Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business
0 Comments

Kashmir Film Sharpens Political Divisions in India

The phenomenal box-office success of a new film set in 1990s Kashmir has sharpened political divisions in India and prompted a re-examination of a violent campaign against Hindus in the Muslim-majority region three decades ago.

“The Kashmir Files,” directed by Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri, depicts the flight of Kashmiri Hindus, known as “Pandits,” from the region in early 1990s. It is a fictional narrative about a college student who learns that his Kashmiri Hindu parents were killed by Islamist militants, not in an accident as he was told by his grandfather.

The film is being enthusiastically promoted by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which pursues a Hindu nationalist agenda and has been accused of fomenting animus toward the nation’s 200 million Muslims as an electoral strategy.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally met with the director and producer of the film immediately after its release and expressed his appreciation.

Celebrities and political leaders also have urged people to see the film. The Union minister for Women and Child Development, Smriti Irani, tweeted, “Watch … so that this history soaked in the blood of innocents may never repeat itself #TheKashmirFiles.”

A goods and services tax that boosts the price of movie tickets has been waived in most BJP-ruled states including some of India’s most populous. In the central state of Madhya Pradesh, police have been offered a day off work to watch the film. In the national capital territory of Delhi, however, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal rejected a demand from BJP legislators to declare the film tax-free, saying, “Well, put it on YouTube, it will be free.”

Sushil Chaudhary, the founder and chairman of the digital movie theater chain Picture Time DigiPlex, told VOA he was pleased that the controversial subject had been addressed in a film.

“And the storytelling was very different compared to other Indian films. The way the director handled the film — it was quite amazing, at the same time very sensitive. This film has huge impact and reminded me of the much-celebrated ‘Schindler’s List,’” a 1993 film about a German businessman who rescued more than 1,000 Jews from the Nazi Holocaust.

On social media, commenters have described the movie as “the most hard-hitting film” about Kashmir made to date.

BJP’s support of ‘The Kashmir Files’

The film also has detractors, many of them in the conflict-torn region of Jammu and Kashmir itself. While expressing appreciation for the movie’s dramatic qualities, these critics say it oversimplifies the complex history of the conflict, and that it offers a clichéd representation of Kashmiri Muslims.

“Hindu supremacists in India have weaponized the Kashmiri Pandit exodus” wrote Nitasha Kaul, a Kashmiri Pandit and novelist based in London.

“The movie dwells on Kashmiri Pandit suffering alone and makes ample use of Islamophobic tropes – all Muslims in the movie are violent, barbaric or lecherous,” she wrote.

She argued that the movie “feeds into cycles of hate and revenge. It collapses Kashmir’s history and politics into an Islamophobic morality tale that is palatable and profitable to Hindutva India.”

Ashok Swain, the head of the department of peace and conflict research at Sweden’s Uppsala University, told VOA he believes the film was made purely for political purposes by a Hindu right-wing filmmaker with support from the ruling authorities.

The purpose of the movie is not to tell the history or support the cause of displaced Kashmir pundits, Swain maintained, “but to make economic gains for the filmmaker and political gains for the ruling regime by selling Muslim hate in the country.”

Regional take

The movie also has been met with criticism by Muslim leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party, a Kashmir-based regional political bloc. PDP leader and former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has accused the BJP of doing nothing for the Kashmiri Pandits who remained in Jammu and Kashmir.

Earlier, she said the move is “ill-intentioned” and will not contribute to healing old wounds.

Mufti also argued that while the filmmakers were mainly interested in profits, Modi and the BJP were supporting the film in order to instigate people along religious lines.

Kashmir resident Sameer Kaul told VOA that some of the gory incidents portrayed in the documentary-style film actually occurred, but that the movie falsely suggests the entire Kashmiri Muslim community played a part in the violence. In fact, he said, some Muslims opposed the violence and others were simply frightened.

Kaul said the impact of the movie will be to increase religious polarization and potential intercommunal discord. “Never before has the justification for institution of an unbiased judicial probe by central government seemed as convincing. Truth should hopefully pave the way for closure, reconciliation and desperate peace.”

A similar view has been expressed by one Kashmiri Pandit girl, Sagrika Kissu. “Not every Muslim is a terrorist/militant or a terrorist sympathizer,” she posted on social media. “We should be very sensitive when we paint all of them in one color. This movie sets in a very bitter emotion for Kashmiri Muslims as whole.”

Real-life impact

Meanwhile, the impact from the movie is being felt in real life. A hotel in Delhi recently refused to accommodate a Kashmiri man even after he provided appropriate identification and other credentials.

The hotel’s receptionist said the Delhi Police had told the hotel not to accept reservations from guests from Jammu and Kashmir. A video of the incident went viral, prompting Delhi Police to deny having issued any such order.

In an immediate reaction, the hotel chain Oyo Rooms removed the hotel from its platform.

Nevertheless, the film is doing blockbuster business despite a lack of promotion and marketing, appearing on 700 screens across India and grossing $3 million since its release on March 11. It is also being shown in the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia, taking in $1.38 million in its first week on international screens.

0
Science & Health
0 Comments

Botswana Approves Texas-Made COVID Vaccine, Manufacturing Plant

Botswana has become the first country in Africa to approve the use of the Texas-made COVID-19 vaccine Corbevax. Botswana’s president and California biotech company NantWorks made the announcement Monday as they began construction of a plant to produce COVID-vaccines and drugs to fight cancer.

CEO of biotech firm NantWorks Patrick Soon-Shiong announced on Monday that Botswana’s Medicines Regulatory Authority (BOMRA) had approved the Corbevax jab.

He made the announcement at a groundbreaking ceremony for a vaccine and cancer drug production facility, along with Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi.

“I am pleased to announce, Mr. President, with the incredibly hard work of both the Ministry of Health and BOMRA, today we announce Africa’s first approved vaccine for Africa by Botswana,” Soon-Shiong said.

Corbevax is a patent-free COVID vaccine developed by the Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital in the United States. It has been used in Bangladesh, India, and Indonesia.

Soon-Shiong said the first consignment would be delivered to Botswana for distribution across Africa.

“This vaccine has been tested and shown to be active in every variant including omicron. I got a commitment this morning that Botswana, effective immediately, will have access to 100 million of these vaccines that you can distribute,” Soon-Shiong said.

The plant, which is expected to be operational by 2026, plans to produce vaccines for COVID and other diseases, as well as cancer treatment drugs.

Masisi said the plant heralds a new dawn for the production of pharmaceuticals on the continent.

“This is particularly noteworthy in the Africa region, which bears a disproportionate disease burden exacerbated limitation of resources and capabilities to address these health challenges. We are determined to dictate a new legacy associated with access to medicines, vaccines and other health technologies,” he said.

Masisi said the facility would help address vaccine inequality in Africa, where less than 20% of the population is fully vaccinated against COVID – two years into the pandemic.

“Disparities in the distribution of vaccines across the world resulted in a lopsided vaccination drive that seriously hampered efforts to effectively contain the COVID-19 worldwide. This problem has been aptly defined as vaccine nationalism. It is therefore our intent, our conviction that the opening of this vaccine manufacturing facility, will go a long way in changing this narrative,” Masisi said.

Botswana’s Health Minister Edwin Dikoloti says the project would also help treat chronic diseases.

“This day marks a new level in our scientific development and advancement. It signifies a new technological breakthrough which will see us as not just a consumer but also a manufacturer of vaccines and other medication that will come out of this magnificent project,” Dikoloti said.

Botswana’s vaccine manufacturing facility will be the second in Africa being built by Soon-Shiong.

In January, the South African-born U.S. billionaire opened a similar facility in Cape Town.

0
Science & Health
0 Comments

FDA Authorizes Second Vaccine Booster for Those 50 and Older

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized a fourth dose of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for people 50 and over.

Previously a fourth dose was only authorized for people 12 and up, who are badly immunocompromised.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control will not weigh in on how to implement the FDA’s authorization.

People wanting the fourth shot should only do so at least four months after the previous booster, the FDA said Tuesday.

The FDA’s authorization comes as COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are falling after a winter surge of the omicron variant. 

However, a new subvariant, BA.2, is spreading in Europe and the U.S.

Roughly two-thirds of Americans are fully vaccinated, meaning they’ve had two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Only half of those eligible have gotten a first booster.

While the vaccines did not stop omicron from circulating widely, health officials say they did help those infected avoid serious illness or death.

The government is also considering authorizing a fourth dose for everyone in the Fall when cases could surge again.

Some information in this report comes from The Associated Press.

0
Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology
0 Comments

Fighting Food Waste: Technology Tells Restaurants What They Are Throwing Away

Up to 40% of food in the U.S. is discarded. But as VOA’s Julie Taboh reports, a company in the Netherlands has come up with technology that can help reduce food waste in industrial kitchens.

Camera: Tina Trinh, Orbisk;         
Produced by Julie Taboh, Adam Greenbaum

0
Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business
0 Comments

Ancient Grain Teff Takes Root on US Plains

Teff, an ancient grain from the Horn of Africa, has found new enthusiasts in the United States. It’s being cultivated in the American West and Midwest, where growers note its appeal as a gluten-free “super food.” VOA’s Tewelde Tesfagabir reports from Nevada, narration by Vincent Makori.
Videographer: Trésor M. Matondo

0
Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business
0 Comments

Will Smith Apologizes to Chris Rock for Oscars Slap

Actor Will Smith apologized to comedian Chris Rock one day after slapping him across the face during Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony following a joke Rock made about the actor’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

Smith’s apology Monday came after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued a formal statement condemning his behavior for slapping Rock and announced it was initiating an investigation.

“Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive,” Smith said Monday in a statement his publicist posted on Instagram.

“I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be,” Smith added.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced it was initiating an investigation into the incident. According to the Academy’s code of conduct, Smith could face consequences such as “suspension of membership or expulsion from membership.”

In recent years, violations of this code have led to the removal of members such as Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski, who were expelled over allegations of sexual misconduct.

Rock did not file a police report.

“LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program. The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report,” said the LAPD in an official statement to the press. “If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.

Ahead of presenting the award for best documentary, Rock directed a comment to Pinkett Smith saying: “Jada, I love you. ‘G.I. Jane 2,’ can’t wait to see it,” apparently drawing a comparison to actress Demi Moore’s shaved hairstyle in the 1997 movie G.I. Jane.

While Pinkett Smith was shown rolling her eyes following the comment, her husband walked over to the stage and slapped Rock across the face during the live broadcast, a moment that went viral shortly after.

After taking his seat again, Smith directed profanity at the comedian, demanding he not speak of his wife.

Pinkett Smith, 50, has previously been vocal about her struggles with hair loss due to the autoimmune disease alopecia. She publicly shared her diagnosis in 2018 during a segment of her Facebook talk show series Red Table Talk.

Initially, the Academy had only issued a statement via its Twitter account after the ceremony ended.

“The Academy does not condone violence of any form,” the tweet said.

Later Sunday evening, Smith was awarded an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance as Richard Williams, the father of tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams, in the film King Richard.

During his acceptance speech, Smith appeared emotional and apologized to the Academy and his fellow nominees, but did not directly mention Rock.

“Love will make you do crazy things,” Smith said, addressing his behavior.

“Thank you. I hope the Academy invites me back.”

 

 

VOA’s Zoya Mirza contributed to this report.   

 

0
Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business
0 Comments

Academy Condemns Will Smith Oscars Slap, Opens Investigation

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued a formal statement Monday condemning Will Smith’s behavior for slapping comedian Chris Rock and announced it was initiating an investigation. 

Smith slapped Rock across the face during a live broadcast of the 94th Academy Awards ceremony Sunday after the comedian made a joke about the actor’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, poking fun at her shaved head.   

“The Academy condemns the actions of Mr. Smith at last night’s show,” the statement said. “We … will explore further action and consequences in accordance with our bylaws, standards of conduct and California law.” 

According to the Academy’s code of conduct, such consequences could entail “suspension of membership or expulsion from membership.”  

In recent years, violations of this code have led to the removal of members such as Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski, who were expelled over allegations of sexual misconduct. 

Rock did not file a police report. 

“LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program. The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report,” said the LAPD in an official statement to the press. ”If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”  

Ahead of presenting the award for best documentary, Rock directed a comment to Pinkett Smith saying: “Jada, I love you. ‘G.I. Jane 2,’ can’t wait to see it,” apparently drawing a comparison to actress Demi Moore’s shaved hairstyle in the 1997 movie ”G.I. Jane.”   

While Pinkett Smith was shown rolling her eyes following the comment, her husband walked over to the stage and slapped Rock across the face during the live broadcast, a moment that went viral shortly after.   

After taking his seat again, Smith directed profanity at the comedian, demanding he not speak of his wife.  

Pinkett Smith, 50, has previously been vocal about her struggles with hair loss due to the autoimmune disease alopecia. She publicly shared her diagnosis in 2018 during a segment of her Facebook talk show series Red Table Talk.  

Initially, the Academy had only issued a statement via its Twitter account after the ceremony ended.  

“The Academy does not condone violence of any form,” the tweet said.  

Later Sunday evening, Smith was awarded an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance as Richard Williams, the father of tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams, in the film ”King Richard.”  

During his acceptance speech, Smith appeared emotional and apologized to the Academy and his fellow nominees, but did not directly mention Rock.   

“Love will make you do crazy things,” Smith said, addressing his behavior.  

“Thank you. I hope the Academy invites me back.” 

VOA’s Zoya Mirza contributed to this report.

 

0