See new...do new
The Lounge team on landmark events and quiet revolutions that have prompted us to see things differently this year
A new life after section 377
No other community in India has compelled the judiciary and, by extension, society at large to look at it with fresh eyes this year as the LGBTQ+ people. On 6 September, “the love that dare not speak its name" was spoken of, in intensely affecting terms, by five judges of the Supreme Court as they ruled Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code to be unconstitutional.
While one of the judges conceded that the law had deprived the LGBTQ+ community the right to love 158 years ago, another admitted that history owed its members an apology. In post-377 India, it is now up to society to change its mindset, ridding it of the prejudices and hatred that once caused millions to suffer.—SG
The climate has changed
Amidst a global litany of rising droughts, violent storms and forest fires, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) released a report on 8 October assessing the requirements to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which, according to the 2015 Paris agreement, was preferable to a 2 degrees Celsius rise. We now have only 12 years to limit climate change, and what is needed are unprecedented, drastic changes. The alternative to that is runaway climate change, with sea-level rises affecting 10 million people by 2100, ice-free poles, dead corals, acute food shortages and severe, unpredictable weather. Then, on 30 October, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released a report detailing how human activity has wiped out 60% of all mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970. While releasing the report, Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation, WWF, said, “This is actually now jeopardizing the future of people. Nature is not a ‘nice to have’—it is our life support system." —BB
The talented Mr AI
Last week, Christie’s sold a painting created by Artificial Intelligence (AI)—a first for an auction house—for $432,500 (around ₹ 3.1 crore). The portrait, with its inchoate facial features, was a print titled Portrait Of Edmond de Belamy. From writing a best-seller in the next 30 years, to being capable of performing surgeries by 2053, AI is said to be in a position to outsmart the human species in the near future. Computer scientists are experimenting with AI to engineer bespoke soundtracks. In February, the Union government announced the allocation of ₹ 3,073 crore to Digital India, its pet project that advances research and development of new technologies like AI and 3D printing. NITI Aayog will helm the national programme on AI.—RI
The true meaning of freedom
The ongoing row over the entry of women to Kerala’s Sabarimala temple is representative of a larger battle over how to balance the demands of public morality and religious sentiment against the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.
Far too often in independent India’s history, the constitutional ideal of equal citizenship has been trumped by social or religious morality, resulting in official or unofficial sanction for discrimination on the basis of faith, caste, gender or sexuality. Just this March, newspapers reported that president Ram Nath Kovind and his wife were blocked from entering by servitors at the Jagannath Temple in Odisha, presumably because he hails from a Dalit caste. If even the nominal head of the country is not safe from discrimination, then what does it say about the Indian republic and its conception of freedom?
In this context, the Supreme Court’s decisions on Sabarimala and Section 377—and the fact that they have not been challenged by the Centre —offer a degree of hope. As Menaka Guruswamy wrote in Mint earlier this year, it is only when this constitutional mandate of the equality of all citizens is consistently upheld that India will know true freedom. —BK
The triumph of translations
The very idea that a book in translation could win a major literary prize in India would have been widely laughed off only a couple of years ago. But not any longer. Last month, the inaugural JCB Prize for Literature, with a sum of ₹ 25 lakh for the winner, was awarded to Malayalam writer Benyamin for his novel, Jasmine Days, translated into English by Shahnaz Habib.
Since the last decade, translations have been a vital force in Indian publishing but still not enough is done by way of their promotion and popular appeal. Translators, who undertake the arduous labour of illuminating the inaccessible, are paid a pittance; few prizes exist to celebrate their efforts; and book stores seldom provide prominent display for their books. But the times are changing. Since 2016, the Man Booker International Prize has offered the prestigious award only to a work in translation. Now, with the JCB Prize honouring another such work, India will hopefully look more searchingly at its constellation of languages. —SG
The new businesses of fashion
The fashion industry witnessed a series of unexpected business moves. When news broke in September that American fashion conglomerate Michael Kors Holdings Ltd had acquired Italian luxury label Versace, the overarching reaction was that of shock. Could a label like Michael Kors be in sync with Versace’s legacy? The question of aesthetics emerged again, when Missoni—a family-run business for six decades—sold a minority stake to private equity firm FSI Mid-Market Growth Equity Fund. Closer home, Raghavendra Rathore became India’s first luxury label to enter a three-way partnership with Reliance Brands Ltd and Ermenegildo Zegna. In all three cases, the brands maintained that their aesthetics would remain unchanged. Will these new business collaborations transform the values of these iconic brands?—SD
50 shades of patriarchy
Regardless of whether even one man spends a night in jail for harassment, #MeToo has already been successful in a significant way. It has forced us to re-evaluate the ways in which social interactions between genders are coloured by sexism and patriarchy.
In the wake of this public airing of abuse and trauma, many women are realizing that behaviour they have tolerated in the past was unacceptable, and are speaking up. The outpouring of support that has greeted each survivor has shown them that they are not alone.
But the real revelations have come for men. #MeToo has shown us that misbehaviour exists on a spectrum, and that none of us are truly innocent. It is men that have created a toxic culture that normalizes casual sexism and enables predatory behaviour. It is men who continue to benefit from the privileges of patriarchy. And it is men whose silence confers immunity on abusers. Now we must join women in the hard work of dismantling this culture and bridging the social fault line that #MeToo has exposed. —BK
We saw value beyond cricket
After winning gold at the IAAF World U20 Championships at Tampere, Finland, sprinter Hima Das aka “Dhing Express" was catapulted to global stature. In September, German sports brand adidas made her their brand ambassador. She had earlier clocked an Indian U-20 record of 51.32 seconds to finish sixth in the Commonwealth Games 400m final in Gold Coast in April.
The 18-year-old was coincidentally wearing adidas sprint spike shoes on the day of her win. The brand, which is also associated with Indian cricket players like Rohit Sharma, Kuldeep Yadav and Rishabh Pant, recognized Das’ victory as a force to reckon with. This stands as a testament to the brand value that sports apart from cricket potentially have. Adidas has, in the past, associated with Dipika Pallikal of squash and boxer Nikhat Zareen. The sprinter, along with wrestler Vinesh Phogat and heptathlete Swapna Barman, was Vogue India’s “Vogue Sportswomen Of The Year" 2018. —AM