What China Covid Outbreak Means For World; Savarna Twist: Not Responsible For Caste, But Seeking Revenge Against Muslims
Panagariya wary of trade war with China, DNA match for Gauri Lankesh’s killers, Kerala cracks down on antibiotics misuse, principal suspended for Urdu assembly song, government clueless about Ram Setu
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Snapshot of the day
November 23, 2022
Dr Gagandeep Kang has an important Twitter thread on the pandemic situation in China and what it means for Indians. Ananth Krishnan, The Hindu’s Beijing correspondent, writes on the situation in China and the response in India: “I’ve seen the Indian media go all out in covering the surge here with typical sensitivity and empathy. Who am I kidding! The fear-mongering that India is likely to follow suit, an implicit message in much of the coverage showing videos of patients collapsing, is totally unnecessary, and is a reason why I wanted to send out a short post. All I’d say is the situations in the two countries are completely different given the wave in China is essentially a first wave for a population with no natural immunity. This is an essential context that health experts have been pointing out in India but seems that lots of coverage in India seems to be glossing over.”
The Hindu quotes a government source who says that at least 30 of 65 patrolling points along the LAC in eastern Ladakh are not being patrolled anymore by Indian troops after the Galwan clash; India has lost its ability to patrol over half of what it did before Galwan. Locals have not been able to access another 19 grazing areas in Ladakh since 2020. The defence source has said that it’s incorrect and there are no patrols as per agreements with China. On the latest border clash at Tawang, Sushant Singh cites a deeper crises in bilateral ties, and advantage China. “While the border agreements of the 1990s helped by providing a formal structure, peace on the disputed border was practically maintained by deterrence. The Yangtse clash shows that this deterrence — a function of ability and credibility — has completely broken down,” he writes in The Telegraph. “Having seen the Modi government in action at Chumar, Doklam and Ladakh, Beijing now seems to see India as a relatively weak power, which can’t match its rhetoric with hard actions.” C Uday Bhaskar writes in The Tribune: “The Yangtse incident has led to an absurd sequence of events, where facts have been distorted in keeping with political compulsions. Consequently, a section of the media in India (TV in particular) has risen in unison to unctuous heights to shield the government and the PM to further obfuscate the gravity of the China challenge.”
The Modi government has told Parliament that there is no conclusive evidence of Ram Setu. Satellite images of the region between India and Sri Lanka where the mythological Ram Setu is thought to have existed have captured islands and limestone shoals but they “cannot be accurately said” to be the remnants of a bridge, the government told Parliament yesterday.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to pronounce its judgment on January 2 on a batch of pleas challenging the demonetisation of 2016. A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice SA Nazeer is likely to deliver its verdict before he retires on January 4. The top court had, on December 7, directed the Centre and the RBI to share records relating to the government’s 2016 decision.
“After millennia of slaughter and sacrifice, worship and protection, India’s cows have become pawns of the Hindu right.” The Economist reports that “eight years into BJP rule, it has become clear that talk of cow protection is about politics rather than faith. Life is no better for cows. The party’s vaunted investment in cow sanctuaries has turned out to be a sham; there is often little effort to provide real shelter.”
The delay in the Maharashtra government’s scholarship for OBC students who wish to study abroad has wreaked havoc, with students relinquishing admissions or seeking deferment. The state government published the list of recipients in mid-October, too late for fall admissions in North American and European universities. The state had instituted 10 annual scholarships for OBC postgrad students in 2018. It was increased to 50 (at least 30% must be women) this year by the new coalition government of Eknath Shinde, which caused the delay.
A forensic expert has confirmed to a Bengaluru court that DNA samples from a toothbrush found in an abandoned hideout in Bengaluru match with that of Parashuram Waghmore, 30, the accused shooter in the murder of journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh on September 5, 2017. Forensic expert L Purushotham of the Karnataka State Forensic Science Laboratory confirmed his findings in the trial court, which is hearing the case. Purushotham also testified that DNA samples from hair found on bedsheets at the hideout matched with Amol Kale, the prime accused and mastermind. The DNA matches link a religious crime syndicate to the plot to assassinate Gauri Lankesh.
It was an open secret that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was uncomfortable with BJP leaders Vijay Kumar Sinha and Sanjay Jaiswal when he was in the NDA, but yesterday senior JD(U) minister Bijendra Prasad Yadav confirmed that their regular attacks on Nitish’s government prompted him to snap ties with the BJP. Days earlier, Nitish had revealed that he left the alliance on the advice of Yadav and Sanjay Jha, another minister. While Vijay Kumar Sinha, who was Assembly Speaker in the former NDA government, was showing the Nitish government in a bad light in the Assembly, state BJP president Jaiswal was doing it outside the House, Yadav claimed.
“Of the 144 villages in my constituency, I must have covered more than 130, and in 90%, I have been extremely vocal about Bilkis Bano. I will raise those concerns and issues. If I stop doing that, it is not me,” says Gujarat Congress MLA Jignesh Mevani about contending “with majoritarian pressure not to speak of Muslims”.
The principal of a government school in Bareilly, UP, has been suspended after Hindutva groups reportedly complained to the police about a prayer song sung by the children. A video clip was circulated of the children singing a popular Urdu prayer, “lab pe aati hai dua banke tamanna meri”, in the morning assembly. It has been of the most loved prayers at Mayo College and Doon School, by the way.
Recognising that the misuse and overuse of antimicrobials is encouraging drug-resistant pathogens, the Kerala government has decided to cancel the licences of pharmacies selling antibiotics without a doctor’s prescription. The government also announced steps to make all primary health centres in Kerala antibiotic-smart, as part of strengthening its anti-microbial resistance (AMR) activities in the state.
The Parliamentary Panel on Finance headed by BJP’s Jayant Sinha has made 10 recommendations for controlling Big Tech. The twist in the tale is that the anti-Big Tech noise is being used by the Union government to seize control. Regulation means government control. The citizen, the most important stakeholder, finds little representation.
The Kerala High Court has pronounced its judgment on the Right to be Forgotten in respect of court orders and judgments. The order had balanced the need to preserve public records for access to knowledge and the right to information for the public, and the right to privacy of the individual.
As an alliance partner, the BJP has had quite a tumultuous and dubious year in 2022, turning hostile in Bihar, Maharashtra and now in Meghalaya, ahead of Assembly polls next year. The National People’s Party, which heads a coalition government in Meghalaya with the BJP, suffered a significant blow when two of its legislators joined the ‘alliance partner’.
CEDA has found that the gap in air traffic in India is closing but is still below pre-pandemic levels. In November 2022, the volume of domestic passengers reached only 90% of pre-pandemic levels in 2019.
It is Christmas on Sunday. The many ways of celebrating it in India are covered in Indian Christmas, edited by Jerry Pinto and Madhulike Liddle. New Lines has a piece on how the “festive season on the subcontinent is as richly diverse as the place and its peoples themselves.”
Panagariya wary of trade war with China
There has been no change in the altered status quo between India and China along the LAC, as the latest round of Corps Commander-level talks failed on the issue of disengagement at Depsang Plains and Demchok and de-escalation in areas where disengagement has taken place. During the 17th round of talks – held for nearly 10 hours on Tuesday after a hiatus of five months – both sides agreed to maintain security and stability on the ground in the Western Sector. “They had a frank and in-depth discussion, keeping in line with the guidance provided by the state leaders to work for the resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest which would help in restoration of peace and tranquillity along the LAC in the Western Sector and enable progress in bilateral relations,” a joint statement said. It added that the two sides agreed to stay in close contact and maintain dialogue through military and diplomatic channels and “work out a mutually acceptable resolution”.
“Engaging China in a trade war at this juncture will mean sacrificing a considerable part of our potential growth purely on economic grounds. It will be unwise to take any action in response to it (transgressions on the border),” former Niti Ayog vice chair and Modi supporter Arvind Panagariya has said. A $17 trillion economy (China) can hurt a $3 trillion economy (India) far more effectively. “Now there are some who want trade sanctions on China to ‘punish it for its transgressions on the border. If we try to punish China, it will not sit back, as amply illustrated by its response to sanctions by even the mighty US,” he observed.
Panchamasalis demand quota
Led by Sri Jagadguru Basava Jaya Mrityunjaya Swamy, the Panchamasali community intensified its quota agitation yesterday and hundreds marched towards the Suvarna Vidhana Soudha, where the winter session of the Karnataka legislature is underway. People marched along the Belgavi-Kolhapur national highway from Savadatti to Belagavi, demanding inclusion of the community in Category 2A of the list of Other Backward Castes (OBCs). “We have already reached a decisive phase in our agitation. The CM had given his word that the reservation would be announced by December 19 and because he did not live up to it, I have started this padayatra (foot march) to Belagavi where we will have a massive convention,” the seer said.
The Panchamasali is the biggest sub-sect within the dominant Lingayat community, which traditionally backs the BJP. From the 5% quota it enjoys under category 3B, the community wants to be under 2A, with 15%. With the state going to the polls in a few months, the community’s influence cannot be overlooked by the BJP.
In praise of the right to choose
Priya Ramani narrates what she witnessed recently in Pune at an annual event organised by Chayan — a national network of organisations that work on the right to choose in marriage and association. Representatives from LGBTQIA+ organisations, anti-caste groups and those who work with interfaith and inter-caste couples were present. Many such couples were also present.
The tone was set by a line from a popular socialist prayer emblazoned in big letters above the entrance at the venue, the SM Joshi Socialist Foundation: “The only true religion in the world is love.” In a week when Maharashtra announced that it would monitor all interfaith marriages, this simple truth was an extraordinarily political statement. The LGBTQAI+ speakers argued that the right to relate was more important than the right to choose. Omkar Shinde from Pune’s Queer Collective said his community struggled for the right to relate from the time you couldn’t tell your mother, your first key relationship, that you were gay.
Savarna twist: Not responsible for caste, but seeking revenge against Muslims
India asserts its sovereignty when confronted by international bodies on deeply discriminatory practices and structural violence in Indian society. This argument is fallacious. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, authorises the scrutiny of specific discriminatory practices and human rights violations in all member states. It is necessary to recognize crimes against Dalits as crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. We pay a very heavy price for the sharp and violent disjuncture between social values and the secular ideas and pluralism enshrined in the Constitution…
Despite the Constitution, the civil rights of Dalits are not respected. This is aggravated by their social and economic subjugation by the dominant castes. In order to trigger social transformation, delegitimize structural violence and affirm the right to human dignity, Article 17 of the Indian Constitution unequivocally bans untouchability. The adoption of this article was followed with shouts in the Constituent Assembly of ‘Mahatma Gandhi Ki Jai’. That is probably the last tribute we paid to the old soul. But caste practices cannot be wiped out in a day. In order to abolish untouchability, Parliament passed the Protection of Civil Rights Act in 1955, ‘An Act to prescribe punishment for the [preaching and practice of “Untouchability”] for the enforcement of any disability arising therefrom and for matters connected therewith.’ …Although the punishments were not severe, it was believed that the Act would be a deterrent.
Our fact-finding on caste discrimination in Mahbubnagar as part of our work in the APCLC revealed that untouchability was widely prevalent. Small tea stalls had separate glasses for Dalit customers. There was never any action taken against perpetrators of untouchability.
Indians are not merely argumentative. They are also prone to cause disquiet by distorting issues and derailing them, as in animated debates on the fact that ‘untouchability’ has not been defined. There was a debate in an Orissa case, Hadibandhu Behera vs Banamali Sahu, on the practice of excommunication in Hindu society. The court dwelt on divisions among Chandalas and that ‘Jati Chandalas’ were different from ‘Karma Chandalas’. Jati Chandalas, by this argument, were Chandalas by birth while Karma Chandalas were people from other (including dominant) castes excommunicated for their conduct by caste panchayats. There was a discussion on the definition of untouchability. It is true that the 1955 Act did not define ‘civil rights’. However, it did state quite clearly that under Article 17 of the Constitution, any practice of untouchability shall be a violation of civil rights.
The second contentious issue is reservations [and] that reservations for scheduled communities result in decreased opportunities for Savarna castes. This has historically never been the case. Savarna castes have for centuries enjoyed unlimited access to and domination over the public realm. For the first time in history, after the Constitution came into force, there were measures towards the more equitable distribution of wealth and resources across castes. They had up to that point understood it as political equality alone, but did not anticipate that their dominance in Hindu society would be eroded, and that society itself would be radically restructured. …Savarna intellectuals keep repeating one argument: How can they be held responsible for historical wrongs perpetrated on castes at the bottom of the hierarchy? They question the fairness of visiting penalties for the wrongs of their ancestors on them. … The historical indignity suffered by Adivasi, Dalit and backward caste communities do not enter their account.
This argument in favour of discounting historical wrongs perpetrated on Dalits in a consideration of present privileges enjoyed by Savarnas is inverted in the case of Muslims. Whether in the case of the Somnath Temple or Babri Masjid, the ‘invasions’ by Muslim rulers centuries ago have become the basis of revenge in the present, which has often descended into genocidal violence against them. The Savarna argument therefore is that they are not responsible for the historical wrongs perpetrated on Dalits, but must avenge the wrongs allegedly perpetrated on their forefathers by Mughal rulers.
(Extracted with permission from The Speaking Constitution: A Sisyphean Life in Law, HarperCollins India)
Hypocrisy is a tribute that vice pays to virtue. In this case, it may be more due to petty politics. Even as the Union Health Minister was writing to Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday about the danger of spreading Covid-19 by his open-air Bharat Jodo Yatra, his PM and the full cabinet was attending a crowded wedding ceremony in an enclosed area in the evening. Not that it can shame the shameless, but the Congress spokesperson put the video on Twitter to remind the minister and the ruling party of its faux concern.
Prime Number: 4
India has four entries, including one for Chhello Show, for best international film and ‘Naatu Naatu’ from the blockbuster RRR in the music (original song) categories, in the Oscars shortlist announced yesterday. Besides the Gujarati film and the popular Telugu song, All That Breathes has made it to the documentary feature shortlist and The Elephant Whisperers in the documentary short category, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced. This is perhaps the first time India has made it to four Oscar shortlists, before nominations.
Jairus Banaji presents a precis of the evolution of Indian big business over the last two decades. Most interesting is the observation that the business families which were the mainstay of industrial capitalism for three or four decades after Independence have either disintegrated, or have been disintegrating and will soon cease to exist as coherent entities, let alone cohesive ones.
Op-Eds you don’t want to miss
Bharat Bhushan writes on Mandaviya’s mendacious meddling with Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra: The Union Health Minister’s advisory is political, lighting the long fuse of a blame game should another Covid-19 wave arrive.
Reports say ‘evidence’ against the Bhima Koregaon accused was planted – so why are they still in jail? Umang Poddar writes that according to legal experts, this is because this information becomes useful at the stage of the trial, which is yet to start.
With a huge backlog of cases, the Indian judiciary should revisit the listing practices of courts, as every case deserves to have its day in court, writes PR Sandhya.
MR Sharan writes that we systematically underestimate how popular prohibition is with half of Bihar. When the outside world is lurching from one economic crisis to another, stability at home is nonpareil. For every tragic hooch death, there are several small but significant transformations.
India supports the Global Biodiversity Framework, but its implementation could require work, writes Aathira Perinchery.
What you will not get from S Jaishankar is an honest appraisal of the decline of civil rights in India. Ambassadors have been essential in providing Washington with clear-eyed assessments about the domestic situation in India — a task that is more essential now than ever, writes Meenakshi Ahamed.
Dilip D’Souza examines India’s understanding of numbers. The misplaced idea of the ‘middle class’ in India, with such a low median level of income in the country gets special mention in this column.
Harsh Mander writes on the possibilities of a post-pandemic world ― “A place founded on a new social contract that is built with all the elements of fraternity. Of the recognition of shared sisterhood and brotherhood, beyond all barriers of religion, class, race, caste and gender.”
Anirudh Kanisetti writes that claims of Mauryan ‘conquest’ or ‘control’ over the subcontinent, making them the ‘first Indian empire’, are exaggerated and based on fragmentary evidence. The Mauryas were not even the first Gangetic empire, having been preceded by the relatively successful Nanda dynasty.
Looking back on a year in which Bollywood seemed to be Follywood, Nandini Ramnath writes on why dubbed films from the South sweep the Hindi film box office in 2022.
Muzaffar Alam and Sanjay Subrahmanyam have a delightful blog on a ‘Baniya Letter From Surat to the Rulers of England in 1655.’
Legendary radio jockey Ameen Sayani, who introduced Hindi film music to a generation of South Asians on Radio Ceylon when the Indian authorities did not believe in playing it, turned 90 this week. Hear him on Geetmala redux.
Shah Rukh Khan’s film Pathan’s second song, Jhoome Jo Pathan is out. The first one seemed to have provoked significant numbers of trolls and BJP ministers and leaders to ensure it became really popular.
Over and Out
Nowhere is India more confusing, more chaotic, more Indian than in Varanasi. Everything follows a precise order: The day, life, death, Neue Zürcher Zeitung reports.
The use of the word ‘servant’, in a conversation which is now viral online, between an Indigo stewardess and a passenger on an Istanbul-Delhi flight reveals so much about India and its attitude to those who are seen to ‘serve’.
That’s it for today. We’ll be back with you on Monday, on a device near you. If The India Cable was forwarded to you by a friend (perhaps a common friend!) book your own copy by SUBSCRIBING HERE.