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A note from the editor: Of fire and melting ice

We read that the Himalaya is warming rapidly but it’s only when we see images of disaster that the meaning of rising temperatures hits home

Changpa nomads in Ladakh collect drinking water from ice-melt during winter (Sankar Sridhar)

A judgement that trended this week was a Delhi court’s recognition, in the M.J. Akbar defamation case, that sexual abuse harms the dignity of a person. The judgement, which pertains mainly to workplace sexual harassment, is being hailed as a landmark win for gender justice, but it’s a far more perceptive and significant verdict that reflects on power, its abuse, and ideas of free expression and public interest.

“The verdict is also important because it comes at a time when there is a general intolerance of any articulation of discomfiting truths,” senior Delhi-based lawyer and author Nitya Ramakrishnan told me. The judgement, in a sense, recognises that calling attention to injustice or unfairness by speaking out in any way is legitimate. “It reflects upon how power has worked through the ages to protect as ‘rights’ those things that are actually ‘wrong’,” explains Ramakrishnan. “Public interest is a meaningful notion that includes the need to express and the need for society to know. You cannot keep these things under cover.”

That’s something to reflect on at a time when other young women who stood up to injustice have been arrested—from Nodeep Kaur, in prison for over a month on charges of rioting after protesting against unfair labour practices, to 21-year-old Disha Ravi, arrested for being the editor of a “toolkit”, or a document on the farmer protests.

Our big story this week is also linked to the voices of citizens being ignored. About two weeks ago, a chunk of ice melted in the Himalaya, causing a flash flood that swept away two highly contested hydroelectric power projects on the Dhauli Ganga river. Reports that the Himalaya is warming faster than the global average have been coming in—our Climate Change Tracker has been documenting it every week—but it’s only when we see images of disaster that the meaning of those rising temperatures hits home. Our cover story pulls together all the changes that locals and scientists have observed in the region—winters are shorter, rivers swell or run lower, glaciers are in retreat, ice and snow is disappearing—and underscores the point that the trouble in the hills will eventually sweep down to the plains.

Write to the Lounge editor @shalinimb

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