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THE WIRE
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.
Muslim protestors
Ideas
Apoorvanand

Modi And The "Ideology Of Islamophobia" In India

The Gulf region's public reaction to the controversial comments on Prophet Muhammad made by two senior officials from India's ruling party is worrying Muslim Indians who feel this intervention might do more harm than good. For the author, the BJP's "ideology of Islamophobia" is the center of the problem.

-OpEd-

NEW DELHI — As Muslim countries started condemning the abusive comments two leaders of the ruling BJP party made against the Prophet, a friend’s mother remarked: “We saw what happened to those who protested hate speech against Muslims in Kanpur. Like after every attack, we felt that the highest form of public humiliation of Indian Muslims would be normalized."

She added that when condemnation from foreign governments protesting started pouring in, I was reminded of the story of a swarm of ababeel [swifts] defending the holy Kaaba against an army of wild elephants.”

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​Photo of motorists wait to fill their vehicles' tanks at a petrol station
Economy
Sanjay Kathuria*

Pakistan And Sri Lanka Are Reminders Of The Political Power Of Economics

Both Pakistan's and Sri Lanka's leaders have resigned recently. Their fates should be a reminder to politicians in Asia and around the world: good economics might not be enough to get re-elected but bad economic decisions can hasten your fall.

On April 11, Shehbaz Sharif was sworn in as Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, following a no-confidence motion against the incumbent. A month later, in neighbouring Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe took oath as Prime Minister, for the sixth time, after the incumbent resigned.

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Photo of a couple holding hands after a wedding ceremony
Society
Priyamvada Rana

The Ideal Age To Marry? Reflections Of A 20-Something Indian Woman

India is raising the minimum age for women to marry. What does that mean on the individual level (with your parents whispering in your ear)?

-Essay-

NEW DELHI — A few days ago, I got a call from my parents, who wanted to talk about the "ideal age to marry." This came after news about India raising the minimum age for women to marry to 21, to match the age for men. It's a laudable move, sure, but I even wonder if 21-year-olds will be able to fathom the expectations, responsibilities and limitations that come with such a socially-constrained institution.

I am not ready at 26, and won’t be even at 30.

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​A team member of 'The Chenab Times' reporting in India
Society
Tarushi Aswani

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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An Indian woman pushing a bike.
Society
Rahul Goel, Avinash Chanchal and Vinit Gupta*

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.

India is among the most gender unequal countries in the world; it has one of the lowest female labor participation rates (that is, the percentage of women who are working), along with a wide gender gap.

Many women in India work from home (such as in handloom or textile businesses), depriving them of a social network and independent income. Those who work outside of their homes depend greatly on walking and public transport.

Men, on the other hand, have access to a greater range of transport modes, including bicycles, motorcycles and cars. While the household ownership of motorized two-wheelers and cars has grown rapidly in the last couple of decades, this has hardly improved independent mobility among women since they make up only 10% of all license holders in India.

To get a sense of why women choose to cycle, we talked to a number of women cyclists in Delhi and neighboring cities who opened up about their experiences while cycling, the benefits and joys they experienced as well as the challenges they faced.


The "Power to the Pedal" campaign

Pavitra, 41, originally from Nepal, has been living in Zamrudpur in South Delhi for many years. She walks two kilometers every day to reach her workplace in Kailash Colony, where she works as a domestic worker.

“I had to walk every day because I can’t afford to have my own private transport. I am hardly making (enough) money to get necessities like food,” Pavitra said.

For the last two months, however, Pavitra has been cycling. Pavitra is part of a community of women who wish to reclaim city space by riding bicycles, as part of Greenpeace India’s "Power the Pedal" campaign. For several of these people, cycling is their only option for earning a livelihood.

Nandi, 48, and her husband Amarkant, 54, have a similar story. Originally from Bhilwara, Rajasthan, the couple are currently residing in one of the slums in South Delhi. Every day, both of them cycle around 20-25 km to sell balloons at various markets across the national capital. Due to the exclusionary nature of public transport in Delhi, Amarkant and Nandi say cycling is their only option.

“We don’t have any other option. Over the years, the city has got fancy air-conditioned buses and the metro. But I never felt they were meant for people like us. They don’t even allow us to travel with these balloons,” they said.

Cycling provides freedom

For some, the cycle provides freedom. Neelu, 26, a resident of the urban village, Ramghad, in Gurgaon, says that cycling provides here with the freedom to move around. Neelu works as a housekeeper at a high-rise apartment complex near by. Every day, her husband drops her off at work on a bicycle and ever day, she, herself, rides her bicycle to the marker.

“On Sundays, I like to take my kids to different places on the bicycle,” Neelu said.

Shabnam, too, works as domestic help in multiple houses in Gurgaon. For her, cycling is the only way to commute to and from the different colonies in which these houses are located. She likes to cycle every day, but is also concerned about increasing traffic on the streets, even after cycling for the past five years. Due to this fear, she usually avoids traveling during peak hours.

It is also true that men often use faster modes of transport than those used by women. This gives men a greater ability to access jobs and other destinations that are far from where they live. Women, on the other hand, are often forced to take jobs closer to their homes, which greatly limits their choices.

Five Indian women hold their fist in the air while standing next to their bikes.

Cycling helps Indian women save time and money.

Greenpeace India

Women's time poverty

Women’s dependence on slower modes of transport also worsens their "time poverty". Since women have far greater household responsibilities, when they also work outside the home, they are not left with any time to relaxation, socializing, recreation, or self-care. With faster modes of transport, they can reach their destinations quicker and have time and energy left to do all these things.

Cycling can provide these benefits as it is about three times faster than walking — a 30-minute walk will take just ten minutes by cycle. For shorter distances, cycling can even be faster than public transport.

Women’s dependence on slower modes of transport worsens their "time poverty".

While using a bus, for instance, a lot of time is spent besides actually traveling in the vehicle, including time taken to walk to the stop, wait for the bus and then walk to the final destination. Cycling, besides providing the ability to navigate crowded streets faster, saves on all this additional time.

In addition to saving time, cycling also, of course, saves money. In comparison to a motorcycle or a car, it is much more affordable to buy, use and maintain a cycle.

The other obvious benefits of cycling are for the environment. Cycling generates zero direct emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gasses; it generates almost no noise, as opposed to other modes of transport that make Indian streets unbearably loud.

Cycling also has societal benefits in that it can be empowering for women. It gives them the freedom to travel on their own and at a time of their choosing. They can also explore places that they previously could not access because they were too far away or because there was no public transport available.

Cycling levels in Indian cities

The affordability and ease of access provided by cycling are why it remains a popular activity in Indian cities. According to Census 2011 data, in many cities, such as Chandigarh, Kanpur, Cuttack and Raipur, 30-35% of workers used cycles to go to work. In Kolkata’s metro areas, almost one in every four workers cycles to work.

While these figures are lower in other large cities, like Delhi and Chennai, 10% of all workers still use cycles to commute. While cycling use is high in India, it is mostly men who use this mode of transport. Among all the workers who reported using cycles in Census 2011, only 4% were women. This gender distribution is far more skewed in India than in most countries across the world.

Furthermore, of those women, many are likely to be pillion riders – a distinction not made in the Census. It is this gender gap in cycling that needs to be addressed so that women can also enjoy many benefits that cycling promises.

A patriarchal state shows the way

In India, studies have shown evidence of how certain measures can be used to encourage cycling among girls and the many benefits that can be achieved from such a transformation. Interestingly, this evidence comes from Bihar, which is regarded as a highly patriarchal state.

In 2006, the Bihar government started a new conditional cash transfer scheme under which girls enrolled in secondary school were given cash to buy bicycles. The objective was to improve accessibility to schools for students, which is particularly important when there aren’t many schools close to villages.

Access to cycling saves time and ensures safety.

According to a study, led by Karthik Muralidharan at the University of San Diego, this cycle distribution scheme was successful in improving school enrolment among girls. The difference in the enrollment rates of boys and girls was significantly reduced. Importantly, these benefits were greater among girls who lived further away from schools.

Not only is walking slower and more energy intensive, it also exposes girls to potential harassment on the streets. Access to cycling saves time and ensures safety; a great example of the potential of cycling to bring social change.

A revolution in the making

Besides providing immediate educational benefits, there were other long-term benefits among the beneficiaries of the cycle distribution scheme. Another study, led by Shabana Mitra at IIM, Bengaluru, found that the scheme beneficiaries were more likely to complete their education. More education also made them aspirational, and they were more likely to look for employment outside agriculture and to delay their marriages. However, a lack of college education and employment opportunities meant that these aspirations often remain unfulfilled.

Many other states have followed suit and have some version of a free cycle distribution scheme. In 2013, for example, the Assam government launched a special scheme to provide free bicycles to girl students from families that were below the poverty line. This scheme increased the opportunities for mobility and socialization for school girls, as claimed by the government.

At the Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Centre at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, we conducted a detailed investigation of 120 cycle deaths over a period of three years (2016-2018). We found that 70% of all crashes in which cyclists died included a vehicle hitting them from behind while traveling in the same direction. These kinds of crashes can be drastically reduced with the provision of segregated cycle tracks, separating cyclists from the stream of fast-moving motorized vehicles.

We also found that cyclists have a greater likelihood of being killed on major roads and that most of the cyclists who died did so on a handful of road sections. This means that the provision of cycle tracks on major roads alone can ensure greater safety among cyclists.

Hence, it would not be wrong to say that bicycles have been the wheels of change and Greenpeace India’s "Power The Pedal" campaign is knitting together a cycle revolution.

Yet, certain points still require major overhauls: transport planning must acknowledge the high levels of gender inequality in Indian cities and how this impacts travel; investment in transportation should be aimed towards narrowing the gender gap in mobility, and so on.

*Rahul Goel is a visiting faculty at Transportation Research and Injury Prevention Centre, IIT Delhi; Avinash Chancal is Campaign Manager at Greenpeace India; and Vinit Gupta is a freelance photojournalist.

Photo of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa during a military parade in Colombo on Feb. 2
Sri Lanka
M.R. Narayan Swamy*

Sri Lanka's President Was A Hero – But Now He's Got To Go

Gotabaya may blame the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war or the earlier COVID-19 pandemic for much of the mess, but there is widespread unanimity that the problems are a product of bad governance for more than a decade.

-OpEd-

The very same Gotabaya Rajapaksa who, more than anyone else, cemented the ethnic divide in Sri Lanka by leading a brutal war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has ended up uniting the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims in an unprecedented manner — by presiding over the country’s worst economic meltdown since independence in 1948.

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Photo of a worker ​spreading a bio-decomposer solution on a farm field near New Delhi
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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Photo of Modi and Putin walking toward camera
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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