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NOVEMBER 2021

South Asia Times Vol.19 I No. 4 I NOVEMBER 2021 I FREE s o u t hasiat im es.com .au

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India Too Will Have a World Cup Diary That Has Now Been Chequered Shami became unwitting target of online trolling Read on page 13

Facebook relaunches itself as ‘Meta’ in a clear bid to dominate the metaverse

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EDITORIAl PAGE

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NOVEMBER 2021

Facebook relaunches itself as ‘Meta’ in a clear bid to dominate the metaverse F By Catherine Bennett*

acebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has announced the company will change its name to Meta, saying the move reflects the fact the company is now much broader than just the social media platform (which will still be called Facebook).

The rebrand follows several months of intensifying discourse by Zuckerberg and the company more broadly on the metaverse – the idea of integrating real and digital worlds ever more seamlessly, using technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Zuckerberg said he hoped the metaverse will be a new ecosystem that will create millions of jobs for content creators. But is this just a shallow PR exercise, with Zuckerberg trying to reset the Facebook brand after several scandal-ridden years, or is it a genuine bid to set the company on course for what he sees as the future of computing?

Facebook’s journey into the metaverse What’s not in contention is that this is the culmination of seven years of corporate acquisitions, investments and research that kicked off with Facebook’s acquisition of VR headset company Oculus for US$2 billion in 2014. Oculus had risen to prominence with a lucrative Kickstarter campaign, and many of its backers were angry that their support for the “future of gaming” had been co-opted by Silicon Valley. While gamers fretted that Facebook would give them VR versions of Farmville rather than the hardcore content they envisioned, cynics viewed the purchase as part of a spending spree

after Facebook’s US$16 billion stock market launch, or simply Zuckerberg indulging a personal interest in gaming. Under Facebook, Oculus has gone on to dominate the VR market with over 60% market share. That’s thanks to heavy cross-subsidisation from Facebook’s advertising business and a console-like approach with the mobile “Quest” VR headset. Beyond Oculus, Facebook has invested heavily in VR and AR. Organised under the umbrella of Facebook Reality Labs, there are nearly 10,000 people working on these technologies – almost 20% of Facebook’s workforce. Last week, Facebook announced plans to hire

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another 10,000 developers in the European Union to work on its metaverse computing platform. While much of its work remains behind closed doors, Facebook Reality Labs’ publicised projects include Project Aria, which seeks to create live 3D maps of public spaces, and the recently released RayBan Stories – Facebookintegrated sunglasses with 5-megapixel cameras and voice control. All these investments and projects are steps towards the infrastructure for Zuckerbeg’s vision of the metaverse. As he said earlier in the year: I think it really makes sense for us to invest deeply to help shape what I think is going to be the next major computing platform. Why does Facebook want to rule the metaverse? The metaverse may eventually come to define how we work, learn and socialise. This means VR and AR would move beyond their current niche uses, and become everyday technologies on which we will all depend. CONTD. ON PG 3


EDITORIAL PAGE

NOVEMBER 2021

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Facebook relaunches itself as ‘Meta’ in a clear bid to dominate the metaverse CONTD. FROM PG 2 We can guess at Facebook’s vision for the metaverse by looking to its existing approach to social media. It has moulded our online lives into a gigantic revenue stream based on power, control and surveillance, fuelled by our data. VR and AR headsets collect enormous amounts of data about the user and their environment. This is one of the key ethical issues around these emerging technologies, and presumably one of the chief attractions for Facebook in owning and developing them. What makes this particularly concerning is that the way you move your body is so unique that VR data can be used to identify you, rather like a fingerprint. That means everything you do in VR could potentially be traced back to your individual identity. For Facebook – a digital advertising empire built on tracking our data – it’s a tantalising prospect.

Photo-Meta Alongside Project Aria, Facebook launched its Responsible Innovation Principles, and recently pledged US$50 million to “build the metaverse responsibly”. But, as Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren Klein note in their book Data

Feminism, responsible innovation is often focused on individualised concepts of harm, rather than addressing the structural power imbalances baked into technologies such as social media. In our studies of Facebook’s Oculus

Imaginary (Facebook’s vision for how it will use Oculus technology) and its changes over time to Oculus’ privacy and data policies, we suggest Facebook publicly frames privacy in VR as a question of individual privacy (over which users can have control) versus surveillance and data harvesting (over which we don’t). Critics have derided Facebook’s announcements as “privacy theatre” and corporate spin. Digital rights advocacy group Access Now, which participated in a Facebook AR privacy “design jam” in 2020 and urged Facebook to prioritise alerting bystanders they were being recorded by Ray-Ban Stories, says its recommendation was ignored. Is the internet a blueprint for an open metaverse? Appropriately enough, the metaverse under Facebook is likely to resemble the term’s literary origins, coined in Neal

Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash to describe an exploitative, corporatised, hierarchical virtual space. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Tony Parisi, one of the early pioneers of VR, argues we already have a blueprint for a nondystopian metaverse. He says we should look back to the original, pre-corporatised vision of the internet, which embodied “an open, collaborative and consensusdriven way to develop technologies and tools”. Facebook’s rebrand, its dominance in the VR market, its seeming desire to hire every VR and AR developer in Europe, and its dozens of corporate acquisitions – all this sounds less like true collaboration and consensus, and more like an attempt to control the next frontier of computing. We let Facebook rule the world of social media. We shouldn’t let it rule the metaverse. Source: The Conversation, October 29, 2021 (Under Creative Commons Licence)

Celebrate Diwali safely As we come together to celebrate Diwali with our loved ones, remember to stay COVIDSafe. This means celebrating outside, when possible, and following gathering limits. Thank you for everything you’re doing to protect yourself, your loved ones and our community. On behalf of our Government, we wish you a happy and light-filled Diwali.

Dan Andrews Premier of Victoria

Ros Spence Minister for Multicultural Affairs

For up to date information go to coronavirus.vic.gov.au/translations Authorised by the Victorian Government

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COMMUNITY

South Asia Times

NOVEMBER 2021

Steve Waugh to hold photography exhibition from his book “The Spirit of Cricket – India” By SAT News Desk/ Cricket Australia

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YDNEY/MELBOURNE, October 28, 2021: Ahead of the highly anticipated Vodafone Ashes series, former Australian captain Steve Waugh has teamed up with the Hyatt Regency Sydney to hold a photography exhibition from his bestselling book “The Spirit of Cricket- India”. The hotel lobby will be lined with over 80 stunning colour prints from Steve’s work, including shots such as “sand dune cricket” which won the 2020 Wisden photo of the year competition. The exhibition will also include a selection of photos of the next edition of Steve’s project “The Spirit of Cricket- Australia”. Considered one of Australian cricket’s greatest ever captains, Steve’s exhibition will include a collection from some of cricket’s greats, with 25 authentic and player-owned Baggy Green caps on display from Don Bradman, Steve Waugh himself, Mark Waugh, Ian Chappell, Richie Benaud, Allan Border, Dennis Lillee and many more. Steve’s exhibition coincides with the countdown to the 2021/22 Vodafone Ashes series, which is just under six

weeks away, when Australia takes on England at the Gabba. Waugh, successfully captained Australia to Ashes victory in 2001 and 20022003. “Cricket has and always will be in my blood. I was privileged to represent my country for over 18 years, and now, capturing the spirit of cricket through my camera lens represents a further extension of my love for the game,” Waugh said. “I am proud to present this Exhibition to showcase images that truly exemplify why cricket is a religion in India, whilst also giving you a glimpse into my next project – “The Spirit of Cricket – Australia”. Having a collection of Baggy Greens at

this Exhibition fits perfectly with this theme and I do hope the connection that I have for this unique game touches your emotions,” “I can’t wait for the Ashes to get underway, the rivalry is always fierce and this series will be no different. There is a lot of history that makes up the rivalry, and hopefully, the Baggy Greens and photo exhibition will start to build the excitement for fans ahead of the Summer.” The Exhibition will be open daily from November 17 to December 18 in the lobby of Hyatt Regency Sydney, 161 Sussex Street, Sydney. Specific times apply for access the Baggy Green

Steve Waugh will be onsite for book signings on the following dates and times: • Saturday, 20 November, 11am to 2pm • Saturday, 27 November, 11am to 2pm • Saturday, 4 December, 11am to 2pm • Sunday, 5 December, 12pm to 2pm • Saturday, 11 December, 11am to 2pm • Sunday, 12 December, 12pm to 2pm • Thursday ,16 December, 5pm to 7pm • Friday, 17 December, 3pm to 7pm • Saturday, 18 December, 11am to 3pm collection, listed on the website: www.stevewaugh. com.au. Book your signing time

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with Steve Waugh here: https://stevewaugh.com. au/pages/schedule-anappointment


COMMUNITY

NOVEMBER 2021

South Asia Times

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Sarah Whyte joins as the Head of Strategic Communications at Australia India Institute

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ward-winning journalist and former political media adviser Sarah Whyte has been appointed Head of Strategic Communications at the Australia India Institute (AII), the University of Melbourne’s centre dedicated to promoting support for and understanding of the Australia-India relationship. Ms Whyte’s appointment will build capacity across the Institute and the University to help shape opportunities for India engagement and assist in building a strong and robust bilateral relationship between the two countries. Australia India Institute Director Lisa Singh said Ms Whyte’s appointment will be crucial in helping deliver the new strategy for the AII. “As a national research and policy think tank on Australia India relations, Sarah’s role is pivotal to developing our national and international profile,” Ms Singh said. “Sarah will be an important conduit between researchers and external stakeholders and I

am looking forward to her joining the AII team as we enter the next chapter of the Institute’s growth.” Previously, Sarah worked with the Sydney Morning Herald and the ABC and until recently was media adviser to Federal Independent MP, Zali Steggall OAM.

She is the recipient of two joint Walkley awards for her work on the Bangladesh garment sector and an investigation on the Australian immigration system. A four-time finalist for the NSW Kennedy Awards, in 2015, she was also named as an Australia

Australian COVID-19 digital vaccination certificates for foreign travel: How to get them?

By SAT News Desk

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ELBOURNE, 18 October 2021: With Australia opening its borders from November and international flights resuming, travellers from here might need proof of their being double vaccinated. It might be asked for while entering another country. Though, it is not necessary a country may ask for it. For this situation, the Australian government will start issuing digital vaccination certificates from Tuesday, 20 October 2021. You can get a COVID-19 digital certificate or your

immunisation history statement to show proof of your vaccinations. How you get proof depends on your situation. This includes if you need to create a myGov account, link services or enrol in Medicare. If you’re 14 or older, you’ll need to get your own digital certificate or immunisation history statement using either: your Medicare online account through myGov or the Express Plus Medicare mobile app. Once you’ve had all your required doses, you can add your COVID-19 digital certificate to your digital wallet. If you’re using an iOS device, you can use the Safari or Chrome

browsers. If you’re using an Android device, you need to use the Chrome browser. If you’re using the Express Plus Medicare mobile app: Select Proof of vaccinations from Services, Select View history, Select your name, then View COVID-19 digital certificate and Select either Add to Apple Wallet or Save to phone for Google Pay. If you’re using the Express Plus Medicare mobile app: Select Proof of vaccinations from Services, Select View history, Select your name, then View COVID-19 digital certificate and Select either Add to Apple Wallet or Save to phone for Google Pay.

Australia India Institute Director Lisa Singh said Ms Whyte’s appointment will be crucial in helping deliver the new strategy for the AII. India Youth Dialogue Fellow. Sarah commenced her

new role on 1 November. Source- AII, Oct 5, 2021

How to add your COVID-19 digital certificate to the Service Victoria app Download your COVID-19 proof from myGov by following these simple steps:

Step 1.

Create a myGov account, if you don’t have one

Step 2.

Link Medicare to myGov, if it’s not already linked

Step 3.

Select the ‘Proof of COVID-19 vaccination’ quick link, then select ‘View history’

Step 4.

Select your name to download your COVID-19 digital certificate or immunisation history statement from your Medicare online account

Step 5.

Link your COVID-19 digital certificate to the Service Victoria app by selecting ‘Share certificate’

Step 6.

Tap ‘share’ to Service Victoria, click ‘Accept and share’ and then ‘Add certificate’

Step 7.

To prove your vaccination status with a business or venue, scan their Service Victoria QR code. Your check-in confirmation will reveal an additional green tick to prove you are vaccinated.

Who can I call if I need help? Staff may be able to assist you in checking in if you need help. If you need further assistance call the 24/7 Coronavirus Hotline.

1800 675 398

For more information go to CORONAVIRUS.vic.gov.au Authorised by the Victorian Government, 1 Treasury Place, Melbourne Poster updated October 2021

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COMMUNITY

South Asia Times

NOVEMBER 2021

Indian entrepreneur awarded Deakin Young Alumni of the Year By SAT News Desk

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ELBOURNE, 29 October 2021: The creator of a community platform that helped provide vulnerable people with groceries and other essentials during the COVID-19 pandemic has been honoured with a Young Alumni of the Year Award at the 2021 Deakin University Alumni Awards. Aamir Qutub, who graduated from Deakin’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) in 2014, is the creator and co-founder of Angel Next door – an online

platform that empowers people to assist others in their local community, providing groceries, medicine

or emotional support during times of crisis. He is also the CEO and founder of Geelong-based software development company Enterprise Monkey, which helps startups optimise their business processes. An avid promoter of entrepreneurship in the Geelong region, Qutub also helped bring together 200 entrepreneurs into the Entrepreneurs Geelong Network and was appointed as a member of the Geelong Authority in 2017. “Born in a regional city of India, I came to Australia to do my MBA as an

international student. It’s an absolute pleasure to receive this award from Deakin University because joining Deakin was a turning point in my life,” Qutub said. “I would like to dedicate this award to all of the Deakin staff and my classmates who have been so supportive throughout my journey.” Deakin Vice-Chancellor Professor Iain Martin said the Deakin University Alumni Awards were an opportunity to acknowledge Deakin alumni who have achieved success in their communities and professions. “Now in its tenth year,

the Deakin Alumni Awards offers a fantastic opportunity to celebrate not only the significant achievements of individual graduates but also the positive impact the University is having on Australian society and the world,” Professor Martin said. “Our alumni community now totals more than 300,000 people and are by far our greatest ambassadors. It’s fantastic to see so many inspirational leaders making such a profound difference to their communities and still living the Deakin values following their studies.” Source- Medianet

The Federation of Indian Associations of Victoria (FIAV) & Mental Health foundation of Australia (MHFA)’s Pandemic meal and Grocery pack distribution program a big success By SAT News Desk

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ELBOURNE, 22 October 2021: The FIAV and MHFA organised a massive Pandemic meal & Grocery pack distribution throughout Melbourne/Victoria during the recent lockout. Thousands of needy and venerable

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families and people benefitted from the program which was earlier also done earlier also. FIAV & MHFA volunteers including Mr. Vasan Srinivasan participated in the physical distribution said, two organisations distributed 85,000 meals alst year (2020) and this year (2020) till now 12,000 meals. community, provid


COMMUNITY

NOVEMBER 2021

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Amrita Zachariah is the new Chair of AIBC Education and Skills Development Industry Chapter By SAT News Desk

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ELBOURNE: Ms Zachariah, a prominent Brisbanebased AIBC member and recently Treasurer of the AIBC Queensland State Chapter, has been appointed as the new National Chair of the Education & Skills Development Industry Chapter. As a Senior Executive with global research and technology advisory firm, Gartner, Ms Zachariah works closely with government and education sector leaders, including the Queensland Department of Education, university vice-chancellors, provosts, vocational education and K-12 education system providers to drive technology, innovation, and strategies in the education sector. Ms Zachariah has had

significant international experience and has lived and worked in many countries and leading businesses. She has worked in a range of industries including banking & finance, education, start-ups,

technology, and mining. She is a qualified CPA and Business School graduate from the University of Sydney. As stated in the India Economic Strategy, “There is no sector with greater promise for Australia in

India than education. Australia’s future growth and prosperity will be driven by our ability to generate and attract the ‘best and brightest’. Getting education right is also critical for India to maximise the potential of its demographic dividend.” Mr Peter Varghese AO, Chancellor, University of Queensland and former Australian High Commissioner to India and former Secretary of DFAT said, “It was important to build on trade and economic relationship by not only improving Australia as a destination for Indian students but creating awareness in Australia, of what India could contribute and build an education relationship which draws on the best of the best in both of our countries”. Welcoming Ms Zachariah as the new Education & Skills Development Chapter

Chair, Mr Jim Varghese AM, AIBC National Chair said, “We at AIBC work closely with the education industry and key government bodies to nurture this relationship, improve access and increase the quality and calibre of the future of both Australia and India.” Ms Zachariah said, “Education & Skills Development are at a pivotal point in history, as our borders re-open for travel and learning expectations are changing faster than ever. Our current challenges need to become our opportunities for the future. India cannot meet the demand of its domestic education needs and this creates significant opportunities for all Australian education providers to play a role which will benefit both Australia and India’s future growth and prosperity.” Source- AIBC Media Release, 28 October, 2021.

Advertorial

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If you are an overseas visitor living in Australia, an international student or anyone without Australian citizenship or permanent residency, you may not be able to access Medicare benefits. But that does not stop you from getting vaccinated.

he COVID-19 pandemic has brought many challenges to everyone in Australia. We have all had to make changes in our lives to keep ourselves, our family and community safe. Vaccination is a critical step to getting back to the things we love to do. Everyone in Australia 12 years of age and over can have a free COVID-19 vaccine at participating pharmacies, doctors’ clinics, and government clinics. Read on to find out where you can get information about the COVID-19 vaccine in your language, and how to book your COVID-19 vaccination, even if you do not have a Medicare card. The vaccines and doses recommended for Australians may be different from what is happening in other countries. It is especially important that everyone living in Australia follow the health advice given by Australia’s health experts.

Accessing translated COVID-19 resources If you would like information about COVID-19 vaccines in your own language, visit the australia.gov.au website. All you need to do is click on “information in your language” and choose your language from the 63 languages available.

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How to get the COVID-19 vaccine, even without a Medicare card COVID-19 vaccines are free for everyone in Australia, even if you are not an Australian citizen or permanent resident. This includes people without a Medicare card, overseas visitors, international students, migrant workers and asylum seekers. Everyone in Australia aged 12 years and over can book their vaccination now. You can get a COVID-19 vaccine at: • Commonwealth vaccination clinics • participating general practices • Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Services • state and territory vaccination clinics, and • participating pharmacies.

• Commonwealth vaccination clinics • state or territory vaccination clinics, or • participating pharmacies. Use the australia.gov.au link to find your nearest vaccination clinic and book your vaccination. If you need phone or on-site interpreting at your vaccine appointment, call the Translating and Interpreting Service on 131 450.

Getting proof of your COVID-19 vaccination You can access your Immunisation History Statement: • online, by setting up your own myGov account and then accessing your Medicare account, or • through the Express Plus Medicare app.

Authorised by the Australian Government, Canberra.

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If you do not have a Medicare card, or do not have access to a myGov account, you can access your Immunisation History Statement by: • asking your vaccination provider to print a copy for you, or • by calling the Australian Immunisation Register enquiries line on 1800 653 809 (8am – 5pm Monday to Friday AEST) and asking them to send your statement to you in the mail. It can take up to 14 days to arrive in the mail. For interpreting services please call 131 450. For more information on how to get proof of your COVID-19 vaccinations, see the Services Australia app. For other COVID-19 vaccine information, visit australia.gov.au website or call 1800 020 080. For interpreting services, call 131 450.


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THE WORLD

South Asia Times

NOVEMBER 2021

Military unity under unprecedented pressure in Myanmar By Nyi Nyi Kyaw*

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yanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, is often considered the strongest institution in the country. This is true in terms of force. But the armed institution is now more vulnerable than ever to threats from within and without. The Myanmar Spring revolution has rebelled against the Tatmadaw’s despotism for over eight months in reaction to the February coup. In addition to armed self-defence, the revolution undermines the Tatmadaw’s internal unity, which is founded on three linkages between command and rank and file. The first linkage is ideological. The Tatmadaw is, in its own narrative, Myanmar’s saviour — first from British and Japanese colonisers and then from communist and ethnic armed insurgencies. Tatmadaw leaders also see themselves as responsible for Myanmar politics, as demonstrated by coups in 1958, 1962 and 2021 due to alleged chaos and civilian political corruption. Research on the Tatmadaw is often focussed on its ideology. Studies highlight the decades spent fighting insurgents and building itself as a state since 1962, and conclude that it has become a united and durable force along the way. Whether and how much the rank-and-file soldiers believe in their commanders’ ideological narration is a crucial question. Nobody has satisfactorily answered this due to the difficulties of directly engaging with Tatmadaw soldiers — an impossible task even before the most recent coup. The second linkage results from the advantages that the Tatmadaw has accrued through its dictatorial rule over Myanmar for six decades. One investigation spotlighted the enormous wealth of Tatmadaw generals from graft. The Tatmadaw also

accumulates ‘khaki capital’ through military owned or linked conglomerates and distributes dividends to its rank and file. For the soldiers, this monetary dimension is perhaps more important than ideological narration. In an egregious manifestation of this linkage, Tatmadaw Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has allowed soldiers and police to ransack and rob with total impunity while crushing dissent after the February coup. With envy, ambitious soldiers wait for their turn to become Tatmadaw leaders and live lavishly. But many will not reach these ranks. Most will end up in the lower or middle level, or die in battle. This means wealth distribution alone may not always inspire loyalty. A key challenge facing the Tatmadaw is the Myanmar economy, which is in a non-stop freefall. The kyat lost 60 per cent of its value in September 2021 alone. Fuel and food prices are skyrocketing while a persistent electricity bill boycott has deprived the ruling generals of US$1 billion in revenue. This means that the generals are not in a position to simply buy loyalty from the rank and file as they

were in the 1990s and 2000s. The third and perhaps least well known linkage of the Tatmadaw is its ‘bunker’ relations between the command and the rank and file. In building the Tatmadaw in the 1990s and 2000s, military strongman Than Shwe created a sheltered Tatmadaw family. Living side by side in cantonments, soldiers train and farm. Their wives go to meetings with fellow military wives, and their children go to militaryrun public schools or attend schools outside in Tatmadaw trucks. Commanders control not just the lives, but the finances of soldiers whose salaries are deposited into the Tatmadaw-owned Myawaddy Bank. The seemingly well-knit and insulated Tatmadaw family, dominated by the Bamar ethnic majority, now finds itself bombarded with naming and shaming from its fellow Myanmar people — most of whom are also Bamar. The Myanmar Facebook sphere overflows with messages that condemn soldiers and their families or invite them to join the people’s side. Defections are increasing. By early September 2021, at least 1500 soldiers and 1000 police had switched sides.

Defection may not increase exponentially, but substantial desertion is possible. Armed conflict and bombings across Myanmar resulted in the deaths of over 1100 Tatmadaw troops in June and July 2021. From February until midOctober 2021, the number of deaths is estimated to have reached several thousand as the armed revolution has become more widespread since early September. High casualties may lead to more unity among troops who may view protesters as criminals and armed revolutionaries as terrorists. But their individual safety might prove to be more important. On Facebook and Telegram, the defectors run a program called Pyithu Yinkhwin or People’s Embrace, in cooperation with the parallel National Unity Government, to exert peer pressure on their ex-comrades and promise safety. From 7 September to 7 October, 429 soldiers and 334 police defected in response to the call. Defectors like ex-captain Nyi Thuta have been instrumental in formulating and running a ‘people’s soldiers’ movement, and defectors’ wives also run a parallel program that targets military wives who have been trained and armed. Once safe

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havens, cantonments have become ‘hostage camps’ with tight security for soldiers and families who are potential recruits of the campaigns for defection. Defectors and their contacts within the Tatmadaw provide otherwise unavailable information about the three linkages and allege that they are growing weaker. They also report damaged morale and insubordination. This ideology of people’s soldiers counters the generals’ ideology of the Tatmadaw as the people’s saviour and guardian. The early defector Captain Tun Myat Aung asserted that ‘if you are choosing between the country and the Tatmadaw, please choose the country’. In a symbolic attack, the People’s Soldiers campaign dismissed Min Aung Hlaing and his deputies on 13 October for treason. The Tatmadaw is unlikely to disintegrate anytime soon, but threats to its strength and unity are growing and look likely to continue to intensify. Nyi Nyi Kyaw is Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut), Essen, Germany.


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NOVEMBER 2021

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Right to privacy upheld by India’s Supreme Court Pegasus surveillance verdict

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he Supreme Court has delivered its long awaited order on the Pegasus surveillance case that the government had decided to maintain a stoic silence on. The question raised repeatedly the lawyers representing different petitioners including the Editors Guild of India whether the central government had or had not used the highly invasive Israeli spyware remained unanswered leading the Supreme Court three member bench led by the Chief Justice of India to point out that national security cannot be used by the government to provide itself a free pass. The Court rejected the offer for a government appointed committee to look into the issue and has itself set out the terms of reference and appointed a committee headed by a retired Supreme Court judge to report back within eight weeks. The order began with a George Orwell quote from his book 1984 ‘ “If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself’ - and went on to point out that the writ petitions before the court on the Pegasus issue “raise an Orwellian concern about the alleged possibility of utilizing modern technology to hear what you hear, see what you see and to know what you do.” The order goes into the arguments of both sides, noting also the observations of senior counsel Kapil Sibal who was representing the Editors Guild of India and N.Ram as well that the petitioners too were concerned about national security and would not press for any such information. The Bench has made some important observations about the right to privacy in India. These are: 1. In India privacy is not a property centric right as in the United States but can be traced to the ‘right to life’ enshrined under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. And that “an expanded meaning” has been given to the right to life in India that accepts that life “does not refer to mere animal existence but encapsulates a certain assured quality;” 2. And that in this context the use of information to “breach that sacred private space of an individual”; 3. Members of a “civilised democratic society have a reasonable expectation of privacy, and that this is not a singular concern of just journalists or social activists. “Every citizen of India ought to be protected against violations of privacy.” And it is from these expectations that Indians can exercise their choices, liberties and freedoms. 4. The right to privacy is not

absolute, as the Indian Constitution does not provide for this right without reasonable restrictions. But such restrictions have to be necessarily pass constitutional scrutiny; 5. Surveillance or spying done on an individual directly infringes the right to privacy. And if done by the state has to be justified on constitutional grounds.Noting that it can be required for national security interests, the court is clear that even for this the usage has to be evidence based. “In a democratic country governed by the rule of law indiscriminate spying on individuals cannot be allowed” except by procedure established by the Constitution and the law. 6. Referring to the freedom of the press, the court has observed that such surveillance can affect the manner in which an individual exercises his or her rights. And this could lead to self censorship. “This is of particular concern when it relates to the freedom of the press which is an important pillar of democracy. Auch chilling effect on the freedom of speech is an assault on the vital public watchdog role of the press, which may undermine the ability of the press to provide accurate and relational information. 7. An important corollary of such a right is to ensure the protection of sources of information. Protection of journalistic sources is one of the basic conditions for the freedom of the press...without such protection sources may be deterred from assisting the press in informing the public on matters of public interest. Source- thecitizen.in, 27 October, 2021. www.southasiatimes.com.au - 0421 677 082


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SOUTH ASIA

South Asia Times

NOVEMBER 2021

What did billions in aid to Afghanistan accomplish? 5 questions answered By Md. Qadam Shah*

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he government of Afghanistan and that country’s economy relied heavily on foreign aid until the U.S. withdrawal. That support is on hold, although the United States and its allies have begun to take steps toward resuming some humanitarian assistance. Here, Mohammad Qadam Shah, an assistant professor of global development at Seattle Pacific University who conducted in-depth research regarding Afghanistan’s aid administration, answers five questions about the past, present and future of aid to his native country.

1. What did foreign economic aid accomplish in Afghanistan? Some US$150 billion in nonmilitary U.S. aid flowed into Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020, plus billions more from its allies and international organizations. For those two decades, Afghanistan’s economic development aid largely funded education, health care, governance reforms and infrastructure – including schools, hospitals, roads, dams and other major construction projects. One notable result in terms of education was that far more students were enrolled in school. The number of students jumped from 900,000 in 2001 to more than 9.5 million in 2020. Foreign aid helped build about 20,000 elementary schools, and the number of universities grew sharply as well. The number of Afghans enrolled in higher education programs soared from 7,000 in 2001 to about 200,000 in 2019. There were no female college students in 2001, but there were 54,861 in 2019. The share of girls among all students reached 39% in 2020, versus only an estimated 5,000 in 2001. Likewise, aid increased access to health care for most of the population. Life expectancy rose over the two decades by about a decade, to 64.8 years in 2019, according to the World Bank. Afghanistan also made progress in terms of governance reform, with the adoption of a new constitution in 2004 that established a framework for liberal democratic governance and protecting human rights. It held four presidential and provincial council elections and

three parliamentary elections. The country also adopted hundreds of new laws and regulations regarding education, health, insurance, budgeting, mining, women rights and land titling. International aid helped construct and pave thousands of miles of roads and streets, either rehabilitated or built from scratch. Other infrastructure projects included hydroelectric dams and solar power plants to generate electricity, bridges and irrigation and drinking water projects. 2. What were the drawbacks? International development experts do not dispute that aid can make a positive difference. What they criticize is that this assistance, even in vast amounts, doesn’t necessarily solve a country’s problems. That is the case in Afghanistan. Based on what I’ve seen firsthand in my research, the problem in Afghanistan was not the amount of aid, but its mismanagement. The highly centralized governance system Afghanistan adopted in 2001 gave its president unconstrained political, fiscal and administrative power, without any way for the legislature or the public to hold the executive branch of government accountable. To a degree, the government was accountable to foreign donors, but this lack of checks and balances contributed to systemic corruption. A centralized public finance management system gave Afghanistan’s president complete control and discretion

over planning, budgeting and taxation. He could also tactically allocate government spending to curry favor with elites, interest groups and voters. Afghanistan’s $20 billion economy was heavily dependent on foreign aid, but its centralized governance system was prone to mismanaging it. For instance, the president had exclusive and unconstrained access to a large share of government funds. I believe the only way to have fixed this problem, before the Taliban took over again, was to defund the country and reform the aid management system in a way that the people had the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. And I would expect to see a centralized, exclusive aid management system under the Taliban to replicate the same flaws and challenges seen in Afghanistan over the past two decades. 3. What’s standing in the way of aid delivery? Economic assistance can support long-term economic development or help meet more immediate humanitarian objectives – such as providing food and shelter after disasters, or any help intended to save immediately imperiled lives. As long as the Taliban remain in control, the only aid likely to flow from the U.S. and most of its allies will surely be the humanitarian kind. Even that money, however, will likely be contingent upon whether Afghanistan’s new authorities respect human rights, form an inclusive government and prevent Afghanistan’s territory

from being used for terrorist purposes. But the Taliban are mostly running Afghanistan like they did in the 1990s – with an iron fist. The Taliban’s interim cabinet includes no women or members of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities. And there are reports that the Taliban are already forcibly displacing people in Hazara communities and not letting girls go to school. 4. What’s happening to Afghanistan’s aid? The U.S. military and diplomatic withdrawal precipitated the collapse of the Afghan government and the Taliban’s takeover, disrupting aid delivery. Thousands of foreign aid workers and their Afghan former colleagues have left the country. The few exceptions include a handful of humanitarian aid programs: the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Red Cross, Doctors witout Borders and the World Food Program are all still operating in Afghanistan. In August 2021, the U.S. froze more than $9 billion of Afghanistan’s assets. Nearly all sources of Afghanistan’s aid, including the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral organizations, stopped disbursing assistance. “The economic and development outlook is stark,” the World Bank observes. On Sept. 13, 2021, the U.S. Agency for International Development said it would dispatch $64 million in new humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, channeling it through nonprofits and U.N. agencies. But it’s not clear, according to the Taliban,

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that this money is flowing yet. In October 2021, the European Union pledged 1 billion euros, about $1.2 billion, in humanitarian aid and other forms of support. In addition, Pakistan and China are providing emergency aid, as have a few other countries, including Qatar. China and Pakistan are teaming up with Russia, Iran and India, along with some former Soviet Central Asian countries, to advocate for the U.N. to recognize the Taliban government, which could facilitate the flow of more aid. 5. What are some of the consequences? The Taliban have not yet shown that they can actually govern Afghanistan. Resistance groups are forming, and ISIS-K poses a significant threat to their ability to keep control of the country. Perhaps more important, the Taliban lack the money and expertise required to satisfy the basic needs of the Afghan people. Thousands of Afghan public servants are demanding their unpaid salaries. Afghans who used to work for nongovernmental organizations have lost their jobs, as have many others. An estimated 14 million Afghans were already having trouble getting enough to eat before the disruption of aid. That situation is now growing more dire, according to UNICEF. • Assistant Prof. of Global Development, Seattle Pacific University. Source- The Conversation, October 26, 2021 (Under Creative Commence Licence)


SOUTH ASIA

NOVEMBER 2021

South Asia Times

11

Pakistanis suffer under high inflation amid IMF negotiations I Management Sciences (LUMS), told DW.

By Haroon Januja

SLAMABAD: Pakistani finance officials were in Washington this week trying to close a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to release a suspended $1 billion tranche from a bailout package, which Islamabad says is desperately needed to stabilize the country's struggling economy.

In May 2019, Pakistan reached an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after months of difficult negotiations on a $6-billion (€5.34 billion) bailout package. The 39-month bailout program is subject to regular IMF reviews of Pakistan's economic policy and growth. In January 2020, it the program was put on hold after Prime Minister Imran Khan did not follow IMF recommendations to increase electricity prices and impose additional taxes. In March 2021, the IMF released a $500 million tranche, but talks in June to release further funds were inconclusive. Pakistan's economy contracted by 0.47% in 2019-20 during the coronavirus pandemic, which hobbled the already weak economy. When the IMF agreed to the so-called Extended Fund Facility (EFF) for Pakistan in 2019, IMF acting managing director David Lipton, said that "Pakistan is facing significant economic challenges on the back of large fiscal and financial needs and weak and unbalanced growth." Prime Minister Khan's top finance adviser, Shaukat Tarin, said this week he was optimistic that the latest round of negotiations on economic reforms with the IMF would result in the disbursement of the $1 billion tranche. In

"It is clear as crystal that inflation is going to increase further," said Rao. She added that soaring energy prices are having a direct effect on the prices of general commodities. "Price control is really a gigantic task for the government in this gripping scenario," she added.

total, Pakistan has so far received $2 billion via the EFF. In June 2021, Pakistan set a growth target at 4.8% of GDP for the fiscal year 2021-22. IMF conditions could come down on Pakistanis Miftah Ismail, a former Pakistani finance minister with the opposition Pakistan Muslim League party, told DW that the IMF is demanding a 1% tax increase, to make up for decreases in taxes from Khan's government in 2018. "Khan should improve tax collection without imposing new taxes or increasing tax rates, like our government did in 2013-18. But at this point to raise taxes or levies on things like petrol or diesel or increase power or gas tariffs will be disastrous for the people," said Ismail, who was a member of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government. Khan's government raised electricity taxes last week for the second time this year, putting consumers under severe pressure. Pakistani economic analysts say they're concerned Pakistan's reliance on the bailout package will put the

economic policy in the hands of the IMF. Economic analyst Farhan Bokhari told DW that the IMF appears to be pressuring Islamabad to increase government revenues. "Reports of energy companies responsible for supplying electricity and gas continuing to run at a loss, has put the spotlight once again on the issue of a Pakistani government failing to tackle these difficult problems in a meaningful way," he said. "I think Islamabad needs to envisage the basics of lending and borrowing here. A borrower with a frail economic outlook can never be in a position to effectively negotiate about the conditions attached with the debt," Ayesha N. Rao, a professor in the economics department at the National University of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad, told DW. "The IMF is going to put Pakistan under aggressive taxation regimes to enhance Pakistan's debt repayment capacity," she added. Pakistan's inflation woes Along with tax increases and higher energy prices, Pakistani's are also facing rising inflation, as the purchasing power of the rupee decreases.

Pakistan's inflation rate hit 9% at one point this week, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. The rupee also traded at record lows against the dollar. "Inflation in Pakistan is already the highest in the [South Asian] region," said Ismail. Ordinary business owners are feeling the local effects of Pakistan's macroeconomic problems. At his meat shop in Islamabad, butcher Afaq Ahmed said no customers are coming in, as a full cow and goat hang from an iron hook. "People can’t afford meat at an expensive rate," he said. "I voted for Imran Khan in 2018 and I am regretting my decision. Before his government things were going good but there is tension everywhere now," he told DW. "Increased economic hardship in the wake of inflationary pressures at the household level will push people, primarily women, to take up precarious work which is often poor-paying, poorly monitored in terms of safety, lacks worker benefits and generally increases their timepoverty," Hadia Majid, an economics professor at Lahore University of

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Economic problems spell trouble for Khan's government As Pakistan's economic problems turn into a political liability for Prime Minister Khan, analysts said they are noticing tanking public approval ratings for the government. "Recent surveys indicate more than 90% of the public dislike this government over its poor economic performance," Murtaza Solangi, a political analyst, told DW. "Things are not going in the favor of this government as people's anger has erupted," he added. Analyst Bokhari said that Khan is "today more vulnerable to inflation than at any other time in the past." "A growing number of people across Pakistan are now complaining of inflation in a way that has not been seen in a long time," he said. "Khan's opponents will definitely use this issue against him in the next election campaign," he added. "Pakistan is a resourceful country with a very industrious people, and our future is very bright. But Imran Khan is politically dead after the epic incompetence his government has exhibited," said opposition politician Ismail. Source- dw.com, 23 October, 2021.


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SOUTH ASIA

South Asia Times

NOVEMBER 2021

Militant monk to head Lankan task force on Uniform Laws By P. K. Ranmachandaran

could expect to enjoy preferential treatment when it comes to obeying the law.

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OLOMBO: Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday appointed a Presidential Task Force (PTF) to study implementation of the ‘One Country, One Law’ concept and prepare a draft act to bring about one law for all Sri Lankans irrespective of religion or ethnicity.

But the appointment of militant anti-Muslim monk Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero as chairman of the task force has left many human and civil rights workers in Sri Lanka wondering whether the PTF, which also lacks a single Tamil member, will be even-handed in its recommendations. Apart from the Venerable Gnanasara Thero, the PTF comprises Professors Dayananda Banda, Shanthinandana Wijesinghe, Sumedha Siriwardana and N.G. Sujeewa Panditharathna, Attorneys-at-Law Iresh Senevirathne and Sanjaya Marambe, Eranda Navarathna, Pani Wewala, Moulavi Mohamed of the Ulama Council in Galle, Lecturer Mohamed Intikhab, Kaleel Rahuman and Azeez Nizardeen. The tasks assigned to the PTF are: (1) Formulation and implementation of laws that are “fair by all, as set out in the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.” (2) Ensure that no citizen is

The pardon came at a time when extremist Buddhist mobs instigated anti-Muslim riots across northwestern Sri Lanka, resulting in the death of one Muslim man and damage to a large number of Muslim residences, businesses and places of worship, the CPA recalled.

discriminated against in the eyes of law and that no special treatment on grounds of nationality, religion, caste or any other consideration is given to anyone. (3) Ensure that the laws made under the ‘One Country, One Law’ concept are in accordance with nationally and internationally recognized humanitarian values. The PTF is tasked with studying the draft acts and amendments that had already been prepared by the Ministry of Justice in relation to this subject, examining their appropriateness and making suggestions. While the objectives stated in the gazette reflect a universalised yearning for equality before the law, there are major concerns

given the ground reality in Sri Lanka. Firstly, there is no Tamil in the PTF. In other words, the PTF has no representative of the island’s second largest ethnic and religious community. Secondly, the Cabinet has already decided to ban the Muslim Qazi courts and amend the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, a decision Muslim clerics oppose tooth and nail. Thirdly, doing away with community specific laws could be deemed a human rights violation by the UN Human Rights Council and the European Union. Based on the government’s action, the EU could withdraw the GSPPlus tariff concession to Sri Lanka which is coming up for review shortly. Withdrawal of the EU GSPPlus trade concession will adversely affect Sri Lankan exports to Europe and impact the working population in Sri Lanka. Lastly, and most importantly, the Chairman of the PTF is an extremely anti-Muslim Buddhist monk who is general secretary of the militant Buddhist organization, the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS). Gnanasara Thero has been very close to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. He is also close to Sri Lanka Freedom Party leader and former President

Maithripala Sirisena. In fact, when Thero was sentenced for six years in a contempt of court case, Sirisena pardoned and released him. The pardon given to the monk on May 23, 2019 evoked protests from human rights activists because it violated all legal norms and procedures and was in direct contradiction with the concept of “equality before law” and a “common law for every Sri Lankan.” The Centre for Policy Alternatives pointed out that the monk was convicted by the Court of Appeal on August 8, 2018 and sentenced to six years in prison. The Supreme Court rejected his appeal. The CPA stressed that presidential pardons exist to correct miscarriages of justice, but in the monk’s case, there was no miscarriage of justice as both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court had duly dismissed his appeals. “As such, the pardon itself amounts to an undue interference with the legal process,” the CPA said in a statement. “The pardon legitimized the view that it is possible to act with contempt for the judiciary, be punished through a legitimate judicial process, and then enjoy impunity through a pardon granted on political considerations.” The CPA pointed out that the pardon specifically signalled that some categories of citizens, such as the Buddhist clergy,

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It said Gnanasara Thero had played a “documented role” in the past as Secretary of the Bodu Bala Sena in spreading hate speech and inciting violence towards minority communities, particularly Muslims. As such the pardon “represented a worrying endorsement of such anti-minority sentiment, and could only heighten the anxiety and fear being felt by Muslim Sri Lankans.” It was in 2014 that Gnanasara Thero instigated mobs to attack Muslim homes and businesses in Aluthgama town, south of Colombo. Prior to that he had campaigned to prohibit the face covering worn by some Muslim women on grounds of security, and agitated for the abolition of halal certification for food products. Gnanasara Thero has a fixation about Islamist terrorism and propagates the notion that Muslim Sri Lankans tolerate extremists in the community. On September 13, 2021 he told a TV program that there could be another attack similar to the Easter Sunday bombings on April 21, 2019 in which more than 260 died. He further said that the bombs were ready to be detonated at any time, that he knew the groups involved, and that the President had also been informed. This spread deep concern among Catholic Sri Lankans. The Catholic church, which has bitterly protested the government’s tardiness in getting to the bottom of the Easter Sunday attacks, demanded an urgent inquiry to ascertain the truth. Source- thecitizen.in, 28 October, 2021


SPORTS

NOVEMBER 2021

South Asia Times

13

India Too Will Have a World Cup Diary That Has Now Been Chequered - Shami became unwitting target of online trolling By Sreelata S. Yellamrazu

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f Sunday was all about revisiting missed adventures from the past year, whether at the USA GP and the Circuit of the Americas in Austin in Formula 1’s 2021 season or at the ICC Twenty20 World Cup where India went down in a historic clash with Pakistan, the end result saw both, Max Verstappen of Red Bull and Pakistan, pull away further ahead even as other unexpected issues of race (a different kind) and religion made waves in the sporting arena. By midweek, query turned to horror as far as the Black Lives Movement’s association with cricket was concerned. With India taking the knee ahead of the crucial first clash of their ICC Twenty20 World Cup campaign against Pakistan, many wondered what had motivated this gesture on the part of the Indian cricket team, with some going as far as to suggest that it was hypocritical for the team to collectively take a stand on the issue while leaving out other pertinent matters closer to home such as the ongoing Pakistan sponsored terror killings in Jammu and Kashmir. Ultimately Virat Kohli was forced to address the issue in the aftermath of the unexpected defeat to Pakistan, stating that it was a matter conveyed to them by the management and they had merely complied, suggesting this was something that had been arrived at between the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the International Cricket Council (ICC). “That was communicated to us by the management, the Pakistan team agreed to pay their tribute to the same cause. We accepted our side of things and that was how it was decided.” However, the matter of taking the knee, which Pakistan chose to hold their hands over their hearts in that match, turned more serious for South Africa who has been facing backlash over its integration policy of black and coloured players post apartheid with matters coming to a head over the past year after Lungi Ngidi opened the door in the wake of the Black Lives Matter to highlight the plight of black and coloured cricketers in the dressing room. Just before their second match of the tournament

People hold placards during a protest against the online abuse of Indian cricketer Mohammed Shami near Eden Garden, in Kolkata on October 28, 2021. Photo-ANI

against the West Indies, it was announced that one of their premier batsmen, lead wicket keeper and former captain, Quinton de Kock, would not be playing the match. If that was not shocking enough, it was made clear by the end of the match that de Kock had not taken kindly to the Cricket South Africa (CSA) directive that all players must collectively take the knee, which he has shied away from doing so even in the past, for reasons undisclosed by him. The repercussions of taking a stand for or against the black lives movement suddenly became a serious topic of debate in the realm of cricket, with South Africa risking losing one of their key players indefinitely, particularly after they had got off the gate poorly with the bat against Australia. Temba Bavuma, South Africa’s Twenty20 captain at the World Cup and incidentally their first black captain - a tag that did not come without controversy - expressed his own shock at the turn of events ahead of the match which fortunately his team won reasonably comfortably in the end to put points on board despite the controversial start to their day: “As a team we are surprised and taken aback by the news. Quinton (de Kock) is a big player for the team, not just with the bat, but from a senior point of view, so not having this at my disposal, as a captain, is obviously something I wasn’t looking forward to. In saying that, Quinton is an adult. He is a man in his own shoes. We respect his decision, we respect his convictions, and I know he will be standing behind the

decision he has taken.” Cricket South Africa are not likely to have a bright view of the situation and the former captain might have faded his own lights out in the process, another controversy South Africa will now carry into their World Cup diaries. India too will have a World Cup diary that has now been chequered. India were given a rare shellacking at the World Cup, as Pakistan scored a first in the history of cricket at the World Cups by beating India and that too comprehensively by 10 wickets. In the first encounter for both teams, while it was widely expected that India would maintain their winning track record, Pakistan shut down those ambitions with accuracy, pace and incisiveness led by Shaheen Shah Afridi with the ball. While Virat Kohli, the Indian captain, fought a lonely battle at the crease while his counterparts slid back to the pavilion, tail between their legs, it seemed as if Pakistan was obliging the BCCI’s attempts to put the nails in the coffin of Kohli’s white ball captaincy. But it was not just Kohli who came in for some flak after a testy press conference that involved questions about team selection - whether Ishan Kishan could have played ahead of Rohit Sharma. The hindsight postulations soon gave way to a much graver issue at hand. Mohammad Shami became the unwitting target of online trolling, and it was not his performance that seemed to be the cause of this uninvited verbal onslaught. In fact, a much more dangerous premise was at play

as it seemed his presence in the Indian team as the only Muslim cricketer turned into a convenient bone of contention in this increasingly decisive atmosphere of politics within and between nations. India’s historic loss was forced to give way to address or at least take cognizance of a larger, more disturbing malady at hand. Irfan Pathan, India’s former all-rounder, tweeted in response to the trolling and also pointed to the change in India’s political map from his own playing days to date: “Even I was part of #IndvPak battles on the field where we have lost but never been told to go to Pakistan! I’m talking about India (represented by the Indian tricolour) of few years back. THIS CRAP NEEDS TO STOP. #Shami” Meanwhile Pakistan were astute on the field, once again bringing the force of their bowling into play, and showing that their win against India was not a fluke, repeating the effort against New Zealand who showed a little more chutzpah than India did when trying to defend their modest score. Pakistan became the first team in the twelve team stage also known as the Super-12 to pull ahead with two wins under their belt. Speaking of pulling ahead and this time on the race circuit, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will go into the second of three races on the American continent feeling slightly more comfortable after he doubled his world drivers championship lead winning the USA Grand Prix at Austin, Texas in a nerve racking, brave driving stint in the end combined with an early strategic resizing of his position on track by the Red Bull, a beat Mercedes missed yet again with Lewis Hamilton paying the price. Hamilton’s bid for a record eighth world drivers championship just got harder as the Austin circuit proved unyielding to the lack of similar ferocity in his campaign. On the day, his much younger counterpart seemed to hold the edge, on track and in the pits, yet again. Hamilton’s exasperation about baffling strategy and miscommunication between himself and his race engineer, Peter Bonnington, became a highly publicized affair after Hamilton pulled no punches to let his team know he would rather back his own gut feeling following the Turkish Grand

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Prix. Hamilton, who had made up places after losing out on grid positions because a power unit change at the start of that race, felt he would have held onto his podium finish had the team not insisted he come in for a change of tyres which dropped him down two places in the final tally. While suggesting that the team got it right and that the Mercedes driver would have lost places anyway eventually due to tyre degradation, Toto Wolff, the team principal, also used terms like “developing thick skin” on these matters. Hamilton meanwhile was a disillusioned man by the end of the race, finishing two places below his spot prior to the pit stop in number five while Max Verstappen went from being two points in the deficit behind Hamilton in the championship race to now taking the lead with six points going into Austin. The venue, which missed the 2020 calendar because of the coronavirus pandemic, promised an attrition packed race on a grinding, bumping circuit with dirty air, tyre wear and resource management all coming into play. Although Verstappen found himself at the starting grid alongside Hamilton only to lose out on his pole position almost immediately to the seven time champion, it took some desperate as well as aggressive strategy on the part of the Dutchman and his crew in the Red Bull pit garage to pit him ahead of Hamilton not only to counter his rapidly wearing tyres but also, to negate any advantages the British driver might have had with a possible undercut from an early pit stop. Despite this, it proved to a race fast catching up with Verstappen whose lead seemed to be whittling down over time with Hamilton on fresh hard tyres after a late second stop which also undermined any chances of an undercut for the veteran driver. The final few laps proved to be an edge of the seat affair as Verstappen seemed to find another gear to create just enough room between himself and Hamilton such that by the final lap, although Hamilton was within touching distance, he never quite found the right gear to overtake the Dutchman who now leads the championship with twelve points ahead of the Mexican Grand Prix only a few days away. Source- The Citizen, 29 October 2021.


14

Pandemic

South Asia Times

NOVEMBER 2021

Your unvaccinated friend is roughly 20 times more likely to give you COVID A

proposed that frequent testing could be used to suppress COVID spread for those who are unwilling to be vaccinated. Health minister Greg Hunt said Australians can buy rapid antigen tests from November 1, so they can test themselves at home or before entering certain venues.

By Jeff Diamant*

s lockdowns ease in New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT, and people return to work and socialising, many of us will be mixing more with others, even though a section of the community is still unvaccinated. Many vaccinated people are concerned about the prospect of mixing with unvaccinated people. This mixing might be travelling on trains or at the supermarket initially. But also at family gatherings, or, in NSW at least, at pubs and restaurants when restrictions ease further, slated for December 1. Some people are wondering, why would a vaccinated person care about the vaccine status of another person? Briefly, it’s because vaccines reduce the probability of getting infected, which reduces the probability of a vaccinated person infecting someone else. And, despite vaccination providing excellent protection against severe disease, a small proportion of vaccinated people still require ICU care. Therefore some vaccinated people may have a strong preference to mix primarily with other vaccinated people. But what exactly is the risk of catching COVID from someone who’s unvaccinated? What’s the relative risk? Recent reports from the Victorian Department of Health find that unvaccinated people are ten times more likely to contract COVID than vaccinated people. We also know that vaccinated people are less likely to transmit the disease even if they become infected. The Doherty modelling from August puts the reduction at around 65%, although more recent research has suggested a lower estimate for AstraZeneca. Hence for this thought experiment, we’ll take a lower value of 50%. As the prevalence of COVID changes over time, it’s hard to estimate an absolute risk of exposure. So instead, we need to think about risks in a relative sense.

If I were spending time with an unvaccinated person, then there’s some probability they’re infected and will infect me. However, if they were vaccinated, they’re ten times less likely to be infected and half as likely to infect me, following the numbers above. Hence we arrive at a 20fold reduction in risk when hanging out with a vaccinated person compared to someone who’s not vaccinated. The exact number depends on a range of factors, including the type of vaccine and time since vaccination. But, in Australia we can expect a large risk reduction when mixing with fully vaccinated people. The calculation holds true whether you yourself are vaccinated or not. But being vaccinated provides a ten-fold reduction for yourself, which is on top of the risk reduction that comes from people you’re mixing with being vaccinated.

So, dining in an allvaccinated restaurant and working in an all-vaccinated workplace presents a much lower infection risk to us as individuals, whether we are vaccinated or not. The risk reduction is around 20fold, but as individuals, we need to consider whether that’s meaningful for our own circumstances, and for the circumstances of those we visit. There are also added complexities, in that there are three vaccine brands available, and eligibility is still limited to those aged 12 and older. Although, we do know kids are less susceptible and less likely to show symptoms. However, as more information emerges, we can always update our estimates and think through the implications on the risk reduction. What about people who can’t be

vaccinated? Some people haven’t been able to get vaccinated because they’re either too young or they have a medical exemption. Other people are immunocompromised and won’t get the same level of protection from two doses as the rest of the community. Increasing our coverage across the board will help protect those who aren’t fully protected by vaccination (whether that’s by eligibility, medical reasons or choice). Those at higher risk also enjoy the risk reduction if they’re able to mix primarily with vaccinated people. And other choices we make can help reduce the risk of transmission when vaccination is impossible, for example, wearing masks, washing hands carefully, and so on. Do rapid antigen tests help? Some people have

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So how much does a rapid antigen test reduce risk to others? To answer that question we need to consider test sensitivity. Test sensitivity is the probability a rapid test will return a positive result, if the person is infected. It’s challenging to get an accurate estimate. But rapid antigen tests are about 80% as sensitive as a PCR test, which are the traditional COVID tests we do that get sent off to a lab. The PCR tests themselves are about 80% sensitive when it comes to identifying someone with COVID. So, if you did a rapid antigen test at home, it’s about 64% likely to pick up that you’re positive, if you did have COVID. Therefore, rapid antigen tests can find about twothirds of cases. If you’re going to a gathering where everyone has tested negative on a rapid antigen test, that’s a three-fold reduction in risk. Even though rapid tests provide a reduction in risk, they don’t replace vaccines. When used in conjunction with high levels of vaccination, rapid tests would provide improved protection for settings where we’re particularly keen to stop disease spread, such as hospitals and aged care facilities. Consequently, despite the high efficacy of COVID vaccines, there are still reasons a vaccinated person would prefer to mix with vaccinated people, and avoid mixing with unvaccinated people. This is particularly true for those at higher risk of severe disease, whether due to age or disability. Their baseline risk will be higher, so a 20fold reduction in risk is more meaningful. Source- The Conversation, October 27, 2021 (Under Creative Commons Licence)


NOVEMBER 2021

Arts/Literature

South Asia Times

15

Why has Squid Game resonated with a global audience? By Genevieve Leigh

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quid Game, a Korean survival drama series written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, has become an international phenomenon. On Tuesday, Netflix reported that it had officially become the most widely viewed series ever for the platform, with more than 111 million viewers worldwide. It is currently the top show on Netflix in at least 90 countries, from Argentina and Australia, to Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the United States. The plot is centered around a series of children’s games in which hundreds of adult contestants compete for the chance to win unimaginable money. However, the price of losing is death. The contestants, chosen by the mysterious game makers, are the most deeply indebted and desperate individuals. A handful of billionaires, known as the VIPs, watch the game and vote on the success and failure of the various contestants. What lies behind the enormous and global response? No doubt there are many factors, but the central one is clear—its depiction of desperate individuals put in desperate situations, the consequences of a society riven by social inequality, the greed and criminality of the rich, and associated themes. The series is clearly a critique of capitalist society, and generally deals with the issues confronting the characters in a humane way—in spite of the brutal and violent premise. The individuals who compete in the games are, with a few exceptions, sympathetic characters. Abdul Ali (played by Anupam Tripathi), for example, is an immigrant worker from Pakistan, who feels compelled to participate in the game to provide for his family after his employer refuses to pay him for months. Kang Sae-byeok (played by Jung Ho-yeon) is a North Korean defector who hopes to support her little brother and retrieve the rest of her family members who are still across the border. The main character, Seong Gi-hun (played by Lee Jung-jae), is struggling to provide for his daughter and assist his ailing mother, while combating a gambling addiction. Writer and director Hwang Dong-hyuk recently explained in an interview with IndieWire his motivation for writing the series: “I conceived of

the theories for the show in 2008. At the time, there was the Lehman Brothers crisis; the Korean economy was badly affected, and I was also economically struggling.” He continued: “Over the past 10 years, there were a lot of issues: There was the cryptocurrency boom, where people around the world, especially young people in Korea, would go all-in and invest all their money into cryptocurrencies. And there was the rise of IT giants like Facebook, Google, and in Korea, there’s Naver, and they are just restructuring our lives. It’s innovative but these IT giants also got very rich.” Dong-hyuk added, however, that it was the election of Trump in the US that prompted him to put it into production. “I think he kind of resembles one of the VIPs in the Squid Game,” he said. “It’s almost like he’s running a game show, not a country, like giving people horror.” Squid Game is one of a number of interesting films and productions coming out of South Korea, of a left-wing and anti-capitalist character, and certainly the series speaks to the social catastrophe in that country. The development of the South Korean economy— one of the “Asian Tigers”—has made fortunes for the ruling elite within the country and internationally. The working class, on the other hand, was made to suffer the brunt of the economic crises that would follow, first in 1997-98 and later in the aftermath of 2008. South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, especially among the elderly. Unemployment for young people in 2020 stood at a staggering 22 percent. Household debt, at over 1,800 trillion won ($1.5 trillion), now exceeds the country’s annual economic output. South Korean workers have their own unique history, one that includes dictatorship, war, government repression (the Gwangju massacre among the

most prominent). In one episode it is revealed that the main character, Gihun, ran into financial troubles after he was laid off from Motor warehouse. In a flashback, the audience sees strikebreakers busting down doors and brutally assaulting striking workers, killing at least one. Dong-hyuk has said that the character was inspired by the 2009 Ssangyong Motors plant strike. The inclusion of this episode was clearly a conscious decision, inspired by the bravery and determination of workers’ struggles in South Korea, of which there have been many. But the aspect that is most powerfully expressed by Squid Game is not the uniqueness of the story of South Korean workers, but the commonality of life and the conditions of the working class throughout the world. It is no doubt that it is this element that underlies the vitriolic response from some of the leading media mouthpieces in the US. The New York Times recently ran a piece in their “Critics Notebook” section titled: “Haven’t Watched ‘Squid Game?’ Here’s What You’re Not Missing.” Author Mike Hale explains that what he disliked most about the show is “its pretense of contemporary social relevance.” He goes on: “The setup is a commentary on the rigid class stratification of South Korea, and a pretty obvious allegory: Losers in the rigged game of the Korean economy, the players have a chance to win in the (supposedly) more meritbased, egalitarian arena of the squid game, but at the risk of almost certain death.” For the Times, the themes of the series hit too close to home—not just in relation to the “rigged game of the Korean economy” (emphasis added)— but for capitalist society as a whole. The mother of the main character is forced at one point to go into the hospital,

knowing full well for some time that she is likely dying. She leaves the hospital against the direction of the doctors because she knows she cannot afford the bills associated with treatment. One need not live in South Korea to recognize the situation. How many millions of workers struggle to afford healthcare around the world? Every contestant in the show is in a financial hole, with no options available to get out no matter how hard they try or what they are willing to sacrifice. One may argue that no feeling could be more relatable, and practically universal among workers. In the US, outstanding student loan debt lies somewhere between $902 billion and $1 trillion. Many workers die having never paid it all off. Paid plasma donations have tripled from 12 million per year in 2006 to 38 million per year in 2016. That is, young people in particular have taken to selling their blood, a process that takes a serious toll on the health of the donor, especially for long-term, repeated donors, in order to pay their bills. There is no doubt that these themes are ones that resonate with workers regardless of their ethnic or national background, or their gender or race. In the age of globalization, workers are able to see more easily than ever the similarities in their experiences, and also in their exploiters. Perhaps at no point has this been clearer than in the last year and a half, as the world staggered through a global pandemic that has impacted in one form or another every person on the planet. Any film that addresses such issues is certainly off to a good start. But one must ask, is it the case that perhaps the bar has been set far too low? It is true that generally speaking, the film finds a hopeful conclusion… but just barely. In many scenes the message seems clear: “Ordinary people” are not naturally cruel or uncaring. But other scenes and conclusions muddy the waters. It appears that the director himself is not fully confident as to what side he comes down on. So many films are dominated by the narratives of masochism and misanthropy. Not only are these stories set on a false and dangerous premise, but they produce wildly simplistic and predictable narratives that are not at all relatable. But the truth is that life is much more complex. People are not

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born good or evil. Barbarism is not the natural condition of mankind. Squid Game is trending toward a different outlook, but it does not always hit the mark. The contestants, for example, are given a choice at the beginning or at any point throughout to end the game if a majority votes to do so. After the first game, in which hundreds die, the contestants, appalled by the inhumanity of the game, vote—by a one vote majority—to leave. But, facing a hopeless situation at home, they decide to return, and then proceed to participate in games that not only risk their own lives, but at times require that they “win” by ensuring that others die. Is it really the case that people, no matter how desperate their situations, will willfully and knowingly participate in a game of mass slaughter and barbarity in the hope that, in the end, they might come out on top and resolve all their problems with a mountain of cash? If so, what does this say about the director’s view of humanity? This element of the plot tends to undermine the more basic message the series tries to convey, that despite the savage conditions forced upon them, most fight valiantly to keep their humanity, refusing to give in to the brutality of it all. Then there is the fact that the social catastrophe faced by the contestants is generally presented in individual terms, with individual solutions. Everyone participating in the game is left to their own devices, with the exception of some of their fellow contestants, most of whom end up dead. While one would not know from watching the mainstream press, we are living amid an emergence of the largest strike movement in the US in decades. This movement of the working class in the center of world capitalism is part of a broader trend internationally. It is still in its early stages, and immense confusion exists among workers on all sorts of social and cultural questions. But there is every reason for optimism and not despair. The ending of season 1 of Squid Game is promising. Seong Gi-hun appears determined to end the games for good. How he will go about it is still to be determined. Perhaps the director will turn his attention to stirrings of the working class for inspiration. Originally published in WSWS.org, 15 October, 2021.




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South Asia Times

NOVEMBER 2021

By Shoma A. Chatterji

but without any training whatsoever.

A

karsh Khurana’s Rashmi Rocket released on Zee5 on October 10 is focussed on the purely politically manoeuvred and gender-biased elimination of winning sports women in athletics on the basis of very unscientifically structured sex tests. “World Athletics has targeted women from the Global South for decades, treating those with high testosterone as less than human,” says Payoshni Mitra, scholar and athlete rights advocate. “These regulations demean women, make them feel inadequate, and coerce them into medical interventions for participation in sports. Modern sport should adapt itself to support inclusion and non-discrimination rather than perpetuate exclusion and discrimination.”

Her mother pushed her to take part in competitive sports though she did not like the idea much as she did not wish to leave the shelter of her mother. But she did and after regular and rigorous training, she began to win in athletics progressing from the State to the National levels and winning each time which, however, would prove to become her undoing.

challenging the rules at the Centre for Arbitration of Sport (CAS), an international tribunal in Lausanne, Switzerland.

rocks

Rashmi Rocket remains on the entertainment radar a bit too long before coming to the basic social agenda– sex tests as a human rights violation more than gender-centric violence Her romance with the army major Gagan Thakur (Priyanshu Painyuli) graduating to a live-in relationship and to marriage is understated, soft and delicately manoeuvred which throws up the ideal counterpoint to the sharplyedged main plot – Rashmi’s grilling training, her skills on the tracks and sudden outbursts of violence on the practicing fields.

Dutee Chand shot into limelight between 2012 and 2014, when at just 18, she became India’s best bet for an Olympics medal. But hours before the Indian contingent was to leave for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014, she was dropped, because a complex maze of medical tests found high levels of testosterone in her body, referred to then as hyperandrogenism. In an interview to a leading daily, Chand said, “I was not told by anyone, not even the doctor from SAI who conducted several tests on me, what they were for. I was confused. The papers were calling me a man. How does one turn into a man overnight?” Rashmi Rocket is a mainstream film with a message that crosses global borders to establish the fact that in most cases, such sudden disqualification of women athletes from competitive sports is not only due to a gender bias but has strongly political motives at the administrative and executive levels of sports bodies who have their own axe to grind – political, filial, sociological and class-based, to favour a given athlete over the winning one. The first three parts of the film build up to focus on the evolution of Rashmi from a small-town girl to the fastest running track athlete in the country while the last part turns the film into a courtroom drama. Dutee Chand fought against the violation of her right to be informed about what test she was going through and why by

In 2015, CAS suspended the rule for two years and asked the IAAF to commission studies proving a causal link between higher testosterone level and increased performance on track. In April 2021, based on a study funded by the IAAF and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the Federation clamped testosterone quotas, which now stand at five nanomoles per litre, for events from 400 metres to the mile. Athletes who had hyperandrogenism had two options: Quit sports, or undergo a medical intervention involving surgery and long-term hormone-replacement therapy to lower androgen levels. Chand took the third option. She decided to challenge the ruling at the Court of Arbitration of Sports (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland, and with the help of an international team of experts, got a ruling in 2015 that lifted this ban. Annet Negesa, a Ugandan runner, holds a photo of herself racing in the 2011

The tests she is forced to go through are extremely humiliating as it involves stripping naked in front of someone who insists she is a medical expert in such tests which she is not, signing a consent form under tremendous pressure without reading the details in the form, and even being arrested and also slapped by male cops for “crashing into a women’s hostel and indulging in violence”.

The loss of her very affectionate and encouraging father (Manoj Joshi) in the Gujarat earthquake and her close bonding with her mother Bhanubehn (Supriya Pathak in a strong performance) offer a powerful backstory to her determination to breast the tape every time.

World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. Negesa was targeted under sex testing regulations and instructed to undergo a medically unnecessary surgery in 2012. Caster Semenya from South Africa – was disproportionately harmed. Women track and field athletes, largely from the Global South, are abused and harmed by “sex testing” regulations, Human Rights Watch said in a report. The regulations target women in running events between 400 meters and one mile, and compel women they target to undergo medical interventions or be forced

out of competition. The impact of these harrowing experiences linger, echoed by countless women athletes across the world who struggle against arbitrary testing shrouded in secrecy. And this now seems to have become the trigger for a young filmmaker and his team to place on film that is fictional with stories from several real life stories. Rashmi Virah is a Gujarati girl Rann of Kutch, who, from childhood, could run like a ‘rocket’ which became her second name in the small town she lived and grew up in, under the guidance of progressive parents

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The husband brings her back to the practising tracks and out of depression after the shock of being disqualified for failing the testosterone levels tests and gives her solid backing, persuading her to go on also when he learns she is pregnant. Rashmi refuses her pregnancy to be offered as a plea in her fight for reinstating her sex identity because she wants all wronged sportswomen to be brought within the purview of her judgement in case she wins and she does win, thanks to the fiercely committed defence attorney (Abhishek Banerjee) who excels himself with CONTD. ON PG 19


NOVEMBER 2021

CINEMA

CONTD. FROM PG 18 his plain-speaking, caustic satire and intensive research pitted against a sophisticated, suited-andbooted prosecution lawyer appointed by the Academy which threw her out is brilliant, once again proving what a versatile actor he is shaping up to become. Pannu excels in the most author-backed and challenging role of her entire career as she is reported to have undergone rigorous physical training such as running from Mumbai to Lonavla and back to play the part. She is given a brown tan to make her a bit darkskinned but that gives her a sexier look while she is made to be somewhat flat-chested to be hit by the “launda” barb by her strongest rival who came first before Rashmi came along. She is good even during her emotionally distressed phase matched frame for frame by her co-actor , the tall and handsome Priyanshu who is really good and convincing as an army man which invests the character with the logic of being a strong, supportive and loving husband who has no complex if his wife is more famous than he can ever hope to be. Priyanshu is one to watch for in the near future because he has the looks, the body language and the sophistication demanded by similar characters in Bollywood cinema. Varun Badola as the villain in the Academy’s administrative board is quiet, low-key yet arrogant and dignified in his brief cameo. He quietly walks out of the courtroom once his crime is proved. There are a few songs on the soundtrack and they are good but the film could have stood on its own without them too. The editing, and the cinematography specially from the point she steps into the laboratory where her sex tests are to happen without her knowledge, is as dynamic as the film itself which adds to the energy levels of the film per se and the storyline too. There are a few logical lapses and some melodramatic moments too but that does not make one write off the film. Rashmi Rocket may not win any festival awards but will remain in the archives of “performance cinema” in the world, sharing space with Chak De India, Bhag Milkha Bhag, Paan Singh Tomar, Shaina and Mary Kom. Source- The Citizen, 27 October 2021. www.southasiatimes.com.au - 0421 677 082

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South Asia Times

NOVEMBER 2021

Cinemas now open in Victoria; no vaccination – no entry policy applies By SAT News Desk

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ELBOURNE, 30 October 30: Yes, Melbourne cinemas are now open, and you can enjoy your favourite movies on big screen. Cinema theatres have been shut for many months and moviefans glued to streaming services are flocking back to cinemas. So, who can go to a theatre? Yes, if you’re fully vaccinated. “Entertainment venues are open if everyone present (including workers) is fully vaccinated, is under 16 or has a valid medical exemption. Density limits apply in all cases. See the summary above for density and attendance limits at entertainment venues. Face masks must be worn indoors unless you’re eating or drinking, or if another exception applies. If you don’t meet the vaccination requirements, you won’t be permitted entry, “says the coronavirus.vic.gov.au. For South Asians two Punjabi movies, Chal Mera Putt 2 and Chal Mera Putt 3 are in Cinemas in Melbourne now! And another Punjabi movie Yes I Am Student is running only at the Village Sunshine Cinema. Hindi movie Sooryanvashi in (With English Subtitles) will be in the cinemas this Diwali November 5, 2021. Starting off from when

Akshay Kumar was introduced in Simmba, Sooryavanshi traces the acts and serious antics of DCP Veer Sooryavanshi, the chief of the AntiTerrorism Squad in India. Along with his partner,

Katrina Kaif, making it one of the biggest films of the year. Sooryavanshi belongs to the cop universe of Rohit Shetty which also comprises the characters of Singham (played by

Ajay Devgan) and Simmba (played by Ranveer Singh). The action-packed adventures of an antiterrorist squad in India. DCP Veer Sooryavanshi, the chief of the Mumbai Anti-Terrorism Squad

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and his team join forces with Inspector Sangram Bhalerao and DCP Bajirao Singham to stop a terrorist batch planning to attack Mumbai. Check- www. mindblowingfilms.com.


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