We proudly state that India is a secular State, but are we actually not communal?
For several days the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians has been going on. We in India have seen on YouTube rockets being fired by Hamas, which are often intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome, and the demolition of buildings in Gaza by the Israeli Air Force.
What do Indians think about all this?
About 80 per cent Indians are Hindus, and about 16 per cent are Muslims. Almost all Hindus, including the so called ‘intellectuals’ among them (academics, mediapersons, professionals like lawyers and doctors, writers, etc) support Israel in this conflict, and almost all Indian Muslims support the Palestinians. Only the so-called ‘liberals’ among the Hindus support the Palestinians, but these would be hardly five per cent of all Hindus. The rest believe all Muslims everywhere in the world to be trouble-makers and terrorists.
This is because despite the Indian Constitution calling India a secular country, the truth is it is highly communal. Most Hindus are communal, and so are most Muslims. This I can say from personal knowledge. When I am with my own relatives, and they are sure no Muslim is around, they often spout venom against Muslims, who are perceived as fanatics and anti-national. When a Muslim is lynched in India most Hindus are indifferent, and some even happy. One terrorist less! In fact, it is because most Hindus are communal that the BJP, which claims to represent the Hindus, won the parliamentary elections in India in 2014 and 2019, and came to power. Thereafter, polarisation of Indian society on religious lines has grown exponentially. No doubt the recent farmers agitation in India cut through caste and religious lines, and the ongoing pandemic has been a reverse to the BJP which is being blamed by the people for not properly handling it. But these are temporary phenomena. Once they are over, the country will again revert to the old status.
The truth is that secularism is a feature of industrial society, as in North America and Europe, but India is still semi-feudal, and most people here are strongly religious. The religious divide between Hindus and Muslims was fanned up by the British rulers by their policy of divide and rule (see my article ‘The Truth about Pakistan’ and BN Pande’s ‘History in the service of Imperialism’ online), and continued even after Independence in 1947 by some vested interests, particularly after the BJP came to power in 2014.
Some people claim that the recent elections in West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu where the BJP and/or its ally (like the ADMK) suffered a reverse, shows that the BJP is on the decline. I do not agree. A few carefully engineered communal riots will neutralise this trend.
Unless India becomes a highly industrialised country, communalism will thrive in India. To end communalism, a radical transformation of Indian society is required, which is only possible by a mighty historical united people’s struggle, culminating in a revolution, but this is as yet nowhere on the horizon.
(The writer is a former judge of the Supreme Court. The views expressed are personal.)
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In an increasingly globalised world, there is greater civilisational, social and ethnic self-consciousness. But cultural identity is what is most meaningful to most people
India has seen an uprising of religious consciousness, pride, assertiveness and aggression in recent years like never before. The credit or blame is reserved for the BJP generally, though now prominent parties like the AAP, TMC and Congress are also seen as following suit.But is rise of religious and civilizational identity particular to India, or is it a global phenomenon of our times? From Islamic nations to Europe, from Brazil to Philippines the phenomenon seems to be taking shape.Three decades ago, the American political scientist Samuel Huntington made such a prophesy for our times.
The post-Cold war world has changed fundamentally, so he wrote. The world has never been multipolar and multicivilizational before -- while being so interconnected - in the entire human history. The most important distinctions between people in this new world will not be ideological or economic but cultural; most important and dangerous conflicts will occur not between rich or poor but between people belonging to different cultural entities.End of Cold war has led to global resurgence of religions around the world, involving intensification of religious consciousness, rise of fundamentalist movements,escalating ethnic conflicts and ethnic cleansing.
Huntington identifies another significant phenomenon taking place in the post-Cold war world: the relative decline of the western power. East is on its way to equating with the West. The US and UN are unable to suppress bloody local conflicts and rising China is increasingly assertive. Asian civilisations are expanding economically. Economic growth creates basis for enhanced military power and political influence.As the power and self-confidence of non-Western societies increases, they assert their own cultural values and reject those imposed on them by West. Most notable cultural resurgence is happening in Asia and Islamic nations generated by their economic and demographic dynamism.
The multi-civilisational world and rise of religions: Huntington writes empires rise and fall, governments come and go, civilizations remain and survive political, social, economic, even ideological upheavals. The great religions are the foundations on which great civilisations rest (Confucianism, Hindu, Islam, Judeo-Christian).The 20th century ideological conflict between Liberal Democracy and Marxist Leninism was only a fleeting, superficial historical phenomenon, a temporary aberration in the centuries-old human history. History of the world has been the history of civilizations, and conflict between them. Religion is the most important factor in determining civilisation.
The most salient cause of religious revival is the process of social, economic and cultural modernization which has disrupted longstanding system of identity and authority. In an increasingly globalised world, there is greater civilisational, social and ethnic self-consciousness — because people define themselves by what makes them different from others. Cultural identity is what is most meaningful to most people.
In this new world, local politics is the politics of ethnicity; global politics is the politics of civilizations. The rivalry of superpower is replaced by the clash of civilizations. Global politics began to be reconfigured along cultural lines: civilizational identities are shaping the patterns of cohesion, disintegration and conflict. Present day conflicts between West and China, West and Islam, cohesion and unity of Islamic nations, China and Islamic connection against West, Turkish and Iranian support to Azerbaijan in conflict can all be explained on the basis of this theory.
Is western liberalism universal? Most non-western nations take offence to the West’s sitting as the jury on the level of democracy and freedom in their governing systems- while the non-western world can never judge the west.Huntington questions the imposition of western liberalism on the non-western world: its universalism. He states that western assumption that the only river of civilization is our own and all others are either tributaries to it or lost in the desert sand is an egocentric illusion of the West.Universalism justifies western cultural domination over others by making other societies ape western practices and institutions. What west calls universal, others see as imperialism. It increasingly brings West into conflict with other civilizations, most seriously with Islam and China.
He states major differences in political and economic development among civilizations are clearly rooted in their different cultures. East Asian economic success as well as difficulties in achieving stable democratic political system, has its source in East Asian culture. Islamic culture explains failure of emergence of democracy in much of Islamic world. Japan and India are the only two civilizations which had a class system paralleling that of the West; why only two non-western societies to sustain major democratic governments. The recent coup in Myanmar, dictatorial regimes in Russia and Turkey despite their proximity to the West, failure of West to import democracy to Iraq, Afghanistan, North African nations after Arab Spring can be understood by Huntington’s theory.
Huntington dismisses Fukuyama’s End of History theory that predicts victory of western liberalism over all other ideologies.The collapse of communism in Soviet Union doesn't necessarily mean that other societies will import the Western ideology of liberal democracy - this underestimates the non-western culture’s creativity, resilience and individuality. This thinking is rooted in Cold War perspective, that liberal democracy is the only alternative to communism. There are many forms of authoritarianism, nationalism, corporatism and market communism (China) that are alive and well in the world today. More significantly there are religious alternatives that lie outside secular ideologies.
Modernisation and Westernisation: Huntington questions that modernization essentially needs westernization. No one political ideology or set of institutions -- elections, civic associations and other hallmark of western life — are necessary for economic growth. Non-western societies have modernised and can do so without adopting values, institutions, practices of the west. Gulf nations and East Asian economies are the living examples of this in our times.
In fundamental ways the world is becoming more modern and less western. Modernisation strengthens cultures adopting it and reduces relative power of the west. At individual level, modernisation breaks traditional bonds and social relations, creating crises of identity to which religious provides an answer.
Decline of the West: The challenge that the west faces is not just economic but more importantly to its political influence and liberal value system. The greatest challenge comes from Islam and China, that embody great cultural tradition very different from West and in their eyes superior to it. Throughout the history when a civilisation’s power has expanded, it has always used that power to extend its values, practices and institutions to other societies. The era dominated by western ideologies is over, new era will have multiple and diverse civilizations interact, compete and coexist and accommodate with each other.
Second generation indigenisation phenomenon is taking place all over the non-western world. In 1960-70s pro-west governments and west-leaning (often western educated) leaders were threatened by coups and revolutions; in 1980-90s they were increasingly in danger of being ousted by elections. Electoral competitions are won by most popular appeals of ethnic, nationalistic and religious character.
Another challenge that the West faces is the democracy paradox: democratisation conflicts with westernisation. Democracy is inherently a parochialising, not cosmopolitanising, process. As non-western societies take to democracy, or deepen democracy, they seek to assert their own value systems and rebel against the western diktats, often a change from friendly dictator to unfriendly democratic regime for the west. Regionalisation will be the central trend in post-cold war global politics. The US is not likely to have the military capability to manage regional contingencies.
The author is a public policy analyst and a lawyer. The views expressed are personal.
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Are we on the right path to addressing the pandemic? Do we have the right people on our right side?
One of the most prominent scientific voices of the COVID-19 pandemic, virologist Shahid Jameel has resigned as the head of the Indian SARS-COV-2 Genomics Consortia (INSACOG), the scientific advisory group coordinating the country’s genome-sequencing work. The scientific body advising the Union Government on the epidemiological and virological aspects of handling the COVID pandemic is the poorer by the surprise resignation of the virologist. He chaired the INSACOG that the Government set up this January to use genetic sequencing to track the emergence of the COVID variants. The consortium first detected the deadly Indian variant, B.1.617, in February itself and shared the findings with the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) under the Health Ministry in early March. It stated that the variant may cause a spurt in infections across the country. The consortium found out that B.1.617 had two mutations, called E484Q and L452R, that could transmit faster and escape antibodies as well. The Health Ministry made this information public on March 24. Responding to a query by the Reuters news agency about the lack of a more robust response from the Government to the findings, Shahid Jameel said: “I am worried that science was not taken into account to drive policy. But I know where my jurisdiction stops. As scientists we provide the evidence, policymaking is the job of the Government.” He may not have been mending bridges with his well-known candour. Jameel continued to follow the Indian strain and regularly inform the Government.
On May 13, he wrote a signed article in the New York Times, critical of India’s response, specially about vaccination. “India should vaccinate with far more than the two million daily doses now….In India the virus was mutating around the new year to become more infectious, more transmissible and better able to evade pre-existing immunity….The timing and scale of the third wave would depend on the proportion of vaccinated people, whether newer variants emerge and whether India can avoid additional super-spreader events, like large weddings and religious festivals….….” Jameel gave no reason for quitting the post, but he may just have reached the end of the long rope. Previously, Dr Gagandeep Kang, another scientist and the only Indian woman to be elected as Fellow, the Royal Society of London, resigned as the executive director of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute. She is also the vice-chairperson for Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness, a global consortium facilitating promising vaccine candidates for COVID-19. Kang was also the head of the National COVID-19 task force constituted by the Indian Council of Medical Research for a similar purpose, but disbanded within a month. She is also known to speak out her mind. It is high time that the scientific task force is headed by virologists —with the bureaucrats handling the execution side.
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ontrary to what the critics might say, we have a nation that is strong enough to accommodate all the viewpoints
Lately, several observers of democracy, the Freedom House of the US, V Dem based in Sweden and the Democracy Index of the UK, have commented that India may be moving towards an electoral autocracy. Such a conclusion is extremely unfair and positively damaging. Evidently, these agencies and others are unable to appreciate India having a strong Government. While the American establishment, especially the Pentagon, would like a viable ally against the expansionist China, these so-called liberals prefer to see India as a permanent Third World Society.
Do they realise that India has a dominantly Hindu ethos which is intrinsically an epitome of freedom? Anyone who believes in the phenomenon of karma is a Hindu. Whether he/she is a whole-time worshipper or an agonistic, it enjoys or suffers the fruit of his karma. No god sits on judgement over any individual or his/her community; there is no anticipation of a doomsday or an end of the world. Anadi-ananta, or there is no beginning of life and no end, according to Hindu scriptures.
Karma is reminiscent of physics, which says that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Every action by an individual, whether virtuous or vicious, is spontaneously recorded by the grand nature or its celestial computer as well as its reaction or bhagya. There is no single judge, nor only two alternatives for the individual, namely heaven or hell.
Any assertion of a single god resembles Deductive Logic which asserts a premise namely so and so is my God and He is the only God. The corollaries that emanate from the premise are flawlessly consistent. In sharp contrast, Hinduism is a specimen of Inductive Logic. Herein lies the freedom intrinsic to Hinduism. To illustrate this contrast, say, four Hindus happened to meet somewhere and discuss the subject of roses. The person from the north may say that roses are red. The southerner could assert that he has seen only white roses. The easterner may express serious disagreement and insist that the roses in his region are only pink. The person from western India may say you are wrong; roses are always yellow. After half an hour of animated argumentation, each would say: Possibly in your parts of the country, there are other colours of roses. Someone else would propose: Let us agree to disagree, and request that we exchange samples of all four colours.
A member of an Abrahamic or western background, in such a controversial situation, may well declare that roses are always red; the rest must be other flowers or, perhaps, weeds. Just as a Jew is a Jew, the rest are gentiles. That is where conflict and war begin. Prophet Abraham, when he first saw a vision, said God told him to prove his bonfires by sacrificing his own son Isaac. When he was about to obey God and behead Isaac, the Almighty told him to stop and sacrifice a goat instead. The western religion was thus born in violence; Prophet Moses had a much more violent experience when he freed the Israelis from the clutches of the Egyptians and brought them to Judea.
Again, Jesus Christ, the “son of God”, was brutally crucified, more violence.
When we went to Jerusalem, one morning the guide took us all to the foot of the Calvary Hill on the top of which Jesus Christ was was crucified. There are 14 stations, or stops, to the top of the hill where now is the Church of Sepulchre; the “son of God” was buried therein. At the time, I was too weak to climb all the distance. To please my wife and cousins, I said I would climb to station two and sit down and wait for them to return from the top. However, a magnet in the air drew me on and on. I went up all the 14 stations. I am not a Christian nor have been to a missionary school. So, I climbed to the top of the hill and returned without feeling any great extra weakness or fatigue.
In the deductive religions, there is limited scope for spirituality beyond the scriptures and places of worship. As a result, the believers tend to unite communally and fight in order to fulfill themselves collectively in the service of God. Whereas, the inductive Hindus are dependent on individual karmas and have no pressure to unite to serve society and, in turn, God. In the bargain, they unite only in the face of severe collective danger. In the bargain, they believe they are peace-loving and in the eyes of others they might seem deficient in courage. But those who believe in the deductive approach have their histories littered with violence and war.
As early as the ascension of Prophet Muhammad in 632 AD, the Caliphs initiated the conquest of the Middle-East, including Morocco in the west, to Iran in the east. The Moors of North Africa invaded Spain in 712 AD and reached Poitiers in France soon. Historian Ian Morris, in his book WAR, calls it the “Five Hundred-Years War” but it was actually longer. Eventually, Britain alone conquered one-fourth of the world.
(The writer is a well-known columnist and an author. The views expressed are personal.)
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K S Raju Legal Trust to move UN to recognize genocide of Hindus and Sikhs, Kerala Governor, Chief Minister Punjab, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Addl Chief Secretary Tamil Nadu Dr Jagmohan Raju, and filmmaker Harvinder Sikka address
K S Raju Legal Trust organized a virtual session to celebrate the 400th birth anniversary of the 9th Sikh Guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur ji.
Speakers from three different religious backgrounds addressed the webinar including Governor of Kerala Shri Arif Mohammad Khan, Art of Living founder Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and Chief Minister of Punjab, Capt Amarinder Singh.
In his opening remarks the moderator of the session, Dr Jagmohan Singh Raju, Additional Chief Secretary, Govt of Tamil Nadu lamented that UN has conveniently ignored the genocide perpetrated on the Indian populace over centuries ignoring acts of violence against non-Abrahamic religions like Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism.
He also appealed to commemorate Guru Tegh Bahadur’s martyrdom day as a ‘Day of Commemoration in memory of the Hindu and Sikh victims of Genocide and Holocaust.
All the speakers referred to Guru Tegh Bahadur’s martyrdom a unique example in the world when he stood against the oppressors to condemn forcible religious conversion and persecution of people from a different religious beliefs.
Shri Arif Mohammad Khan, Governor of Kerala in his presidential remarks referred to Guruji’s sacrifice which epitomized the values that the Sikhism has imbibed over the centuries believing in the oneness of mankind.
Quoting extensively from Guru Granth Saheb, Vedas and Indian ethos that have been time and again proven by the Sikhs through their acts and firm belief in ‘sarbat da bhala’, Kerala’s governor recalled how Sikhs with miniscule presence in the state rallied from across the country and abroad to help the flood victims last year.
What better way to demonstrate the religious tolerance and oneness can be better displayed when the foundation stone of the world’s most sacred place of Sikhs, the Golden temple, was laid by a person of different religious denomination.
Capt. Amarinder Singh, Chief Minister of Punjab, recalled the long association his family had with the Gurus who visited Patiala, a legacy that is being carried forward by renovating all those places where Gurus visited under the “Charan Chho” project.
He informed that nearly 103 such places in Punjab have been identified which are not only being preserved to keep the future generations in touch with their great heritage and the values that Sikh Gurus promoted, besides undertaking a massive forestation efforts as part of celebrations with planting of 60 lakh saplings under current anniversary celebrations of Guru Tegh Bahadur and 75 lakh were planted earlier during Guru Nanak Dev’s 500th celebrations.
Guru Saheb stood for secularism and he was a universally acknowledged spiritual leader and was rightly called, ‘Hind di chaddar’, he said.
His government is preparing several programmes to commemorate the occasion which had to be postponed because of the pandemic and once the situation eases our endeavour is to spread the message across the globe, Capt Amarinder Singh said.
Besides renovating the jail in Bassi Pathana where Guru sahib were imprisoned, his universal message of one humanity and religious freedom shall continue to be promoted.
Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar began his address with “Waheguru ji ki khalsa, waheguru ji ki fateh”, and said that Guru Tegh Bahadur taught a powerful message to the world that you should not forsake those who believe in you.
The exemplary role that Sikhs have always played during any crisis is reflection of the teachings of the great gurus that they have imbibed into their lives, Sri Sri said. They have learnt the lesson that as human you cannot be a back-bencher or shy away from one’s responsibility as a human to help those in need, to stand up and act.
And the greatest truth, Gurudev said, is not to be carried away ever by the arrogance and pride of power, but stay humbled and standup for truth.
Later, reputed filmmaker of “Nanak Shah Faqir” and “Raazi”, Harvinder Singh Sikka, in his expression of gratitude considered the opportunity as a Divine gift for being a part of such discussions which revealed many unknown facets of Sikh history, including Maharaja of Patiala’s interaction with the Sikh Gurus that need to be documented and shared.
Sikhism, more than a religion, began and still is, a way of life, remarked Harvinder Sikka.
Somehow, the States and the Union Government are passing on the impression that it has been unable to meet the challenge of the virus
Thoughts of prospective troubles hardly come true, and most people die of visceral fear of spectre or something that doesn't exist. "Ninety per cent of our problems are caused by our own thoughts," says Hilda de la Rosa, a South African popular author and motivational speaker. She says, entrapped in our thought processes, we find it arduous to extricate ourselves from the thinking pattern we have imbibed over years. Unaware of the facts about morbidity and mortality due to Covid or otherwise, most people are caught with the fear psychosis that is taking a larger toll than the pandemic itself.The predicament has shaken people of all description. The pandemic 2.0 is hitting Indians with greater intensity and virulence but a sensible and broader perspective can reduce the hype and assure the implications of the current crisis are not as dismal as being made out.
Certain mystery shrouds the resurgence of Covid 2.0 with new strains. True, the plateauing of Covid cases in India by last fall led to public and government complacence about continuing risks. And the the government toned down restrictions. As the going seemed manageable, shops,restaurants, wholesale and retail markets, malls,schools, public transport, businesses and public establishments tended to function normally.Export of jet fighters, plans to lay 75,000+ stations to charge electric vehicles, supply of domestically produced Covid vaccine to 87 countries and medicines to over 150 countries meant progression towards a vibrant economy and making of "atmanirbhar" nation. Naturally, the Indian buoyancy and optimism was not palatable to arms, oil, and pharma lobbies,as theycould lose huge businesses in India; apropos of 5-billion-dollar PPE and masks deals alone came to a naught in one shot, oil companies were next. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who repeatedly said and meant 'desh nahi lutne dunga, desh nahin bikne dunga' was a common enemy who would not bend like Donald Trump of the US. For the global business magnates to flourish in India, Modi's downsizingwith the aid of domestic disgruntled elements appeared the only option. To support them was neighbouring China. Possibility of China-sponsored biological war behind the abrupt rise in Covid cases in India bypassing the neighbouring countries with identical life style during April 10-15 cannot be ruled out. Accompanying this was the opposition's refrain of failure of Modi government to deal with Covid, enthusiastically supported by Western media.On April 20, international media showed'large scale' cremations and highlighted deficiencies in Indian health care sector. Strangely, at this hour, Pakistan also offered to help India.
The anti-government chorus was endorsed by UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore on May 4: "The tragic situation in India should raise alarm bellsfor all of us." Most recent is the editorial in the medical journal Lancet summarily undermining the government's efforts in dealing with Covid;the vindictive portion being, "Modi's actions in attempting to stifle criticism and open discussion during the crisis crisis are inexcusable". The statement suggesting the government "own up to its mistakes" is the tone of a hardcore political adversary and in bad taste, unbecoming of a medical publication. Reports about Chinese instigations behind the sordid coverage and observations on India's handling of Covid shall be revalatory.
At home, during Covid 1.0, the Opposition decried lockdowns for its adverse implications on livelihoods. In second wave, after States were allowed to decide at their own level, they chose lockdown. They also criticised the efficacy of vaccine, then took it one by one. The purpose was creating a public impression that government is unwilling and unfit to manage Covid crisis, something not in national interest.
Ambiguity in identifying the precise aetiology, genesis and manifestations of Covid 2.0 further tends to destabilise the poise of lay public. The doctors find it expedient to classify routine health issues as Covid in keeping with trends. The head of a prestigious health facility,Dr Arvind Kumar of Medanta, Gurugram: Consider any one of symptoms like sneezing, headache, fever, throat soar, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of smell or taste, skin patches, body ache as Covid case unless proved otherwise, and begin with self-isolation without wait for lab reports - even negative reports with either symptom must be treated as Covid. Such precepts further down the already diminishing morale of the patient and his kith and kin that needs bolstering in the nerve breaking era we are passing through.
As for the numbers gamein Covid, national morbidity and mortality data across states in specific time frames are subject to wide fluctuations because transmission of Covid is multifactorialin nature involvingthe vision of the governmentad thestrict measures it takes to control the pandemic including health facilities.Thus,it shall be naïve to pronounce judgement on the performance of the governance based on infections and death data of few days, weeks or even months; policies and actions take long to show results. Taking the Covid data of April 28, 2021, though numerically India witnessed largest daily deaths (3647) compared to USA (954), Germany (320), France (344) and Italy (344), the deaths per crore population turns out to be mere 26 for India and 29, 38, 48 and 57, respectively, for these countries (source: worldometers.info). Thus, the narrative that India is worst hit by Covid smacks of foul play to tarnish the image of India.
Doctors are not knowalls in health matters but in a few weeks after Covid 2.0, how do they presume that all non-Covid diseases have eclipsed altogether. Based on 2017 data, World Economic Forum analysis revealed 25,270 daily deaths in India, second to China at 28,036. The estimated global annual death toll for tuberculosis of all kinds in 2019 stood at 14.18 lakh and 79,144 in India; for HIV-related diseases the annual death toll was 5-9 lakh globally and 69,000 for India in 2017. These figures shall not be significantly different for 2020 and 2021. A fair, comparative assessment of quantitative changes in morbidity and mortality in pre-Covid and it a time frame shows that the Covid death toll as reported is misleading and ignores mortality from classical diseases. The actual Covid toll is not of the level we are told to make out.
The fear against COVID is largely visceral. It is the spectre of COVID that is the real threat, and not the virus itself. The virus with a life of around seven days is an issue only in about three to five per cent cases where specialist handling is required. We are undergoing times when each section of country has to lend a helping hand. Let us face the facts squarely, keep our peace and hope for the best.
The author is a blogger at www.bluntspeaker.com and writes on health, spiritual, and social issues.
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Despite reverses, the nation needs to keep reminding of the goal ahead: Keep ourselves healthy
On April 19, at a virtual event organised by the All India Management Association, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar fielded a question from industrialist Sunil Munjal about India exporting or donating vaccines without first satisfying the domestic demand. The Minister said: “So ask yourself this question — can I go around and say ‘guys, keep your supply chains flowing towards me and, by the way, the end product of the supply chain I am asking you raw material for — vaccine — but I am not going to give you the vaccine’. If you get into this, why are you exporting at all; then someone else will ask why am I exporting to India and that is so shortsighted and only really irresponsible, really non-serious people will make that argument and, by the way, there are some around as you would have noticed.” What he did not tell Munjal was that the vaccine doses donated by India, that is, given free to several foreign countries, were only 10.75 million out of a total 66.37 million doses shown as “Made-in-India vaccine supplies” on the Ministry of External Affairs website. A substantial part of it, 35.79 million doses to be precise, are commercial and licensing liabilities of the two vaccine manufacturers, the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech. Another 19.86 million doses are vaccines sent abroad because of the agreement the manufacturers had signed to obtain raw materials for producing the vaccines.
The last two types of supplies were tagged along with the free doses supplied. The vaccine diplomacy of New Delhi, called “Vaccine Maitri”, began on January 21 and lasted till April 16. In this period, India had supplied abroad all the vaccine it possibly could and the rationale for this comes from no less a person than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. At the inaugural Raisina Dialogue on April 13, he said: “…this year, despite many constraints, we have supplied vaccine to over 80 countries. We know that the supplies have been modest. We know that the demands are huge. We know that it will be a long time before the entire humanity can be vaccinated. At the same time, we also know that hope matters.” During this period, doses were sent to 95 countries across the world. Now comes the part where the Government did not do what it was supposed to do during this period of “Maitri”. On May 11, the cumulative doses given to Indians stood at 17.51 crore and no more orders were placed in this period even though shortages were being reported. In early May, the Government said it was still to receive 23 million doses from its previous order and placed fresh orders of around 160 million doses. These orders, for May, June and July, are supposed to be met by July. The manufacturers have their own compulsions meeting the orders in time and the vaccination drive awaits vaccines, free or paid for, in the meantime.
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In these pandemic times, do we remember that we had a time filled with the zest for life, ambitions and hope? Where is it now?
It was the summer of the 71. Agra, my hometown, was flooded. Our house, on a higher ground, was a bit less affected; nevertheless, water had entered the ground floor and we were perched on the top. As the rescue boats went by, we children were busy floating paper boats as playthings. They were, though inanimate, like our aspirations and thoughts. The boats, of course, couldn’t do a long course. But our imagination did. Those days we children had so much to do, so much to learn from the life around us that there was never a dull moment. Indeed! , for the children who spent their childhood around 50 years back, they had a childhood quite different from the current crop.
Innocence! That’s was all we had. The world around us was our playground. It was all real; there was nothing virtual about it. Yes, we children knew so little about everything else that was not in our immediate vicinity. But that was fun, exploring on our own and enjoying every bit of it. Unlike now, the phones were unheard of. We had wired phones instead, which we made with a thread and two matchboxes.
But the connections they provided were pretty strong. The parents at that time were different, too. They hardly cared what the child studied at the school unless a complaint from the school came in. They would often forget the standard in which their child studied. The only day the father would come into the picture was when you got your annual report card.
And his only concern was that if the child was promoted to the next class. Else, the ear-twisting took place. That was more or less summed the early education. Playing I Spy or Hit&Run was the best pass time. Children’s extracurricular activities involved spreading papads and chips in the sun. The packaged chips would come much later. Eating out meant having golgappas at the street vendor. Of course, the kulfiwala occasionally announced his arrival with a bell and we ran to have it.
Entertainment was hard to come by. We waited for the circus to arrive in town and made plans to go see it. We watched it with disbelief, often replicating the feat and hurting ourselves back at home. The melas were again something that we looked forward to. The charm, of course, was the merry-go-round and the giant wheel. It made us dizzy but then enjoyment doesn’t come cheap.
Those were the years of innocence and ignorance alike. As we grew up, we realised how little we knew about anything, yet we had learned so many lessons of life that stay with us forever. The parents did not care about the studies of their children; they cared about their health and so saw to it that the children ate everything cooked at home. The kids, too, contributed to the household chores willingly, or unwillingly in my case, but learned that anyway.
The elderly were no pariah either. The granny would tell endless ghost stories and we believed them all. For us, there was a ghost on every peepal tree, and the djinns, churails and dayans were watching us when we returned late. Caring for them came naturally, partly out of affection and partly out of greed for stories and money that the parents refused. There was a close bonding with them. They became part of you.
Now that when I see my kids growing, I realise the children and their childhood have undergone a sea change. They are informed but not innocent. They can get you the information you might have not known till your graduation. They don’t play with matchboxes or waste time decorating Janmashtami models. They are always with their gadgets. They play with them or, rather, live with them. Life has turned virtual. It is a digital degeneration of sorts where you know a lot yet you are rudderless as the framework that comes with human interaction is missing. The pizza-burger generation is more about flaunting its feat rather than enjoying it. The pictures of restaurants and places visited on the trip find floating on Instagram and Facebook. They might not see churails and dayans but have demons in their head which tell them to seclude them from the rest. You won’t know if your child is at home because he is too much engrossed with the mobile that he needs no one else.
Last year in the monsoon, I told my young daughter how we floated paper boats in the puddles. She said that she did not know how to make one. I was excited as she showed some interest. I said, I will make one for you. I made one, gave it to her, and asked her to set it afloat. Fifteen minutes later, she was with her phone again, chatting. I asked whatever happened to the boat she was supposed to play with. “It sank,” she said with a flat face and submerged into her phone again.
(The writer is a columnist and documentary film-maker. The views expressed are personal.)
( Courtesy - IANS )
The disparity among the masses makes the downtrodden people more vulnerable
Till the untoward dissemination of Coronavirus in India, the economic prosperity and healthcare developments were often considered complementary to each other. During the COVID pandemic, empirical corroborations show the gap between the two has not narrowed down, resulting in lopsided development. Every year, the Union and State Governments while appropriating their annual finances accord utmost priority toward superficial sectors or ancilliary enterprises ie insurance sector and proffer marginal policy attention to our medical and health care sectors. It is appalling that since Independence, the percentage-based monetary allocation in healthcare development had never exceeded two per cent of the overall financial allocations. Consequently, it results in a displeasing growth of certain sectors accompanied by social disparity caused by the whopping expenses incurred by the majority of our population in meeting the basic medicinal requirements at private hospitals. This disparity makes the downtrodden masses vulnerable in the spheres of human resource development, in seeking adequate health care benefits from the State. Ergo, the plunder bund-like insurance companies exploit them at their own whims and fancies, which in turn eclipses the economic development and ultimately takes lives of thousands of people in our country due to inadequate healthcare infrastructure.This pandemic has inadvertently helped our economy in highlighting the existing infrastructure lacunaein the medical and healthcare industry. Due to the glaring deficiency of an adequate infrastructure and sufficient human resource in the public hospitals, the most sought-after health care schemes such as Ayushman Bharat have also failed to meet the legitimate medicinal demands of the masses during the times of the pandemic. A report published in a leading daily newspaper highlights that barely 10 per cent of the Ayushman Bharat cardholders could take the benefit of this centrally sponsored scheme.
We have witnessed that ICUs, ventilators, availability of RT-PCR facilities, oxygen cylinders, cardiac monitors for operation theatres, electrocardiogram machines, adequacy of beds available, vaccines, ancillary medicines and steroids, vertical transport facilities, staff and most importantly sufficient number of doctors were also inadequate in most of the healthcare institutions. Scarcity of testing facilities and vaccines erodes the utility of rural and government hospitals and bulldozes the poor patients to hasten to distant places for availing urgent treatment. It can be said that the genesis of this problem accentuated in the year 1991 when our country adopted the LPG (Liberalisation, Privatisation, Globalisation) policy. Since then the government allowed the private sector to take a lead in the health care industry and thereby the state in a gradual manner withdrew from its responsibilities for providing adequate health care means to the masses. This stunted public sector spending on medical services, resulting in excessive reliance upon the private sector in seeking health care benefits. The government needs to realize the fact that the private sector operates in a profit-centric manner and they will not take necessary initiatives to reach the masses at the grass root level. Presently in the rural areas, there are only 0.6 doctors per 1,000 population. A pure mercenary approach in the medicinal industry and inception of users’ charges in healthcare sectors have placed the people at a disadvantage. Equilibrium in appropriating budgetary allocation between other sectors of our economy and the healthcare sector is a very crucial policy decision, which our country urgently needs to address for saving the lives of thousands of people who are dying due to the pandemic. Earmarking adequate precedence to the health care sector has also become non-negotiable in the present scenario.
(The writer is the Managing Partner, Ishanee Sharma Law Offices, and works towards achieving gender justice and freedom of speech. The views expressed are personal.)
( Courtesy - PIONEER )
It is an inevitable, irreversible fact. Also, it hides within itself the potential of biological research and its unique opportunities for humanity
While ushering in the era of the biological revolution one cannot fail to notice that one of the biggest ironies in biology is that microbes, which are the oldest self-replicating organisms on earth and which were among the last to be discovered, have largely been ignored. This is evident from the present crisis of the Coronavirus, which has devastated half of the world and has brought it almost to the brink of disaster, partly because of the late discovery of microbes and techniques of genome sequencing.
The lack of attention to micro-organisms is largely due to our observational bias. We tend to ignore what we cannot see. This predisposition allowed us to make great progress in astronomy observing visible objects billions of miles away from us, long before we could appreciate the role of bacteria and viruses on this planet. Life on earth is much more than there are plants. Our inherent knowledge gaps about viruses & microorganisms have brought us to the present-day crisis.
Hence, biological revolution is inevitable. The following facts expose us to the ongoing revolutionary and unprecedented biological research and its unique opportunities.
Microbes have evolved into a complex nanomachine even capable of splitting water via energy from the sun, billions of years ahead, than terrestrial plants. There is only one existing prokaryotic type of bacteria capable of producing oxygen without the sun — the cyano bacteria. We have yet to discover its mechanism.
If one happens to look to the list of noble laureates in the last decade one cannot fail to notice that most of the noble prizes even for physics and chemistry have gone for their study on solving the biological riddle. Several aspects of the mystery of biology are still to be unravelled. Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee of New York University observed that though cancer research started earlier than space travel, cancer is still an unconquerable ‘emperor of maladies’. It is no surprise that MIT, an institution known for engineering and technology has changed its focus to molecular biology and some of its faculty members have even won noble prizes for their research on cell biology.
Dr Bruce H Lipton of Wisconsin University and subsequently at Stanford University, USA, in his ground-breaking work, has discovered how cell mechanisms receive and process information in the cell through the critical cell membrane. The cell membrane through its receptor and integral protein that serves as an antenna sends signals from the outside environment. The implication of this research will radically change our understanding of life. It shows that genes and DNA are controlled by signals from outside through the cell membrane. This research in cell biology and quantum physics is being hailed as a breakthrough showing that behaviour can be changed as we train our thinking. Thoughts and minds’ energy directly influence how the physical brain controls the body’s physiology. Mental ‘energy’ can activate or inhibit the cells’ function to produce proteins.
Biologists in collaboration with biochemists, biophysicists are working hard to cutting-edge research on most of the areas of the burning issues to meet the demands of the growing population that consumes more and more transportable forms of stored energy. Scientists are turning to alternative sources of renewable energy like solar, hydro, wind and tide. But our energy needs are still not being met because of their intermittent supply and time difference between their production and demand. The alternative renewable energies are getting cheaper, better all the time. However, we are yet to find a way to store these energies ineffective, cheap, reliable ways, without much creation of waste.
If biologists can devise a battery that allows overcoming intermittency problems inherent in solar, wind, and other renewable sources, we could use clean and abundant sources to meet all our energy needs.
The battery converts chemical energy to electrical energy by moving electrons from one metal to another. Electrons are tiny negatively charged particles. The copper-zinc plates form positive and negative poles. It conducts the electric current. It can go as long as all the electrons get transferred. Thus, a battery is an energy transportation device. When the battery is discharged, we use electricity to charge.
Dr Angela Belcher, materials scientist at MIT, is evolving viruses into variants that could organize non-biological materials such as gallium arsenide and silicon for semiconductors. Her experiment gave her confidence to build new tools to build batteries. She found that metals and metal oxides worked particularly well. Viruses do not have cell walls or any structural elements. It is a protein capsule with DNA / RNA. She found that viruses-building elements could be used to make electrodes that can open a door to clean and efficient, new way for making batteries. Her next step is a virus-based state of art battery, but could this battery take the form of a dashboard, seat cover, door panel? Nobody knows.
Until recently, it was undisputed that cell membrane itself is a medium for exchange of water from cells and outside. Dr Peter Agre, molecular biologist at John Hopkin’s Institute, in 1980 while purifying Rh protein from red blood cell membranes to identify it made a discovery that the membrane has Rh protein that works as a gate and alters a particular substance vehicle with a pass to allow entry into the cell. These proteins are known as aquaporins.
Starting with a large volume of the red blood cells, he separated the cell membrane from the rest of its content. Next, he carefully isolated Rh protein from other present proteins. We all need fresh water to survive but it is only five per cent of the total water volume of the earth. Most of it is in ice sheets and the soil.
Hence, water purification is critical for human survival. This discovery will use cell proteins of the cell membrane to purify water. We now know the whole family of aquaporin found in virtually all organisms on earth. A particular amino acid occupies a particular pattern of location and pattern.
Contrary to the theory by a famous economist, Thomas Robert Malthus, the world would be engulfed by war, famine and pestilence, but the convergence of biology and engineering is giving us great hope that we can avoid the gloomy future. How to bring together researchers from the fields of science for a collaborative effort in bioengineering by encouraging national investment in fundamental research that motivates scientists to work in interdisciplinary areas.
For all this to happen we must have convergence-minded policies and international collaboration in the field of biology, where scientists and technologists can work on a platform to defer the sixth mass extinction of Holocene or Anthropocene.
The writer is an advisor to Amity School of Natural Resources and Sustainable Development, Uttar Pradesh. The views expressed are personal.
( Courtesy - PIONEER )
There’s a host of implications emanating from the withdrawal of American troops from that country, and India needs to watch out
The latest available estimates of the number of people, mostly schoolgirls, killed in three blasts in front of a co-educational school in Kabul on May 8, vary from at least 60 (BBC) to over 85 (CNN). The figure may rise further by the time this column is published. The diabolical intent to kill as many as possible is clear from the fact that a car bomb was first detonated and two improvised explosive devices followed as the girls rushed out of the school in panic.
Two questions arise. Who is behind this ghastly crime? What are its implications? As to the first, no one has claimed responsibility. The Afghan Government has blamed the Taliban, which has denied involvement and condemned the strike. This leaves one with the Islamic State, which has staged terror attack in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan and which retains its ability to strike despite losing a great deal of territory over the months.
The Taliban are the more likely culprits. There is no reason why one should believe them, particularly when the May 8 blasts have to be seen in the background of the surge in their attacks and terror strikes following President Joe Biden’s announcement that all American troops will leave Afghanistan by September 11. They know they will not win an election and they do not believe in democracy. They want to control Afghanistan by force and establish the Sharia rule.
Will they be able to do it? What will happen if they do? The answer to the first would depend on the fighting qualities of the Afghan National Security and Defence Forces (ANDSF), the support they continue to receive from the US and its NATO allies. As to the first, despite serious problems of desertion and unwillingness to enlist, the Afghan National Army (ANA), the land warfare arm of the ANDSF, has emerged a battle-hardened force capable of confronting the Taliban and other terrorist organisations it faces. Its commando and special forces units have been particularly successful.
Against this, the harsh fact is that the Taliban have expanded their control over huge tracts of Afghanistan’s countryside and some cities, besides inflicting a number of heavy defeats on the Afghan troops. At least some of the reverses the latter suffered the beginning of 2020 are attributable to the Trump administration’s atrocious policies. These included asking the Government forces early in 2020 to go on the defensive in the interest of its peace negotiations with the Taliban, and arm-twisting it into agreeing to the Taliban demand of releasing 5,000 of their fighters in Afghan jails as a pre-condition for talks. Many of the released fighters have gone back to combat despite the Taliban’s promise that they would not do so.
The Taliban, however, began gaining ground even before the Trump Administration’s policies and pressures hampered the ANDSF’s operations. Also, while the capabilities of the Afghan troops have improved, a big question mark hangs against the future availability of effective air support, which has played an important role in many of the ANA’s successful operations. According to one estimate, 80 to 90 per cent of the air support to it is now provided by the fledgling Afghan Air Force (AAF).
The AAF, however, has been supported by the massive air power of the US. Also, international contractors, now doing the bulk of the maintenance work on its planes and helicopters, will depart with the American troops. This will seriously affect its operational capabilities. This underlines the importance of continued American aid. On July 7, 2012, Hillary Clinton, then US Secretary of State, announced in Kabul that President Obama had designated Afghanistan as a major non-NATO ally of the US. The questions are: How much and of what kind?
Apart from military hardware, there is a need for funds. Countering a blend of insurgency and terrorism is a very expressive business. The US has provided over $86 billion as security assistance to Afghanistan between financial years 2002 and 2019. Since 2014, it has been providing between five and six billion dollars per year to fund the ANDSF. How much and what form of assistance will Washington provide Afghanistan after the withdrawal of its troops?
Clearly, the military outcome in Afghanistan hangs in the balance. So does the fate of Afghanistan. All indications are that the Taliban have every intention to re-impose the medieval, authoritarian theocratic system that had reduced Afghanistan to a cleric-administered prison. As Ahmed Rashid wrote in Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia, edicts of the Taliban’s Department of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice “had changed the lifestyles of Kabul’s once easy-going population and forced Afghan women to disappear from public view”.
India needs to watch out. As the diversion to Kandahar of the Indian Airlines hijacked Flight IC-814 in December 1999 showed, the Taliban were actively promoting terrorism against it by Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba. Do we have a coherent policy to meet the challenge?
(The author is Consulting Editor, The Pioneer. The views expressed are personal.)
( Courtesy - PIONEER )