Tuesday,  February 18, 2020

Number of the day: 40%

The price of paracetamol—the most common drug used to treat aches and fever—has shot up by 40% in India. Also up by 70%: the cost of azithromycin, an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections. The reason: the coronavirus. India relies on China for 80% of the active ingredients used to make medicines. And most Chinese factories are still shuttered due to the outbreak. Also at risk: smartphone manufacturers. One industry leader says, “Inventory with manufacturers would last for about two weeks and production will start suffering when they run out of critical components like printed circuit board, camera modules, semiconductors, resistors and capacitors.”

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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A big victory for women in the Indian Army

The Supreme Court has delivered a historic judgement in support of gender equality in the Army—and a firm kick in the behind of a military establishment that fiercely opposed change. 

First, some background: Here’s a handy timeline that also offers context to the ruling:

  • In 1992, the Army opened its doors to women officers. However, they could only serve for five years, and only in certain special non-combat areas. Examples: Army Education Corps, Corps of Signals, Intelligence Corps, and Corps of Engineers.
  • In 2006, the time limit on service was increased to 10 years, and could be extended to 14. But combat-related areas were still a no-no.
  • More importantly: Only men were eligible for a permanent commission at the end of 10 years—and they could serve up to 20 years. 
  • Why this matters: Without a permanent commission, women were automatically disqualified from command positions. And they lost out on pension benefits—which only kick in after 20 years of service.  
  • In 2003, 2006 and 2008, various petitions were filed seeking permanent commissions for women officers. The Delhi High Court ruled in their favour, and the government challenged the ruling in the Supreme Court. And the Defence Ministry did not implement the court judgement in the interim.
  • Most recently, in February 2019, the government offered a compromise: The Army will offer permanent commissions to women, but will not give them command positions. Women will only serve as staff.


Ok, got it! What did the court say now? The Supreme Court ruling sweeps away all previous rules that discriminate against women. 

  • Women officers will now be eligible for permanent commissions across the board—in every area of the Army, including 10 combat-related ‘streams’. Examples: infantry, mechanised infantry, artillery and armoured corps. These constitute 70% of the Army.
  • They will no longer be restricted to staff positions, but will be eligible for command posts. 
  • As Indian Express notes, this will “open avenues for further promotions to higher ranks for them: if women officers had served only in staff, they would not have gone beyond the rank of Colonel.”
  • They will also be eligible for junior command courses that groom them for higher ranks of the Army’s leadership. Until now, only male captains and majors were eligible for such training.


Whoa, that’s huge! Yup. Also huge: the scathing language employed by the Court that takes direct aim at the heart of gender inequality—especially in the military. Justice Chandrachud’s judgement declared: “Reliance on the ‘inherent physiological differences between men and women’ rests in a deeply entrenched stereotypical and constitutionally flawed notion that women are the weaker ‘sex and may not undertake tasks that are too arduous’ for them. Arguments founded on the physical strengths and weaknesses of men and women and on assumptions about women in the social context of marriage and family do not constitute a constitutionally valid basis for denying equal opportunity to women officers.”


The big picture: While the judgement is a big win for gender equity, the numbers offer a reality check: there are only 1,653 women officers in the Army, 1,905 in the Indian Air Force and 490 in the Indian Navy. The total number of officers in the joint armed forces: 65,000. So there's that.


Learn more: Indian Express offers the most detailed explainer. The Telegraph has more on the SC judgement. Times of India reports on the pushback from Army sources on appointing women to command positions in combat areas. The Supreme Court also listed 11 times women officers served with the greatest distinction. Hindustan Times has the list.

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feeling super-proud of our women in military uniform 

Bezos joins battle against climate change: The world's richest man has pledged $10 billion to save our planet. The Bezos Earth Fund will finance work by scientists, activists and other groups. In an Instagram post, he wrote: “Earth is the one thing we all have in common. Let’s protect it, together.”  Not impressed: Amazon Employees For Climate Justice—who have been taking Bezos to task for his company’s carbon footprint. They responded: "We applaud Jeff Bezos' philanthropy, but one hand cannot give what the other is taking away… When is Amazon going to stop helping oil & gas companies ravage Earth with still more oil and gas wells? When is Amazon going to stop funding climate-denying think tanks like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and climate-delaying policy? When will Amazon take responsibility for the lungs of children near its warehouses by moving from diesel to all-electric trucking?" Now, that’s a tough crowd. (NPR)


Brit MP deported to Dubai: Debbie Abraham was refused entry into India when she landed in Delhi on an Emirates flight from Dubai. She claims that airport authorities cancelled her Indian visa—valid until October—without offering any reason. But the Home Ministry insists otherwise: “The UK MP was informed in advance that her e-visa had been cancelled and she had no visa when she landed at IGI airport.” The likely reason for cancelation (be it in advance or not): The Labour MP chairs a parliamentary group focused on Kashmir, and has repeatedly raised concerns about human rights in the state. No, she wasn’t planning to head to the Valley, but to visit friends and family in India. The Telegraph has the story. Indian Express has more details on Abraham.


Shaheen Bagh is headed for mediation: The Supreme Court appointed a mediation team to talk to the anti-CAA protesters. The aim: persuade them to move their protest site, and end the blockade of a key NCR highway. The bench also noted: “Democracy works on expression of views. But there are lines and boundaries. If you wish to protest, while the matter is being heard here, that’s also okay...Blocking traffic and causing inconvenience is our concern.” The protesters say they are open to mediation but have zero plans to move. In related and scarier news: This Reuters report on the rise of facial recognition tech in India, the lack of regulation, and the Indian government’s plan to use facial recognition to aid law enforcement.


Spicejet teetering on the edge of trouble: The airline has 13 of the infamous Boeing 737 MAX planes in its fleet—all of which have been grounded since the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March 2019 (our explainer here). And the airline has been burning cash leasing planes to make up the shortfall. Spicejet’s survival now depends on how quickly it will receive compensation for the grounded jets from Boeing—which may be delivered by March. The reason it matters: As of September 30, the airline had a negative net worth of around Rs 850 crore. In comparison, Indigo’s net worth: Rs 6,200 crore. Also read: our explainer on the dismal state of India’s aviation industry. (Business Standard


Indian birds are disappearing! The State of India’s Birds 2020 report sounds the alarm on a dramatic population decline among native bird species—mainly due to loss of habitat, widespread presence of toxins, hunting and trapping. The greatest declines have been recorded among meat-eating birds, such as vultures and eagles. The numbers of the Indian sparrow have stabilised, but it remains rare in big cities. The biggest concern: The species that are most threatened are also the ones in greatest decline. (The Hindu)


Beware the ‘Skull-breaker challenge! This bizarre and dangerous antic involves three people jumping in the air, and one of them falling hard on the ground (it is better seen than described). It is now the hottest Tik Tok challenge among teens, and has resulted in serious fractures, head injuries—and can literally break your skull. One example here. (Indian Express)


A must-watch clip: How do you protect a four-year old in a city that is being repeatedly being bombed? The heart-melting and -breaking answer is here. 


Owning a car is bad for health: Everyone knows that riding a bike to work is a whole lot better than driving a car. But exactly how bad are those daily car commutes for you? Scientists now have a definitive answer: 10.3 kilograms. That’s how much more a 50-plus person who owns a car weighs compared to someone who does not—i.e. a person who is more likely to take public transit, walk, cycle etc. Yes, the difference is smaller for people under 50 (2 kgs). But age also makes the weight gain more dangerous. The bottomline, according to scientists: “While cars have saved trillions of hours of travel time globally, they’ve also likely shortened lifespans by trillions of hours in aggregate via traffic accidents, pollution and obesity-related disease.” (Globe and Mail)


The ‘Sex, Love Etc.’ Pop Up: includes the following reads on everyone’s fave subject:


  • Mel Magazine reports on the rise of Tik Tok porn and how it mirrors an increasing demand for ‘realistic’ smut.
  • Apps like Tinder etc. are supposed to be all about casual hook-ups. But is it really that easy for Indian women? Huffington Post investigates. 
  • Good reports on new studies that show heterosexual men and women are attracted to specific dance moves. And some of those preferences are a little “bizarre.”


Cool stuff we learned on the internet: include the following:

  • Inverse looks at 44 foods that can help combat depression. Yup, this is based on real science.
  • Quartz highlights the story of Aditya and Poonam Singh who have been buying land next to the Ranthambore tiger reserve, and letting the forest grow back.
  • Not at all cool, but a watch-and-learn item: An emotional young Kashmiri woman tells anti-CAA protesters why she feels betrayed by them.
  • Chicago Tribune reports on a new—very strange-looking—‘bracelet of silence’ that jams any device eavesdropping on you.
  • It was cool to learn about all the women PUBG players in India. Not so cool: the routine sexual harassment and misogyny they face online. News18 has that story.


Things that make you go WTF: include the following:

  • A plane landed sideways in the midst of a fierce storm at Heathrow. Amazing!
  • A Hindutva bhakt offered this long and demanding list of requirements in his matrimonial. Of course, it included “very fair.”
  • In related news, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said: "The cases of divorce are more in educated and affluent families, because with education and affluence comes arrogance, as a result of which families fall apart." Sonam Kapoor was not impressed
  • Pakistan’s most popular EDM festival ended in total chaos and sexual assault when mobs surged past the barricades.
  • The fact that Muthoot Finance is holding more gold than entire nations like Thailand, Singapore and Sweden.
  • Ok, this one’s actually funny. At a prestigious art festival in Mexico, a critic mysteriously shattered a $20,000 installation. Her response: “Instead of simply apologizing, Lésper developed a mystical interpretation of the incident. She’d been openly criticizing Rico’s sculpture just before it broke. “It was like the work heard my comment and felt what I thought of it.’”


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • This lovely interview with Kambala jockey Srinivasa Gowda, the man being hailed as faster than Usain Bolt. He explains why he loves his life exactly the way it is. #LifeGoals.
  • The excellent news that Prince Harry will be doing an Apple TV series on mental health—in collaboration with Oprah, no less!
  • Never throw trash on the ground, right? This toddler seems to have learned that lesson a little too well. 😂
  • This hilarious must-watch video of a father being schooled by his little girl on his car karaoke moves.
  • Forget boring old lip-synching. This Tik Tok clip featuring Shilpa Shetty takes it to a whole new level.
  • Best Bong Joon Ho joke… with a coronavirus twist.
  • Lol, best inside joke for anyone who reads Broadsheet. Trust us, you’ll get it.
  • Awesome Lizzo’s fierce answer when asked about not fitting society’s beauty norms. Wait for the reference to penis sizes.
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