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Thursday, 15 July 2021

Fun or fraud? The rise of deepfake voice technology can make the dead sing

 Fun or fraud? The rise of deepfake voice technology can make the dead sing

An increasing number of songs created by voice cloning technology are making rounds on the Internet. But fraudsters also enjoy using AI-generated voice clones.

Have you ever wished your favourite musicians who quit singing had a comeback or wished they sung a particular song? Some people did and even made dead vocalists sing, thanks to a technology using artificial intelligence (AI) to create deepfake audios.

Google's Tacotron 2 and Magenta are among the favoured software, accessible to anyone amid the rise of deepfake songs after hyper-realistic deepfake videos have taken the Internet by storm in the past few years.

A Youtuber, Kirt Connor, created a fake Nirvana song called 'Smother' using artificial intelligence by using guitar riffs from its songs and lyrics. rip, an AI bot generating fake lyrics by analysing already existing songs of the band.

Another Youtuber made Eminem sing as if he was still a 26-year-old rapper.

"I guess Eminem's new songs are okay, but the vocal delivery is kind of boring. He's shouting too much into the mic!" the creator of the deepfake Eminem song creator told Billboard. 

These voice synthesis softwares have many functions in a very similar way as deepfake videos. It analyses the voice records of a person, the longer, the better, and imitates the voice and the accent, pitch, and pace of a speech. Faux sounds can also mimic emotions such as happiness, anger, or sadness.

Some took it as a chance to promote the fight against a music industry's mental health crisis that cost the lives of some iconic singers.

Lost Tapes of the 27 Club is a project featuring AI songs by Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Amy Winehouse, the singers all who died by suicide at the age of 27 as a result of a mental health crisis.

"It's been romanticised, by things like the 27 Club—a group of musicians whose lives were all lost at just 27 years old. To draw attention to this issue, we used AI to imagine what these artists might have created, were they still with us," Over The Bridge platform that developed the project said. 

The concerns

But not everyone is amused by how the technology is being used. In 2020, the rapper Jay-Z pressured YouTube to take down a deepfake video that he's reciting "To Be, Or Not To Be" soliloquy from Hamlet -- and failed.

Jordan Peterson, a conservative Canadian clinical psychologist, also wasn't pleased when he found a website where you could make him say whatever you want using AI technology. The website has been shut down as he raised the possibility of taking legal action, but his deepfake video in which he sings South Park theme song is still available on YouTube. 

"The deepfake artists must be stopped before we no longer know what's real," he reacted.

But the only concern regarding the voice deepfakes isn't about violation of personal rights. Even though it now appears to be more common among Youtubers who enjoy making famous personalities talk or sing, it has been used by fraudsters in the past.

In 2019, Wall Street Journal reported that a CEO in the United Kingdom was tricked into paying €220,000 ($243,000) to criminals who impersonate a chief executive's voice. The CEO thought he was sending funds to a Hungarian supplier on demand of the chief executive of the firm's German parent company.

With the increasing availability of technology, some fear it will lead it to be used by criminals more frequently. But amid concerns, a growing number of companies are offering deep sound fakes as a professional service.

Veritone, one AI company, launched a startup called Marvel.ai in May, is one of the companies offering the service for a fee. Their tool allows individuals to create, manage, share, and sell what they call professional "synthetic voices" to the highest bidder.

Source: TRT World
 
 
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Friday, 19 March 2021

Guangzhou 1927: The Paris Commune of the East

  

On the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Paris Commune, its legacy is remembered in the Guangzhou Uprising, when workers and peasants established a popular republic in the southern Chinese capital in 1927. 

 Article originally commissioned and published by The Funambulist 34 (Mar-Apr 2021))

It was in the Russian autumn of 1920 when Qu Qiubai first heard L’Internationale – the socialist anthem born of the Paris Commune of 1871. Eugène Pottier, author of the song’s lyrics, was a Communard and elected member of the workers’ state that lasted 72 days in the French capital. Though written nearly half a century earlier, that song had been adopted only recently as the anthem of the Bolshevik Party. Until today, this song is one of the most translated and sung anthems of the oppressed around the world. Qu was attending the third anniversary celebration of the October Revolution, having traveled through Harbin – China’s northernmost provincial capital – to reach Russia. Fluent in French and Russian, he was sent to be a correspondent in Moscow for the Beijing Morning News (晨报), covering the early years of the Bolshevik Revolution.

In 1920, the communist movement in China had barely begun, but the nation was hungry for its ideas. The colonial plunders of two Opium Wars marked the beginning of the “century of humiliation”, which saw the ceding of Hong Kong to the British and the sacking of the Old Summer Palace by Anglo-French forces. The Qing dynasty fell in 1911 only to be succeeded by a puppet Republican government. The country was divided, feudalism and warlordism were rampant. The Chinese people were hungry – physically and spiritually – for its nation to be set free.

Like the thousands of young radicals of the time, Qu was politicized in the May Fourth Movement of 1919. The Paris Peace Conference at the end of World War I saw the ultimate betrayal of China’s interests – instead of having its territories returned, the Western Allies would agree to transfer Shandong Province from the colonial hands of Japan to Germany. In response, a national movement led by students in Beijing was born, anchored in anti-imperialist, anti-feudal and anti-patriarchal politics. This awakening gave birth to the New Culture Movement – with New Youth as its key publication – and an opening for new ideas to guide the country’s transformation. Among its leaders were Beijing University professors, Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao, who were pivotal in bringing Marxist ideas into China. They both helped found the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1921.

The betrayal by Western Allies was felt all the more after the contributions that the Chinese people made to the Great War. To meet their growing labor shortages, French and British states relied heavily on the colonies across Africa, Indochina and China. 140,000 Chinese people – mostly peasants – joined the French and British war efforts, while another 200,000 fought on the Eastern Front with the Russian Red Army. The Chinese Labor Corps did every task but bear arms – they dug trenches, worked in munition factories, repaired equipment on the frontlines, buried the dead. Thousands died, though this part of history is little told in the West. Around that same time, there was another group of young Chinese people heading to France. Originally initiated by Chinese anarchists in 1908, the program became formalized into the Diligent Work-Frugal Study program in 1919 that brought 2000 Chinese workers and peasants to Paris – they would work in factories in return for their Western education. The poor living and working conditions politicized many of these students – on February 28, 1921, 400 Chinese work-study students demonstrated against further reductions in bursaries. Events like this one brought the movement closer to the WWI-generation workers as they began organizing together in the Renault factories from the industrial suburbs of Boulogne-Billancourt to La Garenne-Colombes. It was from the factory floors and in the university halls where Marxism would enter the Chinese revolutionary thought. Among the students were Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping, founders of the European branch of the CPC. Zhou Enlai would serve as Premier for 26 years and Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader who succeeded Mao Zedong upon the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Bright flower, happy fruit

Though the Paris Commune was largely unknown to the Chinese public up until that point, these exchanges among workers and intellectuals in France, and the ideological opening that the May Fourth Movement created, helped bring that history forward. Several early communist leaders studied, wrote and popularized the history of the workers’ state. In 1920, Li Da – one of the 12 founding members of the CPC – wrote about the need for the Chinese Revolution to take the path of armed struggle. In 1922, Zhou Enlai wrote in New Youth (新靑年) about the “short-lived flower” of the Paris Commune and its continuation in the October Revolution. The following year, in the 50th anniversary edition of Shen Bao (申報)– one of China’s first modern newspapers – Li Dazhao first explained the concept of the “commune” to a Chinese public. First transliterated as kangmiaoen (康妙恩), the revolutionary concept gained its own form in the Chinese language, gongshe (公社) – a workers’ republic.

Qu Qiubai was among the communists who not only translated essential texts on the Commune’s history but was also the first to translate L’Internationale into Chinese – the song he first heard in Russia three years before. While playing the organ, he painstakingly revised the lyrics to find a translation of the word “international” – which only has two syllables in Chinese (国际) – that could suit the melody. He finally settled on the transliterated ying te na xiong nai er (英特纳雄耐尔) to keep true to the cadence of the song, which remains in the officially adopted version until today.

By this time, Qu had already joined the CPC, upon the invitation of Zhang Tailei in 1922. A year earlier, Qu also met the Bolshevik leader Lenin, who had studied intimately the lessons of the Paris Commune. Just months before leading his own country to revolution, Lenin dedicates a chapter on it in The State and Revolution (1917):

The Commune is the first attempt by a proletarian revolution to smash the bourgeois state machine; and it is the political form “at last discovered”, by which the smashed state machine can and must be replaced.

We shall see further on that the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917, in different circumstances and under different conditions, continue the work of the Commune and confirm Marx’s brilliant historical analysis.

In some short months after its publication, the October Revolution would indeed continue the work of the Commune and confirm Marx’s analysis. In this tradition, the Chinese communists would also carry on these the legacy of these two revolutionary experiences.

On 18 March 1926, the first mass commemoration of the 55th anniversary of the Paris Commune took place in China. 10,000 people gathered in the southern capital of Guangzhou. They sung L’Internationale and chanted “Vive la Commune de Paris!” despite the rain. On this occasion Mao Zedong writes, if the Paris Commune was a “bright flower”, then the October Revolution was the “happy fruit”, from which more fruits could be born. On the Commune’s ultimate defeat, Mao points to two reasons: the lack of a unified and centralized party to lead the workers, and the compromise of showing too much mercy to the enemy. In his keynote speech at the celebration, the Cantonese leader, Zhang Tailei, pointed to the concrete experience that the Paris Commune gave for Chinese workers to take power – a foreshadowing of what would come in the following year.

 

Paris Commune 100 year stamps.

From the city to the countryside

The 1920s saw a rapid expansion of the urban working class – trade unions multiplied, strikes were frequent and the CPC’s ranks grew with the organization of the masses. In the industrial center of Shanghai alone, 1926 saw 169 strikes affecting 165 factories involving over 200,000 workers. In Guangdong, the Seamen’s Strike of 1922 was victorious and the Guangzhou-Hong Kong General Strike of 1925 lasted 16 months and garnered unprecedented mass support from domestic workers, dockworkers, rickshaw drivers and “coolies”. These experiences showed how organized labor could threaten colonial life and capitalist order.

Despite industrialization, China was still an overwhelmingly peasant society. In his 1926 Analysis of Classes in Chinese Society, Mao studied the composition of China’s 450 million population. The urban proletariat, however quickly it was growing, still only totaled two million people – the vast majority of Chinese people were peasants. Mao estimated 400 million people were “semi-proletariat” who farmed their own land, but also earned wages as tenant farmers or wage laborers – he called them “our closest friends” (Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society, 1926).

In this foreboding text, Mao also warned that the national bourgeoisie forces could not be trusted. At that historical moment, the CPC was in an alliance with the national bourgeoisie led by the Nationalist Party (KMT) in a “United Front” against warlordism and imperialism. That pivotal year would see an abrupt end to this alliance and the subsequent “White Terror” of mass killings of communists at the hands of the nationalists and their hired hands. The mass insurrections of 1927 were attempts at transforming the symbol of the Paris Commune into a living practice in China, and necessitated a strategic shift in the revolutionary process.

The 1927 commemoration of the Paris Commune ballooned in size, drawing up to one million workers and peasants across the country. At the Wuhan celebration, labor leader Liu Shaoqi called on the workers to carry on the spirit of the Paris Commune jointly with the struggle against imperialism and warlordism. Three days later, 800,000 workers led by Zhou Enlai launched a general strike in Shanghai that overthrew the warlord-controlled government and established a Provisional Municipal Government. Shanghai became the first large city under the leadership of the CPC. But on 12 April, defying the United Front strategy, the KMT under Chiang Kaishek would stage a coup and order the slaughter and disappearance of thousands of Communists with the aid of police of the foreign-occupied areas and criminal organizations. The CPC-KMT alliance was over. The subsequent communist-led urban uprisings from Nanchang (1 August) to Hunan (7 September), and finally to Guangzhou (11 December), would all be brutally crushed.

All power to the Workers’, Peasants’ and Soldiers’ Soviets!

At 3:30 am on 11 December, the first attack began at the police stations. It was led by commander Zhang Tailei, who was killed in an ambush the following day – he was 29 years-old. A series of coordinated actions took over the city. Their demands were: Rice for the workers, land for the peasants! Down with militarist wars! All power to the Workers’, Peasants’ and Soldiers’ Soviets! Behind this mobilization was the Guangzhou Soviet, covering an area of half a million peasants working in conjunction with the urban workers unions. A war council with a 10:3:3 ratio of workers, soldiers and peasants, respectively, led the uprising that lasted three days. Upon taking the city, this body issued a series of eight decrees, mass printed and distributed. The first three focused on the establishment of Soviet power, arming of the people and retaliation against counter-revolutionaries. The fourth secured an eight-hour working day and rights for the waged and unemployed. The fifth dealt with the economy and the nationalization of industry. The sixth demand looked at the property of the bourgeoisie. The seventh to the army wages and restructuring. The eighth and final demanded the reorganization of trade unions. At that moment, however, the military organization of the bourgeoisie was still too strong. Had they held the city long enough for the peasant reinforcements – a six-day march away – history may have turned out differently. Ralph Fox – British journalist and communist later killed fighting in the Spanish Civil War – wrote on the significance of the “Guangzhou Commune”:

For three days a great city in an eastern country dominated by imperialism was seized and held by the oppressed classes ruling through their Soviet. Technical and military errors there were, but, politically, no mistakes were made. The Communist Party of China, which led and organized the revolt, has reason to be proud of its application of Lenin’s teachings in the difficult circumstances of China. The work of the Party in the insurrection showed not only that it had the closest contacts with workers, peasants, petty bourgeoisie and soldiers, but that it understood how to rally the widest masses of all these classes to the support of the revolution by correct slogans and a sure political line. (The Commune of Canton, 1928)

1927 was a turning point for the Chinese Revolution. That the uprisings were brutally repressed was pivotal in the CPC’s strategic shift from the cities to the countryside – towards the creation of a people’s army and towards the peasantry – “our closest friends”. In Lessons of the Commune (1908), Lenin writes, “And although these magnificent uprisings of the working class were crushed, there will be another uprising, in face of which the forces of the enemies of the proletariat will prove ineffective, and from which the socialist proletariat will emerge completely victorious.” Something similar could be said of the Chinese uprisings. After that year of White Terror, at the Sixth Congress of the CPC in 1928, 11 December was officially marked as the anniversary of the Guangzhou Uprising, which “not only opened a new chapter for the Chinese Revolution but also has great significance in the history of world revolution, with the same value as the great Paris Commune”. Holding true to this, the Guangzhou Commune has indeed been remembered, studied and honored since.

2020 was the 93rd anniversary of the Guangzhou Uprising, which became known as the “Paris Commune of the East”. For this occasion a new “red drama” was produced in conjunction with an exhibition at the Guangzhou Uprising Memorial Hall. The late-Qing dynasty building was once used as a Police Academy before being transformed into the seat of the Guangzhou Soviet. In 1987, this site was turned into an official memorial. At the 12 December commemoration event, students from the People’s Liberation Army school recited the tale of Zhang Tailei, a puppet show told the story of the Uprising’s female leaders and the great granddaughter of hero Yang Yin tied a red ribbon around a student’s collar – the symbolic passing on of a revolutionary legacy from one generation to the next.

Up until the anniversary, the immersive drama was performed four times a week. Actors and audience members alike jointly reenact the uprising, donning costumes and taking up weapon props, all the while singing L’Internationale. When Qu Qiubai first heard this song in Russia a century ago, he probably had little idea what role he would play in bringing this anthem from the “bright flower” of the Paris Commune to the Guangzhou Commune. He never lived to see the “happy fruit” in the establishment of PRC in 1949, nor the centenary of the founding of the CPC on 1 July of this year. In 1935, he was captured, tortured and executed by KMT forces. It is said that he sang L’Internationale until his last breath.

Tings Chak is the lead designer and researcher of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, editor of Dongsheng News and a Globetrotter/People’s Dispatch fellow.


 

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Sunday, 7 March 2021

'Bittu': An Oscar-Nominated Short Film on the Cost of Indifference

An uncomfortable watch, 'Bittu' examines a fundamental question of why we are the way we are.

 'Bittu': An Oscar-Nominated Short Film on the Cost of Indifference 

The 17-minute short Bittu opens to a pre-teen girl singing a flirtatious song. Bittu (Rani Kumari) is performing for a bunch of men who, appreciating the show, drop coins on the ground. Soon, her friend, Chanda (Renu Kumari), sings a similar number – Bittu complements the lyrics through gestures; the men look pleased, requesting a Bollywood song. They break into a Bhojpuri hit, Lollypop Lage Lu; more coins drop, the girls dance, and the original song plays in the background.

It’s a discomfiting scene for obvious reasons – young girls, adult men, erotic songs, loose change – but the unease is heightened by the perhaps deliberate haphazard cinematography: the camera wanders close to the actors’ faces; the ends of heads are chopped; the subjects are filmed from an angle. It’s a fitting opening to a film where a disoriented world spins out of control. 


 

The rest of the film is set in a school in a hilly village. Filmmaker Karishma Dev Dube doesn’t name the location – making the setting inconsequential – and yet this is a specific Indian story. The protagonists, Bittu and Chanda, are poor. Their boarding school comprises a few battered rooms. There’s a tap outside where the children clean up. There’s just one teacher. The food is basic: a soggy mix of dal and rice. Bittu’s face is unwashed – a snot squats under her nose.

Dube presents the characters and settings unvarnished; we observe them as bystanders, soon realising the futility of that exercise, for this is a film about negligence.

Dube drops subtle hints. Even in such a small school, the principal doesn’t remember Bittu’s name. Her son, a school admin, hauls a torn bag of rice, spilling its contents. When the cook tells the principal that she can’t use the oil for making food as it’s smelly, she hears, “Work with what you have.”

None of the characters, however, are villains. The schoolteacher and the cook are in fact caring. It’s just that the indifference has settled so deep in people who run this place – the principal and her son – that it runs like blood in their veins.

Bittu, shortlisted for the Best Live Action Short Film at the 93rd Academy Awards, examines the cost of that mindset. It asks an essential question about our very way of living: Why are we the way we are?

Surrounded amid this big question are two small kids, the film’s leading light and conscience.

 

 

The casting and acting are wonderful. Rani and Renu complement and complete each other. Bittu is fierce and naughty, prepared to quarrel and offend. She has the face of a curious toughie – a know-it-all who can read minds. Chanda is sweet and fragile; even her rebukes are tender. Their relationship covers the whole gamut of crests and troughs: they play, tease, fight – and protect each other with an intensity that only one child can have for another.

But another crucial difference sets them apart: Bittu is stubborn and disobedient – and it’s her defiance that saves her. “How are good children supposed to be?” the principal and the teacher ask at different points. The students place their index fingers on lips, indicating silence, implying subservience.

But Bittu is too cool for school.

Even though theirs is a co-ed school, the protagonists’ gender does not seem coincidental. An Indian girl is considered insignificant; a poor Indian girl is considered invisible. “Do you think you’re precious?” the teacher asks Bittu while scolding her.

She does not reply, but you can hear her scream. The short ends with the shock of a climax, but the more shocking bit is that it is inspired from a true story. 

 

This happened, says Bittu, we let it happen.

The film ends with the shot of Bittu staring into a long lost night: a child assailed by questions that this world cannot answer.  

 

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Monday, 14 September 2020

24/7 Live ] Hindi Song | Hindi Live Radio FM | LIVE T V / KSM CHANNEL

 [ 24/7 Live ] Hindi Song | Hindi Live Radio FM | Bollywood Non Stop Latest song.

 

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Thursday, 3 June 2021

5G Case: Juhi Chawla Fanboy interrupts hearing with songs, Delhi HC warns of Contempt of Court action

 Juhi Chawla- 5G Case.png 

Juhi Chawla's 

 

The Delhi High Court's virtual hearing today on Juhi Chawla's challenge to the rollout of 5G in the country was repeatedly interrupted today by rogue singers after the actor shared a link of the court hearing on social media, urging people to join.

Juhi Chawla, who was a top Bollywood star in the 1990s, has petitioned the court against 5G on the grounds that it could have serious, irreversible effects on people and cause permanent damage to the environment.

Justice JR Midha said Juhi Chawla and two other petitioners should have first approached the government and then come to the court.

There was no order today, but the High Court did order a contempt notice against fans singing songs from Juhi Chawla's hit films.

Remarkably, the actor had shared the link for the court hearing on Twitter and Instagram, inviting people to join in.

 

In the middle of the arguments, singing fans became a steady annoyance and muting did not help.

As soon as the hearing started and the actor logged on, someone started singing the song ''Ghoonghat ki aad se" from her 1993 movie "Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke".

"Please mute," said Judge Midha.

 

A little later, someone burst into song again and was removed from the hearing.

After the third time, the judge directed that the person be identified and a contempt notice be issued.

"I hope this isn't being done by some respondent," remarked the actor's lawyer Deepak Khosla, appearing via video link from South Africa.

 

The lawsuit by Juhi Chawla, Veeresh Malik and Teena Vachani claims that if the telecom industry's plans for 5G becomes a reality, "no person, animal, bird, insect and plant on earth will be able to avoid exposure, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to levels of RF radiation that are 10x to 100x times greater than what exists today.

Source Link

 

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Tuesday, 23 March 2021

National Film Awards - 2019 announced; 'Marakkar-Arabikkadalinte-Simham' bags Best Feature Film award

 


 

The 67th National Film Awards - 2019 were announced yesterday. Malayalam movie Marakkar Arabikkadilinte Simham directed by Priyadarshan will be awarded the Best Feature Film Award. Announcing the awards, Chairman of the Feature Films Jury N Chandra said, Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan will be given best Direction Award for Hindi film Bahattar Hoorain. He said, actor Manoj Bajpayee will be awarded best Actor award for Hindi movie Bhonsle and Dhanush will get the award for Tamil Movie Asuran.
 
Onsitego 

Mr Chandra said, Kangana Ranaut will get Best Actress award for her movies Manikarnika -The Queen of Jhansi and Panga. Vijaya Sethupati will be awarded the best supporting actor award for Tamil film Super Deluxe and Pallavi Joshi will get the best supporting actress award for Hindi film The Tashkent Files. B Praak will get the Best Male playback Singer award for song Teri Mitti in Hindi Film Kesari. Savani Ravindra will be awarded Best Female playback Singer award for song Rann Petala in Marathi Movie Bardo. D Imman will get best Music Direction Award for his songs in Tamil Fim Vishwasam.
 
Prabuddha Banerjee will get the award for background music in Bengali movie Jeyesthaputro. Prabha Varma will get the Best Lyrics award for Malayalam movie Kolaambi. Raju Sundaram bagged the Best Choreography award for Telugu Movie Maharshi. The award for the most film friendly state goes to Sikkim. Best Non Feature Film will be awarded to Hemant Gaba's An Engineered Dream. The award for the best film critic goes to 'Sohini Chattopadhyay.
 
OnePlus [CPS] Multiple Geo's I

n Non Feature Film category, Best Animation Film to be awarded to Radha. Best Art and Culture film award will be given to Shrikhetra ru Sahijata (Odia). The Award for the best Narration for Non-Feature Films goes to Wild Karnataka (English) by Sir David, Attenborough. The award for the Best Music Direction in Non-Feature Films goes to Kranti Darshi Guruji- Ahead Of Times (Hindi) by Bishakhjyoti. The best book on cinema goes to A Gandhian Affair: India's Curious Portrayal of Love in Cinema written by Sanjay Suri.
 
Ronuwa - Who Never Surrender has been selected as the best Assamese Film. Srijit Mukherjee’s Gumnaami will be awarded as Best Bengali Film. Chhichore has been selected as best Hindi film. Best Kannada film is Akshi directed by Manoj Kumar and Best Konkani fillm is Kaajro directed by Nitin Bhaskar. Bhimrao Mude’s Bardo has been selected as the best Marathi film. 


OnePlus [CPS] Multiple Geo's   


Best Malayalam film is Kalla Nottam and Best Manipuri Film is Eigi Kona. Two Films have been selected for Best Odia Film Award. They are Sala Budhar Badla directed by Dr Sabyasachi Mohapatra and Kalira Atita Directed by Nila Madhab Panda. Best Punjabi Film is Rab Da Radio 2, Best Tamil film is Asuran and Best Telugu film is Jersey.     


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Tuesday, 5 January 2021

The Magician” whose songs live on reverberating with love and life

 



Tu Hindu Banega Na Mussalman Banega,

Insaan Ki Aulad Hai, Insaan Banega,

Maalik Ne Har Insaan ko Insaan Banaya,

Humne Usey Hindu ya Mussalman Banaya,

Kudrat ne toh Bakshi thi Humein Ek Hi Dharti,

Humney Kahin Bharat, Kahin Iran Banaya”

[You shall neither be a Hindu nor a Muslim,

You were born a Human and a Human thou shall remain,

The Almighty created only Human Beings,

But Humans created Hindus and Muslims,Mother Nature created Earth,

Humans tore it into different countries]

Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics for the eponymously titled song in BR Chopra’s 1959 film – ‘Dhool ka Phool’ seemed as relevant for post-partition India as prescient for present-day India, where something as innocuous and personal as a meal or a marriage can incredibly, either land you in jail if you are lucky, or get you lynched if you aren’t.

 2021 is the birth centenary of one of India’s finest ever poet-lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi who was born on March 8, 1921. His untimely death, four decades ago in 1980, leaves a vast majority of Indians who do not have more than a fleeting acquaintance with the genius whose lyrics illuminated our cinema screens and our homes for almost three decades.

Abdul Hayee was born in Ludhiana and took the ‘pen name of ‘Sahir’-literally meaning ‘magician’ and metaphorically – ‘enchanting’. In consonance with the then-existing trend, he appended ‘Ludhianvi’ to his name to signify his place of origin.

                                      



Sahir didn’t have a very happy childhood. His mother, Sardar Begum, was the 11th of 12 wives that his feudal landlord father Chaudhary Fazl Mohammad had. His parents were estranged and later divorced and his father’s vindictiveness meant emotional and economic crises for the young impressionable poet. It was famously said of Sahir, that all his life, the great poet really loved only one woman (his mother) and really hated only one man (his father)!

During his formative years, Sahir was influenced by a veritable AAA-list of Urdu Poetry:- Allama Iqbal, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Majaj Lucknawi (maternal uncle of another famous poet-lyricist Javed Akhtar) and Josh Malihabadi.

The Partition of the country circa 1947, his aversion for communalism and his association with the then fledgling Progressive Writers Movement (PWM) meant that he decided to settle in secular India (Bombay) rather than the freshly minted Islamic Republic next door, as did most of the leading poets-writers of the PWM.

The PWM was a left-leaning, staunchly anti-imperialistic collection of the finest collection of writers-poets under any single roof. Saadat Hasan Manto, Munshi Premchand, Mulk Raj Anand, Ismat Chugtai,  Krishan Chander, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Kaifi Azmi, Amrita Pritam, and Sahir himself were the leading lights of this movement, which wanted to strive for societal equality and give a voice to the millions of underprivileged and poor through their literature and poetry. Many poets of PWM tried their hand at writing lyrics for the Bombay Film Industry, which post-partition, was the unrivaled, undisputed centre for movie-making in the sub-continent.


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A chance introduction with the great SD Burman led Sahir to pen the lyrics for his first hit song – “Thandi Hawayeein, Lehra Ke Aayein” sung by Lata Mangeshkar for ‘Naujawan’ (1951).

SD “Dada” Burman had a keen eye for talent and could easily spot the genius in Sahir, whose anthology of poems – ‘Talkhiyaan’ (Bitterness) was already published in 1944 when Sahir was merely in his early twenties. A consistently remarkable feature of Sahir’s writings over his career was that his lyrics were invariably central to the film and its plot.

{ With input from news agency language)

 

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Saturday, 12 December 2020

A rally was organised by Anti-NRC People’s Movement, a joint platform of 21 organisations campaigning against the citizenship thrust



Close to 1,000 people protested against the Centre’s citizenship matrix within the heart of the town on Friday, shattering an extended lull triggered by the Covid pandemic.Deafening roars of azaadi and “we will not show papers” posters made a comeback on busy roads as the protesters marched from Moulali to Esplanade where they staged a meeting. Many of the marchers had come from the districts, like Nadia and Murshidabad. Some of them reached Calcutta last night.
December 11 was chosen because the Citizenship Amendment Act was gone by Parliament on an equivalent day last year. The campaign against the citizenship troika — National Register of Citizens, National Population Register and CAA — was at its peak when the coronavirus brought everything to a grinding halt.The rally was organised by Anti-NRC People’s Movement, a joint platform of 21 organizations campaigning against the citizenship thrust. Groups of individuals started arriving at the meeting point — Ram Leela ground on CIT Road in Moulali — on foot, mini vans and buses.
A mini-truck parked on the road became a makeshift stage for speakers.

The Narendra Modi-led government has used the pandemic and lockdown as a tool to stifle dissent and convey another series of anti-people laws just like the labour code and farm bills. The government had kept the NRC-NPR-CAA combine in the cupboard like mothballed woollens but they would bring it out any time. We should be alert,” said Prasun Chatterjee of Azaad Gana Morcha.The BJP’s Bengal minder Kailash Vijayvargiya said on Sunday that the Centre might implement the CAA from next month to confer citizenship on a large section of refugees living in Bengal.
“From infiltrators to termites, we remember every word that was used to describe us, citizens of this country,” said Kasturi Basu of Humans of Patuli.
A group of kids from Janaganamana Sanskritik Manch performed a series of songs — most of them tweaks of popular Bengali songs. “Batashe bohichhe bish, bukete lagilo chot, raja je kohilo heshe NRC eshe gechhe (The air is crammed with poison, the guts wounded. The king says smilingly that NRC is here),” said one song.

The opening lines of another song: “Tora je ja bolish bhai, raja’r shosta mojur chai (No matter what you say, the king wants cheap labour).”Almost every speaker said the citizenship thrust mirrored blatant religious discrimination and its main objective was creating a vast pool of cheap labourers for big companies.“This government has sold itself to big corporate houses and will turn people languishing in detention camps into cheap labourers,” said Chandan Bhattacharjee of the Sramik-Krishak Ekta Manch, who had come from Jaynagar in South 24-Parganas.The rally started from Ramlila Maidan in Moulali around 2.30pm and its head reached the front of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation headquarters on SN Banerjee Road around 4pm. “System error… Not found — Hindurashtra,” read one poster. “We want rights, not riots,” read another.A police officer put the number of marchers at over 500 but organisers said more than 1,000 people had turned up. “It is a big number because many people, even in Calcutta, are still not ready to join a large group for fear of the virus,” an organiser said.Many marchers on Friday had posters of political prisoners like Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam and Varavara Rao. The protesters demanded their “immediate release”.
Tricolours and large banners fluttered under the canopy of trees dotting the road that connects Moulali with Esplanade. A third of the marchers were women, who often out-shouted the lads in sloganeering.
Banojyotsna Lahiri, a Presidency and JNU alumna and a friend of Khalid, walked in the rally on Friday.
“In Delhi, a protest march is usually limited to the stretch between Mandi House and Jantar Mantar. It is extremely tough to protest anywhere else. Being able to walk in a rally through a residential area like this is a big deal. With people watching from their balconies and shopkeepers coming outside stores, the protest becomes so organic,” she said.
Arup Majumdar, the convener of the Anti-NRC People’s Movement, said a section of people opposed to the citizenship matrix were now more bothered with livelihood problems posed by the pandemic. “Since there is no strong narrative on the part of the government right now, they think the NRC-NPR-CAA is not on Modi-Shah’s immediate agenda. But the BJP will suddenly strike with these tools, maybe just before the Bengal election. If we do not step up the vigil now, we cannot do much then,” said Majumdar.

 

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Tuesday, 24 March 2020

That Justice is a blind goddess !

Ministry of Labour & Employment - 2016

" That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise:
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes."

 I found myself in a small village of Kathi where a house was under construction. I tried to capture that scene in the picture. I am part of a small family, in which there are my parents and my elder sister with me. There is a childhood situation, perhaps you may also have a coincidence. Whenever our dislike in the house became proactive — I did not feel like drinking kerala, tinday or gourd, or milk, mother often used to get them done by using the competition between sister and me. “Let’s see, who will finish the meal first?” Or “who will first finish the glass of milk, it will be my lovely baby.” Our childhood used to gather in this spree without thought.
“Working with a Labor Charioteer in the past days, the incident of a common day reminded me of my mother and the poem of ‘loop’ (which I often hear as a sweet and revolutionary song).
I found myself in a small village of ‘Rithi’ Panchayat, where a house was under construction. I tried to capture that scene in the picture. If I look at my life so far, then my close acquaintance with child labor has happened in the year of internship. Earlier, like the general public of India, I too started believing that child labor (which is a legal offense) has taken off from India.

Here I found that more than 10 children, whose age appeared to be less than 10 years old, with their small hands, were covering the distance of about 200 meters by filling sand in small pots. Most of them parents of children were also carrying heavy responsibilities in large arms and large utensils.
From the woman, who was in a neonatal lap and the second child was on “work”, I asked Nadan questions — “Why are you working from small children here? Let them play, play and read now is the age. “The woman replied,” This is like the game itself, the children are happily doing their own. “After studying with the children, they realized that all of the creation Mothers are almost the same. Here too, mothers gave it a form of sports and competition among children. And here too many balmans were engaged without thinking.

When I talked to some older children, they accepted that, “Now there is not much fun in this game, but then father says, that the neighbor’s child is helping us, you should also learn from him. And should work harder than that “. And with this, this competition is set out in the social perspective by removing it from the house. On talking to men, I found that they see this process as rites, look as the preparations for the coming tomorrow, and which reduce the financial expenditure, it is different, it is different. “How is that?” — Asked by me, he said, “If we work alone, it will take 4 to 5 days. As long as we work here, the wages will be lost. Children can help a little bit of time (a little bit), then get a day’s bread and bring home. All have to do all the work together to maintain their stomach. “
We will fight for partner, sad weather,
We will fight for companions, for slave wishes,
We will choose companions, pieces of life,
We will fight companions. For our hunger,
This thing not only disturbed me, but forced me to think for several days. Has our country, society, and economy forced a class special, that they accept the deities as their destiny? Is there anything that has happened with them and their peers, that they are not able to know clearly that injustice is happening to them, and it is happening? That all attempts to get out of this heinous thing are useless? Trying to recover from the evils, perhaps when he had abandoned it, now it seems that desire has been suppressed. This is the period when freedom of desires has been abolished, and chains of slavery have been worn on desires.

Problems related to labor are being disturbed to me. The closer the layer rate layer is, the more complex and the larger it appears. In such a situation, I am taking poems, songs, films, and literature to avoid disappointment. Especially, this song of ‘loop’ has proved to be helpful in giving direction to my anger and keeping the dam of hope.

" Freedom
Is a strong seed
Planted
In a great need.
I live here, too.
I want freedom
Just as you !

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Monday, 2 August 2021

Foreign currency corporate borrowing: Risks and policy responses

 

Author Image

Siddharth Vij

University of Georgia

siddharth.vij@uga.edu

Non-financial corporations in emerging market economies increasingly rely on foreign currency debt, and are exposed to sudden stops in capital flows and currency depreciations. Analysing data on 1,786 Indian firms during 2004-2019, this article shows that favourable global funding conditions are a much more significant determinant of foreign currency borrowing than firm-level factors. Further, it suggests that RBI’s macroprudential policies have been effectively mitigating these risks.

Non-financial corporations in emerging market economies (EMEs) increasingly rely on foreign currency debt for financing. Since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008, the amount of dollar-denominated debt of EME corporations has quadrupled1. Research has shown that interest rate differentials between EMEs and the US have contributed significantly to this phenomenon (Bruno and Shin 2017). In essence, EME corporations prefer to borrow in foreign currency when there is a ‘carry’, meaning foreign interest rates are low relative to domestic interest rates. This carry trade borrowing leaves the firms exposed to sudden stops in capital flows and associated currency depreciations (Bruno and Shin 2020). More broadly, the accumulation of external debt on private balance sheets can lead, or contribute, to currency depreciation spirals and thereby pose risks for EME growth and financial stability (Acharya et al. 2015, Du and Schreger 2017). These include risks to domestic growth from large corporate distress and spillover effects on the domestic financial system.

Therefore, attention has naturally turned to policy responses to these risks posed by the build-up of foreign currency debt. Theoretical contributions suggest that macroprudential regulation can mitigate these risks (Acharya and Krishnamurthy 2019, Erten et al. 2020). However, such regulation might have leakages or unintended consequences that undo its intended effects (Ahnert et al. 2020). Ultimately, uncovering the effects of such policies requires empirical analysis.

In new research (Acharya and Vij 2021), we do this by studying a specific instance of macroprudential regulation2 targetted at the foreign currency borrowing of non-financial corporations. We examine the case of India which, as is typical of EMEs, has seen a sustained increase in dollar debt issued by non-financial corporations. Figure 1 shows the total amount of foreign currency debt outstanding and the Indian rupee/US dollar foreign exchange rate for the period between 2004 and 2019. Although the rupee has steadily depreciated against the dollar, the outstanding stock of dollar debt has steadily increased.

Figure 1. Foreign currency corporate debt and Indian rupee/US dollar exchange rate

Note: The figure shows the evolution of the rupee/dollar exchange rate, and the stock of foreign currency debt outstanding for the period March 2004-March 2019.

Source: Exchange rate data are from Datastream and data on outstanding debt are from the Ministry of Finance.

In response to the rise in dollar debt, in 2015, India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), lowered the maximum permitted interest rate at which Indian borrowers could borrow in foreign currency debt markets. This move was in the aftermath of the ‘taper tantrum’ episode of May-August 2013 in which India faced significant capital outflows and currency depreciation3. The aim of reducing these interest rate caps for foreign currency debt was to restrict access to only those firms that could borrow at relatively low interest rates – presumably higher quality and lower risk borrowers – as these borrowers would be less likely to face rollover problems in a sudden stop.

The dynamics of corporate foreign currency borrowing

To examine the dynamics of corporate foreign currency borrowing and the effects of the macroprudential regulation, we construct a detailed dataset on Indian firms that borrow abroad building on publicly available data from the RBI. We have data on every instance of foreign debt issuance (including amount, maturity, and debt type), matched to accounting and stock market data on the borrowing firms from Prowess. Our final sample includes 1,786 firms that, on average, borrow twice during our study period of 2004 to 2019. In our sample, 5% of the firms borrow more than 10 times over the period.

We first examine the factors that explain borrowing in external markets. Some hypothesised reasons for borrowing abroad are: (1) Exporters can naturally hedge their foreign currency borrowing through their revenues; (2) Firms investing in foreign assets (for example, oil and gas companies) want to finance those assets in the same currency (Caruana 2016); and (3) Firms borrow abroad at a cheaper interest rate and invest it locally at higher interest rates (Shin and Zhao 2013). The third reason is a corporate carry trade that is profitable if the firm can unwind the trade before the currency depreciates or if the central bank steps in to prevent depreciation.

Our analysis shows that the carry trade motive plays an important role in foreign currency borrowing particularly in the period of low US interest rates following the GFC. We define a Sharpe Ratio4-like proxy for the profitability of the carry trade5. Figure 2 shows that our carry trade measure is positively correlated with the aggregate foreign currency debt issuance in the period following the GFC. Our econometric results show that the same firm is more likely to borrow in foreign currency when the carry trade is more profitable in the post-GFC period. The carry trade does not explain borrowing in the period before the global crisis, pointing to the importance of US monetary policy easing in explaining global financial flows (Rey 2013).

Figure 2. Foreign currency debt issuance and the carry trade

Notes: (i) The figure plots the total number of foreign currency debt issues each quarter against CT, a proxy for the profitability of the dollar carry trade. CT is the difference in three-month interest rates between India and the US scaled by the implied volatility of three-month foreign exchange options. (ii) The sample period is from January 2004 to September 2019.

Stock market data show that the returns of Indian foreign currency borrowers become more sensitive to movements in the rupee/dollar exchange rate as they borrow more. This indicates that the borrowers are not fully hedging the foreign exchange risk that comes from the new debt. Firms that are more likely to borrow when the carry trade is more profitable – whom we call ‘carry trade borrowers’ – see the most increase in risk.

Periods of market stress

We use the taper tantrum episode as a natural experiment to analyse what happens to carry trade borrowers during periods of market stress. Our event studies around taper announcements indicate that carry trade borrowers experience significantly larger equity market declines due to the announcement (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Taper tantrum event study

Notes: (i) The figure shows the cumulative abnormal return (CAR) for stocks of foreign currency borrowers that borrow when the carry trade is more profitable relative to other foreign currency borrowers. (ii) The event date is 19 June 2013, a date on which Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, indicated that tapering of quantitative easing would commence later in 2013. (iii) A multivariate market model is used for estimating abnormal returns with the NIFTY return proxying for the market return while Indian rupee/US dollar return proxies for FX return. The estimation window is 180 calendar days and ends five trading days before the event date.

In response to the taper tantrum, many EMEs significantly altered their macroprudential policy for the external sector by tweaking the capital control frameworks (Bergant et al. 2020). India was one of them. We focus on the RBI’s reduction of the maximum interest rate at which firms could borrow abroad, in 2015. We find that this macroprudential policy action had significant effects on carry trade borrowing. Following the reduction in the interest rate cap, carry trade profitability no longer significantly explains foreign currency borrowing. We show that following the policy change, firms with higher interest expenses and those with a higher import share of raw materials were the ones most affected. This shows that the regulation worked as intended, by preventing the ex-ante riskiest borrowers from borrowing in foreign currency to take advantage of a carry trade.

We further confirm the efficacy of the macroprudential regulation by testing the equity market reaction of foreign currency borrowers during periods of market stress following the interest rate cap change. We conduct tests analogous to our taper tantrum analysis for the period of market stress at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. For EMEs, this period was characterised by unprecedented portfolio outflows and tightening of financing conditions (Corsetti and Marin 2020). In our event study analysis, we find that carry trade borrowers do not do any worse during this crisis compared to other borrowers. This suggests that under the new macroprudential regime, the risks arising from carry trade borrowing by Indian corporates has been substantially mitigated.

Macroprudential regulation of external sector

Overall, our results indicate that favourable global funding conditions are a much more significant determinant of foreign currency borrowing by EME corporations than individual firm-level factors. As we entered a new cycle of US monetary policy easing owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, foreign currency borrowing might have accelerated along with the attendant risks. As this cycle is turning with the firming up of US long-term interest rates, excessively risky foreign currency borrowing by corporates might hurt domestic growth and financial stability down the line as capital flows to EMEs retrench. Our analysis suggests that the proper targetting of capital controls in macroprudential regulation of the external sector can play an important role in reducing such vulnerability.

This article first appeared on VoxEU.

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Notes:

  1. See Bank of International Settlements statistics (Table C3) available here.
  2. Macroprudential regulation is the approach to financial regulation that aims to mitigate systemic risk.
  3. This was triggered by the US Federal Reserve announcements indicating that the tapering of quantitative easing was imminent, leading to a surge of capital outflows and asset price declines in EMEs (Sahay et al. 2014).
  4. Sharpe ratio measures the performance of an investment against a risk-free asset after adjusting for its risk.
  5. This is the difference of short-term interest rates between India and the US, normalised by the implied volatility of the exchange rate backed out from foreign exchange options.

Further Reading

  • Acharya, VV and A Krishnamurthy (2019), ‘Capital Flow Management with Multiple Instruments’, in A Aguirre, M Brunnermeier and D Saravia (eds.), Monetary Policy and Financial Stability: Transmission Mechanisms and Policy Implications.
  • Acharya, VV, S Cecchetti, J De Gregorio, S Kalemli-Ozcan, P R Lane and U Panizza (2015),Corporate Debt in Emerging Economies: A Threat to Financial Stability?’, Report for the Committee on International Economics Policy and Reform (CIEPR), Brookings Institute and Centre for International Governance Innovation. Available here.
  • Acharya, VV and S Vij (2021), ‘Foreign Currency Borrowing of Corporations as Carry Trades: Evidence from India’, NBER Working Paper No. 28096.
  • Ahnert, Toni, Kristen Forbes, Christian Friedrich and Dennis Reinhardt (2020), “Macroprudential FX regulations: Shifting the snowbanks of FX vulnerability?", Journal of Financial Economics, 140(1): 145-174. Available here.
  • Bergant, K, F Grigoli, N-J Hansen and D Sandri (2020), ‘Macroprudential regulation can effectively dampen global financial shocks in emerging markets?’, VoxEU, 12 August.
  • Bruno, Valentina and Hyun Song Shin (2017), “Global Dollar Credit and Carry Trades: A Firm-Level Analysis", The Review of Financial Studies, 30(3): 703-749. Available here.
  • Bruno, Valentina and Hyun Song Shin (2020), “Currency Depreciation and Emerging Market Corporate Distress", Management Science 66(5): 1935-1961. Available here.
  • Caruana, J (2016), ‘Credit, commodities and currencies’, Lecture at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Available here.
  • Corsetti, G and E Marin (2020), ‘The dollar and international capital flows in the COVID-19 crisis’, VoxEU, 3 April.
  • Du, W and J Schreger (2017), ‘Sovereign Risk, Currency Risk, and Corporate Balance Sheets’, Working Paper.
  • Erten, B, A Korinek and JA Ocampo (2020), ‘Managing capital flows to emerging markets’, VoxEU, 11 August.
  • Bergant, K, F Grigoli, NJH Hansen and D Sandri (2020), ‘Dampening Global Financial Shocks in Emerging Markets: Can Macroprudential Regulation Help?’, in World Economic Outlook, p. 53-75, International Monetary Fund.
  • Rey, H (2013), ‘Dilemma Not Trilemma: The Global Financial Cycle and Monetary Policy Independence’, Global Dimensions of Unconventional Monetary Policy, Jackson Hole Symposium on Economic Policy. Available here.
  • Sahay, R, VB Arora, AV Arvanitis, H Faruqee, PM N'Diaye and TM Griffoli (2014), ‘Emerging Market Volatility; Lessons from The Taper Tantrum’, IMF Staff Discussion Notes 14/9.
  • Shin, HS and LY Zhao (2013), ‘Firms as Surrogate Intermediaries: Evidence from Emerging Economies’, Mimeo, Princeton University. Available here.

 

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Social media looks at the big picture.

 Social media is interested in every detail.

social media is curious.

 Social media is free.

Social media is irreplaceable.

But never irrelevant.

Social media is you.

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Monday, 26 July 2021

Political parties decry Tunisia ‘coup’ as crowds celebrate on street

Ennahda, the biggest party in Tunisia’s parliament, was quick to denounce President Saied’s ousting of the government as a “coup”, along with two of the other main parties in parliament, Heart of Tunisia and Karama.

People celebrate in the street after Tunisian President Kais Saied announced the dissolution of parliament and Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi's government in Tunis on July 25, 2021.
People celebrate in the street after Tunisian President Kais Saied announced the dissolution of parliament and Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi's government in Tunis on July 25, 2021. (AFP)

Tunisia is facing its biggest crisis in a decade of democracy after President Kais Saied ousted the government and froze the activities of parliament, a move his foes labelled a coup that should be opposed on the street.

In a statement late on Sunday, Saied invoked the constitution to dismiss Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and decree a freeze of the parliament for a period of 30 days, saying he would govern alongside a new premier.

The move came after a day of protests against the government and the biggest party in parliament, Ennahda, following a spike in Covid-19 cases and growing anger over chronic political dysfunction and economic malaise.

In the hours after Saied's announcement, huge crowds gathered in his support in Tunis and other cities, cheering, dancing and ululating while the military blocked off the parliament and state television station.


Accusations of 'coup'

"What Kais Saied is doing is a coup d'etat against the revolution and against the constitution, and the members of Ennahdha and the Tunisian people will defend the revolution," Ennahdha said in a statement on Facebook.

The premier's office had not responded to his sacking on Sunday night.

Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, the head of Ennahda, which has played a role in successive coalition governments, decried the moves as a coup and an assault on democracy.

In the early hours of Monday, Ghannouchi arrived at the parliament where he said he would call a session in defiance of Saied, but the army stationed outside the building stopped the 80-year-old former political exile from entering.

"I am against gathering all powers in the hands of one person," he said outside the parliament building. He earlier called Tunisians to come onto the streets, as they had done on the day of the revolution in 2011, to oppose the move.

 

 

 

Dozens of Ennahda supporters faced off against Saied supporters near the parliament building, exchanging insults as the police held them apart, televised pictures afterwards showed.

Two of the other main parties in parliament, Heart of Tunisia and Karama, joined Ennahda in accusing Saied of a coup. Former president Moncef Marzouki who helped oversee the transition to democracy after the revolution said it could represent the start of a slope "into an even worse situation".

Saied, in his statement announcing the dismissal of Mechichi and the freezing of parliament, said he had also suspended the legal immunity of parliament members and that he was taking control of the general prosecutor's office.

He warned against any armed response to his actions. "Whoever shoots a bullet, the armed forces will respond with bullets," said Saied, who has support from a wide array of Tunisians including both Islamists and leftists.

 

Crowds show support for Saied

Crowds numbering in the tens of thousands backing the president stayed on the streets of Tunis and other cities, with some people setting off fireworks, for hours after his announcement as helicopters circled overhead.

"We have been relieved of them," said Lamia Meftahi, a woman celebrating in central Tunis after Saied's statement, speaking of the parliament and government.

"This is the happiest moment since the revolution."

After Saied's announcement, Tunis Farhat, a 49-year-old in Gafsa, told AFP that the president had understood what people wanted.

"He has shown himself to be a true statesman," he said.

"Our patience has reached its limit, there's no room for losers. That's it, game is over!" said 24-year-old Ibrahim, echoing an old slogan from the massive demonstrations which toppled former president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali's regime in 2011 .

But one man in his forties watched on without enthusiasm.

"These fools are celebrating the birth of a new dictator," he said.

Earlier Sunday in Tunis, hundreds rallied in front of parliament, shouting slogans against Ennahdha and premier Mechichi.

Demonstrations were also reported in the towns of Gafsa, Kairouan, Monastir, Sousse and Tozeur.

"The people want the dissolution of parliament," the crowd chanted.

A senior Ennahdha official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said the protests and subsequent celebrations had been orchestrated by Saied.

"We are also capable of organising large demonstrations to show the number of Tunisians who are opposed to these decisions," they said.

 

'Imminent danger' 

Saied, a political independent who swept to office in 2019 after campaigning as the scourge of a corrupt, incompetent elite, rejected accusations that he had conducted a coup.

He said his actions were based on Article 80 of the constitution and framed them as a popular response to the economic and political paralysis that have mired Tunisia for years.

However, a special court required by the 2014 constitution to adjudicate such disputes between Tunisia's branches of state has never been established after years of wrangling over which judges to include, allowing rival interpretations of law.

"We are navigating the most delicate moments in the history of Tunisia," Saied said on Sunday.

He said the constitution did not allow for the dissolution of parliament, but did allow him to suspend it, citing Article 80 which permits it in case of "imminent danger".

In a later Facebook post, he clarified that the suspension would be for 30 days.

Saied said he would take over executive power "with the help" of a government, whose new chief will be appointed by the president himself.

He also said that parliamentary immunity would be lifted for deputies.

 

 

 

SOURCE ; TRT AND WORLD

 

Social media is bold. 

Social media is young.

Social media raises questions.

 Social media is not satisfied with an answer.

Social media looks at the big picture.

 Social media is interested in every detail.

social media is curious.

 Social media is free.

Social media is irreplaceable.

But never irrelevant.

Social media is you.

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Sunday, 25 July 2021

My Fake COVID-19 Test

 'After about 15 minutes, our turn came. I pulled out my phone, with the result ready for inspection. The inspector did not bother to even glance at the screen and simply waved us to move on.'

My Fake COVID-19 Test 

 Representative: A health worker in PPE sanitises his gloves before taking a PCR test from a mobile swab collection vehicle, Kathmandu, May 19, 2021. Photo: Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar

 

Last week, I paid a bribe for the first time in my 60-plus years of life. I paid a sum of Rs 500 to get a fake negative PCR result for COVID-19.

After it was all done, I was surprised at how calm I was. I have always prided myself for never ever greasing a palm to get anything done. And yet, I felt no remorse, no twinge of conscience at what I had just done. On the contrary, I felt that the chaotic, money-grubbing and utterly opaque system that we have put in place in the name of COVID-19 prevention and control deserved the contempt I was buying with my bribe.

The smooth efficiency of the ‘test’ left me dumbfounded. All I had to do was to give my name and Aadhaar number to the intermediary, and in less than five minutes I had a very official looking ‘Medical Laboratory Report’ declaring me to be virus-free in my WhatsApp inbox. The ‘laboratory report’ bore the insignia of Krsna Diagnostics, a prominent diagnostic laboratory with branches all over the country, with ‘Achievement Awards’ oozing out of its website and with an uplifting slogan of “Let’s Do Good”.

But to be fair to this “world-class”, do-gooding laboratory, the rot that led me to it began the moment I landed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi from the United States early in July. Every link in the chain, beginning with the Government of India’s own travel guidelines, failed and failed spectacularly. Obtaining a fake result was the only option I was left with.

Before setting out for Delhi, I did everything that I was asked to do. I got a PCR test for COVID-19 done within 72 hours of my date of departure, dutifully uploaded the test results on the self-declaration form on Air Suvidha, printed out a copy of the Government of India’s acknowledgement of my uploaded information. I landed in New Delhi confident that I would have the green light.

 

Alas, the self-declaration form turned out to be worthless. No one asked for it, no one looked at it. Instead, we were herded into a hall, made to stand in a long line for another test. No explanation was forthcoming, except “upar se order hain” (“these are orders from the top”). If no one was going to accept the pre-flight results, why make such a song and dance about it?

After much grousing and jostling on the weary passengers’ part, samples were taken for a fee. I was handed a very official looking piece of paper from Genestrings, the company doing the testing. Test results were promised within 8-12 hours. The only saving grace was that we were not required to wait for the results at the airport. We were free to leave.

The promised results did show up the next day. I thought that the system did work in its own slipshod and lumbering manner. Once I got over the tiredness and the jet lag, I even forgot the hassle of the queue at the airport.

A week after landing in Delhi, I was back at the airport for a domestic flight to Pune. All my previous tests were stale by now. I found myself back at the good old Genestrings testing facility. By now I knew the routine: pay the fees, have them swab my mouth and nose, get the impressive official-looking piece of paper and off you go.

And off I did go to Pune. I was worried that they may require me to wait at Pune airport till the results came in. But no, I was free to leave. And I left.

But this time, the results did not show up. Not the next day, nor the following day.

The problem was that this time, I needed these results so I could cross into Karnataka from Maharashtra on the road journey I was taking from Pune to Bangalore. I was worried that I would be stopped at the border without a negative test result.

The official-looking paper Genestrings had handed at the airport was no help. It had all kinds of contact information – a QR code, a website address, phone numbers. I tried them all. None worked. The official-looking paper proved to be as worthless as the self-declaration form. All bells and whistles, no substance.

I don’t know what the game plan was, for transparency is not a virtue much valued in this land of ours. Were test results made available only to international travellers? Was the whole set up meant to impress foreigners, while domestic travellers were left high and dry? Or was I not contacted because my test results were negative? Were they only contacting those with positive results? Or was the whole thing a money-making charade? I will never know.

That is when my very resourceful taxi driver set my mind at ease. He told me that he can get me a negative test result in minutes – for a small fee, of course. Well, I gladly paid the fee, without a twinge of conscience, for I was done with waiting, done with trying to get any information out of the system. As promised, I had a negative result in my inbox within minutes of this shady transaction.

Apparently, there is a big business in obtaining fake results for travellers. My driver told me that he routinely arranges for negative results for passengers he picks up from the Pune airport. I am sure that my driver is not the only one providing this service. And I am sure that travellers are not the only ones requiring a negative COVID-19 test to go on with their lives. The opportunity to make a buck in the market for fake tests is endless. No wonder the country is left flailing when the viral waves strike.

But this is not the end of the story. The crowning irony was yet to come.

Armed with my fake result, I set out from Pune to Bangalore. We were duly stopped at the Karnataka border. After about 15 minutes, our turn came. I pulled out my phone, with the result ready for inspection. The inspector did not bother to even glance at the screen and simply waved us to move on.

I did not know whether to laugh or to cry. Why put up a show? Why make ordinary folks jump through the hoops? What was the point?

But I was not going to argue.

 

We just moved on.

Meera Nanda is a historian of science.

 SOURCE ; THE WIRE

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