Monday, September 7 2020

Supporting PM @narendramodi’s AtmaNirbhar movement, proud to present an action game, Fearless And United-Guards FAU-G. Besides entertainment, players will also learn about the sacrifices of our soldiers. 20% of the net revenue generated will be donated to @BharatKeVeer Trust #FAUG

That’s Akshay Kumar’s tweet unveiling the atmanirbhar version of PubG—showcasing the time-tested Indian biz model of making crappy knock-offs of phoren products. It brings back such sweet memories of… Campa Cola! Happy crony capitalist days are here again! Illustration: Parth Savla

Big Story

The rise of celebrity drug busts

The TLDR: Over the weekend, the police separately conducted raids and made prominent arrests targeting movie stars in two cities: Bangalore and Mumbai. The Mumbai case is, of course, a spin-off of the investigation into Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. In Bangalore, the latest crackdown was triggered by the arrest of a drug dealer. Both are making a big splash—which is likely the aim—but do little to address India’s very real drug problem.


The Sandalwood raids

A quick timeline

  • On August 21, the police raided the home of a drug dealer named Ravindra—which led to the arrest of another dealer and eventually Anikha D.
  • She is the prime suspect and is accused of selling drugs to both students and a network of celebs, including actors, musicians and models.
  • Her diary allegedly contains the names of 15 such celebrities. 
  • Soon after, Indrajit Lankesh—brother of Gauri—made a police statement claiming he’s personally witnessed the widespread use of drugs in the Kannada film industry.
  • The prominent arrest so far: Actor Ragini Dwivedi whose house was raided Friday morning. Twelve people have been arrested so far.


The drugs involved: The police recovered significant amounts of MDMA (a purer form of Ecstasy) and LSD from the alleged dealers. There’s no news of what was found in Dwivedi’s home. 


Why now? The government is apparently alarmed by the rising levels of drug use in the city, and across the state. According to the state home ministry, the use of cocaine has doubled in five years. The total amount of all drugs seized in raids has jumped from 500 kg in 2015/16 to 1,500-2,000 kg now. Also: the war on drugs has now become a prime issue for the state party: “BJP is committed to ensuring that Karnataka becomes drug-free. This menace must be eliminated, lock, stock and barrel.”


Why movie stars? The state home minister declared: “Everyone involved in the drugs business, however influential or popular, will be punished to set an example to others indulging in the menace.”


The Bollywood arrests

A quick timeline

  • Rhea Chakraborty has been under investigation by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate ever since Rajput’s family filed an FIR claiming various things—including harassment and embezzlement. 
  • The focus of the investigation has since shifted to money laundering.
  • So far there is little evidence of such crimes, but on August 26 the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) registered a new case against Chakraborty, her brother Showik and Rajput’s house manager Samuel Miranda—on the basis of WhatsApp chats shared by the ED.
  • On Friday, the police raided the siblings’ residence in Mumbai—but it isn’t clear if they found anything. 
  • Miranda and Showik have been arrested, and Rhea was questioned for six hours on Sunday. Also arrested: Rajput’s cook, Dipesh Sawant. 


This is what it looked like when Rhea was called into questioning:


The drugs involved: Rhea and her brother are accused of using Rajput’s employees to procure some form of cannabis—though specifics range from one report to another.


As per the NCB’s court filing—based on WhatsApp messages—on March 17, Showik procured 5 gms of cannabis. On April 17, Rhea and Showik procured 10 gms of charas. And over the month of May, Showik took delivery of 50 gm of charas and 100 gm of ganja.  


OTOH, NCB “sources” told The Print that the case involves ‘bud’—which the publication oddly calls a “curated form of marijuana,” and claims it is “procured on the dark-web using cryptocurrency.” The proof: Showik’s WhatsApp messages that say, “My dealer is not available, but my friend is sending a few numbers for bud. It’ll be good bud.”


Also in the mix: CBD oil, which is completely legal, and used to treat anxiety or depression. A leaked WhatsApp conversation shows Rhea discussing mixing it with chai. 


Defining the drug: ‘Bud’ is used to refer to the flower of the marijuana plant—which contains the highest THC content (the bit that helps a person get 'high'). The word is used in popular parlance to refer to any form of marijuana. Ganja is another word for bud. Charas is a resin extracted from the plant. 


Why now? With the critical Bihar elections round the corner, the art and culture wing of the Bihar BJP has rolled out posters, car stickers and face masks featuring Rajput. See below: the poster—which says in Hindi, ‘Na bhule hain, na bhulne denge’ (We have neither forgotten nor will let anyone forget). The atrocious looking face mask is here. Point to note: the state BJP denies any political motive and Rajput’s death is “an emotional, not a political matter.” 


FYI: “Although the Rajputs constitute only 4% of Bihar’s population, they are dominant upper castes who can influence others to vote for a party. They are largely associated with the BJP and the JD(U).”


The big picture

Here are some key stats about drug abuse in India that put these cases in perspective.

  • 2.7% (29 million) of the population is addicted to alcohol. Only 0.25% (2.8 million) are addicted to cannabis—though some forms are more addictive than others.
  • 26 million people in India have used or use opioids—the most common being heroin. 
  • 460,000 children and 1.8 million adults are addicted to inhalants (or ‘sniffing’). 
  • The ‘drug problem’ is far, far worse in states like Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab—where moderate opium use has been replaced by severe addiction to heroin and pharmaceutical drugs.
  • Most drug addicts in India are not affluent celebs but mostly young, male and poorly educated—be it in Maharashtra or Punjab.
  • Our drug laws treat every kind of drug-related offence—whether it involves recreational use or peddling, small or large amounts—as a serious non-bailable crime.
  • Last but not least: marijuana was legal in India until 1985—when ganja and charas were made illegal, but bhang was left untouched.


Reading list

Shashi Tharoor just co-wrote a piece in The Print arguing for the legalization of marijuana. Also a good read in The Print: How Indians confuse addicts with criminals. Quint has a great piece on how the crackdown on opium created an epidemic of heroin addiction in Punjab. The most recent data on drug addiction in India is in this 2019 government report. BBC News and Economic Times have more on the drug epidemic (or chitta economy) in Punjab—which is far more representative of India’s substance abuse problem than high-profile raids.


Sanity Break #1

On the third anniversary of Gauri Lankesh’s murder by rightwing extremists, a collection of artists recorded this moving—and beautifully illustrated—version of Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poem ‘Hum Dekhenge’.

Headlines that matter

A Chinese abduction in Arunachal?

Local newspapers are reporting the abduction of five young tribal men by Chinese troops. Union Minister Kiren Riiju claims that the Indian Army has already reached out to their PLA counterparts. But the Defence Ministry says it’s heard of no such thing. (Indian Express)


Djokovic crashes out of US Open

Novak Djokovic was the favourite to win the tournament, but he crashed out of it yesterday—and in the oddest fashion possible. He smacked a ball in frustration—which accidentally hit a lines official. He has since apologised for his behaviour on Insta. See the video below

In related news: The number one women’s doubles team has also been forced to withdraw—but because they came in contact with another player who has since tested positive for Covid. ABC News has more details.


The many troubles of Trump

The President managed to get himself in serious PR trouble thanks to a scoop in The Atlantic that showed he mocked dead US soldiers—a story even confirmed by his bestie TV channel Fox News. The gist: In 2018, Trump was in Paris and scheduled to visit a cemetery where many US soldiers killed in World War I are buried. It was canceled allegedly for the following reason:


“Trump rejected the idea of the visit because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain, and because he did not believe it important to honor American war dead, according to four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussion that day. In a conversation with senior staff members on the morning of the scheduled visit, Trump said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” In a separate conversation on the same trip, Trump referred to the more than 1,800 marines who lost their lives at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.”


Trump has since angrily denied he said or did any such thing—but this is not a good look for anyone running for election as commander-in-chief of the US military.


Also not a good look: Trump’s former bestie and fixer-in-chief Michael Cohen has just released a book calling him "a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man.” Everyone is obsessed with this detail: A parody clip of The Apprentice (made by Trump) where he insults and ‘fires’ a fake Barack Obama. We were every bit as fascinated by this revelation:


“Cohen also divulges personal details about Trump, including his hair routine, described as a ‘three-step’ combover designed to disguise ‘unsightly scars on his scalp from a failed hair-implant operation in the 1980s.’ 


Writing that he once witnessed Trump shortly after he showered, Cohen recalls that "

‘when his hair wasn't done, his strands of dyed-golden hair reached below his shoulders along the right side of his head and on his back, like a balding Allman Brother or strung out old '60s hippie.’”


Yup, we’re going to leave it there.


Speaking of racist US presidents: A new book based on White House recordings of Richard Nixon reveals that Nixon was sexually repulsed by Indians:


“The most sexless, nothing, these people. I mean, people say, what about the Black Africans? Well, you can see something, the vitality there, I mean they have a little animallike charm, but God, those Indians, ack, pathetic. Uch.”


He also said: “Undoubtedly the most unattractive women in the world are the Indian women.” Coming from a looker like Nixon, that really hurts.


In related US election news: Facebook is paying users to deactivate their FB and Insta accounts for six weeks before the election. It’s part of an experiment to understand how the platforms affect people’s political attitudes and behaviour.


The great pandemic : A quick roundup

  • Yes, we’re still the worst in the world in terms of daily new cases—which crossed 90,000 for the first time. And our grand total is now 4 million-plus. We added the last million in just 13 days.
  • Two new studies confirm that testing saliva samples is just as reliable as nose or throat swabs—and obviously way less painful.
  • Big tech companies in the US have been very good about giving extra leave to WFH parents—since they have to juggle kids with zero child care. Now, it’s making their child-free colleagues very angry. New York Times looks at the growing divide within Facebook.
  • The pandemic is destroying everyone’s sleep—and the phenomena is now being dubbed ‘Coronasomnia’.
  • Bangalore reported a new case of reinfection.
  • A pandemic horror story: A nineteen-year-old Covid patient was raped by the ambulance driver on her way to the hospital. 
  • Anxiety over the vaccine has unleashed a global war of espionage—as China, Russia and Iran try to steal research from US, Canadian and UK labs.


Sports bra shaming in Bangalore

Over the weekend, Kannada actress Samyuktha Hegde was working out with hula hoops in a park with two friends. They were confronted by local Congress leader, Kavitha Reddy—who seemingly tried to hit one of them (that clip here). A mob gathered, the police arrived—and the scene looked something like this. Reddy can be clearly heard heckling Hegde for doing a “nanga naach.” In any case, she has since apologized for her “moral policing.” PS: Comedian Danish Sait posted a very funny vid referring to the incident and Akki’s FAU-G app—but it has since disappeared. We’re not sure which bit offended the powers-that-be.


Earth is making the moon rusty

Data collected by our lunar probe Chandrayaan-1 shows that the moon is gathering rust—which is astonishing since it is created when iron is exposed to water and oxygen. And there’s no oxygen on the lunar surface. According to researchers in Hawaii, the culprit is Earth. Thanks to a solar wind, our planet extends the magnetic field that encompasses our planet into a “magnetic tail”—as it might a bubble. And oxygen travels on this tail and lands on the surface of the moon facing us. And it happens every month: “The moon enters this tail three days before it's full, and it takes six days to cross the tail and exit on the other side.” (CNN)


Alt News co-founder faces FIR 

Mohammed Zubair has been charged with “online harassment and torture” of a minor girl on Twitter. This is the incident that triggered the charges:


“On August 6, Zubair responded to an abusive message from Twitter user Jagdish Singh, who uses the handle @JSINGH2252. He posted Singh’s display picture, which features a little girl who is perhaps his granddaughter. Zubair blurred her face in the image posted. ‘Hello Jagdish Singh,’ he said. ‘Does your cute grand daughter know about your part time job of abusing people on social media? I suggest you to change your profile pic.’”

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights wants Zubair prosecuted for “stalking of a minor girl on Twitter.” Alt News is standing by Zubair. (Scroll)

Sanity Break #2

Everything's better with lightsabers! If you agree, please to be enjoying this highly skilful ‘remake’ of ‘Lord of The Rings’. More of a pirates fan? Check out this version of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’.

Smart & Curious

A list of good reads

  • Vox offers a timely and fascinating piece on the historical origins of the story Mulan. 
  • CNN reports on the latest pandemic trend: Travel shaming—or why no one admits to skipping town on social media anymore.
  • This Guardian deep dive points out the glaring flaw in our search for alien life: we have no clue what it would look like. So would we even know it when we see it?
  • A thought-provoking read from Psyche on the true reason why we are so easily distracted—and why we need to stop blaming our phones: “I realised that distraction often begins from within, not without, and found that the fix came from identifying and managing the psychological discomfort that leads us off track.”
  • Want to brush up on your art history? Artsy offers a highly engaging collection of essays that explore the stories behind 10 iconic paintings. 
  • We loved Rega Jha’s pointed take about taking responsibility for the news we choose to pay attention to.
  • Worth your time: This excerpt from Shylashri Shankar’s new book ‘Turmeric Nation’ which travels back to Vedic times to challenge the framing of Hindus as vegetarians. 
  • A good use of your lunch break: This LongReads essay by a professor who binge-watched celebrity MasterClass courses for six months.
Feel good place

One: The Great Escape: Beagle Edition

Two: Catch Me If You Can: Penguin Edition

Three: Footloose: The Dracula Edition

Four: Barsaat: The Chawal Edition. This one you have to click through and read to truly enjoy it. (h/t founding member Basreena Basheer and Vernon Fernandez)

You are reading 1/5 free newsletters

If you are a subscriber, please Log in.
Have questions? Check out our FAQs page