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Society

The Digital Tracking Of India's Sanitation Workers Is An Extra Dirty Deal

Lower-caste cleaners must wear GPS-enabled smartwatches, raising questions about their privacy and data protection.

Munesh sits by the roadside near a crowded market in Chandigarh, a city in India’s north, on a January day. She is flanked by several other women, all of them sweepers hired by the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation. She shows the smartwatch she is wearing and says, “See, I didn't even touch it, but the camera has turned on."

Munesh, who estimates she is in her 40s and, like many Indians, goes by just one name, is one of around 4,000 such sanitation workers. The corporation makes it mandatory for them to wear smartwatches — called Human Efficiency Tracking Systems — fitted with GPS trackers. Each one has a microphone, a SIM embedded for calling workers, and a camera, so that the workers can send photos to their supervisors as proof of attendance.

In Chandigarh, this project is run by Imtac India, an IT services company, at a cost of an estimated $278,000 per year. Meanwhile, sanitation workers say that the government has not invested in personal protective gear throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and that they have long worked without medical care and other vital social services.

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From India To Canada, Tracking The Killer Wave Of Global Warming

Because of climate change induced heat waves, India is increasingly — and alarmingly — resembling Kim Stanley Robinson's climate-fiction book The Ministry of the Future, but nothing seems to be done to change its dramatic ending.

-Essay-

Kim Stanley Robinson’s book The Ministry of the Future begins quite dramatically. In the year 2025, an American aid worker experiences a horrific heatwave in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India. The chapter ends with many of the people in his town sitting in a lake trying desperately to stay cool; the term "dead in the water" takes on a new significance. Ultimately, some 20 million die in that heatwave.

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How A Newspaper Is Helping Save India's Endangered Languages

After a bill by Indian parliament sidelined local languages in India, one digital newspaper took up the task of helping preserve them.

NEW DELHI — Tucked in a corner of a house in the Chenab valley in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the north of the country is the office of The Chenab Times, a multimedia news website that aims to produce news in two main local languages of Jammu’s Doda region – Bhaderwahi and Sarazi.

The team uploads videos on YouTube that wrap up daily news, first in Urdu and then in Bhaderwahi and Sarazi. The news portal also gives space to writers from across the country to write for their op-ed section.

In Jan. 2017, 23-year-old Anzer Ayoob, the editor-in-chief of the news website, started this portal that would run news in Urdu and English. However, after the parliament passed the Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Bill – that made Hindi, Kashmiri and Dogri the official languages of the Union Territory – in September 2020, locals in the valley felt side-lined and ignored.

Many expressed dismay over the exclusion of Gojri, Pahadi and Punjabi and how the Bill coerced speakers to align with Hindi in a region where it is barely spoken. This also led to apprehensions over the marginalization of Urdu, which is the lingua franca in Pakistan. Language and politics are delicate subjects in the area. Both China and Pakistan lay claim to parts of Kashmir.

The civil society groups have expressed severe concerns over the Union government’s decision to digitize materials of Kashmiri language in Devnagri script, more associated with Hindi, instead of the Nastaliq script, pointing to serious apprehensions about the devaluation of the Persian script.

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How Cycling Could Revolutionize Gender Equality In India

India is one of the most gender unequal countries in the world. But the humble bicycle is helping women reclaim space in cities, opening up job prospects, and even encouraging their education opportunities.

“I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world,” said American Civil Rights leader Susan B. Anthony, about 125 years ago.

Mobility across the world is often gendered and men and women have different travel patterns. This is partly because women often have greater household and childcare responsibilities than men. Their travel needs are often dominated by accompanying children to school or going to the market for household needs. Women also tend to use different modes of transport than men. What’s more, these gender differences are relatively greater in India than in other countries in the world.

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Geopolitics
Kaushal Shroff

India Faces Monumental Challenge As War Chokes Agriculture Market

There is no country that has more hungry mouths to feed than India, which faces not just food inflation that is roiling the global markets but also vulnerability to fertilizer production costs.

NEW DELHI — There is no such thing as a localized conflict in a globalized world. Sooner rather than later, fallouts from the Russia-Ukraine war will overwhelm the operations of developed and developing economies alike, leading up to the largest, and possibly, the worst food crisis the world has seen in decades.

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The focal point for the imminent crisis emerges from the pivotal position the two countries occupy in the global food exports matrix. Ukraine and Russia together command a lion’s share of exports in wheat, barley and corn.

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Geopolitics
Priyanjali Malik

Modi's Response To Russian Invasion Is A New Low For Indian Diplomacy

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not called out Russia for its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, but not because he wants to help broker a peace. Rather he only has domestic concerns in mind.

-OpEd-

NEW DELHI — India is standing at a crossroads when it comes to the war in Ukraine. Unlike Israel and Turkey, who are trying to use their relatively tame responses to Russia’s invasion to provide space for negotiating peace, India has not attempted any initiative to carve out a global role for itself in what is already the worst crisis in Europe since World War II. While New Delhi has called for a ceasefire and dialogue, it has done nothing to bring it about.

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Further muddying this picture of diplomatic paralysis s this perverse impression that the invasion of Europe’s second-largest country by its largest country is somehow a standoff between Russia and the United States. And Indian sympathies, it seems, lie with Russia for the sake of their shared history. But which history is India looking at?

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Economy
Radha Kumar*

India's Deal For Cheap Russian Oil Is Strategically Dubious And Morally Bankrupt

While the strategic issues are still being debated, the Indian government has dismissed the moral issue by concluding a cheap oil agreement with Russia. But are Indian consumers prepared to accept the true cost of discount Russian oil?

-OpEd-

NEW DELHI — The Indian government’s decision to buy discounted crude oil from Russia, when the Vladimir Putin administration is bombing civilians in Ukraine, is questionable on many counts. Contrary to the Narendra Modi administration’s plea that the issue should not be politicized, the decision in the existing situation is as much political as it is economic, however much we may wish it were not.

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The U.S., European countries, Japan and Australia have made no secret of their desire that India join them in condemning Putin’s war, as the 141 country governments that voted in favor of the UN General Assembly resolution did. Russia has offered discounted oil to show that India is among the "many" countries — actually a dozen at best — that resist the Atlantic alliance’s attempt to isolate and punish Putin.

Xi’s China has suddenly discovered that Modi’s India is worth talking to: it will provide cover for the Xi administration to not only deflect attention from its own support for Russia, but to position itself as more willing to engage with the Atlantic alliance than India.

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In The News
Rozena Crossman, Bertrand Hauger and Laure Gautherin

Zelensky & Lavrov See Progress, 20,000 Flee Mariupol, Notre-Dame Sarcophagus

👋 ꦲꦭꦺꦴ*

Welcome to Wednesday, where 20,000 manage to flee Mariupol despite sustained Russian shelling, Zelensky and Lavrov offer some hope on talks, and archeologists hit paydirt in Notre Dame rebuilding site. German daily die Welt also looks at Romania’s strategic importance in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and how it could force NATO down the war path.

[*Halo - Javanese, Indonesia]

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Lorraine Olaya and Bertrand Hauger

New Russian Targets, ISIS Leader Death Confirmed, Two Years Of Pandemic

👋 Салам!*

Welcome to Friday, where Russian airstrikes target additional Ukrainian cities, while Moscow’s 40-mile long military convoy is on the move again near Kyiv; also, a new report finds the COVID-19 death toll may be three times higher than official data suggests. Clemens Wergin in German daily Die Welt examines the West’s different possible options to help Ukraine on a military level, and the risks they entail.

[*Salam - Kyrgyz]

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Future
Rozena Crossman

K-Pop To Catalonia: How The Metaverse Can Turn Local Culture Global

Glitchy online museum tours are a thing of the past. From Barcelona to Bollywood, the metaverse is bringing immersive cultural experiences right into our homes.

Between environmental costs, COVID and criticisms of digital nomads hurting local economies, the world is questioning the magic of travel — and increasing the time spent in front of screens. Although the meager form the metaverse has taken today can’t replace the smells, tastes, or exact luminescence that make discovering new corners of the world so thrilling, it may soon be dropping local adventures from far away lands into our living rooms.

While the guided tours of museums and online concerts that we all tested out during lockdowns were often glitchy and underwhelming, the beginning of 2022 has seen regional cultural initiatives from around the world flocking to the metaverse, a virtual reality world where people can interact and have experiences as they do in the real world.

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Geopolitics
Sushil Aaron

The Price Of India's UN Vote On Ukraine Will Be Paid In Washington

The Modi government chose to abstain on the UN Security Council condemnation of the Russian invasion, but it underestimates how much India will be condemned on the wrong side of history in the minds of American leaders for years to come.

-Analysis-

NEW DELHI — President Barack Obama once described India-US ties as one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century. That relationship unexpectedly got into choppy waters last week after India got a couple of reminders from the United States on its position about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and how it should vote on the draft UN Security Council resolution – which India ultimately abstained on, along with China and the UAE.

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted that he had spoken to external affairs minister S. Jaishankar – and indicated the “importance of a strong collective response to Russian aggression.” Blinken effectively drafted lines that the Ministry of External Affairs was struggling to compose suggesting that “Russia’s attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is a clear violation of the rules-based international order."

President Joe Biden mentioned in a press conference that the issue of being fully in sync with India on the issue wasn’t resolved completely. Then US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said this while introducing the resolution: “vote yes if you believe in upholding the UN Charter … Vote no or abstain if you do not uphold the Charter.”

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Ideas
Lal Dena

How Hindutva Tries To Steal The Best Of Hinduism — And India

The true version of Hinduism teaches that one has to respect other faiths. That has been threatened the past century by ideologues inspired by the worst ideas of our times.

-OpEd-

NEW DELHI — Of all the religions of the world, Hinduism is perhaps the most liberal and accommodating. It is one of the richest philosophies, embodying rich culture and codes of behavior.

One fundamental characteristic of Hinduism is its spirit of tolerance. True Hinduism teaches that one has to respect other faiths: “a true Hindu can go to the extent of allowing others the right to be wrong,” Shashi Tharoor writes in Why I am a Hindu. This quality of mutual acceptance of differences begets tolerance, which is the hallmark of true Hinduism.

Hinduism does not claim that it is the only way of salvation. A true Hindu believes that he follows a true path and at the same time he also understands that others also follow their own paths.

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Society
Rabia Shireen

How India's Hijab School Ban Is Destroying Muslim-Hindu Friendships

Many Muslim female students lament that several of their Hindu friends have turned their backs on them, despite the fact they have been friends for several years.

As the controversy over hijab continues to escalate in Karnataka, female Muslim students who have been disallowed from entering their schools are going through mental trauma and experiencing a sense of betrayal and discrimination from their friends and college management.

“First of all, we have lost our mental peace. Secondly, we fell out badly with many Hindu friends because of this issue,” Hazra Shifa, a student of Udupi government college, told The Wire.

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Society
Anahita Mukherji*

From California, A Watershed In Fight Against Indian Caste Oppression

The inclusion of caste in its anti-discrimination policy by the California State Universities is as a major triumph for activists.

Saale cha*** tumhari kismat bahut tez hai, tum America pahunch gaye.

Translated, this means, "you cha*** [a slur used by "upper" caste members], you’re in luck to have made it to America."

The casual, casteist insult was one of many Neha Singh grew accustomed to on campus, as a student at California State University a decade ago, where she pursued Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.

At the time, she had no idea whom to complain to, as she wasn’t sure the American university system would understand the Indian caste system. So she held her tongue, avoided revealing she was Dalit, and dropped out of South Asian dance groups on campus after repeatedly being asked what her last name was.

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Geopolitics
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

Games Of The Absurd: Beijing’s Olympics Of Politics And Pandemic

With both fans and diplomatic dignitaries missing, it’s an Olympics that recalls politically combustible Games of the past. COVID-19, like it did for the Summer Games in Tokyo, will also help haunt the premises. The good news is that the athletes will most likely take over our attention as soon as they hit the ice and snow.

-Analysis-

The Olympic script includes the invoking of the spirit of friendly competition as a respite from geopolitics.

Yet the global sporting event has long struggled to separate itself from the biggest social and political events of the day: from the 1936 Berlin Games during Hitler's rise to power to the Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Games to the PLO killings of Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972. There were also major tit-for-tat U.S. and Soviet boycotts of the 1980 Moscow and 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games.

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Future
Yann Rousseau

Masahiro Hara Takes Aim: The QR Code Inventor Builds Post-Pandemic Applications

Conceived in the early 1990s, the QR Code has spread exponentially during the pandemic. Its creator, Masahiro Hara, is one of the many continuing to innovate his most famous invention, which has changed everything from medicine to how we dine.

There's a small red sign at the foot of the steps leading to the Haiden pavilion of Futarasan-jinja, a Shinto shrine founded in 782 by a Buddhist monk. We are in the heart of a cedar forest in the sacred mountains of Nikko. Before going up to pray to the kami, the spirits of the temple, pilgrims and tourists crowd in front of the sign installed just two years ago.

Smartphones in hand, they scan a QR Code, under a few lines explaining — in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean — that it is good manners to make a "small donation" when visiting a shrine.

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