Issue 5

‘It’s only words’ – The Normalisation of Hate Speech

The first prime minister of India, Pandit Nehru said that India is a country held together “by strong but invisible threads … a myth and an idea, a dream and a vision, and yet very real and present and pervasive”. India’s national identity, according to our Founding Fathers, is not derived from commonalities of religion, ethnicity, language or even geography. Our idea of nationalism is spelled out in a constitution enshrining secular, pluralist and democratic ideals, where the many competing identities of its citizens can exist simultaneously. They hoped that the idea of India, an idea that embraced differences would eventually dissolve the many particularities that divide us and that casteism and religious hatred would gradually lose their divisive appeal. The boldness of this idea was predicated on that most basic and most important democratic principle – that in a democracy we don’t have to agree with each other on everything but only on the civic rules of engagement. One could be a proud and patriotic Indian and yet question the highest authority in the land. 

That bold idea has been increasingly tested in the years since independence and has come under serious threat since the current political dispensation came to power. The success of caste and religion-based electoral math has led to an unprecedented coarsening of political rhetoric. Indian democracy, once considered extraordinary for its scale and enduring existence has in recent years been enfeebled through increasing threats to religious minorities and xenophobic jingoism. This decline is most visible in the increasingly strident, unrepentant hate speech by public figures, further emboldened by the seeming impunity. 

According to a study done by NDTV in 2018, use of “divisive and hateful language by high ranking officials had increased by almost 500%” since 2014. The report states that there were “124 instances of VIP hate speech by 44 politicians, compared to only 21 instances under UPA-2”. The sitting Chief Minister of the most populous state in the country has famously spoken about the “love jihad” conspiracy where Muslims are allegedly on a mission to convert young Hindu women through marriage to Islam. The Home Minister has spoken of Bangladeshi immigrants as “dimak” or termites “infesting” the Hindu Rashtra, chillingly reminiscent of Nazi propaganda against the Jewish community in the 1930s. Others have warned of the “green virus” and on and on it goes. While there has been some retaliatory rhetoric from Indian Muslim politicians, the current climate of hate has clearly been instigated by the right-wing Hindu nationalist ruling parties and there is little hope of redress when the impunity to this discriminatory language is accorded from the highest office in the land. 

Unfortunately, the normalization of divisive, sectarian and hateful speech is not just limited to words. Words have power and, in this era, where we are seamlessly embedded in a continuous stream of communication coming at us through specific vehicles of our own choosing (Television, Twitter feeds, Facebook and Instagram timelines, or Subreddits), we are trapped in echo chambers which reinforce the same messaging.

What happens when hate speech is normalized and streamed into our daily media diets?

There is no globally accepted legal definition of hate speech and it is a highly contentious and much debated issue. Most democracies, including India (but not the United States) have some kind of definition and policies toward hate speech (such as Section 153A and Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code which criminalise, respectively, speech that seeks to promote enmity between different groups and speech/acts that outrage/s religious feelings) but these are toothless paper tigers, seldom enforced and hence with little or no power of deterrence. 

Scholars have defined hate as identity-based feelings of extreme negativity towards others and hate speech as language meant to vilify the ‘other’s’ identity to the extent that the ‘other’s’ legitimacy and humanity itself is called into question. Comparing illegal Bangladeshi immigrants to termites and characterizing Muslims as “the green virus” savages their very identity and constructs them as undeserving and contemptible, and this ‘other’ then becomes ‘less than us’. This classic insider-outsider status others the minorities to an extent that they are then seen as threats to the majority or traditional Indian (read Hindu) values which is followed by a call to arms to eliminate the threat of these ‘outsiders’. In other words, the normalization of hate speech is a slippery slope marking the beginning of marginalization of minorities and their construction as enemies deserving to be killed before actual violence is visited upon them. Cue the beef ban and public lynching of Muslims with impunity, the love jihad conspiracy theory, celebration of “goli maron saalon ko” (Kill the traitors) and many such atrocities which have unfortunately become so common place that they barely make the ticker tape on our favourite news channels. 

This kind of vitriol that was once limited to the margins of our society and considered extremist and “out there” has now been mainstreamed into our political and social discourse. It has jumped from the lecterns of politicians to WhatsApp groups, our Facebook and Instagram timelines and pitched battles in increasingly coarse and sectarian language are being fought among family members, school friends and work colleagues. Our political leaders’ vitriol has given licence to the general populace to give voice to their basest instincts and heed the clarion call of violence. Research shows that as the mainstreaming of this violent language continues unabated and unpunished, media and society stop labelling it for what it is and simply view it as rude, unfriendly or at worst insulting. This is extremely dangerous as history has taught us over and over again that hateful propaganda has been a primary tool of authoritarians leading to repression, violence and genocide. Words in the hands of masterful communicators have the power to hurt and not only the minorities because hatred hurts the entire society where it is bred and practised. 

Hatred, along various axes has always been a part of our history, but the fact is that this normalization of hate speech in our everyday political and social parlance is unprecedented and poses unique challenges to the “Idea of India” as a secular, pluralist democracy.

Purnima Mehrotra is the Associate Director – Research and Capacity Building at the Centre for Social and Behavioural Change, Ashoka University. She has experience across industries – education, research, advertising and non-profit.

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

Issue 5

Circus of Books

Circus of books is a documentary film directed by Rachel Mason. Mason looks at “Circus of Books” a bookstore and a gay pornography shop in West Hollywood, California. The store was owned by her family when she was younger. The film while being about porn and LGBTQ culture also looks at relationships, family and healing. The Mason family dynamic is clearly displayed through the course of the documentary and Rachel does an elegant job while interviewing her family members. She never hides her relationship with the interviewees but instead leans into it, using emotions as a tool. The film shows us the blurred lined between family and business in the Mason family and sheds light on LGBTQ culture (and the taboos surrounding it).

Issue 5

Dosa: A Culinary Marvel

The Dosa is a culinary gift from South Indian cuisine that has become a popular breakfast snack all across India. Although the dish has been gaining global popularity for a while, when a video of Kamala Harris (before she became the Vice President of the United States) and American actress Mindy Kaling making Masala Dosa emerged on social media, the dish received a lot of attention. The desi roots of the two women have now put the Dosa under a much deserved global spotlight. 

Across the planet, the origin of traditional dishes is often contested. The Dosa too faces a similar dilemma. While some believe the version presented by historian P. Thankappan Nair, who claims that the Dosa originated from the town of Udupi located in the Indian state of Karnataka, there are others who believe the claims made by food historian K.T. Achaya. According to him, Tamil Nadu was the birthplace of Dosai because instances of the dish were found in Sangam literature (ancient Tamil literature) dating back to 1st century AD. 

Although debates about the origin continue to persist, what most can agree upon is that the Dosa is not similar to a pancake or crepe. Many have tried to explain the dish by claiming it to be a type of “South Indian” pancake or crepe but true Dosa enthusiasts know that it is one of those dishes that can’t be compared to an existing one. Only once you devour a Dosa will you realise that it has a unique description of its own. 

In India, there are many varieties of the Dosa: Ghee Dosa, Rava Dosa, Benne Dosa, Mysore Masala Dosa, Ragi Dosa, Neer Dosa, Plain Dosa, and the list goes on. But the most popular of them all is the Masala Dosa. In the traditional process of making this Dosa, a fermented batter, made of rice, dal and fenugreek seeds, is scooped with a deep bowl ladle and is poured on a hot plate. Before pouring, the hot plate is sprinkled with water. Once the water sizzles off, the batter is spread on the hot plate spiralling outwards in a circular motion. Oil is then drizzled on the Dosa. Many people prefer smearing the Dosa with a spicy red chutney before topping it with the Masala, which is made of semi-mashed potatoes sauteed with several herbs and spices. The Dosa is ready once it turns golden-brown and the edges start to lift off. It is served with Sambar and Coconut Chutney. 

In Southern India, although you can find the Masala Dosa in almost any Dosa joint, each state enjoys its own set of Dosa hotspots that have a unique version of the Masala Dosa. In Bengaluru, the capital city of Karnataka, one such hotspot is Shri Sagar, popularly known as Central Tiffin Room (CTR). Located in the corner of a street in Malleshwaram, CTR was founded in the 1920s and has been feeding the souls of generations of Bangaloreans. Their in-house special Benne Masala Dosa is a butter-laden Masala Dosa that is served with coconut and mint chutney. While the place would earlier be crowded with waiting-lines extending across the road, the sales have now been severely impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to 25-year old Ganesh Sanjeeva Poojara, who manages the place with his elder brother Sandesh, “Since people have stopped coming out due to the pandemic, we have seen a decrease in footfall by around 60-65 per cent during the initial days of the lockdown. Although we do have orders coming in from Zomato (a food delivery service), even now, footfall has increased only by around 5-8 per cent. Comparing it to a time before the pandemic, we are currently running just at 30 per cent.”

Ganesh Poojara standing at the entrance of Shri Sagar – Central Tiffin Roon (CTR), Malleshwaram, Bengaluru, Karnataka.

Reception desk where Zomato delivery men come to pick up food orders.

Menu of CTR, written in Kannada, hanging on a wall.

Two staff members standing by the railing, waiting for orders to come in.

Two plates of Benne Masala Dosa making their way out of the kitchen.

“After the Coronavirus outbreak in March, this is the first time we have come. We came to Bangalore in 2001, since then we have been coming here every month. We get our guests here too”, said Dinesh and Shantini Rao. 

A man enjoying his Dosa on a Monday morning by the window.

A table with two plates of Benne Masala Dosa and a plate of Idli-Vada.
The Dosas at CTR are thick and fluffy, yet crispy. An epitome of golden brown achieved by their special benne butter. 

Shrishti is a Politics, Philosophy and Economics major at Ashoka University. In her free time, you’ll find her cooking, dancing or photographing.

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

Issue 5

Remembering Maradona

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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

Issue 5 Uncategorized

The Dichotomy Of Constitutional and Social Morality In India

In January this year, India’s union cabinet amended the 1971 Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act. The amendment raises the legally permissible limit for an abortion to 24 weeks from the previous limit of 20 weeks. and now also acknowledges the failure of contraception as an acceptable reason for an abortion. Along with that, the law now also acknowledges the failure of contraception as an acceptable reason for abortion and has been extended to any woman or her partner replacing the old provision that was only for married women, placing India in the top league of counties serving women who wish to make individual choices as part of reproductive and gender rights. 

At a time when United States‘s Roe V. Wade is under scrutiny, and Poland’s abortion laws have been restricted even further, it’s surprising that despite being a relatively conservative nation, India has one of the most progressive laws around abortion in the world. Though it may be assumed that this is a result of India’s culture and norms, especially since sex-selected abortions have been commonly practiced throughout the subcontinent, it seems to have more to do with India’s constitutional morality and the distinction it makes its majoritarian social morality. 

The general consensus in political theory is that laws and people evolve together, hand in hand. The changes made to laws are a result of a change in attitudes, beliefs, and norms. However, this isn’t necessarily the case in India. The Indian constitution and legal framework, instead, was created to be an instrument of social change. India being a nation entrenched in traditions, religion, caste hierarchies, its founding members understood that the way to change the country into a liberal democracy was to create and use progressive laws and liberal principles to shape the nation’s culture and norms. 

“Constitutional morality is not a natural sentiment. It has to be cultivated. We must realize that our people have yet to learn it. Democracy in India is only a top –dressing on Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic.” – B.R Ambedkar. 

Constitutional morality, according to Ambedkar referred to the adherence to core values of India’s constitution, that extended to create a society based on social, economic, political equality, and justice. This wasn’t just limited to the constitutional provisions literally but was vast enough to ensure the commitment to constitution values over what was considered socially moral. 

In the landmark 2018 Navtej Singh Johar case, which pertained to the criminalization of non-heterosexual sexual acts, the supreme court scrapped the law saying that “constitutional morality cannot be martyred at the altar of social morality”. The same law was challenged in Singapore a few months after India’s judgment but was rejected on the grounds of threatening public morality. According to Anand Grover, a senior advocate practicing in the Supreme Court of India, “Singapore courts appear to follow the “literal” interpretation of fundamental rights whereas we in India interpret fundamental rights in an expansive way that there is such as a huge difference in the result, especially on the notions of equality which is still tied only to the classification test”.

Similarly, in the Sabrimala judgment regarding the restriction of women that belonged to a certain age group into the Sabrimala temple in Kerela, the courts observed that “existing structures of social discrimination must be evaluated through the prism of constitutional morality. The endeavor is to produce a society marked by compassion for every individual”. 

The Sabarimala verdict was historic because unlike abortion and section 377, the Sabarimala judgment couldn’t have been attributed to anything other than constitutional morality. There is some ambiguity about how abortion and members of the LGBTQ+ community are seen in India’s cultural history, but the Sabarimala judgment was clearly against what has been a belief and a social practice for many years now. The verdict and social morality were are a clear-cut clash, and the violent opposition and widespread protests against the verdict were proof of that. However, despite that, the law and constitutional values were upheld. 

Unfortunately, since the gaps between the constitutional and social morality are so wide, and overturning in the former doesn’t necessarily lead to a change in the latter. Even after the Sabarimala judgment was passed in 2018. only a handful of women have been able to enter the temple, either because their entrance is blocked or they’re forced to leave. However, more importantly, the number of women who’ve entered the temple isn’t just low due to the difficulties of entering the temple, but also because most women also believe that it is wrong for them to enter the temple between their menstruating years. Similarly, despite the NALSA judgment which identified trans people as people of the third gender and affirmed that fundamental rights will be equally applicable to them, and section 377, members of the LGBTQ+ community still face discrimination often in the form of violence. 

With that being said, constitutional morality does play a pivotal role in shaping India, even if that process is very slow. Abortion was made legal 70 years ago in India, yet up until 2014, 78% of all annual abortions were unsafe, likely due to lack of education, accessibility, and the stigma attached to the act. It is important to note that illegal sex-selective abortions are unlikely to play a role because 81% of most of these abortions happen during the first trimester, before 12 weeks, while the sex of a fetus is usually detected by sonography after the 13th week. With the aid help of educational initiatives and proactive policies such as the Yukti Yojana in Bihar, a public-private partnership where women can access abortion care free of cost from accredited private providers, the percentage of annual unsafe abortions has decreased from a staggering 78% to a 56% in 2017. Maternal mortality rates, due to unsafe abortions have also decreased from 13% or 8%

Aradhya is a student of Psychology, Biology 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). 

Issue 5

Issue V: Editor’s Note

On October 16, Samuel Paty, a history teacher, was beheaded by a Muslim man in Paris, France, over his use of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons on the Prophet Muhammad during a lesson on the freedom of speech. On October 29, three church goers were also stabbed to death by a Tunisian man in Nice. These attacks have elicited a sharp response from the French President Emmanuel Macron who criticized not just the perpetrators, but Islam as a whole. Macron said that Islam is in a crisis around the world and also declared war on what he calls “Islamist separatism” in France. Macron also defended the rights of those who wish to satirize the Prophet. This incident is emblematic of the rising tensions between French secularism and multiculturalism. In an attempt to further understand the French ‘laïcité’, Shrishti Agrawal explores the historical context within which it was conceived and also comments on its contemporary relevance. 

The comments by President Macron have been received with widespread criticism by leaders of Muslim majority countries like Turkey and Pakistan. Turkish President Erdogan also went far enough to question Macron’s mental health. Amidst the outrage, the Indian External Affairs Ministry came in defense of France and Macron, condemning both the terrorist attacks and the use of unacceptable language against the President. Many Indians also supported Macron on Twitter as #IStandWithFrance trended. Although these tweets supported the upholding of the freedom of speech and the denouncing of terrorism, it is hard to not read them as coded Islamophobia. 

A quick look at India’s record on freedom of speech and violence renders the support hypocritical. Indian artist, M. F. Husain was famously forced to go into exile for his depictions of Indian goddesses in the nude. Statements denouncing violence were absent when M. M. Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh were killed for hurting Hindu sentiments. There have been multiple instances of mob lynchings over suspected beef consumption. Journalists and activists like Prashant Kanojia, Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita are imprisoned for criticising the government. Recently, the Netflix series “A Suitable Boy” also came under attack for depicting an interfaith relationship.

As Macron prepares to present a plan for Muslim integration to the French parliament, the BJP is also set to introduce Islamophobic laws. Various BJP ruled states in India have vowed to create strict laws against “love jihad”, an alleged tactic used by Muslim men to convert Hindu women by marriage. Professor P. V. Barua, in his article, asks whether such a law is possible. 

In a context where globalisation is fuelling religious polarisation, the UAE might be an exception. Karantaj Singh in his article on the recent changes in UAE’s family law, explores how a predominantly Muslim nation, is updating its family laws in response to its increasingly globalised and diverse society. 

This issue is our attempt to document a few ways in which we can analyse the events happening around us. Hopefully it encourages our readers to reflect and assess for themselves what the world needs working on.

– Nirvik Thapa, Pravish Agnihotri and Samyukta Prabhu

Issue 5

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

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

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

Source – IIP Data and author’s calculations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source – IIP Data and author’s calculations

Policy Proposals

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

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

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

Image Credit:

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Issue 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Issue 5

The compass of war is centered right at home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credit:

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Issue 5

The Mandalorian

Almost a year back, the internet exploded with memes of ‘The Child’, famously known as Baby Yoda. The tiny green being, deriving its resemblance from the infamous Jedi Master Yoda, is a character from the first live-action Star Wars series, The Mandalorian. Streaming exclusively on Disney+, the series created by Jon Favreau is centered around the action-packed journey of a skillful bounty hunter (played by Pedro Pascal) and The Child. 

While The Mandalorian manages to successfully incorporate the longings of the Star Wars universe developed by George Lucas, the creative flair visible throughout the series sets itself apart. The series is placed five years after the fall of the Empire in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) and 25 years before the return of the First Order in Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

The Mandalorian begins with the introduction of a bold bounty hunter who wears heavy traditional armour, belonging to the clan of Mandalorians. The then nameless hunter, often called Mando, scours the Outer Rim of the Star Wars galaxy in his prized gunship and live-in quarters, the Razor Crest. One of his bounty missions leads him to cross paths with The Child, marking the beginning of their journey. Season one is filled with striking visuals as it explores uncharted territories of the Star Wars universe. Each episode thickens the larger plot in just the right amounts. The season finale leaves viewers counting each day in anticipation of the release of the next season. 

The newly released season two of The Mandalorian continues the inter-galactic journey of Mando and The Child. Mando is tasked to find and deliver The Child to his Jedi home. Even though only four episodes have released till now, it is evident that the season is going to be as action-packed as the first. 

Filled with action and adventure in some of the most visually compelling places, The Mandalorian is a must-watch. In fact, it is worthy of rewatching not once, but multiple times. If you are someone who hasn’t seen the show before, wait for the entire second season to release and binge away.