What India Was Talking about in 2016

The JNU controversy, demonetisation, Uri attacks and Donald Trump— what an eventful year it has been


There was no dearth of controversies this year. The past year has had quite a few events that had tongues wagging and people dying to give their opinions. These are some of things that was discussed everywhere from locker rooms, water-coolers and WhatsApp groups.

1. Jawaharlal Nehru University

Image: Twitter/ Kanhaiya Kumar
Image: Twitter/ Kanhaiya Kumar

The whole JNU controversy in the month of February is what propelled the word ‘anti-national’ into the mainstream. Don’t agree with the majority? You are anti-national. You believe Pakistan is not completely made up of terrorists? You are an anti-national terrorist sympathiser. The controversy started with a bunch of students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) holding a protest campus against the capital punishment to the 2001 Indian Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru. A few unidentified protestors shouted “anti-India” slogans and this led to massive criticism of the university and the students. The then JNU Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on charges of sedition and later released on interim bail.

2. Donald Trump

Image: Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Image: Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Trump’s numerous gaffes throughout the year, especially while campaigning, gave the media enough fodder to devote countless hours and newspaper columns to the now President-elect. His sexist and silly remarks had the world snickering, ridiculing, and mocking the billionaire. No prizes for guessing who had the last laugh.

3. Demonetisation

Prime Minister Modi’s November 8 shocker had Indians scrambling to deposit and exchange their cash before the December 30 deadline. As the news struck, social media went wild with memes and Indians resorted to inventive methods to make the most of their now illegal cash. While many have called this move a bitter pill to swallow for the sake of corruption, many like our former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have called it ‘organised loot, legalised plunder’.

4. Rio Olympics

Image: Facebook/ PV Sindhu
Image: Facebook/ PV Sindhu

India sent it largest ever contingent of 117 sportspersons to the Rio Summer Olympics hoping to replicate the success they had in London 2012. But our sportspersons were on the verge of returning empty-handed with the likes of Saina Nehwal and Satish Kumar crashing out. Our Indian contingent faced criticism from the people like Shobhaa De and disappointed many sports fans — until gymnast Dipa Karmakar came along and vaulted her way to a 4th place finish in the individual apparatus final. Then, Sakshi Malik won the bronze and PV Sindhu lost the finals in a nail-biting match against World Number 1 Marin.

The 19-member Indian Paralympic contingent won a total of four medals: two golds, a bronze, and a silver. Devendra Jhajharia, Deepa Malik, Mariyappan Thangavelu, and Varun Singh Bhati won glory for the nation.

5. The Death of Burhan Wani

Burhan Wani (second row centre) Credit: Facebook
Burhan Wani (second row centre)
Credit: Facebook

Burhan Wani was killed on July 8, 2016, as part of a planned police operation. The young 22-year-old aspiring Kashmiri cricketer was from a fairly affluent, upper-class, and well-educated family. He was seen responsible for urging many young and well-educated boys in Kashmir to turn to militant rebels and even posted videos and photos taunting security forces on social media. His death led to widespread protests in Kashmir with several hundred injured and more than 30 dead.

6. Syria

A destroyed area in Aleppo. Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office - Flickr
A destroyed area in Aleppo. Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office – Flickr

The Syrian conflict raged on in 2016 with the battle in Aleppo finally ending in a ceasefire on  22 December. Thousands of civilians have perished in what the UN has called the worst humanitarian tragedy of the 21st century. Children resorted to holding up Pokemon Go characters in an effort to draw the world’s attention to their plight. Activists protested as Assad’s regime dropped chemical weapons in eastern Aleppo targeting civilians and war raids destroyed hospitals and schools while the world remained a mute spectator to the atrocities.

7. Rohith Vemula

On January 17, 2016, Rohith Vemula, an Indian PhD student at the University of Hyderabad committed suicide. Rohith Vemula and four other Ambedkar Students Association (ASA) activists had protested against the death penalty for Yakub Memon. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad sent a letter Vice-Chancellor alleging that Vemula and the other activists were taking part in ‘casteist’ and ‘anti-national’ activities. As a result, they were suspended and barred from their hostel. It was reported that the University had also stopped paying INR 25,000 to Vemula for “raising issues”.

His suicide led to widespread protests across the country and once again brought the all-pervasive issue of caste discrimination into the limelight.

8. Uri Attacks

The Uri attack on September 18 claimed the lives of 18 soldiers and horrified the Indian nation. On September 29, Director General (Military Operations) of India, Ranbir Singh, announced that the Indian army on the previous night had crossed the Line of Control and conducted what he called a “surgical strike” on terrorist “launch pads” there.

The widespread discussion of the Uri attacks and the surgical strikes led many to speculate that India and Pakistan would be at loggerheads.  The following month, the Indian Motion Picture Producers Association banned Pakistani actors and technicians from working “until normalcy returns”. Pakistan, had retaliated by banning Indian movies but recently lifted the ban.

9. Brexit

Credit: Kenneth Allen/A
Credit: Kenneth Allen/A “Vote Leave” poster in Omagh

On June 23, 2016, 52% of 30 million people in the UK voted to exit the European Union. The decision made Prime Minister David Cameron resign and sent global markets crashing. Britain also lost its top AAA credit rating and the pound is at a 30-year low. Since the leave vote was fuelled by an anti-immigrant sentiment, Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will focus on bringing down on net migration. Currently, four anonymous claimants have filed a case in the High Court that separate parliamentary approval is needed for Britain to quit the European Economic Area. Yes, Brexit remains as confusing as ever. What have you got yourself in to, Britain?

10. Digital India

After the whole demonetisation is necessary to combat the evils of black money fiasco — the government started promoting the concept of going cashless and the benefits of a digital economy heavily. The lottery began in December 25 and is expected to run until April 14, 2017.  The government plans to give away 50 million dollars in weekly daily draws to promote digital payments. Meanwhile, India, who had 86℅ of her cash being declared illegal on November 8 — had no choice but to go cashless. Some small-time vendors even started using PayTM in an attempt to attract customers. On December 30, PM Narendra Modi launched the BHIM mobile wallet app at the Digi-Dhan mela in Delhi. Well, I guess if you can’t beat them, you’ve got no choice but to join them.