Thursday, March 7, 2019

Number of the Day: 35

That’s the percent of urban, educated, and relatively affluent Indians who believe it is not worth having a conversation with anyone holding opposing political views. According to a new IPSOS survey, that’s the highest in the world—a whopping 11% higher than the global average. More worryingly, 43% of Indians believe that their political opposers don’t care about the future of the country. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the same respondents are also huge fans of social media.

Share | Facebook logo WhatsApp logo Twitter logo


The biggest news story today, explained.

image orange sidebar everyone's talking about image orange sidebar

The government's attack on the media

During an eventful Supreme Court hearing of a petition on the Rafale deal, the attorney general signalled the government’s intent to use the Official Secrets Act to target two news organisations, The Hindu and the press agency ANI.

First, some background: Here’s the context to this story:

  • A number of public interest petitions were previously filed with the Supreme Court challenging various aspects of the Rafale deal (explained at length here). The Court dismissed all these petitions in December, declaring “there is no evidence of commercial favouritism.”

  • The Hindu on February 8 published a Ministry of Defence note to then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, raising objections to “parallel negotiations” being carried out by the Prime Minister’s Office—which had “weakened the negotiating position of MoD and Indian negotiating team.”

  • ANI, on the same day, published another confidential note from Parrikar dismissing the note’s concerns as an “overreaction.”

  • On February 11, The Hindu published another set of documents which showed that the government made eight amendments to the standard defense contract stipulated by official procedure—including the removal of a critical anti-corruption clause (A lot more in our February 12 explainer here)

  • A new petition was then filed with the Supreme Court challenging its December ruling, claiming it was based on “patent factual and legal errors.”


Ok, so what happened? During the hearing of this latest petition, lawyer Prashant Bhushan raised the reporting in The Hindu and other media outlets to argue that the government provided “erroneous information” to the Court—which then formed the basis of its previous ruling. And that’s when all hell broke loose.


Attorney General cries foul: Raising an immediate objection, K K Venugopal made three critical claims:


  • One: “These documents were stolen from the Defence Ministry by some former employee and the investigation is ongoing. These documents are marked secret and were published by two newspapers…this is an offence under the Official Secrets Act.

  • Two: “I am suggesting that the newspaper [The Hindu] is guilty under IPC for theft and under Official Secrets Act for accessing privileged documents.” And he indicated the government’s intent to prosecute the publication.

  • Three: “Review petition and perjury petition are liable to be dismissed in limine on this ground alone.” In other words, the petition is based on illegally obtained information and is therefore invalid.


What did the Court say? The justices were unimpressed by Venugopal’s grounds for an immediate dismissal — i.e. that the documents were stolen: “[S]uppose a crime like corruption has been committed, can you seek shelter under national security to suppress it?” They also pointed out that under Indian law “stolen material can be relied upon provided it’s relevant.”


What does The Hindu say? Editor N Ram forcefully pushed back, saying, “[W]e are fully protected by Article 19(1) A of the Constitution, the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression and also by the Right to Information Act, specifically 8(1)(i) and 8(2), which override the Official Secrets Act.”


The bottomline: The government has opened an entirely new line of attack on Rafale. As Indian Express notes, when The Hindu published its stories, Minister of Defence Nirmala Sitharaman made no mention of “stolen” documents in her rebuttal. More worryingly, “national security” appears to have become a catch-all justification to attack its critics. An agitated Venugopal came dangerously close to accusing the Supreme Court of undermining the nation’s stability: “Every single sentence from you will be used by the opposition for destabilising the government. Would your Lordships want to be party to this?”


Learn more: Indian Express sums up the AG’s argument, including the emotional back-and-forth with the justices. Quint nicely sums up the five key takeaways—including the fact that the government has now confirmed the authenticity of the published documents. Here’s The Hindu’s response in its entirety.

Share | Facebook logo WhatsApp logo Twitter logo


...trying to stuff a mint into your new 'IT handbag


// Facebook’s big U-turn on privacy: In a 3200-word post, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a dramatic pivot toward building a “privacy-focused platform.” Rather than a public square, Facebook wants to become “the digital equivalent of the living room."-- private messaging among small groups. While the post is light on specifics, here are the likely features of a future Facebook:

  • Full end-to-end encryption and integration of WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram messaging—including with SMS texting on Android.

  • Facebook messages will also disappear based on a time limit set by the users—within seconds or in a year.

  • The company will also no longer store data in countries “weak records on human rights like privacy and freedom of expression.”


// President Kim is back to his wicked ways: Satellite images confirm that North Korea is defiantly rebuilding its long-range rocket site—and it scrambled to do so within days of the failed Hanoi summit with President Trump. This in the face of US threats to ramp up “crushing economic sanctions.” This is how love dies.


// Other satellite images bearing bad news: appear to prove that the Jaish-e-Mohammad seminary in Balakot is still intact. Released by a private satellite operator, these images show six buildings on the targeted site as of March 4—and no change from those taken of the campus back in April 2018. The high-resolution photos reveal details as small as 72 cm (28 inches), and they show no “discernible’ damage to the structures. An unnamed source (maybe from the air force, though it’s unclear) in the Times of India, reiterated the air force’s claim that the strike was successful. Also in denial mode: The Pakistan military which is bizarrely claiming “JeM does not exist in Pakistan.” (Reuters)

// Is Balakot an election winner for Modi? That’s the question on everyone’s mind. To look for answers, this deep dive into past electoral data looks at two parallels: the national elections held after the Kargil war in 1999 and the Assembly elections in the aftermath of the Uri strikes. The short answer: yes, Balakot will help, but perhaps not enough. Its most intriguing insight: “[V]oters in different states react differently when it comes to Pakistan as an election issue and the idea of a consolidation around nationalism’ is a bit of a myth.” A worthy read. (Quint)


// R Kelly was positively unhinged: in his first post-bail interview. The quotes, clips and photos of the trainwreck are over here.


// A little Special K for your depression? US health authorities have approved a completely new kind of cure for depression: a nasal spray containing a variation of ketamine. A club drug used mainly in the 1990s and 2000s offers instant relief to people suffering from chronic depression. But many worry about abuse and long-term addiction. (Washington Post)


// The reason why Trump is mad at India: The US plans to remove India from its list of preferred trade partners. The official reason: "India has not assured the United States that it will provide equitable and reasonable access to the markets of India.” The real reason according to some reports: New Delhi refused to allow American companies to sell “essential medicines” like stents and knee implants at a high price. (Times of India)


// A whole new kind of e-commerce boom: According to a newly released UN report, “Indians are using ‘illicit internet pharmacies’—particularly those on the darknet—to get their hands on drugs like cocaine, heroin, cannabis, methaqualone, and ketamine.” But the most popular drug on the Indian market remains good old ganja aka cannabis. (The Print)


// Google does good for Indian kids: with Bolo, it’s newly released learning app which helps young children improve their reading, comprehension and vocabulary skills in Hindi and English. What we love most about this product: There are no ads, and it doesn’t collect any user data. The child doesn’t even have to provide an email address to sign up. And it’s coming soon in other languages. (Venture Beat)


// Vistara does good for Indian women: The airline will offer bio-degradable sanitary pads to women passengers on its domestic flights. Also excellent for women is the company’s matter-of-fact rejection of period silencing: “Passengers will be made aware of the facility through in-flight announcements, which will be made by the cabin crew on all flights that sanitary pads are now available onboard for customers to freely ask for it if they need it.” (News Minute)


// A unibrowed beauty revolution is here: and its name is Sophia Hadjipanteli. She and her very impressive unibrow—which she’s nicknamed “Veronika”—is a model, sunglass designer and body positive activist, with 276,000 followers on Instagram. (Glamour UK)


// Will Smith is too fair & lovely to be Serena’s Pa: So say folks on Twitter who would rather a suitably ‘blacker’ Idris Elba or Denzel Washington play Richard Williams in an upcoming biopic. (Buzzfeed)


// Ridiculous things that men buy: Top of the list is surely this $12.5 million Bugatti La Voiture Noire (literally ‘The Black Car’), which is the most expensive car in the world. There is only one of its kind and it has already been sold to a “Bugatti enthusiast.” Yes, there are photos and specs galore of this so-called “feast of aesthetics.” Oh, in case you were wondering, here’s why we know it’s men who buy Bugattis. (Jalopnik)


// Ridiculous things that women buy: The Jacquemus Mini Le Chiquito bag which is 5.2 cm (two inches) long, and is smaller than a credit card. The entirely useless ‘it bag’ is apparently “the biggest, smallest thing to come out of Paris fashion week.” There’s no news on price as yet, but it’s gargantuan cousin—which is is 12 cm (4 inches) by 6 cm (2.5 inches)—retails at $500… and is totally sold out. (Guardian)


Share | Facebook logo WhatsApp logo Twitter logo


Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

image teal sidebar The pop up image teal sidebar

The ‘Woman of a Certain Age’ Edition


What Would You Say to Your Younger Self?

This is a delightful letter penned by the former editor of Vogue Paris, Joan Juliet Buck, to her 26-year old self. Rather than a dreary paean to the hard-won lessons of age, it’s light, funny, self-deprecating, and wise -- in the way that women are when the anxieties and insecurities of youth fall by the wayside of experience. We greatly enjoyed it.


Read: Advice To My 26-Year-Old Self |Refinery29

Sex, Love etc 2

The Upside of Invisibility

Much has been written on the slow and insistent erasure of women as they age. No longer the object of male desire, they have to work harder just to be ‘seen’. This insightful essay draws on literature, pop culture icons and movies to argue the virtues of this new invisibility. Yes it can be painful, but also liberating. And it raises an uncomfortable question: Can we learn to truly see our own selves, and not just through the eyes of others? It’s a thought-provoking read whether you are 22 or 62 years old. 


Read: The Invisibility of Older Women | The Atlantic

Share | Facebook logo WhatsApp logo Twitter logo

Or use your unique referral link
to score some cool swag.

Be an Ambassador

To connect with one another, get unique access, invites to private events,
exclusive content and much more.
Not a subscriber? Sign up here.