wish” (Sura 2:223)
Pro-family planning interpretations, on the contrary, are many more and these are based on: Tranquility of conjugal life, emphasis on ease, injunction about breast feeding (that delays conception and promotes spacing), preference for quality over numbers, and permission for Al Azl (withdrawal method), etc.
Foe me the clinching verse of the Quran is: “Let those who find not the wherewithal for marriage, keep themselves chaste, UNTIL Allah gives them means out of His grace”. (Sura 24:33). This is amplified by the Prophet: “O young men! Those of you who can support a wife and household should marry. For, marriage keeps you from looking with lust at women and preserves you from promiscuity. But those who cannot, should take to fasting, which is a means of tempering sexual desires”. (Bukhari).
Then there is Hadees that refers to restricting the size of the family. Abu Sa’ad, a companion of the Prophet, reported, ‘A man came to the Prophet to ask about the practice of al-azl ( withdrawal) with his mate. He added “I do not like her to get pregnant and I am a man who wants what other men want. But the Jews claim that al-azl (withdrawal) is minor infanticide.” The Prophet strongly dismissed this contention saying “The Jew lied, the Jew lied.” (Authenticated by Abu Dawoud, lbn Hanbal and al-Tahawi).
Please note that the first is the Quranic injunction, the second is the elaboration of the same by the Prophet and the third describes the method of birth control. I consider this a complete prescription for family planning.
This interpretation is strongly reinforced by the following narrative based on Quranic versus and traditions of the Prophet.
Islam is a Religion for Ease. This is what the Quran says: “Allah desires for you ease (yusr); He desires not hardship (usr) for you”.(Sura 2:185). “No soul shall impose (upon it) a duty but to its capacity; neither shall a mother be made to suffer injury on account of her child, nor shall he to whom the child is born (be made to suffer) on account of his child”. (Sura 2:223). And know that your wealth and your children are a persecution (or trial) (Fitna). (Sura 8:28 and 64:15).
And the Hadees amplifies it. “The most gruelling trial is to have plenty of children with no adequate means”. (al-Hakim). “A multitude of children is one of the two poverties (or cases of penury), while a small number is one of the two cases of ease”. (Musnad al- Shahab).
Importantly, even the Purpose of Marriage is conjugal tranquility.
“It is He who created you from a single soul (nafs) and therefrom did make his mate, that he might dwell in tranquility with her.” (Sura 7:189). “And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts.” [Sura 30:21)
Islam is a Religion for Quality. “How oft, by Allah’s will, has a small force vanquished a numerous force”. (Sura 2:249). “Allah has given you victory in many battles; but on the day of Hunayn, when you exalted in your multitude, it availed you naught. And the earth, vast as it is, became tight for you, then you turned back in retreat.” (Sura 18:46)
The prophet is emphatic about quality. “The right of a child on his parent is to be given good breeding and good name”. (al-Baihaqi). “To leave your heirs rich is better than leaving them dependent upon people’s charity.”( al Bukhari)
Quran also prescribes the right of children to breastfeeding which not only ensures their health but also helps child spacing. “And mothers shall suckle their children two full years to complete breast-feeding” (Sura 2:233) and (Sura 31:14)
Islam’s emphasis on gender equality is also important. There are numerous Hadees on this. “Men and women are equal halves.” (Abu Dawoud). “Do not hate having daughters, for they are the comforting dears.” (al-Tabarani). “It is a woman’s blessing to have a girl as her first child.” ( Mardaweih )
It is well known that many Indians, driven by the cultural/traditional son preference, continue to have children ending up with a large family. Islam enjoins gender equality. Fortunately,
Indian Muslims have less discrimination against the girl child and least female foetus abortion. This explains the marked improvement in their female gender ratio.
The opinion of the great Imams:
Based on their understanding of the Islamic law, the opinion of the great Imams is supportive of family planning. Interpreting verse 4:3 of the Holy Quran, Imam Shafei opined that more children should not be produced if they cannot be properly supported. Imam Raghib, interpreting 17:31 verse of Quran, says that it is not only the physical killing of children which is prohibited in Islam, but also spiritually and intellectually. The denial of access to education, for example, amounts to killing them intellectually. “Those few (qalil)”, records a Hadith, “who are virtuous are superior to those many who are undesirable”. It implies that the number of children should be restricted to the capacity of parents to make them virtuous. Imam Ghazzali, a sufi of great eminence, mentions a tradition from the Prophet: Smallness of a family (qillat al’ayal) is a facility (yusur) and its largeness (kathrat) results in faqr (indigence, poverty).
A plethora of opinions of contemporary Ulama and fatwas strongly support family planning. For example, Sheikh Sayyid Sabiq (Saudi Arabia, 1968) opined, “The use of contraception is allowed, especially if the husband already has a large family, if he cannot bring up his children correctly, if his wife is weak or sick or has repeated pregnancies, or if the husband is poor.” (See more opinions and fatwas in full article in IE Online).
There is no verse in the Quran forbidding the wife or husband to practise family planning. I, for one, do not feel that Islam interdicts family planning to ward off hardship in Muslim married life”. ( Haji Nasiruddin Latif, Indonesia, 1974).
“Family Planning in Islam starts with the choice of the wife and places a great emphasis on raising children physically, educationally and spiritually, that is why quality is favoured over quantity.” (Sheikh Abdel Aziz, Jordan, 1985). Several Hadiths listed by Imam Ghazzali underline benefits of ‘Azl’: (1) preservation of wife’s beauty and charm; (2) protection of her health and life; (3) shielding her from hardship (kathrat al-haral) on account of child birth; and (4) keeping away financial hardship from the family.
Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltout, Great Imam of Al-Azhar in his fatwa of 1959 “strongly endorsed the use of contraceptives on an individual basis for health, social or economic reasons.” Under certain conditions contraception becomes mandatory, he added. Fatwa of Advisory Council on Religious Matters (Turkey, 1960) allowed contraception with the wife’s consent and even without wife’s consent in case of war, turmoil or conditions where bringing up children becomes difficult.
Opinion of Indian ulama is on the same lines:
Allama Shah Zaid Abul Hassan Farooqi, Delhi.
All the four Imams regard Azl as permissible. However, in one Hadith, a condition has been prescribed that it should be done only with the wife’s consent. Ibn Abidin, Tahtawi and Abus Saud opine that even a woman has the right to shut off the mouth of her uterus without the permission of the husband to avoid pregnancy.
Anti-pregnancy pills and medicines are also permissible.
When permissibility of Azl is proven, the use of other comparable measures (like condom, etc.) stands automatically endorsed. (Maulana Masood Ahmad Qasmi, Nazim-e-Deeniyat, Aligarh Muslim University). “Preventing conception temporarily which does not lead to permanently impairing the capability is legal. The use of loop (IUDs) and Nirodh (condom) is equivalent to the practice of Azl.”(Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani, Sadar Mudarris, Dar-ul-Uloom, Sabeel-ul-Islam, Hyderabad).
To prevent short space between children which will make them naturally weak, use of temporary contraceptive methods like loop (IUD), Nirodh (condom), medicine or ointment is valid. (Maulana Jamil Ahmed Naziri, Jamia Arabia, Ahya-ul-uloom, Mubarakpur, Azamgarh).
“If there is a valid reason or disease because of which a woman cannot bear the hardship of pregnancy, in such a situation, Shariat allows temporary birth control measures.” (Mufti Zafir-ud-din Miftahi, Mufti, Darul-Uloom, Deoband)
“It is thus amply clear that Islam is fully supportive of the temporary methods of family planning. However, sterilisation or irreversible methods are disallowed by almost all sections of the Ulama though some Ulama have a positive interpretation about sterilisation too.
Prof Abder Rahim Omran (1992) of the most respected Islamic University, Al Azhar, observes, “It is a wonder to the thinkers of today that Islam should give so much (importance) to child spacing and family planning so early in human history, and in the absence of compelling population pressures,“
The above analysis should cause a rethink among those who think that Islam is opposed to family planning. On the contrary, it should be understood that Islam is indeed the originator of the concept. It is true that Muslims are most backward in family planning practices but the reason lies in their socio- economic backwardness, not their religion. Literacy, income and better delivery of health services hold the key to planning of family size. The future of the country and all its constituent communities lies in the quality of upbringing of the children, with education as the key strategy.