As I was contemplating what to write on women and adoption for Women’s Day, an article in Times of India caught my attention – New rules favour single, financially stable women. My instant reaction? I was so glad to see we are slowly breaking away from stereotypical mindsets to a more inclusive approach towards adoption in India.
So, what does this new law entail for single women? The process has been made easier for older, financially stable single women to adopt by giving them the seniority in the antedate given to them by six months which eases the waiting period.
When the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 came to force in 2016, many NGOs were forced to consider the application of single men and women for adoption. Prior to this, in spite of laws that allowed single women to adopt, it was often cumbersome, and society at large was not open to alternate family systems. With the JJ Act, one assumed that it would have eased the legal process for single women to adopt, but many applicants were turned down by some agencies stating trivial reasons, or on some pretext or the other.
The 2011 census data pegged the number of single women (unmarried, widow, divorcee) in India at 71.4 million, and this number has probably grown over time. Today, an increasing number of single women are coming forward to adopt. This indicates a paradigm shift in mindsets in India and we are slowly moving ahead and beginning to accommodate different family systems. Keeping in mind the newer trends in alternate family systems, this regulation will be beneficial to many single women considering adoption.
However, there is bound to be a divided opinion with this new regulation. While many in the adoption system applaud the change, there are many of the opinion that this is not a fair deal. The adoption laws should be unbiased and cater to the needs of all prospective adoptive parents whether single women/men or a couple.
The new law helps older, single women jump the long queue of those who have been with Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) for many months. This is a good enough reason for many prospective adoptive parents to be miffed. This is due to the long waiting period potential adoptive parents (PAPs) must endure. With an average waiting period of 15 months, it can be frustrating for PAPs to have someone jump the queue. (There are plenty of reasons for the long waiting period but that would require another blog.) The need of the hour is to streamline the process which then can apply to everyone equally, and most importantly, place children in a safe and a nurturing environment without any delay.
But for now, let’s celebrate the fact that single family systems are no longer viewed any differently from the ideal traditional family system. The adoption system and laws need to keep pace and evolve with changing times and patterns in the society. The only thing to be kept as sacrosanct is that the child is the priority and we must enable a system that can provide a nurturing environment – whether it is a traditional or alternate family system – as early as possible.
In November 2016, Uttar Pradesh’s potato farmers faced up to arguably their biggest crisis in a generation. A severe liquidity crunch had caused potatoes to lose nearly half their market value in just over a month, including a 15-day spell that wiped out a staggering ₹300 from the quintal price. By any measure, these farmers were at the receiving end of one of the most precipitous price crashes in modern Indian history. It was almost as if over 85% of the country’s high-denomination currency had been abruptly taken out of circulation, or something.
The cash shortage coincided with the pre-harvest season. This is typically when cold storages—where potatoes are held after the spring harvest to safeguard them from perishability—are cleared out to make space for the new harvest. Ordinarily, around one-fifth of the new crop would have gone on sale and the remaining four-fifths into storage, the latter to be gradually drip-fed into the market to roll with demand.
However, the cash shortage dissolved any semblance of structure and turned existing potato stocks into a buyer’s market in a matter of days. If you think back to this time, you’ll probably recall buying produce like potatoes with limited cash or on short-term credit. Now pause to consider that you only ever saw the tip of that iceberg.
Traced back through the supply chain, the lack of moving money eventually came to break the relationship between farmers and cold storage owners. Usually, farmers bring their four-fifths into storage and, depending on their arrangement, make the ₹220-odd per quintal storage payment at the time of collection. Storage owners hold the produce itself—traditionally the safest form of collateral—until collection.
Except this time, with perishable food already clogging circulation and with prices sinking fast, farmers with no cash in hand had nothing to pay storage owners with. Since it now cost them more to store and transport to the market than they could hope to recover by selling, potato farmers started abandoning huge parts of their harvest.
With cash resurfacing in the next few months and the new harvest on the way, there was an immediate, urgent need to take potatoes out of local circulation so prices could stabilize. Instead, wholesale buyers—depending on who you believe—knew of the supply glut and opted not to overbuy, continued to pay what they wanted claiming continuing cash problems or exploited storage owners desperate to rid themselves of the unclaimed 2016 crop, in order to hold down prices. With little intervention from a government going to state elections, panic selling brought potatoes out from storage and covered demand almost instantly.
Government intervention, when it did arrive, did so in April 2017 in the form of a 100,000-tonne government buyback of potato produce touted by the Yogi Adityanath government as historic. Executed right, it could’ve arrested the problem. Farmers thought it reasonable to expect the government to offer ₹1,000 per quintal. Depending on the yield, input and cultivation costs, bagging, storage and transport, UP’s potato farmers start to break even at ₹800-900. The average market price on November 8, 2016 was ₹1,137.
The government offered ₹487. And the government’s scrutineers, predictably hardwired to consider resale value, bought just 12,937 tonnes of the promised 100,000. They claimed it was a fair market price at the time, ignoring that the market still hadn’t recovered from the November 2016 price crash. They also claimed it worked since it brought a ₹100 increase in the market price; a temporary increase which still left farmers and storage owners absorbing massive losses. There was also ruthless turncoating involved. The BJP, as opposition, had rejected a ₹460 potato support price for 28,000-odd tonnes offered in West Bengal, but now, in government, were offering a ₹487 buyback price on less than half that amount in UP. In hindsight, there’s just no way around it: ₹487 was a cop-out.
And so it came to pass in July 2017 that UP farmers came to Delhi to give away potatoes for free to compel the government to reconsider its ‘historic’ buyback. In November 2017, storage owners began discarding potatoes on roadsides because no one was coming to claim them, to make room for fresh stocks that, very possibly, no one would reclaim. In early January, potatoes by the quintal were dumped outside the UP Assembly building and the Chief Minister’s residence, an incident which resulted five policemen being suspended, presumably for causing embarrassment to constitutional functionaries.
If you look up the credentials of this government on the issue, it’s easy to conclude that there’s an ongoing whirl of activity. The Centre has declared horticulture its TOP—Tomato, Onion, Potato—priority. (No, really.) They’ve been targeting, including through the Prime Minister at a UP investor summit this week, doubling farmer incomes by 2022. They’ve been considering a UP state proposal for a 200,000-tonne market intervention for potato farmers for 2018. The construction of more cold storages in Agra to better provide for future harvests has been green-flagged. There’s even been talk of transporting excess stock to other states to control prices.
The question really is how these will work. How is the ₹500 crore allocation under the Centre’s new Operation Greens going to deliver better prices? How different is this new UP state buyback going to be, compared with the utter abdication of responsibility that the 2017 version proved to be? How is more storage in Agra – which already has over 7% of India’s entire cold storage capacity – going to help the bottom line of farmers who can’t afford to rent the damn things in the first place? How is the existing freight subsidy offered to UP’s potato farmers – ₹50 per quintal upto 300 kilometres – going to be mesh with this new inter-state transport plan?
Look, there’s every chance that some tremendous progress by our farmers will keep the optics of the situation under control: potato production has doubled in the last 16 years, UP alone is forecast to generate a remarkable 16 million tonnes of potatoes this season, and the national output now generates more horticulture produce than foodgrain.
But there’s also no running away from the fact that the same system routinely penalizes potato farmers with six-figure debts, essentially for being extremely good at their jobs. And in a market where perishability and volatility are commonly known to be built into the very foundations, it’s astonishing to think that these farmers are still paying for mistakes they didn’t make over 15 months ago.
Data available on UP’s 150-odd monitored markets puts today’s average potato price at ₹501. That’s still, conservatively, around 37% below what these farmers need to recover to make ends meet. If facts haven’t already, there’s no incandescent or provocative language that will convey the seriousness of this. The reality is simple: another potato harvest will hit the market in a matter of days, there is every chance that the government isn’t adequately prepared for it, and it is entirely possible that there could be more potatoes on the streets in the near future.
And, in a country where we’re taught not to waste food because so many go to bed hungry, if images of streets littered with food doesn’t melt our social media bubbles, I can’t think of anything that will.
This Parthiv-Pujara moment isn’t the reason why this match was lost. Yet, if ever a picture told the story of a series, this would be it.
Since India last toured South Africa for a Test series, South Africa have traded 3 wins, 4 losses and 2 draws in home Tests against Australia, England and New Zealand. In the same time, they’ve won 8 of 9 home Tests against Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the West Indies. These Tests were meant to be India’s chance to join that first group and maybe, just maybe, record a generation-defining series win.
At the top of this series, Markram had played three Tests. Elgar had made South Africa’s only Test hundred during their shellacking in England last summer but, outside of that, had 8 single digit scores in 12 Test innings against proper opposition going back to March last year. Amla averages just 31 runs per innings against such opponents since mid-2016. De Villiers, openly disillusioned with his workload, was a week removed from his first Test in nearly two years. Their captain was returning to competitive cricket after two months out with injury. Their wicketkeeper now has 171 runs in his last 12 Test innings. Philander had missed two of South Africa’s previous three Tests and had been publicly called unfit by his captain. Steyn hadn’t played a Test in 14 months.
There was simply never going to be a better time to win in South Africa.
A few uncomfortable moments aside, India’s bowlers got that message. This is the first time in 28 Tests that an Indian team has taken twenty opposition wickets in successive away Tests outside Asia. And I suspect that if you’d served India this exact hypothetical at the start – that they’d need to chase 208 and 287 in the first two Tests to win the series – they’d probably have licked the plate clean and swallowed the spoon.
In effect, this series loss was condensed into two short, gutless spells of batting. India’s first 11 overs on the first afternoon at Newlands yielded 3 wickets for 28, compounded by another 17 overs on the second morning that produced just 29. The fourth afternoon at Centurion saw 3 for 26 in 16 overs, and another 11-over, 4 for 38 stretch finished off this game today.
More than these collapses, though, which pressure can trigger, there were errors. Some of these were rooted in Kohli’s irascible, twitchy decision-making that has fed his bizarre record of never having played the same eleven players in successive games in his now-34 Tests as captain. There were reasons for some, excuses for others.
What there isn’t an excuse for, however, is Pujara running himself out twice in the same Test. There’s no excuse for Pandya running himself out like *that*, ever. There’s little excuse for India’s top 3 scraping together fewer runs combined than Kohli. There’s equally little excuse for getting outgunned on partnership numbers by an extremely average South African batting lineup.
Disappointingly, the same old rallying points that these failures have been blamed on in the past are already out in force: the lack of adjustment time and the difference in playing surfaces prominent among them. The trouble is, changing preparation for foreign tours to this degree would involve uprooting a lot of how Indian cricket is run. These are genuine tradeoffs, too – revenue generation, white ball cricket and scheduling among them – and they simply don’t bow down to the received wisdom of the Test team’s performances abroad being Indian cricket’s biggest priority. Now more than ever, there’s a limit to how far you can push back citing the primacy of Test cricket, because a lot of its relevance has been submerged by the achievements of Indian cricket elsewhere.
Perhaps that’s why, when it’s time to take stock of this generation of Indian cricketers, it’s the white ball losses that will rankle more: the 4/130 batting first at the 2014 World T20 final in Dhaka, the unnervingly quiet surrender on an extremely favourable surface in the 2015 World Cup semifinal in Sydney, getting outbatted by the West Indies in the 2016 World T20 semifinal in Mumbai, the chafing memory of the Indian bowling freezing under pressure against Pakistan in last year’s Champions Trophy final. It’s a remarkable litany of failures, and one that’s incongruous with the staggering amount of dominance over white ball cricket that the IPL-sharpened Indian team has otherwise enjoyed over this time.
But that merely cycles back to the principal absurdity of international cricket: that dominance doesn’t always translate to greatness. There isn’t a more appropriate place to recognize this than in South Africa, a team that has spent more time than anyone cares to count over the past generation as the world’s No 1 ODI side. No one believes it for a minute, of course, because they’ve never won a World Cup. In that sense, there was a desperate, almost nihilistic realization that this Test series was the yardstick for this Indian team’s greatness because traditional wisdom had pre-ordained it as such. And this defeat merely confirms that that greatness is still out of reach.
Perhaps that’s unfair. Perhaps there’s a case to be made that this India is already an all-time great Test team. Their ability to convert home Tests into wins in recent years certainly admits of this. But how – to grab the famous absurdity from the other end – can an all-time great Test team be this poor this often?
And yet, even this historically reliable diagnosis feels inaccurate. Their batting especially, which has let them down so desperately in these two Tests, has so often been a strength. Their last cycle of tours to England, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand produced something like 13 hundreds and another 35 fifties. Only Australia and England have put up comparable batting numbers away from home against these teams in the last 5 years.
To India’s number, we can now add Kohli’s 153 at Centurion that was a remarkable exhibition of assuredness and crushing control, and Pandya’s 93 at Newlands – an astonishing two-and-a-half hour firefight against Morkel, Rabada, Steyn and Philander with his team 7 down and nearly 200 runs in the hole – that was the exact opposite. Maybe we’ll look past the defeats and recall these innings with warmth and pride in the future but, right now, it’s hard to say.
What we can be surer of is that good teams don’t stay together forever. Nine of this present squad started the first Test in Johannesburg in December 2013. Nine of this lot started the first Test in Auckland the last time India toured New Zealand. Nine also started the first Test in Nottingham on India’s last Test tour to England. Nine, again, started the first Test in Adelaide on India’s last Australian tour.
It’s fair to ask how much longer this team stays together if it doesn’t deliver a defining success. It’s definitely fair to ask this today, when, somehow, they find themselves as far away from greatness as they’ve ever been.
This New York Times article has attracted a lot of sound and fury, perhaps more than its inherent inaccurate silliness deserves. My take on it:
Journalists often have a habit of pre-writing an article in their heads and then going looking for quotes to support their premise! Asgar Qadri came to interview me for this piece and when he found I was saying exactly the opposite of what he wanted to hear, has wiped my views out of his article!
His take is totally inaccurate. The irony is that the current BJP Govt, while supporting yoga, Ayurvedic medicine, and other traditional Indian knowledge systems, and even a non-meat diet, has not pushed wearing of Indian costume at all! One cannot include the Prime Minister’s own outfits as ALL Indian Prime Ministers, of all political affiliations and parties, have always worn Indian clothes. In fact, Mr Modi is unusual in occasionally sporting Western wear suits on his sorties abroad.
Qadri says “the Indian fashion industry has been pressed to aggressively promote traditional attire and bypass Western styles. The effort aligns with the party’s broader political program: to project multi-faith India, a country of more than 1.3 billion, as a Hindu nation.”
This is really rubbish! The traditional Indian clothes that Indians wear – the sari, salwar kameez, dhotis, lehenga ordni, the lungi and the mekala chador, sherwanis, achkans and Nehru jackets, have nothing to do with Hinduism! They, their many regional variations, and Indian stitched garments themselves, (including Mr Modi’s own ubiquitous bandgala waistcoat and churidar-kurta), have evolved over the centuries as responses to climate, lifestyle, and influences from many other cultures and wearing styles across the globe.
In any case, as I told Qadri, far from actively promoting traditional Indian costume in India, the present Govt’s main efforts have been to attempt to push Indian handlooms internationally. It has been sending designers to Varanasi and other handloom centres to design western garments for the international market, scheduled to be launched at Fashion shows and Trade Fairs in fashion capitals across the world . This, and the Handloom Mark and Handloom Day, are part of an attempt to support our declining Handloom industry, not some dark reactionary agenda. In fact many of us in the sector feel that not enough is being done, given the double blow demonitisation and GST has dealt to small weaver communities.
ALL Indian Governments since Independence have supported Handloom weaving. This is not to propagate Hinduism, or even nationalism, but for the simple reason that it’s one of the largest sectors of employment, after agriculture, now increasingly threatened by mill and powerloom production. Incidentally, handloom has nothing to do with Hinduism, A vast percentage of handloom weavers, including those in Mr Modi’s constituency Varanasi, are Muslims! To conflate promotion of weaving or wearing handloom with a Hindu Fundamentalist agenda is as absurd as saying that the fact that I, as a Muslim, have worn Handloom sarees on a daily basis all my adult life, reveals some hidden Hindutva connection!
Perhaps it IS curious that a Government which has reached back into India’s cultural and spiritual past for much of its political rhetoric, has NOT really pushed national costume. Possibly because it doesn’t need to. Indians, while increasingly wearing Western wear, will always go back to our own wonderful garments as well. Though I am delighted that freedom of choice is with us in this arena, it is doubly irritating that Mr Qadri has tried to fit a cap onto our costume which doesn’t really fit.
Author’s facebook post published with her permission.
The first thing to know about air pollution in Delhi is that the situation is beyond redemption. The time for reacting, for making fundamental but realistic changes to how this city runs, for educating people, is long gone. We know it, the government knows it, the courts know it, even the media has given up on reporting this to us in language designed to compel us to panic.
You don’t need this chart to tell you the situation is hopeless, but it does confirm that this is so. The Air Quality Index (AQI) tracks several categories of pollutants and measures their values over a 24-hour cycle. By all estimates, it’s a fair, undramatic assessment of air quality. It isn’t a kneejerk number based off going out on Diwali night and concluding that the level of a category of particulate matter generated only by firecrackers is a bazillion percent higher compared with a normal night. It’s a responsible number, adopted after a lot of deliberation. And that’s precisely what makes it frightening.
India’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) literature on the AQI tells us that this number should ideally be below 100. Anything above it elevates risks for sensitive groups, those working outdoors and, eventually, everybody. At an AQI above 300, the CPCB recommends actions such as no-tolerance to visibly polluting vehicles, industries, and construction activities, and actively regulating traffic.
In the 24 months before this October, Delhi has endured 6 months, plural, where its AQI has averaged over 300. In 11 other months, it has averaged over 200. These readings conform to the pattern of a devastating sine wave – bad in the summer, worse in the winter. In the winter, colder, heavier air tends to settle more. In the summer, because rain is around and convection is your friend, the AQI is better. It’s likely, therefore, that the coming November to January will be 300+ months too, like they were last year, and the year before that.
Go up through the 300s, and the air eventually hits a point where it just breaks up and becomes a mess. It makes for a suffocating visual, let alone a suffocating reality. Go past 400, and that mark may as well be called the ‘you have no business living here’ line. Since November 2015, Delhi has logged 34 days above the 400 line. Thirty-four days worthy of an emergency declaration saying, don’t step outside, it would be actively endangering your life to do so.
Relative to recent history, 2017 has, so far, actually been decent. Yet, it took Delhi’s wettest June in a decade to drag the AQI numbers down after 8 months north of 200. It’s a decent year that still flattens out only to a fraction over one good breathing day, singular, per week. That’s how bad it is.
That’s also why the recent Supreme Court ban on firecrackers for Diwali is good for a bit of gallows humour, but not much more. In effect, the Supreme Court wants simply to observe air pollution levels without the variable of firecrackers in the equation.
The short answer is that, in 2015, AQI numbers for the Diwali week were statistically indistinguishable from the AQI average for the month. In 2016, when Diwali coincided with a large-scale crop residue burning cycle across north Indian farms that increased in scale by over 24% in some places, the Diwali week numbers were higher than normal, but the numbers were higher still for the week after Diwali week, when the crop residue burning persisted but Diwali didn’t. (AQI numbers for Diwali weeks 2015 and 2016 are marked on the chart in blue. If they weren’t blue, they’d be red, of course.) The CPCB, which has been summoned to the Supreme Court multiple times before, has been collecting before/after pollution data on Diwali since at least 2004. This data shows higher peaks on Diwali, but isn’t conclusive on its correlation with even medium-term effects on air quality.
As such, sure, a ban on firecrackers makes a non-zero amount of sense. But to pretend that it will make Delhi’s air “better”, whatever that means, or that firecrackers are the root of the problem, is laughable. Equally, some people have reasoned that firecrackers are fringe contributors to the problem, and that there must be ulterior, anti-Diwali motives at play. Perhaps that’s true, and the firecracker industry is merely low-hanging fruit. It does, however, take a special kind of gift for someone’s reaction to a bona fide environmental emergency to be to convert it into some kind of weird implied battle for religious victimhood.
Either way, it looks as if the firecracker ban is another way for the establishment to plug fingers in its ears about the real, entrenched causes of Delhi’s air pollution. The trouble is, requiring the construction industry to adopt cleaner equipment and methods would cripple the profitability of some very powerful people. Long-term restrictions on vehicles in a city abnormally dependent on them would invite public anger. Making fundamental changes to public transport or finding better ways of maintaining Delhi’s 28,508 kilometres of roads would involve overcoming inertia that’s almost a badge of honour at this point.
The problem is so extraordinary that the only parallels exist in Chinese cities hurting from industrial emissions. Their response was a brutal and coercive crackdown on thousands of factories. It saw private owners and local administrations toughen up and eat losses worth billions in industries like power generation and steel production. We have a government that, nearly three weeks after last November’s airpocalypse – when Delhi suffered twelve 400+ days in two weeks – said that there was “no conclusive study” that it knew of to suggest that crop residue burning “would always impact the quality of air” in Delhi.
Look, maybe this year’s Diwali pollution numbers will be lower. Maybe that’ll be because of the firecracker ban. Maybe it’ll be because this Diwali is earlier in the year than it has been recently, and the weather isn’t cold enough to hold the pollution down. Maybe it’ll be because it doesn’t overlap exactly with the sharp end of a crop residue burning cycle that torched over 2,000 square kilometres in Haryana last year. Maybe it’ll be because of wind patterns. I don’t know.
What I do know is that we’re hurtling unerringly towards the red zone for one more winter, firecrackers or not. If it wasn’t before, maybe it’s finally time to appreciate the scale and permanence of what’s happened to this city. It’s certainly time to understand that, as citizens, we’re pretty much on our own on this.
In May 2014, the Modi government inherited a crude oil import price over $100 per barrel and petrol selling in India’s four metro cities on average at over ₹76 per litre. For most of the next two years, international oil prices sank to record lows. Given India’s dependence on oil imports, it could’ve been game-changing.
Handed an oil buffer worth billions, this government instead hiked petrol excise taxes nine times in under 15 months starting November 2014, on top of higher state taxes. Yet, such was the largesse they were blessed with that the four metro average petrol price actually fell from ₹68.71 to ₹62.36 in that time. By January 2016, India’s fuel taxes were at unprecedented levels. For the 20 months since then, we’ve been in a historically bizarre position where, even if crude oil was imported for free, we would be charged upwards of ₹35 a litre for petrol. Even in India, where the ridiculous is commonplace, this is astonishing.
The defence offered for these measures followed a pattern that has now become this government’s signature – surface level logic about arresting fiscal deficits and cutting fuel subsidies, supported by moral justifications about the oil sector needing to take its medicine to correct the previous government’s excesses.
This past weekend marked 100 days since the latest government medicine. Starting June 16, oil companies have been permitted to change prices daily based on international market prices. So now, every morning at 6 a.m., oil companies tell us how much we must pay that day. It’s a bold decision because it should bring some transparency and accuracy to domestic prices. It’s a brazen decision because it shrinks the room for insulating people from short-term price spurts and rationalizing them into fortnightly revisions as was previously possible. It’s a smart decision because daily price changes are usually incremental enough for people to accept them. It’s a cunning decision for the exact same reason.
The trouble is, people start noticing eventually. The four metro average petrol price has gone up by over ₹6.1/litre in the last two months. The government has blamed this on high international prices due to hurricanes in America. Again, on the surface, that’s true. But that’s inherent to crude oil prices – they fluctuate at a moment’s notice based on unpredictable and utterly uncontrollable factors. It’s fine for the government say that it wants to stick with daily pricing despite rising prices. But it is also spectacularly missing the point by treating criticism as an opposition to free market pricing. Nobody really cares why international prices are high. People want to know why their governments are collecting over half the selling price of a litre of petrol as tax when they know that international prices are rising.
Instead, in recent weeks, the oil minister has variously claimed that fuel prices have started falling, will keep falling further, and may fall by Diwali. He said that the prices aren’t within his control because the finance minister imposes taxes, not him. He also helpfully suggested bringing fuel under the GST regime instead of subjecting fuel to the two sets of taxes it generates presently.
The finance minister, though, has point blank refused to interfere. He says that these revenues are needed to build highways. Highways to ply vehicles that run on fuel which is taxed to build more highways. He also says that the centre shares 42% of its excise collections with the states and, if states want to lower the taxes they separately impose on fuel, they can. But the states won’t because the centre won’t and the centre won’t because it needs the money. Neither wants to move to the GST because neither has an incentive to leave behind so much exclusive tax money.
This month, India’s crude oil imports at source have been $53-55 per barrel on average, and the government will proudly tell you that it hasn’t raised excise on fuel since January 2016. Once again, that’s true. But it also hasn’t paid more than $55 per barrel on average for the last 20 months. The last time India paid under $55 for 20 months straight – from November 2003 to June 2005 – domestic petrol prices were ₹40-₹43 per litre. Even adjusting for 2017 prices to reflect the beating that the rupee has taken in that time, petrol should still be in the ₹58-₹63 range. The four metro average price this morning was over ₹74.
That’s not price fluctuation brought on by unforeseen circumstances. That’s a fundamental shift in how this government feels it can make money. It’s not a coincidence that over half of all of this government’s excise revenue now comes from petrol and diesel collections. In the last three years, this share has doubled, and the contribution of petroleum products to overall government revenue has grown by something like 58%. It has instituted a cycle of extreme dependence on a volatile revenue stream that could affect the functioning of Indian governments for years to come.
Think of it this way: if you buy a litre of petrol a day in Delhi, that’s ₹13,300 you’re putting into this government every year. It’s a government fast growing addicted to your petrol money, charging you a different price for it everyday based on international prices outside its control and, for the moment, showing little interest in scaling back its demands.
To be clear, there are justifications – perfectly good ones, economic and otherwise – for each of these trends. It’s just my opinion that it’s flat out unconscionable that twenty-one-and-a-half rupees from every litre of petrol sold in this country goes into the central government’s coffers, come what may. Twenty-one-and-a-half rupees per litre, even though that amount was stapled onto oil imports when they were at 15-year price lows but now cost nearly twice as much.
If India’s outlay on crude oil imports at source were to cross $100 per barrel – as it did on average for four whole years between November 2010 and the first of the 2014 excise hikes – petrol under current taxation would be more than ₹92 to the litre, and people would be burning vehicles instead of filling fuel in them. Hopefully, international prices won’t go that far and, if they do, the government will pull back its fuel taxes. But international prices tend to be ruthless, and taxes tend to not go down.
Of all the objectionable decisions this government has been rightly and wrongly accused of making, this is might well be the most likely to decide an election or two.
First things first. I’m a Feminist. Period. Is there any other way to be?
Feminism is a huge job. We won’t get to retire from it anytime soon. The sistas know that too well. There are too many things to achieve and the deadline is always yesterday. But, we are at it and sooner or later we will deliver a job well done. We will.
One of our KRAs, if I may say so, at this job is to monitor and question the representation of women or lack of it, everywhere. This assignment is so huge that we got to see the story of black “Female Mathematicians” who made very crucial and significant contributions at NASA in the last century; only last year in the movie Hidden Figures.
So, I understand why people had reactions when Mr. Bachchan shared a photo of Team Pink to celebrate one year of the iconic movie, “Pink”, one of the very few sensible and feminist movies to have ever come out of Bollywood. The said picture didn’t have a single woman in it. Just men.
T 2549 – The team of 'PINK' .. all in one frame .. and .. ALL, independent, individual .. NATIONAL AWARD WINNERS !!🙏 pic.twitter.com/uQV55nUQsO
— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) September 16, 2017
T 2549 – The team of 'PINK' .. all in one frame .. and .. ALL, independent, individual .. NATIONAL AWARD WINNERS !!🙏 pic.twitter.com/uQV55nUQsO
— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) September 16, 2017
While I understand where these good folks who pointed out the irony of this picture were coming from, I was on the other hand kind of glad to see the photo. If you actually dig into the credits for team behind the movie Pink, you’ll see the core team is essentially male. Now, is that a good thing? No. It is not. We would love to see equal opportunities for men and women in all fields. That’s a WIP and we have no other choice but to be at it, till the time we make it work.
What made me happy was the realization that there is this bunch of guys, who told a powerful feminist story. This, by and large all-men team, got it right; the story, the message, the cause. They told a very important story and made a very crucial point and how! Girls, I looked at this picture as a bunch of very cool feminists, if I think of the movie Pink.
To know feminist women is a joy. To meet Feminist men is a wee bit more joyful and reassuring. We all need feminist men, so let’s give it to them this once maybe for not having a woman in that picture. If the movie Pink is what you want to preach us, preach away boys! We are listening. Am I on the right track when I am thinking so? I hope so.
One of the most disagreeable things about tennis is how it constructs shallow, lazy and frankly terrible narratives around its leading exponents. The worst of these employ the trope of polar opposites. McEnroe and Borg were fire and ice, Sampras and Agassi was server versus returner, and, in recent years, Federer and Nadal has been seen as artist against automaton.
It’s a bunch of garbage, really, not least for the insinuation that identifying a player as one opposite excludes the possibility of ever being the other. Listen to the shrillest voices in that conversation, and you’d be convinced that McEnroe threw tantrums every time he played or that Agassi never served an ace in his life.
It is an essentialization that arguably does a greater disservice to Rafael Nadal than any other tennis player in history, for it suggests a game entirely devoid of aesthetics or natural talent. He’s painted as gritty and competitive and tough, and not nearly enough as cerebral and diverse and endlessly resourceful.
The truth is that, without a lights out weapon to generate winners with, it has been intuitive for his game to take on whatever shape his opponent’s weaknesses require it to. Equally, without a selling point around which to fashion a default Plan A, his defeats can’t just be explained away by a serve that didn’t work or a forehand that fell apart on a given day. With his athleticism corroded in recent years by injuries, even his pressuring style has faltered on faster surfaces. His recent defeats haven’t just felt like had-a-bad-day defeats – they’ve felt like attacks on his entire tennis belief system.
Nadal’s top seeding in the US Open this year was met with derision. There were at least half a dozen players with better hardcourt games than him, and his early exits at Montréal and Cincinnati made it hard to imagine he’d make it through seven matches without running into an ace machine or a big forehand he wouldn’t be able to chase down.
But when play opened in New York two Mondays ago, something was wrong. The courts weren’t playing as fast as they were elsewhere, and nobody could figure out why. The four guys who’d made the Cincinnati semis just a week before were gone by the first Saturday, and of the twelve men to have won hardcourt singles titles on the tour all year, only two saw the second week.
In theory, slower courts favoured Nadal. But the bloodbath in the first week also represented a classically Nadal challenge – with the other top seeds falling, the information he had on the rest of the field shrunk. To another player, this would mean little, but Nadal hates inconsistent opponents, risky tennis, shorter points. In fact, over the last three and a half years, his win record up and down the tour against guys outside the top 20 is such that, facing them in a hypothetical non-clay Grand Slam, the average of his performances would see him exit that tournament in the fourth round. And eventually, the courts would speed up, and these guys with big weapons would blow him away.
With all this doubt swirling around him, Nadal went back to what he knew – taking time, downloading information, studying tendencies and finding weaknesses.
Nowhere was that more obvious than against Del Potro in the semis. Having given up the first set, Nadal computed that, instead of targeting an assigned weakness, unpredictability was key, and he pursued it relentlessly. What is the opponent not expecting? How well can he think on the run? Is the correction risky? A thousand tiny decisions went by in a blur. It didn’t even feel like tennis – it felt like high-calibre problem solving under intense time pressure, which just happened to involve a racquet and a tennis ball.
From the start of the second set, it took Nadal a hundred minutes to win three sets. It had taken him the same time to figure out Dolgopolov in the fourth round, and in the quarters, with mild annoyance and minimal regret, Nadal had bludgeoned Rublev 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 in ninety-six minutes.
For the first hour and a half, yesterday’s final against Anderson meandered along in the plodding pattern of two players playing not to lose. Nadal won the first set but it was unconvincing. But, as Anderson struggled on serve, he found a couple of easy putaways to lead 4-2 in the second set.
Then, all of a sudden, it was happening again. Nadal was climbing all over second serves. He was dispatching his second and third shots into unreachable areas. He was using the threat that he could chase down anything to compel his opponent into playing bad shots. He was winning free points on his own serve more efficiently than he has at any point in the last seven years. It took him twelve minutes to win the set from there.
The third set against a fast-fading Anderson started with a break of serve, and a hold to fifteen. At 3-1, Anderson won five straight points and got a look at a couple of Nadal’s second serves. The second of these was in Anderson’s hitting arc but the ball kicked up, forcing him to mistime the return. The ball hobbled halfway up to Nadal’s side of the court. Nadal read it, glided forward, and sent one of those ridiculous whipping forehands wailing up the line. Anderson, no more than two feet from his last shot, scrambled to hack the return back. By the time he looked up, Nadal was already at the net to put away a forehand volley into the opposite side of the court. He threw a look back to the other side of the net as if to say, alright buddy, party’s over. Moments later, Nadal had won his seventh game in the last ten. The whole sequence took a little over thirty-eight minutes.
For years, Nadal had compensated for his weaknesses on faster surfaces by turning matches ugly. For years, his wins were Nadal by attrition over five sets or Nadal by strangulation in four. This tournament, though, none more so than the final, has been a showcase for a style that, for so long, seemed beyond him on faster surfaces – this was Nadal by knockout in three sets.
The sentiment that lingered after the final didn’t emanate from Nadal but from Anderson.
“I know we’re the same age,” he said, “but I feel like I’ve been watching you my whole life.”
It was powerful and evocative but a little incomplete. Nadal’s run in New York over this year offered not just a reminder of his constancy but of his evolution – a whirl of adjustments, variety, anticipation, and geometry, with bursts of explosiveness and intelligence to burn. It’s as if the one fundamental incongruity about Nadal’s game – the description of his tennis with adjectives that aren’t intrinsic to the beauty of the sport – had, at long last, been reconciled.
Rafael Nadal played beautiful tennis last week, polar opposites be damned. He is finally, indelibly part-automaton, part-artist.
The first time I came in contact with Gauri Lankesh was may be two decades ago. I knew her father P. Lankesh who had asked me the first time I met him – he knew about my problems with the management of Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore who were trying to get rid of me – “How much are they paying you?” I do not remember the amount but is must have been a couple of thousand then in 1989 or so. But I told him that and he said “We teachers are always scared of the unknown. Can’t you earn that much without their job? I am doing it, kicked my job, I am not starving on the streets. Kick their job or wait for them to do that. Do not give up on doing what you think is right!” After a few months when they had tried to dismiss me, he was one of the few who dared to write in detail about the Pais of Manipal in my support. Later on he supported me in quite a few things.
But, Gauri I came to know when she called me in connection with an alleged miraculous power of one Hanumantharayappa from Tumkur. It was some time in 1993 and that time I was on a tour of Karnataka and had heard of him having some supernatural powers. He was supposed to be identifying playing cards from their reverse side by the power of Shani! So, I had challenged him for a display of those and that I would give him an award of Ten thousand rupees to him if he could identify correctly nine of the ten I would deal him. She was the reporter of a now defunct English weekly called Sunday, published from Kolkata in those days. She wanted to cover that testing his powers because she said she had checked him and could not find out how he was doing it!
The testing happened in the chamber of Dr. H.Narasimhiah the former Vice Chancellor of Bangalore University which was in the National College and was the Mecca of the rationalists in those days. To put it in short it ended up in demolishing his so called miraculous powers because I ended up in doing what he was doing better than him! He could only tell the denomination of the card, I could tell even the suit which he felt was a higher power than his and ended up with his falling at my feet and acknowledging that I was his guru! So, the to be test ended up on a cordial note with two of us posing for a photo – but busing his myth of having supernatural powers.
So, that was the first time we had met. Subsequently she was working for Times of India if I remember rightly and there was not much contact between us. But, when she started editing Lankesh Patrike after her father’s demise they used to carry stories of interest to them and occasionally she used to get in touch but it was mostly through the reporters who used to get in touch for information and quotes. Subsequent to the dispute about her role as the editor of the periodical and her brother who was owning it she started her own publication called as Gauri Lankesh Patrike that she came into contact again, this time as an ideologue as well as a journalist . She used to carry the usual items about us which were of interest to her. In the meanwhile she was growing in public life with her stands against communalism of the majority with the organization called as Komu Sauharda Vedike, which I felt at many times was taking a soft stand against the excesses of the so-called minority organizations. We had shared public platforms quite a few times.
When I came into close touch with her again was at a protest we had organized against the murder of Dr.Narendra Dhabolkar outside the banashankarti shopping complex at Bengaluru. That was the time when we had put forward the demand that Karnataka Govt. too should enact the act like the Maharashtra one to eradicate inhuman practices in the name of religion. Later on the demand picked up and there were a number of individuals and organizations who took it up.
I can recall two of the campaigns in which we had worked closely together in the last few years. One was the massive illegalities, exploitation and murder at Dharmasthala near Mangalore. Through RTI Somanath Nayak of Nagarika Seva Trust and his colleague Ranjan Rao had collected thousands of pages of records and unearthed huge scams. They were keen on exposing them and had lodged complaints, cases , submitted memoranda to the ministers and also sent them on to the press. Despite of being so called free and objective not many of them had the courage to publish those. Gauri was the one with the courage to do that. One day she called me and said “ tell me is Somanath Nayak an RSS man?”. I told her he was but no longer is. She said OK I am going by your word and started going ahead with publishing the material supplied by him. As Somanatha Nayak told me as I was writing this, he was hoping that the latest in his struggle would have been published by her, but alas she is no more. So, the struggle against the atrocities there has lost one of its biggest supporters.
When I needed something to be supported she would put her reporter on that immediately. The most recent case in that was the murder of the RTI activist Vinayak Baliga. She lent us full support in our fight for justice for him. She reported the issues which the others were too scared to write on. Like the involvement of the kashi Math and the temple and their alleged role in the murder. She fearlessly reported on those issues. She supported our fight for justice for Vinayak Baliga by meeting the Home minister and the higher ups in the Police department many times when I had requested her. She took up the issue of the irregularities in the building of the Sharada Vidyalaya, Mangalore about which Baliga had filed cases with the commissioner and which his sister and I were pursuing after his murder. Since the head of those was M.B.Puranik the head of Vishwa Hindu Parishad of Dakshina Kannada not many had the courage to write about it though the documents are very clear that the built up area is twice the sanctioned and there is no way by which it can be condoned. She had carried the story very prominently.
When there was an attempt to attack me in March, 2017 she called me for details and carried the story very prominently when I asked her about her own security she just laughed it off. So, the concern for others security did not apply to her own self! Of course Gauri was not the epitome of an adarsh nari or anything that could be called perfect. She had her own faults and I can say that I did not agree with her on all her stands. She appeared to have a soft corner for some of radical Islamic groups under her excuse that they were the persecuted minorities.
But, certainly those who killed her have committed the dastardly act of silencing a voice of reason and a concern for the downtrodden of the society. Her social consciousness was the one which shone through whatever her shortcomings were. We have lost a supporter who was fearless and would support the issue regardless of what others said. Many times that lead to her taking up issues which were true and right but the evidence for which could not stand to legal scrutiny, the sentencing that she was handed down a short while back was the consequence of one such act. She must have hundreds of defamation cases filed against her!
So farewell Gauri and we shall continue on our path regardless of the threats that we may face. That could be the only fitting tribute to one of the gutsiest women I have known.