YouTube Launches Pakistani Version, Paving Way for Ban to Be Lifted

YouTube Launches Pakistani Version, Paving Way for Ban to Be Lifted

The Supreme Court’s ban in place since September 2012 applied to YouTube’s global and localised sites.

The new site, youtube.com.pk, is currently live but inaccessible inside Pakistan, and the government and Google hope its creation will mean the Supreme Court will lift the ban, even if only partially.

Content on the local site can still be regulated, and a senior government official told AFP Wednesday Pakistan’s telecommunication authority could ask Google to remove content it deems objectionable.

If Google complies, it could meet a condition set by the Supreme Court for lifting the ban.

“The understanding is that on the localised version offensive and blasphemous content could be blocked by Google on the government’s request,” the official said.

A Google spokesman confirmed that governments are allowed to request the removal of YouTubevideos that violate local laws.

“We have clear community guidelines, and when videos violate those rules, we remove them,” the spokesman said.

But the Internet giant said it would review requests before taking videos down.

“Government requests to remove content will continue to be tracked and included in our Transparency Report.”

Islamabad has been in intermittent talks with Google for several years over the issue, another source close to the matter said, without providing a specific timeframe for the unveiling of YouTube Pakistan.

“We are in a very near-term sort of thing. The roadblocks have been removed,” the source said.

A Supreme Court official meanwhile said the next court hearing about the ban is in two weeks.

Users in Pakistan continue to access YouTube using proxy servers and Virtual Private Networks.

Blasphemy is a contentious issue in Pakistan and the country has seen violent riots sparked by content considered offensive to Islam.

In 2010 Pakistan shut down Facebook for nearly two weeks over its hosting of allegedly blasphemous pages. It continues to restrict thousands of online links.

Microsoft Office for Android Makes It Easier for New Users to Come Aboard

Microsoft Office for Android Makes It Easier for New Users to Come Aboard

The Microsoft Office productivity suite for Android has received an update that brings interesting new features to the Word, Excel, and PowerPoint productivity apps. Among other additions, the company is now allowing users to sign up for a free Microsoft account from within the app.

Starting with Microsoft Word, users now get the option to choose the colour with which they want to highlight text. There is also a new feature called Smart lookup that allows a user to get relevant definitions, pictures, and other pieces of information gleaned from the Web right on the Word window.

Excel for Android now offers a range of table styles, allowing users to change the way tables on their sheet look. Microsoft realises that pasting content on a small screen isn’t the easiest of things to do and hence it is fixing that with giving users more Paste options. Users can now paste a formula, value, or quickly format a copied cell. Google added a similar feature to Slides app for Android in October last year.

PowerPoint for Android is getting some new features too. Users will now be able to play the embedded media files in their presentation.

Microsoft is also making it easier for users to share their documents, spreadsheets and presentations with users. The update now gives users the option to share the files using WeChat and QQ apps. Users will also find the ability to sign up from within the app handy.

To recall, Microsoft released Word, Excel, and PowerPoint on Android last year. The apps are free to use.

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After decades spent vilifying Ambedkar, why are the BJP and Congress so keen to claim his legacy?

After decades spent vilifying Ambedkar, why are the BJP and Congress so keen to claim his legacy?
Photo Credit: IANS
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The popularity of Bhimrao Ambedkar in 2016 is remarkable.

Ambedkar was always a Dalit icon. On his birth and death anniversaries, his memorial in Mumbai draws huge crowds that are much larger than those at memorials of any other Raj-era political leader, including Mahatma Gandhi. But what is remarkable is how mainstream political parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress have scrambled to honour the architect of the Indian Constitution ahead of his 125th birth anniversary on April 14. Both parties had, last year, announced year-long celebrations in the run up to this day in an apparent bid to claim his legacy. And as the anniversary draws closer, the government is firming up plans for a nationwide commemoration.

These bids to claim the legacy of the Dalit icon continue even as reports of Dalit oppression emerge from across the country with disturbing regularity.

Political icon

Ambedkar’s installation as a mainstream political icon is quite recent. Kancha Illaiah, academic and thinker on Dalit issues, says:

“Until 1990, Ambedkar was untouchable to all mainstream political parties. The question of the BJP looking at him did not arise at that time. The implementation of the Mandal Commission report, the VP Singh government honouring Ambedkar with the Bharat Ratna and the massive Dalit civil societal celebration of his role across the country triggered a new debate. From 1991 to 2015, emerging civil societal forces acquired definite intellectual status in universities and colleges and became a force to reckon with.”

Ambedkar is today a national icon. However, during his lifetime, he actually had very little to do either with the Congress or the Hindu right wing that later coalesced into the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Mutual antipathy

As is well known, Ambedkar blamed Gandhi for suppressing the Dalit political voice. In 1955, Ambedkar angrily told the British Broadcasting Corporation that Gandhi did not deserve the title of Mahatma, “not even from the point of view of his morality”.

Ambedkar signed the 1932 Poona pact – as per which Dalit representatives would not be elected by a separate Dalit electorate but by all castes – after Gandhi went on a hunger fast. The pact is so seminal in the Dalit movement that the late Kanshi Ram, the founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party, called his book on the Congress party’s Dalit politics post that pactThe Chamcha Age.

Gandhi was wary of Ambedkar too. He wrote to Vallabhbhai Patel a year before Independence:

“The main problem is about Ambedkar. I see a risk in coming to any sort of understanding with him, for he has told me in so many words that for him there is no distinction between truth or untruth or between violence and non-violence. He follows one single principle, viz. to adopt any means which will serve his purpose. One has to be very careful indeed when dealing with a man who would become a Christian, a Muslim or Sikh and then be reconverted according to his convenience. There is much more I could write in the same strain”

Proud identity

Given his politics that revolved around a proud Dalit identity, Ambedkar naturally came into conflict with the Hindu right. In the run up to the Poona Pact, Ambedkar favoured separate electorates for Dalits to exclusively vote for Dalit representatives. But the Hindu Mahasabha signed a deal with a prominent Dalit leader of the time, MC Rajah, to accept joint electorates where caste Hindus and Dalits would vote together (i.e. the current system). Rajah, who compromised with the right wing, is now a forgotten figure.

Vallabhbhai Patel too disliked Ambedkar’s politics, accusing him in 1948 of wanting to divide the country. In the Constituent Assembly, as Ambedkar tried to move an amendment to grant Dalits greater electoral rights, Patel opposed it, and attacked him:

“Let us forget what Dr Ambedkar has done. Let us forget what you [Nagappa, another Dalit Assembly member and an Ambedkarite] did. You have very nearly escaped partition of the country again on your lines. You have seen the result of separate electorates in Bombay, that when the greatest benefactor of your community [referring to Gandhi] came to Bombay to stay in bhangi quarters it was your people who tried to stone his quarters. What was it? It was again the result of this poison, and therefore I resist this only because I feel that the vast majority of the Hindu population wish you well. Without them where will you be? Therefore, secure their confidence and forget that you are a Scheduled Caste.”

The most hated man in India

Patel wasn’t alone in his dislike of Ambedkar’s politics. Dhananjay Keer, Ambedkar biographer, wrote that after opposing Gandhi on the Poona Pact, Ambedkar became widely unpopular across India:

“Ambedkar now became the most hated man in India. He was stigmatised as an uncivil, insolent, inordinately rude man, devoid of human consideration. He was represented as a devil, was cursed as a public nuisance number one and was dammed as a reactionary, a stooge of the British government, a traitor to the country and a destroyer of Hinduism.”

Arun Shourie, prominent right-wing intellectual and minister in the Vajpayee government, repeated the “Ambedkar is a traitor” trope in his book, Worshipping False Gods. In the book, Shourie states:

“There is not one instance, not one single, solitary instance in which Ambedkar participated in any activity connected with the struggle to free the country”.

Ambedkar was hated because he took bold positions and did not care for the upper-caste dominated mainstream of Indian politics. He often cooperated with the establishment – with the British during the Raj, and with the Congress after Independence. Political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot points out that Ambedkar was supremely practical and did whatever it took to help his community. Thus, in 1939, he tied-up with the Muslim League and Jinnah to mark a “Day of Deliverance” in order to celebrate the mass resignation of all Congress ministries to protest India’s entry into World War II.

Ambedkar meets Jinnah and Periyar in 1940.
Ambedkar meets Jinnah and Periyar in 1940.

Allying with the Socialists

In 1951, Ambedkar’s attempts to modernise Hindu personal law met with strong opposition from the Hindu right. One of them was SP Mookerjee, the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the precursor to the Bharatiya Janata Party, who felt these new laws, which promised gender equality, were instruments that would “shatter the magnificent structure of Hindu culture”.

Frustrated with this Opposition, Ambedkar resigned as law minister from Nehru’s cabinet and allied with the Socialist Party to fight the 1951 general elections. Even during this campaign, Ambedkar went against the mainstream, promising his Muslim constituents that he would fight for separate electorates for them, just as he had for Dalits.

As a further measure of his protest, he converted to Buddhism in 1956, an event that the Bharatiya Janata Party glosses over given its strong opposition to conversion.

Bahujan politics and Ambedkar

Thus, Ambedkar is lionised today, but not for any of the principles he stood for during his lifetime.

His new-found popularity among mainstream political parties can be attributed to the rise of Ambedkarite politics, which uses the Dalit identity to vie for political, economic and social power.

It started with the formation, in 1978, of the All India Backward and Minority Communities Employees Federation, known as BAMCEF, an organisation of mainly Dalit public sector employees. This later led to the establishment of the Bahujan Samaj Party, which changed Indian politics forever by creating an independent Dalit leadership.

Mainstream political parties now have to woo Dalits, a constituency they have always taken for granted.

For this, Ambedkar is a handy icon. Never mind that it is rare to find a Dalit holding a senior leadership position in these parties, and that ground conditions for this oppressed group remain mostly unchanged. Remember Rohith Vemula?

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Why Siachen is a purposeless world record for India to hold

Why,Siachen,is,a,purposeless,world,record,for,India,to,hold
Why Siachen is a purposeless world record for India to hold
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News of the tragic avalanche on Siachen which buried ten Indian soldiers reminded me of the glacier’s place in the Guinness Book of World Records. As a schoolboy, I had large sections of the British edition of that book committed to memory. It was no deliberate effort but the automatic result of being fascinated enough by the information it contained to read through it repeatedly. I convinced my mother to buy me the American version as well, but found it preoccupied with things in which I had no interest, like the the National Football League. The British edition was more substantial and less parochial.

I recognised early on that Indians held very few world records. The great swimmer Mihir Sen found mention, as did the invincible hockey teams of undivided India. Predictably, the longest recorded legal dispute had taken place in India. Then there was a man boasting the world’s longest moustache, and Shridhar Chillal, who had the world’s longest fingernails. Kharagpur’s railway platform, over a kilometre long, was listed in a section on edifices and constructions.

Years later, I took a train to Calcutta that stopped at Kharagpur. As the station approached I grew tensely excited, for the longest platform on the planet was to me the equivalent of a world heritage site. The train was late and the January night cold and misty. I got off onto the famous platform, walked as far as the engine, and stared into the distance. The shelf of concrete stretched further than I could see. Afraid the train would start rolling again, I returned to the seat and gawked through a window as we travelled the platform’s length. When I settled back, a question popped into my mind for the first time. Why on earth had they made a platform so much longer than the longest passenger train? I assumed there was a reason, but I’ve never been able to discover it.

Glocal pride

Kharagpur is no longer the Everest of train platforms, having been surpassed by Gorakhpur a few years ago. Gorakhpur’s residents celebrated news of their taking possession of a world record when its 1.3 km platform was inaugurated. In interviews, they said they were proud because the town would no longer be seen as a dead-end mofussil. No news reports mentioned why such a long platform was necessary, or even helpful.

The Kharagpur experience made me realise that records could be meaningful or purposeless. The feats of Mihir Sen and our hockey team, achieved against strong competition in widely popular athletic disciplines, were meaningful, while the railway platform and Sridhar Chillal’s fingernails, (which had grown so long, they fused together rendering one hand unusable) struck me as falling in the latter category. After the Limca Book of Records began to be published, along with an accompanying television show, Indians developed an affinity for purposeless feats. Individuals specialised in doing things that nobody in their right mind would want to do, such as chewing light bulbs or staying in a cage full of snakes or cycling backwards.

Since 1984, Siachen has held a place in the book of records as the world’s highest battlefield. It seems like a record that is obviously meaningful. Hundreds of lives have been lost on the glacier, tens of thousands of crores of rupees spent on maintaining troops there. Surely, we ought to be proud of the valour and determination of our soldiers, battling the elements as well as the enemy for decades. And yet, why are they there at all? In 1972, a Line of Control was established as part of the Simla Accord that followed the Bangladesh war. The map makers divided peaks and valleys carefully, till they reached a point where no human habitation could conceivably spring up. At that point they just made the general remark that the line of control would continue north. Indians assumed this meant due north, and Pakistan and the United States decided it meant continuing along the route as marked all the way to the Karakorum Pass, which meant going north-east rather than due north. To assert its own interpretation, Pakistan began permitting mountaineering expeditions into the zone. India responded by sending troops to occupy the barren wedge.

Like an absurdist film

The Indian action was justifiable in and off itself, but appears not to have been thought through. What were the troops supposed to do once up there? Apparently guard a place in perpetuity that nobody but extreme sports enthusiasts would ever want to visit, and which had no economic value. Soldiers have been posted there in rotation these past 32 years, living in misery, suffering hypothermia and frostbite, all for a wilderness of interest only to Doctor Strangeloves obsessed with strategic heights. As the globe has warmed and the glacier retreated, it has not made life on Siachen any more comfortable, for the change in degrees Celsius is marginal, but appears to have increased the land’s perilousness, and not just for Indians. Two years ago, an avalanche buried 129 Pakistani soldiers and 11 civilians in the Gayatri sector not far from the glacier.

In retrospect, it’s obvious India should have tried diplomacy instead of launching a preemptive military operation. It’s also clear to those of us who would put the world’s highest battlefield in the category of purposeless records, that we should try to extricate ourselves as fast as possible, cleaning up what we can of the toxic mess we have made in a formerly pristine ecosystem. When I read about the avalanche last week, I thought of Bob Dylan’s words, slightly paraphrased, “How many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died?”

Each death makes the Siachen conflict more absurd to people like me. Those who consider Siachen profoundly meaningful, though, think very differently. To them, each death hallows that land further, obliging us to defend it with more soldiers and more resources, for anything less would be a betrayal of those who gave the last full measure of devotion on those icy mountains. For over three decades, the assertive nationalists have has won the popular vote, and India has remained more interested in celebrating martyrdom than in reducing the need for sacrifice. It will be a long while before Siachen is returned to those who had sole possession of it for millennia, the snow leopards and ibexes.

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