Former US president Barack Obama
Former US president Barack Obama

Mood: How the Lounge team is feeling this week

From the Obama Foundation’s annual summit in Chicago to WhatsApp hack, Lounge takes on some of the biggest updates of the week

Cancel the cancel culture

At the Obama Foundation’s annual summit in Chicago this week, former US president Barack Obama gently critiqued woke culture, especially the tendency to pull up old social media posts to bring down people—even those who are otherwise pretty on-point with respect to social justice. “The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws," Obama said. This has a ring of truth: The flag-bearers of cancel culture should keep in mind that wokeness is a spectrum and a learning process; that people make mistakes. The fact that you were not fully aware of social iniquities back in college does not mean you haven’t evolved into a better person. —SB

Mumbai breathes

A favourable outcome from a cyclonic storm is an unlikely paradox, but in this case it warrants a sigh of relief. Mumbai experienced an unseasonal heavy downpour before and during Diwali. It was triggered by the cyclonic storm Kyarr brewing over the Arabian Sea but it helped the city record its cleanest Diwali air in five years. According to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), Mumbai’s air quality was satisfactory from 26-30 October. On the day of Diwali, PM2.5 concentration was at 35, and, after Diwali, it rose to 48, which falls in the category of satisfactory. PM2.5 is a fine particulate matter responsible for multiple ailments related to respiratory health. SAFAR’s website said, “The sudden change in the monsoon dynamics worked positively to keep air quality in satisfactory range in spite of moderate fireworks." —JB

A tale of two Kashmirs

Earlier this week, the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act came into effect, bifurcating the state into two Union territories. This is the first such step in Indian history—and constitutional challenges to the Act are still pending in the Supreme Court. Violence in the valley has spiked over the last two weeks, with 11 non-locals being killed by suspected militants and several locals injured in clashes. Meanwhile, a group of European politicians, mostly of a far-right persuasion, was invited on an official visit to Kashmir by an NGO whose credentials have been questioned. Many have flagged this as a failed PR exercise by the government, particularly since India’s own opposition MPs have not been allowed access since 5 August.—AB

The great WhatsApp hack

WhatsApp’s revelation on Thursday that sophisticated spyware was used to snoop on almost 1,400 users worldwide is a damning verdict on its claim of providing end-to-end encrypted conversations. WhatsApp sued the Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group, claiming it’s behind the Pegasus spyware that helped unidentifiable entities hack into the phones of users, including those in India. According to a report, activists Bela Bhatia, Anand Teltumbde, journalists Sidhant Sibal and Shubhranshu Choudhary were among the 16 targeted Indian users, including academicians and lawyers. A report in The Indian Express cited an NSO Group statement explaining that Pegasus was sold only to “vetted and legitimate government agencies". The fact that this targeted surveillance took place during a two-week period in the run-up to the 2019 general election leaves more questions about state surveillance and data privacy. —NS

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