The European Commission has a new President. Meet Ursula Von der Leyen

Credit: Bundesregierung /Kugler

On 16 July 2019, Ursula Von der Leyen was elected as the President of the European Commission (EC), the executive branch of the European Union. She won by a narrow margin of 9 votes – 383 out of the 733 votes. She will succeed Jean Claude Juncker, the current EC president, when he steps down from the position in end October this year.

Some of the current issues that the new EC President will have to look into are – economic, social and environmental reforms within the EU; she will have to build a good working rapport with United States of America especially with regard to trade and Brexit related issues. 

Why is her election important?

She will be the European Commission’s first female president and also the first German President in over 50 years. 

Who is she?

Ursula Von der Leyen was Germany’s first female defence minister. She held that position since 2013 and only stepped down recently. Before that, she was Germany’s Minister of Labour and Social Affairs (2009 – 2013) as well as Minister of Family Affairs and Youth (2005 – 2009). 

Born on 8 October 1958, she is currently 60 years old. She is a trained physician and a mother of 7 children. 

About the European Commission

The European Commission is the executive branch of the European Union that looks after the daily affairs of the European Union. The Commissioners are appointed by the Council along with the European Parliament’s approval.

The EC President is in charge of the Commission which takes decisions pertaining to new laws that will be made within the European Union and ensuring that they are followed. The President is also the European Union’s (EU) representative abroad. The President is elected for a term of 5 years. 

Click here to see what the EU is. 

Written by: Preetika Soni. Preetika is a full – time toddler mommy. In the time that is left, she enjoys writing, photography and crochet. She has worked with NDTV, Mumbai and has taught at SCMSophia. 

Who is Kulbhushan Singh, what is the International Court of Justice, and what does it mean that India claimed victory there?

Kulbhushan Jadhav has been in jail in Pakistan for over two years. The Pakistani Government arrested him in Balochistan in March 2016, saying that he was conducting terrorist activities for India’s intelligence agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing). 

The Indian Government strongly refuted that, saying that Jadhav was a retired Indian Naval Commander and that he had been abducted from Iran.  A year later, Mr Yadav was sentenced to death by a Pakistani Court. Unconvinced of his guilt and upset that Mr. Jadhav had not been given access to his Indian consul representative as stated in Article 36 of the Vienna Convention (see box), India took Pakistan to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The ICJ is the justice system that the United Nations has set up to settle international disputes. 

On 17 July, the judges of the ICJ ruled 15:1 in favour of India’s appeal. The President of the Court Judge Abdulqawi Yusuf read out the verdict at the Peace Palace at the Hague, the headquarters of the ICJ. The decision said three important things: 

  1. Pakistan had deprived India of the right to communicate with and have access to Mr Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav, to visit him in detention and to arrange for his legal representation.
  2. Pakistan had not informed Jadhav about his rights.
  3. There had been a three-week delay in informing India about Jadhav’s arrest.

The Court has ordered Pakistan to allow Indian consulate members to meet Mr Jadhav. It has also put a halt to his death sentence while asking Pakistan to review his conviction. The Court, however, rejected India’s demand that the sentence itself be dismissed. 

After the verdict, both countries claimed victory. India said that the Court had agreed with all the arguments made regarding Pakistan violating the Vienna Convention.  Pakistan, on the other hand, said the verdict was a good one for them as the Court had dismissed India’s claim the decision of the trial be thrown out. 

How and when Pakistan reviews the case remains to be seen. Mr Harsh Salve, India’s advocate at the ICJ, said that if India still feels that the trial and review is unfair, they can go back to the ICJ. 


Written by: Pereena Lamba. Pereena is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant. She is also co-author of Totally Mumbai.

The Man Who Fell From the Sky

John Baldock, a young software engineer in his twenties, rented a place in Clapham, London. Earlier this month, taking advantage of the good weather, he went out to the back garden to sunbathe in the afternoon. Nothing could have prepared him for what happened next. The body of a man, a stowaway on a Kenyan Airways airline, fell to the ground as the landing gear of the aircraft came down, and landed just meters away from where John was laying. John narrowly missed being hit, which could have been fatal. A few seconds later, and the body would have fallen on Clapham Common, a large green space that was packed with residents who were out on a sunny day. John’s neighbours saw the body and alerted the police.

What is a stowaway? A stowaway is a person who doesn’t have a ticket to be on public transportation, but stows away, or hides on it to get to a destination.

Who was this man? The British authorities are working with the Kenyan Government to try to identify the man from his fingerprints. A bag, water and some food were discovered in the landing gear compartment after the flight arrived at Heathrow airport. The investigators suspect that the man was an airport employee, who was able to climb in and secret himself away.

Investigators from both countries are looking over all CCTV footage and are questioning staff connected with the flight.

Has this happened before? As horrifying as this incident is, it is not the first. In 2012, a man fell to his death from a British Airways flight from Angola, and another suffered the same fate in 2015, after falling from a plane travelling inbound from Johannesburg. The risk to the lives of these stowaways is immense. There is hardly any oxygen in the hold of an aircraft and the temperatures go down to -55C, making it almost impossible for anyone to survive.

The question then is, why do people do it? What circumstances makes them so desperate to leave their countries? In the past couple of years, there have been other tragic stories of refugees drowning in boats while making difficult crossings to escape war and destruction. Often they feel that legal routes for them to leave are closed or fraught with difficulty and they take to these desperate measures. While we don’t know what made this unfortunate man take this dangerous journey, world leaders need to put their thinking caps on and come up with solutions to see that these kinds of incidents are never repeated.

Written by: Pereena Lamba. Pereena is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant. She is also co-author of Totally Mumbai.

Travel notes from Central Europe: Berlin

This summer, I visited four cities in Central Europe – Budapest, Vienna, Prague and Berlin. In this way, I experienced the culture of four different countries – Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic and Germany. I also learned a lot about their history, especially during the Second World War (1939-1945) and the Cold War (1947 – 1991).

Here’a a little about Berlin, Germany.



Berlin suffered enormous damage during the Second World War. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party controlled Germany through a dictatorship between 1933 and 1945. As the capital of Nazi Germany, Berlin was subject to 363 air raids during this period. Some 600,000 apartments were destroyed, along with many public buildings. Unlike other European cities which are home to old styles of architecture, most buildings that you see in Berlin were re-constructed post 1948.

Caption: The Brandenburg Gate is an 18th-century neoclassical monument in Berlin. It suffered damage during the Second World War and was walled off from both sides during the Cold War, due to its location right next to the Berlin Wall. It was fully restored between 2000 and 2002.

One can feel the impact of the Second World War on the city even today. For example, an unexploded American aerial bomb from WWII was recently found at a construction site in central Berlin. And in fact, politicians from countries such as Poland and Greece are still demanding money from Berlin to make amends for Nazi atrocities during the war!

The Berlin Wall: WWII ended as Germany surrendered in 1945. However, the end of the war did not mean the end of terror for Berlin. By 1949, Germany had become two separate countries – West Germany, run by the Allies, and East Germany, run by the Soviet Union. Although Berlin was in East Germany, as the capital it was also shared between Britain, France, America and the Soviet Union. The Berlin Wall was built by the communist government of East Berlin all of a sudden in 1961. The wall separated East Berlin and West Berlin. It was built in order to prevent people from fleeing East Berlin. The Berlin Wall was taken down on November 9, 1989.

Caption: The East Side Gallery is an open-air gallery in Berlin. It consists of a series of murals painted directly on a 1.3 km long segment of the original Berlin Wall

Compared to other German cities, Berlin is a poor city as it has a debt of about €60bn and average earnings are less than the rest of the county. According to a study, Berlin is the only capital city in Europe that brings down its country’s economy.

Here are some fun things to do while visiting Berlin:

1)      Go on a free walking tour of Berlin and learn about its past.

2)      Ride the double-decker city buses and take Route 100 to visit popular sites such as  Bradenburg Gate and Alexanderplatz

3)      Visit The Reichstag and take a guided tour of the German parliament building

4)      Tour Humboldt University – Berlin’s oldest University. Karl Marx studied here, and the Brothers Grimm and Albert Einstein taught at the university

5)      Due to Berlin’s divided past, you will find not one, but two zoos within the city. Berlin Zoo is located in West Berlin and Tierpark is located in East Berlin. Check them out!


Written by: Chandni Shah. Chandni is a picture book collector, an educator and founder of Simplifly, a learning venture for children.

Elections in India closed with a bang! Which ministers got some big positions?


The Bharatiya Janata Party in India won the the elections with an overwhelming majority, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been re-appointed to his position for another 5-year term.

He has formed a government with his political allies in the NDA (National Democratic Alliance), and has chosen his new Cabinet of Ministers who will work closely with him and advise him. Some of the prominent positions:

Nirmala Sitharaman: The former Defence Minister has been appointed India’s first female Finance Minister. This is another very important position on PM Modi’s Cabinet.

She has a big job ahead of her:

      • India’s economic growth rate has been slowing down.
      • India is at an all-time high of 6.1% unemployment. This means that about 6 people out of every 100 do not have jobs.
      • This needs to be fixed!

Amit Shah: Home Minister

Rajnath Singh: Defence Minister



What’s happening between the US and Iran? Here’s an update


The US and Iran have been bickering for the last couple of years. However, lately, things have been heading towards an all-out fight. In April 2019, the US used a bullying tactic to say that they would put sanctions on any country that continued to buy oil from Iran. The sanctions, which President Trump restarted after pulling out of a nuclear deal last year,  have hit Iran hard with its people suffering the most. (See more about the deal here)

In May, relations between the two countries worsened when the US sent a navy ship and B-52 bombers just outside the Persian Gulf after Iran supposedly threatened US forces and hinted that they would disrupt oil shipping in the Straits of Hormuz.  

Then Iranian President Hassan Rouhani played another card. He said that unless the  European Union and other world powers saved the nuclear deal within 60 days, Iran would start enriching more uranium which is needed for nuclear weapons. Iran had agreed to limit this activity as part of its 2015 deal in exchange for the sanctions being lifted. In reply, the US sent even more ships to the Persian Gulf.

On 12 May, four oil tankers were damaged in the Gulf of Oman. The UAE and the Saudis both said that Iran was behind the attack. A day later, the US Defence Secretary outlined a military plan to send troops to the Middle East if Iran attacked US troops in the area. But after tempers cooled down, both the US and Iran stated they were not interested in beginning a war.

The seesaw continued though, because things heated up again after President Trump warned that if a war began, it would be “the official end of Iran.” Coincidentally on the same day, a rocket exploded just a mile from the US Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq and the US once again blamed Iran for the action.

On 20 June, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down a US surveillance drone which it said had illegally crossed into their airspace. Iran said that it was a signal to the US that though they did not want a war, Iran would be ready for one if the US made further moves to increase tensions. US President Trump reported that he had been ready to attack three sites in Iran, but called off the strike at the last minute. In this time of great tension in the area, many commercial airlines have changed their flight routes so that they are not flying over Iran.

A clash of egos? An economic disaster? Unnecessary threats of war? The world waits and watches while international bodies work hard to tone down the tension.

Written by: Pereena Lamba. Pereena is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant. She is also co-author of Totally Mumbai.

Off Duty – Doctors Strike in Bengal

When people become doctors, they take an oath to serve and uphold ethical standards while practicing medicine. But what if they are under threat? What if they fear for their own lives when people become violent towards them? This is what happened last week in West Bengal. Here is how it unfolded:

10th June 2019

A 75-year old man passed away at the Nilratan Sarkar Medical (NRS) College. His relatives put his death down to medical negligence (failure to give proper care) and assaulted the junior doctors on the case. Both were severely injured.

11th June 2019

The next day, 50 intern doctors closed the gates of the hospital as a sign of protest against the assault and called on the Chief Minister, Mamta Banerjee, to provide better security for doctors.  To express their support for the doctors, the Doctors Forum said that they would stop all outpatient departments in government-run hospitals the next day but emphasised that emergency services would continue to work.

12th June 2019

Healthcare services in West Bengal were severely hit as doctors from hospitals across the state joined the protest. Despite assurances, many emergency departments also remained shut and caused chaos for patients. Meanwhile, doctors across the country said that they would also protest against the attacks on 14th June.

13th June 2019

Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee gave the doctors until 2 pm to call their strike off or face the consequences.

14th June 2019: The strike spread

Over 200 doctors across the state gave in their resignations as a form of protest. The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Resident Doctors’ Association in New Delhi also did not work. The Indian Medical Association told its state branches to wear black badges as a sign of protest. Resident doctors in Maharashtra stopped working in outpatient wards and diagnostic departments  for 8 hours, and doctors in the Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad also joined the protests.

15th June 2019

The Chief Minister of West Bengal met with senior doctors and urged them to withdraw, but the talks ended with no result.

16th June 2019

The strike intensified, and doctors in several states said that non-essential services would stop for 24 hours from Monday, 17th June.

17th June 2019:

The doctors called off their strike after meeting the Chief Minister in the evening. Ms Banerjee said that she would ensure that doctors in the state get enhanced security. She also met with the two doctors who had been injured. She said that the police would place officers in all government hospitals for the protection of doctors, and that all CCTVs would be made operational. There would also be a special cell where people can complain, and that awareness programs would be undertaken to educate the public about not attacking doctors.

What now?

This is not the first instance of patients assaulting doctors in India. Early this year, there were separate cases of patients assaulting doctors in Delhi and Maharashtra. In a survey,

62% of doctors said that they could not see patients without any fear of violence, and that 57% had thought of hiring security staff at their workplace. The Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said that the Government would also look into a new law on doctors’ security.

Written by: Pereena Lamba. Pereena is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant. She is also co-author of Totally Mumbai.

The UK is getting ready for a new Prime Minister.

Credit: Wikipedia

Theresa May, Prime Minister of the UK, resigned on May 24, 2019.

What happens now? She will continue to work as the PM until a new one is appointed by late July.

Why did she resign? She tried to negotiate a Brexit deal for the UK with the EU (European Union), but the UK Parliament rejected the deal three times. It’s time for a fresh perspective on this deal!

Who will be appointed to this position? There are currently 6 candidates vying for the position as leader of the Conservative Party, the party that controls the make up of the UK government until 2022. This leader will be the next Prime Minister of the UK and continue the Brexit negotiations.

How does the selection process work? Candidates who have some support within the political party are nominated. There are ballots (secret votes) held every few days, before which the candidates try to garner further support. Those with the least support following these ballots are then dropped off the list. This process goes on until two candidates remain.

Check out how the BBC illustrated this process:

Check in again to see what happens next!


Written by: Sunaina Murthy

What are the protests in Hong Kong about?

Credit: South China Morning Post

Nearly 1.03 million people took to the streets in Hong Kong on the 9th of June. They came together to protest a bill called the ‘extradition bill’. If this bill were passed, people suspected of committing a crime could have been extradited or sent from Hong Kong to mainland China, to face their punishment there. What does all this mean? Let’s go through the issues.

What is extradition? This is the process of sending a criminal back to the country/state where he or she has been accused of a crime. For example, Indian businessman Vijay Mallya has been accused of committing financial fraud in India. He left the country before he could be arrested, and went away to the UK. Now, India has requested the UK to ‘extradite’ him so that he can come back to India and face trial.

Isn’t Hong Kong a Chinese city? Yes, it is. But it is very different from mainland China. Almost 200 years ago, Hong Kong was a fishing community and a safe zone for pirates. It was colonised by the British In the 19th century, and was ruled by the British Empire for 156 years. During this time, they made it a major trading centre. Today, it is one of the world’s top financial centres. The British ultimately had a 99 year lease on the city. This means that they ‘rented’ it from China, for a period of 99 years. The lease expired in 1997.

In 1984, it was decided that HongKong would be semi-autonomous until 2047. This means that Hong Kong would be able to have some independence and not be completely subject to Chinese laws until 2047. When the lease ended in 1997, Hong Kong was returned to China. Chris Patten, the last British Governor of Hong Kong, described it as a city with “liberties without democracy”, as Hong Kongers under China would have free speech and civil liberties (guaranteed rights as citizens) but would not be able to pick their leader.

What is the extradition bill about? Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, wants to pass a law that will allow mainland China to extradite any suspect from Hong Kong. She argues that criminal suspects from China are running across to Hong Kong so that they can escape being in trouble. This extradition bill would allow China to bring them back to face the music.

Why is this a problem? The fear is that this will allow anyone who the Chinese government doesn’t like, to be picked up from Hong Kong. In the past, the leaders of other protests have been harassed, some have been banned from political activity and people with “wrong” views about the government have gone missing. Hong Kongers fear that their semi-autonomy will slowly be lost.

Picture this: You are in your class at school and the teacher thinks that you have cheated on your test. The truth is that you have not but you are not allowed to defend yourself. You have to repeat a year because of this.  That’s what it is like when you don’t have civil liberties. This is what the Hong Kongers are scared of. They enjoy a lot of freedom that people in mainland China do not. They feel that the extradition bill is an excuse to slowly take away their basic rights!

About the protest: As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” Hong Kongers gathered on the streets to protest the bill. It took a turn for the worse when the police used tear gas and rubber bullets on the protesters. Carrie Law has now delayed the bill indefinitely on 16th June. In this fight for freedom, the Hong Kongers have won this battle.

Vaijayanti is a writer, a nature enthusiast and an amateur wildlife photographer. She hopes her virtual pen and lens can make the world a better place

USA and Mexico – What do tariffs and immigration have to do with each other?

US President Donald Trump has been very vocal about preventing illegal immigrants from coming into America ever since he took office. He has talked about building a wall between the US and Mexico to keep illegal immigrants out. He has also been harsher with people who have been found without the appropriate papers in the country.

A couple of weeks ago, he announced that as another deterrent, starting from June 10, 2019, he would start imposing tariffs on all goods coming into America from Mexico. This would start with a 5% tax on these goods, and then the tariffs would increase by 5% every month until they reached 25%, unless Mexico did something real to stop the flow of people across the Mexico-US border.

What does this mean for goods that go from Mexico to America? Mexico and America are big trade partners, under NAFTA and the new deal USMCA. America imported $378 billion worth of goods from Mexico last year, making Mexico the second largest trade partner for America. If the tariffs had been imposed, then a product from Mexico that was being sold in America at $1, would cost the consumer $1.05 initially, and then go steadily up to $1.25. That’s a steep increase, and would discourage the use of these products. This would hurt Mexico as they would sell less product to America. This would also hurt Americans, as they would have to pay more for the same product, or then find alternative goods.

Got it. So what happened to this tariff threat? It was called off this weekend, as Mexico agreed to help America more in securing the border and halting the flow of illegal immigrants to America. These immigrants are from Mexico, but they are also from other countries in Central America where they are fleeing violence and poverty.

Mexico has agreed to increase its border control forces, and importantly, to keep asylum seekers in Mexico while they figure out their next steps. So this means that when the asylum seekers are turned away at the US-Mexico border, they will be kept in Mexico, rather than the US.

Written by: Sunaina Murthy