Categories
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.

Categories
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. 

Categories
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

Categories
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).

Categories
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).

Categories
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).

Categories
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).

Categories
Issue 11

The Frailty of Quasi-Federalism in India

The Rajya Sabha reverberated with staunch opposition to the approval of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021 (GNCTD Bill) on 24 March, 2021 . The Bill contains amendments that would bolster the powers of the Lieutenant Governor (LG) of Delhi and further limit the administrative powers of Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP government.

In stark contrast to the earlier-vested powers of the elected government to take independent decisions on most administrative matters, the bill  mandates  LG’s approval prior to every executive action. CM Arvind Kejriwal called it a “sad day for democracy,” while Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi called the bill “the most pernicious and the most unconstitutional bill the Rajya Sabha has ever received.”  Having received Presidential assent amidst opposition walkouts in the Rajya Sabha, it has yet again resurrected debates on the current government’s commitment to federalism in India. This is not the first time that the government has come under scrutiny for passing heavily opposed legislations jeopardizing constitutional federalism. The recent GNCTD Bill, along with certain other highly controversial moves like the stance on “one nation one election”, the abrogation of Article 370, the CAA & NRC and the passage of the farm bills, all in the face of incessant criticism and opposition within and outside the Parliament, has brought the BJP under question. So, how do these contentious bills get passed despite such strong opposition? One could consider the role of India’s “quasi-federal” structure and its compatibility with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s longstanding agenda of attaining a unitary state with an overly dominant Centre. The larger debate that these legislations highlight is the inadequate checks that India’s quasi-federal structure presents to a government with a parliamentary majority. 

“Federalism” refers to the constitutionally allocated distribution of powers between two or more levels of government; one at the national level, other at the provincial, state or local levels. The principal feature of federalism is that the various levels of governments operate within their own constitutionally-defined jurisdictions with substantial independence from each other. A key tenet of the federal concept is the voluntary compact between several independent states that agree to become a part of a nation and are required to submit an integral part of their power to the Centre.

However, in most federal countries, the difference in power between the central and state governments is not as substantial as it is in the case of India. The herculean challenges faced by postcolonial India in terms of cultural, religious, and ethnic diversity have contributed extensive powers to the Centre. The disunity and secessionist tendencies that postcolonial India witnessed in the form of linguistic nationalism in the South, accession of the Princely States, the Kashmir conflict, and regional rivalry with Pakistan, among others, led the members of the Constituent Assembly to advocate for a strong Union government. This was deemed necessary to ensure  political stability  for India’s survival as a unified nation-state amidst enormous cultural heterogeneity and national security threats. 

Unlike other federal countries such as the US, the Parliament in India has the power to admit new states, create new states, alter boundaries and their names, in addition to establishing unity between states or dividing them. Further, there are various provisions in the Constitution that allow the Centre to override the powers of the states; the power to make laws within fields that have not been specified within the Constitution lies solely with the Centre. Additionally, on fiscal matters, states have limited capabilities and are quite heavily dependent on the Centre. Thus, the Constitution of India was drafted with strong centralizing tendencies that confer maximum powers to the central government and is thus referred to as “quasi-federal.”

BJP leaders have been pushing for the idea of “one nation one election” in various public platforms ever since the agenda reserved its space in the party’s 2014 election manifesto. In fact, as recently as in December 2020, BJP conducted roughly 25 webinars propagating the idea. . This agenda will further affect the limited autonomy of  regional parties that contest to form  state governments across India. This centralized control of state legislatures and state governments adds to the longstanding goals of the BJP to attain a unitary state. Further, advancing the abrogation of Article 370 that granted a special status to the state of Jammu & Kashmir bypassed the citizens of the state. Moreover, on 12th December 2019, the Parliament passed the heavily contentious “Citizenship Amendment Act,” which is widely considered an “anti-muslim” law. And the farm bills of 2020, which continue to see protests, received Presidential assent to become a law in September 2020.

Despite opposition parties protesting against these anti-federal legislations, the BJP has been able to enforce them majorly due to their absolute majority in the Lok Sabha and a substantial standing in the Rajya Sabha. The BJP has 305 legislators in the Lok Sabha, which is more than enough to pass any bill without the support of allies. In the Rajya Sabha, the BJP has 82 members (38 short of the simple majority of 120), but it’s allies  take the  tally to 107. Additionally, various regional parties such as the BJD, Shiv Sena, the YSRCP, the TRS and the NPF (total of 19 members) registering their votes  in BJP’s favour, gives them the required number – above 120.

Complementing such  a majority, the powers vested in the Centre under Article 256, 365 and 356 allow the BJP to enforce any law that would strengthen its hold over the states. Article 256 says that all states are obligated to enact laws passed by the Parliament, whereas Article 365 states that if the States do not comply, then the President may hold that a situation has arisen in which the government of the State cannot be carried on in accordance with the Constitution. Resultantly, Article 356 authorizes the President to remove State Governments and dissolve state assemblies if they cannot run in accordance with the Constitution.

As political scientist Philip Mahwood argues, culturally diverse and developing countries like India require federalism not just for administrative requirements, but for the very survival of the nation. However, the centralized structure of federalism adopted by India to tackle post-independence challenges appears to be compatible with the unitary agenda of the Central government. Additionally, the BJP’s majority forming the Centre and their recurrent tendencies to bypass state governments and its citizens pose an extreme danger to federalism, which is one of the basic features of the Constitution and must be protected at all costs. 

Picture Credits: Ipleaders

Saaransh Mishra is a graduate of Political Science and International Affairs. He is deeply fascinated by geopolitics, human rights, the media and wishes to pursue a career in the confluence of these fields. In his spare time, he watches, plays, discusses sports and loves listening to Indian classical fusion music.

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

Categories
Issue 11

Electric Vehicles in India: Focus on the Consumer, not the Car

After speculations for years on the launch of Tesla in India, Elon Musk finally came through on his tweet in October last year. In January Tesla registered its Indian arm in Bengaluru, under the name Tesla India Motors and Energy Pvt Ltd, putting auto-enthusiasts, India’s Elon Musk fans, the government and the media in a frenzy. Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari had initially stated in December 2020 that Tesla will start operations first with sales and then maybe look at assembly and manufacturing based on the response to the cars. However, upon registration of Tesla Motors in India, Gadkari was quick to announce that India is willing to offer incentives to the car manufacturer so that “their cost of production would be less than that in China.”

Even though the launch of Tesla and the GoI’s subsequent move to offer incentives to the car manufacturer is a move in the right direction, questions about India’s capacity to support the Tesla project, and to convince consumers to shift from purchasing conventional vehicles to electric vehicles (EV) are matters of concern.  

Even if Tesla were to consider that Gadkari would be able to deliver on his offer to guarantee lower production costs than China, there remain other factors on the demand and supply sides that may not seem appealing to Tesla. According to Reuters, in 2020, electric vehicles accounted for just 5,000 out of a total 24 lakh cars sold in India. In comparison, China sold 12.5 lakh electric vehicles, of the total sale of 2 crore cars, accounting for a third of Tesla’s sales across the world. Even as the world goes through an electric vehicle revolution, there still remain challenges that need to be tackled if the project of electrification of vehicles is to be successful in India. 

Tackling most of these challenges would mean requirements from the government to play a more proactive role in pushing the project to a wider market. Policies that introduced tougher emission rules for carmakers were introduced last year, but in its efforts to tighten fuel efficiency rules, the government is also set to introduce a new set of policies by April 2022. According to industry executives, this may compel some automakers to add electric or hybrid vehicles to their portfolios, but the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed this process down. The production side of the policy is showing potential with stringent regulations, incentives to cut down barriers to entry and innovative schemes for public transport electrification, but there is still a lack of access to the market for consumers.

Around the world, the electric vehicle revolution has been made possible by focusing on the consumer. According to the ICCT (International Council On Clean Transportation) report, nearly 50% of the world’s electric vehicle sales are concentrated in 25 global cities, called the EV capitals of the world. “They all have comprehensive policy packages that include mandates in addition to financial incentives for consumers, funding for infrastructure development, and consumer-awareness initiatives,” says the report.  

When it comes to financial incentives, the GoI already provides several incentives that include “funding through the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME) scheme, reductions in goods and services tax (GST) rates on EVs and charging, and discounts on third-party insurance.” State governments are also jumping on the bandwagon to sweeten these deals with waivers for registration fees for EVs alongside steep hikes in fees for conventional vehicles. On the infrastructural development aspect, schemes such as the National Mission on Transformative Mobility and Energy Storage, aim to localize the entire EV value chain in a phased manufacturing program for battery manufacturing at a “giga-scale”. The goal is to have a large-scale integrated cell manufacturing capacity in India by the fiscal year 2021–22. Similarly, as stated by the report, “guidelines and standards for charging stations have been published, as have amendments to model documents that assist states and local bodies in urban areas with incorporating adequate charging infrastructure into buildings and urban master plans.”

However, even after the introduction of multiple incentives like these which are aimed at consumer concerns about cost-convenience of EV’s, charging and range (distance covered by EV’s) anxiety of consumers, there is a lack of awareness about the availability of these schemes. The Delhi Government recently adopted the self-proclaimed title of “Electric Vehicle Capital” for Delhi upon passing a bill that mandated the replacement of nearly 2000 state vehicles with EV’s. While this was a much-needed mandate, consumers still lack clarity on the benefits of switching to electric vehicles. 

India is the 5th largest auto market in the world and is expected to grow by 11.3% from 2020-2027. Consumer awareness is then by no means a small-scale project, even though car ownership in comparison to countries like China is not that high. Cost-consciousness is high amongst consumers, and the luxury segment accounts for only 1% of the passenger vehicle market. Unless the government makes an effort to inform consumers about the schemes and facilities available for EV’s in India, it is going to be difficult to convince the consumers to shift from conventional vehicles to EV’s. The key lies in supporting and marketing manufacturers like Tata, Maruti Suzuki and Mahindra which offer EV’s at a price range that is much more affordable than what Tesla is speculated to offer. Apart from this, showcasing working infrastructural models that offer flawless support when it comes to charging stations, and the availability of these across cities can go a long way in lessening consumer anxiety. If stringent regulations are imposed on the purchase (and not just production) of conventional vehicles, consumers will explore alternatives and consider studying the incentives offered for EV’s by the government. Without these much-needed changes, it would be difficult for the government to attract players like Tesla that could spearhead the electrification of vehicles in India.

Picture Credits: The New Indian Express

Author’s Bio: 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).

Categories
Issue 11

The Cost Of Peace in Afghanistan

For over three years, there have been substantive efforts by the U.S., its allies and the Afghan government to negotiate peace deals and end the war in Afghanistan. What began in 2001 as a U.S. operation against the Taliban in Afghanistan, soon spiralled into a protracted war involving regional as well as international actors. The war in Afghanistan was largely against the Taliban – an extremist Islamist militant group that controls large parts of the country and has links with local and international terror outfits such as the Al Qaeda and Daesh. Since the beginning, the justification that the U.S. provides for waging the Afghan War is that it is a part of their Global War on Terror – the Taliban was harbouring terror groups and it needed to be stopped at all costs. 

As the war progressed, however, so did the U.S.’s perception of terror and their ability to counter it. For a long time, the goal was to drive the Taliban out of power in the regions that it controlled, and ensure it does not provide a base for terror outfits in Afghanistan. However, over the past decade, there has been a decided shift in America and its allies’ response to the Taliban – instead of total defeat, there have been attempts to negotiate a power-sharing deal with the Taliban. Currently, there is a conditional peace deal with the Taliban that was signed in February 2020 announcing that U.S. troops would be out by 1st May, and talks are scheduled in Turkey this month involving regional actors to finalise the peace process. While there is no doubt that both the Taliban and the U.S. want to hasten the end of the war, the power dynamics in the country after the troops leave remain worrisome. Power-sharing with the Taliban essentially depends on the moderation of its ideology, and a firm agreement ensuring peace in the region. The rising violence by the Taliban in the past few weeks raises pertinent questions about its moderation and commitment to peace, as well as the U.S.’s priorities in Afghanistan. Should the U.S., in its haste to end the war, agree to a deal that will leave Afghanistan at the mercy of the Taliban, it would be detrimental to all actors involved. 

There are three main reasons why the current peace treaty to withdraw from Afghanistan by May 1st would likely provide an edge to the Taliban to take over the country. The first reason is the history behind the treaty itself, which was signed in February 2020. Under President Donald Trump, the focus was on ‘bringing back the troops from America’s 18-year long war.’ The negotiations between the Taliban and the U.S. government began with demands for power-sharing between the Taliban and the Afghan Government, an end to the Taliban’s support for terrorist organisations, a cease-fire declaration by the Taliban and the withdrawal of American troops. However, the final peace treaty that was signed just required the Taliban’s guarantee that it would not allow terrorist groups against the U.S. “on Afghan soil.” The number of concessions given to the Taliban displayed U.S.’s impatience with the war. The second reason has to do with the role of the Afghan government. The first treaty in February 2020 did not involve Kabul or President Ashraf Ghani in any way. While talks were held later in September that year involving the civilian government, the government and the Taliban still hold differing views on fundamental issues. Unless the talks between Kabul and the Taliban are conclusive, U.S. withdrawal of troops will only add to the chaos. The Afghan government needs the military backing of the U.S. if it is to exercise any sort of leverage against the Taliban, or it could potentially lose power the minute troops are withdrawn. The third and most important reason why the Taliban would likely have an edge in Afghanistan once U.S. troops leave is because of its understanding of its position. Experts and scholars both agree that there has been “little to no change” in the Taliban’s extremism, even after ceasefires and peace talks with other actors. The Taliban is aware that the withdrawal of U.S. troops would leave Kabul unprepared to take on its attacks. After the February 2020 deal with the U.S., the Taliban visibly reduced its attacks on U.S. troops. At the same time, it increased the number of attacks on the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, according to a report by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The relentless nature of the Taliban in dealing with the Afghan government is a fairly clear indicator of their strive for total control. 

The three-way negotiations between the U.S., Taliban and the Afghan government make it highly unlikely for peace to emerge in the region anytime soon. The Biden government’s actions in these crucial months before the May 1st withdrawal need to reflect not just the U.S.’s counterterrorism priorities but also the larger stability and prosperity of the region. Any narrative of the Taliban’s moderation falls short of living up to the ground reality in Afghanistan, and the U.S. needs to consider the same. The role of international and regional stakeholders also comes in here. For sustainable peace, diplomatic talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government need to be moderated by countries that are invested both in the internal security of Afghanistan and the region in general. China, India, Russia and Pakistan are all key players in the conflict and have vested interests in Afghanistan. If the U.S. prioritises ending the war over safeguarding Afghanistan for the future, other players should be brought in to mediate and bring about conclusive peace in the region. 

Akanksha Mishra is a student of political science and international relations 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).