Researched by: Aarthi Ramnath & Anannya Parekh
Content alert: The item below is about a horrific act of sexual violence.
A horrific gang rape in Manipur
The context: Since May 3, the dominant Meitei community and Kuki tribes have been involved in violent clashes. The trigger: a high court ruling directing the government to give the Meitei tribal status—which would allow them to move into protected tribal land. We explained the conflict at length in this Big Story.
What happened now: Yesterday, a stomach-churning video recorded 77 days ago on May 4 went viral. It shows a mob of Meitei men dragging two naked Kuki women toward the fields—with the clear intent of gang raping them. You can see the clip—with the women blurred out. But we are not embedding it.
There are varying accounts of what happened—which we are still trying to sort through. But here’s the gist of what happened:
- Armed Meitei mobs raided villages on May 4.
- Five residents fled to the forest—three women and two family members of the youngest woman.
- They were picked up by the police and snatched from their custody. Or: the police witnessed the beginning of the assault but chose to leave the scene.
- At least one of the women was gang-raped in the paddy field. The father and brother of one of them were killed by the mob.
The investigation: An FIR was filed in a different location—since their village was no longer safe. The dates vary: either on May 18 or May 13. There’s other confusion around the FIR, but everyone agrees that it did not identify any suspects—and no one has been arrested. But the police now claim it is “making [an] all-out effort to arrest the culprits at the earliest.”
The government has not said anything—other than a tweet from Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani who said she’s spoken to CM N Biren Singh—who promised swift action. The most details are in The Hindu, Scroll and The Telegraph. The Print spotlights the silence around rapes in Manipur.
In other incredibly depressing news: The Taliban used tasers, fire hoses and gunfire to break up Afghan women protesting a ban on beauty salons. (Associated Press)
Coming soon: An Apple chatbot
According to Bloomberg News, the company has built its own framework—dubbed "Ajax"—to create large language models (LLMs). It is also testing a chatbot that its engineers call ‘Apple GPT’. But, but, but, it still isn’t clear if Apple plans to roll out its equivalent of a Bard for users:
Apple employees can only use the Apple GPT tool internally, and executives aren't sure when the service can be rolled out publicly. The road has been filled with stop-and-go traffic due to security concerns halting the process, but the tool is now available to some employees at Apple. However, it requires special approval for access, and users are forbidden to leverage any output to develop customer-bound features.
Meta’s big AI move: The company has been doing its best to stay in the race to win the great AI game. It first rolled out its version of generative AI called Large Language Model Meta AI (LLaMA). But it isn’t a chatty chatbot that writes college essays à la ChatGPT but a serious research tool for scientists. The company has now released LLaMA 2—that is available for free to the aam aadmi. This includes a model that developers can use to build a chatbot. That’s brilliant news as both Microsoft and OpenAI move towards charging for their AI tools. But here’s the catch:
Meta is not releasing information about the data set that it used to train LLaMA 2 and cannot guarantee that it didn’t include copyrighted works or personal data… LLaMA 2 also has the same problems that plague all large language models: a propensity to produce falsehoods and offensive language.
And that also explains why Meta is being generous: “[B]y releasing the model into the wild and letting developers and companies tinker with it, Meta will learn important lessons about how to make its models safer, less biased, and more efficient.” (MIT Technology Review)
In other Meta news: Norway is fining Meta $100,000 a day for violating its advertising rules:
The Norwegian Data Protection Authority has already imposed a temporary ban on Meta for carrying out “illegal behavioural advertising” based on data gleaned from its surveillance of Facebook and Instagram users without their consent or knowledge.
The ban on targeted advertising starts on August 4 and will remain in place for three months—or until Meta complies with Norwegian law. The metre for the daily fine will keep ticking until the end of October—adding up to $9 million—which is likely pocket change for Meta. But EU’s privacy rules are likely to continue to be a headache for the company. Ireland recently slapped a $1.3 billion fine for violating the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). (Quartz)
The unravelling of Thai democracy
The context: In May—after a decade of military rule—the nation voted for two of the biggest opposition parties—and for radical reform. Move Forward led by the charismatic Pita Limjaroenrat emerged as the single largest party—winning 151 out of 500 Lower House seats. And it received the support of the other major opposition party: Pheu Thai which came in at #2.
What happened now: The problem for Pita is that both the upper and lower houses have to vote to choose the prime minister—thanks to rules introduced by the military. This means the senate—made up of 250 unelected members solely chosen by the army—will have a decisive say. For the past two months, Pita has struggled to get a majority—and now he has an even bigger problem. On the eve of the second round of voting, Thailand's Constitutional Court suspended him for violating election rules. His nomination has now been voided.
Why this matters: Thailand’s youth have voted overwhelmingly for democracy. Any attempt by the military to undo the electoral verdict will trigger great political upheaval. We explained why this was a momentous election in this Big Story. (The Guardian)
Teesta Setalvad gets bail
The context: In June 2022, activist Teesta Setalvad was arrested on charges of conspiring to falsely implicate and fabricate evidence against “innocent people” in connection to the 2002 Gujarat violence—including then CM Narendra Modi. She was granted interim bail by the Supreme Court—but the Gujarat High Court rejected her bail application.
What happened now: On Wednesday, the Supreme Court granted bail to Setalvad—calling the High Court’s findings “perverse” and “contradictory.” The order criticised the lower court’s ruling at length. Why this matters: bail is supposed to be the rule not the exception. But in recent years, courts have been allowing authorities to throw people in jail for years without a trial—without a murmur from the Supreme Court. (The Telegraph)
Dismal stats on gender equality
A new UN report shows that only 1% of women in the world live in countries that have achieved gender parity. Worse: more than 90% of them—3.1 billion women—live in countries that have a large gender gap. What’s really sad: women are empowered to achieve only 60% of their full potential. (Down to Earth)
The newly discovered cause for dementia
According to a new study, untreated hearing loss may contribute to cognitive decline as the brain has to work harder—which affects thinking and memory. It also shrinks an ageing brain faster. In fact, it may account for 8% of all dementia cases. Data point to note: although age-related hearing loss affects two-thirds of people over the age of 60, less than 10% of them use hearing aids. (Independent)
The great election tamasha: The latest update
With all parties getting geared up for the Lok Sabha elections next year, we are in for an extended soap opera—with many twists, turns and betrayals. The first to raise eyebrows: Uddhav Thackeray who had a very nice meeting with Ajit Pawar. That’s the guy who abandoned his uncle—NCP chief Sharad Pawar—to cosy up to the BJP and Eknath Shinde—who stole the Shiv Sena from Thackeray. No one can read this set of tea leaves, as yet. Yes, Uddhav came bearing flowers. (Indian Express)
In other silly election news: Earlier this week, the main alliance of Opposition parties decided to call itself INDIA—as in the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance. Impressed by this chutzpah—and appalling misuse of acronyms—Modi-ji has reimagined his alliance’s name. From here on out, NDA is no longer the National Democratic Alliance. The new version: “NDA as New India, Developed Nation, Aspiration of People of India.” (Hindustan Times)
Asia’s top 50 bars are…
Let’s start with what is really important. Sidecar in Delhi came in at #18 and Bombay Canteen is #35. The other two Indian bars are Bangalore’s Copitas at #38 and The Living Room in Mumbai at #48. Ok now for the winners: Coa in Hong Kong—followed by Jigger & Pony in Singapore. (CNN)
Four things to see
One: Chinese tennis star Zhang Shuai walked away from her Hungarian Grand Prix match after her opponent put on a most appalling display of poor sportsmanship. Local player Amarissa Toth first erased a ball mark on the clay court following a line call fiercely disputed by Shuai. What was worse: Toth celebrated when Shuai withdrew in tears while trailing 6-5 in the first set. Most other tennis players agreed her behaviour was “disgusting.”
Point to note: No one seems to have called out the male commentator—who really ought to lose his job. He first called her “tedious” because she was upset over Toth erasing the ball mark—and then declares there is “nothing wrong with her” when Shuai is clearly having a breakdown. (Reuters)
Two: The largest office building in the world is no longer the Pentagon. A big hand for the new winner—the Surat Diamond Bourse in Gujarat. It is billed as a “one-stop destination” for over 65,000 professionals in the diamond industry—including cutters, polishers and traders. Here are the specs:
Featuring a succession of nine rectangular structures spilling out from — and interconnected via — a central “spine,” the sprawling 15-story complex has been built across more than 35 acres of land. The trading centre’s architects say it comprises over 7.1 million square feet of floor space.
Three: This traffic policeman in Srinagar went viral for doing his job barefoot in water-logged streets. That’s pretty amazing.
Four: Sticking with torrential rain: the Yamuna has reached the outer walls of the Taj Mahal—flooding the garden next to the monument. The last time this happened was 1978. Don’t worry this isn’t going to ruin our national treasure. So this is the Taj now:
And this is the Taj back in the 1800s. More things change…