In the Indian state of Gujarat, Navratri, or “Nine Nights,” is in full swing with festivals and celebrations to mark the nine sacred days of the year in the Hindu faith. One of Hinduism’s most auspicious holidays, Navratri is dedicated to Maa Durga, with nine days of activities to celebrate each of the goddess’s avatars. However, this Navratri has not been completely tranquil, with a billboard ad campaign causing waves of controversy. The billboard featured Bollywood actress Sunny Leone smiling coyly, with the tagline “This Navratri, play, but with love.” The slogan is accompanied by a pair of dandiya sticks and the logo for the condom brand, Manforce.
The censorship, riots, and public outcry surrounding the events at Ramjas College in Delhi, India, sparked public debate about the future of India as a democracy. What happened at Ramjas – as explained in the first article of this series, “What Happened at Ramjas : A Voiceless India“ – was a clear violation of Indians’ right to free speech under the name of nationalism. Identifying the philosophical structures used to justify actions on both sides will help us gain a better understanding of a pressing issue facing modern day India.
On February 22nd of this year, India’s democratic foundations were shaken once again. The promise of individual rights to its people was broken as its academic community was silenced.
The world only knows Indian music from Bollywood’s “filmy” ballads and cinematic love songs. Music in India seems to enter the world in few forms other than through the cinema industry. However, Bollywood does an incomplete job of representing the music of India just as the iTunes charts would to America—representing only the big, mainstream record artists. Under the wraps of a Bollywood-obsessed entertainment scene, there is a burgeoning independent Indian music industry that is teeming with life and passion. It is young, determined, and rebellious. This indie music industry surfaces many interesting questions about art’s long–standing struggle against capitalist values and the role of anti-establishment industries in societies like India’s.
Two weeks ago, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, came on the evening news and made an announcement that would send shocks through the country. In the unscheduled televised address, Modi informed the public that in four hours, 500 and 1,000 rupee notes would no longer be legal tender. Two details of this startling law: first, people may deposit or change their old ₹500 and ₹1,000 notes in banks until December 30th, the day that new ₹500 and ₹2,000 rupee notes will be issued. Second, until then, people may exchange a small sum of old cash into legal tender of smaller denominations at banks—three days ago this amount was reduced from ₹4,500 to ₹2,000.
In February of 2016, caste tensions that have always smoldered under the covers of Indian life were shocked back into the open. February’s caste riots in Haryana, India, brought much needed attention to the ways in which the long-outlawed caste system manifests itself in modern India. These rioters joined the peculiar yet growing number of protesting high castes. The Jats, members of a high caste in northern India, violently protested to change their status from a high caste to a low caste to gain from the government sanctioned benefits enjoyed by the lower castes.
Liberal ideas of women’s rights and conservative perspectives on sexuality and sexual violence have come to a head in India following the infamous 2012 Delhi gang rape case that made international news. On October 12th, India’s Supreme Court ruled on a twenty-year-old case to acquit three men of the rape of a woman who was allegedly engaged in sex work. According to the Times of India, the “vengeful attitude” of the victim to recover money from the suspects after a history of working for the men constituted a compelling reason to forge a fake accusation. Ultimately, the acquittal keeps us asking questions about the nature of sex work as legitimate work, in relation to rape as sexualized violence — mutually exclusive actions with separate motives and disastrous effects on workers and victims.
This past week at the Vatican, Pope Francis canonized Mother Teresa, making her officially Saint Teresa of Calcutta in the Catholic tradition. For years, many Catholics have considered the famous nun a pseudo-saint for her dedication to helping the world’s poor.
On Wednesday, February 24th, the Huffington Post published an article calling attention to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) objections to India’s “ambitious program to create homegrown solar energy.” The declaration was especially controversial due to the organization’s history of and capacity to squash other international efforts attempting to utilize local resources and businesses to build sustainable energy programs.
India’s commercial surrogacy industry has been a historically lucrative part of the country’s economy. Although surrogacy brings a large amount of business to the country and its people, there is controversy over whether or not it is ethically permissible to let foreigners participate in the surrogacy process. Many Indian women who choose to become surrogates are among some of the poorest individuals in the country. Because of the worry that the women participating in surrogacy are only choosing to be surrogates for financial reasons, and not because they truly want to carry other couples’ babies to term, the government announced that it plans to ban foreigners from involvement in the Indian surrogacy industry.
Last week in India, police arrested eight people suspected of beating two men in their village of Bisara. After a local temple announced that one of the Muslim families in the village had been storing beef in their home, a mob of over 60 Hindus took matters into their own hands. After learning of this accusation, the mob pulled a man and his son out of their house to beat them. The father died as a result of the beatings, and the son is still hospitalized due to serious injury. Relatives of the men have claimed that the family does not eat meat and have been wrongly accused. They claim that the meat in question was actually goat, which is commonly eaten during Eid al-Adha, a recent Muslim festival. Police have sent in samples of the meat for testing. Relatives of the father and son blame a hard line Hindu group for the incident.
One would certainly hope that, as far as environmental regulation goes, we are better off than we were fifty years ago. We would hope that novels like Rachel Carson’s ground-shifting Silent Spring, a work chronicling the dangers of the U.S. chemical industry, have made enough of an effect to prevent the author’s dystopian predictions from becoming a reality.