For the past few days, I have been asking people one question. What controversies come to their mind as the year comes to an end? The answers have been many but all have unanimously uttered one word – Maggi.
I had thought of keeping it last in my list because to me Maggi’s going and coming wasn’t really a shocker that robbed me off my good night’s sleep but to many Indians, whose staple seemed to be Nestle’s Maggi Noodles right after dal-chawal, this controversy was indeed a nightmare.
So here comes Maggi at number one.
1. Maggi 2-minute noodles
Maggi was withdrawn from the Indian market after it was found high on lead and monosodium glutamate (MSG) and a case was registered in court and FIRs were filed even against film stars like Madhuri Dixit, Amitabh Bachchan and Preity Zinta, who were endorsing Maggi.
The treachery of the innocuous Maggi did not go down well with the Indian consumer who raised a storm on social media and mourned its absence for five months. After it went through tests in three government accredited laboratories, Maggi was fit to come back to Indian kitchens. However, the product is yet to get clearance in states like Bihar, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
2. Nirbhaya issue
The year began and ended with controversies surrounding Nirbhaya, the young girl from Delhi, who succumbed to her injuries after being brutally raped by six men in a moving bus in 2012.
Leslee Udwin directed a documentary for BBC on the incident and named it India’s Daughter. The documentary included an interview with one of the rapists Mukesh Singh. The Indian government was shocked at how Udwin got an interview with a rapist from inside a jail on a case which was still sub judice. The government banned the documentary saying it would have adverse repercussions if aired on Indian television. Post-ban, the documentary grabbed more eyeballs on Youtube than it would ever have if aired on TV but it indeed raised a whole lot of questions about the Indian system, about the situation of India’s daughters and sons as well.
If this controversy happened in the beginning of the year, 2015 ended with the juvenile, who was found guilty of mutilating Nirbhaya with an iron rod, being released after serving his sentence of three years which was given to him according to the Juvenile Justice Act. Despite protests by Nirbhaya’s parents, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy and several NGOs, the juvenile was released on December 20. Although most are saying this is a mockery of justice and some are demanding his re-arrest, the Delhi Government has promised to give him Rs 10,000 to set up his own tailoring shop. Keeping with the laws of Juvenile Justice Act, his identity has not been revealed.
In 2015, intolerance has been the focal point of most controversies.
It all started with the beef ban in Maharashtra in March this year when the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks was banned under the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, 1995.
The ban not only affected the livelihood of all those connected to the beef making process, it also hit the consumers hard because it is regarded as poor man’s meat. The Muslim community even appealed to the court for a relaxation on the slaughter of bulls and bullocks for the festival of Bakr-Eid but the court did not relent.
But what takes the cake is the lynching incident that happened in a Bisara Village, Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, where a man was killed and her son badly injured after they were dragged out of their house and beaten up by a mob acting on the rumors that the Muslim family had slaughtered a cow and eaten its meat.
The meat that was found in their house was later tested in the laboratory and it was confirmed to be goat’s meat. The perpetrators were arrested and the case is in court.
Returning of Sahitya Akademi Award
Thirty three well-known Indian writers returned their Sahitya Akademi Award, one of the highest literary awards of the country, to protest against intolerance and encroachment of freedom of speech.
Ashok Vajpeyi, winner of the Sahitya Akademi award in 1994, said this to The Hindu newspaper while returning his award:
“None of us belong to any political party though we have views on politics. But we are extremely worried at the way the India polity is moving. All spaces of liberal values and thought, all locations of dissent and dialogue, all attempts at sanity and mutual trust are under assault almost on a daily basis. All kinds and forms of violence, whether religious and communal, consumerist and globalizing, caste-based and cultural, social and domestic, are on the upswing.”
4. Aamir Khan’s statement
Expressing his concern over the rising religious intolerance in the country, Bollywood actor Aamir Khan said that his wife Kiran Rao and he often feel worried for their son. “Kiran and I have lived all our lives in India. For the first time, she said, should we move out of India?”
While uttering these words, Aamir did not have a clue of the kind of hornet’s nest he was stirring up, or did he? Social media went berserk and Aamir was abused, trolled, questioned, and the repeated refrain was how ungrateful could this Muslim actor be because his popularity, fame and riches were all because of his Indian fans.
5. International Yoga Day
On the suggestion of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the UN marked June 21, 2015 as the International Yoga Day and it was celebrated throughout the world and especially with much aplomb in India. While some skeptics said that this was Modi’s way of pushing the Hindutva agenda further, some countered that yoga is an ancient Indian tradition and it has nothing to do with religion.
But what created the controversy was the whopping Rs 300 million that was spent to commemorate the day. A Gujarat resident found out by making an application through the Right to Information Act (RTA) that Rs 150 million was spent in sending SMSs to Indians to tell them to be a part of the International Yoga Day.
6. Net Neutrality
If there is controversy and confusion about anything right now that is around Net Neutrality, more recently called Free Basics. While a Townhall meet between Mark Zuckerberg and Prime Minister Narendra Modi was meant to ensure basic access to internet to 1billion Indian users who are too poor to pay for it, people who are more clued in about the issue point out why an organization like Facebook would be so keen to provide free internet to poor India if they cannot see profit in it.
The buzz is Free Basics would allow Facebook a monopoly in India by which they would be the decision-makers when it comes to start-ups, new websites and e-marketing, and they might have to pay Facebook a large sum to have a domain and do business. Also the smart phones by which Free Basics could be accessed would only come from Reliance owned by the Ambanis, who are also close to Modi. Some Indians feel that if economic opportunities are provided to poor Indians first, they would be able to pay for their internet, and they do not really need Free Basics.
7. Arvind Kejriwal’s tweet
Arvind Kejriwal, who founded the Aam Aadmi Party and has been elected Chief Minister of Delhi for the second time and is admired by many for his simplicity and honesty, lost many of his fans recently for a social media blunder. He tweeted: “Modi is a coward and a psycopath” after his office was raided by CBI officials.
Most people thought this was uncalled for. They felt the chief minister of a state should show a certain level of respect to a Prime Minister of a country especially if he is the kind of person who is trying to show the youth a new path. He was also made fun of for getting “psychopath” spelling wrong in his tweet.
8. Modi’s world tour
Between June 2014 and June 2015, Narendra Modi’s foreign trips have incurred an expense of Rs 370 million. While one is not sure what kind of economic boost the trips have been able to give to the Indian economy, the drain of rupees from the Indian exchequer has been heavily criticized.
The Hindu wrote: “A Delhi-based Right to Information (RTI) activist, Lokesh Batra, finally got responses to his request for information on the public funds spent on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official foreign trips between June 2014 and June 2015. Batra was forced to write separately to every embassy and high commission in each country Modi visited, and yet some denied him the information on the grounds that the ‘resources would need to be diverted to collate the information’. Batra had to go in appeal in several instances, but four countries – Japan, Sri Lanka, France and South Korea – haven’t yet supplied the information.”
9. National Herald case
Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi had to appear in court recently to face allegations that they illegally acquired property worth Rs 50,000 million belonging to National Herald newspaper. They were granted bail.
The newspaper was founded by Rahul Gandhi’s great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru and the paper went out of print in 2008. Apparently, the mother-son duo floated a company and bought the newspaper to bring in the assets under their control. The case is in court at the moment.
10. FTII strike
The Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) have been in the news for all the wrong reasons in 2015. The well-known institute that has produced some of the best talent in Indian cinema saw a prolonged students’ protest because they felt that Ganjendra Chauhan, who is known for his role in the TV serial Mahabharata and has done a few roles in B-grade films, did not have the credentials to head the institute as the chairman. They claimed he was from the BJP, had campaigned for the party and so he was given the post.
Bollywood stars were vocal about their disapproval of the appointment and 10 film-makers returned their National Awards in protest. Finally, the strike was called off after 139 days and after five rounds of talks with the students’ body.