Researched by: Rachel John & Anannya Parekh
A caste bombshell in Bihar
The state government released the results of a caste survey—the first of its kind in the country. It showed that members of Other Backward Classes and the Extremely Backward Classes together constitute a whopping 63% of Bihar’s population. An astonishing 36% are EBCs—while OBCs account for 27.13%. Dalits specifically represent 19.65%—and Yadavs are the single largest caste at 14.27%. Key point to note: the so-called upper castes are only 15.52% of the population.
Why this is a big deal: One: A 1992 Supreme Court ruling put a ceiling of 50% on reservations—which can be challenged in courts. Two: It poses a serious problem for the BJP—which has fiercely opposed any caste census on the grounds that it is divisive. Clamouring for a national caste census could upset its carefully crafted caste coalition in UP. Three: This is a huge boost for Nitish Kumar. Having delivered this political weapon in the hands of the INDIA coalition, he can stake his claim for its leadership. We will explain the politics of the caste census—and what it means for the 2024 elections in our Big Story tomorrow.
A pro-Putin turn in Europe
Slovakia is poised to elect a new president—Robert Fico—who is a supporter of Vladimir Putin. During his campaign, Fico pledged “not to send a single cartridge” to Ukraine. This is a remarkable shift since Slovakia was the first country to deliver fighter jets to Ukraine. As one regional expert explains:
The wear and tear from the war is more palpable in Central Europe than Western Europe for now. Slovakia demonstrates that the threat at your door does not necessarily mean you are full-hearted in support of Ukraine.
Fico may moderate his stance as he does not have the seats to rule on his own—and will need coalition support. But it is an important development amid growing unhappiness over the financial burden of supporting Kyiv in Europe and the US. US officials claim that Moscow is waging a misinformation war to undermine support. FYI: 51% Slovaks hold Ukraine and the West responsible for the war. (New York Times, paywall, CNN)
Manipur violence: The latest update
The context: Photographs of the bodies of two Meitei students who disappeared in July surfaced on social media last week. They sparked a fresh round of protests—and triggered yet another internet ban. A mob of 500-600 people also stormed the CM N Biren Singh’s residence in anger.
What happened now: CBI has arrested four people—including two women—for their alleged role in abducting and killing the students. Singh said he is “committed to ensuring maximum punishment, including capital punishment, for the heinous crime they have committed.” OTOH, a prominent Kuki student organisation claims the two men “are neither cadres of any militant group or have any involvement in the said murder case.” The hill districts in Manipur have declared a total shutdown to protest the “arbitrary arrests.” (The Hindu)
Key shake-up at Dunzo
Co-founder Dalvir Suri has called it quits amid a severe cash crunch—and ahead of an organisation-wide restructuring. The company recently went through three rounds of layoffs, deferred or reduced salaries and slashed 50% of its warehouses—all to cut costs. (Mint)
J&J backs down on TB drug
The context: Johnson & Johnson developed the patent to manufacture and sell Bedaquiline—a “game changing” drug used to treat multidrug-resistant tuberculosis aka MDR-TB. It is extremely expensive and is hard to access—especially in low income countries. When J&J’s patent ran out in July, it tried to apply for secondary patents to extend its control over the medicine. All of which led to a huge backlash—and a slapdown delivered by the India Patent Office.
What happened now: Johnson & Johnson has announced that it will not enforce a second patent on bedaquiline in 134 low- and middle-income countries. This will open the door to far cheaper generic versions—which can cost as little as $48 to $102 for a six-month treatment-compared to $272 for bedaquiline. Next up in the activists’ battle to ensure affordable TB treatment:
The group added that they now want to see Japanese pharma major Otsuka follow suit and publicly announce that they will not enforce any secondary patents in low- and middle-income countries for the other critical new TB drug Delamanid, especially as the corporation’s primary patent is set to expire in 10 days in India and other countries.
In other big medicine-related news: The Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman—who developed the technology that led to the mRNA Covid vaccines. The revolutionary technology is now the basis of new vaccines for malaria, influenza and rabies—and is being used to develop drugs to fight cancer:
The big idea behind the technology is that you can rapidly develop a vaccine against almost anything - as long as you know the right genetic instructions to use. This makes it far faster and more flexible than traditional approaches to vaccine development.
BBC News has lots more details.
Quick refresher: Traditional vaccines inject live or dead bits of the virus into a human body—which triggers the production of protective antibodies. But with a messenger RNA (or mRNA) vaccine, we are injected with genetic material taken from the virus. This teaches our cells to produce the spike protein of the coronavirus—which is harmless in itself. In Bill Gates' words, “you essentially turn your body into its own manufacturing unit.” This Big Story has lots more on the Covid mRNA vaccines.
The far too hot iPhone 15
Turns out the latest generation is way too hot—for all the wrong reasons. It’s literally heating up—causing great alarm among those who travelled miles and lined up for hours to buy it. Apple has finally conceded that the device “may feel warmer in the first few days after setting up or restoring the device because of increased background activity.” And it’s also blaming the problem on some third party apps. In any case, a bug fix is on its way. (Reuters)
Farewell, Afghan embassy
The embassy in New Delhi has formally announced its plan to shut down—citing "lack of crucial support (including diplomatic) from the host government.” A note sent to the External Affairs Ministry “said that New Delhi had refused several request letters, asking for assistance as well as visas for about 3,000 Afghan students who were due to travel to India in 2021, but had not been given travel papers.” Point to note: India does not have diplomatic relations with the Taliban regime. And the Afghan Embassy is not recognised by the Taliban. Interestingly, the consulates in Hyderabad and Mumbai plan to stay in business—under instructions from Kabul. (The Telegraph)
Why earthworms are the best!
A new study shows that the slimy, wiggly creatures help produce as much grain as Russia—that would be 6.5% of the total global supply. We always knew that earthworms help make the soil more fertile. But very few researchers have looked at the importance of “soil diversity”—especially “in areas of the global south: 10% of grain yield in sub-Saharan Africa, and 8% in Latin America and the Caribbean, is down to worms.” FYI: soil contains more than half of all species—and topsoil is where 95% of the planet’s food is grown. Just think about that for a moment. (Science)
Indian whiskey rules the world!
Indri’s Diwali Collector’s Edition won the top honour at the Whiskies of the World Awards—the largest whiskey-tasting competitions in the world. Brewed by Piccadilly Distilleries in Haryana, it is self-described as “a peated Indian single malt made with six-row barley… with a whiff of smoke and awakens your senses to a myriad of flavours such as candied dried fruits, toasted nuts, subtle spices, oak, bittersweet chocolate and more.” If you’re planning a Diwali bash, the price per bottle is Rs 5K. (Economic Times, paywall, Moneycontrol)
Indonesia goes whoosh!
The nation’s first high-speed train started operations yesterday. It is called ‘Whoosh’—which is an acronym for “Waktu Hemat, Operasi Optimal, Sistem Handal.” Translation: “time-saving, optimal operation, reliable system.” Hitting speeds up to 350 km/hour, it will cut travel time between Jakarta and Bandung from three hours to about 40 minutes. Why this matters: The project is part of China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative—which will connect Asia, Africa and Europe with overland corridors and maritime sea lanes—and extend Beijing’s influence, of course. This Big Story has lots more on BRI. Quartz has more on why this train is a coup for China.
Paris has a bed bug problem!
First reported in hotels and vacation rentals apartments, the nasty critters have spread to movie theatres—and are now riding the train. Bed bugs are crawling around on seats in both national high-speed trains and the Paris Metro system. Two likely reasons for this invasion: rise in tourism and greater resistance to insecticides. Reminder: the Olympics are only ten months away. (CBS News)
One amazing thing to see
Simone Biles became the first to perform the most difficult vault routine in women’s gymnastics at the World Gymnastics Championships. It is called the Yurchenko double pike: “Yurchenko (round-off onto the springboard, then a back handspring onto the vault) double (two flips the air) pike (straight legs, folded body).” The routine will now be named after her. FYI: Biles already has four skills named for her, two on floor exercise and one each on balance beam and vault. Watch the magnificent feat below. Washington Post has more on the skill. (USA Today)