Skye Arundhati Thomas

16 February 2024

Think about the Nation

The Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut visited the Israeli embassy in Delhi at the end of October for a photo op. ‘Like we deserve a Bharat dedicated to Hindus, Jews also deserve one nation,’ she said. ‘As a Hindu nation we stand with Israel’s cause.’ The Israeli ambassador nodded, smiling, and the two held up a model of a fighter jet. The visit was part of the publicity run for the movie Tejas, in which Ranaut plays a daredevil pilot who volunteers for a mission to rescue a kidnapped Indian spy from ‘a Pakistani tribal area, the epicentre of terror’ (‘when in doubt,’ she tells herself, ‘think about the nation’).

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10 July 2023

The Crisis in Manipur

‘Please drop your snatched weapons here,’ says the sign on a public drop box in Imphal, the capital of Manipur. It’s illustrated with full-size images of assault rifles. In early May, sectarian violence escalated in the north-eastern Indian state. Groups of civilians seized more than four thousand weapons from police and paramilitary warehouses.

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10 November 2022

The Floods in Pakistan

There are more than three thousand glacial lakes in Pakistan. The Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindu Kush mountains that stretch from Afghanistan to China are host to 55,000 glaciers. It’s the largest freshwater reserve in the world outside the poles. It feeds the ten mightiest rivers in Asia, on whose banks more than two billion people work and live; they also power 250 hydroelectric plants. Thirty-three of Pakistan’s glacial lakes are at risk of releasing millions of cubic metres of water; sixteen flooded during this year’s heatwave, the overflow entering the Indus River basin. The worst, however, was yet to come.

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29 July 2022

The Heat Wave in Northern India

In May 2022 temperatures in Northern India hit 49°C. The Indian Meteorological Department declared it a ‘heat wave’ and in a heat wave, public infrastructure begins to fail: pavements buckle, railway tracks warp, and electrical grids are strained by increased use of air conditioning. Fires start in dry fields. Industrial plants require more water for their cooling systems, straining already reduced supplies. Crops are ravaged. A heat wave is also a national health emergency. At a wet-bulb temperature of 35°C – that is, the equivalent of 35°C and 100 per cent humidity – the human body can no longer cool itself by sweating. You overheat and die within hours. Throughout May, regions across India saw consistent wet-bulb temperatures between 25 and 33°C.

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30 May 2022

Divine Exercises

Just before midnight on 22 December 1949, sixteen months after the Indian nation-state was formed, three Hindu fundamentalists sneaked into the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. The men – an ascetic and his disciples – smuggled in a statue of the god Ram and placed it under the central dome of the mosque. They were members of the Hindu Mahasabha, the group that had assassinated Mahatma Gandhi the year before. The next morning, their allies stormed the mosque. They said the god had manifested himself at the site they believed to be his birthplace in a ‘divine exercise’.

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28 February 2022


The mobile phone footage shows 19-year-old Muskan Khan riding a scooter into the yellow-walled compound of her college campus in Mandhya, a city in Karnataka in south-west India, on 8 February. She parks it, steps off. Around her, a jumpy, agitated crowd of young men dressed in matching saffron-coloured scarves are caught in the throes of a tirade: ‘Jai Shri Ram,’ they chant, spinning the cloth above their heads, as though punctuating the chorus of a pop song. Khan has to walk past the boys to enter the college building. They charge at her, taunt her, demand she take off her hijab. She punches the air, her body tilting, face crinkled in a frown, and declares: ‘Allahu akbar.’

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2 August 2021

Totally Concocted

The documents seemed to reveal a plan to assassinate Narendra Modi; discussed buying arms and setting up guerrilla training camps; and named Dalit and Muslim student leaders as comrades with ties to the Congress party. It was sensational, with all the trappings of a classic conspiracy: a group of armed activists with links to the opposition, plotting to topple the government. The police called the evidence they had gathered ‘conclusive’; the BJP’s propaganda machine branded the accused as Naxalites. One of them, Sudha Bharadwaj, a trade union activist and lawyer, passed her defence team a handwritten note. ‘It is totally concocted,’ she wrote, ‘fabricated to criminalise me and other human rights lawyers, activists, organisations.’

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30 April 2021

Out of Oxygen

A tanker carrying medical oxygen from the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand to central Madhya Pradhesh was halted after it crossed the border into Uttar Pradesh on 25 April. India registered more than 350,000 new Covid-19 cases that day. The vehicle was on a tight deadline; patients on ventilators were urgently awaiting its arrival. The driver alleges that police commandeered the tanker at Varanasi and took it further off course into the state, to Jhansi. When the oxygen did not arrive at Sagar as scheduled, state chief ministers got involved. The UP government reluctantly parted with the tanker, but has since denied the incident ever took place. As India is overwhelmed by a second wave of the virus, the country has run out of oxygen.

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28 January 2021

On Republic Day

Two parades took over the streets of New Delhi on Tuesday, 26 January. On the Rajpath, to celebrate Republic Day, the prime minister unfurled the national flag to the sound of a 21-gun salute, as fighter jets flew in patterns across the sky. At the city’s peripheries, thousands of protesting farmers pressed in with their tractors, decorated with marigolds. Many others had made the journey on foot; young and old, dressed in high-vis vests and bright turbans, they held up the Indian flag. After more than two months of peacefully occupying sites around the outside of the city, they had finally entered its limits. New Delhi residents showered them with flowers, and handed out food and water. Similar demonstrations took place across the country, and even abroad. For a brief moment, hope and revolutionary impetus were in the air.

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21 December 2020

Caste Atrocities

On the morning of 14 September 2020, a teenage Dalit girl and her mother entered the fields of a landowning, upper-caste family in the district of Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, to gather fodder for their cattle. The woman heard her daughter scream and rushed over to find her injured and covered in blood. In a video shared on social media, the girl, slipping in and out of consciousness, says: ‘They strangled me, because I did not let them force me.’ According to her family, the police delayed filing a First Information Report for the crime. The assault was a clear case of caste atrocity, under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, but the police did not record it as such. A close look at the legal system reveals that the police and courts routinely erase the question of caste from criminal proceedings.

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