The Conflicted Me

By Muda Tariq,
1st Year Political Science
It’s just another day. The unchanged morning, the monotonous routine. The Kandur (local bakery) has a line of regulars waiting for their Lavasas (bread) and who for the interim are warming their hands near the Tandoor (traditional clay oven). And the mothers at home have Nun-Chai Samovar (Kashmiri tea in the traditional teapot) ready. Kids are leaving for their schools, carrying their heavy backpacks. And the mother prays for them to return in one piece as they bid her adios because their homeland is an ‘integral’ conflict zone. Continue reading “The Conflicted Me”

Matrilineal Tribal Communities

By Anushka Gupta

In India, an incredibly diverse nation consisting of thousands of communities that have various differing cultures and beliefs, the possible existence of an unusual practice does not seem astonishing. However observing the structure of the Indian society from an ancient time, the existence of a hierarchy between the two genders has always been explicit. In the northeast state of Meghalaya as well as the Minicoy island of Lakshadweep, the Khasi tribe and Muslims have apparently tried to pave a different path.

Continue reading “Matrilineal Tribal Communities”

Is a Neo- Cold War Preventing a Resolution to the Syrian Conflict?

By Zohra Abdullah and Gauri Kundalia

The end of the Second World War saw the rise of two superpowers- The United States of America and the United Soviet Socialist Republic. This was followed by a series of provocations, tension, competition and the rise of an ideological battle. This period was known as the Cold War. The two superpowers were backed by their respective allies and the world witnessed Bipolarity. The collapse of the Soviet Union saw the dominance of the United States in world politics. However, this paper follows the argument that Bipolarity never died down and merely subsided and has now re-emerged from the margins as a ‘Neo-Cold War’.   The two powers- US and Russia, as a successor of the USSR are struggling to carve out roles for themselves, manifestations of which can be seen in Crimea or the Syrian conflict. Continue reading “Is a Neo- Cold War Preventing a Resolution to the Syrian Conflict?”

Delivering On The New Silk Road Initiative Amidst Regional Political Rivalries

By Mansoor Saadat
April 16, 2017

 The end of 2014 brought Afghanistan to a crossroad, as the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) withdraw their combat forces from Afghanistan. The presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan played a significant role in its economy that plummet with the sudden decline of military spending. In 2011, the United States government adopted the New Silk Road initiative which aims at developing Afghanistan’s economy by developing energy, trade and infrastructure projects. It aims to improve regional trade between Central and South Asia – through the Afghanistan land-bridge – and thus allow for greater economic integration, peace and prosperity in the Afghan region.

Continue reading “Delivering On The New Silk Road Initiative Amidst Regional Political Rivalries”

The Comfort Women Agreement and The Fate of Japan- Korea Relations

By Zohra Abdullah

The comfort women issue has been the defining point of Japan-ROK relations since the 1990s. Cooperation on many issues, including regional security, tackling the threat from North Korea trade ties and improving people to people relations between the two countries, has been hindered due to the persistence of the issue. This, along with domestic political pressures from within both the countries has encouraged South Korean President Park Gyun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to come up with a final and irreversible agreement, which was signed on December 28, 2015.

Continue reading “The Comfort Women Agreement and The Fate of Japan- Korea Relations”

The Politics of Disco

We have all rocked out to Mithun Chakraborty’s “I am a disco dancer” at some point in our lives but a few of us realise what it meant to be a part of the Disco movement – and I use the word ‘movement’ understanding fully the gravity of the word. The disco culture is more than just flamboyant clothes and groovy music; it was an outlet for the marginalised sections of the society. Discotheques emerged as a place where the African American, Latinos, homosexuals and ‘hipster’ heterosexuals could come together and interact without restrictions.

In the US, due to the Prohibition in the 1930’s the nightclub scene went underground and only resurfaced with the coming of swing and jazz. By the 70s, the night scene had been commandeered by disco. It soon became a symbol of freedom for the oppressed masses. It was a place for men and women alike to come, sing, dance, drink and enjoy their night. It became a sacred zone free from discrimination that women (as a newly emerging workforce), gay, Hispanic and African Americans faced in other spheres of their lives. Disco was freeing, empowering and perhaps the first place where differences were not just tolerated, but celebrated. It gave us the first openly gay pop star – Sylvester “the disco queen” and gave drag queens and cross dressers like The Cockettes and The Disquotays a safe place to express themselves. Disco was the embodiment of the message of love, free spiritedness and unrestricted, unabashed sexuality. With songs like the catchy “love to love you baby” it brought female sexuality in the public sphere as something to be proud of and women could go out, unchaperoned and dance the night away to jazz, funk and latin music.

The decline of disco is just as politically charged as its rise was. The Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey park in Chicago (1979) which saw predominantly white American men destroying piles of vinyl on a baseball pitch betrayed not just anti-disco sentiments but homophobic subtext and a distaste for the growing sexual and racial liberation that Disco was partly responsible for and while this night is widely regarded as ‘the night disco died’, anyone who has heard any pop music in the past three decades would agree that the likes of Madonna, Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars have kept the essence and message of Disco alive.

– Abhilasha Kaul, First Year.

Sudan Female Activists Amidst the Ongoing Conflict

Sudan has been occupied with violent battle for the majority of its presence. In 2003, it rose up out of a 21-year inward armed clash between the Sudanese Government and non-state actors in the South which is said to have taken a toll on the lives of 1.5 million individuals. A report highlighted by the Human Rights Watch in March, 2016 archives the mistreatment experienced by female activists because of Sudan’s security powers. The investigation highlighted that rape, violence and arbitrary detention have become common weapons against women.

In more than 85 interviews, specialists found that every one of the ladies had encountered some type of sexual orientation based brutality executed by the State as a consequence of their work. By and large, in Sudan, the legislature is focusing on women more than men. A great deal of laws and a considerable measure of enactments have been drafted since this government came in, [targeting] ladies, [restricting their] dress, and even their movability and work. The report additionally points out frequent violation like rape and sexual brutality, mental and verbal misuse, with numerous interviewees stating that they had likewise been subjected to self-assertive detainment.

Talking on the arrival of the report, numerous female activists were vocal about how they were confined in 2012 and cross examined. They depicted how the police scrutinized their ethics as a result of their activism. If you are a female in Sudan and go out to protest on the road, it implies that you are an awful lady or an awful young lady. Security forces allegedly lesson women about how they are apparently crossing the lines by mingling politics and sexual violence together.

The activists have said that there have additionally been different examples where the nation’s media had been utilized to influence social shame against women involved in activism. Indeed, even state-controlled daily papers have additionally referred to female society activists as “lesbians and prostitutes” for participating in demonstrations.The badgering does not stop with verbal misuse and intimidation. Female activists are generally threatened with how their ‘daughters will be raped’ and that they will be assaulted directly before them (female activists).

Here, the whole idea I believe, becomes problematic. It’s not only in the context of Sudan, but a larger problem with ‘women’ as a (gender), how easy it is for society to tag a woman as a ‘prostitute’ simply because she’s vocal about her opinion. It’s something absurd for the society to accept a woman who is raising her voice beyond the roles prescribed by the society. Of the ladies met by Human Rights Watch, none had conveyed their cases to the court and the culprits of the affirmed wrongdoings are yet to be explored or indicted. Thus, a significant number of the activists have fled the nation, dreading further brutality and intimidation.

Be that as it may, others are discovering approaches to push forward with their work. For instance numerous activists are concentrating on preparing ladies on how to stay safe despite the fact that their lives are under constant threat. The case of Sudan clearly highlights how state concerns are macro logical. The pressures of ongoing conflict are routinely invoked to explain the trivialization of human life. All of this raises a number of questions – what happens when the state actively uses derogatory terms like ‘’prostitutes’’? Can we call this a case of defamation? And lastly, does the state really have the power to label people so straightforwardly?

– Riya Gupta, Second Year.

Terror on the Web

The discourse on terrorism was widely ignored up until the 1990s. It gained international attention only after the events of 11th September 2001. It has over the years become one of the principal security threats of the 21st century. Today, under conditions of globalization, non-state actors, in this case terrorist groups have gained important advantages over states. The current threat posed by the ISIS suggests that terrorism will continue to shape global politics in significant ways. Globalization is built on and depends on the proliferation of computers and microelectronic technologies which helps people to communicate with each other simultaneously and on real time. The ISIS uses modern technology to recruit people from all over the world and the use of social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) has been particularly important in this case. The internet is a valuable tool for spreading propaganda, relaying messages and motivating people and has been used by the ISIS to its fullest potential.

Social media provides a great platform for terrorist organizations like the ISIS to amplify its messages. The ISIS uses platforms like Facebook and Twitter to organize, communicate and build a sense of community. It also enables them to raise their prestige among other older terror groups. It also helps them cooperate and coordinate between its own troops and allows them to administer the territories under its control. ISIS constantly uses hashtags like the #AllEyesonISIS Twitter campaign while taking over the Iraqi city of Mosul to spread fear amongst people. The advantage of such a strategy is twofold. First: it allows them to instill a sense of inevitability and sheer terror amongst the people of the cities it’s going to take over thereby crippling them psychologically even before the actual attack is carried out. This argument can be exemplified by the mere fact that a militia of less than 2000 ISIS fighters managed to capture a city of 1.5 million during the seizing of the city of Mosul. The proportion of Iraqi soldiers to ISIS fighters being 15:1. Secondly: it points towards the ingenious use of digital marketing strategy. The use of hashtags not only creates instant awareness but also enables users to generate buzz. Once the hashtag becomes a trend, it instantly starts appearing on all social media platforms leading to a drastic increase in visibility and thereby, disseminating the required message which in this case would be terror. This terror can almost be equated to the psychological fear that an actual physical terror attack can invoke in people.

The ISIS uses a number of tactics to reach out to people like choreographed videos, mass executions, civic forum boards, secure messaging and hashtag hijacking. It also uses documentaries and online magazines, press releases and Q&A sessions. All of this goes on to suggest that the ISIS is an organization which is very well structured and follows the model which has worked for leading online figures and brands. We can say from this that the ISIS functions like any other company with a great emphasis on aggressive marketing strategies. It uses advertising techniques like any other brand and actively engages with people through social media.

Terrorist websites also use the imagery and symbols of victimization and empowerment to spread their message. These depictions are useful in arousing the emotions of supporters and potential supporters (Lewis 2005). The ISIS is known to lure people through videos which mimic popular video game themes like ‘’Grand Theft Auto’’, ‘’Call of Duty’’ as well as television shows such as ‘’Homeland’’, ‘’Person of Interest’’ and so on. This not only strikes a chord with young, dissatisfied individuals but also lures them into the world of terrorism by promising them the same kind of experience which they see on the screen. It also possesses a high level of cinematographic sophistication which enables them to produce videos which has the exact same quality as that of American movies. This is known as ‘’Hollywood Visual Style’’ as coined by experts Cori Dauber and Mark Robinson. The fact that the ISIS exhibits such nuanced skills of video and movie-making possesses a unique and altogether new challenge to groups which are trying to combat terrorism. Most of the videos are also devoid of religious imagery or anything related to Islam. One of the possible explanations could be that the ISIS does not want potential targets to feel like they are joining the organization for something as personal or primordial as religion. Rather, these videos cater to the ‘’thrill-seeking’’ aspect of human behavior and perhaps the fact that one gets to be a part of something much larger than oneself.

The ISIS has come up with novel ways of exploiting the internet and possesses an enormous risk which is unique in a number of ways. The means used by the ISIS can be classified as a form of semantic attack which largely relies on distributing wrong information. The use of social media serves two very basic purposes of the ISIS. It is cost effective and caters to a global audience. The ISIS has also proved that it is extremely proficient at using new technology by coming up with innovative hashtags and applications which can be easily downloaded from the internet. It also has a large number of skilled professionals who have a sound knowledge of social media strategies.
Governments and social media platforms are constantly grappling with questions of surveillance and censorship when it comes down to counterterrorism tactics. Mass deletion of accounts by websites like Twitter raises questions of whether these platforms are impinging upon the rights of the people to freedom of speech and expression. Thus, while the debate rages on about how much regulation is required to contain the current threat posed by the ISIS, it also becomes imperative that social media platforms come up with more pro-active and innovative strategies which would help in making these forums a safer space for online users.

– Shruti Das, Second Year.

From Prejudice to Pride

India’s foray into a democratic system of governance and its commitment to social justice might make one question whether or not the caste system really exists today. However, social and political scientist Rajni Kothari has stated that the existence of the caste system is unquestionable. The question, hence, should be what form the caste system has taken in the recent years and not whether it exists at all. Killing and maiming each other in the name of religion has been glaringly visible, but the question of contemporary caste based discrimination has been largely unseen by the public eye. The suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit PhD student in the Hyderabad Central University, shows how the ancient system still exists with similar intensity, perhaps more so because of the legitimacy accorded by educational and other public institutions. The caste system has evolved and continues to thrive in even well meaning people’s minds.

Proponents of caste based hierarchy have evolved from something on the lines of “Don’t eat from your friend’s tiffin, “God knows what jati they belong to” to “People of our caste group are known for their intelligence”; from prejudice against other castes to pride belonging to a certain community. If people do not follow untouchability and dine with everyone, they believe they are free from all prejudice. But in all probability, they would still identify themselves as belonging to a certain community and be proud of it. The Indian constitution, while deeming untouchability or any other caste based prejudice illegal, is silent about caste based associations. Social movements by the underprivileged classes in the 1970s and 80s resulted in the creation of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) reservation and the formation of caste based associations. The resulting diversification of the social backgrounds of people in various organizations has led to an ideological backlash by some members of dominant communities, who have since then renewed their efforts to isolate and discriminate against all kinds of cultural minorities. The institutional structures created by both the dominant and discriminated communities are what marks the present era from the past.

Another significant case in point is the phenomenon of arranged marriage. Around 5% of marriages that happen in India are inter-caste; the rest perpetuate their own caste systems and the norms unique to them. One look at matrimonial columns would confirm my statement. People mostly seek grooms or brides from their own caste. In some cases, they would mention ‘caste no bar’ but would still add ‘SC/ST please excuse’. Recently, the mother of a Mumbai-based gay rights activist had put an ad saying ‘groom wanted’ for her son. In spite of having crossed a significant ideological barrier, the ad did not fail to mention that she would prefer an ‘Iyer’ (a sub caste of Tamil Brahmins) groom. [The Hindu, 30th May 2015]

Some people have protested against Brahmin domination, equating the caste system to something in the lines of white vs. black racist debate- a powerful Brahmin versus the oppressed rest. One of the famous proponents of this view was EVR Periyar. Dipankar Gupta has written that there is no objective hierarchy of which caste is to be placed where in the caste system. Here, one must remember that the fourfold varna is different from caste. Also, he states that caste is not to be confused with race, citing the following example: ‘While blacks were despised, they were not considered polluting. Imagine the horror that would be aroused in the home of a traditional privileged caste in India at the very suggestion of an untouchable cook in the kitchen. Thus, while racism at its height might consider blacks to be despicable, it did not regard them as polluting.’ [Dipankar Gupta; Caste, Race and politics] He also critiques the unilinear narrative of Brahmin vs. Non Brahmin by pointing out that various regions of India have had dominating and oppressed castes, for example- jats are against gujars- together they are against urban castes; kolis are against patidars; thevars oppress pallars or the devendrakula vellalas; the vanniyars torment adi dravidas.

It is imperative that we recognize the newer, hidden forms of caste based structural violence to understand how, or if at all, we are progressing as a society.

– Sambhavi Ganesh, Second Year.