A viral hoax video has inspired Indian mobs to multiple, brutal murders

Someone edited a Pakistani child-safety education video to make it look like evidence of a ring of kidnappers was snatching children and taking them away on motorcycles; the video went viral in India, spread on Whatsapp, and it has inspired terrified mobs to attack and murder strangers on suspicion of being involved in the fictitious kidnapping rings. Read the rest

Ahead of national elections, India's authoritarian ruling party loses a key regional battle

India's national elections are only a year away, and things aren't looking good for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an authoritarian war criminal who has a mutual love affair with US President Donald Trump. Read the rest

The Taj Mahal's white marble walls are turning green and brown with pollution

Thanks to pollution, bug excrement, and particulates thrown into the air by construction in the vicinity, the Taj Mahal has turned color. Constructed primarily using white marble in the 17th century, the UNESCO world heritage site building has changed in color from white, to a troublesome yellow and, more recently, has become sullied with shades of brown and green. Given the Taj Mahal's importance as a tourist destination (it draws close to 70,000 people per day!) and its cultural significance, India's Supreme Court has said enough's enough: they've ordered the country's government to seek foreign help to bring the building back to its former glory.

According to the BBC, the Indian Supreme Court recently scolded the country's government for allowing the site to fall into such disrepair, with one court justice saying, "Even if you have the expertise, you are not utilizing it. Or perhaps you don't care."

Ouch.

For its part, the Indian government has moved to protect the Taj Mahal in the past: it forced the closure of thousands of factories near the site in an effort to protect the building and grounds from pollution. Unfortunately, fighting pollution in the area is an uphill battle. The mausoleum, located in the city of Agra, sits adjacent to the Yamuna River. The river is rife with raw sewage, which attracts hordes of insects. Those bugs apparently love to poop on the world heritage site. On several occasions over the past couple of decades, the Indian government has attempted to clean the exterior of the building, in the hopes of bringing it back to its original coloring. Read the rest

India ironically loses communications with new communications satellite

If you were to ask the Indian Space Research Organization, they'd tell you that space is hard: the IRSO has lost communications with one of its satellites mere days after launching it into orbit.

According to The Times of India, the IRSO launched the GSAT-6A communications satellite into orbit on March 29. Indian ground control was able to command the satellite to alter its orbit on two separate occasions. Smooth sailing! Then, on Saturday, things went south:

After remaining incommunicado the whole of Saturday, ISRO, on Sunday said: “The second orbit raising operation of GSAT-6A satellite has been successfully carried out by LAM Engine firing for about 53 minutes on March 31, 2018 in the morning. After the successful long duration firings, when the satellite was on course to normal operating configuration for the third and the final firing, scheduled for April 1, 2018, communication from the satellite was lost. Efforts are underway to establish the link with the satellite.”

That's got to be disappointing. It's worth mentioning that just because they've lost communications with the GSAT-6A doesn't mean that it's lost forever – yet. There have been plenty of instances where long-range communications have been lost by ground control and then restored. Given the satellite's mission, providing mobile communications for the people of India over the next decade, it'd be nice if the ISRO could get the thing back online.

If they fail, however, a permanent loss of communications with the satellite would mark the second mission failure for the space agency in less than a year. Read the rest

Who may swim in the ocean of knowledge?

I've written an op-ed on The Wire, a prominent nonprofit publication in India about access to knowledge. Access to scientific knowledge has been colonized by a few publishers who have improperly laid claim to the ocean of knowledge. This situation is morally untenable and contrary to law. It must change because education is a fundamental right.

The parallels between companies such as Reed Elsevier and the exploiters of old such as the East India Company are remarkable. Scientists are the new indigo farmers. Journals are the railroads built, not to benefit the population of scholars, but to ship raw materials back to England and high-priced goods back to the universities. Paywalls and DRM are the new salt taxes.

The decolonization of knowledge is a great opportunity for our times and I believe India is poised to lead that revolution.

In India, the principle that copyright does not apply for materials used in the course of instruction was recently affirmed by the Delhi high court in the Delhi University copy shop case. The Rameshwari Photocopy Shop is located on the premises of Delhi University, and was selling students course packs with copies of journal articles. At the behest of three large publishers, the shop was raided by armed police and charged with high crimes for violating copyright. After an intervention by an association of students and an association of academics pointed to the “for the purposes of instruction” exception to the copyright, the court said no wrongs had been committed. The right to education triumphed over the baseless claims of the publishers.

Read the rest

Tobacco giant Philip Morris is quietly funding an "anti-smoking" foundation offering $1 billion in "grants" to public health leaders

Derek Yach, president of The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, sent a letter to 344 public health researchers and groups inviting them to bid for grants from a $1b fund set up by tobacco giant -- the list was a roster of Yach's former colleagues from his stint at the World Health Organization. Read the rest

Watch: Scotty travels to India to make a manhole cover

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCO8DQrSp5yEP937qNqTooOw

Scotty of Strange Parts took a train across India to try to make a manhole cover at a cast iron foundry. His goal was to replace an existing manhole cover on Mission Street in San Francisco with his homemade manhole cover. Even though he failed, because everyone at the foundries thought he was an industrial spy, it's fascinating to get an inside look at a small foundry in India and to meet the very nice foundry owner. Scotty also started to have second thoughts about putting a manhole of his own design on a city street. Read the rest

How do you train for the most polluted race in the world?

Emily James (previously) writes, "The air in Delhi is so polluted the government’s instruments can't measure it but they are still going to run a half marathon on Sunday!" Read the rest

Tamil pulp fiction is basically totally amazing

On Strange Horizons, Rachel Cordasco reviews the latest Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction, the third such volume, and makes a compelling case for exploring the amazing world of Tamil pulp, expertly translated into English. Read the rest

Remarkable portraits of Indian flower vendors

Ken Hermann went to the flower market in Kolkata, where he snapped these cool portraits of flower sellers with their wares. Read the rest

India supreme court rules sexual orientation is a fundamental right

India, the world's largest democracy, declares freedom of sexual orientation of fundamental right.

India’s Supreme Court has given the country’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans community the freedom to safely express their sexual orientation. In a historic decision on Thursday, the nine-judge panel declared that an individual’s sexual orientation is protected under the country’s Right to Privacy law.

“Sexual orientation is an essential attribute of privacy,” the decision reads. “Discrimination against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation is deeply offensive to the dignity and self-worth of the individual. Equality demands that the sexual orientation of each individual in society must be protected on an even platform.”

The ruling does not obviate existing laws criminalizing or discriminating against queer folk but lays the groundwork for doing so, especially a pending court challenge to Section 377. Read the rest

India lost access to the Internet Archive because two Bollywood studios couldn't be bothered with takedowns

The mystery of yesterday's India-wide censorship orders which blocked the Internet Archive from the world's largest democracy has been solved: it was the result of complaints by two Bollywood studios, Prakash Jha Productions and Red Chillies Entertainment, who chose to target infringing copies of their movies by securing an injunction at the High Court of the Judicature at Madras, rather than sending the Internet Archive a takedown notice. Read the rest

India censors access to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine

The Wayback Machine is the Internet Archive's indispensable record of the web itself, containing regular snapshots of a huge slice of the entire web that you can browse in order to see what a given page looked like on a given date. Read the rest

Big Access to Knowledge event about India in San Francisco on 6/14 (cool snacks!)

Please join me, Brewster Kahle and our special guests for a big Access To Knowledge event about India on June 14th at the Internet Archive. Here's why you should come if you're in town: Read the rest

Vintage Air India route map on a souvenir hand fan

Everything about this 1960s combination map and fan is fantastic: the Asia-centric map, the gold foil edges, the delicate wooden handle, and the beautiful illustrations. Lovely and doubly practical! Read the rest

Beautiful short film explores the spirit of Varanasi

Varanasi is one of the great spiritual centers of the world, along with Jerusalem, Mecca, Vatican City. This personal project by filmmaker Aeyaz is a contemplative look at the city and at what comes beyond life. Read the rest

Insider whistleblower says London police hired Indian hackers to surveil journalists, politicians and activists

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating a tip-off from a current or ex-London police officer that the London Metropolitan Police's National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit asked Indian police to use their hacker contacts to break into the private communications of hundreds of British people and groups, from journalists to Greenpeace. Read the rest

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