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Issue 10

New Beginning for Humanity or Anarchy?- A look into Space Laws

On the occasion of SpaceX’s Texas facility launch in 2019, CEO Elon Musk described how life on Mars would be and spoke of Mars’ city sustenance and the idea of democracy in International space —-all of which was seen as a precursor to Musk’s plan for Martian residence. While Elon Musk at the time described SpaceX’s Mars plan as part of a mission to democratise Mars, create self-sustaining cities on the planet and carry “maybe around 100k people per Earth-Mars orbital sync,” which he mentioned in his tweet. Following these claims Musk also spoke about governance on Mars and the way social structures would function on the red planet. Claiming to land humans on Mars by 2024-26, Elon Musk’s proposed Martian idea stands in conflict with the United Nations’ Outer Space Treaty signed in 1967. While the signatories of the Treaty include the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States, a closer look at the clauses makes one question whether Musk’s dream could actually turn into reality. A look at the treaty makes one question, whether a private company and its employees along with billionaires seeking to pay for Martian travel and accommodation, actually set up and sustain a city with its own government on the planet, as Musk claimed on Twitter and his speech. The Treaty states that “ the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind”, and Musk’s proposed idea for the planet does not yet describe how potential Martians will be selected. Will these be billionaires paying their way to the “fixer-upper of a planet” as Musk calls it, or will they people randomly selected on a lottery?

Further, how the society and governance have to be structured on Mars seems to be out of the hand of the technocrat billionaire, despite his plans and claims for the planet. One of the clauses of the Treaty states that “outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means”, which stands in contradiction to Musk’s plans wherein he claims sovereignty over the red planet and its resources. Another idea that seems to be a conundrum with regards to space travel, SpaceX’s plans as well as Musk’s aspirations is the Treaty’s explicit mention of state entities, state laws and international laws holding true even in outer space. 

An analysis of Musk’s space plans and the UN’s Space Treaty makes one question the future of Martian colonisation, the government therein and the role of private companies like SpaceX in the process. The analysis seeks to question if Musk will rule over Mars by virtue of his expedition, if the Treaty, signed in 1967 will be altered for future space travel and residence, and if governments will have to bow in front of technocrats for the future of mankind. Musk’s plans also make one question how the Earth’s future would be as a planet, who will reside on it and whether Earth would become a waste-dump for Martians if that is to be ‘fixer-upper of a planet’. 

Another significant space travel and residence news was released soon after Musk’s tweets and interviews went viral, this was the announcement of the first space hotel, expected to open in 2027. Orbital Assembly Corporation (OAC) recently revealed their detailed plan for Voyager Station, a luxury space station cum hotel that is expected to accommodate over 400 guests. This plan too is one that will determine the future of space travel and inter-governmental as well as private company relations. With a room for the Voyager Station costing approximately $25 million, unlike SpaceX, the OAC makes clear who will have access to space travel and how it will affect the world. 

While both of these projects are still in the making, with predictive claims for the future, the presence of these ideas makes one question how society would be structured in the future. These projects also leave room to think about climate change, the future of the earth and who will be offered an alternative planet if this one fails. Furthermore, who will have control over space and will limited laws, signed in 1967 sustain the future of space travel?

Saman Fatima is a third-year History Major at Ashoka University, who is often found sketching or reading for leisure when not immersing herself in mandatory class assignments.

Picture Credits: NASA SpaceFlight.com

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 10

Power, Violence and The State: Can one exist without the other?

Maintaining a power structure has historically always involved some level of violence. The British once ruled the largest empire in the world, and violently suppressed revolts and uprisings that took place in their colonies. In North America, as the Atlantic slave trade flourished, men and women who had been free citizens in Africa often rebelled against their masters. These rebellions were also met with violence and death. Today though empires have broken up into nation states and slavery has been abolished, violence is still an important tool in the arsenal of any authority.  

According to the World Health Organization, violence is the “intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”  The role and importance of violence in the political order is a long-debated subject. Some, such as Hobbes and Machiavelli, gave violence a prominent role in human affairs. More recently Foucault and Arendt argued against the idea that violence was at the essence of human nature. Realistically, nation states today still center the political order around threatened or actual violence, in keeping with Weber’s definition of the state as that which has a monopoly over legitimate violence 

The police and the army as well as any other defense forces of a country enjoy a great deal of power. Ostensibly, they are meant to protect the people of that country from external and/or internal threats. By and large, it is widely accepted that nation states need some sort of protective body with the power to use force, both at the local and national level, and that this protective body ultimately benefits the citizens. It is when the use of force becomes excessive and unjustified that the role of these bodies begins to be questioned. What leads authority figures to abuse their power? What constitutes an abuse of power, especially in places where violence is institutionalized? 

If you thought you were in danger, or you needed help, would you call the police? If you answered no, you would be in the majority in India. A survey conducted in 2018 found that only a quarter of Indians trust the police. India has a long and troubled history of police misconduct, and many police practices date back to the days of colonial rule. The Police Act of 1861 allowed police to maintain law and order through the use of brutal violence. It was a way for the foreign rulers of the time to assert their power. Though India is now ruled by a democratically elected government, police brutality continues.

In June 2020, two men were arrested in Tamil Nadu for violating Covid-19 lockdown rules and tortured in custody. They both died a few days later. The incident sparked outrage and led to protests against police brutality, with many likening the incident to the death of George Floyd in the United States. While the episode was deeply disturbing, suspects dying in police custody is by no means a recent phenomenon.  According to the National Human Rights Commission, 194 people died in police custody in 2019. It is rare for police in India to be tried and convicted for these deaths, or even questioned. According to the Bureau of Police Research and Development, a body under the Ministry of Home Affairs, no police officers have been convicted of a crime since 2011, while there have been almost 900 deaths in police custody during the same period.

 The Indian army, controlled by the central government, has also been accused of undue violence. In 2016, a plea was filed by two NGOs in Manipur, stating that there had been apathy on the part of the central and state governments in investigating the deaths of 1528 people who died at the hands of the Indian army and Manipur police. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has been in force in several parts of  North East India since 1958. It was enforced in Manipur in 1980. Under this act, security forces cannot be prosecuted for any action undertaken or said to be undertaken under the powers of the Act, while in service in conflict regions, unless the prosecution is sanctioned by the central government. This exemption from punishment for actions, even those involving lethal force, can create a culture of impunity in areas where the Act is in force. In the 2012 PIL case, the government argued in the Supreme Court that a lack of immunity from prosecution would have a demoralizing effect on the armed forces. Violence is used to reify the state’s sovereignty and allows it to assert its dominance. 

Cases of excessive violence, where victims are tortured or killed in especially brutal and violent ways, are what necessitate an investigation into the relationship between power and violence. Thangjam Manorama was killed by the 17th Assam Rifles (a unit of the Indian army) in 2004. A report that was made public a decade after her death describes how she was tortured on her front porch and had 16 bullet wounds on her body when she was found. The original argument for AFSPA, which was meant to be a temporary act, was that state forces needed sweeping powers to deal with terrorism in disturbed areas. While this argument can justify shoot-on-sight orders or arrests without warrants, it does not explain torture and extremely brutal killings. Explanations of this abuse of power must delve into the human psyche, cultures of impunity, and power structures in the modern nation state. 

Rujuta Singh is a student of Political Science, International Relations and Media Studies at Ashoka University. Some of her other interests are music, fashion and writing.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 10

Politics of Postering – What the Walls Say in Tamil Nadu

In this country, street art and public political messaging are a common phenomenon. The ubiquitous student union announcements, boldly written on walls; the company advertisements along railway lines; or even protest art that temporarily flares up, to be wiped out alongside the protest  – everywhere we turn our walls display something. In Tamil Nadu, cinema posters and political parties have taken over the walls. The parties, big and small, national, regional, local, they all publicise their presence and their leadership with messaging on walls. Today, there are only traces, removed for the most part in preparation for the elections. But they are a part of the state’s culture – colourful, bold, and anywhere the eye turns. What is most interesting about this practice is that no one party holds a monopoly over this perennial campaign – if it is a campaign at all. This article is only the beginning of the exploration into this world. 

From larger-than-life banners, to small party symbols painted on walls along roads, these political references are a part of the states’ everyday life. It’s impossible to go anywhere without noticing a political symbol, a word of glowing praise emblazoned onto a wall, or the smiling face of a political leader. Most pass these reflections of the state’s diverse political milieu without much thought. Yet wherever you turn, you’re sure to see them. 

Something very striking on some walls is the appearance of two arrows almost bracketing the initials of a political party, with the addition of a year and the word ‘reserved’. This year marks the next election, and every party stakes a claim to a certain area, to a set of walls preceding this election. This wall, once marked off, is the hold of a single party until the next elections with a selection of posters stuck there. On the other hand, a large patch of wall could be white-washed and on it, in the colours of the party are painted the title or name of a particular local political figure. This is often followed by the names of this leader’s closest followers in the region. It should also be noted reservation of space is a fluid process, and not a necessary first step. However, the prominence and number of posters and painted slogans depends on the parties’ prominence in the local region. 

Of the various methods used to display their existence in an area, I would divide these into ‘poster-culture’, ‘paint-culture’ and ‘banner-culture’. 

Poster culture allows for greater political freedom in the individual it features, though the person it highlights (let’s call them the protagonist) is more often than not one of the more prominent faces in the party – a legislature member or a party leader. At the same time, these posters allow one to trace the political legitimacy of the person featured – smaller faces that appear towards the top of the poster, usually deceased leaders. Sometimes, with younger or less prominent functionaries in order to demonstrate their rising fortunes, they are placed immediately below the party leader, as the protagonist. There may also be groups of people in the poster, with the size and space left around it displaying the individuals’ importance – this is usually in cases of a party putting out good wishes. The text of the poster reveals the allegiance as well as what the protagonist’s titles in the party are. It is interesting to see what the posters say as well, the many titles it ascribes to the political representative or party leader – a continuation perhaps, of the culture of courts and temple proclamations of kings. 

Paint culture on the other hand is for a more local audience. Hired painters first pencil out their letters and accompanying symbols, before painting them in. Every leader is addressed by a different title, which is the focus of these messages. Horizontally aligned, as opposed to portrait alignment posters, and brightly displayed in party colours, these are meant to popularize the leader rather than provide a message. These magnify the title and subsume all other details, so that one is focused on the title of the one being praised, accompanied sometimes by party symbols.

As for banner culture, these banners are temporary. Legally they have been banned, but they do appear on occasion when the chief minister or another individual designated a ‘vip’. This is dependent, unlike posters and paint, on the party in power.  Median banners that sit in the middle of a road, or cut-outs that loom large over it. These are for special occasions, to demonstrate loyalty by the affiliated party members of the region. Special posters may often be used as well, alongside, or instead of banners in places. 

For poster and paint culture, while the party in power in a particular area may have a proliferation of their art, other parties with local representation may choose to represent themselves nearby as well. It is not out of place to see the blue elephant of the BSP, an Uttar Pradesh party, opposite the ruling party, the ADMK’s local MLA’s name painted on the wall. It is most interesting to note however, that the national party, the BJP, focuses its efforts on drawing lotuses on walls, with the most minimal of textual messaging. On the occasion of the visit of the Prime Minister or other higher party dignitaries, there are posters that may appear, sponsored by local groups. But these disappear within days. 

 The DMK’s ‘rising sun’ symbol, with an individual’s initials on the top left of both signs, which interestingly appeals to voters in English 

These are all always in the local, dominant language: Tamil. English words that are used are written in the Tamil script. However, over the last few years some English has appeared here and there. 

 In essence the posters and banners are celebratory and public. The art is in praise of an individual. While a fleeting glance will just reveal the name of a political leader, looking closer at this poster culture can reveal a lot about the local politics, embedded into these messages. This article has touched the surface. While the politics of the state is a study in itself, these posters are in a way a unifying political action – every party with a presence has their own way of expressing themselves in wall art or posters, and the way they chose to do it gives us a chance to examine party politics in a nutshell.

Nandan Sankriti Kaushik is a second-year History student at Ashoka University. 

All images have been taken by the author. 

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Issue 10

The Road to Mars – A Tale of Betraying and Befriending Physics

Let us embark on a journey to witness the past, present and future of Mars exploration, some unsolvable problems and their ingenious workarounds. Though I will not argue with philosophical rigour about a future that is wildly uncertain, I hope to motivate a well-informed instinct about a certain claim i.e. humans shall walk on Mars in the next decade. Understanding why this claim should be taken with a grain of salt at all requires us to acquaint ourselves with the challenges that humanity is up against in a journey to our planetary backyard. 

To reach Mars, we (obviously) need to leave Earth and get to space. On Earth, to move forward, vehicles on land push against the ground, in sea against water and in air against the atmosphere. This is a manifestation of Newton’s famous law – ‘Every Action has an equal and opposite reaction’. But in the vacuum of space, can one propel forward without pushing against anything? This problem was the reason why space travel was considered impossible in the scientific community until a Soviet school teacher, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, presented an ingenious workaround. He suggested that in vacuum a body can accelerate in one direction by throwing away a part of itself in the other. Rocket engines, throw parts of the rocket bit-by-bit and the part that is thrown away is – no surprise – the fuel. 

Though Tsiolkovsky’s solution made space travel possible, he left us with an important constraint in the form of the ‘Rocket Equation’. To travel farther in space, rockets need extra fuel. Carrying additional fuel, then, increases the weight of the rocket and moving heavier rockets requires even more fuel. But the additional fuel has its own weight and so on. This is the Tyranny of the Rocket Equation. Even in our best rockets, only the top of the pointy end is the stuff that carries real scientific value (often called the ‘payload’). The rest is simply a technologically advanced fuel container. 

Now, let us start moving towards Mars. One might think this is not too difficult because we can simply locate Mars and burn our engines in that direction. However, science in space does not like straight lines; we move in curves. Since the rocket is launched from Earth and Earth moves around the Sun in an ellipse, the rocket gets slingshot tangentially into space by our lovely planet. To move towards Mars in a straight line, we would need to burn one engine in the direction of Mars and another one to counteract the tangential velocity that Earth imparts on our rocket. Here is the catch – Earth moves really fast. The tangential velocity is so massive, it is impractical to counteract it with our puny engines and little fuel. 

Hohmann transfer orbit is the clever workaround we use now. Instead of continuously burning engines to move straight, Hohmann transfers utilize useful school-geometry to form an elliptical path such that we only need to burn our engines twice; first, to escape Earth’s orbit and the second time, near Mars, to match the Martian orbit. 

Even though our elegant elliptic routes are the most fuel-efficient way to reach Mars, they are far from quick. A one-way trip to Mars, using the Hohmann transfer takes about 6 months and the mission must start from Earth in a specific launch window that only occurs every 2.2 years (the three Mars missions by America, China and UAE all launching in the same week last year is not just a coincidence but a physics constraint). Long-duration space travel is not much of a problem for machines but evolution has fined-tuned humans towards Earthly comforts.

Fortunately, we have a great laboratory to understand space physiology – the International Space Station (ISS). Some astronauts in the ISS have spent an entire year floating around weightless. Muscle atrophy is the most obvious effect of microgravity on the human body, which is why astronauts must workout in space using special equipment. Even more nuanced problems are observed when it comes to visual perception, blood pressure, balance, bone density and more. There is an enormous amount of research being done in this recently developed field of science and the time spent by humans in ISS keeps yielding valuable insights. It is safe to say that we know how a year-long trip to Mars (for the most part) without gravity would impact our astronauts. 

We assume that the Martian trip would be a round one. Carrying enough fuel to make the to-and-fro mars journey is an unprecedented feat. This is where the tyranny of the rocket equation kicks in again because the fuel for the return trip becomes the payload of the first trip. Building a rocket capable of transporting this enormous amount of fuel presents hundreds of annoying engineering problems. A promising solution is to only carry enough fuel for a one-way trip and, once on Mars, refuel the rocket with what we can salvage. SpaceX, for their shiny new rocket named Starship, has successfully developed sophisticated engines that they call Raptors. They work on methane and oxygen, which SpaceX wishes to extract from the Martian atmosphere using the electricity that they generate on Mars with their solar panels.  Since Mars is further away from the sun, pioneering efficient solar energy is also one of the many research avenues that, though part of Martian exploration, can have a direct impact on improving life on Earth. 

We have looked at some theoretical and engineering problems that we know how to solve. There is one giant complication in human space travel and the solution to it, I believe, would be the defining call on whether or not humans make it to Mars in this decade. This is the problem of space radiation. At all times, there is lethal radiation being showered on us from all sides. Fortunately, Earth has a magnetic field generated by its molten metal core that wraps it like a cocoon. This Magnetosphere protects the inhabitants from lethal space radiation.  Astronauts who have stayed in space for a year have only been in the low-Earth orbit, a region that falls under the protection of Earth’s Magnetosphere. It is notoriously difficult to shield against this radiation and having thicker walls in our spacecraft has proven to be an ineffective strategy. There are proposals to develop active radiation shielding techniques involving clever use of plasma or generating the spacecraft’s own magnetic field to mimic that of the Earth. 

Space Radiation Shielding is the one problem where confidence in my claim dwindles. There are still reasons to be hopeful. We started the 20th century not knowing how to fly. In the next fifty years, we sent a man to space and in another decade, to the moon. The hundreds of other difficult problems that stood in our way to Mars are nearing completion and this has got the ball rolling in several research departments to revisit the radiation problem as one that would have immediate real-world impacts. Plans to go to the moon in the near future (see NASA’s Artemis Project) for longer missions would help us understand the effects of Space Radiation on human physiology and better equip ourselves for the long journey to Mars. 

To millions like me, it remains an incredible source of optimism to know that the first human who would walk on Mars is, arguably, studying in some school right now; a hopeful reminder of the fascinating days that we will witness in our lifetime and a humbling inspiration for the work that is yet to be done, in space and on Earth.

Kartik Tiwari is a student of Physics and Philosophy at Ashoka University, with a specialised interest in Astrodynamics and Science Communication. 

Picture Credits: Starship on Mars by Dale Rutherford

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Issue 7

Creators, Creativity and Instagram: Are We Losing Ourselves to Social Media?

If you’re an active Instagram or Twitter user and under the age of forty, there’s a high chance you’ve thought about your personal “brand”. What image of yourself are you putting out there? How accurate, and more importantly, how popular, is that image? You might have even considered how with just a little work and some luck, you could be the next big thing.  

In 2018, Instagram introduced the Creator Account. While previously users could choose between personal and business accounts, the launch of creator accounts showed that Instagram recognized influencers as their own category, and an important category at that. These accounts weren’t restricted to established influencers- anyone could switch from a personal to a professional account, no high follower count or blue checkmark necessary. Instagram now has over 900 million users and a large influencer presence. The global influencer market is growing fast, going from 0.8 billion USD in 2017 to 2.3 billion USD in 2020. Naturally, anyone would want to tap into that market, especially since being an influencer seems to consist largely of recording yourself doing various enjoyable things.

 According to Instagram, the Creator Account helps you control your online presence, understand your growth and manage your messages. The ‘growth insights’ also show you how often a post is saved or shared, and map the changes in your follower count to your content. Over time you can collect a highly accurate understanding of what your audience likes, and what you should do more of. This makes sense for businesses whose aim is to attract customers and turn a profit, but what does it mean for so-called creators? The fact that likes, shares and follows are the only responses measured by Instagram insights tell us that any piece of content is only as valuable as the volume of audience engagement it produces. For full-time influencers, higher audience engagement leads directly to a higher income from sponsored posts. The internet boom and the level of connectivity in our lives have led to every waking hour being an hour where you could potentially be working, posting, and reaching an audience. Every waking hour can now return a profit. Add to this the fact that your entire career could revolve around your social media accounts, with no coordination or collaboration required, and the line between ‘work’ and ‘life’ starts to get very blurry indeed. 

Not everyone is looking to be an influencer, but passive consumers are just as addicted to their phones. In many ways, the addictive nature of social media is a feature, not a design flaw. Tristan Harris, an ex-design ethicist at Google, compared mobile phones to slot machines, since every time you pull the lever (in this case, check your phone) you stand to win exciting rewards- likes, followers or texts. He says this philosophy is embedded in many of the apps we use. The more content you create and the more engagement you receive, the higher the reward. Striving for influencer levels of fame is only a natural progression in the Instagram addiction cycle. 

 In his book After the Future, media activist Franco Berardi says that the idea that we should all be capitalists and risk-takers is what brought down labour movements of the eighties. He says, “The essential idea is that we should all consider life as an economic venture, as a race where there are winners and losers.” This idea seems just as popular, if not more popular today. Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram abound with inspirational content promising that if you just work hard enough you too could be a self-made billionaire, and those billions might be one post away. Social media now represents a lucrative career choice for children and young adults. A 2019 poll found that vlogger/YouTuber was the most popular career choice for children in the US and UK. 

Unlike the film, television and music industries, social media lets you create and post anything, at any time, from anywhere in the world, to a potentially infinite audience. This accessibility is part of what makes social media so tempting. The most popular media sharing platforms, like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and more recently, TikTok, are all free and available worldwide. This democratization of the media space is a good thing when it leads to the amplification of marginalized voices. But more often than not, social media rewards volume and quantity over meaningful exchange. In her book ‘How to do Nothing’, artist Jenny Odell talks about her experience of this phenomena in the aftermath of Trump’s election: “It is this financially incentivized proliferation of chatter, and the utter speed at which waves of hysteria now happen online, that has so deeply horrified me and offended my senses and cognition as a human who dwells in human, bodily time.” When the majority of our time is spent online, it becomes harder to feel connected to, and care about, the spaces we actually inhabit. Being constantly bombarded with news and information might make people aware of important issues that have long been ignored, but can also lead to burnout and exhaustion, which then negates their ability to do anything about those issues. 

In the past year as we were forced to stay inside, social media became so ubiquitous in our lives that it was difficult to separate the virtual from the real. However, it also allowed people to connect in a time of deep suffering and loneliness around the world. Social media has also changed the lives of millions of people around the world, be it through a fashion blog or a viral cover of a famous song on YouTube. Hearing these stories makes the idea of quitting social media even less appealing, because if it happened to them, then it could always happen to you. Is that chance worth the price we pay, sacrificing our time and attention? Only time will tell. 

Rujuta Singh is a student of political science, international relations and media studies at Ashoka University. Some of her other interests are fashion, music and writing. 

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Issue 7

Bridgerton: A Regency Tale of Surveillance and Information Control

In February 2021, the Netflix show, Bridgerton, (based on the books by Julia Quinn) became the most streamed show on their platform after being viewed by 83 million households. But while we were busy fawning over the lavish balls and romantic storylines, did we happen to overlook a critical theme about the nexus of the media and mass surveillance? What is this nexus, what are its implications, and how has Republic TV emerged as India’s very own Lady Whistledown?

Bridgerton revolves around the lives of the influential families in 1813, Regency London. The show is rife with scandals and secrecy, all promised to be revealed by Lady Whistledown, the anonymous author of the town’s latest gossip column or scandal sheet.

The show begins by Lady Whistledown declaring that she knows everyone who is reading her paper, a way of subtly signalling that they are all being closely observed. She derives her information from a combination of surveillance or observation and leaked information through various networks (for example, gossiping maids who hear everything about the lives of their employers). 

As Whistledown starts revealing secrets and exposing the scandals of the high-society families, it becomes evident that through her society papers she can not only influence and manipulate the public opinion but also bring dishonour to certain families and impact the existing social hierarchies. 

Soon people start factoring in her presence in their social behaviour. Knowing that she’s lurking around, waiting to expose their secrets, the people of the town start to self-censor themselves. This is a common behavioural phenomenon which occurs when people know that they are under surveillance, and it serves as an excellent tool to exercise control over a population. In London during the 1800s, there existed a myriad of social rules and norms that were imposed on the people by society. For example, if a woman were to be seen alone with a man, then it would be assumed that her honour had been compromised. The society also frowned upon the free expression of one’s sexuality and enforced very strict gender roles. Any divergence from such norms would have potentially led to a scandal. 

Whistledown’s society papers display how if one person had a combined monopoly over surveillance and the media then they could significantly shape the society and make it conform to certain standards that they deemed fit. This kind of control could also be harnessed and exploited by those in power for their personal gains.

What’s even more alarming is that Whistledown’s readers accept whatever she writes with the utmost trust. Her word is seen to be “as good as gospel”. This is because news about influential people or celebrities automatically becomes sensational and thus even a small, probably fake rumour can also spread rapidly, with little attention paid to the credibility of the source. Unfortunately, this practice of ‘sensationalizing’ the news has found its way into the world of TV Journalism as well, an area where credibility should ideally matter the most. 

This is because as people’s attention spans decrease, they feel the need to be constantly entertained. Thus, news channels have begun to employ various theatrical elements to supplement their reports. This is because unlike Lady Whistledown, news channels are faced with immense competition and they must resort to these theatrics in order to increase their TRPs. 

A survey conducted in 2020 by CVoter with a sample size of 4500 people across the country found that 73.9 per cent of the people surveyed feel that news channels in India “are more of entertainment than real news”. And 76.7 per cent said that TV News channels and TV serials both “sensationalise and scandalise everything”. This only goes to show that the credibility of TV journalism has declined. Now that they are functioning primarily for entertainment, these channels aren’t that different from Lady Whistledown’s society papers, as they are both used for societal control. 

Consider the Republic TV. After observing 1779 prime-time debates the Caravan found that Republic TV was consistently biased towards the Modi government, it’s policies and ideology. In addition to this, the channel is also said to have focused less on pressing issues such as the state of the economy, education or health and more on drawing attention away from these issues. Their analysis also revealed that the channel has consistently attacked those to oppose the ruling government. 

Caravan’s analysis also revealed that Republic TV has consistently attacked those to oppose the ruling government. News channels have the power to shape public opinion and it’s obvious that this space can be exploited to put forward certain political agendas.

In addition to this, the government of India has amped up its mass surveillance on its citizens in recent years. And has specially cracked-down on various social media platforms. By surveying our social media activity, the government has been able to silence countless journalists, artists, etc. In addition to this, the Uttarakhand police recently declared that the police can now deny a citizen the clearance required for obtaining a passport if they post ‘anti-national’ posts on social media. By creating such laws and going after individuals who question the current regime, the government has set the precedent for what counts as acceptable behaviour on these online platforms. All this stands to be the government’s not-so-subtle cue for the public to begin self-censoring themselves on social media. 

But so far this has not worked. Protests and political dissent transitioned to social media platforms in the wake of the lockdown. And now these virtual spaces have evolved to be conducive to political dissent. And as for Lady Whistledown, she may be in control of the society at the moment, but any day now, the people of the town could discover better things (provided by unbiased and more credible information sources) to dwell on and her scandal sheets will become irrelevant.

Ashana Mathur is a student of Economics, International Relations and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

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