THE HINDU EDITORIAL : 4 August- 2017

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a) It’s time to enact an anti-lynching law

In a civilised society, even one lynching is too many. But India has seen a spate of them of late. The data website India Spend has compiled instances of cow-linked violence from 2010 to 2017. It found that during this period, 28 people were killed in 63 such incidents. An overwhelming 97% of these attacks took place after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government came to power in May 2014. About 86% of those killed were Muslims. In 21% of the cases, the police led cases against the victims/survivors. Cow-related lynchings rose sharply in 2017, with 20 attacks in the first six months. This marks a 75% increase over 2016, which had been the worst year for mob lynchings since 2010. The groundswell of public disgust at the lynchings crystallised under the banner of the National Campaign Against Mob Lynching (NCAML), which has initiated a campaign for a law against mob lynching. Also known as ‘Masuka’, short for Manav Suraksha Kanoon (law to protect humans), a draft of the proposed legislation is currently up on the Internet, awaiting suggestions from the public. The primary argument of the activists and lawyers advocating an anti-lynching law is that it fills a void in our criminal jurisprudence. It is true that at present there is no law that criminalises mob killings. The Indian Penal Code has provisions for unlawful assembly, rioting, and murder but nothing that takes cognisance of a group of people coming together to kill (a lynch mob). It is possible, under Section 223 (a) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), to prosecute together two or more people accused of the same offence committed in the course of the “same transaction”. But the provision falls far short of an adequate legal framework for prosecuting lynch mobs. The NCAML’s draft Protection from Lynching Act, 2017 defines, for the first time in Indian legal history, the terms ‘lynching’, ‘mob’ and ‘victim’ of mob lynching. It makes lynching a non-bailable offence, criminalises dereliction of duty by a policeman, criminalises incitement on social media, and stipulates that adequate compensation be paid, within a definite time frame, to victims and survivors. It also guarantees a speedy trial and witness protection.

The apprehensions

On the face of it, it is difficult to fault the intent or the provisions of the draft legislation. Nonetheless, two aspects merit close scrutiny: the potential for abuse, and the underlying premise that a generic anti-lynching law could address India’s lynching problem. On the question of misuse, the provisions empowering local law enforcement officials to take preemptive action could easily be invoked to criminalise peaceful public assembly, especially if the gathering is of workers or members of marginalised communities agitating for their rights. For instance, the police could use this law to detain a group of labourers planning a dharna, on the grounds that they constitute a mob that poses a threat to company officials. To take another example, the ‘Review Committee’ that would monitor the prosecution of cases under this law is supposed to be headed by a senior police officer. Its findings would be submitted to a senior police officer. In a scenario where the police often serve as the handmaiden of the ruling dispensation, could we realistically expect one member of the police force to hold another accountable? Would it not have been prudent to mandate that the Review Committee make its report public or have members from civil society?

A category error

No one can dispute that a major reason for the recent rise in lynchings is impunity. It can be reasonably assumed that the lynch mobs that murdered Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, Pehlu Khan in Alwar, and Hafiz Junaid in Haryana were confident of getting away with it. So far, the state has done little to shake that confidence. The NCAML activists must know that this confidence has little to do with legislative lacuna. Rather, it has everything to do with the law enforcement machinery taking the side of the lynch mob. This phenomenon has been observed time and again in cases of targeted violence against minorities — which is precisely what cow-related lynchings are. Put simply, the problem is not mob lynching per se but the mob lynching of minorities, for that is where impunity kicks in. We can be certain that if a mob of factory workers were to lynch someone from the management, retribution would be swift. The historical proof of this argument, if one were needed, was supplied by the lynching of Maruti Suzuki’s HR manager in July 2012. The police arrested 148 workers and charged all them with murder. Evidently, the state can act, if it wishes to, using the existing provisions of the law. It is a matter of whether it is in its interests to do so. In the case of cow-linked lynchings, a lot depends on whether the incumbent in power considers it compatible with its political interests to crack down on such attacks.

It’s about communalism

It is therefore mystifying why the advocates of Masuka appear reluctant to name the problem for what it is: targeted communal lynchings. Perhaps they feel that doing so carries the risk of their campaign being dismissed as a ‘minority issue’. But it actually is a minority issue, and that is why the majority needs to take it up. It is understandable that in a climate of majoritarianism, any political mobilisation for the protection of minorities would be anxious about the bogey of minority appeasement. It could even mean that an anti-lynching Bill stands less chance of making it through Parliament. But then, a truly ‘civil’ society should feel no hesitation in demanding that the state protect its minorities because protection of minorities is one of the biggest responsibilities of any democracy. The UN has a Special Rapporteur for minority issues precisely because it recognises that “minorities in all regions of the world continue to face serious threats”. India already has an antidote – two, in fact – to combat the impunity enjoyed by anti-minority lynch mobs. The first is the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011, or the Anti-Communal Violence Bill. The other is police reforms, which are pending despite the Supreme Court ordering their implementation. The Anti-Communal Violence Bill was buried because it was felt that it threatened the autonomy of States by mooting a parallel structure that undermined federalism. This is a misrepresentation, and the Bill needs to be revived for three reasons: it fixes command responsibility for communal incidents; it recognises that targeted communal violence disproportionately victimises minorities; and it creates a mechanism to insulate investigations of communal violence from political interference. The last reason is also why police reforms are vital, and a purely legislative approach to tackling antiminority violence could prove ineffective. The draft anti-lynching law needs to be revised to incorporate these key elements of the AntiCommunal Violence Bill. Second, the demand for an anti-lynching law needs to be buttressed by a parallel campaign for police reforms. All said and done, even the best of laws can achieve little in the face of a law enforcement machinery primed to do the bidding of its political masters.

b) The NOTA principle

Should NOTA (none of the above) be an option in a State Assembly vote for the Rajya Sabha, as it is for the electorate in direct elections? Following the Gujarat Assembly secretary’s statement that the “NOTA” option will be available on the ballot paper in the Rajya Sabha election next week, both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have sought to convince the Supreme Court and the Election Commission that MLAs should not have this option. The Supreme Court refused to stay the process to allow NOTA, saying that the provision has been in place since April 2014 after a direction by the EC. It is important to note that open ballots are used in the Rajya Sabha elections. These elections follow a proportional representation system based on the single transferable vote, unlike the general elections to the Lok Sabha, which are conducted with secret ballots (or votes) and based on the first-past-the-post principle. The idea behind the use of NOTA is to allow the voter to register a “protest” vote if none of the candidates is acceptable to her for whatever reason. While NOTA votes are tallied, the candidate with the highest number of votes polled is declared elected irrespective of the NOTA total. In the case of the Rajya Sabha elections, the vote allows for the preferential ordering of candidates. If an MLA chooses NOTA, the vote is rendered ineffective. In principle, the presence of the NOTA option for the legislator allows the possibility of a protest vote against the party high command for choosing candidates who are not agreeable to her, without having to choose candidates from opposing parties. The principle of a protest vote remains the same even if these are indirect elections. The party high command can issue a whip for a Rajya Sabha candidate, but anti-defection law provisions do not apply, and a defiant MLA is not disqualified from membership of the House. The Supreme Court has in the past held that open ballot votes in Rajya Sabha elections against the whip will not lead to disqualification as the Tenth Schedule, pertaining to anti-defection provisions, has a different purpose. The Congress party’s protest on the introduction of NOTA draws from anxiety about mopping up sufficient votes to have its nominee Ahmed Patel elected to the Rajya Sabha. Six of its MLAs have already resigned, and there is concern that some of the remaining MLAs may not heed the party whip. Overall, both the Congress and the BJP probably have longer-term worries about keeping control of their flock in Rajya Sabha elections. But it is not as if MLAs have previously fallen in line meekly on such occasions. Therefore, instead of struggling against the democratisation of indirect elections, through reforms such as the NOTA option, parties would be better offrelearning the art of floor management.

Words/ Vocabulary

1) Lynching

Meaning: (of a group of people) kill (someone) for an alleged offence without a legal trial, especially by hanging.

Example: Her father had been lynched by whites.

Synonyms: Hang, Execute

2) Compiled

Meaning: Produce (a list or book) by assembling information collected from other sources.

Example: The local authority must compile a list of the names and addresses of taxpayers.

Synonyms: Assemble, Collate

3) Overwhelming

Meaning: Very great in amount.

Example: His party won overwhelming support.

Synonyms: Very large, Profuse and Enormous

Antonyms: Small

4) Disgust

Meaning: A feeling of revulsion or strong disapproval aroused by something unpleasant or offensive.

Example: The sight filled her with disgust.

Synonyms: Revulsion, Repugnance

Antonyms: Relish

5) Crystallised

Meaning: Make or become definite and clear.

Example: Vague feelings of unrest crystallized into something more concrete.

Synonyms: Become clear, Become definite

6) Jurisprudence

Meaning: The theory or philosophy of law; a legal system.

Example: American jurisprudence.

7) Cognisance

Meaning: Knowledge or awareness.

Example: The Renaissance cognizance of Greece was limited.

Synonyms: Awareness, Notice

8) Prosecute

Meaning: Institute or conduct legal proceedings against (a person or organization); Institute legal proceedings in respect of (a claim or offence).

Example: The state’s attorney’s office seemed to decide that this was a case worth prosecuting.

Synonyms: Take to court, Accuse and Summons

Antonyms: Defend, Let off

9) Dereliction

Meaning: The shameful failure to fulfil one’s obligations.

Example: The prosecution team were guilty of dereliction of duty for failing to disclose evidence.

Synonyms: Negligence, Neglect

Antonyms: Fulfilment

10) Incitement

Meaning: The action of provoking unlawful behaviour or urging someone to behave unlawfully.

Example: This amounted to an incitement to commit murder.

Synonyms: Egging on, Urging

Antonyms: Suppression, Discouragement

11) Stipulates

Meaning: Demand or specify (a requirement), typically as part of an agreement.

Example: He stipulated certain conditions before their marriage.

Synonyms: Specify, Set down

12) Enforcement

Meaning: The act of compelling observance of or compliance with a law, rule, or obligation.

Example: The strict enforcement of environmental regulations.

Synonyms: Imposition, Implementation

13) Pre-emptive

Meaning: Serving or intended to pre-empt or forestall something, especially to prevent attack by disabling the enemy.

Example: A pre-emptive strike.

14) Agitating

Meaning: Make (someone) troubled or nervous.

Example: The thought of questioning Toby agitated him extremely.

Synonyms: Upset, Perturb

Antonyms: Calm

15) Detain

Meaning: Keep (someone) from proceeding by holding them back or making claims on their attention.

Example: She made to open the door, but he detained her.

Synonyms: Hold up, Retard

16) Constitute

Meaning: Give legal or constitutional form to (an institution); establish by law; Combine to form (a whole).

Example: There were enough members present to constitute a quorum.

Synonyms: Amount to, Inaugurate and establish

17) Handmaiden

Meaning: Something, such as an idea, that helps and supports something else.

Example: Technique is the handmaiden of art.

Synonyms: Servants, Slaves

18) Dispensation

Meaning: Exemption from a rule or usual requirement.

Example: Although she was too young, she was given special dispensation to play before her birthday.

Synonyms: Exemption, Immunity

19) Prudent

Meaning: Acting with or showing care and thought for the future.

Example: No prudent money manager would authorize a loan without first knowing its purpose.

Synonyms: Wise, Well judged

Antonyms: Unwise, Imprudent

20) Dispute

Meaning: A disagreement or argument.

Example: A territorial dispute between the two countries.

Synonyms: Debate, Discussion

Antonyms: Agreement

21) Impunity

Meaning: Exemption from punishment or freedom from the injurious consequences of an action.

Example: The impunity enjoyed by military officers implicated in civilian killings.

Synonyms: Immunity, Indemnity

Antonyms: Liability, Responsibility

22) Incumbent

Meaning: Necessary for (someone) as a duty or responsibility.

Example: The government realized that it was incumbent on them to act.

Synonyms: Binding, Obligatory

Antonyms: Optional

23) Compatible

Meaning: (of two things) able to exist or occur together without problems or conflict; (of one thing) consistent with another.

Example: The careers structure here is not compatible with having a family.

Synonyms: Consistent, Reconcilable

Antonyms: Inconsistent, Incompatible

24) Reluctant

Meaning: Unwilling and hesitant; disinclined.

Example: Today, many ordinary people are still reluctant to talk about politics.

Synonyms: Unwilling, Disinclined

Antonyms: Willing, Eager

25) Bogey

Meaning: Something that causes fear among a lot of people, often without reason.

Example: the bogey of unemployment

26) Appeasement

Meaning: the action of satisfying the demands an aggressive person, country, or organization.

Example: A policy of appeasement.

27) Revived

Meaning: To come or bring something back to life, health, existence, or use.

Example: My plants revived as soon as I gave them some water.

Synonyms: Reintroduce, Revitalize

Antonyms: Abolish, Tropefy

28) Buttressed

Meaning: Increase the strength of or justification for; reinforce.

Example: Authority was buttressed by religious belief.

Synonyms: Strengthen, Reinforce

29) Bidding

Meaning: The ordering or requesting of someone to do something.

Example: Women came running at his bidding.

Synonyms: Command, Order

30) Rendered

Meaning: Cause to be or become; make.

Example: The rains rendered his escape impossible.

Synonyms: Make, Cause to be

31) Pertaining

Meaning: Be appropriate, related, or applicable to.

Example: Matters pertaining to the organization of government.

Synonyms: Concern, Relate to

32) Mopping – up

Meaning: the activity of dealing with a small number of people, problems, etc. that remain after most of them have been defeated or solved.

Example: The war was effectively over, although skirmishing and mopping-up went on for some time.

33) Relearning

Meaning: Learn (something) again.

Example: I’ve been relearning my Latin and Greek.

THE HINDU EDITORIAL : 3 August- 2017