Monday, September 2, 2018
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The Brooke Bond Red Label ad is, in fact, nearly a year old. Yet it went viral yesterday when Hindu Janajagruti Samiti decided to take belated offence, claiming that the Ganesh puja-themed ad portrays all Hindus as “intolerant.” We, however, disagree. Watch it here and decide for yourself. Happy Ganesh Chathurthi everybody!

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The NRC list that made nobody happy

The final version of the National Register of Citizens in Assam was published on Saturday—and it made both its supporters and its opponents very unhappy.


The Background: The NRC is a list of Indian citizens that was first created in 1951. However, Assam experienced a massive wave of migration after the Bangladesh War in 1971—which in turn led to a prolonged and violent agitation aimed at deporting all “foreigners” from the state. The demand was accepted as part of the Assam Peace Accord signed in 1985. Hence, the move to release an updated version of the NRC to exclude “foreigners.” But there was little progress until the Supreme Court intervened in 2013, and the initiative only gathered steam in 2017 after the NDA came into power. (Lot more details in the explainer we did on Friday)


Ok, what happened with the list: The final NRC excluded 1.9 million residents of Assam—i.e. they were deemed not to be “genuine Indian citizens.” That number is far lower than the 4 million who were excluded in the draft version released last year. 


Why is everyone unhappy? Those who oppose the NRC update say that it punishes Bangladeshi migrants who have settled in the country for decades and their children/ grandchildren who were born here. And they see it as a BJP plan to target and disenfranchise Muslims migrants in particular. Also: the Foreign Tribunals—which determine whether or not a person is a citizen—have been accused of bias and incompetence. So to NRC opponents,1.9 million is still an unconscionably high number.


What about those who support it? For its supporters,1.9 million is an unconscionably low number. Assam Finance Minister points out that the number includes 3.8 lakh residents who either did not file an appeal to be included on the list or are no longer alive: “So the actual exclusion currently is 15 lakh, out of which around 5-6 lakh people are those who have migrated from Bangladesh due to religious persecution before 1971. The NRC did not take refugee certificates issued prior to 1971 into cognizance. This will be considered by the Tribunal which will hear the appeals. This will leave around 11 lakh. Again, there are many whose parents are included but left out in the current list. When they will also be included, the total number of exclusions will only be 6-7 lakh, which is very less.”


The other reason for BJP angst: The list excludes a great number of Bengali Hindus, Assamese tribals, and up to 100,000 Gorkhas. Hence, BJP’s insistence that foreigners have been included on the list, while ‘real’ Indians have been left out. As a BJP MLA puts it, “Our BJP's stand is that Hindus can never be foreigners. We guess that many Hindus have been excluded from the list. Those who are foreigners became Indians and those who are Indians became foreigners. We will not accept it.”


Is the list really a mess? Yup. There are innumerable cases where one member of a family is on the list while the other is not—say, parent and child or two siblings. Another example: This journalist’s 75-year old aunt was on the draft list released last year, but has been excluded from the final list for no apparent reason. Even the state’s scheduled caste and tribal MLAs have not been spared—as in the case of Ananta Kumar Malo who is excluded while every other member of his family is on the list. Also excluded: relatives of the former president of India, Fakruddin Ali Ahmed.


So what happens now? The silver lining is that since no one accepts the legitimacy of the list, no one is in a hurry to throw the 1.9 million who were excluded into detention centres. The External Affairs Ministry quickly declared, “Those who are not in the final list will not be detained and will continue to enjoy all the rights as before till they have exhausted all the remedies available under the law. It does not make the excluded person ‘stateless.’ It also does not make him a ‘foreigner’.” 


What legal remedies is he talking about? Those who have been excluded can file an appeal with the Foreign Tribunals—and all parties and groups across the political spectrum have promised assistance. If their appeal is turned down, they can move the High Court and then the Supreme Court. 


Also this: The BJP and other regional parties plan to file a Supreme Court appeal seeking reverification in key border districts. The Court has rejected previous such demands. It remains unclear if it will be more open to entertaining them now.


The bottomline: For decades, there have been inflated and unverified claims about rampant illegal migration made by various political parties—mostly to suit their election agenda. Based on these claims, we’ve now spent Rs 1100 crore on updating the NRC—which is now being attacked as flawed and illegitimate by pretty much everyone. As a number of commentators summed it up: “Khoda pahad, nikla chooha” (You dig a mountain only to find a mouse).

Learn more: Indian Express has an excellent report on why the BJP is very unhappy with the NRC. The Print explains why it has all been a pointless exercise—even for those who supported it. The Atlantic offers a must-read essay which places the current NRC in the context of Assam’s history. This older Huffington Post report on the Biswas family is a searing account of how the NRC process has destroyed lives and livelihoods.

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looking forward to a modak-bingeing Monday

Your update on the economy is here: And it includes one piece of very gloomy news:

  • Our GDP growth rate slipped to 5% in the April-June quarter—it was 8% in the same quarter last year. The economy was expected to grow somewhere between 5.8-6.6% as per the RBI.

  • Former PM Manmohan Singh issued a rare statement, calling the GDP numbers a sign that we are in the midst of “a prolonged slowdown” thanks to the “all-round mismanagement” of the Modi government. 

  • There were Titanic-themed memes, and this clip of the Finance Minister making a strategic and timely choice to take a sip of water at a presser went viral.

  • The government had two lines of defence. One, 5% ain’t bad, people! The reasons offered: The current projected global GDP growth is of about 3.2%; India’s growth rate, still in comparison to many countries is high; India’s growth rate is higher than the US and China.

  • And two, let’s merge some banks. A number of state-owned banks will now become one: Punjab National Bank will take over Oriental Bank of Commerce and United Bank of India; Syndicate Bank will merge with Canara Bank; Union Bank of India with Andhra Bank and Corporation Bank; and Indian Bank will merge with Allahabad Bank. 

  • The response to the big bang announcement has been mixed. More so, as the government made it clear, no one will be laid off, and not a single branch will be closed—which, as some economists made clear, is the whole point of any merger! 

  • Our favourite bank/GDP joke is this Times of India cartoon.

  • In related economic news: Super-rich Indians are getting jittery about the economy. 


Your Kashmir update is here: and it includes the following:

  • BBC published a new report indicating the use of torture in Kashmir. The video is here.

  • In related reading: The Quint noted the wide gap between Indian and foreign media reporting on Kashmir. 

  • Cardiologist Upendra Kaul was summoned by the National Security Agency. The reason: an SMS to one of his patients, Yasin Malik, a Kashmir separatist leader, who is currently in Tihar Jail. Kaul has been critical of the government’s Kashmir policy though he now says, “Whatever the government does must be for the good of the country. We are with them." 

  • Pakistan PM Imran Khan wrote an op-ed in the New York Times. But if you prefer a sensible Pakistani view, listen to this very smart and very sane young man. TBH, we Indians could use a bit of that kind of sanity, as well.

  • Plus: Times of India has an excellent ground report on the mixed emotions on Ladakh.


Specs for the upcoming iPhone 11 have leaked: and it looks like an upgrade rather than a paradigm shift. Fast Company looks at why it may be hard sell for customers.


Renowned historian asked for CV: The folks who run Jawaharlal Nehru University want Romila Thapar to submit her CV so they can decide if she deserves to remain an emeritus professor—which has always been a lifetime position with zero need for review. Hmm, we wonder why. (Indian Express)


The list of world’s safest cities is out: Japan has two cities in the top five—Tokyo (#1) and Osaka (#3)—and Singapore comes in at #2. Where did Indian cities rank in the survey of 60 global cities? New Delhi came in at #53. Consolation prize: the worst five are Caracas, Yangon (in Myanmar), Karachi and Dhaka. Full list here. (Bloomberg)


YouTube’s plan to protect children: The platform has a new YouTube Kids site for kids under 13. To make sure that kids have their parent’s permission to access the site, it has come up with this brilliant idea of using, um, very basic math. The end result: the only thing standing between our spawn and her first success in hacking is 3 X 8 = ?.  


Indians still prefer ‘arranged’ over ‘love’: Over the past decades, India has dramatically changed, as have Indians… except we all still prefer to source Mr Right the old-fashioned way. According to new survey data on urban couples, 93% had an arranged marriage; 3% had a “love marriage"; and another 2% had a “love-cum-arranged marriage" (the kind where parents play cupid). More astonishing is this nugget: “There has been only a very slight change over time; 94% of octogenarians had an arranged marriage, and the figure is still more than 90% for young couples in their twenties.” Mint has lots more in its deep dive into its numbers.


‘Saaho’ poster is a blatant ripoff: of the work of artist Shilo Shiv Suleman says actress Lisa Ray. And the images she offers as proof are hard to refute. 


Want booze, where’s your aadhar? Mangalore is mulling a strange new rule that will require customers to link their Aadhar number to the bar code on the liquor bottle they buy. We’d offer up our signature eye-roll but anything is possible in these strange times. (Deccan Herald)


Weekend reads you might have missed: include the following:

  • A Wall Street Journal investigation (behind a paywall) uncovered hundreds of illegal and unsafe products for sale on Amazon. The Verge tees off the findings to ask if every mega-platform—be it Facebook or Amazon or YouTube—inevitably becomes unsafe at a very large size  

  • This National Geographic essay offers a closer look at the ‘bad guys’ who are setting the Amazon on fire—i.e. very nice and well-meaning cattle ranchers. 

  • An excellent related read: Mighty Earth does a great job of identifying companies that are the real culprits responsible for the destruction of the rainforests. 

  • The first green village in India is in Nagaland. Times of India reports on how its residents are staunchly keeping hunters and loggers at bay. 

  • Is the latest Taylor Swift song a protest anthem of our times? Variety certainly thinks so.

  • Quartz offers a powerful analysis of why little migrant children inside US detention centres are literally being treated like ‘animals’ by the guards.

  • Mint offers an engrossing read on Shah Alam, one of the last Mughal emperors, that puts the blood and gore in GoT to shame.  

  • Artsy reports on a gorgeous new board game that is kinda Monopoly for art collectors. It’s cast of game characters includes a Bollywood actress! 


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • Naomi Osaka beat Coco Gauff 6-3, 6-0. What happened afterwards marked a truly inspiring moment of sisterhood.  No, we’re not crying… why do you ask?

  • Slovenia first got itself a Melania statue that wasn’t exactly easy on the eye. Now, it has one of hubby Donald—and it is even uglier and a must-see.  

  • The underside of a sawfish which bears a startling resemblance to your most disapproving Aunty.

  • Anoushka Shankar’s bold and very personal statement on women, shame and sexual health. 

  • Legendary gymnast Nadia Comaneci couldn’t get enough of this brilliant clip of Indian kids doing cartwheels. 

  • This beautiful and strange caterpillar soon to transform into a Pacific fruit-piercing moth 

  • The indescribable joy of your very first kiss as illustrated by a golden retriever

  • This very sweet, very small horse… on a plane!

  • The best big brother ever

  • The best response to the news that Akshay Kumar is readying to play PV Sindhu’s coach in a planned biopic.

  • The best response to the driver who flung a plastic cup out the window of his/her very fancy car.

  • This cat discovering it has… ears!

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The best place for the best advice

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The surefire ways to spot fake news

If Facebook is the main purveyor of fake news in the West, WhatsApp is the primary villain in India. But let’s not put all the blame on others: deranged relatives, political parties, or fringe outfits. We can take control and responsibility. So here’s how we can become part of the solution, as opposed to the problem:


Wait before you hit forward: If a story is true it will be picked up by multiple sources. While doing a quick search before you forward that ‘shocking’ video or story, you may well discover it is an old story being recycled as new. Or that it has already been debunked on social media and other news sites. Didn’t find anything? Wait a few hours or even a day. A fake story will inevitably be called out. 


Look at the source: Doing some due diligence isn’t that hard, Let’s start with actually clicking on the link before we hit ‘Forward’ (a small precaution so many of us seem to forget). And look at where the story appears. See: Mohandas Pai who tweeted out a story from, which of course has nothing to do with BBC News. Extra tip: If the image or article evokes a strong emotion in you, be all the more wary. 


Always check the quotes: Ok, so a part of fake news out there is spread by mainstream news outlets, either because they have a political agenda or their news desk is just too lazy (see: all of the above). And it’s not just India. Take, for example, this widely covered story which linked pasta to weight loss—funded by none other than pasta companies. So, how would you know better? This brings us back to paying attention: If there is only one person or organisation quoted in the story, or none whatsoever (it’s been known to happen), then ignore it. And use common sense: If it’s too good/bad to be true, it probably is. 


Be a ‘deepfake’ ninja: The future of fake news is only going to get trickier for all of us. ‘Deepfake’ videos use face- and voice-swapping technology to create eerily convincing footage. The good news: there are still ways to spot the fakes. Pay careful attention to the mouth as these videos often make errors when showing teeth, tongue and other interior parts. It also helps to slow down the video which can highlight errors during splicing fake videos.


Why bother? Fake images and stories can actually alter human memories, creating false ones which we believe to be true. Deepfake videos are likely to make the effect all the more powerful, Do we really want to lose track of the difference between fact and fiction?


Learn more: Here’s more on how to become a ‘fake news’ fighter:

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