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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

E-commerce Platforms and The Continued Mistreatment of Delivery Personnel

With tech giant Amazon being involved in a slew of Twitter battles over the past week, it has unravelled multiple issues which demand immediate attention. In a bitter response to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s tweet that accused Amazon of using “armies of lawyers and lobbyists” to evade taxes, the Amazon News account was quick to respond with jabs at the senator. 

Dave Clark, CEO of Amazon’s consumer operations, responded in a similar fashion to Bernie Sanders’ visit to Bessemer to support the workers’ union drive. Sanders didn’t reply to the tweets directed at him, but Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat from Wisconsin, responded by charging Amazon with union-busting and worker mistreatment. Pocan pointed out reports that workers had to pee in bottles to keep up with their workloads.

While the battle ended in an apology from Amazon, the fashion in which the corporation took digs at these politicians was “uncharacteristically spiteful and petty”. This raises questions about how powerful these big corporations are, and their ability to openly suppress looming complications surrounding workers’ mistreatment and tax evasion.

However, workers and unions across the world are protesting relentlessly for their rights, leaving Amazon no choice but to shift priorities from winning Twitter battles to taking serious action on the ground. Whether it is workers in the USA, Italy, Germany or India, they have all demanded better working conditions, which they claimed have worsened over the course of the pandemic.

Indian Federation of App-based Transport (IFAT) workers said in a press note released on Wednesday that delivery staff of Amazon were making around INR 20,000 a month before the national lockdown last year, but that earning has now dropped to INR 10,000 following updated payment structures, which pay them INR 15 per delivery as opposed to the previous commission of INR 35.

In Bengaluru, a few delivery partners reported that they were not given protective equipment like masks, during the pandemic. Balaji (name changed), a 26-year-old delivery partner for Amazon, says “Amazon has not given me a single mask or sanitiser this year. I had to buy the mask myself. Doing work for them is very risky.” Meanwhile, Amazon continued to express how they “prioritise the health and safety of [their] delivery partners.”

However, these issues regarding workers’ mistreatment are affecting delivery personnel across firms. As acknowledged by Amazon in their recent blog post which was a response to Rep. Pocan, they mentioned how poor working conditions are “a long-standing, industry-wide issue” which are “not specific to Amazon”.

“Before the lockdown, I would earn around Rs 900 a day, by delivering about 60 parcels. During the lockdown, I earned nothing,” said Ramesh (name changed), a 40-year-old ‘delivery partner’ for Myntra. Unfortunately, Ramesh reflects the story of several delivery workers across India, who have faced severe income losses after the COVID-19 lockdown in March of 2020.

Since most of these delivery workers are ‘independent contractors’ who work for digital platforms like Amazon, Myntra and Swiggy, they are legally not considered as employees of the firms. They are not entitled to minimum wages and other benefits like insurance and pension which are offered to workers within the firms. Over these stated concerns, delivery workers like Ramesh have to pay for fuel and bike repair costs out of their own pockets, pulling down their actual incomes below minimum wage. According to a recent study by the National Law School of India University, this figure stands at Rs 65.80 per hour in Karnataka.

Bhavani Seetharaman, a policy researcher studying labour and technology, explains how the protests by Zomato workers in Bengaluru, in September 2019, successfully brought this issue to the state’s notice. “These protests specifically led to the labour department in Karnataka attempting to create legislation for gig workers in the state.” The issues covered under the legislation include health insurance in the event of accidents and fair wages. 

Seetharaman continues, “While this was the start of a much-needed legislation, post the pandemic these dialogues have stopped.” 

Needless to say, post the pandemic is when this legislation was needed the most. 

Ajit (name changed), a 36-year-old delivery partner for Swiggy, points out how Swiggy has reduced the per-delivery rate since March. “Earlier, I used to get Rs 15 per delivery, and now I get paid Rs 12.” He explains how this change has immensely impacted his finances. “I can’t afford to pay for my children’s school fees this year. It doesn’t make sense to pay Rs 3000 for 4 hours of online class a month, when we need that money for food and rent.”

When workers try and speak up about such issues, they face harsh consequences from their employers. Ramesh explains, “Myntra has cut the per-delivery rate from Rs 15 to Rs 11 this year. When some workers tried to complain about this [to their managers], they were assigned fewer deliveries in a day. Few others were even fired.” This points towards a larger issue of lack of agency, that most gig workers are subjected to. 

While the platforms tout delivery work as ‘flexible’, implying that their ‘delivery partners’ can choose the number of hours they work, this is often not the case. Ramesh continues, “The per-delivery rates are so low, we are forced to accept any and all orders that we are assigned, at any time of the day.” Despite this, Ramesh still falls short of the income needed to pay rent and other utilities. This has led him to take up a second job as a delivery partner for Amazon.

The platforms also deny their delivery partners other benefits like health insurance and pension. While Swiggy has promised insurance to its workers in case they test positive for COVID-19, Ramesh seems sceptical. “We did not sign any contract for this, nor were we told about how much money we would get [in the event of testing positive for COVID-19.]” 

To address these issues, Seetharaman says that the way forward is “To define gig workers as workers of the formal economy.” This would give them the same protections as workers in other sectors, such as minimum wages and health insurance.

She points out that the recent Code on Social Security is a starting point for such legislation. This is because it has at least begun to define gig workers, and discuss their need for social securities. However, the Code does not make it compulsory for platforms to provide these social securities to their workers.

As the size of the gig economy (delivery services) continues to increase during the pandemic, and cases of wage slashing continue, there is an imminent need for stronger labour legislation. As Ramesh puts it, “Without us [delivery workers], these companies cannot continue to function. How is it fair that they get richer this year, while we struggle to survive?”

Image credits: Forbes

Samyukta is a student of Economics, Finance and Media Studies at Ashoka University. In her free time, she enjoys discovering interesting long-form reads and exploring new board games.

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).

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Issue 11

The New Abnormal by The Strokes

The latest album by New York-based rock band The Strokes generated a lot of buzz and excitement, both among fans and critics. After a gap of almost seven years, The New Abnormal was released on April 10, 2020, through Cult and RCA Records. Critical appreciation for the album peaked when it won the 2021 Grammy Award for the Best Rock Album of the Year. Like most of The Strokes’ discography, the album falls in an indie rock or alternative rock genre. Singer-songwriter Julius Casablancas received a lot of critical appreciation for the development of his lyrics, as well as his singing style, with a special improvement in his falsetto as we see in a number of songs in the album. The reason The New Abnormal should be on your list is because it is both a classic form of The Strokes’ music as well as packed with new elements that make it stand out amongst other indie rock albums. The singles “The Adults Are Talking” and “Eternal Summer” received praise for the mature lyrics addressing issues such as the generation gap in American society, and forest fires in light of global warming. The music is quintessential to the band, with duelling guitar riffs and an 80s-rock vibe throughout the album. Through the seven-year hiatus, fans witnessed Casablancas and other band members pursue individual projects that they seemed more invested in. However, the band finally got together for The New Abnormal and were even credited for sounding “more in cohesion”. With last year’s unprecedented turn of events due to the global pandemic, The New Abnormal is apt for listening not just because of the relevance of its name but also because of its ability to capture the uncertainty of our times. 

Picture Credits: Twitter

Akanksha Mishra is a student of political science and international relations at Ashoka University. 

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Issue 11

Examining India’s Falling Rank on the World Happiness Index

Sydney J. Harris rightly said, “Happiness is a direction, not a place” and today all economies in the world are struggling to walk in this direction. A step to achieve this was taken in the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network in 2012 when they adopted resolution 65/309: Happiness: Towards a Holistic Definition of Development. This was done to invite the 149 member countries to measure the level of happiness among their population and use these numbers to guide public policy. Although the World Happiness Reports have been based on a wide variety of data, the most important source has always been the Gallup World Poll, which is unique in the range and comparability of its global series of annual surveys.

Finland has been ranked number 1, being the happiest country in the world for the past few years. India has always been very low on the happiness index, averaging around 125th. In fact, in 2021, India was ranked 139 out of 149 countries. The results of the happiness index are correlated with a lot of factors including GDP, social security, personal freedom, life expectancy and opinions of residents among others. 

As former President, Dr Pranab Mukherjee commented, “Despite our country’s economic progress, India is constantly going downwards in the happiness index. This indicates a lack of a holistic approach towards development.” According to him, the best step that the policymakers of the country should take is to adopt the ‘triple bottom line’ accounting framework. It focuses on all essential aspects of holistic development of individuals including social, ecological and financial development. This also implies that happiness is weakly correlated with wealth and the economic growth of a country. 

According to the economist and author Jayshree Sengupta, India has been ranked poorly on the happiness index due to various reasons. Some of these are rapid urbanization and congestion in cities, concerns about food security and water safety, rising costs of healthcare, women’s safety, and environmental pollution, which itself is linked to poor mental wellbeing. These conditions have worsened over time and were amplified due to the Covid-19 crisis. 

The ever-growing inequality between the rich and poor of the country is another crucial reason for the chronic unhappiness. During the Covid crisis,  India reportedly added 40 new billionaires to the global list while about 57% of the working class in the country were on the verge of losing their jobs. This growing pay gap in the population has worsened the mental wellbeing and hence the happiness of the population. 

A statistical exercise using variables like GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, perceptions of corruption and dystopia was done to understand the relationship of these indices with the happiness index. It found that all these variables are statistically significant and thus have  significant explanatory power. They  illustrate that on average richer countries fare better on subjective evaluations of life circumstances, as do nations with more social support, lower levels of corruption etc. 

Why India, despite its high level of economic growth ranks so low is because it ranks very low on some of these indices. For social support, India is ranked 142nd out of 149 countries. However, if we consider Pakistan’s ranking on all of these individual indicators, it is very similar to India and worse in some cases. According to this, India should be ranked one spot above Pakistan but that is not the case. Pakistan is ranked 105 while India is ranked at 139. This points out to predictive anomalies that this model has. 

One reasonable explanation for this could be that people in India have higher expectations and thus also have greater disappointment. This is one of the very crucial reasons for the low happiness ranking in India in addition to the increasing income inequality and feelings of injustice and unfairness because of the structure of the society and its history. Thus, better political leadership and public policy framework in India are essential for improving the happiness index of people in India. 

Picture Credits: Visual Capitalist

Aanya Poddar is a third year undergraduate student at Ashoka University. She is pursuing a BSc. (Honors) in Economics and Finance. She is the President of the Ashoka Economics 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

What makes the News?

The past year has been a bizarre one. Besides the turmoil and anxiety caused by the ongoing global pandemic, there were a lot of other overwhelming events that happened consecutively, causing an overload of information and news all around. Before one could even grasp and process one thing, it felt like the world had moved on to another thing.

In a world that is so fast paced and ever dynamic, it feels like newsrooms and media houses are always a step ahead, in trying to keep up with what is happening everywhere. But, from the plethora of information available,  how do the media outlets decide what news to prioritise and what to leave behind? Who decides what makes the news? 

For starters, the factors that go into deciding the news-worthiness of any piece of information are things like relevance, interests of the target audience , timeliness and prominence of the subject of news. These factors decide not just what makes news but also for how long it stays. 

Certain stories stay in the headlines for longer, sometimes so long that they may feel like they have been there  forever, while a lot of other stories struggle for proper coverage. In our own country we can see how larger issues like that of the farmer’s protests that lasted for months were often sidelined for nitty-gritty details about celebrities’ lives. 

Since it is the media outlets that decide what citizens come to know and also what they talk about, they are one of the most powerful and most controlling organisations of the world. Holding the power to influence narratives and make stories malleable in whatever way they wish to, media houses even have the power to direct how people’s lives play out, with the way they portray them in their pieces. Even when more important issues are covered, they are only relayed in terms of violence — narration of gore and grisliness, leaving out the details, thus making them all sound repetitive and tired in comparison to the celebrity stories which are written in a more attractive manner. On the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, when lakhs of people all across India were losing jobs and homes, the SC rejected a plea to freeze rent payments. However, this issue, which affected millions of people across the country received less focus and was clubbed as another inconvenience during the pandemic, while multiple stories were being written about how different celebrities were spending their time during the lockdown. 

By producing gossip pieces around celebrities’ like focusing on what they wore for an event, whom they met, or even what they ate, news media corporations commercialise news. The method of reportage, and especially the headlines also change the perspective of the public on a particular story. The  recent Hathras rape case in August 2020 was not only poorly covered, but was also only talked about using vocabulary that conveyed the gruesomeness of the incident. It was also only talked about as an individual case, leaving out many other cases of caste violence that were similar in nature. Similarly, in the coverage of the CAA protests, police firing and lathi charge on the protestors was constantly presented as a “clash” between two sides, heavily influencing the way the audience interpreted it. 

Recurring instances like this prove time and time again that there is a grave problem of monopoly of news in media houses — the media owns the news and the narrative, but who owns the media? In a detailed study under MOM (Media Ownership Monitor) conducted by Reporters Without Borders in collaboration with DATALeads, it was revealed that most of the leading media houses in India are owned by larger conglomerates that are still controlled by their founding families. Interestingly, these bodies invest in a vast number of industries besides media houses, unusually with some business or political affiliation. For example, companies like BK Birla Foundation and Realcon Ltd, associated with the Birla Business group, are one of the major investors and shareholders of Hindustan Times Group, the company that owns and controls HT Media. The Ministry of Corporate Affairs is also listed as one of their major shareholders. 

So many political and business affiliations are often harmful for freedom and diversity of press in the country. Oftentimes political leverage can be exercised in the form of punishment to the media house, like the abrupt exit of editor Bobby Ghosh from the Hindustan Times group, which various news sources hinted at as being a result of Ghosh’s views not aligning with the investor’s interests. Oftentimes, advertisement for or a display of affiliation with political powers is also rewarded heftily. 

This creates a chain of recycled news that lacks diversity and honestly — the whole point of freedom of media is lost if it is constantly living in the fear of producing content that might offend those controlling it. However, this is changing with the rise of the independent media, that is publicly funded, and thus is accountable to no one but the public. Most independent media houses work on the USP that they bring “fresh” stories that the mainstream media fails to cover. Another unsurprising game changer in the circulation of news stories is social media networks and the meme culture that comes with it. Almost half of the world is connected through social media and a large chunk of this population consumes its news on the internet. Memes provide easy access to information coupled with feel-good, sometimes absurdist humour that appeals to a large audience. With the internet and memes at their feet, there is less censorship and thus people do not have to depend on any big media house to pick up their stories — they are their own narrators. Often when these stories get more and more popular on the wireless platforms, bigger publications have no option but to pick them up for their headlines. This however does not last very long  due to the power their investors hold. Very recently, Ashoka University’s professors resigned leading the students to hold protests for the lack of academic freedom in the country. The resignations were linked to the professors being vocal critics of the government. Initially, only independent news outlets like The Print were covering it, but as the story started attracting a wide audience, more mainstream media houses began picking it up and reporting it. 

A variety of factors go into choosing which stories to cover and which ones to leave behind, different news outlets, independent and corporate-owned, are motivated differently to make these decisions, however they all have to cater to the interests of the average news reader. Social media and the lack of censorship is slowly changing this by giving the readers the power to pick the kind of news they want to consume, and the form they want to consume it in. 

Picture Credits: Journalism.org

Author’s Bio: Madhulika Agarwal is a third year English and Media Studies major who is interested in literature by children and for children. When she is not lamenting over her tiktok career that ended before it could start, she likes learning about animals and reading books with good art in them.

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

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).

Categories
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).