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Issue 11

Bombay Begums

What made me watch Alankrita Shrivastava’s six-episode Netflix series Bombay Begums was its title itself – laden with royalty. Watching the trailer, one could possibly ask, why call the lives of five women located in the city of dreams ‘begums?’ Each episode delves into the anxieties of these women’s private yet socially relevant lives. Their engagement with the ‘social’ reveals concealed realities of their ‘personal.’ Rani Irani, Fatima Warsi, Lakshmi Gondhali, Ayesha and Shai, with all their vulnerabilities in a man’s world “mend the pieces and move on, until it happens again.”  

“We are all part of the problem, Fatima …” aptly puts across our attitude towards preserving power while discrediting the powerless. The characters depict complexities accompanying the notions of power, freedom, dignity, sexuality, and integrity within a queen’s realm. It leaves one with thoughts that the world is too hesitant to express. The dialogues, narration, and the plot does not miss out on any opportunity to critique ways in which the patriarchal world fails each time it tries to understand women’s language of desire, power and respect. The series is flawed in its own ways, and that’s exactly how the lives of these women play out. Flawed. Yet unapologetic. 

These women are artists – with art fading at every possible turn of their lives, but their firm determination towards striking their brush once more, on that empty canvas, speaks for itself.  Their strength to assert their power in an oppressive world is what makes them the begums.

Another interesting aspect of the series – five out of the six episodes are named after books by eminent women writers who have aspired to live through all the lows and highs in their own, independent journeys. The plot of these episodes stays inseparable from their names, depicting relevant connections between women’s stories from a foreign land in a city closer to home.

“Our wounds can heal, and our souls blossom. And the jagged and sparkling dreams of women can find both earth and sky,” summarises the series at its best. With all the critiques and applauds that the series has received a month into its release, Bombay Begums is a must-watch for all.

Picture Credits: Tribune India

Ariba is a student of English and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

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Issue 11

bestdressed

Film student, feminist and fashion enthusiast Ashley creates intricate and artistic portraits of her life as a young adult, trying to make it in a big city. 

Some of her most popular videos are her style guides, apartment makeovers and thrift shopping hauls + thrift flips. Thrift flips involve altering or ‘flipping’ clothing items bought from a secondhand or thrift store. The concept has become increasingly popular in the DIY and fashion circles of youtube, as vintage clothing (that can only be bought cheaply in thrift stores) became a huge trend. 

Her film background and editing prowess (she worked as a freelance video editor before creating her own channel) shines through, making every video uniquely memorable. Bestdressed also has the occasional video discussing politics, sexuality and mental health with refreshing candour, based on research and her own experiences. 

All in all, this is a great channel to watch for relaxation, upliftment, life advice, or all of the above. 

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Issue 11

Issue XI: Editors’ Note

The past year saw COVID-19 and lockdowns as the only issues one extensively engaged with, both in their personal and professional lives. The question, “how has the pandemic been treating you?” slipped into every catch-up conversation with peers, friends, family and colleagues. With the current surge of cases in India once again, it is safe to say that even with the vaccine, the pandemic still continues to dominate a major part of our lives. We are constantly reminded of it every time we have to step outside our homes or log in to an online meeting or a Zoom birthday call. 

With this issue, we aim to provide our readers with a ‘pandemic-break’ and delve into stories that are equally important but may have been sidelined with constant COVID updates from newsrooms. 

To begin with, Madhulika Agarwal addresses an essential question revolving around what makes an event ‘newsworthy’ in the first place? And who has the authority on prioritising which news is worth the consumers’ attention? With Amazon’s Twitter antics having grabbed the attention of the media, Samyukta Prabhu and Rohan Pai use this opportunity to highlight the gig workers’ rights that have been sidelined by tech giants such as Amazon, specifically during the course of the pandemic. 

Akanksha Mishra covers the consequences of the Afghanistan peace deal on the country’s population, revealing a critical understanding of the negotiations between three stakeholders – the Taliban, the Afghan government and the United States. Speaking of the United States, Karantaj Singh analyses 100 days of Biden administration by critiquing as well as applauding his contribution towards restoring America’s identity in the global community. With New Zealand’s recently passed miscarriages bereavement leave law, Advaita Singh captures the reader’s attention by examining the relationship between workplaces, the economy and personal grief.

Closer to home, Saaransh Mishra confronts the structure of quasi-federalism in India and its exploitation by the ruling central government in implementing controversial laws such as the recent GNCTD Bill. Furthermore, Muskaan Kanodia explores the vote-bank anxieties behind the intense dedication of political parties towards temple beautification, which appears to complement the rise of religious politics in the country. Ridhima Manocha analyses the ruling government’s contradictory campaign attitudes towards CAA-NRC when contesting the current Assam Assembly elections. Meanwhile, Vaibhav Parik questions India’s Election Commission’s decision to hold the ongoing Assembly elections in multiple phases in the state of West Bengal.

Aarohi Sharma brings back the essential climate change debate and delves into why individuals continue to deny its existence and widespread impact. For our sports enthusiasts, Kavya Satish explores the possible reasons for the increasing loss of viewership and sponsorship in F1 and what it means for the future of the sport. 

To emphasise the immense strain that Coivd-19 has placed on our global healthcare systems, Saman Fatima explores how this has resulted in the marginalisation of treatments of other prevalent diseases among several populations. 

While other stories may continue to struggle to win the fight for our attention with the intensity of the pandemic, we hope our readers are able to take a step back and keep themselves updated with events beyond rising Covid-19 cases and vaccinations. 

-Ariba, Ashana Mathur, Harshita Bedi, Rujuta Singh

Picture Credits: REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

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Issue 11

Girlhood in Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday

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

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

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

Freedom and Femininity

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

Watershed Moments of Harshness

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

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

The Magnitude of Possibility

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

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

Picture Credits: Slant Magazine

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

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

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Issue 11

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

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

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

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

How is Online Harassment Different for Women? 

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

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

When Online Threats Go Offline

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

What Is the Message Behind the Hate?

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

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

Disregarding Female Voices and Threats to Journalism

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

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

“Just ignore it” Is Not a Solution 

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

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

Picture Credits: Illustration by Jackie Lay, The Atlantic

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

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

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Issue 11

100 Days of Biden

It has been over 100 days since President Joe Biden took charge of his administrative duties in the United States. The Biden administration has been highly optimistic by promising to meet an expansive agenda that includes controlling the coronavirus pandemic, enabling economic recovery, revising US climate policy and reviewing their health care system. Biden has also taken active steps to reverse Trump’s isolationist policies and his decisions, alongside  catalysing the process of restoring America’s place in the international community. With only 100 days of his term completed, Biden has taken some notable steps to meet his agendas. 

Within his first few days at the White House, Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organisation. He rescinded Trump’s Muslim ban, which restricted immigration from a host of Muslim-majority countries. He took the liberty to address US-China relations by getting on a call with President Xi Jinping to discuss climate change, human rights violations, and trade relations. The President has made it clear to the Americans and the world that he plans on restoring America’s position in the global community and that he is determined to get rid of the isolationist policies introduced by his predecessor. 

The Biden administration fulfilled their 100-day promise of providing 100 M COVID vaccinations within its first 50 days. Biden’s timing could not have been better – as infections were peaking and America’s vaccines were coming online because of Trump’s funding of Operation Warp Speed,  Biden utilised the opportunity to play the hero without having to put in all the work. Moreover, he recently announced that all adults in the US will be eligible for the COVID vaccine by April 19th. 

Biden is firing on all cylinders to ensure that repercussions of the pandemic can be contained, singing a $1.9 trillion relief package to fight the pandemic and restore the US economy. The relief package, currently Biden’s top priority, plans to send direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans. The bill also includes a $300 per week unemployment insurance boost until 6th September 2021 and steps ahead to expand the child tax credit for a year. The relief plan also allocates $25 billion into rental and utility assistance, and $350 billion into state, local and tribal relief. It puts nearly $20 billion into Covid-19 vaccinations. 

Biden’s plan to reverse Trump’s tax cuts on corporations has been championed by the Left, but the effectiveness of implementing this policy needs to be carefully considered.  Biden’s tax policy wants to raise the top income tax rate to 39.6% from 37% and the top corporate income tax rate to 28% from 21%. This move will allow the government to collect a tax revenue of approximately $4 trillion by 2030. President Biden claims that his administration will ensure American companies  contribute tax dollars to help invest in the country’s roads, bridges, water pipes and other parts of his economic agenda. The plan detailed by the Treasury Department would make it harder for companies to avoid paying taxes on both U.S. income and profits stashed abroad. 

While this move sounds good on paper, its effective implementation has several obstacles. Corporates with major accounting teams and an army of lawyers have continued to find safe havens and loopholes in tax laws to legally avoid paying taxes. A tax hike of this rate also increases the probability of tax evasion and tax fraud, which will undoubtedly lead to the creation of a larger shadow economy. Additionally, in a post covid world that has witnessed large scale unemployment, increasing taxes on corporations and high bracket earners is going to  push firms to cut costs, thereby creating disincentives for hiring. The increase in taxation may also push firms to switch gears and focus more on international markets such as Hong Kong or Singapore that offer lower corporate tax rates. While progressive taxation is ideally the way to go, the Biden government must ensure that its implementation takes into account all the limitations of the current system. 

The Trump administration focused on deregulation in the manufacturing sector to ensure productivity and economic efficiency, whereas Biden  promises to focus on sustainable development. As part of his election campaign, Biden had released a 10-year, $1.3 trillion infrastructure plan. The plan aims to move the U.S. to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Biden’s climate change plan in total would cost the US approximately 2 trillion dollars, which he aims to fund by reversing Trump’s excess tax cuts on corporations and putting an end to subsidies for fossil fuels. While Trump focused on short-term economic efficiency, Biden’s plan is for the future. Switching to sustainable means of manufacturing is going to undoubtedly drive up costs for the American economy, but has the potential to  create middle-class jobs and ensure environmental conservation. 

Biden has had over 100 successful days since being sworn in, mainly because the bar set by his predecessor was quite low to begin with, but also because of his constructive policies. He envisions an America that will not be easy or cheap to achieve. While Biden’s plans cease to be as optimistic as “Mexico will pay for it,” they still are overreaching. The policies and infrastructural changes that Biden aims to implement would likely add to the 28 trillion dollar debt, but as long as the economy is developed in a constructive manner, there is hope for Biden’s America.

Karantaj Singh finished his undergraduate in History and International Relations. He is now pursuing a minor in Media Studies and Politics during his time at the Ashoka Scholars Program. He enjoys gaming and comics in his free time. 

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 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture Credits: The Times (UK)

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

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

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Issue 11

Vote Banking the Temple Beautification Drive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture Credits: Hindustan Times

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

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

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Issue 11

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

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

Individual Processes

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

Construal Level Theory

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

Worry, Fear and Control 

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

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

Risk Perception 

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

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

Group Processes 

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

System Justification Theory

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

Identity-protective Motivated Cognition 

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

Attribution 

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

Differential Impacts and Climate Change Denial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Issue 11

Assam Assembly Election: Litmus Test for CAA and BJP

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

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

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

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

CAA-Protest in Assam

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

Source: https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Citizenship_Amendment_Act_protests

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

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

Ongoing election in Assam

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

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

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

Picture Credits: Live Mint

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

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