1

A Constitutional Calamity—The Overturn of Roe v Wade

On 24th June 2022, the Supreme Court of the USA made a monumental ruling on the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, which ended the constitutional right to abortion, after 50 years of abortion being a federal legal right, by overturning the decision made on the 1973 Roe v Wade case.

The ruling is playing out as a political earthquake across the States, as it acts on one of the country’s most polarising and fiercely fought social debates, at the heart of which lies the intrinsic question of whether a woman has the right to choose an abortion.

The move, which gives individual states the power to define abortion rights, is expected to completely criminalise or severely restrict legal access to abortion in at least half of the States of America. With some states already having fired trigger laws to outlaw abortion and many more mobilising immediate actions against abortion, the public is in divisive chaos with furious protests from abortion advocates.

Doors are being shut on women in abortion clinics across the States amidst celebrations from anti-abortion advocates who see this as their victory.

Abortion Over The Years

In light of the recent events that have prompted a tidal wave of anger and concern among advocates across the country, it is imperative that we take a closer look at the history of abortion rights in the past. Abortion was widely destigmatised for American women before 1840, according to historians. The American Medical Association, formed in 1847, argued that doctors had a better understanding of the female anatomy and therefore, should have the authority over abortion. This excellent grasp of knowledge, however, did not exist and was used to discredit female healers and midwives. It also served as an impetus to pass anti-abortion laws. Consequently, by the early 1900s, abortion was made illegal in every state.

Over the years, abortion remained criminalised at every stage of the pregnancy. Americans brought about change in the 1960s as many organisations, including AMA, advocated against anti-abortion laws. Colorado became the first state to change its law in 1967, followed by California and New York. In 1973, the Supreme Court legalised abortion in all fifty states with the Roe v. Wade decision.

The Origin of Roe v Wade

Since all but a few states in the US denied abortion as unconstitutional until the Roe v Wade case, when 21-year-old Norma McCorvey from Texas wanted to terminate her pregnancy in 1969, she faced restrictions from the state of Texas where abortion was forbidden unless childbirth would pose a threat to the woman’s life. McCorvey, pregnant for the third time, with the first two children given up for adoption, was from a distressed and disadvantaged background and thus, like many other women in similar situations, failed to undergo an illegal abortion. She had also claimed that she had been raped, but the case was rejected.

In 1970, McCorvey, going by the pseudonym Jane Roe, along with two Texas attorneys, filed a lawsuit against Dallas district attorney Henry Wade, who defended the anti-abortion laws. The Texas district court declared that a ban on abortion violated the constitutional right to privacy, but Wade insisted on continuing the prosecution of people partaking in abortion.

Discussions over the Roe v Wade decision at the Capitol in Wisconsin in 1973. [Source: Associated Press]

Roe’s appeal made it to the Supreme Court in 1973 and was in the national spotlight popularly called ‘Roe v Wade’, in the backdrop of the 1960s Women’s Liberation Movement and the political debate over abortion on moral and religious grounds. On 22nd January, a landmark 7-2 verdict was made, which declared that a woman had the constitutional right to undergo an abortion under the purview of the right to privacy. The decision struck down the states’ laws that infringed on this right and legalised abortion by means of the trimester system, allowing full freedom to a woman to undergo abortion in the first trimester and only some regulation in the second trimester.

Although Roe had already gone through her pregnancy forcefully by the time the court made its decision, her case is seen as a historic win providing women with the legal right to abortion, much to the chagrin of the anti-abortionists.

The Overturn Verdict

This verdict which caused a formidable impact on the citizens of America and the world has shaken everyone to the core. The historic decision of Roe v Wade was overruled by the Supreme Court on Friday in a 5-4 decision. The court’s contentious but anticipated decision grants breaking Roe, which had legalised abortions during the first two trimesters of pregnancy.

Tens of millions of individuals will be impacted by the laws nationwide, and some may need to travel across state lines to access reproductive healthcare. The Supreme Court’s ruling is projected to result in over half of the states banning or severely restricting abortion.

The majority opinion that overturned Roe and the 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld the right to an abortion, was inexorably written by Justice Samuel Alito and backed by Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. The Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill rapidly became the scene of protests as the three liberal justices of the court—Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan filed a dissenting opinion to the decision.

The Dire Consequences

As the nation stands divided, abortion bans were triggered within hours in multiple states including Utah, Ohio, Missouri and Alabama, with no exception for cases of rape in most of the states. In due course of time, as many as 26 states are expected to impose severe restrictions according to research.

A graphic using information from the Guttmacher Institute showing the legality of abortion across different states. [Source: The Guardian]

Some states such as Washington and California have assured continued protection of rights and are expected to release new constitutional amendments protecting reproductive rights. President Joe Biden publicly denounced the ruling and communicated that women wanting to undergo abortion should travel to the states where it was not banned.

Abortion seekers entered a frenzy of confusion as the news came out, with many abortion clinics and providers abruptly halting services out of fear of being prosecuted amidst the uncertainty of laws and many women travelling across state borders in urgency to states which still permitted it. The clinics still operating are preparing to face an influx of thousands of patients from neighbouring states.

There is also a spike in the demand for abortion pills and medications, using which half the legal abortions have been taking place in the country. Texas and Louisiana have already banned the movement of pills across other states with more states likely to follow suit. The obstacles for women created by the ruling are therefore far-reaching and insoluble without legal aid.

Marginalised women, however, will bear the brunt of the decision as a lack of abortion rights has historically fuelled financial instability among women. Access to abortion will also be exclusively reduced for Black and Hispanic women, as many women will be unable to afford to travel to other states for undergoing procedures, while disparities have already resulted in worse reproductive healthcare for Black women in the US compared to white women.

Several corporate tech and banking goliaths have come forward to assist employees seeking abortion in the form of reimbursements and employee benefits for healthcare and travel. Tech firms also face the challenge of securing user data in the wake of possible prosecution owing to involvement with abortions.

Perhaps the most jarring prospect of this tectonic verdict is that it is largely being seen as a threat to the legacy of the court, putting erstwhile constitutional rights in jeopardy. As people wait to see its long-run ramifications, the country is left in a state of ambivalence.

The Public Outcry

The verdict has birthed a plethora of problems for the government. The political fallout coupled with miscommunication amongst the masses has cast the government in a negative light. People across the country now have varying levels of access to healthcare.

Heated protests outside the Supreme Court over the court’s ruling [Source: The New York Times]

The atmosphere was filled with voices of anger and dissent, as the young and old joined together to chant slogans of protest and defiance. Throughout the afternoon, protesters, most of whom were female and young, trickled in and out of a barricaded area across the street from the Supreme Court. The crowd listened to a rotating list of speakers who sobbed as they shared their abortion stories.

“This has been a fight 30 years in the making to overturn women and people’s fundamental rights to make decisions about their body. There is no coming back from this. There is no response other than outrage and action,” said Sara Kugler of Washington DC, who was standing outside the court building. The majority of Americans (61%) believed that Roe should remain the law of the land, and only 36% supported overturning it, according to the Public Religion Research Institute think tank.

Anti-abortion advocates celebrating. [Source: The New York Times]

As a chorus of anti-abortion advocates lined up outside the Supreme Court post the verdict, the future of abortion rights seemed bleak. Many of them expressed their joy and satisfaction and claimed that the overturning of the Roe Vs Wade case was just the beginning. The Archbishop of Boston, Sean O’Malley, called the decision “deeply significant and encouraging.” The Massachusetts Family Institute said it looked forward to a “re-energised fight to restore a culture of life to the commonwealth.”

Until and unless a change is made, this constitutional setback will continue to have an impact on millions of lives. As tens of thousands of women struggle to access sufficient healthcare in their hometowns, they will reluctantly turn to illicit surgeries that could be fatal to their lives. Developing progressive global health programmes centred on women’s sexual and reproductive rights will become more challenging for governments and organisations as they run the danger of losing financing in the future. The verdict is simply the beginning of what may eventually become a widespread movement against abortion, leaving the fate of women in a desolate and precarious state.

Featured Image credits: Associated Press




An Economic Cataclysm—Sri Lanka’s Financial Crisis

The island nation of Sri Lanka is currently facing the heavy consequences of its government’s financial mismanagement and ill-timed decisions. A tremendous drop of 70 per cent in foreign exchange reserves has pushed the country to the verge of defeat. The coronavirus pandemic further dealt a massive blow to Sri Lanka’s already crumbling economy. With $7 billion to be paid in foreign debt obligations this year and just about $2 billion left in foreign exchange reserves, Sri Lanka faces the unenviable dilemma of choosing between paying for crucial imports and repaying its foreign investors.

The ones that are suffering the most during this economic calamity are the families belonging to the low-income sector of society. The inflation rate in Sri Lanka has skyrocketed to 17.5 per cent, the highest in Asia. Food and medicine costs are surging like never before. The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine has only added to the misery of the common man by driving up the prices of oil. Four elderly men have lost their lives waiting in queues to buy fuel in the sweltering heat. Soldiers have been posted at hundreds of gas stations to prevent violence, stockpiling, and inefficient distribution. People have been forced to take up a second job, but the income from these is still not enough to sufficiently support their families and themselves. Paper and ink shortages mean students cannot give their exams. Hospitals are reporting shortages of necessary medical equipment. People are choosing to self-medicate instead of going to a doctor to get treated, which can only lead to higher morbidity rates. Electricity is also a rare commodity now, with daily ten to thirteen-hour power cuts becoming the norm. The drastic decrease in their quality of life has inevitably led to thousands protesting against the government and demanding change.

Sri Lankans waiting in a queue to refill their cooking gas cylinders in Colombo

Sri Lankans waiting in a queue to refill their cooking gas cylinders in Colombo. [Credits: AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena]

Sri Lanka’s public debt is currently estimated to be 119 per cent of its GDP. This means that the country owes more than it can produce through goods and services. The largest portion of its foreign debt comes from international sovereign bonds, which make up 36.4 per cent of the total debt. These are followed by loans from the Asian Development Bank, Japan, and China. India has offered a $1 billion line of credit to assist Sri Lanka in procuring essentials such as food, fuel, and medicine. In addition to this, India has also extended a $400 million currency swap and $500 million for 40,000 tonnes of diesel to help with severe fuel shortages. India has also deferred the payment of $515.2 million by two months to the Asian Clearing Union.

This is the worst economic crisis the country has faced, since gaining independence in 1948. Sri Lanka is deep in debt with no single way to overcome it.

Who’s responsible?

The Sri Lankan government began financing its investments through foreign borrowings and in 2007, issued its first international sovereign bond for $500 million. A sovereign bond is a debt security issued by a government that can be denominated in both foreign and domestic currency. The buyer would be paid a given amount of interest for a stipulated number of years along with repayment of the face value on the maturity of the bond. The three-decade-long civil war with the Tamil militancy ended in 2009, following which the government focused on reconstruction and real estate. The nation was desperate to pay off foreign debt but didn’t work much towards diversifying its exports, an important source of forex. In 2019, the Rajapaksa government cut value-added tax from 15 per cent to 8 per cent which caused revenue losses of more than 2 per cent of its GDP. The same year saw the devastating Easter Sunday bombings that also took a toll on the tourism industry.

Police fired tear gas and water cannon at hundreds of university students who were trying to break through barricades near the town of Kandy. [Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP]

Police fired tear gas and water cannon at hundreds of university students who were trying to break through barricades near the town of Kandy. [Credits: Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP]

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic caused Sri Lanka’s unstable economy to take a turn for the worse. The vital tourism sector dried up. Lockdowns disrupted the informal sector, which accounts for about 60 per cent of the country’s total workforce. Tax cuts from the previous year weakened the government’s ability to deal with the public health crisis. Further, in 2021, the government announced a ban on the import and use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in an attempt to promote organic farming, as well as to conserve quickly depleting forex, which only led to shortages in crop yield and inflation in food prices. Remittances from foreign workers, the nation’s biggest source of dollars, also dropped by 22.7 per cent in 2021. That September, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of economic emergency in the country to take control of the supply of basic food items and fix prices to control inflation. Due to the relentless protests of the citizens, the government has dissolved as all governmental authorities resigned except for Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Even after the imposition of a social media shutdown, people still circumvented using VPNs and got to the streets to march against the administration. The next major challenge that Sri Lanka needs to tackle is the repayment of a $1 billion bond maturing in July 2022

Sri Lankan soldiers walk past a bus burned by demonstrators at the top of the road of President Rajapaksa's residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka [Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]

Sri Lankan soldiers walk past a bus burned by demonstrators at the top of the road of President Rajapaksa’s residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka [Credits: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]

In the last decade, China has financially supported Sri Lanka by lending over $5 billion to help with projects like building roads, ports, and an airport. According to critics, however, these funds were utilised for unnecessary ventures with low returns. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has now asked China to restructure its debt repayments, in addition to asking for concessions on imports from China, to help Sri Lanka tide over its financial crisis. President Rajapaksa also offered to allow Chinese tourists to return to Sri Lanka, a major move in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sri Lanka is a significant member of China’s Belt and Road initiative, which is a long-term project focused on building infrastructure that links China with the rest of the world. This project has been called a “debt trap” for smaller nations with unstable economies. 

How It Affects India

The port of Colombo is a major trans-shipment hub on which India is heavily dependent for global trade. While exports to Sri Lanka only amount to 1.3% of India’s exports, 60% of India’s cargo trans-shipments are handled by this port. Any disruptions at Colombo port leave India vulnerable to increased costs and congestion issues. 

India is among the biggest drivers of Foreign Direct Investment in Sri Lanka. Investing in a wide range of sectors such as petroleum retail, hotels, real estate, manufacturing, telecommunication and banking services. Many Indian companies have a significant presence in Sri Lanka. Located at the centre of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is a country of major military and geopolitical importance. In the last decade, Chinese influence in Sri Lanka has grown multifold, making China its largest import partner and one of its largest investors in public infrastructure projects. The Chinese presence in Sri Lanka is a cause of concern for India. However, Sri Lanka’s debt crisis has created an opening for India to counter Chinese influence. In the last few months, India has provided monetary support as well as relief in the form of food and medicine.

So far, sixteen Sri Lankan Tamils have arrived at Indian shores seeking refuge. They fled due to severe food shortages. India has not granted refugee status to any Sri Lankan since 2012, after the civil war. The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M K Stalin, conferred with Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting him to allow the Tamil Nadu government to provide humanitarian aid to the Tamils living in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka.

Overcoming The Economic Crisis

Sri Lanka is currently facing a shortage of foreign exchange to pay for its imports. The government is now borrowing from other governments and carrying out currency swaps to overcome the forex deficit. However, these measures are not enough. The country has approached the IMF for help, to wade over this crisis. The IMF has recommended some policy changes to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected including but not limited to, reforming the revenue generation and collection system, increasing taxes to improve Sri Lanka’s low tax-to-GDP ratio and ensuring a greater contribution from higher-income earners of the country, and leaving fuel and exchange rates to the market rates.

Sri Lanka's inflation rate has increased to 17.5 per cent. [Credits: CNN]

Sri Lanka’s inflation rate has increased to 17.5 per cent. [Credits: CNN]

The IMF has also proposed the need for a banking act giving the Central Bank of Sri Lanka more regulatory powers to aid the process of resolving the country’s debt. Sri Lanka also desperately needs to diversify its exports as it is heavily dependent on tea leaves. The removal of import restrictions can help encourage investments, bringing in the necessity for exports. There is a need for reforms to improve conditions and ensure financial security for the labour force in farming and non-farming sectors to ensure the people living at the edge are uplifted first. 

Once revered as the radiant Pearl of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka’s crippling economy has rendered it a husk of its former self. The congregations within the government can only do so much to restore financial stability. The country desperately needs international helping hands to resolve the crisis, and revive the tourism industry in the process. The several strategies in place could eventually create a strong momentum—one which can hopefully pave the way to rekindle the glory of Sri Lanka.

Featured Image Credits: CNN




The Pearl of the Indian Ocean—Sri Lanka

Not far below the Indian peninsula, lies in all its glory—the magnificent and glorious island of Sri Lanka. My siblings and I were looking for a week-long getaway and Sri Lanka turned out to be the ideal vacation spot for a luxuriant budget experience. The nation has a rich atmosphere that seemed to naturally draw one into its warm embrace. I shared this sentiment wholeheartedly as I touched down on Sri Lankan soil for the first time.

Ceylon, as it was known under the British crown until 1948, reflects its contemporary colonial fashion in synergetic coalescence with its own culture. The population primarily comprises a harmonious potpourri of three languages—Sinhalese, English, and Tamil. Several tourists from all over the world also make frequent trips to dip their toes in all that the country has to offer. As I took to the long and open roads, it felt quite similar, yet different to the Indian roads I was accustomed to. With long trees forming a cascade of lush greenery across the landscape, the drive from the airport feels like a road trip in and of itself.

The calm streets of Sri Lanka observed during the daytime.

Generally recognised as the cultural capital of Sri Lanka, the beauty of the Kandy cityscape can be captured through the eyes of its exclusive viewpoint, amidst the winding roads. One can see the tropical rainforest hills, crystal-clear rivers, cascading waterfalls, valleys, and much more. Kandy also houses the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, a Buddhist temple that exhibits an architectural wonder at the heart of the royal palace. This temple is the namesake of Gautama Buddha’s tooth, said to be preserved across the ages, exchanged by the hands of several dynasties.

Tucked away in clouds of mist atop valleys and mountains lies Ella, undoubtedly the most aesthetic locale in Sri Lanka. The best way to travel to Ella is by train, an adventure of its own that treats one to a simply breath-taking view of the hilltop, bristling with lush foliage in the comfort of a luxurious coach. The train crosses the famous Nine Arch Bridge, where people can freely roam about the tracks and click pictures during brief periods. While waiting for the train, one can take a sip of the exotic world-famous home-grown tea along the hillside plantations—the country’s single largest export.

An angle of the traversable Nine Arch Bridge in Ella.

Walking through the streets of Ella, I was mesmerised by the quaint ambience the small village presented, which felt straight out of a children’s fairy tale. The topology provided for a plethora of experiences. One can hike up to Adam’s peak, where the primordial human from the Bible is said to have first set foot on earth. At the foothills, one can unwind with a zip-line through dense clouds of fog, making for a unique experience altogether.

On the way to the sunny beaches of Galle awaits a mystical boat tour just short of the Indian Ocean. As the boatman paddles, one can revel in the natural elegance with the temperament of wildlife ranging from endemic birds to monitor lizards—and the sporadic crocodile if you’re lucky! Apart from the gloomy mangrove caves, the boat also stops at a few islands along the archipelago, each with its own unique idiosyncrasies to offer.

Most of the exotic beaches of Sri Lanka can be found along the coast of Galle and Unawatuna. I felt rejuvenated as I stepped foot into the warm and fluffy golden sands of the seaside. The palm-fringed sunbed plays host to a variety of travellers and locals looking to relax and unwind as they feast their eyes on the sun taking a dip into the placid turquoise waters. Furthermore, the crystal-clear oceans allow for excellent visibility, making it a haven for scuba diving and snorkelling as one falls into the ineffable trance of the aquatic kingdom. A multitude of other water activities can also be availed to pass the time. When dusk falls, the idyllic ambience breathes life to the sands through a culturally vibrant nightlife—brimming with music, dance, and laidback parties.

The majestic Galle Fort, considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stands strong against the test of time—including a calamitous tsunami in 2004—and serves as an important colonial hereditament. The adjoining Galle Lighthouse follows suit as the oldest lighthouse in Sri Lanka, still operational and guiding sailors to this day. Not too far away was the setting for one of my personal favourite moments—The Turtle Hatchery. I was taken aback by the magnanimity of the Sri Lankan locals towards marine conservation. Following a brief tour of marine life, I was given the gratifying opportunity to release a baby turtle into the ocean. This bittersweet moment left a poignant imprint on my mental scrapbook.

A view of the Galle lighthouse from atop the remains of Galle Fort.

Teeming with stories of lost ancient mythos, the masterfully crafted places of worship abundant in Sri Lanka ethereally call out to the religious soul. Be it Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, or Hindu, these houses of gods have been around for a lot of the nation’s spiritual history. The secularity rampant in the country is admirable and it anchors a society akin to that of Mother India. Gangaramaya Temple is one such temple that boasts a truly novel blend of Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese architecture.

Another prominent part of Sri Lanka’s colourful and exquisite culture is its flourishing gem industry. It is affectionately known as ‘Ratna-Dweepa’, or Gem Island, owing to the fact that nearly 25% of the total land area of Sri Lanka is potentially gem-bearing, making Sri Lanka one of the countries with the highest density of gem deposits.

At the heart of it all is Colombo City, the commercial capital and the largest city of Sri Lanka by population density. One can witness a drastic transition while heading towards the bustling city centre from the balmy tranquillity of the shores. Colombo is a sultry melting pot of modern life, colonial-style buildings, and monuments. The structural edifices such as the Twin Towers, the adjacent Bank of Ceylon, the Colombo Fort, and the Old Dutch Hospital, are architectural marvels inspired by multiple eras—most notably the British and Dutch. The bulk of the country’s major activities takes place here, such as concerts and cultural performances from all over the world. I would recommend wandering about on the old-world sidewalks to truly bask in the picturesque glory of Colombo.

The architectural variety prevalent in buildings across Colombo City [Image Credits: Getty Images]

Although the country was facing economic problems in light of the pandemic, it did not hamper my experience one bit. My one-week sojourn in the Sri Lankan enclaves will always occupy a special place in my heart, from the places I visited, to the moments I lived.

Featured Image Credits: BBC




A Contentious Legislation—The AFSPA

Permeating fear in people’s hearts often gives megalomaniacs the illusion of control. From individuals to organisations, everyone craves to exercise power in every possible form. In the context of security forces, this takes the shape of arms, ammunition, and a smart strategy. An allegedly botched up intelligence report to a foiled counter-insurgency operation, covered up by a dubious tale that makes one question the ability of people in power, made the Indian Armed Forces the centre of unwanted attention over the past few weeks.

Decoding the Nagaland killings

On 4th December 2021, soldiers of an elite para commando battalion—the Assam Rifles—opened fire at civilians in the Mon region of Nagaland, near the Assam border. Claiming to have mistaken the civilians in an open-bed pickup truck for militant insurgents from across the border, the battalion killed six of the villagers before they realised their mistake. Even as help rushed in from neighbouring villages, protestors intercepted the military convoy who were seen carrying the dead bodies of the villagers.

Officials taking a look at the destruction that took place in the ambush at Mojo, Nagaland [Image Credits: EastMojo]

In the ensuing struggle between protesting villagers and the retreating soldiers, seven more civilians were killed by retaliatory gunfire. The Army maintains that it fired shots only on being provoked and after the death of one of its men. Locals also claim that the Army was trying to dress up the dead bodies to make them look like militants. Several people got injured in the entire incident and needed medical attention. Adding fuel to the already raging fire was the fact that the President of BJP in Nagaland claimed to have been fired at, despite his vehicle bearing the party flag.

Incidents of alleged intelligence failure like these have been the cause of the deaths of civilians multiple times in the past. Even though the Nagaland Police, and other witnesses, have made statements indicating that the Army opened fire indiscriminately, top Army officials and the rest of the political diaspora are yet to give their concrete views on the topic.

A Troubled History and a Contested Existence  

Passed by both Houses of Parliament and approved by the President in 1958, The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has never been more relevant in the contemporary context. It grants the Indian Army special powers to maintain order and peace in ‘disturbed areas’. According to the law, once an area is declared ‘disturbed’, it needs to maintain the status quo for three months before the Act can be lifted again. The Act gives the Army the power to prohibit a gathering of more than five people in an area, use force or open fire to dispel the crowd, or even arrest a person without a warrant.

North-eastern states like Tripura, Manipur, and Assam have faced the brunt of this Act with multiple occurrences of violence, terrorism and protesting citizens forcing the government to grant more liberty to the Army. Even though the Act was lifted in Tripura, it persists in parts of Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland even today.

Another region where this Act has played a pivotal role is the Punjab-Chandigarh-Jammu and Kashmir belt. The Act was withdrawn from Punjab and Chandigarh in 1997, around 14 years after being imposed. On the other hand, a rudimentary state-enforced version of the AFSPA was already present in J&K since 1978. Despite being dubbed a “lawless law” by Amnesty International, the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act failed to sensitise the country’s masses about its debatable nature. The AFSPA has been in power in J&K since 1990, despite multiple protests by a weak opposition.

Protests against the imposition of the ASFPA in Jammu and Kashmir have not resulted in a fruitful decision yet. [Image Credits: Outlook India]

The AFSPA was initially convened, drawing inspiration from the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordinance, formulated by the British to suppress the Quit India Movement. But, as it turned out, the AFSPA is considered a better and meaner version of its predecessor. For example, concerning the protection of soldiers from prosecution, Section 4 of its colonial counterpart restricted the soldier’s actions presumed as being in “good faith”. In Section 6 of the newer ordinance that deals with the same issue, the words “good faith” are missing, granting soldiers free rein.

The two main events defining aspects of the AFSPA are the prolonged deployment of armed forces in apparently disturbed areas and the lack of transparency in dealing with the law. This has led to the armed forces coming up with their own variations of the rules helping them operate more ruthlessly in unstable areas. Subsequently, it has also been a knee-jerk reaction of those in power to hide under the AFSPA umbrella every time a rogue action is committed.

The Way Forward

It is a widely known and lesser accepted fact that most insurgency problems, unrests, and clashes between militant groups in various parts of the country are primarily fuelled by diverse political or personal interests. The armed forces being granted special powers to tackle political or personal fights tips the scale to favour an eventual loss in military capability for the country rather than regional political peace. It is for this very reason that people and organisations across the nation have been clamouring for a repeal of the AFSPA laws.

Historically, the AFSPA has been received with mixed opinions from the country’s top brass. People across the nation have expressed their views on the varied humanitarian angles of the Act. From Tamil Nadu’s P. Chidambaram to Saifuddin Soz of Jammu and Kashmir, both being from the Congress party, there have been various politicians over the years who have condemned the Act and wanted it revoked. On the other hand, some others like Amarinder Singh have been staunch supporters of AFSPA.

Amongst its civilian disapprovers, Irom Sharmila, hailing from Manipur, had risen to fame for her stubborn and widely known opposition of the Act since November 2000. Dubbed the “Iron Lady of Manipur”, she undertook a hunger strike that lasted 16 years, from 16th November 2000 to 9th August 2016. Being denied the right to vote since she was imprisoned for her protest, she stoically refused food and water for more than 500 weeks, demanding that the AFSPA be repealed in the region of the Seven Sisters. Declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, she was voted the top woman icon of India by the MSN Poll on International Women’s Day in 2014.

Hundreds of people carry out rallies and protests demanding the repeal of the AFSPA in Nagaland [Image Credits: Hindustan Times]

Following the recent deadly Nagaland killings, hundreds of people walked 70 km to demand the repeal of the controversial Act. They began their protest in Dimapur, a city in Nagaland state, and walked to the capital city of Kohima, raising slogans against the AFSPA. Despite these protests, the Central Government extended AFSPA throughout Nagaland for another six months, effective from 30th December 2021. It was stated that “the area comprising the whole of the State of Nagaland is in such a disturbed and dangerous condition that the use of armed forces in aid of the civil power is necessary“. Additionally, in consultation with top leaders from Nagaland, the government also formed a seven-member committee, chaired by Dr. Vivek Joshi, Registrar General & Consensus Commissioner, to review the situation and submit a report within three months.

Ultimately, people’s opinions, the political turmoil in the region, and the influence of various tribal and militant groups need to be considered while making decisions that directly affect people’s lives. Though promulgated with good intentions in mind and premeditating certain necessities, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, in addition to allocating more power to the armed forces, needs to ensure that it does not get misused as it has been over the course of time. If not, the Rule of the Gun will become the new norm in various regions of the largest active democracy of the world.

Featured Image Credits: Orissa Post




Waves of Tragedies—A Plea for Justice

As the pandemic-ravaged country reeled under the second wave of COVID-19, India was struck with yet another calamity—one entirely created by the masses. With several families living in fear of losing their loved ones, chaos emerged/reigned supreme within the country. The healthcare system, especially, took a strong blow with a surplus influx of patients from all parts of India. The doctors tending to these patients were subject to heavy abuse from their families and, in some cases, were even brutally beaten to their untimely death. These families often lashed out at the doctors from frustration due to the assumption that inadequate attention or improper care were being given to the patient.

A recent survey by the Indian Medical Association shows that over 80% of doctors feel stressed out in their profession. Around 46% of their stress is caused due to the fear of violence. Furthermore, 56% of doctors do not receive sufficient sleep due to their profession. Most importantly, due to the recent surge of cases, doctors have been under more stress than ever, which triggers fear among those in the next generation, possibly discouraging them from pursuing this taxing career. [1]

Doctors clad in PPE kits, treating a patient in the Covid wards. (Image Credits: bbc.com)

Several harrowing events broke out in all parts of the country. A doctor working at a medical facility at Hojai, located in Assam, was captured on tape being assaulted by a mob. The patient had supposedly passed away due to COVID complications which riled up the crowd to ransack the hospital. As the staff fled for safety, the doctor locked himself up in a room in the hopes of hiding from the mob. However, he was found and thrashed with metal trash cans and bricks, injuring him severely. [2]

Doctors were also beaten and harassed by the police. Dr Maqbool, a senior Kashmiri doctor, was on his way to the hospital when he was stopped by a policeman and asked to take a different route. Even after showing his ID card, the policeman did not let him through, threatening to strip him naked. After the doctor filed a complaint, the police pinned the blame on him, stating that he was allegedly manhandling them. However, Dr Maqbool stood bravely by his word and demanded just behaviour from the court. [3]

Adding to the burdens faced by the doctors, politicians have also been playing a part in making their lives harder, propagating acts of violence against healthcare workers. PC Sharma, a Congress legislator, berated Dr Yogendra Shrivastava, a senior doctor from Madhya Pradesh. After witnessing the misconduct of the Congress MLA, Dr Shrivastava applied for resignation. However, this prompted responses from many other politicians, and even the Health Minister of MP, who was resolute in bringing justice to him. AIIMS, Delhi drafted a heartfelt letter to what the doctor had witnessed, in response to his situation. [4]

Doctors in IMA and FAIMA protesting outside AIIMS, Delhi. (Image Credits: Times of India)

On 18th June 2021, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) organised a nationwide protest against the recent surge of violence against doctors reported across the country. It also served as an awareness campaign wherein healthcare professionals wore black masks, ribbons, shirts, and badges. The purpose of this protest was to demand a central law that protects medicos from workplace violence. [5] With the slogan ‘Save the Survivors’, lakhs of doctors from various medical organisations participated in an endeavour to increase security and label hospitals as protected zones. One of the demands was to have a non-bailable law against perpetrators of physical violence, with a ten-year minimum punishment. [6]

The projection of healthcare workers by the media creates a colossal difference in the way the masses perceive doctors. The staff must be compliant to deal with frustrated patients and the healthcare premises must be well-guarded to prevent such tragedies from happening. However, as several states prepare for what will likely be a deadlier third wave, it is important to understand that healthcare workers risk their lives every day in order to ensure their patient’s well being. With resources, patience, and endurance stretched thin, there is only so much that the rapidly crumbling healthcare system can withstand. 

Featured Image Credits: Medicare News




Olympics—Behind the Scenes of the Greatest Show In the World

The Olympic Games are an international celebration of sports and the sporting spirit, promoting the unified strength of the body, mind, and will. The Games comprise various competitions and involve thousands of athletes from nations worldwide. It embraces diversity and encourages multiculturalism. This popular sporting spectacle garners the awe of the entire world and instils a sense of patriotic pride among all the viewers. While the mega-event has many undeniable benefits, there is growing criticism of its burden on host countries.

Throughout history, countries have been subjected to the numerous negative impacts of hosting the Games. The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan, originally slated to be held in July 2020, was shifted to July 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, it faced the misfortune of the continued effect of the pandemic and thus experienced additional complications, which resulted in it barely being tolerated by the Japanese.

Evidence From Previous Hosts 

The most prominent justification for hosting the Olympics has been that it boosts the host nation’s economy. Yet, substantial research suggests that no modern Olympic Games have raised a host city’s economic growth rate, except the Barcelona 1992 Summer Olympics. Instead, most countries pile up massive debts consequent to the event. Submitting a bid to the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to host the Olympics itself is an enormous expenditure. Cities usually spend about $50-100 million on the bidding process alone. Unless the required infrastructure is already present, countries also spend up to $50 billion to construct highly specialised and gigantic sports arenas, Olympic villages et al. to house the athletes, and other facilities. These are expensive to maintain and eventually fall into disuse.

A graph showing the cost overruns faced by different countries hosting the Olympics [Source: Council on Foreign Relations]

The 1976 Olympics in Montreal left the Quebec province of Canada in financial adversity. Its Olympic stadium itself ended up costing $1 billion more than its estimated budget. The Games finally left Quebec with a $1.5 billion debt that took them 30 years to overcome. The 2016 Rio Olympics caused a cost overrun of 368% for Brazil, pushing the impoverished country into further economic stress. In 2004, the Athens Olympics caused one of the worst economic side-effects of the Games, heightening the Greek financial crisis of the 2000s.

Furthermore, native taxpayers shoulder a considerable slice of the costs of the Games. Taxes accounted for 30% of the total amount paid for hosting the London games, and taxpayers of Greece and Russia, among various other countries, have also been paying huge sums to cover the debts of their respective Olympics. A vital portion of the profits realised from surrounding activities goes to internationally owned organisations, construction companies, and hotels rather than the host country’s economy or local businesses. Similar experiences of monetary inadequacies and financial drain raise the question of whether authorities seeking profits from the Games consider public welfare.

The infrastructure developed for the Olympics, such as buildings, roads, and transportation, improves the quality of local life for some time. However, the pomp usually lasts until the cameras and visitors are gone, after which the amenities are often abandoned. Of the 22 structures built for the Athens 2004 Games, 21 are derelict, with pools left unused and filled with filthy water and the courts covered in weeds. Similarly, the Rio Olympic Park sports complex had to be closed in 2020, citing health concerns. Beijing’s Olympic kayaking and rowing facilities have also been abandoned and filled with garbage. Such desolate premises remain an eyesore and a bitter reminder of the Games.

Left: A swimming pool left unused after the Athens Olympics, Right: The remains of a fountain at the Olympic Village in Athens [Source: ABC News and cfr.org]

Another notable consequence is the displacement of citizens to cater to the requirement of large areas for infrastructure. For its 2008 games, more than a million people were evicted from their homes in Beijing with minimal compensation and resettlements in the outskirts, causing widespread anger and frustration. Similarly, residents around Rio’s stadium had a violent confrontation with the police since the homes of 70,000 people were set to be demolished. In fact, for rebuilding the arena for Tokyo 2020, the eviction of about 200 people began as early as 2013. 

Thus, while tangible benefits of the games remain uncertain, the citizens bear the brunt of its consequences. Therefore, there is growing reluctance among the public to be home to such events. 

Though the grandeur of the Olympics infrastructure is mainly known to last only during the currency of the Games, it can be used for the advancement of the public in the long run with appropriate planning. The Olympics of London, Barcelona, and Vancouver are a testament to this fact. These are some of the few cities that enhanced the lives of their citizens by making tactful decisions about constructing new infrastructure.

Shifting Tokyo 2020 to 2021

Mirroring the situation in the rest of the world, Japan’s economy was harshly shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic, suffering a record-breaking drop in economic activity in early 2020. Preparations to hold the prestigious event in July came to a grinding halt when the country declared an emergency in April. With the alarming spread of the virus, countries began backing out of the Games and called for a postponement. As soon became evident, retaining the 2020 Olympic schedule was an unattainable desire, and postponing the games by a year was the only viable alternative. Nonetheless, shifting the Games is expected to incur more than $2 billion towards maintenance and financial damage. Many venues had already been booked for 2021, creating a chain of logistic issues and disrupting the schedules of other events. The postponement has also given rise to several commercial and legal complications with the organisers’ contractors. While the one-year shift may have saved the Tokyo Olympics from an impending disaster, it has brought many unforeseen ramifications too.

Public Dissent

The general sentiment of the Japanese public has been consistently against the holding of the Games amidst an ever-raging pandemic. The government’s less-than-par handling of the coronavirus outbreak in its early stages has not helped in alleviating public concerns. When Japan’s economy took a hit, in a desperate attempt to attenuate the impacts, the government launched a domestic travel campaign instead of taking aggressive measures like lockdowns and emergencies to curb the spread of the virus. Allegations state that the government downplayed the outbreak’s severity in 2020 to ensure that the Games were held on schedule. Despite the Prime Minister’s assurances that safety protocols would be strictly adhered to, more than 80% of the population felt that the Games should be postponed or entirely abandoned.

A protest against the Olympics in Tokyo [Source: The New Yorker]

As one of the most controversial Games ever commenced with the opening ceremonial parade, the streets of Tokyo saw a parade of their own. Hundreds gathered in protests outside the new Olympic Stadium, wielding placards, voicing their dissent in the face of the Games’ inevitability. Toyota, Panasonic, and other major sponsors of Tokyo 2020 pulled out of advertising after noting its unpopularity, despite spending millions on it.

Olympics Amidst a Pandemic

Japan has seen an unprecedented rise in the number of cases since June 2021, while vaccination rates remain at a meagre 20% of the population. Cases averaged over seven days currently stand at around 12,000, much more than any of the previous waves seen by the island nation. The Olympics diverted healthcare resources from an already overburdened system. Tokyo went into its fourth emergency the day the Games began. As the world eagerly watched athletes perform marvellous feats and break world records, local businesses in Tokyo shut shop. 

[Source: The Guardian]

One of the upsides of hosting the Games for a nation is increased tourism, generally expected to be a boon to the economy. COVID-19 restrictions, however, have visitors and spectators barred from attending any event. Before the pandemic took the world by storm, the organisers had sold 4.48 million tickets, and revenue from these, initially expected to be about $815 million, now stands at a disheartening zero. Japan also incurred extra costs due to the safeguards against the virus—testing and isolating facilities, additional medical personnel, and treatment of athletes who tested positive. The bidding process cost Japan millions, and the final budget ballooned to roughly $20 billion, almost three times the estimated initial $7.4 billion. It is no wonder the Japanese are furious—a considerable chunk of the budget is footed from taxpayers’ dollars to host an Olympics they won’t even be allowed to attend.

According to the contract signed with the host cities, the power of cancelling the Games ultimately lies with the IOC. The IOC deems the Games to be its ‘property’; it derives seventy-five per cent of its income from selling broadcasting rights and another eighteen per cent from sponsors— with billions of dollars at stake, public health seems to be a minor concern. The Japanese government has another incentive in mind—its geopolitical rival China will host the Winter Olympics in 2022. Cancelling Tokyo 2020 would be an admission of defeat like no other.

Conclusion

The Games will gather more than ten thousand athletes and their entourages from over two hundred countries. Japan faces the prospect of a dual-threat in the aftermath of the Games—an unprecedented spread of the virus and a heavy debt.  However, sports have a unique way of uniting people across nations. Even the unpopularity of the Tokyo Games has not managed to douse the excitement of millions. They sit glued to their screens, cheering for their countries and witnessing the physical potential of humans at its supreme, on the greatest spectacle in the world.

[Featured Image credits: Getty Images]




John McAfee—An Enigmatic Life

McAfee Corp. is an American global computer security software company headquartered in San Jose, CA and is part of the Intel Security Division after its sale to Intel. Little is known about the giant of a man behind the company and its roots in the software world. John David McAfee founded and led the company that made the iconic McAfee anti-virus. The tech world has its fair share of unique, eccentric personalities, but he stands the tallest amongst them all.

He went from being a cyber security revolutionary to selling cyber security ideas to an alleged murderer to dying of a much-deliberated suicide. John McAfee’s story is a roller coaster of events that normal people could never experience in their lifetime.

The Rapid Rise and the Great Fall

John McAfee started out as a computer programmer and a businessman. As a child, he grew up in a hostile environment. His father was an alcoholic and shot himself dead when John was 15. Subsequently, John fell into drugs and alcohol to escape from his family troubles.

He was a gifted child—even with his addictions. He got a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics but could not complete his PhD due to his erratic behaviour and unusual mindset. He worked for NASA in New York City from 1968 to 1970 on the Apollo Program. Afterwards, he took up a job in Univac, apart from working other menial jobs. In 1987, McAfee founded McAfee Associates Inc., which marketed his code—their first anti-virus software—to the market. He provided the users with a service they were in desperate need of and the sales skyrocketed. His attempts in making people aware of the dangers of computer viruses were so successful that people grew extremely wary of these viruses, which in turn generated millions in sales of the anti-virus.

McAfee was a pioneer in the anti-virus business, until he fell onto the wrong side of the law for a variety of reasons. [Image Credits: Crypto For Everyone]

In 1994, he sold his share of the company and cut ties with the very corporation that had built his career. He then started and took ownership of various failed companies and programs like PowWow and MGT. McAfee later claimed that “anti-virus software is dead, it no longer works” and further added, “the new paradigm is to stop the hacker from getting in.” He was a visionary on his own terms but lost his standing in the world due to his lack of appreciable success.

Security Sentinel to Security Traitor

On 12 November 2012, Gregory Viant Faull was found dead due to a gunshot wound at his home on the island of Ambergris Caye, the largest island in Belize. Gregory happened to be McAfee’s neighbour, which had made him a prime suspect in his murder. McAfee had refused to cooperate with the Belize Police and evaded questioning. He later revealed in a Wired interview that he was afraid that the police would kill him without any proof. Even Belize’s prime minister, Dean Barrow called him “extremely paranoid, even bonkers.” He got neurotic to a point where he believed that the death of his neighbour was an attempt on his life, which due to some confusion, led to the end of Faull.

Subsequently, he escaped Belize illegally to a Guatemalan resort, where he hoped for political support. He was later arrested for illegally entering Guatemala and was prepared to be deported back to Belize. McAfee suffered from two minor heart attacks in the detention centre and was hospitalised. In later years, he publicly accepted that it was just a ruse to prevent his deportation to Belize.

McAfee For President!

McAfee first ran for president in 2016, forming a new party called The Cyber Party. But then, on 24 December 2015, he re-announced his candidacy bid saying that he would instead seek the presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party. He wanted to introduce cryptocurrencies to the masses as it was a field he was interested in. In 2020, he again chose to run for President as a Libertarian. He stated that he would continue his campaign ‘in exile’, following reports that he, his wife, and four campaign staff were indicted for tax-related felonies by the IRS.

Contesting the elections for the post of the President twice, John McAfee was a man with high hopes for himself but with the wrong ideas. [Image Credits: NewsWeek]

Both his attempts to Presidency were in vain. The candidature and subsequent support generated for a person with lots of money and very little moral standing, not to mention a dubious past, makes a statement on how the rich continue to pull the strings on the leadership of a developed country like the United States.

Twitter–McAfee’s Only Hope

McAfee’s tweets seem like they pop right out of a madman’s mind. They vary from him accusing the US Government of attempted murder to him belittling his rape accusatory. McAfee has stated on multiple occasions that he has no wealth left. He also tweeted regularly about the wonders of cryptocurrency. Being a huge supporter of bitcoin, in 2017 he guaranteed that BTC would reach $500,000 by December 2020.

As he got strangulated from all sides by the judicial system of multiple countries, Twitter became his ‘safe space’ to vent out his eccentric ideas. [Image Credits: News Chant USA]

He was happy with the way his life had turned out and regretted nothing. He had on numerous occasions went on record to say that he was fulfilled with however his life had turned out and was happy with the outcome. McAfee claimed he received threats from the US officials that they were coming to kill him. He even got himself a “$Whackd” tattoo and said, “I got a tattoo today, just in case. If I suicide myself, I didn’t. I was whacked. Check my right arm.”

Drugs and Money Laundering

McAfee lived a colourful life—he was known for his erratic sexual desires as much as he was known for his accomplishments in the cybersecurity world. With money came great power and McAfee used this power to live large and run entire towns in Belize. His unapologetic hedonistic personality had gained the attention of the media. Referred to as “Belize’s Donald Trump”, McAfee had relations with various women and had numerous teenage “girlfriends” around him most time, whom he supported financially.

In 2020, McAfee was captured in Spain by the United States Department of Justice for tax evasion. He allegedly earned millions of dollars from 2014 to 2018 as he failed to file income tax returns. McAfee evaded tax liability by having his income paid into bank accounts and cryptocurrency exchange accounts in the names of a nominee. He was also charged with concealing assets, including a yacht and real estate property, in the names of others. McAfee also reportedly talked about “taking over the Belize government.”

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) slammed further charges against McAfee and his bodyguard. They promoted specific “initial coin offerings” (ICOs)—a type of crowdfunding—to his hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers, playing the recommendations off as impartial investment advice without disclosing that he was being paid to do so. McAfee was jailed in Spain, pending extradition to the United States. On 23 June 2021, the Spanish National Court authorised his extradition to face charges in Tennessee.

The Climactic End

McAfee was arrested in Spain while trying to flee the country. He was looking to face up to 30 years in a Tennessee jail due to all the felonies he had committed. Awaiting his extraction to the United States, John McAfee committed suicide in his cell room in Spain on 23 June 2021.

Looking back at such a wild life, it is bewildering how McAfee managed to escape the law for so long—with harassment and murder charges dangling over his head, he was able to return to the United States and carry on living his life normally. Many supported his claims until the end, while many believe that he was murdered by one of the governments pursuing him. McAfee lived a non-apologetic and open life filled with women, arms, and intoxicants. The mysteries of his life and the conspiracy of his death will forever remain shrouded in secrecy.

Featured Image Credits: India Today




Education—Evolution and Necessity for Radical Refinement

The Mind Is Not a Vessel to Be Filled but a Fire to Be Kindled

In its true sense, education is an umbrella term that comprises a vast spectrum of topics. However, for a person to be considered educated, they need not know everything. In fact, for their overall development, it is merely essential for them to have an open mind and an inquisitive nature.

An individual can be knowledgeable about anything, be it sports, arts, physics, or philosophy, but understanding a few concepts in-depth is far more important than just skimming through many of them. Moreover, as topics tend to be interrelated—each a part of a vast web-like structure—there is no limit to learning even when it is focused. However, this endless domain of knowledge acquired can be rendered useless if guidance is not lent for its adequate utilisation.

The system of pedagogy has evolved from storytelling to digitisation. [Image Credits: endeavour.ventures]

Education systems can come in handy in such scenarios. They include the basic arrangement of a teacher and one or more students, where the teacher or ‘guru’ tries to guide the student or ‘shishya’ to utilise the knowledge they have attained in the best possible way.

This unidirectional transmission of knowledge, from teacher to pupil, has remained the same for aeons, but the very purpose of education and its propagation methods have evolved since.

Education—a System Rife With Pros and Cons

In pre-literate society, knowledge was passed from one generation to another in the form of stories. The transmission of knowledge was primarily practical, and students were prepared to lead disciplined and value-based lives.

With time, the focus shifted to the needs of students and their interests. Theoretical and practical classes got equal status—the former was made critical as it helps strengthen a person’s understanding of a specific topic. The latter is just as essential as it helps one learn how to apply their acquired skills in real-life situations. As part of the widespread push for formal education, discrimination based on caste, creed, religion, gender, and other such factors reduced significantly. All in all, the percentage of students graduating became higher than it used to be and knowledge became more accessible to the masses than ever before.

However, this did not mean that education systems around the globe became impeccable. The world is not and has never been an ideal place, so different education systems inevitably have their own set of flaws. Our systems have issues across many areas—be it the pressurising environment and inadequate facilities for students with special needs, or the lack of sufficient funds and exorbitant increases in tuition fees.

Issues associated with the education system [Image credits: Hustle]

To sum it up, there are many problems in need of desperate amendment. Nevertheless, as one navigates through time, observing the changes in the system, one understands we have come a long way. Technology has had a vast impact on the means of impartment and transmission of knowledge for one.

As blackboards changed to whiteboards and then to smartboards, and laptops and pads replaced notebooks, it is clear that technology has made its way into the domain of education as well. This advancement was beneficial for both—students attending physical classes and those getting homeschooled.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been drastic changes everywhere. As the virus brought the world to its knees, a transition in education mode, from classroom teaching to online learning, was essential to continue the flow of education. Although online education is not a new concept, are we ready to have it as our sole mode of transmitting knowledge?

Just Decorate Your Bedroom to Look Like a Classroom and Voila!

As full-fledged online classes commenced worldwide, people realised that education is not limited to the four walls of the classroom.

These virtual classrooms are accessible all day by anyone with basic internet facilities. Students can learn anything they want to and have a relatively flexible schedule that allows them to follow their interests. As face-to-face interaction is minimised, there is a reduced chance for discrimination based on age, appearance, race, disabilities, and other such factors. Instead, the entire focus revolves around the content and the capability of students in general.

Global platforms like Coursera, Udemy, Byju’s, and YouTube, which contain an umpteen number of courses, help enrich young minds. They are accessible and highly cost-effective. Schools, colleges, and other educational institutes conduct their classes through video conferencing services like Zoom, Google Meet, and MS Teams, with lectures being recorded for future reference. Thus, individuals can work at their own pace, and this expanded access to information has provided collaboration opportunities with almost everyone out there. However, just as a coin has two sides, online classes have downsides to them too.

The Plight of the Mind

To say that human beings are social creatures and rely on each other to survive is an understatement. Institutes and offices have always focused on the importance of socialising and working with one’s peers—it helps with personality growth, builds social skills, and improves critical thinking—all essential for an individual’s overall development. Most importantly, interactions can form some of the most significant human experiences of life as a whole

A cartoon on the mental exhaustion due to stringent and exhausting online classes [Image credits: Philippine daily]

However, face-to-face contact decreased when students and teachers alike were thrust into virtual classes as demanded by the situation. This sudden and ill-adjusted transition led to a severe reduction in motivation and interest among students all over the world. With the stresses of the pandemic looming like a sword of Damocles, online classes and exams in a format that strove to keep up with an offline academic year could only lead to mental exhaustion. Online classes do not leave any scope for practical experience, and its unrevised format makes students prioritise rote learning, hindering creativity and critical thinking skills. Instead of understanding the concept, students tend to skim through all the subjects, thus further reducing their reasoning ability. This monotonous routine and the continuous loop of screen-staring and writing assessments induces anxiety, stress, and feeds the growth of poor mental health.

Students are not the only ones struggling, though, as most teachers are in the same boat. The additional responsibility of keeping students interested during online classes, while managing their own homes and personal lives have impacted their mental health as well. Their stress levels reach an incredible high as they worry over the harsh impacts of the virus, especially on people belonging to older age groups or those having slight health complications. Furthermore, their minimal knowledge of technology makes for an ironic cherry on the top and subjects them to mockery by the youth. They are bullied, argued with, and made fun of by students. Online classes serve as a perfect platform to taunt teachers for their teaching methods, accents, dressing sense, among others.

“Students create Zoom IDs in random, unidentifiable names and troll teachers. Some switch off their camera and call teachers names from these IDs, some use them to send memes to teachers,” said a teacher in a private school in Delhi.

Students, fueled by boredom, might believe that such misbehaviour is just harmless fun, but their actions have a crippling impact on the well-being of teachers.

All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy

Attending classes from the comfort of one’s home is not as good as it sounds. Students start developing physiological issues due to incorrect posture and the sedentary life stemming from pandemic restrictions. A number of health issues are cropping up as online schooling proceeds.

Mental and physical health are interrelated. Depression, anxiety, and self-esteem issues developed due to virtual courses are, in turn, affecting the physical well being of a person. People, so bound by their wearisome routines, no longer have any time for themselves. Sitting in front of their devices all day, they have little time to follow their passions and take care of themselves. Stress eating and lack of exercise are the leading causes of rising obesity among students. Obesity further causes various health complications and body image issues. In addition to all this, constant exposure to the screen leads to frequent headaches and worsening of ones’ eyesight.

An Ill-Planned Move or a Panacea in Times of Need

Technology has advanced to great extents, but is that enough? The primary requirement for online education to succeed is access to the internet, and many people, especially in under-developed and developing countries, lack such resources. The pandemic has made everyone realise that the internet is not just an amenity but is rather a necessity. The future is at risk until we bridge the dangerous gap of digital inequity in learning.

Practical classes and online education complement one another [Image credits: eLearning Industry]

Online education is a relatively new medium, but it is gaining popularity rapidly. It cannot replace classroom teaching in areas pertaining to practical lessons or social skill development. However, in the present age, one can combine the best of both worlds—classroom and online education in blended learning.

“Blended learning is a valuable tool for both teaching and learning since it provides a variety of ways for students to absorb information and the opportunity for educators to tap into their strengths,” summed up Lesly Sagar, a student from the United Kingdom.

It promotes cost-effective and flexible learning, which helps reduce the workload on students and improve their mental as well as physical health significantly. Moreover, it keeps students motivated and interested. Thus, teachers can easily connect with and impart knowledge to their pupils.

Featured Image Credits: Pixabay




Bleeding Borders: A Tale of India and Pakistan

73 years of independence, adjoining borders, people of the same yet different faiths, and estranged families—India and Pakistan have had a shared history, ripped apart by the Partition. Separated by borders, divided by religions, and fuelled by constant revulsion on either side, the hostile relations between these two neighbouring countries in Asia are well known throughout the world. Everybody is well aware of how these two countries have always been at loggerheads since the violent happenings in 1947. Multiple military and socio-political skirmishes have added fuel to the fire, and the relationship has been plagued continuously with hatred and intrusion.

The Beginning of Antagonism–the Colossal Conundrum

The bond between these two countries did not turn sour overnight. On the 14th of August 1947, British India was separated into two dominions–India, now known as the Republic of India, and Pakistan, now known as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. This partition relocated, and devastated, approximately 10 to 12 million people along religious lines, resulting in uncontrollable refugee crises and carnage. Post-partition, the two countries indulged in several cold wars over subjects like territorial claims, invasion and infiltration. Multiple issues during the partition and after independence worsened the already fragile bond between themThis territorial separation brought about a feeling of resentment between the two countries, taking the constant verbal, diplomatic, political, and military brawls even further. Around the same time, India and Pakistan were faced with two dilemmas.

The partition of India into two dominions, namely India and Pakistan, proved to be a turning point in the entangled history of these two neighbouring countries. [Image Credits:  Hindustan Times]

First, the annexation of the princely state of Junagarh situated in southwestern Gujarat was a topic of heated arguments between the two nations. Junagarh was completely separated from Pakistan as they were not conterminous. Even though this princely state had a Hindu dominated population, the Nawab, Mahabat Khan, was a Muslim. During the partition, the Nawab moved to Pakistan and expected his constituency to side with him. India found this act illegitimate and strongly disagreed with it since Junagarh did not share a common border with Pakistan. On the other hand, Pakistan argued that Junagarh could remain connected to Pakistan through maritime links. Sardar Vallabhai Patel felt that the annexation of Junagarh would lead to communal riots across Gujarat and did not find it feasible to settle this matter. Hence, Indian troops occupied Junagarh in 1947 and 1948, and a poll decided that the majority agreed with accession to India.

The second problem still continues to deride the relationship between the two countries. A princely state with a Muslim majority, Kashmir was ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh. The ruler wanted Kashmir to remain an independent, neutral country instead of belonging to either of the two dominions. Despite the agreement signed between the two countries, Pakistani troops invaded Kashmir in an operation code-named “Operation Gulmarg” to conquer the state by force. These troops failed in seizing the unprotected airfield and stayed back in Baramulla for unknown reasons. Kashmiri security forces were incapacitated, and the Maharaja did not desire to be a part of Pakistan and thus turned to India for help.

Security troops patrol along the Line of Control (LoC) even as the relations between the two countries on either side of this border continue to remain fraught with tension and mistrust. [Image Credits: Kashmir Observer]

The then leaders of the Indian dominion made Hari Singh accede to India before sending troops to Kashmir. Post-independence, there were several agreements and pacts which resulted in the partitions within Kashmir. Political differences and local disputes have been the cause of several battles in the past. Kashmir still remains sundered between the two dominions by the Line of Control (LoC).

The J&K Split and Pakistan’s Stance

In August 2019, the government in power in India abrogated Article 370 which gave Jammu and Kashmir the authority to have a separate constitution and a separate flag. The result of this law was that the state’s citizens lived under a completely different set of rules. This article consequently removed the status of statehood from Jammu and Kashmir and divided it into two union territories, namely Kashmir and Ladakh.

Across the border, the Imran Khan-led government approached several countries, including the P-5 and the United Nations, for aid over the Article 370 move in Jammu and Kashmir but to no avail. Pakistan has always considered Jammu and Kashmir to be a part of it and made statements in the past which denied the existence of Article 370. According to the Pakistani government, Jammu and Kashmir was a part of Pakistan, so they did not have to follow the rules of the Indian Constitution anyway. All previous governments of Pakistan, including the present one, has continuously used Jammu and Kashmir as a medium to justify the two-nation theory. The constant interference of Imran Khan and his ministers in India’s legal matters has made the status of J&K clear to the rest of the world.

Wars, battles, and the global battle against terrorism

These two occurrences of the past sowed the seed of loathing between the two nations. In the last seven decades, India and Pakistan have indulged in several military conflicts, such as the three Indo-Pakistani wars in 1948, 1965 and 1971, The Kargil War and The Siachen Conflict. Several other instances, such as the Insurgency in Kashmir, Uri and Pulwama attacks, and the Refugee Crisis, have further aggravated the situation.

The nuclear race between the two countries has been heating up for the past few decades, as the strong will to be better than the other thrives among India and Pakistan. After a triumphant military campaign against Pakistan in 1971, India gained military as well as political momentum. In the 1970s, India started diligently developing its nuclear and ballistic missiles, in response to which Pakistan started conducting unmanned flight tests in the 1990s. Over the years, both countries have broadened their military bases and shown significant development in the field of nuclear power.

A common misconception states that a significant cause of the two countries’ rivalry is religious disparity. Pakistan’s founding principle as a haven for Muslims away from the Hindu-majority in India is negated if they had a positive relationship with India. Though the creation of a nation-state, Pakistan, based on religion, is one of the numerous reasons for conflict, it is not the primary reason for this animosity. India maintains perfectly cordial ties with a similarly created state, Bangladesh. The curious case of the European continent, where countries have waged wars with each other despite having populations of the same faith and religion, shows that religion alone cannot be a disruptor of relations between nations.

The terror attack by Pakistani terrorists on the Taj in Mumbai, known as the attack of 26/11, devastated hundreds of lives in a single deadly blow. [Image Credits: Telegraph India]

Hand in hand with wars, global terrorism remains one of the most crucial aspects that severely affect India and Pakistan’s bond. The fact that terrorism remains publicly recognised by Pakistan’s government makes it very difficult to conduct normal relations with them. Pakistan has obliquely shown support to terror groups by housing them within the country and is known for its perennial support of the Taliban in Afghanistan and other terror organisations in India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

In 2008, Pakistan was declared as the most active sponsor of terrorism. Four of the most wanted terrorists in the world have been captured and assassinated in Pakistan. India has not shied away from bringing up this subject during discussions with other United Nations members. With constant war cries, blame games and instigation, the condition between these two dominions remains hostile, even as Pakistan’s continued denial of supporting or sponsoring terrorism continues to baffle many on the international arena.

The Relentless Battle for Peace

The Indians and Pakistanis residing in the United Kingdom and the United States of America fall under the category of British Asians and South Asian Americans. They have been co-existing with peace and harmony, and intermarriages between Indians and Pakistanis abroad are not uncommon. There have been a few instances where the two nations have been cordial and lent a helping hand when in need, such as the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan when India offered financial aid, food and clothes to those in distress and vice versa during the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat.

Several summits and discussions have occurred between the two dominions, which, unfortunately, have been disrupted by unruly political or military activity. The thin wire of adjustment and compensation among the two countries now has a tremendous amount of strain and may snap sooner than later–the unavoidable results of which will only be destruction and bloodshed.

Carried over for generations, this animosity between a peace-loving nation and a subterfuge loving country has never yielded an appealing result for either side. India and Pakistan have both tried peace, wars, and even diplomatic settlements, which get overridden by political gimmicks driven by people’s sentiments, but none of these tactics has given even a short-lived solution to this long-lasting problem of frayed relations. There seems to be no likelihood of a feasible enough solution to the India-Pakistan conflicts. And until a common ground of peace and understanding is reached, the people on either side of the border will continue to bleed–bleed in the colours of their nation’s pride, vengeance, and sorrow.

Featured Image Credits: Financial Times




The Engendered Recession—Shecession

In a 2020 rally, Donald Trump promised, “We are getting your husbands back to work”. A single statement, with a tremendous extent of damage, reinforced into the minds of a largely bigoted society is, in fact, that men largely constitute the workforce. It brings into question the veracity of his words—what progress are we striving for when only about 20% of India’s workforce is female

Occupational Segregation as the Underlying Cause of She-cession

A theorised reason for this is occupational segregation, an economic term to describe how workers are distributed across occupations based upon demographic characteristics. Men tend to work in more technical jobs such as manufacturing, while women dominate service-based industries, such as education and healthcare. More women also tend to hold part-time jobs while they juggle both household chores and nurturing children. These two tasks, traditionally associated with women, have become the woman’s ‘second shift’. In the past, economic downturns impacted men more than women as men tend to work in industries closely tied to economic cycles while women dominate in industries less susceptible to uncertainty. For example, in 2008’s Great Recession, men lost twice the number of jobs women did.

Today, however, the situation is very different. The recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic hit the service sectors and those in part-time jobs the hardest, which absorb a sizable share of female employment. Thus, this unprecedented economic crisis has been termed by economists as a she-cession, alluding to how women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

However, the problem does not stop at occupation segregation—even in sectors where men are the lion’s share of the workforce, women are losing more jobs. For example, in transportation and warehousing, women constitute around one-quarter of all jobs but endured 39% of job losses. This is due to the ingrained discrimination in the economy where women are more likely to be front-line workers than high-ranking managers.

This grim situation is a global issue—it does not just affect high income developed countries. In India, for instance, a country with a meagre female labour force participation rate, only a shocking 16% of employed women were able to keep their jobs during and after the lockdown as opposed to 60% of men. Moreover, the buck does not stop at unemployment. During the pandemic, people have seen the hours they devote to unpaid care work increase due to school and day-care closures, reductions in public services for people with disabilities and the elderly, the non-availability of domestic workers, and the need for them to look after family members with COVID-19. The brunt of this work has fallen on women who tend to be the primary caregiver in traditional families.

The Recessive Impact on Healthcare

On the other hand, even sectors that have seen a boom in the pandemic have women doing most of the heavy lifting. Most nurses and other front-line workers are female, about 70% of the global healthcare workforce, and have had to deal with many problems. From inadequate staffing to insufficient protective gear, which was designed to fit males and often the smallest sizes were too big for female stature, long and tiresome hours leading to mental health turmoil, a higher proportion of exposure to the virus, and so on and on the list goes. Despite this, it is interesting to note how men still occupy leadership roles in medicine and science. It points to a disappointing narrative that women can bear the absolute brunt in crises, only to result in men’s careers being furthered and to whom credit will be awarded.

Fewer Women Run Big Companies Than Men Named John

Rationalising the Wage Gap

Circumstances due to the pandemic have uncovered cracks in the workforce and torn apart existing social problems wider into catastrophes. The increase in household responsibilities has led the gender wage gap to worsen. The big number is 35% in India, which is how much lesser women earn on average than men, and it blankly stares back at us, begging to be theorised. Is the problem a difference in the level of education? Evidently not, as men still earn more as compared to women on similar educational pedestals. Furthermore, this wage gap rises as we move up the education ladder. This is influenced by factors such as ingrained pay and promotion discrimination, motherhood penalty, which punishes women for their time out of the workforce while on maternity leave and parenting, leading to experience lags, excessive work hours etc.

Then, do women need to choose better-paying occupations? The choice of a career stems from a life-long series of decisions influenced by the sort of upbringing the person has had, their social and economic environment. Be it the general societal outlook, the very same that steer women away from the fields of science and technology and push men closer to it from a very young age, or the instinctive shoulder of domestic responsibilities—all of these are to be credited for our current dilemma. Moreover, reports have shown that accounting for occupational segregation explains away only a part of the gap. It will take the world 257 years to bridge all existing economic gender gaps at current rates of progress.

Difference between the rise in women’s and men’s unemployment, US recessions from 1948 to 2020. [Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics]

While non-participation of women in the workforce stands to explain much of the gap in the formal sector, unequal pay is a whole other quandary in the unorganised sectors in India. Implementation of gender equality laws is already complex due to the terrible state of infrastructure. There is rampant discrimination, and women are innately considered secondary, of a lower skill level, which leads to fewer opportunities and lesser pay. There are daunting safety concerns that constrain women’s progress in these sectors, curtailing work hours flexibility and regional outreach. 

She-cession: Only a New Term but an Age-Old Problem

The problem extends beyond just facts and figures to a culture of structural oppression and societal outlook as a whole. In the household, the woman’s income is also seen as secondary income, where if the family rises in wealth and status, women’s work stops. Since women no longer need to work to finance the household, any other possible reasons for employment disappear too. The situation is aggravated by institutional factors where women receive little to no support for their careers from family. They have grown up thinking working is not a compulsion but a matter of choice. The pandemic has just further proved that women’s jobs constitute the most dispensable of the economy.

A Required Remoulding of the Mindset

Coming back to his comment, Trump revealed his regressive mindset and what policy-makers around the world are doing: getting only men back to work. As the pandemic situation bettered itself, men could start going back to work before the second wave, a reality not available to women who stayed home to care for children and do household chores. Even after factoring in domestic help, a privilege for most, child-care and school determined whether women could go back to work. The wildly unequal division of household labour is to blame.

The continued suppression of women’s contributions poses the question of what advancements have been withheld from their deserved acclaim and how conscious efforts must be made to correct historical wrongs. These efforts could be anything from corporate changes like work-hour flexibility, mental-health focused approach to large scale government policies regulating intense working conditions. Women in higher positions are under significantly high pressure to outperform their coworkers and prove their worth in corporations every step of the way.

The imposter syndrome comes pre-packaged with being a working woman in today’s society. The multiple burdens that suppress women’s achievements won’t ease until men take on a greater share of domestic and caring responsibilities and become more willing to downsize and adjust their own hours when family circumstances change. Compromise needs to stop being a trait inherent to only women. A working woman should be ideal and certainly not stigmatised. From the beginning of time, if there is one resource that has constantly been under-valued and under-utilised—it is women, and it is high time we changed that.

Featured Image Credits: workforce-resources.manpowergroup.com