Reading Between The Stripes: India Edition

Over the past two years, a wild tigress has stalked and killed more than a dozen people near a village in central India. The New York Times has a superb story about it, which you can (and should) read here: it’s got gruesome maulings, orphaned cubs, altruistic suicide-seekers, and heavily armed elephant rides. But it’s also a subtle portrait of many of the political and social challenges that India faces today. Here’s a brief look behind some of the story’s best lines.


India’s Hindu nationalist governing party, the B.J.P., has cracked down... on the slaughter of cows, an animal Hindus revere. This has created enormous herds of mangy, unproductive, unwanted cattle that herders don’t dare to kill, either because of specific cow protection laws that vary state by state or because they are terrified of being lynched by Hindu extremists.”

The BJP, led by current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, swept to power in 2014 on an assertively Hindu nationalist platform. As it happens, the powerful traditionalist organizations that support the BJP demand better protection of cows – which enjoy nearly god-like status among devout Hindus. As a result, the BJP – which controls more than half of India’s states in additional to the national government – has sought to expand cow protection laws significantly over the past several years. At the same time, Hindu “cow vigilantes,” some of which reportedly have links to the BJP, have killed dozens of (mostly Muslim) cattle herders, and extorted many more.

The result is: lots more cows around, which milk farmers can’t support but are scared to kill. From the tigers’ perspective this is a massive enticement to come out of the forest for a bite – and into closer contact with humans. The problem reflects the larger story of escalating sectarian tensions as the world’s largest democracy heads for national elections in 2019. Modi wants to keep the traditionalists on side, and the cow issue is a winner with that base.

“Many tigers are now running out of space… all across India, islands of forest are shrinking”

This is also a story about India’s growing urbanization and dwindling natural space. While conservation efforts have caused the tiger population to rebound over the past decade, their natural habitats – several dozen tiger reserves and related forest corridors – have either failed to grow apace or have actually been reduced by massive new infrastructure and construction projects. Since coming to power, the BJP has sought to loosen some of India’s extensive environmental regulations in order to boost investment and growth, while also giving the green light to several infrastructure projects that directly threaten tiger habitats. The government says economic growth is the priority, as you might expect in a country that needs to create a million new jobs every month just to keep pace with a swelling population.

If I die, will you give my family the money?’”

The government has offered up to $14,000 to the families of the victims of tiger attacks. For perspective on just what that means, that’s about seven times per-capita GDP. Over 20 percent of Indians still live on less than $1.90 a day. Rural wages have actually declined over the last two years. So while India has made extraordinary strides in poverty reduction in recent decades, with more than 270 million poor (most of them in rural areas), there is still a reason that the elderly man quoted above was found milling about a tiger bait station, hoping to get mauled.

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Learn more about RePack in Eni's new Energy Superfacts series.

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Jon Lieber, Managing Director for the United States at the Eurasia Group, shares his perspective on US politics.

Where are US-China relations in this battle over TikTok and what is happening?

Well, this may seem like a minor deal. It's a video sharing app that the president has given 45 days to sell to a US entity or get banned in the United States. But along with WeChat, these are two of China's most successful technology companies that the US has now banned from entry into the United States and potentially banned from being used on operating systems that rely on US software inside China. So, this is a huge escalation in the geotech war between the United States and China. China for a long time has not allowed Google and Facebook and other American applications to be fully operative inside their borders. And now the US is stepping up against Chinese technology companies. The reason is that there's concerns among the US government about these tech, these apps data security practices. Members of the military, high ranking government officials aren't allowed to have these on their phones because there's concern about what China does with the data that they can harvest from those phones. This is a real warning sign to other Chinese technology companies that they may not be welcome inside the American market unless they can prove in some way, they are totally independent from the Chinese government and the Chinese military. Expect a lot of escalation in this area over the coming months and years.

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In a new interview with Ian Bremmer for GZERO World, former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden says that the single most important step to reopening schools in the fall is to control infection in the community. But as of now, too many communities across the United States have lost control of the Covid-19 virus. Opening schools will only become a possibility once a majority of people start practicing the "Three 'W's" ("Wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance") and local and federal governments enforce stricter protective policies. The full episode of GZERO World begins airing on US public television on Friday, August 7, 2020. Check local listings.