Issue 11

The World ‘Wild’ Web and Why It Is No Place for A Woman With An Opinion

The 2019 election of the five women ministers in Finland set a historic feat for equality in political leadership. However, a recent report found that these women were facing coordinated online “misogynistic abuse attacking their values demeaning their decision-making skills, and questioning their leadership abilities.”

This is not the first case of the deep-rooted trend of violence and hate against women spilling over into online spaces. Women who use social media as a part of their jobs, such as politicians, journalists, activists, academics, celebrities and artists, routinely face harassment for openly expressing their views online. The pandemic further pushed these professions online, and “online trolling and misogyny” consequently increased

Closer to home, journalist and author Rana Ayyub is frequently on the receiving end of online death and rape threats for her critique of the ruling government. The abuse reached its peak when UN Human Rights experts called on her to be protected in light of an online hate campaign. To what extent is online harassment, in its volume and content, different for women than for men? What are the impacts of it on women, their work and freedom of expression?  

How is Online Harassment Different for Women? 

A study, using two population surveys in Norway, found that men are in fact “more likely than women to have experienced both unpleasant or patronizing and hateful comments”. However, this claim can be challenged as more men can openly express their opinions online while women may actively refrain from doing so. It is likely that targeted women become more cautious than targeted men in expressing their opinions publicly upon receiving hate, due to the nature of the threats. Looking at India, only 29% of internet users are women and only 28% own a mobile, highlighting a gendered technological divide, thereby not providing women with the same starting point.

The above study also found that men reported receiving more hate based on their arguments or political views whereas more women pointed to receiving hate directed towards their gender. It’s common for this hate to devolve into sexual and violent threats alongside unsolicited sexual messages and images. It was also found that this gendered harassment is more likely to silence its recipient than attacks on the contents of their argument. In fact, there is a compound effect wherein women may choose not to share their opinions online after seeing the kind of harassment that other women face. 

When Online Threats Go Offline

This demeaning treatment transcends social media and turns into offline threats. While research shows that both men and women face doxxing—it’s been found that women, and especially those from minority groups, are more likely to have their private information circulated online. For example, journalist Neha Dixit had her number and address leaked online, witnessing repeated instances of stalking and intimidation. Online threats are not “harmless” as they have turned into physical violence, as with Patricia Smith, editor of the Shillong Times, when her house was attacked with a petrol bomb in 2018. 

What Is the Message Behind the Hate?

What does this online violence, turning into offline incidences, represent? The targeted backlash against a woman expressing her opinion has been defined as the adverse consequence against challenges to the status quo to help protect existing gender inequity. In places where it’s not the norm for women to freely express their opinion, the same is reflected on social media where it’s easier to silence them behind anonymity and the ability to call on hordes of ‘trolls’ to harass someone. 

Group-based harassment doesn’t only target the individual, but their background, identity, religion or community. For example, Ayubb recalls insults with “almost everything that has my religion and religious identity linked to it”. The aim of this form of online abuse is to remind groups that they do not “belong”. Online harassment that is gendered is an instance of this, while adding more layers of identity-based attacks would only fuel the silencing of minority women. 

Disregarding Female Voices and Threats to Journalism

This can have profound impacts on not only the well-being of women but on their career and freedom of expression as well. As seen in most of these examples, women journalists, in particular, are subject to more online and offline threats. The significant personal costs of the mental duress and lack of personal security can deter them from effectively doing their jobs. It may also discourage their social media presence, which is a platform for them to gauge reader feedback and build a strong footprint that can be leveraged in their career. 

Dixit stated that once her #OperationBetiUthao report on the trafficking of 31 girls broke, all the attention was turned away from the story and directed towards shaming her. Women are unable to cover certain topics without compromising their safety, which then sidelines important stories and can erode the freedom of press. Last year, Indian politician, Mahua Moitra was falsely accused of plagiarizing her speech and was trolled for it which she stated was a “clear attempt to obfuscate the real issues”. As Malini Subramaniam, a freelance journalist stated: “not reporting is not really an option” or in Moitra’s case: not voicing her views in parliament is not an option, as that is exactly what the trolls want. 

“Just ignore it” Is Not a Solution 

Asking women in the public eye to “ignore” the online hate or to “grow a thick skin” are reductive answers. While in an ideal world it shouldn’t but since it does come with the job, then the onus also lies with newsrooms, for example, to build on resources to both physically and psychologically support its journalists on and off the field. It’s also important for women to support other women, or at least keep from adding to the online hate. A study found that women are almost as likely as men to use derogatory and misogynistic insults on Twitter, and direct them at other women. 

The online harassment faced by women is less about their arguments and more about their identity, which makes it more severe and puts them at risk of physical harm. The increase in gendered online abuse is a lesser talked about fallout of the pandemic. It can mean self-censorship and withdrawal for women from sharing their work and opinions online, which further discourages other women. When women are openly discredited online, there is no ‘democratic’ and ‘equal’ expression of opinion in question. 

Picture Credits: Illustration by Jackie Lay, The Atlantic

Author’s Bio: Devika Goswami is a student of Economics and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

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).

Issue 11

Girlhood in Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday

Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away became the first non-English-language film to win the Oscar for Best Animated Film in 2003. Ghibli has distributed films in North America since 1985 but refrained from making streaming available until 2019. Spring of 2020 saw Ghibli films coming to Netflix, making the works of this Japanese animation film studio available to audiences in Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia. These films are marked by humanist themes ranging from family to war to environmental destruction to friendship. While numerous Ghibli films are set in fantastical worlds with spirits, wizard princes and witches, the central conflicts in these films are human. They distil the internal realities of the human experience and show the exploration of not only the self but those unlikely companions who aid that process. 

Only Yesterday, directed by Isao Takahata, is one such ghibli film following Taeko, a 27-year-old working in Tokyo who visits the countryside to help with a safflower harvest. The narrative is a simple, non-fantastical one, characteristic of Takahata, and is interspersed with flashbacks to her ten-year-old self. The film revolves around this centre of girlhood and coming to terms with its complex realities in her late twenties. 

Erik Wecks, in his account of the film, names it “A simple exploration of human inner life and emotions. Only Yesterday is a film which seems to have much more in common to a French art-house film.” Fans of the French New Wave classic The 400 Blows or more contemporarily, The End of the F**king World will find this to be a similar exploration of the less romanticized realities of coming of age. 

Freedom and Femininity

The flashbacks to Taeko’s fifth-grade self reveal the embarrassment faced by the girls when they were educated about menstruation. The girls sitting to the side at P.E were met with revulsion from the boys in class because they believed that they could “catch the period” like a disease. Taeko tries very hard to escape being met with social hostility at school. This flashback stands not only to mark the bizarre social restrictions that come with the onset of menstruation in many cultures but the larger question of the freedom, or lack thereof, afforded to young girls. The ever ongoing debates about the sexualisation of minors through nonsensical dress codes are contextualized through this question. Girlhood is often marked by taking up less and less space because normal parts of the body like shoulders or legs are sexualised and policed, starting from classrooms. Only Yesterday brings this discomfort faced by young girls into the light, illustrating how it remains within the psyche years down the line. The film asks a question of the freedom that derives from masculinity and conversely, the manner in which girls are made to shrink themselves starting at a very tender age.

Watershed Moments of Harshness

Taeko’s father is a stern and quiet man whose word is the final decision on matters concerning the family. When Taeko is approached by a high school theatre group to act for them, her father decides against it even though she has a clear talent for it. This ends all of her dreams about stardom and the world of acting. Seventeen years later, she still remembers the first and last play she acted in and how male authority prevented her from fulfilling that dream.

Another flashback shows her leaving the house without her slippers and her father hitting her across the face. It is a memory that carries with her seventeen years later. Her father’s behaviour dictates how Taeko thinks about the institution of the family as an adult. She equates it with a certain unfreedom where she will not be afforded the comfort that her city job does. Takahata ensures that the feelings of Taeko’s ten-year-old self are not discarded but inform her decisions as a twenty-seven-year-old. He does on the screen what Simon Van Booy did with words when he wrote, “Each year is like putting a new coat over all the old ones. Sometimes I reach into the pockets of my childhood and pull things out.”

The Magnitude of Possibility

This theme is common to many coming of age films, a kind of delight in finding yourself in a world where so much is possible. Takahata illustrates this through very simple scenes like Taeko’s family trying pineapple, an exotic fruit, for the first time or a boy in her class indirectly confessing his love to her. However, Takahata doesn’t indulge in the romanticization of such events, something that is a characteristic of American coming of age films. Wecks asks questions of such portrayals aptly, “The processes which begin in fifth grade for many often remain necessarily incomplete (or rather unprocessed) long into adulthood. How can one understand attraction when facing it for the first time? How can one see the influence of family both good and bad until one has lived for many years on one’s own?” There is a realization in Only Yesterday that girlhood is only a sort of introduction to the world of possibility, not the ending. There are no resolved career or love decisions at the end of Taeko’s youth, not even until the tail end of the film, yet the novelty of these new experiences is weaved into the mundane, something that mirrors real life. 

Only Yesterday is an honest account of the many events that make the coming of age of women anywhere in the world. Through watercolour imagery and an absolute abandonment of pretence, the film “is less concerned with presenting a grand thesis about the nature of being human than it is navigating the heartbreaks, triumphs and regrets that make us.” Crafted in a way that makes it impossible not to question the small things that make up your own world, Takahata’s film breaks away from representing girlhood as a highlight reel and showcases the minor events that permeate lifetimes. 

Picture Credits: Slant Magazine

Author’s Bio: Saadia Peerzada is an English and Creative Writing major at Ashoka University.

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).

Issue 11

Modern Science v. Law: Revisiting the case of Kathleen Folbigg, Australia’s Worst Serial Killer

In May 2003, Kathleen Folbigg, a resident of New South Wales, Australia, was convicted for killing three of her children and manslaughter of the first-born, between 1989-99. Fifteen years later, in 2018, a team of geneticists filed for a plea to release Folbigg, who was sentenced to 30-years. Though the district court upheld its 2003 decision, the supportive batch of scientists have relied on the latest findings that show rare genetic mutations might have been the cause of the children’s deaths. While the advocates of modern science are adamant on their medical evidence, which was absent at the time of conviction, the Australian courts of law are unwilling to budge. 

The case: Of the four victims, Caleb was the first. He was born in February 1989 and succumbed to death 19 days later. The cause of death was determined to be Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), commonly known as cot or crib death. Following this, Patrick and Sarah, aged nine months and ten months old, met the same fate. The boy passed away in 1991 after an epilepsy-induced choke, while Sarah’s death in 1993 was attributed to SIDS. The last baby, Laura, arrived four years later in 1997, but unfortunately, she could only live for eighteen months and passed away in February 1999. Her cause of death was never ascertained. As the matter stood, there was no concrete evidence to show how the babies really died, until Kathleen’s husband Craig Folbigg discovered her personal diary.  

During the investigation, Kathleen was asked to read out from her diary. One from January 1997, during her pregnancy with Laura, reads: – “This time I am going to call for help, this time I’ll not attempt to do everything myself any more. I know that that was my main reason for all my stress before and stress made me do terrible things…” In another entry, complaining and convincing herself of being a more capable mother for Laura than she was for Sarah, she wrote – “With Sarah, all I wanted was her to shut up. And one day she did.” Chilling sentences like these led to the prosecution presenting Kathleen’s diary as evidence in court, which eventually incriminated her. 

Nonetheless, Kathleen never confessed to killing her children and claimed they died of natural causes. Her life-long friend Tracy Chapman has always argued that the phrases in the diary were put out of context at the trial and even though she was shocked to read them initially, things started to make sense afterwards, considering Kathleen’s frustrations as a depressed, helpless mother, who had lost her children repeatedly in short spans.

Kathleen’s lawyers were relentless and the case went on. In 2013, Professor Stephen Cordner, a pathologist at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, examined the medical evidence presented at the trial and concluded that there was ‘no positive pathology support for the contention that any or all of these children have been killed’. As more medical experts around the same time reviewed and opined on the report, doors opened for Kathleen’s lawyers to lodge a petition for a judicial review in the case with the New South Wales Governor in 2015. 

Three years went by, and nothing came off the petition. In the meantime, Kathleen had broken her silence. She denied  all the variant interpretations of her diary entries and explained  how she coped with the pangs of a troubling motherhood and blamed herself for the fates of her children. Her claims however did not yield anything. 

When the Australian Story conversed with Nicholas Cowdery, the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions at the time, they found him convinced of the jury’s decision at Folbigg’s trial. So the authorities looked satisfied with the jury’s conviction and hardly interested in reopening the case. Nevertheless, the medical flank persevered. 

In 2018, a more compelling breakthrough in the medical evidence set the ball rolling. On receiving consent, a team of geneticists led by Carola Vinuesa, an immunologist from the Australian National University, conducted Kathleen’s genome sequencing. They found a rare genetic mutation called CALM2, which could lead to heart arrhythmias causing cardiac arrest and sudden death in children and infants. Using blood and tissue samples from the children, the geneticists discovered that the Folbigg daughters – Sarah and Laura, both shared the same mutation as their mother. This revelation became a potential case turner and the NSW authorities set up a judicial review inquiry into the Folbigg case. 

Faces turned grim when former District Court Chief Judge Reginald Blanch QC upheld her conviction stating – “(the evidence) does not cause me to have any reasonable doubt as to the guilt of Kathleen Megan Folbigg for the offences of which she was convicted”. Adding to that he said, “Her own explanations and behaviour in respect of her diaries, makes her guilt of these offences even more certain,” This is where the battle between the legal system of Australia and the leading medical experts of the country began. Upset that their peer-reviewed scientific evidence was overcome by the long-standing circumstantial evidence lying in the vague diary entries, modern scientists, including a world-renowned expert in CALM mutations, banded together and came forward to get their evidence the legal consideration it deserves. 

A paper titled“Infanticide vs. inherited cardiac arrhythmias”, was published in an international peer-reviewed journal EP Europace. It sheds light on the deaths of Folbigg’s children, including the boys who were found with a variation of the BSN gene, which is associated with lethal epileptic fits. After the concrete medical evidence was out in the public domain, the medical wing, with an expanded network of medical professionals, took a step further to attain justice for Kathleen Folbigg and recognition of their scientific evidence. In March 2021, a pardon petition based on the Europace paper was signed by ninety eminent scientists, which included Nobel Laureates Peter Dorothy and Elizabeth Blackburn, former Australian of the Year Fiona Stanley, President of Australia Academy of Science John Shine, and sent to the current Governor of New South Wales. 

While the decision is awaited, a strong statement from the Australian Academy of Science regarding the incorrect conclusions found by the Commissioner in the 2019 inquiry, shows how the medical community has risen to prove the worth of reasoning-based scientific evidence over circumstantial, subjective evidence. Actions of these prominent scientists were encapsulated in Professor Vinuesa’s straightforward words to the New York Times – We would feel exhilarated for Kathleen if she is pardoned,” Adding, “It would send a very strong message that science needs to be taken seriously by the legal system.”

 This incident illustrates how institutions, made up of eligible and masterful human resources, sometimes fail to reconcile on issues of utter importance. And leads to various pertinent questions –   is it a matter of integrity that blocks such paramount bodies like the Australian legal system to reconsider its original position and give way to a more logical, rather scientific solution? Does a superseding argument over one’s own amount to defeat even when a person’s life clings on it? Can ambiguity ever  be completely staved off using third party inferences? Does a mother really have child-killing instincts? Is it that bad to pen a personal diary?

Picture Credits: The Times (UK)

Author’s Bio: Debojeet Chakravarty is an undergraduate student of Commerce at Doon Business School. His interests and moods vary greatly – from tattling tales of true crime, to contemplating over half-learned Indian philosophies to advocating for humor in every aspect of life. Also, he is dangerously serious about sleeping.

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).

Issue 11

Vote Banking the Temple Beautification Drive

In March 2021, Odisha’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik tabled a resolution for the early completion of the development project of the world-famous Jagannath Temple in Puri. The ₹3200 crore Jagannath Heritage Corridor project, he claimed, “is not only for the government or the temple administration but also for 4.5 crores Odiyas”. In order to provide much more access and convenience to the pilgrims visiting the Jagannath Puri Temple, the Project is aiming to create a buffer zone around the periphery of the temple. This area would then serve as a multi-level car parking space, integrated command centre and recreational park. Several other famous temples have also been allotted massive budgets to keep up with the trend of beautification of temples, which include but are not limited to the Lingaraj Temple, the Sun Temple and Maa Samaleswari Temple. 

It is interesting to note the uncanny resemblance between the plans and resolutions for temple beautification projects in Odisha(that first came up in January 2021) and the Uttar Pradesh government’s 2019-20 Budget Plan for Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi. Prime Minister Modi laid the foundation of this ₹1000 crore project in 2019. The project is spread over 5 lakh square feet and is expected to be completed by August of 2021. It entails the renovation of 63 temples, along with the construction of 24 new buildings. The Kashi Vishwanath Corridor is part of the beautification drive of 14 major religious cities (Varanasi, Mathura, Ayodhya, Allahabad) of Uttar Pradesh by the government. Given the scale of these  projects,  it’s perhaps important to question the intentions behind the beautification of temples and what role they play in the larger scheme of things. 

The 14 major cities beautification project launched by the UP government aligns with BJP’s party tactics to mobilize support by playing the religion card. Moreover, the beautification of these major religious cities especially their temples also follows the unprecedented Ayodhya verdict of 2019. In the Hindu majority state of Uttar Pradesh, (an important state in national politics), a multi-city temple-beautification drive not only guarantees a clear win but also strengthens the support for BJP through religious politics.

Similar actions by CM Patnaik in Odisha, however, raise concern because of lack of his involvement with religion before this incident. Never before has the CM been involved in religious politics. With the growing support for the BJP by the Hindu population all over the country, the current CM Naveen Patnaik aims to mobilize the Hindu population of Odisha in his favour. Patnaik has served as Odisha’s Chief Minister since the 2000s and the temple beautification drive is a way to preserve his seat in the next state elections. Odisha’s Hindu population accounts for 93.6% of the total population, with Christians and Muslims at 2.77% and 2.17% respectively. Thereby, appealing to the Hindu population for votes then becomes a counter tactic against the BJP for Naveen Patnaik and his party.

The temple beautification and development drive primarily is a tool for different political parties to influence votes in their favour to win elections and form a majority government. However, these temples also play other crucial roles, which contribute to the economy of the country. With its diverse range of religions and religious practices India, becomes one of the major religious tourist destinations in the world. Coincidentally or not so coincidentally Uttar Pradesh and Odisha along with Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh attract the most pilgrims on an annual basis

To facilitate this religious tourism the Government of India, Ministry of Tourism in 2014-15 came up with “National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive” (PRASHAD). It must, however, also be taken into consideration that Religious Tourism entails the process of going  on a pilgrimage and does not involve staying overnight. Due to this definition, the statistics related to the number of pilgrims might be skewed,  resulting in a flawed analysis. 

Another study also shows that out of top the 10 tourism sites in India, eight were pilgrimage sites, attracting a total of 64% of travellers of the total travellers visiting different sites in India (Pg.61). Religious tourism is continuously being chosen by the younger generations of the country, breaking the age-old assumption of only the older population making travel plans to visit pilgrimage sites. This is because pilgrimage sites are no longer constricted to being places of worship and are continuously evolving into recreational spaces for the whole family around the country. For the rising interest of the younger population in religious tourism and pilgrimage sites, temple beautification and development becomes a major move of the government to continue to maintain this involvement. With the pandemic hitting the tourism industry the most, religious tourism for India may prove to be a saving grace for the economy. 

Though different governments are attempting to lure in the youth through their temple politics, it becomes imperative to know the youth’s response to the government’s strategies. The government has been promising settlement packages for the residents that own land that is being appropriated for temple development in both Odisha and Uttar Pradesh. Nonetheless, several people living in rental houses, working their business from here are not happy with the evacuation, since they have to bear the brunt of finding new homes with no compensation. Decade-old houses, with much history of different families, also lie at the vulnerable position of being completely washed away due to the rigorous development and beautification taking place in almost every corner of the city. 

Places of worship that promise a shelter and roof for one and all have themselves become responsible for the homelessness of a vast number of people. By temple beautification, the government is aiming to create and write history like never before, at its heart lies the clearing and erasure of many individual and familial histories that have been intertwined with these temple spaces for decades.

Picture Credits: Hindustan Times

Author’s Bio: Muskaan Kanodia is a junior at Ashoka University, double majoring in English and Sociology. When she is not drowning in books, you can find her drawing and smiling at strangers on the ghats of Banaras.

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).

Issue 11

Assam Assembly Election: Litmus Test for CAA and BJP

Out of the four poll-bound states, BJP is trying to put its best foot forward in the two states where its main battles are — Assam and West Bengal. In Assam, it is hoping to retain its power as it has paved its way towards gaining power in other northeastern states, while in Bengal, it’s aiming to consolidate its power to capture the “final frontier” after being on the sidelines for decades. In both states though, it has adopted different strategies around one issue — CAA-NRC.

On a roadshow in West Bengal’s Medinipur, Amit Shah said that “Once we are in power, the first meeting of our Cabinet will announce the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act.” Citizenship Amendment Act will allow citizenship to Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains who came to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. However, in Assam, the BJP is silent on implementing the Act.

Similarly, in Assam, BJP’s manifesto included “corrected National Register of Citizens (NRC)”  as a promise if it came to power, while in West Bengal, it was interestingly silent on implementing NRC, fearing that doing so could impact Hindu migrant voters from Bangladesh and Matuas of south Bengal who makes for a significant voter base. Today, as per a rough estimate, Bangladeshi Hindu immigrants are a significant presence in 75 Assembly constituencies – making up for a fourth of the state’s seats. These differing positions with regards to CAA-NRC to appeal to different voters further show that electoral politics and calculation is always a critical part of the NRC-CAA exercise.  It takes into account the voting potential of those who will be left in – especially the Hindus of the north, where the BJP has had support while excluding mainly Muslims through the instrument of CAA, who don’t traditionally vote for the party. 

However, in Assam, the only place so far where NRC exercise has been carried out, it led to an unintended outcome — of the 1.9 million people not in the Register, a vast majority were Hindu.  The BJP in an attempt to guard its predominant Hindu voter base is now set to revise the NRC, as evident from the electoral promise of “corrected NRC” to protect “genuine citizens.” This, along with the implementation of CAA, would mean that BJP could bring back Hindus in the ambit of its voters while excluding Muslims from the list. However, contrary to BJP’s expectation, the implementation of CAA in Assam led to a huge uproar as violent protests erupted in Assam in December 2019. 

CAA-Protest in Assam

Soon after the passing of the CAA bill, Assam saw massive and almost spontaneous protests against the CAA, especially in the upper region. These anxieties have been fueled by concerns regarding socio-political and cultural marginalisation and by the burden over state resources with the problem of language alienation, unemployment and limited job opportunities.


The Assam protest against CAA must be contextualised against the anti-foreigner sentiment that has been running consistently in the state. After the anti-foreigner movement in 1975-85, Assam Accord came about. It was a Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) signed by the All Assam Students Union and the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).  Clause 6 of the Assam Accord asserts constitutional safeguards for the Assamese people and states that the “Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.” With the implementation of the CAA, the Assam Accord would be rendered ineffective, thereby, threatening the very linguistic, cultural and social identities of the Assamese people that were guaranteed by this very Clause.

Thus, this led to widespread discontentment as several indigenous groups took to protest the legislation. In spite of the huge electoral gain secured by the BJP in the previous election in 2016, they had not anticipated the intensity of public opposition against CAA. In an attempt to placate the protesting groups, BJP in a departure to its religious nationalism agenda recognised the long-awaited demand of ethnic groups for inclusion in the ST list. It led to the creation of autonomous councils for three of the six communities demanding ST status, in the aftermath of anti-CAA protests. However, will the fulfilment of demands of ethnic groups truly assuage the fears unleashed by CAA and will BJP be able to recover from the widely expressed discontentment in Assam?

Ongoing election in Assam

After less than 18 months of violent agitation against CAA, Assam is poll-bound again. In the ongoing election, while BJP has been tactfully silent about CAA, opposition parties like Congress have made it an issue to campaign against BJP. Releasing the manifesto that has a promise to nullify CAA legislation, Rahul Gandhi said, “We are aware that the RSS and BJP are attacking diverse cultures of this nation. Attacking our languages, history, our way to thinking, and our way of being. So this manifesto provides a guarantee that we will defend the idea of the state of Assam”. He also promised that Congress will uphold the Assam Accord, which was signed during his father Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure in 1985.

The anti-CAA agitation has also led to the birth of two regional parties: Assam Jatiya Parishad, led by All Assam Students’ Union leader Lurinjyoti Gogoi, and Raijor Dal, led by Akhil Gogoi, who was arrested in the agitation in December 2019.  It is reportedly backed by seventy ethnic groups — opposing the changes to the citizenship law.

This clearly indicates that despite BJP’s aversion to putting CAA as an agenda for election, CAA is already on agenda, as evidenced by opposition parties’ manifesto and mobilisation of voters based on anti-CAA sentiment. Thus, the outcome of the assembly election is set to not just decide the future of BJP in the entire northeast but could be a litmus test for CAA-NRC as policies. This particular election for the state is likely to have ramifications beyond who wins or loses. It might very well settle some of the issues that have come to dominate recent politics in the State.

Picture Credits: Live Mint

Author’s Bio: Ridhima Manocha is a final year English and Media Studies student at Ashoka University and has authored the book, The Sun and Shadow

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).

Issue 11

Electric Vehicles in India: Focus on the Consumer, not the Car

After speculations for years on the launch of Tesla in India, Elon Musk finally came through on his tweet in October last year. In January Tesla registered its Indian arm in Bengaluru, under the name Tesla India Motors and Energy Pvt Ltd, putting auto-enthusiasts, India’s Elon Musk fans, the government and the media in a frenzy. Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari had initially stated in December 2020 that Tesla will start operations first with sales and then maybe look at assembly and manufacturing based on the response to the cars. However, upon registration of Tesla Motors in India, Gadkari was quick to announce that India is willing to offer incentives to the car manufacturer so that “their cost of production would be less than that in China.”

Even though the launch of Tesla and the GoI’s subsequent move to offer incentives to the car manufacturer is a move in the right direction, questions about India’s capacity to support the Tesla project, and to convince consumers to shift from purchasing conventional vehicles to electric vehicles (EV) are matters of concern.  

Even if Tesla were to consider that Gadkari would be able to deliver on his offer to guarantee lower production costs than China, there remain other factors on the demand and supply sides that may not seem appealing to Tesla. According to Reuters, in 2020, electric vehicles accounted for just 5,000 out of a total 24 lakh cars sold in India. In comparison, China sold 12.5 lakh electric vehicles, of the total sale of 2 crore cars, accounting for a third of Tesla’s sales across the world. Even as the world goes through an electric vehicle revolution, there still remain challenges that need to be tackled if the project of electrification of vehicles is to be successful in India. 

Tackling most of these challenges would mean requirements from the government to play a more proactive role in pushing the project to a wider market. Policies that introduced tougher emission rules for carmakers were introduced last year, but in its efforts to tighten fuel efficiency rules, the government is also set to introduce a new set of policies by April 2022. According to industry executives, this may compel some automakers to add electric or hybrid vehicles to their portfolios, but the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed this process down. The production side of the policy is showing potential with stringent regulations, incentives to cut down barriers to entry and innovative schemes for public transport electrification, but there is still a lack of access to the market for consumers.

Around the world, the electric vehicle revolution has been made possible by focusing on the consumer. According to the ICCT (International Council On Clean Transportation) report, nearly 50% of the world’s electric vehicle sales are concentrated in 25 global cities, called the EV capitals of the world. “They all have comprehensive policy packages that include mandates in addition to financial incentives for consumers, funding for infrastructure development, and consumer-awareness initiatives,” says the report.  

When it comes to financial incentives, the GoI already provides several incentives that include “funding through the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME) scheme, reductions in goods and services tax (GST) rates on EVs and charging, and discounts on third-party insurance.” State governments are also jumping on the bandwagon to sweeten these deals with waivers for registration fees for EVs alongside steep hikes in fees for conventional vehicles. On the infrastructural development aspect, schemes such as the National Mission on Transformative Mobility and Energy Storage, aim to localize the entire EV value chain in a phased manufacturing program for battery manufacturing at a “giga-scale”. The goal is to have a large-scale integrated cell manufacturing capacity in India by the fiscal year 2021–22. Similarly, as stated by the report, “guidelines and standards for charging stations have been published, as have amendments to model documents that assist states and local bodies in urban areas with incorporating adequate charging infrastructure into buildings and urban master plans.”

However, even after the introduction of multiple incentives like these which are aimed at consumer concerns about cost-convenience of EV’s, charging and range (distance covered by EV’s) anxiety of consumers, there is a lack of awareness about the availability of these schemes. The Delhi Government recently adopted the self-proclaimed title of “Electric Vehicle Capital” for Delhi upon passing a bill that mandated the replacement of nearly 2000 state vehicles with EV’s. While this was a much-needed mandate, consumers still lack clarity on the benefits of switching to electric vehicles. 

India is the 5th largest auto market in the world and is expected to grow by 11.3% from 2020-2027. Consumer awareness is then by no means a small-scale project, even though car ownership in comparison to countries like China is not that high. Cost-consciousness is high amongst consumers, and the luxury segment accounts for only 1% of the passenger vehicle market. Unless the government makes an effort to inform consumers about the schemes and facilities available for EV’s in India, it is going to be difficult to convince the consumers to shift from conventional vehicles to EV’s. The key lies in supporting and marketing manufacturers like Tata, Maruti Suzuki and Mahindra which offer EV’s at a price range that is much more affordable than what Tesla is speculated to offer. Apart from this, showcasing working infrastructural models that offer flawless support when it comes to charging stations, and the availability of these across cities can go a long way in lessening consumer anxiety. If stringent regulations are imposed on the purchase (and not just production) of conventional vehicles, consumers will explore alternatives and consider studying the incentives offered for EV’s by the government. Without these much-needed changes, it would be difficult for the government to attract players like Tesla that could spearhead the electrification of vehicles in India.

Picture Credits: The New Indian Express

Author’s Bio: Rohan Pai is a Politics, Philosophy and Economics major at Ashoka University. In his free time, you’ll find him singing for a band, producing music and video content.

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).

Issue 11

What makes the News?

The past year has been a bizarre one. Besides the turmoil and anxiety caused by the ongoing global pandemic, there were a lot of other overwhelming events that happened consecutively, causing an overload of information and news all around. Before one could even grasp and process one thing, it felt like the world had moved on to another thing.

In a world that is so fast paced and ever dynamic, it feels like newsrooms and media houses are always a step ahead, in trying to keep up with what is happening everywhere. But, from the plethora of information available,  how do the media outlets decide what news to prioritise and what to leave behind? Who decides what makes the news? 

For starters, the factors that go into deciding the news-worthiness of any piece of information are things like relevance, interests of the target audience , timeliness and prominence of the subject of news. These factors decide not just what makes news but also for how long it stays. 

Certain stories stay in the headlines for longer, sometimes so long that they may feel like they have been there  forever, while a lot of other stories struggle for proper coverage. In our own country we can see how larger issues like that of the farmer’s protests that lasted for months were often sidelined for nitty-gritty details about celebrities’ lives. 

Since it is the media outlets that decide what citizens come to know and also what they talk about, they are one of the most powerful and most controlling organisations of the world. Holding the power to influence narratives and make stories malleable in whatever way they wish to, media houses even have the power to direct how people’s lives play out, with the way they portray them in their pieces. Even when more important issues are covered, they are only relayed in terms of violence — narration of gore and grisliness, leaving out the details, thus making them all sound repetitive and tired in comparison to the celebrity stories which are written in a more attractive manner. On the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, when lakhs of people all across India were losing jobs and homes, the SC rejected a plea to freeze rent payments. However, this issue, which affected millions of people across the country received less focus and was clubbed as another inconvenience during the pandemic, while multiple stories were being written about how different celebrities were spending their time during the lockdown. 

By producing gossip pieces around celebrities’ like focusing on what they wore for an event, whom they met, or even what they ate, news media corporations commercialise news. The method of reportage, and especially the headlines also change the perspective of the public on a particular story. The  recent Hathras rape case in August 2020 was not only poorly covered, but was also only talked about using vocabulary that conveyed the gruesomeness of the incident. It was also only talked about as an individual case, leaving out many other cases of caste violence that were similar in nature. Similarly, in the coverage of the CAA protests, police firing and lathi charge on the protestors was constantly presented as a “clash” between two sides, heavily influencing the way the audience interpreted it. 

Recurring instances like this prove time and time again that there is a grave problem of monopoly of news in media houses — the media owns the news and the narrative, but who owns the media? In a detailed study under MOM (Media Ownership Monitor) conducted by Reporters Without Borders in collaboration with DATALeads, it was revealed that most of the leading media houses in India are owned by larger conglomerates that are still controlled by their founding families. Interestingly, these bodies invest in a vast number of industries besides media houses, unusually with some business or political affiliation. For example, companies like BK Birla Foundation and Realcon Ltd, associated with the Birla Business group, are one of the major investors and shareholders of Hindustan Times Group, the company that owns and controls HT Media. The Ministry of Corporate Affairs is also listed as one of their major shareholders. 

So many political and business affiliations are often harmful for freedom and diversity of press in the country. Oftentimes political leverage can be exercised in the form of punishment to the media house, like the abrupt exit of editor Bobby Ghosh from the Hindustan Times group, which various news sources hinted at as being a result of Ghosh’s views not aligning with the investor’s interests. Oftentimes, advertisement for or a display of affiliation with political powers is also rewarded heftily. 

This creates a chain of recycled news that lacks diversity and honestly — the whole point of freedom of media is lost if it is constantly living in the fear of producing content that might offend those controlling it. However, this is changing with the rise of the independent media, that is publicly funded, and thus is accountable to no one but the public. Most independent media houses work on the USP that they bring “fresh” stories that the mainstream media fails to cover. Another unsurprising game changer in the circulation of news stories is social media networks and the meme culture that comes with it. Almost half of the world is connected through social media and a large chunk of this population consumes its news on the internet. Memes provide easy access to information coupled with feel-good, sometimes absurdist humour that appeals to a large audience. With the internet and memes at their feet, there is less censorship and thus people do not have to depend on any big media house to pick up their stories — they are their own narrators. Often when these stories get more and more popular on the wireless platforms, bigger publications have no option but to pick them up for their headlines. This however does not last very long  due to the power their investors hold. Very recently, Ashoka University’s professors resigned leading the students to hold protests for the lack of academic freedom in the country. The resignations were linked to the professors being vocal critics of the government. Initially, only independent news outlets like The Print were covering it, but as the story started attracting a wide audience, more mainstream media houses began picking it up and reporting it. 

A variety of factors go into choosing which stories to cover and which ones to leave behind, different news outlets, independent and corporate-owned, are motivated differently to make these decisions, however they all have to cater to the interests of the average news reader. Social media and the lack of censorship is slowly changing this by giving the readers the power to pick the kind of news they want to consume, and the form they want to consume it in. 

Picture Credits:

Author’s Bio: Madhulika Agarwal is a third year English and Media Studies major who is interested in literature by children and for children. When she is not lamenting over her tiktok career that ended before it could start, she likes learning about animals and reading books with good art in them.

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).

Issue 11

The Hamartia of Human Reasoning: Why Do We Deny Climate Change?

Prior to the pandemic, the conversation surrounding anthropogenic climate change had captured global attention like never before – aided by the global platform attained by the School Strike for Climate movement. Though the Covid-19 pandemic has led to an increased concern about human interactions with their environment, the discourse on climate change has not radically changed how populations tend perceive the real threat it poses. This problem is not new – despite broad scientific consensus about the realities of anthropogenic climate change, why are human beings so bad at accepting that it is a real phenomenon? What does this denial indicate?

Individual Processes

The first set of explanations for climate change denial pertain to the nature of the problem itself – a phenomenon that is diffused across time and space, disruptive to existing global socio-economic systems and threatens human existence. 

Construal Level Theory

The construal level theory describes the relationship between psychological distance – the cognitive separation between the self and other entities, such as other persons, instances, areas, etc. – and individuals’ degree of abstract or concrete thinking. This theory holds that as the object in question moves closer to the individual in terms of psychological distance, it is thought of in more concrete terms as opposed to abstract terms. The nature of climate change – a gradual phenomenon, spanning large expanses of time and differentially impacting spaces – inherently tends to be thought of in an abstract, distant fashion instead of approached as a concrete, real-time phenomenon. Thus, this thought mechanism can lead to, and encourage, denialist tendencies of climate change.

Worry, Fear and Control 

The theory of finite pool of worry holds that people have a limited capacity for worrying about multiple issues at once. As worry for a particular kind of risk increases, the ability of individuals to be concerned about other kinds of risks lessens. Building from the logic of the construal level theory, it becomes apparent that individuals tend to worry about issues that are closer to them in time and space – e.g., prioritizing short-term stresses such as finding a job, over concerns about the long-term, diffused problem of climate change. 

Terror management theory indicates that since climate change is a bitter reminder of their mortality, individuals may resort to denying it. Moreover, it has also been indicated that when people believe that they have no control over climate change, they feel encouraged to deny the problem

Risk Perception 

Individuals process information through a model consisting of two systems. The ‘affective’ system – which is quick, automatic, and intuitive – processes adverse and uncertain aspects of the environment into emotional, or affective responses (e.g., fear). The ‘analytical’ system uses algorithms and rules for information processing, is slower and requires conscious awareness and control. It does not come into operation automatically, rather has to be learnt to be used (e.g., long division).

These two strands of information processing interact with one another to assess the risks in an individual’s environment. The issue of climate change presents a case where there is disconnect between the outputs of the affective and analytical systems – due to a lack of emotional response to climate change caused by insufficient personal experience with it. Since the efficacy of analytic reasoning is hindered without the assistance and guidance of emotions, this results in an inadequate level of concern about the phenomenon. Thus, for some individuals – especially those who are not personally exposed to the effects of climate change – climate change is not perceived to be a risk. 

Group Processes 

Placing individual tendencies for information processing in a social context provides for an extended understanding of the psychology of climate change denial.

System Justification Theory

The system justification theory states that people tend to defend themselves, their group and the social, economic and political systems on which they depend. Thus, individuals – especially those who enjoy comfortable lives within their social structures – find it difficult to confront the environmental consequences of their lifestyles, which are upheld by the larger global political order.

Identity-protective Motivated Cognition 

Identity-protective motivated cognition causes individuals to process information in a way that aligns with their membership in ideologically or culturally defined groups rather than relying on scientific evidence to make their judgements. Identity-protective motivated cognition can influence individuals belonging to groups that do not believe in climate change to overlook scientific evidence and align with their group’s views on the matter. 


Attribution theory has indicated that individuals decide the causes of the same phenomena differently depending upon whether the actor is perceived to be a member of an in-group or out-group. This effect was demonstrated in a study, where American participants were shown evidence of excessive energy use by fellow Americans (in-group) versus the Chinese (out-group). The experiment indicated that the participants were more likely to attribute climate change to natural, rather than anthropogenic causes – i.e., dismissing the responsibility of the issue from their group, likely due to the role of attribution in their perception of the problem of climate change.

Differential Impacts and Climate Change Denial

Groups that are disproportionately affected by the impacts of environmental hazards tend to show higher levels of climate related concern and are motivated by equity concerns when approaching the question of climate change. A US study found that non-white participants consistently expressed more concern about climate change than their white counterparts. This effect also extended to gender identity; opinion polls conducted in the US indicated that women tend to display more environmental concern than men

This effect is attributed to the fact that white males in the US may feel less vulnerable to the effects of climate change, partially due to the privilege they wield in society. It was also found that white men in the US were more likely to deny the reality of climate change when compared to other demographic groups. Hence, it can be inferred that inter-group power dynamics have the potential to influence levels of climate change denial in society. 

At a macro level, different countries also vary in levels of climate change denial. Individuals in developing countries display higher levels of concern about climate change, than those in developed nations. This effect is assumed to be due to the fact developing countries tend to experience higher climate vulnerability – which affects personal commitment to mitigation, and support of mitigation policies.

Climate change denial poses a unique problem to human existence. It reveals human limitations to address threats that are diffused across time and space, are disruptive to the functioning of existing socio-political and economic systems and can come into conflict with individual and group values. Though scientists have successfully identified the existential problem of climate change and highlighted efficient solutions for its mitigation, it is the fallacy in common judgement, – the hamartia of human reasoning – guided by individual and group processes, that hinder its resolution as time runs out.  

Author’s Bio: Aarohi Sharma is a Psychology student at Ashoka University. Her academic interests primarily focus on the intersection of politics and psychology in society.

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).

Issue 7

The Violence We Inherit

This year, the morning of 26th January held two instead of just one Republic Day parade. At Rajpath, celebrations for the 72nd year of the adoption of the Indian Constitution took place, whereas, in another part of Delhi, the farmers were exercising their right promised by this prestigious document, to highlight their demand to revoke the three controversial farm bills through a tractor rally. While at one end, the sound of the 21-Gun salute echoed in the air, in another part, chants of ‘kisaan kanoon wapas lo’ and clashes between the police and farmers were observed. 

Soon, videos surfaced on social media platforms of farmers driving tractors recklessly, bringing down barricades as policemen scrambled out of their way. Instances of police indulging in lathi-charge and tear-gas at protestors were also recorded. Events escalated to a level where certain protestors derailed from their march to hang the Nishaan Sahib, a saffron flag of great relevance to Sikh religion, at the Red Fort. The aftermath resulted in over 80 police personnel injured. 

In the past, having been known as the land of satyagraha, we have developed a certain identity rooted in non-violence. Does this notion influence the different ways we view violence in a protest today? While violence has been excused in certain contexts, it has been condemned in others. Moreover, there is a culture of blaming the violence on a ‘foreigner’ as a means to separate oneself from the narrative as it hinders the ‘non-violent’ reputation of India.  

With regards to R-Day, various conflicting views have surfaced regarding who holds the baton of responsibility for instigating the derailment of events. While Delhi Police Commissioner, SN Srivastava claims that the farmers were responsible for inciting violence and should be held accountable for their condemnable actions, various farmer leaders have explicitly separated themselves from those who chose to deviate. In an interview with the Hindu, Balbir Singh Rajewal, the president of the Bhartiya Kisan Union claimed that “it was a historic parade by lakhs of farmers with over 2 lakh tractors and 99.9% of the farmers stayed peaceful”. Along with this, certain farmer union leaders, as well as the opposition, have been propagating the view that the farmers were not responsible for the mayhem, and violence was instead enforced by individuals who were ‘foreign’ to the community and aimed at wanting to defame the peaceful farmer protests.

As simply consumers of news content, judgement about ‘who is responsible’ cannot be passed without proper investigation. However, it is interesting to note the emergence of different narratives surrounding the violence witnessed on R-Day. Certain sections that support the farmers argue that the violence showcased was ‘minimal’ and justified, considering that the government was choosing to ignore their citizens’ demands. Some even claim that it was anyone but the farmer responsible for the upheaval. However, those who do not believe in the farmers’ cause broadly argue that engaging in violence is condemnable and therefore warrants severe repercussions.

This manner of justifying violence in certain instances, and condemning it in others is not new to Indian culture. Ancient Indian epics like the Mahabharata have justified use of violence, where dharma (duty) to the caste system supersedes the value of kinship bonds. Romila Thapar, in her paper ‘War in Mahabharata’, highlights the moral-ethical dilemma that surrounded the conversation between Arjuna and Krishna, where the latter encouraged the former to kill his maternal uncle as he was an ally of the Kauravas. So, social obligations towards one’s caste became a valid explanation for killing a kinsman. Despite the description of “arrows tearing apart chests of warriors and free flow of blood creating a pandemonium”, the epic is still passed on in the form of tales to future generations, with gruesome violence deemed acceptable in the name of acquiring a kingdom and protecting its people. While the aim may be universal peace, it is reached through violent means.

Furthermore, ancient India has often been deemed as ‘peaceful’ and the reign of terror and violence has often been blamed on the ‘foreigner’ or ‘intruder’, like the Mughals and the British. This association of non-violence with ancient India exists  because we predominantly identify ancient India with Ashoka, the great emperor of the Mauryan dynasty who chose the path of non-violence and Buddhism after witnessing the repercussions of the Kalinga war. However, historian and author of ‘Political Violence in Ancient India’, Upinder Singh, in an interview with theWire, highlights how even “Jain and Buddhism texts use the vocabulary and imagery of war. Mahavira is a jina (victor); the Buddha fights a battle against the god Mara before attaining enlightenment while sitting under the Bodhi tree.” Historian DN Jha, in his book ‘Against the Grain’ also challenges this rhetoric of ancient India being devoid of any religious violence. Jha traces the Buddhist Sanskrit work, Divyavadana that describes Pushyamitra Shunga, a Hindu ruler and founder of the Shunga dynasty in 185 BCE, as the “great persecutor of Buddhists”. Jha claims that the ruler was responsible for the vandalising of the Sanchi Stupa and burning of the Ghositaram monastery in Kaushami that killed Buddhist monks. 

While these are just a few of the various instances of violence in India’s past, they have either not been emphasised enough or have been consciously ignored. The question to raise then is, when is violence excused and when is it not? 

The glorification of non-violence can be credited to satyagraha for freedom from British colonialism in modern Indian history. As Indians, we identify as the land of ahimsa and, therefore, choose to ignore the other side of the story. In fact, school history textbooks, sidelined those who engaged in violence for the freedom struggle and labelled them as ‘radicals’. However, movements like the 1857 revolt, showcased extreme violence that shook the stability of the East India Company within the country. The violence, while aimed towards a ‘foreigner’ was instigated and chosen by us as a path to rebel. If it weren’t for the widespread killing and burning of bungalows as well as chants of “maro firangi ko” (kill the white man) that filled the streets, would the British have left when they did?

Coming back to the opinions concerning the farmers’ protests—it can be observed that both the views justifying the violence and the ones condemning it and blaming it on an ‘intruder’, are views that are not new to Indian history. These biases can be observed in the ways we judge violence in current times.

Harshita Bedi is a student at Ashoka University pursuing her Psychology major. In her free time, you would find Harshita catching up on her sleep.

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).