Thursday, January 2, 2020

Number of the day: 67,385

That’s the number of babies born in India on New Year’s Day—putting us right on top of the baby-making list for January 1. We left China (46,299) and Nigeria (26,039) waaaay behind. Indian babies will account for 17% of the estimated 392,078 babies to be born on this day. Also: We are back from our holiday and super-excited about the year ahead. Happy 2020 y’all!

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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What Yogi Adityanath is doing in UP

Over the past month, the state has witnessed an unprecedented and brutal crackdown on its Muslim residents—while the rest of the nation watched in a mix of horror, confusion and disbelief. We pull together multiple media reports to explain what is happening in UP.

First, a timeline: to give you the big picture:

  • The anti-CAA protests in UP first started in early December. On December 15, the police stormed on to the Aligarh Muslim University campus. At least 60 were injured and 21 arrested. 

  • On December 19, the UP government imposed Section 144 over the entire state—which made it unlawful for more than four people to assemble in one location. 

  • When the protests continued on December 19, they turned into a violent confrontation in certain parts of the state. Two teenagers suffered gunshot injuries in Lucknow. As many as 69 social activists were arrested in Varanasi. 

  • This is also when actor Sadaf Jafar was arrested while doing a Facebook Live at at a protest in Lucknow. She remains in custody, and her family alleges that she is being tortured.

  • On December 20, a gathering of worshippers outside a mosque in Nehtaur was disrupted by a group of lathi-wielding men—who attacked residents along with the local police. 

  • Just in Nehtaur, two have died of bullet injuries, two are in critical condition, and ten have been arrested. According to a local Muslim resident, “Not a single protest meeting was held in this town. Imagine, had we protested, what would have been the outcome.”

  • Soon after, there were reports of the police entering the homes of Muslims, destroying property and assaulting the residents. See: testimony of a 72-year old timber trader; case of 66-year old Maulana Asad and students at his orphanage (who allegedly suffered rectal bleeding); and videos and photos of similar violence in Lucknow.

The overall numbers: The official death toll is 19 as of December 28—but a Congress-prepared report alleges the real number is 23. Thus far, 1100-plus have been arrested for their alleged involvement in violent protests, and 5500-plus have been arrested as a preventive measure. 

A very clear pattern: News and NGO reports over the past month indicate that the Adityanath government is using the protests to systematically target and terrorise Muslims—and through a variety of means:

  • This Frontline report shows that the police is actively inciting violence, working in tandem with local Hindutva groups—who have been given a free hand to loot Muslim properties and attacks members of the community. 

  • A fact-finding report prepared by civil rights activists shared videos and photos that show the police systematically targeting Muslim homes and institutions. Multiple media reports allege that the police used ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and communal slurs while entering these properties.

  • As Times of India makes clear, UP is now the first state to force alleged rioters to pay for damage caused to public property—unprecedented in a country where mass agitations often result in vandalism. The government has served notices on 372 people so far. And 67 shops have been sealed because its owners were involved in protests.

  • This is part of CM Adityanath’s promise to take ‘badla’ on protesters. His official Twitter handle—boasting of his 'raudra roop'—declared: “Every rioter is shocked. Every demonstrator is stunned. Everyone has been silenced by Yogi Adityanath's government's strict actions." Soon after, Muslims in Bulandshahr turned over a check for Rs 6.7 lakh.

  • The police is steadfastly denying excessive use of force, and claims that most of the deaths were caused by ‘cross firing’ during confrontations. Toward that end, it is forcing families to bury the dead quickly and in great secrecy.

  • Near Lucknow, the local magistrate has ordered at least 100 Muslim men to furnish a Rs 50,000 bond as an assurance that they will not participate in any protest—and will appear in court every fortnight. Point to note: none of them have a criminal record, nor have they participated in any protest thus far.

What has the Union government said? Nothing so far.


Learn more: The Telegraph has the most details on the fact-finding report. Frontline has the most up-to-date and comprehensive report on police violence. Indian Express compares two FIRs to show how police reports are being manipulated. This Times of India video shows police acting in tandem with ‘civilians’ pelting stones and vandalising shops. Huffington Post has a disturbing report on the torture of children in custody. Scroll reports on Muslims being forced to sign bonds. Scroll also maps the reports of police violence across 15 districts.

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making a long list of futile resolutions

Your anti-CAA protest update is here: And includes the following:

  • The Hindu published a report on the National Population Register (NPR) form— to be used in a massive door-to-door exercise aimed at documenting all residents of the country. As per that report, citizens will have to produce documents to establish their claims. But the Home Ministry is now strenuously denying it. Why does this matter? The NPR is seen as a prelude to creating a nationwide National Register of Citizens.

  • The Telegraph reports on the 5 lakh-strong protest in Kochi.

  • Want to do your bit? Here’s a Twitter thread that collates all the ways you can support the anti-CAA protests in places like Shaheen Bagh, Jamia etc.

  • This lovely clip of the protesters at Jamia singing the national anthem on NYE. Plus: Another lovely clip of protesters at Shaheen Bagh singing the national anthem.

  • A different take: This thread by someone who visited Shaheen Bagh—as a curious observer rather than a supporter.

  • This anti-CAA protest remix of a Power Puff girls episode. 

  • Seema Sirohi over at the Observer Research Foundation takes a sharply critical look at the damage done to India’s global reputation.

The Pope’s moment of rage: The leader of the Catholic church made big news when he was filmed slapping at the hands of a woman trying to hold on to him. He has since apologised. Watch the clip here. (New York Times)

The great escape of Carlos Ghosn: The former chairman of Nissan was facing charges of financial wrongdoing in Japan. He says the charges have been cooked up by Japanese nationalists determined to kick a foreigner out of the top job. So Ghosn—who was under 24X7 surveillance—packed himself into a large musical instrument box and fled the country. Nirav Modi impress hua. (The Guardian

Air India may be permanently grounded: The airline is going to run out of cash soon, and owes Rs 60,000 crore in debt. According to an unnamed senior exec, “We are somehow managing the operations at present and at best we can sustain this situation till June. If a buyer does not come by that time, we will have to shut shop.” (Indian Express)

Mother Teresa and the pedophile priest: A US lawsuit against the powerful Jesuit order has revealed an unexpected and alarming connection to India’s most beloved nun. She and her order championed the cause of Rev. Donald J. McGuire who was apparently her spiritual advisor. He also sexually abused hundreds of boys: “Each time the Jesuits received complaints that McGuire was sexually abusing boys, they would move him to another post, where he would continue his predatory behavior. Even after a psychiatric evaluation showed McGuire was sexually attracted to underage boys, the Jesuits continued to insist he was a priest in good standing, in part due to the urging of Mother Teresa.” (AP News

Bad news for Notre-Dame: There’s a 50% chance that the historic French cathedral may be doomed—despite the French government’s determination and the support of big-buck donors. The reason: Right before it caught fire, 50,000 tubes of scaffolding had been installed to facilitate renovation work. Thanks to the blaze, these tubes have welded together, forming a “mass of twisted metal of roughly 250 tons that is weighing down on the structure.” Rescuing the building will require carefully removing the scaffolding. But there’s a 50-50 probability it will fall on the vaults below which are keeping the building upright. (The Smithsonian)

India is on Obama’s mind: The ex-US prez put out his year-end lists of faves. Indian singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad’s ‘cold/mess’ made it on his list of best songs. And India historian William Dalrymple’s ‘Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire’ got a shout out on his best reads round-up.

Sharon Stone got kicked off Bumble: Yup, the never-aging glamour girl had a totally legit account on the dating app—but was blocked because other users thought it was fake. So like any irate customer, she complained about it on Twitter! She has since been unblocked… and is back to giving false hope to millions of men. Also: she’s using all the attention to raise awareness of income inequality. (Time)

Hardik Pandya is engaged: to Serbian actor Natasa Stankovic. Yes, there are photos of the proposal here—and this blinged out one went instantly viral.

Good news worth your attention: The brave staff of Mogo Zoo worked tirelessly to save all 200 animals from the deadly wildfires—including orang-utans, tigers and giraffes. It’s the one bit of good news in the midst of Australia’s ongoing nightmare. Also: Nagpur is now the first Indian city to treat and reuse 90% of its sewage water.

Holiday reads you might have missed: include the following:

  • Indian Express profiled the real prince of Awadh—a follow up to the wildly popular New York Times story on the fake ancestors of Wajid Ali Shah.

  • Times of India has a moving story on Mrinal Sen—and his son’s unique plan to share his legacy.

  • Mumbai Mirror has the scary story of a man whose Aadhaar card was uploaded on the web—and no one is willing to help him, neither the Aadhaar authority nor the police.

  • Buzzfeed offers a great read on how young Indians are using smartphones against their government.

  • BBC News has the year’s biggest medical breakthroughs. There are lots of year-end lists but this one was truly heartening.

  • Also in Indian Express: How the past decade destroyed the allure of the Indian engineering degree.

  • Juggernaut founder Chiki Sarkar’s lovely tribute in Scroll to Sonny Mehta, the legendary publisher and chairman of Knopf Doubleday.

  • This Newsweek article that anoints Rupi Kaur as the writer of the decade. 

  • Scroll’s excellent ‘Art of Resistance’ series. 

Things that make you go WTF: include the following:

  • This shocking Reuters visualisation of the amount of microplastics we consume.

  • The fact that Indians are way more clued in on the cause of climate change than the rest of the world.

  • Umm, this: “This influencer is pregnant now she’s talking to herself through her unborn child’s Instagram.”

  • Democratic prez candidate and billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s plans to, er, redecorate the White House.

  • Billboard’s totally inexplicable and very unpopular list of top ten rock songs of the decade. Hint: the top three are all Imagine Dragons numbers.

  • These bonsai trees shaped like, er, giant rats.

Your daily quota of sunshine: includes the following:

  • Actor Sidhant Chaturvedi’s one-line response to Ananya Pandey’s long defense of privilege in Bollywood.
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Unexpected, thought-provoking and always worth your time

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The ‘New Resolutions’ Edition

It’s that time of the year when we all make solemn promises to ourselves—to ace all the things we’ve failed entirely at in the year before. It all starts to feel tired and far too familiar. Here are two pieces that offer a fresh approach to an old tradition.

No, it’s not all about you

We all make New Year resolutions to find more happiness in the coming year. And yet, that long list of vows usually misses out on a key ingredient of joy. Here’s a thought-provoking piece that makes a strong scientific case for doing more for others in 2020.

Read: A New Year’s resolution to make a difference | Big Think

Sex, Love etc 2

Resolution #1: Stick to what’s doable!

There are plenty of guides to making and keeping new year resolutions. This one offers a clear-eyed down-to-earth template that we found to be most useful. Besides, we have a soft spot for any advice that involves reading books.

Read: 10 Practical New Year’s Resolutions for a Healthier, Happier Life | Forbes

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