Tuesday, 26 September 2017

The dark side of China’s technology boom

China's tech giants are helping the state build a digital panopticon, writes EUGENE K. CHOW on the Japan Times. Read on: 

Chinese smartphone users have the world at their fingertips. With a few taps, they can order food, message their friends, send money, read the news, play games, hail a taxi, pay off utility bills and more through a single app like WeChat.

But there’s a catch. All this convenience comes with a heavy price: their freedom and privacy.

Thanks to China’s internet giants — Baidu, Tencent and Alibaba — the authoritarian regime now has the means to monitor a user’s every action, purchase, thought, and location in real-time. The Chinese government has long sought the means to more closely keep tabs on its citizens, but with smartphones, people are voluntarily logging their every move for the government in a single, convenient place.

China’s Tech Giants
While tech titans like Google, Amazon, and Facebook have become essential to the daily lives of many Americans, their reach pales in comparison to their Chinese counterparts.

This year, 79.1 percent of all smartphone users in China are expected to use WeChat, a messaging app, with nearly 500 million people using it at least once a month. To put that in perspective, that’s more than the entire population of the United States, Canada and Mexico combined.

But what makes WeChat’s use so significant is how deeply integrated it is with a person’s daily life. Far more than just a messaging app, WeChat is a hub through which Chinese smartphone users access the Internet and other services.

In addition to its basic communication functions, WeChat enables users to order wine, check in for a flight, make a doctor’s appointment, get banking statements, search for books at their local library, donate to charity, pay for things offline, and more. An American venture capitalist described WeChat as being “at every point of your daily contact with the world, from morning until night.”

Meanwhile, Alibaba, China’s equivalent of Amazon, delivers an average of 30 million packages a day, more than the U.S. Postal Service on its busiest day in history. In 2014, 86 percent of all shopping done on smartphones in China was through Alibaba.

A digital surveillance state
A byproduct from all this heavy use is a torrent of rich data that reveal highly-detailed specifics about each individual user. But unlike the United States, which has laws — imperfect as they may be — about when and how the government can access this type of data, no such prohibitions exist in China. Tech companies routinely hand their data to the government, which has made no secret about its efforts to integrate that data into its surveillance apparatus.

With the help of a mobile phone company, police in the city of Guiyang are tracking the movements of migrant workers in real-time. And as part of its anti-corruption crackdown, officials are monitoring social media accounts to trace spending on wine and luxury goods.

China’s censors already meticulously monitor social media for taboo topics like criticizing the government or promoting democracy, and now they are going even further.

The Chinese Ministry of Education has suggested cataloging the individual political sentiments of university students. By pulling data from library records, surveys, and social media posts they hope to create a political ideology database.

But perhaps the most worrying development is the government’s plan to create a “social credit” rating system. An individual’s score will be determined by social, financial, and political behaviors that are drawn from a variety of databases. Infractions would include falling behind on bills, jaywalking, and violating family-planning rules.

Those with low scores will have a harder time travelling, securing loans and insurance, and would be barred from privileges likes staying in a luxury hotel. Meanwhile, individuals like lawyers and journalists will be more closely monitored. According to government planning documents, the system will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”

The rating system is currently being tested in 40 towns and cities across China with plans to expand it nationwide by 2020.

A woman views her mobile phone outside an Apple store in Shanghai on July 30. Through their use of smartphones, China's citizens are voluntarily logging their every move for the government in a single, convenient place. | REUTERS

Personal Files
The elaborate social rating system envisioned by the Chinese government can be traced to the “dang’an.” Created under Chairman Mao Zedong, the dang’an, or personal file, contains an individual’s grades, employment record, and reports on how they interact with others, their religious affiliations, psychological problems and potential political liabilities.

But the proposed rating system would take the dang’an to another level. The government can now add every purchase an individual makes online as well as their search history to their digital file. Purchasing certain products could potentially affect a person’s score. In a controversial move, Alibaba’s rating system Sesame Credit, which functions like eBay seller ratings, takes into account what a user buys online.

“Someone who plays video games for 10 hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person, and someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance is more likely to have a sense of responsibility,” said Li Yingyun, Sesame’s technology director.

Beyond online shopping, a person’s Sesame credit can shape their romantic lives. A Chinese dating website has taken to factoring in a person’s Sesame rating and prominently featuring those with high scores.

These developments are problematic as “negative” behavior from one part of an individual’s life could soon have far-ranging consequences. Under the new social credit system it is a distinct possibility that failure to pay a parking ticket could keep an individual from booking a train ticket or receiving a bank loan. Watching banned Western television shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and making politically-charged social media posts could result in a travel ban.

The government has already established this precedent, publicly blacklisting nearly 7 million people who failed to make loan repayments and barred them from buying airplane tickets.

The authoritarian regime has also shown its willingness to regulate and punish individuals for personal choices. In addition to the long-standing One Child Policy, under the Elder Care Law of 2013, all adult children are required to visit parents over 60 “often” otherwise they can be fined or even face jail time.

Public-Private Partnerships
China’s ruling party is on the cusp of exercising unprecedented control over its citizens, and it’s been made possible with the cooperation of tech companies.

“The line between private companies and state institutions is often quite blurred,” said Maya Wang, a researcher from Human Rights Watch. “In theory, there are protections on citizens’ data, but in practice there are no controls about how this data may be used.”

But it’s not just Chinese companies that do this. In order to operate in China’s lucrative market, American companies have capitulated to the demands of the regime. In the hopes of regaining access to China, Facebook has created a censorship tool that would allow officials to keep posts from appearing on people’s news feeds in specific geographic areas.

A new cybersecurity law requires that all foreign companies operating in China must store their data within the nation. Major American companies like Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM have all complied with the government’s order, raising fears about the security of user data.

The tools and technologies that once promised freedom and openness are instead creating the very dystopian reality we feared most. Far from science fiction, the pieces are already in place — the databases, the technology, the policies, and the precedent.

In a vicious twist, each time Chinese users sign in to WeChat, order something from Alibaba, or search using Baidu, they are tightening the Communist Party’s grip over their lives.

2017 Man Booker Prize shortlist: What to expect on award day

With a different panel of judges each year, the prestigious literary award is famously unpredictable, writes Urvashi Bahuguna on DailyO. Read on: 

The Man Booker Prize, with a different panel of judges each year, is famously unpredictable. Two books from India, Aravind Adiga’s White Tiger and Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, have won the prize in recent years. Though neither captivated readers the way Arundhati Roy’s 1997 winner The God of Small Things did, the prize catapulted both authors into lasting fame.

Not every year’s winner is a crowd or a critic favourite – in fact, bafflingly this is almost never the case. This year’s longlist has been criticised for favouring “subprime output from famous names” and for neglecting stronger, lesser-known debuts like Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. And now the five judges have whittled it down to six books. The winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize will be announced on October 17 where the winner will take home a £50,000 (Rs 41 lakh) prize.

Who’s out?
Arundhati Roy’s second novel, released to disappointed criticism and defensive praise, is out of the running, and can cease to dominate the conversation. Another literary heavyweight to bow out is Kamila Shamsie whose Home Fire garnered largely favourable reviews (some of whom have even called it Shamsie’s best work yet).

Colson Whitehead’s highly inventive The Underground Railroad, which won the Pulitzer, the National Book Award and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence, will have to settle for a place on the longlist. Another winner of other major literary prizes, Mike McCormack’s single-sentence novel called Solar Bones, is out of the running along with Zadie Smith’s Swing Time and Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End. Before we say goodbye to the longlist, we’d recommend Home Fire and The Underground Railroad as books readers shouldn’t miss.

Who’s still in?
Emily Fridlund’s debut novel, History of Wolves, is set at the edge of a lake in the cold, frigid forests of Northern Minnesota. The novel follows the lonely fourteen-year-old daughter of cult members, who are the last of their kind, as she attempts to befriend new neighbours across the lake. When she begins to babysit their young son, she quickly comes to understand that they aren’t as happy or as ordinary as they first seemed. Some readers think Fridlund could have written a tighter plot, but for others the book was the atypical, aromantic coming-of-age book they had been waiting for.

George Saunders’ original, unnerving work, Lincoln in the Bardo, is everyone’s guess for this year’s winner. For twenty years, Saunders was haunted by a story his wife’s cousin told him – when Abraham Lincoln was US president, he lost his 11-year-old son, and entered his crypt on numerous occasions to hold his body. Saunders’ first full-length novel (and his eighth work of fiction) imagines a correspondence between Lincoln and his deceased son in a purgatory where other disquieted ghosts suspended between two worlds hover. The illicit communication between these ghosts, Lincoln and his son inspire a terrifying battle for the son’s soul.

The 2017 shortlist (l-r): Fiona Mozley, Mohsin Hamid, Ali Smith, George Saunders, Emily Fridlund and Paul Auster.
Pics courtesy: The Guardian
Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West imagines magical doors that refugees can supposedly step through to escape an unnamed Middle Eastern country in the throes of a violent upheaval. The novel follows a young Muslim couple who attempt a relationship at a time when everything, include their own selves, are rapidly changing. When they run out of time, they must step through a door without any assurance of what lies on the other side. In a time of refugee crises all over the world, Hamid taps into the anxieties and the hopeful delusions of the displaced.

Ali Smith’s Autumn is set against the post-Brexit violence of a country rethinking itself. The book is the first in a series of four seasonal state-of-the-nation novels. It’s set between the tender, nurturing friendship between a young girl and her elderly neighbour who introduces her to art and literature, and the ugly, divisive atmosphere in the wake of the anti-immigrant Brexit vote.

In the present day, the young girl has matured into an art history teacher in her 30s and her ageing neighbour is in a coma in a residential care facility where she visits him. Autumn weaves their dream-like relationship and philosophical exchanges with the bigotry and xenophobia on the streets.

Paul Auster is known for slim, tightly written works. However, his latest, 4321, is a bulky, almost-900-page meditation on the four possible ways one average man’s life could have gone during the American Civil War. This one is the most surprising inclusion on the shortlist – we thought we were done reading about average men. But if you love a book that won’t end or are a man wondering the other ways your life could have gone, this might be the book for you.

Fiona Mozley, who works in a York bookstore, wrote her disturbing debut, Elmet, on her phone. Set to be published in November, the highly-anticipated book is set in rural Yorkshire where a father of two young children builds a house with his own hands on isolated woodland he doesn’t own.

Not having read the unreleased Elmet, we’re cautiously betting our money on Saunders, but we secretly can’t wait for the creepy, Yorkshire book.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Fears Bali volcano is about to erupt

Thousands of people on the Indonesian island of Bali have been evacuated amid fears volcano Mount Agung could erupt for the first time in over 50 years.

A 12 kilometer (7.5 mile) exclusion zone has been set up around the volcano, on the northeastern side of Bali. More than 42,000 people have been evacuated from the area so far, according to the Indonesian Red Cross (IRC).

Warning banners reading "You're entering active volcanic hazard zone" have been erected at the perimeter of the evacuation zone and hundreds of volunteers have been deployed, IRC said.

Villagers rest after being evacuated during the raised alert levels for the volcano on Mount Agung on September 22, 2017.

Seismic activity around the mountain is increasing "and (it) has the potential to erupt," Indonesia's national volcanology center said in a statement. The volcano's danger status was raised to its highest level on Friday.

Tourism disruptions
Bali is a popular tourist destination, particularly for Australians. The country's consulate to the island has warned citizens to avoid outdoor activities in the region of the volcano and to take precautions over air travel.

People look at Mount Agung, a volcano on the Indonesian island of Bali, on September 24, 2017. There are fears the volcano could erupt for the first time in 50 years.

Mount Agung is around 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Bali's main tourist areas of Kuta and Seminyak.

Aircraft have been advised to avoid the area, but as of Monday morning no flights had been canceled, a spokesman for Bali Airport told CNN.

A general view shows Mount Agung from Karangasem on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on September 21, 2017.

Nine airports around the region have begun preparations to redirect flights and handle displaced passengers, the Jakarta Post reported Monday.

Bali's tourism board said ferries and other transport links to nearby islands were so far unaffected, but it urged people "to start preparing sufficient stock of face masks in the case of an ashfall."
Almost 2,000 people were killed when the volcano erupted in March 1963, which also destroyed multiple villages around the mountain.

(Source: CNN)

Eman Ahmed, world’s ‘heaviest’ woman, passes away in Abu Dhabi

The Egyptian woman, who lost around 300 kg during a surgery in Mumbai earlier this year, died in an Abu Dhabi hospital in the morning.

Eman Ahmed, the world’s heaviest woman who underwent a weight-loss surgery in Mumbai earlier this year, passed away in Abu Dhabi on Monday morning, just a week after celebrating her 37th birthday.

Officials from the Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi confirmed the news, adding that numerous co-morbid conditions including heart diseases and kidney dysfunction resulted in her death.

“She had been under the supervision of a medical team of over 20 doctors from different specialities who were managing her medical condition from the time she arrived in the UAE. Our prayers and heartfelt condolences go out to her family,” said the hospital.

Ahmed, a resident of Alexandria, Egypt, was brought to Mumbai’s Saifee Hospital for weight-loss treatment and transferred to Burjeel Hospital on May 4 after spending three months in Mumbai.

Eman Ahmed, 37, with Dr Shamsheer Vayalil during her birthday celebrations at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi.(HT Photo)
The 37-year-old weighed 504kg when she arrived in Mumbai on February 11 and considered the world’s heaviest woman. Doctors at Saifee said the bariatric surgery and diet regime they gave Ahmed helped her lose 300kg.

Previously, doctors had shared videos of her recovery, claiming that she was healing three times faster than they had planned.

Dr. Yassin El Shahat, chief medical officer of Abu Dhabi based Burjeel Hospital had said by the end of stage two of her treatment, Eman will feed herself by mouth and use an electric wheel chair after achieving a reasonable weight loss by strict diet regimen.

(Source: HT)

This German woman is taking care of 1,200 abandoned cows in India

It’s not just Indians who are making a change in the Indian society. Friederike Irina Bruning, a 59-year-old woman from Germany has taken in over 1,200 cows and is nursing them to health in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh. Most of the cows are sick and injured and have been abandoned as they can no longer give milk.

She came to India in 1978 as a tourist from Berlin but had no idea of what life had in store for her.

“I came to India as a tourist and realised that I needed the guidance of a guru. I went in search of a spiritual mentor in Radha Kund,” she said to The Logical Indian while describing her life in Mathura.

Ms Burning had bought a cow at the request of a neighbour 35-40 years ago, and since then everything in her life changed. She purchased books on cows and learned Hindi. “I saw many people were abandoning their cows that couldn’t give milk. They needed protection as no one was willing to care for them,” she said.

Admiringly called Sudevi Mataji, Ms Bruning started a cowshed known as ‘Surbhai Gauseva Niketan’ 12 years ago.

Once a cow reaches her 3,300 sq yard gaushala, she takes them in and provides them with food and medicine. “Today, I have 400 cows and 800 calves. I do not have sufficient place to accommodate more as the premises is getting smaller. I keep the ones that are sick, old and handicapped and send the rest to other gaushalas. If I kept all the cows, I would have 10,000 of them in my shelter. I cannot refuse when somebody leaves a sick or injured cow outside my ashram, I have to take her in,” she stated.

Ms Bruning takes caution of separating the cows in need of medicine from the healthier ones. Blind and badly injured cows that require more attention are kept in separate pens.

When asked how she manages to take care of 1,200 cows she said that people’s donations are not enough and she has to use her own money. “As much as Rs 22 lakh per month is required for medicines, food and the salaries of about 60 workers. I have some property in Berlin and I get rent from that. Initially, my father used to send some money but now he is a senior citizen. Every year, I visit Berlin to see him. He is not well. I am not getting any help from the local authorities, but somehow managing my work,” she said.

Ms Bruning’s father stayed with her in India for 4-5 years but that was before she set up the cow shelter. She visits him every year but he hasn’t witnessed in person the good work of his daughter.

“I cannot close this. I have 60 people working here and they all need money to support their children and family and I have to take care of my cows, who are my children,” said Ms Bruning, realising that without her, so many lives would have nowhere to go.

The Indian Government has also not provided her with a long-term visa, sparking another issue for Ms Bruning; she has to renew her visa every year.

“I cannot take Indian nationality as I would lose rental income from Berlin. My father was working in German Embassy in India. It’s the money of my parents that I have put into this gaushala,” she stated.

The Logical Indian community commemorates Ms Bruning on her generous work to protect the cows of India. Despite being a German national, she has devoted her life for the well-being of animals in India – where a section of the society believes that ‘protecting’ cows means resorting to vigilantism. We hope that the government takes into account her selfless mission and grants her with the necessary resources for her to continue her exceptional humanitarian services.

(Source: The Logical Indian)

Haryana girl cycles solo from Kanyakumari to Khardung La for a green cause

Long-distance cycling is one of the favourite hobbies of Gurugrammers. Across the city, you will find several avid cyclists who cover distances of a few hundred kilometres every day. However, 25-year-old Sunita Chokhen, who lives on the outskirts of the city, has upped the ante by cycling solo for over 4000km from the southern-most point of the country to the northern-most motorable road.

The 25-year-old, who lives in a small town in Rewari, an hour away from Gurgaon, undertook this long journey as part of her plantation drive that saw her plant over 200 saplings in several cities in India. The journey also made her the first Indian woman to cycle solo from Kanyakumari to Khardung La, Leh.

Talking about why she started this journey, Sunita tells us, "I'm not a cyclist but a mountaineer. I climbed Everest in 2011 and have conquered 17 other mountains around the world. Earlier this year, I was on an expedition to an unclimbed mountain in the Himalayas when I noticed how much the region had changed. I had gone for my initial recce of that area in 2012 and since then, the region had seen so much deforestation that I felt bad. That's what compelled me to do something for the environment and the idea of the Kanyakumari to Leh plantation drive shaped up."

On why she chose to cycle instead of using any other mode of transportation, Sunita says, "If I had driven or taken a bike, it would defeat the purpose of an environment-friendly campaign since those vehicles cause pollution. Cycle was the best option."

Sunita started on her 4656km journey from the southern-most point on the mainland - Kanyakumari - on July 15, and ended it at Khardung La, the highest motorable road in the world, over six weeks later.

"It took me 46 days to finish the journey, during which I covered 100-200km every day on my cycle. But more importantly, I planted 220 saplings along the way. I planted some in every city I stopped in from Kanyakumari to Manali. Post Manali, the weather wasn't conducive for plantation so I stopped that," she says.

Sunita spoke to her contacts and friends in several cities and also made new friends in every city she visited, in order to make sure there was someone to look after the saplings she planted there.

She explains, "In every city, I planted the saplings keeping in mind that there was someone to tend after them. I mostly planted them in ashrams, temples, local schools or colleges. Even in open areas, I made sure to get the residents nearby to promise me to water them regularly. The main focus of my journey was not any record but the goal of plantation."

However, the record landed in her lap acci-dentally. She tells us, "Friends told me that I'm the first girl to cycle from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. I didn't believe it at first but then I decided to check and it was indeed the case. But since I hadn't mapped my journey through GPS, I could not apply to Guinness or Limca books. However, I have applied to India Book of Records for a certificate and my application is under review currently. The record is not my goal but a certificate wouldn't hurt."

Sunita, who is also the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao ambassador for Haryana, says that she utilised whatever free time she had in each city in trying to speak to the students there.

"I would walk up to local schools and colleges, tell the administration who I was and what I was doing, and that I wanted to speak to the students for a short time. Surprisingly, about 80% of the schools received me positively and I delivered quite a few short lectures in several schools along the way. I spoke to young girls about the importance of education, taking up sports, and preserving the environment."

Sunita started her cycling expedition from Kanyakumari. Here, she's seen cycling at a place that appears to be in Southern state.

Sunita now says that she will return to mountaineering for a while, but she does have plans to revisit all the places where she has planted her saplings a few years on to check on their progress.

"I want to give the saplings some time to grow and a few years down the line, I will retrace my journey and see how much they have grown. I am curious to see whether my efforts will bear any fruit," she says.

(Source: ToI)

UN General Assembly Session: Sushma Swaraj's full speech

Here is the full text of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj's speech.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who addressed the 72nd session of United Nations General Assembly Session in New York today, lambasted Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for claiming that human rights violations in areas of Jammu and Kashmir.

Swaraj further said, "We are completely engaged in fighting poverty, but our neighbour Pakistan seems only engaged in fighting us."

Here is the full speech:

Mr President
Let me begin by offering my heartiest congratulations on your election as President of the 72nd United Nations General Assembly. For those of us fortunate to represent our nations as Foreign Minister this is a particularly happy event: one of us has this honour.

Mr President
2: India welcomes your efforts to place people at the heart of international diplomacy as you shape policy and lend direction to world affairs from your august chair. I thank you for the theme you have chosen: 'Focusing on people: Striving for peace and a decent life on a sustainable planet'. People, peace, decency, sustenance and focus define a noble objective.

Mr President
3: The United Nations was established for the welfare, security, harmony, rights and economic progress of the people of our world. India fully supports your efforts in this great mission.

4: I had spoken before this Assembly last year as well. It is a year that has seen much change both in this Assembly and the world it represents. We have a new Secretary General at the United Nations. He is determined to prepare and strengthen the United Nations to meet the challenges of the 21st century. We welcome his efforts, and see in him a leader who can give practical shape to a vision.

Mr President
5: Our contemporary world is trapped in a deluge of troubles of which, surely, the most dangerous is the relentless rise of violence, Terrorism, and the ideas that engineer this evil, are spreading at the pace of a conflagration.

Climate change stares us in the face, and threatens us with its dimension.

There is a growing question mark over maritime security. For a mix of reasons, provocative and inflammatory, people are leaving the psychological, cultural and economic comfort of their traditional home space to seek refuge on distant shores causing global anxiety. A large part of the globe's population is still tortured by hunger and poverty. The young are beginning to lose hope as they confront unemployment. Women, victims of historic discrimination, are demanding what they must get: gender empowerment.

Nuclear proliferation is back in the zone of dangerous headlines. Cyber security has become a source of deep insecurity.

6: In 2015, we set ourselves a target of 2030 to find solutions to many challenges on this Agenda. Two of these years have already passed. Surely it is already time to ask how much has happened. If complacency defmes the next 13 years then we are in danger of losing control. We need a sense of urgency as well as unshakeable fortitude to take decisions that can avert catastrophe.

7: I am pleased that India has displayed the courage and leadership to take tough decisions which have launched the interlinked process of sustainable development. The complete eradication of poverty is the most important priority of the present government. Mr President, There are two ways of addressing the curse of poverty. The traditional method is through incremental levels of aid and hand-holding. But our Prime Minister Narendra Modi has chosen the more radical route, through economic empowerment. The poor are not helpless: we have merely deemed them opportunity. We are eliminating poverty by investing in the poor. We are turning them from job-seekers into job-providers.

8: All our economic programmes have a principal purpose, die empowerment of the poor; Jan Dhan, Mudra, Ujjwala, Skill India, Digital India, Clean India, Start-Up India, Stand-Up India. To describe them all would take up more time than 1have at my disposal, and I shall therefore dwell on only three core programmes.

9: The Jan Dhan plan must surely count as the world's largest financial inclusion scheme. At least 300 million Indians who had never crossed the doors of a bank today have bank accounts; this is equivalent to the population of the United States of America. This was, understandably, not easy to complete in three years, but our banks, achieved this visionary goal set by our Prime Minister. While some remain to be included, the target has been set - every Indian family will have a bank account.

10: Mudra yojana has enabled government to fund the unfunded. Those who had never dreamt that bank credit was within their options, today, through Mudra, are getting soft loans without collateral to begin micro businesses. I am particularly delighted to inform you that over 70 per cent of these loans have gone to women. Unemployment spreads despair. Through Skill India, Start-Up India and Stand-Up India poor and middle class youth are being trained to match their honed talent with bank credit and become self-employed or small-scale entrepreneurs.

11: Ujjwala is a signature scheme of our government. Free gas cylinders are being provided to the poor so that women do not have to suffer the dangerous consequences of wood-fired kitchens. Uniquely, gender emancipation is at the creative core of this programme.

12: Demonetisation was a courageous decision to challenge one of the by products of corruption, the "black money" that disappeared from circulation. Today, India has passed the Goods and Services Tax legislation, through which there is one-tax across the country, without the untidy and punishing system of multiple taxes under differing categories in different parts of the country. Our "Save the girl, Educate the girl" campaign is reducing gender inequality. Our Clean India programme is generating what can only be described as a revolutionary change in social attitudes and habits.

13: I would like to note, at this point, that nations with rising capabilities will be able to generate such change, but the developed world must become an active partner in helping those vulnerable countries which are still mired in stagnant poverty reach SDG horizon within 2030. That is why the principle of Global Partnership was included in SDGs. I am happy to report that India has started, this year, the India-UN Development Partnership Fund.

Mr President
14: We are completely engaged in fighting poverty; alas, our neighbour Pakistan seems only engaged in fighting us. On Thursday, from this dais, Pakistan's Prime Minister Shahid Khakan Abbasi wasted rather too much of his speech in making accusations against us. He accused India of State-sponsored terrorism, and of violating human rights. Those listening had only one observation: "Look who's talking!" A country that has been the world's greatest exporter of havoc, death and inhumanity became a champion of hypocrisy by preaching about humanity from this podium.

15: Pakistan's Prime Minister claimed that his nation's founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah had bequeathed a foreign policy based on peace and friendship. I would like to remind him that while it remains open to question whether Jinnah Sahab actually advocated such principles, what is beyond doubt is that India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, from the moment he took his oath of office, offered the hand of peace, and friendship. Pakistan's Prime Minister must answer why his nation spurned this offer.

16: Prime Minister Abbasi has recalled old resolutions that have been long overtaken by events. But his memory has conveniently failed him where it matters. He has forgotten that under the Shimla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration India and Pakistan resolved that they would settle all outstanding issues bilaterally. The reality is that Pakistan's politicians remember everything, manipulate memory into a convenience. They are masters at "forgetting" facts that destroy their version.

17: Pakistan's current Prime Minister spoke of a "Comprehensive Dialogue" between our two countries. I would like to remind him that on 9 December 2015, when I was in Islamabad for the Heart of Asia conference, a decision was made by his leader Mian Nawaz Sharif, then still Prime Minister, that dialogue between us should be renewed and named it a "Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue". The word "bilateral" was used consciously to remove any confusion or doubt about the fact that the proposed talks would be between our two nations and only between our two nations, without any third-party present. And he must answer why that proposal withered, because Pakistan is responsible for the aborting that peace process.

18: I would like today to tell Pakistan's politicians just this much, that perhaps the wisest thing they could do is to look within. India and Pakistan became free within hours of each other. Why is it that today India is a recognised IT superpower in the world, and Pakistan is recognised only as the pre-eihinent export factory for terror?

19: India has risen despite being the principal destination of Pakistan s nefarious export of terrorism. There have been many governments under many parties during 70 years of Indian freedom, for we have been a sustained democracy. Every government has done its bit for India's development. We have marched ahead, consistently, without pause, in Education, Health and across the range of human welfare. We established scientific and technical institutions which are the pride of the world. But what has Pakistan offered to the world and indeed to its own people apart from terrorism? We produced scholars, doctors, engineers. What have you produced? You have produced terrorists. Doctors save people from death; terrorists send them to death. If Pakistan had spent on its development what it has spent on developing terror, both Pakistan and the world would be safer and better-off today.

Mr. President
20: Terrorism is at the very top of problems for which the United Nations is searching for solutions. We have been the oldest victims of this terrible and even traumatic terrorism. When we began articulating about this menace, many of the world's big powers.dismissed this as a law and order issue. Now they know better. The question is: what do we do about it?
21: We must all introspect and ask ourselves whether our talk is anywhere close to the action we take. We all condemn this evil, and piously resolve to fight it in all our declaratory statements. The truth is that these have become rituals. The fact is that when we are required to fight and destroy this enemy, the self-interest of some leads them, towards duplicity.

22: This has been going on for years. Although India proposed a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) as early as in 1996, yet two decades later the United Nations has not been able to agree upon a definition of terrorism. If we cannot agree to define our enemy, how can we fight together? If we continue to differentiate between good terrorists and bad terrorists, how can we fight together? If even the United Nations Security Council cannot agree on the listing of terrorists, how can we fight together?

Mr President
23: Through you, with utmost sincerity I would like to request this august assembly to stop seeing this evil with self-defeating and indeed meaningless nuance. Evil is evil. Let us accept that terrorism is an existentialist danger to humankind. There is absolutely no justification for this barbaric violence. Let us display our new commitment by reaching agreement on the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism this year itself.

Mr President
24: I had identified climate change as one of the significant dangers to our existence. India has already said that it is deeply committed to the Paris Accord. This is not because we are afraid of any power, influenced by friend or foe, or tempted by some imagined greed. This is an outcome of a philosophy that is at least 5000 years old. Our Prime Minister has, on his personal initiative, launched the International Solar Alliance as witness to our abiding commitment to a cause.

25: When we talk of. world peace, we mean peace not only among,human beings but also peace with nature. We understand that human nature is sometimes inimical to nature, but we would like to amend human nature when it tends in the. wrong, directions. When we inflict our greed upon nature, nature sometimes explodes. We must learn to have with the imperatives, cycles and creative urges of nature; in that lies, our own salvation.

26: We have just witnessed hurricanes, earthquakes, rains that inundate, storms which terrify. This is not a mere coincidence. Nature sent,its warning to the world even before the world's leadership gathered in New York at the United Nations through Harvey. Once our gathering began an earthquake struck Mexico and a hurricane landed in Domimca. We must understand this requires more serious action than talk. The developed world must listen more carefully than others, because it has more capacities than others. It must help the less fortunate through technology transfer and Green Climate Financing - that is the only way to save future generations.

Mr President
27: We are discussing turbulence and change across the world, but the one organisation created to address world affairs is beset by its own problems. It seems to believe that it can afford not to change from the precepts and perceptions that determined its birth. On 18 September, there was a meeting here on UN reform. I participated. I witnessed an evident desire for change, to do. something. But I do want to remind you that at the 2005 World Summit there was a consensus that the early reform of the Security Council is an essential element of our overall effort to reform the United Nations.

28: Efforts at text-based negotiations on the reform and expansion of the Security Council were initiated in the last session and more than 160 nations had expressed support for this effort. If we are serious, then the least we can do is produce one text that can be the basis for negotiation. I hope that under your enlightened leadership, Mr President, this will become a priority. If that happens it will be a significant achievement.

29: We also have high expectations from the new Secretary General of the United Nations. If he wants to reform the peace and security architecture, he will also need to address reforms related to peacekeeping that have been urged for long. Without improvements in UN Peacekeeping this goal can't be achieved.

Mr President
30: There is no shortage of issues; there is even less shortage of problems which should be recognised from this podium. But time is not always on the side of those who would like to raise issues and problems in the interests of a better, more peaceful and progressive future. The issues you have chosen are relevant to the UN Charter as well as to the ancient traditions of my land.

Mr President
31: My country's culture and thought has been shaped by a history and philosophy that believes in peace as humankind's only rational and practical objective. We truly believe that the world is one family and we hope that every member of this family deserves that elixir of life, happiness.
Let me end by reciting a verse that is a synthesis of thought:
May all be happy; May all be healthy; May all see what is good; May a be free from suffering.

Thank you,
Mr. President.

(Source: India Today)

Pakistan ambassador Lodhi tries to pass off Palestinian as pellet gun victim from Kashmir

The woman whose picture Pakistan's Representative to the United Nations showed the General Assembly earlier today was NOT of a victim of pellet gun fire in Kashmir. Read on to find out more about Pakistan's lie. 

When Home Minister Rajnath Singh said his Cabinet colleague Sushma Swaraj had exposed Pakistan's "duplicity" on terrorism in her speech at the UN General Assembly, he had no way of knowing Islamabad would provide a textbook example of deceitfulness in less than 24 hours - in truly spectacular fashion.

Earlier today, Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan's Representative to the UN, dramatically raised aloft a picture of a woman at the General Assembly. Her face, riddled with wounds, was the face of India, Lodhi said.

It was a resounding lie.

The woman was not a Kashmiri. She was not a victim of pellet fire. She was 17-year-old Rawya abu Jom'a, a Palestinian woman who was injured in air strikes in Gaza, according to a report in the Guardian.

That happened In 2014 -  two years before unrest broke out in Kashmir after Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter by security forces.

At that time, injuries and cases of partial or complete blindness caused by pellet gun use did attract strong criticism (and the Home Ministry even asked security forces to use plastic bullets instead), but the woman in the picture Lodhi used was not one of the victims.

Take a look at this screenshot of the Guardian report. The photograph was taken by Heidi Levine.

A screenshot from the Guardian's website
And here's a tweet which shows Lodhi holding up the picture.

In her reply to Indian FM's speech in UNGA, Amb. Lodhi showed a pic of pellet gun injured women frm Kashmir saying this is the face of India

What's incredible is that  Maheela Lodhi is a former journalist, and should know the basics of fact-checking. The website of Pakistan's Mission to the UN says she was "the founding editor of Pakistan’s leading English daily, The News," and "the first woman in all of Asia to become the editor of a national daily newspaper. "

At least two Pakistani websites participated in this failure of journalistic ethics.

Pakistan Defence, a website which claims to be that nation's "largest digital forum" and purports to disseminate news, retweeted the Pakistani UN Mission's message without bothering to do a fact-check. See for yourself.

Screenshot of Pakistan Defence's (@defencepk) Twitter page taken on September 24
Geo News, a TV channel, also failed to verify the information.

Screenshot of page on www.geo.tv, taken on September 24
Maleeha Lodhi said External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had spread a "litany of falsehoods" in her blistering take-down of Islamabad on Saturday.

In her reply, Lodhi said the Narendra Modi government had a "racist and facsist" ideology, and called Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath a "fanatic."

To top it all, Pakistan now wants the UN to declare India a 'state sponsor of terrorism.'

(Source: India Today)

Woman suddenly gives birth while shopping, walks away with baby like it was nothing

A shocking video shows a woman giving birth standing up after unexpectedly going into labour while out shopping – before calmly walking home with her baby.

The infant dropped to the ground and is seen flailing at the new mother’s feet as anxious voices are heard calling for help.

The dramatic birth happened in the city of Yunfu in southern China , where stunned onlookers saw the newborn’s sudden arrival as the mother browsed for fruit and vegetables.

She began screaming after her waters broke, and just a few seconds later the newborn dropped from between her legs, leaving her long dress stained in blood.

Onlookers were stunned when the woman suddenly went into labour and her baby fell from between her legs and dropped onto the ground

The baby was placed on a chair as ambulance stuff checked it was healthy

Despite the ordeal, the woman – believed to be in her 30s – refused a ride to hospital for further checks, opting instead to walk home with the baby in one arm and her shopping in the other.

Disbelieving shoppers called an ambulance, and nurses arrived shortly after the baby’s arrival to help the new mum cut the umbilical cord.

The child was placed on a chair as medics cleaned it and handed it back to the mother, who witnesses said remained standing the whole time and did not appear to be tired.

Incredibly medics found the baby was healthy after its sudden birth, and the mother – who did not appear tired despite the ordeal – refused further treatment

Footage of the woman strolling home with the newborn baby in one arm and her shopping in the other has gone viral

After confirming that the newborn was healthy, an offer by ambulance staff to take the mother to hospital was rebuffed, with the woman instead opting to walk home.

Reports in China said she wanted to save money.

Footage of the woman walking home while carrying the baby has gone viral.

Karnataka woman trapped in Saudi Arabia rescued, brought back to India

A woman from Karkala who was stranded in Saudi Arabia for the last 15 months was finally rescued on Friday.

Ravindranath Shanbhag, president of the Human Right Protection Foundation (HRPF) of Udupi, and NRI associations in Jeddah succeeded in having the 42-year-old woman, Jacinta, released from her employer Abdul Almutairy in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia.

Jacinta was a victim of human trafficking. After the demise of her husband, she contacted an agent, James, who claimed to represent a Mumbai-based foreign recruitmen agency. She was directed to one Shabhakhan in Mumbai. Both promised to help her to get a job as a governess for an Indian family in Qatar.

Jacinta with her daughters. (EPS)
As they did not collect a fee for the passport and visa, Jacinta believed them and traveled to the Middle East on June 19, 2016. There she found that she had to look after the 10 children of a Saudi employer, putting in 16-hour days. Her health deteriorated and her pleas fell on deaf ears. She was physically assaulted by her employer.

According to Jacinta's employer Abdul Almutairy, the agents who sent her to Soudi Arabia had taken 24,000 Saudi Riyals from him. He argued that he would send Jacinta back to India if they returned his money.

When HRPF informed this to M C Luther, the Protector General of Immigrants, he ordered an enquiry. HRPF even approached Sushma Swaraj on this issue.

Ravindranath Shanbhag told New Indian Express on Saturday that NRI associations in Saudi Arabia raised Rs 4.5 lakh to be paid to her employer.

"We were able to bring Jacinta back to India on Friday evening via Mumbai. She has been admitted in a hospital in Udupi for a medical check up. She is stable,'' Shanbhag said.

(Source: The New Indian Express)

Sunday, 24 September 2017

How an ad campaign invented the diamond engagement ring

In the 1930s, few Americans proposed with the precious stone. Then everything changed, writes Uri Friedman on the Atlantic. Read on: 

When I decided to propose to the woman who is now my wife, I gave a lot of thought to how I was going to do it. But I didn't think much about what I was going to do it with. Not only did a diamond ring seem the logical—nay, the inevitable—choice, but I had just the very diamond. My grandfather had scrounged up enough money to buy a diamond ring for my grandmother in the early 1950s, and the stone had passed to me when he passed away. I reset the diamond in a more modern band, got the ring appraised, and slipped it on my fiancĂ©e's finger.

It was a beautiful moment—a gesture of love and commitment spanning generations. And it was also exactly what De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd. wanted. I was a century-old marketing campaign, actualized. And I'm far from alone; three-quarters of American brides wear a diamond engagement ring, which now costs an average of $4,000.

Every so often, an article comes along that makes you thoroughly rethink a rote practice. Edward Jay Epstein's "Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond?" was one of them. In his 1982 Atlantic story, the investigative journalist deconstructed what he termed the "diamond invention"—the "creation of the idea that diamonds are rare and valuable, and are essential signs of esteem."

That invention is surprisingly recent: Epstein traces its origins to the discovery of massive diamond mines in South Africa in the late 19th century, which for the first time flooded world markets with diamonds. The British businessmen operating the South African mines recognized that only by maintaining the fiction that diamonds were scarce and inherently valuable could they protect their investments and buoy diamond prices. They did so by launching a South Africa–based cartel, De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd. (now De Beers), in 1888, and meticulously extending the company's control over all facets of the diamond trade in the ensuing decades.

Most remarkably, De Beers manipulated not just supply but demand. In 1938, amid the ravages of the Depression and the rumblings of war, Harry Oppenheimer, the De Beers founder's son, recruited the New York–based ad agency N.W. Ayer to burnish the image of diamonds in the United States, where the practice of giving diamond engagement rings had been unevenly gaining traction for years, but where the diamonds sold were increasingly small and low-quality.

Meanwhile, the price of diamonds was falling around the world. The folks at Ayer set out to persuade young men that diamonds (and only diamonds) were synonymous with romance, and that the measure of a man's love (and even his personal and professional success) was directly proportional to the size and quality of the diamond he purchased. Young women, in turn, had to be convinced that courtship concluded, invariably, in a diamond.

Ayer insinuated these messages into the nooks and crannies of popular culture. It marketed an idea, not a diamond or brand:

Movie idols, the paragons of romance for the mass audience, would be given diamonds to use as their symbols of indestructible love. In addition, the agency suggested offering stories and society photographs to selected magazines and newspapers which would reinforce the link between diamonds and romance. Stories would stress the size of diamonds that celebrities presented to their loved ones, and photographs would conspicuously show the glittering stone on the hand of a well-known woman. Fashion designers would talk on radio programs about the "trend towards diamonds" that Ayer planned to start. ...

In its 1947 strategy plan, the advertising agency ... outlined a subtle program that included arranging for lecturers to visit high schools across the country. "All of these lectures revolve around the diamond engagement ring, and are reaching thousands of girls in their assemblies, classes and informal meetings in our leading educational institutions," the agency explained in a memorandum to De Beers. The agency had organized, in 1946, a weekly service called "Hollywood Personalities," which provided 125 leading newspapers with descriptions of the diamonds worn by movie stars. ... In 1947, the agency commissioned a series of portraits of "engaged socialites." The idea was to create prestigious "role models" for the poorer middle-class wage-earners. The advertising agency explained, in its 1948 strategy paper, "We spread the word of diamonds worn by stars of screen and stage, by wives and daughters of political leaders, by any woman who can make the grocer's wife and the mechanic's sweetheart say 'I wish I had what she has.'"
In the late 1940s, just before my grandfather started hunting for his diamond ring, an Ayer copywriter conceived of the slogan that De Beers has used ever since: "A Diamond Is Forever." "Even though diamonds can in fact be shattered, chipped, discolored, or incinerated to ash, the concept of eternity perfectly captured the magical qualities that the advertising agency wanted to attribute to diamonds," Epstein writes. A diamond that's forever promises endless romance and companionship. But a forever diamond is also one that's not resold. Resold diamonds (and it's maddeningly hard to resell them, as Epstein's article details) cause fluctuations in diamond prices, which undermine public confidence in the intrinsic value of diamonds. Diamonds that are stowed away in safe-deposit boxes, or bequeathed to grandchildren, don't.

Between 1939 and 1979, De Beers's wholesale diamond sales in the United States increased from $23 million to $2.1 billion. Over those four decades, the company's ad budget soared from $200,000 to $10 million a year.

A 1960 De Beers ad in Reader's Digest (SensaiAlan/Flickr)
De Beers and its marketers proved extraordinarily adaptable at molding public perceptions. When the U.S. engagement marked seemed tapped out, a new campaign promoted the gift of a second diamond as a way to reaffirm romance later in marriage. When small Soviet diamonds entered the market, people were told that the size of diamonds (as opposed to their quality, color, and cut, or the mere gesture of buying a diamond in the first place) didn't matter much after all. (Some gambits backfired, like the diamond-ring-for-men misadventure of the 1980s.)

And when De Beers sought to expand internationally in the mid-1960s, it didn't flinch at entering markets like Japan's, where a deeply rooted tradition of arranged marriages left little space for premarital romance, let alone diamond engagement rings. De Beers, Epstein writes, aggressively marketed diamond rings in Japan as tokens of "modern Western values." In 1967, when the campaign began, less than 5 percent of betrothed Japanese women had a diamond engagement ring. By 1981, that figure had risen to 60 percent, and Japan had become the second-largest market, after the United States, for diamond engagement rings. De Beers conjured up "a billion-dollar-a-year diamond market in Japan, where matrimonial custom had survived feudal revolutions, world wars, industrialization, and even the American occupation," Epstein marvels.

De Beers had far more success in Japan than it did in other countries like Brazil, where both women and men typically wear a simple band on their right hand while engaged and switch the ring to their left hand once married. But the social transformation that took place in Japan in the 1970s may be repeating itself today in China, where, according to a recent Citigroup report (which relies on De Beers data), more than 30 percent of Chinese brides now receive diamond engagement rings. The practice barely existed in the country in the 1990s.

Percent of First-Time Brides Who Receive Diamond Engagement Rings

A 2014 report by Bain & Company similarly noted that China, India, and the United States will drive the majority of growth in diamond-jewelry consumption over the next decade, in part because of growing interest in diamond engagement rings in India and China, and stable interest in the U.S.

A Forecast of Rough-Diamond Demand Growth Through 2024

De Beers is still a major player in the diamond industry, though it's not as dominant as it once was. The copywriter behind "A Diamond Is Forever" passed away in 1999, and N.W. Ayer ceased operations three years later. But the Diamond Invention lives on.

5 Bengali dishes that are so simple that you'll fall in love

With Durga Puja here, it's time to celebrate the dishes that every Bengali loves to eat every day.

So, Durga Puja is almost here, and you're gearing up to head off to some pandal in your city to get a taste of authentic Bengali food. You might have already checked your friend list on social media to check out all your Bong friends who can take you along on a tour.

But allow us to share this little gem of advice which every Bengali knows: The food served at Puja pandals is nothing compared to the dishes Bengalis enjoy at home every day. Their idea of food--and believe us, their idea of food is quite in-depth and obsessive--is all about comfort and the simple joys of home cooking.

No pandal stall offers anything more than mukhorochok (literally, what appeals to the taste buds) food that you can enjoy once-in-a-while, and they're not parts of any Bengali's everlasting food-dreams. If you don't believe us, just mention any one of the dishes we've listed here, and you'll know what we mean.

These dishes are some of the best flavours Bengali cuisine has to offer, and they're so simple that you can indulge in them anytime (but preferably, in a Bengali home).

1. Aloo bhaja
Ask any Bengali and they'll tell you that aloo bhaja or fry can never be overrated. Simple, matchstick-sized potatoes are rubbed with salt and turmeric, fried till they turn crispy, and served. To have it with hot rice and musuri or masoor dal is a Bong's ultimate food dream. Aloo bhaja is so popular that it's even served at weddings! No dish can compare with an honour like that, can it?

2. Fish fry
Where there are Bengalis, there will be at least one fish dish. But fish fry or maachh bhaja is so simple and easy to make that every Bengali can cook it up for a meal, and so can you. Just rubbed with salt and turmeric, and fried in shorshe tel or mustard oil, this dish can be eaten with rice, or just as a snack with chillies and onions.

3. Begun bhaja
While there are a number of veggies that adorn a Bengali thala or thali every day, including potol or parwal fry, begun bhaja or eggplant fry holds a special place. Once again, it's simply cooked with salt and turmeric. The fried begun adds so much to a simple vegetarian meal of dal and rice that a Bengali feels like he or she is actually at a feast. No, we're not overrating this dish. It's simply that good!

4. Aloo posto
There's a reason why Bipasha Basu named her little pet Posto. This little ingredient is extremely popular among Bengalis. Before you ask, posto is basically poppy seeds. While it's also cooked with cauliflowers and a number of other veggies, this invention by Bengal's widows is mostly prepared with the other favourite, potatoes. Every posto dish also helps Bengalis get in the mood for their bhaat ghoom, or afternoon nap. No wonder they love it so much!

5. Maachh-Bhaat
The simplest of fish curries, maachher jhol, is a Bengali favourite. Whether it's cooked using rahu or hilsa doesn't matter as long as Bengalis get to eat it with hot rice. Maachh-bhaat is the ultimate comfort food for Bongs, and each and everyone of them can testify to this fact. And why not? A bowl full of rice and a simple curry is a dream come true for every foodie.

Instead of heading out to eat at Durga Puja pandals with a packet of antacids in your bag, why not make a difference this year. Just ask your Bengali friends for a taste of these dishes, and you'll actually have the best of their cuisine.

(Source: India Today)

How a Bihari lost his mother tongue to Hindi

The pitfalls of forcing the use of Hindi on non-Hindi states have often been commented upon. But the hegemonic project is also threatening to subsume languages like Magadhi and Bhojpuri in the northern belt, writes Roshan Kishore on Live Mint. Read on: 

There was a popular self-deprecating joke among Biharis in Delhi University’s North Campus in the early 2000s. Delhiwala asks his Bihari classmate why his feet are soiled. Bihari answers in Hindi, “Arre yaar, main chal kar aa raha thha, achanak pyair kaado mein chala gaya”. Now, kaado is a word used for a puddle in languages such as Bhojpuri and Magadhi. The Bihari does not use keechad, the acceptable Hindi word for puddle. It is a joke because no matter how much the Bihari tries to hide his not-so-urbane identity behind modern clothes, his language gives him away.

Jokes apart, the exchange also captures a slow but steady cultural shift that has been taking place in the Hindi heartland. Hindi, or rather sarkari Hindi (more on this later), has been slowly eating away multiple languages spoken by millions of people north of the Vindhyas. For a typical Delhiwala it could be Punjabi, Haryanvi or even Urdu. In the region I come from, the casualty has been Magadhi, or Magahi, as we call it back home. As the name suggests, it is related to the Magadh region, which was once the seat of power for mighty emperors, such as Ashoka.

It is extremely unlikely that my young cousins, who were brought up in Delhi and other metros, would ever feel comfortable speaking this language. But just a couple of generations ago, it used to be the language of conversation in my family.

"Within the Hindi academia, there is a polarized debate on whether advancing the cause of languages, such Bhojpuri and Magadhi, would weaken the status of Hindi itself"
This detachment is not without implications. Even today, these languages dominate when it comes to cultural practices. One example should suffice. Chhath is perhaps the most important religious festival in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. As the number of migrants from these regions has grown in mega cities such as Delhi and Mumbai, the question of whether or not governments should declare a public holiday on Chhath has become an important political issue. Rituals apart, Chhath is also known for its devotional folk songs.

I have not come across a single Chhath song written in Hindi. They are either in Magadhi, Maithili or Bhojpuri. Most of the Hindi speakers in Delhi would find large parts of these songs (if not all) incomprehensible. Those who are interested can try listening to some on YouTube.

A Malayali teenager who has been brought up outside Kerala but knows his mother tongue, Malayalam, can land up in Kerala any time and effortlessly understand what is going on in any social or cultural function. A Bihari of similar profile would find it difficult to relate to these Chhath songs. It would be wrong to assume that only nostalgia is at stake. Millions of people still use these languages for their day-to-day interactions. They would not be comfortable conversing with a person who does not know that kaado means keechad. The short point is that the expat Bihari teenager would be left without a mother tongue in their motherland.

How does one reconcile this with the fact that Hindi is the main language of communication in almost all of north India? A look at the census statistics, which is the country’s main source of language data, can help. The census has specific instructions for recording mother tongues. A mother tongue is the language spoken in childhood by the person’s mother to the person. There are allowances for situations when the mother is dead, but the underlying principle is clear. A mother tongue is the language spoken at home, not the medium of instruction or language of social interaction.

The Eighth Schedule of the Constitution lists 22 languages. In keeping with the mandate of capturing the mother tongue, the 2001 census (latest available data) lists sub-categories under each of these languages. The broad category of Hindi has 49 mother tongues listed under it, including Hindi. Of the 422 million people in this group, only 61% actually reported Hindi as their mother tongue. Bhojpuri and Magadhi are among the top 5, with shares of 7.8% and 3.3%, respectively.

In Bihar, the tables are turned. Less than one-fourth recorded their mother tongue as Hindi. Bhojpuri and Magadhi had a share of 33.6% and 20%, respectively. In absolute terms, these numbers would be more than 20 million and 12 million, respectively. That’s a lot more than the population of Australia, which is around 24 million, according to the latest World Bank figures.

These numbers bear testimony to the ongoing cultural violence inflicted by Hindi in its own backyard. Much has been written on the pitfalls of forcing the use of Hindi as the national language on non-Hindi states. But what about the hegemonic project which is threatening to subsume the likes of Magadhi and Bhojpuri? Is this yet another aspect of the politics of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan, which is associated with the political right in India? A slight digression on the history of Hindi nationalism would be useful here.

Orient BlackSwan’s Hindi Nationalism by Alok Rai, who has been a professor of English at the Allahabad and Delhi universities, can be a good primer for those without any grounding in the topic.

Rai happens to be the grandson of the legendary writer Munshi Premchand, who wrote in both Urdu and Hindi. The book gives a detailed account of how Hindi, as we know it today, gained dominance in India. Persian was the official script in India in the pre-British period. This acted as a natural disadvantage for the non-elite, especially Hindus, who did not know the script. It was only in 1900 that Sir Anthony MacDonnell, lieutenant governor of North-Western Provinces and Oudh, allowed Devanagari—the script in which Hindi is written—to be allowed in courts. Rai argues that two factors were behind the decision. They wanted the language of administration to be accessible to the common people. Also, the Muslim elite had played an important role in the 1857 mutiny. By ending the dominance of Persian in the British administration, their socio-economic position could be weakened. The Hindus who lost out for not knowing Persian had no reason to complain. What was settled by decree in the matter of script was not so easy when it came to language. The British wanted a standardized Hindi to be developed in India. Hindustani—an eclectic mix of Hindi and Urdu—was ill-suited for the job.

An anecdote in Rai’s book shows that the British quest for a standardized language predates 1857. The then government’s education department’s annual report of 1846-47 talks about the principal of Benares College, J.R. Ballantyne, admonishing the students for leaving “the task of formulating the national language in the hands of villagers”. Ballantyne asks them to “get rid of the unprofitable diversity of provincial dialects” and create a standard literature. His remarks were a response to a student’s argument that they did not clearly understand what the Europeans meant by Hindi as “there are hundreds of dialects, all in our opinion equally entitled to the name”.

Soon the question of language spilled into the domain of politics. Competing Hindu and Muslim elites wanted to purge their standardized languages of Persian and Sanskrit words. Herein began the communalization of Hindi and Urdu. Once this binary gained momentum, hundreds of dialects “which were entitled to Hindi” became collateral damage. Anybody who opposed this was branded a traitor. Rai cites Nathuram Godse’s final testimony, where he lists Gandhi’s opposition to Sanskritized Hindi as one of the reasons for killing him.

This history is extremely relevant today. Attempts and proclamations to impose Hindi are threatening to rekindle the fires of anti-Hindi agitations of the 1950s and 1960s.

There is not enough opposition to these sectarian ploys from within the cultural and intellectual world of Hindi. As a result, the entire Hindi-speaking population is being branded as language chauvinist.

This is not surprising in the context of the preceding discussion. The biggest victim of a monolithic Hindi project has been Hindi itself. Under the garb of building a mega narrative for nation and culture, our inherent diversity has been pushed to the margins. Rai quotes Hindi poet Sudama Pandey Dhoomil’s powerful articulation of this tragedy, which was written in the 1960s:

Tumhara yeh Tamil-dukh

Meri iss Bhojpuri peeda ka

bhai hai

Bhasha uss tikdami darinde ka kaur hai

(Your Tamil pain

Is brother to my Bhojpuri pain—

Language is merely a morsel for the deceitful beast...)

Of course, the problem is easier to discuss than solve. Within the Hindi academia, there is a polarized debate on whether advancing the cause of languages, such Bhojpuri and Magadhi, would weaken the status of Hindi itself. The hegemony of Hindi is useful when lobbying for more official patronage.

I, personally, am not sure whether including Magadhi in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution (Maithili was added in 2004) or opening a couple of university departments would address the problems which were discussed at the beginning of the piece. Can such policy changes solve the growing demographic alienation from the language?

Will somebody make a Bhojpuri or Magadhi film which would be screened in a south Delhi multiplex in the next five years? Can the Hindi-belt elite rise above caste politics to promote a secular, yet vernacular, popular culture? What does Hindi-speaking India stand to lose if this diversity is allowed to erode with time? Is our political class worried about it?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the most influential mass leader in our country today, understands the importance of this diversity. On 27 October 2013, Modi addressed the Hunkar rally in Patna to launch his 2014 campaign in Bihar. He made it a point to utter a couple of sentences in Bhojpuri, Magadhi and Maithili—three of Bihar’s major dialects.The crowd, like it always does for Modi, cheered.

Unfortunately, there is nothing to suggest so far that Modi’s political prowess on the issue can undo the damage which has happened due to the push for a Sanskritized and hegemonic Hindi by his fellow-travellers.

Kerala woman converts to Islam, then ‘returns’ to hinduism

After Athira left her home in Kasargod in July, the Kerala HC had granted her custody to her parents.

When 23-year-old Athira, a Hindu woman from Kerala's Kasargod district, spoke to media in July, she was clad in a hijab and confidently said that she had converted to Islam upon her own free will.

Months later on Thursday, Athira addressed the media a second time. This time, the hijab was gone, and Athira appeared with a bindi and kumkum on her forehead. She was no longer the Islam convert woman who took the name Ayesha, but Athira, who believes in Hindu religion, she said.

"Om Namah Sivaya," Athira began, while addressing the press meet in Kochi on Thursday.

Athira had left her home in the first week of July, leaving a 15-page letter explaining that she was going to study Islam. On July 27, she surrendered before Kannur police and a local court sent her to a state home for women.

Her parents then moved Kerala High Court, seeking her custody. It was granted after Athira said that she was willing to go with her parents, as long as they did not object to her practicing Islam.

Speaking to media on Thursday, Athira said that her Muslim friends had misguided her into believing in Islam.

"They told me that it was stupid to worship a stone, an idol and that Hinduism has many gods, while Islam has only one supreme god. They instilled this doubt in me. When they said that, I felt very curious about it and when I thought about it, I felt what they said was right," she said.

Soon, her friends began giving her books on Islam, Athira said. "One of them was about hell. The description of hell in that book was so scary, that I lost my sleep for several nights. I began thinking that if I don't follow Islam, then I will have to go through that hell."

Apart from this, Athira claimed that her friends gave her several reading material including a book on coverted women and also watched speeches made by Zakir Naik.

"I was convinced that Islam was a better religion. I blindly believed that my religion was bad," Athira said.

According to her, she got in touch with an Ustad in Malappuram through a friend, after which, she was added to a WhatsApp group called "Hidayat sisters."

She said that there had been only 6 or 7 people in that group and one of the girls began texting her personally.

"She grew close to me and has stayed at my home also. After interacting with her, what I understood is that she converted to Islam because she was in love with a Muslim boy," she said.

Converting her parents
Apart from reading more about Islam, Athira said that at one point, she also tried to convince her parents to convert.

"I started telling them that Islam was the only true religion. When they didn't get convinced, I began to be very angry with them. Because according to Islam, non-believers are khafirs. In Quran, it is said that if your parents don't believe in Islam, you needn't show love to them," she said.

The decision to leave home
According to Athira, she knew her parents would protest if she started dressing differently or started praying in the Islamic way. Her friends then told her about three Islamic institutions where she can study the religion, Athira told reporters.

"They told me I will get certificate from one centre in Ponnani, Tharbiat-ul sabha and Sathyasarani. I was oblivious to my parents' suffering".

She also spoke about a Siraj, a worker of Popular Front of India (PFI), who she claims, helped her with everything. She said that people including Siraj instructed her on how she should give her statement in court, when her family files a complaint.

"People of Hindu helpline helped my parents and told us about Arsha Vidya Samajam in Ernakulam. They didn't force me at all, but gave me right information. They told me that I should re-read Quran with an open mind and I didn't get the same feeling I used to get before. When I read it rationally, I had many doubts," she said.

Following this, she said that she took interest in learning Hinduism in detail and enrolled at the Samajam.

"Nobody there forced me to reconvert but they urged me to read Quran with an open mind and I realised what I had believed about Islam was not right," she said.

(Source: TNM)