Friday, August 30, 2019

Study of the day

A massive genetic study of half a million middle-aged people in Britain “found virtually nothing in common among the people who reported having at least one same-sex experience in their lifetime.” The findings raise new questions about the decade-old quest to find the so-called ‘gay gene’ which would tell us what part of our sexuality is ‘inherited’. It also raises questions about the study itself. Critics, for example, point to the lack of diversity in its sample. The other problem: the study equated sexual behaviour—i.e. a single same-sex encounter—with sexual orientation.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The publishing of the National Register of Citizens list

Tomorrow, the Assam government will publish a list that will declare which of its residents are “genuine Indian citizens.” Here is a brief curtain-raiser to help you understand what will most likely be the biggest headline over the weekend.


What is the National Register of Citizens? Here’s a quick timeline of the NRC:

  • The NRC is a list of Indian citizens which was first created in 1951. 

  • However, Assam has since experienced massive waves of migration due to the Bangladesh War. A prolonged and violent agitation led to the signing of the 1985 Assam Peace Accord—which agreed to identify and deport all “foreigners” residing in the state.

  • But the actual project of documenting illegal immigrants was delayed until 2013 when a Supreme Court decision ordered it resumption. 

  • A draft version was released last year, but the final list will be published tomorrow. 


Why does this matter? Those who are on the list will remain citizens. Those who are not will have ten months to prove their citizenship in front of a “Foreign Tribunal.” If they fail to do so, they will be sent to detention centres.


What’s a Foreign Tribunal? It is a quasi-judicial body exclusively set up to determine a person’s citizenship. There are 100 in Assam right now, but the Union government plans to ramp that number up to 1000 in the coming months. The tribunal has the power to declare someone a ‘non-national’ even if their name appears in the NRC—and vice versa.


And what about these detention centres? Assam currently has six detention camps which are located in jails. There are plans to build ten more. Each holds around 1000 detainees as of now. But it isn’t clear what will happen to these people once they enter a detention centre. The reason: Bangladesh has flatly refused to take them back. In other words, once declared a ‘foreigner’, a person will become stateless. 


And how do they decide who is a citizen? You are deemed to be a  citizen if:

  • Your name appears on the original NRC list published in 1951

  • Your name appears on any electoral list until March 24, 1971—i.e. the eve of the Bangladesh War.

  • Your parents qualify as citizens based on the above two requirements.

  • You can provide any of the following documents: birth certificate, refugee registration certificate, land and tenancy records, LIC insurance certificates, bank/post office accounts, government-issued employment or education certificates etc. The hitch: they all have to be dated BEFORE March 24, 1971.

  • You are an Indian citizen or a relative of a citizen who moved to Assam after 1971—and you can prove that you/they lived in another part of the country before that.


Is it that hard to prove you are a citizen? Yes, especially so if you are poor and do not have the required documentation. Also: if you were born after 1971 and your parents or grandparents cannot produce the required documentation. Point to note: there are additional criteria for exclusion from the NRC. You will not qualify if you or your parents or grandparents have been declared: 

  • an FT: a foreigner by a Foreigners Tribunal.

  • a D-Voter: a person marked as Doubtful Voter by local election officials.

  • a PFT: a person whose case is pending at a Foreign Tribunal.


How many people are at risk? The draft NRC released last year declared 4 million residents to be ‘non-nationals’. An additional one lakh were dropped from the list in June after a re-verification process. It is unclear how many more will be disqualified from the list published tomorrow.


The bottomline: Now, the NRC process will strip both Hindus and Muslims of their Indian nationality. However, earlier this year, the government passed The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill which lapsed once the parliament session ended. But it is on top of the BJP agenda and will definitely become law very soon. The bill grants Indian nationality to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who fled religious persecution from neighbouring countries and entered India before December 31, 2014. The three countries are Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. So no prizes for guessing which “foreigners” will permanently lose their citizenship and who will not. (Read our explainer on the Bill here)

Learn more: Times of India offers a good backgrounder on the complicated history of the NRC. Indian Express explains how easy it is to saddle someone with an FT, PFT or D-Voter label. It also has this must-read analysis of the likely future of a new class of stateless ‘foreigners’ stranded in India. The Hindu reports on the road ahead for those who don’t make the list. Washington Post captures the human tragedy in the making.

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getting ready to celebrate our favourite elephant-headed god

More BoJo Brexit mayhem to come: Boris Johnson’s team apparently spent the entire summer “war-gaming” possible challenges to their boss’ Brexit-or-die plan. And their arsenal of weapons includes a number of extreme measures such as: refusing to resign even after losing a no-confidence vote; ignoring any legislation passed by Parliament; randomly creating new holidays to cut down the number of Parliament working days etc. (Buzzfeed has an exclusive)


Booze in Delhi has an expiry date: The Delhi Excise Department has ordered hotels and restaurants to “destroy” unsold beer and liquor. There’s now a time limit for alcohol that has been logged out of the storeroom and stored at the bar. The mandated shelf-life for beer is three days. For whiskey, rum, vodka, gin and tequila priced below Rs 1,500: five days. And for the pricier hard liquor: eight days. This latest move is designed to crack down on that nasty practice of refilling booze bottles with cheap liquor. But owners are up in arms: “This is most arbitrary, and we have to destroy half my bar, which currently displays top-shelf liquor that doesn’t sell every single day. By this logic, I’ll need to shut shop within a few months.” (Economic Times)


Forever 21 may file for bankruptcy: due to increasing debt and falling revenue. If true, there will be massive cutbacks in brick-and-mortar stores in the United States—where the malls are already emptying out. The impact on its India operations is still unclear. Brand licensee Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd has already rolled back its chain of stores to focus on ecommerce instead. (Mint)

Zomato’s ‘golden’ goose: The company’s subscription program, Zomato Gold, was supposed to be small and exclusive. But thanks to heavy discounting—at the expense of restaurant owners—it now has over 13 lakh owners. A hefty number that helped Zomato raise its valuation and upto $400 million in funds. (Indian Express)


Do our elephants need birth control? According to the first-ever Elephant Census, there are 27,312 elephants across 23 states. As with the Tiger Census, the numbers may be a little suspect and—more importantly—the Asian elephant remains an endangered species. Nevertheless, the environment ministry is proposing to inject elephants with immunocontraceptives—injectable vaccines that prevent fertilisation. The reason: overdevelopment in certain areas like Bengal is creating animal-human conflict. Wildlife experts explain why this is a terrible idea. (Huffington Post)


Karachi besieged by a plague of flies: Monsoon flooding this year has led to an unprecedented infestation of flies across the city. “It’s not just affecting the life of the common man—they’re so scary, they’re hounding people. You can’t walk straight on the road, there are so many flies everywhere,” says an expert. The bigger underlying problem is not the rain but the mountains of garbage and a broken waste disposal system. The skin-crawling photos ought to serve as a giant warning sign for Indian cities. (New York Times)


Movies we can’t wait to see: Here is a shortlist of trailers that have us all excited:

  • First up is Laundromat’ a money laundering caper from ‘Ocean’s 11’ director Steven Soderbergh. This one stars Meryl Streep (yay!), Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas and looks like so much fun! 

  • Next up: Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker. Need we say more? 

  • And best of all: Sonam Kapoor having a blast in ‘The Zoya Factor’. 


The world’s largest child sacrifice burial ground: has been discovered in Peru where archaeologists have uncovered the skeletons of 227 kids. Aged between four and fourteen, they appear to have been sacrificed to appease the weather gods, and avoid destruction from El Niño. The photos and video are gruesome but a must-see. (The Sun)


Indian food is #4: on the list of most popular cuisines in the world. Italian comes in at #1 followed by Japanese and Chinese cuisines. (The Print)


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:


  • The stunning photography of Margaret Bourke-White—the first female photographer at Life who covered everything from World War II to Partition to the Korean War.

  • Sachin Tendulkar playing gully cricket with Abhishek Bachhan and Varun Dhawan. Yeah, it’s all a bit staged but still a nice thing to see.

  • This Twitter thread featuring amazing photos of opium trade in colonial India. As the journalist who shared them observes, “The Medellin cartel looks like a startup in front of the East India Company…”

  • Eco-friendly Ganapathy idols that blossom into plants and trees.

  • This fierce woman toll collector who taught the driver who slapped her a very hard lesson. Don’t miss her two male colleagues haplessly looking on.

  • Meetings with very large cats. One: a lion in Gujarat eating grass (it happens). Two: this insanely close encounter with a leopard.

  • A very chill Rahul Gandhi hanging with little kids in Wayanad (maybe this is his true calling?).

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Stuff we buy, use or love.

A Valuable List for Bibliophiles
Broadsheet Ambassador Miraj Vora offers three useful resources for book lovers of all ages. The big bonus: they’re all very pocket-friendly.
image blue sidebar The informer image blue sidebar

When you want to listen to a book on-the-go…

Download Storytel, the cost-friendly alternative to the better known Audible. You can choose from 100,000 audiobooks and Ebooks for just Rs 299 per month. The catalogue is not as expansive as that of Amazon, of course, but it includes plenty of popular non-fiction and fiction books to offer real value. The best bit: Storytel offers a free 14-day trial.

Price: Rs 299/month | Storytel

The informer 2

When your little one is a bookworm...

Sign up for an i-cue ‘book kit’. The book subscription service offers packages for kids between 6 months and 11+ years. They deliver a curated and age-appropriate set of 5 books in each kit, and replace them when your child is ready for more. I found the service extremely useful for my 9-month-old who loves board books and touch-and-feel books—but have also heard great things from parents with older kids. (The downside: it’s currently available only in Bangalore and Mysore)

Price: Between Rs 235-295/month | i-cue

The informer 3

When you want to support the cause of reading…

Spend your rupees over at Pratham Books. The NGO dedicated to promoting literacy publishes engaging storybooks to help children discover the joy of reading–in languages they can understand, set in locations they can recognise, and featuring characters with whom they can identify. You can pick from four reading levels for both emerging and confident readers. I usually buy a bunch for a lot of people who don't buy books for their kids—and without spending a bomb! (PS: you can support Pratham via donations as well)

Price: Varies, but mostly under Rs 100 | Pratham Books

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