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Covid19 mismanagement in India

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© UNICEF/Vinay Panjwani

The writer is of the view that the pandemic in India would have been less virulent if the Indian government had been more truthful and egalitarian in its preventive policies. India prematurely claimed a “victory” against the virus. It vowed to export vaccines to other countries while its own states groaned under shortage of vaccine, drugs and oxygen. The government called the foreign Muslim preachers “super spreaders of the virus” and “terrorists” while allowing elections rallies and  Kumbh congregation. The pandemic brought home one truth. Lies do not always fructify.

India is struggling to contain the spread of the new ‘double mutant’ Covid-19 variant which has turned out to be quite lethal. The positivity peaked with 3, 82,315 new Covid-19 cases pushing the country’s overall caseload to over 2, 06, 65,148. With fresh infections, the total active coronavirus cases in the country has mounted to 34, 87,229, according to the data released by India’s health ministry. The New York times reported, ‘The sudden surge in recent weeks, with an insidious newer variant possibly playing a role, is casting increasing doubt on India’s official Covid-19 death toll of nearly 200,000, with more than 2,000 people dying every day (New York Times April 24, 2021). However some reports indicate death of 2, 26, 000 to 3, and 23,000.

How the virus ran amok

White House chief medical adviser and America’s top pandemic expert Dr Anthony Fauci says, `India’s home-grown COVID-19 vaccine (Covaxin), has been found to neutralise the 617 variant of the deadly virus’. The mounting deaths are apparently due to India’s failure to inoculate its whole population. India’s prime minister Modi had declared a premature “victory” against the virus. India announced that it has enough vaccines to export to over 76 countries. The government looked the other way when police carried out a witch hunt against the foreign Muslim preachers when they visited India. They were labeled “corona super spreaders” and even “terrorists”.  However, the courts exonerated most of the preachers of the charges.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party fumed and fretted about the preachers. But, it allowed a Hindu religious congregation of naked or semi-naked pilgrims (Kumbh) to be held without any let up or hindrance. The BJP chief minister of Uttarkhand declared that faith and the purifactory power of the Ganga River would suffice as a Covid shield, though it did not. The mounting deaths are apparently due to India’s failure to stop congregations and inoculate its whole population. India’s prime minister Modi had declared a premature “victory” against the virus. India’s health minister, Harsh Vardhan, audaciously claimed that India’s fatality rate is still “the lowest in the world”. Two months back, he declared that his nation was “in the endgame” of the pandemic.

His boss, Modi, boasted to the World Economic Forum in January that India had “saved humanity from a big disaster by containing corona effectively”. Narendra Modi’s claim was preceded by the announcement that he was bringing a “message of confidence, positivity and hope from 1.3 billion Indians amid these times of apprehension”.

He looked the other way when police carried out a witch hunt against the foreign Muslim preachers when they visited India. They were labeled “corona super spreaders” and even “terrorists”.

White House chief medical adviser and America’s top pandemic expert Dr Anthony Fauci says, `India’s home-grown COVID-19 vaccine (Covaxin), has been found to neutralise the 617 variant of the deadly virus’.

The new variant ‘B.1.618’ is a major immune escape variant. India hit the world’s highest single-day tally when it recorded more than 300,000 active cases in a day. Hospitals in the country are running out of oxygen supply, resulting in a sharp rise in the number of deaths. Viral videos showed desperate people exhaling into mouths of their dying kins. Wood became short to cremate dead bodies. While patients kept dying for want of a bed or oxygen, par-medical staff kept minting money by stealing medicines from hospital stores, allocating and re-allocating beds, or charging exorbitant price of about Rs. 3000 a kilometer.

Situation in occupied Kashmir

The situation in occupied Kashmir became particularly gruesome. Oxygen cylinders from the disputed state were “bought out” for other states. Vaccinations centres soon vanished as no vaccine was available. The viral videos indicated that Kashmiri leaders were languishing in jails without medical treatment. Kashmiri women mourned deaths of their relatives outside hospitals. Simultaneously,

cordon-and search operations continued to kill innocent Kashmiris.

For a population of nearly 1.2 crore, there are only 600 ventilators. In Srinagar city, there is an availability of only 13,000 litres of oxygen per minute which, the medical experts say, was too low to cater to the ongoing rise in the cases. Several doctors said that each patient requires between 5-10 litres of oxygen per minute and the existing supplies at Srinagar hospitals are sufficient only for 2,000-3,000 people in a given time.

The work on the oxygen plants at the government hospitals is either stalled or has been going on at a snail pace. Although two more plants were opened in the northern Kashmir areas of Kupwara and Sopore on Sunday and another one was ready for use in southern Kashmir’s Shopian. The plants with their capacities of 1,000-litre per minute could cater to a few hundred people in a given time only.

Hospitals have no drugs, not even  Remdesivir. A court observed, ‘Death of Covid patients due to non-supply of oxygen not less than genocide’. Another court asked people to register murder charges against the election commission for allowing election gatherings.

Taking advantage of abrogation of special status, the Indian government is bringing people affected by the Corona epidemic into the Kashmir Valley.

Covid19 exposed limitations of propaganda

Modi’s gung-ho announcements of victories against the virus did not end the pandemic. He owes many of his electoral victories to the power of propaganda. He blamed Pakistan for bomb blasts in India and Kashmir. A self-styled businesswoman Madi Sharma (RAW surrogate) arranged a guided tour of far-right members of European parliament to the occupied Kashmir (October 30, 2013) through a fake International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies. The Institute paid for the travel and accommodation of an unofficial far-right delegation of 23 European Union parliamentarians to Srinagar on. The delegation’s shikara (boat) ride in Kashmir Lake (dal) pictured Kashmir as a heaven in serene peace. Some members however smelt a rat and abandoned the free joy ride. The aim was to convince the world that it was all hunky-dory in the occupied Kashmir after abrogation of the special status and age-old hereditary-ownership law.

Modi acted on Hitler’s propaganda playbook

It appears India has meticulously implemented Hitler’s propaganda theorems: `The bigger the lie, the better the results. The success of any propaganda campaign ultimately depends on the propagandist’s down-to-earth understanding of the “primitive sentiments of the popular masses”. Mein Kampf (pp. 179-180).  

The Arnab Goswami transcripts exposed Modi’s fake “surgical strikes”. Goswami referred to the Pulwama attack on 14 February 2019. Three days before the Balakot air strike on 26 February 2019, Goswami purportedly said India’s response would be: “Bigger than a normal air strike. And on the same time something major on Kashmir (abrogation of Special Status)”.

The leaks of the WhatsApp messages of Arnab Goswami (Republic TV) brought into limelight some bitter truths. One bitter truth is that the general public is a ‘bewildered herd’ (to quote Noam Chomsky) who could easily be made a fool of.

The leaked WhatsApp chats revealed that the Balakot ‘surgical strikes’ were conducted to shore up Narendra Modi’s image as a `strong man’, a Brobdignagian among the self-centered Lilliputian Indian politicians. The ‘strike’ helped Modi win elections with a thumping majority.

Though Modi is educated only up to high school, he understands the power of propaganda. He has done a three-month course in the USA on Image Management and Public Relations. His campaign blitz cost about $700 million. Modi is considered the most techno-savvy leader of India as he is very active on various social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

The WhatsApp chats between Republic TV Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami and former Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) CEO Partho Dasgupta run into 500 long pages. They revealed the nexus between the media and politicians to hoodwink the masses.

Modi considers Indian people a “herd”. Modi owed his electoral victory to the power of propaganda. He made a fool of not only the Indian masses but also the world around until the West Bengal debacle.

History tells that the people, even the Americans, are gullible. Propaganda deeply influenced even independent-minded Americans who laid down a constitution, beginning with the words ‘we the people’. Chomsky says even the American masses are like a “bewildered herd” who have stopped thinking. He asserts that, in a “properly functioning democracy”, there are a “small percentage of the people”, a “specialised class of citizens” who … “analyse, execute, make decisions and run things in the political, economic, and ideological systems”. Chomsky reminds, ‘Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1916 on the platform “Peace without Victory”, right in the middle of World War I.  The American population was extremely pacifistic and saw no reason to become involved in a European War. The Wilson Administration established a government propaganda commission, called the Creel Committee, which succeeded, within six months, in turning a pacifist population into a hysterical, war mongering population which wanted to destroy everything German, tear the Germans limb from limb, go to war and save the world…. After the war the same techniques were used to whip up a hysterical Red Scare…’.

Conspiracy theories exposed

One of the first conspiracy theories that came to light was that China created COVID-19 as a biological weapon in a laboratory in Wuhan (Jaaved, 2020). Another widespread conspiracy theory is that 5G technology is the primary cause of the highly contagious virus or even the amounts of deaths. Without enough evidence there are two sides to this theory: it is the direct cause of the virus because it has a very high level of frequency or it uses these high levels of frequency to weaken people’s immune systems and that way causing a lot of damage and fear. But this 5G theory also comes back to China. China has a very impressive technological security that uses 5G technology, and some traces show a connection between 5G hotspots and the first COVID-19 outbreaks (Thomas, 2020).

According to “The WHO terms the conspiracy theories as “infodemic” that “spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous”.

Concluding remarks

The pandemic has proved that propaganda does not always succeed. Abraham Lincoln was right in saying “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

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South Asia

India’s Unclear Neighbourhood Policy: How to Overcome ?

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India has witnessed multiple trends with regards to its relations with its neighbours at a time vaccine diplomacy is gaining prominence and Beijing increasing the pace towards becoming an Asian superpower, whereby making these reasons valid for New Delhi to have a clear foreign policy with respect to its neighbourhood.

Introduction

The Covid Pandemic has led to increased uncertainty in the global order where it comes to power dynamics, role of international organisations. New Delhi has tried to leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with its immediate neighbours.  It has distributed medical aid and vaccines to smaller countries to enhance its image abroad at a time it has witnessed conflicts with China and a change in government in Myanmar. These developments make it imperative for New Delhi to increase its focus on regionalism and further international engagement where this opportunity could be used tactically amidst a pandemic by using economic and healthcare aid.

According to Dr. Arvind Gupta, New Delhi has to deal with threats coming from multiple fronts and different tactics where it is essential for New Delhi to save energy using soft means rather than coercive measures.. India under Vaccine Maitri has supplied many of COVAXIN doses to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where many have appreciated this move. The urgency of ensuring humanitarian aid during these periods of unprecedented uncertainty are essential in PM Modi’s Security and Growth For All ( SAGAR) initiative, which focusses on initiating inclusive growth as well as cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.

This pandemic witnessed various threats coming in India’s neighbourhood through multiple dimensions which include maritime, land, cyber as well as air threats where adversaries are using these to put pressure on New Delhi to settle land as well as marine disputes as per their terms.  These encirclement strategies have made it necessary for India to open up various options such as holding maritime joint exercises with like-minded countries, developing partnerships, providing economic as well as healthcare support to weaker countries plus having a clear insight about changing global dynamics and acting as per them.

This piece will discuss about various changing tactics, pros and cons which India has with respect to developing its national security vis-à-vis its neighbourhood, why should it prioritise its neighbourhood at the first place?

Background

India’s Neighbourhood is filled with many complexities and a lot of suspicion amongst countries, some viewing India because of its size and geography plus economic clout as a bully where it is wanting to dominate in the region putting others aside. This led to New Delhi play an increased role in nudging ties first with its neighbours with whom it had multiple conflicts as well as misunderstandings leading to the latter viewing Beijing as a good alternative in order to keep India under check.

Ever since PM Modi has taken charge at 7 RCR, India’s Neighbourhood First Policy has been followed increasingly to develop relations, to enhance understandings and ensure mutual cooperation as well as benefit with its neighbours. The relations with Islamabad have not seen so much improvement as compared to other leaders in the past. Even though former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited for PM Modi’s 1st Swearing In ceremony in 2014, terrorist activities have never stopped which could be seen through Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama terror attacks which killed many of the Indian soldiers. Even though surgical strikes were conducted on terror camps in retaliation to these bombardments, Islamabad has not changed its heart at all about its security or regional demands. New strategies and friendships are being developed where Beijing has played a major role in controlling power dynamics.

The Belt and Road initiative, first time mentioned during President Xi’s 2013 speech in Kazakhstan, then officially in 2015,  lays emphasis of achieving a Chinese Dream of bringing countries under one umbrella, ensuring their security, providing them with infrastructure projects such as ports, railways, pipelines, highways etc. The main bottleneck is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor when it comes to India’s security threats, passing through disputed boundaries of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir till Gwadar. Other projects have been initiated in Chittagong, Hambantota, Gwadar , Kyapkyou. These projects form a String Of Pearls in the Indo Pacific where New Delhi is being balanced against through economic plus development incentives being given to the member countries under the project. That’s why in the recent past, New Delhi is asserting its influence in the region, looking at new dimensional threats where Beijing’s threats in the maritime domain in the islands in East as well as South China seas are not being seen favourably in many countries such as ASEAN, US, Australia and Japan which is giving India an opportunity to look towards countries with a common threat. Amidst this great power struggle between Washington and Beijing, New Delhi is stuck between a rock and hard place i.e., having a clear and strong foreign policy with its neighbours.

In this region, India has a sole threat which is mainly Beijing where the latter has achieved prowess technologically and militarily where New Delhi lags behind the latter twenty fold. So, there is a need for improvising military technology, increase economic activities with countries, reduce dependence on foreign aid, ensure self-reliance.

Situation

South Asia is backward when it comes to economic development, human development and is a home to majority of the world’s population which lives below poverty line. The colonial rule has left a never-ending impact on divisions based on communal, linguistic and ethnic grounds. Even, in terms of infrastructure and connectivity, New Delhi lags behind Beijing significantly in the neighbourhood because the latter is at an edge when it comes to bringing countries under the same umbrella. Due to these, many initiatives have been taken up by New Delhi on developing infrastructure, providing humanitarian aid to needy countries.

There have been numerous efforts made by India with respect to reaching out to the Neighbours in 2020 through setting up of the SAARC Covid Fund where many Neighbourhood countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka gave contributions to ensure cooperation, joint scientific research, sharing information, healthcare kits where the countries contributed USD $ 18 million jointly towards this fund where New Delhi made an initial offer of USD $ 10 million.

New Delhi has even mustered ties with the Association of Southeast Asian countries during the pandemic under its Act East Policy where proper connectivity through the Northeast could be useful in easing movement of goods but currently, the infrastructure in Northeast needs more improvement where issues such as unemployment, poor connectivity are prevalent whereby disconnecting it from rest of the other states. This region could play an important role in linking Bangladesh, Myanmar to New Delhi along with the proposed India-Thailand –Myanmar Trilateral Corridor. Focus has also been laid to develop inland waterways, rail links and pipelines to ease connections between countries, making trade free and more efficient.

India is focussing on developing the Sittwe and Paletwa ports in Myanmar under the Kaladan Development Corridor, at the cost of INR 517.9 Crore in order to provide an alternative e route beneficial for the Northeast for getting shipping access

Summing Up

 These above developments and power display by a strong adversary, give good reasons for New Delhi to adopt collective security mechanisms through QUAD, SIMBEX and JIMEX with a common perception of having safe and open waters through abiding to the UNCLOS which China isn’t showing too much interest in, seen through surveillance units, artificial islands being set up on disputed territories which countries likewise India are facing in context to territorial sovereignty and integrity. These developments make it important for India to look at strategic threats by coming together with countries based on similar interest’s vis-à-vis Chinese threat.

There is a need for India to develop and harness its strength through connectivity and its self reliance initiative ( Aatmanirbharta ) so that there is no dependence on any foreign power at times of need . Proper coordination between policy makers and government officials could make decision making even easier, which is not there completely because of ideological differences, different ideas which makes it important for the political leadership to coordinate with the military jointly during times of threats on borders. Self-reliance could only come through preparedness and strategy.

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India is in big trouble as UK stands for Kashmiris

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 A London-based law firm has filed an application with British police seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Law firm Stoke White said it submitted extensive evidence to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit on Tuesday, documenting how Indian forces headed by General Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah were responsible for the torture, kidnapping and killing of activists, journalists and civilians – particularly Muslim – in the region.

“There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report states, referring to the territory in the Himalayan region.

Based on more than 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021, the report also accused eight unnamed senior Indian military officials of direct involvement in war crimes and torture in Kashmir.

The law firm’s investigation suggested that the abuse has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. It also included details about the arrest of Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent rights activist, by India’s counterterrorism authorities last year.

“This report is dedicated to the families who have lost loved ones without a trace, and who experience daily threats when trying to attain justice,” Khalil Dewan, author of the report and head of the SWI unit, said in a statement.

“The time has now come for victims to seek justice through other avenues, via a firmer application of international law.”

The request to London police was made under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, which gives countries the authority to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.

The international law firm in London said it believes its application is the first time that legal action has been initiated abroad against Indian authorities over alleged war crimes in Kashmir.

Hakan Camuz, director of international law at Stoke White, said he hoped the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the UK.

Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain.

“We are asking the UK government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” Camuz said.

The police application was made on behalf of the family of Pakistani prisoner Zia Mustafa, who, Camuz said, was the victim of extrajudicial killing by Indian authorities in 2021, and on behalf of human rights campaigner Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, who was allegedly tortured before his arrest last week.

Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the past two decades in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.

Muslim Kashmiris mostly support rebels who want to unite the region, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

Kashmiris and international rights groups have long accused Indian troops of carrying out systematic abuse and arrests of those who oppose rule from New Delhi.

Rights groups have also criticized the conduct of armed groups, accusing them of carrying out human rights violations against civilians.

In 2018, the United Nations human rights chief called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations in Kashmir, alleging “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces”.

India’s government has denied the alleged rights violations and maintains such claims are separatist propaganda meant to demonize Indian troops in the region. It seems, India is in big trouble and may not be able to escape this time. A tough time for Modi-led extremist government and his discriminatory policies. The world opinion about India has been changed completely, and it has been realized that there is no longer a democratic and secular India. India has been hijacked by extremist political parties and heading toward further bias policies. Minorities may suffer further, unless the world exert pressure to rectify the deteriorating human rights records in India.

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S. Jaishankar’s ‘The India Way’, Is it a new vision of foreign policy?

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S. Jaishankar has had an illustrious Foreign Service career holding some of the highest and most prestigious positions such as ambassador to China and the US and as foreign secretary of India. Since 2019 he has served as India’s foreign minister. S. Jaishankar also has a Ph.D. in international relations from JNU and his academic background is reflected in this book.

His main argument is simplistic, yet the issues involved are complex. Jaishankar argues that the world is changing fundamentally, and the international environment is experiencing major shifts in power as well as processes. China is rising and western hegemony is declining. We are moving away from a unipolar system dominated by the US to a multipolar system. Globalization is waning and nationalism and polarization is on the rise (p. 29). The old order is going away but we cannot yet glimpse what the future will look like. This is the uncertain world that Dr. Jaishankar sees.

Dr. Jaishankar also argues that India too has changed, it is more capable and more assertive. The liberalization program that began in 1991 has made the Indian economy vibrant and globally competitive and it is well on track to becoming the third biggest economy in the world, after China and the US.  The war of 1971 that liberated Bangladesh, the liberalization of the economy after 1991, the nuclear tests in 1998 and the nuclear understanding with the US in 2005, Jaishankar argues are landmarks in India’s strategic evolution (p. 4). So given that both India and the system have changed, Jaishankar concludes, so should India’s foreign policy.

But his prescription for India’s foreign policy, in the grand scheme of things, is the same as before – India should remain nonaligned and not join the US in its efforts to contain China. India will try to play with both sides it seems in order to exploit the superpowers and maximize its own interests (p. 9). But he fails to highlight how India can find common ground with China other than to say the two nations must resolve things diplomatically. He also seems to think that the US has infinite tolerance for India’s coyness. In his imagination the US will keep making concessions and India will keep playing hard to get.

Jaishankar has a profound contradiction in his thinking. He argues that the future will be determined by what happens between the US and China. In a way he is postulating a bipolar future to global politics. But he then claims that the world is becoming multipolar and this he claims will increase the contests for regional hegemony. The world cannot be both bipolar and multipolar at the same time.

There is also a blind spot in Jaishankar’s book.  He is apparently unaware of the rise of Hindu nationalism and the demand for a Hindu state that is agitating and polarizing India’s domestic politics. The systematic marginalization and oppression of Muslim minorities at home and the growing awareness overseas of the dangers of Hindutva extremism do not exist in the world that he lives in. He misses all this even as he goes on to invoke the Mahabharata and argue how Krishna’s wisdom and the not so ethical choices during the war between Pandavas and Kauravas should be a guide for how India deals with this uncertain world – by balancing ethics with realism (p. 63). Methinks his little digression in discussing the ancient Hindu epic is more to signal his ideological predilections than to add any insights to understanding the world or India’s place in it.  

One aspect of his work that I found interesting is his awareness of the importance of democracy and pluralism. He states that India’s democracy garners respect and gives India a greater opportunity to be liked and admired by other nations in the world (p. 8). Yet recently when he was asked about the decline of India’s democratic credentials, his response was very defensive, and he showed visible signs of irritation. It is possible that he realizes India is losing ground internationally but is unwilling to acknowledge that his political party is responsible for the deterioration of India’s democracy.

This is also apparent when he talks about the importance of India improving its relations with its immediate neighbors. He calls the strategy as neighborhood first approach (pp. 9-10). What he does not explain is how an Islamophobic India will maintain good relations with Muslim majority neighbors like Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan.

The book is interesting, it has its limitations and both, what is addressed and what is left out, are clearly political choices and provide insights into how New Delhi thinks about foreign policy. So, coming to the question with which we started, does India have a new foreign policy vision? The answer is no. Dr. Jaishankar is right, there is indeed an India way, but it is the same old way, and it entails remaining nonaligned with some minor attitudinal adjustments.  

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