Jamshedpur (Jharkhand), Nov17: Child rights activist and Ramon Magsaysay Award winner Shantha Sinha said it is "absolutely absurd" to say that returning state awards as a show of dissent in the ongoing debate over intolerance in the country was " a paid propaganda".
"I'm as worried as most in the country on the issue that there is polarisation that is happening through national discourse, especially going against the very mettle of the Indian Constitution - diversity," Sinha told IANS in an interview here, where she is attending 'Samvaad', a pan-India tribal conclave.
Sinha added it was "absolutely absurd to say that people are returning awards because it's a paid propaganda".
Though she did not name anyone, her comment was obviously a retort to union ministers V.K.Singh and Arun Jaitley, who trashed both the debate on intolerance and the return of awards by artists and intellectuals.
"This particular debate (on intolerance) is no debate. It is the unnecessary creation of very imaginative minds who are being paid with a lot of money," Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh told reporters on the sidelines of the Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
"Those returning awards are playing politics by other means. Follow their tweets and their stances on various social and political issues. You will find a lot of rabid anti-BJP elements in them," Jaitley told reporters on October 29.
"I had already called it a manufactured rebellion. I stand by my phrase. And I think, the events as they are unfolding only indicate that kind of manufacturing is going on at faster speed," Jaitley said when asked about artists returning awards to protest growing "intolerance".
Stoutly defending the artists and intellectuals, Sinha said returning state awards was a form of protest and a way of making a statement that one was against what was happening in the country. She added that it was a way of creating consensus in the country in favour of a secular India.
"Due to the present kind of politics, there is no mature understanding of our society," she said.
Sinha, who served as the first chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) for two consecutive terms, was also honoured with the civilian honour, Padma Shri.
Asked if she would return her awards, Sinha answered in the negative, saying the awards were for the "idea that children should not be allowed to work, and not for me alone".
The anti-child labour activist remarked that the amendments mooted by the current government to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, which allow children below 14 years of age to work in "family enterprises" or entertainment industry, were "extremely disappointing".
She said it "reinforces invisiblisation of child labour".
Sinha added that it was the state's responsibility to ensure a child gets all the support he or she needs so as to go to school and not to open him or her to greater exploitation.
"Need of the hour is to make a separate ministry for children, considering we have 420 million children in the country, out of which at least a 50 percent are school dropouts," the activist said, and added that it would also be a way of fighting the thinking that it is a woman's job alone to take care of children.
Sinha also expressed opposition to the move to lower the legally defined age of a "juvenile" as an adult for purposes of trial in heinous crime. In the December 2012 Nirbhaya rape case, it was the "failure of the state to give guidance to the child", she said.
Expressing discontentment with Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi's move to allow the Juvenile Justice Board to decide whether a child had reformed or not, Sinha said, "It is against the very mettle of juvenile justice system, which is to help a child reform and give him/her a second chance at life."