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Issue 10

Atypical

Atypical is a show on Netflix about 18-year-old Sam, a boy on the autism spectrum, navigating his way through life and becoming more independent. Well, yeah, the show is brilliant, the writing is immaculate, the actors are phenomenal and the story is gripping, but, what stands out is the way all the characters have their own stories and struggles, yet their lives are completely intertwined. Not once do Sam’s struggles overshadow the other characters’ in the show and that’s what makes Atypical so captivating. 

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Issue 10

The Viability of Utopia Today

In a world experiencing a pandemic, ongoing economic recessions, political upheaval, and impending ecological collapse, what does it mean to think about utopia? Projects focused on outer space by billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk seem to think that humanity can find its way out the hole it has dug for itself by founding utopian societies on other planets. Politicians have longed promised utopian programs of social renewal. As a researcher of utopia as a genre and a theory, the question I have in reading about such hopes is not can we achieve utopia on earth or in space—such questions are well beyond my capacity and training to answer. Instead, I’m interested in whether it is useful to think about utopia at all. Does imagining perfect worlds serve our present or our future, or do utopias simply set us up for disappointment and failure? 

To think about the viability of utopian thought today, it is useful to return to utopia’s origins. The idea of a perfect place has existed for as long as humans have been thinking and writing. Works like Plato’s Republic and Ravidas’s “Begumpura” offer visions of worlds that improve upon the ones in which their authors lived. The term utopia, however, was not coined until the early sixteenth century by English humanist Thomas More. Formed by combining the Greek “ou” (no) with “topas” (place) and punning on “eu” (good), utopia etymologically means “a good place that is nowhere.” This should tell us something. Utopia, as it was originally conceived, was not understood as a real place. It was, by its very definition, a contradiction. 

More’s Utopia (1516) itself is full of puns and paradoxes. Raphael Hythloday, who claims to have discovered an ideal island where people’s needs are met and all live in peace and harmony, seems honest enough in his narration. However, his name, Hythloday, means “speaker of nonsense” in Greek. This name itself calls into question the veracity of his narrative. The world that Hythloday describes is equally replete with contradiction: though it has a democratic government in which everyone is free, the island also has slaves and is quick to colonize other lands. Indeed, the birth of utopia as an early modern literary genre is closely tied to the beginnings of European colonization. The justifications for colonization used by Europeans eerily echo those of the Utopia when Hythloday says that many of the Utopians’ independent neighbors, who were “liberated by them from tyranny,” admired Utopian virtues so much that they “requested” magistrates from Utopia to come to their lands and govern them. Giving these colonizing impulses, this seemingly perfect island is not as idyllic as it seems. 

The difference between dystopia and utopia is a matter of perspective. As students in my class last spring used to say, “whose utopia is it?” For the rulers of Utopia, the island’s life may have appeared equitable and democratic, but not so for its slaves. This same ambiguity pervades many other works in the genre. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novella Herland (1915), for instance, depicts a feminist world run by women that also has racist undertones. Ursula K. LeGuin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (1973) dramatizes the contradiction inherent to utopia by portraying the city Omelas, whose prosperity depends on the misery of a child in the basement. The effort to achieve perfect harmony, it seems, often necessities homogenization, which, in turn, leads to the oppression and erasure of those who are different. 

So where does this inevitable failure of the utopian leave us? Do we throw up our hands and forsake the hope that things might get better? To answer this question, we need first to reframe our notions of the utopian itself. I suggest (as do many scholars of utopia) that utopias were never meant to be read as templates or blueprints. To understand literary utopias or utopian political visions in this way is bound to lead us astray.

If we don’t see them as guides to the perfect life, what use might utopias have? Instead of understanding utopia as a perfect homogenous society, we might more usefully read it as a mode of cognitive estrangement. Utopia helps us view the world critically, producing wonder and disorientation, not as ends unto themselves but rather to unsettle the assumptions of the here-and-now with the suggestion that things could be different. Hence, Paul Ricouer aptly describes utopia as “a progressive counterblast to the essential conservatism of ideology.” If we understand utopia in this more capacious way—as a mechanism of transformation rather than as a perfect place—, we can more clearly see its value. Utopian visions, despite or even because of their flaws, promote reform in self-critical ways that foreground the tensions and contradictions inherent in reform itself.

A practical example of this type of utopian thinking is Chantal Mouffe’s notion of agonism, a philosophical outlook that emphasizes the importance of conflicting positions. Taking issue with John Rawl’s notion of liberal pluralism, Mouffe argues that in place of a morality that seeks to neutralize difference, we should understand politics as based in conflict between adversaries who may disagree but who respect each other. Agonism might seem a far cry from utopia, but I argue that it is a vital example of utopianism as it can be exercised today: this is a form of thought that unsettles what we take for granted—that the end goal of a liberal democracy should be agreement—and helps us see that there might be different ways of envisioning the political. 

Mouffe’s political theory is one example of contemporary utopianism, but utopia does not need to be confined to the ‘real’ world. Fiction is a valuable and often unrecognized bridge between the utopian and the political. Whether a Netflix series that unsettles our assumptions about the future or a novel that gives glimpses of a world that could be different, narrative fiction offers pathways for critique, a mode as vital to our world as to More’s. It’s tempting as a literature professor to use this as a chance to make a case for the value of the humanities, but this is not so much my point, at least not here. Rather, fiction is one of many possible vehicles for a utopianism that charts lines of flight to other worlds of possibility. These worlds do not have to be on Mars but instead can consist of smaller acts of reimagining what we take for granted and efforts towards change with the understanding that perfection will never be possible.

References: 

Mouffe, Chantal. Agonistics: Thinking The World Politically. London: Verso Books, 2013.

Ricoeur, Paul. Lectures on Ideology and Utopia, ed. George H. Taylor. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986.

Alexandra Verini is a professor of medieval literature at Ashoka University. Her research interests include medieval and early modern gender, religion and utopia. She is currently completing a book that explores utopian thought developed in women’s devotional communities.

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

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Issue 10

The Scramble For Mars: Why Are We So Obsessed With the Red Planet?

The mysterious disappearance of Mars’ ocean witnessed a major breakthrough in the past week – it might have never been lost at all. A recent NASA-backed study found that between 30 to 99 percent of the planet’s water is likely held within its crust in the form of hydrated minerals. While the extraction of water from these minerals may not be an easy feat, the study has gathered substantial traction at a time when humanity is looking to Mars like never before. Why are human beings obsessed with colonizing Mars – and what does this obsession represent?

The desire to explore Mars initially stemmed from a curiosity to enhance knowledge about the conditions that lead to life on a planet. It is also studied to understand how critical shifts in climate fundamentally alter planets. Recently, though, the paramount motivation to explore the planet is rooted in the objective of establishing an interplanetary human civilization – as a crucial safeguard against mass-extinction.  

The obsession with colonizing Mars is a product of several factors. One argument holds that only a space-faring human civilization faces the best odds of survival. This perspective is closely linked to the fear of death and the desire for “immortality” which motivates sending humans to other worlds. Moreover, a “biological motive(s)” with respect to the innate human desire for migration has been repeatedly suggested to substantiate extra-terrestrial prospects for the human race. Additionally, the romanticization of establishing an interplanetary existence for human beings also arises from optimistic perspectives of establishing a “utopia”. Setting up a space-faring civilization is expected to unify humanity and positively impact perspectives on socio-political and economic systems to finally create an “ideal” society. 

As alluring as these reasons may be, they are not grounded in reality – especially given the glaring gaps in scientific knowledge about how to establish self-sustaining human life on Mars. The argument that only colonizing Mars, and other planets will significantly improve the chance of human survival can be countered by arguing that sending humans to other worlds may not prove to be safer beyond a probability analysis. Attempting to address crises on Earth – such as the climate emergency – may increase the probability of human survival as well. The prospect of reaching Mars can disrupt efforts to find possible solutions to problems on Earth.  

Secondly, it is important to acknowledge that the idea of human progression is one that is culturally propagated. Just as human beings have historically shown tendencies to migrate, they have also displayed the desire to settle down. Justifying colonization of other planets on this basis ignores the fetishization of space travel, that equates space exploration with technological advancement and national power. 

 Thirdly, notions of a utopian human existence on faraway planets are naïve. The connotations of the usage of the word “colonization” elicits references to intergenerational torture unleashed at the cost of building “moral” and “civilized” societies. The modern interaction between “colonization” of planets and the advent of large-scale capitalism is bound to have similar consequences. Though human activities in space are governed by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which posits that international law applies in outer space, the moon and other celestial bodies, the ambiguities in its laws allows corporate entities to circumvent its clauses.

This came to life in the case of SpaceX, a private company based in the United States that designs and manufactures rockets and spacecrafts. The company has declared that the services of one of its products will not fall under the jurisdiction of any Earth-based government; in addition, Earth-based governments will also agree to recognize Mars as a free planet. This position becomes more dubious when analyzing SpaceX’s CEO, Elon Musk’s, claim that “loans” and “jobs” will be made available for those unable to pay for the exorbitant trip across space to sustain their life on Mars; essentially representing an interplanetary repackaging of indentured servitude. Hence, given the current state of space legislation, it will not be anytime soon that economic and social equality will be ensured for a space-faring civilization – completely shattering any possibility of “utopia” on Mars. 

The colonization of Mars, consequently, also raises important moral questions – particularly about how a Martian society would operate. A new approach suggests that once human beings arrive at Mars, they should disconnect from their Earthly relatives. This “liberation” perspective implies that once permanent human settlers arrive at Mars, they should relinquish their planetary citizenship for Earth – instead adopting Martian citizenship. From that point on, the Martians should be left to their own devices. Any entities – governmental, non-governmental – must not engage with the economics, politics, or culture of this society. While scientific exploration by Earth’s citizens can continue on Mars, sharing research and information should only take place to achieve medical or educational goals. Most importantly, the citizens of Earth must not make any demands for Martian resources. 

The idea behind this position is simple – in order to develop a Martian extension of human civilization, it must be allowed to freely determine its fate, just as human beings did on Earth. Often the mission to establish human existence on Mars is projected as a “moral” position by governments and businessmen, in which case the liberation approach is the most principled execution of this goal. The reason why this idea doesn’t sit well with human society – and probably never will – is because colonizing Mars is, inherently, a selfish, human fantasy. This fantasy emerges from the desire to possess and profit – either in the form of capital or nationalist feats, or both. It is impossible to isolate the race to establish human settlements on different planets from geopolitical, social and economic processes existing on Earth; the maniacal pursuit of Mars is about scientific triumph as much as it is about a show of power.

The obsession to populate Mars, hence, represents the manifestation of the worst in humanity – never-ending curiosity coupled with little regard for ethical, sociopolitical, or economic consequences of the same. Instead of addressing the glaring issues that currently exist on Earth, there are strong desires to “advance” to the perceived next stage of human existence. While it can be debated whether occupying other planets will objectively be beneficial, the only thing that becomes painfully clear is that humanity is preparing to leap from one ill-fated land to the next – with little awareness or regard for the problems it will inevitably carry to the new worlds it explores. 

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).

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Issue 10

Silence of the Players: The FIFA World Cup and Human Rights in Qatar

At the time of writing, there are 608 days left for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. There was controversy even during FIFA’s initial decision to award host status to the Middle Eastern country in December 2010, and criticism has, with good reason, only grown in magnitude since then. Reports of human rights violations and migrant labourers being forced to work in atrocious conditions have received wide publicity in the lead up to the world’s biggest sporting event. Earlier this year, the Guardian estimated that more than 6500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died in Qatar since December 2010. Another report by Amnesty International cites several issues that many migrant labourers in Qatar are forced to confront. These include terrible living conditions, wage problems and forcible detention in the country by employers. While calls to boycott the tournament have been made by fans and clubs alike, there has been a notable lack in public statements or stands made by players participating in the tournament. Many footballers who are aware of the situation unfolding in Qatar are likely to face some degree of moral conflict or external pressure whether or not to use their reach to advocate change, or even a complete boycott. The risk of losing one’s place in the team, being restricted from speaking out by sponsor companies, the influence of PR teams, football organizations and countries present several possible explanations for the relatively low amount of condemnation that the tournament has received from players. 

Players are the most visible part of a World Cup. Apart from being the carefully selected group to represent a country, they are also the most marketable part of the World Cup, and hence, subject to utmost scrutiny. However, should players be carrying any sort of moral burden? 

Although they are a fundamental part of the tournament, they are independent of the operations and decision making processes of FIFA and its political and commercial partners. The highest governing authority on football should be held more accountable for not only granting Qatar the rights for the World Cup, but also failing to ensure more stringent rules and directives. FIFA’s complicitness in Qatar exploiting its labourers points at the need for drastic structural change. There have been several accusations against the organisation that it took bribes to allow Qatar to host the tournament. Former FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who is serving a ban from FIFA-related activities following a separate scandal of his own in 2015, wrote in his book Ma Verite, that FIFA executive committee (Exco) members chose to disregard advice that Qatar would not be able to host a World Cup, and that “he alleges Qatar’s shock victory was a combination of a rule-breaking collusion deal and political pressure exerted on Michel Platini, the French Exco member”. With the multiple political and diplomatic layers shrouding the World Cup behind endless trails of scattered bureaucracy, it is unlikely that significant structural changes will take place before 21 November, 2022. The route that FIFA seems to have taken is one of deflecting attention until then, in the hopes that the glamour of the first World Cup to take place in the Middle East (and only the second in Asia) will outshine the tournament’s corrupt foundations. 

Some nations and players have chosen to publicly take objection with the events in Qatar on their own accord. Norway coach Staale Solbakken said that his team was planning to use a special gesture to raise awareness about migrant labour conditions in their first fixture against Gibraltar. In 2016, two Dutch players, Tom Hogli and William Kvist , who signed with FC Copenhagen in Denmark, spoke out regarding the same issue. Riku Risi, a Finnish striker, boycotted a collective tour with Sweden and Iceland in January 2019 due to “ethical concerns”, despite putting his place in the team at risk in choosing to do so. Yet, not all players and others associated with the game on the ground level share the same sentiments. Footballing legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic stated in a recent interview that “A football player will play in the World Cup no matter what. Whatever happens off the pitch is not up to me”. Former Barcelona superstar Xavi Hernandez, who is currently the manager of Al-Sadd in Qatar, has emerged in favour of hosting the World Cup there, mainly due to the country’s small size and subsequent lack of travel time between venues. His personal stakes in Qatari football, alongside the fact that he will be an official ambassador for the World Cup could mean that he is virtually unable to raise any grievances against Qatar or FIFA due to the implications for his career. Or, like Ibrahimovic, he could be detached from the various causes for concern associated with the tournament and simply wish to focus on football instead. 

It is evident that players who wish to publicize their opinions must take into consideration the effect it will have on their market values, commercial deals and position within the team, and not to mention, their chances of representing their country. Showing signs of solidarity at the tournament or even boycotting it entirely can only be part of a short-term solution— it would take a great deal of movement in a short time-frame before it starts, for any kind of drastic change in either Qatar or FIFA. For now, it seems like FIFA is counting on the worldwide spectatorship and footballing glory that the World Cup brings with it every four years to supersede the magnitude of their mistakes. 

Shourjo Chatterjee is a 4th year undergraduate student at Ashoka University studying English Literature and International Relations. In his free time you’ll find him drumming and reading novels.

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

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Issue 10

Remo D’Souza: The Man Who Changed the Face of Indian Dance

Bollywood thrives on dance. Hindi cinema feels incomplete without fabulous dance sequences at regular intervals, nudging us to jump out of our seats and grin at the sheer grandiosity of it all. Songs are integral to the emotional fabric of these films; and choreographed dance steps only serve to enhance their mood and rhythms. Despite its importance, dance had always been a background element. It had always been present, but was seldom the main focus of the film. However, in the past few years, this subsidiary status has changed. Dance films and dance reality TV shows have become more common, and dancers have steadily gained celebrity status. This shift in perception can be credited to various reasons,  one of the principal ones being Remo D’Souza. 

Remo D’Souza is an Indian dancer, choreographer and director. He started his journey as a dancer in 1995. On account of his dark-coloured skin, he was subject to racism and rejected from many films. He found his first break as a background dancer in choreographer Ahmed Khan’s group in the film Rangeela. Later, he decided to venture into choreographing music videos. His choreography in Sonu Nigam’s “Deewana” in 1999 was very well received. Remo eventually changed paths and tried his hand at choreographing film videos. Here, director Anubhav Sinha’s Tum Bin was a major milestone for him. In 2009, he made his television debut as a judge on the show Dance India Dance (DID).

D’Souza’s extraordinary influence on the Indian dance scene stems from his stint on DID. As a judge on the show, he mentored various novice dancers like Dharmesh Yelande, Salman Yusuff Khan, Raghav Juyal, Prince Gupta and Punit Pathak who flourished under his guidance, and till date credit him for their success. Khan was the winner of DID, and appeared in the title song of Wanted. In 2013, he won Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa with dancer Drashti Dhami. In 2014, he was a participant of Fear Factor: Khatron Ke Khiladi 5. He was also a judge on the dance reality show Dance Dance Junior. A spin-off of DID called DID Li’l Masters aired in 2010. Dharmesh was a skipper on the show; and his mentee won. Both Juyal and Gupta were skippers on DID L’il Masters 2. Juyal stayed on as skipper for the show’s third season too. In 2015, D’Souza started appearing as the Super Judge on TV show Dance Plus. Dharmesh and Pathak are regular judges on the show; while Juyal has been the host since the show’s premiere. This is unprecedented — to achieve success through dance in such a short period of time; and managing to hold on to that glory. These shows and their contestants’ success have significantly altered the way people see ‘dance’, and established it as a non-queer career choice. 

Through his films ABCD: AnyBody Can Dance, ABCD 2 and Street Dancer 3D, D’Souza has brought the genre of dance films into mainstream Bollywood. His cast is composed almost entirely of dancers, and besides his regular crew of Yelande, Khan, Juyal and Pathak, D’Souza also spotlights upcoming dancers through these films. Popular American dancer Lauren Gottlieb made her Bollywood debut in ABCD. Today, all these dancers are prominent names in India’s dance circuit. D’Souza has also contributed to the recent wave of novel dance forms in Hindi cinema. His film ABCD famously played around with almost 50 different dance forms like western contemporary, ballroom, pumping, hip-hop, kathak, Indian folk, semi-classical, local street dancing, etc. 

The films in the ABCD franchise employ inspirational plots. I write “employ” because the major plot is always dance, and its interaction with different characters. The sub-plots within the dance films serve to enhance the exhilaration of witnessing that interaction. In ABCD: AnyBody Can Dance, Prabhudeva says, “Dance apne aap mein ek nasha hai. Jab yeh nasha ho, aur koi nasha nahin ho sakta!” (Dance is an addiction in and of itself. When this addiction is present, no other addiction can be entertained!) Here, sheer passion for dance is posited as the condition of an excellent dancer; and an excellent dancer is shown as a rich dancer. ABCD 2 structures itself upon the binary of ‘dance to express/dance to impress’. It tells the story of a dance crew who make their way to a hip-hop competition in Las Vegas. They do not win; but they successfully exhibit the impact of dance on one’s life. Street Dancer 3D utilises the binary of ‘dance for yourself/dance for others’. Here, the dancers earn money by winning a dance competition and use it to send struggling, South Asian immigrants back home. All these stories argue for dance’s positive influence on people; and also assert its place as a viable career and lifestyle in today’s India. 

D’Souza’s persistence and creativity have shifted the way dance is perceived in India. For an art form which is utilised by the poor to facilitate class ascension; dancing used to be popularly dominated by the rich and the famous. D’Souza’s endeavours have collapsed this distinction. By foregrounding background dancers and allowing their skills to dominate the frame, his projects give artists a platform and highlight their versatility alongside the films’ heroes. In his films, while Varun Dhawan and Shraddha Kapoor are the clear protagonists; dancers Prabhu Deva and Lauren Gottlieb are never sidelined. Consequently, dancers and actors receive the same treatment and both are viewed as celebrities in their own right. Through various projects across his career, D’Souza has encouraged this shift; and thereby his lasting contributions to the Indian dance scene cannot be overstated. 

Anushka Bidani is a 20 year old poet & essayist from India. She’s studying English literature at Ashoka University. You can find her at https://anushkabidani.com

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Issue 10

Delhi’s Water Crisis: Not Just a Water Shortage Issue

Recently, the shortage of water in Delhi prompted the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) to approach the Supreme Court against the Haryana government. Raghav Chadha, Vice-Chairman of the DJB, cited the rising ammonia levels in Yamuna and its falling water levels when there is a necessity for higher water supply in the upcoming summer months, as reasons for the shortage in Delhi’s water supply. Chadha claimed that despite notifying officers concerned of the Haryana government on a daily basis, no concrete action had been taken and there had been no improvement towards restoring any normalcy, pushing him to take up the inter-state matter with the apex court. While the Supreme Court has decided to hear the DJB’s plea against Haryana over the looming water crisis on March 25, the Delhi-Haryana water dispute is an age-old tale that needs immediate resolution.

Haryana supplies water to Delhi through the Carrier-Lined Channel (CLC), Delhi Sub-Branch (DSB) and the Yamuna. There is a regular fall in the level of Yamuna, especially during summers, affecting the quantity of water received at Wazirabad Pond. The normal level of the Yamuna near Wazirabad Pond should be 674.50 feet but it has dropped to 670.90 feet, failing to observe the Supreme Court order of February 1996, which stated that the pond level in Wazirabad has to be kept full. 

The drastic fall in the water level at Wazirabad pond has affected water production at Wazirabad, Okhla and Chandrawal water treatment plants which supply drinking water to central, north, west and south Delhi. To add to these problems, Haryana through CLC canal is supplying only 549.16 cusecs against 683 cusecs and Delhi Sub-Branch canal is supplying 306.63 cusecs against 330 cusecs. While the quantity of water supplied to Delhi by Haryana is diminishing, the quality of the water has not met the necessary standards either. This is a recurring issue that is still seeking addressal as the rising level of ammonia and other industrial waste in Yamuna has made it unsuitable for water treatment.

At the surface level, the Delhi-Haryana water dispute might seem like a problem with a straightforward solution, but in reality it is riddled with legal and political baggage that pose a serious threat to the availability of water for Delhi in the future. 

LEGAL HISTORY: Punjab, Haryana and Delhi

The reorganisation of the state of Punjab in 1966 set the ball rolling for a series of legal interventions that would dictate the water-sharing agreements between Punjab and Haryana. Considering the fact that Haryana is not a riparian state that is largely dependent on water due to 70 percent of the population being involved in agriculture, it was important for Haryana to claim a water supply channel from Punjab. However, by 1976, the failure to reach any mutual agreement on water-sharing led to the central government passing an order for the construction of the Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal, which would divide the Ravi-Beas surplus water in favour of Haryana, at 3.78 : 3.26 Million Acre Feet (MAF). 

Even though the matter should have been resolved here, Punjab’s non-cooperation led to the slowing down of the construction of the canal. Through repeated interventions, such as the 1981 agreement which stated that the construction be finished in two years, the 1990 SC order which stated that the construction be finished in a year, and the 2004 SC order which stated the same, the state of Punjab failed to live up to its obligations. In turn, the Punjab government passed The Punjab Termination of Agreements Act, 2004, which rid them of all these aforementioned obligations. 

It is no surprise, therefore, that Punjab’s non-cooperation with Haryana on water-sharing agreements have resulted in repercussions for Delhi. In a report for the Firstpost in June 2018, Pranav Jain reports, “Even though the Delhi government paid for concrete lining of the Munak Canal in order to avail benefit of water saved from wasteful leakages, the Haryana government often plays truant, and routinely diverts water from the Munak to multiple off-shoot regular canals downstream, a little before the Delhi-Haryana border”, indicating how the Haryana government is forced to play foul with regard to its water supply to Delhi.

While legal tensions are responsible for elevating the water sharing disputes between the three states, the growing political differences between the Centre and State governments in Delhi are making matters worse.

POLITICAL TURMOIL: BJP vs AAP

Raghav Chadha’s move to take the dispute to the top court is not the first time in the recent past when an AAP party member has made an attempt to resolve the inter-state issue through legal means. In May 2018 as well, the DJB chaired by Arvind Kejriwal had moved the Supreme Court, Delhi high court and the NGT regarding the reduced quantity and quality of water supplied from Haryana. What followed was a war of words between lieutenant governor (L-G) Anil Baijal and Kejriwal regarding how the issue was handled, with the LG citing that attempts should have been made to resolve the water dispute through negotiations and dialogue rather than through confrontation in court. As reported by Pranav Jain, it is no secret how the BJP has constantly made use of the Lieutenant Governor (L-G) office in crippling the efforts of the AAP government in Delhi.

However, in response on May 31, the BJP-led Haryana government assured supply of water until the monsoon season, but under the condition that the DJB and Delhi government withdraw all the cases filed. The AAP government responded to these demands swiftly, succumbing to the political pressure that was evidently overruling these decisions. Dinesh Mohaniya, then vice-chairman of the DJB, claimed on June 01, that the Supreme Court case had been withdrawn as the court directed them to approach Upper Yamuna River Board (UYRB). Similarly, the NGT case on pollution and excess ammonia flowing in raw water, was withdrawn as it “was no longer the case”. Given the additional bureaucratic procedures that the Delhi government is forced to take in shifting the case from the SC to the UYRB, and the regulations that need to be put in place by the Haryana government to resolve the release of industrial waste into the Yamuna, it is surprising how these issues were deemed as resolved within a day’s time. 

Clearly, there is a growing misrepresentation between what is happening at the ground level in comparison to what is being agreed upon in these water-sharing disputes. The AAP government’s decision to withdraw all cases momentarily in 2018 indicates the lack of foresight that was present when dealing with the grave circumstances of water shortage. This has hampered the progress that could have been made in resolving this issue, but the crisis continues to loom over Delhi’s future even today. If the Centre and State government do not work in tandem to resolve these legal and political disputes, Delhi, Haryana and Punjab could be facing a water crisis in the near future with no immediate answer. Environmental concerns can only be addressed once these internal disputes are overcome, and it is the need of the hour for elected representatives to avert any emergencies in the foreseeable future when it comes to the provision of a basic necessity such as water.

Picture Credits: Tribune India

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.

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Issue 10

Menstrual Health in Rural India

The nationwide lockdown that was declared in March 2020 to limit the spread of COVID-19, had a number of social and economic consequences. India faced a massive crisis of reverse migration of labour from urban to rural areas, rise in unemployment and a massive economic slowdown. Amidst this, another setback that became visible only much later was the rapid deterioration of menstrual hygiene, especially in rural and peri-urban regions of the country. Articles published in the first few months of 2021 highlight  how the pandemic has influenced menstrual hygiene, particularly with regards to reduced accessibility and affordability of hygiene products and hence an increase in health problems associated with it. 

The main issue that these articles describe is lack of access to sanitary pads. Government schemes that provide sanitary pads were disrupted at different points along the supply chain, ranging from the unavailability of pads to the closure of schools, which earlier acted as distribution points for these products . Other sources of sanitary pads, namely ASHA and Anganwadi workers, also faced similar shortages  and hence were unable to distribute them as they usually did. Finally, the loss of employment especially in the informal sector left many families with very limited, if any, income to make ends meet , which resulted in sanitary pads becoming a “luxury item” that were abandoned in favour of “essentials”

The  mainstream discourse in India, claims that the main hindrance to menstrual hygiene in India is either the unavailability or the unaffordability of sanitary products by  women in rural areas. This assumption is based on a study conducted by Plan India in 2010 which states that only 12% of all women in India use sanitary pads and the remaining 88% use unsanitary means of managing menstruation. However, not only are these numbers highly contested by multiple studies that have followed, but the assumption that any method apart from the use of sanitary pads is unhygienic is also deeply flawed. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data finds that 58% of women use hygienic means of managing menstruation, and a large proportion of these depend on the use of cloth. 

While the need to improve affordability and availability definitely does exist, this is far from being the main barrier to menstrual hygiene in the country. Rather, there are multiple pressing challenges that are far more prevalent and damaging. To begin with, most women do not have access to clean toilets and changing spaces, which is one of the most common reasons for infections to fester. In addition to the lack of infrastructure, social taboos also indirectly contribute to the spread of infection. For cloth to be a hygienic method of managing menstruation, it requires frequent washing and drying in sunlight. However, due to the taboo associated with these clothes being visible to others, many women are either not allowed to or are themselves ashamed to dry them in the open. Instead, they resort to drying them in small hidden spaces that tend to be damp and dark, which rapidly increases the chances of infection due to bacteria build up. 

Government schemes too are based on the assumption that menstrual hygiene can only be ensured through the provision of sanitary pads. Central government schemes such as a the Menstrual Hygiene Scheme and the Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK), while in theory aim to promote menstrual hygiene as a whole, in practice only promote interventions that “increase awareness of access to sanitary pads”. State government schemes also follow the same trajectory, either by distributing pads or providing funds to buy pads. However, these programs are quite inadequate as data shows that women only receive 5 or 6 pads every month, which is simply not enough as 12 to 20 pads are required to manage a single menstrual cycle. 

The state’s emphasis on sanitary pads above all other forms of menstrual hygiene, without the ability to provide enough, is not only economically expensive and environmentally unsustainable but also weans women away from traditional methods such as cloth without providing a viable alternative. Further, the solution is also ineffective as it does not address larger issues such as lack of infrastructure or restrictive social stigmas, both of which are systemic problems in ensuring menstrual hygiene in India. Any solution that hopes to be effective must take into account and attempt to combat these issues in order to improve menstrual hygiene as a whole should be made. 

While acknowledging the flaws in the social system that we operate within, namely the taboos and stigmas that drive people, it is also equally imperative that one acknowledges and leverages the strengths of the same social system to improve the existing conditions. This could be done in a number of ways. For instance, there are festivals in multiple different cultures across the country that celebrate the start of menstruation for a girl child, such as Mithuna Sankranti in Orissa or Ritushuddhi in Karnataka. Instead of depending solely on logic or scientific rationale to combat existing taboos that view menstruation as shameful or unimportant, drawing on existing cultural traditions that celebrate the process would be an effective method as it is rooted in people’s sentiments and beliefs. 

This process of addressing wider issues of physical infrastructure as well as cultural mindsets rather than limiting the scope of menstrual hygiene to simply promoting the use of sanitary pads can also be extremely beneficial to the environment. If women are provided with clean and private changing spaces and the acceptance to wash and dry their menstrual products, cloth pads can become a safe, hygienic, inexpensive and sustainable method of managing menstruation. 

Further, to make its implementation more successful, environmentally sustainable solutions can be propagated without framing it as such. Cloth pads, for instance, are preferred by women in rural areas due to their low cost, comfort, and familiarity. Studies show that concern for the environment is not a major reason for women preferring cloth. Therefore, if it is propagated as a method of sanitary hygiene in a way that appeals to the users, without necessarily presenting it merely as a sustainable solution, the chances of its uptake increase significantly. 

It must be recognized that both the hindrance as well as the solution to improving menstrual health in India is not limited to access to and affordability of sanitary pads. The problem is a far more systemic one that calls for seeing menstrual health not as a women’s issue but as a public health issue. A solution that employs a multi-pronged approach involving financial, infrastructural, and cultural interventions that are mindful of current social structures can be economically and environmentally sustainable as well as produce better health outcomes. 

Ananya Rao is a fourth year student at Ashoka University studying anthropology, environment studies, and political science. In her free time you’ll find her either painting, writing, or exploring the outdoors

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

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Issue 7

Someone Great

Directed by Jennifer Robinson and starring Jane The Virgin star Gina Rodriguez, Someone Great is a 2019 film that at once encompasses humour, friendship and love in a breezy 90-minute movie. It is set in New York City, the home of three girlfriends in their late-20s, navigating their careers and loves, all the while holding on to their cherished friendship. The movie revolves around the protagonist Jenny Young’s (Gina Rodriguez) recent breakup with her long-term boyfriend. While at first sight, the movie might seem like another light break-up watch filled with peppy songs and quippy one-liners, it touches upon the less-talked-about aspects of heartbreak and moving on.

Instead of going the conventional way by focusing solely on the protagonist’s broken heart, it attempts to explain the nuances of a complicated long-term relationship, the troubles of emotional attachment and the pain of moving on. Through the film, the protagonist is shown as actively coming to terms with the break-up, moving from blaming her boyfriend to admitting her own faults. It ends on a bittersweet note, with Jenny realising that while her time in the relationship was beautiful, the ending was also justified and all she can do is look forward and wish her ex-boyfriend future happiness. This attempt at understanding and achieving closure is perhaps the highlight of the film

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

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Issue 7

The Beginner’s Guide

Conventional notions of the intentional meaning behind creativity is challenged in The Beginner’s Guide. An interactive, narrative-based game developed and narrated by Davey Wreden, it follows the player exploring a series of short games developed by an individual named Coda. However, it isn’t Coda who introduces the player to their creations, but a narrator, named ‘Wreden’ after the game’s developer, who was once Coda’s close friend. The game follows the tumultuous journey of Coda’s creativity, depicted in the games they built before their sudden disappearance from Wreden’s life. 

Wreden walks the player through a variety of Coda’s games, highlighting signs of Coda’s deteriorating mental health due to doubts about their abilities and dissatisfaction with their ideas through recurring symbols and subtle allusions. Coda’s games provide elusive messages to the player to piece together the cause of their disappearance. The games represent Coda’s creative range and usage of his games as a means of communication with others. Through inescapable prison sequences, endless staircases that becomes progressively difficult to climb, and a cabin in the middle of nowhere that requires repeated cleaning with no sight in end, it becomes apparent that Coda’s games mean more than just creative expression to him. 

Davey Wreden’s games are best experienced without much explanation–they are always more than what they seem. At its core, The Beginner’s Guide effectively makes its players reevaluate what creativity truly entails, and understand the consequences of an insatiable desire for searching for meaning in creative products, even when there isn’t any. 

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).

Categories
Issue 7

This One Summer

This One Summer, by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki is a gorgeously illustrated graphic novel that tells a coming-of-age of two ordinary friends. The book explores the ups and downs of adolescence in this sweet summer novel, set in a lazy beachside town. What really captured my attention was the art style that exquisitely revives the bittersweet nostalgia of summer, heightened by the monochromatic moody blue color palate used throughout. 

The prose that accompanied the illustration is warm enough to bring out all the little things that happen over the summer. The story of this graphic novel follows a young girl Rose, who goes to a beach town for a summer break with her parents and befriends another girl from the town named Windy. As the story progresses, we see Rose go through struggles of growing up as a girl and keeping up with the changes in her life that this vacation brings in the form of troubles in her parents’ marriage, and her own life.  The language used in the book is rather interesting as it very well captures the dilemma through the eyes of Rose, who is old enough to understand what is going around her but not mature enough to care or significantly contribute or even comprehend the troubles and trauma she is going through. 

The attention to detail in the illustrations, coupled with the delicate prose makes this combination of panels a beautiful story that weaves together a story of two girls who try to navigate their way through a repulsive adult world filled with domestic drama with teenage troubles, in what is an otherwise languid summer. 

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).