A Selection Of Short Reads From 2016

By The Caravan | 30 December 2016

To round up the year, here is a selection of some of our most talked-about short reads from 2016.

National Service
Aung San Suu Kyi’s quiet tourism push



The logo for the school, which graduated its first class in August, is a waiter serving a meal with a glass of wine. The academy is Aung San Suu Kyi’s flagship project in her constituency, and is funded by her charity, the Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, named after her mother. But why is a Nobel laureate and a world-famous leader so keen on people in her constituency learning how to make French bread and gin and tonics?

Joe Freeman in February. 

A Conversation With Vikram Chauhan, The Face Of The ‘Nationalist’ Movement Against JNU

But how does a lawyer, one who claims to specialise in criminal and civil law, resort so easily to an unlawful retaliation, and that too in a courthouse? “What would you do if your bar licence were to be cancelled?” I asked. “There are MLAs in this city who have been elected despite having a fake degree, and there are lawyers who practice law without a licence, what about all that?” Vikram Singh Chauhan replied. “But doesn’t the law bar you from taking matters in your own hands?” I insisted. “Lawyer hone ka ye matlab nahi hai ki deshbhakti ghar pe rakh ke aayenge,—Being a lawyer does not mean one has to leave their patriotism at home—he said.

Atul Dev in February.

Facing Demons
The reclamation of Mahishasur as a heroic figure

Today, though the theory remains deeply contested in academic circles, many believe that India’s present Dalit and Adivasi residents are the descendants of those indigenous people. Many Dalits and Adivasis consider Mahishasur to have been an indigenous king who was killed during the supposed invasion, and accuse upper-caste Hindus of demonising him as part of an effort to suppress narratives of resistance against Brahminism.

Pramod Ranjan in March.

Flush With Cash
Inside the unofficial plumbing capital of India

Kendrapara is the plumbing capital of Odisha, perhaps even of all India. But Kendrapara’s plumbing capital is a small village, Pattamundai, where practically every man is employed as a plumber, or is related to someone who is. The village is home to the State Institute of Plumbing Technology, or SIPT, the only institute in the country dedicated to plumbing. Pattamundai’s plumbers have migrated not only to most parts of India, but also to many different corners of the world, especially the Gulf countries and West Asia.

Namrato Sahoo in  March.

Was The Attempt To Transfer Amit Sengupta From The IIMC Indicative Of Government Interference?

Unlike other teachers, the correspondent who had studied at IIMC said, who either steered clear of political subjects, or did not express an opinion, Sengupta would “passionately talk about Nandigram, Naxalbari, Kandhamal, the POCSO act”—the violent 2007 clash between farmers and the government in the Nandigram region of West Bengal, the 1972 peasant revolt in the three areas in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal, the 2008 communal violence in Kandhamal in Odisha, and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act—“and mix it up with poetry and philosophy. He was an outsider. He unsettled IIMC.

Ishan Marvel in March.

A Former Zee News Producer Reveals Why He Left Over The Network’s Coverage Of JNU


During the day I would term the arrested JNU students “Deshdrohi” (traitors) on behalf of the news channel that I worked for. In the evening, on Facebook, I would post articles in support of these students. This was because I have known JNU and its politics for over ten years, having studied at the mass communication institute situated inside the campus.

Vishwa Deepak in March.

India Shrugged
An Ayn Rand cult that never took off


Many Indians have found solace in Rand’s philosophy, despite the fact that India’s political tradition is a far cry from the Objectivist ideal. In fact, Mitra’s collection emerged from a 50-year attempt to create an official Objectivist movement in India. But the movement, like the collection, has been largely abandoned by its followers. Over conversations with Mitra and many others who helped lead the movement, I learnt about this ill-fated endeavour.

Charlie Mitchell in May.

Halal Cuts
How Indian soap operas are made palatable for an Afghan audience

“Banoo Main Teri Dulhann is not the only programme to receive such treatment. Indian soap operas, often criticised in their own country for being too regressive, are considered not just too liberal, but even transgressive in Afghanistan. Thus, when the original episodes first arrive in dubbing studios, Afghan video editors must blur all objectionable content in the scenes, such as too much bare skin, Hindu ways of worship, alcohol and anything that could offend religious sentiments. Hindu idols are a big no-no, as idol worship is considered one of the gravest sins in Islam. The editors rarely ever cut entire scenes, and usually, blurring does the trick.”

Maija Luihto in May. 

Despite Claiming Not To Have 5 Crore To Pay The NGT, The Art Of Living Has Over 200 Crore Worth Of Assets And 80 Crore In Revenue

Considering AOL’s statement to the tribunal, one could be misled into assuming that the organisation is truly lacking for cash and dependent on charity from its followers. Consequently, one can’t be blamed if they think AOL’s finances are on shaky ground. However, this is far from the truth.

On conducting an an exhaustive global probe into the finances of the AOL trusts operating overseas, The Caravan found that the foundation and many of its other affiliate organisations are rolling in cash.

Kaushal Shroff in May.

In Kashmir, “Non-Lethal” Weapons Cause Lethal Damage


Although authorities in Kashmir’s hospitals have declared the current situation a medical emergency, personnel from the security forces have reportedly beaten and attacked patients at various places, including within the SMHS hospital. In a report that was published in The Tribune on 10 July, Dr Kaisar Ahmad, the principal of the Government Medical College in Srinagar, appealed to both civilians and the security forces for the safe passage of ambulances so that patients could be treated at the earliest. On 11 July, Greater Kashmir, a local newspaper, reported that 25 ambulances have been attacked between 9 July and 11 July.

Qadri Inzamam and Mohammed Haziq in July.

Grave Schism
A Cross-Border family feud over Bangladesh’s national poet

Nazrul spent most of his life in India, and lived in Dhaka for just a few years before his death in 1976. For decades now, the circumstances surrounding his years in the city have been the root of a major conflict within his family. While some of his relatives say he was happy there, others claim that he went uncared for, and that he was not sent back to live his last days in India, as he should have been, because the Bangladeshi government wanted to stake its claim on him.

Ella Weisser in August.

There Is No War In Bastar, Only Battles

The security establishment’s narrative on left-wing extremism in Bastar today is neatly laid out: the Maoists are outsiders who are using the innocent tribal people of Bastar to further their selfish agenda. According to the state, the rebels do nothing for the tribal people. The Maoist leaders, many state officials told me, just enjoy the spoils of ransom monies from the companies that want to set up projects in the area—the rebels send their kids to foreign universities, while the Adivasis and their kids die on the “battlefield.”

Aritra Bhattacharya in August.

Numerous Complaints Against A Jadavpur University Student Raise Questions About Laws Tackling Sexual Harassment On College Campuses

The complainant’s post spurred a wider conversation on the JU campus about sexual harassment, one that is still ongoing. “After the initial 13 girls came out with their statement, a few others have also spoken out against him and shared their accounts of molestation on different platforms, taking the cumulative count to around 25,” Shounak Mukopadhyay, a student in the English Department, told me. “The post has essentially lead to an outpouring of shared experiences and mobilised people to speak out.” As of 29 July, three official complaints had been registered with the college. Soon after the first complaint, the university suspended Chaudhuri and launched an official investigation into the matter.

Tanushree Bhasin in August.

“I Strongly Feel That I Might Be His Next Target”: The Father Of Shahabuddin’s Victims Speaks Out On His Release From Jail


Infamous as the poster-child for criminal politicians, Shahabuddin rose to notoriety for the terror he wielded as a political administrator in Siwan. Over the past two decades, the four-time RJD MLA has been named in 39 cases, and charged with crimes that range from flouting jail rules and intimidating voters, to extortion, kidnapping and murder. At the Hussain Ganj police station in Siwan, where a record of all the major cases against Shahabuddin is maintained, he is listed as a “Type A” criminal, a classification reserved for habitual criminals who are considered to be beyond reform. Most people from Siwan are aware of Shahabuddin’s violent reputation, but perhaps none of them are as intimately acquainted with it as Chandrakeshwar Prasad.

Priyanka Dubey in September.

Donald Trump’s Attempt To Make America Great Again Didn’t Work In Atlantic City


In 1990, spring had arrived in Atlantic City in style. Trump Taj Mahal, then the world’s largest casino-hotel complex, opened in April with Michael Jackson as its chief guest. The complex  cost over $1 billion, and the casino floor alone was around the size of two football fields. A younger Donald Trump, who owned the Taj, walked around the hotel with Jackson, while paparazzi snapped photographs and crowds lunged at the pop sensation’s fedora. Trump called the Taj—his third Atlantic City casino—the eighth wonder of the world.

Niha Masih in September.

Head Over Heels
Indian foot fetishists flock to e-commerce websites


He was right. Foot fetish, a strong sexual interest in feet, is indeed very common. In the last few years, the advent of websites for sale of second-hand products in India has inadvertently provided a platform for the trade of used clothing and footwear for fetish purposes. The country’s obscenity laws and the threat of violence from social vigilantes make it impossible to carry out such trade openly, which is why it is impossible to determine the size of this market.

Preksha Sharma in October.

“I Cannot Live With The Idea Of Modi And Me In The Same Frame”: Akshaya Mukul Boycotts The Ramnath Goenka Awards



Mukul had no bone to pick with the RNG awards. He told me that it was an “honour” to have won one. His problem lay in receiving the award from the prime minister. “I cannot live with the idea of Modi and me in the same frame, smiling at the camera even as he hands over the award to me,” Mukul said. He invoked an incident that had taken place at Patiala House Court in February, during which a number of journalists and students were assaulted by a group of men in lawyer’s robes. The attackers were accompanied by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s OP Sharma. Noting that the episode had led to unprecedented protests by media persons, Mukul said, “Imagine, there were journalists who defended the BJP and opposed us.

Sandeep Bhushan in December.

“We Arrested Kanhaiya, You Remember. What Are You”: How The Delhi Police Intimidated Me For Trying To Record The Unrest At A Bank

 

This sequence of events was not an aberration. By 6 pm on 12 November, the Delhi police had reportedly received 4,500 calls regarding episodes of violence in similar queues across the city. In an effort to document the tense situation, I started recording the incident with the camera on my phone. Bemused, the official in the white shirt told me to stop shooting. When I did not stop, he rushed towards me—momentarily forgetting the crowd he was supposed to block—his arms outstretched. I asked him repeatedly, to not touch my camera and said that I was from the press. He grabbed me and dragged me down the stairs of the building, onto the road.

Sagar in November.

Did Modi Receive Over Rs 55 Crore From The Sahara Group As The Chief Minister Of Gujarat?


The documents, which have been doing the rounds in Delhi for the last few months, suggest that during his tenure as chief minister of Gujarat, Modi—along with a number of important politicians—was paid large amounts of cash by individuals associated with Subrata Roy, the founder-chairman of the Sahara India Group. These documents also suggest that the recipients of such favours included, among others: Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh; Raman Singh, the chief minister of Chhattisgarh; Shaina NC, the treasurer for the Bharatiya Janata party in Maharashtra and; Sheila Dikshit, the former chief minister of Delhi.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta in November.

The Undemocratic Regime Of Jayalalithaa: Why Claims Of Amma’s Feminist Legacy Must Be Viewed With Suspicion


In a sense, Jayalalithaa embodied female empowerment that was actually grounded in social class and caste. It was expressed in and through acts of individual defiance, transgressions and displays of strength. This is why her political style enjoyed traction with sections of the media, and amongst some women—for it could be read as a comfortable fable of women’s freedom that restricts itself to making it in a man’s world, ignoring the contexts and contents of this making.

V Geetha in December.

As Another Ashoka University Staffer Leaves, Doubts Over The Institution’s Liberal Nature Remain
But in most of my conversations, both on and off the record, it became evident that while Ashoka University appeared to champion liberal ideals, many members of its community felt that the administration often disregarded their political stances. The second YIF fellow told me that “the authorities do listen,” but often failed to act on suggestions and concerns raised by students and alumni. Several others said that the university had not been transparent in its actions regarding the petition, and that when they attempted to question the administration, they were snubbed.

Kedar Nagarajan in December.

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