Women MPs ‘Insulted’ By Marshals in Parliament; Justice Nariman Retires, SC Now 10 Judges Short

Plus: Govt silent on caste census, Hind chopper in Taliban hands, caste diversity eludes sport, SC wants consumer courts staffed, UP inundated, Rajasthan has aged best, online teacher hacked

A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal

Snapshot of the day
August 12, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

Six hours of peaceful proceedings during the debate on the OBC Bill made way for high drama in the Rajya Sabha yesterday evening when a controversial bill to enhance the private sector’s role in public sector insurance companies was taken up for passing. The Opposition MPs wanted the Bill to be sent to a select committee. Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge alleged that women MPs, demanding an immediate discussion on the Pegasus issue, were “insulted” by marshals during their protest inside the House.

“In my parliamentary career of 55 years, I never saw women MPs attacked as they were today (in the Rajya Sabha). More than 40 men and women were brought into the House from outside. It is painful. It is an attack on democracy,” noted Sharad Pawar. Opposition leaders today met the vice president to protest against the conduct of the presiding officers.  Government ministers allege it was the MPs who manhandled the marshals. "There were 30 marshals... 18 men, 12 women. No one from outside was brought in", Textiles minister Piyush Goyal told a press conference on Thursday afternoon.

The Tribunals Reform Bill, passed by Parliament this week, smuggled in two provisions struck down in July by the Supreme Court in the ordinance which the new law replaces. They diverged from the norms for appointing high court judges, with whom tribunal judges are on par, and undermined the independence of the judiciary, the court had ruled. The Opposition will reportedly petition the Supreme Court to enforce its writ and overturn the new law. 

Twitter told the Delhi High Court that it has disabled a tweet by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi that showed the parents of the nine-year-old who was allegedly raped and murdered in southwest Delhi on August 1. This, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights had said, amounts to a violation of the law as the parents’ photo helps identify the child victim. Does this mean the parents can never be seen in the media for the rest of their lives? Only the NCPCR can tell us. Meanwhile, Gandhi’s account has also been locked. The Twitter accounts of AICC general secretary and former minister Ajay Maken, party whip in the Lok Sabha Manickam Tagore, Assam in-charge and former Union minister Jitendra Singh and Mahila Congress President Sushmita Dev were locked yesterday, and today it was the turn of the Congress party’s official Twitter handle. As per Twitter’s rules, Gandhi’s account will remain ‘locked’ – i.e. he won’t be able to post any new tweets – until he physically deletes the tweet in question.

Bloomberg reports that Indian companies are running out of room to absorb rising raw material costs, which could force the Reserve Bank of India to unwind its stimulus faster than expected and threaten a stock market rally that has made billions for investors. Companies from the Indian unit of Unilever Plc to Tata Motors Ltd, the owner of Jaguar Land Rover, are complaining about rising input costs and the inability to pass them on to consumers reeling from the pandemic-induced economic shock. But it’s only a matter of time.

While the value of exports has remained constant over the last 10 years, export incentives from the government have trebled, revealed the commerce secretary, who also said that about 20 free trade agreements are under negotiation, and are being fast-tracked with at least half a dozen countries, including UAE, UK, EU, Canada and Australia, over the next few months.

A Delhi court has granted bail to Supreme Court lawyer and former BJP spokesperson Ashwini Upadhyay, who was arrested in connection with last week’s hate speech at Jantar Mantar, where anti-Muslim slogans were raised.

Mumbai vaccine centres are running dry. This month, municipal vaccination centres have functioned for five of 10 days. In July, centres ran for 17 days, down from 25 days in June and 24 days in May.

Scammers are targeting bank customers in India using a novel phishing attack to collect sensitive information such as internet banking credentials, mobile number and OTPs, the country’s cybersecurity agency has warned. The malicious activity is being carried out using the popular developer’s tool ngrok.

According to a new nationwide survey by Bumble, the women-first dating app, 50% Indians are no longer ashamed to admit that they met their partners on dating apps. It reveals how the pandemic has changed the way single Indians are dating, especially after the second wave of Covid-19.

The government has clarified that the viral news that the Supreme Court is opening branches in Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata, which is being seen on social media, is fake.


Indian helicopter in Taliban hands

The Taliban have occupied Kunduz airport and have taken control of one of the Mi-35 Hind attack helicopters supplied by India, through a deal with Belarus, to the Afghanistan Air Force. The rotor blades have been removed to disable it, but its capture endangers the Afghanistan National Army’s hopes for more military platforms from friendly countries. According to the July 2019 ‘Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan’ report of the US Department of Defense, India transferred four Mi-35s in 2015-2016 and four more in 2018. 

India is likely to participate in a meeting of countries including Indonesia and Turkey, being hosted by Qatar today to discuss Afghanistan. A US defence official told Reuters, citing US intelligence, as militants took control of an eighth provincial Afghan capital, that the Taliban could isolate Afghanistan’s capital in 30 days and possibly take it over in 90 days. The Taliban now control 65% of Afghanistan and have taken or threaten to take 11 provincial capitals.


OBC bill passed, but government silent on caste census

The Bill to amend the Constitution to empower states to identify Other Backward Classes (OBCs) crossed the Parliament hurdle with the Rajya Sabha passing it unanimously yesterday. Cleared by the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, it was passed 187-0 after nearly five and a half hours of debate, during which demands for bringing the private sector under the quota regime and reservation for OBCs in Parliament and Assemblies were articulated. 

The debate was dominated by demands, including from NDA allies like JD(U) and AIADMK, for the caste census and the removal of the 50% cap. At least 10 parties ― Congress, Trinamool Congress, BJD, DMK, TRS, Samajwadi Party, JD(U), RJD, Muslim League and TDP ― demanded a caste census. At least 13 ― Congress, BJD, DMK, TRS, CPI(M), CPI Samajwadi Party, RJD, Shiv Sena, AAP, JD(S), NCP and AIADMK ― demanded the removal of the cap. The Modi government went silent, although it had told Parliament on Friday that it has no plans for a caste census.


India to buy foreign vaccines?

To ease vaccine shortages, India is in talks to buy 5 crore doses of Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE’s Covid-19 vaccine, the Wall Street Journal reports. It is also expecting about 7 million doses of Moderna Inc’s vaccine from the US through Covax, a programme to supply Covid-19 vaccines to poorer nations. Unlike many developed countries, India didn’t secure supplies of foreign vaccines last year and left domestic manufacturers to fend for themselves. 

The biggest impediment to reaching a deal with foreign vaccine makers has been the indemnities they seek. Other countries, including the US and UK, have granted indemnity. India has been reluctant because it would need to extend the protection to domestic manufacturers. The Modi government is still weighing the legal framework for granting indemnity. 


Supreme Court pulls up Centre and states on consumer courts

The Supreme Court has pulled up the Centre and states for “defeating the laws enacted for the benefits of people”, and directed them to fill around 800 vacancies in consumer courts across the country within eight weeks. It also directed the Centre to do a legislative impact study of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 in four weeks, saying that the government is always rushing to pass laws but does not study their impact.

Taking exception to “dilly dallying”, the court directed that the Secretary of the Consumer Affairs Ministry at the Centre and Chief Secretaries of state governments would have to be present through video-conferencing at the next hearing. The apex court passed its order in a suo motu matter registered as “inaction of the government” in appointing members of the consumer courts and providing adequate infrastructure.


The Long Cable

The winning formula that eludes Indian sport ― caste diversity

Sidharth Bhatia

When the Indian women’s hockey team lost to Argentina and finished in fourth place, the players, along with their millions of fans, were disappointed. Yet, all agreed that it was a magical moment because a young group of players, not particularly highly ranked, had performed exceedingly well against all odds. 

But some men resorted to abuse, not because of the loss, per se, but because, according to them, there were “too many Dalits on the team”. Their particular ire was directed at Vandana Kataria, whose family lives in a small village near Haridwar. It proved, once again, that no matter what you achieve in life, caste prejudice will always follow you.

Indian sports teams are creditably diverse in the regional and religious sense but caste representation is scarce if not completely absent. The Indian cricket team has over the decades moved from being mainly upper crust to turning middle class, and now has players from the smaller towns. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is from Ranchi, and Suresh Raina from Muradnagar. But the doors have yet to open for Dalits. The women’s hockey team therefore deserves even more praise.

All the women’s hockey team members have backstories showing a combination of perseverance, grit and a lot of hard work. Captain Rani Rampal’s journey to the pinnacle is particularly inspiring. 

No official body or corporate sponsor backed them when they began training. Only the Odisha government and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, a goal-keeper during his school days, came forward to write a cheque that kept them going. To now see the central government and the prime minister hog the credit is unseemly in the extreme. Success definitely has many fathers.

Even so, the euphoria surrounding “India’s historic performance at the Olympics” is misplaced in the extreme. Without taking away any credit from the medal winners and those like golfer Aditi Ashok, who came fourth, many others just failed to perform in any noticeable way. We tied overall with Azerbaijan and Austria, which also won a total of seven medals. There is no shame in losing and each athlete tried their best, but it reminds us that India has a long way to go. Smaller countries like Kenya and Jamaica won four gold medals and overall, many more than India. 

There are many ways to improve on this performance, but making sport genuinely more diverse is a key factor. The usual arguments about ‘merit’ will be trotted out, but the women’s hockey team’s performance is a good rebuttal. Yet, that is not likely to happen and what is more, sportspersons are pretty much on their own, no matter the joyous celebrations now.

Official funding and corporate sponsorship, apart from individual endorsement deals, are not likely to pour in even in the future because everyone’s money is earmarked for cricket, which is a sureshot crowd-puller. A Virat Kohli earns tens of millions even if his team struggles in its overseas performance. Adding to this is the humongously cash-rich Board of Cricket Control of India.

Even governments forget, after cornering all the glory. There are stories of former Olympians struggling to make a living despite being promised cash rewards, as the story of bronze winner Seeta Sahu shows.

Vandana Kataria should be hailed as a role model, and it is unfortunate that none of the country’s top leaders saw fit to weigh and condemn the casteist abuse to which her family was subjected.  India’s young women and girls will undoubtedly see Vandana as an example to follow. Many among them will find caste prejudice and other hurdles along the way, but those who manage to ignore the hate thrown at them will surely find success sooner than later.


Reportedly

The Hyderabad-based National Police Academy is tying up with foreign police forces for collaboration and training, which can only be a good thing. But it is the countries chosen that raises eyebrows: Israel, Russia, Sri Lanka and France. Not entirely a list of those whose policing sets the bar for a liberal democracy. 


UP cities inundated

Swollen rivers flooded several towns and inundated large tracts in different parts of Uttar Pradesh, forcing thousands to leave their homes and shelter elsewhere. Varanasi, the Lok Sabha constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was one of the worst affected towns with waters from the rising Ganga entering residential localities. Allahabad is no better off. Floodwaters from several other rivers, including the Yamuna and Betwa, have inundated many villages in Banda, Farrukhabad, Hamirpur, Jalaun, Auraiya, Etawah and other districts.


Prime number: 1.3 crore
That's the number of seahorses estimated to have been caught annually in India between 2015 and 2017, despite a ban for the past two decades.

Supreme Court numbers shrink

Justice Rohinton Nariman, the second senior most judge after Chief Justice NV Ramana, retires today after seven years as a Supreme Court judge. Nariman, son of the senior lawyer Fali Nariman, will be best remembered for his judgments upholding privacy and free speech but he also had a formidable reputation for adjudicating complex tax issues. With his departure, the strength of the apex court shrinks further to just 24 judges, excluding the CJI. Another judge will retire later in August and that will make the apex court 11 short of the sanctioned strength of 34. Attention will again be drawn to the collegium’s choices, and the government’s reluctance. Ramana’s predecessor, SA Bobde, could not induct a single judge because of a key deadlock: Some members of the collegium insisted the two senior most high court judges – Chief Justices A.S.  Oka from Karnataka and Akil Kureishi from Tripura – be brought to the Supreme Court. But the Modi government is not keen on their names.


Deep Dive

India’s education system is notoriously unequal but the pandemic has disrupted opportunities for first generation learners from rural areas and marginalised communities like never before. The much-anticipated experience of higher education has shrunk into a lonely struggle with a smartphone. 

While their affluent counterparts dial into online classes on laptops, less privileged students struggle to download notes, write assignments, and attend classes on tiny phone screens. Scroll reports on the agony of navigating college on a smartphone, for those who have beaten the odds to reach India’s top institutes.


19% more Indian students bound for UK

A record 3,200 students from India have been accepted in UK universities and higher education courses through the country’s centralised application system in 2021, marking an increase of 19% over the previous year. These acceptance figures come days after India was moved from the Covid-19 Red List on to Amber.


Rajasthan and Himachal offer best quality of life to elders

Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Chandigarh lead the first national rankings on the Quality of Life for Elderly Index, released by the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister. Rajasthan is the top scorer in the Aged States category, those with an elderly population of more than 5 million, while Himachal Pradesh leads in the Relatively-Aged States section (below 5 million population). Mizoram leads in the Northeastern States and Chandigarh among all UTs. Quality of life is gauged by financial well-being, income security, social well-being, the health system, and indicators of education and physical and psychological security.  


Op-Eds you don’t want to miss

  • The deployment of Pegasus in India against media and politicians raises fundamental concerns ranging from abuse of office and of separation of powers to respect for privacy and freedom of expression, writes the Financial Times in its editorial. It is a test for the world’s largest democracy and needs a credible probe.

  • The normalisation of disruption and the steamrolling of legislation in the monsoon session are warning signs that parliamentary functioning needs an urgent overhaul. If this pattern continues, the new Parliament building would be a modern and spacious venue for a dysfunctional institution, writes Chakshu Roy.

  • Amit Cowshish writes that if existing procurement procedures need extrication from the Industrial Age and made relevant to the Information Age, as General Naravane suggested, it is not enough to merely denigrate them. The challenge for India’s military and the Defence Ministry lies in suggesting viable and workable alternatives.

  • Shoaib Daniyal writes on a new research paper which shows that it was migration that took the Dravidian languages from the Indus basin to their modern location in South India.


Listen Up

Priya Sarukkai Chabria and Arshia Sattar explore the ways in which Gitanjali, the Nobel prize winning work of Rabindranath Tagore, remains relevant to the 21st century even as it leads back to the long and diverse tradition of spiritual poetry in South Asia.


Watch Out

Vivek Katju, former Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan, who also served as Joint Secretary in charge of Afghanistan for six years, tells Karan Thapar that “we have boxed ourselves into a corner,” and adds, “I can’t understand the logic of the policy our ‘wise men’ are following.” He said, “What we are witnessing is strategic paralysis,” and “India has become a bystander in Afghanistan”. “The country does not know which way to turn,” Katju added.


Over and Out

Tamil films have their first intimacy coordinator, Jayalakshmi Sundaresan.

A teacher in Kerala’s Kozhikode district was surprised to find that she was logged out of her WhatsApp account minutes after completing an online class. A student had logged into her WhatsApp account on his phone using screen-sharing during the class. Though the teacher was initially confused, an examination by the police cyber cell of the students’ phones solved the puzzle. No complaint was filed.


That’s it for today. We’ll be back with you tomorrow, 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.