The many colours of the Mumbai protests

Mumbai residents have long been infamous for being apolitical or, worse, apathetic. But since the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act last month, thousands of Mumbaikars have come together in non-violent protests across the city.

On 19 December, around 25,000 people gathered at August Kranti Maidan to raise their voice against the “fascist" and “divisive" policies of the government. Multiple iterations of such protests were spotted across town in the weeks that followed: an Occupy-style gathering at the Gateway of India, an evening of music and protest poetry at Carter Road, sit-ins and rallies at university campuses and a large gathering at Azad Maidan. Most of the attendees were young and urban, and often first-time participants in a street protest. Among them were Bollywood artists, a community often derided for its unwillingness to criticize governments.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has attempted a counter with rallies of its own. The latest was on 8 January, with around 100 BJP supporters gathering at Shivaji Park to counter the “anti-India slogans" it claimed were being raised at anti-CAA protests. Their leaders garlanded a statue of V.D. Savarkar, praised the prime minister and sang Gulzar’s Ae Watan from Raazi before dispersing, all within an hour. —OK

Students at IIM, Ahmedabad stand in solidarity with the students of JNU.
Students at IIM, Ahmedabad stand in solidarity with the students of JNU. (Photo: AFP)

The unlikely protesters

Since 5 January, when masked assailants attacked students and teachers at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, students across the country have stood in solidarity with JNU. A tiranga march was held at Aligarh Muslim University, itself the scene of violence a few weeks ago, and protests took place in Cotton University, Assam, and Jadavpur University, West Bengal, among others.

Students from colleges that otherwise remain politically aloof also stood up. JMC (Jesus & Mary College) and St Stephen’s College from Delhi university and the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, have registered their support for JNU students. Hundreds of students protested at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay on 8 January.

Many have been protesting despite little support from college authorities. On 8 January, around 120 JMC students assembled in front of their college but were asked to leave. “The protest was a small beginning. Irrespective of the pressures from the admin, it was necessary to show solidarity against the misuse of power and the brazen violation of fundamental rights by the government," says a third-year JMC student, who wished to remain anonymous.

Umara Zainab, a third-year student from St Stephen’s, says, “The initial motivation was to join the nationwide protests against CAA-NRC (the new citizenship law and the proposed National Register of Citizens) but then we realized that since such large gatherings are not easy to form in college often, it could be used to discuss a broader range of issues—the oppression of Muslims, Dalits and people from the North-East, Kashmir and Ladakh, the discriminatory Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019." Faculty members also expressed solidarity, marching to Delhi university’s Arts Faculty with the students, she adds.

Film-maker Saba Dewan, an alumna of St Stephen’s, is pleasantly surprised, recalling a time when activism was unacceptable. “We—a group of women students—almost got rusticated because we protested against misogyny in Stephen’s." Today, she says, the “old boys’ club" has become a place where feminist movements such as Pinjra Tod have a hold. “These winds of change have been blowing, not in huge gusts like in other places, but it’s opening up the space to stand up and forge solidarities." —AB

World’s first artificial humans by Star Labs, Samsung Electronics Co.’s independent research arm
World’s first artificial humans by Star Labs, Samsung Electronics Co.’s independent research arm (Photo: Neon Life)

Meet the artificial humans

One of the highlights from the CES tech show in Las Vegas earlier this week was a demonstration of the “world’s first artificial humans" by Star Labs, Samsung Electronics Co.’s independent research arm. Each digital avatar, called NEON, is a virtual simulation that learns and interacts. According to the official website, NEON is “a computationally created virtual being that looks and behaves like a real human, with the ability to show emotions and intelligence". NEON, which is yet to be launched, will be powered by the proprietary CORE R3 engine.

Bloomberg reports that the engine has been trained with information about how humans look, behave and interact, using neural networks and Artificial Intelligence. A couple of days before the show, Pranav Mistry, CEO of Star Labs, tweeted that the CORE R3 “can now autonomously create new expressions, new movements, (and) new dialog (even in Hindi)."

These avatars, which will only appear on screen, could, in fact, be more than digital assistants. In the future, companies could use NEON for different purposes: as digital bank tellers or as flight attendants. It could even become a user’s companion or friend.—NS

Photo: Alamy
Photo: Alamy

‘Pulao’ that gets you high

How does one get home-made food for a space mission? Scientists at the high-tech kitchen of Mysuru’s Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) may have an answer. They have a menu with 30 items for India’s first manned mission to space, the Gaganyaan, scheduled for take-off in December 2021. The items range from egg and vegetarian rolls to one-pot meals like veg pulao and desserts such as moong dal halwa. To optimize taste, food heaters will be provided. As for drinks, customized containers have been developed to prevent zero gravity from interfering with a meal experience.

A 2018 Lounge feature about food created for space travel pointed out that idlis can be dehydrated through infrared radiation while the sambhar and chutney could be provided in powdered form and rehydrated with the flavour more or less intact. Reportedly, edible crockery and cutlery is in the making to reduce wastage in space.

The Indian Space Research Organization aims to send three astronauts to space for at least seven days under its Gaganyaan mission. —JB


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