Issue 6

Women in Music Pt.III – HAIM

Image by Universal Music Operations Limited/Haim Productions Inc.

HAIM’s third studio album, released in June 2020, features songs that fit right in the band’s wheelhouse of indie pop and soft rock sounds. This time around they have added jazz and folk tinges and it all makes for a great album. The trio, consisting of three sisters, based this record off of personal experiences: the death of Alana’s friend, Este’s struggles with diabetes and Danielle’s partner’s cancer diagnosis. 

The album’s lead single, Summer Girl, is one of the highlights of the album. Its pensive saxophone performance by Henry Solomon is a clear standout. In Hallelujah, Haim’s trademark harmonies come together for a stirring moment, perfectly echoing the song’s sentiments about reflecting on one’s blessings in sisterhood and friendships. In Man from a Magazine, the sisters take a folk, Joni Mitchell-esque turn as they sing about their experiences in the male-dominated music industry. 

The album has been nominated for Album of the Year for the 2021 Grammy Awards. If the band wins, it would be their first win and a well-deserved one.

Issue 6

Under the Bridge – Red Hot Chili Peppers

Under the Bridge by the American band Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP) is a part of their hit album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. For a band that usually produces creative blends of punk, funk and rock this track deviates from their usual musical shenanigans as it acquires a personal touch. 

The ballad was written by the RHCP vocalist Anthony Kiedis. Initially, only Kiedis and his notebook knew about the poem. After the RHCP producer, Rick Rubin, discovered the pages of his notebook and suggested that Keidis share it with the band, the ballad eventually transformed into one of the band’s most popular songs. 

In a video, Kiedis says, “I was in a sad, lonely mood and I was driving home from a rehearsal one day while we were in pre-production for this record, and I just felt like in the face of 10 million people I was all alone and I couldn’t connect with a single soul in the universe. And so the only thing that made me feel better was to sing to myself and that was the song that came out.”

The crux of the song is Kiedis’s lonely tale. It talks about a devastating time in his life when he was severely dependent on drugs. He hit his lowest point when he risked his life and lied about his identity to purchase drugs from a gang under a bridge. But the chorus of the song goes to show that he wanted to leave that life behind, and find his happy place – a place that is surrounded by his best friends, creating music. 

Synchronising Kiedis’s emotions, John Frusciante’s guitar chords and Chad Smith’s drum beats, Under the Bridge reveals a dark past with hopes of a happier future. It is undoubtedly one of their best tracks.

Issue 6

How Can Environmental Movements Be Successful?

With more awareness about the climate crisis and environmental degradation and the impact it has on humanity and the world, more and more citizens, especially young people have come out demanding for action and change. People are realizing and experiencing the consequences of the ecological crisis we are living in and have consequently mobilised to take action. This is seen in India in the increase in number of environmental and climate movements over the past few years. The movements can be attributed to two main causes, first being the general climate and ecological crisis, and movements around the world demanding action (Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future) and second, to the ecologically destructive, capitalist policies and projects brought about by the Modi government in the last six years. 2019 and the last couple of months have seen lots of activity on the front of citizen led environment and climate movements. Climate Strikes, Save Aarey Forest, Withdraw Draft EIA (Environmental Impact Assesment) 2020, Save Mollem(Goa), Save Thano (Dehradun), Baghjan oil well blow out protests, Stop Adani Movement, are some of the few citizen led movements that have taken place this year. Some have been successful, others have met with partial success, while the rest was ignored by the government. There are a lot of factors in the success of any movement and the question on focus here is that what are these factors that make an environment movement important and successful? What are the steps required to mobilise people for an environmental movement?

It has become common knowledge now that Indian TV news media has largely become a mouthpiece for the Indian government. Creating awareness for any movement has become an uphill task as the traditional methods of TV media are no longer efficient. Thus citizens have shifted to utilising social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter for creating awareness about environmental movements. Most movements have an Instagram and Twitter presence which become primary sources of information for that particular movement. Art, videos, infographics, songs, updates on the movement are shared by them regularly and in a short span of time they garner a large number of followers. For example, the government in Goa has proposed three ‘developmental’ projects which are disastrous for the ecology, wildlife and citizens of Goa. Subsequently students and citizens of Goa launched a social media campaign with #SaveMollem, tweetstorms and webinars were organised as well. This was followed by on-ground mobilisation where widespread protests were held and the result has been that at least one of the project clearance has been quashed by the High Court in Goa. Another outcome of such movements having a popular online presence is that it has motivated digital print media followed by traditional media to cover the movement. Thus social media has proved to be an effective tool in creating awareness and mobilising people. 

Another method used to mobilise people and drive action is setting up digital infrastructure that allows citizens to send emails to the relevant authorities with one click. This was a major tool for sending objections to the Draft EIA 2020, where three websites were set up that allowed citizens to email their objections to the draft to the Ministry of Environment. The result of this was that it is estimated that 17 lakh objections were sent to the Ministry of Environment by 11th August 2020. This was accompanied by massive social media campaigns where many videos, articles, art and songs, were released along with organising many webinars and seminars to create awareness all of which directed citizens to send objection emails.

Translating the movement into local languages to include more people in the movement is a necessary tool that has been employed by the movements. In the case of Withdraw Draft EIA 2020, translating the draft to regional languages became a major issue. The draft was published in English and Hindi only and in a country where the constitution mandates that the law be translated into regional languages this wasn’t done despite Delhi HC and Madras HC orders directing the government to do the same. This left out a significant majority of people that couldn’t understand the draft which would impact their lives greatly. Consequently youth and citizen groups took it upon themselves to translate the draft and circulate it widely. Similarly there has been a push to publish more and more content generated by the environmental movements to reach a wider audience and drive people to action.

Politics can no longer be separated from environmental movements. The Save Aarey agitation in Mumbai had become a political issue due to constant agitation over the years, multiple protests, court battles and media campaigns. Shiv Sena had campaigned to people on protecting the forests and subsequently declared it a forest and removed the Metro car shed project from Aarey.

Thus social media, digital infrastructures, regional inclusivity and political mobilization of issues are effective tools for mobilizing people and making successful environmental movements.

Mehek Bhargava is a student of Political Science at Ashoka University and the co-founder of youth organization Millennials For Environment.

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 6 Uncategorized

What was Fashionable in 2020

The Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) conducted their first-ever digital fashion week in September 2020, with each brand shooting fashion films which were broadcasted through social media and YouTube. Unlike normal fashion weeks, designers used this freedom to choose locations ranging from castles to lotus ponds and deserts. At the same time, fast fashion workers in Bangladesh and India were struggling to put food on the table due to the almost overnight collapse of the industry during the first wave of coronavirus across the world. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) estimated that between March and June this year, Bangladesh lost $4.9 billion worth of apparel in order cancellations. The fashion industry has always been one of the most glaring displays of class disparity in the world. How has it fared in our new COVID world?

“Work From Home Outfits” was the newest trend when the first series of worldwide lockdowns began due to COVID-19. How does one dress for a zoom call? Is bottom wear even important anymore now that your coworkers can only see your face during meetings? What does one do with all their party wear? Of course, these were questions only the more fortunate of us faced, while millions of essential workers were forced to wear their work uniforms or PPE and worry more about survival than fashion. But what about those people whose survival depended on fashion?

In January 2020, the Indian textiles industry was estimated at more than US$140 billion, with USD 40 billion in exports. It provided employment to over 45 million people directly and 60 million people indirectly. Like with every other industry, it closed down overnight with the announcement of the nationwide lockdown. But the industry was especially hard hit as export demand collapsed overnight. So producers across the chain — from raw materials, weavers, designers and tailors were left with an immense backlog of frozen inventory, with a very real possibility of much of the said inventory going to waste. The Worker Rights Consortium has compiled a list of companies that have and haven’t agreed to pay their suppliers. The have nots include regular offenders like Urban Outfitters and American Eagle, and surprisingly also include luxury brands like Balmain And Oscar De La Renta. Since the start of the pandemic, around 77% of workers claim that at least one member of their household has gone hungry. The second and third wave of lockdowns around the world is a cause for heightened fear for many owners of these manufacturing units as they see very little chance of survival if they face another major loss.

Much has been discussed about the impact of COVID on the fast fashion industry and it is essential to discuss given that India is an up-and-coming manufacturer for the industry. But what is perhaps more interesting is how small businesses in India have been impacted in the pandemic. Fast fashion is a relatively new player in India with H&M starting its first Indian store only in 2015. Fashion via e-commerce is an equally novel phenomenon, especially for smaller towns and cities where delivery services expanded to much later than they did in metropolitan cities. Before Indians had access to fast fashion to stay trendy for cheap, we would turn to local tailors with our magazine cutouts for everything from saree blouses to tops and formal suits. Tailoring was a family business for some and a means to start earning for countless women who couldn’t work in a professional setting.

Over time, with an increase in the variety of mass-produced clothes, people began to turn to tailors only for special occasions like weddings and festivals. The pandemic meant a complete halt for a majority of these events. For the first few phases of total lockdown, tailors had no income at all. A tailor from Pune said “Even after the lockdown was lifted, for a long time we had no customers because people were not celebrating anything and also did not want to come to my shop where we would have to make physical contact for trials and measurements. A lot of my clients also did not pick up outstanding orders saying they did not have money.” Many of these tailors have turned to selling homemade masks as their clients slowly return albeit in much smaller numbers than before. A majority of these smaller boutiques and tailors cater to lower and middle-income households who have also been hit by the pandemic and do not have money to spend on clothes. Even when people did shop, party clothes weren’t as much a necessity as your regular t-shirts and sweatpants for which we depend on fast fashion companies rather than tailors. While organisations like the FDCI did protect a handful of designers that are registered with their foundation, these smaller tailors have been left mostly helpless.

Since the start of the pandemic, much of the world that could move online has done so. In doing this, many fashion brands that were small businesses were able to establish themselves and survive. Even Instagram, a platform meant for sharing images, has realised this and made one of its biggest-ever changes in its application by replacing the user activities tab with a shopping tab. While controversial among its users, this change points to a larger trend of a rise in Instagram boutiques and stores. In India, many of these brands have grounded themselves in the idea of sustainability. Brands like Ash & Eden, Bodements, Renge and The Burnt Soul have started exclusively online stores and centre their production around sustainability. But more interesting is the exponential rise of Instagram thrift stores that India has seen in the past year. There are now thousands of thrift stores on the app, some of the most popular ones including Luu Liu (30K followers), Lust Thrift (21K followers), and Posh Past (14K followers). In spite of being launched in only in January of this year, Luu Liu has gained immense popularity and is a got to for corsets, something previously unavailable in the Indian market. COVID was the perfect setting for the thrift market to grow in India. Most people had switched to shopping online either out of necessity or as a precaution. The demographic of these stores as confirmed by the owners is of mostly women in their late teens to late twenties, an age group that is also proactive about environmental protection and sustainability. Also, many thrift store owners are located in areas like Delhi and the North-East, where they have access to large amounts of dead stock through wholesale markets like Sarojini Nagar in Delhi. Due to the unprecedented amounts of unsold inventory in fast fashion factories this year, designs usually sold in Europe and the USA were suddenly available to the Indian market through these stores. Unlike in the western world where thrifting generally relates to second-hand or vintage items, in India, thrifting centres around factory rejects due to our proximity to these factories. Most stores price their items fairly accessible. Shopping on these stores is a great pastime while staying indoors as the system is first-come-first-serve and there is usually only one of each item available. These stores also profited off the necessary narrative of “support small businesses” that was emphasised due to the pandemic.

While thrifting and sustainability are great developments, fashion in India hasn’t seen a major change due to COVID. Much like the rest of the economy, the fashion industry is slowly bouncing back to normal. And while this may be a welcome development for our tailors and small businesses, the workers in the fast fashion sector continue to suffer due to a lack of awareness in India. Parts of the world have begun questioning the unethical labour practices of fast fashion, but the message is yet to reach India and the inequalities continue here. Conversely, India is looking forward to expanding its production for these companies as they plan to move out of China. For now, while small businesses continue to suffer, major designers from Rahul Mishra to Manish Malhotra and Falguni Shane Peacock are back to creating Bridal and Wedding outfits for the wealthy families of the country for who the pandemic was all but a damper to their festivities.

Statistical research about thrift stores was done by Shruti Shrivastava, a student of journalism at Ashoka University.

Isha is a student of Psychology, English 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 6 Uncategorized

The Job Market in 2021

The Indian job market is improving slowly and steadily over the past few months after declining by over  60% in April’20 and May’20 year-over-year (Y-O-Y) owing to the pandemic. Hiring is still down by 28% in Nov’20 versus the same time last year as per the Naukri JobSpeak Index. Even though the effect of the pandemic is still evident in Y-O-Y growth, what drives optimism for job seekers is the continued month on month recovery that makes us hopeful for the coming year.  

As organizations are realigning and adjusting to the new normal, they are anticipating an upsurge in the demand for the right talent to tackle challenges that the post-pandemic world would bring. One-fifth of total recruiters foresee hiring bouncing back to pre-COVID levels within the next three months, as per the Naukri Hiring Outlook survey done in Sept’20. Another 26% predict 3-6 months while 34% said that it would take their organizations 6 months to 1 year. 

Some notable trends that will become key in the Indian job market in the coming year include:  

Sectors that will drive hiring in 2021 

Technology has been the game-changer during the lockdown period with corporates showing a huge appetite for digitization. Clearly, the IT sector has been the least impacted sector when it comes to hiring this year. With more companies taking on the route of digital transformation during the pandemic, IT  becomes central to a lot of processes, further pushing the recovery of the sector. The numbers prove this as hiring in the IT sector grew by 10% in November’20 over October’20 while the overall hiring remained flat as per Naukri JobSpeak. This sector could see continued growth in the coming months as well.  

The BPO/ITES sector started the year with positive Y-O-Y growth, up by 18% in January’20 but saw a  decline in hiring as the pandemic hit the country. Interestingly, early signs of recovery were seen from  June’20 onwards as lockdown restrictions were lifted in a phased manner. With more WFH (Work From Home) support for employees and greater digitization efforts across companies, the sector will continue to see an uptick in hiring and remain one of the least impacted sectors in terms of hiring.  

One of the key sectors driving hiring in India this year has been the Medical/Healthcare sector, which was at the forefront of fighting the pandemic. As the demand to hire the right talent increased owing to the pandemic, the Medical sector was the first to bounce back in hiring in May’20 itself as compared to  April’20. The sector has shown strong sequential hiring trends thereafter and will hopefully continue to post more jobs in the coming year. With the vaccine in sight, it appears that the healthcare fraternity which has been single-mindedly focused on the pandemic will start catering to a larger variety of ailments, giving rise to hiring across different specializations. 

Sectors that will make a comeback in hiring 

The two sectors that took a major hit during the pandemic due to lockdown restrictions and social distancing norms were the Hospitality/ Travel and Retail sectors. Hospitality was down by 91% in April’20 and Retail experienced a 77% decline in hiring Y-O-Y. With 5-star Hotels starting home deliveries, and retail outlets developing online trial rooms, both industries found novel methods to integrate technology to deliver their offerings to customers and we saw it reflect in a slow but steady sequential recovery over the year, which will continue in the coming year. There is a lot of pent up demand in this sector 

and with the coming of vaccines, this sector may very well become the sunshine sector in a post-pandemic world. 

Education/Teaching was one of the sectors that saw a sharp decline in hiring in the early days of the lockdown but showed quick signs of recovery as the pandemic pushed academicians and teachers to plunge into the online mode of teaching. This adoption of technology-driven teaching is set to transform the traditional Education/Teaching industry in India in the coming year as well. The movement towards online learning has expedited the need for teaching tools to adapt its delivery of study material for students. This has boosted recruiter demand for a very specific skill called ‘Instructional Design’ that combines education with technology and communication.  

 Hybrid Working Model will be the future 

One of the most interesting behavioural shifts that the Indian workforce has seen as a green shoot to the pandemic is the remote working culture. Led by the pandemic, hiring for remote jobs has increased by 3X as compared to pre-COVID levels this year. Sectors such as BPO/ITES, IT,  Education/Teaching and Internet/Ecommerce are major contributors to WFH jobs posted on  

Greater acceptance of remote working will pave the way for a hybrid-working model in the coming future. Interestingly, as per a recent Naukri survey done with over 4000 jobseekers, a majority of the jobseekers (59%)  prefer a hybrid model of working. A significant 76% of employees confirmed that WFH is equally or more productive than working in an office. The jobseekers’ insight mirrors the recruiters’ perspective as well. Around 69% of recruiters out of 1000 surveyed also feel that WFH is equally or more productive. With companies taking measures to ease their employees into the WFH culture, this trend is clearly is here to stay.  

Upskilling to stay relevant for career progression 

Up-skilling will be the key to be employable in the coming year. As per the recent Naukri Jobseeker Survey conducted with 50,000 job seekers, more than 50% job seekers are focusing on self-development through up-skilling, brushing their domain knowledge and well as taking professional help in building their resumes. Courses such as Data Analytics, Digital Marketing and Finance Management remain the top picks for up-skilling. Even soft skills have become integral as working conditions have changed, and there is a  preference for those who can collaborate remotely, communicate effectively and manage their time well, without the confines of an office setup.  

Remote Hiring will be the new norm 

Since most companies will be hiring virtually in the coming year, job seekers should focus on preparing for online assessment & virtual interviews. Top HR Experts recommend getting comfortable with the webcam as campus hiring too has taken a remote approach,  and candidates are being judged on how well they adapt to situations outside their comfort zone.  

Freelancing and Part-time roles will gain popularity 

In this tough job market, job seekers should be open to freelancing and part-time jobs to gain some experience in their respective domains. Instead of only focusing on full-time roles, picking up work on a  project basis to strengthen the resume will be key and will become a tool to network with prospective clients too. 

As organizations pace up their growth plans in the coming year, a requirement for those who can help in digital transformation and develop innovative methods to deliver products and services to customers will see a rise. With companies becoming leaner, there will be an expectation to work cross-functionally and go beyond the scope of the job description. It would be interesting to see the evolution of both hiring and working in the coming year.

Zahabiya Kinkhabwala is a marketing manager at

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 6

MSP: What has it Meant Historically and What does it Mean Now?

We must keep in mind three  things – 1) price systems are symptoms, not solutions 2) all group interests have sub group interests, which further disintegrate to individual interests and  3) agricultural political economy is shaped by history. So when someone calls farmers protesting  “khalistani”, not only is that horrible behaviour but also a disservice to the nation & detrimental for national interest.

Recently, the parliament passed three bills that were hailed to be both anti farm and farm liberating. This led to widespread protests throughout the country, more so in north india. The main summary is – farmers can sell their produce outside the government controlled mandis, they can get into contracts with agents as they prefer. When and  how depends on  their judgement & capacity.

During the 1960’s owing to war, and political instability, India suffered a food shortage which made the idea of “High Yield Variety” seeds attractive in order to ramp up agriculture. The MSP, or Minimum Support Price was hence brought in, to a) Incentivise  crops like wheat, rice & b) to create a sense of agricultural stability. 

In 1965 an Agricultural Price Commission (renamed as CACP now) was set up to estimate and advise the price policy. It is a price floor, under which the government ensures all the listed crops. Since it is a five decade old policy, scrutiny is natural. Normally there are around two  dozen crops under it. It was after all, , a temporary reform to boost production..

The APMC or Agricultural Produce Market Committee formed by the government . has two major roles – tackling exploitation coupled with  fixing power asymmetry between farmers & bigger agents and reducing farm to retail prices. By dividing states into geographical spots it runs mandis where there are charges and licenses for participation. Now many mandis have been brought to online mode of operation like e-mandis through digital means & token systems. All MSP procurement is not through APMC either. There are other ways like through the arhatiya (agents) who are generally powerful figures.

The next major economic reforms came in 1990, needless to say, bypassed the farm.

Our focus is primarily on the MSP. Is it a right? Is it a solution? In my opinion, it is not. Price assurance isn’t belling the cat, it is rather negotiating with the cat at the expense of another cat, with heavy consequences. Prices are indicators of the market, they are a product of people’s preferences. They cannot arise out of legislation. The birth of MSP took place to boost certain crops. Today it leads to overproduction (and wastage) of these crops at the expense of the taxpayer. Another important concern is the diversion of resources. Since MSP makes these crops attractive it leads to diversion of resources that could be used for growing other suitable crops (only where MSP is accessible). 

At best, the MSP is a symptom of inefficiency and need of a safety net, not a solution to it. It distorts the market in the promise of safe outcomes. The FCI currently stocks more than twice the buffer stock requirement (97mt in 2020 vs 41 mt req.). This is not just overproduction but dead capital. Other concerns are the inequality in the policy itself. A small number of farmers concentrated in a few states are beneficiaries of the scheme e.g. Punjab, Haryana, MP vs Odisha. Therefore farmers do not benefit equally from it. In fact there are large inequalities which are reflected in the outcomes. Smaller farmers in states like Odisha (which in fact produces 1/10th of rice) depend on public welfare, not  price insurance.  There are also information barriers as not many small farmers are even aware about the MSP, let alone derive their income from it. It is quite possible that this policy makes rich farmers richer and poor ones poorer. An average farming household in Punjab enjoys 1.2 lac per annum in subsidy, 2.5 times of national avg. More importantly, by definition, the government . cannot “predict” prices, it will most certainly predict it wrong. 

APMC’s hurt both the freedom of selling and the freedom of movement as per one’s wish. There is excessive cartelization and barriers to entry and trade. In that sense there’s fundamentally nothing revolutionary about these bills as the government claims while they may be more freedom enabling. They do little to address the broken system. The fear or misconception that the private sector will consume the farmers is not exactly true. Firstly it is a fact that agriculture, which is heavily state regulated is ironically one of the largest private sectors in the country. It runs on trust, contracts, promises and so on, much of which are informal. Mark that only about 6-7 percent of total farmers have access to MSP. More than 90 percent are doing trade in their personal capacities voluntarily in local markets, through agents and supply chains which are private sector transactions. If the government starts buying all the production of all MSP crops, it will go broke. Moreover the govt claims the MSP isn’t going anywhere. Neither are the mandis. Though if people find better opportunities by this increase in freedom, they will become obsolete. The bigger question is how many farmers have the resources to deal directly?  The blame towards the “middlemen” is unwarranted as they play a crucial role in any supply chain.

Another misconception is that farmers are driven by other politics and belong to certain states. Such claims aren’t well founded either. The reason is simple. Even though the protests are widespread, Punjab & Haryana have  been at the forefront of agro movements, historically. They were the biggest beneficiaries of the Green Revolution and they’re biggest beneficiaries of MSP and mandi systems. Wheat & Rice contribute to huge parts of agri-revenue. They have bigger and more connected unions unlike say Odisha. Punjab has avg land holdings of 3.7 hectares vs national avg of 1.08 hectares. Involvement in states such as Bihar (avg 0.4 hectares holding) isn’t very wide spread as they have already abolished APMC

The point is whether they’re aware about how good/bad the alternatives (which haven’t been tested) are or they realise the trade-offs which may come at the expense of someone else. With these bills some speculations are obvious. What about the price support? What about volatility without it? Are there not going to be any mandis anymore? It is only natural that we dissent. With these bills that will supposedly “liberalise” agriculture, some sections might suffer losses too and then move from farming to manufacturing or other productive sectors as most developed nations do. But are there enough opportunities ? How smooth is this transition? Will this lead to alienation of traditional occupation? What about power asymmetry, negotiation and information barriers? These are genuine questions and the government response to them have been lacklustre and opaque. The problem of agriculture is two fold – productivity and accessibility. The removal  of APMCs in themselves does little to solve either. However it is worth pointing out that most parties protesting or disapproving of the bills demanded similar reforms. Some even included them in their manifestos.

Almost all countries protect their primary sector and so should India. But not through price supports where there is overproduction. Incentives to increase productivity and shift to other beneficial crops, transition to farm entrepreneurship etc.The alternative should be to have a more universal, decentralised and direct support e.g. an income support. A Universal Basic Income could be on the cards but it is still a long long time away. Some policies that have delivered results the Rythu Bandhu scheme or the Kalia scheme by the Odisha govt. Welfare is a tricky, slippery slope and old policies must be tested and retested before they get politicised. Farm prosperity must be the priority, even if it comes at the cost of knee jerk decisions. The image of a poor farmer representing the country seems patronising and representative at the same time. But it must go.

Amlan is a final year student at Ashoka University who hails from Odisha.

Image credit:

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 6

ContraPoints by Natalie Wynn

The above image is a still from the ContraPoints video “Canceling”

On her Youtube channel ContraPoints, Natalie Wynn explores several pertinent questions in the field of ethics, politics and gender. She combines well-researched arguments with her unique brand of dark humour, to create entertaining and informative videos that keep you hooked. By explaining all points of view in a debate, no matter how controversial or different it may be from her own political standing, she gives her audience a complete picture of an issue. By the end of every video, you’re left with a much better understanding of the nuances of an issue, while also being thoroughly entertained.

To start out with, she has a great video on ‘cancel culture’. You can also check out her videos Gender Critical (which helps one understand the debate around J K Rowling’s recent controversy) and Incels.

Issue 6

Rethinking Productivity: A necessary reappraisal after 2020

Not only has the pandemic changed the very nature of how things work in the world, it has also challenged what we knew about ourselves. Perhaps whoever professed that human beings are social beings wasn’t prescient enough to tell us how to survive isolation in a pandemic. Within this time, we have had many conversations about the metamorphosis we all can agree we have been through because to say one has come out of being stuck at home unchanged would have to be something exceptional and largely contentious. As we navigate the next stage of the pandemic in which vaccines are made available throughout the world and the inevitable resumption happens, we need to keep the following pertinent ideas in mind. 

Many people might have cherished the thought of having time to themselves when lockdowns were announced. From making dalgona coffee to diving into a ‘to be read’ pile of books, many people did engage in trends and rekindled hobbies. On the flipside, many have had it difficult to be productive in terms of hobbies or in terms of work.

An article published in The Conversation elucidated how isolation provides us opportunities for deep self-introspection. The maxims presented in the piece tell us how many philosophers affirmed solitude to be a panacea. While these maxims do push one to turn the gaze inwards, the situation we find ourselves in doesn’t allow much room for nonchalance. We are constantly connected to the internet and there is always something going on in the world that we cannot ignore. 

Additionally, our personal disposition is also shown to have an effect on how we process what is happening through the pandemic. A research conducted by The Greater Divide, a consultancy in Virginia, found that introverts might be suffering more than extroverts in the pandemic. One of the reasons that study found extroverts to have a generally better sense of well-being was that they had larger social networks compared to introverts. Therefore, they were able to adapt to isolation with more resilience by still being connected.

It is not that the philosophers were completely wrong. Spending time alone can sometimes really favour one’s state of mind. But what we need to do is to evaluate the new meanings the pandemic has given to “isolation” and the need to reflect. In today’s hyperconnected world, can we really afford to disconnect? We all have commitments that may inhibit the state of freedom found in isolation that philosophers like Montaigne mused about. 

A study conducted by the University of Essex shows that productivity while working from home had declined for those in less privileged socioeconomic groups, particularly those whose occupation were less suited for working from homes. These groups consisted of low earners, self-employed professionals who had never worked from a home setting before, and women with children. According to Adams-Prassl et al. (2020), in the United Kingdom and the United States, women are more likely to lose jobs. The study also explains how these groups are also more vulnerable to experiencing a decline in their well-being. Such cases of unemployment and scarcity, especially when there are others dependent on the individual, could lead to a vicious cycle of mental stress and unproductivity as it also affects dependent family members. 

The world’s understanding of productivity required a reappraisal when the COVID-19 pandemic took over the world because little is known about whether we are navigating it right, but it is evident that it does not feel like we are doing okay.  

In the nine months since WHO declared a pandemic, most educational institutions have found a way to complete their syllabi. While the effort is exemplary, the situation hasn’t been equally conducive to learning for all.  As a response to the pandemic, the government of India postponed exams as it declared a country wide lockdown. Due to the pandemic, it is estimated that the education of more than 320 million students in India was disrupted. The Ministry of Human Resource Development also made available several e-learning resources to students. For secondary education, portals like Diksha and e-Pathshala housed resources for classes 1 to 12 whereas for higher education there would be portals like Swayam and Swayam Prabha (TV channels transmitting educational content). But can these initiatives be thought of as successful when 27% of students do not have access to smartphones or laptops, barring them from attending online classes?

The pandemic has necessitated staying indoors, hence, we access almost all our information from our devices. While there is no other option, the lack of consciousness towards how deeply learning has been affected, how many people were bereft of pivotal experiences while their lives continue on as if things were normal, is astounding. In addition, how all of this requires students and teachers to lead a sedentary lifestyle makes this a well-being quagmire. 

A study examining the effects of increased screen time on children found that more time spent reading on screens would increase chances of myopia in children. In addition, the study stated that physical exercise and outdoor activities are of paramount importance to prevent the development of myopia on children. Another study also linked increased screen time to higher risks of developing conditions such as obesity and hypertension; these effects were more observable amongst adults. Online education, for those who can access it, has increased screen time while outdoor activities have been limited for children for months now.

All of these things show that through the course of the pandemic, many of us have been put in vulnerable positions. Across social strata, there is a shared semblance of the struggle that everyone has been through. The pandemic has shown that our perception of productivity and well-being needs to be reassessed, at least till we emulate the world we knew before COVID-19, as closely as possible. And even if we may move on to a “new normal” in the new year, perhaps some of these ideas so crucial to our day-to-day lives, normalised overtime, do need to be put under a critical lens.

Nirvik Thapa is a student of Sociology/Anthropology, Media Studies and International Relations at Ashoka University. Some of his other interests include music, pop culture and urbanism.

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 6

Book Review: How to Make the World Add Up by Tim Harford

In How To Make The World Add Up, Tim Harford, presenter of BBC’s radio show More or Less and an economist by training, writes a compelling case for the field of statistics. Through the course of the book, Harford explores how statistics can help us understand the world around us in clear and simple ways. He also addresses scepticism about statistics, and tells us why it shouldn’t be dismissed as a means of masking lies and spreading misinformation. 

Harford tells us ten simple rules that we can follow, to better understand the facts and numbers that are presented to us through media. He uses several relevant anecdotes, from the pages of history books to the ongoing pandemic, to tell us how and why we should dig deeper into the information that we receive. Throughout the ten rules and the book, there exists a recurring theme – to be curious. Whether it’s rule 1, that asks us to pause and consider our emotional reaction to a piece of news, or rule 4, that prods us to look for comparisons and context to put a claim into perspective, Harford ultimately urges us to be smartly curious about everything we consume. 

While the book does not draw on technicalities from the field of statistics (don’t worry, there are no mentions of p-value or R-squared here!) it urges the lay reader to consider what statistics professors regularly tell their students. For instance, rule 3 asks us to reflect on the labels of different data components, in newspaper data diagrams and academic papers alike. Similarly, rule 5 explains why looking at the source of data collection (and consequently, the motives and limitations of the data collectors) is necessary. While these rules are mostly straightforward, they are rarely followed by consumers of media. Harford recognises that it is not feasible to ask a reader to judge all the media that they consume through these ten rules. Instead, he proposes the use of these rules as a tool to form a “preliminary assessment” of a news source. If there is no effort made by the author to define terms or give the source of the data, there may be a reason to doubt their claims. At the very least, it should urge you to do a quick Google search to validate the information. The simplicity of these rules can help us easily dig deep into dubious claims made on our social media newsfeeds and television news channels.

The book also delves into specific problems around us, such as algorithmic bias and political polarisation, and tells us how we can figure a way out of it. Without giving too much away, Harford asks readers to appeal to their curiosity to question the types of media they choose to consume and believe in. While statistics might help us establish a correlation between a person’s political belief and the kinds of news channels they follow, Harford gives us a way out of our echo chambers. As he explains in rule 6, we need to develop a skill to recognise what data is being obfuscated or left out in the articles we read and the videos we watch. If we put our political beliefs on pause for a while and analyse our news sources, Harford believes we might come away with more information than we possessed before.

Harford also uses several interesting anecdotes throughout the book to keep the reader engaged. These include controversial studies, where statistics played an important role in establishing credibility. One such study links smoking cigarettes to lung cancer – a contentious claim made by Richard Doll and Austin Bradford Hill in 1954. Harford explores how the response by the tobacco lobbyists is a tactic that is used by several politicians: namely, raising doubts about the statistical procedures used in the study. The author helps the reader realise the importance of statistics in understanding consequential matters around us by providing many such case studies.

Overall, the book is a relevant and useful read in a time when we are constantly bombarded with more numbers and data analyses than we know what to do with. Harford urges us to rethink the bad name that statistics has been given over the years––a way to come up with dubious studies and clickbait news headlines––and consider it as a magical way of breaking down the hordes of incomprehensible numbers we receive in everyday media. Over time, if we manage to apply even a few rules out of the given ten to the media we consume, we might be able to better understand the nuances and complexities packed in the underlying research. In this manner, the book lives up to its name and truly helps make the world add up.

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.

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 6

2020: A year to forget or remember?

2020 was poised to be a landmark year for the global environmental movement. The locus of change was supposed to emerge from the United Nations Climate Change Conference (CoP26), which was expected to reverse the trend of inaction in environmental protection by getting countries to pledge to enhanced emission reduction targets and establish clear frameworks and plans for meeting them. Ironically, this much-awaited (and delayed) meeting of world leaders was shut down by a global pandemic whose roots, we are now told, lie in environmental degradation, particularly dwindling forest cover and industrial agriculture

But one must be wary before equating 2020 as solely the year of the pandemic. From bushfires in Australia to oil spill in the Arctic to the series of flash floods that ravaged the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent, a flurry of natural disasters have quietly made their appearance in the background, declaring that climate change is here and now.

The past year has shown us just how vulnerable (in all senses of the term) we are to the effects of crises. Not only did pandemic force the world to its knees, it showed us just how much the effects of any disaster will be disproportionately distributed among the global populace. Nowhere could this be more clearer than in India where tens of millions of ‘impoverished essential workers’, a combination to be found only in our times, were the hardest hit from the ordeal.   

But forcing the world to sit at home and question its priorities, it seems, has worked counterproductively. As the world looks to reopen, not by choice but as an inevitable consequence of our economic models which will not allow any break in production, mindfulness and caution will be thrown out of the window.

Countries looking to make up lost money (and time) are already hacking down green barriers and environmental protection laws with increasing ferocity. This trajectory is blatantly obvious in India which unfortunately also happens to be one of the most vulnerable places on earth to the effects of the ecological crisis. Measures to help the country “get back on its feet”, like encouraging greater use of coal, fast-tracked (and often bypassed) environmental clearances and the mindless assault on forests, wetlands and other ecosystems will only serve to ruin us further.

Too little, too late

But despite the extent and seriousness of the crisis, it is staggering how much of humanity and particularly those in power have tended to treat the crisis: unimportant or worse, as non-existent. International negotiations and climate agreements never fail to disappoint. Even if one were to digest the ridiculously conservative estimates and targets set in these pacts, the fact that most are non-binding and do not carry a strong accountability framework demonstrates their seriousness.  

Developed countries or those most responsible for the crisis have failed to pay even half of the annual $100 bn pledged for financing climate change adaptation and mitigation projects in developing countries. This is despite the fact most estimates strongly suggest that we will need to pump in at least twice or thrice as much to make a difference. 

Time and again, the problem of “too little, too late” has been the norm in international climate agreements. It is then hardly a surprise that we have not met (or close to meeting) even a single target set in the last 30 years and have breached almost every limit set by these agreements

Where do we go from here?

What prevents strong mobilization and action towards fixing climate change and the overall ecological crisis? The opposition to the Green New Deal, a pro-environment legislation in America by the Republican party is a strong indicator of what is to come in the coming years. 

Conservative politicians, many of them funded by fossil fuel industries, have gawked at the amount of money required to fix the problems created by these companies in the first place. a climatically unstable world will bring economic damage far worse than the proposed budget. Instead, they have expressed faith in waiting for grand technological solutions that will solve all our problems at the turn of a switch. 

Investing or mobilizing to prevent a full-blown crisis does not make “economic sense” to many. In other words, the present course must be maintained for as long as possible since the crisis is inescapable. 

The problem, however, is that it imagines climate change as a series of apocalyptic and earth-shattering events that we are so used to seeing in popular fiction and cinema. But instead, the effects of climate change will play out in far more complex and perhaps, insidious ways. Its effects will not just be limited to the natural world but will also produce deep schisms in our everyday political, social and economic lives. Further, it puts the lives of billions, mostly the marginalized and the poor at the greatest risk, not to mention the loss of unimaginable amounts of natural, social and cultural capital. In short, hurtling towards a world where natural systems will be fundamentally altered will prove humanity’s greatest folly.

The proposition that climate change is irreversible will be the biggest fight of the environmental movement in the coming years. This fear is reflected in the choice of theme for Earth Day 2021 – Restore the Earth. It draws attention to the fact that enough and more can (and should) still be done to restore the Earth’s ecological balance. Wilfully (and conveniently) ignoring it is to commit an act of grave injustice towards humanity.

A year to never forget

While 2020 has certainly been a long year, it would be a terrible mistake to forget the things it has taught us. For starters, the pandemic has shown our political and economic priorities for what they are: twisted and skewed towards the elite. The climate change movement is gathering momentum and interest around our impact on the environment is at an all-time high. 

Individuals, interest groups, expert coalitions and civil society organizations are finding new ways to think about the crisis, mobilize, generate change and push for sensible, long-term action. Children and young adults, in particular, are finding their voice and seeking answers  to difficult questions in order to secure their future. As with any struggle, there are silver linings, albeit small and scattered. 

The scope for change is massive, but the window of opportunity is limited. As another round of negotiations begin in November 2021, it is up to us to force action and consequently, ensure that by remembering 2020 we do not ever repeat it.

Picture Credit: bertknot

Rohit is student of history and sociology from Ashoka University. Currently he is a Mother Teresa Fellow and working to be an educator at Pitchandikulam Forest Consultants.

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).