Since 2013, three noted rationalists have been shot dead
—in 2013, Narendra Dabholkar was gunned down during a morning walk, and then in 2015, Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi were murdered. Many perceived these deaths to be related directly to the views that they espoused. Towards the end of 2015, several writers, filmmakers, and academics launched a spontaneous movement
against communal polarisation and attacks on free speech in the country—they began returning the awards they had received from the government or from institutions such as the Sahitya Akademi. The “award wapsi” and the rationalists’ murders, along with various other events such as the suicide of the PhD scholar Rohith Vemula and the arrests at Jawaharlal University in Delhi in February 2015, prompted a countrywide discussion on dissent—one that is still ongoing.
In June, an outlandish phenomenon
began to be reported in several states across northern and central India, including Gujarat, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Women—many of them residents of small towns and villages—found their long braids mysteriously chopped off. Some reported that they had fearful headaches and lost consciousness before the shearing took place. For the subsequent few weeks, the incidents occurred regularly, often within hours of each other in the same village or town. News reports of braid chopping have emerged as recently as 4 September, when, the Kashmir Life noted
that the number of incidents had climbed to nearly 30 in Jammu alone.
The Epic City: The World On the Streets of Calcutta is Kushanava Choudhury’s first book. Choudhury, the books editor at The Caravan, was raised in Kolkata—though he chooses to refer to it as Calcutta—and New Jersey. After graduating from Princeton, he decided—to the surprise of his parents and extended family—to move back to Kolkata. Choudhury spent the next few years between India and the United States: he worked at The Statesman in Kolkata, then moved to New Haven for graduate school, and came back to Kolkata after getting married.
On 30 August, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) launched its annual report
for the financial year 2016-17. Nearly eight months after the prime minister announced the demonetisation of higher-denomination notes, the Reserve Bank in its report noted that nearly 99 percent
of the currency that was taken out of circulation had been returned. The report further noted that the RBI’s income for its financial year ending 30 June fell by 23.56 percent, to Rs 61,818 crore. The central bank noted that it spent Rs 7,965 crore on printing currency notes in 2016-17, more than doubling the previous year’s figure of Rs 3,420 crore. The report also pointed out that 29 billion pieces of currency were issued in an attempt to rapidly remonetise, significantly exceeding the 21.2 billion pieces of currency issued the previous year. The RBI faced severe criticism after the report’s release—several analysts suggested that the data showed that demonetisation had largely failed
to deliver on the policy objectives that the government had detailed.
Every year, the state of Kerala celebrates the festival of Onam, which marks the return of the king Mahabali, or Bali Raja, to his kingdom from the netherworld. The myth goes that the king ruled over an egalitarian land, and such was the joy and prosperity in his kingdom that it invited the envy of the gods. In order to overthrow Mahabali, the gods sought the help of the deity Vishnu. Vishnu appeared before Mahabali in his fifth avatar, a diminutive Brahmin named Vamana. He asked the king to grant him as much land as he could cover in three paces of land. After Mahabali agreed, Vamana assumed a gargantuan form—he covered the earth with one step and the skies in another. For his third step, Mahabali offered his own head. Vamana stepped on him and pushed him down to the netherworld, but granted Mahabali a yearly visit to his kingdom. This annual visit is celebrated in Kerala as Onam.
If languages were allotted characters as per their position in socio-political discourse, then Hindi has often assumed the role of a villain in south India. Ever since states were carved on linguistic lines, the southern states, especially Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, grew watchful of the linguistic pedestal that Hindi occupied in India and its potential danger to the regional languages and cultures of the south. The decades-old issue of the imposition of Hindi has assumed prominence lately due to a slew of recent developments—for instance, in June this year, the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions announced that the central government would promote the usage of Hindi
in government offices in southern India and the Northeast. This time, it is Karnataka, not Tamil Nadu
, which is leading the opposition to it.
On 8 August, Vantage, the web-exclusives section of The Caravan, carried an article titled
“Curating the Wound: The Public Memory of Partition Remains Woefully Caste-Blind,” by the scholar Ravinder Kaur. In it, Kaur noted that most records and retellings of Partition have remained oblivious to the disparity between the experiences of those belonging to oppressed-caste communities and those from upper-caste Hindu families. Kaur added that the many recent Partition archives are depoliticised, which may threaten an accurate representation of complex history.
On 12 August, the Jharkhand legislative assembly passed the Religious Freedom Bill, 2017
, amid demands from the opposition parties to send the bill to a select committee. The bill, which was brought by the Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state, mandates that any person converting willingly to a religion must inform the deputy commissioner of the time and place of the conversion, and identify the person who will administer the proceedings. It imposes a punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs 50,000 for conversions due to “force, allurement, inducement, or fraud.” In cases of the conversion of a minor, woman, or person belonging to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, the bill increases the imprisonment to four years and the fine to Rs 1 lakh.
On a frigid December evening in 2016, Virendra Kumar, a retired professor who served as the chairperson of the law department in Panjab University, went to Delhi to meet his former student, Jagdish Singh Khehar, who was about to be appointed the 44th chief justice of India. During the conversation, the professor later told me, Khehar said, “Doctor saab, aapne jo realist movement padhaya tha schools of jurisprudence mein, uska ab maine yahan Supreme Court mein istemal kiya hai”—the philosophy of legal realism, which you taught me about in the schools of jurisprudence course, I have used it here in the Supreme Court.
On 22 August, three judges of a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court held that the Islamic practice of instant triple talaq, or talaq-i-biddat, was legally invalid. The judgment comprised three opinions—two opinions that formed the majority, and the dissenting opinion, written by JS Khehar, the chief justice, on behalf of Justice Abdul Nazeer and himself. Justices Rohinton Nariman and UU Lalit’s opinion, authored by Nariman, held the practice to be unconstitutional. Justice Kurian Joseph’s opinion did not adjudicate on its constitutionality, but held the practice to be illegal in Islamic personal law.
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