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Though the US is no longer addicted to coal, it is completely sold on the idea of cheap energy, writes Sunita Narain
It’s time to exhale. Donald Trump is now a former US president. President-elect Joe Biden and his vice president-elect, Kamala Harris, have stated they will rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change.
So denial of this existential threat to the Planet is now past. And we can move decisively on actions. Or, so we hope.
This is where we need a dose of realism. I am not undermining the Biden-Harris triumph, but reminding us of the troubled paths ahead. The world is hurtling down to a climate change-led catastrophe. We cannot afford coy and small answers.
This is where introspection of the Biden-Harris victory must start. The fact is they won, but Trumpism did not lose. What is shocking to most of us, watching from the outside, is that close to half of America voted for him.
He got more votes in 2020 than in 2016, notwithstanding his failure in managing the uncontrolled pandemic, his rejection of climate change and his exacerbation of race and gender conflicts. We need to remember this.
The United States is a divided nation and the deep rift has its foundations on what nearly half of the American people want. You can say Biden-Harris won because they said they would control the virus; they would listen to scientific advice on the need to wear masks; and, impose lockdowns when necessary.
But it is also a fact that people voted for Trump because they did not want any of these. They believe the economy is more important than the virus. You can argue that the virus does not discriminate, but it hits poor people more. But they are not listening.
Let’s also be clear that, more than ever before, this US election had climate change denial or action on the ballot. It was an issue that was on the table — Trump made sure of that. He was belligerent about his opposition to this “fake” science.
He swore by coal and, more importantly, he pushed his country to manufacture more: made in the USA was his slogan. Pushing against climate change — in spite of the terrible fires and hurricane damages — was his way of putting the economy above everything else. His people saw this.
We need to take off our rose-tinted glasses that shows ‘all is well’. The US has always been a renegade nation as far as climate action is concerned — the abysmally insignificant targets it has set for itself under the Paris Agreement are a testimony to this.
It is of course another matter that Biden-Harris will, at least, do something and not work against action. But this is only because Trumpism took us down to depths that we never imagined before.
It is also a fact that Trump is right (and completely wrong) on one thing. He says his country’s energy emissions were lowest during his term; this is right. The US energy sector’s emissions declined by a massive 30 per cent in the past decade.
The shift was primarily because market factors moved the power sector away from coal to shale and natural gas. In the last year alone, coal-fired power generation fell by 18 per cent, according to data from private research firm, Rhodium Group. This is where the good news ends.
The fact is that cheap shale gas took off where coal left — and it left behind the renewable energy surge as the cost of gas has fallen to a record low.
It is no wonder then that Biden has strayed off the New Green Deal agenda of his deputy to argue that he will not stop fracking of gas on private lands, where the bulk of the gas is found.
The bigger problem is that other sectors of the US economy are now reversing gains made from the transition from polluting coal. The transportation sector has overtaken energy emissions and industrial sector emissions have grown.
The bottom line is that even though US emissions fell by some 2 per cent in 2019 and there was a cumulative decline of 12.3 per cent on its 2005 baseline, the country is still way off the mark to meet its targets.
By the Copenhagen Accord target it signed, the US agreed to be 17 per cent below 2005 levels by the end of 2020; and as per the Paris Agreement, 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025. In fact, net US greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 were higher than at the end of 2016 — the beginning of the Trump presidency.
What should concern us is that further decline will be hard. This is not only because of the increase in Trump’s vote share; it is because there are no easy answers for rapid and transformational emission cuts in the country.
Though the US is no longer addicted to coal; it is completely sold on the idea of cheap energy. It also wants to reclaim its role as the economic powerhouse — take back its position from China.
This will mean burning more fuel for industrial growth and using more energy that will negate all the gains of cleaner fuels. This, when we need transformational answers. So, let’s not kid ourselves that all will be well now that Biden-Harris are in power. We need to push more and force them to run, and not walk, the talk. (downtoearth.org.in)
Straw can be converted into fuel for use in vehicles. It can also replace coal in old power plants, reducing environmental costs
Should farmers get paid for not burning their fields? This is an extremely contentious issue today as the northern Indian region stares at another winter, when stubble is burnt in fields and winds bring the pollution to cities like Delhi — already choking from the spit of vehicles and local sources of pollution. The logic behind this is that rewarding farmers with cash would dissuade them from burning their fields.
My logic, as an environmentalist and campaigner for clean air, is that this will be a perverse incentive. In other words, it will get easily abused so that there is more stubble burning as there will be the promise of the reward; and each year the amount of the reward will have to be raised. The incentive will become the perverse reason for doing what is clearly wrong. But, I am being screamed at in social media platforms; the taglines being that “I am elitist, ignorant, out of touch with reality” and, of course, “anti-farmer”.
That said, it is a fact when the reward was given last year — the Punjab government disbursed some Rs 29 crore to 31,231 farmers — the number of stubble fires actually went up from the previous year. But that is not even the point.
Farmers need assistance — there is no question about that. I am not even talking about the larger problem of agrarian distress, where farmers are caught in the pincer between high prices of inputs as against the need to depress food prices for consumers. This system that discounts the labour of farmers ends up discounting their soil and water systems as well. It needs to be fixed.
We need to recognise the problem and find the way ahead — one that provides income to farmers and improves environmental sustainability.
We know farmers burn stubble because they have a short period between when they harvest paddy and when they have to sow the next wheat crop. We also know that this period has been shortened because the government has notified a delay in planting paddy — postponed by roughly a month so that it is planted closer to when the monsoon arrives in the region; all this has been done so that farmers do not overexploit groundwater.
You can argue that farmers should not plant paddy in these water-scarce regions. You would be correct. But the answer is complicated as governments procure paddy with an assured minimum support price (MSP).
Farmers then are caught in the pernicious pecuniary trap — the stubble of basmati paddy is not burnt as it can be used for fodder. But basmati paddy is not under MSP because it can be traded internationally. So, farmers still grow non-basmati paddy for MSP and then have no alternative but to burn the stubble. They choke, we choke.
The answer then is three-fold: One, use machines to plough back the straw into the ground and do so without impinging on the time that is needed for sowing the wheat crop. But these agricultural equipment are expensive (they were not available also till a few years back). So, in the past two years, the Union government has provided funds so that state governments can procure these machines and make them available to farmers at no cost or at minimal cost of operation.
By the beginning of stubble-burning season 2020, in Punjab alone, some 50,000 machines had been given at 80 per cent subsidy to custom hiring centers and to individual farmers. Tilling biomass back into the ground would also improve soil fertility.
The second part of the solution is to provide value to the biomass — farmers will not burn if they can be paid for the straw. There is huge potential here — from generating power to using straw to make compressed biogas (CBG). Much is happening here as well. The first CBG project should go online by early 2021; many more are in the pipeline.
Last month, the Reserve Bank of India included CBG in its list of priority sector lending; the State Bank of India has circulated a loan scheme; and, oil companies have agreed on a buy-back rate of Rs 46 per kilogramme for five years. So, straw burnt today, will be converted into fuel for use in vehicles.
Then there is also the option of using straw to replace coal in old power plants — this would not only help to extend the life of the built infrastructure, but will also reduce environmental costs.
The third option is to wean farmers away from growing paddy and to diversify their cropping options. This, obviously, is more challenging but needs to be done.
The fact is that we need to do much more to provide real options to farmers. For instance, they could be paid for their ecosystem service of soil organic carbon sequestration. But all this needs to be done in ways that it builds the foundation for doing what is right. (downtoearth.org.in)
Mathematician Eugina Cheng speaks to DTE on her new theory of people that doesn’t look at world as a dichotomy between genders, as well as the need to un-gender our vocabulary
By Anshika Ravi
The world is often viewed through simplistic concepts of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ that pit men and women against each other. This linking of behaviour with gender furthers gender-based inequality.
Now a mathematician has proposed a new way to look at things: Decoupling behaviour from gender. Eugina Cheng, mathematician and Scientist In Residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, proposes, in her book x+y: A Mathematician’s Manifesto for Rethinking Gender, the Category Theory. It describes “things by the role they play in a context, rather than by their intrinsic characteristics”.
The theory takes relationships among individuals as the base and builds itself around the idea that biological descriptions can, and should be, unhinged from how we view those relationships.
She suggests a rebranding of vocabulary used to call out the bias and suggests two behaviour models: ‘Ingressive’ and ‘congressive’. While ingressive behavior focuses on oneself over society / community and is competitive; congressive is accommodating and collaborative.
Cheng admits that the former is highly rewarded, but vouches for the latter. In a conversation with Down to Earth, Cheng talks about her ‘theory of people’ and how to rethink notional gender differences. Edited excerpts:
Anshika Ravi: We have looked at gender through the prism of multiple disciplines — sociology, psychology, physiology, biology etc. What prompted you to examine it through mathematics?
Eugina Cheng: I am a mathematician and I always seek ways in which I can use my expertise to help the world in any way I can. Mathematical thinking is my instinctive way to think about everything.
Even when I do not direct apply maths, I often use the discipline of mathematical thinking. As a woman in the male-dominated field of maths, it was natural for me to think about gender issues through the lens of mathematical thinking as well.
AR: You talk about the need to adopt a non-gendered language and behaviour. It’s a complex spectrum. How does the ingressive-congressive theory sit on intersectional feminism?
Intersectional feminism is so important because women’s rights must be separated from the rights of other oppressed groups. In a way as my theory is not speaking about gender directly, it is inherently intersectional.
However, we still need to address every kind of prejudice head-on as well.
AR: On the same note, you talk about the need for newer words to break our prior association with gender. You explain how words such as ‘feminism’ or ‘mansplaining’ can mean different things to different people, and that in many cases, can be too restrictive. How does it expand to the entire lexicon of feminism?
EC: I am not saying we should be ‘gender-blind’ any more than we should be race blind. While there is still direct prejudice on grounds of gender, race, or any other form of identity, we need to have a language to call it out and to fight it.
We should separate those issues from questions of character, and un-gender our terminology for things that are not directly tied to gender, such as character types.
AR: At what point did you make the switch from the ‘ingressive’ mode of teaching to the ‘congressive’ mode?
EC: It was a gradual switch. I wanted to be more congressive than most ways of teaching I had seen, although I didn’t have the terminology to say so. But the system was so ingressive, and I was so junior and inexperienced, there was a limit to how far I could take things.
I met a lot of resistance from the ingressive university environment. It was only when I moved to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago that I was able to make my teaching extremely congressive. It offered a congressive environment overall — it had small classes, no grades, and was female-dominated at every level.
AR: You make references to writers Angela Saini and Cordelia Fine on partiality in science. Can you elaborate?
EC: Angela Saini’s book Inferior and Cordelia Fine’s book Testosterone Rex give very comprehensive accounts of all the ways attempted science about gender difference is flawed. In many cases, it has assumptions about gender differences built into the null hypothesis, that is, the baseline assumption that scientists will default to in the absence of any evidence to the contrary.
In other cases the differences observed are just very, very tiny. The methodology is flawed because a huge leap was made between the measurable quality being studied (such as the length of time a baby stares at a picture) and the very un-measurable quality being inferred (such as one’s ability as a research mathematician).
In other cases, we simply can’t be sure that the measured difference is biologically innate, as there are many examples where biological gender differences in animals can be changed within one generation by changing the environment.
AR: Multiple studies have highlighted under-representation of women in COVID-19 research as well as gender inequality in the world’s general response to the pandemic. What would be your take on them?
EC: I think that the under-representation of women as subjects of science research is a long-standing and very serious problem. This has been very comprehensively written about by Caroline Criado Perez in Invisible Women.
I believe that non-white people have also been under-represented in research regarding the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). It is a serious problem, given that they have been suffering at much higher rates than white people — at least in the United States. Of course, this is not necessarily a biological issue, but reflects the deep structural inequalities in society in terms of socio-economics.
The world leaders’ response to the pandemic is also a complex issue. Better responses to the pandemic seem to be to do with congressive styles of leadership, for example, listening to advice from scientific experts rather than posturing, and being risk-averse when it comes to human life.
This is an example where I think it really helps to have un-gendered terminology, so that we can focus on the styles of leadership rather than the specific genders of the leaders involved.
However, it is still worth considering gender, because arguably the very fact that a country is able to elect a woman as leader may say something about the level of equality in the country.
Moreover, I believe women have to be far more competent than men to reach the same levels of leadership in our unequal society. This is the difference between leadership effectiveness and leadership emergence.
This is a question of direct gender bias (against women), but also indirect gender bias, which is where my ingressive / congressive theory comes in. Society rewards ingressive behaviour for leadership, and this currently tends to favour men, although congressive behaviour may well be more effective in leadership, as has, perhaps, been shown by responses to the pandemic.
AR: Your book underlines the need to mount all arguments on logic, to evaluate circumstances on a different dimension instead of the regular male-female paradigm. Do you see that evolution happening around you, in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and otherwise?
EC: I do see it beginning to happen in progressive education situations. This seems to be especially the case in smaller liberal arts schools, which are already much more congressive than the ‘prestigious’ research-focused universities.
One way in which I see this is the invitations I receive to do campus visits including public talks and outreach events for nearby schools. I receive many invitations from smaller liberal arts schools and very few (or maybe none) from the sorts of ‘world-famous’ schools that still seem to focus more on Nobel prizes and huge research grants.
AR: You draw your most of your ideas from the category theory. What can be the limits to this postulation?
EC: We should think more clearly about which issues are directly gender-based, such as direct gender prejudice, and which things are indirect and more about character types. We need to make sure we address both: The issues related to intrinsic characteristics and those based more on behaviour. We need to address both, but without assuming they are one and the same.
If we only address direct gender prejudice we would be stuck in one-dimensional thinking. We would risk being accused of ‘reverse sexism’, and would end up addressing only diversity (numbers), but not inclusivity.
If we only address the indirect bias and not the direct sexism, we will not be able to correct for past injustices that women have experienced, just like if we do not address racism directly then we can’t be anti-racist. My new un-gendered terminology, I believe, gives us a framework for doing this. (downtoearth.org.in)
We discuss the digital divide, but the new-normal induced by COVID-19 should make us discuss the living divide as well
By Sunita Narain
The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown has led to disruptions on a scale we have never seen before. It is not clear what the new-normal of our lives will be.
For most of us working in offices, remote work should have been a welcome respite; a chance to improve our work-life balance. But many of us are finding that even with increase in productivity, we are losing the ability to differentiate between work and rest of life — there is fatigue and burn-out — in this strange remote world.
Also, we are learning that productivity — doing things on time and on schedule — is not the only measure to value our work. In fact, it is collaboration and teamwork that brings us fulfillment and improves the quality of our “work”.
So, many of us are looking at a hybrid-model of work in this new-normal. One that builds on the best of this remote technology-world that allows us not to commute long distances every day, but also one that encourages and builds more, not less, interaction between people.
But this new-hybrid normal — and this should bother us — will sharpen inequality in workplaces, and it will lead to more joblessness in the formal sectors of the economy. The fact is that working from home assumes that there is adequate space — physical and recreational.
We discuss the digital divide, but this new-normal should make us discuss the living divide as well. It also means that our workplace will shed many non-essential costs — from support functions to rentals.
All this contraction and re-engineering will be good, and bad. More efficiency at the workplace; reduction in commercial building spaces that take up valuable green spaces; less traffic that reduces congestion and pollution; and, of course, reduced consumption that will be good for the planet and our livability index.
Bad, because it will mean that people will be out of jobs — the economy as we know it only knows how to produce as cheaply as possible and to consume as fast as possible. We are beings of the marketplace.
So, what can we do differently? There is, of course, the prospect — and a very real one — that nothing will change post-lockdown. Once the vaccine hits the market, we humans will go back to all our old habits.
In fact, governments will do everything to “stimulate” consumption as this then gets the economy ticking again. Let’s not forget how during the economic slowdown in the early 1990s, the then United States President George Bush walked down shopping malls urging fellow Americans to buy, and buy more.
Now China’s Xi Jinping has been making trips to his factories and shops, urging people to consume more and to buy domestic products. Xi wants to re-tool his country’s economy from exports to internal consumption.
It is the ultimate nightmare for western environmentalists, who could do so little to drive change in their own countries, that every Chinese or Indian would begin to consume like an American. But horror it will be as countries rush to open up and rev up the brown business again.
But I believe there are imperatives that will make us want to change — from the small individual-size triggers to the big societal and economic levers. If we do not want to go back to office from 9 am to 5 pm, five days a week, and want to adopt that new hybrid work model, then there will be costs to the formal economy as we know it today.
It will need to be repositioned so that new jobs are created. Those jobs will not come from the businesses we know today, but from the ones we will need in the future.
But I believe the most critical difference will be the fact that there will be less cash going around. Whatever governments may say, COVID-19 has shattered economies. Furthermore, there are multiple crises that will need public spending — from rebuilding after floods and other such disasters to the continuing health crisis and loss of livelihoods.
So, unless governments are completely out of touch with their realities — and this could happen as technology can today create false narratives at the scale and sophistication never seen in any past autocratic leaders’ propaganda machine — they will have to invest in the well-being of many as against the wealth of some.
This then means working deliberately on strategies that address the local needs and to invest in these communities. This is because there is just too much inefficiency in the transfer of resources — water, cash, food or work — from the faraway to the local.
It is much better to invest in ways that can sustain growth and build resilience for the next inevitable shock. This then is where our mindfulness will be needed.
So, as we open up in the still COVID-19 racked and ravaged world, let’s take time to think about what we treasured the most in this disruption. And what we want to keep, and what we want to change. This is how we will re-work the future. (downtoearth.org.in)
If the combined might of brands like Unilever and Coca-Cola don’t scare Mark Zuckerberg, who can hold the social media platform to account?
There is no power on this earth that is capable of holding Facebook to account. No legislature, no law enforcement agency, no regulator. Congress has failed. The EU has failed. When the Federal Trade Commission fined it a record $5bn for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, its stock price actually went up.
Which is what makes this moment so interesting and, possibly, epochal. If the boycott of Facebook by some of the world’s biggest brands – Unilever, Coca-Cola, Starbucks – succeeds, it will be because it has targeted the only thing that Facebook understands: its bottom line. And if it fails, that will be another sort of landmark.
Because this is a company that facilitated an attack on a US election by a foreign power, that live-streamed a massacre then broadcast it to millions around the world, and helped incite a genocide.
I’ll say that again. It helped incite a genocide. A United Nations report says the use of Facebook played a “determining role” in inciting hate and violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya, which has seen tens of thousands die and hundreds of thousands flee for their lives.
Facebook is not a mirror. It’s a gun. Unlicensed, out of control, in the hands of 2.6 billion people across the planet
I often think about that report. When I watch documentaries showing Facebook employees playing ping-pong inside their Menlo Park safe space. When I took a jaunt to the suburban Silicon Valley town earlier this year and strolled down the “normal” street where Mark Zuckerberg lives his totally normal life as the sole decision-maker in a company the like of which the world has never seen before. When I heard that Maria Ressa, the Filipino journalist who has done so much to warn of Facebook’s harms, had been sentenced to jail. When I read the Orwellian defence that our former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg wrote last week. “Platforms like Facebook hold a mirror up to society,” he said.
Facebook is not a mirror. It’s a gun. Unlicensed – it is not subject to laws or control – it is in the hands and homes of 2.6 billion people, infiltrated by covert agents acting for nation states, a laboratory for groups who praise the cleansing effects of the Holocaust and believe 5G will fry our brainwaves in our sleep.
People sometimes say that if Facebook was a country, it would be bigger than China. But this is the wrong analogy. If Facebook was a country, it would be a rogue state. It would be North Korea. And it isn’t a gun. It’s a nuclear weapon.
Because this isn’t a company so much as an autocracy, a dictatorship, a global empire controlled by a single man. Who – even as the evidence of harm has become undeniable, indisputable, overwhelming – has simply chosen to ignore its critics across the world.
Instead, it has continued to pump out relentless, unbelievable, increasingly preposterous propaganda even as it controls the main news distribution channels. And just as the citizens of North Korea are unable to operate outside the state, it feels almost impossible to be alive today and live a life untouched by Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram.
The #StopHateForProfit campaign is focused on hate speech. It’s what has united six American civil rights organisations in the US to lobby advertisers to “pause” their ads for July, a campaign precipitated by Facebook’s decision not to remove a post by Donald Trump threatening violence against Black Lives Matter protesters: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
But this is so much bigger than Facebook’s problem with hate. And it goes far far beyond the US, though the role it will play in the US election is pivotal (and it’s worth noting that #StopHateForProfit’s demands don’t extend to stopping lies in political ads, a crucial necessity). Facebook’s harms are global. Its threat to democracy is existential.
Is it a coincidence that the three countries that have dealt with coronavirus worst are those with populist leaders whose campaigns exploited Facebook’s ability to spread lies at scale? Trump, Bolsonaro, Johnson. Perhaps. Perhaps not.
And if you don’t care about democracy, think for a moment about coronavirus. If and when a vaccine comes along, will enough people want to have it? Facebook is riddled with anti-vaxxing like it’s infected by antisemitism. If that’s a mirror, Nick, you might want to take a long, cold, hard look in it.
Zuckerberg is not Kim Jong-un. He’s much, much more powerful. “My guess is that all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough,” he is reported to have told employees last week. And although 500 companies have now joined the boycott, the Wall Street Journal reports this represents only a 5% dip in profits. It may turn out that Facebook isn’t just bigger than China. It’s bigger than capitalism.
It comes, in the end, down to us and our wallets and what we say to these brands. Because the world has to realise that there’s no one and no thing coming to the rescue. Trump and Zuckerberg have formed an unspoken, almost certainly unstated, strategic alliance. Only the US has the power to clip Facebook’s wings. And only Facebook has the power to stop Trump spreading lies.
Sometimes you don’t realise the pivotal moments in history until it’s too late. And sometimes you do. It’s not quite yet too late. Just almost.
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If the forces of authoritarianism and sectarian bigotry continue to gather momentum, and the Supreme Court does little or nothing to check them, then the verdict of history and of constitutional scholarship will be even harsher than it is at present.
This letter is written with respect as well as in anguish. I write as a historian and as a citizen, concerned in both capacities with the growing lack of faith among many Indians in the functioning of the Supreme Court (SC). Let me say straight away that this is part of a wider degradation of Indian democracy, in which the Court is by no means the central actor. Other (and possibly more serious) manifestations of this degradation are the politicisation of the civil service and the police; the creation of a cult of personality; the intimidation of the media; the use of tax and investigative agencies to harass and intimidate independent voices; the refusal to do away with repressive colonial-era laws and instead the desire to strengthen them; and not, least, the undermining of Indian federalism by the steady whittling down of the powers of the states by the Centre.
I should also make it clear that this ongoing degradation of Indian democracy is not the fault of one party or one leader alone. Rather, these perversions of the democratic process were set in motion by the Congress Party when it was in power at the Centre; and they have been further deepened under the rule of the Bharatiya Janata Party since May 2014.
While the SC cannot be blamed in any way for why and how this degradation of Indian democracy originated, it has, in recent years, done little to stop or stem it. Some examples of its failures in this regard have been the Court’s refusal to strike down laws like UAPA that should have no place in a constitutional democracy; its unconscionable delay in hearing major cases (such as with regard to election funding and the Citizenship Amendment Act); and its denial of basic human rights to the children and students of Kashmir, deprived for a full year of access to education and knowledge as a consequence of the longest internet shutdown in the history of any democracy. Constitutional scholars and practising lawyers can perhaps multiply these examples manifold.
Opinion | Judiciary should not unwittingly lend its shoulders for somebody else’s gun to rest and fire
The COVID-19 crisis has seen a further acceleration of this dangerous trend towards authoritarianism and the centralisation of power. The Union government and the ruling party have used the crisis to further promote the cult of personality, to further diminish the powers of state governments, and to further attack the free press. Regrettably, as the hearings and orders of the past few months show, the Supreme Court seems unable or unwilling to check these ominous trends.
The failure of the SC is in part a failure of leadership. That one serving chief justice could tell a daughter wishing to see her mother who had been detained under a draconian act to be careful about the cold, and that another serving chief justice could tell migrant workers left jobless after the unplanned lockdown that since they were being given some food they should not ask for wages — that such callous and unfeeling remarks could come from the chief justice himself reflect poorly on the Court. And that, in the less than six years that the current government has been in power, one chief justice has accepted a Governorship immediately on retirement, and another has accepted a Rajya Sabha seat, also immediately on retirement, reflect even more poorly.
Yet one cannot blame the top man alone. It may be that the powers of the so-called Master of the Roster are imperfectly defined, and can lead themselves to widespread misuse by the incumbent (as the press conference held by J Chelameswar et al in 2018 asserted). But, if the Court is complicit in the steady, continuing and accelerating degradation of our democratic processes and democratic institutions, this cannot be attributed entirely to the chief justices. I think the time has come for all the serving justices in the highest court of the land to think seriously about the ever-increasing gap between their calling as defined by the Constitution, and the direction the Court is now taking.
The reputation of the Supreme Court of India today may be at its lowest ebb since the Emergency. That is the clear impression one gets from the writings of our top constitutional scholars. Thus, in a commentary on the last chief justice, Gautam Bhatia writes that “under his tenure, the Supreme Court has gone from an institution that — for all its patchy history — was at least formally committed to the protection of individual rights as its primary task, to an institution that speaks the language of the executive, and has become indistinguishable from the executive” (The Wire, March 16, 2019). Meanwhile, Pratap Bhanu Mehta has observed: “We look to the Supreme Court for a semblance of constitutional deliverance. We have no idea how a court will rule. But one of the lessons of our recent history is that we misunderstand how a Supreme Court functions in a democracy. The Supreme Court has badly let us down in recent times, through a combination of avoidance, mendacity, and a lack of zeal on behalf of political liberty” (IE, December 12, 2019). Most recently, in writing of “the transformation of the Indian state into a repository of repression”, Suhas Palshikar comments that “this political transformation would not have been so easy without the willingness of the judiciary to look the other way, and occasionally join in the project” (IE, August 4).
These assessments are shared by many of the wisest and most experienced members of the Bar, who —unlike the scholars cited above — are not at liberty to express their anxieties in public. I broadly endorse the assessments of Bhatia, Mehta and Palshikar myself. At the same time, as a historian, I know that while institutions do decay, they can also be revived. In the case of the Supreme Court, its capitulation to the state and politicians in power in the 1970s, before and during the Emergency, was followed by a steady assertion of its independence and autonomy in the 1980s and 1990s. One must likewise hope that the current decline may be arrested and reversed in the years to come. If, on the other hand, the forces of authoritarianism and sectarian bigotry continue to gather momentum, and the Supreme Court does little or nothing to check them, then the verdict of history and of constitutional scholarship will be even harsher than it is at present. In that case, the Court of today may come to be viewed by future generations of Indians not merely as an executive Court, but as a collaborationist Court.
Hence this letter, a desperate cry from a historian and citizen who sees his country’s democracy and constitutional framework crumble before his eyes.
This article first appeared in the print edition on August 12 under the title “Honourable judges”. The writer is a Bengaluru-based historian (indianexpress.com)
Tweets by Bhushan were statements of fact that in no way scandalised the court: Dave
When the Supreme Court has reinstated an employee who had accused the then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi of sexually harassing her, how can it haul up activist Prashant Bhushan for contempt for voicing his bona fide opinion about the judiciary and an action of the incumbent Chief Justice, senior advocate Dushyant Dave asked on Wednesday.
The top court on July 22 initiated contempt proceedings against Bhushan for a tweet about Chief Justice S.A. Bobde posing on a Harley Davidson and another alleging that democracy had been destroyed in the country during the last six years under the last four Chief Justices.
Dave appeared for the activist before a bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra and including Justices B.R. Gavai and Krishna Murari.
“The Supreme Court has taken back the woman who raised sexual harassment charges against a former Chief Justice of India. What does that mean? It says there was truth in her allegations.… When allegations are made against the highest constitutional functionary, please, for God’s sake, do not suppress it,” Dave pleaded.
Had her allegations been untrue, these would amount to contempt, Dave said. But since the top court chose to reinstate her in January this year, it suggests that what she alleged was the truth, for which no contempt arises.
“Your Lordships may look at the case against Mr Bhushan in the same light. She (the alleged victim) was reinstated and all the charges against her were dropped. It only clearly shows that she was speaking the truth. Was any contempt issued against her? What kind of impression does it give to the world?” he asked.
Bhushan too cannot be hauled up for contempt for voicing his “bona fide impressions” of the judiciary and the action of the present Chief Justice, who had posed on the “Rs 50 lakh” Harley-Davidson during the Covid lockdown which has been cited to close the Supreme Court, Dave contended. People seeking enforcement of their fundamental rights do not have access to the court, Bhushan had noted.
“Tell us whether motorcycle has political colour; I am asking on the lighter side,” Justice Mishra said. The motorcycle Chief Justice Bobde posed on is registered in the name of a BJP leader’s son. However, sources close to the Chief Justice had said the bike had been brought to him by a Harley-Davidson executive and he did not know who the owner was.
The tweets by Bhushan were statements of fact that in no way scandalised the court, the lawyer contended.
“The two tweets are not against the institution. They are against the judges in their personal capacity regarding their conduct. They are not malicious and do not obstruct administration of justice,” Dave submitted.
Returning to the sexual harassment complaint against Gogoi, Dave said that despite the allegations, the former Chief Justice had been accorded a Rajya Sabha seat by the present government.
“A judge (Ranjan Gogoi) sits on a Saturday in his own case regarding sexual harassment and subsequently gets a seat in the Rajya Sabha with Z-plus category security, which he (Bhushan) said had raised serious question marks over his (Gogoi’s) decisions in the Rafale, Ayodhya and CBI director case,” Dave argued.
No one is infallible
“Nobody can claim to be infallible, including judges,” Dave said, pleading that Bhushan’s tweets were posted in the course of his expressing deep anguish at the way several cases, including those relating to the abrogation of Article 370 and the anti-CAA protests, were being dealt with by the top court.
There were serious misgivings among the bar and general public over the manner in which some “politically sensitive” cases are allocated, he contended.
“For instance, why do only certain judges get politically sensitive matters? Justice (R.F.) Nariman, for example, never gets assigned such matters,” Dave said.
Justice Mishra replied: “Justice Nariman had been part of many constitution bench matters in this court.”
Justice B.R. Gavai said Justice Nariman was also part of the bench that heard the row over the powers of the Manipur Speaker. Dave asked that if judges can criticise the institution, why can’t Bhushan?
He recalled the unprecedented news conference held on January 12, 2018, by four sitting judges of the Supreme Court who had said that the administration of the Supreme Court “was not in order and many things less than desirable were happening”.
“There is nothing wrong in one not withholding views when you feel that everything is not hunky-dory in the Supreme Court. Can I be held for contempt for expressing my views?” he asked.
The Supreme Court’s healing touch was required, the lawyer said.
“It will be no good for the institution. I beg you to ignore it,” Dave said, pleading that the court drop the contempt proceedings against Bhushan.
“The comments were not out of malice or vendetta. They were made out of love and affection for the judiciary. People like Mr Bhushan take up issues that many a times the executive is not willing to do.”
Bhushan fit for Padma Vibhushan
The Supreme Court had itself lauded Bhushan for espousing public interest litigations in earlier high-profile cases such as the 2G spectrum scandal and the coal scam.
“Your Lordships have appreciated Mr Bhushan’s work in matter of allocation of 2G licences, coal-block allocation, mining in forests etc.… Perhaps you would have given him a Padma Vibhushan for the work he did in the last 30 years,” Dave said.
The court reserved its judgment. (telegraphindia.com)
रेगिस्तानी टिड्डों के विशाल हुजूम पूर्वी अफ्रीका, एशिया और मध्य पूर्व में क़हर बरपा रहे हैं. टिड्डों के विशाल झुंड से फ़सलों को ख़तरा है, लोगों की रोज़ी रोटी को ख़तरा है और खाने पीने की आपूर्ति को नुक़सान पहुंचने का डर है. दुनिया के एक बड़े हिस्से पर टिड्डों का ये हमला पिछले कई दशकों में सबसे बड़ा बताया जा रहा है. लेकिन, जानकारों ने चेतावनी दी है कि अगर कुछ जगहों पर टिड्डों के क़हर को नहीं रोका गया, तो आने वाले बारिश के सीज़न के दौरान कई देशों में टिड्डों के झुंड की तादाद बीस गुना तक बढ़ सकती है. (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-8f45ee5d-04ab-4089-9e3a-a5f06b84fbe5)
टिड्डे हैं क्या और वो इतनी बड़ी तादाद में अचानक कहां से आ गए?
ऑग्युमेंटेड रियालिटी का अनुभव पाने के लिए आधुनिक तकनीक का इस्तेमाल होता है. और हम आपको इस बात की गारंटी नहीं दे सकते कि ये सभी ब्राउज़र पर अच्छे से काम करेगा.
इंटरएक्टिव एक अकेला रेगिस्तानी टिड्डा
एआर इस्तेमाल करने के निर्देश
इस टिड्डी की ही तरह रेगिस्तानी टिड्डे सूखे इलाक़ों में रहते हैं. ये पश्चिम अफ़्रीका और भारत के बीच के क़रीब तीस देशों में पाए जाते हैं. ये पूरा क्षेत्र लगभग एक करोड़ साठ लाख वर्ग किलोमीटर या 62 लाख वर्ग मील का है
ये टिड्डों के ही रिश्तेदार हैं. शर्मीले होने के कारण ये आम तौर पर अकेले ही रहते हैं
और वो बिना किसी की नज़र में आए ऐसे ही अकेले बरसों बरस जीते हैं
लेकिन कभी कभार ये शर्मीली रेगिस्तानी टिड्डियां किसी अचानक से राक्षसी रूप धर लेती हैं.
और जब किसी हरे भरे इलाक़े में अचानक बारिश बंद हो जाती है और सूखा पड़ जाता है, तो ये मामूली टिड्डे अपना एकांतवास त्याग कर छोटे छोटे राक्षसों के भयानक झुंड में तब्दील हो जाते हैं
इंटरएक्टिव अकेले रहने वाले टिड्डों में परिवर्तन कैसे होता है?
जब ये रेगिस्तानी टिड्डियां इकट्ठा हो जाती हैं, तो इनके दिमाग़ से एक केमिकल निकलता है, जिसका नाम है सेरोटोनिन. ये केमिकल इनके शरीर में रिसता है, जिसके कारण इन मामूली टिड्डों के शरीर और बर्ताव में क्रांतिकारी बदलाव आ जाता है.
इन कीड़ों का न केवल रंग बदलकर चटख हो जाता है. बल्कि ये तेज़ तर्रार भी हो जाते हैं. इनकी भूख जाग जाती है और ये बड़े सामाजिक हो जाते हैं. यानी इनके बीच आपस में मेल-जोल बढ़ जाता है
जब ये टिड्डे अपना रंग रूप और मिज़ाज बदल लेते हैं और भुक्खड़ हो जाते हैं, तो ये अपने जैसे साथी टिड्डों को तलाशते हैं. इनकी जनसंख्या में विस्फोट हो जाता है. और ये धीरे धीरे ऐसे झुंड बना लेते हैं, जो देखते ही देखते सब कुछ तहस नहस कर डालने वाले टिड्डी दल में परिवर्तित हो जाते हैं
इंटरएक्टिव टिड्डों के ये दल उड़ कर फ़सलों को तबाह करने लगते हैं
जब एक बार ये टिड्डे झुंड बनाने लगते हैं, तो उनके दल बेहद विशाल हो सकते हैं. टिड्डों के एक दल में दस अरब तक टिड्डे हो सकते हैं. और ये टिड्डी दल सैकड़ों किलोमीटर में फैल सकता है
संयुक्त राष्ट्र के खाद्य एवं कृषि संगठन के अनुसार, टिड्डियों के एक औसत आकार का दल भी इतनी फ़सलें तबाह करने की क्षमता रखता है, जिनसे ढाई हज़ार लोगों को पूरे साल भर खाना खिलाया जा सकता है.
टिड्डियों के ऐसे ही तबाही मचाने वाले दल पूर्वी अफ्रीका, यमन, ईरान, पाकिस्तान और भारत में बन रहे हैं. और विश्व खाद्य एवं कृषि संगठन ने इन टिड्डियों वाले इलाक़ों को हाई अलर्ट पर रहने की चेतावनी जारी की है
खाद्य एवं कृषि संगठन (FAO) का कहना है कि टिड्डियों के इन ख़तरनाक झुंडों ने पहले ही कीनिया, इथियोपिया और सोमालिया जैसे कई देशों में ऐसी तबाही मचाई है, जैसी इन देशों ने कई दशकों में नहीं देखी. और अभी भी इनसे अभूतपूर्व ख़तरा बना हुआ है. इस बात का डर भी है कि राक्षसी टिड्डियों का ये दल पश्चिम अफ़्रीका पर भी धावा बोल सकता है
लेकिन, तेज़ी से बढ़ते टिड्डियों के ये दल अब मध्य पूर्व और पाकिस्तान में हरियाली पर हमला बोल रहे हैं. और टिड्डियों के इन झुंडों से भारत में भी फ़सलों पर ख़तरा मंडरा रहा है
पूर्वी अफ़्रीका, मध्य पूर्व, भारत और पाकिस्तान में सक्रिय टिड्डियों के दल को दिखाने वाला नक़्शा
खाद्य एवं कृषि संगठन (FAO) का कहना है कि अगर इन राक्षसी कीड़ों से बचने के लिए अतिरिक्त उपाय नहीं किए जाते हैं, तो बारिश के मौसम में टिड्डियों के इन ख़तरनाक झुंडों के आकार में बीस गुना तक इज़ाफ़ा हो सकता है
चिंता वाली बात ये है कि टिड्डियों के दल के हमले झेल रहे ये देश, पहले से ही कई संकटों, जैसे कि बाढ़, संघर्ष और कोरोना वायरस के प्रकोप से जूझ रहे हैं
उत्तरी कीनिया के चरवाहे और टिड्डियों के झुंड का पता लगाने वाले अलबर्ट लेमासुलानी कहते हैं कि, 'कोविड-19 के बाद अब टिड्डी दलों के हमले से हमारे ऊपर मानो दो दो महामारियों की मार पड़ रही है. टिड्डियों के ये झुंड जहां भी ज़मीन पर उतरते हैं, वो लगभग सब कुछ चट कर जाते हैं. उनका हमला बेहद डरावने ख़्वाब जैसा है.'
टिड्डों के दलों के इस हमले का कारण 2018-19 के दौर में आए समुद्री तूफ़ान और बारिश हैं
दो साल पहले दक्षिणी अरब प्रायद्वीप में तेज़ बारिश से पैदा हुई नमी और उचित माहौल के कारण टिड्डियों की तीन पीढ़ियां मज़े में पली बढ़ीं. संयुक्त राष्ट्र का कहना है कि टिड्डियों की आबादी में आए इस ज़बरदस्त उछाल पर किसी की नज़र ही नहीं पड़ी
अल्बर्ट लेमासुलानी, उत्तरी कीनिया के चरवाहे और टिड्डी दलों पर निगाह रखने वाले
उत्तरी कीनिया में जानवर पालने वाले अल्बर्ट लेमासुलानी टिड्डियों के दल का पता लगाने में मदद करते हैं
कई देशों में टिड्डों पर क़ाबू पाने के अभियान चलाए जाने के बावजूद, हाल में हुई भारी बारिश ने टिड्डियों की आबादी बढ़ाने के लिए बिल्कुल सही माहौल तैयार कर दिया है
इस समय टिड्डियों की अगली पीढ़ी के अंडे फूट रहे हैं. और ठीक इसी समय पूरे क्षेत्र में किसान फ़सलों के नए सीज़न की बुवाई कर रहे हैं. कृषि एवं खाद्य संगठन का कहना है कि टिड्डियों के हमले से पहले ही खाद्य संकट से जूझ रहे कई देशों की चुनौतियां और बढ़ जाएंगी. ख़ास तौर से पूर्वी अफ्रीका के देशों में.
इस समय खाद्य एवं कृषि संगठन टिड्डियों के दलों को क़ाबू करने के लिए फंड जुटा रहा है. लेकिन, कई देशों के लिए कीटनाशकों का छिड़काव बहुत देर से उठाया गया क़दम साबित हुआ है
उत्तरी कीनिया और उसके आगे के किसानों ने तो टिड्डी दलों के हमले में अपना सब कुछ पहले ही गंवा दिया है
अल्बर्ट लेमासुलानी कहते हैं कि, 'हर रोज़ पांच, छह, सात या दस टिड्डी दल हमला करते हैं.' लेमासुलानी टिड्डी दल से निपटने के संयुक्त राष्ट्र और कीनिया सरकार के अभियान में मदद देने के लिए स्वयंसेवकों की एक टीम की अगुवाई करते हैं. अल्बर्ट कहते हैं कि, 'अगर ऐसा ही चलता रहा तो हम पूरी तरह बर्बाद हो जाएंगे. हमारी ज़िंदगी ख़त्म हो जाएगी.'
कहते हैं, प्रेम किसी भी वायरस से बड़ा होता है. वो महामारी को मात दे देगा. और ज़िंदा रहेगा. यही है मोहब्बत का मुस्तकबिल.
दूसरी बातों के भविष्य के विपरीत प्रेम का भविष्य मेटाफिज़िक्स के घेरे में रहेगा - सूक्ष्म और गूढ़.
"हम केवल भावनात्मक, आध्यात्मिक और आभासी स्तर पर प्रेम कर सकते हैं. अब प्रेम और सेक्स दो अलग बातें हैं."
दिल्ली में रहने वाले प्रोफेशनल पप्स रॉय ख़ुद को लाइलाज विद्रोही बताते हैं. वे समलैंगिक हैं और कोरोना के बाद प्रेम के भविष्य पर बड़ी गहराई से बाते करते हैं.
अभी फिलहाल पप्स रॉय अपने फ़ोन के साथ एक फ़्लैट में फंसे हुए हैं. वो कहते हैं, "प्यार है कहीं बाहर. बस हमें प्यार करने के पुराने तरीके भुला कर नए तरीके सीखने होंगे."
लॉकडाउन से कुछ ही दिन पहले वो रेल में बैठकर एक आदमी के साथ किसी पहाड़ी शहर को निकल गए थे.
उन्हें लगा कि उन्हें उस आदमी से प्यार है और उसके साथ दो दिन बिताना चाहते थे. लेकिन तब तक लॉकडाउन हो गया और एक महीने तक वे वहीं फंस गए.
जब अप्रैल में वापस दिल्ली लौटे तब तक उनका भ्रम टूट चुका था. एक दूसरे के साथ होना एक दूसरे के साथ फंस जाने जैसा हो गया था.
सोशल डिस्टेंसिंग अब एक दूसरे से दूरी में तबदील हो गई थी. अब वो दिल्ली वापस लौट आए हैं. साथ में फ़ोन है और कई प्रेमी भी. वो ज्यादातर एक दूसरे के साथ चैट करते हैं.
कभी-कभी वीडियो के ज़रिए ही थोड़ा बहुत प्यार भी करते हैं. प्रेम का भविष्य कल्पना का मोहताज नहीं है. लोग परिस्थितियों के अनुसार अपने आप को ढाल लेते हैं.
इसी तरह हम भविष्य में क़दम रखते हैं. ई-हारमनी, ओके क्यूपिड और मैच जैसे डेटिंग प्लैटफ़ॉर्म पर लॉकडाउन के दौरान वीडियो डेटिंग में काफ़ी वृद्धि हुई है.
कई दूसरी बातों के भविष्य पर बहस हो रही है. धर्म, पर्यटन, शिक्षा, वगैरह.
लेकिन प्रेम का भविष्य? इसकी बात कुछ और है. ब्रिटेन में लॉकडाउन की शुरुआत में ही सरकार ने लोगों को सलाह दी कि वो अपने लवर के साथ ही रहें.
एक दूसरे के घर आने-जाने से वायरस का संक्रमण फैलने का ख़तरा बढ़ सकता है. यूरोप में ऐसे कई प्रस्ताव आए.
मई में नीदरलैंड की सरकार ने अकेले रहने वाले लोगों से कहा कि वो अपने लिए सेक्स पार्टनर खोज लें.
साथ ही यह सलाह भी दी कि दोनों मिल कर ये भी तय कर लें कि वो और कितने लोगों से मिलेंगे. क्योंकि वो जितने ज्यादा लोगों से मिलेंगे कोरोना संक्रमण का ख़तरा भी उतना ज्यादा बढ़ेगा.
एक सलाह यह भी थी कि 'दूसरों के साथ दूरी बना कर सेक्स करें.' कुछ सुझाव यह भी थे के औरों के साथ मिल कर हस्तमैथुन करें या फिर कामुक कहानियां पढ़ें.
वीडियो चैट्स अब आम हो चुके हैं. और फ़ोन सेक्स भी. रेस्तरां बंद होने की वजह से वास्तविक डेटिंग संभव नहीं है.
लिहाज़ा डेटिंग, शादियां और यहां तक की सेक्स भी वर्चुअल दुनिया में होने लगा है. ये मानो किसी भयानक भविष्य की तस्वीर हो.
लेकिन आने वाले कल की हर तस्वीर नए आयाम लेती रहती है, नई शक्ल में बनती ढलती है.
तारीख 20 अप्रैल थी.
बेंगलुरु की एक सुहानी शाम. 33 साल का एक आदमी अपनी बालकनी में टेबल पर वाइन की एक ग्लास के साथ मोमबत्ती जला कर बैठा था. ये वीडियो डेट थी. डेटिंग ऐप बंबल पर.
वो पहले भी डेटिंग ऐप का इस्तेमाल करते रहे हैं लेकिन कभी ज़्यादा समय नहीं बिताया था वहां. दरअसल, अपनी स्टार्टअप कंपनी के काम में इतना व्यस्त रहे कि समय नही मिल पाया.
लेकिन लॉकडाउन शुरू होने के बाद वो एक साथी की तलाश में इस ऐप का ज्यादा इस्तेमाल करने लगे. और साथी उन्हें मिल भी गई.
शुरुआत में बस एक दूसरे को पिंग करते या चैट करते रहे. धीरे-धीरे बातों का सिलसिला लंबा होता गया. और उसके बाद ये डेट तय हुई.
वो भी अपनी बालकनी में बैठी थी और ये अपनी बालकनी में. ये मुलाक़ात चालीस मिनट तक चली. और लॉकडाउन में ढील मिलने के बाद अंतत: वो वास्तव मे मिले. लड़के के घर की छत पर. वो मास्क पहन कर आई थी. जैसे लोग गले मिलते हैं वैसे तो नही, कुछ फासले से मिले. बस उनकी कहानियां एक दूसरे से छू गईं. लड़के ने कहा, "फ़िलहाल इतना ही सही."
वे कहते हैं, "हर किसी को किसी की तलाश है. अब लोग खुल कर बात करने लगे हैं. हम कोशिश करते हैं कि वायरस के बारे में बात ना करें. लेकिन इस दौरान जो दिमागी हालत है उस पर बात होती ही है. लोग किस हाल से गुज़र रहे हैं उस पर भी बात हुई. मैं इस माहौल में प्रेम करने के ख़तरे को अच्छी तरह समझता हूं. मैं ग़लतियां नहीं करना चाहता."
आशीष सहगल दिल्ली में रहते हैं. वो एक 'लाइफ़ कोच' हैं. इनका काम लोगों को उनकी समस्याओें को समझने और उनसे निपटने में मदद करना है.
वो कहते हैं कि हाल के दिनों में उन्हें ऐसे कपल्स के बहुत फ़ोन आते हैं जो वैवाहिक जीवन में समस्याओं से जूझ रहे हैं. महामारी के डर के कारण प्रेम संबंधो में कई बदलाव आएँगे."
"प्रेम एक अवधारणा के रूप में और भी मज़बूत होगा. डर के माहौल में प्रेम और भी फलता फूलता है."
प्रेम के संबंध में उनके और भी कई अनुमान हैं. "ज्यादा शादियां होंगी. तलाक भी बढ़ेंगे. और बच्चे भी ज़्यादा पैदा होंगे. ये सब विरोधाभासी बातें ज़रूर हैं, लेकिन हो सकता है शायद प्रेम का भविष्य ऐसा ही बेतरतीब और अराजक हो."
आशीष सहगल कहते हैं, "बहुत सारे लोग अकेलापन महसूस कर रहे हैं."
बहरहाल जहां तक प्रेम के भविष्य की बात है वो किसी भी सरकारी दिशा निर्देश या वायरस विशेषज्ञों के नीति निर्देश के दायरे से बाहर है. यह भविष्य फ़िलहाल एक मंथन के हवाले है.
आशीष सहगल की दलील है, "एचआईवी/एड्स लोगों को प्यार करने से नहीं रोक पाया. आज लोगों को प्यार की ज़रूरत और तलाश पहले से भी अधिक है."
"संक्रमण के दौर में अंतरंगता दिमाग में रहती है. हमारे देश में नैतिकता के ठेकेदार सैनिक इतने ज्यादा तत्पर हैं कि सेक्स पार्टनर जैसी अवधारणा का ज़िक्र करना तक मुश्किल है."
एचआईवी/एड्स से बचने के लिए कॉन्डम का इस्तेमाल होने लगा लेकिन उसकी तुलना महामारी से बचने के लिए मास्क के इस्तेमाल से नहीं हो सकती.
मुंबई के कामाठीपुरा में रहने वाली एक यौनकर्मी ने फ़ोन पर बातचीत के दौरान कहा कि उसने सुना है कि कई यौनकर्मी अब वीडियो कॉल के ज़रिए अपने ग्राहकों को अपनी सेवाएं दे रहीं हैं. लेकिन उसे यह अजीब लगता है. एचआईवी/एड्स की बात अलग थी. उससे बचने के लिए कॉन्डम काफ़ी था. लेकिन कोरोना वायरस तो छूने मात्र से संक्रमित कर सकता है.
स्क्रीन वाला प्यार और स्पर्श
और फ़ोन या कंप्यूटर की स्क्रीन स्पर्श का विकल्प तो नहीं हो सकती.
नेहा (बदला हुआ नाम) कहती हैं, "वो अपने ग्राहकों को जानने समझने में या उनके साथ किसी अर्थपूर्ण संवाद में कोई रुचि नहीं रखतीं. सेक्स उनके लिए बस काम है. इसलिए यह तरीका काम करता है."
नंदिता राजे, 28 साल की हैं. मेबेल इंडिया नाम के कपड़ों के ब्रैंड की मालकिन हैं. वो सिंगल हैं. वो कहती हैं अब उन्हें लोगो से मिलने में ख़ास दिलचस्पी नहीं है.
वो कहती हैं, "प्रेम का भविष्य काफ़ी अंधकारमय है. और मेरे लिए शायद अब इसका कोई मायने नहीं बचा है."
अब चूंकि किसी जगह किसी से मिलना मुश्किल है तो ऐसे में कई लोगों के लिए ऑनलाइन डेटिंग एक नया रास्ता बनता दिख रहा है. लेकिन बदलाव इसमें भी आ रहे हैं.
ज़ैक शलेइएन ने फ़रवरी 2019 में 'फ़िल्टर ऑफ़' नाम का प्लेटफ़ार्म शुरू किया था.
उन्होंने फ़रवरी 2020 में इसे रिलॉन्च किया. उनका मानना है कि वर्चुअल स्पीड डेटिंग ही भविष्य मे लोकप्रिय होगा.
'फ़िल्टर ऑफ़' एक ऐसा ऐप है जहां आप पहले 90 सेकंड के एक वीडियो के ज़रिए उस व्यक्ति का जायज़ा लेना चाहते हैं कि आप उसे देख सुन कर कैसा महसूस करते हैं. अगर आप को वो व्यक्ति पसंद आता है तो आप की जोड़ी बन जाती है और उसके बाद आप ऐप के ज़रिए एक दूसरे को मैसेज और वीडियो भेज सकते हैं.
वो आगे कहते हैं, "लॉकडाउन ख़त्म होने के बाद लोग ऑफ़लाइन मुलाकात करना शुरू कर देंगे."
नोएडा मे रहने वाले एक समलैंगिक व्यक्ति जो अपना नाम ज़ाहिर नहीं करना चाहते, उन्होंने कहा, "और इस तरह हमने चेहरे पर मास्क लगा कर भविष्य की दहलीज़ पर कदम रखा. यह डरावना मंज़र है. हमें पहले ही एचआईवी/एड्स से डर था और अब ये महामारी भी आ गई."
कपल्स के लिए मुश्किल दौर
अगर इस महामारी को रोकने के लिए कोई टीका विकसित हो भी जाए, तब भी लोग बेफ़िक्र हो कर एक दूसरे के गले मिलें, इस में काफ़ी समय लगेगा. चाहे जो हो, एक बात निश्चित है कि प्यार, सेक्स और रोमांस का भविष्य हमेशा के लिए बदल गया है.
कपल्स के लिए भी ये समय बहुत मुश्किल रहा है. लोग ऑफ़िस कम जा रहे हैं या ज्यादातर घर में रह कर काम कर रहे हैं.
बहुत से लोगों को एक दूसरे की इस क़दर मौजूदगी की आदत नहीं रही है. रिपोर्टों के अनुसार तलाक़ के मामले बढ़े हैं. घरेलू हिंसा की घटनाएं भी बढ़ी हैं. लेकिन लोग किसी तरह निबाह रहे हैं.
अंतरंग संबंधों मे हुई बढ़ोतरी के चलते कॉन्डम और गर्भ निरोधक दवाइयों की बिक्री में भी वृद्धि हुई है.
लॉकडाउन में बंबल डेटिंग ऐप के नए सबस्क्राइबर खूब बढ़े हैं.
बंबल की टीम का कहना है, "भारत में वीडियो और फोन कॉल की औसत अवधि कम से कम 18 मिनट तक रही है. यह एक संकेत है कि हमारे ऐप का इस्तेमाल करने वाले लोग सोशल डिस्टेंसिंग के इस दौर में एक दूसरे को समझने और गहरे और अर्थपूर्ण संबंध बनाने की कोशिश कर रहे हैं."
हाल ही में बंबल ने एक नया अभियान शुरू किया जिसे नाम दिया 'स्टे फ़ार एंड गेट क्लोज़' यानी दूर रह कर नज़दीकी संबंध बनाएं. इसका मक़सद लोगों को घर पर रह कर ही संबंध बनाने की शुरुआत करने के लिए प्रोत्साहित करना है.
टिंडर समेत कई डेटिंग ऐप्स के इस्तेमाल में पिछले हफ्तों मे काफ़ी तेजी आई है.
सिर्फ़ कॉफ़ी ऐप का कहना है कि वो दुनिया भर में बसे भारतीयों को प्यार तलाश करने में मदद करता है. सिर्फ़ कॉफ़ी ऐप में ऐसे साथी ढूंढने में मदद मिलती हैं जिनकी सोच या मिजाज़ एक दूसरे से मेल खाता हो.
इस ऐप प्लेटफ़ॉर्म की कार्यकारी उपाध्यक्ष नैना हीरानंदानी कहती हैं, "दूसरों से जुड़ना इंसान की अहम ज़रूरत है. इस महामारी के दौरान जो हालात बने हैं उस पर किसी का नियंत्रण नहीं है. लेकिन इस दौरान यह ज़रूरत और भी उभर कर आई है."
मार्च 2020 से इस ऐप के इस्तेमाल में 25 प्रतिशत बढ़त हुई है.
नैना हीरानंदानी कहती हैं, "लेकिन भारत में अभी भी लोग साथी खोजने के लिए वर्चुअल कॉल का रास्ता चुनने को लेकर कुछ सशंकित रहते हैं. मगर धीरे-धीरे हमारे 80 प्रतिशत सदस्यों को इस बात की आदत होने लगी है. इस महामारी के बाद हमारे काम करने, जीने और प्रेम करने या उसे खोजने के तरीके बदल जाएंगे."
लॉकडाउन शुरू होने के बाद से अब तक सिर्फ़ कॉफी ऐप की मुंबई, दुबई और लंदन स्थित टीम ने दुनिया भर मे 500 से ज्यादा मुलाक़ातें तय की हैं.
लेकिन कई लोग अभी इस वर्चुअल प्रेम के लिए तैयार नहीं हैं. करण अमीन 39 साल के हैं और मुंबई में विज्ञापन एजेंसी में काम करते हैं.
वो कहते हैं कि उन्होंने डेटिंग एप्स पर कई लोगों की प्रोफ़ाइल चेक की. इनमें से बहुत से लोगों का कहना था कि वो बोरियत की वजह से डेटिंग ऐप का इस्तेमाल कर रहे हैं.
करण अमीन आगे कहते हैं, "टिंडर एक ऐसा ऐप था जहां आप लोगों से संबंध बनाने के लिए संपर्क करते थे. लेकिन अब आप बाहर ही नहीं जा सकते थे."
एक लड़की जिसके साथ वो काफ़ी समय से चैट कर रहे थे उससे उन्होंने पूछा कि लॉकडाउन खुलने के बाद उसका क्या 'इरादा' है?"
उस लड़की ने जबाव दिया कि छह महीने तक तो वह किसी को छुएगी ही नहीं.
करण अमीन का सवाल है, "अब हम क्या करें? ऐसा सर्टिफ़िकेट लेकर चलें जो कहे हमें कोविड नहीं हुआ है. अगर वास्तव में मुलाक़ात ही नहीं हो सकती है तो डेटिंग ऐप पर मैचिंग करने का कोई फ़ायदा नही है."
ग्रांइडर एक ऐसा ऐप है जिसका इस्तेमाल समलैंगिक पुरुष करते हैं. इस ऐप मे एक फ़ीचर यह भी है कि वो बता सकता है कि कोई समलैंगिक साथी कितने फ़ासले पर है. कल तक ये फासला एक मीटर से कम भी होता था और ऐप तब भी आपको सूचित कर सकता है. लेकिन अब यह फ़ासले चंद मीटर से बढ़ कर मीलों के हो गए हैं.
कुछ विशेषज्ञों का ये भी अनुमान है कि दिसंबर 2020 तक अधिक संख्या में बच्चों का जन्म देखने को मिल सकता है. और हो सकता है ये नई पीढ़ी 2033 में 'क्वारंटीन' कहलाए.
न्यूयॉर्क में ज़ूम ऐप पर हुई शादियों को क़ानूनी वैधता मिल चुकी है. भारत में भी कुछ शादियों और शादी की सालगिरह ज़ूम ऐप पर मनाई गईं और वास्तविक शादियों के दौरान भी कम से कम मेहमान होना और सोशल डिस्टेंसिंग का पालन सामान्य बात हो रही है. असल मे नया भविष्य दरवाज़े पर आ खड़ा हुआ है और हम इसे अपना भी चुके हैं. हालांकि कुछ लोग 'सामान्य समय' के लौटने का इंतज़ार कर रहे हैं, बाकी लोग 'वर्चुअल या आभासी प्रेम' करने में मशगूल हो रहे हैं.
महामारी के संक्रमण काल में बहुत से लोगों के लिए प्रेम करने के ग़ैर पारंपरिक तरीके विकल्प बन रहे हैं. बशर्ते कि उनका दिल प्यार के लिए खुला हो. (www.bbc.com)
Former West Indies bowler Michael Holding gave a powerful, hard-hitting message on Black Lives Matter as cricket resumed after a long gap of more than three months.
Former West Indies bowler Michael Holding gave a powerful, hard-hitting message on Black Lives Matter as cricket resumed after a long gap of more than three months. (Live Score)
In the video that was broadcast by Sky Sports while cricket fans around the world waited for the match to begin after the delayed toss due to rain, Holding and former English women’s cricketer Ebony Rainford-Brent reflected on the much prevalent racism in the society.
“Everybody has heard about this lady in a park in America who was asked by a black man to put her dog on a leash, which is the law,” said the former West Indies paceman. “She threatened this black man with her whiteness, saying that she was going to call the police and tell them there was a black man threatening her.
“If the society in which she was living did not empower her or get her to think that she had that power of being white and being able to call the police on a black man, she would not have done it. It was an automatic reaction because of the society in which she lives. If you don’t educate people they will keep growing up in that sort of society and you will not get meaningful change.”
Holding believes that the large number of white people to have taken part in protests to support the Black Lives Matter movement can help bring about change – and has urged people to fully understand what the movement stands for. “At protests years ago, even when Martin Luther King was marching, you would have predominantly black faces and a few white faces. This time a lot of white people are involved in these protests and that is the difference,” said Holding.
“What they saw [happen to George Floyd] was disgusting and people thought to themselves ‘enough is enough’. Everyone is recognising it, coming alive and seeing the difference in treatment of people. We are all human beings so I hope that people recognise that the Black Lives Matter movement is not trying to get black people above white people or above anyone else. It is all about equality.
“When people say ‘all lives matter’ or ‘white lives matter’, please, we black people know white lives matter. I don’t think you know that black lives matter. Don’t shout back at us that all lives matter. White lives matter, it is obvious, the evidence is clearly there. We want black lives to matter now. Simple as that.”
Rainford-Brent, director of women’s cricket at Surrey said, “I think we have to be honest and we are starting to have those conversations now. Unless people in power connect with and understand and feel what it is like to be on the side of limited power, to not get access to opportunities, to know you are significantly less likely to be hired and significantly more likely to be stopped and searched, to be oppressed, we won’t progress.
“It can’t be a ‘black person’s problem’, it has got to be everyone’s problem. We have got to want a society that is representative and supports people from different backgrounds. That’s what it is for me. We need honest conversations, opportunities and people in positions of power. And then we can change the landscape.”
Reflecting on George Floyd’s death that started the Black Lives movement, she said, “I can still remember the moment I heard about George Floyd. I was lying in bed, turned my phone on and it was the first thing that came up on my [Instagram] story, a short version of the video.
“I clicked on it and clicked off as the first words you heard were ‘I can’t breathe’. I watched the whole thing, over eight minutes, and burst into tears,” she said. “The pain I felt – it was like a valve popped because we know for how long these inequalities, these injustices have taken place, not just in the US, it happens here. I felt like I was torn apart. I never swear on my Instagram but I wrote the words ‘is anyone else f*****g fed up watching black people get murdered?’
“You can’t not see it and it was frustrating that people are not seeing what is going on. I felt broken, it was two weeks of anger, of pain, of speaking to lots of different people who were fed up and frustrated with the state of our world and being gaslighted and told those issues don’t exist. They do exist,” she said.
“I knew I had to get involved, I went to three protests. It is a virus that has been part of our society for well over 400 years and is continuing to push this oppression. I think it is one of the most empowering experiences to be around a diverse community, everybody supporting and knowing that we need to uncover this, this needs to be dealt with.
As part of an initiative under the Indian government’s new “Atmanirbhar Bharat”—or self-reliant India—mission, the coal ministry launched the auction of 41 coal blocks for commercial mining on 18 June. Three days earlier, sarpanchs of nine villages in Hasdeo Arand, a contiguous stretch of dense forest land in northern Chhattisgarh, wrote to Narendra Modi opposing the auction and calling upon the prime minister to prevent commercial mining in Hasdeo Arand. The sarpanchs wrote that the villagers had already established self-reliant lives and livelihoods, which would come under attack due to the auction. The letter added, “It is unfortunate that when the communities are already grappling with the COVID-19 crisis, they are faced with this uncertainty and threat of displacement.”
The villagers protesting the proposed coal project challenged its legality. They argued that it contravened their individual and community forest rights, under the Panchayats (Extension of Scheduled Areas) Act of 1996, the Forest Rights Act of 2006 and the Land Acquisition Act of 2013. These laws require the informed consent from gram sabhas before any land acquisition can take place in scheduled areas with a preponderance of Adivasi populations, such as the Hasdeo forest. Meanwhile, RRVUNL has claimed that these laws are not applicable to the Parsa project, and that in any case, the concerned gram sabhas had expressed their support for it. But the protesters argued that the gram sabhas of the affected villages had passed several unanimous resolutions since 2015 opposing the project, and that the ministry of environment, forests and climate change had awarded clearances on the basis of forged documents.
That day, RRVUNL published a “general caveat” in a local newspaper announcing that it “apprehends that a writ petition … or a Public Interest Litigation may be filed in the Hon’ble High Court as the Land acquisition proceeding is being initiated” in these villages. The public notice stated that RRVUNL had appointed Shailendra Shukla, a lawyer practising in the Chhattisgarh High Court, “to appear and oppose” any challenge to the land-acquisition proceedings on behalf of the power corporation.
The Parsa block is among 30 mapped block in Hasdeo Arand and one of three in the forest awarded to RRVUNL—the power corporation is already conducting mining operations at the adjacent block, Parsa East and Kete Basan. The project is spread over 1,252 hectares of land, and requires the diversion of 841 hectares located in Surguja and Surajpur districts, in the Hasdeo forest. The majority of the people in the region are members of Scheduled Tribe communities and over ninety percent of them are dependent on agriculture and forest produce for their livelihood. The Hasdeo Arand forests form the catchment area of the Hasdeo river, which irrigates over three lack hectares of agricultural land.
Baghel also accused the Modi government of providing the Adani Group a backdoor entry into coal mining through dubious contracts. But in March 2019, three months after Baghel took charge, the Adani Group was appointed as the mine developer and operator for Chhattisgarh’s Gidmuri and Paturia coal blocks. Baghel’s government has not intervened in the coal-mining projects in Hasdeo Arand. “We would like ask this government if they want to displace us Adivasis from our land,” Topo said.
In 2014, the National Green Tribunal set aside the clearance and sent the project back to the MoEFC for seeking fresh approval from the FAC. But the Supreme Court stayed the decision shortly after, and mining operations have continued unabated at the site ever since, even while the case remains pending before the apex court. In effect, mining operations at PEKB has become a fait accompli.
But in March 2017, the Parsa coal project was accorded terms of reference, which refers to conditions laid down by the MoEFC that a project proponent—RRVUNL in this case—would have to fulfil to develop and operate the mine. In March that year, residents of Hariharpur and Salhi passed resolutions rejecting the Parsa coal-block mining project. The decisions were reiterated in subsequent meetings at the village held in July and February 2018. The residents had also repeatably pointed this out in letters sent to the MoEFC, the coal ministry, the tribal affairs ministry, and state and district administrations since 2015.
Though the coal blocks are allocated to RRVUNL, the power company follows a model in which it appoints a private company as the “mine developer cum operator.” As I reported earlier for The Caravan, the concept of an MDO is not recognised in any law governing the Indian coal industry. At Parsa, before and after the reallocation of coal blocks in 2015, the mining operations are carried out by Adani Enterprises Limited.
After the reallocation of the coal block to RRVUNL, the hearing was scheduled again in 2017. According to protesters, Adani continued the practice of eliciting consent through manipulation of public hearings for environmental clearance. The protesters said that the public hearing was conducted in way that silenced the strong opposition to the coal project. “There were people from outside villages like Salka and Udaipur, who were brought to the hearing to support the project,” Jainandan Porte, the sarpanch of Ghatbarra, told me. “Many from severely affected areas couldn’t reach there. Also, we were made to wait for three–four hours, and by the time the hearing started, people were leaving and our strength had come down.” Residents of Salhi, Fatehpur, Ghatbarra and Hariharpur also told me that the public hearing was held in Besan, which is between five to ten kilometres away from these villages, in contravention of EAC guidelines to arrange it at a place convenient to the residents.
According to Alok Shukla, a convenor with HABSS, this time, too, RRVUNL and Adani tried to influence the hearing process by offering money and other benefits to the locals. “The hearing was managed to get consent by ensuring participation of residents outside the villages directly affected by land acquisition and those who supported the project,” Shukla told me. “The mining companies have for years been adopting methods like offering money, liquor and tour packages and offering false promises to win the support of some people who are then brought to the hearing venue in buses.”
RRVUNL submitted a response on 30 May 2018. The company first argued that the PESA act was not applicable in Chhattisgarh because the state government had not passed any legislation to incorporate the provisions into the Chhattisgarh Panchayat Raj Adhiniyam of 2003, which is the law governing panchayats in the state. RRVUNL further argued that the land acquisition would be governed by a different law altogether, the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) Act, 1957, or the CBA act.
According to Sudeip Shrivatsava, a Chhattisgarh-based lawyer and activist, the RRVUNL’s interpretation of the law did not stand scrutiny. Shrivatsava said that the CBA act is applicable when the coal block is owned and operated by the central government and companies owned by it. “Being a state-owned company, RRVUNL should have done the land acquisition under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013,” he told me. “The act mandates a social-impact assessment study and gram sabha consent. This study has not been done. The state government is also complicit in this, because it should have intervened and asked for the implementation of LARR instead of CBA.” The Chhattisgarh government is yet to amend the Panchayat Raj Adhiniyam act to ensure compliance with PESA.
This interpretation of law is not the only disputed aspect of the RRVUNL’s response. The power corporation stated to the EAC that the gram sabhas of all six villages—Salhi, Ghatbarra and Hariharpur in Surguja, and Janardhanpur and Tara in Surajpur—had issued no-objection certificates to the acquisition for the coal project. In support of this claim, RRVUNL submitted NOCs from the district collectors of Surguja and Surajpur, respectively dated 13 February and 27 March 2018. The documents claimed that the villages had issued a resolution in favour of the forest being diverted for the coal project during gram sabhas held between 24 and 27 January that year. The company further claimed that the residents of these villages had “supported the project and were convinced that the project will bring improvement to their living standard” during public consultations held the previous year.
Many residents said that they had even sent the resolutions declining their consent to the state’s tribal-welfare department. But in May 2018, the tribal-welfare department simply forwarded the NOCs that it received from the Surguja and Surajpur district collectors without making any observations about the resolutions passed by the villagers.
That month, the FAC also considered the proposal to divert the Hasdeo forest land for the Parsa coal mine, according to the minutes of the meeting. Despite recording that “the area is sensitive from erosion point of view,” the FAC did not make any recommendations against granting forest clearance for the Parsa coal project. Instead, the FAC observed that the NGT’s 2014 judgment on the PEKB did not make any observations about the Parsa block, and sought a legal opinion on whether it could grant in-principle approval to other projects in the Hasdeo forest.
Throughout these meetings, there is no reference to the FAC or the EAC considering the unanimous rejection of the proposed project by the residents who would be affected by it. By the indications from the minutes of these meetings, the fact that the gram sabhas had time and again passed resolutions declining their consent for the projects had not been a consideration for the FAC.
“Whatever is happening right now with the coal project, is being done without our consent,” Ramlal Kariyam, a resident of Salhi, told me. “The rights of gram sabhas is what protects us from being driven away from our land and forests. We will go to court to protect our rights.”
On 24 February this year, sarpanchs of 20 gram panchayats in and around the Parsa coal block area—including the six villages that RRVUNL claimed to have received NOCs from—took an oath to protect the forests from the mining projects. That day, the sarpanchs, who gathered at Tara for the protest, also sent a letter to the ministry of tribal affairs seeking to protect their rights under PESA and FRA. The letter was signed by 243 people, and one of their main demands was the cancellation of the land-acquisition process for the Parsa block. “All land acquisition processes initiated based on statements that are forged or obtained forcefully from gram sabhas should be cancelled,” the letter stated. “This is how the procedures for Para coal block has been done.”
<a data-cke-saved-href="https://caravanmagazine.in/author/925" href="https://caravanmagazine.in/author/925" style="box-sizing: inherit; color: rgb(122, 122, 122); cursor: pointer; text-decoration-line: none; font-family: Montserrat, " segoe="" ui",="" roboto,="" oxygen,="" ubuntu,="" cantarell,="" "fira="" sans",="" "droid="" "helvetica="" neue",="" helvetica,="" arial,="" sans-serif;="" font-size:="" 12.8px;="" text-align:="" center;="" text-transform:="" uppercase;="" background-color:="" rgb(255,="" 255,="" 255);"="">“They have overruled the power of our gram sabhas by forging fake documents,” Kariyam told me. “Our demand is that those fake documents should be withdrawn and the clearances given to Parsa coal block should be cancelled. We are inside our houses because of the lock down, but we are discussing these over phone and social media and the fight for our rights is going on. We will return to protest once the lockdown is lifted.” (caravanmagazine.in)
The videos are now showing up in your social media feed every hour or two, each one more over-the-top than the one before — viral missives from a world that seems to have gone mad and yet somehow exists right in our backyard. These “forgotten Americans” are at the lectern at your county commission meeting if they’re not yelling at you in the produce aisle — screaming that the elected officials and their so-called scientific experts demanding they wear a mask to prevent the spread of coronavirus are really part of a vast conspiracy to take away their freedoms.
“I would also like to know where do you get the authority to reduce my oxygen,” one woman in a white “Trump Girl” shirt demanded of the Palm Beach County, Fla., commissioners as they met to issue a mandatory-mask-in-public order to fight a surge in COVID-19 cases in the Sunshine State. Her rant was not as remarkable as the fact she was just one of a stream of citizens with different variations on the same theme — that masks are a plot to subdue the masses in the name of Bill Gates or Hillary Clinton or whatever other Antichrist just popped up in their Facebook feed.
“You see that flag, I would die for that flag,” a man who called himself “an American Patriot” told the commissioners. “The Constitution that you were supposed to uphold, I would die for that! None of you are holding that up.” Others said masks were either the devil’s work or shielding sexual predators, or else provided unintentional comic relief like the woman who insisted: “I don’t wear a mask for the same reason I don’t wear underwear. ... Things gotta breathe.”
Similar sentiments echoed across Florida — “I will not be muzzled like a mad dog!” screamed one St. Lucie County man, sounding very much like a mad dog — and the United States, where residents of Huntington Beach, Calif., waved American flags and a large sign reading “NO MASKS” at motorists. But as the United States watched coronavirus cases spiral out of control in a manner that’s happened almost nowhere else in the world, the problem seemed deeper than the usual suspects of Trumpist QAnon believers. Even in “blue states,” young people packed bars and beaches and then brought COVID-19 home for Father’s Day. In Santa Cruz County, Calif., commissioners who’d tried to keep beaches closed simply gave up. “People,” a spokesperson said, “are not willing to be governed in that regard.”
The most comprehensive study published in the journal Lancet found mask-wearing could reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission from 17% to 3%. No wonder the University of Washington says universal mask-wearing in the United States would reduce the coronavirus death toll between now and October by a whopping 33,000 human beings.
Just think of all the restrictions on freedom and liberty — from the government seeing what you checked out at the library to invasive searches at the airport — to prevent another attack like 9/11 that killed 3,000 people, or less than one-tenth the toll from not wearing masks. But for millions of Americans — not a majority, mind you, but enough to cause a public-health hazard in a pandemic — the idea of masks has been launched into a different orbit where freedom talk is injected with the uniquely American viruses of free-market capitalism and media manipulation, maybe with a dollop of white supremacy.
The 1970s’ British glam-pop rockers Sweet practically predicted all of this with their 1978 smash, “Love Is Like Oxygen”: “... You get too much and get too high, not enough and you’re gonna die.” In the mask debate, just substitute the word freedom for love. Because, yes, freedom — to speak, to publish, to worship, to assemble, and to protest the government — is absolutely essential to the American experience, so much so that it’s hard to get in a “but ...”
But ... too much of the warped notion of freedom promoted by the aggressively not-mask-wearing President Trump and his No. 2, Mike Pence, and their prophets like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity won’t just get you high — to continue with the Sweet analogy — but could also kill you by an overdose. What the radio hucksters, and the wannabe dictators they installed, won’t tell you is that freedom without any social responsibility or empathy for others is ultimately hollow.
But let’s remember that American people — even the damaged souls that you’re laughing at on Twitter today — didn’t pervert the meaning of freedom on their own. The warped modern version of liberty was sold to them, first by right-wing public intellectuals like Ayn Rand, who killed thousands of trees to wrap unbridled selfishness in her endless tomes about freedom, and later by the salesmen of Big Capitalism.
Protecting your freedom became the ideal branding for what these pitchmen really wanted, which was political cover to dramatically lower taxes on millionaires (who, thanks to that, would become billionaires) and to crush unions and their demands for higher pay, freeing up profits to now pay CEOs 350 times what the average worker makes. Talk about finding the cost of freedom! With the help of academics like the Nobel economist James McGill Buchanan, backed by billionaires like the Koch brothers, warped freedom capitalism got a fancy name — free-market libertarianism. But by the 1970s, their new form of snake-oil salesmanship was threatened by the avatars of a newer “knowledge economy.”
Confronted with scientific realities like man-made climate change, the forces of conservative libertarianism turned their guns toward expertise, with the goals of thwarting environmentalism and keeping corporate profits high. The bills for global warming are starting to come due, but that has been superseded for the time being by the COVID-19 crisis; the lack of trust for medical expertise from Main Street all the way to an ignorant president whom 62 million Main Streeters installed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has proved lethal.
No other nation has botched its coronavirus response so badly because no other nation holds science in such low esteem. “Who made you perpetrators over my life?” the self-proclaimed Trump Girl demanded of the experts at the Palm Beach County meeting. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Stanford psychiatry prof Keith Humphreys noted that the United States simply can’t impose a coronavirus testing regimen like South Korea or Singapore because we don’t trust the government on public health. “Clusters of gun-toting protesters opposing public health measures are a real — and uniquely American — problem,” he wrote, “but it’s the much more prevalent distrust in government’s role in public health that would curtail the success of any test, trace and isolate program.”
In a functioning society, freedom can flourish when it’s part of a broader social compact, when liberty is not abused because its practitioners also see themselves as part of a community, where they care about others — even, or especially, when it comes to wearing a mask and not spreading germs to your neighbor. But has there ever been a branding campaign as successful as America repackaging selfishness, self-interest, and extreme inequality as personal freedom?
That’s even true of the freedom that’s so central to my work life: the free press that exists under the First Amendment. I’ve seen how that only works well when publishers fuel their press freedom with common sense and an understanding of responsibility to the readers. In the internet age, the promise of an even greater media freedom has been polluted by billionaires from Fox’s Rupert Murdoch to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who made bigger profits off lies and unchecked conspiracy theories than off fact-checking in the public interest. The filth of Zuckerberg’s Facebook is what’s spewing, unmasked, from the self-styled “patriots” of Palm Beach County.
There’s something else going here, and in the age of George Floyd it cannot be ignored. As Nancy MacLean chronicled in her award-winning Democracy in Chains about the above-mentioned James McGill Buchanan, his think-tank crusade to promote libertarianism was initially rooted in preserving Southern school segregation, or white supremacy. Over the last 50 or so years, much of what conservatives have hyped as threats to personal liberty were really proposed checks on white (or male) privilege.
White supremacy is, at its diseased heart, a quest for a kind of cultural immortality. As the global pandemic advanced and as evidence mounted that COVID-19 is most lethal not just for the elderly but also for Black and brown Americans, it seems clear that for some white people, not wearing a mask isn’t just a freedom song but a defiant proclamation of their superiority. That’s validated every day by America’s white-supremacist-in-chief, whose refusal to wear a mask in public is in fact a different kind of mask, one of his deep insecurity. This toxic blend of narcissism and white privilege is Donald Trump’s idea of leadership — even as he leads some of his voters to an early grave.
The flip side is that the millions who’ve marched in America’s streets after George Floyd’s murder — many, although not all, from the under-35 generation — are making the case that a better world, built around empathy and compassion for people who don’t look like ourselves, is coming. They are using their freedom of speech and assembly to forge a more perfect union, and I fervently wish that the 33,000 Americans who may be doomed by a lethal injection of phony liberty can somehow live to see it. (inquirer.com)
Surface contamination and fleeting encounters are less of a worry than close-up, person-to-person interactions for extended periods
It’s not common to contract Covid-19 from a contaminated surface, scientists say. And fleeting encounters with people outdoors are unlikely to spread the coronavirus.
Instead, the major culprit is close-up, person-to-person interactions for extended periods. Crowded events, poorly ventilated areas and places where people are talking loudly—or singing, in one famous case—maximize the risk.
These emerging findings are helping businesses and governments devise reopening strategies to protect public health while getting economies going again. That includes tactics like installing plexiglass barriers, requiring people to wear masks in stores and other venues, using good ventilation systems and keeping windows open when possible.
Two recent large studies showed that wide-scale lockdowns—stay-at-home orders, bans on large gatherings and business closures—prevented millions of infections and deaths around the world. Now, with more knowledge in hand, cities and states can deploy targeted interventions to keep the virus from taking off again, scientists and public-health experts said.
That means better protections for nursing-home residents and multigenerational families living in crowded conditions, they said. It also means stressing physical distancing and masks, and reducing the number of gatherings in enclosed spaces.
“We should not be thinking of a lockdown, but of ways to increase physical distance,” said Tom Frieden, chief executive of Resolve to Save Lives, a nonprofit public-health initiative. “This can include allowing outside activities, allowing walking or cycling to an office with people all physically distant, curbside pickup from stores, and other innovative methods that can facilitate resumption of economic activity without a rekindling of the outbreak.”
The group’s reopening recommendations include widespread testing, contact tracing and isolation of people who are infected or exposed.
The virus has to make its way into your respiratory tract and use the ACE-2 receptors there to enter cells and replicate.
Health agencies have so far identified respiratory-droplet contact as the major mode of Covid-19 transmission. These large fluid droplets can transfer virus from one person to another if they land on the eyes, nose or mouth. But they tend to fall to the ground or on other surfaces pretty quickly.
Some researchers say the new coronavirus can also be transmitted through aerosols, or minuscule droplets that float in the air longer than large droplets. These aerosols can be directly inhaled.
That’s what may have happened at a restaurant in Guangzhou, China, where an infected diner who was not yet ill transmitted the virus to five others sitting at adjacent tables. Ventilation in the space was poor, with exhaust fans turned off, according to one study looking at conditions in the restaurant.
Aerosolized virus from the patient’s breathing or speaking could have built up in the air over time and strong airflow from an air-conditioning unit on the wall may have helped recirculate the particles in the air, according to authors of the study, which hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed.
Sufficient ventilation in the places people visit and work is very important, said Yuguo Li, one of the authors and an engineering professor at the University of Hong Kong. Proper ventilation—such as forcing air toward the ceiling and pumping it outside, or bringing fresh air into a room—dilutes the amount of virus in a space, lowering the risk of infection.
At a March 10 church choir practice in Washington state, 87% of attendees were infected, said Lea Hamner, an epidemiologist with the Skagit County public-health department and lead author of a study on an investigation that warned about the potential for “superspreader” events, in which one or a small number of people infect many others.
Members of the choir changed places four times during the 2½-hour practice, were tightly packed in a confined space and were mostly older and therefore more vulnerable to illness, she said. All told, 53 of 61 attendees at the practice were infected, including at least one person who had symptoms. Two died.
Several factors conspired, Ms. Hamner said. When singing, people can emit many large and small respiratory particles. Singers also breathe deeply, increasing the chance they will inhale infectious particles.
Similar transmission dynamics could be at play in other settings where heavy breathing and loud talking are common over extended periods, like gyms, musical or theater performances, conferences, weddings and birthday parties. Of 61 clusters of cases in Japan between Jan. 15 and April 4, many involved heavy breathing in close proximity, such as karaoke parties, cheering at clubs, talking in bars and exercising in gyms, according to a recent study in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The so-called attack rate—the percentage of people who were infected in a specific place or time—can be very high in crowded events, homes and other spaces where lots of people are in close, prolonged contact.
An estimated 10% of people with Covid-19 are responsible for about 80% of transmissions, according to a study published recently in Wellcome Open Research. Some people with the virus may have a higher viral load, or produce more droplets when they breathe or speak, or be in a confined space with many people and bad ventilation when they’re at their most infectious point in their illness, said Jamie Lloyd-Smith, a University of California, Los Angeles professor who studies the ecology of infectious diseases.
But overall, “the risk of a given infected person transmitting to people is pretty low,” said Scott Dowell, a deputy director overseeing the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Covid-19 response. “For every superspreading event you have a lot of times when nobody gets infected.”
The attack rate for Covid-19 in households ranges between 4.6% and 19.3%, according to several studies. It was higher for spouses, at 27.8%, than for other household members, at 17.3%, in one study in China.
Rosanna Diaz lives in a three-bedroom apartment in New York City with five other family members. The 37-year-old stay-at-home mother was hospitalized with a stroke on April 18 that her doctors attributed to Covid-19, and was still coughing when she went home two days later.
She pushed to get home quickly, she said, because her 4-year-old son has autism and needed her. She kept her distance from family members, covered her mouth when coughing and washed her hands frequently. No one else in the apartment has fallen ill, she said. “Nobody went near me when I was sick,” she said.
Being outside is generally safer, experts say, because viral particles dilute more quickly. But small and large droplets pose a risk even outdoors, when people are in close, prolonged contact, said Linsey Marr, a Virginia Tech environmental engineering professor who studies airborne transmission of viruses.
No one knows for sure how much virus it takes for someone to become infected, but recent studies offer some clues. In one small study published recently in the journal Nature, researchers were unable to culture live coronavirus if a patient’s throat swab or milliliter of sputum contained less than one million copies of viral RNA.
Air travel is full of opportunities for coronavirus transmission. Touchless check-in, plexiglass shields, temperature checks, back-to-front boarding and planes with empty middle seats are all now part of the flying experience, and the future may bring even more changes. Illustration: Alex Kuzoian
“Based on our experiment, I would assume that something above that number would be required for infectivity,” said Clemens Wendtner, one of the study’s lead authors and head of the department of infectious diseases and tropical medicine at München Klinik Schwabing, a teaching hospital at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.
He and his colleagues found samples from contagious patients with virus levels up to 1,000 times that, which could help explain why the virus is so infectious in the right conditions: It may take much lower levels of virus than what’s found in a sick patient to infect someone else.
Based on this emerging picture of contagion, some policies are changing. The standard procedure for someone who tests positive is to quarantine at home. Some cities are providing free temporary housing and social services where people who are infected can stay on a voluntary basis, to avoid transmitting the virus to family members.
The CDC recently urged Americans to keep wearing masks and maintaining a distance from others as states reopen. “The more closely you interact with others, the longer the interaction lasts, the greater the number of people involved in the interaction, the higher the risk of Covid-19 spread,” said Jay Butler, the CDC’s Covid-19 response incident manager.
If the number of Covid-19 cases starts to rise dramatically as states reopen, “more extensive mitigation efforts such as what were implemented back in March may be needed again,” a decision that would be made locally, he said.
CDC guidelines for employers whose workers are returning include requiring masks, limiting use of public transit and elevators to reduce exposure, and prohibiting hugs, handshakes and fist-bumps. The agency also suggested replacing communal snacks, water coolers and coffee pots with prepacked, single-serve items, and erecting plastic partitions between desks closer than 6 feet apart.
Current CDC workplace guidelines don’t talk about distribution of aerosols, or small particles, in a room, said Lisa Brosseau, a respiratory-protection consultant for the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.
“Aerosol transmission is a scary thing,” she said. “That’s an exposure that’s hard to manage and it’s invisible.” Ensuring infected individuals stay home is important, she said, but that can be difficult due to testing constraints. So additional protocols to interrupt spread, like social distancing in workspaces and providing N95 respirators or other personal protective equipment, might be necessary as well, she said.
Some scientists say while aerosol transmission does occur, it doesn’t explain most infections. In addition, the virus doesn’t appear to spread widely through the air.
“If this were transmitted mainly like measles or tuberculosis, where infectious virus lingered in the airspace for a long time, or spread across large airspaces or through air-handling systems, I think you would be seeing a lot more people infected,” said the CDC’s Dr. Brooks.
Sampling the air in high-traffic areas regularly could help employers figure out who needs to get tested, said Donald Milton, professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
“Let’s say you detect the virus during lunchtime on Monday in a dining hall,” he said. “You could then reach out to people who were there during that time telling them that they need to get tested.”
Erin Bromage, a University of Massachusetts Dartmouth associate professor of biology, has been fielding questions from businesses, court systems and even therapists after a blog post he wrote titled “The Risks—Know Them—Avoid Them” went viral.
Courts are trying to figure out how to reconvene safely given that juries normally sit close together, with attorneys speaking to them up close, Dr. Bromage said. Therapists want to be able to hold in-person counseling sessions again. And businesses are trying to figure out what types of cleaning and disease-prevention methods in which to invest most heavily.
He advises that while wiping down surfaces and putting in hand-sanitizer stations in workplaces is good, the bigger risks are close-range face-to-face interactions, and having lots of people in an enclosed space for long periods. High-touch surfaces like doorknobs are a risk, but the virus degrades quickly so other surfaces like cardboard boxes are less worrisome, he said. “Surfaces and cleaning are important, but we shouldn’t be spending half of our budget on it when they may be having only a smaller effect,” he said.
Drugmaker Eli Lilly & Co. has a medical advisory panel that’s reading the latest literature on viral transmission, which it is using to develop recommendations for bringing back the company’s own workers safely.
To go into production facilities, some of which are in operation now, scientists must don multiple layers of personal protective equipment, including gloves, masks, goggles and coveralls. That’s not abnormal for drug-development settings, said Lilly Chief Scientific Officer Daniel Skovronsky. “The air is extensively filtered. There’s lots of protection,” he said.
The places he worries about are the break rooms, locker rooms and security checkpoints, where people interact. Those are spaces where the company has instituted social-distancing measures by staggering the times they are open and how many people can be there at once. Only a few cafeterias are open, and those that are have socially distanced seating. In bathrooms, only half the stalls are available to cut down on the number of people.
With the tragic demise of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput, Indian media unfortunately chose to focus on the suicide rather than the loss of a young life. In this piece, senior journalist Aarti Dhar stresses on the need for the media to abide by guidelines and report suicides with sensitivity, which might prevent others from taking the extreme step.
Hyderabad: Sunday afternoon came with rather unfortunate news. Actor Sushant Singh Rajput had passed away. His body was reportedly found hanging in his flat in a posh Mumbai locality. By the next day, post-mortem confirmed that it was a case of suicide.
The life of the 34-year-old actor with a promising future had been cut short. This fact will not change, but what needs to change is the way suicides are covered by media.
Within minutes, television channels switched to the 'big breaking' news of the day. The focus was on how Sushant Singh Rajput had committed suicide rather than the loss of a young life. Most television channels 'broke this news' for almost the entire day describing the way Sushant Singh had ended his life.
So much so, even telling the viewers the colour of the cloth with which the body was found hanging when the door of his bedroom was broken open. Telecasting live when the body was taken out from the house and almost insisting on a quote from the grieving family members back home at Patna. Worse was speculating on the reason behind his alleged suicide -- from professional failure to break up with girlfriend to financial crisis, until it was realised he had been suffering from depression and was on treatment.
As expected, the morning newspapers too, front-paged the story with the actor's picture and details of the act that had ended a precious life.
Not to be blamed, electronic media is about 'breaking the news first' and newspapers compete with each other on the minutest details, display and pictures!
The news deserves prominence, no doubt, but does suicide deserve to be highlighted? One would say it is difficult to differentiate the two as prima facie it does appear to be a case of suicide, but what one generally forgets is that repeated stories on suicide can 'prompt' many to take the extreme step.
More than 50 researches done across the world have found that news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals, depending on the amount, duration and prominence of coverage. By 'vulnerable individuals' we mean those people who are already thinking about suicide and can be influenced to copycat the act based on what they see or read on media. Sensationalising suicides of celebrities can 'inspire' such individuals to do the same because they feel it is 'ok' to do it and can even make them a celebrity instantly.
Research has also shown showing stories of suicide on media can increase the incidence of suicides by 2.5 times. Referred to as 'Copycat Suicides', it has been proven that suicide rates rise after the suicides of celebrities the most, and to a lesser extent political figures that receive publicity in the mass media, or sensationalised — to put it in simple terms.
On the other side, there is also increasing evidence for the positive roles media can play in suicide prevention. The 'Papageno Studies' is the effect that mass media can have by presenting non-suicide alternatives to crises. Media can make a very relevant contribution to suicide prevention by minimising sensationalist reporting, and maximising reporting on how to cope with suicidality and adverse circumstances.
There is no single reason behind suicides. But more often, they are the result of a mental disorder that can range from depression/stress to severe mental ailments. At times, it is also genetic or there is a history of suicides in the family. But suicides can be prevented if mental disorders are destigmatised, accepted as any other illness and mental healthcare is accessible to all. Sometimes just listening to a suicidal person can make him/her change the decision. People with mental disorders are not 'mad' as is often believed.
The World Health Organisation in 2008 came out with guidelines for media on suicide reporting. For some reason, these guidelines are not being followed by media in letter and spirit.
The WHO has listed 11 points for media to follow while reporting on suicide. The most important being not to sensationalise suicides and educate people on mental health issues to prevent suicide. By not sensationalising, one would mean to avoid using the word 'suicide' in the headline, instead saying an individual was dead would still catch eyeballs.
Not using the picture of the deceased, not identifying the place where the suicide took place and not describing the method used to end the life are some other crucial guidelines media is supposed to follow. Respecting the sentiments of the family at that critical moment by not insisting on their quotes of filming them and taking pictures without prior permission is also recommended. Instead, the WHO says mentioning helpline numbers and healthcare centres where mental healthcare facility is available could be of great use to people with suicidal tendencies. Being careful in choosing words is crucial. The contents of the suicide note need not be given out. Just saying a suicide note was found and is being looked into is good enough.
Not using phrases that normalise self-harm such as 'epidemic' of suicide or 'failed attempt' is recommended. It is equally important to educate the community about mental health issues, the guidelines say while saying that including warning signs, and helpline number is critical. Quoting people as saying or drawing inference that suicide had ended the problems of an individual could just be an idea for some vulnerable individual trying to brave problems in his/her life.
The Press Council of India in September 2019 also endorsed these guidelines and asked media to abstain from identifying a mentally ill person or using his/her picture or footage without prior permission.
But coverage of suicides in media in India is far from ideal while experiences from Austria, the first country worldwide to implement their own set of media recommendations back in 1987 as well as from other countries nowadays support that active collaboration with the media can help prevent suicides and improve the quality of reporting.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau report, the suicide rate in India in 2018 was 10.2 per 100,000 population. As many as 1.34 lakh people commit suicide in the country every year while another 1.60 lakh suicides are not even reported. Majority of the suicides are reported in the age group of 14-29 years — the most productive years of life!
The death of Sushant Singh Rajput is an opportunity for the media and other stakeholders to push for stricter implementation of the WHO guidelines to save lives. The life can be that of a media person also because they are no exception to this contagion.
More so at a time when Coronavirus has put lives under stress and India has already seen suicides due to job loss, withdrawal symptoms and even at quarantine centres because of stigma attached to the disease. (moneycontrol.com)