Researched by: Rachel John, Aarthi Ramnath & Anannya Parekh
Uttarakhand’s regressive Uniform Civil Code
The context: The framers of the Constitution embraced separate laws for marriage, divorce etc as a stop-gap measure—until Indians became more open to a uniform civil code. The issue of the UCC lay dormant until the BJP made it part of their platform. Today, it is seen as a weapon to target Muslims—and their personal laws. For more context you can read our excellent four part series: part one traces the birth of personal laws in colonial India; part two looks at Nehru’s campaign to reform Hindu laws; part three dissects the controversy around the Shah Bano judgement and part four lays out the current arguments for and against personal laws.
What happened now: The Uttarakhand government has tabled a UCC bill in the Assembly offering a “common law on marriage, divorce, land, property and inheritance for all citizens irrespective of their religion.” The most surprising—and alarming—bit about the bill are the new rules for consensual sexual relationships outside marriage. Partners have to notify the “Registrar” within a month of entering into a live-in relationship—and when terminating it:
Essentially, the Bill seeks to equate heterosexual live-in relationships to the status of a marriage. A separate chapter in the proposed Code deals with live-in relationships, defining them as a “relationship between a man and a woman” (partners) who “cohabit in a shared household through a relationship in the nature of marriage, provided that such relations are not prohibited.”
The bill prescribes a six-month sentence for failing to do so. Also this: any child of such a relationship will be recognised as a legitimate child of the couple. And the woman will be entitled to maintenance.
The government says the aim is to prevent “heinous crimes among live-in couples” by creating a “mental deterrent”—since such relationships are only recognised in the context of domestic violence. But critics say the bill interferes in the sexual freedom of citizens:
The compulsory registration takes away the freedom to choose not being married. The state should not enter into the realm of what citizens do consensually. Prima facie, it intrudes into the domain of privacy which is recognised as a fundamental right in the Puttaswamy ruling,
Interesting point to note: Scheduled Tribes are not covered by this law. If passed, Uttarakhand will become the first state to adopt the UCC. (Indian Express)
A criminal trial for Trump?
A federal appeals court has ruled that Donald Trump does not have immunity from charges that he plotted to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election:
For the purpose of this criminal case, former President Trump has become citizen Trump, with all of the defences of any other criminal defendant. But any executive immunity that may have protected him while he served as President no longer protects him against this prosecution.
This sets up the unprecedented possibility of a former president being tried on criminal charges. The more likely outcome: Trump will appeal the ruling in the Supreme Court—buying himself time. If reelected, he will pardon himself or have the Justice Department drop the case. (Reuters via The Hindu)
Meta embraces AI tagging
A senior exec at Davos revealed plans to label AI-generated content on its platforms. The president of global affairs, Nick Clegg said the new policy will be put in place “in the coming months” and in different languages—given that a “number of important elections are taking place around the world.” How this might work:
Companies that offer A.I. generation tools could add the standards into the metadata of the videos, photos or audio files they helped to create. That would signal to social networks like Facebook, X (formerly Twitter) and YouTube that such content was artificial when it was being uploaded to their platforms. Those companies, in turn, could add labels that noted these posts were A.I.-generated to inform users who viewed them across the social networks.
Sticking with social media: A new study found that algorithms promote misogynistic content on TikTok specifically. There has been a fourfold increase in this kind of content, as well:
Toxic, hateful or misogynistic material is “pushed” to young people, with boys who are suffering from anxiety and poor mental health at increased risk, it said. “Harmful views and tropes are now becoming normalised among young people,” said principal investigator Dr Kaitlyn Regehr… “Online consumption is impacting young people’s offline behaviours, as we see these ideologies moving off screens and into schoolyards.”
Reminder: an earlier study found that Gen Z is more likely to believe that feminism is harmful than boomers! A fifth of these young men were fans of misogynistic influencer Andrew Tate. (The Guardian)
Worrying findings on that Boeing blowout
The context: A part of an Alaskan Airlines plane, a Boeing 737 Max, blew out mid-flight on January 5, leaving a massive hole in the hull. It resuscitated old fears about Boeing’s 737 Max model—which was implicated in two horrific airline crashes back in 2018/2019. In response, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded all 171 Boeing 737 Max 9 planes in the US and ordered a safety inspection. (More details in this Big Story). The investigations revealed that both United Airlines and Alaska found “loose bolts”, which are used to secure so-called ‘door plugs’—panels that are placed where an emergency exit door would otherwise be in a bigger jet.
What happened now: The National Transportation Safety Board has found that four key bolts were "missing" when the door plug blew off the plane. It likely happened due to human error. The door plug was installed by Boeing contractor Spirit AeroSystems—and then shipped to the Boeing factory for assembly. But when it arrived, factory workers discovered damaged rivets on the fuselage. So the door plug had to be opened for repairs. But after that work was completed by the contractor’s personnel at the Boeing plant, the bolts were not reinstalled.
Point to note: The report does not assign blame for that error—but Boeing has stepped up to the plate:
"Whatever final conclusions are reached, Boeing is accountable for what happened," Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said in a statement. "An event like this must not happen on an airplane that leaves our factory. We simply must do better for our customers and their passengers."
NPR has more on the fallout of this discovery.
Will the real creator of Bitcoin please stand up?
The context: One of the biggest mysteries in the modern world is the identity of Bitcoin’s creator. In 2008, an academic paper by someone named Satoshi Nakamoto laid the foundation for the cryptocurrency. But Nakamoto disappeared without a trace in 2011. Four years later, an Australian computer scientist Craig Wright claimed that he was Nakamoto.
What happened now: Wright’s claim has been challenged in a UK court by the organisation Crypto Open Patent Alliance (Copa)—whose members include Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s Block and cryptocurrency platform Coinbase. They hope to prove that Wright’s claim is bogus and therefore he has no right to bitcoin tech. Why this is a big deal:
If the court finds that Wright isn’t Nakamoto, bitcoin can continue to exist as is. But if it concludes that he is Nakamoto, Wright could make it illegal for developers to use bitcoin without his approval. The threat of legal action could scare off developers and potentially send bitcoin into obscurity.
Morning Brew has more on the lawsuit.
Gear up: SATs are returning!
The context: In recent years, there have been increasing concerns about standardised tests—that have been criticised for perpetuating racial and class biases. The argument is that SATs etc benefit an industry of educational consultants and tutors hired by rich students. As a result, many of the top schools in the US declared that they would no longer consider SAT scores when assessing applications.
What happened now: Dartmouth College—which is part of the Ivy League—announced that it will be reinstating mandatory standardised test scores as part of its admission process next year. According to the college, these scores are a “better indicator of students’ undergraduate performance than alternative measures.” Reminder: In 2022, Massachusetts Institute of Technology had also brought back test scores. Dartmouth’s move indicates that other colleges are likely to follow suit.
Something to consider: More recent research suggests standardised tests are far less biassed against marginalised communities than other measures:
Researchers who have studied the issue say that test scores can be particularly helpful in identifying lower-income students and underrepresented minorities who will thrive. These students do not score as high on average as students from affluent communities or white and Asian students. But a solid score for a student from a less privileged background is often a sign of enormous potential.
PCOS linked to suicide risk
The context: Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS is a common health condition among women that leads to irregular periods, acne, obesity, and cysts in the ovaries. It is also the leading cause of infertility.
What happened now: A new study shows that women with this condition are more vulnerable to suicide. Specifically, those with PCOS had an 8.47-fold higher risk for suicide attempts. A possible reason: concerns over infertility and body image worries. Why this matters: It confirms earlier research that found PCOS can lead to depression and self-harm. (The Guardian)
In other worrying news: for human health, real-life versions of ‘Jaws’ are on the rise across the world:
Along with the tally of fatal shark attacks, which jumped from five to 10 between 2022 and 2023, researchers also charted an increase in the number of non-fatal global shark attacks over that same time period. In 2023, there were 69 confirmed shark attacks worldwide, which was higher than the previous five-year average of 63 attacks.
Australia accounted for the highest unprovoked attacks (22%) and four deaths. According to researchers, surfers were bitten the most. This is most likely because the sharks mistook them for prey and got “test bites”. (CBS News)
Four things to see
One: Pterosaurs—not to be confused with dinosaurs—are a kind of flying reptile that lived during the Jurassic period. Scientists have now discovered a new species in Scotland called Ceoptera—you can see what it probably looked like below. (BBC News)
Two: Tesla drivers seem to find new ways to endanger themselves. A recent viral video shows drivers wearing Apple’s VR headset —which is a terrible idea given documented issues with Tesla’s ‘autopilot’ mode. (ABC News)
Three: The trailer of Aishwarya Rajnikanth’s highly-anticipated ‘Lal Salaam’ just dropped. The cast includes Rajnikanth and Vishnu Vishal in lead roles—exploring communalism in the surprising context of cricket. Unexpected bonus: cricketer Kapil Dev. Catch the film in theatres this Friday. (The Telegraph)
Four: The internet can make or break a career—and resuscitate celebs who’ve suffered career death. The return of Zeenat Aman to the spotlight sparked an unexpected wave of nostalgia for Imran Khan—of ‘Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na’ fame. Thanks to popular demand, Vogue put him on the cover. FYI: He’s living in Bandra in a flat with only three plates, three forks, two coffee mugs and one frying pan. Vogue has lots more on your favourite celebrity recluse. See the cover image below. He’s looking like a wow… albeit the underfed kind:)