The World Today for April 20, 2018




Americans debate often about affirmative action and racial quotas in schools and the workplace. Those debates have sometimes unfortunately turned violent, but they have also sparked social revolutions.

India is going through the same thing.

Recently, eight people died in protests that erupted after the country’s top court allegedly weakened a 1989 law that protected members of Hinduism’s lowest castes – once known as “untouchables” and now collectively known as Dalits, or “the Oppressed.”

The 1989 Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was passed to stop heinous crimes against the Dalits and indigenous tribal peoples that followed the outlawing of the practice of untouchability with the creation of India’s constitution in 1950. India’s Supreme Court ruled in March that its sweeping powers – which included the automatic arrest of the accused – had resulted in its misuse. But many Dalits contend that removing that provision means that crimes against them will even more frequently be ignored.

The Atrocities Act isn’t the only source of tension.

After outlawing untouchability, India also adopted a quota system, which devotes so-called “reservations” for lower-caste members in universities, government and public sector jobs. While Dalits remain disproportionately poor, the system has allowed some of them to rise to prominence in politics and government jobs – even paving the way for the rise of Dalit millionaires. And because places at universities and secure government jobs are so hard to come by, Brahmins and other high-caste Indians have reportedly been passing themselves off as Dalits in order to benefit from the reservations.

Nevertheless, persecution and gross inequality still persist. The BBC reported that more than 40,000 hate crimes against the Dalits and other lower-caste members occurred in 2016 alone, citing Amnesty International.

The Hindustan Times found that members of upper castes tend to live around 17 years longer than those of lower castes.

Many Dalits are opting out of an unfair system that puts them at the bottom of society from birth. The Atlantic wrote about a popular movement among them to abandon Hinduism altogether.

“Under floodlights, they chanted: ‘I shall have no faith in Rama and Krishna who are believed to be incarnations of God nor shall I worship them. … I do not and shall not believe that Lord Buddha was the incarnation of Vishnu. … I shall hereafter lead my life according to the principles and teachings of the Buddha.’ Instantly, there were 500 new Buddhists in India.”

Writing in the Indian online news magazine the Wire, Ashwini Deshpande, a professor at the Delhi School of Economics, argued that cosmopolitan Indians who consider themselves “caste-mukt,” or caste-free – colorblind to caste, in other words – in fact display a venomous casteism online. On social media, many have reacted to the protests with dismay because they view Dalits as lazy and undeserving of reservations under the law – all caste stereotypes.

“The More India’s Elite Claims to Be Caste-Mukt, the Less We Should Believe Them,” said the Wire’s headline.

Meanwhile, some Indian politicians have proposed a 25 percent quota for upper castes, a move they portray as a quick and simple fix, according to the Times of India.

Expect more turbulence.

Dalits comprise around 20 percent of India’s population. Many of those 250 million people vote. Organized and feeling pressured, they could play a big role in the national elections next year, the New York Times noted.



Homeward Bound

Large-scale protests in South Africa’s North West Province forced President Cyril Ramaphosa to cut short a trip to London, where he’d hoped to reassure global investors worried about the future of the country.

The protests, calling for better jobs and housing, as well as improved roads and hospitals, were the largest since Ramaphosa took office two months ago, and resulted in clashes with the police, the New York Times reported.

In an official statement issued after his return to Pretoria, Ramaphosa’s office said he had “called for calm and adherence to the rule of law” and asked police “to exercise maximum restraint in execution of their duties” to curb violence.

But the timing of the unrest was particularly unfortunate, as the new president had gone to London for a meeting of the leaders of the Commonwealth nations with an eye on declaring “a new era of confidence and hope,” following the scandal-plagued tenure of his predecessor, Jacob Zuma.


Bags are Packed

Following news that the Central European University he founded would open a satellite campus in Vienna, billionaire philanthropist George Soros’ Open Society Foundation is reportedly making plans to shift from Budapest to Berlin in response to Hungary’s ongoing government crackdown on non-governmental organizations.

OSF will move about 100 employees to Berlin, its president, Patrick Gaspard, told staff in Hungary, Bloomberg cited a report by Austria’s Die Presse newspaper as saying.

Elected to a third consecutive term earlier this month, Prime Minister Viktor Orban had demonized Soros during his campaign and promised to crack down on the NGOs he supports.

Established to build democratic institutions following the collapse of communism, OSF is the main channel for aid to more than 60 Hungarian NGOs and has spent more than $1.6 billion on democratic development in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in the past 30 years.

Among the recipients: One Viktor Orban, who received a Soros-funded scholarship in 1989.


Rising Star

The Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) may be set to make the first and only black member of the country’s Supreme Court its candidate for president, just two weeks after the ex-judge joined the party.

Former Supreme Court Justice Joaquim Barbosa received 9.0 percent of voter support in the first poll since he joined the PSB, making him one of the top four potential candidates for the country’s highest post, Reuters reported.

The party has until Aug. 15 to nominate its candidate in a convention for the Oct. 7 election.

A political outsider, Barbosa presided over a high-profile trial that led to the imprisonment of three top aides to former leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in connection with a vote-buying scandal.

With the Workers’ Party’s Lula unlikely to be allowed to run due to a corruption conviction of his own, Barbosa could draw supporters from both left and right, the Associated Press noted.


The Diet of Youth

Eating less not only helps your waistline – scientists say it could add some years to your life as well.

In a study published recently in the journal Cell Metabolism, clinical physiologist Leanne Redman set out to test the effects of a restricted diet on the aging process. After collecting 53 volunteers, she challenged two-thirds to reduce their meal size by 25 percent, while one-third remained on their normal diet during the two-year study.

By studying participants over a 24-hour period in a special room that measured metabolic activity, Redman discovered that those who had consumed less had slower but more efficient metabolisms.

“Basically it just means that cells are needing less oxygen in order to generate the energy the body needs to survive; and so the body and the cells are becoming more energy efficient,” she told NPR.

And because excess oxygen can actually damage tissues and cells, more-efficient cells with less oxygen left over means less aging, she added.

Despite the results, a reduced-calorie diet is no fountain of youth. An individual on a restricted diet would have to be monitored their whole life in order to properly verify its efficacy – a tough sell for food lovers.

Moreover, extreme dieters stand the risk of muscle loss and weak immune systems. After all, the average volunteer shed about 25 pounds during the course of the study.

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