Thursday, April 8 2021

We condemn the recent remarks made by the Prime Minister of Pakistan on the causes of sexual violence and rape as being factually incorrect, insensitive and dangerous. Through this statement, and others made prior to this, the Prime Minister has actively fostered and promoted rape culture and rape apologia… Repeated statements by the Prime Minister, unfortunately, reveal that he is a rape apologist.

That’s from a statement put out by a number of human rights organisations, prominent activists and feminists—which condemned remarks made by Imran Khan in a television interview. He said sexual violence was a result of "increasing obscenity,” and that women in Pakistan should cover up because: "This entire concept of purdah is to avoid temptation, not everyone has the willpower to avoid it." Yup, rape apologist is exactly right!

Big Story

Editor’s note: 300 votes in two days for The Bhaskars! The latest update: Aaron Sorkin is winning by a mile, as is Eugene Levy and Rosamund Pike. And two Korean actresses Son Ye-jin and Seo Ye-ji are hot favourites, as well! Voting ends on Sunday 12 am so you better make sure your fave nominees are in the running for the final round! Don’t know what we’re on about? Read all about the brilliant Bhaskars here. And vote, vote, vote right here. Bonus clip: Founding Member Prithvi Maganti sent us this brilliant clip of the other Bhaskars 😂 😂


The battle for Chhattisgarh

The TLDR: The bloody ambush of soldiers in Sukma—and the abduction of one of them—has turned the spotlight on the last Maoist bastion in India. But in the din of the headlines, no one has bothered to explain what is happening and, more importantly, why. 


A recap and an update

  • Twenty two jawans were killed—and 31 injured—after a four-hour battle with Maoists. This is the highest death toll imposed by the militias since April 2017. 
  • The massive security operation—which involved 2000 personnel—was conducted in the forests on the Bijapur-Sukma border. 
  • The aim: To capture a highly wanted and mysterious Maoist leader called Hidma.
  • But the operation soon turned out to be a trap, and the soldiers were pinned down in the forest by around 400 armed Maoists. All of which has led to great amounts of finger-pointing, and much talk of failed intelligence and leadership.
  • One of the commandos was captured by the militia—along with a cache of sophisticated weaponry. Rakeshwar Singh Manhas is a member of the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA)—which is a specialised unit of the CRPF.
  • The Maoists have since released his photo (see below), and demanded that the government negotiate for his release.


Ok, tell me about these Maoists…

We hear the words ‘naxals’ and ‘Maoists’ but most of us don’t really know what they refer to. Here’s a quick primer:


The history: The origins of the communist movement go back to colonial India, but the first radical movement was launched in Andhra Pradesh soon after Independence. The first armed uprising, however, took place in West Bengal in 1967 in a remote village in Naxalbari. Hence, the term ‘naxals’. This was a violent uprising of poor peasants and landless farmers revolting against the rich landowners. The movement soon spread across India. For decades, the Maoists controlled the “Red Corridor”—spread across the states of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh.


The present situation: The government has been fairly successful in squashing naxal activity in most states. They were present in only 106 districts across 10 states in 2017—down from 200 districts across 20 states a decade before. While actual count is unknown, the estimates for the number of Maoist rebels range from 10,000-25,000. The official Home Ministry number is 8,500—and most of them are in Chhattisgarh which is the last remaining bastion for the armed rebellion.


Point to note: According to the official records, around 4,246 people have been killed in 12,338 incidents across 10 Indian states since 2010. Chhattisgarh is on top with 1,642. More than 20,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed since 1980. But actual numbers are likely far higher. Both security forces and the Maoists bear responsibility for the toll. Human rights activists have pointed to military excesses such as mass killings, rapes etc. And Maoists routinely kill villagers for allegedly being police informers—a trend which escalated last year.  


The current uprising:  

  • Central and Eastern India is home to about 84 million adivasis, and is rich in mineral resources. 
  • The roots of the current troubles date back to the liberalisation of the 1990s—when the government started granting mining licences to private and multinational corporations. 
  • The displacement of tribals, and the accompanying loss of their lands and livelihoods sparked great rage—and this gave fresh energy to the Maoist movement. 
  • In 2004, the Communist Party of India (Maoist)—formed with the merger of three separate groups—emerged as the driving force. 
  • The CPI (Maoist) is—as its name suggests—inspired by the teachings of Mao Zedong, and its “ultimate aim is to bring about communism.”


Ok, tell me about Chhattisgarh 

Let’s start with a map that shows ground zero for this conflict: the Sukma-Bijapur-Dantewada axis in the Bastar region:


A very ‘rich’ state: The mineral-rich state has drawn in a variety of mining companies (including Adani) looking for gold, diamonds and coal. The Maoists from Andhra Pradesh first made inroads with the tribals in 1982 around the issue of land rights. Their influence increased as the government dialed up mining projects in the 1990s. And inevitably so. Here’s what unrestricted mining did to the adivasis:

  • The government allocated mineral-rich areas to companies without consulting—and in many cases, without compensating—the people who actually lived on that land. 
  • And this policy continues to this day—with the current government removing all restrictions on coal mining. 
  • The adivasis both lost their land and their livelihoods, throwing them into abject poverty.
  • The mining in turn contaminated the nearby rivers and streams with red oxide, causing malnutrition and a severe shortage of drinking water.


A very poor state: The state is rich in natural resources, but its people are among the poorest in India. Around 50-60% of families in Bastar (a Maoist stronghold) live below the poverty line compared to the national average of 22%. Bijapur and Sukma—where the latest ambush took place—are second and third from the bottom in terms of literacy.


A Maoist magnet: So it isn’t surprising that Chhattisgarh has become a Maoist stronghold—since the rebels speak to the reality of injustice experienced by the adivasis. As one expert notes, “About 80 to 90 percent of their cadre comes from local tribals. They [Maoists] are deeply embedded in the villages.” 


The ‘liberated’ area in Chhattisgarh ranges from 3,000 to 10,000 sq. km, mostly in the Narayanpur, Bijapur and Sukma districts. Of this area, around 3,000 sq. km is totally out of the control of the government, while the outside world has some access to the rest. For example, food and medicine supplies are allowed in, but the security forces are not. 


A development disaster: Vast swathes of Chhattisgarh lack proper roads, communication networks or any kind of administration or infrastructure. The government has simply left these areas to the Maoists who have stepped in to fill its role. As even the Home Ministry recognised in a report:


“Over the years, the Maoists have managed to entrench themselves in remote and inaccessible tribal pockets in a few States. Correspondingly, the state institutions of governance also withdrew gradually from such areas, resulting in a security and development vacuum. This suited the Maoists, who have set up some form of rudimentary parallel system of administration in these areas.”


And that’s why the Maoists are winning?

The Maoists have been losing their popularity in recent years. But as noted before, there is no one to take their place since the government has been totally AWOL.  But in military terms, they have been very effective in outwitting security forces in the state. The reasons include:

  • The unwillingness of the local police to take the lead. Unlike other states, the battle here is fought by the CRPF—who do not have the necessary local knowledge.
  • The lack of development—and therefore, basic infrastructure like roads—has become an achilles heel since security forces can’t access remote areas where the Maoists rule the roost.
  • This in turn leads to a complete absence of intelligence—which became glaringly clear in the ambush. As one Home Ministry official admitted: “There are no roads, no schools, no hospitals and no police stations. The existing ones are in CRPF camps. No one will approach such a set-up to provide intelligence.”
  • And a senior former CRPF officer NC Asthana blames the tragedy on the “megalomania” of the police leadership which has been chasing hare-brained ideas like aerial bombing, setting fire to the jungles, planting wireless ‘bugs’ in every adivasi household, or using unmanned drones—in an area with thick jungle cover!


Big point to note: There are anywhere between 8,500-10,000 Maoists in Chhattisgarh—at least according to media reports. The government, OTOH, has deployed more than 100,000 troops—a third of them paramilitary forces. As one human rights activist points out, “In the Bastar region alone, there are 36,000 security forces, which means one soldier for 55 people. In Afghanistan, there is one soldier for about 150 people.”


The bottomline: is best summed up by Asthana, who writes:


“If a ragtag band of less than 10,000 poorly armed people has managed to survive the might of lakhs of soldiers since 1967, it means that its strength does not lie in just a few clever leaders.  It also shows that there is something fundamentally wrong with the approach of the government in handling this challenge to internal security… Anti-naxal operations, as purely military matters, must have limited objectives in the first place and no one should delude himself or the government that one huge operation will wipe them off the face of India.”

And yet after the ambush, Home Minister Amit Shah declared: “The government will not tolerate such bloodshed and a befitting response will be given. We will put an end to the ongoing battle with Maoists.”


Reading list

Al Jazeera offers a great explainer on the history of the Maoists and a deep dive into why their ideology is attractive to Adivasis. NC Asthana in Quint pens a scathing takedown of the police leadership in Chhattisgarh. Indian Express looks at successful anti-Maoist operations in other states. India Today explains why the Maoists are killing more civilians. The Week reports on the yearning for dialogue and peace among the tribal communities. Indian Express profiles the mysterious Hidma, the most wanted Maoist in the country.

Sanity Break #1

This stunning photograph—which would make any Impressionist master jealous—took the top prize in the ‘2020 Bird Photographer of the Year’ awards. We also highly recommend a high-res, full screen viewing of all the 2020 winners over at the BPOTY website. And you can see this year’s finalists here.

Headlines that matter

The great pandemic: A quick update

A maha mess over vaccines: Maharashtra’s Health Minister warned that the state will run out of vaccines in three days. The warning in turn drew an enraged response from the Union Health Minister who said: “The lackadaisical attitude of the Maharashtra government has singularly bogged down the entire country’s efforts to fight the virus… Allegations of vaccine shortage are utterly baseless.” Because what we really need in the midst of a second wave is a Centre-State jhagda? Meanwhile, everyone is shocked by this video of eight bodies of Covid victims being cremated on a single pyre. The Hindu has that story.


Oxford vaccine doubts: South Korea has suspended the rollout of the Oxford vaccine due to concerns over blood clots. The UK government issued a new advisory with data: 79 cases developed clots out of the 20 million people vaccinated, of which 19 have died. Three of them are under 30, and two-thirds of the clots occurred in women (yikes!). As a “course correction,” the government will offer an alternative vaccine to people under the age of 30. Our question: Er, what about the women? We ask since the leading European health agency’s data also shows that most of the cases occurred in women under 60.


Covid and your brain: A new Lancet study shows that people diagnosed with Covid in the past six months are more likely to develop depression, dementia, psychosis and stroke. A third of those who got Covid went on to develop or have a relapse of a psychological or neurological condition. The most common are anxiety or mood disorders caused by stress, while strokes etc are caused by the virus’ effects on the brain. BBC News has more.

New mask rules: The Delhi High Court has issued a ruling making it mandatory to wear a mask even if you are the sole occupant of a car. The logic: your car is “public property.” (Indian Express)

A far bigger problem: The Kumbh mela which is taking place in the midst of a second wave. Business Standard reports that at a government meeting, a senior official said: "If the government does not decide to end Kumbh before the stipulated time, it may become a COVID-19 'super spreader’.” (duh!) But the government has no plans to shut it down. Its new policy: “The government is forming a team that will appeal to all with the help of sadhus and religious leaders to ensure pilgrims, who are visiting the Kumbh, wear masks and follow social distancing.” Yup, that should work!


Also ineffective: night curfews, which is now being imposed in 6 states. But these don’t really do anything to curb the spreadand instead hurt restaurants and other businesses. According to one expert: “The only purpose I can think they serve is to give a break to police and those in allied jobs, who are in charge of enforcing Covid-19 appropriate behaviour in the day.” Quartz has more on this.

Meanwhile, in Brazil: The country recorded 4,000 deaths in a single day—taking the overall toll to 337,000. Experts warn


"Brazil now... is a threat to the entire effort of the international community to control the pandemic… If Brazil is not under control, then the planet is not going to be safe, because we are brewing new variants every week... and they are going to cross borders.”


On a lighter note: Rapper Will.i.am has teamed up with Honeywell to launch a $299 XUPERMASK with “Bluetooth connectivity, LED day glow lights, noise canceling audio and microphone capabilities, seven hours of battery life and a magnetic earbud docking system.” Also, it looks like something out of a sci-fi dystopia:


An Ambani case update

The prime accused, Sachin Vaze, submitted a letter to the special National Intelligence Agency court. In it he accuses various Maharashtra ministers of corruptionincluding Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, Transport Minister Anil Parab and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar. He says each of themon separate occasionsasked him to variously shake down contractors, gutka sellers, bars and restaurants for money. The court refused to accept the letter. Indian Express has more.


Forbes’ filthy rich list

The magazine put out its annual list of billionaireswhich has 660 additional entries this year, taking the total to  2,755. Also: We added 1 new billionaire every 17 hours, during the pandemic, no less! And the newcomers include Tyler Perry, Kim Kardarshian and Kanye West. The #1 and #2 spots are occupied by Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. The billionaire capital of the world: Beijing with 100 fat cats, and it narrowly beat New York City for the top ranking. 


The filthy rich Indians: Mukesh Ambani is once again Asia’s richest person with $84.5 billion—after losing out to AliBaba’s Jack Ma last year. The second richest Indian: Gautam Adani, followed by Shiv Nadar. Point to note: The top three added a staggering $100 billion to their wealth last year. Forbes has more on the India list.


A new LinkedIn scam

This online peril is called ‘spear phishing’—where the hackers post fake job openings: “Victim receives an email that leads them to a fake website infected with malware allowing the hacker to install malware or steal data from the victim’s computer.” What makes it even sneakier: They lure you into clicking on a zip file with a job offer that is customised to the job title you use on your profile. (The Hindu)


Olympics in new China row

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave a uniform contract for the Tokyo Summer Olympics and the Beijing Winter Olympics to a Chinese textiles company that openly advertises its use of Xinjiang cotton. Why this matters: Uighur and other ethnic minorities are used as slave labour in detention camps in the region. Human rights activists are up in arms. The IOC says the company gave them a certificate of origin which indicates the cotton came from outside China. Also: "Given the diverse participation in the Olympic Games, the IOC must remain neutral on all global political issues.” (Axios)


Meanwhile, in China: Television channels are blurring out logos of global brands that have expressed concerns about Xinjiang. We’re not kidding! They are earnestly scrubbing all offending t-shirts, sneakers etc., and the results look like this:


A beauty pageant uproar

The finale of ‘Mrs Sri Lanka’ turned into an ugly mess when the winner Pushpika De Silva was publicly and immediately stripped of her crown on stage. Last year’s Mrs Sri Lanka, Caroline Jurie, ripped it off her headand placed it on the head of the runner up, announcing that De Silva had been disqualified. The reason: She is divorced. De Silva burst into tears, and stormed off stage. The good news: the contest organisers plan to return the crown to De Silva. BBC News has more details. See the moment below at the 1:15 mark:  


In related news: Lucy Maino who was crowned Miss Papua New Guinea in 2019 was stripped of her title because she shared a video of her twerking on TikTok 🙄. The Guardian has the story. See the offending video below: 


A few wondrous things

One: This Bronze Age slab of rock may be the oldest map of Europe. It was first discovered in 1900 in France, but no one understood the significance of the etchings until now. The 4,000-year old stone depicts a small region in France. The Independent has the story, but Daily Mail has far better infographics and photos. See it below:


Two: Astronomers have discovered a huge and mysterious structure shaped like jellyfish in space. Dubbed USS Jellyfish, it is spread across one million-plus light years, and is made of plasma. It is like nothing ever been observed before. What’s truly amazing: “It is indeed exceptionally old, at more than two billion years, and by luck it's remained highly undisturbed over that time.” Vice has the nerdy details. See it below:


Three: Hyundai entered the Guinness Book of World Records with a spectacular drone show—which launched the most unmanned aerial vehicles airborne simultaneously. The event marked the introduction of its luxury vehicle in China. See it below:


Sanity Break #2

This 1952 Oscar-winning stop-motion short film titled ‘Neighbours’ has a universal message—spelled out at the end in multiple languages, including Hindi: Apne padosi ke saath prem purvak vyavahar kijiye (act lovingly toward your neighbour). (h/t founding member Kruthika Ravi Kumar)

i recommend

Editor’s note

Thomas Zacharias, quite honestly needs no introduction. As executive chef, he powered the success of the wildly popular, multiple award-winning ‘The Bombay Canteen’. And his Instagram videos remain a source of continual delight for his devoted fans—which includes the entire splainer team. We’re so happy he agreed to do this for us!!

Over to Thomas...

As someone who has been obsessed with food and cooking for nearly three decades now (yes, I’m only 35, but I started out as a helper in my grandmother’s kitchen before I could even reach the countertop), I have relied on building an extensive library of food books to guide me through my career. A few of these stand out as significant influences in my culinary journey, not only shaping me into the professional chef I am today but also moulding my philosophy towards food. Regardless of whether you’re an aspiring chef or just an avid home cook, these are definitely books I would recommend exploring:


Kitchen Confidential: This was my first introduction into the magnificent mind of the late chef-traveller Anthony Bourdain who influenced my approach to food travel deeply. This is one of his earliest works of writing which catapulted him to fame and stardom, but the story-telling is simply fantastic! Although the edgy lifestyle of chefs as portrayed in this book isn’t as common anymore, it is still a powerful account of the inner workings of the restaurant kitchens of yesteryear. 


On Food & Cooking: This book by Harold McGee appealed to the inner geek in me as a culinary student. This one’s a must read for the curious folks who want to understand the science behind food. The how’s and why’s of cooking are an understated aspect of the craft which will enable each one of us, professional or otherwise, to become better cooks in small and big ways. It’s a mammoth of a book but I promise you’ll come out on the other end with a renewed worldview on food.


On the Line: Eric Ripert and Christine Muhlke have written what is by far one of the finest depictions of how a restaurant functions—let alone that of Le Bernardin, one of the finest kitchens in the world, three Michelin stars included. I was so enamored by the sheer brilliance of how the kitchen operated that I actually ended up applying for a job and eventually working here during my stint in New York. The beautiful imagery and the exquisitely photographed recipes make this a real collector’s item.


Kitchen Creativity; The Flavor Bible; and Becoming a Chef: The entire collection by Andrew Dornenburg & Karen Page is a treasure, but especially these books. This wife-husband author duo have spent the better part of their lives codifying different aspects of the culinary arts, from creativity, to flavor pairings, and their books are peppered with insights from leading figures in the food industry. I use many of their books as reference, or for inspiration and ideas, constantly.


The Omnivore’s Dilemma: I read this book by Michael Pollan nearly 15 years ago at a time when I was still shaping my own philosophy about food. The powerful way in which it makes you rethink what we eat and—more importantly—the journey of our food from seed to plate is still relevant to this day. This is a must-read for anyone who cares (and perhaps even more critical for those who don’t) about the way our food systems and personal food choices have ripple effects on practically everything.


The Third Plate: Chef Dan Barber redefined farm-to-table cooking in a way no one else has in the past several decades by giving precedence to the farm over the chef’s creative talent. His world renowned restaurant ‘Blue Hill’ at Stone Barns in New York is a testament to how reevaluating our relationship with food can be applied not just in principle but in action as well. In ‘The Third Plate’, he brilliantly breaks down this hypothesis through the varied stories and experiences that have led to the success of his groundbreaking restaurant. (Oh and please also watch him on S1E2 of Netflix’s Chef’s Table)


Letters to a Young Chef: This diary of sorts by the legendary French chef Daniel Boulud is a must-read for anyone considering a career in the kitchen. It will either put you off professional kitchens or make you yearn for them even more. It is broken down into easy-to-digest chapters covering various facets of the industry, and even has its own list of Ten Commandments of a Chef.


Life, On The Line: A touching memoir about an award winning 21st century chef by Grant Achatz’s journey through life, his career, and his battle with tongue cancer that threatened to take away a chef’s greatest asset, his sense of taste. Truly inspiring, even if you’re not in this line of work.


The Artist’s Way: This one by Julia Cameron is not a food book, so I’m using a little poetic license here. But it has still got me through many a harsh creative blocks. What I love the most about the book is its basic premise: we are all artists at our core. This book explains how our upbringing and societal conditioning has worked to stunt the creativity in us. And that innate ability can be unleashed with a 12 week program of tools and exercises anyone can take on.


My Restaurant was My Life for 20 years. Does the World Need it Anymore?: Okay, one last poetic license. This one’s not a book, but a heart-wrenching New York Times Magazine piece written by chef Gabrielle Hamilton on the future of restaurants and dining in a post-pandemic world. Another example of terrific food writing. And there’s an audio version too!


Note: This is NOT sponsored content. We use this section to spotlight the recommendations of people we trust and admire.

Feel good place

One: That time when subscriber Shobha Das rescued the most adorable baby owl ❤️


Two: A child demonstrates the least ideal way to add flour to your recipe.


Three: The Chief Minister of Uttarakhand demonstrates the least ideal way to put out a forest fire—especially when you’re doing it for a staged photo-op.


Four: A young man demonstrates the least ideal way to fix your wooden deck.


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