* Despatches

Every hour four girls under the age of 13 are raped in Brazil, show government data

On a dark night earlier this month, Taynara Santos, 30, got into an argument with her ex-husband at her home in Capao Redondo, São Paulo. As the night dragged on, the man became violent, refusing to accept the end of their relationship. Around midnight, as his final argument, he pulled out a revolver, aimed it at one of Taynara’s two children and fired. As Taynara threw herself in front of her son to protect him, she got hit in the chest. When the police arrived at the scene, Taynara was sprawled on the floor, blood oozing from her wound, and the children were dazed. The shooter had fled. By dawn, Taynara was dead.

Far from the gleaming towers, green parks and trendy cafés, which dot this mega-city, Capao Redondo, a working-class area, exists on its edge where tiny houses sit on muddy hillocks and winding streets are jammed with vehicles through the day. Notorious for bodies turning up regularly on its pavements back in the 1990s, the region became quite vibrant and a little prosperous as Brazil made economic progress in the past 20 years.

But now, the region, which supplies a huge workforce to the bustling São Paulo, is showing a disturbing pattern: rising crimes against women. Of more than 15,000 instances of violence against women in the São Paulo State between January and July, Capao Redondo accounted for 6%, with almost 1,000 calls made to the police for help. While the region has the dubious distinction of leading the list of regions considered most unsafe for women, other parts are not doing better. According to government data, there have been 54 cases of femicide — when a woman is killed for being a woman — between January and April this year, an increase of 54% over 2018. During the same period, the overall murder rate fell by more than 18%.

The mystery of violence

For a country which has only 96.96 men per 100 women and where women walk around freely and make a major part of the working population, the spike in violence against them is a bit perplexing. A report from the Public Security Forum (FSP), which publishes annual statistics on violence in the country, has unlocked the mystery. Working with microdata, the FSP researchers found that the majority of crimes against Brazilian women were not happening on the streets but inside their houses, and the perpetrators were mostly men known and related to the victims. “We were able to access more specific data, which enabled a better understanding of who is the victim, what is the profile of the perpetrator and where this violence occurs,” says Samira Bueno, executive director of FSP.

The FSP findings, based on government data, are horrifying: In Brazil, four girls under 13 are raped every hour; every two minutes police receive a report of violence against women; cases of femicide increased by 4% last year; in 88% of those cases, the perpetrator was the woman’s partner or former partner; and most of the victims were poor and black.

The data about sexual violence is more worrying. A total of 66,041 cases of rape were reported in 2018 — a 4.1% rise from the year before and the highest number ever registered. The data also bust the idea that rape is committed by strangers in a dark alley because in most cases, it happened inside the house — committed by an uncle, cousin or stepfather. “The issue of gender violence has entered the agenda of the press, the judiciary and the feminist movement. Today, women feel safe to report such crimes, ”says Ms. Bueno.

In March 2015, Brazil’s first woman President Dilma Rousseff had signed a law that set tougher punishment for femicide. But the law has failed to act as a deterrent. According to Ben-Hur Viza, a federal judge, domestic violence continues unchecked because it remains socially acceptable. “It’s something that happens behind the walls, inside the house,” the judge said in a documentary about femicide that was released last year.

But the Brazilian women are putting up a fight. Grazi Gomes, 21, a resident of Capao Redondo who was abused by a boyfriend when 16, has created a blog to raise awareness among women who face violence at home. Her first post, “What to do after the end of an abusive relationship?”, two years ago got more than 61,000 views. “It was medicine for me. I have always enjoyed writing and realised that I could help other people by warning about it,” says Ms. Grazi. With her blog and social media, Ms. Grazi has created a network of women who stand with each other in the face of violence, which is growing by the day.

The proposal has come in for criticism from Opposition, journalists and rights groups

On Tuesday, the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information, Firdous Ashiq Awan, announced the Pakistan government’s plan to establish special media tribunals or ‘media courts’, which would deal with all media-related cases.

These courts would be bound to deal with the cases within 90 days. Ms. Awan said the government would get a law passed in Parliament to establish the tribunals.

At present, media-related cases (mostly against journalists and media-houses) are being dealt with by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) and the Press Council of Pakistan. But once the media courts are established, PEMRA would refer such cases to them, said Ms. Awan.

The announcement has kicked up a storm with Opposition politicians, journalists and rights groups slamming the government for attempts to curb media freedom.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said it is “deeply concerned” at the government’s move. “Given the government’s woeful record on press freedoms,” the HRCP urged it to refrain from putting further pressure on the media.

In a statement, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said the way the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government deals with its opponents and critics “is reminiscent of the Salem witch trials (the 17th century prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts). Based on frivolity and falsehoods, the PTI’s narrative is right out of Goebbels’ propaganda playbook”.

Senior journalist and anchorperson Arshad Sharif said Prime Minister Imran Khan is walking in the footsteps of dictators to clamp down on the media after failing to fulfil his promises to the people. “He has become a prisoner of his own rhetoric and is now suffering from performance anxiety. Media is a mirror and the Prime Minister is not liking his image which he used to love while being in the Opposition.”

‘A petty and vindictive govt.’

Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar of the PPP told The Hindu that the Opposition knows how petty and vindictive this government is.

“All those journalists who are critical of the government will be taken to task under these proposed tribunals. We will not let the government control the media and will never support such a move in Parliament,” said Mr. Khokhar, who’s also a spokesperson of Mr. Bhutto-Zardari.

In the words of journalist Ajmal Jami, there will be a fear factor hanging over the heads of journalists once media courts are opened. “Journalism will be limited to press releases, and the margin to investigate and analyse the situation will be minimised.” Prime Minister Khan used to praise the Pakistani media for standing up against corruption but now when the same media questions his government, the PTI wants to put curbs on them, he added.


Journalist Benazir Shah said the last thing the media in Pakistan needs is more censorship. “Questions are already being raised about the democratic credentials of the PTI. Since it came to power in July (2018), it has been making one proposal after another to regulate the local media.”

Ms. Shah recalls how first came the idea of an all-encompassing media regulatory body — the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PMRA) — and the media tribunals. “Interestingly, media owners, journalists and media bodies were not consulted before drafting the proposal.”

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Maiza Hameed believes that from the moment this government came into power, “we — who had for years sacrificed and struggled to secure this country’s democratic foundations — were worried that our decades of hard work would be undone by the fascist mindset of one man in power.”

Ms. Hameed told The Hindu that with the Cabinet approval of these so-called media tribunals, “we are seeing just that.” “This is perhaps the last proof that was needed to be seen by the public. This government wants to curb all expression of criticism or opposition to their tyranny. The media now needs to recognise this government for what it is and join hands with the Opposition parties and the public to oppose such moves before it is too late.”

Amid mounting criticism, the government softened its stance. On Friday, Ms. Awan said the government had not yet prepared any final draft of the proposed legislation and promised consultation with stakeholders. But she stopped short of saying whether the proposal would be withdrawn in the wake of protests.

As Japan gears up for the 2020 Olympics, the emphasis is on cost cutting and sustainability

With just less than a year to go for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, the buzz in the city is relatively tempered. Unlike Beijing 2008, or indeed the last time Tokyo hosted the Games in 1964, next year’s Olympics are less a débutante’s ball with all its attendant glamour and tremulousness than an elegant dowager’s “At Home.”

The 1964 Olympics had rewrought the Japanese capital from the ashes of the Second World War, symbolising its re-entry onto the world stage. In preparation, Tokyo had undergone one of the most explosive urban transformations in history, including the construction of 10,000 office and residential buildings, 100 km of superhighways, a $55 million monorail from the airport into downtown Tokyo, four new five-star hotels, and a billion-dollar bullet train.

More than five decades later, Japan is the world’s third largest economy, boasting world-beating infrastructure and an iconic cityscape. It is rich and stable, but is also no stranger to travails, having experienced a major economic crash in the 1990s, followed by years of deflation. And so, while it might not have quite as much to prove as it did in 1964, next year’s Olympics are nonetheless an opportunity to showcase the nation’s continuing relevance in a world of more youthful upstarts.

Appropriately the emphasis has been on cost cutting and sustainability. The original design for the new Olympic Stadium by British architect Zaha Hadid was scrapped given its estimated cost of $2 billion. The replacement design by homegrown architect, Kengo Kuma, cost just over half the price. Organisers cut costs in other ways too, shifting events like basketball and equestrianism to existing venues. Among the 43 venues required for the Games, only eight will be new, while 25 will utilise existing infrastructure, and 10 will be temporary constructions.

Accusations of corruption

Driving home the theme of sustainability, the Olympic medals will be made out of metals harvested from discarded smartphones and other consumer electronics. Moreover, the podiums upon which the athletes will stand to receive these medals will also be made from recycled plastic collected from both local households and the ocean. Organisers are aiming to amass 45 tonnes of plastic for about 100 podiums.

Of course, it cannot be the Olympic Games without some melodrama. And Tokyo has not been immune to accusations of corruption, escalating costs and worries of pollution that have become part and parcel of the hosting process. In March, Tsunekazu Takeda, president of the Japanese Olympic Committee and head of the Tokyo bid committee, was forced to resign following accusations of bribery during the 2020 bidding process.

Estimated costs for the Games have also ballooned from an initial $7 billion to $25 billion. And recently open water tests in Tokyo Bay, where Olympic events are scheduled to take place, showed dangerously high levels of E. coli bacteria, probably after insufficiently treated wastewater was released into the bay following heavy rainfall.

There are also worries about a lack of enough tourist infrastructure. Heightened demand could see a shortage of over 10,000 hotel rooms. But by far the biggest concern is over the weather. July and August in Tokyo — the Olympics will be held between 24 July and 9 August — are a period of extreme heat and humidity. Last year, for example, more than 130 people died and 70,000 more were hospitalised due to heat-related issues.

An array of solutions is being put in place. Very early morning starts for marathons have been scheduled. And living up to Japan’s high-tech reputation, a heat-deflecting material will be coated onto the roads in and around Tokyo, supposedly reducing temperatures on the surface by 10%.

Experimentation with some outlandish measures is ongoing, including blasting volunteers with fake snow.

More conventional methods such as installing misting fans and passing out ice packs to spectators and volunteers will also be operationalised. But there are limits to how far the organisers can solve this weather conundrum.

Ultimately the city has to fall back on crossed fingers and toes in the hope that the 2020 summer is a mild one. Regardless of the eventual temperatures, the crowds will be surging.

More than 7.5 million people in Japan registered for the first ticket lottery held in June, making every event massively oversubscribed.

Technology leaders met in Shanghai to discuss ways to expand their footprint globally

In tune with the 5G technology revolution, two emerging economies — China and India — are looking seriously at docking their hardware and software heft to expand their footprint across the globe, including the Global South. Out of the five arenas earmarked for joint forays at the recently concluded India-China Strategic Economic Dialogue in New Delhi, the one on high-technology turned most heads.

Far away from the Indian capital, and on the ground in Shanghai, China’s bustling commercial capital, hard-nosed tech disruptors from India and China, confidently elbowing their place into the cyber-universe, were already off the blocks.

Amid the late evening glitter of downtown Shanghai — amplified by the shimmer of Huangpu river that languidly flows through the city — the Indian consulate, last month, pooled some of the big names in the IT space. C.P. Gurnani, CEO of Tech Mahindra of India, rubbed shoulders with Peter Xu of SenseTime, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) heavyweight with a valuation of $4.5 billion from China, which appeared unbending in its resolve to dominate the “smart” urban landscape. Edward Tse of the Gao Feng Advisory company also made his presence felt by making a brave attempt to unravel the DNA of Chinese digital top guns, apparently in a bid to convince Indian techies that China, more than any other country, was the future.

A new wave of Chinese upstarts is challenging, and sometimes outstripping, the U.S. in the race for 5G dominance, AI, and its downstream derivatives such as Smart Cities, Driverless cars, advanced healthcare and Financial Technology (Fintech) products.

“Chinese companies are also well known for innovations in areas such as drones, Fintech, and artificial intelligence. DJI, a Shenzhen-based company, has a global market share of around 70% in consumer drones. Ant Financial, a Chinese Fintech company and an affiliate of e-commerce giant Alibaba, is now the world’s largest unicorn with a valuation of $150 billion,” Mr. Tse observed.

Quest for 5G dominance

The awareness of the transformational impact of the 5G wireless technology was a key undercurrent that animated the evening in Shanghai. 5G networks can, without delay, channel copious amount of data, parked as Big Data on Internet clouds. That, in turn, can activate millions of AI applications to work simultaneously.

A recent paper by the Defence Innovation Board, an independent federal committee that advises the U.S. Department of Defense, concluded that “the leader of 5G stands to gain hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue over the next decade, with widespread job creation across the wireless technology sector”.

In one of his interventions, Mr. Gurnani explained how collaboration between Tech Mahindra and SenseTime in AI platforms can be a game-changer in providing rural health care in India.

“SenseTime is ultimately developing a rule engine and a platform on which you can develop applications. Now think about it. In India, with a population of 1.3 billion people, the doctor strength in rural areas is close to zero, because doctors do not want to go to rural areas. With a 5G communication with SenseTime, I could easily be developing an application where doctors can remotely work with hundreds of villages and hundreds of patients,” he said.

“If I am able to do this in India, why can’t I do it for a billion people in Africa?”

Inviting Chinese companies to invest, Mr. Gurnani stressed that India’s political stability and business-friendly environment was there to stay. “The stability of India, the progressive nature of India and also the consistency of policy can now be taken a lot more (seriously) than the guy who tweets at 3 a.m. in the morning,” he said, in an apparent reference to U.S. President Donald Trump.

Amid a trade war with the U.S., some of the presenters at the event made it plain that key Chinese companies would not be second-best in the high-technology race.

“The U.S.-China trade dispute notwithstanding, China will emerge as a larger and more capable, innovative economy... The lack of core technologies such as cutting-edge microchips has exposed China’s weakness but this has also given impetus for the Chinese to catch up,” said Mr. Tse of Gao Feng Advisory.

“Many start-ups will fail, but a small percentage will make it. It would be foolhardy for anyone to discount China’s will and ability to achieve its goals.”

Pages ( 6 of 7 ): « Previous12345 6 7Next »