Thursday, December 5, 2019

Number of the day: 2,081

India is #1 but not for a happy reason. According to the Global Climate Risk Index, we chalked up the greatest number of deaths (2,081) due to extreme weather in 2018. Japan (1,282) came a distant second. More alarming: we are rated #5 in terms of ‘climate vulnerability’. We were #14 in 2017!!

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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A new and revised Citizenship Bill

The Union Cabinet has approved a new bill that will offer citizenship to all non-documented immigrants—except Muslims. Given BJP’s majority, a special clause—and muted response from the opposition—it will most likely be passed quickly in the Parliament.

What’s this bill: The Citizenship (Amendment) 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. Also: Muslims have been entirely excluded.

Why not Muslims? In these three countries, the other communities are minorities that face “religious persecution”—and have therefore fled to India seeking protection. Muslims—who belong to the majority in these nations—do not qualify for citizenship on these grounds. In the past, opposition parties such as Congress and Trinamool party have said that the deliberate exclusion of Muslims from the bill is unconstitutional, and “an attack on the nation’s secular fabric.” However, this time, Trinamool is staying mum, and Congress says it needs to take a closer look before taking a stance.

What’s this special clause? The bill specifically states that its provisions will not apply to states in the North East—except Manipur. In other words, those who become citizens under this new law will not be able to live or work in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram—and large parts of Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura.

Er, why? These areas are protected by a colonial-era Inner Line Permit system. An Indian citizen cannot visit these regions without an Inner Line Permit that also strictly defines the length of the stay. Kinda like a visa. Outsiders also are not permitted to settle or work in these states. 

Again, why? The residents of these states say that uncontrolled influx of outsiders threatens their cultural identity and way of life—which are thus protected by the ILP. It is also why local parties in the North East have fiercely opposed the Citizenship Bill in the past. Without this clause, it would legalise the presence of lakhs of undocumented Bangladeshi Hindus in these states. 

Point to note: When the Citizenship Bill was passed by Parliament in January (but lapsed due to the election), the entire northeast erupted in protests, and BJP ally Asom Gana Parishad exited the ruling coalition in Assam. The amended bill comes on the heels of months of consultations with BJP allies in the region. It eases fears that the BJP will use the bill to legalise Bangladeshi Hindus—creating legions of new voters in the state.  

Why do this at all? The Citizenship Bill is meant to work in tandem with National Register of Citizens. The NRC is quite simply a list of Indian citizens that was first created in 1951. But the question of who is qualified to be a citizen has long been a flashpoint in Assam, which experienced massive waves of migration due to the Bangladesh War. So in 2013, the Supreme Court ordered the creation of a new list—which was finally published in August. (Read more in our explainer here)

Ok, and? 19.07 lakh residents of Assam were excluded from the list. Now, thanks to this new bill, every one of them—except Muslims—can apply for citizenship. It makes clear that they will not be treated as illegal migrants, and no legal action will be taken against them.

What will happen to the Muslims? They have ten months to prove their citizenship in front of a tribunal. If they fail to do so, they will be sent to detention centres. Illegal migrants may be put in jail or deported under The Foreigners Act, 1946 and The Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920.

Added note for NRIs: The government has the right to cancel their Overseas Citizen of India card if they violate the country’s laws. But they now have a right to a hearing before their status is revoked—which will be of little comfort to Aatish Taseer. 

The bottomline: In an election speech, PM Modi talked up the Citizenship Bill, saying, “If the children of Ma Bharati are in trouble, isn't it the duty of India to take care of its children? Is the colour of the passport more important than the colour of blood?” Not Ma Bharati’s children: Muslims.


Learn more: Indian Express reports on the opposition’s reaction to the bill, and has more on the Inner Line Permit. Scroll offers an important analysis that shows how complicated and difficult it is to claim citizenship under existing laws—so there may be little respite for Bangladeshi Hindus as well. Also read: Broadsheet’s detailed explainer on the NRC.

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hanging up on yet another Airtel person hawking a new data plan

A NATO kerfuffle between Trump and Trudeau: The Canadian PM was hanging with Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron, and made a few jokey remarks about Trump. Unfortunately, a TV camera was nearby (watch the clip here). Now, Trump is calling him ‘two-faced’.

Chidamabaram is free at last: The former finance minister P Chidambaram walked out of Tihar jail on Wednesday after spending 106 days behind bars. He was released on bail but has been strictly warned not to “give any press interviews nor make any public comment in connection with this case qua him or other co-accused.” Here’s what Chidu said the moment he got out to reporters: “I’m going to obey the SC order and I will not comment on the case. But the fact is that after 106 days’ pre-trial incarceration, there is not a single charge framed against me as we speak to you now...I will speak all about that tomorrow.” (Need a refresher? Read our explainers on why he is in jail and what the INX Media case is all about)

McKinsey’s shameful secret is out: The international consulting company is brought in to cut costs—as was the case with US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. McKinsey's recommendations: cut food and medical care for detainees, and speed up their deportation—at the expense of their legal rights. Back in 2018, its CEO Kevin Sneader had assured employees that the company “will not, under any circumstances, engage in work, anywhere in the world, that advances or assists policies that are at odds with our values.” ProPublica has unearthed 1,500 pages of internal documents that suggest otherwise. (ProPublica)

Instagram wants your birthday: Starting Wednesday, the social media platform will require users to share their birth dates. The reason: to ensure that underage users do not see age-inappropriate ads for alcohol, birth control etc. Insta is also under pressure to improve child safety, and is likely to introduce parental controls, as well. (Reuters)

Jio unveiled its new plans: that range from Rs 199 a month to Rs 2,199 for a year. But customers will now get less data, which has been slashed from 2GB to 1.5 GB a day. But Jio’s prices are still 25% cheaper than its rivals. Also: it is encouraging users to opt for advance recharge plans to take advantage of the old rates before they change. How this would work: Before 6 December, recharge four times with the Rs 444 plan which offers you 2GB data per day. Each recharge is valid for 84 days and buying four of them gives you 336 days of service. (Mint)

Roger Federer is literally money: He will become the first living person to be celebrated on a commemorative coin—in this case, two sets of 20 Swiss francs silver coins. The rush to preorder has already broken the Swiss mint’s online shopping site. Coming soon: Federer on a gold 50 franc coin. (BBC

Hard times for Indian H-1B visa holders: The Trump administration’s sweeping changes in immigration policies is becoming a nightmare for Indian workers—many of whom have lived in the country for years. According to the latest data, the US is denying H-1B petitions at “a record rate”: 24% of first-time H-1B applications were rejected in the third quarter of 2019 fiscal year, compared with 6% in 2015. Routine transfers of existing H-1B visas are being denied as well. In total, about 50,000 people were denied H-1B visas in the past year. (Quartz

‘Aladdin’ didn’t do Mena Massoud any good: Despite grossing over $1 billion at the box office, the Disney movie's star hasn't landed a single audition since its release. Massoud says,"I want people to know that it’s not always dandelions and roses when you’re doing something like 'Aladdin.' 'He must have made millions. He must be getting all these offers.' It’s none of those things." (Dailybeast)

India’s spam call problem: According to a new report by Truecaller, India is the fifth most spammed country in the world. The number of spam calls in India shot up 15% in 2019. The worst offenders: internet service providers trying to upsell or offer freebie data plans. India is also #8 when it comes to spam messages. Indians receive an average of 61 spam messages per month. An equally pertinent fact: 1 out of 3 Indian women receive harassing or inappropriate calls and SMSes. (

Brit Indians are abandoning Labour: The first poll targeting the nation’s largest ethnic minority, and it shows that support for the Labour party has declined 12% since 2017. But who are desis voting for instead? Not the Tories, but the Liberal Democrats, who saw their support jump by 10 percentage points. Point to note: Labour is still the most popular choice, but by a far narrower margin than in the past. (Ozy)

A ‘digital ally’ for sexual assault survivors: Smashboard—an app developed by a band of smart and determined Indian women—uses blockchain technology to protect women seeking support and help. Quartz has the inspiring details.

Your daily quota of sunshine items: include the following:

  • This great light read that reveals the nine secrets of the airport in LA.

  • For an art break: This stunning thread of exquisite sketches by great masters, ranging from Leonardo Da Vinci to Gustav Klimt.

  • This amusing guide to the correct etiquette for buffet meals—brazenly violated at breakfast buffets in hotels everywhere.

  • The Queen getting annoyed at her daughter Anne for dissing the house guests—in this case, Donald and Melania Trump. 

  • Mahi singing. Enuf said.

  • These white boys totally kicking ass as they ace a Punjabi song

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Movie Rewrite’ Edition

Films give us great joy, but they can also do great damage—shamelessly appropriating and twisting stories and histories to maximise box office returns. And there is no difference between Hollywood and Bollywood on this matter.

When Disney met Aladdin

Did you know Aladdin, one of the tales in the Arabian ‘One Thousand and One Nights’, was set in China? This is a fascinating story of its true origins and how Hollywood stripped it of context, and infused it with American stereotypes to deliver a blockbuster.

Read: Let Me Show You the World | Longreads

Sex, Love etc 2

Bollywood’s new history fetish

This immersive long analysis looks at the recent spate of historical movies—‘Kesari’, ‘Padmaavat’, ‘Tanhaji’—to decode how they rewrite history to serve a particular narrative of patriotism. They tell us more about who we are now than who we were in the past.

Read: How Bollywood is rewriting history | Mint

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