New world news from Time: As India’s Constitution Turns 70, Opposing Sides Fight to Claim Its Author as One of Their Own

On Jan. 14, protesters gathered in the northern Indian city of Allahabad and lit candles at the base of a tree trunk, beside portraits of two fathers of the Indian nation.

One, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi—better known by his honorific, Mahatma (great soul)—is recognizable as the Indian independence activist and icon to peaceful protesters around the world.

The other, however, remains lesser known outside India. He is Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the primary author of the Indian constitution, which came into effect 70 years ago on Sunday. Since December, his image has been held aloft by crowds of demonstrators, who say the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s attempts to reform citizenship laws undermine that constitution.

Ambedkar did more than draft the constitution: he was also a revered civil rights leader. Born a Dalit (a social classification formerly called “untouchable,” the lowest position in the Hindu caste system,) he suffered discrimination throughout his life. In 1936, he wrote the influential pamphlet Annihilation of Caste, a blistering argument against the ancient system of social stratification. And when, starting in 1947, he hammered out the Indian constitution’s integral principles of democracy, equality and freedom of religion, he also inserted sections prohibiting caste-based discrimination and legally outlawing the practice of untouchability.

But 70 years after the Indian constitution came into force, left-wing protesters aren’t the only group claiming to be the ideological heirs to Ambedkar. In recent weeks, his image has also appeared at Hindu nationalist counter-protests. Prime Minister Narendra Modi often invokes Ambedkar in speeches, claiming his government’s policies further the goals Ambedkar pursued throughout his life, including the annihilation of caste. “No government has, perhaps, given respect to Babasaheb [Ambedkar] the way our government has,” Prime Minister Modi said in 2018, referring to him by an honorific loosely translated as “respected father.” “Instead of dragging him into politics, we should all try to walk on the path he has shown us.”

The last 40 years, however, show how Ambedkar has been repeatedly dragged into the political arena — even while the casteless future he fought for during his life remains distant.

Here’s what to know about the fight over Ambedkar’s legacy.

Who was B.R. Ambedkar?

Ambedkar was born in 1891 into a family that had long been bound to the bottom of Indian society, considered impure by higher-caste Hindus. Although he and other Dalits were segregated at school, he managed to pass his exams, obtain a degree in economics and political science from Bombay University, and went on to get a Masters at Columbia University in New York before training as a lawyer in London. In 1936, after returning to India, he wrote Annihilation of Caste, his magnum opus.

Written during the struggle that eventually led to India’s independence in 1947, Annihilation of Caste was a searing critique of not just the age-old caste system (still observed today by many Hindus in India), but also the independence movement led by Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, both high-caste Hindus.

Ambedkar argued that even if India were to become independent, Dalits would still languish at the bottom of society unless caste was abandoned by all. “The question of whether the Congress is fighting for freedom has very little importance as compared to the question for whose freedom is the Congress fighting,” he said.

Before his death in 1956, Ambedkar converted from Hinduism to Buddhism, inspiring thousands of Dalits to do the same. “I had the misfortune of being born with the stigma of an Untouchable,” he said. “However, it is not my fault; but I will not die a Hindu, for this is in my power.”

What is caste?

The caste system in India is a form of social hierarchy deriving from the varna system laid out in Hinduism’s foundational texts. There are four varnas: Brahmins (priests), the highest; Kshatriyas (soldiers or administrators); Vaishyas (merchants); and Shudras (servants), the lowest. Outside the varna system are those considered lower still: Dalits, whose traditional tasks include shoveling human manure. Dalits—who make up more than 200 million of India’s 1.3 billion population—continue to face discrimination in India today. Some members of higher castes refuse to touch anything that has come into physical contact with them, hence the moniker “untouchables.”

The Mahars, the specific Dalit caste to which Ambedkar belonged, were expected to tie brooms around their waists to sweep away their footprints. Even in 1998, nearly 90% of people employed by the Indian government as “sweepers,” whose jobs include removing human waste from toilets, were Dalits. In Ambedkar’s day, just as in present-day India, murders of lower castes by higher castes were common.

“Untouchability is not a simple matter,” Ambedkar said in a speech in 1927. “It is the mother of all our poverty and lowliness and it has brought us to the abject state we are in today… The inequality inherent in the four-castes system must be rooted out.”

Why are both sides claiming Ambedkar’s legacy?

The battle over Ambedkar’s legacy between India’s Hindu nationalist right-wing and its secular left is relatively new, according to historians and anti-caste activists.

“The BJP’s discovery of Ambedkar is recent, and started after the election which brought Modi to power in 2014,” says Sumantra Bose, professor of international and comparative politics at the London School of Economics. “Following that victory, Modi and his chief strategist Amit Shah concentrated on wooing non-upper caste Hindus, who have traditionally not been BJP supporters in large numbers, in order to expand their support base.”

Dalits, says Bose, are a natural target for the BJP because they make up approximately one sixth of the Indian electorate. “It’s a clear case of trying to superficially flatter the memory of the biggest Dalit icon in order to build a pan-Hindu vote bank across caste divides.”

The BJP promised in its 2014 manifesto to eradicate the remaining vestiges of untouchability in Indian society and lift Dalits from poverty. But the BJP government has reduced funding for programs intended to do so, according to a study by Sukhadeo Thorat, former chairman of the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies. “They never raised the standard of these castes,” Thorat tells TIME. “This is the whole strategy used by the Prime Minister, that you appropriate an individual, forget about his views and ideology, and in the process kill that ideology.”

In some technicalities of the constitution, however, Hindu nationalists argue they are in closer alignment with Ambedkar’s beliefs than secular protesters. The BJP said in 2019 that Ambedkar opposed Article 370, the section of the constitution guaranteeing semi-autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir, which the BJP revoked in August. Historians, however, have disputed that claim.

The BJP also says Ambedkar was a proponent of a “uniform civil code” in India, one of the party’s key policy goals. Under India’s version of secularism, different religious communities are governed by different “personal laws” governing matters like divorce and inheritance. Ambedkar inserted a clause into the constitution calling for a uniform civil code. But in the febrile climate after independence, with religious violence on the rise, Nehru decided to compromise and allow for personal laws to reassure the Muslim minority community. So instead, Ambedkar diverted his attention to reforming the Hindu personal laws to be more progressive. His reforms legalized inter-caste marriages and gave women the right to initiate divorce. In making those reforms, Ambedkar’s main opponent was the Hindu nationalist right.
Today, the BJP says Ambedkar would have been their ally in their pursuit of a uniform civil code. But Dalit activists say this is another case of trying to appropriate of Ambedkar’s legacy. “If uniformity is what [the BJP] want, there’s no uniformity among Hindus,” says S. Anand, referring to continued caste hierarchy in India today. Anand, the co-founder of Navayana, a Delhi-based publishing house focused on anti-caste literature, adds: “Ambedkar never spoke of a uniform civil code as a priority.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi Addresses Public Rally Ay Ramlila Maidan
Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images—2019 Hindustan TimesA BJP supporter holds up an image of B.R Ambedkar during a rally for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 22, 2019 in New Delhi, India.

Another reason for the BJP’s adoption of Ambedkar’s legacy is that Hindu nationalism’s own political heirs have a dark history of idolizing European fascist leaders like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Given this history, Ambedkar is a useful alternative icon for the BJP, experts say. “Everybody wants a piece of Ambedkar,” says Anand. “Modi doesn’t go around saying that all those people who admired Hitler and Mussolini are his idols. He’s muted about it for diplomatic reasons and political reasons.”

What about Ambedkar’s role in the anti-government protests?

Part of the reason protesters are carrying Ambedkar’s image is to “challenge the appropriation of Ambedkar being attempted by the BJP,” Bose says. “Ambedkar was one of the framers of the Indian constitution, whose upholding of equal citizenship is at odds with the Modi-Shah agenda of a Hindu nationalist republic.”

But experts say Ambedkar’s life has been appropriated by the left-leaning Congress Party, too, despite his role in drafting the constitution for the post-independence Congress government. “He fought with Gandhi, yet he chose to work with Congress because he wanted to be generous to Indian society,” Anand says. “It was a great act of magnanimity that he decided to chair the drafting committee of the Indian constitution.”

Bose agrees. “Much of this Ambedkar-worship by the BJP government’s opponents is shallow, and uninformed about the complexity of Ambedkar’s personality and political life,” he says.

In the end, Ambedkar was unhappy with the final version of the constitution, and resigned in 1951 after clashing with Nehru, India’s first post-independence Prime Minister. “He was [unhappy with the constitution] simply because he thought these people would squander it,” says Anand.

The current controversy over the BJP’s alleged undermining of the Indian constitution, Anand says, vindicates that view. “Ambedkar says the constitution is as good as the people who are going to implement it,” says Anand. “It’s not foolproof.”

Is the battle over Ambedkar’s legacy a new one?

Relatively speaking, yes. The right to claim Ambedkar’s legacy might be hotly fought-over today, but before the 1970s, many of his writings had never been published, and he was a little-known figure in Indian political history.

It was thanks to Dalit activists — rather than supporters of the constitution, or Hindu nationalists — that Ambedkar was not consigned to the ash heap of history, says Anand, whose publishing house Navayana prints several works by and about Ambedkar. “It’s only in the late 70s, early 80s, that Ambedkar starts getting published,” Anand says. “They were in manuscripts which he didn’t have the money to publish. He was not available to the public, and nobody other than the Dalits were curious. They, the Dalits, carried his legacy on their heads and shoulders for years.”

Strictly speaking, Anand says, both everybody and nobody has the right to claim the legacy of Ambedkar. “Everybody, because every citizen of India is now equal because of Ambedkar and the constitution,” he says. “And nobody, simply because the real legacy of Ambedkar is something few people want to talk about.”

New world news from Time: London Police to Deploy Facial Recognition Cameras Despite Privacy Concerns and Evidence of High Failure Rate

Police in London are moving ahead with a deploying a facial recognition camera system despite privacy concerns and evidence that the technology is riddled with false positives.

The Metropolitan Police, the U.K.’s biggest police department with jurisdiction over most of London, announced Friday it would begin rolling out new “live facial recognition” cameras in London, making the capital one of the largest cities in the West to adopt the controversial technology.

The “Met,” as the police department is known in London, said in a statement the facial recognition technology, which is meant to identify people on a watch list and alert police to their real-time location, would be “intelligence-led” and deployed to only specific locations. It’s expected to be rolled out as soon as next month.

However, privacy activists immediately raised concerns, noting that independent reviews of trials of the technology showed a failure rate of 81%. “The police have decided against a backdrop of serious public concern to press ahead with facial recognition anyway,” Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, a civil liberties group, told TIME on Friday. “It suggests to me either inexplicable incompetence or ideological commitment to increasing mass surveillance in the capital.”

A judge recently ruled that the use of facial recognition in the U.K. was legal, but Big Brother Watch has launched an appeal against that decision. “This decision represents an enormous expansion of the surveillance state and a serious threat to civil liberties in the U.K.,” Big Brother Watch said of the Metropolitan Police’s announcement.

The U.K. has more surveillance cameras per person than any country in the world except China. British citizens are famously relaxed about that coverage when that surveillance comes in the form of closed-circuit television (CCTV), but Carlo, who has attended several police trials of facial recognition cameras by London police, says people are often confused and concerned when they find out cameras are using facial recognition technology.

“Turning surveillance cameras into identity checkpoints is the stuff of nightmares,” Carlo wrote in TIME last year, in response to public trials of the technology. “For centuries, the U.K. and U.S. have entrenched protections for citizens from arbitrary state interference — we expect the state to identify itself to us, not us to them. We expect state agencies to show a warrant if our privacy is to be invaded. But with live facial recognition, these standards are being surreptitiously occluded under the banner of technological ‘innovation.’” In May 2019, San Francisco banned the use of facial recognition technology over privacy fears.

London police said Friday that the live facial recognition cameras would “help tackle serious crime, including serious violence, gun and knife crime, child sexual exploitation and help protect the vulnerable.” They also said that the decision to stop people identified by the cameras would always remain with human officers.

But in the statement announcing the rollout of live facial recognition, police made no reference to the technology’s accuracy. That, Carlo alleges, is because the technology has such a high error rate. “An independent review looked at six trials, and found that all of the alerts generated by the facial recognition system, 81% were misidentifications,” Carlo told TIME on Friday. “The announcement today shows the trial period was never serious.”

The Metropolitan Police did not immediately respond to questions from TIME about the technology’s failure rate.

Police are presenting the decision as a way of increasing the efficiency of their policing while making sure the public are aware of the use of facial recognition technology. “The Met will begin operationally deploying [live facial recognition] at locations where intelligence suggests we are most likely to locate serious offenders,” the Met’s Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave said in a statement. “Each deployment will have a bespoke ‘watch list’, made up of images of wanted individuals, predominantly those wanted for serious and violent offenses.”

Facial recognition cameras, Ephgrave said, would be “clearly signposted” and accompanied by officers handing out leaflets about the use of facial recognition technology. He promised that the technology was a “standalone system” not linked to any other imaging system, such as CCTV. But that hasn’t convinced some privacy advocates.

“So many things about it don’t make any sense,” Carlo told TIME on Friday. “From an operational point of view, they use a van, they have a team of plainclothes officers. In all seriousness, this is not the destination. This is a step toward using live facial recognition with CCTV cameras. The way it’s used at the moment isn’t sustainable. I fear that it’s the beginning of something even more sinister.”

New world news from Time: U.S. Refuses to Extradite Wife of Diplomat Charged With Killing British Teenager Harry Dunn

Citing diplomatic immunity, the U.S. formally refused a request from the British government Thursday to extradite Anne Sacoolas, an American citizen and wife of a U.S. diplomat, who is accused of causing the death of British teenager Harry Dunn by dangerous driving in August, 2019.

Dunn was killed when the car Sacoolas was driving on the wrong side of the road struck his motorbike near a base used by the U.S. Air Force in Croughton, U.K.

Sacoolas left the U.K. after being questioned by police, citing diplomatic immunity. Dunn’s family has since mounted a campaign to have her extradited to face charges.

Announcing that Sacoolas would not be extradited, the State Department said granting the request “would render the invocation of diplomatic immunity a practical nullity and would set an extraordinarily troubling precedent.”

“The United States has a history of close law enforcement cooperation with the United Kingdom, and we value that relationship,” a State Department spokesperson said, according to NPR. “The United States government again expresses its sincere condolences and sympathy to the Dunn family for the loss of their son.”
Radd Seiger, the Dunn family spokesperson, said Thursday on BBC Radio 4 that “history was made” by the decision. “It is the first time the U.S. has turned down a U.K. extradition request. It is one of the darkest days in the history of this special relationship,” he said, going on to demand a meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The dispute threatens to open a rift between the U.S. and Britain ahead of talks on a post-Brexit seen as crucial by the British government.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned the U.S.’s decision. “We feel this amounts to a denial of justice, and we believe Anne Sacoolas should return to the U.K.,” he said in a statement, adding he had conveyed his disappointment to the U.S. Ambassador, Woody Johnson. “We are now urgently considering our options. I also explained that the U.K. would have acted differently if this had been a U.K. diplomat serving in the U.S.”

Sacoolas said through her lawyers earlier this month that she has no intention to return to the U.K. “This was an accident, and a criminal prosecution with a potential penalty of 14 years imprisonment is simply not a proportionate response,” her lawyer Amy Jeffress said.

President has Trump previously defended Sacoolas, blaming the U.K.’s system of driving on the left hand side of the road for the collision. “It happens in Europe, as the roads are opposite. It’s tough if you’re from the United States. You do make that right turn when you are supposed to make a left turn; the roads are opposite. She says that is what happened. That happens to a lot of people, by the way.” (Most countries in Europe, unlike Britain, drive on the right hand side of the road.)

New world news from Time: 6 Killed, Several Injured in Germany Shooting

(BERLIN) — Six people have been killed and several were injured in a shooting in the southwestern German town of Rot am See, police said Friday.

A suspect has been arrested and no further suspects are believed to be at large, Aalen police said.

“According to my information, there were six dead and several injured,” police spokesman Rudolf Biehlmaier told German broadcaster n-tv.

“We are working on the assumption that this was a single attacker,” he said.

Biehlmaier said the initial information suggested the suspect, a German citizen, and one or more of the victims knew each other.

Some of the victims belonged to the same family, he added.

Rot am See is located about 170 kilometers (105 miles) northwest of Munich.

New world news from Time: The West Blames the Wuhan Coronavirus on China’s Love of Eating Wild Animals. The Truth Is More Complex

It was no secret to anyone in Wuhan that Huanan Seafood Market sold a lot more than its name suggested. While one side of the low-slung warren of stalls did primarily stock fish and shellfish, the other offered a cornucopia of spices, sundries and, if you knew where to look, beavers, porcupines and snakes.

“It was well-known for selling lots of weird, live animals,” says James, an English teacher who for five years lived a few hundred feet from the market, and who asks TIME to only use one name due to the sensitively of the situation. “So nobody was surprised at all when it emerged that the virus might have come from an unusual animal.”

Scientists have confirmed that the pneumonia-like disease, like around 70% of new human pathogens, was zoonotic or transmitted from an animal. But they are still investigating exactly what creature might be the source of the “novel coronavirus”—dubbed 2019-nCoV and belonging to the same family as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

As Wuhan coronavirus infection rates soar to more than 830 people across more than half a dozen nations—causing 26 deaths and leading to the unprecedented lockdown of 13 Chinese cities comprising more than 30 million people—researchers are examining China’s penchant for consuming wild animals and whether that ultimately played a role in the outbreak.

CHINA-HEALTH-VIRUS
Noel Celis–AFP/GettyMembers of staff of the Wuhan Hygiene Emergency Response Team drive their vehicle as they leave the closed Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in the city of Wuhan, in Hubei, Province on January 11, 2020, where the Wuhan health commission said that the man who died from a respiratory illness had purchased goods.

The 2002-2003 SARS pandemic was eventually traced to civet cats sold in a similar style of wet market in southern Guandong province, and some foreign tabloids are circulating unsubstantiated claims that the Wuhan coronavirus originated from everything from bat soup to eating rats and live wolf pups.

It’s certainly true that many Chinese are obsessive about freshness. Even small supermarkets commonly have fish tanks where shoppers can purchase live seafood. (This reporter was once served slices of sashimi still attached to the carcass of a gasping fish.) Eating wild animals is also considered a luxury because of their rarity and cost, much like game is in the West. Some practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine also believe that eating exotic creatures can cure certain ailments and boost “male potency.”

“This is just part of Chinese culture,” says Yanzhong Huang, a public heath expert at the Council for Foreign Relations. “They love to eat anything alive.”

Wild animals are, of course, especially problematic because their murky provenience makes it difficult to ensure they are free of disease. For this very reason, health campaigns in Africa warn people against the consumption of “bush meat,” which has been linked to the spread of countless diseases, including HIV/Aids.

However, Adam Kamradt-Scott, associate professor specializing in global health security at the University of Sydney, says this way of thinking is often flawed. While scientists first thought that Ebola started with the consumption of bat meat in a village of south-eastern Guinea, they now believe that the two-year-old girl known as Child Zero was likely infected via bat droppings that contaminated an object she put in her mouth. MERS was also primarily spread from live camels to humans through association, rather than the eating of camel meat.

“It’s not simply a matter of the consumption of exotic animals per se,” says Kamradt-Scott. “So we need to be mindful of picking on or condemning cultural practices.”

Ultimately, though, experts say that it’s hard to downplay the problematic nature of “wet markets” (so named because of the large quantities of water used to slosh the floors), especially those that also sell live animals. A mixture of urine, feces and other bodily fluids from live, wild creatures ends up mixing with blood from butchered animals, providing ideal opportunities for viruses and bacteria to thrive.

Says Huang: “As long as there are still wet markets, we will continue to see these outbreaks popping up.”

New world news from Time: Virus Panic Causes Face Mask Supplies to Run Out Across Asia

Face masks and hand sanitizers are becoming must-have accessories from Hong Kong to Japan as a deadly virus spreads across Asia. The only problem is getting hold of them.

Pharmacies across Hong Kong sold out of masks aimed at preventing viral infection, prompting authorities to say more will arrive next week. Taiwan banned the export of masks for the next month to ensure sufficient domestic supply. In Macau, authorities said sales would be restricted to a maximum of 10 face masks to residents or authorized guest workers who can present a valid ID card.

Regular hand-washing, face covering and avoiding crowds are becoming the main line of defense as Asian residents seek to avoid catching the new coronavirus, which in China alone has killed at 25 people and infected more than 800. The rapid spread of the disease has prompted Chinese officials to restrict travel for at least 30 million people and limit Lunar New Year celebrations.

Patients with the infection have been found across Asia, including Singapore, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan and South Korea.

At Cheung Tai Dispensary in Hong Kong’s financial district, supplies of masks and sanitizer ran out two days ago, and medical gloves are selling fast, according to an employee who only gave his surname Lee. The factories that make the products are closed for the Lunar New Year holidays, he said, which means they won’t be able to restock for at least another week.

“We are aware there is panic buying in the market,” Matthew Cheung, Hong Kong’s second-highest official, said at a press conference on Thursday. “A few batches of new face masks will arrive next week.”

Hong Kong’s Consumer Council, the city’s independent statutory consumer welfare authority, urged traders not to raise prices for masks to “outrageous levels,“ Radio Television Hong Kong reported.

Factories that are open are ramping up production. In Japan, plants that supply personal care company Unicharm Corp. have been working around the clock since Jan. 17 after orders increased ten-fold, according to spokesman Hitoshi Watanabe.

U.S.-based 3M Co. said it’s increasing output and working with distributors to ensure sufficient inventory to meet demand and supply existing customers, according to a spokesperson.

Demand is only likely to increase as shoppers stockpile across the region.

E-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding sold 80 million face masks through its Taobao website on Monday and Tuesday alone, the company said on its official Weibo account.

In Japan, Li Xing, 28, and Lei Xiaoqiang, 31, spent more than 6,000 yen ($55) at Welcia, a drugstore in Tokyo, to buy seven boxes of masks and other packages for themselves and their families. The Chinese tourists were visiting the city for four days, having departed from Shenzhen in southern China.

“In my country, in my home, they can’t buy masks” because they’re sold out, said Lei. The government has told everyone to wear them, he said.

New world news from Time: Australia’s Bushfires May Create the Nation’s First Climate Refugees

Australian wildfires that have razed thousands of homes and blackened an area about the size of England may also create the nation’s first climate refugees.

That’s the view of Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University, who said insurance companies are no longer covering homes in fire-prone areas as the continent becomes drier and hotter. That’s the first step to an area becoming uninhabitable, he said in an interview on Bloomberg TV Friday.

“We’re seeing the beginning stages of monumental, catastrophic climate changes that will ultimately drive people away from large inhabited regions of this continent,” Mann said.

The nation is beginning to question the cost of rebuilding more than 3,000 homes that have been damaged or destroyed by the months-long wildfires that have claimed at least 31 lives.

While the government has acknowledged that climate change has played a role in the severity of the crisis, it has rejected demands to take stronger steps to curb CO2 emissions amid fierce criticism at home and abroad over its environmental policies. Instead, Prime Minister Scott Morrison insists the nation must become more resilient to the impacts of a changing climate.

The government’s strong backing of the coal industry, one of the country’s biggest export earners, meant it was supporting policies that would lead to higher emissions, Mann said. Adani’s controversial Carmichael project, which was approved in June, has the potential to double Australia’s coal-based carbon emissions at a time when deep cuts are needed to prevent catastrophic warming, he added.

“We all care about our children and grandchildren, we should want to leave behind a habitable planet for them and future generations,” Mann said. “Kids have been out there demonstrating, striking against school, trying to raise awareness. We need to have their backs.”