The World Today for December 19, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

INDIA

Made In India

Indian opposition politician Rahul Gandhi is facing sedition charges for a small rhyme that refers to a big problem.

Speaking at a campaign event, the Congress Party honcho said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Made in India” slogan should be “Rape in India” due to the spate of protests and high-profile cases involving sexual assaults on women, the Times of India reported.

Gandhi is refusing to apologize perhaps because he knows a large segment of the Indian public believes he’s calling attention to an important problem.

In late November, four men gang-raped and killed a veterinarian, set her body on fire and left it under a bridge near the southern city of Hyderabad, reported the Guardian. Video footage suggested the men had plotted the attack, deflating her scooter tires and then offering to help her. Hundreds of women took to the streets to demand justice.

“Unfortunately, we need something like this (the rape) to shake us to seek change,” one demonstrator told Al Jazeera. “No one addresses the basic issues that are a threat to women’s safety on streets on a daily basis.”

Days later, a second woman, a teenager in Uttar Pradesh was raped and over 90 percent of her body was burned, the Independent reported.

Indian police reported more than 32,500 rape cases in 2017, according to Reuters. That’s around 90 a day. Courts disposed of around 18,300 cases in the same year. Almost 128,000 cases remained pending at the time.

The Hyderabad incident especially touched a nerve because it recalled an attack in Delhi in 2012, when six men raped a 23-year-old student on a bus. The woman later died from her injuries. That incident led Indian lawmakers to strengthen rape laws.

The Delhi student’s convicted assailants don’t appear particularly contrite, however. One recently asked officials not to carry out his death sentence because air pollution was already killing him. CNN wrote that the court is likely to reject his request.

Police arrested the four men accused of the Hyderabad rape. But the alleged rapists never answered for their crimes, at least not in court. Instead, officers shot all four dead under the bridge where they left their victim, saying the men tried to grab their guns when they were taken to the scene of the attack, reported the New York Times.

Some Indians celebrated the suspects’ deaths. Others worried about the rise of vigilantism in India.

Some girls have been taking matters into their own hands since the 2012 incident, forming a vigilante group called the Red Brigades.

Still, a sense of justice being denied happened again recently when an alleged gang-rape victim was attacked and critically burned as she headed to court to testify against her attacker in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, wrote Reuters. Her village was divided over whether the perpetrators should be punished, mostly over caste lines.

Still, also in Uttar Pradesh state, a lawmaker expelled from Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party was tried in a separate rape and kidnapping case. A Delhi court found him guilty Monday, Press Trust India reported.

But as many women in India say in spite of the small victories, the larger one remains elusive.

“Nobody wants to invest in changing the system,” said Sunitha Krishnan, an activist and gang-rape survivor in Hyderabad, told the Associated Press. “You’ve just done some instant justice, closure, everybody’s moved on. And for most people, this is finished. But life doesn’t move on for hundreds of thousands of victims who are languishing for justice. And that’s the pathetic reality of this country.”

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WANT TO KNOW

POLAND

Ending Solidarity

Poland’s Supreme Court warned Wednesday that the government’s plan to reform the judicial system could force Poland out of the European Union, Euronews reported.

The court explained that proposals introduced by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party could threaten the bloc principle of precedence of EU law over national legislation.

“The contradiction between Polish and EU law (…) will lead with high probability to an intervention by institutions of the European Union for infringement of EU treaties,” said the court.

Among the proposed measures, the new bill would dismiss judges who might question the legitimacy of another judge’s nomination, as well judges whose activities are deemed “political.”

The Polish government argued that its bill will avoid chaos in the judiciary, but opponents see it as method to silence dissent and control the judiciary.

Earlier this month, thousands of people rallied in Polish towns in solidarity with judges, the BBC reported.

SOUTH SUDAN

Agreeing to Disagree

South Sudan President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar have agreed to form a transitional unity government by February, but have not fully resolved key political issues, the Voice of America reported.

Both leaders blamed each other for not coming to an agreement on some key matters such as the integration of rebel forces into the national army and the actual number of states within South Sudan.

“We have talked about the number of states and boundaries but we didn’t reach a deal,” Machar said on Tuesday.

Both parties signed a peace deal last year to end the five-year conflict in the country that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and the displacement of millions in the world’s youngest country.

Since signing the deal, Kiir and Machar have missed two deadlines to form a government, the last one in November.

Following the delay, the United States recalled its ambassador last month and imposed sanctions on two government officials Monday.

The US ambassador to South Sudan warned of new sanctions Wednesday if the peace talks fail to advance, Agence France-Presse reported.

GERMANY

A Troubling Pipeline

German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized the United States’ decision to impose sanctions on some businesses involved with ships laying sections of the new Russian-German gas pipeline, but made no threats of retaliation, the Associated Press reported.

“I see no alternative to conducting talks, though very firm talks, (to show that) we do not approve of this practice,” Merkel told German lawmakers Wednesday.

The sanctions concern the 750-mile Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will transport natural gas from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea.

The US and several other eastern European countries have opposed the project, arguing that it will increase Europe’s energy dependency on Russia.

The pipeline’s construction is currently almost completed, and the chancellor told lawmakers that talks are underway to also negotiate a new gas contract between Russia and Ukraine – the latter fears of being left out of opportunities to be a transit country for the gas.

Russian officials also condemned the new sanctions as “a direct violation of international law.”

DISCOVERIES

A Bee’s Perspective

Questions linger about how animals and insects see the world, but scientists are getting closer to seeing the issue from a non-human perspective.

A research team has developed a software that can closely replicate the eyesight of bees, Discover Magazine reported.

In their study, the authors explained that they created a type of extreme Photoshop that allows users to change color, brightness and clarity of an image to recreate various animals’ vision.

The researchers chose honeybees to test the new technique because a lot of research has already been done on the insects’ eyesight.

The team manipulated an image of greenery and flowers to approximate how a honeybee would see it.

The experiment showed that honeybees’ eyesight was weaker than human sight: Bees would see less detail than humans from the same distance.

However, once the animals got close to a flower, ultraviolet light – part of the light spectrum people can’t see – from the petals created more intricate patterns that act almost as little landing strips for the insects.

Anyone with a smartphone can use the software to view the world from another species’ perspective. The researchers stress that the results are only approximations, but they hope to further hone the technology as more people use it.

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