Calls for Genocide Are Ignored at Our Peril; Allahabad HC Wants UP Elections Postponed
Shringla talks democracy in Myanmar, BJP attacked by Apni Party, film fraternity opposes merger of bodies, Gujarat schools to teach ‘Vedic mathematics’ and 1933 Calcutta bioterrorism case recalled
A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
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Silence in the face of public calls for genocide shows the government’s complicity
How should a country that claims to be the ‘mother of democracy’ respond to public calls for genocide made by politicians masquerading as religious leaders, especially when some of these leaders and their followers have incited and taken part in acts of violence before? By immediately arresting and prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law, surely. But this is ‘New India’ – whose architects clearly believe not all offspring of the ‘mother’ are equal – so these incendiary appeals are met by a deafening official silence that is tantamount to approval.
For the past few days, a number of video clips have been posted on YouTube channels and shared on various social media platforms showing participants at a Hindutva conclave in Haridwar, Uttarakhand openly advocating violence against the Muslims of India. Among the speakers was Yati Narsinghanand, an extremist Hindutva activist closely associated with Bharatiya Janata Party leaders in Delhi, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. He held a similar event in the National Capital Region in January 2020, complete with genocidal calls, weeks before north-east Delhi was wracked by ferocious anti-Muslim violence. Another speaker was the editor of a Hindi channel which continues to receive government advertising despite the Supreme Court noting the communal nature of its progamming.
In the face of public outcry, the state police have registered a First Information Report under section 153-A of the Indian Penal Code (i.e. the offence of promoting disharmony, enmity or feelings of hatred between different groups on the grounds of religion) against one named individual – ironically a recent Muslim convert to Hinduism known for his provocative comments against Islam – and other unnamed persons. The weak section (when more stringent provisions of the IPC are called for) and the failure to name the worst offenders, all of whom are hugely influential rabble rousers in the Hindutva ecosystem, makes it clear that the Bharatiya Janata Party and the governments it runs have no intention of upholding the rule of law. One of the speakers openly advocated the assassination of former prime minister Manmohan Singh in parliament but no action has been taken against him.
If there is one thing the 20th century has taught us, it is that the failure to act against genocidal calls hastens the descent towards genocide. The example of Rwanda makes that clear. We also have the example of Yugoslavia, which tells us how unchecked hate speech leads to violence and eventually the destruction of a nation state. That is why some former army and navy chiefs and police chiefs have felt compelled to demand action against the Haridwar hate-mongers.
The BJP is playing a dangerous game by using extremist Hindutva groups to openly say and do what the party feels it may be risky to say and do itself. But make no mistake: the ‘fringe’ and the ‘mainstream’ occupy the same continuum of hate and are working towards the same goal. Which is to use communal hatred – and eventually mass violence – to divide the people of India even as the policies they implement make the richest corporations richer. Events like the Haridwar ‘dharam sansad’ are an integral part of this strategy; they are not mere happenstance. If ever there were a case for India’s High Courts of Supreme Court to intervene, this is it.
Snapshot of the day
December 24, 2021
The Indian economy had contracted a year before the pandemic, according to a presentation by former chief economic advisor Arvind Subramanian at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research. Based on the study ‘Peering Back to Look Forward: Measurement to Prognosis’ by Subramanian and Josh Felman, former IMF head in India, it showed that GDP had contracted during 2019-20, while the official version showed GDP growth merely decelerated to 4%. All indicators tracked declined in 2019-20: investments shown in the IIP contracted 7.1%, consumption in the index declined 3.8%, imports declined 5.5%, tax revenues slipped 4.6%, exports dropped 1.9% and credit fell 1.4%. Others have disputed the analysis, which does not estimate the contraction.
The Allahabad High Court has appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Election Commission to postpone rallies, meetings, and upcoming elections in view of rising cases of Omicron, because “only while there is life, there is the world” (Jaan hai to jahaan hai). “The (Uttar Pradesh) Gram Panchayat and the Bengal Elections became the reason why people contracted Covid in large numbers and due to which, many people died.” The court requested the EC to postpone the UP election scheduled for February by one or two months. Citing news reports of increasing Covid-19 cases and deaths, the HC said the third wave “is at our doorstep”. While hearing a bail petition on December 23, Justice Shekhar Kumar Yadav appealed to the ECI to bring an immediate end to large rallies and public meetings being organised by political parties.
The Ganga became an “easy dumping ground for the dead” during the devastating second Covid wave and the problem was confined to UP, according to a new book, Ganga: Reimagining, Rejuvenating, Reconnecting. It is by Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, director general of the National Mission for Clean Ganga and head of Namami Gange, and Puskal Upadhyay, an IDAS officer who has worked with the NMCG.
A journalist in UP returns to the exact spot at Lalita Ghat in Varanasi, from where PM Modi had mounted a massive TV spectacle and taken a dip. The view is not pretty.
The government has amended the Unified License Agreement asking telecom and Internet service providers and all other telecom licensees to maintain commercial and call detail records for two years or until specified for “scrutiny” for security reasons, instead of the current limit of one year.
The RBI has deferred the implementation of tokenisation of cards for online transactions by six months, till June 30, 2022. In September 2021, RBI had given companies until the end of the year to comply with regulations and offered the option to tokenise. It has ordered all companies in India to purge saved card data from their systems by January 1, 2022. Tokenisation replaces card details by a unique code or token generated by an algorithm, allowing online purchases without exposing card details, to improve data security.
The Drug Controller General of India has raised queries and sought more data from Serum Institute of India over its application seeking emergency authorisation for Covid vaccine Covovax, the licensed version of the US-based Novavax. SII had sent an application to the DCGI in October for the grant of market authorisation of Covovax for restricted use in emergency situations. The WHO has already granted an emergency use license for Covovax and Novavax.
The BCCI is contemplating calling an owners’ meeting of IPL franchises next month, to unveil Plan B for IPL 2022 as Omicron gains ground. The government is, however, not unveiling any plans ― A, B or C ― for a booster dose, or to vaccinate children.
Indian foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla raised the security situation in the Northeast, including the ambush in Manipur, and emphasised the need for a “return to democracy” during his first visit to post-coup Myanmar. India advocating democracy is being likened to the drunk preaching abstinence.
The US has allowed consular officers to waive in-person interviews for H-1B visa applicants through next year to reduce wait times. Nearly a dozen visa categories are covered, including Persons in Specialty Occupations (H-1B visas), students, temporary agricultural and non-agricultural workers, student exchange visitors, athletes, artists and entertainers.
Amazon may face regulatory challenges in the acquisition of Prione Business Services, the joint venture between it and Infosys co-founder NR Narayana Murthy’s Catamaran Ventures. Prione owns Cloudtail, one of the biggest retailers on Amazon’s platform. CAIT, which represents about 70 million Indian traders, says it would approach the Competition Commission of India and the Ministries of Commerce and Finance to scuttle the deal.
Vedic mathematics, claimed to be an easier and faster way to solve arithmetic problems, will be introduced in the school curriculum in Gujarat. As we know, advocating ‘Vedic mathematics’ as a replacement for traditional Indian arithmetic is hardly an act of nationalism; it only betrays ignorance of the history of mathematics.
Psychologist Ratnaboli Ray’s recovery from a mental health crisis inspired her to fight for women suffering in ‘abysmal’ conditions in West Bengal’s state institutions, reports The Guardian.
The move to raise women’s legal age to marry has led to a debate on its need and effectiveness. Looking at the state-wise percentage of women (aged 20-24) who were married before they turned 18, as per the National Family Health Survey 3, NFHS-4, and NFHS-5, the Centre for Economic Data and Analysis finds that the existing legal regime and economic changes have already reduced underage marriages.
Veteran journalist Prem Shankar Jha has been given the coveted Red Ink Lifetime Achievement Award by the Mumbai Press Club. Jha, now 83, has edited several national dailies in a career stretching over five decades and has authored major books on Kashmir, China and climate change. He is now a columnist with The Wire.
Conjoined twins abandoned as babies by their parents have scored their “dream job” as electricians, getting two salaries for one role, reports the UK Telegraph. Sohna and Mohna Singh, 19, were this week appointed supervisors in the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited after growing up in an institution for children from impoverished families.
“If there was a Nobel prize for cheating, this guy would be among the frontrunners.”
Dalit school cook sacked after upper caste boycott
A Dalit woman who served midday meals at a government secondary school in Sukhidhang in Uttarakhand’s Champawat district was sacked after upper-caste students refused to eat the food she cooked. A day after her appointment as the ‘Bhojanmata’ earlier this month, 40 of the 66 students started bringing food from home. Even their parents objected to her appointment, since an upper caste woman had also been interviewed. Chief Education Officer of Champawat RC Purohit conveniently said the appointment had been canceled because norms were not followed.
Film institutions merger opposed
More than 1,400 filmmakers, academics, students and members of civil society signed a campaign letter to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. It opposes the Centre’s decision to merge the public-funded institutions Films Division, National Film Archive of India, Directorate of Film Festivals, and Children’s Films Society of India, with the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), before the end of January. The ministry, under former I&B minister Prakash Javadekar, had decided in December last year to merge the four public bodies with NFDC, a “loss-making” public sector undertaking.
“This (merger/closure) is an attempt by the government to control the freedom of expression at every cost, to control the whole ecosystem of audiovisual medium,” said National Award-winning documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan. “These are public assets and should remain as such, and not controlled by a single point-person.” The signatories include actor Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak Shah, Sonali Kulkarni, filmmakers Goutam Ghose, Vikramaditya Motwane, Ashim Ahluwalia, Gitanjali Rao, Nandita Das, Pushpendra Singh, Sanjay Kak, Payal Kapadia, Sanal K Sasidharan, cinematographer RV Ramani, editor and IDSFFK artistic director Bina Paul and lyricist-writer Varun Grover.
‘Own Party’ attacks BJP
The founder of Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party Altaf Bukhari attacked the BJP, castigating the Delimitation Commission over its draft report proposing six additional Assembly seats in the Jammu region as against only one seat in Kashmir. Charging that the draft recommendations have been framed to “suit only one political party”, Bukhari also said his party was open to an alliance with other mainstream parties to “protect the rights of the people”.
Apni Party was founded following the abrogation of J&K’s special status in August 2019, and is seen by many in the Valley as the “BJP’s creation”. Bukhari was the first political leader from the Valley to break the ice with Delhi, attending a foreign envoys’ meeting held by the Centre in October 2019.
It’s black tragicomedy ― the PM holding mass gatherings in UP, proudly unmasked, and then returning to hold a meeting on Omicron and chide states. The dictum that history repeats itself must worry survivors of the second wave. Will it be tragedy or farce?
Prime Number: 3.5%
The government had reserved 25% of all vaccines for private clinics and hospitals, but they administered only 3.5% of all doses given from May 1 to December 20. Private establishments administered 4.18 crore doses compared to 117.56 crore administered by government Covid vaccination centres.
Saloni Dash, Rynaa Grover, Gazal Shekhawat, Sukhnidh Kaur, Dibyendu Mishra, and Joyojeet Pal have a working paper up on ‘Insights Into Incitement: A Computational Perspective on Dangerous Speech on Twitter in India’. Their conclusions: “We find that dangerous users have a more polarized viewership, suggesting that their audience is more susceptible to incitement. Using a mix of network centrality measures and qualitative analysis, we find that most dangerous accounts tend to either be in mass media related occupations or allied with low-ranking, right-leaning politicians, and act as "broadcasters" in the network, where they are best positioned to spearhead the rapid dissemination of dangerous speech across the platform.”
Op-Eds you don’t want to miss
Having tamed the more numerous Muslims, Hindutva forces have turned their attention to an easier target, Christians, a community engaged mainly in improving education and health, writes Julio Ribeiro.
What differentiates us from terrorists is our humanitarian values, says Anand Neelakantan. If we seek to dominate terrorists only by firepower, and not with ethical or moral values, then there is no difference between them and us.
Obsessed with the goal of having a Hindu CM in Srinagar, the BJP-led Centre is ignoring the suffering it is inflicting on people, writes Ashok Kumar Pandey.
Nowhere in India is it more dangerous to play narrow partisan games than in J&K, as is being attempted through the delimitation exercise, says The Telegraph in its editorial. The Hindu editorial says that continuing arbitrariness and heavy-handed measures to repurpose the politics of J&K may appear successful momentarily, but are bound to fail.
Kumkum Dasgupta writes that climate science research reports must be simplified for a larger audience.
Concerns over privacy infringement, potential targeted disenfranchisement and voter profiling went unanswered as Parliament passed a legislation linking Aadhaar with the Voter ID, observes Jahnavi Reddy.
Srinivas Kodali writes that the MHA’s proposed amendments to registering births and deaths could pave the way for 360-degree profiling databases, from womb to tomb.
MG Devasahayam writes that the Constitution mandates the EC to function as an independent, apolitical entity, and also be seen as one. The PMO’s recent ‘diktat’ to the commission shatters public trust in the latter.
Ghulam Nabi Azad does not have much standing in J&K. Modi has already diminished his prospects with fulsome praise in Parliament. If Azad is perceived as the BJP’s Trojan horse, no Muslim in Jammu will vote for him or his party. Azad has little purchase on Muslim voters of the Valley, writes Bharat Bhushan.
Vapalla Balachandran writes that until pending legal issues are decided, there will be no clarity on the Enforcement Directorate’s functioning and the impression that it is ‘weaponising’ the PMLA will persist.
The pandemic has seen borders closed and divisions widened. But in almost all aspects of life, humanity will only thrive by coming together, writes Suketu Mehta in The Guardian.
India’s vote against including climate change in the mandate of the UN Security Council was based on the principle of the non-exclusion of the poor, but this is not something the country practises at home, writes Omair Ahmed.
Writing about the perils of ‘security reporting’, Vijaita Singh says that since 2014, a new practice has emerged. Government officials send unsigned notes on WhatsApp. Reporters are expected to file news attributing the information to “sources.”
The remark of the Madras High Court on the duty to laugh as an antidote to sanctimonious humbug in public life should come as a big relief to stand-up comedians, satirists, and cartoonists. But practitioners, viewers and readers are warned not to get too enthusiastic just yet, writes EP Unny.
Ashok V Desai writes that speculation points to a search not for the best economist as chief economic advisor for the government, but one who could best fit the Centre’s political agenda.
On Periyar’s death anniversary, Salem Dharanidharan writes on how much modern Tamil Nadu owes him.
The Karnataka ‘Freedom’ of Religion Bill has made it through one House. Senior advocate Sanjay Hegde makes a case for why the Rev Stanislaus case of 1977 in the Supreme Court, which upheld state laws restricting religious conversions, merits reversal.
Channel 4, UK, has a timely report on Delhi’s pollution and how it is costing lives, but not being tackled for a variety of reasons.
Over and Out
Manprasad Subba is a respected Nepali-speaking Indian poet. He says the “Nepali language binds Indian Gurkhas together”. Read his full interview with the Gorkha Times here.
Nandita Rau’s Rain Must Fall is a graphic novel which introduces young readers to gender identities and other choices.
In 1933, the sensational killing of the scion of a wealthy zamindar family rocked British India. It was described as “one of the first cases of individual bioterrorism in modern world history”. Time magazine called it “murder with germs”, while Singapore's Straits Times described it as the “punctured arm mystery”. Investigations unveiled a stubbornly audacious plot, involving purloining deadly bacteria from a hospital in Bombay. The murderer and the weapon ― a hypodermic needle ― were never found.
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