Saturday, 9 March 2019

Documenting India’s Unreported Rape Cases, No Nation For Women
By Payal Mohta, Open Democracy

Priyanka Dubey, an award-winning journalist, spent six years researching and documenting India’s unreported rape cases for her new book, “No Nation For Women – Reporting On Rape From India, The World’s Largest Democracy”.

Released in India in December, the book is out in the UK and US as well, from 8 March, International Women’s Day. It includes eye-opening, investigative reportage from India’s hinterland, where national media, especially English language platforms, rarely set foot.

Image by akiragiulia on Pixabay

I recently spoke to Dubey by Skype, after her return from the serene hills of Uttrakhand in northern India, to her home in the country’s capital of New Delhi. It was the first vacation she had taken since starting work on the book she says “was waiting to be written”.

India is known as one of the world’s most dangerous places for women – with estimates that a woman is raped in the country every fifteen minutes. But while reports of rape increased by 873% between 1971 and 2011, as many as 99% still go unreported.

It’s true that the world knows the story of Jyoti Singh, the physiotherapy student who died after being brutally gang-raped on a New Delhi bus in 2012. Yet few people, including in India, have heard of the children Kavita and Ragini, in the city of Badaun, in the northern Uttar Pradesh state, who were raped, murdered, mutilated in 2014.

In her book Dubey describes with vivid detail how these children were left by their abusers “hanging from the mango tree – slowly swinging in the burning afternoon winds”.

Another case is that of a 17-year-old girl from West Bengal, whose body was found in 2013 by a canal, half-naked and cut with deep blade marks. Dubey recalls in the book how the girl’s mother said it was as if "someone had peeled her skin off like we peel onions at home".

No Nation for Women’s thirteen chapters explore the patriarchal circumstances that have contributed to such extreme levels of sexual violence in the country. But it isn’t these underexplored or brutal details that make this book groundbreaking.

Rather, it’s how Dubey dismantles notions of rape as a singular, common experience. When we spoke, she explained that “rape is multi-layered in India and it manifests itself differently in various social, geographical and cultural situations”.

She insisted: “To generalise rape in any way is to take the discourse backward”.

Dubey’s book documents ‘corrective rapes’ in the Bundelkhand region; girls burnt alive in the northern Madhya Pradesh state for resisting the advances of neighborhood men; ‘political rapes’ in the Tripura state, on the border with Bangladesh.

In West Bengal, “as women are being more educated and achieving an elevated standard of life, organised crimes against them is increasing”. Dubey describes this violence as a reflection of the desire to “put a woman in her place”.

Her reporting stands in stark contrast with that of India’s mainstream media, whose overage of rape often lacks context and seems to have desensitised people towards it.

Unlike this coverage, Dubey also pays needed attention to relationships between rape and India’s caste system, a 3,000-year-old hierarchical social system of Hinduism which divided communities into castes and their sub-castes, according to their professions.

The lower you were in this caste system, the more likely you were to be poor. Although India banned caste-based discrimination in 1950 soon after its independence from the UK, it remains significant, particularly in rural areas.

“In my experience of reporting, if you are lower caste woman in rural India, you are more likely to be raped”, Dubey told me, powerfully describing how “women’s bodies are used as a battleground to establish caste supremacy”.

One of the cases in her book is that of four underage Dalit girls, from the lowest category in the caste system, who were abducted in 2014 just 500 meters from their home in Bhagana, in the northern Haryana state, and gang-raped by upper caste ‘Jat’ men.

One of the rape survivors’ mother told Dubey that they came from a community of landless farmers on Jat fields, and “of course, the Jat owner thinks he has every right over the daughters and wives of his Dalit bonded labourer”.

“There have been many cases”, the woman continued, “when Jats enter the homes of Dalits on any given night and ask the man to step out, giving him such a task as watering the fields. Then they sleep with their women”.

“Women’s bodies are used as a battleground to establish caste supremacy”

The question for justice for victims and survivors of sexual violence is another point where India’s mainstream media usually loses interest.

While India established fast-track courts exclusively for such cases after the 2012 Delhi bus gang rape, it still had 133,000 cases pending last year.

Here, Dubey shows how caste-based privilege has enabled perpetrators to derail police investigations, describing a common strategy as trying “to make cases against them inconclusive so they can either get acquitted or drag on the case for decades”.

She looks at how police, doctors and even magistrates have refused to register rape cases; manipulated witnesses into being ‘hostile’ towards survivors; tampered with forensic evidence; and threatened women into withdrawing their cases.

The result is a total breakdown of law and order and “the death of justice”, Dubey writes, “the final defeat of democracy, the constitution and the kindness of the human spirit”.

Image by Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay

On top of the violence itself and the denial of justice, stigma looms large over survivors. The mother of a three-year-old girl who was raped in East Delhi confided in Dubey that neighbours branded the girl as ‘greedy’ because her rapists had lured her with sweets.

For every reported rape case, says No Nation For Women, dozens of others go unreported because of fear and shame. “Rape is the only crime in India for which the victim is blamed”, Dubey writes. “Everyone – right from the family, friends, to the police – views the victim with doubt. Her testimony is dismissed… [with] random questions on her character”.

“Rape is the only crime in India for which the victim is blamed”

The book paints a picture so bleak that hope for marginalised women in India seems like a distant and even ridiculous dream. Yet, it is this very darkness that is its strength.

Dubey has ditched the noise surrounding women’s empowerment and gender sensitivity in elite India. Instead, she has brought attention to the “parallel universe” of gruesome crime and injustice that has gone callously unacknowledged by the country.

How? By analysing heaps of legal paperwork, police files and post-mortem reports. Most importantly, Dubey listened to rape survivors and their families, for hours on end, to record the entirety of their truths, dreams, ambitions, loves and harrowing losses.

With the exception of the feminist writer and publisher Urvashi Bhutalia’s work, documenting violence against women during the Partition, Dubey said she “couldn’t find any long-form non-fiction on ground reportage of rape in India”.

She called her book one that “was waiting to be written. And I really wanted to write it”. Though doing so wasn’t easy, and it took a significant toll on Dubey.

She couldn’t always foresee danger when reporting from deeply patriarchal areas, for instance. In the very first chapter of her book, Dubey discloses that she was groped in the night by a group of men on a train when traveling for a story.

Working on this book was also “a soul-bruising experience”, she told me, recalling how she’d listen to tapes of survivors’ testimonies over and over again. “You don’t understand all the wounds those stories leave on you. You can never fully recover”.

A frugal lifestyle to self-finance the reporting in her book also impacte Dubey’s health. She struggled to make time for friends in her personal life while her family, in her conservative hometown of Bhopal, had long disapproved of her profession.

“They thought it was disrespectful and unsafe”, Dubey said. “Where I come from, women did not become journalists. At least not at the time I was starting out”.

Against these odds, what kept Dubey, who now reports on gender issues for the BBC, going? “When people have trusted me enough to share their most intimate pain with me, I have to tell their story”, she told me. “My first accountability lies with my story. Always”.

Priyanka Dubey has reported on gender-based violence for years. Her new book is out in the UK and US on 8 March, International Women’s Day. Payal Mohta is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai, India. She covers stories relating to gender, identity and communities. Her work has been published in The Guardian, Vice Media, UK and various other magazines and newspapers. This article was originally published on Open Democracy.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Are We Looking At A Nuclear Arms Race In The Gulf?
By Bill Law, Gulf House

With both the US and Russia withdrawing from the INF, a nuclear stand-off in the Gulf could be closer than you think.

One of the many challenges of covering the impact of Donald Trump’s presidency on global affairs is that, in the constant churn of stories generated by his Twitter outbursts and the abrupt policy decisions he makes, really important stories get lost in the storm. One of those lost stories happened the weekend before the US president’s delayed State of the Union address, which he finally delivered on February 5.

On the preceding Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he was following in Trump’s footsteps and pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). In what he called a “symmetrical response,” Putin signaled that a new nuclear arms race was under way: “Our American partners announced that they are suspending their participation in the INF Treaty, and we are suspending it too. They said that they are engaged in research, development and design work, and we will do the same.”

It was a clever response, with Putin able to say that Russia was against the destruction of the treaty, but if that was what the US was going to do by walking away, then his country would mirror American actions step by step. You develop and build new nuclear weapons, we will too.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the world was striving to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. All of those Cold War decades of delicate and exquisitely challenging negotiations designed to stave off nuclear annihilation now seem somehow quaintly old-fashioned. In the macho world of the new authoritarians, led by President Trump, the bigger the weapons and the more you have, the tougher you are.

Trump’s reason for pulling out of the INF was that the Russians were non-compliant and were using the agreement as cover to get a leg up on America. That is undoubtedly the case but the treaty, even in violation, acted as a constraint. So, why would what is still the world’s greatest military superpower enable the Russians by walking away? And what are the implications for the Gulf and the wider Middle East as a new nuclear arms race emerges from Trump’s decision?

Nuclear Weapons In The Gulf

To the first question, one can only speculate, given the strange and troubling relationship that Trump has with what has been America’s greatest enemy: Russia. It is the second question, however, that should be of most concern. As the war rhetoric against Iran ratchets up, and as the nonproliferation environment weakens, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may push to arm Saudi Arabia with nuclear weapons.

Embed from Getty Images

Though he dismisses the Iranian military capacity in public, in private he must know that in any conventional war scenario, the battle-hardened Iranians would prevail on the ground. The Saudis may have sharpened their air expertise in Yemen at the expense of both the civilian population and the rebel Houthis, but it is ground forces that would ultimately decide the outcome. As the Yemen conflict has shown, Saudi Arabia’s ground troops are an incompetent and ill-prepared fighting force, hence the reliance on the air war to try subdue the Houthis.

In a conventional war, the Iranians would use Iraq as the pathway to attack Saudi Arabia along its northern border. They could be in the capital Riyadh in a matter of days. That is a sobering thought and one that could serve as a catalyst for securing the bomb. The logical place to turn to is Pakistan, which has possessed nuclear weapons since the mid-1980s. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is much beholden to the Saudis, even more so than his predecessors. Indeed, he came to the so-called “Davos in the Desert” in October 2018 with a begging bowl in hand, one the Saudis were happy to fill.

If Saudi Arabia acquired nuclear weapons, then it follows that Iran would do so as well. Indeed there are forces within Iran, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who have long advocated that to preserve and protect the revolution, their nation must have the bomb.

And here we come to the extraordinarily reckless and dangerous game that President Trump, National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are playing. Bolton, in particular, has long advocated for regime change in Iran. The harsh sanctions that America is imposing on the Iranians and demanding that the rest of the world follow are intended not so much to effect regime change in and of themselves, but rather to prevent the Iranians for a time from securing nuclear firepower.

The Saudis, in the meantime, will have picked up, off the shelve, nuclear weapons from Pakistan. Backed by a nuclear-armed Israel that shares the Saudi fear of Iran and with whom Mohammed bin Salman has forged a close relationship, the two together with other Gulf states will be the ones to force regime change backed by the nuclear muscle that Iran lacks. They and not the Americans. So the thinking goes.

That scenario is useful for Trump because the last thing his base wants is any more engagements in foreign places — and that is especially true of the Middle East. Hence, his oft-repeated and ill-thought-out vows to withdraw American troops. These are gambits, designed to shore up his support as he heads into what will undoubtedly prove for him a bruising and difficult re-election bid in 2020.

The Iranians, however, will not succumb. Indeed, such naked threats will only serve to pull the country’s often battling factions together. Iran will do whatever is necessary to acquire a nuclear counter-punch. And Vladimir Putin, burnishing his already significant power in the region, may be very happy to oblige.

A nuclear stand-off in the Gulf, with all that that implies, could be far closer than any of us realizes.

Bill Law is a Sony award-winning journalist. He joined the BBC in 1995 and since 2002 has reported extensively from the Middle East. In 2003, he was one of the first journalists to cover the beginnings of the insurgency that engulfed Iraq. His documentary, “The Gulf: Armed & Dangerous,” which aired in late 2010, anticipated the revolutions that became the Arab Spring. He then covered the uprisings in Egypt, Libya and Bahrain. He has also reported from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Before leaving the BBC in 2014, Law was the corporation’s Gulf analyst. He now works as a freelance journalist focusing on the Gulf, and he is a regular contributor to The Independent, Middle East Eye, Monocle Radio, Gulf States News, the BBC and The New Arab. He also runs This article was originally published by Gulf House and re-published by Fair Observer.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Potential Effect of India and Pakistan's Escalating Conflict On India's 2019 General  Elections
By Sita Bali, Staffordshire University

Tensions in the Kashmir region were already building after more than 40 Indian troops were recently killed by a suicide bomber. India’s “pre-emptive strike” over the disputed border on Tuesday – the first of its kind by India since it went to war with Pakistan in 1971 – has escalated the situation further. India said it had targeted a terrorist training camp and accused Pakistan of violating a 2003 ceasefire, while Pakistan now claims to have shot down two Indian fighter jets.

The origins of the Kashmir conflict lie in British imperial disengagement from the subcontinent. At independence in 1947, the unpopular Hindu Maharaja of Kashmir was faced with invasion by Pakistani tribesmen. He turned to India for help, signing the treaty of accession that took Kashmir into the Indian Union. India sent troops to Kashmir and so began the first war between India and Pakistan.

The Pakistanis were held off by Indian troops after they occupied one-third of Kashmir in 1948. Today, Pakistan continues to occupy that third and India holds the remaining two-thirds including the Kashmir Valley. The border between these two areas in Kashmir is demarcated by the Line of Control (LoC), established after fighting in 1947-48. This demarcation has changed little in all the conflicts of the subsequent years.

Disputed territory: green is Kashmiri region under Pakistani control; dark-brown is Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir; striped is Aksai Chin under Chinese control. CIA World Factbook/Wikipedia Commons
Maharaja Hari Singh’s move to join India was supported by the popular secular Kashmiri political movement - the National Conference, led by Sheikh Abdullah. Particularly so, as India agreed a special status for Kashmir within the Indian Union – spelled out in Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. A further article in the constitution prohibits people from outside Kashmir from buying land and property in the state, allowing Kashmir to preserve the balance of its ethnic and religiously mixed population (60% Muslim, 35% Hindu and 5% Buddhist).

Ladakh: a mountainous region in the disputed north-west of Jammu and Kashmir in northern India. Phuong D. Nguyen/Shutterstock

Pakistan has always maintained that, in accordance with the logic of partition, Kashmir should have been integrated with it. It attempted to take Kashmir by force in 1947-48 and again in 1965, with no success. The Kargil conflict in 1999 was the last substantial direct confrontation between the two militaries.

Since then there have been regular terrorist attacks on mostly military, paramilitary or government targets in Kashmir. Successive Indian governments have held the Pakistan military and their Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) responsible for training and aiding the terrorists involved, which Pakistan denies.

After this latest suicide attack, claimed by the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) terror group, the debate now rests on whether the wider apparatus of the Pakistani state was aware of, and can be held responsible for, the actions of a terrorist group based in their country and with supposed links to the ISI.

Modi Operandi

The suicide attack that killed Indian paramilitary personnel takes on added significance because it occurred in the context of the looming general election in India in which the BJP, led by Narendra Modi, is trying to retain its grip on power. Modi and his BJP came to power with a thumping majority in May 2014, promising competent, clean government and economic development.

However, things have not gone well for the government in recent months. The Indian economy is suffering from the long-term effects of the decision to demonetise in 2016 and the inability to generate new jobs. The BJP was also defeated in five state elections in 2018, including key states of the Hindi belt such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

India’s Narendra Modi. Escalation of tensions with Pakistan could play into BJP plans ahead of Indian elections. By Madhuram Paliwal/Shutterstock

With Modi’s supposed record of economic competence and good governance under challenge, he has increasingly relied on his party’s version of extreme nationalism to keep people’s support. The BJP’s Hindutva ideology sees India as a Hindu country and believes all Indian Muslims should have been forced to move to Pakistan in 1947, and now constitute a fifth column in the country. So an attack such as the recent suicide bombing – whether or not it was actually instigated by Pakistan – plays into Modi’s narrative.

That the attack was carried out by a young man from Indian Kashmir also serves to illustrate the failure of the Modi government in dealing with the Kashmir problem. For more than three years the BJP was itself part of the government of Kashmir in alliance with the People’s Democratic Party of Mohammed and Mehbooba Mufti. This alliance fell apart in 2018, mostly over disagreements between the two parties about how to handle the increase in violence in Kashmir and the radicalisation of young Kashmiris, who were once again taking up arms against India.

The Jaish-e-Mohammad terror group, unusually, took immediate responsibility for the attack. Equally, the Indian response to the attack was a first, in that India has never before responded to terrorism within its borders by attacking Pakistan. India’s airstrike is considered the first major use of air power against Pakistan since 1971.

At this stage there are claims and counter claims from both sides about what the Indian bombing raids achieved. Pakistan is threatening an appropriate response, so there is potential for an escalation of this volatile situation between two nuclear armed countries.

Amid an intensifying war of words and action between the two, the only beneficiary will be the BJP. As jingoistic fervour rises in India, they hope they will be swept back to office on the crest of that wave.

Sita Bali, Head of department, Staffordshire University. This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Scientists Open A New Window Into Space With Discovery Of A New Source Of Neutrinos
By Simon Peeters, University of Sussex

Neutrinos – extremely light, ghostly particles that barely interact with matter – have so far only been observed originating from supernovae (exploding stars) and the sun. Now a giant detector at the South Pole has discovered that a “blazar”, a galaxy with a supermassive black hole at its centre, also produces neutrinos.

Artist’s impression based on real picture of Icecube lab. IceCube/NSF

This is the first time a source of neutrinos in space has been discovered in more than 30 years. What’s more, it’s the first time scientists have observed a neutrino particle with high energy associated with an astrophysical event. This is really exciting news. The observation, just published in Science, opens a completely new chapter in neutrino astronomy.

Neutrinos are fundamental matter particles. The ordinary matter that we are all familiar with is made out of electrons and quarks. We do not observe neutrinos in daily life as they are extremely hard to detect. Theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli suggested their existence in 1930, but it took until 1956 before they were first seen by experimental physicists coming from a nuclear reactor.

The reason that they are so hard to detect is because they only weakly interact with ordinary matter. Most neutrinos fly straight through the Earth: they do not interact at all. They do, however, play a very important role in the universe.

For example, when a heavy star explodes at the end of its life, it is known as a supernova – as it shows up as an extremely bright and seemingly new star in the sky. We now know that supernovae emit many more neutrinos than photons (light particles), which we cannot see by eye. Scientists detected the first neutrinos from a supernova in 1987 when a star collapsed just outside our Milky Way. This unique observation has given us a better understanding of supernovae, as well as the properties of neutrinos themselves.

This event marked the birth of what we call neutrino astronomy. Powerful neutrino telescopes were built soon after. One of them was the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO). Physicist Art McDonald received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2015 for the detailed studies of solar neutrinos that he and his team did using this observatory, and the insights this gave us into the properties of the neutrino particles.

Arctic Analysis

Another telescope has now grown to be the largest of them all. The IceCube experiment at the South Pole is a cubic kilometre in size and uses deep arctic ice as a target for the neutrinos. Although neutrinos typically don’t interact with anything, they can produce a charged particle when they occasionally do interact with the fundamental particles that make up ice. In IceCube, this resulting particle travels through the ice and produces a trail of faint light.

IceCube drilling tower and hose reel in December 2009. Amble/wikipedia, CC BY-SA

This trail is captured by a large array of sensitive photodetectors that are mounted up to three kilometres deep into the ice. With this information, IceCube can detect high energy neutrinos, measure their energy and determine where they came from. Other cosmic particles only travel a few kilometres through the Earth, at most. So, if the particle is seen to come up from below, it must have been produced by a neutrino interaction, as it is the only particle that can travel such a large distance through the planet.

The neutrino that was observed by IceCube in September 2017 is very special. This neutrino must have had an extremely high energy – IceCube scientists estimate between 183 and 290 trillion electron volts (a unit of energy). That is 28-45 times more energy than the particles in the beam of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator.

Sensors below the ice detected the neutrino, which was registered by computers in the IceCube building. IceCube/NSF

However, neutrinos with even higher energies have been observed by IceCube before. The exciting thing about the new discovery is that it has been shown to come from a blazar, which has been observed by other experiments, such as the FermiLAT satellite and the MAGIC telescope. In a blazar, it is thought that the supermassive black hole at the centre absorbs matter to produce two extremely powerful jets of radiation. These jets could act as powerful particle accelerators.

Blazars were long suspected as a possible source of very high energy neutrinos in the universe, but we now have firm evidence. Together with IceCube, observations of this blazar have been made using telescopes that are sensitive to different types of electromagnetic radiation: radio, optical, gamma ray, and X-ray.

With this observation, IceCube has made a significant step forward in neutrino astronomy. Its neutrino adds new information to the observation of the blazar, helping us to understand these fascinating objects better. It can tell us about the mechanism of particle acceleration in blazars and more about how blazars produce such tremendous amounts of energy. We may even learn something new about the universe, or neutrinos, that we didn’t expect.

Simon Peeters, Reader (Physics and Astronomy), University of Sussex. This article was originally published on The Conversation

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Can A Three Page Document On Brexit Bring Down The British Government?
Written by Nikos Skoutaris, University of East Anglia

Two years after the referendum, the UK government briefly appeared to agree on its vision for the future UK-EU relationship. A three page document, outlining the UK position, was published following a long meeting of cabinet ministers at the prime minister’s country retreat of Chequers on July 6.

The new position aims to address the Irish border issue and potentially offers a softer version of Brexit than was previously talked about. It has prompted the resignation of three ministers. The Brexit secretary, David Davis, and his number two at the Department for Exiting the EU, Steve Baker, stepped down just 50 hours after the publication of the three-page document. This was followed by foreign secretary, Boris Johnson. Such dramatic developments raise serious questions for the UK’s Brexit strategy and the future of the government itself.

So what was agreed to at Chequers and why has it led to these resignations? Davis stepped down because he felt the new plan cedes too much control to the EU. Notwithstanding, the new plan should be understood as only the starting point of negotiations over the future UK-EU relationship. In that sense, we should expect the UK position to further evolve in the months to come.

Previous Proposals

The government’s new position has substantially evolved from its previous proposals for the UK’s future economic relationship with the EU. It has been dubbed a “third way” between the two proposals that the government published in August 2017.

The first was a highly streamlined customs arrangement that came to be known as “max-fac” (short for maximum facilitation). It aimed to simplify the UK’s customs arrangement with the EU by using a variety of IT solutions to avoid a customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Jon Thompson, head of HM Revenue and Customs estimated that the cost of building the necessary infrastructure for this option would be about £20 billion.

According to the second model, a new customs partnership, the UK would mirror “the EU’s requirements for imports from the rest of the world” as if the UK was still a member of the EU’s customs union. The UK, under this model, would still be free to pursue its independent trade policy.

This could potentially lead to differences in its tariffs with the EU ones. To deal with this problem, an unprecedented and untested repayment mechanism was proposed. According to it, imports to the UK would pay whichever was the higher of the UK’s or the EU’s tariff rates and traders would claim “a refund for the difference between the two when the goods were sold to an end user in the country charging lower tariffs”.

Apart from the cost and the feasibility, the biggest problem of the previous two proposals was that neither of them addressed effectively the Irish border conundrum. Neither could secure a frictionless, invisible border, given that the UK’s intention is to leave the single market and the customs union after Brexit.

The New Proposal

As the UK government had previously conceded, upholding its Irish border commitments required regulatory alignment. Without the same regulatory standards on the two sides of the border, checks would be required on the various products that would be crossing it to ensure the integrity of the single market.

This is why the new plan proposes to establish a free trade area for goods between the UK and the EU where “a common rulebook for all goods including agri-food” will exist. The UK will commit, by international agreement, “to ongoing harmonisation with EU rules on goods”. This echoes the mechanism of the European Economic Area whose members have to adopt the new or reformed regulations that the EU institutions produce.

At the same time, the government contends that parliament can guard the UK legal order from future EU legislation in an arrangement that somehow resembles the EU’s relationship with Switzerland. Given the ongoing crisis in EU-Switzerland relations over the issue of free movement of people, the UK government is right to recognise that such action might lead to unforeseen consequences. At the same time, it effectively puts into question whether the UK parliament would have real power to diverge from EU regulations on goods.

The Starting Point of Negotiations

The proposal that came out of Chequers is not the definitive end state of the future UK-EU relationship, as some have suggested.

But even if the resignations of Britain’s main negotiator and the foreign secretary do not lead to a political crisis, the Chequers deal should be understood as the UK starting position in its negotiations with the EU.

The Chequers proposal does not sit comfortably with the models for the EU-UK relationship that the EU has already suggested. It is not a Canada-style free trade agreement with the Northern Ireland backstop option. Nor is it an economic relationship that allows the application of all four fundamental freedoms of movement, as the “Norway” option does.

Still, it is the first comprehensive position that the UK has put forward. So the UK will be hoping that the EU will consider it.

Even if the EU does not reject the UK position outright, the government should expect that issues such as its contribution to the new EU budget and the role of the European Court of Justice are raised and seriously considered in the months to come. This is still only the beginning of the process that will hopefully lead to an orderly Brexit and mutually beneficial future with the EU.

Dr Nikos Skoutaris received his Ph.D. in Law from the European University Institute (Florence, Italy) in 2009. Since then, he has worked as a Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of Tilburg, as an Assistant Professor at Maastricht University (The Netherlands) and as a Senior Research Fellow at the European Institute, LSE. Since October 2013, he is a Lecturer in EU law at the UEA Law School. This article was originally published on The Conversation

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Poor Sleep Is Linked To Cardiovascular Risk Across Ages
Written by Emily Underwood, Knowable Magazine

Emily Underwood interviewed one of the study authors, physician Susan Redline of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, to discuss sleep’s powerful influence on our hearts and other body systems, a subject Redline also wrote about in the 2015 Annual Review of Public Health. To reduce our society’s high rates of chronic disease, she says, we need to ensure children get better sleep, as well as other sleep-deprived groups such as minorities and shift workers.

Did you sleep well last night? If not, you’re in good company. About a third of American adults don’t get the recommended seven hours of sleep per night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many people don’t get enough sleep or sleep poorly because of their jobs or hectic schedules — they work long shifts at night or have to rush to get their kids ready to catch a 6 a.m. school bus. Some 50 million to 70 million Americans have a chronic sleep disorder such as insomnia or sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts throughout the night.

Scientists still fiercely debate sleep’s fundamental biological purpose. In people, however, plentiful evidence suggests that sleep performs a range of vital functions, including restoring damaged tissues, boosting learning and memory, and flushing toxins from the brain. Sleeping too little can have serious long-term health consequences, increasing the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

A new study in Pediatrics highlights the importance of sleep for teenagers, who often struggle to get the recommended eight to nine hours per night of shut-eye. Out of the more than 800 adolescents in the study, only 2.2 percent got enough sleep, and less than half achieved desirable rates of “sleep efficiency” — the percentage of total time in bed actually spent asleep.

Teens short on sleep were more likely to be obese — a trend found in previous studies — and scored higher on several other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure and poor glucose metabolism. Those who slept longer and better tended to have less fat around their waists, lower systolic blood pressure and higher levels of “good” cholesterol — all signs of cardiovascular health.

Emily Underwood: How did you become interested in studying the health impacts of sleep?

Susan RedlineI was trained in pulmonary medicine in the mid-’80s, shortly after a new therapy for sleep apnea — the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device — had been developed. Prior to CPAP, patients had to undergo surgery and have tracheostomies and lose the function of their voices. It was very exciting to see a therapy that, literally overnight, could change a person from being very sleepy and having poorly controlled hypertension and even heart failure to someone who was functional.

I sought out training in epidemiology and observed how little we understood about the population prevalence and risk factors for sleep apnea. That's when I started developing epidemiologic studies to address those questions. I also became interested in other aspects of sleep, such as the genetics of sleep apnea, insomnia, sleep and children, and the impact of sleep on heart disease.

EU: How does poor sleep affect the heart and other aspects of health?

SR: Having an adequate quantity of sleep as well as quality of sleep is important for maintaining numerous body systems. Compared with people who get seven or eight hours of sleep per night, for example, short sleepers have a 10 percent to 30 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Getting insufficient sleep — in general less than six hours a night for adults — may trigger the release of various proteins that cause inflammation in the blood and in the body, and cause dysregulation of the immune system. C-reactive protein, interleukin 6, and tumor necrosis factor are three commonly measured inflammatory markers that are increased in association with sleep problems. These inflammatory mediators may also make you less sensitive to insulin, which then will raise your blood sugar and can lead to diabetes.

A second problem is getting insufficient amounts of deep sleep, or restorative sleep. In one of the deepest stages, called slow-wave sleep, there is a drop in the level of catecholamine hormones that raise blood pressure, such as adrenaline. People with sleep disorders have what we call arousals — very brief periods of awakening. When you have fragmented sleep, high levels of these hormones can prevent blood pressure from going down. Over time, this can cause stiffening of the heart muscle.

EU: Your recent study in Pediatrics showed that lack of sleep increases risk factors for heart disease in adolescents. Do children and teenagers need to sleep the same amount as adults?

SR:  Infants typically need more than 12 hours of sleep, then by the time you’re an adolescent those needs are closer to eight or nine hours. An average adult needs between seven and eight.

What was really interesting about this recent study was that we were able to show that both insufficient sleep and misaligned sleep — sleep that isn’t in sync with a person’s circadian rhythm — are associated with metabolic parameters associated with increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, such as higher central body fat.

This study adds to evidence that improving both children’s sleep duration and making their sleep patterns more regular may, over time, protect children from developing metabolic problems.

EU: What are the most common sleep disorders? How can you tell if someone has a sleep disorder or is just staying up too late?

SR:  The two most common sleep disorders are sleep apnea and insomnia. Sleep apnea is when your throat closes during sleep for brief but repetitive periods of time, interfering with your ability to get oxygen into your body and to rid your body of waste products like carbon dioxide. Insomnia is a disorder where individuals have chronic problems falling asleep or maintaining their sleep. Another relatively common sleep disorder is called periodic limb movement disorder, where the individual has disrupted sleep because of involuntary kicking of their legs or arms that wakes them up.

Although there is a continuum of symptoms, usually a sign of a disorder is a persistent feeling of tiredness, sleepiness or unrefreshing sleep that isn't explained by another factor like being out all night at a party or working. It's the persistence of daytime symptoms without a clear explanation.

EU: Are some racial or ethnic groups more at risk of chronic disease as a result of poor or inadequate sleep?

SR:  In the US, the prevalence of short sleep and poor sleep quality is much higher in ethnic minorities than in the white population. Blacks are as much as five times as likely to report short durations of sleep than whites, for example. That doesn't seem to be completely explained by known sleep disorders, so it suggests there may be multiple social and environmental factors that influence poor sleep quality, such as living in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

One of my interests is in sleep apnea in children. African-American children have much higher rates of sleep apnea than white children, and they actually appear to respond less well to the usual surgery that's done, tonsillectomy, than white children. I've postulated that having sleep apnea at an early age, and going years with untreated sleep apnea, may be one reason that we see much higher rates of hypertension and early-onset hypertension in African-American communities, which is a huge risk factor for stroke and heart disease.

So far, we have shown in two different studies that children who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods have higher rates of sleep apnea than other children. Right now we're doing a study in Boston where we are going into the homes of children from diverse neighborhoods in the city and looking to see if there are actually excessive exposures to various allergens, irritants or poor air quality that may be triggering chronic inflammation of the nasal passages and the tonsils that might be contributing to sleep apnea.

EU: What are some things that can be done to improve sleep health?

SR: Institutionally, we could work harder to ensure that we don't require students or workers to follow unhealthy sleep habits. We could delay school start times so that students don’t have to get up to catch a school bus at 6 a.m., for example. I also work with a group of patient advocates who have suggested that everybody who gets a driver’s license be educated on sleep disorders and the impact of drowsy driving — and to consider including screening for sleep disorders as a part of applying for a license.

EU: What are the most compelling unanswered questions about sleep?

SR:  One question I’m interested in is the variation in susceptibility to sleep disorders — what factors may be inherited or otherwise. I think the question of why African-American children have much more severe sleep apnea than other children is really important, both as a mechanistic and a public health question.

Emily Underwood is a freelance science writer and contributing correspondent for Science magazine. She is based in Coloma, California. This article was originally published on Knowable Magazine.

Friday, 6 July 2018

Women's Right And Football In Iran, Times They Are A Changing
Written by Kourosh Ziabari, Fair Observer

For the first time in nearly 40 years, women in Iran were allowed to enter a stadium to watch football.

Since the 1979 revolution, women in Iran have been denied entry to sports stadiums. The reasons cited by authorities are mostly religious. In a theocratic state like Iran, they are worried about “ethical values” in society which, they believe, might be undermined if women are allowed to do certain things, such as play athletics or watch football in stadiums alongside men.

Now, after almost 40 years of debate and resistance by authorities, religious figures and activists, an important development has taken place: Iranian women were allowed to watch two FIFA World Cup matches featuring the Iranian national team. Thousands of Iranians packed the Azadi Stadium in Tehran, the biggest in the Middle East, where the games against Spain and Portugal were broadcast on a big screen.

From footage at the Azadi Stadium, along with photos published by news agencies and posts on social media, it is clear that young women and girls who had the chance to watch the matches were pleased with the change in policy. Despite not being in the actual stadiums where the games were played in Russia, women were finally allowed to join their friends and families and root for their national team.

Embed from Getty Images

What’s Different?

In 2006, then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that women would be permitted to attend football matches, but he faced resistance from high-ranking clerics who said this was impracticable on religious grounds. At the same time, many people said it was hypocritical of an ultra-conservative and dogmatic president such as Ahmadinejad to suggest that women could enter stadiums to watch a football match.

Ahmadinejad was notorious for his duplicitous approach to women’s rights and religion. In 2009, he invited the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to pay a visit to the shrine of Imam Reza, the eighth holiest Shia imam, in the northeast city of Mashhad. Under Iranian law, non-Muslims are not allowed to visit the site, and many critics at the time asked what would happen if a reformist president had brought a European politician instead. So, when Ahmadinejad, a hardliner and religious conservative, pledged to open the doors of football stadiums to women but never fulfilled this insincere promise, his critics said it was an attempt to garner public support among the youth and women when his popularity was plummeting.

But this time, things seem to be different. There are national campaigns and movements over the rights of Iranian women to watch football matches in stadiums, as well as international human rights activists who are pressing for change.

In March, FIFA President Gianni Infantino met President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran and raised the issue with him. Rouhani has promised that he will do his best to make sure women can enter stadiums and watch football matches as they happen on the pitch.

The achievements of female Iranian athletes seem to be the driving force and may even serve as leverage on authorities and hardliners to relax restrictions on women to watch sporting events in stadiums. In May, Iran’s national futsal team won the 2018 AFC Women’s Futsal Championship despite the difficulties they faced, including insufficient resources and professional training opportunities. There was also a big difference between the Iranian squad and their rivals: The Iranians had to play futsal while wearing a hijab.

What Will Happen?

Iran has a complicated political structure with uncooperative decision-makers who easily undercut and challenge the government’s decisions. Even after permission was granted for families and women to watch the World Cup match against Spain, police in Tehran attempted to prevent people from entering the stadium, despite having purchased tickets and waiting outside the venue.

There are hopes that the 2018-19 season of Iran’s Pro League, the top division in its national football, and the future games of the national team will be attended by women. Time will tell if Rouhani fulfills his promise to allow Iranian women, who are just as passionate about football as men, to enter sports stadiums.

President Rouhani, who is under unprecedented pressure due to growing economic woes amid the US withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, might be able to fulfill his promise and open the doors of stadiums to women. However, while he is still struggling to deliver on many electoral promises — such as freeing the leaders of the Green Movement of 2009 from house arrest, improving Iran’s relations with the outside world, easing tensions with the US, and healing the economic wounds of the nation — the delivery of his promise to allow women to watch sporting events might remain in limbo.

What is clear is that women have faced so many restrictions that even a small change such as the lifting of the ban on entering stadiums can be seen as a huge victory and a reason to celebrate.

Kourosh Ziabari is an award-winning Iranian journalist. He has conducted numerous interviews with politicians, diplomats, Nobel Prize laureates, academics and other public figures from around the world. In 2015, he was the recipient of the Senior Journalists Seminar Fellowship from the East-West Center in Hawaii. In November 2015, he won the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Fellowship in Cultural Journalism by the FNPI foundation in Cartagena, Colombia. This article wa originally published on Fair Observer.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

How To Make America Great Again? Ask India!
Written by Ruyintan E Mehta and Atul Singh, Fair Observer

By granting asylum to Zoroastrians fleeing persecution a thousand years ago, a local Gujarati ruler inadvertently helped create modern India and benefited the entire world.

The conventional view of history is one of progress. This is not entirely true. Sometimes, societies regress, cultures decline and civilizations fall. This is not a view that Steven Pinker espouses but Francis Fukuyama, the man who declared the end of history, is coming around to. Fukuyama is worrying about President Donald Trump and American political decay. Trump’s zero-tolerance policy on migrants that caused the separation of children from their parents is certainly an example of this decay.

Trump won power in part thanks to his tough stance on immigration. He raised the specter of drug-dealers, criminals and rapists crossing the American border with Mexico. He promised to build the wall, make Mexico pay for it and stop the deluge of migrants flooding into the US.

In office, Trump has certainly delivered on his promise. Illegal migrants entering the United States are rounded up, locked up in detention centers and then shipped back across the border. Until recently, Trump did not mind separating families and locking children in cages. As per US immigration officials, 2,342 children were separated from 2,206 parents between May 5 and June 9. After much brouhaha and raucous international condemnation, Trump signed an executive order that allowed for immigrant families to be detained together while their legal cases are considered.

Before his U-turn, Trump claimed that an executive order would not solve the problem. He argued that the only solution possible was the passing of comprehensive immigration reform by Congress. In keeping with his past behavior, the abrasive American president has reversed his stand in the blink of an eye. The US has now become Trumpistan, a land that is not only cruel and intolerant, but also dishonest and hypocritical in almost all its claims and actions.

Immigrants From Iran

The US could do well to learn from a lesson from the past. This is not a story of Huguenots fleeing France to Prussia, England and Switzerland. It is not a story of Jews fleeing Spain. It is a story of Zoroastrians fleeing Persia or modern-day Iran because of fierce Islamic persecution in the eighth century.

These followers of Zoroaster were members of the world’s first monotheistic faith that began 1,200 to 1,500 years before Christ. Many tenets of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have their roots in Zoroastrianism. In the eighth century, members of this rich ancient tradition fled for their lives to India. Landing in Gujarat, they sought permission from Jadi Rana, the local ruler, to settle in his lands. As per Qeṣṣa-ye Sanjān (The Story of Sanjān), the ruler was apprehensive about giving refuge to people who appeared warrior-like, dressed differently and spoke in strange tongues.

As per oral tradition, Jadi Rana presented a full cup of milk to the refugees to indicate that his lands were already full. These refugees put sugar in the cup to convince the king that they would be “like sugar in a full cup of milk, adding sweetness but not causing it to overflow.” This purportedly convinced Jadi Rana to grant asylum to the beleaguered men, women and children thronging his shores. This was the sensible and humane thing to do. These newcomers came to be known as the Parsis, in cognizance of their Persian roots.

Creators Of Modern India

Fast forward to 2018 and you cannot imagine modern India without the Parsis. The second president of the Indian National Congress was Dadabhai Naoroji, an educator, intellectual and statesman. This Parsi did the early work on the drain of wealth from colonial India to imperial Britain. After independence in 1947, Homi Jehangir Bhabha, another Parsi, created India’s now much-vaunted nuclear program. In 1971, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, arguably the most famous of Parsis, liberated Bangladesh from Islamabad’s oppressive rule.

Thanks to his brilliance, 92,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendered, ensuring Bangladeshis could finally live without the fear of being raped, plundered and slaughtered with wanton abandon. Soli Sorabjee, a legendary lawyer, jurist and yet another Parsi, has been a torch bearer for freedom of expression and protection of human rights for decades. In the world of music, Zubin Mehta, the elegant conductor, and Freddie Mercury , the flamboyant rock star, fly the Parsi flag high.

Tata, India’s preeminent business house, was founded and has been run by Parsis for more than a century and half. Not only has it run numerous successful businesses, this multinational has helped build towering national institutions such as the Indian Institute of Science, the Tata Memorial Hospital and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. Other Parsis have run successful businesses too and set standards for philanthropy in the country.

For centuries, the Parsis have been totally integrated in Indian society. There have been no reports of strife, tension or riots between Parsis and other communities in oral or written history. With a literacy rate of 99%, they remain the most highly educated community in the land, exceeding the achievements of Brahmins, India’s priestly caste, and Sayyids, purportedly direct descendants of Prophet Muhammad.

It is important to note that the Parsi population has never exceeded 100,000 at any point in history. Low birth rates and migration to Western countries has resulted in the population declining to a mere 61,000 today even as India’s population continues to rise. By any standards, the Parsi contribution to India has been staggering and is totally out of proportion to the minuscule size of their community.

Lesson For America

The Parsi story underscores an important point. Penniless refugees and desperate migrants have often been a country’s greatest assets. In the American context, this holds even more true. Immigrants made America great and it is they who will make America great again.

It not without reason that the sonnet on the Statue of Liberty declares, “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” Over 1,000 years ago, the wretched refuse from Iranian shores drifted into the sandy land of Mahatma Gandhi. At that time, if Jadi Rana had acted like Donald Trump, the Parsis would have been cast back into the sea and not only India but also the rest of the world would have been poorer today as a result.

Ruyintan E. Mehta is a serial entrepreneur in plastics manufacturing. He is currently involved in nonprofit work in water, sanitation, and maternal and child health in India as honorary executive director of a US section501(c)(3) foundation. He is also president of IIT Bombay Heritage Foundation, an alumni body of IIT Bombay in the US.  

Atul Singh is the Founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Fair Observer. He teaches Political Economy at the University of California, Berkeley and at the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar where he also teaches World History. He studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford on the Radhakrishnan Scholarship and did an MBA with a triple major in finance, strategy and entrepreneurship at the Wharton School. This article was originally published on Fair Observer.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

It's Time We Call 2018 World Cup As The Men’s World Cup
Written by Jayne Caudwell, Bournemouth University

The globalisation of football means it can now be found in most parts of the world. It is celebrated as the national sport in many countries. But, we forget that “football” actually means “men’s football”. It’s the same with other popular sports – our habit is to refer to basketball and women’s basketball, cricket and women’s cricket, ice hockey and women’s ice hockey. This naming places men’s football as the dominant universal and natural norm, while women’s football becomes the “other” version.

If we want a level football playing field, then “football” should be redefined by changing our reference to tournaments, championships and leagues to “men’s football” if that is what is being played. It’s time we started referring to the men’s football World Cup, just as we refer to the women’s football World Cup.

Women and girls have long been treated as second-class citizens in the many worlds of football, including playing, officiating, governing and spectating. And indeed, in the build up to the 2018 men’s World Cup, there was much discussion about racism and homophobia – but practically none about football, gender, sexism and misogyny.

The histories of the development of football in most countries around the world show that women and girls have been denied access to pitches, equipment, coaches, training, stadiums and financial support. These material opportunities are important because they enable and validate participation – and full football citizenship.

Media sport pages cover men’s sport. During the football season, the coverage is dominated by stories of men’s football. Women footballers seem to not exist. The sport press obliterates them.

But women and girls are playing, officiating, spectating and commentating on the game in ever increasing numbers around the world. The England women’s team outperforms the men’s team on the European and world stage. They are currently ranked ten places higher, in second position. And yet, the gender pay gap in football is atrocious.

Ignoring Sexism

While Russia, as host of the men’s football World Cup 2018, has been criticised for its poor record in dealing with homophobic and racist abuse, nothing has been said about gender-based abuse or discrimination.

Instead, ahead of the men’s World Cup, Russian MPs have been arguing over whether Russian women should or should not have sex with visiting (presumably male) football fans. The UK Foreign Office released advice on race and LGBT concerns, but there’s nothing on how sexist chanting can make men’s football a hostile environment for women. You only need to look at the sexism experienced by doctor Eva Carneiro and assistant referee Helen Byrne in the men’s premier league to see how this plays out.

What’s more, many of the concerns about homophobia and racism at the men’s World Cup stem from wider cultural issues in Russia. The same problems are evident with sexism and misogyny, yet they are curiously absent from the discussion when it comes to football. Cultural problems that affect men extend into the sporting arena, but not those that affect women.

In 2017, the Russian parliament passed legislation loosening laws on domestic violence. Russian women who support the #MeToo movement have come up against draconian assembly laws that say only one person is permitted to make a public protest.

There are no campaigns in international men’s football that aim to stop sexism, or call for anti-sexism and an end to gender-based violence.

Meanwhile, the women and girls who have fought hard to play football often encounter negative responses from the general public and from the media. Sport sociologists have found that sportswomen are trivialised, sexualised and experience symbolic annihilation – they simply don’t exist in images of the sport. A recent poster depicting Iranian fans is a prime example. Not a single female face features.

Women’s and girls’ sporting achievements are reduced as a result of ridicule. Their bodies are considered sexual objects rather than for playing sport. Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s comment that women should play in tighter shorts to attract more fans to the game is a classic example of this. More recently, feminist author Laura Bates challenged FIFA for describing player Alex Morgan as “easy on the eye and good looks to match” as well as the FA for tweeting about “lionesses go back to being mothers, partners and daughters” after playing in the women’s World Cup.

It’s easy to imagine that this men’s World Cup in Russia will continue to disregard gender, sexism and misogyny. And yet, sport, specifically football, has potential to incite change, and reform.

Renaming to men’s football is an easy and simple step in the direction towards equality. We may as well start with the men’s World Cup 2018.

Jayne Caudwell, Associate Professor Leisure Cultures, Bournemouth University. Jayne’s teaching and research interests are concerned with leisure and sport cultures, feminist theory, theories of sexualities and qualitative research methodologies. She joined Bournemouth University in 2015 as Associate Professor & Head of Research in the Department of Events & Leisure. This article was originally published by The Conversation

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