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MAY 2021

South Asia Times Vol.18 I No. 9 I may 2021 I FREE s o u t hasiat im es.com .au

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Editor: Neeraj Nanda I M: 0421 677 082 I Add: PO Box 465, Brentford Square, Victoria 3131

Ask difficult but fundamental questions during tough times .......Read on page 2

IPL 2021: The Privilege of Spin When Playing a Virus That Doesn’t Discriminate .......Read on page 4-5

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MAY 2021

Ask difficult but fundamental questions during tough times By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*

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he coronavirus pandemic has already caused the colossal loss of lives and livelihoods around the world. It continues to create havoc in different countries like Brazil and India. It has destroyed livelihoods, communities and families. This global health crisis has taken a terrible toll on individual lives by expanding unbelievable levels of anxiety, alienation, deaths, destitutions, loneliness and loss. The conservative commentators, writers, columnists and typewriters of ruling class voices locate the impact of these crises and its outcomes as individual problems or state and government failures. There is no doubt that the states and governments have failed to protect their own citizens who elect them to power. But the same states and governments have enabled conditions for the billionaires and millionaires to increase the profit of their corporations in a massive scale during this crisis. The corporate profits and palaces of these corporate owners are relatively well insulated from the virus. For them, this pandemic is an opportunity to make profits when people are dying on streets without basic medical care and oxygen support. It is clear that mass vaccination will bring an end to this pandemic at some point of time. The pandemic led lockdowns will end and economic activities will restore the sources of livelihoods for the working classes.

During these tough times, it is important to ask difficult questions to fix accountabilities. These accountabilities are both political and intellectual questions. Are anxieties, multiple forms of alienations, deaths, destitutions, loneliness and losses simply individual problems? The ruling classes have used medical science and psychologists for a long time to argue that these are individual problems. These problems are either biological problems or mental health issues. The crisis only accelerates these problems. The counselling and therapy industry helps individuals and society to recover from these problems temporarily. The ruling class intellectuals and their corporate media outsource these problems to god, fate and religions to

create a moral and spiritual hiding ground, where individuals are disposables based on their skills and abilities. Such processes produce democratically elected ruthless leaders all around the world. These leaders stand with their crony capitalist friends while ignoring mass sufferings. The pandemic of anxieties, multiple forms of alienations, deaths, destitutions, loneliness and losses are older and more fundamental problems than the current global health crisis. It is killing people for centuries. The medical science and psychologists have failed to provide any permanent solutions to these problems. It is within this context, it is important to locate the issues of anxieties, multiple forms of alienations, deaths, destitutions, loneliness

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and losses as political and ideological questions. There is no individual, moral or religious answer to it. The pandemic of anxieties, multiple forms of alienations, deaths, destitutions, loneliness and losses move beyond national boundaries. These are global humanitarian issues created, sustained and promoted by a market driven capitalist society devoid of any form of commitment to people and the planet. Anxieties are not only mental and emotional shifts embedded with nervousness, fear and worries but also reflects physical symptoms like increased heart rate, panic attack and adrenaline rush. These issues are not natural and individuals suffering from these issues are not born with anxieties. CONTD. ON PG 3


EDITORIAl PAGE

MAY 2021

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23 crore Indians pushed into poverty amid pandemic: Report

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ew Delhi: As the pandemic and the eventual lockdowns wreaked havoc on the economy and livelihoods, around 23 crore Indians have been pushed into poverty during the past one year, showed a report by Azim Premji University. It said that the rural poverty rate increased by 15 percentage points and the urban poverty rate was up nearly 20 points. "The number of individuals who lie below the national minimum wage threshold (Rs 375 per day as recommended by the Anoop Satpathy committee) increased by 230 million during the pandemic," said the report titled 'State of Working India 2021: One Year of Covid-19'. It noted that though incomes fell across the board, the pandemic has taken a far heavier toll on poorer households. In April and May, the poorest 20 per cent of households lost their entire incomes. In contrast, the richer households suffered losses of less than a quarter of their pre-pandemic incomes. Over the entire eight-month period (March to October), an average household in the bottom 10 per cent lost Rs 15,700, or just over two months' income. Further, as per the report

about 1.5 crore workers remained out of work by the end of 2020. About 10 crore people lost jobs during the nationwide April-May 2020 lockdown. "Most were back at work by June 2020, but even by the end of 2020, about 15 million workers remained out of work," it said. Incomes also remained depressed. Average monthly household income per capita in October 2020 (Rs 4,979) was still below its level in January 2020 (Rs 5,989). Job losses were higher for states with a higher average Covid case load. Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi, contributed

disproportionately to job losses. During the lockdown and in the months after, 61 per cent of working men remained employed and 7 per cent lost employment and did not return to work. For women, only 19 per cent remained employed and 47 per cent suffered a permanent job loss during the lockdown, not returning to work even by the end of 2020. The report showed that younger workers were much more impacted, experiencing higher job losses, of a more permanent nature. Around 33 per cent of workers in the 15-24 years age group failed to recover employment even by

December 2020. This number was only 6 per cent in the 25-44 years group. Vice-Chancellor of Azim Premji University, Anurag Behar said: "The pandemic has revealed a systemic and moral failure that makes the most vulnerable always pay the greatest price for everything. We have to change this from the core." The report shows that the pandemic has further increased informality and led to a severe decline in earnings for the majority of workers resulting in a sudden increase in poverty. Women and younger workers have been disproportionately affected. Households have coped

by reducing food intake, borrowing, and selling assets. Government relief has helped avoid the most severe forms of distress, but the reach of support measures is incomplete, leaving out some of the most vulnerable workers and households. The lead author of the report, Amit Basole, said: "Additional government support is urgently needed now for two reasons -compensating for the losses sustained during the first year and anticipating the impact of the second wave. This can include continuing free rations beyond June, additional cash transfers, an expanded MGNREGA, and an urban jobs programme." Source- IANS, May 6

Ask difficult but fundamental questions during tough times CONTD. FROM PG 2 Human beings grow up with different forms and levels of anxieties based on their social, political, cultural, religious and economic conditions. Anxieties can be spiritual, economic, sexual and personal but it is produced by different institutions and structures from families, schools, universities, homes, hospitals, prisons, workplaces to relationships. All these institutions are heavily influenced by political and economic systems of the country. Anxieties are less in more egalitarian, secular, democratic and progressive societies whereas authoritarian, hierarchical, unequal, insecure and

conservative societies are manufacturing ground for anxieties. The capitalist system, its ideology, its institutions and processes have formed an organic alliance with all forms of reactionary, conservative, religious and authoritarian forces. The capitalist markets find their natural ally in authoritarian politics and religious fundamentalists. The religious and authoritarian forces work as shock absorbers of alienation and loneliness produce by capitalism as an economic, political, cultural and social system. The capitalist system is a breeding ground for multiple forms of loneliness and alienations. This pandemic has helped to socialise issues of mass

alienation, loneliness and social distancing as a survival strategy. The psycho-social distance between people, their work and workplace has produced enormous levels of alienation and loneliness. The online work, social media interactions and indoor entertainments are time killing machines. It can never replace face to face interactions where affection, love, share and care has its material and emotional foundations. The idea of rationality and science has taken a backseat with the growth of reactionary forces in politics and society. The capitalist system helps these forces to grow for the survival of its crisis ridden system. The lonely, alienated and hungry individuals can never fight capitalism as a

system to reclaim their rights. The Coronavirus pandemic has severely weakened the collective bargaining labour movements, social, economic and political struggles for human emancipation from conditions of poverty, hunger, homelessness, unemployment and different forms of inequalities. These conditions produce multiple forms of anxieties, alienation, deaths, destitutions, loneliness and loss. It is important to locate these issues as political questions and systemic issues, and not individual problems. The issues of anxiety, alienation, deaths, destitutions, loneliness and losses are capitalist traps. It weakens individuals, families, states and societies

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and make them subservient to the interests of capital. Therefore, the struggles against the pandemic of anxiety, alienation, deaths, destitutions, loneliness and losses are struggles against capitalism that brings viruses like Coronavirus from the wild by destroying natural life world. Our collective survival depends on our collective abilities to understand these fundamental issues and take collective responsibilities to struggle for emancipations from all forms of capitalist narratives in the field of politics, culture, society and economy. There is no third way. There is no second way. The only alternative is to understand and fight back capitalism till its end. * University of Glasgow, UK


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cover story

South Asia Times

MAY 2021

IPL 2021: The Privilege of Spin When Playing a Virus That Doesn’t Discriminate

Much before the positive cases and the fallout, the BCCI turned a blind eye to all shouting themselves hoarse asking it to shut down the IPL in this unprecedented time. When the cases did arrive, the BCCI spun its web of lies, insisting all was well. Now with the truth out in the open the Board is fighting back, not to clarify and commiserate, but to justify and deflect. By Leslie Xavier

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rivilege, and everything it entails, is being redefined every passing moment today. A whiff of medical oxygen is a privilege. A life-saving medicine, or rather finding even an antipyretic, the good old paracetamol, is a privilege. The vaccine is turning out to be a privilege as we speak. In the national

capital of India — in and around the power corridors of New Delhi — one was told repeatedly in the past month that there is no guarantee anybody’s ‘pull’ would work in finding a hospital bed for someone who is fighting to stay alive against Covid-19. Even within privilege, there is a pyramid structure. The system is redefining privilege. What system? The system that is nonexistent…

And, as we brace for the tempestuous journey to recovery from the marred and scarred state the country is at the moment, we realise the enormity and gravity of the word “underprivileged”, a word which used to be thrown about callously. A word whose meaning will now haunt us forever. A huge number of people in this country are underprivileged — the numbers and demography bigger than we previously thought. And then there are those who aren’t. From where we stand, on this side of the boundary line — fenced out of a technically sterile but in all essence classist biosecure bubble — we look in awe at the privilege and arrogance Indian cricket is indulging itself in. Yes, the Indian Premier League (IPL) is postponed indefinitely. And yes, the grand ostriches at the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) finally took notice of a raging pandemic in the country. Or did they? Denial is the hallmark of fools, they say. And foolishness, stupidity — along with arrogance — are privileges the BCCI has held on to, despite being taught a lesson by the virus. Lessons are for lesser mortals, yes. Lessons for those on the streets. What was the word for them — underprivileged — yes. But not for the most powerful body in the game played by 12 nations, give or take a few.

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The BCCI is busy in denial. The board and its cash cow, the IPL, are caught in their own sense of grandeur, believing still, despite the forced cancellation, that by staging the league amidst death and sorrow, they were indeed trying to soothe the pain and suffering of the masses. Indeed they were. After all, we saw people celebrating a boundary by MS Dhoni while standing outside a hospital in Delhi, or any

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Indian city for that matter, waiting for some good news of their kin inside gasping for air. They did. God bless Indian cricket. The BCCI is also busy portraying itself as this responsible sporting body, which, to ensure the safety and well being of the players as well as those involved in organising the tournament, cancelled the league. They are not worried about the losses, nor are they worried about the availability of a window to stage the remaining matches. As of now, the primary concern is safety, said BCCI treasurer Arun Dhumal in an interview with the Indian Express. If safety was a concern, then the Board should not have continued with the matches till it became impossible for things to be staged and the pandemic

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to be trivialised. That happened when their bubble was breached by the virus, and not because they took notice of the suffering outside and heard the wailing ambulances plying the streets when they were playing cricket inside the Kotla or the Wankhede. They are yet to acknowledge or address the callousness they exhibited towards the life-and-death struggle outside. The sad irony of the IPL this year was how they were busy celebrating the charm of the death overs while death became a reality all around. Now that the league is shelved, they are indeed hinting concern for the safety of the staffers. Which includes groundspersons, security guards and many other lower-level workers who make the bubble and CONTD. ON PG 5


cover story

MAY 2021

South Asia Times

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IPL 2021: The Privilege of Spin When Playing a Virus That Doesn’t Discriminate As of now, the Board’s arrogance revolves around the fact that they have the money and the resources to charter or air-ambulance the players involved to their homes. The Aussies are in Maldives waiting for the mandatory quarantine to get over before flying home. The South Africans and the Caribbean players have been taken care of along with the domestic ones. Safely, like Dhumal puts it. This, however, isn’t and shouldn’t be over.

The BCCI bosses, sitting atop their ivory towers in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Ahmedabad, perhaps did not realise that the virus sees all human beings the same way. It does not show discrimination. It reaches you, and shakes you up. It did shake the BCCI up, eventually. Though, as it is the norm, there was denial on that front too.

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CONTD. FROM PG 4 the IPL happen, one can only hope. They were the ones who risked it, despite grappling with the realities of the pandemic outside. They did not have the privilege to leave it all and go back home, like Ravi Ashwin did. They need their daily bread. So the workers stuck around, despite not being accorded the privilege of the bio-bubble by the BCCI, and knowing all too well that their safety was not the concern of the ShahGanguly trope at its helm. The workers, after all, were not in contact with the priced assets of the league — the players.

even when cases were coming up from different franchises, were not willing to shut shop. Not on that day at least. They were, on the contrary, trying to get their machinery into action to limit damage, both to control the spread of the pandemic (which they were right in doing), and spread of accurate news and information (which reeked of cunning).

The BCCI bosses, sitting atop their ivory towers in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Ahmedabad, perhaps did not realise that the virus sees all human beings the same way. It does not show discrimination. It reaches you, and shakes you up. It did shake the BCCI up, eventually. Though, as it is the norm, there was denial on that front too. Earlier this week, when the first reports came out of players testing positive, the BCCI’s first reaction was denial. A smokescreen of misinformation too citing sources and team officials. The standard PR mismash. They have learnt such tricks from the larger powers at

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play in the country. And learnt them well or maybe even stepped it up a notch. Almost immediately news was released saying the positive cases at Chennai Super Kings (CSK) were instances of false positives in the RT-PCR test. This

day, CSK airlifted Covid-19 positive Mike Hussey and L Balaji back to Chennai. Now we know it was not false positives but false rhetoric. Indians are masters of spin after all. From this incident alone, it is evident that the BCCI,

Also Read | To Host And How To Host: A BCCI Primer On Negotiating Profit Speaking of honesty, the BCCI treasurer, apt in a way that he is the talking head since money is a major factor at play here, was honest enough to acknowledge that the IPL would have gone to the UAE had they known about this escalation. Now, this takes things beyond callousness and empathy.

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If not the larger question of accountability and empathy, the Board should not ignore its own failure. Many reports have surfaced which hint at the rather shaky safety protocols and systems that were put in place this time around, compared to the 2020 IPL in the UAE. The Board, for its own sake, should launch an inquiry into where it went wrong. This will be in tune with its claim of acting responsibly to the players and those involved in the IPL. The rest, like we all know now, is a privilege the Board, and the IPL, can hold on to as long as their revenue, and fans will allow. Money remains with the Board and more has come in despite the partial staging of the IPL. But is money alone enough to keep Indian cricket and the BCCI relevant in the larger socio-political and cultural cauldrons which are boiling over at the moment? A responsible Board would have mulled all these before insisting that the show must go on even as people die for many millions would still watch TV or live streaming. This kind of callousness is not one sided. The BCCI is clearly mirroring the average Indian. But then, as the statistics show, the average Indian can (if not already) never remain untouched by this anymore. That privilege has been taken away from him or her. What remains is a choice. A choice to learn a lesson from this, unlike the BCCI, and choose wisely next time they have the mandate. And let the IPL play itself into a spiral of self-serving oblivion after what it has done and what it failed to do in this pivotal season, this scorching, painful summer of 2021! Source-Newsclick, 6 May 2021


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South Asia Times

MAY 2021

‘Unethical and immoral’: Travel bans, COVID-19, and the disregard for human dignity

Monash University researcher Rashmi Rangarajan isn’t an Australian, but a citizen of India who’s an international PhD candidate grounded in her home country. She argues that Australia’s travel ban, and more broadly India’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, have disregarded human dignity. By Rashmi Rangarajan*

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n 25 April, 2021, The Australian republished a report titled “Modi leads India into viral apocalypse". The next day, the High Commission of India in Canberra sprang into action on Twitter asking the paper to publish a rejoinder to, “set the records straight, and also refrain from publishing such baseless articles in future”. Those of us from India and currently living in India following the recent exponential surge in COVID cases are well aware of the premature and unethical political rhetoric of India being “in the endgame” of the pandemic. It came as no surprise to us when the second COVID-19 wave took shape in the country around mid-March. What has, however, shocked us (Indians and those of Indian heritage) to our core is the magnitude of the tragedies unfolding inside our homes and around us, as we experience collective grief. Most Indian cities are experiencing a crash in already inadequate health systems. Hospitals are overwhelmed with the amount of people in need of care, along with a severe shortage in oxygen supply and life-saving equipment. Furthermore, although the government of India recently announced its vaccination drive open for all persons aged 18 years and over, this has been met by unavailability of vaccines. A faulty vaccination policy with mismanagement of pricing and distribution of vaccines has led to responsibilities being

shifted onto individual state governments and private hospitals to procure vaccines on their own. This has not only resulted in differential vaccine pricing, but also the egregious exclusion of those who cannot afford the vaccines nor access private health centres. Even more outraging has been the criminalisation of some citizens from seeking help on their own through social media. For example, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh announced that those found to be “spreading rumours” about shortage of

oxygen and hospital beds on social media would have their properties seized. The Supreme Court of India has condemned this criminalisation of ordinary citizens by warning state governments and the police against contempt of court action if citizens’ SOS messages were treated as an offence. Australia’s hardline response With the backdrop of these distressing experiences in India, the Australian government’s response was

to announce a blanket travel ban and criminalise the return of its citizens from India. The government’s ban is to be lifted next week, but its initial hardline approach still bears further discussion, given the backflip is likely politically motivated and in response to a severe backlash to its initial decision. Australia’s disproportionate response of denying its citizens the right to return home or travel to comfort their loved ones and perform last rites for those lost is fundamentally unethical and immoral.

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Another aspect that hasn't escaped people’s attention is the discriminatory subjection of India to the Australian travel ban. One cannot help but question why such a blanket ban, along with the criminalisation of returning Australian citizens, did not take shape with primarily white countries, such as the US and the UK, when they faced their own devastating versions of the pandemic. This could be reflective of the racist roots of Australia as a settler colony. CONTD. ON PG 7


MAY 2021

news focus

South Asia Times

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‘Unethical and immoral’: Travel bans, COVID-19, and the disregard for human dignity CONTD. FROM PG 6 Indeed, political leaders in positions of power from both India and Australia have demonstrated a failure to ensure human dignity in these very trying times. International travel restrictions and bans had first been implemented more than a year ago in a bid to outsmart the virus and its spread during the first wave of the pandemic. Australia has been very successful at curtailing the spread of the coronavirus; however, it’s also left thousands of people in distress at being separated from their loved ones across borders, with many international students stranded and unable to rejoin Australian universities. Moreover, already marginalised individuals and groups, such as refugees and migrants, are even more at risk. On reading about the effectiveness of international travel restrictions to control the

pandemic, I found that researchers recommend temporary international travel restrictions in the initial stages of a pandemic to cut the spread of the virus. In fact, public health experts have pushed for the strengthening of transmission-reduction interventions instead of travel bans and mass quarantine. These interventions are along the lines of social distancing, mask-wearing, testing, contact tracing and voluntary quarantining. An article titled “Viruses don’t carry passports: Why travel bans won’t work to stop the spread of COVID-19” cautions against people putting themselves at greater risk when they’re unable to travel through official pathways. When governments establish official pathways between nations, they’re able to monitor and contact trace in a more effective and safer manner. It also ensures that individuals, even the most vulnerable, have the ability to act on their rights to life

and to return home. What both India and Australia need to do is reexamine their respective COVID-19 response policies, and take a more ethical approach in establishing systems of prevention and response. At the most basic level, policymakers and political leaders must ask themselves the question: “Is the gain from this response proportional to the harm it is causing during both short and long terms?” Researchers Arunachalam and Halwai’s recommendations of using a public health ethics approach to developing pandemic responses is useful to consider for both India and Australia. Development and formulation of any policy aimed at responding to the current pandemic should follow a “riskbenefit analysis” by paying particular attention to its possible effects on marginalised sections of the society.

Strengthen ethical public health responses Instead of criminalising their citizens, both countries must invest more in strengthening ethical public health responses. First, people’s autonomy should not be undermined, but respected and supported through the provision of adequate resources and facilities. These can be free and continuous testing, free and streamlined vaccination, subsidised and free quarantine locations or housing, and access to adequate healthcare. Secondly, governments need to make the effort of meaningfully engaging with communities by ensuring fairness in the implementation of reasonable control measures and provision of scientific information that is clear, inclusive and easy to follow. Finally, accountability and transparency should be the cornerstones in the

implementation of public health measures, as well as distribution of resources. The author would like to thank Sweta Patel, a PhD candidate at Monash's Faculty of Education, for her views on the Australian travel ban pertaining to India from the perspective of an Indian-heritage Australian citizen in Australia who has family in India. * PhD Candidate, Faculty of Education, Monash University. Rashmi's research work focuses on inclusive education in India. She completed her Master's degree in human rights and humanitarian action from Sciences Po in Paris, France. She has previously completed another post-graduate degree in Counselling from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, India. -The views in this article are the author’s own. Source- lens.monash. edu, 07 May 2021. (Under Creative Commons Licence) through medianet

news, views, analysis

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COMMUNITY

South Asia Times

MAY 2021

New South Asian advocacy organisation ‘Australia South Asia Society Inc.’ (ASAS) aims to raise relevant issues with state & federal governments

By SAT News Desk

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ELBOURNE, 2 May 2021: The Australia South Asia Society Inc. (ASAS) was launched today at a largely attended and glittering function at the Waverley RSL, Glen Waverley. The ASAS Patron Dr. Bandu Dissanavake launched the organisation formally with a speech with details about its aims and objectives. He was passionate about its success to serve the South Asian communities in Victoria and Australia. To symbolise knowledge, purity, and dispel darkness Sri Lanka’s Consul to Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania, , Mr. Kapila Fonseka, Mr, Vasan Srinivasan, Member Australian Multicultural Council and the Chairperson of the Mental Health Foundation Australia,

Patron AIBC-Victoria & Liberal leader, Mr Murugapoopathy , writer, editor, and social activist, Bandu Dissanayake Ex Consul Sri Lanka in Melbourne and Owner of Pahana media group and Mr Neeraj Nanda lighted the traditional lamp. Mr. Neeraj Nanda, Editor of South Asia Times (SAT) and the President of the ASAS addressing the august gathering detailed the main objective of the new organisation as to unite the South Asian communities in Victoria and Australia from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives, Bhutan and Afghanistan. Mr. Nanda described the advocacy of social, economic, cultural and political issues of the South Asian communities with the state governments and the Federal Government as being the new organisation’s primary objective.

To symbolise knowledge, purity, and dispel darkness Sri Lanka’s Consul to Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania, Mr. Kapila Fonseka, Mr, Vasan Srinivasan, Member Australian Multicultural Council and the Chairperson of the Mental Health Foundation Australia, Patron AIBC-Victoria & Liberal leader, Mr Murugapoopathy , writer, editor, and social activist, Bandu Dissanayake Ex Consul Sri Lanka in Melbourne and Owner of Pahana media group and Mr Neeraj Nanda lighted the traditional lamp. “I call upon the South Asian people in Victoria and Australia to join the ASAS and make it a strong platform for community enhancement and raising issues of support and concern before the government,” he said. The gathering was addressed by Mr. Vasan Srinivasan, Mr Kapila Fonseka and a video message from La Trobe Federal Member and

Assistant Minister for Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs Jason Wood. In his speech, Mr. Vasan said how the recently established Indian Community Centre and the Dr. Parekh Indian Museum have opened many opportunities for Indian and South Asian communities. He praised the aims behind the ASAS establishment.

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Mr. Mr Kapila Fonseka said he was rather surprised and delighted at the presence of so many people assembled for a serious effort and literary persutes. The gathering at the ASAS launch consisted of people from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Fiji Indians, Mr. Tonee Sethi, Editor G’Day India, Preeti Jabbal, journalist and many community social activists among others. The ASAS launch was followed by the ‘Noel Nadesan Books Launch’, presided by Prof Kaushal Srivastava and conducted by Nithi Nithiayanathan. Four books were released. This event was sponsored by the ASAS. The formation of the ASAS has been widely welcomed as evidenced by the wide media coverage it is receiving in different news portals. An offer to start the organisation in Sydney is also being considered by the ASAS leadership.


COMMUNITY

MAY 2021

South Asia Times

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Melbourne vigil holds all religions prayer in solidarity with COVID-hit India

By SAT News Desk

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ELBOURNE, 28 April 2021: MELBOURNE, 28 April 2021: Prayers from the Hindu, Muslim, Christian, and

Sikh faiths were held today evening at the Federation Square, in solidarity with the devastating COVID-hit India, seeing a massive surge in COVID cases and deaths. The glittering

Fed Square with a cold breeze saw the sombre Australian-Indians holding Australian and the Indian tricolour flag. They held banners “Australia Stands with India. Speakers expressed

solidarity with India and some described how many of their own have fallen victim to the deadly virus. The prayers from different religions reflected the secular and democratic ethos of the

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Indian people. India’s Consul General, Melbourne Mr. Raj Kumar was among the attendees along with leaders of different faiths and organizations holding LED candles.


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South Asia Times

special report

MAY 2021

Boris Johnson walks away laughing with India’s Serum Institute in tow

Downing Street has bragged that SII will set up a sales office also in the UK, which “is expected to generate new business worth over USD 1 billion, GBP 200 million of which will be invested into the UK." By M.K. Bhadrakumar

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hree cheers for the Indian Supreme Court’s suo motu intervention on the issue of distribution of essential supplies and services during the pandemic. India, the “world pharmacy”, is entering sharkinfested waters, as vaccine supply is getting intertwined with the country’s opaque decision-making, its powerful corporate culture and episodic diplomacy. The report that the Serum Institute of India (SII) is making a whopping investment of British pounds 240 million and shifting the main focus of its R&D and vaccine production to the United Kingdom underline that the Indian company is moving into greener pastures. Boris Johnson made an offer to the Indian company that it couldn’t refuse, to borrow the famous words of Don Corleone, played by Marlon Brando, in the film, The Godfather. The text of Downing Street announcement is here. The Downing Street has bragged that the SII will set up a sales office also in the UK, which “is expected to generate new business worth over USD 1 billion, GBP 200 million of which will be invested into the UK.” It added, “Serum’s investment will support clinical trials, research and development and possibly manufacturing of vaccines. This will help the UK and the world to defeat the coronavirus pandemic and other deadly diseases. Serum has already started phase one trials in the UK of a one-dose nasal vaccine for coronavirus, in partnership with Codagenix INC.” Without doubt, Johnson has stolen a march over Prime Minister Narendra Modi just when the Indian foreign policy establishment is daydreaming about the possible induction of the UK into the Quad to contain China. Clearly, Johnson’s priorities are different — transfuse lifeblood from the former colony, the jewel in the Crown, into his “Global Britain” project. Johnson is a clever

politician as his meteoric ascendance to Downing Street testifies. He is sure to massage the Indian ego and have the news of the transfer of residence of the SII to Global Britain make a “soft landing” in the Indian public awareness. Johnson’s calling Modi later today. He’s also invited Modi as a “guest” at the G7 summit he’s hosting in Cornwall from June 11-13. The Minitry of External Affairs or MEA is thrilled at the prospect of PM being ushered into the chamber of the wealthiest countries on the planet. External Affairs Minster S.Jaishankar already visited London as the “sherpa”. At what point, if at all, our smart alecks in the South Block got wind of it — that Johnson and SII's Adar Poonawalla were planning a party — will remain forever in the domain of the “unknown unknown.” Downing Street has also indulged in a flashy gesture of humanitarian help to ease India’s pain and suffering. A verbose press release from Downing Street is titled “UK sends further life-saving support to India”. Plainly put, the UK is gifting India 1,200 ventillators, 495 oxygen concentrators and 3 oxygen generation units. Of course, every drop matters to the empty bucket, but at this rate, what should Beijing expect as gratitude from the Indian nation? China is today by far the single biggest supplier of medicines, medical equipment to India to cope with the pandemic. Johnson’s antics sidetrack

attention from his hijacking of SII to Britain just when India needed that flag carrier in vaccine production to remain focused on the country’s pandemic. Johnson is having a repeat performance after his shameful backstabbing of the European Union. How the UK outsmarted the EU over AstraZeneca vaccine (Covishield) makes a truly epic story. As Politico newspaper put it succinctly, the UK simply secured a better contract with AstraZeneca than the EU did. Johnson ensured that the clauses in the UK’s vaccine supply contracts required vaccine producers such as AstraZeneca (or SII for that matter) to supply it preferentially: that is, if there are production shortages, then the UK order must be fulfilled by diverting supplies from other customers. A failure to do so attracts fierce penalties. Furthermore, London made sure that its deal with vaccine manufacturers had extra teeth. Thus, while the UK has had its orders fully met, the EU received only less than a quarter of what it had contracted for from AstraZeneca! Suffice to say, two-thirds of UK’s vaccine rollout has been met out of European production! But Johnson was unmoved when the Europeans cried foul. He calmly insisted that he has a right to preferential supply, because that is what the contract says. He’s on strong grounds too since, after all, the UK government

invested in the research, done at the University of Oxford, that powered the AstraZeneca (Covishield) vaccine and the firm has its headquarters in Chesterford Research Park, Cambridge, England. Interestingly, the SII too received a legal notice from AstraZeneca in late March over delays in the supply of vaccine to the UK. The SII promptly referred it to Modi government. We do not know what transpired between Delhi and London but conceivably, MEA didn’t intervene, given the upcoming photo-op in Cornwall. The big question is: Are Indian laws so toothless to protect national interests? Again, how far SII played street smart betwixt Modi and Johnson also remains uncertain. SII boss Poonawalla himself claimed in a weekend interview with London Times newspaper that “some of the most powerful men in India” hounded him out of India and the pressure on him was “incessant and very menacing.” Professor Gareth Davies, well-known barrister and academic on EU Law at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam wrote recently, “But signing a preferential contract with someone else is not force majeure: it is just selling the same stuff twice. AstraZeneca’s EU obligations are not diminished by its promises to the UK… It appears to have promised too much to too many people.”

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Now, replace the words “AstraZeneca” and “EU” with SII and India respectively, and an ugly picture pops up. Prof. Davies adds, “The question is why AstraZeneca chose to breach the EU contract rather than the UK one. This will be largely because the UK deal had much harsher penalties — the EU deal has no penalties beyond non-payment and requires informal negotiation rather than litigation when problems arise.” Prof. Davies weighs in: “Rather, it seems that the UK contracted better in the sole sense that its contract was more expensive to breach. That is partly a product of different legal systems and their styles: European contracting parties tend to see contracts as a tool to build up trust and longterm relationships. AngloAmerican legal culture tends to see contracts as a way to avoid needing trust at all.” However, aren’t Indian laws progenies of the AngloAmerican legal culture? If so, the bottom line is, what the UK is getting out of the SII is what India is losing. And the responsibility of the Indian state ought to have been to dictate where the SII’s vaccine doses should go. Importantly, it remains unclear how far back the smart alecks in Delhi began sensing, if all, that Johnson and Poonawalla were planning a party. Boris Johnson is consistent: Brits shall help themselves first. He is ditto like Joe Biden. Both say they are willing to help others but only after their needs are met. So far, that point hasn’t been reached. Johnson ridiculed the EU as utterly foolish and a loser. Indeed, the UK has fully vaccinated 21% of its population as of last weekend while the EU, a paltry 9%. Johnson plays hard ball. He has no time for Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. “The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed, my friends,” Johnson said in a recent call with British MPs. Courtesy: Indian Punchline Source: newsclick.in, 4 May 2021


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How Indians turned social media into COVID-19 helplines to battle pandemic By Ruhi Bhasin

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acing a mounting health crisis and a political establishment caught napping, Indians were forced to turn to social media to ensure supplies of oxygen and gain access to hospital beds. Death, sickness, and helplessness have become the “new normal” that Indians are being forced to live with as they witness the collapse of an already inadequate health care system and the failure of its political system that was caught napping on the uptick of cases, which showed an upward trend as far back as February. For many families, who have been left to their own devices, social media platforms, like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are now being used to search for hospital beds, oxygen cylinders and medications for loved ones. These platforms have become the “COVID-19 helplines” for most Indians. Ironically, instead of helping its citizens in their hour of need, the Bharatiya Janata Partyled government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is busy trying “to control the narrative” on social media sites like Twitter by asking the company to take down tweets that are critical of its handling of the COVID-19 crisis. Even as the crisis continues to engulf the country, the government had distanced itself from any blame for allowing this surge in cases resulting from allowing religious congregations like Kumbh Mela and holding political rallies.

Turning to each other for help India’s 1.38 billion citizens largely feel abandoned by the government they helped vote into power in 2019. Fighting lone battles for the lives of their loved ones has proved to be an uphill task, leading them to turn to each other for help. On a daily basis, Facebook, Twitter and

Instagram feeds are flooded with requests for oxygen cylinders—which are in dire shortage, especially in Delhi—as well as hospital beds, medications for critically ill patients and availability of plasma donations. “[P]eople are bypassing the conventional lines of communication and turning to Twitter to crowdsource help” during the crisis of India’s second COVID-19 wave, according to an article in Mint. The responsibility of providing medical oxygen lies with the Central government, a fact that the courts in India have also highlighted while asking the Center to employ whatever means necessary to supply oxygen to hospitals, especially in Delhi. Meanwhile, the Center is now trying to pass on the blame for the shortages in the health care system to the states. In all of this, social media has played an important role in filling in the information gap relating to the availability of beds, oxygen cylinders and medicines. There are some who have been lucky to receive the help they need to save a loved one, but a majority of Indians live in rural areas, and many of them do not have “access to a smartphone or use social media,” according to an article in the Wire: “For the vast majority of Indians struggling to get help, repeatedly calling inundated phone lines or carrying patients to emergency wards in person is the only

option—highlighting the impact of the country’s digital divide.” How government is using social media Instead of responding to the pleas for help by its citizens, the Indian government is instead carrying out a face-saving exercise by asking social media platforms to take down posts that are “critical” of its handling of the COVID-19 situation. “Twitter recently removed around 50 posts and URLs that were ordered to be taken down by the Indian government. Other social media platforms like Facebook have also removed 50 posts. The posts that have been taken down were reportedly criticizing the government for poor handling of the COVID-19 crisis in the country amid the second wave of the pandemic,” reported Mint. India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology asked that these posts be removed to “‘prevent obstructions in the fight against the pandemic’ and disruption of public order due to the said posts,” according to the Mint article. As many as 52 tweets that were taken down were from journalists, opposition politicians and filmmakers, according to a report from the Times of India that cited Lumen Database, a Harvard University initiative. In Uttar Pradesh, one of the most populous states in India where the BJP is in power, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has demanded

that “action be taken under the National Security Act and properties of those spreading ‘rumors’ and propaganda on social media be seized.” Recently, a criminal case was filed against a man in the state “who took to Twitter to make an appeal for an oxygen cylinder” for his sick grandfather, stated the Wire. The charges against him included, “circulating a rumor ‘with intent to cause… fear or alarm.’” In an interview with BBC’s “Newsnight,” BJP national spokesperson Gopal Krishna Agarwal responded to accusations that the government was getting social media posts taken down, saying, “When our government pointed out that these [tweets and posts]… are not conducive to the current national interest… Twitter and other social media agreed.” He claimed the social media content was “based on fake news” and that it had an “agenda”—but it is unclear what agenda the removed posts might have had besides highlighting the devastation caused by the uncontrolled spread of the virus, or amplifying the truth about how many Indians feel the blame lies with the government for failing to prevent the inevitable and address the crisis. “[I]t’s easier to take down tweets than it is to ensure oxygen supplies,” said Aftab Alam, a professor at the University of Delhi, in a tweet quoted in a New York Times article. Meanwhile, on April 30, the Supreme Court of India, which is the highest court of the country, took note of the muzzling of information by the government and made it clear that “if citizens communicate their grievance on social media and the internet, it cannot be said it’s wrong information,” according to an article in the Indian Express. It has also warned that any attempt to clamp down on information would be treated as a “contempt of court.” Too little too late In the wake of the surging cases in India, several

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governments across the world have finally come forward and extended help to the country. On April 28, the country’s deaths due to COVID-19 crossed the 200,000 mark. This number, however, doesn’t seem to reflect the true picture of just how bad things are on the ground, with many media outlets reporting that deaths due to COVID-19 are mostly undercounted in India. India has been adding more than 300,000 new infections every day during the last week of April and has overtaken Brazil as having the second-largest number of COVID-19 cases in the world. India is now second only to the United States, which as of April 30 leads the world in COVID-19 cases (and has a population a quarter of the size of that of India). Meanwhile, at least eight countries have offered help to India so far. “[T] he UK, France, Germany, Ireland, the U.S., Australia, Kuwait and Russia have announced help to India in various forms to deal with the unprecedented health crisis gripping the country due to the fast spread of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the Hindu BusinessLine. Non-profit organizations have also stepped up to mobilize support required on the ground relating to information dissemination and providing relief packages to the migrant populations, who are often left to fend for themselves. Even as Indians try to do everything in their power to overcome this second wave on their own, the question remains: Is it too little too late? Ruhi Bhasin is assistant editor at the Independent Media Institute. Previously, she worked as an editor and a senior journalist at the Times of India and the Indian Express covering politics, legal matters, and social issues. She can be reached on Twitter @ BhasinRuhi. This article was produced by Globetrotter. Source- peoplesdispatch. org, May 2, 2021.


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Years after the Rana Plaza tragedy, Bangladesh’s garment workers are still bottom of the pile By Shams Rahman* & Aswini Yadlapalli**

buyers on suppliers to cut costs is also crucial. Factory operators told us they wanted buyers to insist on better conditions for workers, and to pay enough to ensure that could happen. They welcomed contracts that stipulating spending money on safer building and higher pay.

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he 2013 Dhaka garment factory collapse, killing more than 1,100 workers and injuring 2,600 more, is the clothing industry’s worst ever industrial incident. It is not just the body count, though, that made the collapse of the Rana Plaza, a nine-story building in the Bangladeshi industrial city of Savar (near Dhaka), capture global attention (briefly) and spur activism around the world to improve the treatment of garment workers. This had been an accident waiting to happen. Structural cracks in the building had been discovered the day before. Businesses on the lower floors (shops and the bank) were closed immediately. The five garment factories on the upper floors made their workers keep working. On the morning of April 24 2013 there was a power outage. Diesel generators at the top of the building were turned on. Then the building collapsed. The official death toll is 1,132. But these things are never clear-cut. That number doesn’t include, for example, Nowshad Hasan Himu, a volunteer who spent 17 days in the rescue work that pulled more than 1,000 survivors from the rubble. Some could be only be freed by amputating limbs. Himu rescued dozens alive, and also moved the dead. On April 24 2019, the sixth anniversary of the disaster, he committed suicide. He could not forget. We should not forget. Global attention The Rana Plaza collapse briefly shone a spotlight on the underbelly of the global fashion business, a US$2.4 trillion industry that employs about 40 million of the world’s poorest workers, often in dangerous and degrading conditions. About 4 million of them are in Bangladesh, the second-biggest “ready made garment” exporter in the world, after China. Activist groups such as Clean Clothes Campaign lobbied for compensation for the victims – many still suffer from their injuries – and better conditions for garment workers generally. For this was no isolated incident. Garment workers routinely died in factory fires and faced

other dangers. At least 29 global brands were identified as doing business with one or more of the five factories in the Rana Plaza building. Each was “a complicit participant in the creation of an environment that ultimately led to the deaths and maiming of thousands”, said Clean Clothes Campaign. Yet the problem was far wider than just those brands. It was a systemic problem. In a sense every shopper choosing clothes on the basis of cheapest price was complicit. The industry vowed to do better. Within a month 222 companies signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, a legally binding agreement meant to ensure garment workers had safe workplaces. Things have improved. But not enough. Eight years on, the fundamental problems in global supply chains – the disconnect between profits, accountability and responsibility – remains.

Compliance a charade This disconnect was glaring when we interviewed Bangladesh manufacturers and Australian retailer in 2018 as part of our research. Retailers maintained they were living up to their obligations by only sourcing garments from manufacturers complying with the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. But manufacturers told us their compliance was often a charade. As one said: Changes brought in after Rana Plaza, such as limiting the worker overtime hours and availability of a nurse and a childcare worker in the facility, are often only done for the day of auditing. The reason: to keep costs low. As another manufacturer said: Though we are complying to the rules established by the retailer to promote safe production practices, price and quality still plays an important role in getting the orders.

Pocketing the profits Here’s the problem illustrated in terms of a T-shirt. According to Clean Clothes Campaign – an organisation backed by 230 unions, nongovernment organisations and research bodies – just 0.6% of the retail price of a t-shirt goes to the worker. The factory owner takes 4% as profit. The brand label takes 12%. But the retailer takes 59%. These numbers are, of course, averages. They don’t claim to be the exact profit split for every shirt. But they do give a fair impression of how the system is weighted. Next time you see a t-shirt for less than $10, therefore, think about how much the maker made. Improving conditions for workers must certainly involve internal reforms in Bangladesh, both through more stringent labour and health and safety laws as well as regulation and enforcement. But easing the incessant pressure placed by

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Economic pressures increasing But it is the pressure to cut costs that has intensified with the COVID crisis. Between March and June 2020, brands cancelled clothing orders worth billions of dollars to Bangladeshi makers. By September more than 357,000 of the nation’s 4 million garment workers had lost their jobs, and many more were forced to accept lower pay. (Total textile exports for 2020 were down nearly 17%, according to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.) In November 2020, Oxfam in partnership with Monash University published a report raising “serious questions about the commitment of brands to ensuring workers in their supply chains are paid living wages and work in decent conditions”. Based on about 150 surveys and 22 in-depth interviews with industry stakeholders, it rated purchasing practices of Australia’s 10 leading fashion retailers. Overall, manufacturers rated H&M Group the best (3 out of 4). Big W, Kmart and Target Australia got 2.5. Best&Less, Cotton On, Inditex and Myer scored 2. Worst performers were The Just Group (Just Jeans, Jay Jays, Jacqui E, Peter Alexander, Portmans, Dotti) and Mosaic Brands (Millers, Rockmans, Noni B, Rivers, Katies, Autograph, Crossroads and Beme). These two companies, along with Myer, also declined to participate in the research. To solve the disconnect between profits, accountability and responsibility, retailers and brands must be much more closely involved in knowing and caring about what goes on in the factories they source from. * Prof. of Supply Chain Management, RMIT University ** Lecturer in Supply Managemant, RMIT University Source- The Conversation, April 22, 2021 (Under Creative Commons Licence)


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United States withdraws from Afghanistan? Not really What will it actually take for the two-decades long war in Afghanistan to end and for Afghanis to finally live in peace? Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad explain. By Noam Chomsky, Vijay Prashad

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S soldiers with cows in Kunar province. Photo: Wikimedia Commons The US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 was criminal. It was criminal because of the immense force used to demolish Afghanistan’s physical infrastructure and to break open its social bonds. On October 11, 2001, journalist Anatol Lieven interviewed the Afghan leader Abdul Haq in Peshawar, Pakistan. Haq, who led part of the resistance against the Taliban, was getting ready to return to Afghanistan under the cover of the US aerial bombardments. He was, however, not pleased with the way the United States had decided to prosecute the war. “Military action by itself in the present circumstances is only making things more difficult—especially if this war goes on a long time and many civilians are killed,” Abdul Haq told Lieven. The war would go on for 20 years, and at least 71,344 civilians would lose their lives during this period. Abdul Haq told Lieven that “the best thing would be for the US to work for a united political solution involving all the Afghan groups. Otherwise, there will be an encouragement of deep divisions between different groups, backed by different countries and badly affecting the whole region.” These are prescient words, but Haq knew no one was listening to him. “Probably,” he told Lieven, “the US has already made up its mind what to do, and any recommendations by me will be too late.” After 20 years of the incredible destruction caused by this war, and after inflaming animosity between “all the Afghan groups,” the United States has returned to the exact policy prescription of Abdul Haq: political dialogue. Abdul Haq returned to Afghanistan and was killed by the Taliban on October 26, 2001. His advice is now outof-date. In September 2001, the various protagonists in Afghanistan—including the Taliban—were ready to talk. They did so partly because they feared that the looming US warplanes would open the doors to hell for Afghanistan.

Photo: Sgt. Clay Lancaster /Department of Defense)

Now, 20 years later, the gulf between the Taliban and the others has widened. Appetite for negotiations simply does not exist any longer. Civil War On April 14, 2021, the speaker of Afghanistan’s parliament—Mir Rahman Rahmani—warned that his country is on the brink of a “civil war.” Kabul’s political circles have been bristling with conversations about a civil war when the United States withdraws by September 11. This is why on April 15, during a press conference held in the US Embassy in Kabul, Sharif Amiry of TOLOnews asked US Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the possibility of a civil war. Blinken answered, “I don’t think that it is in anyone’s interest, to say the least, for Afghanistan to descend into a civil war, into a long war. And even the Taliban, as we hear it, has said it has no interest in that.” In fact, Afghanistan has been in a civil war for half a century, at least since the creation of the mujahideen— including Abdul Haq—to battle the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan government (1978-1992). This civil war was intensified by the US support of Afghanistan’s most conservative and extreme right-wing elements, groups that would become part of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other Islamist factions. Never once has the United States offered a path to peace during this period; instead, it has always shown an eagerness at each turn to use the immensity of the US force to control the outcome in Kabul. Withdrawal? Even this withdrawal, which

was announced in late April 2021 and began on May 1, is not as clear-cut as it seems. “It’s time for American troops to come home,” announced US President Joe Biden on April 14, 2021. On the same day, the US Department of Defense clarified that 2,500 troops would leave Afghanistan by September 11. In a March 14 article, meanwhile, the New York Times had noted that the US has 3,500 troops in Afghanistan even though “[p] ublicly, 2,500 US troops are said to be in the country.” The undercount by the Pentagon is obscurantism. A report by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment, furthermore, noted that the United States has about 16,000 contractors on the ground in Afghanistan. They provide a variety of services, which most likely include military support. None of these contractors— or the additional undisclosed 1,000 US troops—are slated for withdrawal, nor will aerial bombardment—including drone strikes—end, and there will be no end to special forces missions either. On April 21, Blinken said that the United States would provide nearly $300 million to the Afghanistan government of Ashraf Ghani. Ghani, who— like his predecessor Hamid Karzai—often appears to be more of a mayor of Kabul than the president of Afghanistan, is being outflanked by his rivals. Kabul is buzzing with talk of post-withdrawal governments, including a proposal by Hezb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to form a government that he would lead and that would not include the Taliban. The US, meanwhile, has consented to the idea that the Taliban should have a role in the government; it is now being

said openly that the Biden administration believes the Taliban would “govern less harshly” than it did from 1996 to 2001. The United States, it appears, is willing to allow the Taliban to return to power with two caveats: first, that the US presence remains, and second, that the main rivals of the United States— namely China and Russia— have no role in Kabul. In 2011, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke in Chennai, India, where she proposed the creation of a New Silk Road Initiative that linked Central Asia through Afghanistan and via the ports of India; the purpose of this initiative was to cut off Russia from its links in Central Asia and to prevent the establishment of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, which now runs all the way to Turkey. Stability is not in the cards for Afghanistan. In January, Vladimir Norov, former foreign minister of Uzbekistan and the current secretary-general of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), addressed a webinar organized by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute. Norov said that Daesh or ISIS has been shifting its fighters from Syria to northern Afghanistan. This movement of extremist fighters is of concern not only to Afghanistan but also to Central Asia and to China. In 2020, the Washington Post revealed that the US military had been providing aerial support for the Taliban as it made gains against ISIS fighters. Even if there is a peace deal with the Taliban, ISIS will destabilize it. Forgotten Possibilities Forgotten are the words of concern for Afghan women, words that provided legitimacy for the US invasion in October 2001. Rasil Basu, a United Nations official, served as a senior adviser on women’s development to the Afghan government from 1986 to 1988. The Afghan Constitution of 1987 provided women with equal rights, which allowed women’s groups to struggle against patriarchal norms and fight for equality at work and at home. Because large numbers of men had died in the war, Basu told us, women went into several occupations. There were substantial gains for

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women’s rights, including a rise in literacy rates. All this has been largely erased during the US war over these past two decades. Even before the USSR withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988-89, men who are now jockeying for power—such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar— said that they would undo these gains. Basu remembered the shabanamas, notices that circulated to women and warned them to obey patriarchal norms (she submitted an opinion piece warning of this catastrophe to the New York Times, to the Washington Post, and to Ms. Magazine, all of whom rejected it). Afghanistan’s last communist head of government—Mohammed Najibullah (1987-1992)— submitted a National Reconciliation Policy, in which he put women’s rights at the top of the agenda. It was rejected by the USbacked Islamists, many of whom remain in positions of authority today. No lessons have been learned from this history. The US will “withdraw,” but will also leave behind its assets to checkmate China and Russia. These geopolitical considerations eclipse any concern for the Afghan people. Noam Chomsky is a legendary linguist, philosopher, and political activist. He is the laureate professor of linguistics at the University of Arizona. His most recent book is Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet. Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest book is Washington Bullets, with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma. This article was produced by Globetrotter. Source- peoplesdispstch.org


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Sex bots, virtual friends, VR lovers: tech is changing the way we interact, and not always for the better By Rob Brooks*

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wenty-first century technologies such as robots, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are creeping into every corner of our social and emotional lives — hacking how we form friendships, build intimacy, fall in love and get off. In my recently-published book, I consider the possibilities, both terrifying and inspiring, offered by these “artificially intimate” technologies. On one hand, these tools can help deliver muchneeded support. On the other, they risk increasing sexual inequality, and replacing precious in-person interaction with less-thanideal substitutes.

Three types of artificial intimacy At first mention of artificial intimacy, many people’s minds may jump straight to sex robots: lifelike robotic sex dolls that could one day walk among us, hard to distinguish from living, breathing, orgasming humans. But despite the many important questions sex robots raise, they mostly distract from the main game. They are “digital lovers” which — alongside VR porn, AI-enhanced sex toys and cybersex enhanced with haptic and teledildonic devices — constitute just one of three types of artificial intimacy. The second category, the “algorithmic matchmakers”, match us with dates and hookups through applications such as Tinder and Grindr, or with friends through social media platforms. Finally, we have “virtual friends” including therapist apps, AI-enhanced game characters and boyfriend/ girlfriend chatbots. But by far the most ubiquitous are AI assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant and Baidu’s DuerOS. Virtual friends apply several kinds of AI, including machine learning, by which computers learn new ways to identify patterns in data. Machine-learning algorithms are becoming increasingly advanced at sifting through huge amounts of users’ data, and tapping into the

unique traits that make us the cooperative, cultural and romantic beings we are. I call these “human algorithms”. Grooming our friends Primates, from monkeys to great apes, groom one another to build important alliances. Humans mostly do this through gossip, the old-school news radio which informs us about the people and events around us. Gossip is an algorithmic process by which we come to know our social worlds. Social platforms such as Facebook tap into our friend-grooming impulses. They aggregate our friends, past and present, and make it easy to share gossip. Their algorithmic matchmaking excels at identifying other users we may know. This lets us accumulate far more than the 150 or so friends we’d normally have offline. Social media companies know we’ll use their platforms more if they funnel us content from the people we’re closest to. Thus, they spend a lot of time and money trying to find ways to distinguish our close friends from the somebodies that we used to know. When social media (and other virtual friends) hack into our friend-grooming algorithms, they displace our offline friendships. After all, time spent online is time not spent in person with friends or family. Before smartphones,

humans spent about 192 minutes a day gossiping and “grooming” one another. But the average social media user today spends 153 minutes each day on social media, cutting into offline relationships and the time they’d otherwise spend doing non-social work such as play and especially sleep. The effects of this on mental health may be profound, especially for teens and young adults. And social media will only continue to evolve, as machine-learning algorithms find ever more compelling ways to engage us. Eventually, they may transition from digital matchmakers into virtual friends that type, post and speak to us like human friends. While this could provide some connection for the chronically lonely, it would also further occupy users’ limited time and precious cognitive capacity. Intimacy involves incorporating our sense of another person into our sense of self. Psychologists Arthur and Elaine Aron showed intimacy can be rapidly cultivated through a process of escalating selfdisclosure. They tasked randomly assigned pairs of people with asking and answering a series of 36 questions. The questions began innocuously (Who is your ideal dinner guest?) and escalate to very private disclosures (If you were to

die this evening, with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?). The pairs assigned to disclose more personal information grew much closer than those given only small-talk questions, and remained so for many weeks. One couple famously married and invited the Arons to their wedding. We now have apps that help humans build intimacy via the Arons’ 36-question algorithm. But what about humanmachine intimacy? People disclose all sorts of details to computers. Research shows the more they disclose, the more they trust the information returned by the computer. Moreover, they rate computers as more likeable and trustworthy when they’re programmed to disclose vulnerabilities, such as “I’m running a bit slow today as a few of my scripts need debugging”. Virtual friends wouldn’t have to study the Arons’ questions to learn secrets about human intimacy. With machine-learning capabilities, they would only need to comb through online conversations to find the best questions to ask. As such, humans may become increasingly “intimate” with machines by incorporating their virtual friends into their sense of self.

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Amplifying sexual inequality Matchmaker algorithms are already transforming how people screen and meet potential dates. Apps such as Tinder aren’t really effective at matching compatible couples. Instead, they present photographs and minimalist profiles, inviting users to swipe left or right. Their algorithms allow people of more-or-less comparable attractiveness to match and strike up a conversation. One problem with this model is attractive people have no shortage of matches, but this is at the expense of ordinarylookers. This type of attraction-based inequality feeds serious problems — from heightened selfsexualisation among women, to a surplus of young, unpartnered men prone to violence. Good enough? Then again, artificial intimacy also offers solutions. Although people deserve the company of other people, and the best care other (real) humans can offer, many demonstrably can’t access or afford this. Virtual friends provide connection for the lonely; digital lovers are damming the raging torrent of sexual frustration. A gradual union of the two could eventually provide targeted intimacy and sexual stimulation for people of all genders and sexualities. People already talk to Siri and Alexa to feel less lonely. Meanwhile, in a climate of unmet demand for mental health support, therapy bots are listening to patients, advising them and even walking them through psychological treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy. The quality of such connection and stimulation might not be a complete substitute for the “real thing”. But for those of us who find the real thing elusive or insufficient, it could prove far better than nothing. * Scientia Professor of Evolutionary Ecology; Academic Lead of UNSW's Grand Challenges Program, UNSW Source- The Conversation, May 3, 2021.


health

MAY 2021

South Asia Times

15

WHO global benchmark of daily 5g salt-intake saves lives By SAT News Desk

G

eneva, Switzerland --Most people consume double the WHOrecommended 5g of daily salt intake, putting themselves at greater risk of the heart diseases and strokes that kill an estimated 3 million people each year. Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a new set of global benchmarks for sodium levels in more than 60 food categories that will help countries reduce sodium contents in foods to improve diets and save lives. “WHO Global Sodium Benchmarks for Different Food Categories” is a guide for countries and industry to reduce the sodium content in different categories of processed foods. Around the world, consumption of processed food is a

rapidly increasing source of sodium. Confusingly, similar processed food products often contain different amounts of sodium in different countries. WHO’s harmonized global benchmarks will show countries how they can progressively lower their targets, based on their local food environments, and encourage industry to lower the sodium

content in processed foods accordingly and advance toward the WHO goal of 30% reduction in global salt/ sodium intake by 2025. “Most people don’t know how much sodium they consume, or the risks it poses,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “We need countries to establish policies to reduce salt intake and provide people with the

information they need to make the right food choices. We also need the food and beverage industry to cut sodium levels in processed foods. WHO’s new benchmarks give countries and industry a starting point to review and establish policies to transform the food environment and save lives.” The WHO Global Sodium Benchmarks target a wide range of categories of processed and packaged food products that significantly contribute to overly salty diets. Processed and packaged bread, savoury snacks, meat products and cheese are among the categories of highsodium food products identified for the new global benchmarks. Reducing sodium content by reformulating processed foods is a proven strategy to reduce population sodium intake, particularly in places

where consumption of processed foods is high. It can also prevent processed foods from becoming a major source of sodium in countries where consumption of these manufactured foods may be rapidly increasing. In the United Kingdom, voluntary targets for food manfacturers to reformulate products decreased adult salt intake approximately 15% between 2003 and 2011, indicating that target-setting across multiple food categories can achieve meaningful reductions in sodium consumption. “Access to affordable, healthy foods is critically important for all people in every country,” said Dr Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an Initiative of Vital Strategies. “These global benchmarks are an important first step. As consumer tastes

adjust and technology advances, country governments and the WHO can steadily reduce them over time until population sodium reduction goals have been met. When we reduce sodium gradually, our food will still taste great, and only our hearts will know the difference!” These new benchmarks are launching during a decisive year for food and nutrition policy. The United Nations Food Systems Summit in September and the Nutrition for Growth Summit in December will convene a wide range of stakeholders to transform food systems by providing opportunities for national, regional and global efforts to improve the food environment and make commitments including to limit the sodium content in processed foods. Source- WHO, 5 May 2021

Russia's single-dose Sputnik Light vaccine has 79.4 pc efficacy, effective against all new coronavirus strains: RDIF

m

oscow [Russia], May 6 (ANI): Russian developers of the Sputnik V vaccine on Thursday said that their single-dose Sputnik Light vaccine demonstrated 79.4 per cent efficacy against the COVID-19 and it has proven effective against all new strains of coronavirus. Sputnik Light is the first component (recombinant human adenovirus serotype number 26 (rAd26)) of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), the sovereign wealth fund marketing the vaccine abroad. "The single-dose Sputnik Light vaccine demonstrated 79.4 percent efficacy according to analyzed data taken from 28 days after the injection was administered. An efficacy level of near 80 percent is higher than that of many two-dose vaccines," the RDIF said in a

statement. "Sputnik Light has proven effective against all new strains of coronavirus, as demonstrated by the Gamaleya Center, during laboratory tests," the statement added. The efficacy rate was calculated based on data obtained from Russians

vaccinated with a single injection, having not received the second one for any reason during the mass vaccination programme between December 5 and April 15. "The Sputnik Light vaccine significantly reduces the possibility of severe cases leading to hospitalization, with only one injection needed. The single dose regimen solves the challenge of immunizing large groups in a shorter time, which is especially important during the acute phase of the spread of coronavirus, achieving herd immunity faster," said Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of RDIF. Dmitriev said that the Sputnik Light vaccine will be exported to the international partners "to help increase the rate of vaccinations in a number of countries in the face of the ongoing fight with the pandemic and new strains of coronavirus". The Sputnik Light vaccine

has received authorization for use in Russia, according to the Russian Ministry of Health, the Gamaleya National Research Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology and the RDIF. On February 21, the Gamaleya Center and RDIF launched a global efficacy study of Sputnik Light. The Phase III clinical study involving 7,000 people was conducted in multiple countries including Russia, the UAE and Ghana. The RDIF said that the Sputnik Light vaccine is based on a well-studied human adenoviral vector platform that has proven to be safe and effective. As of May 5, more than 20 million people globally have received the first injection of the Sputnik V vaccine, containing the first component. "The cost of the Sputnik Light vaccine globally will be less than USD10, while it has

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simple storage requirements, at +2 +8, which provide for easy logistics. The oneshot regimen allows for the vaccination of large groups of the population in a short time, helping to speed up the fight against the pandemic during the acute phase," the statement read. Alexander Gintsburg, Director of the Gamaleya National Research Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology, said that Sputnik Light offers strong value in initial vaccination and re-vaccination, as well as boosting efficacy when taken in combination with other vaccines "Sputnik Light will help to prevent the spread of coronavirus through the faster immunization of larger population groups, as well as supporting high immunity levels in those who have already been infected previously," Gintsburg said.


18

CINEMA/TV

South Asia Times

MAY 2021

The Great Success of ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’ is rooted in the quest of people to reconcile tradition and modernity What will it actually take for the two-decades long war in Afghanistan to end and for Afghanis to finally live in peace? Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad explain. By Bharat Dogra*

Z

indagi Gulzar Hai ( Life Blossoms Like A Garden ) , the 26part TV serial from Pakistan just keeps going from success to success. After breaking popularity records when first shown on Hum TV in 2012-13, the serial had to be repeated. It went on to become hugely popular in India and Bangladesh. This was followed by repeated shows in Iran and then in Turkey. Malaysia was its next destination. It was translated in Arabic and shown in 13 Arab countries. It is still watched regularly on Netflix by viewers seeing it for the first or the umpteenth time. So what exactly explains the great and enduring success of this TV serial ( directed by Sultana Siddiqui, produced by Momina Duraid/Moomal Productions and based on a novel of the same title by Umera Ahmad )in so many countries, particularly those in South Asia and West Asia? First of all, let us acknowledge the very good qualities of making a great TV serial from a very good book. The characters are very well drawn up, the acting is great. This is true not just of the two main characters of the young lady Kashaf Murtaza ( played by Sanam Saeed) and Zarun Junaid ( played by Fawad Khan ) but of most other characters as well. Special mention may be made of the brilliant, restrained performance of Sameena Peerzada as Rafia, the mother of Kashaf. In fact a lot of care is bestowed on some of the lesser roles as well ( for example the two sisters of Kashaf) as well as on the sub-plots involving them. Situations and locales are realistic and people can identify with them. There are some very poignant situations, but also a lot of wit and humor. Romantic scenes are more realistic, instead of being cliché-ridden, and in fact deliberately mock clichés at some places. However these good

qualities cannot by themselves explain the great and persistent popularity of this TV serial beyond national boundaries, nor can be these be explained merely in terms of the admittedly very good looks and fan-following of the lead pair. Instead we must look for causes of its great and enduring popularity more in a sociological context , in fact more specifically in terms of the constant conflict between tradition and modernity as well as the efforts to somehow reconcile the two that is so characteristic of the societies among whom this serial has been such a great success. The impact of tradition or modernity is seen in terms of lifestyle and consumption patterns at the more apparent level, but really it is the impact on various human relationships, particularly man-woman relationships, which is the most important aspect of human life. People , particularly youth who have more chances of being exposed to both impacts, try , consciously and not so consciously, to see their various options in terms of

tradition and modernity. They also try to reconcile these influences and struggle to find the ideal mix. In the situations and characters of Zindagi Gulzar Hai we find repeatedly a good depiction of these options, the thinking around them, the struggles to find the right mix, the limits one sets, the results that follow from the choices made, the comment this draws from various characters, the role of class-differences in making the choices. This secures very intense involvement of the audience as viewers can hardly bear to wait to see how the various options and choices made and their results will play out in the next episode. However the ideals are really set neither by the heroine nor by the hero ( both of whom are prone to making mistakes despite being so ‘good’, something which adds to the gripping tensions of the great drama). This honor belongs instead to Rafia, the mother of the heroine. This is why the role of this elderly lady is the most crucial and fortunately we have Sameena

Peerzada to do full justice to this great responsibility. In this constant tussle between tradition and modernity and in trying to understand tradition and modernity, the role of Rafia sets the ideal. As an abandoned woman who toils all her life with great honesty to successfully bring up three daughters and set them on the road to progress, she sets her own standards of reconciling tradition and modernity. She is modern in the sense of believing firmly in the education and wider social role of women. She is traditional in the context of recognizing the need for women to make many compromises and even sacrifices for saving family and marriage. She is deeply religious but in a progressive spiritual sense, as her devotion to God provides her the courage and optimism which she really needed in negotiating the great difficulties which she faced in much of her life. Rafia really sets the standards in the critical task of negotiating tradition and

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modernity. Subconsciously perhaps but the viewer starts expecting that the right advice for the main characters will come from her. As the story unfolds, the choices that turn out to right and fruitful tend to be those which are so close to the worldview of Rafia, while those which violate her worldview have sad and disruptive results. This is not just true of the main plot but also of the sub-plots. In a world of uncertainties and difficulties, the ability of Rafia to ideally balance tradition and modernity and to practice spirituality in a way that keeps giving hope and courage becomes the standard setter on the basis of which other characters and situations are judged. *Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His stories and novellas including A Day in 2071 and Mahatma Gandhi Returns to Earth have been published in Countercurrents. org while his collection of Hindi short stories titled Sachai Ki Kasam ( Under Oath for Truth) was published recently. Source- countercurrents.org, 1 May 2021.


sports

MAY 2021

South Asia Times

19

IPL 2021: We Have Replaced Steel in Our Moral Compass With Gold; How Can it Point North?

It is a profound lack of moral sense and responsibility that brought us here. The simple maxim, “Do unto others…,” was sacrificed at the altar of this government’s relentless ambition. People can see an echo of that ruthless self-promotion in the IPL, in its grudging and token acknowledgement of the carnage all around it. By Raghu Kesavan*

T

he time of writing, Virat Kohli’s last tweet was an exchange with Pep Guardiola in service of a sportswear brand he endorses. In the meantime, former India Test player and Ranji Trophy legend Wasim Jaffer has offered to use his Twitter presence to amplify Covid-19 SOS calls online. Sunil Chhetri, the captain of India’s men’s football team, has handed over his Twitter account to a journalist to similarly amplify efforts to connect people and provide them with support. Together, Jaffer and Chhetri have just under two million followers. Kohli has just under 42 million. The magnitude of the difference he could make is staggering. That he chooses not to, is either selfishness or cowardice. Almost all of India is reeling, with its healthcare infrastructure in shambles, and its funeral grounds overwhelmed. The Indian Premier League (IPL), meanwhile, continues in its biosecure bubble, with its players and administrators seemingly oblivious to the calamity unfolding around them. Calls to halt the tournament have escalated in recent days, spurred on by this contrast. Predictably enough, defences of the IPL have also emerged. “It is misguided moral outrage to call for an end to the IPL amid the pandemic,” argues a recent editorial in the Indian Express. Were the tournament a drain on vital resources like oxygen or lifesaving drugs, it goes on to say, or if running it posed a threat to public health, an argument to halt it might plausibly be made. Since neither is true in the case of the Indian Premier League, it concludes, it should be allowed to continue. To argue otherwise, to “… grudge a few hours of escape to people under stress is to be a killjoy bent on planting a flag on the moral high ground.” The editorial marshals all the major arguments made in recent days in favour of the IPL continuing amidst the horror unfolding in Indian cities. It is an accountant’s argument that tries to show

Jos Buttler of Rajasthan Royals plays a shot during the match between the Rajasthan Royals and the Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in Delhi. Photo: ANI/IPL Twitter

that scarce resources are not being stretched further by the tournament. What about Covid-19 tests? In a recent email, the interim CEO of the BCCI, Hemang Amin, assured nervous overseas players that the biosecure bubble within which they play is being tightened. Everyone within the bubble is now tested every two days instead of five. The IPL has recently moved to Delhi, where these tests are scarce, and when they can be found, results don’t arrive for days – a sometimes-lethal delay as hospitalization often requires a positive test. Even if we believe the implausible claim that the tournament is not a drain on vital resources (what about the much-vaunted ICU-on-wheels ambulance IPL matches have on standby?), what role does Indian cricket see for itself? In a world where teenagers are banding together online to try to bridge the abyss left by an absent state, where young men and women are dying trying to get aid to the suffering, where crematorium workers labour endlessly with no protective gear, has the IPL thought about how it can use its massive resources to make a difference?

Kieron Pollard of Mumbai Indians plays a shot during the match between the Mumbai Indians and the Chennai Super Kings at the Arun Jaitley Stadium, in New Delhi. Photo: ANI /IPL Twitter

Mr. Amin produced what I’m sure he thought was a rousing finish to his email, “While you are professionals and will play to win, this time you are also playing for something much more important… humanity.” This is the second argument routinely made by the publicists justifying the 2021 edition of this multi-billionrupee enterprise: this is sport as public service, cricket as a balm for a beleaguered people. This doesn’t ring true coming from an organisation as historically venal as the BCCI. It also asks us to ignore the evidence of our own eyes. The hollow men who run Indian cricket want their audience to look but not to see. But we have seen. Anyone who has watched a match will have noticed that every part of the game that could be sold to advertisers has been sold. Every six is branded an Unacademy Cracking Six. Where there used to be one Man of the Match, there are now several post-match prizes: each named for a major sponsor. The IPL isn’t offering people respite, it’s milking a captive audience, imprisoned indoors by the pandemic, for advertising money.

If you’re unconvinced, it is worth asking yourself why the English Premier League didn’t provoke a similar clamour for its shutdown? Part of it has to do with the fact that the EPL is about football, and is not pitched as a carnival. But the bigger difference has been the conduct of its players. At the height of the pandemic in England, Marcus Rashford stood up to the government and demanded that the publicly funded meals children were provided during term time be extended into the holidays, to help out low-income parents in a Covid-struck economy. The power of his example forced the government into an embarrassing U-turn, and, more importantly, guaranteed food for the children of these low-income parents. Perhaps it’s fair to say that he is an exceptional young man, what about the rest of them? Well, they got together and pooled a percentage of their salaries and directed it towards Covid relief. The amounts varied from superstar to journeyman, but that didn’t matter. The gesture was important. The comparison with Indian cricketers is embarrassing. We have seen the stars of Indian cricket use their

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Twitter accounts to parrot the government’s partisan line on the farmers’ protests. We have seen them stay silent when their former teammate, Wasim Jaffer, was slandered for being Muslim. Their past actions give meaning to their present silence. Now, by their silence, they speak for the government. That is one reason why there are calls for the suspension of the IPL; because Indian cricket has chosen to be this government’s sock puppet. The final argument made in support of the IPL targets the tournament’s critics head on. They are accused of shrill moralism. Try to imagine a society entirely without moral sense. But, of course, you don’t have to; you can see it around you in the corpses burning in public parks, in the senseless deaths swamping this country and the callous indifference that caused them. It is a profound lack of moral sense and responsibility that brought us here. The simple maxim, “Do unto others…,” was sacrificed at the altar of this government’s relentless ambition. People can see an echo of that ruthless self-promotion in the IPL, in its grudging and token acknowledgement of the carnage all around it. It is the absence of moral sense that prevents defenders of the IPL from seeing the horror of playing in bio-secure bubbles in cities where the dead are being burnt on pavements because crematoriums have run out of pyres. When the Australian fast bowler Andrew Tye asked, “… how are these companies and franchises spending so much money, and the government, on the IPL when there’s people not being able to get accepted into hospital?” he came across as naïve. It took an outsider to ask the obvious question because so many of us have become inured to indecency. We have replaced the steel in our moral compass with gold and we wonder why it doesn’t point North. *Raghu Kesavan writes about politics, sport and culture. He tweets at @ raghukesavan1 Source- newsclick.in, 1 May 2021


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