Issue 23

Blurring Boundaries

Watching a series and interacting with one are entirely different experiences. We have all watched countless series, haven’t we? But how many have we interacted with or, how many webseries have tried interacting with the audience? Phoebe-Waller Bridge understood our need and came up with the Primetime Emmy Award Winning show, Fleabag. It revolves around the life of a young woman, Fleabag and how she navigates it around London. The x-factor of the show is the regular communication that fleabag engages in with the audience. They eye-contact, snide comments, and little juicy details, it feels like she is texting her best friend all the inside thoughts. The audience becomes that best friend regularly receiving information from her. The blurring of the wall between the audience and the protagonist creates a sense of intimacy that keeps the audience hooked till the very end.

What are you waiting for, login to Amazon Prime and stream Fleabag for some intimacy in your lives.

Lakshya Sharma is a student of Economics and Media Studies at Ashoka University. His keen area of interests lie in Fashion and Popular Culture.

Picture Credits: PrimeVideo

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 21

Turning Red: The Growing Pains of Adolescence

Turning Red, Pixar’s latest creation, is a brilliant metaphor for puberty and the growing pains of adolescence. It is the studio’s first film written, directed and produced by women. Set in early-2000’s Toronto, it follows Mei-Mei, a 13-year old girl dealing with the overwhelming experience of being a teenager and the changes in her body. Beyond just dealing with her adolescence, she is the only child of a Chinese origin family, trying her best to be the perfect child her mother wants her to be. She gets straight A’s, plays the flute in the school band, and even helps her parents run their temple after returning home. Everything is fine until one day she wakes up and finds herself transformed into a giant red panda. She is conflicted between trying to keep the panda tamed by controlling her emotions to fit in and appease her mother while also finding herself through her newfound expression in the panda. 

The film is a bold attempt at addressing puberty. Right from its title, it addresses the taboo topic of menstruation, openly mentions sanitary pads, and never shies away from having real conversations. It is a coming of age story that everyone can relate to, from dealing with hormonal changes and crushes to the awkwardness and struggles that come with it. It is also about exploring your independence and finding your sense of self. Yet, at its heart, the film is a heartwarming story about mothers and daughters, breaking the cycle of transgenerational trauma, and forgiveness. 

Reya Daya is a third-year student studying psychology and media studies at Ashoka University. Her other interests include writing, photography and music.

Picture Credits: IMDB

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 21

On Russia-Ukraine, India is Boxed in by History and Geopolitics

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February – the first military attack on any European country since the Second World War – might have sharpened the growing rift between Moscow and the West. But, for India, it has thrown up a delicate diplomatic moment. New Delhi today finds itself awkwardly lodged between two major camps, both of which are crucial for its evolving geopolitical, regional and national interests. The net outcome has been India taking a firmly neutral stance on the invasion – neither supporting nor condemning it.

At the same time, the civil society and intelligentsia in India remains fractured on how to interpret the crisis. Factions supporting and condemning Moscow’s actions have emerged across the political spectrum, even creating some unlikely congruences between camps that are otherwise sworn ideological foes. This divide shows the complexity of the current situation and how Russian actions will continue to be seen differently by different groups of people around the world.

Even before the invasion, India offered a middle-point view at the UN Security Council in its meetings on 31 January, 17 February and 21 February (following Russian President, Vladimir Putin’s blustering pre-invasion speech). It called for de-escalation through diplomatic dialogue, respect for the UN Charter, the safety of Indian students in Ukraine, and “legitimate security interests of all parties”. The last point, particularly, has been interpreted by many, especially Western commentators, as India taking Russia’s side in the conflict. The reality, however, is more complex.

India’s arguably ‘neutral’ stance hasn’t dropped from the sky. It flows from a fairly long foreign policy tradition going back to the Cold War period, which has actively professed the idea of not siding with any major power bloc. Yet, as history shows, this nonalignment tradition has, in reality, encouraged a tilt towards the Soviet (and later Russian) bloc. We see the vestiges of that peculiar legacy playing out once again today.

Historical path dependency

India and the then Soviet Union developed a uniquely intimate relationship right from the first half of the Cold War. Despite his avowedly nonaligned foreign policy, it was clear from the beginning that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru preferred the Soviet bloc over the US-led Western bloc. Moscow’s generous financial aid to India was pivotal to his government’s industrialisation and institution-building plans. Notably, Moscow also used its sway over the Communist Party of India to help tame the anti-government insurgency that had become a headache for Nehru.

New Delhi’s tilt towards the USSR was further aided by the strong socialist thinking in influential sections of the Nehru government, including the Prime Minister himself and his Defence Minister, Krishna Menon. The fact that the US had begun to move closer to Pakistan further pushed India towards the Kremlin. These factors played a decisive role in setting the foundations for an enduring India-Soviet (later Russia) relationship.

Then in the early 1960s, India started buying the optimally-priced MiG-21 fighter jets from the Soviets, thus upgrading its air combat fleet by multiple factors. That heralded what was to become an era-defining defence and technical partnership covering both conventional military and nuclear technology transfers.

Over the next few decades, India and the USSR continued to back each other diplomatically at the international stage with great consistency – either actively supporting each other’s actions or staying silent. From refusing to condemn the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 to staying neutral on its invasion of Afghanistan in 1980, New Delhi took great care to keep Moscow in its good books. The USSR returned the favour by backing New Delhi on a range of sticky issues – from the first nuclear tests in 1974 to the annexation of Sikkim next year.

Under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, New Delhi and Moscow inked the landmark ‘India-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation’ in 1971. The pact, designed to counter the growing partnership between the US, Pakistan and China, played a key role in moulding the geopolitics around the Bangladesh Liberation War. As some scholars argue, it gave Prime Minister Gandhi the conviction to intervene with military force in East Pakistan without the fear of an adverse response by the US-China-West Pakistan axis.

This “reciprocity of silence” – as Professor Ramesh Thakur, who currently teaches at the Australian National University, once described the relationship – didn’t change after the fall of the USSR. The Kremlin refused to condemn India’s second nuclear tests in 1998 (Pokhran-II) and also stayed neutral on the Kargil conflict next year.

More recently, India took a neutral position on Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, emphasising on “legitimate Russian and other interests” – which, interestingly, is similar to India’s insistence on “legitimate security interests of all parties” in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis. India also backed Russian military involvement in Syria through the last decade. This was followed by a raft of Russian support or neutrality on India – such as Moscow refusing to back Beijing on the 2017 Doklam standoff, backing India’s abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir in 2019, and taking on a mediatory role in the 2020 Galwan clashes.

This closely woven bilateral history and the mutual path dependency that it spawned make it nearly impossible for either party to jettison the relationship over a single crisis.

 Strategic compulsions and geopolitical dilemmas

A critical part of the mutual path dependency is India’s reliance on Russia for military hardware. A significant chunk of India’s core military platforms across all the three services – from fighter jets and main battle tanks to submarines and frigates – are built on Soviet- and Russian-developed technology. In 2010, the two countries upgraded their relationship to a “special and privileged strategic partnership” and since then, according to SIPRI data, nearly 62% of India’s arms imports have been Russian. In the same period, India has emerged as the biggest customer for Russian arms in the world, accounting for nearly 32% of all of Moscow’s exports.

If India wants to maintain its current offensive, defensive, deterrence and power projection capabilities, it cannot junk this key defence partnership. Just four years back, India bought five S-400 air defence systems from Russia, which will upgrade its deterrence capability against a rapidly modernising Chinese army next door. Last December, during Putin’s visit to New Delhi, both countries signed a ten-year defence cooperation pact, as part of which India will indigenously manufacture more than 500,000 AK-203 assault rifles.

Russian military technology is also crucial for India’s own arms export plans, which it wants to double down on over the next few years. The recent US$375 million deal for the sale of three batteries of the BrahMos missile, which is manufactured under an Indo-Russian joint venture, to the Philippines and the “gifting” of a Soviet-made Kilo-class submarine to Myanmar in 2020 are only two recent examples. Other countries, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, have also expressed interest in buying the BrahMos to boost their strategic deterrence capabilities.

While the import of Russian arms might have dipped over the last decade, that doesn’t mean India can suddenly cut itself loose from Russia and switch to other buyers. Yes, it certainly needs to find other sellers in the long term so as to decrease its overreliance on Russian hardware, but it simply doesn’t have the capability to undertake a system-wide shift in the short term. Further, Indian arms imports have generally fallen between 2011-15 and 2016-20; so, the fall in Russian imports doesn’t suggest any long-term trend yet.

However, India needs to be cognisant of the adverse impact of Western sanctions on Russian defence exports. Although Moscow has assured India that its supplies will continue, there is little doubt that the sanctions will hinder its capacity to deliver on time. Preliminary indications of this happening have already surfaced, even as India’s Department of Military Affairs (DMA) initiates an audit to assess the damage. The need for India to diversify its import strategy has become doubly imperative now.

Despite immediate hiccups, New Delhi needs Moscow’s rapport with Beijing to keep tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) manageable. The manner in which India reached out to Putin during the Galwan clashes in 2020 shows this. Interestingly, on 4 March, senior Indian Army officers hinted at the possibility of a Ukraine-like situation afflicting the LAC. This is not just a recognition of the lingering Chinese threat, but could also be seen as India’s tacit message of disapproval for Moscow’s cross-border aggression.

India also cannot ignore the ramifications of its neutrality on its relationship with the West, which has emerged as a crucial partner for New Delhi on domains such as the Indo-Pacific. On 3 March, amidst the crisis, all members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) – India, Japan, Australia and the US – met virtually and briefly discussed its core agendas while noting that the “sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states” have to be respected. This showed that the Quad and other Indo-Pacific collectives will sustain in the near term, despite the crisis. The West has its own autonomous objectives in the Indo-Pacific, and it needs India to achieve those.

In all, there is little doubt that Russia’s Ukraine invasion will trigger some significant, if not tectonic, shifts in geopolitical and geostrategic thinking amongst big, middle and small powers. India today lies somewhere between the first two, which is a very awkward place to be at the moment. If India fails to reconcile with the complex new realities that this crisis is bound to create, it will continue to find itself on thin ice every time a global crisis of this nature rears its head.

Angshuman Choudhury is a Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.

Picture Credits: DW

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Issue 21

Decluttering the Central University Entrance Test: Boons and Banes for Young Students 

The University Grants Commission’s decision to implement a Common University Entrance Test for undergraduate admission in all central universities in India reveals several problems that continue to plague the country’s higher education system. The revelation of the CUET plan has been communicated in a way that we do not yet know all the details, which means the final jury on the usefulness of the test will only be out once we witness its execution. Although the prevailing uncertainty can itself be a cause of heightened anxiety for students appearing for the test this year. Hence it may still be useful to scrutinise the test from what we know of it now. 

If we look at the possible benefits of the CUET; students will no longer have to depend on their 12th-grade marks for admission into colleges. This means that it does not matter how well students do throughout their 12th grade, the CUET provides everyone with a level playing field to get admissions into a good college without worrying about soaring cut-offs. The only caveat here is that the UGC has given Universities the liberty to set a lower threshold of 12th-grade marks as a criteria for admission. Another benefit of the CUET, given that it is expected to provide an interdisciplinary test, will allow students to prove their mettle across disciplines. This in turn will also allow students to study beyond their specialised streams in 12th grade. Lastly, the UGC Chairperson has categorically stated that the CUET will not change the status of caste and EWC based reservation of seats in Universities. Hence, reserved seats for students from socially and economically disadvantaged communities will not be affected due to the CUET. 
Having stated the possible benefits students may reap from the CUET, there are however several questions that loom large. First, how does replacing CUET scores with 12th-grade marks solve the problem of immense competition for undergraduate seats? If the problem was high cut-offs in top universities, what is the guarantee that students will not score high scores in the CUET resulting in the same competition for seats in top Universities? The CUET may be able to resolve the problem of over-admission in certain colleges due to high-cut offs, but it does not negate the possibility of over-admission in colleges due to the overflow of students who get high CUET scores.

Secondly, what is the guarantee that CUET will not become a humanities and commerce stream version of JEE or NEET? Competitive exams and entrance tests have reshaped higher education in India. While it has paved the way for talents to enter prestigious institutes, it has also resulted in a cutthroat culture of preparation that has often rendered students bleeding dry. The CUET may in fact pave the way for coaching institutes to jump on this opportunity and offer courses to “crack” the test. The financial pressures that emerge from coaching, the mentally and emotionally toxic environment it usually is, and the heavy financial expenses coaching often requires, make it an extremely damaging form of academic pursuit for the overall health of young students. Additionally, coaching institutes especially disadvantage underprivileged students. The UGC has not yet communicated the willingness or a way to prevent CUET from becoming the next big competitive entrance test in India. UGC did mention that the CUET will be based on the 12th-grade syllabus, which begs the question; how will it be any different than the 12th-grade examination? 

Thirdly, the timing of the declaration of the CUET was extremely poor. The current 12th-grade batch entered the academic year presuming the status quo for admissions into colleges. Yet they will finish their 12th grade by preparing for an entrance test they did not anticipate. The UGC could have announced the CUET earlier or postponed its execution for the admission cycle of 2023. Yet the decision to implement the CUET means the current 12th-grade batch will have to prepare for another exam right after finishing their final examination. 

Given the depth of problems that prevail in Indian higher education, and problems that are at the crossroads of being conflated due to the CUET, what can the UGC and the Ministry of Education do so that it does not become a damaging exercise for students? Firstly, the UGC has to ascertain that the tests are modelled in a way that does not emulate other entrance examinations. The objective should be for every student to be able to establish their aptitude. Following the ranking system or percentile system escalates the competitive nature of entrance examinations. Hence, CUET scores should be accorded the value of a purely individual aptitude marker. The UGC should also ascertain that private and public schools of all boards should take the responsibility to prepare students for the CUET, not through the means of extra classes or tuitions, but through in-class learning itself. 

Secondly, the government should also hold mock tests for the first batch of students appearing for the CUET. This is especially important for students from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The UGC has stated that the CUET will be a purely computer-based examination. Many students, especially in government schools, do not have access to computers. Hence the UGC needs to consider a mechanism, possibly incorporating written tests, to make the examination inclusive. 

The CUET may have been intended to revamp the process of undergraduate education and possibly make the transition from school to college less competitive. The fact however is that relentless competition for college seats will persist till the number of good colleges remains limited. The government has to prioritise improving the standard of higher education and ascertain students get a level playing field at every stage of their education. The pedagogical infrastructure in the country also privileges people from advantaged backgrounds. Greater investment, financially and intellectually, into school education is the first step towards creating a level playing field. Such efforts should be prioritised over any entrance test in the larger scheme of things. 

Biplob Kumar Das is a Graduate Student at Ashoka University currently pursuing an Advanced Major in Political Science and a Minor in Media Studies. He completed his undergraduate degree in Political Science and takes a keen interest in anything related to Indian politics, media, art and culture. 

Picture Credits: Hindustan Times

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Issue 21

Issue XXI: Editor’s Note

Over the last two pandemic-ridden years, there stands an exceedingly strong chance that the word ‘new-normal’ crept its way into every single one of our conversations. Interestingly, the word itself stands as a paradox, as something new is unlikely to ever feel unreservedly normal, especially when it brings hours of covering one’s face with medical masks. The only certainty that felt remotely ‘normal,’ was change. Changing social norms, behaviors, law and order, policies, educational patterns– every aspect of human life was riddled with change and adapting to its consequences. 

As one tries to navigate through these ever-changing times, it becomes crucial to remove our pandemic-influenced lenses and scrutinize the world around us through an alternate perspective, one that objectively examines behaviors, actions, and decisions. Through the 21st issue of Open Axis, we aim to peruse happenings around the world via an objective gaze, as we aim to understand the only constant in everyone’s lives- change. 

To begin with, Shree Bhattacharyya examines subsidies given to films in light of the recent tax-exemption granted to Vivek Agnihotri’s highly controversial ‘The Kashmir Files,’ as she questions the criteria for making films tax free, and whether agenda-setting by various forces may be at play. Further exploring topics surrounding patriotic cinema, film historian Sudha Tiwari delves into the history of how political violence has been shown in Indian Cinema before ‘The Kashmir Files’ caused an uproar.

Reya Daya and Maahira Jain explore the changing habits of social media users, and how distorted perceptions of real-life caused by media content call for the need to be wary of online trends and personalities. 

On March 14th, The Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change announced a river rejuvenation project for 13 rivers of India through numerous forestry interventions. Analyzing the launch of this project, Biplob Kumar Das scrutinizes river rejuvenation projects in India in the recent past and reviews the facets policymakers can contemplate for similar projects in the future. In talking about government announcements to promote environmental upgradation, youth environmentalist and sustainability consultant Abhiir Bhalla writes about the government’s proposed increase of electronic vehicles (EV) in the country, and what the future holds for the EV industry in India. 

Amid trends of escalating cut-offs for several universities, the government recently announced a Common University Entrance Test (CUET) for admissions. Biplob Kumar Das elucidates the advantages and disadvantages of such a system, and what this reformed admission policy means for students across the country. 

Slightly further away from home but on a persisting global issue with increasing ties to India, Rutuparna Deshpande writes on the Russia-India oil deal and the gray areas in navigating national interest and morality. A senior researcher at the Center for Policy Research (CPR), Angshuman Choudhary traces the historical dependencies that India has shared with Russia over the past decades, and connects how those dependencies inform the strategic compulsions India has, resulting in its current stance in the Russia-Ukraine issue. 

Finally, as a follow-up to our highly successful video from our last issue, Open Axis asks students and professors on campus what they look forward to about in-person classes, and the anxieties of resuming education in ‘normal’ settings. 

We hope our latest issue can help our readers tap into the events unfolding around the world through a critical and alternate lens, one that acknowledges the changing times but can look beyond them. 

  • Jaidev Pant, Lakshya Sharma, Maahira Jain & Reya Daya 
Issue 21

Russia-India Oil Deal: A Question of National Interest or Morality?

On March 22nd, India’s top oil refiner Indian Oil Corporation hiked the prices of petrol and diesel after almost 140 days of stalling. This comes after a massive surge in global crude oil prices–the key factor in determining domestic fuel rates–driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent Western sanctions on Russian-sourced oil. 

Despite these sanctions, the Indian Oil Corporation recently purchased three million barrels of crude oil from Russia at discounted rates–something that has not sat well with Western leaders. Jen Psaki, US President Joe Biden’s spokesperson, said on Monday regarding the issue that while the US understands the economic reasoning, “the rest of the world, is watching where you’re going to stand as it relates to conflict, whether its support for Russia in any form“. 

Reactions like these, that highlight India’s need for oil yet urge the country to look beyond economic needs, have caused great uproar among some commentators and the Indian government alike. They claim that since India imports 85% of its oil needs, the decision to buy Russian oil was one of necessity and not one of active choice. Further, fingers have also been pointed at European nations that continue to buy Russian oil in large quantities.

The debate surrounding this controversial purchase has mostly been framed around the tension between a country’s ‘legitimate economic interests’ and morality. The implication is that by purchasing Russian Oil, India is inadvertently funding Putin’s war machine. So, what exactly are India’s ‘legitimate economic interests’ here?

India, as a developing country, has a large middle class that is very sensitive to income shocks, i.e. a steep fall in income due to events like rising crude oil prices. High prices for oil on the global market means that the cost for almost everything increases (inflation) since most industries depend on oil products. This leads to people ultimately having less money in their pockets because incomes remain constant while expenses increase dramatically. 

Understandably, a population with less money is prone to civil unrest. A harrowing example of this is Sri Lanka, which is battling its worst economic crisis since the nation’s inception and the subsequent public unrest. Among other factors, surging oil prices have left the country dry of petrol and diesel in its fuel stations. The government has now called in the army after two men were reported to have died while waiting for petrol.

This could explain why the Indian government has been firm in its aim to avoid oil insufficiency. A recent paper by Economist Pranjul Bhandari calculated the effects on the Indian economy if oil were to be priced at $100 per barrel for an extended period. The paper forecasted around a one per cent decrease in India’s GDP if that were the case. To put that yardstick into context, the current prices are above $115. These are India’s legitimate economic interests. But, does buying oil from Russia actually fund its military capacity?

Vladimir Putin has been the de facto head of state for Russia for more than 20 years now. In that time he has built around himself a helpful cadre of Billionaires and Oligarchs who fund his political and military endeavours. Many of these people are in the oil business and hence, when Indian companies buy oil from them, the money does go into Putin’s vault indirectly. 

Although, as pointed out in Rajya Sabha by Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Hardeep Singh Puri, India imported less than 1% of its annual requirement from Russia last year. So the impact of Indian purchases on Russia’s military capacity seems minuscule. This is especially low in comparison to the European Union, which relies on Russia for 27% of its crude oil. India is buying oil from Russia only because it is cheap oil and not because it is Russian oil. 

It must also be pointed out that the Western concern that this move signals India’s affinity towards Russia is not fiction. Over the years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin have developed close personal ties. This is arguably one of the reasons Joe Biden has gone on record to call India’s confrontation with Russia “shaky”. Taking into account India’s abstentions at the UN and the fact that the country is considering a direct Rupee-Rouble corridor to bypass US Dollar based sanctions, this fear does not seem beyond a reasonable doubt.

Moreover, Professor of Political Science Oleksandr Svitych has pointed out in an opinion article that even from a utilitarian perspective, showing overt solidarity with the tightly banded NATO countries also has economic benefits. Put plainly, siding with the ‘good’ side has long term benefits of cooperation and progress. In the meanwhile, India can source its oil from other oil-producing nations and bear the cost of ‘good’ behaviour for later returns.

This liberal internationalist perspective misses one crucial point though. None of the top ten oil-producing countries, barring Canada, have a great track record of human rights. The list includes Saudi Arabia, the largest exporter of oil to India, which has consistently conducted unlawful airstrikes in Yemen. This fact effectively makes it so that if India were to start buying more oil from countries like the UAE or Kuwait in lieu of Russian oil, we would still be funding unlawful killings, unjust wars and brutal autocrats. Since switching producers does not solve the problem of giving money to bad actors, we can just buy from the cheapest autocract around, the argument goes. In this case, the cheapest autocrat happens to be Vladimir Putin. 

Thus, it would be economically and politically imprudent for India to not buy oil from Russia at this moment. Though, India does need to come out with a stronger stance on Ukraine for us to be able to shelter the western anger over it in the long term. 

Rutuparna Deshpande is a second-year student of Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Ashoka University.

Picture Credits: Wikimedia Commons

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 21

The State of Electric Vehicles in India

Much like NFTs, cryptocurrencies and artificial intelligence, electric vehicles are increasingly becoming a buzzword not just around the world, but in India as well. Recent years have seen a surge in the popularity of the automobile industry’s electric vehicle segment. Following Union Minister Nitin Gadkari’s recent announcements regarding the expected sale of electric vehicles (EVs) jumping 10 times within the year and his commitment that “the cost of EVs will come down to a level that will be at par with their petrol variants” within two years, has led to a lot of excitement and speculation around the future of EVs in the country. 

With the sale of electric buses rising by 1200% and that of four-wheeler electric vehicles rising 230% over the past couple of years, the data certainly seems to justify this excitement. Adding to the buzz, was Suzuki Motor’s recent announcement that it would invest Rs. 10,440 crore towards the manufacturing of electric cars and batteries in India, with the objective of rolling out affordable EVs in Japan and India by 2025. A study has revealed that the EV market is likely to be valued at around Rs. 475 billion by 2025, with electric two-wheelers alone accounting for 15% of the market.  

While the popular belief is that firecrackers and stubble burning are to be blamed for air pollution, the reality is that the real culprit is electric vehicles. Scientific studies suggest that vehicular emissions contribute to greater than 50% of the air pollution, while the contribution of industrial emissions is 10-13%. While these statistics vary around the year depending on weather and other factors, the reality remains that vehicular emissions overwhelmingly contribute to the air pollution crisis, particularly in developing countries such as India. Proof of this reality was also seen during the first lockdown, with air pollution dropping by a staggering 79% – is indicative of the damage that fossil-fuel-powered vehicles wreck on the planet. 

Environmental degradation aside, with the rapid growth of EVs, consumers would have a natural incentive to switch, given that the per kilometre cost is Rs. 1 for EVs, while the same is Rs. 10 for petroleum vehicles and Rs. 7 for diesel vehicles. Furthermore, central and state governments have given a huge push to EVs through tax breaks, subsidies, and schemes, such as the ‘Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid) and Electric Vehicles (FAME)-II Scheme. 

Though the sector is poised to enter a new period of expansion, innovation, and investment as commercial activities pick up and the Indian economy recovers in 2022, several obstacles stand in the way of EV’s future. While the government is actively supporting EV use in India, insufficient infrastructure, a shortage of high-performance EVs, and a high upfront cost are preventing widespread adoption. There are a number of possible market hurdles that hinder the EV industry’s capacity to meet expanding demand, including an inadequate charging infrastructure that continues to stymie increased penetration in the two-wheeler consumer sector. In the future years, the lack of a viable manufacturing environment for the materials involved with the EV revolution, along with the concentration of the supply chain in select places, is expected to bring these challenges even more into the light.

These problems are particularly likely to emerge in smaller cities, given the rarity of charging stations – as compared to petrol pumps which are dotted even in the countryside. A further challenge lies in the limited availability of nickel and lithium – key components for EV batteries. The recent power crisis of October 2021, wherein India witnessed a record shortfall of coal supplies, must serve as a reminder for India’s overwhelming dependence on coal – with 70% of the country’s power coming from such fossil fuels. For electric vehicles to be truly green, charging stations must be powered by electricity sourced from renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydropower. 

In spite of this seeming myriad of challenges, there seems to be a lot of optimism regarding the future of EVs in the country. A reflection of this is being seen especially in metropolitan areas such as Delhi, where the state government’s decision to mandate the adoption of a search percentage of EVs in cab aggregators’ fleets has received a warm reception. Leading by example, the Delhi government has mandated that 25% of all new cars joining aggregators should compromise EVs, and this number should amount to 50% within two years. A prime example of the success of EVs is seen in the success of electric car aggregator BluSmart, an Uber-Ola like service which has received funding from giants like British Petroleum and Tata Motors. In less than 3 years of operation, the start-up has curbed 2145+ tonnes of CO2 emissions through over 10,00,000 rides provided to customers in the Delhi-NCR region.

With large original equipment manufacturers taking the initiative to enter the EV component industry in order to lessen dependency on imports and achieve the government’s 50 percent localization requirement for government subsidies, the future of the segment is certainly bright. A comprehensive infrastructure that is inexpensive, accessible, and supports all consumer groups, along with a solid finance environment, governmental incentives, and technology developments, is anticipated to position the electric vehicle industry for major expansion over the next decade.

Abhiir Bhalla is an active youth environmentalist at a global level and has been working in the field of environmental conservation for over 8 years. Identified by the BBC World News as amongst the foremost youth environmentalists in 2020, Abhiir and his work have been featured prominently in the national and international media

Picture Credits: Unsplash

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 21

Socially Content Yet Blissfully Unaware

How many of us are guilty of scrolling through social media all day? How many of us check our Instagram feeds before getting out of bed in the morning? Surveys say media users spend 2.5 hours per day on social media for various reasons. The pervasiveness of social media has come to take over our lives and now defines a large part of who we are. One look at someone’s Instagram feed, and you can learn their likes, dislikes and who they are. Or at least how they wish to be perceived. 

Social media is an effective tool in helping individuals put their best foot forward. Amidst the glitz and glamour of perfectly curated feeds and highlight reels, it’s often easy to forget that most of it is not real, which is not to say that it is magic or a hologram, but rather a collection of a few memorable moments in one’s life. However, this is not true for all platforms, and they differ in the levels of authenticity portrayed. Instagram and Facebook, for example, are associated with hindered wellbeing and a more made-up version of reality, compared to Twitter which aids positive emotions and is considered a space to express honest opinions. 

One of the prime reasons for monetary-free access to social media is the financial backing by advertisers – both for our time and attention. In 2021, Facebook made $114.9 billion from advertising alone. Advertisements have hijacked social media and transformed it from a platform designed to share and connect to a marketplace to buy and sell. What you’re selling has also changed with people increasingly turning themselves into consumable brands and creating a new career path of ‘influencer’.  

Social media trends like ‘that girl‘ promote an ideal lifestyle, extensively curated to drive views to accounts. Such trends flourish and are enormously replicated because of their aspirational value to the audience that consumes them. ‘That girl’ wakes up and makes her Instagram-worthy morning coffee. She shows you her hyper-productive morning routine, wears only the most trendy clothes, flaunts her handsome partner, and makes her day look like she hardly works. She romanticizes life so well that watching her leaves you hating yourself for not having the life she does and feeling guilty for being human. The truth is, ‘that girl’ doesn’t show you the messy parts of her life. She hides the breakdowns and the breakups, doesn’t show you the extent of hard work that goes into shooting those morning routine videos, and forgets to mention that the clothes were part of a barter collaboration. ‘That girl’ carefully frames a narrative that makes you either want her or want to be her. 

Other trends, such as the ‘daily reminder that social media is fake‘ trend, focus on celebrating human flaws and all the physical insecurities social media users try to hide. These serve as a juxtaposition, reminding viewers that even ‘that girl’ is like you. While we all claim to be aware that social media is not real and applaud those who upload unedited, no-filter images, when it comes to ourselves, we find it impossible to find that same compassion. 

It’s not all that girl’s fault, though. She is simply a cog in the social media machine. The real culprit is the algorithm created to keep consumers hooked and fuel their daily mindless scrolling. Studies have shown that endless likes, shares, and retweets on social media platforms give users the same dopamine release as gambling and consuming drugs. Algorithms make use of this easy addiction and curate your feed in a way that repeatedly exhibits content of the same niche. They reinforce the ideas and feelings of positive or negative self-evaluation that the content elicits. 

Influencers leverage the idea of relatability and aspiration to construct an online persona that will be liked and replicated by their audiences to sell branded products. A study shows approximately 80% of consumers have made purchases based on influencer recommendations. Consumers are more likely to adhere to a peer recommendation than a brand advertisement and require social proof when making purchase decisions. One tends to forget that these influencers run businesses driven by a profit-oriented approach. Brands are becoming more and more aware of how to manipulate a consumer’s buying habits through influencer marketing. It is a consumer’s right to be made aware of these practices and their responsibility to ask for more information.   

At the single click of a button comes both the ease of following and unfollowing these pages. But aspiring to these lifestyles, watching this content, and repeatedly scrolling become habits one can’t forego. There is a rising herd mentality and aimless following that social media breeds. Are you losing your individuality? Is everyone slowly morphing into the most viewed social media personas, or is there still hope to escape the hypnosis of mindless consumption? 

You are the content you consume because the content, in the form of other people’s preferences, videos, and the level of familiarity, becomes the basis for your decisions. Technology allows access to a global audience, known and unknown, and suggests everything right from friends to books and music. The consumer now believes that if everyone is doing it, it must be right. We have become so dIgitally desensitized to the world outside our screens. If we take a step back, we can see that we have lost sight of what’s real and not.

Maahira Jain is a third-year student at Ashoka University studying Psychology and Media studies. She is a movie buff and is extremely passionate about writing and travelling.

Reya Daya is a third-year student, studying psychology and media studies at Ashoka University. Her other interests include writing, photography and music.

Picture Credits: Unsplash

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 21

The Act of Cleaning Up: River Rejuvenations and Its Many Delusions

On March 14th, Union Environment Minister Bhupendar Yadav unveiled a plan to rejuvenate 13 rivers in the country. The rivers that have been chosen for the rejuvenation process are Cauvery, Krishna, Mahanadi, Godavari, Narmada, Luni, Brahmaputra, Yamuna, Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, Chenab, and Jhelum. The minister stated that the rejuvenation process for these thirteen rivers will follow the “successful implementation” of the Ganga model, and employ “forestry intervention” of afforesting the banks of the rivers as its primary approach. While implementation of such projects is vital to improving the conditions of the rivers, it is worth exploring the claimed “success” of past attempts at river rejuvenation, and what lessons could be learnt for future projects.  

In recent years, the most prominent attempt at river rejuvenation has been the Namami Gange project. In 2011 the Central Government had initiated the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) under the Jal Shakti Ministry. Following the Ganga Action Plans I and II, undertaken in the 1980s and 90s, the Namami Gange Programme was implemented under the NMCG in 2014 as an “Integrated Conservation Mission” with the vision to abate pollution, as well as rejuvenate the Ganga. The government website for the programme enlists its key achievements as ‘Creating Sewerage Treatment Capacity,’ ‘Creating River-Front Development’, ‘River Surface Cleaning,’ ‘Afforestation,’ ‘Industrial Effluent Monitoring.’

While the deadline that the NMCG had set itself for the successful implementation of the Namami Gange project was December 2020, many projects under the programmes still seem to be in progress. Of the 346 projects undertaken through the programme, only 158 have been completed, as reported by The Wire. Furthermore, in November 2021 the National Green Tribunal had pulled up the NMCG for not being accountable to their timelines while suggesting that structural changes in the functioning of the NMCG should be considered to fix the lack of accountability and to achieve targets on time. The problems that persist in cleaning up Ganga became embodied most tragically during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic when dead bodies were seen floating on the Ganga at several places.Apart from the Ganga, the attempt to rejuvenate the Sabarmati river through the Sabarmati Riverfront Project is also worthy of speculation. The project began in 1997 with the vision to provide the city of Ahmedabad with a more environmentally conducive waterfront and improve standards of living in the city. Yet despite a concerted effort that was spread out over two decades, the river continues to be polluted. In a report published after an investigation jointly carried out by the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) and Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) in 2019, the dismal condition of the river due to industrial effluents was discussed. The report mentioned; “Sabarmati River no longer has any freshwater when it enters the city of Ahmedabad. The

Sabarmati Riverfront has merely become a pool of polluted stagnant water while the river, downstream of the riverfront, has been reduced to a channel carrying effluents from industries… The drought-like condition of the Sabarmati river intensified by the Riverfront Development has resulted in poor groundwater recharge and increased dependency on the already ailing Narmada river.” The examples of the Namami Gange Programme and the Sabarmati Riverfront project remain far from inspiring confidence for future projects of river rejuvenation.

There are several lessons that the government can learn from these projects. Firstly, a common problem that prevails in both Ganga and Sabarmati is sewage concentration. The government may have invested infrastructurally in riverfront development and river surface cleaning, but unless better methods for sewage treatment are not arrived upon, the rivers will continue to be polluted and affect livelihoods. A report by scientist Sanjay Dwivedi found that untreated sewage accounts for 75% of Ganga’s filth. The PSS and GPCB report already establish how Sabarmati continues to be infused with industrial effluents. Forestry interventions or afforesting the banks can only create more viable biodiversity in and around the rivers. However, the flow of industrial effluents and sewage concentration more or less renders any forestry interventions futile. Rivers such as Sutlej, Beas, in Punjab and Cauvery in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are extremely polluted and only forestry intervention methods will not resolve the magnanimity of the problem.

Secondly, consecutive governments and consecutive programmes have failed to immerse local communities in their projects to improve the rivers. The NMCG had initiated a plan to accord responsibilities to more than one thousand Gram Panchayats in the Ganga basin to create toilets and model villages. However, there has been no mechanism set up to involve the locals directly in the rejuvenation process. A more sustainable plan will not ignore the fact that local communities can become the most responsible executors of a rejuvenation programme if a central system of coordination system is facilitated for them. However, continuing to centralise and bureaucratise the process of rejuvenation without sufficient accountability and transparency only results in persisting hardships for locals around the rivers. No great river in the world was rejuvenated in a matter of a few years. Setting realistic timelines, prioritising scientific methods to prevent and treat sewage, and ascertaining full accountability, as suggested by the NGT, is the way to go for the impending rejuvenation of the thirteen rivers.

Biplob Kumar Das is a Graduate Student at Ashoka University currently pursuing an Advanced Major in Political Science and a Minor in Media Studies. He completed his undergraduate degree in Political Science and takes a keen interest in anything related to Indian politics, media, art and culture.

Picture Credits: Outlook

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 21

What Are Your Thoughts on In-Person Classes?

With a return to in-person classes after nearly two years, Ashoka University welcomed many students with an entire batch coming for the first time. OpenAxis decided to ask both students and faculty about their opinion on this transition.

Interviewer & Videographer: Lakshya Sharma

Video Editor: Shree Bhattacharyya

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).