Facebook board member Marc Andreessen’s offensive remarks about India on Twitter hint at an out-of-touch tech eliteAfter an irate Facebook board member wrote that India is better off under colonialism, many in Silicon Valley’s large and influential Indian population were offended. “People like [Facebook board member] Marc Andreessen are speaking from places of such massive privilege and are still so massively wrong,” said Rohit Sharma, a venture capitalist with True Ventures, which has raised $878m. “Someone in India’s needs are just the same as someone in San Francisco. How dare you imply otherwise? No.”Culturally, Indians tend to be very wary of strangers bringing gifts in the guise of tradeThis privileged assumption that oh the poor need this, the poor should be happy with this, it’s set us back by years Continue reading... [...]
Nepal is one of the most forward-thinking countries in the world for rights for transgender people. Campaigner Bhumika Shrestha feels a sense of triumphIn October last year, Bhumika Shrestha touched down in Taiwan, stepped off the plane and made Nepalese history. Holding in her hand a passport marked “O” for “other”, the transgender activist became the first Nepali citizen to travel with documents marked with the country’s legally recognised “third gender”. The passport was the latest in a string of victories for the country increasingly highlighted as a leader in transgender rights. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that citizens were entitled to select their gender identity based on “self feeling”. Soon after, the Nepal Election Commission began allowing voters, who do not identify themselves as either male or female, to register as a third gender. In 2011, the Nepal Census was the first attempt by any national government to count its people by three genders. Related: Bisi Alimi on LGBT rights in Nigeria: 'It may take 60 years, but we have to start now' Related: Where are we now? The global outlook for LGBTI rights Related: Six countries making progress on LGBT rights Continue reading... [...]
Through this order, TRAI has put in place the most stringent regulations on differential pricing that exist anywhere in the world.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has heeded the call of the Save the Internet campaign and its millions of supporters who called for a ban on zero-rating. Digital rights activists across the world have been putting out jubilant tweets. Many civil society organisations abroad had been keeping a keen eye on the Indian regulator in order to bolster their own activism with their regulators and governments.
Trai rightly recognised the harmful potential of differential pricing (of which “zero-rating” is one form) on the basis of content/ applications/ services (“content” for short) and has, in record time, come out with a forceful order. It is also momentous that in the explanation for its decision, Trai has used net neutrality principles, despite not explicitly using that term, thus paving the way for much-needed regulation of internet service providers (ISPs) on quality of service issues. Despite welcoming the order for all these reasons, I have some reservations: The order allows some tariff schemes that may be harmful and bans some that may be beneficial, and has some unintended consequences. I won’t focus on the potential negative effects on pro-consumer innovation here.
Through this order, Trai has put in place the most stringent regulations on differential pricing that exist anywhere in the world. It has barred all telecom service providers from having discriminatory tariffs for data services, termed all charging of differential tariffs on the basis of content as “discriminatory”, even though in the past, it has noted that differential pricing and discriminatory pricing aren’t the same. Thus, while the regulator had the option of banning only anti-competitive or discriminatory forms of differential pricing, it chose to use a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel. It has fixed the problem it identified but has over-regulated in the process.
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Some forms of unpaid zero-rating, which were providing access to limited services to people who can’t afford access to the internet, now stand banned. Thus, insofar as this order reduces access to technologies of expression and communication, and decreases the diversity of accessible information, it has negative consequences on freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. To counter this, it is incumbent on the government to ensure that those whose rights have been negatively affected because of Trai’s order are provided access in a manner that is compliant with it. If that doesn’t happen, and soon, we are excluding a class of people from being equal to the rest of us — richer people with access to the internet. One way forward would be to view the internet as critical infrastructure for freedom of opinion and expression, and work out ways to provide open internet to all for free. The government has Rs 40,840 crore ($6 billion) in the universal service obligation fund (USOF) that it has collected from telecom companies — this money ultimately comes from consumers. It could study the feasibility of incentivising telcos to provide access to the full internet at a low speed to all by lessening the USO burden of those who do so.
Trai has also provided two exceptions: For “closed electronic communications network”, and for emergency services or in times of grave public emergencies. The first exception leads to an absurd and counter-intuitive position: Reliance Communications will be allowed to charge less for Reliance Entertainment traffic as long as it isn’t over the internet but is separately provided within an intranet. And if Facebook’s Free Basics, instead of providing access to mobile-optimised low-bandwidth internet content based on technical criteria, provided only limited content over an intranet, that would be fine. So, closed networks are okay, but partially or even almost-open networks are not. Some would note that the order also states that if the service provider is doing so “for the purpose of evading the prohibition in this regulation”, that is not allowed. If only the Income Tax Act included such language, we wouldn’t need to fret about the [...]
Smoke is seen billowing out of the ground and first floor of the Taj Hotel in south Mumbai during security personnel’s “Operation Cyclone” following the 26/11 terror attacks in 2008. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative David Coleman Headley deposed on Monday at a Mumbai court through a video link. (Source: PTI file photo)
We didn’t need David Coleman Headley to indulge in a spot of Pak-bashing. It’s a favourite hammer and tongs issue on Times Now and Hindi news channels. What Headley did, with his deposition before a Mumbai court this week, was to give news anchors an opportunity to go even more on the offensive — and be more offensive — than before.
It gave us a chance to assess David CH’s hair growth and development: Saw photographs/ videos of him with sleeked back short back and sides, long combed back and sides, sleeked back with bushy beard, and now balding on every side.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hair is always neat. That hasn’t been much of a help: He may lunch, sup, tea in Lahore, Paris or Delhi, but there are still no peace talks between India and Pakistan — not on television, leastways, as good a barometer as any of relations between the two countries.
David Headley Timeline
News shows are replete with the worst kind of xenophobia. Monday, News X, a discussion on Headley’s revelations saw the Indian experts and anchor Rahul Shivshankar stiff with self-righteous complacency: Headley had implicated the Pakistani state in the 26/11terrorist attack. Once all the Indians had agreed with one another on this, retired Colonel Farooqui and one Brigadier Ali from Pakistan were asked for opinions. The colonel promptly questioned Headley’s trustworthiness — “you always assess the quality of the informer…” He was immediately interrupted by Shivshankar.
Whereupon, an incensed Brigadier Ali began to yell: “You are a liar, you are supporting criminals, you tell lies to your nation, Headley is a drug addict…” Whereupon Seshadri Chari (BJP) said that we’d listened to “this nonsense for long enough”. Ali, ineffectually, repeated, “You are a liar,” and was interrupted by General Bakshi who pleaded for rational arguments. Chari smirked: Rationality from them? Pah (or words to that effect).
Emboldened by such rudeness, Shivshankar questioned the Pakistanis’ “decency” and Brigadier Ali’s “drink” schedule — by which he didn’t mean orange juice. The Pakistani guests yelled that they were not being given a fair chance to speak. Shivshankar advised them repeatedly to “calm down”, to stop this “silly, trite nonsense… don’t lecture us, don’t talk rubbish.” He then muted the volume so we could no longer hear them. Really democratic behaviour.
On Tuesday, Colonel Farooqui was on India News. After the Indian guests had spoken on Headley and Pakistan, anchor Deepak Chaurasia turned to Farooqui. He accused the R&AW of training rebels in Pakistan. The BJP’s spokesperson cut in: He had “serious objections” to Pakistanis with military background being on the show. Don’t invite them, he told Chaurasia, they lobby for the terrorists. A bucolic Farooqui burst out: “I don’t talk like him, you have talked for half an hour… both sides should get a chance to talk… you are not worth talking to…” Chaurasia scolded him for bringing up the R&AW, the other Indians began to speak at the same time, Colonel Sahib walked out.
The same, worse, perhaps happens on Pakistani news TV — the best reason we should avoid it.
Karan Thapar’s To the Point (India Today) also hosted two Pakistanis: Aziz Ahmed Khan, a former high commissioner to India and Lieutenant General Talat Masood. Khan welcomed any evidence on 26/11, while Masood questioned Headley’s “credibility”. Thapar challenged both, but allowed the Pakistanis to have their say. At least, they talked to each other without rubbishing one another.
Last words to Satyabrata Pal, former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan: The dialogue between India and Pakistan, he said, hovered between “life and death”. Since India was nowadays more of a “Hindu rashtra”, there was always the chance of rebirth (for the talks).
Not if you listen to TV.
Army says Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and local al-Qaida branch were cooperating on plot to break out 100 prisoners in HyderabadAn elaborate plot by Pakistan’s most prominent terror groups to free scores of militants from a jail using explosives smuggled inside washing machines has been foiled, the country’s military has announced.Two vehicles loaded with explosives were among the haul of weapons and bomb-making equipment seized during a raid on a rented house in Hyderabad, which the army said was at the centre of a plot that was “90% ready for execution”. Continue reading... [...]
The acquittal of four men accused of gangrape by a fast-track court in Muzaffarnagar after the victim and key witnesses, including her husband and mother-in-law, turned hostile, raises disturbing questions about the commitment of the state to ensure justice to victims of communal violence. The husband of the victim has revealed why they chose to retract their previous testimony, made before a magistrate. People on behalf of the accused, he said, threatened physical harm if they pursued the case. The threats started seven months after the FIR was filed and the police, he alleged, ignored the family’s plea for protection and action. When this newspaper contacted him, the SSP of Muzaffarnagar was not even aware of the outcome days after the court gave its verdict. This is the second rape case connected to the 2013 rioting that has resulted in acquittal.
Watch Video: Complainant Named 4 Men Under “Police Pressure” in Muzaffarnagar Riots Case
The apparent callousness of the administration towards the riot victims is particularly glaring in this instance. The Muzaffarnagar riots had attracted national attention as the first major outbreak of communal violence after the 2002 Gujarat riots.
They pierced the nation’s complacency. Moreover, Muzaffarnagar is virtually in Delhi’s backyard and the violence took place in the run-up to the general election. It was expected that investigations and the judicial process would make up for the administration’s failure in preventing the riots; that the state would redeem itself by upholding due process and punishing the guilty with agility. But the administration appears to be failing the test. There has been some evidence of the involvement of influential local persons in the violence. With the political stakes high, they were likely to influence the course of investigation and subvert the judicial process. By all accounts, however, the police has refused to insulate the victims and witnesses from coercion and threats from the accused. And there has been inordinate delay in the legal process despite a fast-track court hearing the case.
The Muzaffarnagar cases seem to be following a pattern visible in past incidents of communal violence — Gujarat 2002, Bhagalpur 1989, Hashimpura 1987, Delhi 1984 and so on. The administration stands accused of collaborating with the accused to deny justice to victims. The extended legal process and the absence of convictions foster cynicism about the fairness and capability of the state to administer justice and embolden perpetrators and plotters of violence to exploit communal faultlines and polarise society for electoral gain. [...]
Apart from wiping away enormous amounts of wealth, the stock market collapse across the world on Thursday signified that gloomier days may yet follow on the economic growth front. Benchmark indices in Britain, Germany and France have shed 3 to 4 per cent of their value. Even India, seen as a beacon of stability, witnessed a bloodbath. The BSE Sensex fell over 800 points (down 3.4 per cent) while the broader NSE Nifty slipped 240 points (down 3.3 per cent). Both the domestic indices are now trading at a level seen before the Narendra Modi government took over in May 2014. Incidentally, it was almost exactly a year ago, in late January 2015, that the Sensex closed at an all-time high. The current slide is broad-based, with all sectoral indices, such as BSE Realty and BSE Utilities, closing in the negative. Beyond the immediate impact, a significant consequence of this carnage in the markets is the derailing of the government’s disinvestment strategy.
It would be convenient to blame global cues but domestic factors have had a large role to play in the current decline. The growing stress in the banking sector is a case in point. The State Bank of India, the country’s largest bank, disappointed markets when it reported a 62 per cent fall in profits for the December quarter. Much like the rest of the banks, the fall was on account of the provisioning required for increased levels of NPAs. While stock market performance is not a comprehensive measure of an economy’s fundamental strength, market movements do act as a bellwether for the prevailing sentiment. For instance, apart from the foreign institutional investors who have already pulled out significantly from the Indian markets, even domestic investors’ interest has fallen sharply over the last two months.
In other words, buyers are leaving the market. This cannot be good news for India’s annual disinvestment target, which has been missed far more often since the process started in the early 1990s. Even in the current year, the disinvestment proceeds are just about one-fifth of the targeted amount. Failure to raise funds from disinvestment matters all the more this year since the government is likely to miss its fiscal deficit target, not just for the current year but also for the next. And with nominal growth rates falling to a 13-year low, the prospects of revenue collections are also tepid. What should the government do? Ideally, it should take this opportunity to step back and come out with a blueprint of public investment. The volatility of the past year has shown that it is difficult to time the market. The wiser option is to think long-term. [...]
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Move by India’s popular tourist state could lead to mass culling of the country’s national birdIndia’s popular tourist state of Goa has ruffled feathers with its proposal to reclassify its national bird, the peacock, as vermin, reports said. The move, which is aimed at making the bird easier to cull, comes just weeks after Goa’s legislative assembly caused similar consternation when it ruled that the resort state’s beloved coconut trees were not in fact trees, but palms. Related: Indian state decides coconut trees are no longer trees but palms Continue reading... [...]
In a move away from hallowed tradition, the finance ministry is soliciting public opinion on Twitter about the focus of the impending budget. A good idea, but it may need to work on the questions. The ministry wants to know, for instance, whom to play Santa Claus for — farmers, the middle class, women or the underprivileged? All of the above, obviously. Which sector should the budget favour — agriculture, industry or services? Again, obviously, all of the above. The really creative question would be, how should the ministry address a middle-class woman farmer who has pulled herself up by the bootstraps from an underprivileged background and now, fearing land alienation, seeks work in industry?
The preparation of the Union budget has always been a ritualistically secret affair, symbolised by the decisively closed briefcase that the finance minister brings, held close to his chest, to a House waiting with bated breath. It could be argued that it must be so. Transparency in the preparation of the budget would invite market volatility. So would a Twitter poll, which would also be skewed by its disconnect from the underprivileged majority. Trends would be visible to the world, which would try to second-guess the ministry. That’s human nature, whose market implications are unpredictable.
Embracing new technologies looks progressive by default, but the results can often be fraught. In 2009, Germany was rocked by Twittergate when the re-election of Horst Köhler as president was tweeted by two politicians 15 minutes ahead of the official declaration. In 2013, Azerbaijan’s presidential election was called in favour of the authoritarian incumbent by a government app before polling had even started. Such bizarre outcomes are not anticipated from the Indian finance ministry’s passion for electronics. But let’s watch this space. [...]
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Big cat wanders into grounds of school in Bangalore before being shot with tranquilliser dartFive people have been injured during an attempt to capture a leopard that wandered into a school in southern India, a wildlife official has said.Photos of the incident in Bangalore show the animal prowling around the closed school and trying to maul forestry officials as well as a wildlife activist and others who came too close. Continue reading... [...]
A look at the front page of The Indian Express, published on February 12, 1976, Forty Years Ago.
The Union government would come out with its proposals on constitutional reforms during the extended term of the Lok Sabha, said Union Law Minister H.R. Gokhale. The minister said the government wanted a wide-ranging debate on constitutional changes and added that “up to a point this debate has already begun”. The government would have before it various suggestions on constitutional amendments in two months. A committee of the Congress parliamentary party was examining what changes should be made. Gokhale mentioned the government’s resolve to keep the basic framework of parliamentary democracy intact.
The deputy commissioner of Amritsar issued an order prohibiting band masters from playing tunes that arouse people to take to bhangra dance. The order also prohibits holding of bhangra dances in public places. The order said bhangra dances cause annoyance to the “peaceful citizens and humiliation to the family of the bride” and is likely to cause disturbances and create a law and order problem. The order was to be in force for two months.
The Janata Front government in Gujarat lost its majority after Chimanbhai Patel, a former chief minister, dissolved the Kisan Mazdoor Lok Paksha (KMLP), the state party he floated in June 1974. The unconditional support to the government was automatically withdrawn with the dissolution. The 12 KMLP MLAs and eight independents had supported the 86-member Front government in Gujarat. Of the 179 members in Gujarat assembly, 73 belong to the Congress.
A BBC report said disturbances had broken out in Balochistan in protest against the imposition of central rule in the province. A bomb blast in a train in Quetta that killed four people was an indication of the unrest. [...]
My aunt cut my genitals when I was seven years old. The culture of silence surrounding this FGM/C means laws alone won’t stop itI was sitting in an anthropology seminar at the University of Texas cramming for a final, only half-listening to a fellow classmate describe her research project. “Female genital mutilation is the partial or total cutting of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons,” she mechanically described. “The procedure typically take places when the girl is seven years old. The process is usually carried out by an older female relative. And once the ritual takes place, it is almost never discussed.” As she spoke, goosebumps began to form and I sat paralysed in my seat. Memories I had suppressed since childhood came flooding to the foreground.I was seven years old. My parents had sent my brother and me to visit family in India for two months. On a humid mid-summer afternoon, my dad’s sister decided to throw a party for my brother, celebrating his completion of the Qur’an. At the party, she pulled me aside, wielding a jumbo-sized Toblerone. She said that if I stayed on my best behaviour, I wouldn’t have to share it with anyone, including my brother. I was overjoyed. Related: I witnessed FGM. That’s why I know we need to talk about it | Domtila Chesang Related: I'm an American who was subjected to FGM. It is time to end this violence | Jaha Dukureh Continue reading... [...]
Siachen soldier Lance Naik Hanamanthapp, passed away at the Delhi’s Research and Referral hospital
Lance Naik Hanamanthappa is no more — but he has become a symbol of something bigger and left behind a spirit that needs to be nurtured.
Symbolism means to imbue objects with a certain meaning that is different from their original meaning or function. A ring on the ring finger symbolises commitment, while a piece of metal shaped into a three-point star and mounted on the bonnet of a car symbolises a universal acceptance of a motor car of top quality from Germany. The Americans pulled off quite a show on April 17, 2012, when they flew the last Space Shuttle Discovery, perched on its Boeing 747 carrier, in the skies over Washington before retiring it to a museum. Washingtonians poured out of their offices and homes. “There were costumes, there were cheers and, of course, there were tears,” wrote The Washington Post. This was well-thought-out symbolism — a tug at nationalistic chords, so important for nation-building.
Hanamanthappa gave India an occasion to cheer, to marvel, to rally around the tricolour and now to grieve together as one. The question is, will we grab the opportunity or carry on with our petty quibbles?
Hanamanthappa was an icon in our midst who literally rose from the dead while, to paraphrase Lord Tennyson, there was ice to the left of him, ice to the right of him, ice on top of him — a full 35-feet high at minus 45 degrees Celsius — and yet he braved it all. His corps commander could only whisper “jolly good” and wipe his moist eyes when news of his recovery was broken to him; his wife could only smile. #SiachenMiracle started trending on social media and the whole nation said a silent prayer for his recovery. A young Atal Bihari Vajpayee had called Indira Gandhi “Durga” after the 1971 war victory. Kargil was the next time that political bickering was set aside and all politicians came together as one. Does the politics of our nation require another war to put all energies together for the betterment of India? Can there be a Hanamanthappa effect?
Hanamanthappa represents valour; he stood for willpower, grit, determination, fortitude and resilience — all that a rising India needs. India requires cohesiveness that is born out of commonly shared values that the Indian army is a shining example of, not the centrifugal and fissiparous pulls of divisive caste politics. It needs a beacon that beckons the faithful in their march to the promised prosperity by leadership of all hues. While the general public is in a rat race to get hold of scarce opportunities, it’s the Hanamanthappas who slog along silently on the fringes of society, oblivious to the majority. There comes a time, but rarely, when a Hanamanthappa happens and enters the collective psyche of a multitude to effect a disruptive change in society and its behaviour. The world saw that in the young Syrian boy lying face down, dead on a beach in the Turkish resort town of Bodrum. That photograph of him moved Europe, and indeed the world, to look at the refugee crisis differently. Aylan, the Syrian toddler, became an iconic catalyst for change in how the international community viewed itself.
A few decades earlier, during the Cold War, in 1980, the US ice hockey team, composed mainly of college students, defeated the world champions, the USSR, in the semi-final of the winter Olympics. The “miracle on ice” meant an ideological victory for the US against the USSR at a time when national morale was low due to recession and America’s humbling on the world stage due to the Iran hostage crisis. The US needed something to celebrate — the ice hockey team’s victory provided just that and galvanised the American nation.
Lance Naik Hanamanthappa’s epic survival was a “miracle under ice”. His fight can become India’s catalyst for galvanising society to shrug its lethargy and move with fortitude towards our promised future. Is India ready to seize this opportunity? The political leadership of the country has a call to make. It can use the “Hanamanthappa track” to bring India together in its march to prosperity. This would be a fitting tribute to his indomitable spirit.
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