Weekly Roundup: WHILE (ROME) DELHI BURNS

Unless its fake news of grand proportions that even Trump would have a problem with, India is now being lit by more fires from funeral pyres than street lights if seen from the distant sky. However while people are gasping for oxygen, dying from a rabid Covid, the leader of the country appears calm but apparently angry about losing Bengal elections and obsessed with bestowing central Delhi with his heritage new buildings that would be a testament to his legacy. The line, ‘While Rome Burns’, never seems to be more apt. Nero was allegedly thinking of new palaces as people burnt and buildings razed to the ground.

There has been criticism from every corner on the handling of the second wave of the corona. From the politically motivated Bengal and the Hindu nationalist Shiv Senna to the objective and most serious medical journal in the world, the Lancet, there are expressions of disbelief. It remains to be seen whether the Indian medical fraternity will now be deprived of the Lancet for criticising the Emperor without his 4.3 crores or $600000 suit.

Udhav Thackeray has targetted the bullet where it probably hurts most. Udhav cannot be called an anti-nationalist by any stretch of the imagination. Nor can he be called a minority-loving liberal. Shiv Senna is as Hindu nationalist as one can get. Thackeray has effectively said that Modi has achieved nothing in his tenure. He said that systems created over 70 years by previous prime ministers such as Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Manmohan Singh helped India survive through the tough times being faced today while the present government was not even ready to suspend work on the Central Vista amid a devastating pandemic. 

This criticism has come from many quarters including the famous NRI artist sculptor  Anish Kapoor in the UK. It does seem very surrealistic and possibly inconsiderate for the building of the project to develop a new Parliament building and a new residence for the Prime Minister to continue while the only news about India around the world is its fast failing medical system and its abysmal preparations for the second wave of Covid. Its poorer countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan are coming to its aid. The world is appalled that the PM is not sitting in Delhi, holding hourly meetings and reassuring his countrymen what steps he is taking to see them through this difficult time. Leadership appears AWOL.

Instead, the news from Government is about a trade deal with the UK and an ongoing trade deal with the EU. Workers who need to be furloughed during the lockdown are instead being bussed into the Central Vista, the genius of Lutyens in central Delhi, to continue building the planned new project to dwarf Luteyen. There is enough money for this project. This is money that could have been used to vaccinate the country.

Yet, we are in strange times. The great hope of a modern rational democratic world demanding accountability from politicians for failed promises and for better opportunities in life seems to be one for the children’s books. From the west to the east, the enlightenment has failed, particularly in democracies. People seem to prefer pain, failure, and poverty while seeking ever more comfort in medieval-type pseudo-religious grand ideas such as Brexit and Hindutva.

Brexit is a delusion built on lost grandeur but herding the English towards isolation and easy prey to predatory trade deals by countries such as the USA and India. The average Brit will be joining the gig economy in greater numbers. Hindutva is delivering Ram  Mandir, Central Vista, and Shanshan ghats (crematoriums) on the streets of major cities while promised jobs, money in the bank, or a house for everyone seem to treat as otherworldly. Democracy thrives on psychedelic dreams now.

America is no different. Despite the Biden win, which was a narrow one given the carnage Trump visited on his countrymen, millions and millions of Americans still voted for him, for a baseless slogan Make America Great Again. It needs a Houdini-type political stunt to tell the people of the richest and most powerful country that they have fallen way behind and need to be on top again!

Modi knows that like moths to light, the average person in twenty-first-century democracy is driven more towards esoteric issues than the education and wellbeing of his/her children. So Modi is calmly focused on what will make the populace fold their hands in awe after the many have died around them and remain only in distant memory. The voter will marvel at Central Vista as the triumph of Indian Hindutva over Lutyen. Perhaps this is real post-modernism. Vote for Imagery over food.

MAMTA’S POWERFUL FOOT

It used to be that shakti flowed from the palm of the hand. Traditionally a god, or in Marvel Comics a superhero, holds out the hand, palm facing the enemy and great force emanated from it to throw the enemy many miles into the sky. Mamata has defied the laws of miracles. The Tigress of Bengal has used the sole of her foot from her wheelchair and blown Modi and BJP back into the central vista of Delhi.

Clearly, this state of renowned intellectuals, noble prize winners, and leading thinkers, has not taken to the seduction of Hindu Rashtra. The BJP tried to deploy the whole force of Bahuda (Vedic pluralism) and tolerant Hinduism to turn Bengalis against fellow Muslim Bengalis from the Hindutva version of reconstructed revisionist shastras. Unfortunately, the Bengali is not an Uttar Pradesh or even a Bihari. This land of Tagores, Amartya Sen, and Satyajit Ray has remained true to the original version of a pluralist Vedic and Sanatan Dharma and decided that the tradition of tolerance is more important than the idea of Muslim Mukt Bharat.

So Mamata was able to convince her fellow Bengalis while being wheelchaired around and her foot facing large banners of Modi, that Bengal must remain a land for all, a state for Bengalis of all background, and a state whose people still believe in the famous Vedic statement, ‘Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti’ in earnest rather than a PR slogan at international forums by Hindutva.

The Gate’s Divorce

An office romance with the founder of Microsoft evolved into 27 years of marriage, three children, a 20-year foundation, and 124billion US Dollars. On the 3rd of May 2021, the pair announced their decision to get a divorce over Twitter.

“After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage,”

“We no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in the next phase of our lives. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life,” they said.

How Bill and Melinda met

Bill, 65, and Melinda Gates, 56, met at Microsoft — which Bill Gates founded and was, at the time, running as CEO. She started as a product manager as the only woman in the first class of MBA graduates to join the company and eventually rose through the ranks to become general manager of information products.

PARIS, FRANCE – APRIL 21: Bill and Melinda Gates pose in front of the Elysee Palace after receiving the award of Commander of the Legion of Honor by French President Francois Hollande on April 21, 2017 in Paris, France. French President Franois Hollande awarded the Honorary Commander of the Legion of Honor to Bill and Melinda Gates as the highest national award under the partnership between France and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which have been unavoidable actors for several years Of development assistance and health in the world. (Photo by Frederic Stevens/Getty Images)

They met shortly after she joined the company in 1987, at a business dinner in New York. She described the encounter in her book, “The Moment of Lift:” “I showed up late, and all the tables were filled except one, which still had two empty chairs side by side. I sat in one of them. A few minutes later, Bill arrived and sat in the other.”

The couple married in Hawaii in 1994.

The Gates Foundation

The couple founded their philanthropic organisation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, together in 2000. Since then, the foundation has spent $53.8 billion on a wide range of initiatives related to global health, poverty alleviation, and more, according to its website.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ranks as the largest private philanthropic foundation in the United States and one of the world’s biggest, with net assets of $43.3 billion at the end of 2019, according to the latest full-year financials shown on its website.

From 1994 through 2018, the couple gifted more than $36 billion to the Seattle-based foundation, the website said.

Last year, investor Warren Buffett reported donating more than $2 billion of stock from his Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N) to the Gates Foundation as part of previously announced plans to give away his entire fortune before his death. Despite their split, there will be ‘no change to their roles’.

The Divorce

In a joint petition for dissolution of marriage, the couple asserted their legal union was “irretrievably broken,” but said they had reached an agreement on how to divide their marital assets. No details of that accord were disclosed in the filing in King County Superior Court in Seattle.

Bill Gates is ranked No. 4 on the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest individuals, with an estimated $124 billion fortune.

In a separate statement, the Gates Foundation said the couple would remain as co-chairs and trustees of the organization.

“They will continue to work together to shape and approve foundation strategies, advocate for the foundation’s issues, and set the organization’s overall direction,” the foundation’s statement said.

The split comes two years after another leading Seattle-based billionaire and philanthropist, Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) founder Jeff Bezos, said that he and his then-wife, MacKenzie, were getting divorced.

At least one critic of billionaire benefactors cited the Gates’ split as a cautionary tale in the wisdom of concentrating so much sway over global humanitarian issues under the control of super-wealthy individuals.

“The Gates divorce will do more than upend a family’s life. It will ramify into the worlds of business, education, public health, civil society, philanthropy, and beyond,” Anand Giridharadas, author of the book “Winners Take All” told Reuters.

“That is because our society has made the colossal error of allowing wealth to purchase the chance to make quasi-governmental decisions as a private citizen,” he said.

About Bill Gates

Gates dropped out of Harvard University to start Microsoft with school chum Paul Allen in 1975. Gates owned 49% of Microsoft at its initial public offering in 1986, which made him an instant multimillionaire. With Microsoft’s explosive growth, he soon became one of the world’s wealthiest individuals.

After an executive tenure in which he helped transform the company into one of the world’s leading technology firms, Gates stepped down as CEO of Microsoft in 2000 to focus on philanthropy. He remained chairman until 2014 and left the company’s board in March 2020.

Known in the technology industry as an acerbic and ruthless competitor, Gates drew the ire of rivals and eventually the U.S. government for Microsoft’s business practices.

The software giant was convicted of antitrust violations in the late 1990s. But the verdict was overturned on appeal, and the company then settled the case out of court.

Gates’ public persona softened into an avuncular elder statesman as he turned his attention to philanthropy, and he has largely steered clear of the many controversies currently roiling the technology business.

Already devastating, the pandemic could worsen in India

April has been the cruelest month for India. By the end of April, India’s daily count of Covid-19 cases went well over the 300,000 marks, breaking the previous day’s record every day. On Thursday, 29 April, the number of cases recorded crossed 379,000. The number of people dying daily for Covid-related reasons crossed 3,600. According to government data, to date more than 18 million people have been infected since the virus first became a pandemic; and more than 200,000 people have died. At least one out of every three new Covid cases in the world is recorded in India.

Just to get an idea of how massive the current surge of Covid has been in India, consider this. In early February, barely three months ago, the number of Covid cases officially recorded every day in India was 9,000. Now, every hour, there is an average of more than 12,500 cases recorded. If that number seems staggering–even for a population of 1.4 billion–here is the thing: May could be worse than April. According to forecasters, and scientists from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), who used a mathematical model to predict active Covid cases in India, the number of cases could be over 440,000 a day by early May.

There are more unnervingly devastating facts about Covid’s surge in India. First, the official numbers may be short of what it is in reality. Observers point out that the number of daily deaths being attributed to the effect of the virus may be much lower than what it is. Consider also that the number of tests per million population in India thus far is just over 200,000. Second, even as the virus begins to infect groups that were considered low risk, such as India’s burgeoning population of youth, the country is running out of vaccines. 

Early last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, stands up to uphold Hindu values and nationalism, invoked the blessings of Lord Hanuman to help India in its fight against the pandemic. In the early days of the pandemic, even as the world was hastening the adoption of vaccines developed by multinational pharma giants such as Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, the Indian government appeared to stall permissions to them and rooted for developing vaccines indigenously. Now the shortage is hurting Indians hard.

There are silver linings, of course. Richer nations, particularly western countries, including the US, have begun helping India, sending funds, pharmaceutical inputs, ventilators, and oxygen concentrators. But the scourge of Covid has exposed India’s weaknesses: its unpreparedness in the face of major crisis; its woeful inadequacies when it comes to healthcare facilities; and the paucity of its administrative capabilities for disaster management. In a televised address to the nation recently, Prime Minister Modi pretty much told Indians that they would, pretty much, have to look out for themselves. This, many people believe, implies that his government is helpless.

Picking up the pieces: a post-Covid agenda

Even as the future looks uncertain and Covid cases surge relentlessly in India, it may be time for the country’s policymakers and other authorities to consider a post-Covid agenda that addresses several things. Critical among them are a few. First, as the wildfire surge of Covid is demonstrating, Indian cities, particularly the large and congested ones such as Delhi and Mumbai are far too overcrowded making it nearly impossible to adopt any kind of social distancing. In slums and poor districts of these cities, people live in unimaginably dense circumstances. A small room in a Mumbai slum may house more than 20 people. Commuter trains, urban transport systems (such as Delhi’s metro), marketplaces, schools, and educational institutes overflow with people. Unless urban housing and other plans are reformed to ease up the pressure on cities, battling pandemics such as the Covid outbreak can be almost impossible.

The Covid situation in India has amply shown that the country’s healthcare infrastructure is hopelessly inadequate. Stories of queues outside hospitals; lack of oxygen cylinders for patients whose lungs have been affected; or, of how difficult it is to get simple, over-the-counter medicines when panic strikes (as it has now) abound. The majority of Indians, particularly those who don’t have the resources to spend on expensive private-sector medical care and hospitals, have poor access to public healthcare facilities. The number of hospital beds per 1000people in India (latest World Bank data pertains to 2017) is 0.5; in China, it was 4.34.

It is ironic too that while India happens to be the largest manufacturer of vaccines, Covid has exposed how when a disaster strikes that may be meaningless. From May 1, after the government rules were relaxed to allow large sections of the population to be vaccinated, it is estimated that 900 million people need to be given a jab. In contrast, India’s access to indigenously produced Covid vaccines is 90 million per month. If, on the other hand, the government had not procrastinated on allowing multinationals such as Pfizer and J&J to introduce their vaccines, the situation could have been better. But, in the prevailing situation, come May 1 and you can expect a mad rush for vaccines. 


People suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) perform yoga inside a care centre for COVID-19 patients at an indoor sports complex in New Delhi, India, July 21, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

India’s policymakers have to realise that preparedness and not hubris is what can make the country strong. In February, the BJP passed a resolution that went thus: “It can be said with pride, India . . . defeated Covid-19 under the able, sensible, committed and visionary leadership of Prime Minister Modi . . . The party unequivocally hails its leadership for introducing India to the world as a proud and victorious nation in the fight against Covid.” Perhaps it is time for Mr. Modi and his colleagues who lead his party should now publicly retract the self-congratulatory resolution. It will, at least, be a symbolic gesture of humility.

CORONA CRISES, LET THE BUREAUCRACY LOOSE

India is a country of paradoxes. It has an inept political class but a world-class bureaucracy. No challenge is too big for the bureaucracy. From time to time, it has shown that it can cope and manage the biggest disasters with ease. Its only handicap is its masters, who have to make decisions and let it take control in situations such as the current Covid crises.

If anything showcases the incredible machine that is the Indian bureaucracy, it is its handling of events like the Khumb Mela, the biggest festival in the world by far that makes events like Glastonbury (UK), the Olympics, and even the Huj at Mecca mini-festivals by comparison. It might seem absurd to be giving the example of the Khumb when it is being blamed for much of the current Covid spread, but during normal times, the Khumb can attract up to 50 million people in the month-long celebration. That is the equivalent of managing a country plus.

The Khumb management is a nightmare always in waiting. From the sanitation planning, the sleeping arrangements, the security, the food supply, and delivery, the water supply, the provision for essentials, the demands of the VIPs for special attention and not to forget that this is the most fertile place for terrorism, pickpockets, thieves, and drugs. Yet the bureaucracy manages it with an ease that marvels. The planning starts years ahead.

Or take disasters, such as the earthquake in Gujrat or floods in Bengal, or the absorption of millions of refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh. Any western country would be stretched to limits of breakdown. Not the Indian bureaucracy. It meets the challenge with its co-partners, the Indian Army, and the Indian police.

The question is what happened with Covid. Has the Bureaucracy failed? Has it been brought to its knees? Has it been exposed as a mythical juggernaut of civil servants, beaten by a microscopic entity, the coronavirus?

In fact, the Bureaucracy and the medical scientist’s teams had been warning of this doomsday scenario long before the second wave of Covid descended. They had been asking for preparations as they do for other events. They had been asking for stocking for a second wave. They had been asking for vaccination programs to be escalated. But ultimately, the Indian bureaucracy’s Achilles heel is its political masters.

The BJP Government was too busy compromising the free press. It was too busy with elections and making Hindutva a political winner. It was too busy fighting its own citizens, the farmers. It was too preoccupied with spreading its ‘political goodwill’ worldwide to compete with China by promising vaccines to other countries rather than making them available to its billion people. And it ignored the cautionary warnings of its own experts of the hurricane that could come with a second wave Covid.

The Government was preoccupied with religious nationalism and letting Khumb go ahead despite warnings. It was concentrating on the gamble that a religious festival of this size would create imagery around India of the powerful narrative of Hindutva and belonging to ancient roots. It would help to bring a wave of nationalist sentiments in Bengal where the focus of the top political leadership was. But viruses are not politically motivated nor influenced. They see an opportunity and go for it.

The Indian Bureaucracy is incapacitated or activated by the political class. It acts in all its glory or fails ingloriously depending on clear instructions from the political leaders. The army too awaits instructions from the top. That is the hallmark of Indian democracy.

This is both a strength and weakness of the Indian system. It insures against recurrent coups that plague many other decolonised countries. But it makes the ability of the bureaucracy to act dependent on the prerogatives of the political masters.

This Covid crisis can be controlled if the bureaucracy is now given a free hand. It can muster help around the world, bring in safety equipment, bring in the personnel, ramp up production of necessary medical equipment, set up new crematoriums, build make shift hospitals, and bring in the doctors. And during all this, it can ensure that security is maintained, lockdowns are followed and people are fed.

With its partner the Indian Army, the Bureaucracy can handle the Covid crises that have now made India reach the top slot in mismanagement, deaths, and people infected. What’s more, given its history, it can handle this within days. It needs the Government to start governing for the crises rather than be obsessed by divisive matters such as how many crematoriums have been built for Muslims and Hindus. The Government needs to stop playing politics with the Virus. The Virus has no religious or religious preferences. It has no understanding of history or political expediency. Its only enemy now is the Indian bureaucracy. Unleash it on the virus.

“I’m going to share my screen now, can everyone see?”- One Year On, How the Entertainment Industry has Adapted to Virtual Showbiz

As we are well and truly into the second year of living life with COVID-19 we will take a look over the past year and how the entertainment industry has adapted, from covid-friendly concerts, computer-generated ceremonies, and online Oscars.

Online concerts

Just this month we started to see aspects of normality in parts of the globe. Putting their faith in the covid tests, Barcelona, Spain held an in-person concert. Around 5,000 music fans took part in the experiment after testing negative for Covid-19.

April 24th, New Zealand

Spain joined New Zealand, which appears to have handled the global pandemic outbreak excellently. April 24th, New Zealand hosted the largest in-person concert since the pandemic began, with 50,000 fans packed into New Zealand’s largest stadium Eden Park. Through a combination of swift lockdowns and border closures, New Zealand has all but eliminated the coronavirus, with 2,600 cases and 26 deaths reported since the start of the pandemic, according to a New York Times database. Masks are rarely worn, and there are no social-distancing requirements in place. Instead, people are encouraged to scan in on the country’s tracking and trace system, and hand sanitizer is widely available.

As the globe has had to adjust to the new reality of life under self-quarantine in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, a number of artists and musical institutions have taken their shows online to share some musical joy during these trying times.

With venues and bars on lockdown across the world, there are plenty of things you can watch from the safety of your home, thanks to everyone from Miley Cyrus to the New York Metropolitan Opera and the folks at Disney.

Online Worship

Christianity

The Church of England’s national online services alone have attracted more than 3.7 million views since the first restrictions on gatherings for public worship to limit the spread of Covid-19 were introduced almost a year ago.

Clips and content from the services have been seen 40 million times on social media channels.

The Church of England’s prayer and discipleship apps – through which people can join in ancient services of morning and evening prayer from wherever they are – have been accessed eight million times, up 50 percent on the previous year.

The figures for online services are thought to be just the tip of the iceberg as churches’ response to the pandemic triggered a major change in the way Christians worship and reach out to their neighbours.

At least 20,000 services and other online events are now listed on the Church of England’s ‘church finder’ website AChurchNearYou. A year ago there were none.

And a special hymn download service, designed for local churches to use as part of online worship, has seen more than a million downloads.

As churches look ahead to an expected easing of restrictions and more public gatherings, many are assessing how to incorporate the lessons of the last year into their regular patterns of worship and outreach after the pandemic.

Hinduism

Four Hindu priests sat cross-legged on the floor in front of silver trays of rice, flowers, and vermillion powder, chanting in low baritones that reverberated off the bare walls of the old brick temple.

An iPhone propped on a chair captured the service — known as a puja — and beamed it via Skype to a home in San Francisco, where a middle-aged woman wearing a red bindi and a headscarf watched intently.

Every so often, the priests peered into the screen and instructed her to mimic a gesture or repeat an invocation.

In Hinduism, the dominant religion among India’s 1.2 billion people, there are elaborate pujas for virtually every life event — and now there are virtual pujas too, along with last rites and other religious ceremonies being sold over the Internet.

This digital twist on a mystical, ancient faith is a growing part of India’s multibillion-dollar spirituality market. E-commerce sites also have popped up for Indian Muslims as well as minority Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists.

Offering their services anywhere in the world, the companies are capitalizing not only on improved Internet connectivity throughout India but also on a growing diaspora as more citizens emigrate for higher education and employment, leaving behind their families and spiritual networks.

Online Oscars

Oscars’ broadcast like no other in the 93-year history of the Academy Awards.

It’s been the longest awards season ever after the Academy decided to delay the 93rd Academy Awards from February to April because of the pandemic, but the big show finally happened. The 2021 Oscars ceremony began at 8 pm ET Sunday on ABC, broadcasting live from both Union Station and the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles

The show has been teased as a kind of three-hour movie in which all the presenters and nominees play a role in advancing a narrative story. “Movie storytelling is so unique,” said Soderbergh. “We have the resources, through the stories the nominees are telling us, to tease out the detail of what makes movies so special, why we connect to them so strongly all over the world.”

So, the question is, will this be the future? When the world slowly goes back to normal, crows return and social distancing is a distant memory, will the option to watch online remain? The benefits of online services have been incredible, while it has done its purpose and reduce the spread of COVID-19, it has also meant more people can enjoy events at a more reasonable cost, or even for free and it has stopped people from traveling across countries.

CAR SAGA CONTINUES & PUTIN FLEXES HIS BICEPS

PRIVATE OR PUBLIC, CAR SAGA CONTINUES

The problem with the law and lawyers is that they haven’t quite been able to join the age of quantum physics. It is one field that is still finding it difficult to cope with the complexities of life and tends to use the biblical defense that the law is the law. It’s what Moses said. It does not seem to have the innate flexibility to deal with variations as science, medicine, even accountancy do. So it ends up being in the realm of chaos theory. Isn’t chaos theory the same as quantum theory, some might ask, but I am talking of human chaos theory. Life has to bend to the law and not law adjust to life.

So, we have the ongoing saga of whether a car is a private space or a public space. A couple of weeks ago, the Delhi court decreed that the inside of a car on a public road is not a private space, hence a driver can be stopped for not wearing a mask. “ A vehicle which is moving across the city, even if occupied at a given point in time by one person, would be a public place owing to the immediate risk of exposure to other persons under varying circumstances,” the judge said in the court.

Some police officers with this newfound or newly declared public space when it was once thought the interior of a car is a private space, decided to barge into a car and confiscate a load of drugs and of course the driver.

‘Can’t do that’ said me Lords wearing black in memory of Queen Anne. Lawyers started wearing black in the fifteenth century when Queen Anne died in England, hence even further evidence that they are mentally still in the medieval age.

No can do! said the Supreme Court because the interior of a car is not a ‘public space’ under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS Act). It is in fact private property. The SC acquitted three men of possessing poppy.

The only way a police officer can confiscate the drugs is by having a warrant to enter private property or under the law that permits the officer to act as if he has a warrant.

So, if the driver is not wearing a mask in his car on a public road, then the interior of his car is not private but public space as he could be infecting the bacteria in his car with his virus. But if the driver is gingerly transporting a ton of cocaine from Wagah border to Connaught place, then it is a private space and needs a warrant or officer with warrant powers to stop and search for the packets of coke that could damage hundreds of lives even if sitting there for everyone to see. The law is the law. Work that out, Rubik. Chaos theory. Perhaps lawyers were really there before scientists discovered it.

PUTIN DON’T MESS WITH MEPUTIN FLEXES HIS BICEPS

Strong man Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia has sent a clear message to all those midget Western countries who hide behind American frock and say in squeaky voices to Putin, ‘Behave yourself’.

Flexing his famous biceps, he has told them in no uncertain terms, ‘Don’t cross the “red line” because such a move would trigger an “asymmetrical, rapid and harsh” response. He has accused the west of always ‘picking’ on Russia.

He said some western countries were like jackals trying to please the US. To drive home his point he used an example the English will well relate to, ‘Just like jackals behave with Shere Khan in Kipling’s tale The Jungle Book’.

So this message is aimed at the Brits or rather the English. Putin likes to use metaphors and references that the intended party and many kids in Russia can understand through imagery.

But sending a warning like that to the English is like a red rag to a bull. The English and wars are made for each other. England always feels lost without some war to engage in. But reality also sinks in. Britain is a bit too tiny against mighty Russia, so it tries to co-op the USA in its confrontations.

Here it gets more complicated. After initially wagging the finger at Putin, Biden has then sent a conciliatory note confusing his own side.

Accusing Putin of having interfered in American Democracy, although Trump clearly denied it and even drafted an official report to back that, Biden told Putin that he will be taking ‘retaliatory action’ for interference in the 2020 presidential election and cyberattacks. It seems he has forgiven Putin for the 2016 election when Putin managed to install his man at the White House, quite a feat and possibly revenge for US interference in the Soviet Union Gorbachev period.

Biden has put sanctions on eight individuals for actions associated with Russian action in Crimea and 32 for attempts to influence the 2020 US presidential election. But Putin isn’t on the list. That’s interesting as no one would have done anything without orders from the head poncho (using Putin-style reference) himself.

But then Biden then went on to say that he proposes a summit in Europe between himself and Putin to de-escalate

It is not difficult to see why Putin isn’t taking all the British saber-rattling seriously as he amassed some 150000 troops on borders of Ukraine. But he brought them back, saying it was an exercise. Perhaps Biden’s olive branch persuaded him to throw something on the table.

Before that Putin said, ”We don’t want to burn bridges, but if somebody interprets our good intentions as weakness, our reaction will be asymmetrical, rapid, and harsh”. In other words, he is threatening more cyberattacks, interference in elections, and possibly even a coup or two somewhere. But he did leave the interpretation of red lines with some flexibility, “We’ll decide for ourselves in each case where the red line is”.

The message from both the USA and Russia to the small flag bearers of western power, without the power, is, back off and neither are going to be trapped into another unnecessary conflict to satisfy lost imperialist dreams of European and British. Biden has done the minimum that could be done to give his lot a little bit of honourable retreat. While Putin has warned them to stay away or he could get nasty. He has already shown he can change the top man in their leader, USA.  That’s what he means by asymmetrical war.

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/u-s-sanction-russia-alleged-election-interference-solarwinds-hack-n1264142

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-56828813

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/u-s-sanction-russia-alleged-election-interference-solarwinds-hack-n1264142

THE COVID FAMILY OF MUTATIONS

As the Covid pandemic sweeps unrelenting across India with a national identity flagging the name ‘Indian variant’ many will be asking whether this is a virus produced in India or is it a variant that mostly affects Indians, or is it a virus that mutated after infecting Indians. In fact, it is none of these. What are variants, mutations and why do viruses get names after countries? We have the Hunan Virus, the Brazil variant, the English Variant ( or Kent variant), the South African variant, and now the Indian variant.

Covid-19 virus, like other viruses, is merely an RNA string with some protein coating. It is a gene. It only exists when it is in a living cell of another body. Viruses can be in humans, in animals, in insects, in amoebas, in bacteria, in plants, trees, in fact, any living thing. The virus needs a host to replicate and spread. That’s all they seem to do.

During replication, errors occur. These are mutations. Many mutations end up damaging the gene itself and it becomes ineffective. In some mutations, the gene becomes more effective and natural selection enables it to survive better.

All genes mutate from time to time as they replicate. Human genes in the cells also mutate. That’s how evolution happens. Viruses also mutate for many reasons. Mostly in a few million, some replications help genes to survive better.  In the case of viruses, some mutations can help them to defeat the antibodies that may have been formed against them.

There are in fact thousands of variants of the Covid-19 Sars virus.  Most of the variations are in those parts of the gene that do not do much. It is mostly variants in the so-called spike protein that are important. These spikes are used by the virus to push through into a host cell.  Antibodies generally exist to disarm the spikes thus rendering the virus unable to get into a host cell to replicate. Antibodies recognise the spikes, latch onto the virus and help killer cells in the human immune system to engulf the whole virus. These killer cells, called macrophages dismantle the virus. Or antibodies recognise the spikes and make them useless.

Some mutations in the spike protein fool the antibody, thus the antibody does not recognise it. In some mutations, the spike protein is more efficient in getting through the host cell, thus getting in before an antibody gets to it.  It is the genetic variations that significantly change the spike protein so that the antibody does not recognise or the spike protein is more lethal that really pose challenges.

Mutations can occur anywhere in the world. It’s where they are first decoded in significant numbers by scientists that the name of the country sticks. So the English variant could easily have happened in Italy or Sweden. But it was first decoded in England from Covid patients in Kent, United Kingdom.

The Brazilian variant was first decoded in numbers from patients there, as was the South African and subsequently the Indian variant.

The Indian variant also could have its origin anywhere. Indians do not need to be guilty about it. It’s just that India has decoding labs, so when the gene was broken down, it so happened the gene code was first to read in India or from patients in India.

What is a variant and what exactly do they do?

The technical names that scientists use are not country names. They are complicated and understood by virologists. Ordinary people will simply get confused.

Take the common variants.

THE SPANISH VARIANT

The first of the significant variants was the Spanish Variant. Its technical name is  20A.EU1. B.1.177. Its notable mutation is B.1.177. Remembering that in common language can be a memory feat. So it’s best to call it Spanish mutation. Although originally it was not thought to have any better transmissible power than the original Covid virus, when Europe lifted restrictions, this virus spread fast across Europe.

THE ENGLISH VARIANT

Technical name 20I/501Y.V1, VOC 202012/01, B.1.1.7 , the notable mutation is N501Y

Again a mouthful to remember. Better to call it the English or Kent variant. This has about 17 mutations. One of them N501Y in the spike protein helps the virus to bind more tightly to the cellular receptor. It is not the number of mutations in a variant that is important, but a couple of the mutations that make it more virulent. There are still studies going on on whether the English variant is significantly more able to spread than the original Covid virus.

SOUTH AFRICA

Technical name  20H/501Y, V2, B1.3. The notable mutations in it are E484K, N501Y, K417N

This variant quickly became the dominant strain in South Africa. The N501Y mutation is like the European version although scientists think it arose independently. This means that the same mutation can arise in several parts of the world without people having transmitted it there. The more dangerous mutation in this variant is E484K that enables the virus to evade the immune system.

BRAZIL

Technical B1.1.28, VOC 202101/02. 20J?501Y.V3, P1 with the notable mutation beings E484K, K417N/T, and N501Y

And another one VUI202101/01, P2. The notable mutation is E484K

Brazil seems to have had two main variants. Again some of the mutations it has are similar to ones in Spanish and UK. They are efficient in avoiding being recognised by antibodies.

INDIAN VARIANT

Tech B.1.617 notable mutations are  E484Q, L452R, P681R

The Indian variant has more than 11 mutations but two of the mutations make it particularly transmissible. That is why it is called double variant or double mutation. It is two dangerous mutations that are thought to help make it more transmissible and also capable of neutralising antibody response. This is a double attack. It is thought to overcome the immunity people may have built with a Covid infection last year. This mutation is thought to be 20% more transmissible than the original one and 50% more able to reduce antibody efficacy.

However, the Indian version is still being studied. It is concerning scientists that this variant also seems to occur in people who have been infected before.

WILL VACCINES WORK AGAINST THESE VARIANTS

The 3-4 main vaccines claim that they are effective against the variants. However, vaccines are constantly being updated. The booster shots that will be given later in the year are more likely to counter the variants.

The fact is that Sars Covid -19 Virus is here to stay. It’s done the original jump from animal to man. Although the coronavirus family of viruses does not mutate so fast and usually remains stable for a long time, the Covid-19 coronavirus is acting like a flu virus and mutating faster. So every few months a new variant is likely to be found and scientists along with vaccine manufacturers are going to be busy developing upgraded versions of the vaccines with new boosters

Sexual Assault Awareness Month- India Edition

While COVID-19 in India is rife at the moment, it is important not to neglect prominent issues around the globe that have not gone away during the pandemic and have gotten worse in some places. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, in honouring this month it is important to look at the issue of sexual assault around the globe and in particular, in India.

History of Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April 2021 marks the official 20th anniversary of Sexual Assault Awareness Month — but did you know we can trace its history even longer?

Even before its official declaration, SAAM was about both awareness and prevention of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse. Looking at the history of the movement to end sexual violence, it’s clear why: It’s impossible to prevent an issue no one knows about, and it’s difficult to make people aware of a problem without providing a solution. The two work in tandem, and they always have. From the civil rights movement to the founding of the first rape crisis centres to national legislation and beyond, the roots of SAAM run deep.

Understanding “rape culture” in Bangladesh, India, & Pakistan

The January 2021 rape and murder of a high school student in Bangladesh left the nation in shock yet again. However, this is not an isolated occurrence. Countless examples of gender-based violence (GBV) in South Asia from last year raise significant concerns about the so-called “progress” made in improving women’s standing and fighting rape culture in the region. Political discourse in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh is deeply misguided regarding such issues, often leading to systematic victim-blaming which—knowingly or unknowingly—helps the perpetrators. In this piece, we examine the true depth and commonality of GBV in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan and review previous steps taken to address this issue. We then suggest policy recommendations to curtail GBV and shift societal norms away from the normalization of rape culture and the objectification of women in South Asia. While, on the surface, one may notice an increased promotion of gender empowerment in the region, we point out that a deeper analysis of the ground realities in these countries reflects an appallingly different story.

Many visible trends in the region perpetuate an environment of sexual violence against women and other vulnerable sections of society:

1) Definition of rape: The definition is largely based on a one hundred- and fifty-year-old colonial definition. In the case of Bangladesh, the definition narrowly covers penile penetration to women without informed and willful consent. This definition leaves out cases of sexual abuse of both young boys and girls, such as in some Islamic seminaries. While India’s 2012 protests prompted changes to the age-old definition of rape to include harassment, stalking, and acid attacks, the implementation of measures against perpetrators has been weak and leaves out cases of marital rape. Though in Pakistan marital rape was criminalized in 2006, this is not the case in Bangladesh and India. Opposition to changes in law has been heard from several high quarters including comments by a former Indian Chief Justice who said that criminalizing marital rape will lead to “…anarchy in families and our country is sustaining itself because of the family platform which upholds family values.”

2) Stigma surrounding rape: The stigmatization of rape victims is a major reason for the underreporting of such cases of GBV. Victims of rape are too afraid to speak up as they believe that they will not get justice and fear facing lifelong humiliation by their families, communities, and law enforcement. Such stigma is based on intense institutional sexism and patriarchy, where the conception of honour is attached to women’s bodies. This likely inspired the Noakhali gang-rape perpetrators to audaciously release a video of the incident on social media.

3) Widespread victim-blaming along with hollow promises of justice by governments: Victim-blaming for rape cases is widespread in South Asia, percolating all the way up to prominent figures in media and pop culture. Ananta Jalil, a popular Bangladeshi actor, commented that the “dress choice of women” is responsible for inviting “unwanted sexual advances.” At the same time, the country’s information minister blamed pornography for rising rape cases. Moreover, while high-level officials occasionally make strong statements condemning rapes—such as when Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called for the punishment of perpetrators by castration and hanging as a deterrent, or when the Bangladeshi government adopted the death penalty for rape–critics in Bangladesh responded to the latter by arguing that such measures will not work and are merely a “cop-out” by the government to avoid addressing systematic causes of GBV and rape culture.

4) Involvement of law enforcement officials and powerful groups: Last year’s Hathras gang-rape case in India saw perpetrators with political influence enjoy absolute impunity as they utilized the very institutions established to ensure justice for victims instead be used against them. The police officers involved in the case demonstrated gross insensitivity not only by failing to support the victim and her family—such as by blatantly disregarding the complaint that was lodged—but they then proceeded to burn the victim’s body in gasoline after her death in order to avoid what they claim could have culminated in “caste riots.” This hurried cremation was likely an attempt to destroy forensic evidence that would make the case stronger against the rapists. Therefore, through the Hathras case, we can see a clear example of how law enforcement officials and political actors can and do shield and embolden perpetrators.  

5) Role of mass media:  Much of the content produced in Bollywood espouses patriarchal narratives where the plotlines regressively demonstrate women as having no agency in sexual or interpersonal relationships. They also normalize the hyper objectification of women by inserting commercially viable “item songs,” used in between a film’s plotlines that portray women as lustful objects catered to the male gaze.

What does the law in India say? 

One of the major gaps in rape laws in India is the failure to criminalize marital rape. Laws that explicitly allow marital rape under the law treat women as the property of their husbands and render them vulnerable to sexual violence and abuse within marriage. 

The law has a wide definition of rape, which includes all acts of sexual penetration and acts of oral sex (without a requirement for penetration). Indian law takes into account a broad range of coercive circumstances. Indian law presumes the absence of consent on the part of the victim in a broad range of circumstances such as rape by an individual in a position of authority, custodial rape, rape by a relative, guardian, teacher, person in a position of trust, or person in a position of control or dominance over a woman.

The law specifically provides that the previous sexual experience of the victim is not relevant in sexual violence cases. Indian law also has a specific provision prohibiting the defence from adducing evidence or asking questions in cross-examination relating to the general immoral character, or previous sexual experience, of the victim while proving consent or the quality of such consent.

What is happening?

While it might feel like we are years away from justice for women in India, steps are being made to improve women’s safety. PwC wrote an article on India’s steps to achieve equality for women and a country they are safe in. As society’s and government’s expectations of law enforcement are increasing, police departments around the world are facing greater demands to adopt new ways of operating to bolster their effectiveness. Police organisations must rapidly innovate and implement new strategies to keep citizens safe and remain a step ahead of ever-evolving criminal behavior.

Diversity in policing: Police forces are supposed to mirror the community they serve. But in many instances, the demographics of police forces don’t adequately represent the diversity of the societies in which they work. And police misconduct towards minorities remains a recurrent topic in public discussion.

Gender crime: Global estimates published by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that about one in three (35%) women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Violence against women has many causes. But in India, it can largely be attributed to gender-centred bias and inequality, coupled with a lack of opportunities for women to pursue education and a consequent lack of economic and social participation.

Some progress is being made, especially in areas such as female participation in the labour force. The chart illustrates that today’s rate of female labour force participation is significantly higher now than it was three decades ago in most countries globally and across all income levels. But this positive change also brings forth a pressing need to ensure the safety of women, both in the workplace and in transit to and from work. The relatively low ratio of female police officers in most police forces exacerbates this challenge. India, as noted above, has one of the lowest ratios of female police officers.

Building the future workforce: the future is female: On the scale of diversity and female representation within law enforcement, and in comparison, with the world’s most equipped police organisations, India has a long way to go. But it is working hard to catch up.

Aligning local and national capability: Change needs leadership from the top and a meaningful response to these complex challenges. For the best results, it is essential to prioritise and position resources to fight crime at the local, national and international levels.

COVID-19 Peak in India, Exam Worry for Students and the Cost of COVID

A resurgent wave of Covid hits India hard

The biggest news last week in India was the relentless rise in the number of Covid cases. The daily rate of infections in India has been soaring since March and, on April 14, it touched nearly 200,000 cases in a day. The total number of people infected since the virus was first detected in India now stands at over 14 million, which is second to only the United States where the total number of cases recorded stands at 32 million-plus. With the latest surge in the virus, India has beaten Brazil, which has recorded more than 13.5 million cases. 

Comparing absolute numbers such as those really means little because compared to India’s population of nearly 1.4 billion, the number of people living in Brazil (211 million) and the US (330 million) is piffling. So, in percentage terms, the spread of the virus in India is not as widespread as it is in those two countries. But, tackling a situation where the number of cases is as high as India’s along with a spurt in daily infection rates is an enormously challenging task.

Yet, surprisingly, it would seem that in some instances the seriousness required to rise up to that challenge is missing. Around the same time that the resurgence of Covid hit India, the Indian authorities allowed pilgrims to gather for Kumbh Mela, the religious ceremony of dipping in the Ganges at Haridwar in northern India. Last week, millions of devotees, most of them maskless, descended at the site where it is believed that a dip in the Ganges is auspicious on particular dates. On one such day, last Monday, the number of pilgrims was to the tune of five million. 

In the first 48 hours since the Mela began, tests that were conducted there revealed that at least 1300 people tested positive. Many believe that is just a drop in the Ganges because neither are the tests conducted in large numbers nor is anyone going for such pilgrimages able to maintain stipulations such as social distancing or other precautions.

The Kumbh Mela is a particularly auspicious Hindu ritual. The event is quite easily the world’s largest pilgrimage that is held at periodic intervals. During the ritual, pilgrims “wash their sins” in the Ganges whose waters, they believe, turn into “nectar of immortality” on those auspicious dates. Even in the best of times, the logistics of managing millions of people crowded into a small area is a challenge that can be daunting. At a time when the Covid virus is spreading like wildfire in India, it can be a nightmare.

It is inconceivable that millions of people, mostly traveling without Covid-era restrictions, will be tested with meticulous thoroughness. It is conceivable, however, that an event like that, which began on 8 April and will end on 8 May (the actual dipping in the Ganges spans a shorter period within those dates) and which is attended by millions, can become a launching pad for super-spreading of the pernicious virus that is currently causing a pandemic.

Postponed exams cause worry for students

Even as maskless pilgrims in millions descended, restriction-free, for a sacred Hindu ritual, the government decided to cancel the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE) exams, which two million students across India were supposed to take during April and May. Instead of the exams, conducted at the end of Class 10, students will be automatically promoted to the next class. In addition, the school-leaving examinations, held at the end of Class 12, have been postponed till at least June. This will affect at least 1.8 million students. 

The moves to cancel or postpone those public examinations have created adverse reactions among students who fear that this could delay their academic programs and university entrance processes. Of particular ire is the fact that the government has not thought of restrictions when it comes to mammoth pilgrimages such as the Kumbh Mela or the massive rallies that have been held or are still being planned as political parties hectically campaign for elections in several states, including the crucial polls in West Bengal. 

The real costs of Covid could come later

As everywhere else in the world, the economic costs of the Covid virus in India could be felt for a long time, even after the virus’s spread slows down and restrictions are lifted. The virus has hit India’s most prosperous and industrialised state, Maharashtra, the hardest. And this has already begun having repercussions on the economy. 

Lockdowns and the rapid spread of the virus in the state (last Wednesday, the state recorded nearly 60,000 cases) are expected to hit the consumer industries such as automobiles, durables, and appliances. The state accounts for a sizable share of the production of these categories and disruptions can cause shortages across India.

In addition, the Indian rupee has hit a nine-month low, inflation could rise, and employment growth could slow down. Analysts expected India’s GDP growth rate to bounce back in February when the virus showed signs of slowing down. Now, with the second wave of the virus’ spread gathering momentum, those expectations are being diluted down. India’s economic outlook for the coming year looks more uncertain than ever.

Baishakhi 1699 — The Understated Revolution

This week, Sikhs around the world celebrated Baisakhi on 13th April and some on 14th. Perhaps as a legacy of colonialism, the world and most Indians know about the 1788 French revolution and attribute human rights, republican government, and equality to it. Yet nearly a century before that another profound and wider revolution on human rights, fight against tyranny, the end of hereditary leadership, the emergence of republican order, and a truly democratic polity based on ancient Indian ideas took place on Baisakh 1699 on South Asian soil without the reign of terror that accompanied French Revolution. Few Indians know it and only a rare Indian academic recognises its significance.

On Baisakh 1699, the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Rai called a large gathering at Anandpur Sahib. His father, the Ninth Sikh Guru, Teg Bahadur Ji had been beheaded in 1675 on orders of the Mogul Emperor, Aurang Zeb, for refusing to convert to Islam. Guru Teg Bahadur wanted to show others by example that freedom of conscience comes at a price. Unfortunately, the message was lost on most Indians.

Guru Teg Bahadur went to the Mogul Emperor to argue for pluralism after Kashmiri Pundits pleaded with him to help them as persecution of ‘nonbelievers’ had taken on the new drive.

On Baisakh 1699, in a gathering of some 80000 followers, Guru Gobind instituted the order of the Khalsa, an ethical community of saint soldiers who served humanity rather than a ruler or an elite or a single religion.

A ceremony took place. Amrit was prepared, called Khande Ka Pahul. The first five came from different regions of South Asia and from different Varna Jaatis (castes) representing the diversity and regions of South Asia. They drank from a common bowl breaking the taboos of Varna Jaati (caste).   

These were Daya Ram, a Khatri from Lahore district, (now Pakistan).  Dharam Das was a Jaat from Hastinapur, Meerut (now UP, India). Himmat Rai was a water carrier from Puri, a town in modern-day Odisha (India). Mohkam Chand was the son of a cloth printer, a Kamboj from Dwarka, (in modern day Gurjrat). Sahib Chand was a barber or Nai who is generally considered to have been from Bidar (in modern-day Karnataka)

They were called Punj Pyare (five venerated). Guru Gobind gave them the surname Singh.  After taking Amrit, they became Daya Singh, Dharam Singh, Mohkam Singh, Himmat Singh, and Saheb Singh. He then asked them to give him Amrit and became Guru Gobind Singh.

Thousands took Amrit. The men took the surname Singh while women became Kaur. They were asked to live a disciplined life and wear five Kakkars of which two well-knowns are keeping unshorn hair and a Kirpan (small sword). They were to treat all humanity with respect, fight for justice against tyranny, practice no discrimination, share their wealth, and govern by consensus. Any five Amritdhari Sikhs would constitute the five venerated and they would make final decisions after consultation with the masses. There would be no absolute leader and no hierarchy of power and no hereditary privileges.

Baisakhi and taking Amrit is generally characterised as a religious ceremony. Looked from a different perspective, Guru Gobind Singh overhauled the very structures of political power and society, making them horizontal rather than vertical.

Secondly, by taking Amrit from the five, the Guru broke another tradition, the idea of infallible power in a single holy or privileged person. He submitted to the five and during his life, they often persuaded him to change decisions.

He further uprooted the entrenched discrimination of women as lower than men. He armed them along with men and did not give them a different set of Kakkars, or different services or duties.  Many did lead Sikh armies and became leaders.

Further by handing the power of ultimate decision in the consensus of the masses, the idea of a few privileged men deciding laws, economics, and rules for everyone else was overturned as an institution of political power.

Indian society was transformed on that day. There was no scope for Kings, male dominance, religious hierarchy, caste, or privilege. The roots of what is called the republic in modern times were born. Democracy was instituted on the principle of almost total consensus called sarb samti.

Under him, the Sikhs ended up going to war several times against the forces of Aurangzeb. But it wasn’t simply the Sikhs. The revolution had spread and many people associating with the Khalsa were also Hindus and Muslims. They were not seen as religious wars but a war against tyranny and a fight for freedom, dignity, and a new idea of consensus politics. Guru Gobind Singh passed away in October 1708.

In that year an ascetic, Lachman Das joined the Khalsa, becoming Banda Singh Bahadur. Banda carried the revolution forward. His lasting legacy in the short time he led the Khalsa, was to decimate the foundations of Mughal rule in northwest India and strip feudal lords of the land, end serfdom and grant land rights to the tillers of the land.  This memory runs deep in the regions of Punjab and Haryana. Hence the determination of farmers to resist possible corporate take over which they see as a modern form of feudalism.

After Banda Bahadur followed disparate Sikh groups called Misls who finally routed the Mughals and started ruling different regions. Eventually, Ranjit Singh became the so-called Maharajah in 1801. Yet he called his Empire Sarkar-E-Khalsa, Government of the Khalsa, and signed treaties under that. Ranjit Singh had a golden throne that he avoided sitting on. Instead, he sat cross-legged on the floor, knowing the Khalsa does not like hierarchy.

Ranjit Singh’s rule is also renown for inclusiveness, with Muslim and European Generals and Hindu Ministers. He gave grants to all communities to build their religious and community centres. This was a state that practiced no discrimination based on religion, caste, background, or nationality.

In 1843, after Ranjit Singh had died, his wife, Rani Jinda, led the negotiations for the treaty that followed the last Anglo-Sikh war. The Harding brothers sat in disbelief having to negotiate with a woman.

Rani Jinda and Banda Bahadur

Once Colonialism sank deeper, the revolution started in 1699 was given a ‘religious’ characterisation by European colonialists as a baptism service, despite the fact that no new spiritual and other metaphysical revelations or commitments were made on Baisakh 1699. British colonialists did not want to encourage an Indian version of the French revolution to spread through the region as a republican form of governance that would challenge British Crown rule. They preferred to rule directly as Crown land or through compliant Maharajahs.

The portrayal of Baisakhi as a religious event has also been internalised by Sikhs and unfortunately appropriated as such by the rest of the Indians, particularly academics trained in the western instituted education system. The event was a seismic transformation in the way polity started moving in South Asia. It fought the tyranny of both Mughals and Hindu Rajas until colonialism put a stop to that. The Sikhs had unfortunately not put together an institutional structure that reflected the principles established in 1699 and one that could have lived unscathed through western hegemony. Now the event is too marginalised as a religious one to be unpacked for its real significance in the history of political ideas and influences.

It is possible that it might take a western academic to flip the narrative and interpret Baisakh 1699 as the movement for inclusivity, of inversion of power from a divine Raja to the sovereignty of the masses, the end of discrimination and hierarchy based on gender, caste, religion, etc and welfare of all.