How to Live a More Sustainable Life Living in a City

It is easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed when you live in a city and try to save the environment. In an ideal world we would have loads of land and plant hundes of trees and grow all our own food. However, living in an apartment building can make that fantasy a lot harder.

Here are a few tips to live a more sustainable life living in the city.

Reduce, don’t just recycle

In the pecking order of the green movement, refuse precedes everything. If you can refuse it, you don’t need to reduce, rethink, reuse, repair, repurpose or recycle it. Once promoted as the solution to our ever-growing needs, recycling today is a crumbling industry with a single-digit success rate. “On a personal level, we can all aim to reduce our own footprint with a diet that involves less import, and by reducing consumption, reusing whenever possible, mending what is broken, and engaging in a shared economy by renting or swapping,” suggests designer activist, Céline Semaan, who founded Slow Factory, a sustainability-focussed design lab. It’s to say, shop if you must, but boycott blind consumerism—it doesn’t make the world a happier place.

Ask for alternatives

Replaced the plastic bottles at home with glass? Now do the same outdoors. At hotels, ask for a filtered water jug instead of reaching out for the plastic bottles in the minibar. And frequent flyers, carry your own toiletries. CGH Earth’s Marari Beach Resort’s no-plastic policy has prevented 1,09,528 plastic bottles and 36,250 straws from annually polluting the earth. Others like ITC Hotels follow suit, as they are driven to eliminate over 150 categories of single-use plastics (toiletries, water bottles and so on) that most hotels use in their day-to-day functioning. “The world is changing, and we must steer that change in a positive direction. From January 2020 onwards, ITC Hotels will be replacing all plastic bottles with glass bottles in the rooms, restaurants and at the back end,” says Nakul Anand, executive director at ITC Ltd, about their Sunya Aqua programme.

Build your plastic-free arsenal

Even before straws became the 21st century manifestation of evil, lawyer-turned-environment champion Afroz Shah had formed a handy kit to eliminate single-use plastic. Travel with a bag (I keep the IKEA Frakta in the boot), for any unplanned shopping that comes your way, and fill it with a glass or steel strawcoffee mugcutlery, and water bottle, just like Shah, a UN Environment’s Champion of the Earth and one of CNN’s Heroes of 2019.

Save a tree

Even if you’re militant about your plastic usage, depending on paper isn’t the way to go. Tissues and used paper towels cannot be recycled the way printed paper can. At home, switch to reusable cloth or bamboo towels instead of disposable cleaning wipes. At hotels, use reusable towels and hand dryers over paper. In office, print pages on both sides with a single-space setting.

Offset your travel footprint

Nothing is guilt-free anymore, not even a holiday. Travel, one of the fastest growing sectors in India (we are among the top five nations with the largest travel carbon footprint), is also a rising pollutant. To balance the damage your flight does to the planet, pick a direct flight (planes burn the most fuel during take-off ) or sign up for a carbon offset programme with your airline that will financially support green projects, or companies like Climate Care, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions by investing in pollution-reduction technologies.

Incorporate green meals

If Leonardo DiCaprio couldn’t change you, should we even try? Raising livestock produces more greenhouse gas each year than every car, ship, plane and train combined, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. Switch to a plant-based diet, at least for a few days a week, if not altogether. Need more inspiration? This month, the fanciest gathering of people—first at the Golden Globes and now the Critics’ Choice awards—came together for a meat and dairy-free dinner. Eating healthy is easy. As the author activist Michael Pollan puts it, “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”

Recycle old gadgets

If Alexa wakes you up, G Suite works with you through the day and Siri puts you to sleep, you are using way too many devices. But in this digital age, when repairing doesn’t resurrect and your trusted electronics die, make sure you dispose of them responsibly. Management experts warn against dumping them all in your garbage— after all, electronics comprise a laundry list of toxic metals. According to the Global E-Waste Monitor 2017, India generated over 20 lakh tonnes of e-waste (a number that will grow by 500 per cent by this year) and recycled only five per cent of it. Look up your local e-waste drop-off points or contact electronic stores like Croma, which feature drop-off e-waste kiosks at every outlet across India, and even offer a pick-up service for the same.

Attend a clothes swap

On average, an item of clothing is worn seven times before it hits a landfill. Aimed at creating mindful consumption, clothes swapping initiatives like The Exchange Room (Bengaluru), This For That (Delhi) and Swap at Sadhana Dell ’Arte (Goa) are attempting to slow down the fast fashion cycle by giving them a longer life. If shopping is your serotonin, you may not go shop-free for a year like the viral Extinction Rebellion campaign urges people to, but skip the mall this year in favour of a pre-loved item. It’s easier on the pockets and the planet. “We started in 2014 with just 10 swappers and now have a community of over 2,000 like-minded women,” says Prithvi Rao of Exchange Room, whose last event sold 1,200 pre-loved items in just four hours.

Use less energy

As children, we were taught to turn the light off every time we left a room. Bring back these lessons into your adult life. Unplug electronic appliances when not in use. Switch to compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs), which use 75 per cent less energy and last 10 times longer. Invest in smart gadgets like the Powerslayer USB wall charger by Velvetwire, which protects a device from overcharging, overheating and wasting energy. Wash clothes in cold water—it uses 90 per cent less power. And sometimes, skip the gym for outdoor workouts. For bathrooms, devices like the Altered: Tap Nozzle are good investments, designed to reduce the use of water and energy with 85-98 per cent.

Try a green period

On average, a woman uses over 10,000 tampons or sanitary pads during her lifetime. In India, we dispose of over 43.2 crore pads every year, creating 9,000 tonnes of waste. While alternatives exist—environmentally friendly brands like Carmesi and Heyday, reusable zero-chemical pads by Rebelle and EcoFemme—it’s the menstrual mindset that needs a reboot. The next time you wrinkle your nose at a menstrual cup—the rinse-and-reuse silicone cup that lasts up to 10 years—consider that if your great-great-great-great grandmother had used a sanitary napkin 500 years ago, that plastic would still be here!

Don’t get greenwashed

The downside of sustainability becoming a buzzword is that everyone wants a piece of the green pie. Even as fast fashion, the billion-dollar empire fuelled by rampant consumerism, continues to eat up our planet, unscrupulous conglomerates ‘greenwash’ buyers with unsubstantiated marketing tactics and claims of being environmentally friendly. As Hasan Minhaj says in Patriot Act, it’s time we call the bluff. If your T-shirt company tells you it’s good for the environment without comprehensive data, dig deeper. “The problem with the fashion industry’s solution to turning plastic bottles into thread, and later, a fleece or a polyester item, is that once washed, these items release microplastics. So we are taking a visible plastic bottle and returning it into the ocean as invisible particles,” points out Semaan of Slow Factory.

Weekly Update: China-India By-Bye; Only In India, Two Parliaments; Law Is Politics

India and China are on their 12th round of what they both like to say ‘talks’. Neither country is run by armies. China is a one party State. Leadership emerges through the political ladder. Decisions are made by the political leadership. India is a democracy. Its leaders emerge through the political process.

The normal protocol for issues to be resolved between countries is through a political dialogue. Yet it is the armies of both countries that are engaged in the process of withdrawing from flash points.

Admittedly talks between the two foreign Ministers did take place, the Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. This happened early in July at Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Surely the principles and the landmarks would have been decided between Beijing or Delhi. All that the armies have to do is get on with it, left foot first or right foot first depending which side of the new cold war one is. Yet talks after talks there is some hitch and the feet don’t move.

The number of dispute areas have metamorphosed like the Covid virus. There were only two areas in 1960s, now there are over 10 hotspots.

The 12th round of talks is about a small part. The larger Depsang Plains further North are not even mentioned. Here Chinese troops have been preventing Indian jawans from accessing their usual patrolling stations. This is near the Karakoram Pass.

It’s clear that the terms, pace and method of engagement is being determined by China. It is gradually wearing down India. China wants to carry on with its CPEC road project through Pakistan and protect it from any Indian attacks in future. Until it feels assured that India won’t interfere with that, we are likely to see 13th, 14th and so on talks between military hierarchies of both countries. Not to forget the elephant in the discussion room between the Indian and Chinese Commanders, the United States with its own strategic policy casting a shadow on any bilateral Sino-Indian talks.

Happens Only In India

There is the Lok Sabha and there is the Kisan Sansad, a mock parallel Parliament of farmers. Kisan Sansad is not quite elected by universal franchise, vote cheating or fisticuffs. It’s been a gentle process. Farmers wanting to push Modi to reverse his farm laws, have been at pains to ensure their protest remains peaceful and lawful.

The Sansad (Kisan one) has repealed some of the laws. It even had a ladies day with all members being ladies. A 100% ladies Lok Sabha might not be a bad idea. They might bring pragmatism and policies to feed the population rather than feed superpower ambitions.

Meanwhile, Modiji who first tried adopting the persona of a vegetarian version of Raksasha, the terrible, soon found that the Constitution does not cater for Rakshasas anymore. Times have changed since Vedic days. Moreover the International community went tut tut. So Modi backed off.

Now Modiji seems relaxed. He has realised its all about votes. No point in being ‘Fury with a Sadhu look’. His new wardrobe incarnation is a sadhu or perhaps even a demi god look. It might catch on as the fashion iconology of the year. Imagine Biden and Boris in one. Xi certainly won’t try it. Imran Khan has his own ‘salwar kameez’ look.

Meanwhile, farmers have reached some sort of a plateau in their campaign and adopting innovative ways to keep the media attention. Jantar Mantar is an apt name for the Sansad. They haven’t quite leveraged the international community.  They are also hoping victory will come at the polls. Narendar Singh, a former Agriculture Minister in Bihar said this is a revolution.

Only in India, with all its idiosyncrasies and polarities can one have two parliaments at the same time without violence or crackdown or charges of sedition.  At the same time, only in India can a sedition charge be masted on one’s head if someone says something nasty about dear leader Modiji while having Article 19, the freedom of expression.

Ultimately, Law Is Politics

If there is any evidence needed that the law is merely a tool in the broader cloud of politics, the United States enquiry/no enquiry on the 6th January Capitol Hill insurrection is it.  Everybody with a TV, smart phone or gadget to look at news, saw what happened. The faces of the insurgents and the speeches and tweets of those encouraging them are in the public domain. Not even hidden. But no enquiry to who threatened law and order or even worse, the democratic fabric of the country always bleating on about democracy and human rights.

The law in its finality is made by politicians in elected chambers or by politburos. It’s the politicians who decide what will constitute crime, fraud, rape, violence etc and in some cases who gets thrown in jail. They then put it in circulation. The lawyers work within that frame. There is no such thing as natural law. Go and stand in front of a lion and say, ‘I have a right to life’. Nature does not observe man’s law. Man’s law is made by man. Simple.

The USA that wants a rule-based international order and countries around the world to have constitutions and proper legal instruments based on human rights principles, obviously believes that, ‘do as the Mullah says, not as the Mullah does’.

To prove the point of politics as the source of order, law and arbiter of legitimacy,, the ultimate city crier of law and order, the US Republican party is opposing any enquiry into how the insurrection occurred, who was responsible for inciting and organising and who bears responsibility for breaking the law!

Statues of justice with a blindfolded lady really need to have a small figure of a male politician with a chain on her foot to portray the honest state of affairs. At least in USA and in motherland India. In both countries politics interprets the interpretation and even frames the scope of interpretation. Work that out, My Lords.  In fact in most countries. Ask Russians and Brexited Europe.

But there is some honesty, somewhere. The High Court of Rajasthan has the figure of Manu depicting Indian justice. Manu was quite a misogynist with clear ideas on roles and duties of women. Moreover he seems to have handed quite a bit of arbitrary power to the ruler, now the politician. That is the reality of law in India.

Just as in US, the Republicans can stop a criminal enquiry into the perpetrators of January insurrection, Indian politicians are able to stop enquiries on rapes carried by them. It’s a united world of politicians.

Travel with a Smaller Carbon Footprint

The news is flooded with images from all over the globe of natural disasters that happened due to climate change. It is easy to feel helpless and feel as though you as a single person on the planet of 8billion people can feel small changes they make will make no difference.

We have spoken with Extinction Rebellion and Friends of the earth and made a list of the thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint and save our home.

We will release a list every week on different aspects of your life you can alter to make sure you are being more environmentally friendly.

While countries around the world start to reopen in the next few months, we should educate ourselves better on how to travel more mindfully. We cannot go back to ‘normal’ as normal is killing our planet. We need to have a new approach to travel as we emerge from this pandemic

  1. Take the slower route– avoid flying if it is possible- while flying is a lot more attractive and is quicker it is the worst way to travel for the environment. If we start to take trains and buses, we will make a massive positive difference to the climate.

2. If you do have to get a plane then be as wasteless as possible– Airline passengers generate over 5.7 million tonnes of cabin waste per year, says the International Air Transport Association – so how can we put a dent in that? Carbon offsetting isn’t enough. Say no to the plastic-wrapped blankets and headphones provided on flights (bring your own instead) and ask the crew to fill up your water bottle instead of using disposable cups.

3. Bring your own water bottle– Investing in a reusable water bottle is an easy first step to avoiding single-use plastic: look to Camelbak or Nalgene for lightweight and durable BPA-free bottles. If water quality is a worry in your destination, try a self-filtering Water-to-Go bottle. Its in-built filters remove 99.9% of microbiological contaminants, so you can fill them up from any non-saltwater source.

4. Be a litter picker– Next time you’re hiking or biking, do some litter picking as you go. It’s an easy way to do your bit and helps to spread awareness in destinations that aren’t so hot on environmental issues.

5. Turn the lights off– ever noticed when you enter a hotel room and find the lights blazing, the ceiling fan whirling, and even – for some unfathomable reason – the television playing to itself. It’s time to have a quiet word with the hotel manager about housekeeping’s aversion to off switches. They might not notice one complaint, but perhaps the message will get through if we all say something.

6. Make ethical food choices– Make a beeline for family-owned restaurants, and always opt for locally sourced dishes rather than imported fare: the fewer food miles the better. But beware of some delicacies.

7. Let your money do the talking when you book tour guides– Before you book your trip, quiz your tour operator. What’s its stance on environmental issues such as single-use plastic and carbon offsetting? Does it support any charities – and how does it ensure any wildlife experiences are sustainable? 

8. If you are staying in a hotel do you really need fresh bedding and a towel every day? Maybe, writing ‘don’t replace!’ sticky notes, or even bringing your own. 

9. Buy sustainable souvenirs– Think twice before buying that seashell trinket or those feather earrings. You might surmise the environmental damage has already been done, but buying the product is simply encouraging the vendor to source more

10. Bring biodegradable shower wash– Your shower run-off could be discarded into water sources or used to irrigate crops – with those chemically derived suds tainting the environment and aquatic food chain. 

11. Stop flushing toilet paper– if the WC asks you not to flush the toilet, listen to it. When nature calls, do your business responsibly. If you’re staying in a hotel or homestay where the plumbing can’t cope with toilet paper, always put it in the bin provided: one reckless flush could wreck the entire sewage system.

Stay tuned next week for our take on how to reduce your carbon footprint and save the planet while living in a city.

Is phone-tapping par for the course? And is Covid a more deadly virus for the economy

The news that hundreds of Indian phone numbers appeared on a list selected for surveillance by clients of NSO Group, an Israeli firm, rocked political and media circles last week. The reaction, predictably, was one of high indignation. One international publication even labelled it as “India’s Watergate moment”. But first, the facts. Last Sunday, the Pegasus project, a consortium of media including the Guardian, Washington Post, Die Zeit, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Le Monde, and the Indian digital publication, Wire,  revealed that government clients around the world had used hacking software developed and sold by Israeli surveillance firm, NSO Group, to target human rights activists, journalists, and lawyers.

Among the government clients was the Indian government. It was revealed that of the 50,000 phone numbers that were targeted by the phone spyware, more than 300 belonged to Indian politicians, journalists, and human rights activists. International and domestic media organisations–the former more than the latter–were quick to issue a scathing condemnation of the tapping of phones by governments, including in India, which prides itself as the largest democracy in the world. 

The Israeli firm says it licenses the software to government agencies only to combat terrorism and other serious crimes. In India, its use has been for other reasons: among those whose numbers appear on the database are politicians (belonging to the opposition as well as the ruling regime); journalists; activists who oppose the ruling regime; and others. 

The outrage over the Pegasus Project’s revelation is understandable. Phone-tapping is a violation of the privacy of the extreme kind. Last week, the Editors’ Guild of India, which has the twin objectives of protecting press freedom and raising the standards of editorial leadership of newspapers and magazines, demanded a Supreme Court supervised inquiry into the Pegasus controversy. Opposition parties to have been up in arms. The Indian government has, predictably, denied any misdoing. India’s home minister Amit Shah has attempted to dismiss it as a “report for disruptors for the obstructors”, implying that it is an attempt by obstructers who are foreign organisations that do not like India to progress and disruptors who are Indians who are opposed to the government.

Be that as it may, the fact is that phone-tapping and other means of surveillance of opposition leaders, journalists, activists, and others, have a very long history in India. 

Long before the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, phones of prominent individuals were routinely tapped by successive Congress-led regimes. Way back in 2010, the senior BJP leader L.K.Advani attacked the then Congress-led UPA government, alleging that it was tapping the phones of senior political leaders in what he described as the “return of Emergency”. 

Unfortunately, cynical as it may sound, phone tapping and other means of surveillance by governments are routine procedures followed by India’s authorities–they could be governments, both at the centre and in various states; and they could be investigating agencies. Way back in 1988, a chief minister of Karnataka had to resign after charges were brought against him of tapping phones of many of his opponents as well as allies; in 1989 when V.P. Singh was the Prime Minister, it was alleged that his government was tapping the phones of rivals. More recently, in 2010, at least 100 tapes of recorded telephonic conversations between a corporate lobbyist (Niira Radia) and politicians, journalists, and businessmen, were leaked, creating a furor. In reply to a Right to Information query in 2013,  it was revealed that around 9,000 phones and 500 email accounts were monitored every month by the UPA government.

Sadly, and this is the most cynical cut to the entire sordid story, nothing really has changed. Few in Indian media or political circles, except for the haplessly naive, are surprised by the latest allegation that the government has been using spyware to snoop on people. It is as if something that is grossly violative of personal space and the right to freedom of speech is accepted with a shrug–an attitude that doesn’t sit well with the principles of democracy that we often uphold with pride. 

Covid hurts the Indian economy hard

Quick, how many people in India live below the threshold of poverty? If you said 812 million, which is 60% of the population of India, you are, well, wrong. The World Bank considers anyone who lives on less than US$3.2 a day as being below the poverty line for lower and middle-income countries. And, pre-Covid, the number of people estimated to be below that line was 812 million.

Not any more. Projections based on analysis conducted at the United Nations University show that in the aftermath of the two waves of Covid, an additional 104 million Indians could fall below the poverty line.

It may seem heartless but although (officially), approximately 420,000 people are said to have died of Covid-related causes in India, it is not an alarming statistic. At least not so, relatively speaking. India’s deaths per million people are 301; the USA’s is 1879; Brazil’s is 2548, and Germany’s is 1094. Distilling down human suffering and deaths down to statistical comparisons can seem patently insensitive but the fact is India’s economy has been worse hit by Covid than its people have. 

That last sentence should be qualified because when the economy is hit, the people suffer. But Covid’s direct impact on the health and mortality of Indians is far less by many degrees than its indirect impact will be. Last year (the fiscal year that ended on 31st March), India’s GDP shrank by 7.3%. And, if 104 million Indians have joined the ranks of the extremely poor, which would then mean 65% of Indians are below the poverty line as defined by the World Bank, rest assured that many millions more have slid down the ladder of economic status. Many more millions have slipped from being in the higher segments of the middle-class to its lowest rungs. 

CNBC

Much of this can, conveniently, be attributed to the pandemic and its wrath but that would be wrong. India’s economic fundamentals are to blame. Its economic policies, which have been bereft of a long-term vision or big bang reforms, are to blame. When widely publicised news and visuals portrayed Indians gasping for oxygen and hospital beds, Covid showed how flimsy India’s healthcare infrastructure was. It has now shown how ramshackle its economy is.

Weekly Round Up: SC Finds Its Mojo; Power Marches In, Marches Out 2,50,000 Dead

Supreme Court And Its New-Found Mojo

The Supreme Court has so far been accused by almost everyone outside the Bhakt world, to be Modi’s kangaroo court (I ask My Lords’ pardon, I am only stating what people say), including the protesting farmers who refuse to take their case to SC. Such is the loss of confidence in their Lords, the Justices of India. But now the SC has suddenly found a bit of mojo to prove it is independent. It has challenged revered leader Modiji’s dream of becoming India’s ‘Dear Leader’ by rampart use of Indian Penal Code article 124A.

To the surprise of everyone, the Chief Justice of India N V Ramana has suggested that IPC article 124A, sedition, should be scrapped! What! Imagine Modi ji receiving this news. He probably summoned the Attorney General and ordered him to slap IPC 124A on the Justice. ‘Can’t be done Vasudev Maharaj, he is Chief Justice of India’.

Boldly, the CJ stated, “Sedition is a colonial law. It suppresses freedoms. It was used against Mahatma Gandhi, Tilak … is this law necessary after 75 years of independence?

That must have sent tremors in the esteemed IAS officers of Indian bureaucracy who probably thought in silence, ‘Umm, we have been running British Colonialism mark 2 all this time with help of sedition and anti-terrorist laws, police brutality and army interventions. Does this CJ understand India will break up if we give that up?’ The IAS was set up by the British and its purpose is to keep the system functioning as was intended.

But CJI went on, obviously raising some blood pressures in the Modi-Shah Government. “The use of sedition is like giving a saw to the carpenter to cut a piece of wood and he uses it to cut the entire forest itself”.  Is the SC turning seditious!

And then sort of ordering the Attorney General, Venugopa, “Your government is taking out a lot of state laws from the law books, why have they not looked into this”. Boom, Boom. Imagine the scene in Home Minister Amit Shah’s office.

Then the Chief Justice went on to rub the entire Bhakt world, “If one party does not like what the other is saying, Section 124A is used, it is a serious threat to the functioning of individuals and parties”. Will it undermine the fourth pillar of Hindutva advance by use of 124A.

There were 93 cases on ground of sedition in 2019 and perhaps a lot more in 2020. Only two have been successfully convicted. But the scars on the rest must have been deep and long waits for court hearings, mentally draining.

124A has been the cornerstone of Government oppression in many areas. This recent case included veteran journalist Vinod Dua who criticised Govt lockdown policy without adequate preparations when hundreds of thousands workers were forced to walk home for hundreds of miles. Govt couldn’t quite say ‘Fake News’ as BBC had reported it, so it clapped IPC 124A for attempt at disaffection.

Other famous cases in history have included Arundhiti Roy (2010), Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi (2012), climate activist Disha Ravi (2020) and JNU Students Union President Kanhaiya Kumar. In 2011 an entire village and some more, were charged with Sedition under 124A. In the protests in 2012-13 against Kudankuam Nuclear Power Plant, 9,000 people were arrested for ‘sedition’.

Not surprising when the law says “whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation or otherwise, brings or attempts into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India shall be punished with life imprisonment!”

With a law like this who needs a dictatorship. North Korea or China should consider becoming democracies to get away with complete suppression of dissent with this sort of law. Western human rights world wouldn’t even notice. After all it has been democratically enacted.

It’s not difficult to see why Modiji doesn’t like any criticism of his policy or character. He is simply upholding a democratic law in spirit and letter. That is what a leader is elected to do.

There is however a corollary. If somebody is convicted under a law still on statue, does the person have a permanent criminal record? If so, as Gandhi ji spent 6 years in prison under this law, and as this law has not been repealed by the wise and the great of Lok Sabha, is Gandhiji an ex criminal? We need a legal position on this.

Let us hope the Supreme Court mojo lasts a few more seconds. People may see that it has exorcised the Kangaroo image to a proper court. Or it could be that even the esteemed Judges have smelt that BJP isn’t invincible in elections.

USA Runs Away From Taliban After 20 Years

Being the most powerful is pointless if you lack stamina and can’t even bully a bunch of hill billies. The United States virtually walked into Afghanistan in 2001 meeting little resistance. They were against a rag tag army of the Taliban, hardly a version of the American ‘Universal Soldier’ with heavy metal, bulletproof everything, night vision equipment, satellite guided laser guns, supported by devastating air firepower, penetrating bombs blowing up deepest of secret tunnels and training that many an army would give anything for if it could afford. Yet twenty years later, with $850 Billion misspent, enough to give every poor American a free medicare for life, the best trained army has been forced to march out in the dark of the night.

The Americans wanted to ‘civilise’ the Afghan people with democracy, women rights and modern education. It would sound pious if it wasn’t that back in USA, millions of Black Americans, potential Democrat voters, have been denied votes by some administrative trickery. And the idea of a female President still shocks half of Americans.

The Taliban simply followed a long tradition of Afghans, particularly the Pashtuns. They get thrown out of their settled towns and villages only to return and chase away the enemy into history. They use the same tactic. They run to the hills, band together and then come back ferociously, persistently and tenaciously. With their home-made weapons, they haemorrhage the invader until the occupier finally decides that it’s not worth it. They did the same now. And they are quite content dying for this repeating sport. About 2,50,000 Afghans have died this time.

The irony of it is that a Taliban run State may yet put in place some form of democracy under a supreme leader after a few years. They will also provide education and jobs for women. The modern State requires some form of representation governance, otherwise missed warlords get angry. Modern economics cannot afford to feed half the population sitting at home, particularly if the State leadership wants the money to acquire big weapons, modern gadgets and have pothole-less roads to drive expensive cars on. It needs all hands to work.

All the same, American think tanks (tinker tanks) will write long articles justifying the crusade explaining how American intervention brought some form of democracy to Afghanistan and rights for women. It was all worth it depriving millions of fellow Americans free medical care. Next door Iran seems to have achieved democracy and women empowerment without American intervention and even by calling USA the devil.

Love in Lockdown

Relationships can be hard at the best of times, but how did existing couples keep the love during months of lockdowns, and how did people find love during lockdowns?

Relationships are fragile; sometimes it takes a great tragedy, such as a pandemic, to rip them apart. As told by the Indian Express, Neha, a Delhi-based software engineer broke up with her Jaipur-based boyfriend two months ago, owing to the stress of keeping up with a long-distance relationship in lockdown. They were slated to get married later this month.

Neha’s is not a case in isolation. Around the world, the ongoing health crisis has caused a spike in break-ups, along with marriages falling apart. In December 2020, a BBC report had mentioned that divorce applications and break-ups have been “skyrocketing across the UK”. Per the report, Stewarts, a leading British law firm, had logged a 122 per cent increase in enquiries between July 2020 and October 2020, compared with the same period last year. Additionally, Charity Citizen’s Advice also reported a surge in online searches from people seeking advice on how they can end a relationship.

Ever since the pandemic started last year — besides health-related issues — there have been one too many instances of couples feeling overwhelmed, having to stay locked at home for a prolonged period of time — with or without each other. This has led to emotional and mental health problems, which seem to have resurfaced this year.

According to Shahzeen Shivdasani, a relationship expert and millennial author of the book Love, Lust and Lemons, the pandemic has impacted relationships both for better and worse. “It has given people the time to pay close attention to their relationships. A lot many people have walked away from relationships, having realised they want different things out of life or are not compatible anymore. In some cases, the pandemic has also taught people to fight for their relationships and pay more attention to nurturing them,” she said.about:blankImageUpload an image file, pick one from your media library, or add one with a URL.UploadMedia LibraryInsert from URL

Concurring with her, relationship expert Dr Aarti Dahiya — and the founder of ‘Niyati by Aarti’ — offered that as per her observations, relations within families have improved, and have become better than usual, with people considering the efforts taken “by each member to contribute”. It has made people “more affectionate towards each other”. “Moreover, there is a well-known proverb, ‘Bad time shows the best relationships‘.”

And while this gives hope, Shivdasani said there have also been cases wherein unmarried couples have drifted apart, because of lack of physical intimacy. “The last few months have been about surviving another lockdown. A lot of people have feared the impact this would have on their relationships again, and how to make long-distance work. For single people, I have come across questions on how they are giving up on finding a partner as no matter how much you talk to someone online, you need physical intimacy, [along with the desire] to go on actual dates,” she told this outlet.

As is the case with relationships, there is always a flip side. While some may feel stuck with their partner, owing to a lack of social interaction with other people, others may find the distance deeply troubling. This could directly impact their mental health, leading to an aggravation of some already-existing issues.

Married versus unmarried

This has been a debate that has raged on from before the pandemic and has gained significant momentum in the past few months, especially in lockdown. As mentioned earlier, situational issues may vary from couple to couple. How things shape up for a married couple may totally differ from that of an unmarried couple looking to spend more time with each other but having to settle for online meetups instead.

Shivdasani said that for people who are dating, the questions are about “losing hope in love”, and if they “will ever find a partner if the pandemic continues”. A lot of single people are suffering from loneliness, she said. “For married couples, the most important question is how they can spend time together but also get their space while living in the same house.”

Aruba explained that every relationship has seen its own set of ups and downs filled with a lot of doubt during this pandemic. And while married couples were seen having issues being locked up together — having to share their privacy and not get enough time for themselves and their hobbies, social lives, or families — people who are unmarried had to deal with the distance, which led to misunderstandings.

Importance of nurturing relationships

Even in all this chaos, and especially because of it, it is important to have a more empathetic outlook towards relationships. Dr Dahiya said, “Creating a good atmosphere is needed during this pandemic time”. “Try to understand each other’s values and cooperate as much as you can; it will only bring happiness to your life. [Couples] should learn to enhance their skills and motivate their partner to do the same. I must say, there is ample time to learn and to be a better version of yourself, so that your partner can feel proud of you,” she advised.

Elaborating on this, Arouba added that it is important to realise the difference between a ‘feeling’ and a ‘state of mind’.

“It’s absolutely okay to feel sad but it’s not okay to be in that sadness for long. It doesn’t only affect you, it affects the people around you as well because they care. Reach out to a loved one and share your emotions with them. Communication is the key to maintaining any relationship. Sometimes, it’s important to seek professional consultation. Our mind is our strongest weapon and we can either let it consume us or let it direct us towards a more productive, happy and healthy lifestyle,” she said.

“Couples have already got a taste [of this extraordinary circumstance] from last year’s experience. They have realised if they survived this before, they can survive this again. It also speaks of the strength of their relationship, if they can get through this in the first place,” Shivdasani concluded.

Singapore PM wears turban during Gurudwara inauguration, greets people with Sat Sri Akaal

The Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong recently created a buzz on Twitter with his Sikh attire during the inauguration of the Silat Road Sikh temple in Singapore. A glimpse of the event, shared on Twitter, by Parminder Singh shows Loong wearing a turban and greeting the guests.

Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong. Credit: Reuters Photo Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday lauded the local Sikh community for providing support to people through various assistance programmes during the Covid-19 pandemic regardless of race, religion and background.

Wearing a white Sikh turban, Prime Minister Lee, who attended the inauguration ceremony of Silat Road Sikh Temple which was renovated during the pandemic, greeted the community members with a “Sat Sri Akal”. Prime Minister Lee said that places of worship.

Prime Minister Lee said that places of worship, including the Silat Road temple and other Gurdwaras, have had to cope with disruptions brought about by the pandemic.

“it has been a trying for the worshippers,” he noted.

Gurdwaras, along with other places of worship, have adapted to the various Covid-19 pandemic management measures such as by live-streaming services si hat devotees can still be part if a congregation, he said.

The response for the Sikh community has been incredible as some have said they are thrilled to see a world leader be so inclusive and see the world as one.

“Singapore Prime Minister, @leehsienloong inaugurated a newly renovated Gurudwara wearing an immaculate turban and greeting everyone with a perfect Sat Sri Akaal!” reads the caption shared alongside the clip of Lee Hsien Loong making his speech. The recording shows Loong standing atop a podium wearing a white turban and a black mask and giving a speech.

https://twitter.com/parrysingh/status/1411537768329539588?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1411537768329539588%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_c10&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.hindustantimes.com%2Ftrending%2Fsingapore-pm-wears-turban-during-gurudwara-inauguration-greets-people-with-sat-sri-akaal-101625548784672.html

Shared on July 4, the video has garnered over 47,800 views and the numbers are still increasing. People were amazed by the video and showered praises for Loong’s gesture.

“His respect for the hard-working & large-hearted Sikhs is appreciable. His father & he thereafter have made Singapore into a vibrant, honest Country,” wrote a Twitter user. “Looks like a perfect Sikh with an immaculately tied turban,” commented another.

Weekly Update: A Pragmatic Stalin & Predators of Press Freedom

Recently, The Economist called him the Dravidian Stalin. But although the 68-year-old chief minister of Tamil Nadu goes by M.K. Stalin, besides the name, he has little in common with his more famous, autocratic, dictator-like namesake Joseph Stalin. I am not sure whether it is apocryphal, but the story goes that when he was born on 1 March, 1953, his father, M. Karunanidhi, the supremo of Tamil Nadu’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the second chief minister of the state still known as Madras, was addressing a condolence meeting in memory of the Soviet leader who had died recently. So he decided to name his new-born son after him.

Whether it was irony or adulation that prompted that christening we do not know but recently, Stalin, the chief minister, has demonstrated that far from being self-centric and autocratic, he is a man who can pragmatically reach out to others for advice and assistance. In what is perhaps a first among India’s states, the chief minister has appointed five of the world’s top-class economists on his economic advisory council: Nobel laureate Esther Duflo; India’s former chief economic advisor

Arvind Subramanian; former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan; a former finance secretary S. Narayan; and development economist Jean Drèze. 

The common thread that unites these economists is the fact that all of them have either fallen out with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime or they are strong critics of his policies and approach towards economic governance and policy-making. Mr Modi has often demonstrated his scant regard for advice from economists and experts. His decision to demonetize large currency bills in 2016 during his first inning in government was, if not an unmitigated disaster, an expensive exercise that achieved very little. And he hastily rolled out a centralised Goods and Services Tax regime that proved to be a big setback for industry and business.

Under Mr Modi, who returned to power for the second time with a thumping majority and has been Prime Minister since 2014, India’s economy has achieved a middling to poor report card. The GDP, which was around 8% when he first took charge, fell in the fourth quarter of 2019-20 to a shade higher than 3%. And these are pre-Covid numbers. More recently, driven by high global oil prices, inflation has been surging in India, hitting the poor and middle class hard.

Unemployment is the other big problem that the Modi regime has been unable to tackle. With a young population and growing numbers of job-seekers, India needs to generate at least 20 million jobs a year. But it has fared poorly on that. According to estimates by Pew Research, more than 25 million people have lost jobs in the past seven months; and 75 million Indians have been pushed back into poverty. 

While some of these job losses can be attributed to the economic havoc created by Covid and lockdowns, it is apparent that an economic strategy envisaging a big bang resurgence of the Indian economy has been missing in Mr Modi’s administration. He has lost advisers such as Mr Subramaniam and Mr Rajan, who, respectively quit their jobs as chief economic adviser and central bank governor. He and his colleagues have derided advice or suggestions from economists and organisations such as the MIT-based poverty action group that Ms Duflo founded. And his administration has often been at odds with the sort of prescriptions forwarded by welfare economists such as Prof. Drèze.

From that perspective, Tamil Nadu’s Mr Stalin brings in a breath of fresh air when it comes to economic policies. By enlisting the help of top class economists, he will hopefully be able to usher in policies and strategies that could help the state’s economy (it is the country’s second wealthiest state and is also the most industrialised) grow further. 

Mr Stalin’s party, the DMK, and its allies are also distinctly in opposition to Mr Modi’s regime. So in a sense, it also is another strand of the decentralised opposition that the BJP and its allies in power at the Centre face. If Ms. Mamata Banerjee, whose Trinamool Congress recently was voted back to power in West Bengal, represents decentralised opposition in terms of politics, then Mr Stalin’s moves represent the same in terms of economic policies. The question is whether more such centres of opposition can emerge in India and, more importantly, forge alliances that are workable and translatable into effective alternative choices for people to make when they choose a government for India next time.

Predators of Press Freedom

The non-profit Reporters Without Borders, which has the stated aim of safeguarding the right to freedom of information, last week published its list of Predators of Press Freedom, a gallery of 37 heads of state with the lowest press freedom under their jurisdiction. Mr Modi finds himself on that list. He is in the company of other noted “predators”, namely North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, Pakistan’s Imran Khan, Myanmar’s military head Min Aung Hlaing, and plenty of others, mainly dictators and autocrats of all stripes and colours.

There has, of course, been no response from the Indian government to that list. But what is interesting is the low key coverage of the list by India’s mainstream media. Many publications chose to ignore it. Those that didn’t, buried the fact that the Indian Prime Minister is on it as deep down as they could in the stories that they published–an ironic demonstrative acknowledgment of the fact that India’s media under the current regime enjoys limited freedom.

The list elaborated that Mr Modi has been a predator of the Press since taking office on 26 May 2014; and that India occupies the 142nd rank out of 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index. It also says that “After becoming Gujarat’s chief minister in 2001, he (Modi) used this western state as a laboratory for the news and information control methods he deployed after being elected as India’s prime minister in 2014. His leading weapon is to flood the mainstream media with speeches and information tending to legitimise his national-populist ideology. To this end, he has developed close ties with billionaire businessmen who own vast media empires.” Pretty damning stuff for the leader of a country that is described as the world’s largest democracy. 

Weekly Roundup: Get On Yer Bike, 420 Sarkar? Indianising Twitter

The answer to exorbitant fuel prices, some say daylight robbery, is simple. Get on your bike! So says the BJP energy minister from Madhya Pradesh. He has seriously advised his fellow Madhya Prades  waasis to ride the bike to the vegetable market when getting Gobi, Aloo, Onion and Bataun, also at world beating prices. Most people can only buy one aloo or onion at today’s prices. ‘It will keep you fit’, he said and ‘save money’.

Fitness man Pardhuman Singh Tomar assured the cynics that he does a lot of walking. One imagines that this is possibly walking around in circles in the office thinking out solutions to the petrol price hikes by his masters in Delhi. Indian petrol and diesel prices have overtaken USA fuel prices (at least one area in which India is ahead of Americans) and catching up with prices in the old colonial masters, United Kingdom. Clearly after miles of walking around the office table and wearing out his shoes, Tomar got the ‘eureka’ moment. ‘Get on yer bike!’ And he then said he does a lot of biking.

Never having met or seen Tomar going to work, the imagination goes a bit wild. Does Tomar put the VVIP flashing red light blaring, peep, peep, peep, peep, on the crown of his head strapped with a plastic stretchable strap with ‘BJP saviour of the ordinary people’ written on it while riding on his bike to work? He can’t put it on the handle because not many people will notice it.

What about all those security police cars? Is there one ahead of him and one behind him as he cycles to work and saves on fuel on the state exchequer? Or has the DGP of Madhya Pradesh put together a special cycle division with lathis, lights and guns all included in a rucksack to escort him to work?

It could catch on. How clean Delhi will be if Modi ji, Shah ji and the rest of the cabinet all cycle to everywhere with red lights flashing. They could put the red light on a dhanda (wooden stick) tied to the bike. It’s the best answer to choking pollution, avoiding Government overspend and saving on fuel to spend the money on the people in big ‘I love Modi’ rallies. Tomar did say, the extra tax is spent to support the poor. It wasn’t clear whether he meant poor as ‘badly paid Netas’ or as in ordinary Garib Janta.

420 Sarkar?

Meanwhile another enterprising citizen has filed a case of fraud against the National Energy Minister! Now that is a novelty. Fraud in India and by the Government? Anyone hear of that?

There is a logic to the charge. The Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas, Dharmendra Pradhan, said with a straight face that the rise in Petroleum prices was due to global crude prices. Patiently he explained “There has been a jump in crude oil prices in the international market. One of the main reasons behind the rise in fuel prices in India is that we have to import 80% of the oil we consume”.

One bright citizen, Tamanna Hashmi, did a quick calculation and probably thought, ‘fraud is being done on citizens’.

When crude was double the current price, Indian oil was less than half the current prices. Crude had reached $130 a barrel in 2008. It is now $65 when Pradhan made his statement.  A barrel of oil has around 160 litres or 42 Gallons of oil. In 2008, the price of oil in India was Rs 45 a litre (when crude was $130) and is now Rs 100 (when crude is $65)

In this country of great noble prize winning mathematicians and a country which invented the number system, Tamanna must have thought. ‘Umm this does not make sense, even my maths does not add up’.

So he has filed a case calling Pradhan that ultimate Indian character assassination, ‘Char so bees’ that is 420. He has sought the trial of Pradhan under IPC sections 420 (fraud) and 295 A (pertaining to deliberate malicious acts) and 511, (attempt to commit offence).

One can imagine the magistrate thinking. ‘aarre which Indian politician is not Char so bees; which country are you living in, why are you wasting court time!’ but obviously dare not say.

Hashmi has also alleged that the prices of petrol have left the people of the country “terrorised” and “enraged”. Perhaps there is no legal protection against being enraged , just see how politicians raise their fists in election rallies, but Pradhan and his boss Modi could be sought by Hashmi under UAPA (1967) for terrorising people. Now that would be a first even in India.

Indianising Twitter

The difference between the unelected Communist Government of China and the democratic government of India is the language in which the two make similar policies look so different.

When China took exception to social media, such as twitter, Whatsapp etc, it crossed its eyebrows, went red in the face and said, “We are sovereign and we will decide what limits freedom of speech people will have”.  So Twitter and Facebook and others were simply kicked out. China showed it was tough, dictatorial and draconian with people’s choices. In the west, China got a really bad press for all these statements. Even now western press says ‘China where political expression is curtailed etc’ and cite Facebook, Twitter bans.

India is a bit more polished. The Modi government wants to stop critique and criticism of its policies. That’s a bit undemocratic in a country which has been selling itself as the ‘largest democracy’ to the western powers. The west is forever evangelically wishful. All a country has to say is, ‘we have democracy, we believe in equal rights and we have an independent judiciary’, and the west will become a patron. It doesn’t matter that it is a flawed democracy with no protection for minorities, caste reigns high and the judiciary even at the highest level is State appointed. Just say the right words and the right buttons get pressed in the west.

So the very clever Indian minister for Electronics and IT, Ravi Shankar Prasad, has decided to curtail twitter with words that find so much empathy with the west and has put twitter in a corner. “India, being a democracy, allows complete freedom to ask questions. Let me categorically say at this platform, that they can criticise Ravi Shankar Prasad, they can criticise my Prime Minister, they can ask questions and these big tech companies are having big business in India”.

So where is the problem? Prasad then went onto say, But twitter in India is not in USA!

“Some of them say that we are bound by American laws…You operate in India, you make money in India, you have good ad revenue in India, but if you take the position that I will only be governed by laws of America…This is plainly not acceptable,” he said.

Prasad further said: “You are free to do your business in India but you have to be accountable to India’s Constitution and its laws… You have to have a harmonious relationship with the autonomy of these digital platforms and obligations of an independent, sovereign nation like India.”

And what is the minister alluding to? It is about ‘misinformation, fake news, colluded materials posing as challenges’. Colluded material posing as challenges is quite an open area to cage freedoms of expression. Clearly not the words of Prasad ji.

Anything said against Modi ji could be ‘misinformation’ any thing criticising Government policy on well-argued grounds could be ‘fake news’ and anything said unflattering about Hindutva or Government in general could be ‘colluded material posing as challenges’. Twitter has met its hubris of freedom pitted against the Indian Babu.

Ingenious defence. In India you will be subject to Indian laws and not assume American laws. And what are Indian laws? Find out in the independent courts that can easily drag you for a century before finally deciding. By that time twitter will have gone into liquidation and son of twitter may be tripping the world.

The issue is not what Indian constitution says, but how the constitution is interpreted by the Government and a well heeled judiciary. It is how misinformation, fake news, colluded materials posing as challenges is interpreted.  Chinese PR can learn a lot from Indian politicians or hire an Indian Babbu.

The World Celebrates Pride

LGBT+ Pride Month Honors the Stonewall Riots of June 1969

The month honors the Stonewall Uprising of June 1969, one of the turning points for gay rights in the United States. The Stonewall riots came in the wake of a violent police raid on a Manhattan gay club called the Stonewall Inn; protesting and clashes lasted for several days after the raid.

A year later – on the anniversary of the Uprising – thousands marched for gay rights in the first New York City Pride March. Over the years, events and commemorations spread to cover the entire month of June, with President Clinton issuing the first “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month” proclamation in 1999.

Celebrating LGBT+ Pride Around the World: Things to Know

Celebrating LGBT+ Pride Around the World: Things to Know

In the United States, June is LGBT+ Pride Month. LGBT+ Pride Month’s goal is to “recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.”

With that in mind – and along with Aperian Global’s mission to promote diversity and inclusion and building business across boundaries – we’d like to share with you some things you should know about LGBT+ Pride Month in the United States and other commemorations around the world.

LGBT+ Pride Month Honors the Stonewall Riots of June 1969

The month honors the Stonewall Uprising of June 1969, one of the turning points for gay rights in the United States. The Stonewall riots came in the wake of a violent police raid on a Manhattan gay club called the Stonewall Inn; protesting and clashes lasted for several days after the raid.

A year later – on the anniversary of the Uprising – thousands marched for gay rights in the first New York City Pride March. Over the years, events and commemorations spread to cover the entire month of June, with President Clinton issuing the first “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month” proclamation in 1999.

LGBT+ Pride Month is Different Than LGBT+ History Month (in October)

LGBT+ History Month differs from LGBT+ Pride Month. Celebrated in October (along with National Coming Out Day on October 11th), “LGBT+ History Month provides role models, builds community and makes the civil rights statement about our extraordinary national and international contributions.”

Pride Month Features Large Parades and Other Events

The month features a variety of events – everything from parties and concerts to workshops and learning opportunities. Large city parades, though, are generally the most visible elements of LGBT+ Pride Month.

Japan

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the Tokyo Rainbow Pride Parade will take place from April 27 to May 6. The festival’s first iteration drew in only 1,000 marchers, but in 2019 saw 52 groups register to take part in the parade and record-setting attendance was expected. The family-friendly festival is of the utmost importance to the country’s queer community, which is still fighting an uphill legal battle to be granted the same rights given to heterosexual couples.

France

On June 29, Paris will hold its 41st annual Marche des Fiertés LGBT. Organized by hundreds of volunteers, the parade is expected to last over four hours, traveling from the Place de la Concorde to the Place de la République. Second only to New York and Brazil in the size of its queer community and Pride parade, the Marche des Fiertés LGBT will be one of the biggest Pride Month events in the world.

Thailand

1999 saw Phuket, Thailand’s first Pride Week. The event has grown significantly over the last 10 years, and 2019’s Phuket Pride festival is poised to be among the biggest yet. Most of the activities will take place on Patong beach from April 27 to April 30, and will include beauty contests, beach volleyball tournaments, and cabaret shows.

Korea

On June 1, 2019, some 70,000 South Koreans, including Democratic Party leaders, wound through downtown Seoul for the 20th annual gay rights march. While gay and other LGBTQ+ identities aren’t illegal in South Korea, there are no laws against discrimination, which means that many individuals find their fundamental human rights challenged regularly. The organizers have typically kept the event’s date a secret until the last minute to keep the strong opposition of anti-gay activists at bay.

India

India’s 2019 Pride Parade in Mumbai was of particular significance as it was the first march since the Supreme Court decriminalized same-sex relations near the end of last year. Mirror Now reported that hundreds of people showed up to march and celebrate the February event and that the turnout was larger than in previous years.

Israel

Another deeply religious country, Israel’s Pride celebrations, while joyous, tend to face a lot of opposition. The Times of Israel reported that far-right extremists vowed to protest and disrupt the Jerusalem Pride Parade, and Tel Aviv’s parade also faces similar threats. Even still, organizers planned massive parades and beach parties to be held in each city on June 6 and June 14.