Home Cover Story 2017 Review: Lot of turmoil, little bit of hope

2017 Review: Lot of turmoil, little bit of hope

At the end of 2017, we take a recap of the major happenings in the last 364 days  in Indian politics, economy, legal scenario, foreign policy; and around the world 

Here I am at the end of 2017 thinking about my new year resolutions which I have never ever kept in life. Who keeps them anyways? They are humbug!

Howsoever, 2017 was not humbug. It was rather an eventful year. As I sat thinking on Christmas day while eating my plum cake (Damn yummy it was), it felt like another mundane year gone by, but as I went into archive hunting, a lot happened that had wide repercussions on our society.

Starting with Indian politics first.

Electorally, it was again BJP’s year. While it started the year with a thumping majority victory in Uttar Pradesh, it ended the year by keeping it’s hold on Gujarat, even though not in a similar huge manner- but a win nonetheless. Simultaneously, it won even in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Goa and Manipur; losing only Punjab to the Congress.

Even though there were allegations of horse trading in Goa and Manipur as Congress emerged as the single largest party, but BJP formed the government after successfully incorporating a coalition in both the states. Also what kept the rumour mill buzzing throughout the year was the charge of the opposition that the Electronic Voting Machines were doctored in the UP elections, and the Election Commission kept refuting these allegations throughout the year. The opposition even called for use of ballot paper in other elections.

Finally, the culminated pressure led to the use of Electronic voting machines with voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) facility in all polling booths in Gujarat elections and they were mandatorily counted at one randomly selected polling station in each assembly constituency of both Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. Counting of VVPAT slips took place for the first time in India.

This should set the EVM debate right and hope the opposition can come with better coherent issue-based debates in 2018 that actually cares about people. Or is issue-based electoral politics over? Is the cult of a single leader only thing left in Indian politics?

Will 2019 be the battle of bachelors?

Do you even hear prospective CM candidates campaigning? Aren’t they the ones who have to ultimately govern the state?

Maybe time has come to allow leaders to hold multiple posts. Like if the BJP wins, PM Modi should be the CM as well; Congress wins, then Rahul Gandhi; and if AAP wins (if!!), then of course, Arvind Kejriwal!

Even though Congress lost the Gujarat elections, it was still a comparatively better performance coming under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi. Though Rahul Gandhi focused on an image-makeover in the last few months, the biggest take home from this election was the transformation of Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mewani- from activists to political leaders. Their support to Congress and in fact, Jignesh’s victory as an independent candidate gave a hint of importance of grassroots leaders.

And as far as regional parties are concerned, the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu has been on a topsy-turvy curve after the death of Jayalalitha, with various power factions emerging in party. There have been 3 chief ministers in last one year and with the acrimony between leaders not dying, a lot of speculation is on whether the party will collapse soon.

In Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar joined hands with the BJP, quitting the grand alliance with the Rashtriya Janta Dal and Congress. This was termed as a betrayal by both RJD and leaders like Sharad Yadav of Kumar’s party, as Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD was the single largest party in the 2015 assembly elections.

Politicians can be messy but the Supreme Court did pass some progressive judgements.

No, no, no! The court in a majority 3:2 judgment set aside talaq-e-biddat or instant and irrevocable talaq as a “manifestly arbitrary” practice, saying that it is not protected by Article 25 (freedom of religion) of the Constitution. It was held that instant talaq was against the tenets of Quran.  “What is banned in Quran cannot be good in Shariat. What is banned in theology cannot be good in law,” Justice Kurian observed.

In another landmark judgement, a 9-judge bench held that Right to Privacy is an integral part of Right to Life and Personal Liberty guaranteed in Article 21 of the Constitution.  The judgement cites women’s abortion rights and the Section 377 to note that sexual orientation, gender identity and women’s bodily autonomy are bound with human dignity and the right to privacy.

But most importantly, the validity of Aadhar that Supreme Court has to decide in early 2018, will have to take this judgement into account while deciding whether forcing citizens to give a sample of their fingerprints and their iris scan violates privacy or not.

Merits or demerits of Aadhar aside, the compulsion of Aadhar to get benefits of government welfare schemes came into controversy when an 11-year-old girl died in Jharkhand, after she was denied ration as her family’s ration card was not linked to aadhar.

In another long-awaited judgement, the Suprenme Court confirmed the death sentence given to four convicts in the Nirbhaya Gangrape case.

The most regressive judgement of the year was when Kerala High Court declared marriage of Hadiya ‘null and void’ on the grounds that bride’s parents were “not present or given consent” for the marriage. Hadiya is a 25-year-old adult woman who grew up as Akhila Ashokan, she converted and married a Muslim man Shafin Jahan last year. This was not acceptable to his father who termed it as some Islamic State conspiracy.

Hadiya

That conspiracy, the investigation agencies can find, but last I checked no one needs parents’ permission to get married. In fact, I was there in the court last month to get my friend married under the Special Marriage Act. You might need Aadhar, but not parents’ permission. Even in that Karan Johar’s classic on Indian tradition, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Shahrukh Khan married Kajol without Amitabh Bachchan’s permission!

The case is in Supreme Court now and the hearings will continue in 2018. In the first hearing, the Supreme Court accepted that Hadiya has ‘Right to choice’, not her parents.

The day of reckoning for judges, however, came when a Rajasthan High Court judge gave the reasoning for peacock to be the national bird as: Peacock is a lifelong celibate. It does not have sex with peahen. The peahen gives birth after it gets impregnated with the tears of the peacock.

Of course, it’s a shitty myth. It’s a joke in itself. Now I am wondering its just not enough to be a bachelor to succeed in this country, you can’t even have sex. It’s like sex or success!

Another huge controversy was regarding Calcutta High Court Judge Justice CS Karnan who was convicted in a contempt of court case by the Supreme Court and became the first sitting judge of a higher court in judicial history to be sent to jail, for making scandalous corruption allegations against its sitting and retired judges. This came after Justice Karnan convicted the then Chief Justice Of India Justice Khehar and six other Supreme Court judges for various offences under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

As far as the economy goes, we woke up in 2017 still reeling from the after-effects of demonetization. The debate on whether putting so many people in long queues was beneficial or not continued and will continue in the times to come. Both the government and RBI have come under severe criticism. Though it didn’t hamper electoral prospects of the ruling party as I have already mentioned, but demonetization or not, the economy is in bad shape.

The biggest news about (demonetization) that made noise was that only about Rs 16,000 crore demonetised Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes didn’t return to the formal banking system, which was quite less than Rs 3 lakh crore which the government had estimated- that is 99 percent did return.

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) hit a 3-year low of 5.7% in April-June quarter.

To counter all this, the government rolled out a big –ticket reform- the Goods & Services Tax (GST), which basically gives for the end-consumer, only a national-level central GST and a state-level GST spanning the entire value chain for all goods and services, instead of a plethora of taxes that were there earlier. The government has categorised items in five major slabs – 0%, 5%, 12%, 18% and 28%.
The last revising of slabs in November brought good news to consumers as the list of items in the top 28 per cent slab was pruned to just 50 from current 228. So, only luxury goods are now in the highest tax bracket and items of daily use are shifted to 18 per cent, like eating out, liquid soaps, detergents, personal care products like razors and after-shave products.

The last 2 I don’t need but it’s good for many of you.

Though GDP rebounded to 6.3 per cent in the second quarter of July to September, but the country’s fiscal deficit is still a matter of concern i.e. government still faces lower revenue collections and a rise in expenditure.

The biggest concern this year has been unemployment and continuing job losses. According to an Indian Express report, in the textiles sector, in the last three financial years, 67 units are reported to have closed down across the country, impacting over 17,600 workers.

Capital goods major major Larsen & Toubro (L&T) laid off about 14,000 employees across businesses. HDFC Bank’s total employee headcount came down by 6,096.

A total of 212 start-ups shut shop in 2016, 50 per cent higher than in the previous year.  Demonetisation and the transition to GST has hit smaller players hard, as private investment, private consumption and exports — are not firing, with largely government spend driving growth.

I was thinking of joking we can all do YouTube videos but startups are not working as well. It’s really a matter of concern!

The IT industry laid off more than 56,000 employees this year. Some analysts believe this spree was worse than the one during the 2008 financial crisis.

Thank god I didn’t do engineering!

Even in government’s flagship skilling scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), is struggling to achieve end-results.  Out of a total 30.67 lakh candidates who had been trained or were undergoing training across the country, less than a tenth — 2.9 lakh candidates — had received placement offers. Lack of quality training has been the biggest reason.

The national average of placement across National Career Service (NCS) portal exchanges stood at 0.57 per cent — or just 3 persons employed per 500 who applied in 2015.

Interestingly, till mid-2017, over 4.2 lakh posts were vacant in various central government departments.

The country almost came to the brink of war with China when a territorial dispute around Doklam plateau, which is just north of the tri-junction of Sikkim, Bhutan, and Tibet, refused to go away as both the countries increased their military presence. It took almost 3 months from June to August to de-escalate tensions at the border. The dispute even got Japan and America involved.

The unfortunate thing was that media and politicians from both countries tried to rev up war propaganda, which we absolutely don’t need looking at our economy.

So, we don’t need these kind of things spoken in Parliament- China planning nuclear attack on India, without any proof whatsoever.

Or trolls and TV media telling us to not buy chinese products. That’s even more ridiculous because the smartphones they are using, a lot of it comes from China. The import of telecom products from China alone came to worth $4.8 billion in 2016-17.

You troll! There, just see behind the back of your phone. It will be Made in China!

Sushma Swaraj

This should be our stand actually what Sushma Swaraj said in the Parliament: No war, only talks!

And this is what Sushma Swaraj did in a meeting with Chinese foreign minister in December: Deepening trust and strategic communication.

She is probably the most underrated minister we have right now in the Cabinet!

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi also became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel. India is now Israel’s biggest arms market, thought to be worth about $1bn (£770m) per year. Though he got a red carpet visit from the Israeli PM which is usually reserved for dignitaries like the US President, but critics noted that he didn’t meet the Palestinian leaders, as dignitaries often do.

Some saw it as a reneging on long-standing Indian support for the Palestinian cause. But what stunned many was that India recently voted in favour of a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly which opposed and rejected US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, sticking to our position on Palestine for the last 7 decades.

Health is again not any of our concern. There was public uproar when over 60 infants died in BRD medical college in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, allegedly due to oxygen supply disruption in a matter of few days. Hundreds infants die due to encephalitis and lack of proper care in UP every year but the fact that this was due to rather casual administrative mistake caused the furore.

Similarly, when in 5 months, 187 infants admitted to Nashik Civil Hospital’s Sick Newborn Care Unit (SNCU) died, no one hardly nudged. Officials said that the hopital is severely overburdened and the newborn unit is short of both manpower and equipments, with not even a single specialist.

Private hospitals are also quite reckless, despite charging a lot of money. The Delhi government cancelled the licence of Max Hospital, the third-largest by bed size in the National Capital Region. The decision came a week after one of the premature twins born in the hospital was declared dead but was found alive by the parents while being taken for last rites.

Though might not be the best idea to completely shut down the hospital as there is already shortage of health facilities, alternative punishments can be explored, as even after resuming its work, the regular offender hospital was recently again accused of negligence by family of a man who died after an operation.

Globally as well, there were a lot of concerns. The first thing that comes to our mind when I think international affairs is, of course, who else Donald Trump. And my god. The number of bullshitting decisions and events happened in his one year in office is.. is.. no words.. I mean-

Travel ban on muslims, increasing tension with North Korea, heightened white supremacy- seen in the Charlottesville incident, Russian meddling in US elections, missile strikes on Syrian government airbase, Jerusalem capital of Israel, pulling out of Paris climate accord.

These are just the big ones. There are many many more. Of course he has continued with his sexist, racist, homophobic tirades on twitter.

According to a UN study, the number of hungry people in the world has increased for the first time since the turn of the century, sparking concern that conflict and climate change could be reversing years of progress.

As the number of chronically undernourished people reached 815 million in 2016, up 38 million from 2015, famine was declared in parts of South Sudan in February, where UN agencies said that war and a collapsing economy have left 100,000 people facing starvation and 1 million on the brink of it.

The UN also warned that three other countries – Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria-are at risk of famine. And by the last quarter of 2017, starvation and food scarcity had become a reality after food supplies were blocked, allegedly as a war tactic by the Saudi Arabia-led international coalition in its right against the rebels. The fight between the richest and the poorest nation amongst the Arab states- which many have now started to term as a humanitarian crisis with millions affected in Yemen.

The US-backed Iraqi military campaign was able to liberate the city of Mosul from Islamic State control after a fierce 9-month battle. After years, the Christmas service was able to take place in Mosul.

#MeToo campaign on social media went viral all across the globe with women coming out and sharing their stories of sexual harassment. Powerful celebrities in the field of media and entertainment were accused of sexual misconduct, like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and many others. The campaign was given ‘Time Person of the Year’ award.

Australia’s Parliament also voted to legalize same-sex marriage in the final month of the year, becoming the 24th country in the world to do so. Our Parliament can also learn some things here as it goes about passing the transgender rights bill.

Spain also plunged into one of its worst political crisis in decades after protests erupted in Catalonia to leave Spain and get independence. Catalonia is one of Spain’s wealthiest regions and enjoys large autonomy but feels that the Central government of Spain has not cared back about the region.

Lakhs of Rohingya muslims had to flee from Myanmar after facing indiscriminate violence from the military there. Rohingyas are a minority in the Buddhist-majority Myanmar. It is said to be one of the largest refugee crisis seen in recent times, some even terming it ethnic violence. While India and Bangladesh have shown reluctance to take in the refugees, many across the globe have vehemently criticized Nobel Peace prize winning leader of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi.

Like last year’s Panama Papers, a slew of documents came out in an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that  exposed how politicians, multinationals, celebrities and high-net-worth individuals, across the globe, use complex structures to protect their cash from higher taxes.

Big international names like Prince Charles, The British Queen, the company Apple, formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton were named in avoiding taxes in allegedly illegal financial deals.

714 Indian names are in the list, prominent ones being Amitabh Bachchan, Vijay Mallya, Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha, among others.

Many other socio-political events took place in India that had a huge impact.

Tej Bahadur Yadav

On social media, BSF jawan Tej Bahadur Yadav posted a video about substandard quality of the food served to the jawans. The video went viral and the BSF said that he was an alcoholic and misbehaved with seniors, and was finally court maritalled.

The foundation stone for India’s first ever bullet train was laid down this year as collaboration between India and Japan. The same day the Jammu Tawi-New Delhi Rajdhani Express jumped the tracks at New Delhi station, the ninth derailment in 27 days of August-September. In fact, Indian Railways was hit by 78 derailments in 2016-17 with 193 people dead, the most in 10 years.

The train accidents became such a headache that the then Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu was removed in the Cabinet reshuffle in September.

On November 7, an air quality index of 999 was recorded which is the most the machines can read, turning the city into gas chamber. It is like smoking almost 50 cigarettes each day. For days, the toxic chemicals in the air of the capital resulted in smog and choked its residents.

While politicians kept fighting amongst themselves, people on the streets looked like a Mummy- covering their ears, nose and eyes!

Gauri Lankesh, a senior journalist and editor of Lankesh Patrike, was shot dead in front of her house in Bengaluru. The cold-blooded murder shocked the media community. Rallies & protest marches were organised in various cities. Lankesh was a renowned journalist, known to fearlessly speak her mind against Hindu nationalistic politics.

Earlier in the year, grim situation prevailed for many days in western Uttar Pradesh as Dalits and Thakurs clashed leading to loss of life and property. As the situation became calm, we got to know about the emergence of Bhim army, led by charismatic leader Chandrashekhar, that aims to fight caste atrocities against Dalits in Uttar Prradesh. A protest meet at Jantar Mantar attended by thousands, catapulted Chandrashekhar and Bhim army to the national stage.

He got arrested for his role in Saharanpur violence, got bail a few months later, but the UP government slapped draconian charges under National Security Act on him.

People from transgender and intersex community have been protesting against the current framework of the transgender rights bill, on the definition of transgender, physical screening by district level panels, lack of reservation provisions, decriminalisation of sex work and enhancing punishment for sexual offences against trans people.

There were other protests too.

Students protest in BHU.

In Banaras Hindu University, police lathicharged hundreds of students protesting against the university administration for allegedly victim shaming a student who claimed she was sexually harassed by three men inside the campus.

Thousands of youth protested across the state of Tamil Nadu against the Supreme Court order banning a traditional sport Jallikattu, citing cruelty to animals. After days of largely peaceful protest that captivated the nation, the state government passed a law making Jallikattu legal.

Drought-hit Tamil Nadu farmers stripped outside South Block near Rashtrapati Bhawan after they were not allowed to meet the Prime Minister in April this year. They have been on protest at Jantar Mantar since last year and when no solution was seen in sight, their hopelessness reached such a stage that they ate their own excreta to draw attention of the authorities.

The hill station of Darjeeling also remained in turmoil for a long time as Gorkha Janmukti Morcha revived its demand of a separate Gorkhaland state, holding protests which also resulted into violent clashes with the state police. The protests apparently started due to fears of imposition of Bengali in the schools in GJM-administered region, but their leader Bimal Gurung gave a call for this 100-year old demand.

There was toilet brouhaha in villages- Officials, teachers were asked to take photos of defecation. I believe Swachch Bharat is cool idea. But what’s that cliché- Shochalya is Sochalaya, hugne do bhai; alag hi voyeurism hai sarkar ka!

A 44-year-old man died in Rajasthan’s Pratapgarh Friday after being allegedly assaulted by the local civic body chief and three other municipal council employees engaged in the Swachh Bharat campaign after he objected to them taking photographs of women defecating in the open.

Teachers have protested against instructions issued by Block Development Officers (BDOs) in certain districts to photograph individuals defecating in the open as part of the state’s Open Defecation Free (ODF) campaign.

Teachers’ associations, however, have said that while they support the ODF campaign, they find it “difficult” to comply with the instructions because it “insults teachers,” undermines “dignity” and could “endanger safety.”

 

Teachers be like: Students, you can bunk the first lecture tomorrow. I have to go take photos of people peeing and shitting!

2017 also recorded the highest death toll- 11 deaths- and the most number of incidents of hate violence (37 incidents) related to cows and religion since 2010. This is a disturbing trend that can have deep-reaching impact in a diverse society like ours.

The lynchings of Pehlu Khan, Junaid Khan by cow vigilantes and of Afrazul whose murder was filmed and video circulated online is an appalling reminder of where our society is heading.

The Supreme Court has directed all state governments to appoint a senior police officer as the nodal officer in each district to effectively deal with cases of cow vigilantism but nothing seems to have had affect on the ground.

 

 

 

 

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