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Deadly week of caste violence could portend Indian election upheaval

Dalit members stage protest in New Delhi
Dalits protest the alleged dilution of the Prevention of Atrocities Act in New Delhi on April 2, 2018. Photo: K Asif/India Today Group via Getty Images

Since last week, thousands of Dalits — a broad category of India’s most marginalized populations — have protested a Supreme Court ruling that dilutes the Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1989, a critical piece of anti-discrimination legislation. Multiple clashes between protesters, police and upper-caste groups across 10 states have led to curfews, property damage and more than 10 deaths.

Why it matters: Dalits account for a fifth of India’s population, and so will play a critical role in state elections this year and national elections in 2019. With more protests scheduled this week, and more groups joining in to express discontent with government policies, the fight between the BJP and its opposition parties to win Dalit support is intensifying.

The background: Dalit, meaning "broken/scattered" in Hindi, refers to groups that have been severely marginalized in the 3,000-year-old caste system. Historically, Dalits were forced into occupations that were considered impure, blocked from formal institutions and regarded as “untouchable” by higher castes.

Since caste discrimination was outlawed in 1950, quotas for educational institutions, public sector jobs and even local government have attempted to correct past injustices. The pace of change, however, is uneven, and threatened by rollbacks like last week's court ruling.

In the past, Dalit mobilizations were too often localized and ineffective. But things are changing: Dalits have seen a literacy rate increase from 10% in 1961 to 66% in 2011 (the national average is 74%), the emergence of a middle class (including even a few millionaires), a rise in university student groups and a growing consolidation of electoral power.

These recent protests were powerful, spontaneous, widespread and remarkably well coordinated — particularly in the states ruled by the dominant Bharatiya Janata Party. Narendra Modi’s government — supported largely by the middle classes, upper castes and large businesses — appeared to be caught off guard.

What to watch: A new generation of Dalit leaders has started to reject tokenism and seek genuine empowerment. Their success in stepping into parliament in 2019, with or without the ruling BJP, could be a big step toward a more democratic India.

Shareen Joshi is an assistant professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

Haley Britzky 2 hours ago
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The E.U. and U.K. want to be front and center on AI research

Theresa May visits an engineering facility.
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May visits an engineering training facility in Birmingham. Photo: Andrew Yates/AFP/Getty Images

The E.U. and U.K. both announced major investments in artificial intelligence research this week, with more than 50 tech companies contributing to a £1 billion deal in the U.K., and the European Commission announcing it would be allocating €1.5 billion to AI research until 2020.

The big picture: The U.K.'s deal, as detailed in a government press release, will include funding for "8,000 specialist computer science teachers, 1,000 government-funded AI PhDs by 2025," and development for a "prestigious global Turing Fellowship" program to attract top talent. Per the release, the U.K. will also be developing "a world-leading Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation," to emphasize ethical standards with AI research. The E.U.'s deal also includes laying out clear ethical guidelines by the end of 2018.

Mike Pompeo’s first foreign trip

Mike Pompeo
CIA Director Mike Pompeo testifies on worldwide threats. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

If he is confirmed as Secretary of State tomorrow, Mike Pompeo will embark on his first foreign trip as secretary to Brussels for the NATO Summit, Axios has learned. Bloomberg first reported the contingency planning for the potential trip.

The details: “The acting secretary John Sullivan is ready to go to the NATO summit in Brussels Thursday,” a senior administration official told Axios. “The secretary-designate Mike Pompeo is prepared to travel to the meeting of foreign ministers to reaffirm our commitment to NATO and coordinate the alliance’s response to Russian aggression.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the latest developments.