July 05, 2020
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The Subcontinental Menu

From Afghanistan's decision to adopt Delhi government's 'happiness curriculum' in its schools to Tamil Nadu's farmer's learning classes on YouTube, read this and much more in this week's The Subcontinental Menu.

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The Subcontinental Menu
Illustration by Sajith Kumar
The Subcontinental Menu

Garden-Variety Influencers

YouTube often comes to our succour when we’re at a loss, seeking knowledge that’s not so much jealously gua­­rded as stubbornly absent, from ‘how to wrap a dhoti’ to techniques for pomegranate farming. When N. Azhagumani, a farmer in Tamil Nadu’s Dharmapuri district, decided to cultivate the shrub, the horticulture department had no advice to proffer—so he turned to the online video platform. He’s grown pomegranate successfully for five years now, telling reporters, “I have never seen a loss so far.” He now has 300 of the plants, which require little water, are not seasonal and are “ideal for growing in Dharmapuri”, on an 80-cent plot. This year, Azhagumani, now one of two pomegranate farmers in the district, earned Rs 5 lakh from an investment of just Rs 50,000.

Butterfly Effect

A butterfly flaps its wings on the far side of the world, a cyclone rears up out of the Bay of Bengal to ravage parts of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh—and fresh swarms of butterflies emerge from their chrysalides in the storm’s wake. Call it morbid, if you will, but it seems to be a common trend in the aftermath of disasters everywhere: many newborn girls in the region have been named Titli (‘butterfly’) after the cyclone. Reportedly, one baby born in a hospital in Odisha’s Ganjam district, which saw significant devastation, was named thus unanimously by her family, the doctors and the hospital administration. Meanwhile, on October 10, Rudra Prassana Rath, a social activist and columnist based in Bhubaneswar, posted on Facebook: “Titli arrived at my home. A baby girl, my second daughter, is born today at 9.00 am.”

Coconut Census

Drones hover forebodingly above the Sri Lankan countryside, snapping photographs that will be relayed back to shadowy spymasters. The government is launching an initiative to use drones to take high-resolution pictures that can be used to estimate the number of coconut trees in the country, as well as carry out land surveys. Plantation industries minister Navin Dassanayake said that this marked the first step towards promoting the use of advanced technology in coconut cultivation. The next step may involve drones spraying fertiliser and chemicals on plantations. Meanwhile, there’s also an app—of course there’s an app—to register coconut plantation land holdings, soon to be available on Google Play. 

Lessons In Happyness

The Afghans have set their sights on Delhi. They’ve deci­ded to take a leaf out of the Delhi government’s education policy and adopt its ‘happiness curriculum’ for their own schools. The 45-minute happiness classes, prepared by a team of 40 teachers and volunteers before being introduced in July for government school pupils between nursery and class VIII, are unexami­ned and involve activities such as meditation, value education and mental exercises. Afghanistan’s acting education minister, Mohammad Mirwais Balkhi—who had visited a government school and attended a happiness class along with Delhi education mini­ster Manish Sisodia—said, “Sometimes a young child (in Afghanistan) has the tension level of an aged person because of the war. This can bring peace to the minds of our children so that they can learn in a peaceful environment.”

Monastic Meet and Greet

You’d never hear of a Pope and an Antipope doing such a thing, but the two claimants to the leadership of the 900-year-old Karma Kagyu (black hat) lineage of Tibetan Buddhism have reportedly held a series of meetings in rural France  “to get to know each other”.  Tibetan sources said Ogyen Trinley Dorjey, 33—recog­nised as leader, or 17th Karmapa, by the Dalai Lama and the majority of Tibetans—and rival Trinley Thaye Dorje, 35, discussed how they could cooperate to “heal the divisions”.

Cartographic Conquest

Myanmar has annexed the island of St Martin’s in northeastern Bay of Bengal, hitherto Bangladeshi territory. But there were no amphibious landings, no naval gunfire support—only a cartographic coup de main. The island was marked as part of Myanmar on recent maps on government websites. A protest from Bangladesh resulted in some information being removed, but the map still shows the same colour. The island, which became part of East Pakistan in 1947, is close to the sea border between Bangladesh and Myanmar and was disputed between the two.

Open Tiger Trap in Lanka

It may not, to say the least, be a good time to speak in praise of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka. Especially if you’re a government minister. In June, Vije­yakala Maheswaran, 45, a state minister for child affairs and an MP of the ruling United National Party, criticised the law and order situation in the Northern Province, and claimed people there thought they had been better off under the LTTE, and that there were no social crimes during the insurgent group’s reign. She had to resign from her ministerial post in July after her remarks triggered a storm in Parliament— she has now been arrested. 

Tyburn In Lahore

Much of the western world may well be moving away from the death penalty and arguing in favour of commuting capital punishment into life imprisonment. But in Pakistan, not only is hanging permissible by law, the demand is now to turn it into a public display.

The Lahore High Court has issued a notice to the Punjab home secretary to appear before the bench to hear an appeal on the public hanging of Imran Ali, the alleged murderer of seven-­year old Zainab, in Kasur, a city in the southern part of the province. Zainab’s father Amin Ansari had petitioned the court for a public hanging of his daughter’s murderer and rapist.

Under section 22 of Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 there is a provision for public hanging of a convict so that it acts as a deterrent in society. Imran Ali has lost all appeals before the courts of the country and also denied a presidential pardon. Therefore, hanging him to death is now certain under the country’s legal provision. But the question is whether it will be done publicly.

Imran Ali will certainly hang for killing seven-year-old Zainab. The question is if he will be hanged publicly, as the victim’s father wants now.

The rape and murder of Zainab in January this year had sparked outrage and protests across the country after the minor’s body was found dumped in a garbage heap in Kasur. A campaign, #JusticeforZainab became a rallying cry as a large number of Pakistanis expressed their growing disquiet about violence against children.

Zainab’s was the 12th such case that occured within a 10 kilometer radius in the city over a 12-month period.

The intense pressure from the public on the government forced its investigating agencies to act rapidly; by the end of January they declared Ali as the prime suspect. Though he continued to claim his innocence and challenged the fairness of his trial, all the courts in Pakistan upheld his conviction.

In June, the Supreme Court had ruled that since Ali had admitted committing similar offences on eight other minor victims, “he did not deserve any sympathy in the matter of his sentence”—the death penalty.

On Friday, an anti-terrorism court had issued death warrants for the convict’s execution in Kot Lakhpat jail. The court directed the jail superintendent to execute the warrants and submit a compliance report.

But the Lahore court’s directive to the Punjab home secretary to appear before it to hear the petition of the victim’s fat­her has now indicated that his hanging may well take place in public. This certainly will open a new chapter in Pakistan and raise questions about its sense of justice.

Illustrations by Sajith Kumar

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