July 30, 2020
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The Subcontinental Menu

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The Subcontinental Menu
Illustration by Saahil
The Subcontinental Menu

Educate, Agitate, Organise…For Booze

Tipplers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but police harassment. That would be a befitting beginning for the manifesto of the All Kerala Supporters of Alcohol Consumption. The association was set up to safeguard the precarious rights of alcohol enthusiasts from the police, who, as one of the members claim, “treat us like terrorists”. In case you’re astounded, remember that the Marx-fearing citizens of Kerala consume the most alcohol amongst all states in India despite some of the highest taxes. The state police, however, are not amused. “Let them make it official first. It is funny how many and what all types of associations are coming up these days.” The masses need another opium, methinks.

Racing Death

During the Kargil War, a mor­tar exploded just 1.5 m from Devender Singh Pal’s post along the Line of Control. The weapon has a killing field of 8 m and he was almost declared dead, but doctors managed to revive him. Later, gangrene nec­e­ssitated the amputation of a leg and even today, 50 shrapnel shards remain embedded in his body. But none of that could hold Pal back, who went on to become India’s first ‘blade runner’ (one with a prosthetic leg), complete marathons and set a Limca record by being the first differently abled Indian person to skydive solo. He also established a support group for amputee spr­i­nters—The Challenging Ones. His story has now been tur­ned into a graphic novel, Grit: The Major Story (Hachette). Singh co-au­thored it with software executive V.R. Ferose and illustrator-designer Sriram Jagannathan.

Chants As Chastity Belts

Prayers not only give you peace of mind and illuminates paths to enlightenment, they also stop pooches from bonking. “We find that dogs don’t mate when we play dharma preaching,” claim Maung Maung Oo, man­ager of the Thabarwa Animal She­lter. Pray, why interfere in the rep­roductive rituals of canines? Myanmar has one of the hig­­­­hest inci­dences of rabies—there are 2,00,000 stray dogs in Yangon alone. Culling and neutering are considered unethical and vaccination is expensive. Thus, the good folks at the shelter sought recourse to divine intervention. To all doubtful of the eff­i­cacy of inc­antations, Maung pithily responds, “What else can we do?”

Kissa Kurti Ka

Imran Khan’s meeting with Trump hogged headlines because of the US president’s dubious claim that Modi had asked him to mediate in Kashmir. While many saw it as a victory for Khan, he did not emerge unscathed. The navy blue salwar kameez and black Peshawari chappals he wore to the White House unleashed a storm that engulfed social media. When Moh­taram, an Isl­amabad-based luxury clothing store, took credit for the PM’s dapper look, all stitches broke loose. The special assistant to the PM, Zulfi Bukhari, dissed the label and vouched for Khan’s simplicity. “The PM has never been interested in designers or  worn their creations. The first lady bought the cloth and got it stitched from a simple local tailor. Whichever designer is trying to claim credit not only a liar but a cheat,” she tweeted. Leaders in the subcontinent seem to be cut from the same cloth of fakeeri.

F For Feminist, F For Phantom

Pakistani feminist activist Gulalai Ismail has won awards and audiences with Michelle Obama and Queen Elizabeth II. But lately, she has become a phantom of sorts—she has practically disappeared since May; her family claims to have no idea about her whereabouts. The reason? Pakistani aut­horities allege that she is suspected of sed­ition, terror financing and defaming state institutions, even though no case is filed against her. Officials claim that her involvement with the grassroots Pashtun movement, PTM, is unacceptable. A pol­ice complaint stated, “Her speech ...is an attempt to divide people on ethnic lines , incite them to commit treason.”

Kanwar Shower

When a writer described the kanwar yatra as a rave party, little would he have imagined that they would turn out to be flower children. Recently, the UP police showered roses on pilgrims in Saharanpur from a helicopter. For residents of the state, it is hardly a novelty. The UP administration seems to have an inordinate fondness for hurling pet­als from helicopters. Last year also, they had dropped roses on kanwars, a day after a pilgrim band in Delhi wrecked a car after it brushed past them. This drew the ire of people, but authorities do not seem to care much for worldly criticism—after all, giving gifts to kanwariyas, we hear, is a sureshot route to nirvana (and votebanks?).

Crouching Croak, Hidden Danger

Long after the departure of the British, Andaman & Nicobar Isl­ands have a new pair of colonisers­—the spotted deer and Indian bullfrog. British officials introduced the deer in 1914, while mainland Indian settlers brought along the “delici­ous” frog. Both species have proliferated and are threatening the local ecosystem. The deer have destroyed the vegetation cover, impacting other org­anisms, altering temperature, moisture and light intensity. There have been no rigorous long-term stu­dies about their impact on the islands’ biosphere.

Few Channels To Dissent

Despite its faults and testy relations with democracy, Pakistan has managed to produce some very good and courageous journalists. There have been occasions when jou­rnalists have disappeared or killed by people and agencies close to the establishment. But successive governments and powerful army generals have so far failed to stifle their voice and ability to criticise the ills plaguing the country.

A renewed attempt is on to impose a quietus on the media. Buoyed by his recent “successful” engagement with US President Donald Trump, PM Imran Khan is trying to stamp out voices of dissent. His focus has been on prominent TV anchors and their interviews of some leading opposition leaders. The BBC reported that an interview between TV news anchor Hamid Mir and Asif Ali Zardari, was only a few minutes into its transmission when it was suddenly interrupted by an unscheduled advertisement break.

Earlier, another interview, of Maryam Nawaz Sharif was also abruptly truncated by an ad break. When the break ended, an old interview of a leading figure from the ruling party was shown.

The government and the Pakistani army both denied a role in media censorship.

If Pakistani TV channels fail to self-censor, it can lead to visits from the ISI. Then ad sources are cut off, it’s removed from operators’ lists or shut down.

One of the main targets of the newest current censorship blitz is Maryam Nawaz Sharif, whose father, former PM Nawaz Sharif, is serving a jail sentence on corruption charges. Recently she released a secretly recorded video of one of the judges, who convicted her father, admitting that he was blackmailed into finding Sharif guilty. The judge subsequently denied the claims, but a number of channels that broadcast Maryam’s news conference were later taken off air for several days.

One journalist explained that TV channels broadcast live programmes with a delay of at least 10 seconds, with “an employee hovering over the mute button”. Topics that require muting, or if a whole segment is too controversial because it includes criticism of the government or the sec­urity establishment, are not broadcast. Instead, “a quick cut to advertisement” is introduced in the programme.

Failure to comply can lead to visits from the army or the intelligence services and instead of threats directed at media workers, pressure is applied on the channel. “Advertising age­ncies are told not to give ads and cable operators are told to change the number the channel appears on, or just simply shut it down “ he said. Adding, “They’ve got their hands around our throats.” The developments in Pakistan must be a stark warning for many others in the subcontinent.

Illustrations by Saahil; Text curated by Alka Gupta

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