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Indian Press ( 19 Sept 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Indian Press on Victimhood, Economy and Electronic Media: New Age Islam's Selection, 19 September 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Bureau

19 September 2020


•The Pleasures of Victimhood

By Jyotirmaya Tripathy

•Why Public Opinion Isn’t Turning Against Govt

By Zoya Hasan

•Mitigate Data Intrusion Worries

By Ripu Bajwa

•Restraining Rabid Shows

Editorial Tribune India

•Rated Highly

By Swapan Dasgupta



The Pleasures Of Victimhood

By Jyotirmaya Tripathy

17 September 2020

If impersonating was Jessica Krug’s way of legitimising herself as an academic, mobilising the disenfranchised and then representing them as perpetual victims is another

The recent confession of Professor Jessica Krug about her true identity may have outraged many. However, it offers an opportunity to re-evaluate what academics given to consciousness-raising often do. Krug, a historian teaching African history at George Washington University, admitted in a blog that she is a Jew born of White parents and has nothing to do with African-American Blackness, something which she had been claiming for a long time. She regretted that her action was “the very epitome of violence, of thievery and appropriation, of the myriad ways in which non-Black people continue to use and abuse Black identities and cultures.” In the same breath, Krug declared that she is no culture vulture but a culture leech. Her actions though have proved otherwise. Prior to her outing of herself in the blog, Krug had used a more African-sounding name (Jessica La Bombalera) in her activist avatar, and during a demonstration had questioned the gentrification of New York by calling out the “White New Yorkers” for having failed to spare a thought for Black and Brown New Yorkers. We don’t know what prompted her to come out as White though it is said that there were increasing murmurs about her identity that forced her to do so.

The knowledge market: On the face of it, a situation such as this is not representative of the academic environment in the US or India. This is where the present intervention marks its departure. Krug’s admission, no doubt, betrays her inability to fake it any longer, but more importantly, it reveals the malaise of contemporary academic knowledge production. The difference between usurping the voice of the weak (what academics do) and pretending to be the weak (what Krug did) is perhaps one of degree and not of kind. When Krug claimed to be a culture leech rather than a vulture, she was highlighting that subtle difference. We can be reasonably sure that Krug is not the first one and won’t be the last, at least until the academic market stops converting experience of marginality to elitist knowledge and suspends placing a premium on the dish of victimhood.

Those who see Krug’s problem as an individual transgression are either oblivious of what goes in the name of knowledge or are beneficiaries of such methods. Academic scholarship has often been obsessed with not just representing cultural difference but also in producing, controlling and owning it. Few questions are raised about the moral foundation of such knowledge. It is taken for granted that if cultural difference does not exist, it is to be invented and if academic knowledge has to sustain itself, “savage slots” are to be continuously filled. Krug took it one step further. Instead of being content with immersion or academic self-othering, or sponging on cultural difference of the Blacks like a leech, she chose to become indistinguishable from what she was writing about.

A few years ago, Harvard University had gone to the market advertising its culture of diversity by projecting Elizabeth Warren, a law professor who claimed to be a Cherokee Indian (and went on to have a thriving political career). The difference between birth identity and assumed identity may appear as academically adventurous and a cool way of moving beyond fixed identities, but in reality, and for the people whose identity is thus stolen, it is an act of violence. In a post-modern academic world, race is increasingly seen as a political invention rather than a frozen identity, thus creating a pathway for becoming someone else, or belonging without believing. That way, what Krug did was chic because she was making herself a trans-individual. But we all understand that Blackness as knowledge and Blackness as experience (not just individual but collective and communal) are different things. One is of romanticisation, appropriation, exoticisation, even silencing, and the other of everyday-ness and its struggle.

Though living the marginal life involves costs in real life — humiliation, powerlessness, sub-human life and so on — the academic world knows the benefits of being Black or minority, at least in the latter’s potential for being objects of knowledge. In the market of scholarship, victimhood sells and is safely monetised: Black or Coloured in America and Muslim or Dalit in India. Cultural difference and victimhood are a minefield of fame and money.

That said, the demonstrations over the death of George Floyd or over atrocities against Dalits reveal a mindset of remembering the victim only when they can be used as a medium of accumulating symbolic capital. It is not just about dehumanising and instrumentalising them for advancing one’s career but also the belief that being a victim pays. The willingness to barter away one’s identity, as Krug did, springs from the conviction that academic benefit from such impersonation outweighs the losses.

Imaginary victims: What Krug did not acknowledge in her confession is that her violence was not only directed as genuine Black experience but also at White experience. While faking to be Black, she was creating a template in which Whiteness is antagonistic to Blackness and so was perpetuating a race binary. She was reducing her own race by making it appear inflexible, intolerant, exclusivist and the negation of Black experience. Her impersonation implied that sincere appreciation of Black history is not possible while being White. She also pandered to those radical elements who believe that genuine understanding of the other is possible only by denying one’s own authenticity. Her pretension perpetuated the academic world of make-believe that being majority is a matter of shame and its disavowal or degradation is necessary to speak for the weak.

Krug converted the Black experience to some bare codes defining Black authenticity: Angry, violent, abusive. That is what she was doing while appearing as Jessica La Bombalera. The resonance of this mentality in India is not difficult to find. Dalits and Muslims are often projected in the media as angry and violent because that is the only way to be weak and a minority. Being helpless and being violent are the expressions of the same authentic core. Academics like Krug not only stereotype or steal identity, they also create norms which guide victimhood. As long as the Black man is anti-police or a Muslim is anti-State or a Dalit is anti-Brahmin, they are authentic; a republican African-American is beyond this template as is a nationalist Indian Muslim.

An academic from Hunter College named Yarimar Bonilla said something very revealing about Krug, that the latter not only fooled others about being a woman of colour, but also into thinking that they are actually inferior, intellectually and politically. Krug was denying them their being, their worth outside her own writings and activism. What it reveals is that being a victim of violence has more moral, academic and perhaps political worth than being normal and majority.

So behind minority identity, its production and circulation, there is a political economy of cultural difference and of diversity that can be a passport to capital — economic or symbolic. Becoming the other involves a life-time of dedication to live another life. Krug must have internalised the new identity. In the acknowledgment section of her book Fugitive Modernities, she thanked her “ancestors, unknown, unnamed, who bled life into a future they had no reason to believe could or should exist. … Those whose names I cannot say for their own safety, whether in my barrio, in Angola, or in Brazil.” It may be mentioned here that Krug had received financial assistance for writing this book from Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

It is not important to know whether being White or feigning Blackness is better for being a scholar of African history. What is important is the knowledge itself — of victims and minority. As long as we are getting ethnic food in Delhi haat (market), it does not matter if the cook is White or Brown. There may be many service providers but the good/service is the same.

Impersonation as passport: If impersonating was Krug’s way of legitimising herself as an academic, making common cause with a supposedly discriminating law or mobilising the disenfranchised and then representing them as perpetual victims is another. The latter is much more rampant and a fairly common practice governing funding agencies that guide research on minority cultures. Though such politically engaged research may appear as a fight for an inclusive polity, it also betrays the desire to be the source of all cultural politics.

That partly explains Brahmin academics monopolising Dalit experiences. At a poetry reading session, a very fair-skinned Brahmin poet advocated “our own” Dravidian cause and how her Dravidian skin will always be a marker of her identity. She spoke with a flair even as her complexion struggled to adjust itself to the victim narrative. Playing around this politics of “we” and trying too hard to be someone else in order to be legitimised is an effort complementary to Krug’s.


Jyotirmaya Tripathyis Professor, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras and a cultural critic.


Why Public Opinion Isn’t Turning Against Govt

By Zoya Hasan

Sep 17, 2020

Over the past few weeks, one issue — the state of the Indian economy — has dominated the headlines. India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracted nearly 24 per cent in April-June quarter, its biggest ever contraction since 1996. According to experts, this is an underestimation as the decline in the informal sector is not fully assessed. But it’s not just the GDP numbers. There are other disturbing indicators. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), 18.9 million salaried jobs have been lost since the pandemic in April and this figure would’ve gone up to 21 million by August. The situation in the vast informal sector is much worse.

This is the biggest economic catastrophe that the Indian economy has confronted since Independence. And this crisis predates the pandemic, but has clearly been aggravated by it. The government is fast losing the plot, but the unprecedented crisis and the perilous conditions of employment and livelihood all across the country have not provoked protests as one might expect from the past experiences of anti-government protests. Why this is so is an important question for us to address. Five important reasons can explain this political conundrum.

First, post-liberalisation, the structure of the Indian economy has changed significantly. Liberalisation has weakened and fragmented the trade union movement. The main instrument for this is the labour market reforms agenda and the emergence of capital as a powerful force, shaping economic policies. There were frequent labour strikes, triggered, supported and sustained by trade unions which were in the forefront of protests against the economic policies. Labour agitations for a better economic deal are now a thing of the past. And the informal sector, which is the worst hit, is not organised enough to protest.

The second reason is the middle class’ infatuation with the present dispensation and its leader. The Indian middle class is small, but it has an influence far beyond its numbers. This was evident from the role it played in the downfall of the Congress-led UPA government. During Dr Manmohan Singh’s second term as Prime Minister, a major political churning was supported by the middle class under the aegis of the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement, supported and propped up by the BJP-RSS. That had caused an eruption of public anger against the UPA government which was destabilised by the combined opposition of the corporate sector, middle class and the media, eventually leading to its defeat in the 2014 elections.

There’s no such mass anger against the present government even though the middle class has taken a big hit from the severe economic slowdown. Not only is the middle class not protesting, it has also been solidly backing the saffron party. Evidently, its support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi rests on an ideological commitment to the BJP determined by an essentially non-economic platform driven by identity politics and majoritarianism. Hence, it is unlikely to be shaken by the economic crisis. That being so, opinion polls indicate that most people, especially the middle class, think the government’s performance is fine, even while millions suffer due to the economic crisis and unemployment and Covid-19 cases record the highest daily surges seen so far globally.

Third, the Opposition parties which faced two crushing defeats in national elections, have further been weakened in various ways by the ruling dispensation. Most importantly, the government’s hostile treatment of the Opposition as illegitimate and anti-national has made it difficult to undertake any political action. Targeting and stifling of the Opposition is an avowed objective of the regime. Any failing — big or small — is blamed on the Congress misrule. The party has become a favourite punching bag for all, especially the pliant and supportive media. But despite an unequal playing field, Rahul Gandhi has consistently spoken up against the government’s numerous failures and mismanagement of the economy and the pandemic. But the government’s systematic dismantling of his political equity has prevented him from emerging as the pivot of the Opposition.

Fourth, the lack of free media is a big hurdle in building an alternative narrative. Surely, it is for the media to ask some tough questions on the economy. But rather than questioning the government on the sinking economy and the unprecedented job crisis, most English and Hindi channels are obsessed with tracking the twists and turns in the Sushant Singh Rajput case. This frenzy has diverted the public attention from the economic crisis, reverse migration and joblessness, which suits the ruling dispensations as it blanks out issues that matter. The monopoly of the BJP over news distribution and its domination of the communication pipelines tell you why public opinion doesn’t turn against this government despite disturbing developments all around.

Finally, the criminalisation of dissent has created an atmosphere of fear, making it dangerous to express critical opinions and views contrary to policy in public places, universities or social media. The regime has used a heavy-handed approach to put critics in their place. Any protest or questioning is viewed as a threat to the political order and the nation, and thus discouraged and often penalised. Compare this with the situation in the US, when the murder of an African-American, George Floyd, by a white police officer, led to thousands of people protesting across the country against his brutal killing. The anti-racism protesters were not targeted because of their skin colour, or charged, incarcerated under any stringent law. Whereas here, the anti-CAA and the anti-NRC protesters, have been systematically targeted and some of them have been booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), and that too after the movement had been withdrawn in view of the pandemic.

Although, there is still significant criticism of the government’s functioning from various quarters — journalists who speak truth to power, political activists and intellectuals who have been speaking and writing against its failures in every sphere — from the economy to short-circuiting democracy to repressive majoritarianism — institutional collusion and the nexus between capital and media and weaponising laws to criminalise dissenters, provides the perfect cover against mass protests.


Zoya Hasan is Professor Emerita, Centre for Political Studies, JNU


Mitigate Data Intrusion Worries

By Ripu Bajwa

17 September 2020

Instead of thinking of security as a prevention tool, firms must incorporate it into product design from the start so that the architect systems are impenetrable

In the new digital era, where data is growing at an unprecedented rate by the second and where organisations are quickly becoming data-first, one thing has become crystal clear. That the “this is good enough” approach by businesses, across the globe and in India, is no more acceptable when it comes to safeguarding the most precious capital, i.e. data, from an external intrusion. Ever since businesses have become increasingly dependent on their data to fuel innovation, drive new revenue streams and so on, Information Technology decision-makers have not just been evaluating their current data protection preparedness but have also been ramping up their investments in this regard.

However, over the past few months, since organisations have been fixated on quickly transitioning towards remote working due to the Coronavirus pandemic, they might have missed out on something vital that they should have been focussing on and that is the threats that come along with this work culture. As a result, the world and India with it, has been witnessing a steady uptick in the instances of cyber attacks.

For example, as per a recent report, India witnessed a 37 per cent increase in cyber attacks in the first quarter of this year as compared to the last quarter of 2019. The data also show that India now ranks 27th globally in the number of web-threats detected in the first quarter of this year as compared to when it ranked on the 32nd position globally in the fourth quarter of 2019. India also ranks 11th worldwide in the number of attacks caused by servers that were hosted in the country, which accounts for 22,99,682 incidents in the first quarter of this year as compared to 8,54,782 incidents detected in the fourth quarter of 2019, says the Kaspersky Security Network report.

Another report claims that data of over 21,000 Indian students, including their Aadhaar cards, photos and so on, have been put on sale on the Dark Web. Another instance of data being leaked on the Dark Web came to light in June, with a massive data packet — nearly 100 gigabytes in size — being put up for sale. The data comprises scanned identity documents of over one lakh Indians, including passports, PAN cards, Aadhaar cards, voter IDs and driver’s licences. Thus, given the rising data security concerns and incidents, chief technology officers (CTOs) need to look for a holistic approach towards data protection and management. Now, they need to be cognisant about how to respond, recover and learn in case a cyber intrusion occurs. Here are a few tips for CTOs that will help them redefine their data protection strategy.

Drift away from security to resilience: With the evolving nature of cyber attacks, it’s time for businesses to stop reacting and start anticipating. Loss of critical data has the power to not just cripple a company in no time but also damage its reputation for the long-term. Hence, instead of relying on traditional methods of data security i.e. identify, protect, detect, respond and then recover, organisations must imbibe state-of-the-art resilience strategies i.e. learn, respond, monitor and anticipate.

Adopt a security strategy ingrained in product mindset: Businesses must not only think about making security intrinsic to technology infrastructure but also aim at enabling security professionals become intrinsic to future product development. They need to transform into a data-first and product-first mindset organisation in order to be able to remain competitive in the future. Thus, instead of thinking of security as a prevention tool, the need of the hour is to incorporate it into the product design from the beginning so that it will make the architect systems and processes impenetrable.

The key to a winning strike is the right digital partner: In the past, businesses have been using a hit and trial method with regard to choosing their digital partner and this approach has brought in more vulnerability to their sensitive data assets. As per a report by Vanson Bourne, organisations in the Asia Pacific and Japan, which were relying on more than one data protection solution provider, were almost four times more vulnerable to a cyber incident that prevents access to their data. Hence, in order to combat the external threats, businesses must choose a single technology partner that delivers multi-platform security.

While it is critical to invest in the right technologies, it has also become utmost important for businesses to ramp up their education and awareness levels to stay abreast with new security threats. Therefore, to end the constant tussle between finding the right data protection architecture and keeping up with the modern security approaches, CTOs must focus on strategies that redefine their data protection ecosystems from time to time.


Ripu Bajwa is Director and General Manager, Data Protection Solutions, Dell Technologies


Restraining Rabid Shows

Editorial Tribune India

Sep 17, 2020

INDIA’S electronic media, particularly the TRP-hungry news channels, has become synonymous with sensationalism. Truth and accuracy are the prime casualties when TV anchors and reporters stoop to new lows just to grab eyeballs. In a welcome intervention, the Supreme Court has restrained Sudarshan TV from telecasting episodes of its ‘Bindass Bol’ programme for two days. The channel has come up with a communally divisive conspiracy theory, dubbed ‘UPSC Jihad’, to show how Muslims have ‘infiltrated’ the Indian civil services. Under the garb of an investigative story on national security, the programme has been allegedly peddling blatant lies, claiming that the upper age limit in the civil services examination is 32 years for Hindus and 35 for Muslims, and that the latter can appear in the exam more number of times than the former.

Making a scathing observation that most of the channels are running for the sake of TRPs, the apex court has suggested that a panel of apolitical experts be set up to help in self-regulating the electronic media. Despite legislative checks and balances, the situation has only gone from bad to worse. Enacted in 1995, the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act empowers the authorities to prohibit the telecast of programmes that are likely to cause communal discord. Last week, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had merely asked Sudarshan TV to ensure that its show did not violate the programme code, while ruling out pre-censorship.

The electronic media is already under judicial scrutiny over the no-holds-barred coverage of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death and the subsequent probe. The whole case has been reduced to a Bollywood potboiler. Citing freedom of speech to justify objectionable content is fraught with dangerous consequences. The Constitution authorises the State to impose ‘reasonable restrictions’ on the exercise of this right on the grounds of maintaining public order, decency, morality etc. With the State not doing the needful at times, the judiciary has taken upon itself the tough task of striking a balance between safeguarding free speech and other constitutional values. The rabble-rousing TV channels, in turn, should introspect why their credibility is in free fall.


Rated Highly

By Swapan Dasgupta


It is six months since the prime minister’s broadcast and the ‘Janata Curfew’ last March that signalled the end of normal life in India. Much has happened since that time when the number of people infected by the dreadful Covid-19 virus was only 130 — the health ministry’s estimate on March 18. On the morning of September 15, the official tally of the number of those who had tested positive at some point or other stood at nearly 48.50 lakh — active cases being 9.90 lakhs — and the death toll was 80,776.

Of course, this is significantly less than one alarmist estimate in March — gleefully publicized by a section of the anti-Narendra Modi media — of a so-called specialist based in the United States of America that — in the worst-case scenario — some 70 to 80 crore of Indians would be infected.

Last March, there was optimism that a determined, if painful, bout of personal hardship and temporary dislocation — such as a three-week lockdown — would suffice to beat off the challenge. The suspension of all normal life, including the suspension of travel, would be undeniably painful, but the unpalatable alternative was what had happened in Wuhan and northern Italy — the worst-affected areas at the time. There was even a belief that the ‘Wuhan virus’ thrived in a cold climate and that it would be worsted by the scorching summer sun of India.

There was also some vague controversy over the effectiveness of lockdowns. There were those who were spirited advocates of the Swedish model of life as usual with perhaps some nominal social distancing. This line of thinking found unlikely supporters among some political parties and state governments. In West Bengal, for example, wags often referred to a Rajabazar model that indicated a differentiated application of counter-Covid strategies. There were others who suggested that masks served no real purpose — a view that appealed to libertarians who resented any form of State intrusion in their private lives and those guided by literal interpretations of theology.

Six months later, the belief that Covid-19 can be defeated by a resolute show of human determination has eroded significantly. Throughout the world, including India, economies have suffered grievously. The belief that the future would witness an unending spiralling growth of the GDP has been punctured, as millions of people agonize over both their health and their livelihood. In particular, with State revenues shrinking along with the truncation of economic activity, the faith that concerted State intervention will provide a much-needed booster dose for economic growth and bring life back to the old, pre-Covid normal has also dimmed — although some economists still repose their faith in the unrestrained printing of currency notes.

These are legitimate concerns and it is striking that a great deal of hope is pinned on the rapid discovery and equally speedy dissemination of a vaccine that can either insulate people against the coronavirus or at least act as an antidote. Throughout the world, countries are in competition to ensure that they are the first to formulate a wonder drug that will put an end to the pandemic and rescue human civilization.

In political terms, the situation is tailor-made for Opposition politics. In a country where there is a tradition of looking up to the government of the day as the proverbial ma-baap, whatever a ruling dispensation does or does not is bound to be slightly or substantially below expectations. The limits of State power are often not acknowledged in the popular imagination and the deficits assume a disproportionate significance.

In India, the Opposition parties have naturally tried to take advantage of the widespread dislocations that have resulted from the pandemic. The three-week national lockdown, for example, was mocked by the Congress and its leadership for being an overreaction. The Opposition argued that Modi had put his image as a determined leader above concern for people’s livelihood. The much-publicized exodus of migrant labour from the cities was billed in the international media — always inclined to view Modi with a generous measure of distaste — as a ‘humanitarian disaster’ whose impact would resonate all through rural India. The intelligentsia on their part also heaped scorn on symbolic measures such as lighting diyas, blowing conch shells and putting off lights for nine minutes despite their wide appeal. And finally, the professional economists had nothing but scorn for the Rs 20,000 crore financial package that was unveiled by the finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, to provide some relief to both individuals and the affected sectors of the economy. It was presented as an elaborate eyewash, if not a hoax. There was also jubilation in some circles over the steep decline in the GDP growth figures and this provoked an Opposition MP to make a tasteless personal remark on the appearance of the finance minister.

That the Opposition would train its guns on the Modi government was only to be expected. Throughout the democratic world, the political leadership have been mercilessly attacked for their inability to live up to the expectations of the back-seat drivers. If Angela Merkel and Boris Johnson have been criticized for being excessively stringent in curbing personal freedoms, Donald Trump has been attacked for his nonchalance in the face of a pandemic.

What is significant about India is how little impact these assaults have had on Modi. The intelligentsia in particular have been both astonished and disgusted that the concerns over pandemic management and the economy have been overwhelmed — among the media consuming classes at least — by a salacious obsession over the personal lives of Bollywood stars. They have expressed their disgust at a section of the popular media persisting with an issue that is deemed frivolous but yet enjoys sustained viewership ratings.

A part of this apparent lack of obsessive concern with Covid-19 and the economy may be explained by the enormous popular trust in Modi. According to the bi-annual Mood of the Nation poll, the popular preference for Modi as the prime minister has risen from 53 per cent in January 2020 to 66 per cent in August 2020. In the same period, Rahul Gandhi’s ratings have dropped from 13 per cent to 8 per cent. The improved ratings at a time of intense national stress are obviously based on a belief that the country is in safe hands. Secondly, just as any country rallies round a leader in times of war, the faith in Modi could also be due to a perception that these are extraordinary times that warrant suspension of political partisanship. This would indicate that there is a direct correlation between the prime minister’s soaring graph and the extreme shrillness of his critics, particularly among intellectuals. Their fulminations against Modi seem more an expression of political frustration than an expression of public opinion.

However, there is another aspect of the national mood that is worth considering. Whether it is public policy to deal with the pandemic or strategies to cope with the economic downturn, there is no visible agreement among either scientists or economists. Whereas science was once marked by verifiable certitudes, the Covid-19 challenge has, so far, resulted in conflicting views that — to the lay person at least — seem like experts whistling in the dark. As for the economists, the outbursts of former economic advisers and Reserve Bank of India governors seem governed by profound expressions of aesthetic repugnance towards a leadership that is inclined to trust managers and politicians more than those who can teach economic theory. Modi may be an unintended beneficiary of this exasperation with experts who often seem to view India as a mere case study.



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