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Issue 10

‘Mining’ Nothing but a Grave

As players in the crypto market hold their breaths waiting for a new regulatory bill to hit the benches of the Indian Parliament, a cloud of risk and doubt looms over its  FinTech space once again. Monetary authorities have now been debating the existence of a parallel decentralized economy for three years; the tangible outcome of which has been a draft of rigid laws and a detailed report strongly backing an outright ban of the trillion-dollar industry. Although our Finance Minister recently refuted the statement regarding this blanket prohibition, it is safe to say that stakeholders — at home and abroad — have had multiple premonitions of restrictive financial freedom for a long time now. What is surprising, however, is the degree of constraints and the severity of penalties developed to deter transgression. It seems that the government is not only planning to stop all forms of trading but is also stressing on disallowing any Indian entity from retaining crypto assets. If the draft holds, investors will be given a period of six months to liquidate their capital, post which any violations will be punishable by a jail period ranging from one to ten years and a fine triple the value of transactions. The outrage following this proposition has already led to more than one lakh individuals voicing their concern to lawmakers, and an even larger number joining the social media campaign of India Wants Bitcoin. Why then, are Indian financial bodies fixated on moving forward with such profound measures of control? 

According to the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) — responsible for taking a call on crypto’s future in India — the problem lies in the decentralized section of the entire framework. Ironically, this feature is exactly what defines cryptocurrency and sets it apart from the general fiat structure of an economy. Before moving forward, let’s address this idea of decentralization and distribution by comparing how money is accounted for in both systems. Our current financial configuration has a central bank — the RBI — responsible for issuing new currency and manipulating its value using gold and foreign reserves. It accounts for every note and transaction by keeping a track of how money is distributed among entities. While it’s unaware of the exact capital a specific individual has or what they have spent, all of this information is indirectly connected and relayed to the RBI by banks possessing the actual accounts. So, the tree representing how information is shared and structured has RBI as the nucleus and banking institutions as the primary nodes. Each bank is in-turn connected to millions of accounts acting as secondary branches. Thus, not only power but even knowledge is concentrated at the central level. Bitcoin completely revolutionized this setup when it was established in 2008 by introducing blockchain technology. Blockchain transformed the previous information tree into one that rendered each entity as a node connected to every other node in the system. This made it possible to distribute and share the ledger containing transactions among all members. The value of money in such a system was purely based on demand and supply principles, and any creation of money value was attributed to the volume of successful transactions rather than an authoritative decision by one node. 

Now it’s understandable that no central agency with regulatory powers over the Rupee will undermine its authority by permitting the reorganization of how money is perceived and valued among its citizens. However, in context of an increasingly globalised world, the State might want to reconsider its stance, since a complete ban hardly sends a positive message regarding the adaptability of contemporary ideas in India. 

Another interesting aspect of this entire debacle is that the restrictions on cryptocurrencies are perhaps their best advertisement. Saifedean Ammous, a Bitcoin economist, believes that if the government is adding constraints to what you can and cannot do, then maybe it is time to think about decentralizing power — “… I am sorry, if you’re telling me that I can’t send money from my bank account to buy the things that I want, then, that’s not really my money.” 

            Nonetheless, it would be unfair to say that the policies are entirely short-sighted.  They do make an excellent case for diverting our attention towards the underlying technology of blockchain. The IMC’s report lays out a series of arguments in favor of embracing the cryptographic data structure, but only in projects other than cryptocurrencies. This proposition is designed as a solution to the issue of citizens demanding trading rights to Bitcoin and Ethereum. However, suggesting alternative products with the same mechanical properties under the hood, is hardly a solution. Especially when India has over six million crypto investors holding a figure north of Rs. 10,000 crore in valuation. In essence, the government’s point is well taken — we do need to start looking at blockchain-based applications, which without a doubt remain vast unmined fields. Nevertheless, it’s a bit ignorant to force stakeholders to liquidate their positions and in return offer them a blockchain-based KYC to make up for any losses. 

An argument often triggered by this last statement is that the government has publicly announced an Indian crypto substitute for Bitcoin and Ethereum, which should work as a perfect middle ground for all parties involved. Unfortunately, this is not only a misconception but also a wasteful endeavor had it actually been true. Expanding on the former concern, the IMC has laid out plans for constructing a currency powered by blockchain known as the Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). However, this is only an imperfect substitute since it is centralized and tied to the value of the Rupee. One could even think of it as a digital Rupee that is tradable, secure, and inexpensive to transfer around, thus bagging few of the appealing features of Bitcoin. Nevertheless, it continues to serve as only another regulated version of money, governed by the same laws and restrictions as a paper note. 

Secondly, having an Indian cryptocurrency while banning the rest isn’t all that feasible. Especially since replacing Bitcoin and Ethereum is almost impossible given the former’s market cap and the latter’s scalability. Start-ups around the world have already started building Decentralized Apps on top of Ethereum’s backend, which will soon take over the tech market by a storm. Even social media platforms are experimenting with decentralization to promote a more privacy-oriented future and reduce censorship concerns. So at a time when the next Twitter or YouTube might be driven by Ethereum or any other crypto for that matter, India cannot be left struggling to fix bugs in their own blockchain architecture. Moreover, there is no guarantee that regulatory bodies will even be able to restrict the trading of Bitcoin or Ethereum. US officials have already concluded that controlling access to an open-source network application requires enormous control over the Internet itself. So the bill might just result in an even more restrictive digital space in India. Besides, an outright ban of profitable opportunities will only motivate people to find newer loopholes and open up black markets; none of which will positively impact the country’s own crypto. 

The government seems to be approaching this issue with a binary vision as of now. However, the options are broader than just ‘ban’ and ‘not ban’. There is a need for deeper discussions and experimentation with FinTech. It is imperative, however, to acknowledge that the clock is ticking and if an environment of doubt is allowed to persist, the theory of Human Capital Flight will kick in. Not only will millennial investors start contributing to the FDIs of countries that allow crypto markets, but our extremely talented entrepreneurs will also be on the first flight out in fear of the dreaded regulations. Weighing the scales, it seems that the argument of cryptocurrencies and blockchains being the next big thing since the Internet does fall on the heavier side. And so taking a backseat at this stage of development can only set us up for future disappointments.

Picture Credits: @WorldSpectrum, Pixabay

Tanish Bafna is a ‘prospective’ (translates to undecided and widely confused) Economics and CS undergraduate at Ashoka University. He is deeply interested in almost anything that lies at either ends of these fields including Blockchain, Game Theory and the Economics of Technology. In his free time, you can find him curled up at previously unvisited spaces on campus or his neighbourhood doing absolutely nothing.

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

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Issue 10

Politics of Postering – What the Walls Say in Tamil Nadu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All images have been taken by the author. 

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 Power Under My Burqa — Sri Lanka’s Proposal to Ban the Burqa

Recently, Sarath Weerasekara, the Sri Lankan Minister of Public Security said “the burqa has a direct impact on national security.” He claims to have signed a proposal and is awaiting the cabinet and the 2/3rd Sinhaleses’ majority parliament’s approval for closing over 1,000 Islamic schools (madrassas) as well as banning the burqa as he states they are viewed as symbols of ‘religious extremism.’ The burqa is a long, loose garment that covers the whole body from head to feet and is often worn by Muslim women in public. 

This is not the first time that the burqa has been banned within the country. Shortly after the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka in 2019, which resulted in more than 260 people losing their lives and two local Islamist terrorist groups claiming responsibility for this tragedy, the burqa was temporarily banned. The justification given by the state was that it would hasten the process of identifying the attackers and their networks. Even back then, the UN Human Rights Watch heavily condemned this move and called it a direct violation of one’s religious expression and human rights. 

But what is interesting to note is that Sri Lanka’s demographic is such that Muslims comprise less than 9 per cent of the total population, and the Sinhalese consist of 74 per cent of the total, with more than 69 per cent of the Sinhalese populace identifying as Buddhists. In addition to this, the current ruling government is in a Sinhalese Buddhist majority, with two Sinhalese Buddhist brothers, Gotabaya and Mahinda Rajapaksa being the leading representatives of the country, i.e, the President and the Prime minister respectively. With such a clear majority in population numbers as well as political power, why does the majority consider items of clothing such as the burqa a threat, such that it needs to be banned? And how can the burqa play a crucial role for the Muslim minority in the face of the ongoing threat of majority imposition? 

One obvious explanation for the burqa to be labelled as a threat is not because of its literal sense, but what it comes to represent. Lori G. Beamarí, an author of a research paper titled ‘Battle of the Symbols’ highlights how religious symbols do not have a meaning of themselves but are seen in the conveyance of religious ‘messages’ at a deeper level. While a burqa is not a religious ‘symbol’ like the Cresent and Star, it still explicitly acts as an indicator of one’s Islam identity and thereby continues to be a marker of it. 

Unfortunately, this is not the first time the burqa has been associated with the term ‘religious extremism’. Post 9/11, there is no doubt that there was a growing anti-Islamic climate within the world, and items like the burqa, hijab and even the long beard became ‘political banners for Islam’ and those wearing it were considered ‘terrorists’. Post the Easter bombings in 2019 by the local Islamic groups, this islamophobic narrative was reinforced even within Sri Lanka, which resulted in inaccurate causal links between Islam and religious extremism being drawn. 

However, such proposals to ban the burqa as well as madrassas, legitimise Islamophobia within the state and hinder the process for Islam to recover from this image of violence that has been constructed around it. 

Furthermore, another explanation surrounding this ban can be found in Arjun Appadurai’s book titled ‘Fear of Small numbers’. He introduced the concept of ‘predatory identities’ that are defined as “identities whose social construction and mobilisation requires the extinction of the other”. He highlights that there is an underlying belief that a nation should consist of a single ethnic identity, that establishes ideal nationhood and absolute ethnic purity, and when majorities that act as predatory identities are unable to achieve this, he terms this as the ‘anxiety of incompleteness’. He delves further on this idea by expanding on how this incompleteness occurs due to the presence of other minorities that become a symbol of hindrance in establishing this fantasy of national purity and wholeness. While the author mentions how in pursuit of this fantasy, majorities may not necessarily take the road of extinguishing minorities altogether, within Sri Lanka we can firmly state that the three major minorities — Christians, Tamils and Muslims — have been at the brunt of violence and conflict throughout history. Roshini Wickremesinhe, a lawyer and consultant engaged in religious freedom and human rights advocacy and research, compiled a report on religious intolerance within Sri Lanka. She highlights how each of these minorities has been at the receiving end of some form of violence, either hate speech, discrimination and facing demands to discontinue places of worship to serve, often directed by the majority Sinhalese Buddhist groups like Sinha Le, who are in contradiction to with the equality and condemning of hierarchies that  Buddhism stands for. Therefore, the banning of the ‘burqa’ can be seen as a means of removing the constant visual reminder and signifier that instigates the anxiety of the incomplete for the majority, and how Muslims stand in their way of resolving it. By banning the ‘burqa’ the visual representation of a female Muslim is no longer explicit to the eye, thereby no longer creating a distinction between a female Sri Lankan, and a female Sri Lankan Muslim. 

While the burqa continues to be a source of ‘threat’ for the majority, how can the minority use this to their advantage? It cannot be denied that it explicitly puts female Muslims in danger of violence and discrimination since it makes their religious identity visually accessible to a majority that feels threatened by it. However, post 9/11, various female American Muslims who were discriminated against for wearing the burqa and were seen as a ‘threat,’ used it as a symbol of protest to empower their Muslim identities. Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad in her paper titled ‘The Post- 9/11 “Hijab” as an Icon’ emphasises how items like the hijab, niqab and burqa became symbols of protest against the attack on their religious identity. Wearing a burqa characterised empowerment and the pride one felt to be associated with Islam and slogans like ‘Islam is beautiful, Deal with it!’ became popular. However, it can be questioned whether the Sri Lankan female Muslim community will be effectively able to use this opportunity to come together to defy the Islamophobic narrative, especially when their identities are increasingly coming under scrutiny. While symbols like the burqa become threatening to a majority, they can also evolve into becoming threatening to a minority for embracing them since they explicitly state their identity as the ‘other’ in times of conflict. 

Author’s Bio: 

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

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Issue 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture Credits: Starship on Mars by Dale Rutherford

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

Issue X: Editors’ Note

In the past year, a major breakthrough in Science has been the Covid-19 vaccine but as the pandemic continues to take centre-stage in our liveswe wish to use this issue as an opportunity to highlight other important developments in Science and Technology. As footage from NASA’s Perseverance Rover driving on Mars’ terrain first came in, we saw the new possibilities that space exploration holdsKartik Tiwari, a student of Physics and Philosophy, captures this sense of wonder and takes on the claim that humans will walk on Mars in the next decade. On the flip side, Aarohi Sharma critically analyses how this endeavour may become equivalent to that of colonization as she explores the world’s obsession with colonizing Mars and what this obsession represents.

With the development of scientists being able to communicate with people while they were lucid dreaming, Ashana Mathur writes about the intersection of psychedelics and their contribution in enhancing creative thinking and problem solving skills. We still can’t forget the Covid-19 vaccine, thus, Amrita Singh breaks down how the immune system actually works, how vaccines confer immunity and what distinguishes all the different vaccines on offer. 

We are also in the midst of the campaigning for two major elections, one in West Bengal and the other in Tamil Nadu. Maya Mirchandani and Gilles Verniers expertly analyse how Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress takes the lead in fielding and supporting strong women candidates in view of a larger and more gradual trend of inclusion, also contributed to by other parties. With larger than life banners, to small party symbols painted on the walls along the roads, Nandan Sanskriti Kaushik explores how street art and poster culture become an important campaign tool in Tamil Nadu.

As Ashoka University made the news for the sudden resignation of two of its esteemed faculty members, it raised important questions about academic freedom in India and, so our staff chose to collectively explore the historical evolution of academic freedom across the globe.

This issue also covers other current events as with a nuanced economic analysis of the public sector bank strike from March 15th-16th by Advaita Singh. Given the apprehension with which Indian lawmakers still regard cryptocurrency, Tanish Bafna breaks down the anxieties around a new regulatory bill and what it might mean for the future of cryptocurrency in India.

On the other hand, Rohan Pai unpacks the recent water crisis in Delhi to reveal its legal and political roots, highlighting the need to resolve internal disputes to prevent a future water crisis in Delhi, Haryana and Punjab. Rujuta Singh examines police brutality and violence against women in view of the role that power and positions of authority might play. Madhulika Aggarwal presents a critique of the content-sharing platform: OnlyFans and how it might be perpetuating the commodification of female passing bodies underneath its convenience and user-autonomy. 

Ananya Rao explores the future of menstrual health and hygiene in a post COVID India, examining infrastructural and societal taboos hurdling the cause. Outside India, Harshita Bedi investigates what the recent Sri Lankan burqa ban means for religious minorities and why the burqa has become a threat to a majority in Sri Lanka. Alexandra Verini examines the prospects of Utopia in today’s world, exploring the question of whether imagining perfect worlds benefit our present and future or do they set us up for failures and disappointment? 

We hope that this issue enables its readers to piece together their own understanding of this moment in time and see that despite our challenges, we are still hurtling towards progress—whether it’s scientific discovery or our ability to think for ourselves, to study popular claims beyond face value and to question the world around us. 

— Akanksha, Devika, Muskaan, Ridhima and Saaransh

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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

Commodification of Female Passing Bodies in the Age of OnlyFans

With the rise of on-demand services like Netflix for movies, Spotify for music, and Amazon for shopping, it was only a matter of time before similar services rose to occasion for adult entertainment. Unsurprisingly, paywalled platforms like Only Fans (OF), that provide content, including X-rated content, on subscription have witnessed a rise in their popularity. Sites like OF, that let creators regulate and keep 80 percent of the money earned from the viewership of their content, come as a fresh breath of relief in the porn industry that feeds off non-consensual streaming of videos. 

It is this reason that mainly adds to the appeal and makes OnlyFans one of the most popular source with sex workers, influencers, celebrities, and ordinary people alike, who consider it to be a more ethical outlet for the consumption and exchange of pornographic content. In this era of the gig economy, Only Fans might seem tempting as it has built a safer platform for providing nudity and selling sex related services, however, it is only liberating on the surface level. Services like OnlyFans are not as empowering as they seem. They encourage the commodification of women’s bodies under the pretense of providing the creators with the autonomy and agency of handling their own content. 

The fact that non-male passing bodies are treated as cashable objects is not news. Capitalism works insidiously and keeps innovating ways to keep monetizing bodies — services like OF not only perpetuate commercial commodification of sex and sex workers, but take it up a notch. The accessibility that OF provides normalises the idea of non-male bodies having to sell off their bodies in a way that adheres to the standard male gaze: in a survey collected by researchers Joshua Nichols, Marina Orrico, and Zahrina Jimenez, it was found out despite there being male content creators, it is only female passing bodies that are in greater demand, and sold at higher rates. OnlyFans has become so popular that it is now constantly referenced in pop-culture in passing. Even further popularised by celebrities like Cardi B, Beyonce, Megan Thee Stallion, and Belle Throne, Onlyfans’ growing fame and user base know no bounds. However, but it becomes especially harmful when teenagers on social media are being groomed on the internet to open an account the minute they turn 18. They are growing up in anticipation to come off age to be able to earn money using their pictures online. Normalisation of services like onlyfans perpetuates the idea of viewing one’s body as a money-making source. Teens have been lured to go out of their way to break and mend laws and post up their pictures online. 

An analysis by Facial recognition technology revealed that around a third of the users on different social media advertising explicit pictures of themselves are under 18. They generally use hashtags “nudes4sale” or “buymynudes”, as found out by the investigation. Of all the 7,728 profiles under these hashtags, more than 2,500 of them were of minors and people below a legal age of consent. The number has only grown since what was last calculated and explored in the new BBC three documentary, nudes4sale. This increasing number is dangerous to the underaged who are falling prey to cyber sexual harrasment. Pedophiles leech onto such sites, and force both adults and minors into indulging in pedophilic festish like dressing up in school uniforms and sexualising oneself. Teens have also become a target of pedophillia on Snapchat, another social media app, whose policies are lax when compared to OnlyFans.

One of the main reasons why OF is tempting is because of the convenience it allows. Onlyfans is open to any and every kind of service, it is mostly popular with X-rated content creators because it gives the impression of being a non-consequential, non-exploitative, and safe forum. Amy Brozovich also mentions this in her piece, that talks about the marxist ideas of prostitution. She says, that “contemporary sex work is born from and result in the same alienation and objectification from which capitalist wage labour is born.” By calling it a source that offers both sanity and assurity, two things that are one of the biggest criticisms of the porn and sex-traffiking industry at large, OnlyFans sets itself apart as a site that presents you with the opportunity of creating content from the comfort and privacy of your own bedroom, without having to worry about the shadiness of the situation. During the covid pandemic alone, the site saw a boom in its users by 75% globally, in its already existing 17.5 million user base and over 70,000 content creators. The “easy money” aspect and the appeal of the gig economy in a crisis that saw massive job losses only helped the matter. 

Sites like Onlyfans hide the labour and the usual conditions present for sexwork, in order to take that harassment online. OnlyFans and explicit content websites use marketing strategies appeal to the third wave feminists that equate sex work to wage work. This makes it easy for the general public to ignore and never acknowledge the vulnerability of the service.

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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

Banking on the Government

March 15th–16th, 2021 witnessed the congregation of 10 lakh bank employees in protest and solidarity against the much-debated privatisation of two public sector banks (PSBs). Banking services such as loan approvals, cheque processing and cash withdrawals were disrupted — estimates suggest that a total of 2.01 crore cheque instruments (valued at Rs 16500 crore) were left unprocessed in Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai. It was the United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU) — an umbrella organization comprising 9 trade unions — that blew the war horn, calling for a strike against the decision announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharam during the Union Budget as a part of the government’s disinvestment plan

Voicing concerns over employee welfare and job security that could potentially be threatened by the privatization of PSBs, the trade unions also exhibited apprehensions about the implications for the economy. They echo arguments from the classic dichotomy of public sector banks and commercial banks, suggesting that such a move would prove to be detrimental to the Indian financial landscape. 

Worries precipitated by this decision date much earlier than the announcement itself since India’s long march on the road of privatisation has been in the works for years. In the banking sector itself, IDBI bank was privatised in 2019 while 14 other banks were merged in the last 4 years, foreshadowing the possibilities of further privatization. While such asset reductions are a part of the government’s strategic sales, they also stem from a cause of concern over the efficiency of PSBs. 

While the public sector is not completely devoid of pressures to earn a profit, a certain level of efficiency is expected. The PSBs’ share of bad loans, as compared to that of commercial banks, raises eyebrows. Banks claim that they have been in the green — quoting a profit of Rs 1,74,000 crore. However, the bad loans valued at Rs 2,00,000 crore led to net losses. But are profits or NPAs the best measures of efficiency for PSBs? 

Given that the private sector operates with a profit motive, it is but natural to use profit and loss accounts to measure the success of a commercial bank. The rise in conversation about fiscal stability also factors in the significance of NPAs in estimating a bank’s financial health. However, the measures of efficacy cannot be the same for PSBs and private sector counterparts. The mandate and role of a public sector bank is simply too different from that of a commercial bank. 

Historically, PSBs have been entrusted with achieving financial inclusion, poverty reduction, increasing access to credit, and other social objectives, thereby acting as beacons of social banking. Ever since the nationalisation of the State Bank of India in 1955, PSBs have played a crucial role in acting as financial intermediaries, channelling savings (particularly from rural and suburban areas) into the economy. Doggedly pursuing social objectives, these banks have been strong drivers of the success of many welfare policies. For instance, PSBs were responsible for opening 16.5 crore Jan Dhan accounts as part of the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana. In contrast, private banks only opened 68 lakh accounts. 

With the poor financial infrastructure post-independence, PSBs have been essential to making banking and financial services accessible in the remote regions of the country. In many ways, it is this progress in financial inclusion that has been an engine of growth by bringing unproductive savings into circulation. Tapping into the closed vaults of rural savings, PSBs encouraged saving in banks that mobilised resources and money that was otherwise stagnant. An example of the contribution of PSBs to the financial architecture is the State Bank of India that achieved 100% inclusion by covering 31,729 villages during the financial year 2014. State-owned banks also contributed to fostering an entrepreneurial environment by extending credit facilities to vulnerable groups and weaker sections that may not have the necessary collateral to secure loans in private banks. 

Any bank’s greatest asset will always be Trust. Without the public’s faith in the brand and institution, a bank will never be able to garner savings and deposits. Previously, crises like the Yes Bank crisis of 2020 have raised questions on commercial banks’ ability to manage liquidity, inspiring a feeling of uncertainty in the public. With the notional commitment of the government to fiscal stability, public sector banks emerge as symbols of trust causing the general public to hold at least one account in a PSB. Hence, the role of a state-owned bank extends beyond its social obligations — it acts as a propagator and preserver of faith in the banking system for the masses. 

Public sector banks also possess strategic importance for the country — they support key industries with stressed assets such as aviation, mining, iron and steel etc. By supporting these industries, PSBs ensure that certain strategic sectors of the economy are protected and preserved due to the role they play in ensuring stability, employment or the smooth functioning of the economy. Hence, the loans extended to these sectors are greater in PSBs than in commercial banks, subsequently leading to greater NPAs as well. The bad loans from these key industries, coupled with the NPAs from extending loans to vulnerable social groups, explain sufficiently why PSBs suffer from a greater percentage of non-performing assets. Are NPAs still the strongest measure of efficiency between commercial and public sector banks? Probably not. 

Due to the very difference in the mandates and incentives of the private sector and public sector banks, it is folly to believe that a profit-driven, private sector bank can do what a PSB does. The strong tug of the profit-motive and responsibilities to shareholders impose a natural limit to the amount of social contribution a commercial bank can make to the economy; especially, given that many cases involve a direct trade-off between profits and pursuing social objectives. Hence, calls for privatisation of PSBs imply a simple trade between social responsibility/financial inclusion and profits, or what one might term ‘efficiency’. While the government can certainly get rid of a few bad apples in the basket by dumping poorly managed/underperforming PSBs, any economy like India should retain a certain proportion of public sector banks in the financial architecture to encourage equality, welfare, and fair access to financial services.

Whether the two banks being privatised are inefficient is a matter of economic analysis, but one must be careful with the metric being used. One can argue that the 2 banks being currently privatised still leave enough social bankers to strengthen the financial fabric of the economy, but we know which sides the trade unions will take. As we possibly head towards a more privatised, profit-driven India, the question remains — can we still bank on (read: with) the government to ensure the strength of our financial landscape? 

Advaita Singh is a second year economics student at Ashoka University and is the president of the Economics Society.

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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.

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).