Tuesday, October 5 2021

Dive In


The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook. And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money.

That’s a former Facebook employee revealing her identity as the whistle blower who leaked tens of thousands of pages of internal documents to Wall Street Journal. The series of exposés have revealed how the company wilfully ignores its own internal research—which shows the great harm its social media platforms do to society. OTOH, those platforms are also now a necessary part of how we communicate. Hence, the widespread panic when Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp went offline for six hours last night.

Big Story

Nobody killed farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri

The TLDR: Everyone agrees that four farmers were killed by cars driven by BJP workers. Everyone agrees five others are dead. But no one can agree on how any of them died. We piece together varying accounts of this horrific incident to figure out what exactly happened.


First, some necessary context

Rising tempers: For days now, farmers have been increasingly angry at Union Minister of State Ajay Misra Teni—who has taken a confrontational stance against their protests. On a recent visit to Lakhimpur Kheri district in Uttar Pradesh, he declared: “Aise logon ko kehna chahta hun ki sudhar jao, nahin to samna karwake hum aapko sudhaar denge, do minute lagega sirf”(I want to say to such  people to ‘mend your ways’, otherwise I will make them face me and set them right in two minutes). 


The event: Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya was scheduled to visit Lakhimpur Kheri on October 3—to attend a wrestling event organised by Misra’s son Ashish. The farmers wearing black flags assembled at a local helipad—to block his helicopter from landing. But Maurya travelled to the event by car instead, and the farmers began to disperse—and that’s when a convoy of cars came hurtling down the road. 


No one can agree on exactly what happened next.


Version #1

This is the timeline according to most eyewitness accounts—and a few unnamed police sources. 


First: The farmers were walking on the road, when at least three cars raced at high speed and mowed them down:


“The vehicles drove in a zigzag manner. One of them was driven by Ashish Misra. The vehicles crushed the farmers, killing several of them. Our leader Tejender Singh Virk was dragged by the cars for a long distance. Some got stuck under the cars, but the vehicles didn’t stop. I couldn’t believe my eyes.”


Video to note: An unverified clip appears to show the horrific incident. You can watch it here.


Next: At least two of the cars crashed—and one of the drivers died on the spot. Ashish aka ‘Monu’ stepped out of one of the cars, pulled out a gun, according to a constable: “Monu whipped out a revolver and fired, hitting one of the farmers in the head, and he fell there. Monu and some of his supporters then fled on a motorcycle.” This was also confirmed by a “senior police official”: “Ashish Misra did not expect such a crowd and tried to escape, resulting in the incident.” So the allegation is that Misra shot and killed a fifth farmer.


Point to note: The police officially deny any shots were fired.


Finally: Angry farmers assaulted the BJP workers in the other cars. They admit to beating them—but not to death. And the farmers say the men were later handed over to the police. The police, however, claim that four of them were killed in the violence that followed. You can see a clip here.


Version #2

This is what Minister Misra says.


One: His son was nowhere close to the location where the tragedy happened. Ashish was attending an event nearby: “My son was present on the stage where the function was being held, over 2,000 people were present, there is video evidence also.”


Two: The vehicles were attacked by the farmers:


“My party workers were going to receive the Deputy CM when some assailants, who were among the farmers, attacked them with sticks and swords. Three party workers and a car driver died in the attack. They destroyed the vehicle and set it ablaze.”


Three: No one killed the farmers who nonetheless managed to die:


“Our supporters were going to receive Maurya when the farmers stopped them and started pelting them with stones and attacked them with lathis and swords. It was in this situation that some farmers came under the wheels of a car.”


A variation on the same theme: “As stones were pelted at the vehicle, it overturned and two farmers came under it.”


Four: Misra blames the Sikh extremist group Babbar Khalsa for the violence. The claim was echoed by other state BJP leaders: “[I]t seems this is not a coincidence but a well-planned experiment. Jihadi and Khalistani, anarchic elements want to spread unrest in the state.”


Still a mystery: The death of a TV reporterwho is among the nine who were killed. His father insists that the injuries show that he too was run over by a carand not lynched by the farmers: “Gadi se hi mera beta mara hain. Ab chahe kiski gadi ho” (he was killed by a vehicle no matter whose car it was). His editor, however, claims that he was beaten up by “hooligans” at the scenebut insists that they were not farmers.


The aftermath looked like this…

The deal: Enraged farmers refused to release the bodies to the police for a post-mortemand kept them on display in glass enclosures at the scene. Farm union leader Rakesh Tikait brokered a deal with the UP government. An FIR has been filed against Ashish Misra on charges that include murder and rioting. The government will also offer Rs 45 lakhs in compensation to the farmers’ familiesalong with a government job.


Point to note: Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath described the incident as “unfortunate,” and said “strict action will be taken against those found guilty.” But he also promised that the government will “go deep into the matter and expose the people behind today’s incident”which may yet lead to another ‘jihadi’ conspiracy theory. OTOH, the farmers plan to call a mahapanchayat in 10-12 days if they are not happy with the investigation.


A big blockade: The government has cordoned off the area, and shut down the internet. All roads have been blockedand opposition leaders were prevented from reaching the scene. Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav staged a sit-inand was briefly detained. Also detained: Priyanka Gandhi and former UP MP Deepender Hoodawho were held at a government guest house. Clips of Gandhi confronting the police went viral. Watch it here and wait for the moment when she yells: ‘Mahilayon se darte ho?’ at the policeman in charge.


And yes, the Congress party also shared a clip of her doing jhadu in the guesthouse—no doubt to bolster her aam aurat credentials.

The bottomline: The Supreme Court plans to look at whether farmers have a constitutional right to protest against the farm laws—and cited the Lakhimpur Kheri tragedy as a reason. So the real threat to the farmers may lie elsewhere.


Reading list

The Telegraph has the most eyewitness accounts, while Indian Express looks at the lead up to the violence. The Hindu has the most on the victims who were killed—and the aftermath at the scene of the crime. Indian Express also has an insider piece on the angst within the BJP—given the upcoming state elections.

Headlines that matter

India is running out of coal

The government warned that 135 thermal power plants have only four days of coal stocks—down from the 13 days of supply they had back in early August. Power Minister RK Singh said avoiding shortages will be a “touch and go affair” for the next five to six months. One reason is that the prices of coal imports have been soaring lately—due to high demand from China. So power plants have been cutting back on buying foreign coal. But domestic production has failed to keep pace thanks to heavy September rains. One likely fallout of this shortage: large-scale power cuts, higher electricity prices—and damage to the power sector’s bottomline. (Financial Times)

‘Squid Games’ is bad for the internet

A South Korean internet service provider has sued Netflix—demanding the company pay the costs for increased network traffic and maintenance work created by the wildly popular show. Netflix is the country's second-largest data traffic generator after YouTube—but the two do not pay network usage fees, unlike Amazon, Apple and Facebook. The streaming service argues that its job is to create content—and delivering it is the internet provider’s responsibility to its customers. Point to note: “In the United States, Netflix has been paying a fee to broadband provider Comcast Corp for over seven years for faster streaming speeds.” (Reuters)

Speaking of ‘Squid Game’: Korean viewers say that the English translation offered in its subtitles is mostly wrong. For example: “I'm not a genius, but I still got it work out. Huh.” is actually: “I am very smart. I just never got a chance to study.” Esquire has more on what you may be missing out.


Two mostly naked men

One: A perfect copy of Michelangelo’s statue of David—made of resin using laser scans and 3D printing—is on display at the Dubai Expo. It is startlingly like the original—so much so that organisers of the exhibit have covered his crotch because it caused “enormous embarrassment.” An Italian who worked on the project said: “We even considered putting underpants on him, or changing statue but it was too late.” As a result, the 17-foot sculpture has been encased in a column—and only his head and shoulders are visible to visitors. (Times UK)


Two: Playboy’s October issue will feature a scantily clad man for a change—23-year-old influencer, Bretman Rock in lingerie and heels. To be clear: This isn’t a first for the magazine. Both founder Hugh Hefner and singer Bad Bunny have had the honour before. See him below. (Fox News)



In today’s edition

Sanity Break

  • Coldplay and BTS’ sci-fi themed collaboration—titled ‘My Universe’


A list of intriguing things

  • An 18th century three-tier hairdo called the ‘hedgehog’ aka ‘the herrison’
  • A Map of the Open Country of Woman’s Heart
  • Say hello to artistic dogs and their line of Van Gogh-esque works
  • A sea eagle named Kodiak has been running wild in Pittsburgh

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