Issue 5

Remembering Maradona

Margaret Thatcher could not have possibly seen this coming. The Falklands War had been won, and resistance from those puny Argentines had been crushed by the expensively assembled British offensive in a matter of weeks. The Prime Minister’s popularity was at peak, and more importantly, so too was the English sense of pride at having tamed another obscure population. 

It was thus only fitting that the man bursting the Union Jack’s recently inflated balloon was Argentine. The manner in which he did it made it all the more poetic: arguably some divine assistance, and a display of unparalleled human aptitude. 

Diego Maradona punctured the English with a mix of deftness and delight, and in the process, brought together a nation torn apart by an alien European adversary.That’s what he could do; such was his power. He was second only to God, and in Argentina, he transcended such base hierarchies to become an incarnation of the almighty himself. 

It took Argentina a World Cup quarterfinal four years after their humbling in battle to face off against England again – and didn’t they take their chance, booting the Europeans out, on their way to winning the tournament famously in 1986. 

Thatcher indeed could not have seen this coming. Neither did the referee, when Maradona, of slight build, reached up, and nudged the ball in the air with his hand ahead of the towering Peter Shilton. The onrushing English goalkeeper was beaten, and Maradona wheeled away in celebration towards the corner flag. The England players were furious for this unabashed exhibition of unfair means – the only part of the anatomy deemed illegal in football is the hand, and that was precisely what Maradona used to give Argentina the opening goal. None of the match officials could spot the means; all their eyes could see was the end, the ball bouncing with abandon into an empty English net. 

It is hard to outdo a spectacle like that. Maradona, however, did just that, as if mocking the rest of the world: you thought you’ll remember me because I scored with my hand? Oh, just you wait. Collecting a harmless looking pass in his own half, he twisted around two England players with his second touch, spinning them into oblivion, and charging at what remained off a wary opponent. The touch past the third English player was out of a waltz, and the fourth was reduced to an apparition. The ignominy for Peter Shilton – one of the finest custodians in the game – was doubled, with him plonked on the grass, Maradona beyond him with a feint. Just to prove to the world that he was indeed the best player in the world and no cheater, he went on this eleven second solo orchestra, with a crescendo that brought a nation to its knees. 

England bowed to Argentina; they bowed to the phenomenon that was Maradona. 

This was not payback; it can never be for lives lost. Sport is, at the end of the day, the most important of what is merely trivial. Maradona, however, had single-handedly stitched back a sense of nationhood for a beleaguered peoples. “Although we had said before the game that football had nothing to do with the Malvinas War, we knew they had killed a lot of Argentine boys there, killed them like little birds”, he’d later say. Revenge was never the intention; unifying a reeling nation perhaps was. 

Maradona almost specialized in bringing battered regions together, through his actions on the greens with a leather sphere. He conjured the same spells to charm the ignored, damaged port city of Naples in Italy, clawing them into global relevance with two league titles. He took the city to his heart, and they adopted him as one would a son. They have yet to win a title since he left their adoring shores, like a jilted lover deserted in romance after a bright but brief fling.

Football wasn’t his only dalliance, and he eventually paid the price for his varied pursuits. Maradona’s playing career spiralled to an unfortunate demise just before I was born, mired in drugs and alcohol. This was barely an honourable departure; football was squeezing him out, having tolerated his colourful life for a bit too long. Maradona walked out of his beloved sport, with his tail firmly between his legs, and a reputation undone by his own excesses. His politics always remained visible – he was inseparable from Fidel Castro – but despite his constant critique of Western imperialism and a cozying up with the left, politics never was his primary concern for him to take it up seriously. He loved football too much. A brief coaching career – including a disastrous time at the World Cup in 2010 as Argentina coach – ensued, but never really took off. 

Much to the chagrin of many, and as his politics may suggest, Maradona was an island of instinct in an ocean of orthodoxy; a stellar firebrand amidst the subdued formalism of football. But that’s the thing about him. In spite of his infatuation with the sport, Diego Maradona did not lead the monastic lives required of footballers; he did not possess the discipline that professional sport asks of you. Yet, he stood with the world at his feet, driven to his exalted status globally pretty much through his ridiculous talent and skill alone. Make no mistake, this makes him the rare exception to the established norm for sporting success. He inspired with his borderline indolence. 

It made him a unique paradox: a man with the two most talented feet in the world, and not much else, made him an icon of mystique. This was a magician born with spells in his legs, perennially precocious. At the same time, he stood out as a human, battling human problems, and often failing. He was accessible this way; in an odd way, it almost reassured the world that despite his unearthly skill on the field, he was a mere mortal off it. It only added to his draw. 

I’ve only heard of Maradona; his enthralling footballing ability comes to me through grainy YouTube videos. But Diego Maradona’s legend knows no boundaries of time and space; it is this aura of the man I’ve witnessed flutter like a flag in a breeze. In my hometown of Calcutta four decades ago, as many households gathered around their first ever television to watch the World Cup, the little Argentine transported them to another plane of existence. Maradona murals adorn city walls, Argentina flags are strung across streets, and even today, the generation that watched Maradona for the first time, have their eyes light up at his very mention. 

Maradona is the first taunt thrown at you if you’re too silky in a game of street football, and it is the last word when it comes to debates about the best footballer ever. The merits of individual honours in team sports are, to me, dubious at best, but Maradona’s celebration is not down to his statistics: nobody cares as to how many goals he scored, or how many assists he provided, or how many miles he ran. He made football joyous, and one cannot reduce that to something as obscene as numbers.

Maradona was the unifier-in-chief. He was the mender of broken hearts; the tonic to a rattled nation, and the balm to a pained city. He brought people together, in celebration of football, and often, of life itself. He was ethereal, and yet accessible; proud and yet pained; loved and loathed. His addictions never stopped at football, and it broke him in the end.

Diego Maradona can never be anybody’s role model. But his legacy, his joy, and the careless abandon with which he brought these to people around the world when on the pitch means that he is Maradona is now a global language. This universal lingo of Maradona is what, despite – or perhaps of – his colourful, curtailed life, brings a smile to millions, as it will forever.

Aritro Sarkar is a student of History and International Relations at Ashoka University.

Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Issue 5

A case for caution: India’s path to economic recovery

India, as with most of the world has been impacted severely by the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown imposed by the government. While we are in the process of reopening the economy, many of us hope for a quick return to normalcy. However, According to the production and inflation data, normalcy might be a far cry for the Indian economy. 

The headline figure of a decline of 23.9% in the GDP for the first quarter of financial year 2020-21 released in July showed the depth of the shock to the economy. Index of Industrial Production (IIP) shows a sharp decline in manufacturing across all sectors. Labour intensive sectors such as textiles (-37.3%), leather (-32.7%) and primary products such as basic metals (-21.6%) have been hit hard by the lockdown(Source- IIP Data and author’s calculations). As more workers get laid off, consumption declines which leads to low demand for manufactured goods, which leads to even more workers getting laid off thus creating a vicious cycle. Many pundits point to the increase in expenditure around the festive season and gradually increasing industrial production as signalling economic recovery. However, as the adage  goes,  one swallow doesn’t make summer, India’s economic recovery may not come easily. It faces more challenges than just production numbers as other core sectors dip significantly. 

Source – IIP Data and author’s calculations

India’s economy is heavily dependent on the services and agricultural sector. The agricultural sector employs more than 50% of the entire workforce while services contributes to 50% of India’s GDP. The services sector has seen a decline of 20.6% in Q1 of FY21 in gross value added (GVA) while the trade, hotels, communication and transport sub sector is facing a decline of 47.0%. 

The only sector that has shown growth is agriculture with an increase of 3.3%. This is expected as the government has imposed the least restrictions on this sector.  A copious monsoon has also led to a good harvest. However since the pandemic has now spread to rural areas it could cause a reduction in the agricultural sector. 

According to SBI research, manufacturing has seen a decline of 38% in gross value added. Net taxes (the difference between GDP and GVA) has declined to 1.36 lakh crore, the lowest in 7 years. The decrease in tax payments also limits the government’s willingness to spend as it increases the fiscal deficit.

The problem facing the Indian economy is threefold- demand has dipped significantly, inflation is rising and the supply chain has been disrupted. In the past year where the economy has seen a slowdown due to disruptions in the credit market, private consumption has been a significant pillar which has stood strong. In 2019, it contributed to about 57% of the total GDP. With private and public investment unlikely to increase due to underutilized capacity, private consumption will be a significant contributor to GDP this year as well. According to an SBI report the private consumption is set to decline by 14% due to the decrease in spending during the pandemic. The expenditure side of the GDP also shows a decline of 22% in demand impulses. Until the government intervenes directly to stimulate demand, we are unlikely to see a quick recovery. 

India is also facing a problem of stagflation (high inflation, low growth, high unemployment) as we take a look at the latest inflation numbers released by the RBI. CPI has gone up by 11.07%, 10.68%, 9.05% in the past three months. In India, inflation is measured using two indices. The Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures the prices the retail customer gets, and the  Wholesale Price Index (WPI) which measures the wholesale price of goods and services. 

 The WPI came into positive territory only in August. Over the past three months, it has been 0.41%, 1.32% and 1.48%. The numbers show a clear divergence between consumer prices and wholesale prices. While one might point out this divergence may be due to hoarding/overcharging by wholesalers, this is unlikely to be the case. What these numbers point to is a supply chain disruption, wholesalers are unable to supply goods consistently to retailers leading to short term supply drops and increasing prices. This is due to the uncoordinated unlocking between states. As states continue to unlock/impose restrictions on their economies with respect to the number of cases, this trend of disruption seems to continue until next year. 

Source – IIP Data and author’s calculations

Policy Proposals

The Indian establishment faces a unique challenge as the biggest shock of its existence comes to fruition. The RBI has already lowered the repo rates (the rates at which RBI lends money to commercial banks) by 125 basis points this year. By decreasing the repo rates, RBI has made it easier for banks to obtain more money which can be used for loans to the populace.  The finance ministry has announced a slew of measures focusing on emergency credit lines, loan restructuring and providing support to distressed sectors such as housing under the brand name Atmanirbhar Bharat. However, as we see private consumption and investment collapsing, now is the time for even more radical measures to support the rural and urban lower class. 

One way the government can find immediate impact is to increase the outlay towards the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). NREGS guarantees 100 days of unskilled work to all households for a fixed wage rate. This can be increased to 150 days to support many migrant workers who have been laid off. The wage rate can also be increased to provide further support to households. Another way of directly stimulating demand is to implement something like stimulus payments like the USA. This would directly put money in the hands of the people helping shore up demand quickly. In the longer term, a Universal Basic Income (UBI) could help mitigate these shocks. While we expect economic recovery to be quick in the coming months looking at festive demand spending and increase in industrial production. The data shows us that the path to recovery requires a lot more proactive measures from the government.  

Rochak Jain is a fourth year student of economics at Ashoka University.

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Issue 5

A Stymied Transition: How the Class of 2023 is adapting to ‘college life’ online

2020 has been rough for students everywhere. With the disruption of regular classes, being stuck either away from home or at home for months, and with some being directly affected by the coronavirus infection, the year has been challenging. College students had it harder than others because they also lost jobs and higher studies opportunities in addition to difficulties with assessment. While there has been some acknowledgement of the hardships faced by the class of 2020, very little has been said about the students who passed out from school this year and were college-bound right in the middle of the pandemic. They are now nearing the end of the first semester, but the journey till here has been full of stress.

The roller coaster of uncertainty started off when a nation-wide lockdown was imposed in the month of March–when high school students were taking their final Board examinations. The remaining exams were postponed. Board results got delayed until finally average scores were awarded to those who couldn’t take the exams. But this initial postponement led to further delays in admission processes that rely on the Board examination marks. For instance, many students aspiring to get into prestigious colleges like those under the Delhi University had to either gamble losing a semester and wait till November for admission lists, or let go of their plan and settle for a different college.

Most country-wide entrance examinations are conducted physically in person. Therefore, students who had to take tests like the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test and Joint Entrance Examination (NEET-JEE), or the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT), etc., were left hanging as the entrances were delayed for several months. It was not clear how, or whether at all, they would be conducted, given the pandemic rampaging across the country. Such circumstances affected students’ performance too.

Many students’ college plans that they had worked on for years were upturned and students were forced to settle for choices they had never even considered. Students had to consider completely new rubrics like the possibility of travel and online learning when choosing their college. And most unfortunately, several young people were not able to enrol in colleges at all. A major reason was because COVID-19 tanked an already plummeting economy, another was the economic loss due to floods in different parts of the country, thus increasing the financial burden on many sections of the population in India.

Since all learning was to be online for a while, parents might fail to see the merit in such an education. This has also been the reason for many students to not go to their college of choice, but just attend a less expensive program at a college that is in the city where they already live. Parents were afraid of the risk involved in travelling and living in a different city as the pandemic continues. Many students plan to get a transfer to a college with better opportunities in their second year, when the pandemic hopefully would have mitigated too.

After going through a rough time getting into college, perhaps the major part of uncertainty is over for the students. Most of the big decisions have been made and now they are focussed on their studies and other college activities. In fact, having gone through such a gruelling experience together, they already share something as a batch. College is a completely new chapter in one’s life, one that comes with the promise of freedom and excitement. For the class of 2023, all of ‘college-life’ has only been available online. They got Zoom instead of lecture halls full of chatter and group chats instead of college canteens bustling with groups of friends.

And yet, while the rest of us have been figuring out how to maintain relationships in a physically distant world, these students have been building new relationships from scratch, online.

Kavya, studying at a private college in Jabalpur, says that online classes are a bit dull, and she isn’t surprised that she often sleeps off during lectures and misses assignment deadlines. What she is finding unexpected, though, is how fun her online college life has turned out to be. Social media is the only space where they can hangout, and yet, it is not exactly a bad compromise. She and her friends sometimes skip classes together, have lengthy conversations on group chats and celebrate birthdays on video calls.

Being stuck at home may be an impediment to making new friends, but it might also be an important driver for the same. Young people who have probably not seen anyone other than their family members for months must feel a stronger urge to connect with others their own age.

Amaysi, a student at Sophia College, says that she has always been a people person and loves meeting new people. She was not expecting to have to make good connections this way. “I now know way more people than I might have been able to interact with physically.” says Amaysi. She has been busy helping organise her college’s annual intercollege fest, which is online this year. 

Online interactions are certainly very different from ones in real life. While that may be an annoying reality for most of us now, it is perhaps a better one for some. Individuals with social anxiety, who might experience stress being amongst people and hence behave unlike their usual selves, can find online interactions more easier. For such people, online college might actually be a space where they get to be themselves without much difficulty.

These students have not seen the actual buildings and cities that make their colleges come alive. For them college is just virtual interaction so far. The people behind the screen – their friends and professors – are the only familiar aspects of their college lives. And thus, finding these people behind the screen everyday is a blessing rather than an impediment, in a way. Of course, they hope to physically be together, and look forward to how much more real things will be for them. But for now, they are doing everything to make the best out of current circumstances. Online interactions with our loved ones, friends, family, colleagues, may not seem to be enough, but for the class of 2023, that is all they have to make do with, at least for now.

Mansi is a student of philosophy and environmental studies at Ashoka University. Her other interests include performing arts, politics and octopuses.

Picture Credit: “Gmail on Laptop in Dark” by Image Catalog is marked with CC0 1.0

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Issue 5

The compass of war is centered right at home.

Why do people go to war? Is it a feeling of surrendering yourself to your country? Is it driven by necessity and socio-economic conditions? Is it a larger cause that drives you to condone and carry out violence, provided it is directed towards the ‘right’ target? Perhaps the reason cannot be boxed into a category.

Whatever be the motivation, through the conceptions of conventional war, a couple of themes remain ever-present. War distances you from you from your locale and loved ones. War puts you in danger. War puts involved parties at vulnerable proximities, oftentimes in very close contact with the enemy, it forces you to kill at close range.

With the coming of new technology, the perceived proximity with the enemy is being challenged. Let’s look at the case of the 44 day war in the area of Nagorno-Karabakh that erupted in September this year. Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to a peace deal after six weeks of conflict in the area. While the conflict has a tense history since the 1980s, the most recent spurt of violence left more than a 100 people dead. The deal, brokered by Russia, was signed on November 9. Correspondents like Robyn Dixon of The Washington Post have hailed drone warfare as the primary reason for Azerbaijan’s upper-hand in the conflict. Not only did it play an important part to help Azerbaijan gain military supremacy; the increasing use of drones in military conflict also provides a lens into the future of warfare. 

Nagorno-Karabakh has been a trigger for violence since the 1980s in light of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Here, the population is ethnically Armenian while the land is inside the international boundary of Azerbaijan. In 1991, the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians declared independence. They were supported by Armenia in the war that erupted after. The altercations ended  with a ceasefire agreement in 1994. The agreement was uneasy at best, leaving about 600,000 Azerbaijanis from Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding districts stranded away from their homes. 

Religious sentiments exacerbate historical tensions. It can be seen here as well.. The majority of Armenians are Christians whereas Muslims make up most of the Azerbaijan population. Both accuse each other of destroying temple sites among others.

It is in this context of such gradually heightened tensions that the 2020 violence has been different from all previous instances of conflict. Azerbaijan has used drones extensively to repeatedly bombard the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, Stepanakertl. Conflicts build on constructing the ‘other’, an entity which is different from you either politically, ethnically, linguistically, religiously; or perhaps, on all those counts. Technology such as drones in warfare make sure that while the ideas of othering don’t change, the effects alter drastically. 

Think of what Donna Haraway calls the ‘god-trick’. This idea, simply put, is the ability to observe everywhere while being situated nowhere. This has persisted in fields of study such as history; especially that which deals with putting onus like colonialism. If you are nowhere, then you cannot possibly be blamed. Drones seem to have brought this conception to reality and warfare in a concrete way. 

The drone, or any other similar form of aerial surveillance, enables you to emulate a God figure on two counts– knowledge and visuals. It is not simply about what you can see but what you can think to see. The sights which earlier were limited to God are now seemingly perfected by man. It is of course an illusion, however, as ‘nowhere’ isn’t really possible– everything and everyone has their own politics, their own biases and their own vantage points. Therefore, three crucial aspects are ignored– partiality, situationality and locality, all hinting at the limitations of human surveillance. What the technology sees is determined by people and has a humane character to it. Therefore, it is prone to the lens, view and context of the operator. Usage of the drone then is not simply about differences in what is seen, but schisms in technology, and knowledge itself. 

This problematizes two things– first, the proximity to your target and second, who your target is. Home becomes the axis to understand the changing nature of warfare as operation of such weapons does not need presence in the battlefield. What is it then that the drone can see? Both are inherently tied to the idea of ‘rightness’ that I mentioned earlier. The basic idea is that you only kill combatants in war. They are people who are driven by the similar motives you have for their causes and their countries; and with whom you enter into an unspoken contract– it is okay for me to kill you and you to kill me. The conversation surrounding ‘right’ targets is important as harm to civilians is seen as something outside the norm for warfare. The Agence-France Presse reported that in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Armenia had recorded 13 civilian deaths in early October. Azerbaijan had declined to report military casualties but reported 19 civilian casualties. 

In addition, the language that unmanned vehicles use is rational. It depends on abstractions and identity markers. What follows is a purely techno-strategic discourse which ignores humane aspects in pursuance of ‘targets’. People are seen as kill-able bodies through the  reinforcement of stereotypes. When the reliance is on identity markers, the trope with which drones are hailed as the future gets punctured. They can no longer bank on their precision when they deal in generalisations and result in any number of civilian casualties. Geographies of security hence move beyond the battlefield. 

Drones then cease to be simply machines of aerial surveillance and combat, but also complicate the distance-intimacy nexus. So we have a situation where the stereotypes remain, the distance increases, and the financial ease gives way. If aspects of war ever were humane, leaving it to algorithmic artificial intelligence removes that element completely. 

Sanya Chandra is a student of History, International Relations, and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

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Issue 2

Anti-caste allyship: we need to do better

The rape and murder of the 19 year old Dalit woman, Manisha Valmiki at Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, has awakened the consciousness of the nation. An important question being asked in debates everywhere from popular news channels to Twitter threads is how this case was about caste: “Why are you making rape about caste? Why does her Dalit identity need mentioning?”. This question is important because it shows us a glimpse of the true state of general society with respect to awareness about caste. This case is of a young Dalit woman who was working with her mother in the field of an upper caste, where four upper caste men rape her, then break her legs and cut her tongue off. What followed is a series of administrative actions nearly as brutal and horrifying as her rape and eventual murder: delay in getting her adequate treatment, the police locking her family up and burning her body in the dead of the night, the administration desperately trying to prove there was no rape. This case has caste smeared in bold red all over it. Yet, Indians fail to see the casteist violence here, just like we are blind to the violence that people around us and we ourselves perpetuate through our caste privilege.

The Uttar Pradesh government, despite backlash for their mishandling of the Hathras case, is currently set to investigate an “international conspiracy” to defame the Yogi Sarkar and incite caste violence. Rape apologia, thakur men threatening with agitation if the four accused Thakur men aren’t released, the National Savarna Council supporting the accused — all of this has followed since, but it shouldn’t be surprising. Indian society has historically failed at even acknowledging casteism, let alone working on obliterating it. 

However, such a denial of caste coming from urban upper caste journalists, academicians, feminists, people with social/political power, is truly regressive. Leaders like Atishi Marlena from the Aam Aadmi Party have been heard demanding “justice for all women, not just Dalit women”. Savarna (upper caste) feminists speaking about this incident have amply displayed such hypocrisy. 

Even those savarnas who claim to understand caste and call themselves anti-caste allies end up taking too much space in a movement about Dalit feminism. Swara Bhaskar, an upper caste woman, deemed it correct to climb up to the roof of Bhim Army Chief Chandrashekhar Azad’s car at a recent Delhi protest. Kiruba Munuswamy, an anti-caste activist and lawyer, spoke in a panel about how savarna women talk so much about the upliftment of the marginalised castes, appropriating a movement where they are supposed to be allies, not the spokespersons or leaders.

Such space-hogging and appropriation hurts the movement by snatching space from the actual leaders, those with the experience of marginalisation. This ends up reproducing the very marginalisation that the movement is against. Allyship is important as there is strength in numbers, but tokenistic understanding of the role can become toxic for the movement and add to the oppression further. It is important to address this toxicity, to understand what being an ally should be about. Even well-meaning people may have confused notions about allyship.

Allyship has to be understood as an actionable construct. It is not an identity tag for someone who knows a bit about a community’s oppression and is sympathetic towards them. Allyship is an active practice of unlearning and reevaluating one’s privilege because one seeks to work in solidarity with a marginalised group. It is something that one chooses to do not out of guilt but out of responsibility. This is important because allyship is a genuine, effortful investment, and someone acting out of guilt would do this more for themselves and less for the marginalised group.

Anti-caste allyship then is a continuous process of building a relationship with people who have been oppressed by savarnas for centuries. As savarnas seeking to support marginalised caste groups, we would first and foremost need to acknowledge our own privilege consistently. We should use this privilege to help the community. People in positions of power should make space for better representation of the lower-castes in their respective fields.

We must always remember that we are here to support the others, and so allyship cannot be self-defined. Work done as an ally should be recognised by the marginalised group and be framed to help them. For this, the abilities to be sensitive, communicate well, and take criticism are important. And doing this work shouldn’t mean that we shift the focus onto ourselves.

Anti-caste allyship should also involve educating ourselves and our private, upper-caste circles, about privilege — talking to them, calling them out, fighting them for oppression through their actions, and even failing to recognize their own privilege. This is specially needed right now, when most people don’t acknowledge the oppression at all. Work on ending the oppression can only happen when the oppression is recognised in the first place.

Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar said that caste is like a multi-story building without doors and ladders; wherever you start, that’s where you are for perpetuity. The current ally-activism is like the savarnas in the upper storeys chanting anti-caste slogans, since they have “understood” that caste shouldn’t exist. But the building still exists intact!
Posting on social media, going to protests for Manisha or even ultimately getting the culprits punished will not be the end of this. In the words of Kiruba Munuswamy, justice for the Hathras case is nothing less than annihilation of caste. This is a long journey, and it demands consistent, morally conscious action from us all. Despite all the allyship duties listed above, being an ally is actually quite straightforward. We can start simply by reading Annihilation of Caste or truly listening to even one Dalit person’s experience, and just being more compassionate.

Mansi is a student of philosophy and environmental studies at Ashoka University. Her other interests include performing arts, politics and octopuses.

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 2

Issue II: Editor’s Note

As we continue living our lives online, we are forced to confront and challenge our world through our screens. We debate and deliberate over real-world politics and elections, moderated and manoeuvred by the rules of the internet. With the potential to consume the content of the world, and the ability to have the world as your audience, we have a platform like never before. With this however, come important questions about how to control and carry out conversations online, and the extent of its real-world impacts.

In this edition, we attempt to start a conversation around precisely these topics. We start with the notion of privacy online, as Debayan Gupta explores the importance of software encryption and discusses whether governments should be given a secret key to decrypt citizens’ conversations. Aradhya Sharma looks at privacy in the context of health data, in light of India’s recent attempt to digitise healthcare through the National Digital Health Mission. In Deep Vakil’s piece, we deepdive into a real-life case study of online privacy—an instance of doxxing of university students and how it is situated in the context of ‘culture wars’ between ideological oppositions online.  When our online lives get too much, we try to get away from it—but can we really resist the allure of our devices? By understanding human psychology and its interaction with online media, Simantini Ghosh suggests practical ways to escape the trap of the ‘black mirror’.

But is life beyond technospace any better? With the unlawful investigation of Manisha Valmiki’s rape and murder, there has been polemical uproar against the police, media and the judicial system. Mansi Ranka’s piece tells us why caste is central to the Hathras case and touches upon how activists are carrying out related protests during the pandemic. With COVID infections still steadily increasing, many other people prefer to voice their criticism of the investigation online. Social media has been rife with polarizing opinions. 

But then again there is no dearth of people for whom the pandemic has not been a deterrent to assert their ‘invincibility’. These people, most of whom are on the conservative side, have flouted health advisories and social distancing guidelines. Isha Deshmukh examines the nuance between one’s political leaning and their proclivity (or lack thereof) towards science in her article. 

As similar political criticism continues online, engaging the voices of millions globally, it takes on various forms apart from 280-character opinions. Karantaj Singh explores one such instance in Amazon’s hit show The Boys, which stars an anti-superhero protagonist eerily similar to Donald Trump. Speaking of the current President of the United States, Aditya Burra takes us through a journey of Trump’s America over the past four years, reminding us of the high-stakes game that is November’s Presidential elections. We also take a look at the state of democracy in today’s world, and the role of American government and aid agencies in promoting it, in Bann Seng Tan’s exploration of American foreign policy.

It is thus important to remind ourselves that the world goes on, despite the pandemic and our lives online. In no way are we immune to being scrutinized by various actors digitally. In no way can our society easily get rid of structures it is entrenched in. But also in no way can we ignore the ability to collectively amplify the voices of those who haven’t been passed the mic, for the greater good.

– Nirvik Thapa, Pravish Agnihotri and Samyukta Prabhu

Issue 2

Girl in White Cotton: An ‘Unusual’ Depiction of Mother-Daughter Relationship

Girl in White Cotton by Avni Doshi, just like cotton, flows through one’s hands. Released as Burnt Sugar in the United Kingdom, it is one of those rare novels which make you question its motive, the selection of words used to depict a scene or an emotion, the intentions behind acts and dialogues. It proceeds in such a way that by the time one is done reading, it feels like it’s time to read it again. There is so much to understand and so much to take away that one reading would never be enough. It is not surprising at all that this debut is shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2020.

The novel is about issues and relationships of everyday life. It deals with the mundane in the ways of the profane. On the face of it, it’s an ordinary tale of failed relationships. In fact, the story revels in its ordinariness. In it, there are a lot of characters who have complicated relationships with each other. However, as the story progresses, the reader realises that in its entirety, it is about Tara in the voice of her daughter Antara. Tara has always been a woman who has broken convention, be it in her life as a daughter, a wife, or a mother. She has risked the ‘normal’ upbringing of her daughter for the pursuits of her heart. Never having really gotten along with her parents, in-laws, or her child, she is now at the stage where old age has crept in and dependency cannot be avoided. Antara narrates her trail of difficulties which she faced as a caregiver at the expense of a person she never really cared for. 

Antara talks about her mother’s hatred for herself. She delves into how her mother wanted her to be everything she wasn’t because she loathed herself so much. Even her name, which means intimacy, wasn’t chosen because Tara liked it, but because it was unlike Tara.

‘Antara was really Un-Tara – Antara would be unlike her mother. But in the process of separating us, we were pitted against each other.’ 

Written in first person, Doshi presents a very crude and crucial picture of motherhood. It seems as if all the martyred depictions of motherhood that women are made to consume, and one day embody, fall apart. The story takes us through Antara’s life with Tara, going back and forth; her years at the Ashram in Pune where her Tara was a disciple, her convent boarding school, her college (which she never finished), and her married life. Throughout her journey we see her consciously attempting to separate herself from her mother. And yet, she gets reduced to being Tara’s caretaker, the caretaker of a mother who could never take care of herself or her daughter.

Doshi presents a very South Asian representation of motherhood, where being experimental and adventurous after marriage and after birthing children, isn’t appreciated.  It is the reason why this story hits so close to home. The entire episode of Antara’s pregnancy is a journal towards becoming a mother. It gives a glimpse into the apprehensions a mother might have — doubts, insecurities and fears — about how dreams might never turn into reality after her child is born. Such limitations might not be as perceptible elsewhere. I couldn’t help but draw a contrast between the mothers in Girl in White Cotton and Hideous Kinky, a novel by Esther Freud, in which the mother is celebrated for being carefree.  

The last chapter of Doshi’s book is a lost puzzle in some ways. Tara’s intentions become unclear to the reader — is she pretending to be someone she is not? Is she pretending to forget? Does she want to eliminate the traces of her daughter like she’s always done? No one knows. The only thing obvious here is to empathise with Antara. 
Girl in White Cotton is also about mobility; it shows how men move and are mobile while women stay. It raises a lot of uncomfortable questions about who gets to move and who doesn’t. What does mobility mean and how is it exercised? More than that, it is about how flexible romance is. It makes one wonder as to how much freedom one has in a codependent relationship. It also raises questions alluding to ethics but does not answer them. If that is a statement on Doshi’s idea of ethics, then she has wonderfully proven her point. All in all, it is not a story you might have never heard before; one of its elemental subplots resembles Orhan Pamuk’s The Red Haired Woman. But the uniqueness and the beauty of this novel lies particularly in its how.

Ananya is a postgraduate student studying English Literature at St. Stephen’s College and a researcher with Zubaan.

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 2

Culture Wars: When Private Goes Public

India and China have been engaged in a military standoff in eastern Ladakh for over 150 days now, with the worst cross-border violence since the 1962 war between the two nations. There is a heightened sentiment of nationalism in the country, which has made its way into the digital lives of several students of Ashoka University. On 24th September, two right-wing social media accounts, one on Twitter and the other on Instagram, publicly shared screenshots from a closed Facebook group of Ashoka’s undergraduate students. The screenshots were of comments made by Ashokans on a months-old post in the private group. Some of the comments in the screenshots, which were not blurred to hide the names and profile pictures of the students, were critical of “Indian culture” and the “armed forces.” 

Those who posted the screenshots claim that these comments amount to cyberbullying and point to the “anti-national” and “vile mindset” of the “activist lobby and left-wing students” of Ashoka, who “celebrated the death of Indian Army.” The comments on these posts include the use of misogynistic slurs, a call for “public execution”, and even one threat of worse-than-Hitler treatment. As of now, the Facebook group has been disbanded by Ashoka’s Student Government out of fear of other students being doxxed for their older posts. Deliberations are underway as to what should be the way forward, bearing in mind the safety and privacy of all members of the student community. 

Since the accounts are public, and the posts continue to remain online, many of the students whose identities were revealed have had to temporarily, or in some cases permanently, deactivate their social media handles. There are credible accounts of some of these students being flooded with unknown friend requests and receiving threatening messages in their inbox. While such an incident may be a first in the history of the student body, many Ashokans have individually had prior encounters with such hate and vitriol online. 

There is a sense of deep division and distrust within the student community, as comments made in a closed group with the pretext of privacy have somehow been “leaked” and put on public display. This polarisation over social media is certainly not unique to Ashoka, and it has largely characterized political discourse on social media over the past few years. Several hot-button political issues have emerged in India in the recent past. This has sharply divided many Indians. 

While there are commercial antecedents to this phenomenon (i.e. confrontational posts on social media get more engagement and therefore increase ad revenue of these platforms), there is also a sociological angle. American sociologist James Davison Hunter provided the framework of “culture wars” in 1991, through which this polarisation can be analysed. While the phrase “culture wars” has mainly been used in the context of the US polity, it can resonate greatly in the Indian context. A culture war can be understood as a power struggle between social groups with competing ideological worldviews that clash over values, moral codes, and lifestyles. Although the conflict may be fundamentally underpinned by genuine disagreement over what is good for the public, instead of positive tactics of constructively reasoning about one’s ideology with others, a negative strategy of systematically discrediting one’s opponents increasingly becomes the go-to one. 

The addition of technology only serves to vitiate this concoction further. The advent of mass media like print and television, for example, in the context of culture wars, meant that public engagement amongst opposing groups over their political differences was increasingly antagonistic and asinine. Likewise, the frontier of social media is historically unique in this regard and much more conducive to the negative strategy, according to research by Samatha R. Holley on social media’s effect on the culture war. Echo chambers and disinformation campaigns cause one’s existing convictions to be reinforced, leading in some cases to cognitive dissonance when confronted with alternative viewpoints. The algorithms that run our social media feeds are meant to psychologically manipulate us into staying on these platforms. 

As the world’s second largest social media market with 35 crore users, India is undoubtedly affected by these phenomena. In attempting to draw a picture of the warring groups on Indian social media, one may reduce it to two sides: the religious/orthodox right-wing and the secular/progressive left-wing. The right would consist of the conservative and Hindutva ideologies and the left would consist of the liberal and socialist ideologies. However, it must be noted that this crude oversimplification of the political spectrum must not obfuscate the fact that the groups are in no way homogenous or equivalent. It would be simply dishonest to deny that the balance of power tilts in favor of the right-wing in India today, in terms of finances, institutions, and human resources.

Both the warring groups claim that their “way of life”, or in some cases, their very lives, are under attack from the other side. The negative tactics manifest themselves in the form of “trolling” on part of the right, and “cancel culture” on part of the left. Many diverse incidents tend to be smoothed over and bracketed under the umbrella term of cancel culture. It refers to vitriolic behavior that is just as harmful as trolling, but justified, not by traditional value systems in society, but by misplaced ideals of social justice and political correctness. The use of the term here is not intended to repudiate the democratising effect of social media, that has led to traditional elites like politicians, authors, and artists, being held accountable for their words and actions. 

The revolution of social media in culture wars has been likened to that of industrial weapons technology in conventional warfare. Some of the strategies deployed on these platforms are dangerously harmful, and in some cases, also fatal. On other occasions, such as the incident involving Ashokans, the boundaries between the public and the private are seriously impinged. These tactics are justified by inflating the political stakes to such an extent that no means seem morally unjustified. 

Granted, in the present political climate, the stakes for minority groups and marginalized folks are indeed unimaginably high. However, many of those indulging in trolling or cancelling are doing so with a sense of speaking and fighting on behalf of the subaltern. One is being naive if they believe that fighting such online battles alone leads to anything but momentary self-gratification. Grassroots change has not been achieved when the privileged abdicate this most basic social imperative by saying “I do not owe it to educate you”. It has been achieved when students and activists heed the Ambedkarite call to “educate, agitate, organize,” with emphasis on the first step.

Deep Vakil is a student of Political Science and Sociology at Ashoka University.

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

Issue 2

Sitting inside the black mirror and peeking at the world beyond

Social media is all around us. One can argue that the very way in which we communicate today and conceptualize interactions with the world at large, has been fundamentally altered by social media. Television shows such as Black Mirror or the Netflix Documentary Social Dilemma have drawn public attention to the ramifications of human-computer interactions.  While there is no denying that social media has made staying in touch with friends and family, no matter where they are a breeze, as well as aided technological progress, there is unfortunately, a flipside. The problem is twofold —  one, we often believe our social media feeds an accurate representation of reality. And second, we spend too much time on our devices, which makes problem one worse.

To understand why we keep spending increasing amounts of time with our smart devices is tied to how internet companies such as Google, Facebook, Instagram etc. make money while providing services for free.   

A company, by definition, exists to generate a profit. That holds true for internet companies as well. While we are not charged for Facebook, Instagram and the likes, they monetise through ad revenues. This, therefore, makes them depend on their algorithms to detect patterns in our browsing behaviour, so that they can match us to the best possible advertisers, and if we look at an ad long enough, we might be prompted to spend money.

Two corollaries further follow: 

First, better accuracy of the algorithm in predicting our patterns of behaviour on the internet allows the company to better tailor its content for our feed. 

Second, the longer time we spend on our screen, the more ads we see, the more money the company makes by charging the vendors. 

To achieve the first goal, one of the main strategies companies use is AI based smart algorithms. Machine learning means you give the algorithm a goal and then it’ll figure out how to achieve it by itself. AI is also only as good as the data that it’s trained it on. Companies like Google and Facebook have huge data sets at their disposal, because of the vast number of their users from different countries spending lots of time online. This amounts to an unfathomable quantity of data. Modern algorithms accurately tailor social media feeds based on these patterns. By showing content we like frequently, they ensure we stay on the devices longer. Knowing this is very important, because this prevents us from believing that our social media feed is an accurate representation of the world. Once the false belief system takes hold, it makes us more partisan — to the level we cannot even consider having a discussion with people harbouring contrarian viewpoints. The lack of will to engage rationally with the other side is dangerous for public discourse. This is at the centre of exclusion, discrimination, hate speech and hate crimes based on gender, class and caste, ethnic and religious minorities. 

Additionally, most of the social media apps are designed based on the psychology of persuasion and more dangerously, addiction. In the 1930s, B.F. Skinner showed what we describe today as “operant learning”- animals repeat behaviours and learn a task when given a reward.  They don’t do this when the reward is taken away. However, when Skinner started to change the schedule of reward delivery, he found something striking.  When reward delivery follows a varied ratio interval (food pellet delivered after an uncertain number of lever presses), i.e. when the animals expect without knowing when they will be rewarded, they learn to repeat the task behaviour fastest. More importantly, even if the rewards are stopped entirely, they keep on pushing the lever. It showed that this type of learned behaviour is extremely difficult to extinguish. This is exactly the principle on which gambling and slot machines work: they keep the gambler on tenterhooks of expecting a win and in the process, they keep them playing and continue betting.

Both the brain pathways and the neurotransmitters that underlie such addictive behavior have been characterized in detail over the years.  Deep in our midbrain and brain stem sits a group of neurons that release dopamine, the pleasure chemical. This area is the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA). VTA neurons talk to another set of neurons hidden under the cerebral cortex- the nucleus accumbens, which in turn talks to the frontal part of the brain, where most important executive controls and decision making reside. Any natural rewards, such as food, pleasurable sex, or satiety, result in dopamine release at the Nucleus Accumbens, which through the cortex, causes the sensation of pleasure and reward. This is why we like to repeat what makes us feel good. Addiction hijacks this pathway, whether it is a chemical addiction such as cocaine or a physical addiction like gambling. These behaviors cause a massive upsurge in dopamine, much larger than physiological dopamine release. In seasoned addicts, the anticipation of reward releases twice as much dopamine than the actual reward. This biological phenomenon makes it hard to successfully abstain from addiction. 

Image Courtesy:

This is the mechanism that has been targeted by most tech companies. As the time spent with the devices is directly proportional to the ad revenues the companies earn, it favours the companies’ interests to make social media usage addictive. Hence, most elements of app design now use endless notifications, personalizing our feeds better everyday, and building in features like the answering bubble with moving dots when someone is replying. Most apps did not have this before. This is a classic example where the dopamine upsurge of anticipation is utilized. If this is a person of romantic interest or a recruitment manager, the anticipation of the reward can be more addictive than the reward itself. 

The fact that you pick up your phone and 25 minutes whoosh past isn’t random; it isn’t you. The anticipation of receiving curated content is arguably similar to a dopamine rush a gambling addict would get.

If this sounds far-fetched, take a simple test. Go device free for 24-48 hours. Lock them away. Track your mood changes, craving and general wellbeing and distress in this time. How irritable or uneasy are you? How much do you fear you are missing out or crave your device? Once you are able to get your device back, chart how long you have used it every day (all smartphones/tablets can tell you how much screen time you have had in a day). Now compare the usage from the 48 hours after abstinence to your regular usage. The mood charting shows how bad your social media habits are. 

 We survived fine till 2007 when smartphones were introduced. While our brains have evolved little over the past millennia, our environment has exploded over the past decades, especially in the online space. Biological evolution cannot keep up with the exponential evolution of technology. Therefore, spending too long on your devices makes you vulnerable to a range of health problems: poor eyesight, postural pains, lack of exercise etc. Also, engaging constantly with deeply disturbing content, even if they are on social justice issues, will inevitably start affecting your mental health and wellbeing. The world around is brutal and unfair. It is rife with discrimination and atrocities. While we should be aware of such inequalities, engaging with news all day can lead to a sense of loss of control over your life. All of these are good reasons to give yourself a periodic detox from social media. 

Given how all-pervasive social media is, where and how do we draw the line? Here are a few tips:

  1. Know that this is a world of your own creation. 

If you subscribe to viewpoint A, the apps curate your feeds with everything that reinforce A and negate all other viewpoints. You gravitate towards atrocities committed by members of anyone who does not subscribe to A and you behave as if the only reality in the world is understood by those who subscribe to A, and all others cannot be debated or even conversed with. Ultimately this makes the society more polarized. Arguably, this world is far more polarized than the world 40 years ago. Falling prey to believing the version of reality on your screens as absolute reality, you open yourself up to be easily manipulated to now indulge in hate speech, insensitivity, and sometimes, physical violence towards people whose views contradict yours. Listen to the contrarian view-points. Don’t allow one ideology to wholly dictate what you trust.

  1. Give yourself a digital detox every now and then. 

 When you’re not busy with work, limit your screen time.  When you go out with your friends for a much sought-after coffee, engage in conversations. Mutually agree to restrict mobile usage to 3-5 photos for the entire duration of the meet. Write physically in a journal every day. Exchange letters. Indulge in hobbies and activities that do not involve screens.  When you are on vacation, switch off your phone entirely. Activate an automatic email reply with the dates when you will return to work and the name of an interim person who can be reached out to if urgent. 

  1. Resist the temptation to document each moment of your life on social media. 

Besides adding to your digital footprint, this leads to unhealthy comparisons. Most people put their best foot forward on social media. Everyone posts pictures where they are doing something fun. Very few people post unhappy pictures on Instagram or write when they have a bad day at work on Facebook, yet negative things happen to all humans, every day. If we believe everything we see on feeds to be a true reflection of their lives, we buy into this idea that everyone has a perfect life, except, well, ourselves. This is not true. No one has a perfect life, and what people project on social media is often different from their real lives. So do not compare yourself to anyone on social media. Live your life as you want, without telling everyone about every moment of it. The “likes” only activate those short dopamine loops that provide instant gratification and are addictive. No amount of likes determine self-worth. So actively stop tying notions of self-worth with the likes and followers on social media. 

  1. Be a conscious consumer and not a prey to the influencer phenomenon. 

Social media can be used constructively. Collaborations, products and partnerships have evolved to its credit. If you are curating your own feed, use this awareness and the powerful AI behind apps to curate a feed that is good for you —  pages and channels that deliver creative content, help amplify positive messaging, promote mindfulness and healthy living. 

In that same vein, be picky about who you choose to follow as their content will make your curated feed, and likely only add similar content. We live in a country where influencers with millions of followers routinely promote misogyny, crass, classist, casteist, and majoritarian views. When you decide to follow an account,  try to determine the veracity of their claims. Do they cite data? What is the source? If you look at the data, does their conclusion make any sense? Never amplify something you have not fact checked before. There is a tremendous amount of misinformation in the post truth era. 

  1. General principles of sensible social media use

 Research has shown that constant social media usage leads to an inability to focus and restlessness. These directly affect professional or educational performance. A slew of productivity-based apps using the pomodoro technique (20 minutes for work followed by a 5-minute break) and restricting social media usage are available on all platforms and can be used for structuring the work day. The break can be used to do any activity that does not involve phones or computers. Outside work hours, make some rules for social media usage and stick to them. Turn notifications off for most apps except your calendar or reminders.  

Another effective rule is the “no phone at dinner and beyond” rule. Do not reach for your phone before sleep and as you open your eyes the next morning. Try holding off at least until after breakfast. These simple rules go a long way to ensure our internet usage stays under control.

While social media can foster a sense of community, it can also take away from face to face interactions which eventually raises a lot of concerns over your physical and mental health. Being conscious of that is relevant, simply because we cannot avoid it.

Simantini Ghosh is an Assistant Professor and PhD Coordinator for the Department of Psychology at Ashoka University.

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

Issue 2

Am I my Map? Cartography and Reworking Identity

We live in states as docile citizens and take a lot of things for granted. There are many facets which directly affect our nation that we have never even thought about. Maps are one of them. 

The very creation of a map entails conceptualisation of borders and their representation. That is why maps are called ‘projections’. The idea is to take an orange peel (originally spherical) and spread it flat, it can never fit neatly into a rectangle without stretching, cutting and bending it. When an n-dimensional globe is reduced to a 2 dimensional image on paper, it will lose its precision. We do this exercise with the orange peel on a global scale (quite literally) whenever we make maps. 

We use maps in our daily lives. States use them to assert dominance and demarcate territory. In the process, we implicitly agree that the word ‘projection’ allows for distortions. On top of that, we understand that distortions are acceptable in any form of representation. The question here is exactly which distortions are we willing to accept?  

Knowing this, it is unfathomable that borders are sort of a given. The more robust your border, the more secure your national identity. This is why soldiers get stationed to harsh climates, fight over land which is uninhabitable (as in the case of Ladakh) and countries use their maps to assert influence. The question to ask is why does your national identity depend on a border you have never seen? 

We are all products of different identities– caste, class, gender, race; it’s just a matter of context which identity gets called upon at what time. With the nation state, the identity that gets called upon most often is that of the citizen. As Sankaran Krishna brings up in his work, Cartographic Anxiety, While we don’t relinquish our religious, linguistic or regional identity, they are rendered vestigial, at least for the time being. Cartography creates an ‘India’ on paper while simultaneously conversations, laws and political mechanisms create the ‘Indian’ in our minds. The existence of one serves as reinforcement for the other.

This conversation doesn’t happen in a vacuum; India has experienced threats to its borders from Pakistan, Nepal and China in the past couple of months. These are intrinsically tied to cartographic representation as maps become important for both escalation of conflict and its eventual disengagement relevant in the current context. 

Pakistan’s new map, as explained by Prime Minister Imran Khan, shows the aspirations of its  people as well as the people of Kashmir. For India, these aspirations mean showing the Indian territories of Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh and parts of Gujarat as disputed. The new map came as a response to India’s inclusion of areas like parts of POK and Gilgit-Baltistan in its own November 2019 map. While Pakistan claims to stand for the Kashmiri cause, India has called this battle of the maps “an exercise in political absurdity.” The map here is defining the state’s position but it’s also defining what national matters are because it defines where the nation begins and ends quite physically in a political imagination. 

In the case of Nepal, the new issue of the Indian map of November 2019 was exacerbated by another issue– the virtual inauguration of a road to Lipulekh by the Indian defence minister in May 2020. Nepal claimed that at least 17 kms of this road fell on its land. The issue gained traction in Nepali domestic politics as it saw protests with #BackOffIndia trending on social media. In the following month of June, Nepal’s Parliament approved a revised map showing the disputed areas of Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura as its own.

The root of the Nepal problem can be tied back to different interpretations of the Sugauli Treaty of 1816 which demarcates the origin of the Mahakali river as the natural boundary. The countries differ on the point of origin. We have inherited borders drawn by British colonial powers. India is anxious to cement them in areas such as the western front, and contest them at other fronts. 

India also shares a 3488 km long border with China. It is one of the longest disputed borders in the world. The current standoff at Galwan Valley deals, among other things, in occupying land that the two nations perceive to be theirs. It is a game of perceptions where ground reality matters little, simply because it would mean one side or the other giving up their claim. 

The three instances seen through this lens tell us one thing– there is a connect between military confrontation, people’s stance and map-making. 

Nations can allow their maps to engulf more territories but never to shrink. Looking at India and its neighbours, redrawing the map must be seen in light of people’s opinion and diplomatic arcs. Bookings Fellow Constantino Xavier said in an interview to Scroll “India cannot afford to think of permanent friends anymore in its neighbourhood.”

In conjunction to this question of maps, we need to ask ourselves if we are taking a top-down view of the border. Does the map matter beyond the concerns of the state for border populations, especially in the case of an open border like India and Nepal? While the focus was on India, the conversation around borders and maps is larger. Questions of identity become important in dealing with refugee crises, in camps deliberately placed outside legal boundaries and in treating people as foreign, alien and different.

Many mechanisms are used to reinforce our citizenship. The map is one of them, it imprints a visual image in our mind of where we belong. This is why people in Nepal protest Indian encroachment, and Indians break TVs at a call to boycott Chinese products in the climate of the standoff. Maps show you the state as a natural, ideal entity. By placing troops, defiling natural features and building walls among others, the state seeks to fit this ideal.

Sanya is a student of History, International Relations, and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

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