a) If that door should shut now

Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta has made an important statement before the Supreme Court (“India can’t be refugee capital: govt.”, The Hindu, February 1, 2018). Whether he intended it to or not, it contains a vision, a vision of India. Mr. Mehta presented that vision in terms of what India should not be. Responding to a plea by Rohingya refugees in India, Mr. Mehta said in the Supreme Court last week: “We do not want India to become the refugee capital of the world.” He went on to say to the Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India that if the Rohingya were given refuge, “People from every other country will flood our country.” And, he added: “This is not a matter in which we can show any leniency.” Four positions can be distilled from those observations: “We” speak for India; that India does not want refugees; people from ‘every other’ country are likely to flood India; we will not let India become the world’s refugee capital.

The ‘we’

This article is not on the Rohingya’s case upon which we must trust the Supreme Court to pronounce as the great Sanskrit dictum suggests, ‘dirgham pasyatu ma hrasvam’ (look far ahead, be not short-sighted). It is on the Additional Solicitor General’s observation on India which is so important as to merit — demand — analysis. To start with the important opening word in his remark, “We”. Does he intend to use “we” in the Constitution’s sense of “We the people…”? I doubt it, for only Parliament would feel mandated to use that expression. And even if the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha were to pass a resolution, they would in all likelihood use “this House”, rather than “we”. A law officer, when he uses “we”, has to mean those who have the power, the prerogative and the privilege to instruct him in the matter before the court. But in the statement in question being about India’s very personality, the “we” has to go beyond the knot of individuals who have conferred on a particular brief. It has to convey the thinking of the government as a whole.


A departure

That brings us to the second position taken by him, namely, that refugees will hereafter be unwelcome in India. If that is indeed the government’s thinking, then we have been given a major modification in the vision of ‘bahujana hitaya bahujana sukhaya’, where vouchsafing the good of the many and the happiness of the many is a ruler’s dharma, with lokanukampaya — compassion for the human being — governing state action. It reverses the ancient tradition of the janapada being not just the home for its jana but a sanctuary for all in need of ashraya, refuge — sarva lokashrayaya. It is perhaps this ethos that helped persecuted Zoroastrian migrants from Central Asia settle in and around Surat around the 16th-17th centuries to maintain their religious tradition. Old texts, tenets and traditions apart, the Additional Solicitor General’s statement marks a departure from modern India’s experience in the matter. By the new yardstick, independent India’s giving ashraya in 1947 to over seven million refugees, mostly Hindu and Sikh, from the newly created state of Pakistan was wrong. And, by the same token, Pakistan should have sent back another seven million and more refugees, mostly Muslim, who left India for Pakistan. By that logic, the Dalai Lama should never have been given refuge in India nor the nearly 150,000 Tibetans who have come to India during the last 50 years. And, by the same logic, India should have used force, in 1971, to drive back the estimated 10 million men, women and children seeking shelter in India from genocide in East Pakistan. Tamils fleeing Sinhala intolerance, now said to number 100,000, should have been driven back over the Palk Strait to Sri Lanka, not offered even temporary tanjam. Afghan refugees, now numbering 10,000, should, by that principle, never have been given space in India, nor should Baloch political dissidents be given panah today. Individuals like U Nu when he exited from Ne Win’s regime, Sheikh Hasina when she came to India in self-exile, and several political figures from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan should, by that principle, have been bolted out, Taslima Nasreen never allowed to step foot in India. Were Nehru, Shastri, Morarji Desai, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, V.P. Singh, Chandra Shekhar, Narasimha Rao, Deve Gowda, Inder Kumar Gujral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee all naive or worse in not closing India’s doors to shelter-seekers? Were they un-patriotic? And were the people of India, in understanding the ethos of ashraya, equally mistaken? The Additional Solicitor General’s remarks have amounted to saying “we” now have a new vision, a new perspective, a new philosophy of India that does not, will not, open its doors to the refugee. In fact, it has closed its doors to refugees and to refugee-hood itself. Now, this is not just a passing opinion on a transient matter but a rock-hard position concerning India and the human condition of nobody-ness, of homelessness, of statelessness that seeks refuge. In terms of the statement of the Additional Solicitor General, sanctuary or ashraya (Sanskrit), panah (Urdu), sharan (Hindi), tanjam (Tamil) are no longer to be India’s attributes. ‘Back you go!’, ‘Out!’, are to be our answers to any refugee at our door.

Seeking refuge

The third proposition, namely, that India is in danger of being flooded with refugees “from every other country” must cause astonished disbelief. Is the world pining for refuge in India? There is as much risk of India becoming the world’s refugee capital as there is hope of India becoming the world’s tourist capital. Common sense — a strong Indian trait — would tell us that only those in India’s neighbourhood facing the dire prospect of victimisation or death want India’s sanctuary. The same common sense has, for a cousin, another sense, an uncommon Indian sense, of seeing the urgency, the sheer panic, that is caused by victimisation and ethnic hate. And that enables us to see the heartlessness and the hollowness of the fourth proposition, namely, that we will not let refugees into India. If a neighbouring country, out of political spite, “or on account of race, religion, political opinion”, were to force Hindus out of its borders and into India, we would be right in giving them ashraya. And we would be right to demand world condemnation of the outrage. Keeping our land and sea frontiers open for massive numbers of people to cross over is hugely problematic. And terrorists sneaking in as refugees with sinister designs constitute a grim reality. But when has India been spared of troubles that come ‘not as single spies but in battalions’? We, as a nation, cannot be so amnesiac, so altogether aphasiac, so opaque to history as to say no refugees, none at all, will hereafter be allowed to enter our territory. Non-refoulement and international law are neither my expertise nor my theme here. The human condition is. And its most tragic experience — fear of persecution, of the furious chase, the flying bullet. William Blake wrote about two centuries ago: “Each outcry of the hunted Hare/A fiber from the Brain does tear.” India has not let the hunted hare die at its door. And if that door should shut now, a fibre from our collective brain must and will tear.

b) Limited succour: Budget 2018 and senior citizens

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley stressed in his Budget speech last week that “to care for those who cared for us is one of the highest honours”, underscoring the importance the Centre attaches to providing economic support for India’s growing population of senior citizens. He then announced several tax and related incentives to ease the financial burden on people aged 60 and above, all of which are very welcome given that the elderly face steeply escalating health-care costs on declining real interest and pension incomes. From affording a five-fold increase in the exemption limit on interest income from savings, fixed and recurring deposits held with banks and post offices to ₹50,000, and doing away with the requirement for tax to be deducted at source on such income, the Budget offers much-needed relief. This it does by leaving a little more money in the hands of elderly savers who are heavily dependent on interest income to meet their living expenses. Another useful tax change is the proposal to raise the annual income tax deduction limit for health insurance premium and/or medical reimbursement to ₹50,000 for all seniors. And a crucially allied step is the move to set the ceiling for deduction in lieu of expenses incurred on certain critical illnesses to ₹1 lakh, irrespective of the age of the senior citizen. Separately, Mr. Jaitley also proposed extending the Pradhan Mantri Vaya Vandana Yojana by two years, up to March 2020, and doubled the cap on investment in the scheme to ₹15 lakh. This annuity-cum-insurance scheme entitles the senior citizen policyholder to a guaranteed pension that equates to an annual return of 8% on investment. This pension plan, unlike the entirely government-funded Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme for the elderly who live below the poverty line, is contributory and is run by the Life Insurance Corporation of India. While all these Budget measures are laudable insofar as they recognise that the right to a life with dignity doesn’t retire with the crossing of a chronological threshold, much more needs to be done to address the needs of this rapidly growing demographic cohort. With more than 70% of the 104 million elderly living in the rural hinterland, any serious initiative to improve the lot of senior citizens must incorporate adequate budgetary support for social welfare spending on the relevant programmes. While the Budget provisions ₹6,565 crore for the pension scheme for the elderly poor, its outlay for the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment’s assistance to voluntary organisations for programmes relating to the ‘aged’ at ₹60 crore is starkly inadequate. With the number of the elderly in India set to surge by 2050 to almost 300 million, or about a fifth of the population, governments need to make more comprehensive efforts to address the nation’s greying demographic.


1) Intended

Meaning: Have (a course of action) as one’s purpose or intention; plan.

Example: “The company intends to cut 400 jobs”

Synonyms: Plan, Mean  

2) Leniency

Meaning: The fact or quality of being more merciful or tolerant than expected; clemency.

Example: “The court could show leniency”

Synonyms: Mercifulness, Mercy

Antonyms: Mercilessness, Strictness, Severity

3) Dictum

Meaning: A short statement that expresses a general truth or principle.

Example: “The old dictum ‘might is right’”

Synonyms: Saying, Maxim

4) Solicitor

Meaning: A member of the legal profession qualified to deal with conveyancing, the drawing up of wills, and other legal matters. A solicitor may also instruct barristers and represent clients in some courts.

Synonyms: Lawyer, Legal representative

5) Prerogative

Meaning: A right or privilege exclusive to a particular individual or class.

Example: “In some countries, higher education is predominantly the prerogative of the rich”

Synonyms: Entitlement, Right

6) Privilege

Meaning: A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.

Example: “Education is a right, not a privilege”

Synonyms: Advantage, Right

7) Vouchsafing

Meaning: Give or grant (something) to (someone) in a gracious or condescending manner.

Example: “It is a blessing vouchsafed him by heaven”

Synonyms: Grant, Give

Antonyms: Withhold, Refuse

8) Ethos

Meaning: The characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its attitudes and aspirations.

Example: “A challenge to the ethos of the 1960s”

Synonyms: Spirit, Character, Flavour

9) Persecuted

Meaning: Subject (someone) to hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of their race or political or religious beliefs.

Example: “His followers were persecuted by the authorities”

Synonyms: Oppress, Abuse

10) Tenets

Meaning: A principle or belief, especially one of the main principles of a religion or philosophy.

Example: “The tenets of classical liberalism”

Synonyms: Principle, Belief

11) Yardstick

Meaning: A standard used for comparison.

Example: “League tables are not the only yardstick of schools’ performance”

Synonyms: Standard, Measure

12) Dissidents

Meaning: A person who opposes official policy, especially that of an authoritarian state.

Example: “A dissident who had been jailed by a military regime”

Synonyms: Dissenter, Objector

Antonyms: Conformist

13) Bolted out

Meaning: To leave a location very quickly.

Example: “He bolted out the back door after seeing his ex-girlfriend walk into the party”

14) Naive

Meaning: (Of a person or action) showing a lack of experience, wisdom, or judgement.

Example: “The rather naive young man had been totally misled”

15) Astonished

Meaning: Greatly surprised or impressed; amazed.

Example: “He was astonished at the change in him”

16) Dire

Meaning: Extremely serious or urgent.

Example:”Misuse of drugs can have dire consequences”

Synonyms: Terrible, Dreadful

Antonyms: Good, Mild

17) Sheer

Meaning: Nothing other than; unmitigated (used for emphasis).

Example: “She giggled with sheer delight”

Synonyms: Utter, Complete

18) Sinister

Meaning: Giving the impression that something harmful or evil is happening or will happen.

Example: “There was something sinister about that murmuring voice”

Synonyms: Menacing, Threatening

19) Grim

Meaning: Very serious or gloomy.

Example: “His grim expression”

Synonyms: Stern, Forbidding

Antonyms: Amiable, Pleasant

20) Battalions

Meaning: A large organized group of people pursuing a common aim.

Example: “A battalion of women promoting the latest perfumes”

Synonyms: Crowd, Army, Mob

21) Aphasia

Meaning: Inability (or impaired ability) to understand or produce speech, as a result of brain damage.

22) Opaque

Meaning: Not able to be seen through; not transparent.

Example: “Bottles filled with a pale opaque liquid”

Synonyms: Non-transparent, Filmy

Antonyms: Transparent, Translucent, Clear

23) Non-refoulement

Meaning: The practice of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to a country in which they are liable to be subjected to persecution.

Example: “We are appealing to all states to uphold their international obligations with regard to non-refoulement”

24) Persecution

Meaning: Hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs; oppression.

Example: “Her family fled religious persecution”

Synonyms: Oppression, Victimization

25) Furious

Meaning: Full of anger or energy; violent or intense.

Example: “He drove at a furious speed”

Synonyms: Fierce, Wild, Violent

Antonyms: Mild, Calm

26) Escalating

Meaning: Increase rapidly.

Example: “The price of tickets escalated”

Synonyms: Increase rapidly, Soar

Antonyms: Plunge

27) Affording

Meaning: Provide or supply (an opportunity or facility).

Example: “The rooftop terrace affords beautiful views”

Synonyms: Provide, Supply

28) Exemption

Meaning: The action of freeing or state of being free from an obligation or liability imposed on others.

Example: “Vehicles that may qualify for exemption from tax”

Synonyms: Immunity, Exception

Antonyms: Liability

29) Reimbursement

Meaning: The action of repaying a person who has spent or lost money.

Example: “Reimbursement of everyday medical costs”

30) Allied

Meaning: Joined by or relating to members of an alliance.

Example: “Allied territories”

Synonyms: Federated, Confederated

Antonyms: Independent, Hostile

31) Ceiling

Meaning: An upper limit set on prices, wages, or expenditure.

Example: “The government imposed a wage ceiling of 3 per cent”

Synonyms: Upper limit, Maximum

Antonyms: Floor, Minimum

32) Lieu

Meaning: Instead.

Example: “The company issued additional shares to shareholders in lieu of a cash dividend”

33) Incurred

Meaning: Become subject to (something unwelcome or unpleasant) as a result of one’s own behaviour or actions.

Example: “I will pay any expenses incurred”

Synonyms: Suffer, Sustain

Antonyms: Avoid

34) Laudable

Meaning: (Of an action, idea, or aim) deserving praise and commendation.

Example: “Laudable though the aim might be, the results have been criticized”

Synonyms: Praiseworthy, Commendable

Antonyms: Blameworthy, Shameful

35) Chronological

Meaning: (Of a record of events) following the order in which they occurred.

Example: “The entries are in chronological order”

Synonyms: Sequential, Consecutive

Antonyms: Random

36) Cohort

Meaning: A group of people with a common statistical characteristic.

Example: “The 1940–4 birth cohort of women”

Synonyms: Grouping, Category

37) Hinterland

Meaning: The remote areas of a country away from the coast or the banks of major rivers.

Example: “The hinterland of southern Italy”

Synonyms: The back of beyond, the middle of nowhere

Antonyms: Civilization

38) Starkly

Meaning: In a way that is severe or harsh in appearance or outline.

Example: “The scar stood out starkly against his bronzed skin”

39) Surge

Meaning: A sudden powerful forward or upward movement, especially by a crowd or by a natural force such as the tide.

Example: “Flooding caused by tidal surges”

Synonyms: Gush, Rush

40) Greying

Meaning: (Of a person) become older.

Example: “A greying workforce”

Synonyms: Grow old, Mature


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