Thursday, October 17, 2019

Video of the day

Puma has released a most awesome video for its #PropahLady campaign featuring Sara Ali Khan, Mary Kom, Anjali Lama and Dutee Chand. It’s an eye-popping, tongue-in-cheek and exuberant celebration of women. To say more would be to ruin it. Check out the video and the campaign site.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The rumoured settlement in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case 

Yesterday, the Supreme Court held the final day of hearings in the epic case that has been a political and religious lightning rod for decades. The drama was heightened by rumours of a proposed settlement that may make the court’s judgement irrelevant.

First a brief primer: on the case. Here are the basic details:

  • 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 2010, the Allahabad High Court declared that the site of the mosque should be split into three parts, with two-thirds given to Hindus and a third to Muslims. 

  • One part was given to Muslims who were 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 mosque in 1959, but lost that case. 

  • 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” and is represented by his next human friend, Triloki Nath Pandey, a senior Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader.

  • 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. 

  • There have been 40 days of hearings since August 6. And the judgement has to be delivered before November 17—which is when the presiding judge, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, resigns. 

Ok, tell me about this settlement: Rumoured settlement—but we’ll get to that later. Here is what the Indian Express is reporting:


  • The settlement only involves some of the litigants in this case. On the Hindu side, it includes the Hindu Mahasabha, Akhil Bhartiya Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Punaruddhar Samiti and the Nirmohi Akhara. On the Muslim side is the UP Sunni Central Waqf Board.

  • The waqf board has agreed to cede the land on which the mosque stood to the Union government. 

  • It will do so if five demands are met. 

  • One, the Places of Worship Act, 1991 will be strengthened and there will be no claim staked on any other mosque.

  • Two, the resumption of namaz in a number of mosques controlled by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)—which currently prohibits prayers in protected monuments.

  • Three, the Union government will finance the restoration of mosques in Ayodhya that are in a state of disrepair.

  • Four, the waqf board will be free to build a replacement mosque in any other location of its choice.

  • Five, an unspecified institution of “social harmony” will be built in Ayodhya.

Wow, is this going to happen? Well, it seems unlikely and for a number of reasons. 


  • The settlement—even if it exists—doesn’t include key litigants whose appeals are also in play here. On the Hindu side, Lord Ram himself is missing as is a powerful organisation controlled by the VHP. Five Muslim parties are also absent. 

  • Two—and this is where the ‘rumoured’ bit comes in—senior members of the Sunni Waqf Board and Hindu Mahasabha have vigorously denied any such deal.

  • Other Muslim plaintiffs are calling it a “conspiracy to demoralise us.” 

  • Most intriguingly, the waqf board representative who allegedly reached this settlement—Chairman Zufar Ahmad Farooqui—has gone AWOL. This is also the person who recently claimed that there were threats to his life—and now has court-ordered security. And according to The Telegraph, he is “considered close to the ruling dispensation.”

  • Finally, as per current rules, the chairman cannot unilaterally cede any claim to waqf property. Babri Masjid and the land it stood on is considered waqf—i.e. property given in the name of God for religious and charitable purposes (in this case by Emperor Babur). Ceding waqf property requires approval of two-thirds of the waqf board—and it isn’t clear if other Muslim organisations would back its decision.

But isn’t a settlement a good thing? As experts in Mint point out, a settlement that unilaterally cedes the land would have “a huge demoralizing effect among Muslims, who might think that they were let down by their leaders and representatives, probably under pressure or sentiment of the majority community.” But it certainly would be a big win for the BJP, which can claim credit for reclaiming Lord Ram's birthplace. A factor underlined by this quote from “sources” in Times of India: “So, the waqf board, even if the Muslim parties emerge victorious [in the Supreme Court judgement], would be able to give up claim on the disputed land.” 

The bottomline: While successful mediation is always a better outcome than a divisive court judgement, the bizarre timing and circumstances of this “settlement” makes it somewhat suspect. More troubling is the notion that such a settlement—with the waqf board serving as the sole representative of Muslims—can be used to do an end run around any Supreme Court judgement to the contrary. 

Learn more: BBC has the most concise primer on the case. Indian Express pretty much owned this story today: check out its reporting on the settlement, explainer on the waqf board and its summary of the opposing arguments. Times of India offers a different spin on the settlement based on unnamed sources. The Telegraph makes sense of the many petitioners who are party to this case.

In related news: of Supreme Court-led madness involves a judge who refuses to recuse himself in a case that will decide whether his own ruling made back in 2014 is valid or not. Here’s an excellent Twitter thread and equally readable TOI explainer


In more Supreme Court news: A retired justice of the Supreme Court penned this ominous op-ed warning of a court increasingly under pressure from the government—and which has done little to resist it. (Indian Express)

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dreaming of a massive hotel suite with very large rooms

Throw the grannies in jail! That pretty much sums up the government’s latest ham-fisted Kashmir strategy. Thirteen prominent Kashmiri women—including Farooq Abdullah’s sister and daughter—staged a peaceful sit-in to protest the suspension of Article 370 in Srinagar. The group included a number of senior citizens, including an 80-year old. They were arrested and put behind bars. To fully grasp the disproportionate nature of the response, watch this clip.  

The world’s largest online child sex abuse website: has been taken down in a US operation and led to 337 arrests worldwide. According to authorities, “The now-shuttered English-language site, called "Welcome to Video," contained more than 200,000 unique videos or almost 8 terabytes of data showing sex acts involving children, toddlers and infants.” Want more background? Read Broadsheet’s explainer on this global epidemic. (NBC News)

Twitter has new rules for world leaders: who send out offensive tweets (hmm, wonder who they have in mind). From now on, other users will not be able to like, reply, share or retweet the offending tweets. But users can still use the quote-tweet function to express their opinion. (TechCrunch

American universities are stalking applicants: A Washington Post investigation reveals that 44 public and private universities work with outside consulting companies to collect and analyze data on prospective students. Colleges use tools which allow them to collect information on test scores, zip codes, high school transcripts, academic interests, web browsing histories, ethnic backgrounds and—most importantly—household incomes. The aim of all this data collection: to figure out which students can afford to pay, and are therefore worth recruiting. (Washington Post)

Kerala saint caught in an unholy controversy: If you remember, Mariam Thresia was canonised as a saint by the Vatican. Normally, canonisation requires the person to have performed two bona fide miracles. But Sister Thressia got by on just one—a miracle where she apparently saved a preemie baby. The problem: it was verified by a doctor who declared that the child had been saved by the intervention of the Holy Mother. Now the state chapter of the Indian Medical Association is upset at the church for spreading “pseudoscience.” (Mint)

The ugly truth about Oyo: is that its hotel rooms are unsanitary, often rat-infested and, in one case, lethal. Whatever the company may be doing with the billions it has raised, not much of it appears to have been spent in doing what it promises: providing decent accommodation. Quartz has more on the horror stories.

Not everyone loves Abhishek Banerjee: Winning a big award often invites greater scrutiny—and greater attention to critics. Here’s a Twitter thread (h/t subscriber Ambika Tandon) that collates the key critiques of his research. Perhaps of equal interest: A PhD student unearthed this eyebrow-raising piece Banerjee penned on Indian men’s unequal access to sex—with nary a mention of women. The link is here, and is followed by two feminist rebuttals. The PhD student goes much further in her Twitter thread

The Pentagon’s ‘mind control’ plan: A new research program funded by the Defense Department is developing brain-computer interfaces that can control “swarms of drones, operating at the speed of thought.” Yup, that’s what we want from a country that keeps electing guys like Trump. (MIT Technology Review)

A strange sick tale of a murdered child: A London-based NRI couple deliberately adopted an orphan in Gujarat so that they could have him killed soon after. The reason: to collect on the life insurance. This story is appalling at every level. (BBC News)

Super-small hotel rooms are a thing: ‘Microhotels’ are the hottest thing in the travel industry. What are they? Hotels that offer tiny rooms (think 150 square feet). And unlike those Japanese pods, this isn’t about being cheap or spartan either. As one hospitality expert explains it, “Where ‘micro’ was associated with cheap and small, today, this micro is more higher-quality experiential and kind of cool.” Also this: “The whole concept of the microhotel is trying to get the guest out of the room and into the public space.” Next thing to be canceled: room service 😳 (Washington Post)

I’m a feminist, fasting for Karwa Chauth: That’s the title of this breezy personal essay that explains why a woman who is not religious—and is wedded to gender equality and a husband who has zero interest in depriving her of food—decided to observe karwa chauth. We, OTOH, firmly believe that the only good reason not to eat is coz you’re too busy drinking sangria instead. 

Zomato and the kidnapped beagle: The food app’s delivery person abducted a Pune woman’s puppy from her residence. It’s a long story that mercifully has a happy ending: the beagle is back at home, so yay! But Zomato—which refused to help the owners—now claims the kidnapper never worked for them. (Pune Mirror)

The real reason Pixel 4 is not India-bound: is that its Motion Sense feature, uses a radar frequency that is banned in this country. Or so Indian tech analysts speculate—there has been no official confirmation from the company or any government source. Our question: what if someone bought one in the US? Would it be stopped at customs? Yes, we like to speculate about lavish smartphone buys we can’t afford. (BBC)

Your daily quota of sunshine items: include the following:

  • Jennifer Aniston’s first Instagram post that crashed her account. The reason: everyone swarmed to follow and like a selfie of her and the entire Friends crew. PS: she now has 10.9 million followers—which is some kind of record.

  • These stunning winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest. The photo that scored overall winner is amazing.

  • Kim Jong Un’s photo shoot on a horse—mercifully with his clothes on unlike the bare-chested Putin. And he certainly looked far less absurd than Boris Johnson.

  • These gorgeous dholes (wild dogs) who made their debut at the Bronx Zoo. Dholes are a highly endangered species native to Asia, including India (more on our native dholes here

  • This amusing story of a Delhi judge who quoted Oprah, Meryl Streep and Catherine Zeta-Jones to uphold a woman’s right to maternity leave.

  • Princess Kate in a lovely churidar kurta on her visit to Pakistan.

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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘Out of Fashion’ Edition 

The problems with fashion is that it is ever-changing. What is ‘in’ today is quickly sooo yesterday. Even seemingly eternal staples are not immune from the vagaries of taste—like the handbag or the power suit.


The era of the ‘it’ bag is over 

Remember when the bag on a celeb’s arm was the ultimate signifier of having arrived? Well, those glory days of overpriced leather accessories are now over—killed by Gen Z shoppers who’d rather spend their money on entertainment, tech or equally overpriced sneakers. More importantly, the fall of the handbag points to a fascinating shift in how we define style and status. 

Read: The handbag is losing its once-exalted place in a women’s wardrobe | Quartz

Sex, Love etc 2

No one wants to be a suit

There was a time when a perfectly tailored suit (on a man or a woman) signified authority and dominance. Now, it just means you are either a ‘suit’, i.e. a faceless corporate drone, or a working stiff who has to abide by a dress code—while those truly in power don a tech bro vest or a statement dress. And with the new generation of kids now being raised on a suit-scarce world, it may never stage a comeback.

Read: How the power suit lost its power | Vox 

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