February 21, 2020
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The Subcontinental Menu

Why army plans to transfer Friesian cattle to government departments to how a Bollywood film has had a profound effect on the people of a Haryana village. Read all this and much more here.

The Subcontinental Menu
Illustration by Sajith Kumar
The Subcontinental Menu

Cow Corps Disbanded

Friesian cattle are famous the world over; their descendants, created by breeding them with India’s Sahiwal cattle, are perhaps less so. Now, 25,000 of these ‘Frieswal’ hybrids are posted in 39 military farms across India. The farms were set up in 1889 to provide fresh food for the army, and the high-yield cows still supply 14 per cent of the army’s milk. But a decision was taken last year to sell off the farms (20,000 acres of land in total) to cut flab and free up more than 57,000 troops for other duties. It hit a snag when no one was willing to pay the price the cows were valued at—over Rs 1 lakh per animal. The army has therefore decided to transfer the cows to central or state government departments and dairy co-operatives for a token price of Rs 1,000 each.

A Haryana Love Story

Brokers beware—no W.C., no wedding. A state government-dir­ected screening of the Bollywood film Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (2017) for all sarpanchs in the region has had a profound effect on the denizens of Gaundika village in Haryana’s Sirsa district. The panchayat has passed a resolution—praised by CM Manohar Lal Khattar—that the marriages of local girls will be arranged only with grooms who have toilets in their houses. Banners and hoardings erected across the village proclaim: “Beti wahin byahenge jis ghar me shauchalaya payenge.” (Marry your daughter off only to a house where there is a toilet). A chuffed sarpanch cited hygiene and women’s safety as reasons for the decision.

Community Policing

Social media posts inciting communal hatred are a ubi­­quitous phenomenon—and it seems the Assam police have developed a doctrine to combat this. Their ‘soft policing’ tactics include policemen raising awa­­reness about social media misuse in gatherings such as weekly markets, where they can meet people and perhaps convince them to become inf­­ormants. Their cyber cell is keeping tabs on Facebook and Twitter as well as WhatsApp. They say they have infiltrated various WhatsApp groups and got group administrators on side. Recently, they showed their mettle in arresting Ikra­mul Haque, who had made a fake Twitter account to post communal messages relating to the National Register of Citizens as well as a threat to blow up Guwahati on August 15.

Vanishing Possibility

It may not be about the statute of limitations, but time and establishment solidarity threaten to obscure the truth behind Sri Lankan rebel leader Rohana Wijeweera’s disappearance following arrest 29 years ago. His wife, Srimathi, has filed a petition in the Court of Appeal, to get the government to produce her husband. Wijeweera led the Marxist outfit Janatha Vimukthi Peram­una, which was responsible for two blood-soaked insurgencies in 1971 and 1987-89. When he disappeared in 1989, there were allegations that he had been extra-judicially executed. He was reportedly taken to a cemetery, shot in the leg and then burned alive in the crematorium; the official claim was that a comrade JVP member, also in army custody, shot him dead.

Cooperative Cupidity

Dragons are known to be cunning in the defence of their gold. But this one seems merely obn­oxious. A Tamil Nadu man, C. Kumar, alleges that he pledged an amount of gold (perhaps 138 grams, but the news reports contradict each other) as security for loans from Kanch­eepuram Central Co-Operative Bank in 2010 and 2011, and repaid it all in full shortly afterwards—but the bank refused to return the gold, citing a pending balance of Re 1 on each loan. Offers to pay this were apparently rejected. The Madras High Court has admitted a writ plea from Kumar and directed a government advocate to get instructions from the authorities.

Ecumenical Daanbhumi

Temples to secularism are going up all over UP and Bihar.  A Lucknow-based rea­ltor, Rashid Naseem, wants to donate the land and funds needed to build 51 Hindu temples in the two states. Naseem, who sees PM Modi as his inspiration, said, “Being a Muslim does not stop me from working towards the betterment of other religions. I think this is a step towards communal harmony.... It is simply an example of the Ganga-Jamuni culture.” The first temple, located on the Allahabad–Varanasi highway, is nearly finished. Naseem plans to complete 21 temples this year and all 51 by the end of 2019.

A Pledge Unto The Last

In Nepal, Ganga Maya has decided to follow her hopes to the grave. Her 18-year-old son, Krishna Prasad Adhikary, was kid­­napped and killed by Maoists in 2004 during the civil war. Ganga Maya and her husband, Nanda Prasad Adhikary, began a hungerstrike in October 2013, seeking justice for their son. Nanda Prasad died a year later, while his wife soldiered on. When the Supreme Court dire­c­ted the Centre to pro­­secute the killers in 2015, Ganga Maya broke her fast, but resumed it after Balkris­hna Dhungel—a Maoist ex-MP and convic­ted murderer serving a life term—received a preside­nt­ial pardon in May. “I want to die as there’s no hope of getting justice for my son,” she said.

Poll Tweet in Baloch

Social media in general and Twitter in particular is fast becoming the most important platform for political parties and candidates to campaign for the forthcoming elections in Pakistan. Surprisingly, it is Balochistan, the least expected region in the country, that is setting this trend.

Earlier this month, president of the Balochistan National Party and the former chief minister, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, announced a Twitter campaign. Through a tweet he urged his supporters to plump for the BNP. Within a few hours, BNP supporters reacted in a flood of tweets in support of the campaign. No wonder that by midnight the hashtag of Mengal (#BNPhope4Balochistan#) easily made into the top ten trends on Twitter in Pakistan.

This was first time in history of Balochistan when a political party leader planned, announced and carried out a Twitter campaign. “Mechanics of political landscape are changing in Balochistan,” writes Adnan Amir in the daily News International.

A week before this, on June 28, Twitter was once again at the cen­terstage when Akhtar Mengal engaged in an exchange of statements with Balochistan Awami Party chief and former state minister Jam Kamal. It started when Mengal warned of strong reaction from his party if polls were rigged. Jam Kamal tweeted in response without naming Mengal. However, Mengal responded by quoting the tweets of Jam Kamal and both traded allegations.

The Twitter debate between both leaders was reported on newspapers and websites of TV channels. Once again, a new trend was set, where politicians in Balochistan used Tweets, as opposed to newspaper statements, to trade allegations.

Clearly, BNP’s Mengal is leading when it comes to using social media for election campaigns in Balochistan.

Sardar Akhtar Mengal of the Balochistan National Party has taken to Twitter before the polls. He even had a spat with a rival on Twitter.

According to Amir, the election campaign on Twitter was a success and so far no other party has successfully replicated that experience. BNP and Mengal have strong presence on social media, particularly on Facebook and Twitter. But the social media accounts of the party are managed by activists and not by hired professionals.

It’s generally thought that Mengal’s team is not the best equipped to handle social media. The Balochistan Awami League Party and the Pakistan–Tehreek-i-Insaaf of Imran Khan do a much better job. But the forthcoming election is the first one where social media is an influential stakeholder. This is another example which shows the deep ingress of technology in today’s Pakistan.

Illustrations by Sajith Kumar

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