Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Number of the day: 15

Thirteen states and two union territories head for the polling booth in phase 3 of the Lok Sabha election. The key states at stake today: Kerala, Gujarat, Goa, and parts of Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. The most-watched contests: Rahul Gandhi in Wayanad and in Thiruvananthapuram, Shashi Tharoor—who is battling to survive a very close race.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The blame game in Sri Lanka

A day after the horrific bombings, the government named the group responsible for the attack. However, also to blame for this calamity: the toxic political feud between the Prime Minister and the President.


The immediate suspects: are a small group called National Thowheeth Jama’ath—best known until now for destroying a couple of Buddhist statues back in December. While it subscribes to a radical Muslim ideology similar to ISIS, there was no indication that it had either the resources or the inclination to carry out an attack of this scale and sophistication.


The larger worry: Actually, there are two big concerns. One is the broader radicalisation of the local Muslim population beyond NJT. For example: earlier this year, the police uncovered a huge stash of detonators and explosive material. However, the Muslims who were arrested were not affiliated with the NJT. There have also been previous reports of many well-to-do Sri Lankan Muslims leaving the country to join ISIS. And at least one of the suicide bombers who carried out the attack belonged to a similarly affluent family.


The other big worry: The ‘foreign hand’, as the Cabinet spokesperson made clear: “We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country… There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded."


Is this true? Apart from the high level of coordination, equally telling are the targets, i.e. churches on Easter. There’s hardly any history of Muslim-Christian strife in Sri Lanka. In fact, in recent years, Muslims have increasingly clashed with the Sinhalese majority. Last year, the government declared a state of emergency when Buddhist mobs attacked mosques and Muslim-owned businesses.


The other blame game: Ten days before the bombings, the police chief sent out an alert warning of a possible attack staged by the NJT. However, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was never notified because of his feud with President Maithripala Sirisena—who tried to oust him last year. Wickremesinghe was reinstated by the Supreme Court but was not allowed to attend Security Council meetings. In fact, when he called a council meeting soon after the attacks—at a time when Sirisena was out of the country—nobody showed up.


The bottomline: Until now, Sri Lanka had remained unaffected by the spread of Islamic terrorism around the world. But in the post-civil war years, militant Buddhist groups turned their attention from Tamils toward other minorities, i.e. Muslims and Christians. (There were 86 cases of discrimination, harassment and violence targeting Christians last year.) Many political observers see a link between the rise of majority aggression and the new emergence of radical Muslim groups like NJT. If a foreign terrorist network has indeed gained a foothold in Sri Lanka, perhaps the real blame belongs with its leaders who failed to keep the peace—both among their citizens and themselves.


Learn more: Here’s more on the bombings:

  • BBC sums up all the latest developments. Also from BBC: this moving video that captures the grief of Sri Lankans who witnessed the tragedy first-hand.

  • Indian Express has an in-depth explainer on the NJT and the rise of radical Muslim groups in Sri Lanka.

  • Reuters reports on how the PM-President rift is playing out, while Economist looks at its role in creating a colossal security lapse.

  • Guardian analyses what the government’s social media blackout says about the role of Facebook, Twitter etc. in a crisis.

  • News 18 talks to experts who are struggling to explain NJT’s escalation from vandalism to large scale terrorism.

  • Finally, a Times of India story on what allegedly are photos of three of the suicide bombers. Again, the report is based entirely on unnamed “intelligence” sources. 

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forgetting your Makemytrip password for the umpteenth time

A Trump shocker for India: Starting next week, any nation buying oil from Iran will be subject to US sanctions. That is a rude shock to countries who had been extended waivers from the rule which went into place after Trump stormed out of the nuclear deal with Iran. Especially hard hit: India which imports 10% of its oil from Tehran. Also in jeopardy: New Delhi’s involvement in the port in Chabahar—which is the only foreign port run by India. Why does Chabahar matter? It opens a strategic route which connects Iran, India, and Afghanistan, without having to go through Pakistan. Trump’s decision is expected to create greater instability in an oil market already under pressure from the crisis in Venezuela. (Economic Times)


Who’s afraid of Raj Thackeray? Answer: The BJP, which managed to get the Election Commission to ban him from holding his rallies. The reason: Thackeray has emerged as Modi-ji’s number one heckler—mocking the PM to hilarious effect in front of large crowds. And his party is not even contesting the election. So why is he doing it? And is it even making a difference? Huffington Post looks for answers to those confounding questions.


AAP, Congress go their own ways: It’s official! After months of flirting, bickering and sulking, the two parties will not form an alliance in Delhi. Congress released its list of Lok Sabha candidates which includes former CM Sheila Dikshit. This is good news for the BJP, which has also tossed an ex-CM into the mix—Dr Harsh Vardhan. (Mint)


Hamara saath, environment ka vinaash? In the midst of heated political battles over the agrarian crisis and unemployment, very little attention has been paid to the ruling party’s environmental record. Dhruv Rathee lays out the long and worrying list of safeguards that have been weakened over the past five years. These may be the reason why India dropped from #155 to #177 on the Environmental Performance Index last year—making it the fourth-worst country in the world. (The Print)


Shah Rukh Khan channels his ‘Gully Boy’: Ranveer’s antics on the big screen appears to have unleashed the inner Kanye in every Bollywood star. The latest is this, er, rap offering from SRK urging people to vote. Well, let’s just say it has a certain goofy charm.


What happens if you get your period: on an Air India flight? Nothing good, as Kajol Rustagi found out when she found herself stuck without a tampon/pad in sight—and with a highly unhelpful crew on hand. (Indian Express)


Are you using the most hacked password? If you are one of the 23 million in the UK who can’t come up with anything better than ‘123456’, then the answer is ‘Yes’. It is the most widely used password, followed by…. ‘ 123456789’, ‘qwerty’ and ‘1111111’. (BBC)


The trailer for ‘Bharath’ just dropped: and it’s a whole lot of Salman Khan—a lot more than we can endure. But for all the Sallu-bhai fans, here it is.


Your treats of the day: These gorillas posing perfectly for a selfie with their rescuers. Too good! Also: This Earth Day photo gallery with gorgeous photos and tongue-in-cheek captions offering reasons to love your Mother Earth.


Twitter India has a new boss: His name is Manish Maheshwari, and he used to run Network 18 Digital. (Mint)


Converse is celebrating trans pride: with these new sneakers. (Mashable)


Delhi metro goes all-out on solar: The Violet Line became the first route to use solar power. But the big plan is to go fully solar by 2021, and become the first 100% green energy metro rail network in the world. (NDTV)

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Our Bodies, Our Selves’ Edition

The menstrual cycle is a funny thing. We’ve celebrated that ‘monthly curse’, and oftentimes loathed it. We’ve been sometimes delighted—or other times worried—when our period doesn’t arrive on time. Here are two pieces that speak to one of the quintessential experiences of being a woman. 

The Problem with Periods...

Is that we know very little about periods. Thanks to grossly underfunded research, we have no idea why we menstruate, or even what is menstrual blood. The reason: menstruation has long been treated as hidden, mysterious and, of course, dirty. This fascinating piece looks at new thinking about the period—including questions about its value to a woman’s health and well-being.

Read: What Is the Point of a Period? | Scientific American

Sex, Love etc 2

Is a Menstrual Cup Right for You? 

Menstrual cups, once the preserve of eco-warriors and earth mamas, are going mainstream—especially in America where they are now available at the corner store. But as this writer (a die-hard convert) asks: “If menstrual cups are cost-effective, eco-friendly, and comfortable, why have people been so reluctant to use them?” The answers she uncovers are well worth your time.

Read: Do You Have a Moment to Talk About Menstrual Cups? | The Cut

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