About –the stories of the world this week, 4 December to 10 December: Artemis-I Moon to Earth; Iran and China buckle; Indonesia Rules; Haiti gangs up; India elects and elects; and magic at the Football World Cup, Qatar.


Return to Earth after a Honeymoon Sight-Seeing

NASA’s Artemis I’s Orion spacecraft after having gone further than any ‘Crew Capable Spacecraft’ had gone -the distant retrograde orbit -has left this cold place to return to warmer regions. It’s second main engine burn gave it the thrust to get in to the embrace of the Moon’s gravity. This Monday, Orion did a fly-by the Moon’s surface-just 127 km above-and its main engine fired again, in the longest burn, to kick it back to Earth. Orion’s splash down in the Pacific Ocean is expected on 11th December. Cannot wait for Orion to return safely, open-up, and tell its hidden stories.

Iran & China on the Same Page; Indonesia Opens a Book

Over the past weeks and months ‘one-of-a-kind protests’ raged in Iran and China, which saw brutal crackdowns on dissent. And they seemed to only fester and become unstoppable, on both sides.

Finally, this week, Iran buckled, abolished the ‘Gasht-e Ershad or Guidance Patrol’ – Morality Police- and said it will review the decades old mandatory hijab law, which requires women to cover their heads.

On the same page, China relented, eased COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and testing rules.

Both saw dictatorial regimes bending to the will of the people. When people speak as one, they effect change, and they win.

Iran’s Morality Police was established in the year 2005 under hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to ‘spread the culture of modesty and hijab’ and enforce it across the Country. The roll-back, is a massive victory for Iranian women protesting against the hijab law, which comes after more than two months of demonstrations, sparked by Mahsa Amini’s detention and death in custody over not wearing the hijab properly.

While Iran seems to have learnt some new lessons from old Rules, Indonesia doesn’t seem to be seeing anything at all-too much cloth covering its eyes? Indonesia is not a secular state: atheism is unacceptable – technically, it is compulsory to follow one of six prescribed religions.

This week, Indonesia’s Parliament has approved a new criminal code that bans anyone in the country from having extramarital sex; restricts political freedom, besides other ‘read the fine print Rules’. Sex outside marriage will carry a jail term of up to a year under the new laws, which take effect in three years’ time.

The newly formulated laws appear to be a ‘disaster’ for human rights, and a potential blow to tourism and investment. They apply equally to locals and to foreigners living in Indonesia, or visiting holiday destinations such as Bali. Under the laws, unmarried couples caught having sex can be jailed for up to a year. They are also banned from living together-an act for which people could be jailed for up to six months. Adultery will also be an offence for which people can be jailed.

Sex before marriage was already banned prior to the approval of this new criminal code, but the law was often not enforced. The old law defined adultery as sex between a married man and someone who was not his wife, while the new law bans all sex outside of marriage. The sentencing for those caught has also been increased from nine months to a year. For prosecutions to start, a complaint must be filed by the children, parents, or spouse of the accused couple.

The Gangs of Haiti

The Republic of Haiti is a country located on the Island of Hispaniola in the Greater Antilles Archipelago of the Caribbean Sea, east of Cuba and Jamaica, and south of The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

In size, Haiti is the third-largest country in the Caribbean, and has an estimated population of 11.4 million, making it the most populous country in the Caribbean. The capital is Port-au-Prince, nestled between green hillsides and the blue waters of the sea. Look deeper, and you can see the rot washing-up on its shores.

More than a year ago, on 7 July 2021, Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise, who took office in 2017, was killed during an attack on his private residence. Ever since, there is no Head of State, no functioning Parliament, and the United States (US) -backed Prime Minister, Ariel Henry, who took-over, is unelected and deeply unpopular.

Meanwhile, Gangs of criminals have moved in to fill the space and have taken Haiti hostage. They make their own laws. They kill. They rape. The cruel statistics is climbing every day. About 1377 people have been killed, injured, or disappeared between June and September of this year. There are now an estimated 200 gangs operating across Haiti, and around 95 in the capital, Port-au-Prince, alone. This has resulted in a huge insecurity crisis, with large-scale attacks on communities, politicians and journalists, high levels of violence, mass kidnappings and large-scale forced displacements. And drawing of ‘boundaries of control’. For e.g., in Port-au-Prince you cannot see visible boundaries, but you must know where they are. Your life may depend on it. Competing gangs are carving up the capital, kidnapping, raping, and killing at will. They demarcate their territory in blood. Cross from one gang’s turf to another, and you may not make it back.

In effect the State is missing in action, as the people suffer overlapping crises. Almost half the population is grappling with acute hunger. In the Capital, around 20,000 people are facing famine-like conditions, according to the United Nations(UN). Cholera has made a deadly comeback.

Kidnapping is a growth industry. There were 1,107 reported cases between January and October of this year, according to the UN. For some gangs, it’s a major income stream. Ransoms can run from USD 200 to USD one million. Most victims come back alive – if the ransom is paid – but they are made to suffer.

“Men are beaten and burned with materials like melted plastic,” says Haiti’s Centre for Analysis and Research in Human Rights. “Women and girls are subject to gang rape. This situation spurs relatives to find money to pay the ransom. Sometimes kidnappers call the relatives so that they can hear the rape being carried out on the phone.”

A return to horrific, medieval times?

India’s Elections

The always-in-election-mode-India is back in action. On watch were three Elections: One, the Elections of the Municipality Corporation of Delhi (MCD), in India’s capital; Two, the State Assembly Election of Himachal Pradesh; and three, the State Assembly Election in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat.

After the last vote was cast in the last of the above Elections, the Exit Polls swing into action, and we could imagine the results. An Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) landslide in Delhi, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) comfortable win in Gujarat, and a cliffhanger in Himachal Pradesh.

While on counting day in the MCD Elections, the AAP swept to power, breaking a 15 year stranglehold of the BJP, it wasn’t the predicted landslide. AAP won a majority with 134 seats, the BJP came close with 104 seats, but gained 3% in vote share. This was the first election after a delimitation exercise when three corporations were merged and unified as one MCD. The AAP victory seems to be well-deserved as the BJP had failed in ward-level governance and delivery.

In Gujarat State, the BJP’s win was like a tsunami returning to power for a record-breaking seventh consecutive time, and after 27 years in continuous power. And the best ever win for the BJP garnering 53% of the vote share. The son-of-the-soil PM Modi, is unstoppable in this State.

In Himachal Pradesh it was made out to be a tough fight, and shockingly the Congress prevailed, winning 40 seats, but largely to Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) turncoats who switched over from the BJP to the Congress. They can form a government on their own, with the BJP at 25 seats probably making a good opposition. However, the vote percentage between the Congress at 43.9% and the BJP at 43% was razor-thin. And Himachal Pradesh kept its style of chucking out the incumbent Government at the end of every term.

Whatever, a win is a win. And India’s Grand Old Party, The Indian National Congress, despite being smashed all over the country breathes to live another day!

In India’s ever evolving, noisy but thriving democracy, the people have a say and you cannot take them for granted.

FIFA World Cup, Qatar 2022

Football fever grips the World with the World Cup Football progressing from the Group Matches to the knock-out Round 16 matches, which played through the week.

The Quarter-Final line-up is: Brazil versus (vs) Croatia, Argentina vs Netherlands; Portugal vs Morocco; and England vs France.

In the first Round 16 matches the Netherlands knocked out the US, 3-1 and the second Round 16 match Lionel Messi playing his 1000th game sparkled on the field with some awesome footwork and opened the scoring for Argentina against Australia. And ultimately a 2-1 win took Argentina to the Quarter Finals.

In the first extra-time and penalty shoot-out of FIFA World Cup 2022, a rising Japan, and Croatia tied with a 1-1 score line on regular play, and kept the same in extra time leading to a penalty shootout. The Croatian Goalkeeper became a hero of his country with a hat-rick of saves and Croatia moved to the Quarter-Finals. In another penalty shootout, Spain lost badly to Morocco after a goalless normal and extra playtime.

Late this week the Quarter Finals began, and in the first match, in an unbelievable moment, five-time World Cup Winner Brazil lost to Croatia, on penalty shootouts. Neymar produced Brazilian samba magic to score the first goal in extra time, but Croatia equalised with a Bruno Pitbovic goal, about ten minutes later. It was then over to Penalty Shootouts, which Croatia won 4-2. They move to the semi-finals and have been in this place before. Remember, they lost to France, 4-2 in the FIFA World Cup 2018, held in Russia.

In the second Quarter-Final Argentina raced ahead with a Lionel Messi assisted goal by Nahuel Molina, followed with a penalty goal by Messi himself. But then, Netherlands clawed back with a header goal by Wout Weghorst, and in the dying minutes of the game Denzel Dumfries equalised, taking the game to extra time and then, yet again, on to Penalty shootouts. Argentina won 3-4 scoring four and missing one while the Netherlands missed two. They now meet Croatia in the first Semi-finals.

This World Cup has been full of twists & turns, and we might have a surprise Winner in the Finals.

Far away from the football field awful news came in that the great Pele has been moved to end-of-life palliative care after he stopped responding to chemotherapy. He is the only footballer in history to win 3 World Cups, and an icon of the game at the level of Muhammad Ali in boxing.

Prisoner Swap: A Star is Released

Brittney Griner, the United States’ Women’s National Boxing Association (WNBA) Star was arrested in Sheremetyevo Airport, outside Moscow, in February this year, after the start of the Russia-Ukraine War. She was in Moscow to play yet another season with a Russian league team. A sniffer dog, sniffed cannabis oil in Griner’s carry-on luggage and on checking Russian Authorities found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. She was then arrested on drug smuggling charges and jailed.

Griner testified she had inadvertently packed the cannabis oil found in her luggage. She was sentenced to nine years in prison in early August and was moved to a Penal Colony in Mordovia in mid-November after losing her appeal.

This Thursday Brittney Griner was released in a one-for-one prisoner swap for Russian international arms dealer Viktor Bout in an agreement, which the United States negotiated with Russia, and was given final approval by President Biden.

Viktor Bout, one of the world’s most infamous arms dealers, called the ‘Merchant of Death’, has been wallowing in an American Prison for over twelve years.

The US proposed a prisoner exchange last July, aware Russia had long sought Bout’s release. The swap happened in Abhu Dhabi in typical ‘Hollywood style’ when the ‘two prisoners’ crossed each other on the Airport tarmac to reach their respective flights to take them home.

More elected stories coming up in the weeks ahead. Swap everything else for World Inthavaaram – No ransom attached.


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