Monday, June 3, 2019
Phrase of the day

“Extreme vetting”—that’s the phrase being used to describe the new US immigration requirements. As per the new rules, everyone applying for a visa to work or study in the country has to submit all their social media handles, and five years' worth of email addresses and phone numbers. So if you’ve been saying rude things about Trump on Twitter...

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The #StopHindiImposition rebellion

A draft version of the National Education Policy submitted to the government created uproar in Tamil Nadu, which soon spread to other states.


What is this policy? In its manifesto, the BJP promised a new and ambitious education policy, which was last revised in 1992. The 2019 draft puts forward a “three language formula” which will be mandatory for all states. It proposes that:

  • Starting from pre-school, children will be taught three languages, but the mother tongue will be the medium of instruction. Two of these will be English and Hindi.

  • From Class 6 onwards, kids in Hindi-speaking states will continue to study Hindi and English and a “modern Indian language” (i.e. not Sanskrit). Students in the non-Hindi-speaking states will be required to study their regional language, Hindi and English.”


Why make these changes? The NEP proposal is motivated by three goals.

  • One, wean Indians off English, which it describes as the language of the “economic elite.” Fluency in English, therefore, has become “a criterion to determine whether someone is ‘educated’, and perhaps most unfortunately of all, as a prerequisite for jobs”—which is used to marginalise great numbers of Indians. Point to note: English, however, remains a required subject to ensure more equal access.

  • Two, foster a shared Indian language that everyone can speak. Since independence, English has served as a ‘bridge’ language to non-Hindi speaking states. The draft policy points out only 15% of Indians speak English, whereas 54% speak Hindi.

  • Three, implement early immersion in multilingualism with an emphasis on making the mother tongue the medium of education. 


So what’s the problem? States like Tamil Nadu have a two-language policy, and are fiercely opposed to any attempt to make Hindi a requirement. As the state education minister made clear, “Tamil Nadu will follow only the two language policy and only two languages will be used in TN, Tamil and English.”


What happened next? The state’s leaders unanimously and angrily denounced the new policy as an attempt to impose Hindi on the South. Hashtags like #StopHindiImposition and #TNAgainstHindiImposition went instantly viral. Now the Karnataka CM and Kerala politicians like Shashi Tharoor and some Bengali groups have joined the chorus of protests.


What does the government say? Its leaders scrambled instantly to emphasise that the proposal was just that—a proposal not stated policy. Tamilian ministers like Nirmala Sitharaman and S Jaishankar tweeted in Tamil, assuring everyone, “Only after hearing public opinion, the draft policy will be implemented.”


The bottomline: The NEP draft appears to be guided by the best intentions. However, in the South, Hindi is viewed as one regional language among many. Previous attempts to promote its primacy as a national language have resoundingly failed. There were massive anti-Hindi protests back in 1937 and again in 1965—which is when the three language formula was first proposed. There is little reason to think that it will fare any better now. That said, more people speak Hindi in the South now than ever—thanks to the influx of North Indian migrants and Bollywood movies. The “soft” hegemony of Hindi has proved more effective than any formal attempt to impose it on the education system.


Learn more: The Hindu has the best overview of the policy draft. The Indian Express report on the draft’s focus on English is worth a read. This 2017 piece from The Wire offers an excellent analysis of Tamil Nadu’s cultural resistance to Hindi

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hastily junking your charcoal-infested toothpaste

Cabinet coverage:  The full list of the cabinet ministers plus their portfolios were released on Friday. Here’s a quick round up of the best profiles on the most prominent among them:


  • Amit Shah, Home Minister: This Times of India op-ed takes a clear-eyed look at whether a political genius can be an effective minister. Hartosh Singh Bal’s pre-election essay on Tortoise Media indicts the chequered past of “Modi’s smiling Svengali.” The Print looks at how Shah and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will work together on Kashmir.

  • S Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister: Quint explains why he is a brilliant and inspired choice for his post.

  • Nirmala Sitharaman, Finance Minister: Bloomberg’s Andy Mukherjee explains why her “strongman-handling skills” will be critical to her new job. Economic Times profiles her stunning rise to become India’s second woman FM after Indira Gandhi. The Telegraph explains why Modi picked her for this key post.

  • Pratap Sarangi, Minister of State: He has been widely praised for his austere lifestyle, but BBC offered this reminder of his extremist, often violent past.

  • Smriti Irani, Women and Child Development Minister: This older Caravan report places her rise in the context of patriarchy within the BJP, and how it affects its women leaders.


Being funny is now a crime: Avdesh Dubey, a toy seller in Gujarat, became famous when footage of him mimicking politicians—namely Sonia, Rahul and Modi—went viral. He has since been arrested for illegal vending and thrown in jail for ten days. Surely a coincidence, na? (Quint)

In related anti-free speech news: NDTV anchor Ravish Kumar has been receiving increasingly scary death threats over the past month: “The latest in the series is from an ex-CISF jawan who has sent him a video message threatening to shoot him in his office. Another person who claims to be from the Bajrang Dal in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh has been sending him exact details of his residence address, the route he takes from home to office, threatening to kill him and rape the women in his family.” (The Hindu)


An underdog day at the World Cup: Bangladesh beat South Africa by 21 runs in the first shocker of the tournament. India plays South Africa in its opening match on Wednesday -- opening up the possibility of losing to a team that lost to Bangladesh? An excellent related read: Mint captures the generational divide in World Cup predictions with the olds far more likely to expect the unexpected than their ‘conventional’ younger peers.


First Ronaldo, now Neymar: The Brazilian football star is facing allegations of rape. His father says he is being set up.

In other football-related news: Is sports the greatest antidote against racism? Sure, if your winning team’s star is a Muslim. Liverpool beat Tottenham Hotspurs in the Champions League final while its very white, middle-aged fans sang, “If he scores another few, then I’ll be Muslim too… If he’s good enough for you, He’s good enough for me, Then sitting in a mosque, is where I wanna be. Mo Salah-la-la-la-lah! Mo Salah-la-la-la-lah!”


Climate change endangers the bada peg: Scottish whiskey-makers are sounding the alarm as blistering heat waves forced many of them to stop production. The reason: they ran out of water. A researcher explained: “It’s not just hot and dry summers, but strange weather like we’ve just had—18°C in February, that’s just weird. And that messes up biological and agricultural cycles.” (The Guardian)


Planning to visit a polluted city? A new study shows that even a short trip to a city with high levels of air pollution leads to breathing problems in healthy, young adults. The subjects of the study had visited Ahmedabad and New Delhi in India, Rawalpindi in Pakistan, and Xian in China. (Science Daily)


Finally, some good news for elephants: According to a new analysis of surveillance data, elephant poaching in Africa has fallen dramatically since 2011. The reasons: declining demand for ivory in China, and better government enforcement in Africa. (Science Magazine)


Charcoal toothpaste is bad for you: Activated charcoal is everywhere—from face masks to air purifiers to toothpaste. A new study finds that the ingredient—touted as a ‘natural’ stain remover—actually ruins your teeth and gums. (Quartz)


In memory of Tiananmen Square: On June 4, 1989, a student uprising against the government resulted in that iconic moment of protest—when the ‘Tank Man’ faced off against a tank in the square. To mark its 30th anniversary tomorrow, here is footage of that moment. Plus: a photo gallery of the protests, and the bloody reprisal that followed.

Weekend reads you might have missed: include the following:

  • This critique in The Print of ‘Article 15’ and its ‘Great Brahminical Hope’ problem.

  • A watch-worthy episode of Hasan Minhaj's show on cricket corruption, now available on Netflix.

  • Times of India’s profiles of three workers in India’s thankless gig economy.

  • Quint’s explainer on why the air quality inside your air-conditioned car may be worse than the outside.

  • A Daily Mail report on the Pentagon’s plan to use fish as underwater drones.

  • The New York Times on the dangerous sexism of drug testing—which relies almost entirely on testing men and male animals.

  • California Sunday Magazine offers the brilliant story of a woman who put up a billboard to protest a botched investigation of her rape.


Your Monday morning pick-me-ups: include the following:

  • The return of the ‘Dancing Uncle’, this time shaking a leg to the famous ‘Don’ song, ‘Khaike paan banaras-wala’.  

  • Two anti-Brexit delights: footage of Elton John’s excellent rant declaring, “I am a European. I am not a stupid, colonial, imperialist English idiot.” Also: this clip of Tony Blair delivering a rude reality check about the UK’s future in a world dominated by China and India.

  • This inspiring Deadspin video report on Harnarayan Singh, the Canadian immigrant who offers commentary on ice hockey matches…. in Punjabi. Watch the video, which better explains why he is an inspirational figure in Canadian sports.

  • This visual map of iconic 90s advertisements in India which went viral over the weekend.

  • The story of a man who took a photo of the first ever living Colombian weasel… in his toilet.

  • The happy news that we can look forward to four new Harry Potter stories to be released next month.

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The best place for the best advice

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How to restore sanity to your phone

Our super smartphones are becoming increasingly frustrating to use. They are intrusive, crammed with stuff, and increasingly slow.  Every phone—just like your home—needs a good Diwali cleaning to keep it on track. Here’s how to do it:


Hit delete now: We are very good at deleting apps—often right after we install them. Even so, we all have more of them on our phone than we need. Here’s are simple questions to ask yourself:

  • How often do I use this app? If the answer isn’t at the very least ‘once a month’—say to pay bills—then hit ‘delete’.

  • Is it really more convenient than using the website? Companies want you to use their apps because they get better user data, more monetizable customers etc. But you may be just as fine using your browser instead.

  • What’s the privacy trade-off? Many of those old, never-used apps maybe collecting and sending personal data. That said, apps which you use often—hello, Facebook!—maybe no less hazardous. If privacy matters to you, do your homework and be ruthless.

  • How much storage does it consume? For example, streaming apps—e.g. Amazon Prime—often take up a lot of storage even if you don’t use them very much.


Declutter your home screen: Ok, so now you have the apps that you absolutely need. But not all of them are used everyday. It’s time to spring-clean your home screen. Limit it to apps that you use every day—maps, taxi, your current time-pass game etc. Move the rest to folders or a separate screen. And get in the habit of using search to find apps you use less often. For example, the Airtel app to pay your monthly bill or raise a complaint.


Kon-Mari everything: Mise en place, everything in its place. That’s the mantra of the super-trendy KonMari philosophy of tidying up—but also the first, most basic rule for all aspiring chefs. On your phone, it means stowing everything neatly into folders. We second Zapier’s Melanie Pinola’s advice: “One thing I learned is to group apps into folders by verb or action. So, ‘Write,’ ‘Contact,’ ‘Read,’ etc. This makes it easier to get directly to what you want to do on your phone and is also gratifying in a way to tie an app you’re opening with a purpose and action item.”


Free up storage: Photos take up the most space on your phone—which can be backed up and stored on cloud. But for many of us, the biggest culprit is often WhatsApp. Here’s how to manage that beast:

  • Hit clear chats on groups when you have zero interest in saving old messages—think certain kinds of alumni, friends, or parenting groups. Step-by-step instructions on how to do it are right here.

  • Adjust individual chat settings. We get endless photos, images and videos on our group chats. And not all of them are worth the storage on our phones. But we don’t want to lose the option of backing up other, more precious photos we share with one another. The best way to manage this is to go into each individual group and turn off ‘Save to camera roll’. Combine this with regular ‘clear chat’ house-cleaning.


Use the ‘Do Not Disturb’ option: It exists on every kind of Android or iPhone. Learn to customise it to best suit your needs (instructions are here). So you can allow calls or texts from family or your colleagues, but block everything and everyone else out when you need it.


Dial down the notifications: You don’t need notifications for every email you receive. In Gmail, you can choose to get notifications only from high priority senders. Android phones lets you set up alerts based on labels. On iOS, use the VIP feature on any given contact’s information screen. Then if you go to the main settings menu, you can limit notifications from them. With Outlook, tap the cog icon, go to Notifications, and pick ‘Favourite People’.


Learn more: The New York Times has two guides with more detailed instructions: One, how to declutter and speed up your phone; Two, how to stem the tide of Facebook notifications. Gizmodo has the best advice on how to get control over notifications of every kind -- be it email, news apps, or text messages.

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