Showing posts from July, 2020

Book review: A Burning by Megha Majumdar

Days before Safoora Zargar, the Jamia Millia Islamia student in jail for protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, is denied bail for a third time, and while protests against the murder of George Floyd, an African-American man, are spreading across the USA, I am on a video call with Megha Majumdar.  A Burning , by Megha Majumdar Reviewed by Paromita Chakrabarti  The buzz around the 32-year-old New Yorker’s debut novel, A Burning (Rs 599, Penguin Hamish Hamilton), that releases tomorrow, has been dizzying long before its publication. Generous blurbs by Amitav Ghosh and Yaa Gyasi have lauded the book as a zeitgeist of our times; James Wood of The New Yorker remarked on its “extraordinary directness and openness to life” that lays out a patchwork of inequalities in which we might recognise the patterns of our communal lives. Yet, there’s a strangeness to this time in which fiction’s grip over reality has begun to appear jaded. As an incessant stream of horrors in our

Bethan McKernan - Challenge accepted: Turkish feminists spell out real meaning of hashtag

Feminists in Turkey have called on the rest of the world not to forget the original context of Instagram’s #challengeaccepted trend, which was supposed to draw attention to  sky- rocketing rates of gender-based violence  in the country before it was co-opted by western celebrities.  Femicide, violence against women and so-called “honour” killings are deeply rooted issues in Turkey.  Last week, the country was rocked by the brutal killing of  Pınar Gültekin , a 27-year-old student, who was allegedly killed by an ex-boyfriend.  Campaigners are also deeply worried about fresh efforts by  President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ’s ruling party to repeal a Council of Europe treaty known as the Istanbul convention, groundbreaking legislation from 2011 that protects victims of domestic and gender-based violence and effectively prosecutes offenders. Marches in four Turkish cities last week mourning Gültekin’s death and calling on Turkish politicians to uphold the  Istanbul  convention  were

John Dayal - Modi and Sangh shape education in their own mould // Pratap Bhanu Mehta: Text of education policy artfully navigates several thickets

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has saved us all a lot of time writing long critiques, with its admission that the Education Policy the Union Cabinet approved in the silence of the Covid catastrophe bears its imprint. The Sangh’s several spokespersons focussed on the mother tongue - a polite phrase to mean the official language of a state, and not really the tongue spoken at home such as Maithili in parts of Bihar or Kui, of the Kondhs of Kandhamal - as the medium of education at the primary level. This was an early climbdown after Tamil Nadu rejected early attempts to foist Hindi. But the education policy bears the Sangh stamp much through its dreary path.  More posts on education It also bears Mr Modi’s distinct stamp, of course, who wants the Indian mind purged of all the garbage that Jawaharlal Nehru dreamt for the people of the newly independent India back in 1947.   The vicious attacks in recent months on the many giants who led the Education Ministry, among them Maulana A

Siberia's enormous hole in the ground is getting bigger

A large crater in Siberia is getting bigger due to the way permafrost interacts with the environment.  It is helping scientists understand more about past climates and how the permafrost is reacting to a warming world. By  Melissa Hogenboom & Griesham Taan

Anna Turns: Small crustacean can fragment microplastics in four days, study finds

Small crustaceans can fragment microplastics into pieces smaller than a cell within 96 hours, a  study has shown . Until now, plastic fragmentation has been largely attributed to slow physical processes such as sunlight and wave action, which can take years and even decades. Environmental scientists at University College Cork (UCC) in Ireland studying the 2cm-long amphipod  Gammarus duebeni  found that microplastic beads were not only ingested but were also fragmented incredibly quickly into nanoplastics. Because these fragments are small enough to pass through cell walls, it is thought they are likely to be potentially more damaging to wildlife than microplastics of up to 5mm in size. Dr Alicia Mateos-Cárdenas, the lead author of the research published in  Scientific Reports , said that her findings were “completely unexpected”. “When I started studying this three years ago, it sounded so crazy that such small animals could be fragmenting plastics but our research shows that pl

Book review: Imperialism and Culture in South Vietnam

The military officers who murdered South Vietnamese president Ngô Đình Diệm in 1963 and the Americans who urged them on subsequently propagated a view of this man that has become a cliché in virtually every book written about the Vietnam War: he was a tyrant with obscure and self-absorbed ideas whose autocratic and repressive policies provoked an insurgency against his own government - he was the architect of his own demise. This idea served the purposes of nearly everyone: the rulers of North Vietnam, the Americans, and the South Vietnamese who justified their rule by having overthrown him. Duy Lap Nguyen.  The Unimagined Community: Imperialism and Culture in South Vietnam.    Reviewed by  Keith Taylor During the past twenty years, scholars have published studies that portray Ngô Đình Diệm in a somewhat less dismal light. But the thoughts and aims of both the man and his domestic critics have remained elusive—until now. In 

Gauri Lankesh’s Kannada news website banned by Facebook?

Slain journalist Gauri Lankesh continues to strike so much fear in the hearts of right-wing extremists, even from beyond the grave, that they now appear to have used their influence to have a website launched a year after her death blocked from sharing content on Facebook! , a Kannada news website, has allegedly been blocked from Facebook. An official statement released by the team that brings out the digital publication says, “Facebook has blocked Gaurilankesh media's Kannada website completely.” It appears the website's links shared on Facebook were mass reported and thus flagged by the platform for having allegedly violated community standards. The statement says, “This is a dark day. We tried our best to communicate to FB that naanugauri(dot)com is a reputed and respected news website. Its not just adhering to FB community standards, we try to follow Journalistic ethics to our best possible effort and we publish content which is always verified and chec

Bharat Bhushan: India may find it difficult to counter increasing Chinese influence in Bangladesh

NB: This is especially ironic because of India's role in the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent country; and China's furious opposition to the break-up of Pakistan in 1971. China even used its veto to block Bangladesh's entry into the UNO in August 1972. (India had supported China's membership of the Security Council).  DS India has gone into overdrive to initiate new projects in Bangladesh and improve cross-border trade. This week it delivered ten broad-gauge locomotives to Dhaka, and earlier this month, that is, July 2020, it launched a multi-modal transport link opening up supply lines from Chittagong port to its northeastern states. This is in the wake of China’s successful economic diplomacy. China announced tariff exemptions for 97 percent of all exports from Bangladesh (excluding narcotics-based products) from 1 July 2020.  This decision addressed Bangladesh’s yawning trade deficit with China and the economic hardships caused by the pandemic. Bei

Finian Cunningham: US Arrogance is a Gas

" Information Clearing House " -  Washington’s arrogance is so out of control it has become impossibly absurd. It is astounding just how "exceptional" American politicians are at spouting double-think and contradictions without even the slightest shame or self-awareness. In a keynote  speech last week , US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo admonished European so-called allies to join Washington in its recklessly confrontational stance towards China. Pompeo, using anachronistic Cold War rhetoric, asserted that the "free world" must be defended against a "new tyranny" based in Beijing. This is while the US Congress is unleashing more severe economic sanctions over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline which could hit over 100 European companies to the tune of €12 billion in financial losses if the European Union proceeds with the ambitious Russian energy partnership.  That’s  according to Oliver Hermes , chairman of the German Eastern Business Associa

Donald Trump is an accessory to mass murder // The consequences of inequality can be fatal

Donald Trump has willfully botched our national response to this pandemic. We have lost over 150,000 American lives over the past five months and all Trump can say is, “We are in the process of developing a strategy.” Another lie. Trump’s plan has been in plain view from the very beginning: to deny, to scapegoat, to gaslight, and to kill. Trump decided early on that losing American lives to COVID-19 was palatable and even preferable to acknowledging the devastating and deadly force of this pandemic. He did not want his re-election chances to be hurt by an economic downturn due to the virus. So, in January and February Trump did not heed at least 12 warnings from governmental agencies about the impending pandemic. His public statements to us were dismissive mistruths:  “We have it totally under control,”  “It’s going to be just fine,” and “Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus…this is their new hoax.” Trump was warned about the worldwide pandemic, but he responde

Towards Universal Health Coverage? Two decades of health reforms in India

A survey of reforms in health policies in India over the past two decades – actually a string of privatisation policies – indicates that we have moved away from and not towards Universal Health Coverage. What then needs to be done?  T K Sundari Ravindran, Neena Elezebeth Philips take stock of two decades of health reforms in India The Covid-19 pandemic has cast the spotlight on India's public health system and its many weaknesses. The public health system has been stretched beyond its limited resources, struggling to carry out the complex tasks of preventing, testing, and treating millions. The media is replete with heart-rending stories of persons being denied services not only in the overstretched government hospitals but also in well-resourced private hospitals.  India’s claims of pursuing Universal Health Coverage (UHC) that would guarantee quality health care by public and private hospitals to the poorest households through an ambitious set of reforms, including Ayushman

Biswajit Dhar, KS Chalapati Rao: India’s Economic Dependence on China

India cannot afford to cut its economic links with China since imports from its northern neighbour dominate sections of the economy, especially in electronics and pharmaceutical intermediates. This is the result of the neglect of domestic industry for decades. Since May 2020, India and China have been in their worst face-off in decades along the Himalayas, yet another stark reminder that the world’s two most populous nations have a fragile relationship. When 20 Indian jawans lost their lives in clashes with China’s People’s Liberation Army, the fault lines in India’s economic relationship with its northern neighbour were out in the open. Passions are running high in India; shrill demands have been made for boycotting Chinese products and prohibiting investments. There are two issues here. First, how feasible or practical is it to boycott Chinese products altogether, given that India has developed a significant level of dependence on imports from China? Second, we need to under

Ai Weiwei: History of Bombs review – high-impact reminder of our insatiable desire for destruction

The bomb reproduced in a life-sized 3D image on the floor of the Imperial War Museum seems almost comical – so big and clumsy, like something out of an old film of a Jules Verne story. Surely this monster was never used. But the Soviet Union’s Tsar Bomba, the most powerful nuclear weapon ever created, was once detonated. Suspended beneath a bomber because it was too big to fit inside, it was  dropped over the Barents  Sea  and exploded with a force of 57 megatonnes, more than 1,500 times the combined strength of the two atomic bombs America dropped on Japan. Ai Weiwei’s History of Bombs is an artwork about incalculable destruction in the form of an encyclopaedic collection of bombs and missiles, depicted with clinical precision across the floor of the Imperial War Museum’s central hall and flowing up a staircase. At a time when the world is quaking from a natural pandemic, he reminds us of our mind-boggling capacity to obliterate ourselves. It’s a mesmerising piece of popular histo

Peter Daszak: We are entering an era of pandemics – it will only end when we protect the rainforest

In late 2013, in the village of Meliandou in rural Guinea, a group of children playing near a hollow tree disturbed a small colony of bats hiding inside. Scientists think that Emile Ouamouno, who later became the first tragic “index” case in the west African  Ebola outbreak , was likely exposed to bat faeces while   playing near the tree. Every pandemic starts like this. An innocuous human activity, such as eating wildlife, can spark an outbreak that leads to a pandemic. In the 1920s, when  HIV  is thought to have emerged in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, scientists believe transmission to humans could have been caused by a bushmeat hunter cutting themselves while butchering a chimpanzee. In 2019, we can speculate that a person from south-west China entered a bat cave near their village to hunt wildlife for sale at the local wet market. Perhaps they later developed a nagging cough that represents the beginning of what we now know as Covid-19.   Now, a growi

America's 'untouchables': the silent power of the caste system. By Isabel Wilkerson

I n the winter of 1959, after leading the Montgomery bus boycott that arose from the arrest of  Rosa Parks  and before the trials and triumphs to come, Martin Luther King Jr and his wife, Coretta, landed in India, in the city then known as Bombay, to visit the land of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of nonviolent protest. They were covered in garlands upon arrival, and King told reporters: “To other countries, I may go as a tourist, but to India I come as a pilgrim.” He had long dreamed of going to India, and they stayed an entire month. King wanted to see for himself the place whose fight for freedom from British rule had inspired his fight for justice in America. He wanted to see the so-called “untouchables”, the lowest caste in the ancient Indian caste system, whom he had read about and had sympathy for, but who had still been left behind after  India  gained its independence the decade before. Anil Nauriya: The making of Gandhi in South Africa and after He discovered that

The revolutionary boat powered by the ocean. By Rina Diane Caballar

The trimaran is a common sight on Philippine waters. The country pioneered this design in its early warships, then adopted it for its traditional sailboats and fishing boats. As an island nation, the Philippines relies on watercraft – boats, ferries and cargo ships – to transport people and goods across its more than 7,000 islands. But its fleet of cargo and passenger ships are one of the biggest contributors to the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.  In 2012, transportation accounted for the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country’s energy sector , after heating and electricity. Globally,  9% of all transport emissions came from international and coastal shipping in 2010 . That’s a small figure next to the 72% that came from road transport, but it puts shipping on a similar level to aviation, which made up 10.6% of transport emissions. And with the  volume of world sea trade projected to grow at a rate of 3.8% a year to 2023 , emissions from the shippin