Skull-busting Order Rekindles Farmers’ Anger; Kamasutra Gets Fahrenheit 451 Treatment

Plus: Why Kerala's Covid-19 response is a model for the rest of India, Savarkar present, Nehru absent in ICHR poster, Saleem Kidwai’s loss will be felt across disciplines

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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Snapshot of the day
August 30, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

The situation in Kabul is tense but the Taliban want to maintain trade ties with India, including through the Pakistan route, a top figure in the new Afghanistan regime has said. If the militant group that India has long feared is striking a pragmatic tone, it is perhaps reciprocating the new language that India, as president of the UN Security Council, shepherded through the horseshoe table in New York last week. The UNSC dropped a reference to the Taliban from a paragraph in its statement on terrorist attacks near Kabul airport, calling on Afghan groups not to support terrorists “operating in the territory of any other country”. In an earlier statement the day after Kabul fell, the council’s position was radically different. It warned that “neither the Taliban nor any other Afghan group or individual should support terrorists operating on the territory of any other country”. Also dropped by the UNSC is its earlier opposition to the restoration of the ‘Islamic Emirate’.

Almost 100 countries including the US have issued a joint statement on assurances of evacuation out of Afghanistan. India, which is not on the list, has adopted a “wait and watch” policy. It has not spoken a word on the Taliban. There was no mention of the T word in a speech by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday, though he acknowledged that the situation in Afghanistan posed security questions for India.

The revamp of the Jallianwala Bagh memorial in Amritsar, where General Dyer ordered troops to open fire on the public on April 13, 1919, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi on the very day that protesting farmers were brutally bloodied in neighbouring Haryana, resulting in one death (see below). Historians say the revamp has erased the essence of the site of the massacre, which ignited anti-colonial sentiment across the subcontinent.

Rishi Sunak, the Indian-origin Chancellor of the Exchequer of the UK, who is also Indian billionaire NR Narayana Murthy’s son-in-law, has made Prime Minister Boris Johnson “resentful and paranoid”. Johnson is reportedly uneasy about Sunak’s growing ratings and ambition, and has made snide remarks. It is now a relationship “made toxic by personal resentments, ideological differences and rival ambitions… a highly combustible cocktail,” says The Guardian.

The Indian Council for Historical Research has severely dented its credibility by excluding India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, from a poster to mark celebrations of the 75th year of India’s Independence. VD Savarkar, implicated in Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, is included. Maulana Azad is missing, and there are absolutely no women.

Participants in the September 10-12 online conference Dismantling Global Hindutva, from 49 universities worldwide including Harvard, Stanford, the University of Chicago and Yale, have received intimidating emails “designed to make a conference critiquing a supremacist ideology into one attacking the Hindu faith,” a media advisory said today.  

Bajrang Dal activists have subjected an illustrated Kamasutra in an Ahmedabad bookshop to the Fahrenheit 451 treatment, and the ruling party in Gujarat and elsewhere is silent. The book was set on fire to cries of “Jai Shri Ram”. 

Kanhaiyalal Bheel, a 45-year-old Adivasi, died in Neemuch, Madhya Pradesh, after he was assaulted, tied to a truck and dragged through the streets. As always, people were at hand to videograph the horrific murder. The video went viral and may have forced the state police to arrest five persons

A Delhi court has come down heavily on the capital’s police for “very poor” investigation of most cases relating to communal violence in Delhi in February 2020, which claimed at least 56 lives. It has called for “remedial action” by cops. Additional Sessions Judge Vinod Yadav also said that the police remain unconcerned about taking the investigation to a logical conclusion, and had only filed half-baked charge sheets, due to which the accused languish in jail.

An estimated 258,000 people in 16 districts are affected by flooding in Assam, after days of heavy downpour. Over 6,200 have been evacuated to relief camps.

Today, shooter Avani Lakhera became India’s first gold-medallist woman at the paralympics in the R-2 women’s 10m Air Rifle Standing SH1 event. Yesterday, Indian table tennis player Bhavina Patel won a silver medal in her first Paralympic Games and Nishad Kumar notched up a second silver for India in the High Jump T47. There was also a bronze from Vinod Kumar in Discus Throw F52. It’s pouring medals.

Historian, gay rights activist and researcher, and prolific translator Saleem Kidwai died today following a cardiac arrest. His loss will be felt across disciplines. 


“Crack their heads”: Haryana attacks farmers, BJP takes heat

The death of a 55-year-old farmer who was allegedly hit with lathis in Karnal, Haryana, has seriously angered farmers everywhere. Sushil Kajal owned one and a half acres and was a regular participant in the farmers’ movement. Photos and videos of bloodied farmers drew ire and strong criticism. A video of Ayush Sinha, a top Haryana official, telling policemen to inflict “head injuries” on farmers protesting against BJP leaders will haunt the state government, and has enraged farmers in states opposing the movement. At least 10 farmers were seriously injured while protesting against a BJP meeting where Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and state BJP chief Om Prakash Dhankar were present. Khattar scrambled to defend the cops. He conceded that Sinha’s words were “incorrect” but added in the same breath that “strictness was needed”.

Livid farmers held a mahapanchayat at Nuh yesterday. The BJP faces a blowback from allies, and farmers want the officer dismissed. Haryana’s deputy chief minister, the JJP’s Dushyant Chautala, has said that Sinha will “face action”. Satya Pal Malik, now governor of Meghalaya and once the BJP’s interlocutor with the Jat leadership, said the Haryana chief minister “will have to apologise”.

In Nashik, farmers dumped tomatoes on the roads after a drop in wholesale prices. Dumped crops were also seen on highways running through tomato-growing areas for some weeks. In fact, it is a recurring feature, and became fodder for fake news in Nigeria earlier this year. 

The first national convention of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha has decided to take its agitation beyond the three farm laws, and will oppose other government policies including the National Monetisation Pipeline. They will observe a Bharat Bandh on September 25, coinciding with the widespread agitations planned by the Opposition parties on September 20-30.


Hate business booming

The impunity with which hate-mongers in north India attack ordinary people trying to eke out a living is growing. There were at least two mob incidents in one day, in Madhya Pradesh and UP. A Muslim scrap dealer was forced to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ in an MP village. A Muslim was attacked in Mathura, UP, for naming his stall Srinath Dosa Corner. In a video, a man tears down the board while another fumes that the name would mislead Hindus into eating there. Slogans call upon “Krishna devotees” to “purify” Mathura.


Bareilly court acquits Tablighis

Twelve members of the Tablighi Jamaat, including nine Thai nationals, were acquitted for lack of evidence by a court in UP’s Bareilly. They were arrested last year from a mosque in Shahjahanpur, allegedly for violation of pandemic guidelines. A slew of cases was registered against members after a meeting at their headquarters in Nizamuddin, Delhi, in March 2020. A vicious social media campaign to blame the pandemic in India on the organisation fizzled out as courts acquitted foreign nationals. The government has not appealed.


Totalitarians rely on untruths, says Justice Chandrachud

On Saturday at the Sixth Justice MC Chagla Memorial Lecture, Justice DY Chandrachud of the Supreme Court said: “One can consider speaking truth to power as a right of every citizen which they must have in a democracy but it is equally a duty of every citizen.” He quoted Hannah Arendt, noting that totalitarian governments are marked by a “constant reliance on falsehoods in order to establish dominance.” He added, “Democracy and truth go hand in hand. Democracy needs truth to survive.”  See it here, from 00:28:00. The full text is here.


The Long Cable

Why Kerala’s response to COVID-19 has positive lessons for India

Giridhara R. Babu

“What is happening in Kerala?” is a question I often get nowadays. There are also wide-ranging foredrawn conclusions which mostly are not backed by science but biases. 

Vulnerable state

Success brings its own set of problems, especially when it is comes earlier than other states. In December 2020, India's seroprevalence was twice that of Kerala (21% versus 10.7%). This low prevalence was mostly attributed to the successful state implementation of strong containment and mitigation measures compared to other parts of the country. By July 2021, as the national seroprevalence was 67.6%, Kerala still had nearly 56% of its population yet to be infected. Effectively, the state was fertile ground for a new round of circulation. Despite the fear of potential fatalities at staggeringly high levels of vulnerability, Kerala has shown remarkably lower case fatality. This is mostly due to early diagnosis, timely referral (although it is self-referral due to better awareness), and adequate treatment facilities.

Variant/s at play

Just when a relatively greater proportion of the population was susceptible, the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, known for its higher infectivity and rapid transmission, spread in Kerala. There might be more than just one variant, but the July and August sequencing results can tell us if more variants were at play. Specifically, it is important to assess whether there is any change in the host receptor affinity, which makes infection more probable, derived from some specific mutations in the genes.

Genetic mutations are needed to enhance evolutionary adaptation, species recognition, host receptor affinity, and pathogenicity. Since there is no greater number of deaths, are the circulating variants in Kerala helpful to understand the genomic characteristics, thus leading to better adaptations or changes in receptor affinity?

Varied strategy

Whether clearly stated in policy statements or not, Kerala aimed to prevent a greater number of infections in the past. Compared to the failing "Zero Covid Strategy" of Australia and New Zealand, some criticism draws a parallel by inferring that the state followed the "Near Zero Covid" strategy. The counterargument is that the state could not have willingly let the population get infected for two reasons. First, the state had benefited from educated people, better awareness, community participation, and wisdom from the success in controlling other epidemics (more recently Nipah virus) and knew how to wage a successful battle against this infectious disease. Second, the high number of deaths and the suffering due to lack of hospital beds and oxygen was not seen in Kerala due to sustained success in containment strategy and relatively high vaccination coverage. While these are two extremes of opinions on strategy, the truth is that Kerala went in for a controlled or titrated burn and had the continuous presence of infections until the arrival of the Delta variant. Just because the strategy is different, the state cannot be blamed for it, not when cases are surging. Despite the positive attributes, there is some weakness as well. Increased mobility of the people internationally and to the other states could be an added factor. Decreased testing only during some period of time artificially alters the positive numbers. Also, there has bee criticism of the state for relaxing controls on crowds during the festive season.

Victory, what is it against COVID-19?

Figure-2: Vaccination doses administered in the UK, Israel, US, Canada, India, Spain and Brazil and Cumulative confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the US, UK, Spain, Israel and India. Source: Financial Times

Victory against COVID19 lies in keeping fatalities to the minimum. Not everything is known about how the virus and hosts (humans) behave in different regions of the world. Kerala has vaccinated 71% of its target population with one dose and 26% with two doses as of 27th August 2021. UK and Israel are comparable countries with high vaccination coverage of over 60% (for both doses) and yet are witnessing an increasing growth rate in cases (Figure-2). But higher cases do not simply mean that it is a failed strategy. Comparatively, countries like Spain with two-dose coverage of more than 70% do not have the same burden as the UK, US, or Israel. Several factors, including the adaptation of the virus, waning of antibodies, and better surveillance, result in differential case burdens.

What happens next in Kerala and the rest of the country depends on each area's seroprevalence and vaccination coverage. In areas with lower seroprevalence and poor vaccination coverage, there will be a higher number of cases and deaths. Therefore, Kerala's model offers a lesson to continue early case detection efforts and better management while expanding vaccination coverage. The waves created by the Delta variant have affected countries with higher vaccination coverage but lower hospitalization rates and lower mortality. Kerala shows that this is mostly a rule in the days ahead, not an exception. In summary, Kerala is not a failed model. As a matter of fact, it is a failure if you do not learn lessons from this model.

Giridhara R. Babu is a Professor of Epidemiology at the Indian Institute of Public Health, PHFI, Bengaluru


Reportedly

Sarbananda Sonowal has been low-key after losing the chief ministership of Assam to ex-Congressman Himanta Biswa Sarma, but BJP’s Jan Ashirwad Yatra in the state has pushed this former chief minister back in the spotlight. This was Sonowal’s first visit after being appointed minister for Ayush and for ports, shipping and waterways in the Modi cabinet. He was given a grand welcome by Sarma and new state BJP head Bhabesh Kalita. The Opposition lost no opportunity to embarrass the government, and asked why the people should bless Sonowal and the BJP. The Congress said that the BJP should have held a Jan Khama Yatra (People’s Forgiveness March) instead of an Ashirwad(Blessings) Yatra for hundreds of unfulfilled promises.


Prime Number: Rs 50,499.57 crore
Over more than five years, District Mineral Funds in 600 districts have collected Rs 50,499.57 crore. But now the Modi government has taken direct control of funds earmarked to be spent on people and communities affected by mining activities. In an order issued on July 12, state governments were directed by the Union to not spend from the District Mineral Foundation funds, which were collected as a percentage of royalties from mining leaseholders. 

Seven Himalayan hydel projects cleared

The Environment Ministry, categorically signalling its resolve to go ahead with controversial hydel projects in the fragile and disaster-prone Himalayan belt, has told the Supreme Court in an affidavit that it has green-lighted seven such projects, despite three committees recommending restraint. One of them is the 512 MW Tapovan Vishnugad project in Joshimath, Uttarakhand, which was badly damaged by floods in February. 


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • Kanti Bajpai writes in the South China Morning Post that India and China can bring down tensions only if alongside talks, they cease “publicly aired diplomacy, thin their forces, and ensure that Tibet, or Arunachal Pradesh, does not become a flashpoint.”

  • Indian athletes at Tokyo “gave it all they could but a familiar ugliness surfaced after the event. Officials, politicians, and sponsors are jumping on to the bandwagon of the medallists, while some who failed face the wrath of officials”, writes Sharda Ugra.

  • Mukul Kesavan offers an ode to Test cricket. He writes that its power “vests in the weird fact that you don’t just watch a match, you live inside it”. 


Listen Up

On The India Forum, Hardeep Dhillon elaborates on a people’s history of the influenza epidemic in colonial India, commonly known as the Spanish flu.


Watch Out

Watch ‘Meemu Choostamu’, a refreshing Telugu rendition of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s ‘Hum Dekhenge’.


Over and Out

Tom Longfield, father-in-law of cricket legend Ted Dexter, who died last week, had led Bengal to its first Ranji win in 1938-9. Dexter’s wife Susan was born and raised in Calcutta for eight years. They often returned to the city and celebrated 50 years of their marriage with a visit to Eden Gardens in 2008.

Major Mohammad Akbar Khan and other Indians were at the Dunkirk landings, but are almost forgotten 80 years after the battle. A new book by Ghee Bowman, The Indian Contingent: The Forgotten Muslim Soldiers of Dunkirk discusses their contribution and why they were forgotten.

People moaning about Indian food being degraded by the one-spice comment of a Washington Post columnist would be happy to note that FT’s Lunch with Michael Holding at Amaya in London’s Belgravia was wide-spectrum ― black pepper chicken tikka, naan, grilled sea bass and spinach saag. Well done.


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