Monday, November 11, 2019
Video of the day

The Indian version 'La Tomatina'—that tomato-flinging festival—is a lot smellier than its Spanish cousin. Celebrated as ‘Goraihabba’ in Tamil Nadu, villagers mark the festive occasion by smearing each other with cow dung… lots and lots of cow dung. It supposedly brings “good health.” Watch it here. Also if you think Tamilians are exceptionally faeces-friendly, here are their North Indian brethren literally ‘bathing’ in the stuff

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The verdict in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi case

The Supreme Court's final judgement sealed the ownership of 2.77 acres of land, closing a bitter legal dispute spanning 70 years. Many are happy, others are relieved, and a great number are disappointed.

The case: The mosque itself was destroyed in 1992 by mobs led by the BJP, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other Hindu organisations—sparking riots that killed nearly 2,000 people. In the aftermath, rivalling groups staked claim to the site, resulting in a 2010 Allahabad High Court ruling. It declared that the site of the mosque should be split into three parts. 

  • One part was given to Muslims represented by the Sunni Central Waqf Board and few local Muslims of Ayodhya. 

  • Another was given to Nirmohi Akhara—a religious denomination of sadhus which originally laid claim to the site in 1959. 

  • And the third part was given to Ram Lalla Virajman, or the baby Lord Ram—who is considered under Indian law to be a ‘juristic person’.

  • Around 14 petitions have since been filed by Hindu and Muslim groups challenging this ruling. The highest court repeatedly deferred hearing the petitions, but finally bit the bullet this year.

The verdict: Here is what the court decided:

  • The judgement overturned the Allahabad ruling saying that the court had “completely erred” in its judgement.

  • Of the other two parties allotted land by ruling, Nirmohi Akhara was disqualified. And the court declared that the Sunni Wakf Board has failed to prove its claim.

  • The entire 2.77 acre of disputed land will therefore be handed over to Ram Lalla.

  • The Union government is tasked with setting up a trust within three months to construct a Ram Mandir.

  • Nirmohi Akhara will be given representation on the trust’s decision-making committee.

  • The government must also allocate 5 acres in Ayodhya as compensation for the destruction of Babri Masjid. The wakf board is free to build a mosque on that land.

The primary line of reasoning:The Sunni Wakf Board staked its claim on the basis of “adverse possession”—essentially squatters’ rights. Sure, there may have been a temple on the site before the masjid was built. However, since its construction in 1528, Muslims have had continuous, uninterrupted and exclusive possession of the land—until the masjid was destroyed in 1992. The court disagreed, and based its judgement on the following historical timeline:

  • The court argued that there is no historical record of “possession, use or offer of namaz in the mosque” between its construction in 1528 and the Great Mutiny in 1856.

  • In contrast, the judgement notes that travelogues of European travellers during that (1528-1856) period note that Hindus believed it was Lord Ram’s birthplace, and offered prayers at the site.

  • Colonial records dating back to 1856 show that the British set up iron railings separating the inner sanctum from the outer courtyard to allow both communities to offer prayers. 

  • This again shows that Muslims did not have 'exclusive' possession of the site—a requirement for establishing “adverse possession.”

  • Yes, there was indeed a masjid on the land right until 1992, but the judges conclude, “In assessing the title of the Muslims, the physical structure of the mosque is one fact to be taken into consideration. But a claim to possessory title has to be based on exclusive and unimpeded possession which has to be established by evidence.”

  • Also: while the Allahabad ruling embraced the British-created separation of the inner sanctum and outer courtyard, the Supreme Court viewed the entire 2.77 acres as one unit. One reason: “For the Hindus, the entire complex as a whole was of religious significance. A demarcation by the British for the purposes of maintaining law and order did not obliterate their belief in the relevance of the Garbh-Grih [inner sanctum] being the birth-place of Lord Ram.”

A secondary line of reasoning: was about what was practical: “Even as a matter of maintaining public peace and tranquillity, the solution which commended itself to the High Court is not feasible. The disputed site measures all of 1500 square yards. Dividing the land will not subserve the interest of either of the parties or secure a lasting sense of peace and tranquillity.”

The odd bits: While the 1045-page judgement was unanimous, a number of unprecedented and peculiar aspects caught everyone’s eyes:

  • For the first time in the court’s history, there was no name attached to the primary ruling as is customary. Instead: the names of all five judges were noted at the end.

  • Also unprecedented: there was an “addendum” written by an unnamed member of the bench. It tackles the question: “Whether disputed structure is the holy birth place of Lord Ram as per the faith, belief and trust of the Hindus?” TLDR, the answer is 'yes'. 

  • The reason this is odd: the main judgement takes great care to set aside the contentious claim, saying: “Title [of possession] cannot be established on the basis of faith and belief” that the site is Lord Ram’s birthplace. 

  • There is already speculation over the identities of the two authors. The primary ruling: Justice DY Chandrachud. The addendum: Justice Ashok Bhushan.

The PM’s response: Describing the judgement as a “golden chapter in India’s judicial history” and “new dawn,” he said: “Today is the day to forget any bitterness one may have; there is no place for fear, bitterness and negativity in new India.”

The Opposition’s response: Congress party said: “The Supreme Court has delivered its judgment. As such, we support the building of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. We ask everyone to respect the SC verdict.” A senior leader told The Print: “See, we can’t use the word ‘welcome’ because that makes us party to the dispute. That implies that we wanted this result. So, in the end, we settled on ‘respect’.” Most other parties opted for similar wording except AAP’s Kejriwal who was more, er, welcoming.

The Muslim leaders’ response: has been mixed, to say the least:

  • The Sunni Wakf Board’s chairman said: “The board will not go in for any review of the apex court’s order or file any curative petition.” He also warned that “it would not look good” if any of the other Muslim litigants refuse to accept the verdict (the chairman’s allegiances were recently a source of heated rumours.)

  • The board’s lawyer struck a different note: “We respect the judgment but we are not satisfied. We will decide further course of action.” 

  • Other leading Muslim organisations were far unhappier and are leaning toward rejecting the five acres that have been ordered in compensation: “You cannot exchange land for mosque. It was not about land but about a mosque… This is neither equity nor justice.” 

Other views worth your time: include the following: 

  • In The Telegraph, retired Supreme Court Justice Ashok Kumar Ganguly explains why he is “uncomfortable” with the legal reasoning employed by the justices. 

  • Harish Khare in The Wire argues that this was “a practical judgment” since any other verdict would have been impossible to carry out in the real world—and he finds hope in the court’s repeated emphasis on secularism.

  • Supreme Court advocate MR Shamshad in Mumbai Mirror points to a variety of inconsistencies in the ruling.

  • Muslim Womens Forum Syeda Hameed in Hindustan Times offers a passionate rebuttal of the ruling.

What comes next: Hopefully, not another Babri Masjid-style demolition or litigation. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad says it will not be pursuing similar claims in Kashi or Mathura… for now. If the VHP’s design for a Ram temple becomes the chosen template, it will likely take five years to build. According to the Mumbai Mirror, the court-ordered trust will likely be headed by UP CM Yogi Adityanath, and include leading members of the government plus other Hindutva groups. 

Point to note: The Supreme Court judgement made clear that it weighed in on the Ayodhya case because it involved a property title dispute that was “expressly or impliedly recognised by the British sovereign.” However, it very firmly shut the door on other such mandir-related claims: “This court cannot entertain claims that stem from the actions of the Mughal rulers against Hindu places of worship in a court of law today.” It was also careful to note that there is no evidence that a temple was destroyed to build Babri Masjid—archaeologists have only established the existence of a previous structure on the same site.

The bottomline: All we have to offer are these words from Gandhi-ji’s favourite bhajan: “Raghupati raghav raja ram / Patita pavan sitaram / Ishwar Allah tero naam / Sabko sanmati de bhagawan.” 

Learn more: Here are some of the key stories on the judgement:

  • The Print has an excellent piece on the VHP design for the Ram Mandir (also the source for the lead image above)
  • Firstpost has the full text of the judgement.
  • Scroll offers a dark analysis of what the judgement means for Indian politics and the Modi government. Economist has a more measured take.

  • The Indian Express front page spoke volumes. 

  • The Telegraph captures the downcast mood of Muslims in Ayodhya on Eid.

  • The Hindu has the best overview of the dispute’s legal and political history.

  • Mumbai Mirror looks at what it means to the Shiv Sena—which may have lost its Hindutva crown to the BJP.

  • Times of India has a must-read on why Rajiv Gandhi is the true architect of BJP’s Ayodhya victory.

  • Indian Express explains why Lord Ram was a litigant in the case.

  • India Today has the social media crackdown that led to 37 arrests. Also: Here is the Amethi police warning journalist Rana Ayyub.

  • If you want to know how impossible-to-satisfy some Ram Temple evangelists are, see this ugly response to a Muslim calling for communal harmony.

  • Also: bizarre clip of the police practicing lathi charge before the verdict; An Ayodhya-related Joker meme; and this cartoon dissing the decision.

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wondering what is this thing called Mastodon

Your Maha drama update is here: The BJP has turned down the governor’s invitation to form the government—saying it doesn’t have to numbers to attain a majority. The governor has now asked Shiv Sena to do the honours. The Sena has 56 seats, and could potentially get to the magic total of 145 with the support of the NCP and Congress.  But sacrifices will be required. NCP chief Sharad Pawar has a laundry list of demands: "[I]t should first snap all ties with the BJP, making an announcement to that effect. The Sena will have to walk out of the NDA." The result: Their minister in the Union cabinet just resigned this morning. Also: the Congress leadership—read: Sonia Gandhi—isn’t all that keen on supporting a more-saffron-than-the BJP party. What about BJP itself? A source told The Telegraph that its latest move is part of a grand plan: “Let the Sena go with the Congress-NCP and they will be finished forever. They will not be able to provide a stable government and the BJP will bounce back with a bigger mandate.” 

Aatish Taseer responds to being ‘canceled’:  The government cancelled the author’s OCI, claiming that he hid the fact that his father was Pakistani (Read our explainer here). He responded with a column in Time magazine expressing his despair: “...I was aware for the first time that I was no longer merely an immigrant, no longer someone moving between his home country and an adoptive one. I was an exile.” But more noteworthy is his mother Tavleen Singh’s response to betrayal by a government she fiercely supported. A government that simply stopped taking her calls: “My calls to the home minister were ignored. So I then tried to call Hiren Joshi who, as the prime minister’s man in charge of the media, has an obligation to at least return the calls of a journalist. He refused to come on the phone. I wrote him several emails. They were also ignored.”

Boris Johnson’s Russia connection: According to confidential intelligence report, the Conservative party received donations from nine Russian businessmen with links to the Kremlin. Example: “Alexander Temerko, who has worked for the Kremlin’s defence ministry and has spoken warmly about his ‘friend’ Boris Johnson, has gifted more than £1.2m to the Conservatives over the past seven years.” Of course, the government has blocked the release of the incendiary—and now leaked—report. Reminder: Britain goes to the polls in December. Walks like a Trump, quacks like a Trump… (Sunday Times

First case of dengue spread by sex: In seriously scary news, Spanish health authorities have reported “the first sexual transmission of the dengue virus.” A 41-year-old man from Madrid contracted the dengue virus after having sex with his male partner—who picked up the virus while travelling in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. (Times of India

Netflix’s odd definition of human rights: The company pulled an episode of Hasan Minhaj’s ‘Patriot Act’ from its platform in Saudi Arabia. The reason: the government was unhappy with its criticism of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Pressed on the decision, CEO Reed Hastings offered this bizarre if honest defence: “Well, we're not in the news business. We're not trying to do 'truth to power’... We're trying to entertain. And we can pick fights with governments about newsy topics, or we can say, because the Saudi government lets us have us shows like ‘Sex Education,’ that show a very liberal lifestyle, and show very provocative and important topics." Wait, human rights is ‘newsy’?

Bumble has a new owner: Priyanka Chopra-backed dating app Bumble and its sister apps are worth a whopping $3 billion after private equity group Blackstone decided to buy a majority stake in its parent company, MagicLab—which will now be headed by Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd. (Fast Company)

Why is everyone talking about Mastodon? Soon after Twitter suspended Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hegde’s account, he told reporters that he will use Mastodon instead. He was soon followed by a number of other influential members of the Indian twitterati. So what is Mastodon? It is an open source network of servers that behaves like a social media platform where you ‘toot’ instead of tweet. Users create and run their own server and so it isn’t controlled by any overarching entity. You can join a server or ‘instance’ whose policies best match your values and needs. For example, most Indian users have opened accounts on the main server, Besides, what’s not to like about a platform that claims: "Mastodon isn’t just a website, it is a federation – think Star Trek. Thousands of independent communities running Mastodon form a coherent network, where while every planet is different, being part of one is being part of the whole,” Toot long and prosper!

007 gets a ‘super woke’ makeover: The upcoming James Bond flick, ‘No Time to Die’ features an electric Aston-Martin and a married Bond. Yes, he is finally getting hitched to a psychologist who first appeared in ‘Spectre’. And the long overdue feminist moment: “The morning after their wedding, Bond wakes sleepy-eyed and says 'Good morning, Mrs Bond', to which she replies: 'Don't you mean Ms Swann?'” (Daily Mail)

Melting Arctic ice unleashes deadly virus: Phocine distemper virus (PDV) has been responsible for killing tens of thousands of Arctic seals since the 80s. But now it is spreading across species of otters, seals and sea lions—and around the globe. The reason: melting sea ice is forcing marine animals to look for food in new parts of the ocean, which in turn brings them in greater contact with other species. Such epidemics will become more common in the coming decades thanks to climate change. (CBS News)

Japanese women, shed your glasses!Earlier this year, Japanese women rose in rebellion against company rules that require them to wear high heels to work. This time around, they are protesting the informal ban on eyewear. A number of businesses—airlines, beauty clinics, retail and hospitality—forbid women from wearing eyeglasses because it gives “a cold impression.” (BBC)

Weekend reads you might have missed:

  • This brilliant and searing comic strip by a Kashmiri artist in the New York Times. Related: Associated Press’ must-see gallery of Kashmiri women under lockdown.

  • The Guardian on the next gen of ‘fake meat’—which can be churned out on 3D printers in your home.

  • This excellent Times of Indiainterview with a climate change expert who explains in clear terms what will happen to India’s cities due to rising sea levels—and what needs to be done.

  • Author Siddharth Singh in CNN explains how India can achieve both economic growth and cleaner air.

  • People has the delightful story of a woman who taught her dog to ‘talk’ using a soundboard. 

  • Southern Food Ways pays tribute to chef Raji Jallepalli who put "French and Indian cuisines in conversation with one another"—long before the words ‘fusion cuisine’ existed, leave alone became a dirty word. A food writer once described her as a “comet … generating a culinary lightshow.”

  • BBC lists the 100 novels that shaped our world.

  • Scroll reports on a trend likely to annoy South Indians: more of them are speaking to one another in Hindi than ever.

  • Wonder where Rakhee Gulzar is now? Quint caught up with the reclusive and no-holds-barred actor.

Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • This amazing cat which saved a crawling baby from tumbling down a flight of stairs. 

  • This awesome inflight safety video starring KPop stars Super M and BoA.

  • A panda chasing a camera. Yes, we have very low standards for all things panda! 

  • This beluga whale playing catch with a rugby ball. Yes, whales have to work harder.

  • This gravity-defying dog

  • This amazing new technology that turns old tees and jeans into a textile called Circulose—which can be used to make spanking new tees and jeans. 

  • A lovely story of how a photo changed the life of a hungry little girl in Telangana.

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The best place for the best advice

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Your lawful rights as a working mom

Editor’s note: The Indian workplace can often be less-than-accommodating of the needs of pregnant women and new mothers. Managers can be resistant or just plain clueless about the law. That’s why it is important to know your rights, so you can exercise every one of them. Ambassador Jyotsna Sharma who is an advocate answers all your unanswered questions. This is part two of our working mom series. We hope you will find it useful and share it with friends and colleagues who may need this vital legal guide.

I became pregnant within two months of taking a new job, and was still in the probationary period. Despite being a lawyer—with over a decade of experience—I was filled with anxiety and doubts. I was lucky to have a supportive work environment, but it truly helped that I knew the law. So here’s a handy FAQ for all new and expecting mothers from an experienced lawyer and mom! 

Is every organization obligated to provide maternity benefits? Yes, if they employ 10 or more people. 

Who is eligible for maternity benefits? Any woman who has worked at an organisation for at least 80 days at any time during the 12 months preceding the expected date of delivery. What it means: even if you took the job in the middle of your pregnancy, you are still eligible for benefits.

What if I am a consultant on a contract? There’s no difference. You are just as eligible as a full-time employee.

Am I required to inform my supervisor or HR when I become pregnant? You are under no legal obligation to inform anyone about your pregnancy or what stage you are in your pregnancy.

How much paid leave am I entitled to?The Maternity Benefit Act originally provided for 12 weeks—of which you could claim six weeks before delivery. In 2017, an amendment to the law extended the period to 26 weeks. You can claim up to eight weeks before delivery. Important point: you have total freedom to structure your leave according to your needs. For example, you can take the entire 26 weeks after the delivery (which I did). 

What if I become pregnant again? The law offers maternity benefits for two children. It only offers 12 weeks of paid leave for a third child. 

But I am planning to adopt instead: You are entitled to 12 weeks of paid leave if the child is under three months old at the date the child is handed over to you.

What about a case that involves a surrogate mother? As a commissioning mother (of a child born via surrogacy), you also get 12 weeks of paid leave from the date the child is handed over to you.

What happens in case of a miscarriage? In case of miscarriage or medical termination of pregnancy (abortion), you are entitled to six weeks of paid leave after the procedure.

What if I am getting my tubes tied? Women undergoing a tubectomy operation also get paid leave of two weeks following the operation.

Anything else? In case of an illness after delivery, miscarriage, abortion or any complication arising from a tubectomy, a woman can claim paid leave of a month—over and above what is already granted under existing law. So let’s say you had a miscarriage followed by complications, then you would be entitled to six weeks plus an additional month.

Can I work from home during and after my pregnancy? Yes, if the nature of work allows that. But employers have to agree—which can be tricky.

Can I get fired during my pregnancy? An employer cannot dismiss a woman during her maternity leave. Also, an employer can’t change the terms of service to the woman’s disadvantage during her maternity leave. So if your employer serves you a termination notice, the date must begin after your maternity leave ends. 

What happens after I return to work?  It is mandatory for establishments with more than 50 workers to ensure there are verified and safe creches—either at the workplace or within 500 metres of it. Alternatively, the designated creche could also be in your neighbourhood.

What about feeding etc? Mothers are entitled to visit the creches up to four times a day, and take two nursing breaks per day in addition to the usual breaks for lunch etc— until the child attains the age of 15 months.

But, but, but… here’s a reality check: Despite the laws on the book, negotiating with employers can be an uphill task. And here are the most common challenges you will encounter:

  • Many women aren’t given the option of working from home even though the nature of work may allow it. 

  • Many companies do not provide a creche facility even though it is mandated by law. For eg: One company's HR claimed that they weren’t sure whether the rule applies to companies with 50 women employees or 50 employees per se. In fact, a friend’s employer offered her a creche 8 kms from her workplace!

  • Interviewers regularly ask married women whether they  are planning to have kids. Good luck landing the job if you say ‘yes’. In one job interview, the person took pains to let me know that the company does not provide flexible work hours or work-from-home options. I had not asked any questions about either!

  • The requirements of the 2017 amendment has also made a number of companies likely to view working moms as a potential liability (as though it isn't hard enough for us!).


Learn more: Read the original law and its amendment in 2017. Daily O explains why the amendment may harm the prospects of women employees rather than help them.


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