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The Wire is a news website available in English and Hindi, was founded in 2015 in New Delhi. It is published by the Foundation for Independent Journalism (FIJ), a non-profit Indian company.
Women and children posing for a photo in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India.
food / travel
Andrew Whitehead

How The Sari Conquered The World

The prestigious Design Museum in London – named European Museum of the Year in 2018 – is currently staging a landmark exhibition, The Offbeat Sari, all about this item of dress and the clamour of attention it is enjoying.

London Calling: How does India look from afar? Looming world power or dysfunctional democracy? And what’s happening in Britain, and the West, that India needs to know about and perhaps learn from? This fortnightly column helps forge the connections so essential in our globalising world.

The curry has conquered the world; the sari less so. It is, in concept, the most simple of garments: a single piece of unstitched fabric. In execution, it’s really tricky to wear for those who don’t have the knack. All those pleats – the tucking in – and then the blouse and petticoat which are part of the ensemble. Quite a palaver.

When Western women wear a sari – often as a perhaps misguided token of cultural respect – you often wish they had stuck to a trouser suit. And in its heartland, the sari is nothing like as ubiquitous as it once was. Among young urban Indian women, as far as I can make out, the sari is saved for high days and holidays.

Yet the elegance and versatility of the sari, as well as its timeless quality, have caught the attention of fashion gurus and designers, desi and otherwise. The prestigious Design Museum in London – named European Museum of the Year in 2018 – is currently staging a landmark exhibition, The Offbeat Sari, all about this item of dress and the clamour of attention it is enjoying.

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Art Or Islamophobia? How A Bollywood Blockbuster Is Stoking Tensions In India

Art Or Islamophobia? How A Bollywood Blockbuster Is Stoking Tensions In India

Bollywood film The Kerala Story has done huge numbers at the Indian box office after public support by Hindu nationalist parties. But the film is facing claims it is Islamophobic propaganda that peddles conspiracy theories about Muslims.


NEW DELHI — India's Supreme Court has ordered the state governments of West Bengal, in the northeast of the country, and Tamil Nadu, in the southeast, to ensure that the Bollywood film TheKeralaStory is screened everywhere.

The movie is based on the true stories of three women from the state of Kerala, in the southwest of India, who were allegedly forcefully converted to Islam and forced to join the terror outfit ISIS. TheKeralaStory has been a box office smash in India, becoming the second highest grossing Hindi film of 2023.

However, it has faced litigation and protests in the states of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, with accusations that it is Islamophobic propaganda that is promoting the agenda of Hindu nationalists.

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Image of A woman selling vegetables at the market and wearing a face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tapati Guha Thakurta

Time To "Move On" From COVID? That's Not An Option For Me

Anger depletes and debilitates; grief, on the other hand, creates a new strength and resolve. What is centrally at stake for me, three years after I lost my husband, is a stubborn refusal to forget the disease that took him away.


NEW DELHI — Three years ago, it was during the last days in April that the season’s first Kalbaishakhi – gusts of thunder, storm and rain – broke into the sultry summer evening in Kolkata, just as it did this year. I remember the rains came late on that Sunday evening at the end of April 2020, stopping what had become our routine walk during that hour.

Suddenly that night after dinner, past 10 pm, my husband – Hari Vasudevan – impulsively decided to go alone on his walk. With his usual gusto, he finished his brisk round of our Salt Lake block and returned before we knew it. The next morning he mentioned that he was down with fever. We thought it must be a passing bout caused by his night walk in the light drizzle.

Those were still early Covid times and we in India were marking the completion of the first month of a harsh and complete lockdown. As we watched the televised plight of the long walk home of the migrant workers, and heard account after account of people deprived of their daily wage and food, Hari and I regularly reflected on the class privilege that kept our family well-provisioned, well-serviced and safely ensconced at home.

Equipped with our masks and hand sanitizers, the two of us would walk in the late evenings around an eerily empty neighbourhood, greeted mainly by our local pack of dogs in different lanes, with wafts of phone conversations floating out of verandas and the once-in-a-while sight of an ambulance in front of a house that would bring a shiver of anxiety.

Warning signs

Till today, I have never stopped asking myself – when Hari fell sick, why did our alarm bells not go off immediately? Why were we as a family so unsuspecting of the horror that lay ahead? The fever never left him over the coming days. He went to see his nearby general physician on the fourth day, went on a course of antibiotics, had chest X-rays and blood tests done that came clear, leaving us with the doctor’s reassurance that there was no need yet for Covid testing.

It was only on the seventh day, when coughing, a sense of chest constriction and tremendous weakness hit him, that he himself along with our daughter began the frantic search for facilities of home testing by private laboratories, none of which were yet available in Kolkata.

Hari by now was convinced that he had Covid – I know this from later reading his cryptic phone and e-mail messages to his close friends – and I am consumed by guilt thinking how I was still living in a strange state of denial.

On May 4, 2020, on the advice of a Delhi doctor friend, we took him first to the Apollo’s Fever and Cough clinic, where a CT scan of the chest showed up clear signs of Covid-induced pneumonia. I can still hear the doctor’s sombre voice urging his immediate move to a Covid-care hospital, and the ground beginning to shake and break under my feet.

It was again our social and professional privilege that we had the highest of contacts in the city. There was no dearth of well-placed friends who rushed to our aid and ensured within the next few hours that Hari could be admitted to an ICCU bed at the largest private hospital Covid unit then available at AMRI Salt Lake. The rest was destiny.

I am consumed by guilt thinking how I was still living in a strange state of denial.

As the dusk set in, we moved Hari in our own car over the short distance from Apollo to AMRI. He was stoical when I broke the news to him; he wanted something to eat because he had not been given anything during the eight hours he was at Apollo; but there was not a morsel of food we could give him while he sat in the car and I waited in the footpath outside the hospital, waiting for a bed to be allocated to him.

It was 9 pm when I stood outside watching him being wheeled into the elevator, being taken to the sixth floor to bed number 2612.

I never saw him on that bed, but that number refuses to leave me. Did I have a sense then that I would never see him again? I don’t think my mind was functioning at all. He heard my voice for the last time when I called at 11 pm to find out if he had given something to eat – he could not speak, so I will never know, but I would like to believe he was given a hot bowl of soup before he was put on a ventilator.

That belief is all I have to hold on to when I look back on that sleepless night. Neither Hari’s nor my consent was taken before such a critical intervention. Even this most routine of medical norms was thrown aside in the panic that had set in amongst doctors fighting this scourge.

Image of Surgeons doing an operation.

Surgeons doing an operation.

Source: Natanael Melchor

Death management

The next five days are a blur in my mind. In a zombie-like state, our family grappled with medical reports about prone ventilation and cytokine storm, desperately chased drugs like Remdesivir that were not on the market after a trial run, or heard about how plasma therapy could act as a wonder cure. Later, we would know that none of these could eventually save lives from this killer virus.

We were told that it was sheer biological chance that an energetic 68 year old, with none of the co-morbidities of his age (contrary to the media reports of the time) succumbed so rapidly. It must be the same biological luck that preserved me and our daughter from contamination despite our closest proximity to him. We could not even tell him that we were safe.

Hari passed away after midnight on May 9 – 12:40 am, says his hospital certificate. I was not called to the hospital, even if only to stand outside the ICCU ward, as his end neared. Nor did it once occur to me in the days before to ask for a last video call.

I now think that must have been Hari’s way of sparing us the horror of seeing him on life support tubes. But fate was unsparing to him. The most large-hearted of persons, who had held friends and family together across cities, countries and generations, died an utterly lonely death, and went on his last journey with no loved one by his side.

All our social connections could not ensure that at least one of us could attend his cremation on the Dhapa grounds of the city. The top ranks of the West Bengal Swasthya Bhavan had cleared permission for one person in PPE gear to attend his last rites. But his close friend and colleague, who took my place in following his hearse in a car, was turned away from the Dhapa crossing on the Bypass by the Kolkata Police, saying that they would lose their jobs if he followed them to the cremation spot.

As many of my fellow sufferers would know, Covid death management, like Covid treatment, was in its worst mess during that first wave. The three main units of the government, the health department, the municipal corporation and the police, were each caught up in their own often contending sets of rules, and all concerns about ensuring the basic rights of patients’ families were thrown to the winds.

There was only fear and stigma that left those afflicted and their families inconsolably alone.

I hardly need to reiterate that there is nothing exceptional in my bitter story of Covid bereavement. Our helplessness and trauma reverberated across thousands and thousands of families that were similarly ripped apart by the raging virus across the world, across my county, across my state and my city. During the two worst Covid years, the media was spilling with stories like mine and many that were far worse.

The second wave mercilessly took away the young and healthy as much as the old and the infirm, claimed the well-healed as much as the poor, leaving us with the haunting images of mass pyres burning and corpses left floating in the river.

Image of Hari Vasudevan in his home, using a tablet, in 2019.

Hari Vasudevan in his home in 2019.

Source: Tapati Guha Thakurta

Victory claimed too soon

It is still impossible to fathom the full ramifications of the horrors wreaked by Covid and the death trails it left behind in its first and second waves in India. Each of these Covid deaths remained deeply, intractable personal, especially so under the conditions of enforced isolation and lockdown.

There was no community of shared grief; instead there was only fear and stigma that left those afflicted and their families inconsolably alone. While each state government fudged the numbers of Covid deaths in varying degrees, each grieving family was left counting their own losses amidst this meaningless game of statistics and lies.

It was a time like none other in our collective lifetime, and it was a time that transformed us irreversibly as social beings. And this is the hard truth that we must confront again and again, even as we know we have left the worst behind.

Is it not time, as the world around me is demanding, to set aside these harsh memories and move forward? Is there anything to be gained in reopening these wounds and reliving those darkest days of our lives? After all, our governments have declared – and we as a society have risen in chorus with this claim – that we have won the war against Covid, that we must take our “revenge” against this monster by reclaiming our pre-Covid lives of travel, consumption, fun and festivities with full gusto.

Sure, the virus in its continuous mutations has by now lost its death sting; the success of Covid vaccinations has made medical history, and we have all had to pick up the threads of where we left off to gradually move on. But let us not fool ourselves about who conquered whom.

In this popular analogy of war, it is Covid that vanquished us all, brought down administrations to their knees, left hospital infrastructures crumbling, broke the backs of the heroic warrior teams of doctors, nurses, health-workers, ambulance drivers and funerary staff, and stripped the dead of all dignity and compassion.

Let us recognize the dangers and insensitivities of this official declaration of victory, and keep digging up all that it wishes to sweep under the carpet. It is the same game of the falsification and erasure of histories, past and present, that we are seeing all around us. What is being played out every day in school syllabi and educational curricula is also at work vis-à-vis the debacle of Covid.

It is a deliberate project of fostering a national public amnesia, where the history of the pandemic will be in part wished away like the Mughal past, and in part actively rewritten like the history of the state-sponsored destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and or the pogrom against Muslims in post-Godhra Gujarat.

Reckoning times

Now, more than ever before, is the time for reckoning with the individual and collective horrors of our Covid times. This is what has compelled me to drag out into the public a deeply personal story of loss, whose turn of events has haunted me every day since that fateful week of May 2020.

This essay may well read like a personal rant. But its main point is not about the apportioning of blame and allegations of hurt. It is more about a personal act of catharsis, to face up to my own sense of culpability and put myself through the trial of a blow by blow account of our collective failure to save Hari.

In this popular analogy of war, it is Covid that vanquished us all

Sure, one can pile on the grudges of the time that will never go fully go away – whether it be against the family doctor who let us down and never once contacted us thereafter, or the head of our local police station who treated me as nothing short of a prisoner (despite the fact that I had tested Covid negative) in barring me from going to the hospital to say my last farewell to Hari or to receive his ashes some days later.

But to go down that lane is counter-productive. Anger, in this case, depletes and debilitates; grief, on the other hand, creates a new strength and resolve. What is centrally at stake for me is a stubborn refusal to forget and to let go of grief. That is the very least we owe those who never lived to see the world after Covid.

The oft-quoted lines of Milan Kundera take on a new urgency in this fresh “struggle of memory against forgetting” – where each act of insistent remembrance can become as much of a personal as a public gesture to counter official amnesia, to commemorate each life that could not be saved, to honour each person who gave their all in this fight, and to stand in solidarity with each bereaved family.

Photo of an Indian couple holding hands.
Sreemanti Sengupta

Marriage Equality In India Isn't Only About LGBTQ, But Religion And Caste Too

Interfaith and inter-caste relationships have always been difficult in India. As the Supreme Court hears petitioners pleading for marriage equality, the time is ripe to see how laws and hatred have stopped love.

KOLKATA — When 34-year-old Krishna Gopal Chowdhury (he/him), a designer hailing from Kolkata in the eastern region of India fell hopelessly in love over the internet with Anisuzzaman Khan aka Anush (he/him), a fine arts practitioner from Bangladesh, he knew that his love was up against some of the toughest hurdles these countries had to offer.

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Chowdhury flew to Bangladesh in September 2019 with a surprise proposal, and the couple kissed at Dhaka Airport ignoring startled gazes, in a country where homosexuality is illegal. Thereafter, Anush faced harassment, torture, and shaming at home, and relocated to Kolkata, settling on a work visa.

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Photo of Indian romance statues
Sreemanti Sengupta

Tales From A Blushing Nation: Exploring India's 'Issues' With Love And Sex

Why is it that this nation of a billion-plus has such problems with intimacy and romance?

KOLKATA — To a foreigner, India may seem to be a country obsessed with romance. What with the booming Bollywood film industry which tirelessly churns out tales of love and glory clothed in brilliant dance and action sequences, a history etched with ideal romantics like Laila-Majnu or the fact that the Taj Mahal has immortalised the love between king Shahjahan and queen Mumtaz.

It is difficult to fathom how this country with a billion-plus population routinely gets red in the face at the slightest hint or mention of sex.

It therefore may have come as a shock to many when the ‘couple-friendly’ hospitality brand OYO announced that they are “extremely humbled to share that we observed a record 90.57% increase in Valentine’s Day bookings across India.”

What does that say about India’s romantic culture?

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Photo of women in India making cotton cloth reusable sanitary pads
Ashutosh Singh

Menstruation Must Be Talked About And Treated — Like Any Other Health Issue

In India, questions related to menstrual health are largely taboo, and routinely ignored by authorities. Elsewhere in the world, there is some progress on the issue, though much more is needed.


NEW DELHI — There have been some significant developments around menstruation across the globe recently. Spain became the first European country to approve ‘paid menstrual leave’ for workers in case of severe period pain. Other countries like Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Zambia and the Soviet Union introduced similar laws many years ago.

The Soviet Union introduced a national policy in 1922, Japan in 1947 and Indonesia in 1948. Scotland was the first in the world to make period products available to all who need them at relatively accessible places. A considerable milestone was achieved when the first-panel discussion on menstrual health was conducted at the 50th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2022.

Menstrual leave in India is not a Martian concept. A school in Kerala has been granting its students period leaves since 1912. Bihar has been providing two days of special menstrual paid leave to women in the workforce since 1992. Kerala approved menstrual leave for female university students in January 2023.

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Photo of a graduation ceremony showing the students' hats.
Ginevra Falciani

Reports Of A Quiet Rise In University Student Suicides In Multiple Countries

On top of the traditional troubles some young people face on their own for the first time are the added factors of social media pressure and the effects of the pandemic. The crisis appears to have hit hard in Italy, with other countries, from India to France to the UK, reporting a similar situation.

TW: Contains references to suicide and suicidal thoughts.

On the first day of February, a 19-year-old took her own life in the bathroom of Milan’s IULM university. As reported in Italian daily La Stampa, a note left in the victim's purse said she considered her life and studies a failure.

Three months earlier, in the northeastern city of Bologna, a 23-year-old law student jumped off a bridge after telling his parents he was getting ready for graduation at the end of the week. He had not taken a single exam in months. The year before, in the same city, a student who had dropped out of university invited his parents to his would-be graduation, then took his life.

The Italian government halted the gathering of data on self-inflicted deaths in 2019, but there are growing number of reports in recent months in Italy's news media that suicides among university students are on the rise.

Although the causes of youth suicide are varied and complex, there is a longstanding connection for some to the university sphere, as students often describe feeling academic pressure and the weight of unmet familial expectations. Experts warn this is being exacerbated by the isolation coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the way that social media can feed feelings of inadequacy.

"Sleeping is a waste of time"

In Italy, experts and student associations say the country's university system deserves some of the blame. Excellence is necessary to succeed, but at the same time, the system allows students to fall behind easily — they can decide when to take a final exam, delaying it as much as a year after finishing a course.

Young Italians leaving university face one of the worst rates of youth unemployment in Europe. Even those with excellent grades have a hard time finding a job — a discouraging situation that’s especially hard on those already going through difficult times.

Add to that the way social media pushes a whole special set of "influencers" who have it all, including perfect grades. Italian media fuels the intense competition. “At 23, she is a doctor, model and influencer: ‘For me, sleeping is a waste of time’,” reads the headline of one of the many articles about Carlotta Rossignoli, the young prodigy who graduated from medical school a year early and attributed her success to little sleep and a “strong willpower.”

Normalizing “prodigy graduates” can turn an educational opportunity into a source of anxiety.

Italian newspapers reported glowingly last year on a young woman who did her thesis defense while in labor, continuing to answer questions between contractions.

Normalizing these so-called “prodigy graduates” pushes students to turn an educational opportunity into a source of anxiety, multiplying the burden of family expectations.

For many, going to university is their first time living away from their parents. Not wanting to disappoint can turn into a desperate battle not to fail, no matter the psychological cost.

And as always, on social media, the achievements of friends and acquaintances are only a swipe away — a perpetual reminder that somewhere, someone else is doing better.

Photo of a girl wearing the traditional laurel wreath worn by students in Italy on their graduation day. \u200b

Traditional laurel wreath worn by students in Italy on their graduation day.

Elisaveta Bunduche via Unsplash

Ask me how I am

The social media obsession dovetailed with the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of young people. The first wave hit Italy early and hard, and many university students, especially those working part-time to pay rent, were forced to move back in with their parents — sometimes re-entering dynamics from which they had voluntarily distanced themselves.

Cases of anxiety and depression have increased, driven by the loss of independence and physical contact, and disruption of daily routines.

Those who stayed in their university’s city have not fared much better.

At the University of Milan, in Lombardy, the region where the first cases of COVID-19 in Europe were detected in March 2020, requests for mental health support increased by 75%. Feelings of loneliness and bewilderment created symptoms of anxiety and depression among students stranded in the city.

This figure reflects a widespread problem. The 2022 “Ask Me How I Am” survey, which included 30,000 students nationwide, found cases of anxiety, fear, stress, worry about the future, eating disorders and self-harm in nine out of 10 students.

At the same time, endless budget cuts to education (the most recent: €3.86 billion in 2022) have reduced the availability of scholarships, and the housing crisis in several college towns has made it impossible for many to find their own apartments again, even with the end of the pandemic emergency.

Photo of Cambridge University.

Cambridge University

Jean-Luc Benazet via Unsplash

Not an exception

This phenomenon is hardly limited to Italy: suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24 in Europe.

In the same week of the suicide in Bologna, a 21-year-old student at the University of Exeter, UK, took his own life after failing his final-year exams. It was the 11th suicide in six years at this university. At the University of Cambridge, five students died by suicide between March and June 2022, which led the institution to launch an inquiry to determine whether their studies had affected the students’ mental health, the Times of Londonreported.

The suicide of a Dalit student in Bombay sparked a debate about caste discrimination in higher education.

In France, a 2020 survey found that students were twice as likely to have symptoms of anxiety and depression than people working. The University of Bordeaux study, which surveyed 4,000 people aged 18-40, also found low self-esteem was the main risk factor among young men.

Other cultural factors can also compound the problem. In mid-February, in India, the suicide of a Dalit student at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay sparked a debate about caste discrimination in higher education.

“Even before the student could introduce himself or make friends, he is asked for his JEE scores (a national standardized exam),” a Ph.D. scholar told The Wire. “The score gives away too much information – the student’s academic standing, caste location and their social vulnerabilities.” You become “a quota student, undeserving of the space,” another student pursuing her MTech degree said.

Investing in mental health

At many universities, in Italy and abroad, poor mental health support and a lack of subsidized psychologists makes this problem worse.

The Italian government created a €10 million fund in 2022 to help people pay for therapy. In just the first few days, 300,000 people applied — 60% of them under 35 years old. The fund was increased to €25 million in 2023 in response to the huge demand.

Government support is crucial, especially for students: the average price of a therapy session in Italy is €80, and few can afford to go regularly, if at all.

In response to the 19-year-old student's suicide at IULM university in February, the Italian government was reportedly working on a proposal to hire at least one mental health counselor in every university.

But there still seems to be a long way to go.

Photo of a 16th century monastery, now \u200bthe courtyard of one of Bologna University's buildings.

16th century monastery, now the courtyard of one of Bologna University's buildings.

Carlo Pelagalli

Waiting lists

Where this service does already exist, it is underfunded and has months-long waiting lists, leaving counselors unable to keep up with the increasing numbers of young people seeking help.

The University of Milan had only one psychologist before the pandemic. With more students needing mental health help, the school hired three more — still just one psychologist for every 3,000 students.

At the University of Bologna, where the two young men who had lied about their graduation were enrolled, each student is entitled to three preliminary evaluation sessions, after which they must wait for the university to schedule actual therapy.

We are tired of mourning our peers.

For one Bologna student, it took a month and a half for the university to start his three evaluation sessions, which he finished on Dec. 15. Now, more than two months later, he is still waiting for the university to schedule his follow-up therapy appointments.

“I don’t even blame them,” he says. “The counseling service is carried out entirely by volunteers. They do their best, but it’s ridiculous.”

In her keynote address at the opening of the academic year, Emma Ruzzon, student council president at the University of Padua, expressed the need for universities to address an often toxic culture of competition.

"University should represent a path to liberation through knowledge, not a performance," she said. “We are tired of mourning our peers, and we want politics to make itself available to understand with us how to take action against this emergency, but we also need the courage to question the entire merit-centric and competitive system.”

Image of a woman in traditional Indian clothing walking and carrying a plastic bag.
Varna Sri Raman

A Simple Guide To Achieve Economic Equality And Social Justice In India

The cuts in funds for various welfare programmes in the latest budget reflect the lack of will on the part of India's political class to uplift the poor. It is time a wealth tax and a more progressive tax regime are in place.


NEW DELHI — Recently, India Inc. seems to have declared, yet again, that this budget too is historic and visionary. Unfortunately, the numbers in the budget don’t seem to support these conclusions. An Oxfam report launched a few weeks ago focuses on wealth inequality globally especially economic structures that work to keep the wealth gap wide.

The main takeaway from the report should be how a more equitable and just system can be created.

India’s 2023 budget numbers are a great way to understand why wealth and income inequality are a problem. A cursory analysis reveals how little the current political dispensation cares about the poor.

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