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The human face of law

Pratiksha Baxi | Associate professor, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, JNU

The Indian Express

“The debate on whether or not death penalty is a deterrent for rape has been overshadowed by a ghoulish fascination with the technology to execute the punishment”, notes Baxi talking about the death sentence of the convicts of the December 16 gangrape-murder case. She writes that the media has described the architecture of the scaffold in forensic detail and “the idea of the simultaneous hanging of four men on a scaffold, especially constructed for them, produces nervous excitement”.

It has come to a point that “Justice is conflated with vengeance and the public gaze is fixated on the gallows,” she notes and goes on to assert, “Media columns are not concerned with the question of how state violence is staged to obfuscate difficult questions of law and life. State killing is, in fact, made cinematic.” Baxi says that today, more than ever, death penalty is justified by evoking sexual violence. However, even with the rise in death penalty, states like UP have seen the most gruesome murder of rape victims and survivors. “Death penalty does not deter rape,” states Baxi.

While talking about the “encounters” of rape suspects, she writes that the judiciary should worry when people celebrate it. She concludes by saying that when feminist lawyers represent death row convicts, they do so with ethical responsibility. “They teach us to think of law’s quest for humanity.”

As India prepares to honour Bolsonaro

Krishnan Sreenivasan | Former Foreign Secretary

The Hindu

Sreenivasan writes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi often does the unexpected, citing examples of demonetisation and inviting SAARC leaders to his inauguration, and now the invitation to Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro to attend the Republic Day celebrations as chief guest.

He notes, “Mr. Bolsonaro, a pro-gun lobby, homophobic, far-right religious former Army Captain, came to power in 2018. The defining aspects of his administration have been a strong inclination towards the U.S. and damaging policies affecting the Amazon rainforest. In foreign policy, his affiliation with the U.S. is driven by admiration for President Donald Trump.” He adds, “Under his presidency, the number of black and indigenous people murdered has increased. His domestic approval rating stands at only 30%.”

He then goes on to speak about BRICS, its key achievements and the dynamics within the bloc, saying, “Mr. Modi is evidently not concerned about Mr. Bolsonaro’s status as Washington’s most loyal follower in Latin America, and could justify his invitation to Mr. Bolsonaro with references to the enduring quality of BRICS, Brazil’s agreement to waive visa requirements for Indian citizens, and the potential for Brazilian investments in the sectors of space and defence, agricultural equipment, animal husbandry, post-harvest technologies, and bio-fuels.” He adds that perhaps his invitation to Bolosnaro was also an attempt to please Trump.

The rise of the new Indian Muslim woman

Zakia Soman | Founding member of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan

Hindustan Times

Soman writes that recent years have seen the rise of a new Muslim woman — one who is bold, articulate and wants to take part in democratic process. She “does not trust the orthodox clergy to represent her. She is aware of her rights as a citizen and as a Muslim within her religion. She does not tolerate violation of her rights by anyone,” she adds.

Soman states that according to the Census and other data, Muslims have consistently been treated as vote banks by seemingly secular parties. They have been ghettoised in many places and there has been a lack of promotion of welfare programmes or participation in democratic spaces. Only four in 100 Muslims are graduates, and a mere 13 per cent hold salaried jobs, writes Soman. She also notes that the image of a conservative religious spokesperson of Muslims has been problematic not only for the community but India’s democracy as well. “It has been difficult for ordinary Muslims to cast-off the stranglehold of the clergy, which has consistently enjoyed political patronage. The absence of a democratic leadership within the community has contributed further to the problem. Rightist politics has hugely benefited from this phenomenon.” However, Soman notes, “women’s democratic leadership can possibly change things.”

IMF and the NDA’s magic mirror syndrome

Rupa Subramanyu | Economist & commentator

Financial Express

IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath said that 80 per cent of the projected 1 per cent reduction in the global growth forecast is “attributable to India” as the country has been facing a crisis in the financial sector and poor business sentiment. “Why [weren’t] these specific warning signs … evident to Gopinath and the IMF a year earlier, when it was abundantly clear …that the Indian economy was heading into trouble,” asks Subramanyu.

Signs of the shadow-banking crisis began as early as the fall of 2018, she argues. However, the IMF termed the Indian economy “healthy” in January 2019, and has tended to “consistently overestimate India’s growth”, observes Subramanyu. Though it is an international organisation meant to be “beholden” to its member countries, the IMF and “its sister organisation, the World Bank” are “intensely political”, she adds.

Their past announcements on India’s “healthy” economy have been “great fodder for the Modi government’s PR machine”, she writes, probably because of the “absence of internal expertise on economics”.

Aim at the relevant target 

Ajay Chibber | Chief economic advisor, FICCI

Economic Times 

Chhibber argues that the inflation-targeting regime should focus on core inflation, not CPI inflation since the latter is subject to surges in food and fuel CPI.

High levels of inflation today are owed to “supply shocks” in onion prices and surge in cereal prices, he writes. Past instances have exposed India’s “oil dependence” on West Asia, he adds. Chibber gives examples of these volatile movements like when “cereal prices fell over 60% between 2011 and 2016” during which time overall food prices fell 40%. Also, “oil prices fell even more sharply from $108 a barrel in early 2013 to $27 a barrel in early 2016.”

Tightening monetary policy and increasing repo rates do little for fluctuations in headline inflation, he adds.

“The way inflation targeting has been used in the past has kept interest rates between mid-2014 and mid-2018 at around 250 bps” — about “100 bps higher than they should have been”, writes Chibber.

Unlike CPI, core inflation is “not subject to volatile movements”, is “overall reflective for demand conditions” and is affected by monetary policy (with a four to five quarter lag), he concludes.

Our species might soon be able to hack death and live forever

Jaspreet Bindra | Digital transformation, technology expert, and author of ‘The Tech Whisperer’

Mint

In his piece, Bindra discusses the possibilities of artificial humans that challenge ideas of life and death, which can be “wildly exciting and highly frightening at the same time”.

He starts with the most recent — Samsung’s Neon, an artificial human showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, earlier this month. Samsung’s STAR Labs chief executive officer, Pranav Mistry who built Neon, aims to build more such “avatars” from scratch and then “open the platform up for other developers to build their narrow intelligence on top of it”, explains Bindra.

Though cyborgs and exoskeletons have been popular concepts in the world of AI, today there are Elon Musk’s brain-machine interfaces, or BMIs, writes Bindra. These aim to merge brains and computers together via a brain chip, he writes.

Bindra then elaborates on renowned futurist, Ray Kurzweil’s idea of merging human intelligence and artificial intelligence by 2045. Kurzweil believes that such a feat can “diverge in favour of AI, creating far more powerful and intelligent AIs than humans.” This concept is called “singularity,” explains Bindra, and is essentially “a far-out” application of BMI by which humans can “hack death”.

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