Wednesday, March 22, 2023
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SubscriberWrites: From climate change and ending discrimination to manufacturing consent on Taliban and looking at ‘The Lives of Others’

Subscribers write on the recent floods in Maharashtra, Pegasus scandal, manufacturing consent on Taliban and why India needs world’s largest disaster rehabilitation programme.

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I am a resident of Raigad (Konkan) in Maharashtra. You might be seeing my town on TV today for the floods. I have seen heavy rains all my life here but this one we have ourselves to blame. Mother nature had a caring hand until recently, but we have a few warning slaps and we need to pay attention.

Warnings that I experienced:

  1. Nisarg Cyclone 2020

2. Tauktae Cyclone 2021

3. Mahad, Chiplun Flood 2021

Warnings I see:

  1. Amphan Cyclone 2020

2. Yaas Cyclone 2021

3. Heatwave in UK, Canada, US 2021

4. Chennai Flood

5. Mumbai monsoon

6. Delhi winter

Let me tell you that 40% of the world population lives within 100km from the sea and we are pushing them (no more slowly) to risk.

Government, big steps aside, here is what I am determined to do (my kharicha vata)

Window ventilation instead of A/C whenever possible

More use of public/shared transport

Carrying a cloth bag to market (say no to polythene, wherever possible)

No more black garbage bags (use old ones available, each house has a bag of bags)

Read news, books digitally (use as little paper as possible)

Going back to traditional metal utensils after plastic ones

Carry and use a handkerchief at restaurants

Adding a comment in Zomato and Swiggy ‘No tissue paper and plastic spoons’

Saying no to plastic straw to juicewala. If you want, carry a personal bamboo straw (cheap, clean and COOL)

Keep an eye open for easy and environment-friendly options.

Kanad Mehta

My experience of working on tsunami response left me with three important learnings. First, every disaster response should start with rescue and relief operations having a community-centric approach. Second, successful response programmes should end with a sustainable rehabilitation programme. And third, every disaster creates a further divide between the rich and poor. Hence, deliberate efforts should be made while planning and executing rehabilitation activities to include the vulnerable groups. Ensuring that we follow these learnings at the best of times is not an easy task and if we compare the current pandemic with the tsunami of 2004, the scale and complexity of impact makes it a daunting task.

Scale and complexity of Impact

In 2004 tsunami, 10,749 people died and 5,640 were missing. Compare that to the Covid-19 – reported death till 23 July is 4,19,470. The actual numbers are bound to be more given that by now each one of us know someone close whom we lost. Recent Centre for Global Development study estimated deaths 10 times more.

This scale and complexity of impact requires a greater effort to recover. Scale – as the affected families are spread across every city and village (unlike tsunami, which was limited to the coastal areas); and complexity of the task – given the behavior of the virus, the technical nature of the healthcare relief work, coupled with the challenges of lockdowns, reverse migration and job loss.

Impact on Financial Well-being

One can imagine if the earning members have lost their jobs or succumbed to the infection; how burdened those families will be. CMIE survey (May) reported a fall in the real income of 97 per cent of household and PMGKAY has to provide a whopping 80 crore people with 5 Kg wheat/rice and 1 Kg whole chana between May to Nov 2021.

Job loss

Compounding this angst is the loss of livelihoods. As per the above CMIE survey, India lost 22.3 million jobs in April-May 2021. While some of these jobs may come back after the situation improves, but few jobs may not if organizations have shut down or downsized operations. This will further aggravate the job crisis when India needs to add yearly 12 million new jobs to engage its young population in the workforce.

Learning Loss

In India schools are closed for past 15 months. The third round ‘Survey on National Education Responses to COVID-19 School Closure” highlights that though remote learning has been a lifeline for many children around the world during school closures, but for the most vulnerable, even this was out of reach. 1 out of 3 countries are not taking action to help students catch up with learning post COVID-19 school closure.

Falling Consumer Confidence Index

Consumer confidence has touched a new low based on the RBI’s recent telephonic survey conducted in 13 cities. It fell to 48.5 in May 2021 where 100 is the level that divides pessimism from optimism as per the set benchmark. A collapse in consumer sentiment is bound to affect the demand and the overall economy.

Impact on Mental Well-Being

Mental health is the foundation for well-being. The WHO, in its last year report, estimated that about 7.5 percent Indians suffer from some mental disorder pre pandemic and predicts that due to COVID-19 impact, roughly 20 percent of India will suffer from some sort of mental illness. The report also highlights that India has only 0.3 psychiatrist and 0.07 psychologists per 1,00,000 population as compared to the recommended number of 3. This will require innovative solutions not only to provide the required counselling support at scale but also to increase the number of mental healthcare workforce with speed.

Legal issues in the absence of a will

In India there are inhibitions when it comes to writing of a will, and generally people tend to avoid it unless you belong to business families or you are certain to die in the near future. But the pandemic made us realise the importance of a will. There is 300 percent increase in client queries during pandemic on – a legal advice platform. While such platforms are helpful for the educated population, the majority of rural and small-town population that is not digitally savvy needs handholding. Any effective rehabilitation must cover this critical area to save families by providing them legal services in the absence of a will and to train them on how they can have one.


While it is assuring to see the fall in numbers of cases, and increase in vaccination coverage; affected low-income families will certainly need rehabilitation support. And this rehabilitation will indeed be the world’s biggest, and requires largest collaborative efforts among NGOs, private sector and government, if we want to build back better and with speed.

Pranav Choudhary

Also read: SubscriberWrites: Shortcomings of liberal democracy, and a look at the political imbalance in Cabinet reshuffle

It was in March 2003 that The Lives of Others, directed by a young German, was released, captivating film buffs for years to come. The reason for remembering this movie now is the similarities it has with the news of our ‘electoral democratic’ government(s)’ habitual amusement of eavesdropping into its citizenry to avoid national mayhem. This time, it was using spyware Pegasus developed by NSO.

The Lives of Others takes place in East Germany a few years before the fall of Berlin Wall in 1985, the year Mikhail Gorbachev came to power. It was about electronic surveillance on artists and intellectuals by Staci, the East German secret police and how it destroyed the life of victims and was cathartic to the intelligence officer assigned to do the ‘job’. A brilliant movie so well received by Western film fraternity that the talented director’s next movie was in Hollywood and starred by none other than Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. The acceptance in the West was complete and the plot was treated with the innocence of a parable happening in the distant world of fast-vanishing ideology of Communism, which has little to do with their lives.

Realisation came ten years later, guided by a 30-year-old Computer consultant Edward Snowden, who enlightened them on the games played with their private life by a liberal democratic government. Snowden, within a matter of few weeks, unveiled the dark world of digital surveillance and made us realise that there is nothing called ‘privacy’ in our connected digital world.

Even though there are no similarities between the modus operandi of Snowden and the protagonist of our movie, no one can miss the fact that both were challenging the powers which had deployed them to do what they were asked to do. At least one critic strongly believed that Snowden had seen The Lives of Others.

If someone asked you ten days back on the similarity between Azerbaijan, Rwanda, Kazakhstan and India, you would have questioned the absurdity of the question. Now we know that it is the list of those governments which fear their citizens most and had allegedly ventured to peep into their private life by infiltrating their mobile phones. Not a list in which a country that boasts itself as ‘Vishwa Guru’ likes to be in. We should understand that imposing the fantasies of thirty-seven percent voters on the rest will need some use of unconstitutional means. Ambivalence, if any, can be excised by the learnings from Chanakya Neeti and scriptures which teach that ‘your job’ is to do what you are ‘supposed to do’ regardless of the consequences it has on the ‘Lives of Others’. When you are destined to alter fantasies into realities, nothing should stop you.

In the movie The Lives of Others, the supervisor of our protagonist explains methods on breaking the will of artists from a doctoral thesis ‘Prison Condition for Subversive Artists’.

“They can’t bear being alone, always talking, needing friends, they should never be brought to trial. Temporary detention is the best way to deal with them. Complete isolation and no set release date. No human contacts the whole time, not even with the guards. Good treatment, no harassment, no abuse, no scandals, nothing they could write about later. We release them after ten months. Suddenly, that guy won’t cause us any more trouble. Best part is most of them will never write or paint anything again. All that without any use of force. Just like that. Kind of like a present.”

If you found the above resembling the terms of detention for UAPA, AFSPA, NSA, PSA, be assured that they are purely coincidental.

In 2014, forty-three men from Israel militaries elite signal unit submitted mass resignation. The reason given by them was their unwillingness to do sweeping surveillance on Palestinian public in the name of finding few terrorists. At least one officer in that team gave The Lives of Others as his inspiration for this apostasy.

Whistle-blowers do not come from the Mars; they are nurtured here by the manure of human values and water of equality under the sunlight of a free and open society. Yes, a place where the mind is without fear. Equally needed is a safety net knowing well that they may stay outcasts for rest of their life. Does our Democracy succeeded in creating a bunch of citizens like that? That may well be the ultimate test on the vigour of our septuagenarian Republic.

One needs to be a perennial optimist who believes that a day may come as in the end of the The Lives of Others when the victimised artist who lost the beloved, retorts in soft but firm voice to the minister who ordered surveillance: ‘To think that people like you once ruled a country.’

Sanjeev Sivadasan

As Microsoft founder Bill Gates once said, “Discrimination has a lot of layers that make it tough for minorities to get a leg up.” This meaningful quote is an accurate example of how being discriminated against affects lives. Many people in this world are left behind based on the inequitable treatment that the privileged have meted out to them.

To my mind, understanding the evils and causes of discrimination are essential to eliminating it. My interpretation of discrimination is “treating somebody the way you wouldn’t want to be treated, due to who they are or what they believe in.” The root of discrimination is believing in bigotry based on beliefs, identity, or values of the “so-called privileged”. My view is that this level of prejudice could generally be caused by societal, peer, and family influences. According to the CDC, discrimination comes in many forms, including generally unheard ones, status as a parent, pregnancy causing stagnancy in corporates, survivors of sexual harassment end up getting harassed, etc.

Any form of discrimination plays a devastating role in people’s lives, pushing them towards poverty, crime, mental breakdown, or even death. As per an NPR research report, 60% of people of colour in the USA have stated that either they or a family member have been unjustly mistreated by police just because they are black. In Europe, as per a Eurobarometer survey, more than 80% of people have said that there is discrimination practiced based on ethnicity, religion, physical disability, mental disability, age, and sexual orientation.

All this empirical evidence makes a substantial case to believe that discrimination exists in various shapes and forms and, it exists worldwide. It is essential to understand that the person who practices discrimination generally believes that they are more powerful in some form than the one who is a victim of discrimination. Discrimination is a classic example of the misuse of power or social status or both.

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves,” said Leo Tolstoy.

More than the government, NGOs, and the judiciary, all of us must take immediate and decisive individual action at a local level to start this tsunami of change against discrimination. Here are some of the steps I will take at my local level to be a tiny contributor to this immense transformation.

The solution to most complex problems ends up being the simplest ones. First, Stand Up against discrimination. Why should you feel embarrassed if you are doing the right thing? We all must remember to educate the offenders on the negative effects of discrimination and strongly encourage them to stop doing so.

Secondly, raising awareness is paramount. Using social media, you could educate people on the ill effects of discrimination and how it destroys the social fabric of a nation. Also, proactively talk to your parents, friends, and family about this massive issue.

Next, I would take this rather unusual approach. That is to think about your “insignificance” in the universe, it is an easier way to realize that everyone is equal. Start by thinking that you are one of the 7 billion people that live on this planet, there are 8 planets in our solar system, there are well over 5,000 solar systems in the Milkyway. There are 2 trillion galaxies in the universe, and the universe is constantly expanding. This puts everything into perspective and makes you think, ‘if the colour of your skin makes a difference’; does your gender become more important than your talent? Do your faiths and religion matter?’ No! Absolutely not! Next time you should think twice about commenting and discriminating against someone. Go back and reflect that you are just a mere fraction of this universe, why do you have to spot the so-called “differences” between two “super-miniature dots” in this ever-lasting universe.

I decided to keep the most significant solution for last. If you are in a position of power, you must reprimand those who discriminate against a person or a group. All people in power (at whatever level) have a responsibility to do so, just like how parents are supposed to teach their children the right behavior and if required, even reprimand them. If a sports team member shows discriminatory behavior, it is the captain’s responsibility to strictly reprimand the person, to set an example. This would make anyone think twice before repeating the same.

Discrimination is just not a word in the dictionary, it is centuries-old, deep-rooted, and all-pervasive evil that exists in this world. This cannot be corrected in a jiffy. In my opinion, it will take 2 -3 generations of conscious and sustained effort to eliminate all forms of this evil. Can we be the change we want to see in the world? All hands should be put up.

Arsheya Sivakumar

Mass media is the tool of manufacturing consent in the global market. The latest example of this trend is devastating to acknowledge that almost every popular media channel has called the spokesman of the Taliban to know their views on military takeover, war strategies, and political intentions. Knowingly or unknowingly the mass media has amplified the narrative of the Taliban. Thus, it is severely involved in manufacturing a terror-filled narrative, which has repercussions for the government of Afghanistan, particularly for its people.

The United-State is very much responsible for this latest trend as it has legitimized the Taliban’s by setting a date for complete withdrawal. What was so urgent that the United States took this step without thinking of the consequences for the people of Afghanistan and its government? The answer of this question is easy to find, that is, they wanted the longest war of America to be stopped as it was being fought at the expense of public exchequer. This thought process by the United States shows its priority, its political and social commitment to democracy, women’s rights and their social and financial welfare. It also represents the typical behavior of the power that it lacks empathy for the people, the United States gesture, in this case, is of eccentricity, senselessness, and cold-heartedness when it comes to ground realities where a politics is being played on the lives of people.

Madiha Afzal in her piece “what the Biden administration’s narrative on Afghanistan gets wrong” has mentioned that Joe Biden, the current president of the United States, thinks that America is leaving the Afghan women and children in a much better position than 40 years back. What a deceitful role is this that the country who has entered into Afghanistan in order to dismantle the infrastructure of Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Taliban ended up in strengthening them in no time. But it is not ready to accept its crushing defeat in Afghanistan which is a place famously known for being the graveyard of civilizations. Knowing that it has lost its credibility as the champion of democracy, America is making fun of itself by not accepting the reality, but is certainly involved in manufacturing consent if it has done a good job.

In the backdrop of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the engagement of Media with the spokesman of Taliban Suhail Shaheen has ushered in the war of narrative between the Taliban and government of Afghanistan. Obaidullah Baheer in his piece “losing the narrative of war in Afghanistan” published in the South Asia Voices has reinforced that it is necessary for the Afghan government to develop a strong anti-Islamist narrative against the Taliban who use Islam to spread terror, violence, and mayhem. He strongly suggested that this can be done in forming a Islamic Council based on true teachings of tolerance and justice in the religion Islam. This political tactic of countering the narrative of the Taliban at least spread the awareness among people so that a resistive force can be built against them that they are perpetrators of violence, not Islam.

However, it is a wishful thing as currently every TV channel is extremely busy with the Afghan Taliban and their narrative. This special focus has forced the Afghan government to the disadvantaged position. Their narrative is critically marginalized, making Afghanistan more susceptible to violence. In other words, this spotlight on the Taliban has reinforced the idea of manufacturing consent, an idea given by Noam Chomsky, where the media engaged with people of political and social influence to increase its rating. Such media tactics often damage the credibility of true journalism by leaving people at the mercy of Taliban for the sake of some rating.

The manufacturing of consent in the light of the above examples is happening in two ways. On the one hand, America is painting itself that it has achieved its targets in Afghanistan having killed Osama-Bin-Laden and the subsequent destruction of terrorists and their infrastructure. On the other hand, the media is showing the Taliban as legitimate political actors/stakeholders, and rightly so because of the United States abrupt withdrawal. In both cases, the Afghan people are marginalized, destroyed, and wrecked at the hands of the Taliban. What is astonishing is the fact that this engagement with the Taliban has reduced the debate on the role of America because of which tens of thousands of Afghans have died in fighting the menace of Taliban. Having lost 2 trillion dollars, America has left not only Afghan at a perilous position but also it has landed itself in a precarious position of trans-national terrorism.

In a nutshell, it is the United States whose faults in policy whether it was to attack Afghanistan in 2001 or its withdrawal so abruptly now has put the peace of the region at risk. In this way, it has put the people of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other regional states at risk of terrorist attacks. Neither it has gained its objectives, nor it has provided a medium for political settlement in Afghanistan. It is so regrettable that it has worsened the position of the Afghan government in the face off with Taliban as whether it is western media or for that matter any other, are engaged with Taliban because of their terror attacks. Perhaps, the United States has reduced itself to accept the demands of Taliban shamelessly; it is now manufacturing the narrative that it has done so well, for the women and children of Afghanistan. It seems America has lost sanity as it spews farce for its lost war but still engaged in manufacturing consent for its terror attacks on people of Afghanistan.

Shahzaib Hassan

Also read: SubscriberWrites: What distinguishes Indian Muslims, and a look at Pegasus scandal with regards to privacy orders

These pieces are being published as they have been received – they have not been edited/fact-checked by ThePrint.

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