Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Word of the day: Talaq

Uttering the word three times to divorce one’s wife is now a criminal offence. The Triple Talaq bill passed easily in the Rajya Sabha thanks to MIA Opposition leaders. There were 56 abstentions. JD (U), AIADMK and TRS went missing en masse at the time of voting—as did 23 other individual members of Congress et al. Point to note: Triple talaq has been illegal since 2017 thanks to a Supreme Court order. This bill makes it a crime which carries a jail term up to three years. (Read: Broadsheet’s explainer on why many oppose this law)

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The death of VG Siddhartha

The owner of India’s largest cafe chain has been missing since Tuesday. His body was finally found this morning after an extensive search. He appears to have committed suicide.


Who is VG Siddhartha? Born in Chickmagaluru, the Cafe Coffee Day founder has long been considered one of the great success stories of Indian entrepreneurship. In 1996, he set up the first CCD in Bangalore, and the iconic chain has since grown to include 1,423 cafes in 209 locations. He was also the son-in-law of SM Krishna, the former Karnataka CM and member of the UPA Cabinet (who defected to the BJP in 2017). Siddhartha was widely liked and considered a good-natured, soft-spoken man.


So what happened? On Tuesday, on his way to Mangalore, Siddhartha got out his car on a bridge and told the driver to park ahead as he wanted to take a walk. But when he failed to turn up, the driver sounded the alert. The suspicion was that Siddhartha had jumped off the bridge. An extensive search involving Navy divers finally led to the discovery of his body early this am. He was found on the banks of the Netravati river which flows under the bridge.


So why did he commit suicide? Before his death, Siddhartha wrote a letter to the CCD board which hints at the pressures on him. These included:

  • Personal debt. He owed Rs 2000 crore in loans taken to invest in his coffee plantation business. Sources close to him told Mint, “The business was not generating enough cash to service the outstanding debt, which had ballooned because of accruing interest, forcing him to borrow again and again, often at a higher cost to pay existing creditors. However, given the tight liquidity conditions in the market, he was having trouble raising fresh debt.”

  • IT pressure. In 2017, income tax officials raided 25 locations including CCD offices and personal properties. They claim to have uncovered Rs 650 crore in hidden income. Siddhartha has been in IT trouble ever since. His last letter to the board cited “a lot of harassment,” specifically citing the department’s move to block his stake in Mindtree— which in turn led to “a serious liquidity crunch.” As experts point out, there was no good reason to block the sale—they could have seized the revenue from the sale instead.

  • Pressure from private equity partners: In his letter, Siddhartha also cited “one of the private equity partners forcing me to buy back shares, a transaction I had partially completed six months ago by borrowing a large sum of money from a friend.” After his disappearance, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw tweeted, "It seems to indicate that the private equity fund manager acted like a money lender and seems to have caused unbearable stress - needs to be investigated." 


To put it more simply: Siddhartha was stuck in a debt trap. He had a huge amount of compounding personal debt. His attempts to pay off the debt were blocked on one side by the IT department, and by private investors on the other. 


So what happens to CCD? With Siddhartha’s demise, market experts predict that the chain to be put up for sale. One likely buyer: Coca Cola which was already in talks to buy a stake.

Learn more: The Print reports on how Siddhartha achieved the meteoric success of CCD. Indian Express has an extended biography. Mint has the best coverage of the personal debt angle and his tax troubles. Economic Times looks at who will buy CCD. This older Business Standard story reports on Mindtree’s complaint alleging wrongdoing in Siddhartha’s sale of its shares.

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wondering if you prefer a rosogolla to a rasagola

BJP finally junks Kuldeep Singh Sengar: The CBI probe didn’t do the trick in the Unnao rape case. Neither did the death of the rape survivor’s father. Nope, not even the fact that the accused MLA is currently in jail awaiting trial. However, the whole truck-gone-suspiciously-wild was far too much for the BJP to bear. They have finally suspended (not sacked) their man in Bengermau, UP. The first rule of Indian politics: Dude, ‘criminal’ is okay, but ‘embarrassing’ is a big fat no-no! Well, unless the victim dies and the case is done and dusted… well then, who knows? In related news: Sengar routinely made threatening phone calls to the victim and her family in jail. Also: Witnesses say the truck was speeding on the wrong side of the road in heavy rain—and one number plate was blacked out.


Anheuser Busch banned in Delhi: The world’s biggest brewing company—and the maker of beers like Budweiser, Hoegaarden and Stella Artois—has been banned in Delhi for an excise tax evasion scam involving duplicate barcodes. (Reuters)


Facial recognition wars in Hong Kong: They can’t punish you if they can’t identify you. Facial recognition has become a key weapon in the Hong Kong police’s arsenal used against protesters. How are they are fighting back? With lasers.


Amit Shah to head lynching panel: He is also the head of the government’s sexual harassment panel. Okay then. (The Wire)


Can you get rape threats for writing Bengali poetry? Yes, if you are a Muslim woman in Assam writing in the Miya dialect—spoken by Bengal- or Bangladeshi-origin migrants in the state. And it’s not just random threats from random trolls. Over the past month, four FIRs have been lodged against Assamese residents who identify themselves as Miya poets. This is a very Indian tale about identity, language and hate. (Huffington Post)


Say hello to the ‘Samosa Americans’: Everyone talks about ‘The Squad’ of four women of colour in the US Congress. But this is the story of four Indian Americans in the ‘Samosa Caucus’—Pramila Jayapal, Kamala Harris, Raja Krishnamoorthi and Ro Khanna—who represent the desi community’s rising clout in American politics. (Economist)


Doctors turn brain signals into sentences: This huge breakthrough may transform how patients with severe disabilities communicate in the future. But there are two downsides. One, right now, they can only do this with very basic sentences and thoughts. Two, it may unintentionally reveal people’s most private thoughts. More cause to worry: this research is being funded by Facebook which hopes to create a head device that will read your thoughts.  


Is a rosogolla a rasagola by any other name? Sure, go ahead! Blithely wolf down delicious sugary balls with no idea of the high stakes involved. In case you missed it, Odisha and Bengal have been mired in a fierce fight over that yummy dessert’s true cultural origin. Bengal got government recognition—called a GI tag—for the ‘Banglar Rosogolla’ back in 2017. But not to worry, Odisha has now secured its GI tag for its (far superior) ‘Rasagola’. As the application makes clear: “Odisha Rasagola is very soft to feel, juicy and non-chewy in consistency and can be swallowed without teeth pressure. The Rasagola prepared in other places is circular in shape, milk-white in colour and basically spongy and chewy in consistency,” Ooh, snap! (The Telegraph)


The most horrifying mistake a parent can make: is to absent-mindedly leave a baby in a locked car. But who is the kind of person who does that? The answer is more frightening than you’d expect. (Washington Post)


Katy Perry’s been caught stealing: A US court ruled that she did indeed copy bits of her hugely successful song ‘Dark Horse’ from a Christian rapper. Why is this a big deal? ‘Dark Horse’ is one of Perry’s biggest hits. It has sold more than 13 million copies worldwide and the video for the song was the first ever by a female artist to reach a billion views on both YouTube and Vevo. (BBC)


Have diabetes? Pop some Vitamin D: Indians are often prescribed Vit D because of our allergy to the sun (and dark skin). New research shows that high doses of the vitamin can also help boost insulin production in our bodies. But those super high dosages may or may not be safe. So further research is required. (Daily Mail)


Is this the creepiest fish ever? Yes, and it's called the Anglerfish. These ‘fish that fish’ live in the deepest abyss of seas: “Typically, the rod of flesh extending from the forehead glows at the tip. Anglerfish can wiggle the lure to better mimic living bait. Most species can open their mouths wide enough to devour prey whole, using their fangs not only as daggers but as bars of a cage. Some can open their jaws and stomachs so wide as to trap victims much larger than themselves.” You can read the New York Times story about this bizarre creature. Or you can cut to the chase and watch the first-ever video of this bizarre and eerie-looking fish’, umm, procreating. Trust us: it is very suitable for work.


Is this the creepiest app ever? The latest update to Truecaller—which lets you identify all those pesky unknown numbers—sends a rogue SMS which automatically sets up a UPI account with ICICI bank. Truecaller is calling it a ‘bug’. (Mint)


Everyday hero of the day: The award is shared by two men. One is a taxi driver who saved two children stuck in a car that started rolling down the hill (excellent video here). The other is the artist who installed see-saws on the US-Mexico border so children on both sides can play with one another (lovely video here).

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Everything we don't know about human desire

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Why do Indian women stay in marriages with zero sex? 

The answers offered by this essay aren’t particularly surprising. They include the usual checklist of shame, repression, lack of information etc. But it is compelling to see how many of the seven ‘different’ reasons have the exact same root cultural cause—except for the one about wanting a “convenient, parallel sex life.”

Read: 7 Reasons Why Indian Women Stay In Sexless Marriages | Huffington Post

Sex, Love etc 2

Do you miss-wiss me, sonu baby?

All couples develop their own private language. It’s both weird and necessary. It serves as a series of ‘inside jokes’, a ‘ritual of connection’ and a regression to our mommy-baby selves. What’s really interesting: when couples drift apart, so does their language.

Read: The Embarrassing Private Languages of Couples | The Cut

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