Editorial 1 : Mental health and the floundering informal worker


The theme of World Mental Health Day (October 10) this year is ‘mental health as a universal human right’. A segment often overlooked when it concerns mental health is the informal worker.

Informal workers’ mental health:

  • A study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) says that 15% of working age adults, globally, live with a mental disorder. On one hand, decent work influences mental health in a positive way while on the other, unemployment, or unstable or precarious employment, workplace discrimination, or poor and particularly unsafe working environments, can all pose a risk to a worker’s mental health.
  • Workers in low paid, unrewarding or insecure jobs, or working in isolation, are more likely to be exposed to psychosocial risks, thus compromising their mental health.

The Indian experience

  • India’s informal workforce accounts for more than 90% of the working population. These workers often operate without regulatory protection, work in unsafe working environments, endure long hours, have little access to social or financial protections, suffer high uncertainty and deep precarity, and face discrimination — all of which further undermine mental health and limit access to mental health care.

Gender disparities

  • Over 95% of India’s working women engaged in informal, low paying, and precarious employment, often without social protection, in addition to suffering patriarchal structures and practices in their social and familial spaces.

Youth unemployment

  • It is one of the highest in India which, along with the stigma around unemployment, significantly impacts their mental health. Moreover, an ILO report highlights how young workers are shifting to more precarious and informal work, accepting less pay and poorer working conditions, out of desperation, and, sometimes, giving up and exiting the labour force altogether.

State of Inequality in India Report 2022

  • It observes that the unemployment rate actually increases with educational levels, particularly for educated young women who show an unemployment rate of 42%. With this phase of demographic dividend, where half of India’s population is of working age and projected to remain so for two decades, it is pertinent to think about the quality of employment and long term social security for them.

The elderly:

  • India will also become an ageing society in 20 years, with no apparent social security road map for this rapidly growing group that is especially vulnerable to poor mental health.
  • Census of India 2011 shows that 33 million elderly people are working postretirement in informal work. Another study, by the ILO on elderly employment in India, shows high poverty among them, in terms of economic dependency and access to financial assets.

Impact of COVID-19:

  • A study by Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) among informal workers in Delhi, mostly migrants, indicates that recovery post COVID19 remains uneven among informal worker cohorts. Many still report food insecurity, skipped meals, or reduced consumption.
  • While certain schemes have received a higher allocation this year, others such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) have seen their funding slashed.
  • In 2021, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reported that 26% of the people who died by suicide were daily wage earners. Employment guarantee programmes can indeed improve mental health outcomes. Thus, social security can be:
  1. promotional: aiming to augment income
  2. preventive: aiming to forestall economic distress
  3. protective: aiming to ensure relief from external shocks.

Way forward: A relook at the Code on Social Security (CSS) 2020:

  • It shows how glaring issues concerning the social security of India’s informal workforce still remain unheeded. While India should universalise social security, the current Code does not state this as a goal.
  • Care needs drastic improvement Informal workers, despite their significant contribution to national income, are perennially exposed to various economic, physical, and mental vulnerabilities.
  • India’s budgetary allocation for mental health (currently under 1% of the total health budget) has overfocused on the digital mental health programme.
  • As the World Mental Health Report 2022 observed, addressing mental health involves strengthening community based care, and people centred, recovery oriented and human rights oriented care.


  • There is an urgent need for proactive policies to improve mental health recognition and action. This is critical in upholding the basic human right to good health, including mental health, and in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 3 on ‘good health and wellbeing’ and SDG 8 on ‘decent work for all/economic growth’.

Editorial 2 : The end of the two state solution


  • From the very beginning of the Jewish-Arab conflict, the only viable long term solution has been to divide the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea by creating two countries for two people. This is the two state solution to the Israel- Palestine conflict.

Historical background:

  • Both the Arabs and Jews have had strong self conceptions of nationhood tied to the same land. But for much of this 100 year war, Jews accepted the inevitability of partition while the Arabs rejected it.
  • For the last few decades, however, the situation seems to have been reversed. One section of the Palestinian leadership, much of the Arab world, and all of the West seem to have agreed on a two state solution, while it is Israel that is balking at creating a sovereign Palestinian state in West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in East Jerusalem.
  • Understanding its reason is central to predicting the consequences of Hamas’s recent terror attacks on Israel, one that has killed more than 700 Israelis and provoked the Israeli response.

The real stakeholders:

  • From a position of justice, one could argue that the only two stakeholders who should matter are the Palestinian and Israeli people. But as a matter of realpolitik, the key stakeholder has always been the Israeli public. This is because, without the acquiescence of the more powerful Israel, no solution is possible. And since Israel is a democracy, without the agreement of the Israeli public no Israeli acquiescence is possible.
  • So, the only question to ask is: will Hamas’s attacks push the Israeli public into creating a sovereign Palestinian state? Some opinion makers think so. They feel that Israel’s trauma from Hamas’s strikes will finally make the people understand that a sovereign Palestinian state is a prerequisite for peace.
  • But it is more likely that Israelis will come to the opposite conclusion: that a two state solution — one where a Palestinian state will have its own Army and security — will empower Palestinians to attack Israel even more effectively. They fear that an independent Palestine will behave as Hamas has been doing all along.

Hamas’s stance

  • Hamas does not accept Israel’s right to exist in any shape. It attacked Israel on its southern borders that will remain with Israel in any eventual peace deal, and killed and abducted innocent civilians, not religious settlers occupying the West Bank.
  • That the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has supported Hamas will only heighten Israeli fears that an end to the conflict will not be a Palestinian and Jewish state living side by side, but a single Palestinian state between the river and the sea.
  • The central obstruction to a two state solution has not been the Israeli occupation of West Bank and Gaza, but the inability of the Palestinians to convince Israeli voters that if given sovereignty in some part of the land, they would leave the Jews alone in the other.
  • There has always been a radical Israeli fringe unwilling to see the Palestinians as a people deserving a state. These religious bigots had historically been on the margins of Israeli politics. Today, they are key members of the ruling coalition, reflecting a widening distrust among Israeli voters of Palestinians as partners in any eventual peace.

Lessons learnt and way forward:

  • Palestinians have learnt from their decadeslong occupation and daily humiliations that Israeli civilians need to share their pain to force them to reduce it. But from the Israeli perspective, every wave of violence against their civilian community has made them less likely to risk ending the occupation of Palestinians.
  • Given the power imbalance between Israel and the rest of the Arab world, there is only one way for Palestinians to get their sovereign state. That will be to convince Israeli voters that an eventual Palestine will live peaceably next to Israel.
  • The only way forward is for a Palestinian leadership that can credibly signal to the Israeli people that it will not use the freedoms it gains from any peace deal to hurt Israel. The prospects for that seem dim.