The HINDU Notes – 10th June 2020 - VISION

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Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 10th June 2020

πŸ“° India, China agree to ease stand-off

Troops of both countries begin partial ‘disengagement’ from some points along the LAC

•Indian and Chinese troops began a partial “disengagement” from some of the stand-off points along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, defence sources said on Tuesday, in the first sign of moving towards resolution of the month long stand-off between the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army there.

•A series of ground level military talks are due to be held over the next 10 days, beginning Wednesday, to try and resolve most of the other issues at the local level.

•“Partial deinduction has happened from some points in the Galwan and Hot Springs areas. [The] Chinese side removed some of the tents and some troops and vehicles have been moved back, and the Indian side, too, has reciprocated,” official sources said. At some points in the Galwan Valley, Chinese troops have moved back 2-3 km. However, there is no change on the ground situation at Pangong Tso. While this is the first time officials spoke about the ground situation, no government statement was issued, either in Delhi or Beijing.

•This is also the first time senior government officials have acknowledged the continued presence of Chinese troops in these areas where India patrols, and the heavy build-up of vehicles and firepower behind the LAC lines. Despite references to the major build-up that had taken place, officials insisted that there had been “no intelligence failure” and that the Indian Army stopped the PLA advances “quickly and strongly”.

•Outlining the plans for talks on de-escalation, the sources said Major General-level talks were scheduled on Wednesday at Patrolling Point (PP) 14 in the Galwan area as part of the series of talks at the rank of Colonel, Brigadier and Major General, as had been decided at the Corps Commander-level meeting on Saturday at the LAC at Moldo-Chushul. Both the Corps Commanders had a one-on-one meeting for almost three hours before engaging at the delegation level where the main issues were discussed further, they said.

•At the meeting, both sides agreed and identified five locations of conflict currently — PP 14, 15 and 17, North bank of Pangong Tso and Chushul. Of these, the Finger 4 area in Pangong Tso was a contentious issue and would take some time to be resolved, the sources said. This would likely be taken up at the Lieutenant General-level at a later stage, if needed.

Pangong Tso issue

•However, major worries remain at the Pangong Tso (lake), where territory is marked by ridges or “Fingers” in increasing serial order towards Chinese territory. India claims up to Finger 8 and patrols up to Finger 4, but after a skirmish on May 5, Chinese troops have dug in at Finger 4. No mention was made of the situation at Naku La in Sikkim, where the stand-off continues, as the focus for these talks was the Ladakh situation.

•The sources stressed that India remained “firm” on restoring the status quo to pre-May 5 positions, and that apart from troops retreating from the “front lines”, it was necessary to ensure a drawdown of troops and firepower behind the Chinese lines where the PLA had deployed “fighter bombers, rocket forces, air defence radars and jammers among others”.

•“India will continue to have a major build-up until China withdraws the build-up done there. The Indian Army is fully prepared for a long and permanent deployment if the PLA doesn’t retreat,” the sources stated.

•As reported earlier, the Indian side told the Chinese counterparts that it would not stop construction, including the DBO road, as it is well within Indian territory.

•Underscoring the efforts to resolve the tensions, which they referred to as “episodic issues”, the sources said that tactical level hotlines at border meeting points at Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO)-Tien Wein Dien (TWD) and Chushul-Moldo remain “on and open”. It has also been proposed that the Corps Commanders should have formal meetings once or twice every year for better interaction between the two armies at a higher level.

πŸ“° Migrants should not be prosecuted: SC

‘Send the stranded home within 15 days’

•The Supreme Court on Tuesday said migrant workers should not be prosecuted for trying to reach home amid the national lockdown.

•A Bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan directed the Centre and the States to withdraw any complaint or prosecution lodged against migrant labourers who had set out on foot from big cities for their native villages to escape starvation, unemployment and disease during the pandemic.

•The court said “society as a whole was moved by their miseries and difficulties”.

•“States/Union Territories to consider withdrawal of prosecution/complaints under Section 51 of the Disaster Management Act and other related offences lodged against migrant labourers who are alleged to have violated lockdown measures by moving on roads,” it directed.

•A migrant worker who walked home would have faced a year in prison or been fined or suffered both if found guilty of obstructing the law under Section 51 of the Act.

•The Bench, also comprising Justices S.K. Kaul and M.R. Shah, ordered the States and the UTs to bring the stranded migrant workers home within the next 15 days.

‘Provide more trains’

•It ordered the Railways to provide the States with 171 more Shramik Special trains within the next 24 hours to transport migrant workers

•“The process of transportation by rail and road has to be completed by all the States and the Union Territories so that the next stage of attending the needs of the migrant labourers can be looked into, ie, source of employment, provision of food and ration for them,” the 38-page order reasoned.

•The court asked the Directors General of Police to direct their personnel to deal with the migrant workers humanely. It said there were instances of police excesses despite otherwise doing a “commendable job”.

•The States and UTs were directed to conduct extensive skill-mapping of the returned workers at village and block levels.

πŸ“° The anatomy of anti-black racism

Only a peaceful and sustained movement can break the back of this evil, which is institutionalised and hidden

•Racism has raised its ugly head in full public view once again. It was revolting to see an adult gasping for breath, writhing in pain as the knee of the white policeman crushed his neck, and, within minutes, dying — the umpteenth time that a black life has been barbarically taken away by police brutality in America. Despite the civil war over slavery, and the civil rights movement for dignity and equality, systemic discrimination and violence against blacks persists. Racism continues unabated.

•My sole focus here is coming to grips with what racism is. In a nutshell, and with slight, only slight oversimplification, it is this: one can tell everything important about a person, his group, its past and future, by noting the colour of his skin.

•Of course, noticing the physical characteristics of a person, say the colour of her skin, is not itself racist. Good writers are expected to provide a vivid description of a character’s physical features, including skin-colour. This need not imply the idea of race, leave alone racism. For instance, Indian epics describe Krishna as having shyam varna , being the dark-skinned one. This description has no evaluative connotation. Being conscious of the colour of a person, your own or that of the other may be pretty innocent.

Idea of race

•However, when specific bodily features (colour, shape of nose, eye, lips) are permanently clumped together and human beings are classified in terms of these distinct biological clusters, and if, further, it is believed that these shared features are inter-generationally transmitted, then we possess the idea of race, i.e. a group with a common biological descent. Every single human being is not only seen then to be assigned to separate biologically-determined groups but also as born with traits directly inherited from biological ancestors. Each race is then believed to be fundamentally, permanently different from others — differences that are innate and indelible, for one can neither cease to have what one has inherited nor acquire characteristics which one does not already have.

•The idea of race is deeply problematic. Despite many attempts, particularly in the 1930s to demonstrate its scientific basis, race or racial classifications have virtually no scientific foundation. If anything, the only conclusion from available evidence is that the whole of humanity has the same lineage, that there are no races within humans but only one single human ‘race’. Yet, while scientifically speaking, race is a fiction, a large number of people believe in the existence of races. Race is very much a cultural and social reality.

•The classification of humans into different races is a necessary but far from sufficient ingredient of racism which depends on two additional, deeply troublesome features. First, a given set of biological characteristics is believed to be necessarily related to certain dispositions, traits of character and behaviour. Biological descent fixes a person’s culture and ethics. Our capacity for reasoning, for ‘civilization’, our propensities towards sexual lasciviousness or ability to make money, can all be read off by examining our face and body. Second, these racial cultures and ethical systems are hierarchically arranged. Those on top are intrinsically superior to those at the bottom.

•Racism, then, is a systematic ideology, a complex set of beliefs and practices that, on the presumed basis of biology, divides humanity into the ‘higher’ us and a lower ‘them’. It not only sustains a permanent group hierarchy but deeply stigmatises those designated as inferior. This sense of hierarchy provides a motive for say, whites to treat blacks in ways that would be viewed as cruel or unjust if applied to members of their own group. For instance, contact with them is often regarded as contaminating, polluting. It should therefore be avoided or kept to a minimum. To prevent sexual contamination through inter-marriage, the southern States of America had the severest laws sanctioning public lynching. How else could the ‘colour line’ be scrupulously maintained? This explains something important. Though colour-consciousness should not be problematic in theory, in reality, an acute awareness of colour is almost always a symptom of racism lurking somewhere unnoticed.

•Racism distinguishes even inferior races into two kinds. One inferior race is considered so much beyond the pale that it cannot be lived with, and must be exterminated. This is infamously illustrated by the virulent anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany that led to the final solution, the Holocaust. The second type of race is fit only to be controlled, subordinated, enslaved. Anti-black racism, our main concern here, is an obvious example. Closer home, some Varna-related ideologies (in the Dharmashastras from 1st ACE onwards) that stigmatised the pratiloma castes, particularly the ‘Chandalas’, function as virtual equivalents of racism as do the now somewhat scarce Christian anti-Judaism or contemporary Islamophobia.

An ideology on display

•Racism naturalises a person’s belief, character and culture. For example, being uneducated is seen not as socio-economic deprivation but a sign of inherited low IQ; blacks are predatory and are also seen to have an innate streak of savagery, which unless kept down by brute force from time to time, might explode and destroy civilisation. It is this ideology of anti-black racism that was brazenly on show in the 9- minute video clip of the merciless, life-extinguishing force used by the police on George Floyd.

•Some Americans notice and seem shell-shocked by racism only when such violence occurs. Hasn’t the civil rights movement been successful in damaging racism, they ask? Is it not difficult now to justify any act by explicit reference to race? Is this not good reason to believe that racism will disappear from America by good laws, education and rational argument? Alas, the very success of the movement that helped develop a motivated blindness to how open discrimination of blacks has been displaced by another system of hidden discrimination. A systematic constraint on avenues for improving the quality of life forces their descent into pretty crime, incarceration, stigma attached to imprisonment and the severe discrimination and exclusion that follows the charge of felony. All these, as scholars such as Jane Hill have shown, have made the criminal system produce results as vicious as generated by colour-based slavery and racial segregation.

•For example, in a number of southern States in America, once declared a felon, a person is disqualified from voting. So, once the criminal justice system labels people of colour as “criminals”, whites have the sanction to engage in all the practices of subordination that they had apparently abandoned. The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, surpassing those in highly repressive regimes such as China and Iran. The figures related to African-Americans are shocking. In several States, they are 10 times more likely to go to prison than whites. According to the Death Penalty information Center of the U.S., between 1976-2019, black defendants sentenced to death for killing whites numbered 291, while white defendants killing blacks were only 21, a staggering figure close to 14 times more! (For a quick overview, also see the Netflix film, “13th”).

Racialised criminal system

•It is amply clear that the feel-good anti-racism of some Americans that views racism as an aggregate of mistaken beliefs held by individuals that can be dissipated by education and rational argument simply does not work. True, good education helps in dismantling racism but the fact remains that much of it lies hidden within the social structure, in habits, practices and institutions. Vulnerabilities amassed over centuries of anti-black racism leave African-Americans facing multiple, intersecting hurdles to a good life. As mentioned, the current criminal system that awards unfair advantage and privilege to whites, while inflicting unmerited and unjust disadvantages on blacks exemplifies this invisible monster. Only a peaceful movement to end institutionalised racism, with both blacks and white participants, quite like the recent protests after Floyd’s murder, can break the back of this evil. But can such a movement be sustained? Will it be allowed to?

πŸ“° Being vocal on the right local

India has the capacity to refocus on the right choice; it only has to agree on the vision

•On May 12, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called upon Indians to be “vocal for local”. The way in which we, as citizens and professionals, interpret the local will have far-reaching effects on the country’s landscape and prosperity.

•We could transform ourselves into a greener and more humane society, with access to affordable health care, functioning public schools, choices over where we work and live, and support for those who cannot work. Cities could breathe again and families could move to opportunity rather than be forced out of their homes by drought and desperation. Or, we could rapidly roll backwards, buying umbrellas with easily broken frames, toasters whose levers have to be held down, office chairs with castors that grip rather than slide, researchers who find it difficult to equip their laboratories and avoid reading research at the disciplinary frontier because they are too far from being able to produce it.

•And most importantly, there will be people with experience and skills who cannot find the capital, the designs, or the markets to use them. Thousands of them continue to return to their villages each day.

A pointer

•COVID-19 has brought many countries to an unexpected fork in their development trajectories. It has made visible new facts, figures and the feelings of citizens towards these facts and figures.

•In my quotidian, pre-COVID-19 life, I passed women in their colourful Rajasthani lehengas with plates of wet concrete on their heads, chatted with home and office staff about their villages and their parents, visited my tailor to find he had gone away for a wedding to Medinipur (West Bengal), waited for my carpenter to fix the door handles after he came back from dropping his wife at her parent’s house in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, and asked the security guard whether he had managed to buy his cow in Jharkhand and arrange for a new ration card for his family. I got the latest news on radio cab contracts and local politics in Bihar when I drove back from the airport with my (inevitably) Bhagalpuri taxi driver.

•These everyday encounters and conversations made India what it was, they brought colour to my life and warmed my heart. I just did not see the flip side. That for all these people, their minds and hearts were elsewhere much of the time, in places they would have liked to be if they could have earned a living and educated their children. The pandemic, with its fears and lockdowns, has shown us, in painful and graphic detail, the massive numbers who would have liked to be in their ancestral homes in such circumstances. These images, of those who reached and those who did not, should guide our conception of the local.

•Village demographics have changed dramatically. Pockets of virtually empty villages in the Himalayan foothills have become re-populated and many of the poorest parts of the country have experienced the largest inflows. After the trauma of the last two months, re-united families would like to stay together. They will search for local livelihoods and they desperately need immediate and substantial social transfers. Strengthening these communities would show a real commitment to the right kind of local. This requires making our safety nets wide, accessible and fair. It involves building schools, clinics and hospitals within easy reach, and opening windows of credit to those with ideas without first asking them to label themselves as farmers or micro-entrepreneurs. If we imagine villages as consisting only of farmers and labourers, hit periodically by cyclones and drought, our support to them will not move beyond Kisan credit cards and employment guarantees. Those returning home are from many walks of life and have travelled far and wide. Development policy should help them use their skills and new perspectives to reimagine their communities while they earn a living.

How to get it right

•The wrong kind of local would be to promote goods that are made in India through tariffs, quotas and new government procurement rules. We have attained global competitiveness over the last two decades in many new fields such as software development, pharmaceuticals and engineering products. All of these have flourished through international collaboration and feedback from foreign consumers. It would be short-sighted to imagine that we would reach these consumers if we restricted access to our own markets. I am reminded of a conversation with a friend a few years ago. She said she wanted to design products that were bought in the international market because they were simply the most beautiful; not because they were cheap or supported artisans. She subsequently succeeded in doing just that, and, in the process, probably taught many the elements of good design.

•Many of our sustainable energy initiatives have also depended on government action elsewhere. For example, solar energy was subsidised in Germany and in California when it was far more expensive than fossil energy, China mass produced solar panels and costs of production came down enough for other countries, including ours, to start adopting them. The pandemic should have made us aware, like never before, of our interdependencies, of the limits of our knowledge and the need for global engagement.

•Sustainable and resilient communities cannot be built on a fiscal and regulatory structure that is highly centralised. The Centre would have to devolve to the States and the States to locally elected representatives. If we adequately fund, support and trust local governments and remain open to absorbing both the knowledge and products that others produce better than us, we can create a society where all, not just a few, matter. If we insist that everything can be “made in India” and close borders because a crisis sealed them temporarily, we open ourselves to mediocrity and isolation, continued mass poverty and greater vulnerability to future pandemics. We have the capacity to refocus on the right local, if only we could agree on the vision.

πŸ“° Flattening the climate curve

Leaders should act on the climate crisis with the same alacrity they have shown towards COVID-19

•Two interrelated curves began their upward trend two centuries ago with the advent of the industrial age. The first curve was the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (or, more generally, all greenhouse gases, GHGs) and the second was the average global temperature curve.

An upward trend

•Actually, the CO2 curve began its upward march about 18,000 years ago when it was a little under 200 parts per million (ppm) and earth was much colder. By the time it reached 270 ppm about 11,500 years ago, the warmer conditions accompanying this curve made it possible for the emergence of agriculture. Over the past million years, CO2 levels never exceeded 280-300 ppm. They always went back to 200 ppm before rising again in a cyclical fashion. They remained steady at close to 280 ppm for 10,000 years until, beginning in the mid-19th century, they began to rise again as humans burnt coal and oil to fuel the industrial revolution, and burnt forests to expand agriculture and settlements. From a mere 0.2 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions in 1850, annual emissions increased to 36 billion tonnes by 2018. If all this CO2 had accumulated in the atmosphere, we can say that human life would have been altered beyond recognition. Nature has been rather kind to us so far — about one-half of all CO2 emissions have been sanitised from the atmosphere, equally by growing vegetation on land and by absorption in the oceans. Thus, the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere reached 407 ppm in 2018, a level last experienced by earth some three million years ago.

•The second curve of direct consequence to us is the global average temperature curve. From 1850 onwards, for over a century, the global temperature showed a slight warming trend. But there was nothing suggestive of anything serious. From 1975 onwards, the temperature graph has shown a distinct, upward trend. By 2015, the globe had heated by a full degree Celsius relative to a hundred years previously. Climate modellers unequivocally project that under the current trends of emissions the globe will heat up by 4˚C by the end of the century.

•Climate change involves not just a change in temperature but every other component of weather, including rainfall, humidity and wind speed. Indirect effects follow, such as a rise in sea levels from melting glaciers. Globally there have been several extreme weather events such as hurricanes, heat waves or droughts. While no single event can be directly attributed to climate change, the collective trends are consistent with climate change predictions.

•For the sake of illustration, let us focus only on temperature change. The 2003 European heat wave killed over 70,000 people. The years 2015-19 have globally been the warmest years on record. Leave aside the Amazon fire of 2019, the bush fires of 2019-20 in Australia were unprecedented in their scale and devastation. While our attention has been on COVID-19, news has just come in that March 2020 has been the second warmest March on record.

•The Climate Impact Lab at the University of Chicago put out a warning for India last year that if global CO2 emissions continue to gallop at the present rate, average summer temperatures would rise by 4˚C in most States. Extremely hot days (days above 35˚C), which were only five days in 2010, would increase to 15 days by 2050 and to 42 days by 2100 on average across all districts. A more moderate emissions scenario, as a result of countries largely fulfilling their commitments under the Paris Agreement, would keep average global temperature rise below 2˚C compared to pre-industrial levels.

Tackling the climate crisis

•The most common excuse is that the world cannot afford to curb GHG emissions for fear of wrecking the economy. An article in Nature in 2019 highlighted the financial dimensions of tackling the looming climate crisis. Apparently, the wealthy nations are spending over $500 billion each year internally on projects aimed at reducing emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, however, estimates that a sustained annual investment of $2.4 trillion in more efficient energy systems is needed until 2035 in order to keep warming below the more ambitious 1.5˚C relative to pre-industrial levels. To put this in perspective, that is about 2.5% of the global GDP.

•Some of the wrangling over money relates to the amounts that the wealthy nations, which have caused most of the GHGs resulting in global warming, agreed to pay other countries to cope with climate change. At the UN Climate Conference in 2009, the richest nations had pledged to provide $100 billion in aid each year by 2020 to the poorer countries for climate change mitigation and adaptation. In 2017, for which data are available, only $71 billion had been provided, with most of the money going towards mitigation and less than 20% towards climate adaptation. Such numbers had been challenged prior to the 2015 Paris Summit by many countries, including India, because much of the so-called aid provided did not come out of dedicated climate funds but, rather, development funds or simply loans which had to be repaid. It thus seems unlikely that the rich countries will deliver $100 billion in tangible climate finance during 2020.

•COVID-19 has unwittingly given humanity a brief respite from the climate change curve. Carbon emissions from fossil fuels have surely reduced in recent weeks. How long this respite will last ironically depends on the extent to which the global economy has been wrecked by COVID-19. Commentators are already talking about a paradigm shift in the structure and functioning of societies once the pandemic subsides. This is also a make-or-break moment for the climate trajectory which has to be flattened within a few years if we are to avoid dangerous climate change. Nature’s kindness is not expected to last beyond a 2˚C rise in temperature as the carbon sequestered into vegetation will be thrown back into the atmosphere. Also remember that earth has already warmed by 1˚C and we really have only another 1˚C (or 0.5˚C if we are concerned about island nations) as a safety margin.

•COVID-19 has elicited an unprecedented response worldwide. Only cognitive psychologists can explain why the spectre of dangerous climate change impacting human civilizations has not yet evoked a comparable response. There seems to be wishful thinking that technology can be used to suck out billions of tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere and store this safely somewhere, but available ones are extremely slow and expensive. Harebrained schemes to regulate solar radiation by geo-engineering are bound to bring nasty surprises. There is no substitute to reducing GHG emissions. Technologists, economists and social scientists must plan for a sustainable planet based on the principles of equity and climate justice within and across nations. It is the responsibility of leaders to alter their mindset and act on the looming climate crisis with the same alacrity they have shown on COVID-19.