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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 24, New Delhi, May 29, 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, May 29, 2021

Saturday 29 May 2021

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, May 29, 2021

Cyclone Yaas struck India’s eastern coast on May 26, 2021. This has led to considerable dislocation and damage to thousands of homes in rural areas of Orissa and West Bengal. Some 1.2 million people were evacuated to shelters before the cyclone. The scale of damage assessment is still underway. One thing is clear, that greater frequency we are witnessing adverse weather events, and from what climate scientists predict this is going to be the norm that our society must prepare for the future. This future is about the long term impact of climate change and not just about having adequate spaces for shelter during the crisis but realising that the coastlines as we knew them will be more vulnerable & there is need for building safer homes for citizens located at some distance from coastal zones prone to storms and cyclonic conditions. Climate change and its impact will not just be in coastal zones it will be in vast regions across countries, as we saw in the avalanche in the hills of Uttarakhand recently. The state must redraw the redlines and make health and environmental concerns the central focus of national plans, not endless growth that destroys nature. The response of our policymakers and lawmakers to the current Covid-19 pandemic is also telling us not to go down the path of disaster capitalism.

The huge failures in the response to the second wave of Covid-19 in India should have led the Government to admit its failings and to change its policy responses. The Government must totally roll back its botched vaccine policy where it had passed the buck to the State Governments in India. The problem is that the Modi government doesn’t seem willing to admit mistakes on any front. Our King Kong government can’t be seen to lose face.

Intimidation and threats are the modus operandi of India’s ruling party. Its trademark response to any criticism is to attack back and to deflect’ Anyone criticising the Indian government is now painted with a broad brush accusation ‘attempt to defame India’ This includes Opposition parties, news media groups within India or outside, and now recently the tech giant firms are being included in the pack.

1) The whole of the past week was spent non-stop by the ruling BJP attacking the opposition Congress party as having conspired to defame India’s government in a conspiratorial plot with a whole plan and a how-to ‘tool kit’. And they began posting information regarding this on Twitter and social media. The social media platform responded by marking some of these tweets by BJP spokesperson Patra as misleading ‘Manipulative’ This provoked the ire of the ruling party; The Modi Government reacted on May 24, 2021, by sending in half a dozen policemen of the special cell of Delhi police to twitter’s offices. One more instance of misuse of state machinery. Twitter responded by publicly stating that it feels concerned about the safety of its employees in India.

Giant tech firms like Facebook and Twitter have their internal rules and criteria and terms of service on regulating content - the enforcement of rules on these platforms are driven by automated scripts and artificial intelligence-driven monitoring systems. The government under the Information Technology Act can regulate content but it cannot be asking a private company to remove specific labels & change its internal rules regarding red flags or labels etc. This amounts to censorship.

2) The government suddenly directed all media platforms to stop using the term ‘Indian variant’ in reportage, and use instead its scientific label B.1.617 strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus believed to be driving the second surge of the pandemic in India. Is this really to spread awareness of science (since virus’s and pathogens don’t have a nationality) or just plain narrow nationalism?. Comes over like a surprising request from a government whose ministers and supporters have been peddling idiotic un-scientific claims and cures for Covid-19 (that involve cow urine, cow-dung and ingested mustard oil, religious prayers, and rituals and providing patronage to Baba Ramdev, a charlatan for his untested drug called coronil).

3) The April May 2019 Covid 19 surge in India was big in the number of infections and deaths per day with official figures of over 4,000 per day. But demographers, scientists, journalists, and modelers say these figures (and the overall figures since 2020 outbreak) are too low. The New York Times did a superb report on estimates of India’s Covid-19 death toll drawing on information from respected scholars from around the world. Of course, this report too has been denounced by the Modi government which called it baseless and false.

4) Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 were notified by the Government of India in February 2021. These are wide-ranging and cover social media and news organisations as well, with requirements to trace all messages. … They have been criticised by civil society groups, and digital news organisations for endangering freedom of expression and the right to privacy online. The most problematic thing here is the requirement of traceability of online messages or on WhatsApp, here the provider must keep track of all messages. This raises serious questions of the privacy of all users.

May 27, 1964, was Jawaharlal Nehru’s 57th death anniversary. He was a statesman and democrat to be emulated by all. He would probably be aghast and speechless if he were told of the state of affairs in India of Today.

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Tributes:

Sheela Sandhu, the co-founder of Mainstream and the former Managing Director of Rajkamal Prakashan —the well-known publishing house of literary work in Hindi (founded by Aruna Asaf Ali) passed away on May 1, 2021. Her contribution towards book publishing and Hindi literature is truly immense. In her time Rajkamal Prakashan brought out writings by some of the most prominent Hindi writers, anthologies of contemporary writing, and commissioned translation from foreign languages to Hindi, e.g. writings of Camus into Hindi, and also writings of some of India’s best-known Historians like DD Kosambi, Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Sumit Sarkar, R.S.Sharma. These were translated into Hindi for the first time. She will be fondly remembered

Dr Shahida Akhter, a well-known doctor a child health specialist, passed away in Dhaka on May 1, 2021

Shri Arvind R. Deo, a retired Indian Foreign Service Officer, who served as India’s Ambassador to Nepal and Hungary in the 1980s. passed away on May 18, 2021.

Prof Mansura Haidar, who passed away on May 23, 2021, had been Chair and Coordinator of the Centre of Advanced Study, Aligarh Muslim University, Visiting Professor at the Academy of Third World Studies (now Academy of International Studies), Jamia Millia Islamia, and Senior Academic Consultant at the IGNCA. She was a specialist in the medieval history of Central Asia.

K Saradamoni, the social scientist, feminist, writer passed away on May 26, 2021. She was an economist who retired from the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi. Her writings some of which appeared in Mainstream, covered a wide range of subjects from women, labour, caste to inequality. The late N. Gopinathan Nair, the founder-editor of Janayugam, the newspaper of the undivided Communist Party in erstwhile Travancore and someone who also worked for Patriot in New Delhi. He was married to Dr K Saradamoni.

HS Doreswamy, the 104-year-old Gandhian, from Karnataka passed away on May 26, 2021. He was 23-years-old when he was jailed for organizing strikes against the British.

We pay our tributes to the above figures

May 29, 2021 – The Editors

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