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Webinar on Menstrual Leave Bill and Maternal Leave Bill – Do they Affect Human Rights and Equality?

In Bir district of Maharashtra, village women’s uteruses are removed so that their menstrual cycle does not affect their work routine. These women work in sugarcane fields and the factory isn’t in favour of maternity leave for expecting mothers. Due to the removal of their uterus, these women have lost the ability to bear children and their menstrual cycle has been disrupted.

On December 4th, The Unfiltered Journal organized a webinar addressing the topic of Menstrual Leave Bill and the Maternity Leave Bill and how it affects human rights and equality. The speaker, Ms Afrin Khan, Assistant Professor at Kirti P. Mehta School of Law, was highly insightful about said bills and enlightened the viewers about the same.

The topic of menstruation has always been considered a taboo to talk about in public. Ms Khan narrated her own experience being in a convent school where she was told by her teacher to not write the word ‘menstruation’ as a reason for being absent but instead to write ‘stomach ache.’ From a young age, if girls are told that they shouldn’t use the word menstruation out loud, it would make it seem like there is something wrong with them.

The Menstrual Bill was first passed in 2017 which allows paid leaves during menstruation, different from medical or casual leaves. When this bill becomes a law, it is more likely to be implemented successfully in white-collar jobs, but the situation is different in rural areas. The blue-collar job employees are paid daily wages, so it becomes difficult for them to get paid if they decide to take these leaves.

Corporations should strive towards making an inclusive workforce. One way to make it easier for women in the workplace is to install a sanitary pad dispenser in the washrooms. Zomato, a leading food delivery company, has permitted menstrual leave for women. There are very few companies which have considered women’s needs. Many companies still discriminate against women and some of them are even opposed to this bill.

The Bill states that “Women are allowed to take menstrual leaves,” and is seemingly beneficial for those women who have immensely painful periods which disrupt their work-life balance. The bill is a step forward for eliminating the stigma related to women’s menstrual cycle. Article 15(3) states that these leaves granted under the bill comes under positive discrimination and some researches prove this.

Ms Khan elaborated on a study that was done where participants were asked how they would perceive a woman if she were to throw a tampon in a public place. The answers were mostly unfavourable and negative, and the people said they would consider such a person as being impure; someone who made them uncomfortable.

There have been many studies which show that such bills, although passed with good intentions often result in greater discrimination against women than before. Many people who carry such archaic attitudes to the workplace consider women to be incompetent gender and someone who can’t compete with men.

Some commentators have criticised the bill saying that a woman can face a lot of discrimination due to the introduction of it. Companies which treat their employees like machines instead of actual human beings with needs might not see the value of keeping women in the workplace.

Many bills of a similar nature have been introduced around the world. At the end of World War II, Japan had introduced the concept of menstrual leave for the first time. In countries like Indonesia, Japan, China and the USA- a bill of the same has led to discrimination against women in the workplace. Some women have felt that they are being treated as inept and weak which has resulted in them not taking the leaves during menstruation granted by such a bill.

Although it is an important Bill, it has the potential to make women seem like they lack certain abilities. Shashi Tharoor had come forward in support of the Bill on Twitter but received backlash from journalists like Barkha Dutt. She argued that “menstrual leave ghettoises women, becomes one more excuse to close certain professional doors on women and treats the monthly period as a grand event instead of routine biology.”

The subject of Maternal Leave Bill was also briefly touched upon. Ms Khan and the participants collectively agreed upon the fact that Paternal Leave should also be introduced as parenting is a team effort. Further, the speaker also elaborated that a lot of research is required to understand how exactly Maternal and Paternal Leaves are to be executed. How many weeks should be included? Should it be different for the mother and the father? or should both get an equal number of days? It is easy to enforce a law with such details depending upon one’s own view of it but for the law to be easily accepted by the masses, extensive ground research is required.

Time and again, it has been found that only a few companies comply with mandatory maternity leaves for pregnant women and new mothers. Most of the women are forced in one way another to leave their jobs after they become a mother and many are pressurized internally by their families or externally by coworkers or the boss’ behaviour to quit after having a child. In these scenarios, the menstrual bill will aggravate the situation instead of assuaging it.

Education also comes into play in such sensitive topics. If people aren’t educated enough from a young age regarding menstruation and birth, they will continue to be a taboo and give rise to resentments, inequalities and slow down the process of development considerably. In such circumstances, if these Bills are suddenly introduced, without enlightening the masses as to why they are important, Both the Bills will fall short in achieving the desired objectives.

Women in an Indian workplace are subjected to a lot of unnecessary comments and judgments that they have to deal with, among other things. It would be a long time before India is socially and logistically ready for a Menstrual or Maternity bill. Despite having good intentions, if not executed properly, the Menstrual bill might ironically increase the harassment and bullying that women have to already face at the workplace and have their credibility questioned based on their gender.

 

 

 

 

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Where is the ‘Ekatvam’ now?

In the public eye, anything that goes against a particular religion is subject to controversy. Sadly, such has been the case for famous jewellery brand Tanishq’s newest ad campaign ‘Ekatvam’ which means oneness. The advertisement shows a Hindu daughter-in-law being taken for her baby shower ceremony by her Muslim mother-in-law who says that keeping daughters happy is more important than customs. This gave many social media users a reason to say that the ad promotes ‘love jihad.’  Soon after the ad was released, #BoycottTanishq was quick to start trending. Tanishq said it was ‘deeply saddened with the inadvertent stirring of emotions’ and has withdrawn the ad from all platforms.

In an open letter to the public, the company said that the idea of the ad was to celebrate the ‘beauty of oneness’ with people coming from all walks of life and families during these difficult times. Somehow, many Hindutva bigots have seen this as something against Hinduism and have been very vocal about how it has deeply hurt their sentiments thus demanding for an apology. The other half of social media stood up for the message the ad was trying to portray and slammed the bigotry.

For a country that prides itself on religion, why is there room for constant hate and criticism against inter-faith unions? Actor Kangana Ranaut shared her thoughts on the ad and claimed that it glorified “love jihad and sexism.” Her tweet read, “This advert is wrong on so many levels, Hindu bahu is living with the family for a significant amount of time but acceptance happens only when she is carrying their heir. So, what is she, just a set of ovaries? This advert does not only promote love jihad but also sexism.”  Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, actor Richa Chadha and many others, on the other hand, supported and appreciated the ad for its message on ‘Hindu-Muslim unity.’

Inter-faith marriages have always been frowned upon in India especially if one wants to marry into the Muslim community. The rules in Islam and Christianity are strict when it comes to marriage and people outside the faith are not easily accepted. Therefore, the ad that showed a Muslim family with a Hindu bahu was not only beautiful but also attempted to break the stereotypical system we still live in. It is a shame that we are still unable to accept the slightest change in traditions that have been set in stone. Times are changing and these are some of the few stereotypes that need to be broken.

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“Teach your daughters good values to prevent rape”: BJP MLA

Another gruesome rape case has left citizens questioning the country we live in. The 20yr old girl was gang-raped and tortured by four upper-caste Thakur men on September 14. She died on 29 September 2020 after which her body was hastily cremated thus preventing the family from performing the last rites. This has caused further outrage across the nation.

BJP MLA Surendra Singh on Saturday remarked that rape cases in the country can be prevented if parents inculcate good values in their daughters. He says that ‘sanskaar’ is to be taught if rapes are to be prevented as ‘shasan’ and ‘talwaar’ will not work.

In a video released by news agency ANI, the legislator, who represents the Bairia constituency in Uttar Pradesh’s Ballia, is heard emphasizing on the need to instil good values to prevent such heinous crimes. He added, “It is the government and the values that will make the country beautiful and prevent such cases.”

On Saturday, the government recommended a CBI investigation into the entire chain of events in the Hathras assault and gangrape case.

The government has also suspended three police officers, including Hathras Superintendent of Police Vikrant Vir.

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The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) 2020 Draft

Before undertaking any major project, an Environment Impact Assessment or EIA is done to identify the consequences of a proposed activity/project on the environment. EIA covers projects such as mining of coal or other minerals, infrastructure development, thermal, nuclear and hydropower projects, real estate and other industrial projects. It is a process that acknowledges and takes into consideration the views of the people on whether a project should be approved or not.

Many activists have called the new EIA draft ‘anti-environment’ and ‘pro-industries.’ Activists claim that far from an improvement, the 2020 draft is a ‘regressive departure’ from the 2006 version it seeks to replace. It is an attempt to weaken environmental regulation and silence affected communities. The draft also seems to favour industries while largely neglecting the balance between sustainable development and environment protection.

The 1994 EIA notification was modified in 2006 and to incorporate the amendments and relevant court orders since then, it was drafted again in 2020. The draft aimed to make processes more transparent and beneficial for the people. But, on the contrary, the draft proposes the removal of several activities from the purview of public consultation.

Background

A signatory to the Stockholm Declaration (1972) on Environment, India enacted laws to control water (1974) and air (1981) pollution soon after. But it was only after the Bhopal Gas disaster of 1984, that the country legislated an umbrella Act for environment protection in 1986 brought out to ensure all-round safety of the environment. It later got replaced by the 2006 EIA notification.

Every developmental project has been required to go through the EIA process for obtaining prior environmental clearance ever since the norms were notified in India in 1994.

Why the EIA draft 2020 is so controversial

The two significant changes that the draft tries to bring are the ‘post-facto clearance’ and the restriction of public participation. Where the post-facto clearance is concerned, the Supreme Court of India in an order stated that “Environmental law cannot countenance the notion of an ex-post-facto clearance. This would be contrary to both the precautionary principle, as well as the need for sustainable development.” Furthermore, the 2020 draft increases the government’s power and provides no remedy for the political and bureaucratic stronghold on the EIA process while also favouring the industries.

Most of the nations in the world have implemented EIA. On one side it acts as a key to control the activities of private corporations. While on the other hand, it is a prerequisite for grants or loans by international financial institutions.

How does it prove to be dangerous?

The impact of the provisions of this draft could be a possible danger to North India as compared to PAN India. In the draft, the border area is defined as “area falling within 100kms of aerial distance from the line of actual control with bordering countries of India.” This means it will cover a large portion of North East India, which is considered as the country’s biodiversity hotspot.

A prime example is the Baghjan fire that took place in Assam earlier this year. The blowout was so dangerous that along with destroying human lives as well as flora and fauna, the entire place is still burning. The State Pollution Board of Assam had reported that the oil plant had been operating for over 15 years without any prior consent. Such is the consequence of establishing a project without proper clearance.

If this draft becomes a law, it will mean a death sentence for the environment without allowing people to raise their voices. Strict action must be taken against a draft like this to protect our environment from any further damages.

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Anxiety and How to Cope with It

We have all experienced the nervousness and anxiety set in just before an exam, a big presentation, moving to a new place or going for a job interview. The butterflies that start building up in your stomach, the sweaty palms and the constant fidgeting that doesn’t end till the task at hand are done. These are the common and not so severe signs of anxiety.

It’s normal to feel anxious in stressful situations, but in the case of an anxiety disorder, that feeling of fear may constantly be with you. The increasing intensity of fear that becomes bothersome to the point that it hinders your communication and cognitive skills in any situation is worrisome.

Psychiatrist Dr Naazneen Ladak was kind enough to enlighten us on the topic of anxiety on Monday in an interactive zoom session hosted by Bhoomi Asher, a content writer at The Unfiltered Journal.

In her many years of experience, Dr Ladak has dealt with many patients suffering from mental disorders and has helped them throughout their visits to her. “Anxiety is definitely something that comes under the mental health umbrella as it is also associated with disorders like depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Various situations can trigger an anxiety attack like insecurities and uncertainties, anticipation, and even phobias like a fear of heights or closed spaces could lead to an attack.” Dr Ladak suggests maintaining a journal if you suffer from anxiety and documenting every time you have an attack.

While speaking of triggers, Dr Ladak says triggers can steam from anything, a dreaded meeting, a tough examination and most often it steams from phobias. One can’t know when something might trigger an attack but they can calm themselves or others by way of distraction techniques.

Anxiety is usually categorized with panic attacks. However, it is not the same thing. Panic attacks can occur suddenly without an obvious trigger. Some of the symptoms include a racing or pounding heartbeat, dizziness, chest pain, nausea, shortness of breath and sweating. An anxiety attack, on the other hand, follows a buildup of excessive worry. Symptoms may be more intense over the next few minutes or hours, although it may be less intense than a panic attack. Rapid heart rate, restlessness, fatigue, dizziness and constant fear are some of the many symptoms of an anxiety attack.

In a country like India, the topic of mental health is always kept hush-hush due to the lack of awareness about it. There has always been a big stigma around people suffering from mental illnesses. The longer you wait, the more feelings are pent up eventually leading to a breakdown. And the longer it takes for you to accept you have a problem, the longer it will take to receive the necessary help. “Never shy away from seeking help in these situations,” was one of the suggestions by Dr, Ladak.

If you have family or friends who may be suffering from similar disorders, just talking to them about what makes them happy and comfortable can help cope with it and can help calm the person down.

Mindfulness is another method of coping with anxiety as it helps reduce anxiousness and depression. It makes you focus on the present moment without ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. It also encourages a person to see things from a different perspective. “After all, it is in our hands to create and change our thoughts as we have that remote control,” says Dr Ladak.

The event ended with Dr Nazneen answering a few questions from the chatbox, one of which was how not to let failures affect you. The doctor in a very warm tone spoke, “Everybody has an idol or famous personality that they look up to. But, most of the time you only see the tip of that iceberg, which is all the success that person has received.” She further explains that no one focuses on the failure and struggle it took to get to peaks of success. The fear of failure causes anxiety and also leads a person to give up when a certain project is not going their way. To reach that level of success, we have to treat our failures as a stepping stone and keep going no matter how long it takes.

“Ultimately, we are all human beings, and we have flaws. Accept that.” This is Dr Ladak’s advice to us all. Never seek validation from every person you meet. There’s no point in being so critical of yourself or worried about what others may think of you. When you learn to stand up for your values and principles, people will respect that.

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Assam Police Recruitment Exam Paper Leak

Senior BJP Leader Diban Deka was allegedly involved in the Assam Police recruitment paper leak. He is also said to have ‘fled the state’ as he is afraid of being killed at any moment as ‘many big and corrupt officials’ of the Assam Police are involved in the nexus against him.

Pradeep Kumar, chairman of the State Level Police Recruitment Board (SLPRB), responsible for the recruitment of all non-gazetted posts of the Assam Police, said on September 20 that he had received the leaked question paper on his WhatsApp account at around 11:50 am.

Deka denied owning any printing press where the question papers were printed and stated that a small person like him can be killed at any time which is why he has fled the state and taken refuge elsewhere.

On September 12, Kumar had issued a notice cautioning candidates for the examination against touts after an audio clip went viral promising a job for the police sub-inspectors post against payment of Rs 4 lakh in cash.

On September 20, the question paper of the written examination for 597 posts of unarmed sub-inspectors in the Assam Police was leaked and authorities cancelled the test minutes after it had commenced across the state. Around 66,000 candidates had appeared for the written tests cross 154 centres in all the districts.

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has directed Kumar to conduct the examination again within a month and asked the director-general of police to identify the nexus which has conspired to spoil the recruitment process.

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Agriculture Bills Passed by the Parliament leads to protests by farmers and a ‘Bharat Bandh’

The new agriculture reform laws that have been passed by the government have been met with protests from the farmers union mostly in the states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and calling for a ‘Bharat Bandh’ (nationwide shutdown) on Friday. Farmers fear that the new bills passed will destroy the Minimum Support Price (MSP) system and hinder the functioning of agricultural mandis.

The country-wide strike called by Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), All India Farmers Union (AIFU), All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), All India Kisan Mahasangh (AIKM), has received support from 18 political parties, including the Congress. Farmers’ bodies from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have also called for a shutdown.

Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh has urged farmers to maintain law and order and to follow the Covid-19 protocols. He added that no FIR will be filed for the violation of section 144 during the protest.

In wake of the bandh, normal life and public transport across states could most likely be affected today. Fourteen special passenger trains running from the railways’ Ferozepur division have been cancelled from September 24 to 26 due to the three-day ‘rail roko’ protest. The Delhi-Haryana border is likely to be sealed and the Delhi police remain on high alert.

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Phosphine Gas discovered on Venus and why it’s a big deal.

Phosphine (PH3), is a compound made from phosphorus and hydrogen. It is a colorless but smelly gas and is known to be made only by some species of bacteria that survive in the absence of oxygen. A team of international scientists have detected traces of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus which potentially that there could be life on the planet.

“We’re not saying it’s life,” says astronomer Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in Wales. “We’re saying it’s a possible sign of life.”

Having roughly the same mass and size of Earth, Venus may look like a habitable planet from far away but up close, it’s is a scorching hellscape with sulfuric acid rain and crushing atmospheric pressures. Although the surface of the planet offers hellish conditions, 50km above the surface is a region that could be hospitable to life.

Phosphine gas can also result from several processes that are unrelated to life, such as lightning, meteor impacts, or even volcanic activity.

Some researchers are still a little skeptical of this sudden detection, thinking that perhaps the signal is from another chemical masquerading as phosphine.

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Brucellosis – Another outbreak in the midst of an ongoing pandemic.

Several thousand people in Lanzhou city in China have tested positive for a bacterial disease called brucellosis. A leak in a biopharmaceutical company last year caused the outbreak of the disease. Health authorities have said that there has been no person-to-person transmission so far.

Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that mainly affects cattle, swine, goats, sheep and dogs. Humans can get infected if they come in direct contact with an infected animal.

Symptoms of the disease include fever, sweats, malaise, anorexia, headache and muscle pain. It can also leave men infertile. While these may subside, some symptoms could become chronic or never go away, like arthritis or swelling of certain organs, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Brucellosis also goes by the name of Malta fever or Mediterranean fever.

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Festivals in the time of a Global Pandemic

From the processions and idol immersions of Ganesh Chaturthi to the roaring festivities of Navratri, along with the celebrations of Diwali, Eid, Christmas, and many more, India is known for being a very culturally and ethnically diverse country. Every season gives us a reason to celebrate, which is why India is known as the land of festivals and fairs. Be it the first harvest, the first monsoon, celebrating the bond of siblings on Raksha Bandhan, playing with colours on Holi, lighting up the surroundings with ‘diya’s’ and fireworks on Diwali, are some of the many reasons why festivals bring happiness to all.

Festivals are an integral part of Indian culture and are always celebrated with joie de vivre along with the utmost respect to people of all faiths. No matter how big or small the event, it is always a good occasion to spend time with near and dear ones. Shopping for new clothes and jewellery, cleaning every inch of the house, helping in the preparation of sweets and going around meeting friends and relatives and distributing gifts and sweets are the highlights of every festival.

Unfortunately, with the pandemic still running rampant, it will change the way we celebrate our festivals now. Living in the age of the internet has given us a new way to celebrate our festivals while practising social distancing. Video conferencing platforms like ‘Zoom’, has been a major helping hand during these tough times. It has brought us closer together to celebrate special occasions despite being far away from each other.

Neeta Kumar’s home is filled with warmth and the smell of freshly made ‘laddoos’ and sweets, every year on Diwali. She says that “With my daughter living abroad, Diwali is usually the only time she comes home, and then I at least have someone who helps me make the sweets instead of eating them!” Knowing that the current situation will not permit her whole family to be together this year, she plans on making it all feel the same despite being miles apart.

Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar also celebrated the festivities of Ganesh Chaturthi with his family, domestic helpers and relatives who joined through the Zoom app.

The time has come for all social gatherings to move to virtual platforms. There will no more be large crowds of people in public places of worship and no greeting people in the street as you pass by.

Celebrating Easter this year was not what anyone expected. The services were held with the help of YouTube live for people to watch from the comfort of their homes. “Going for the midnight masses held on Christmas and Easter with friends and family and the greetings and merriment after mass is what we always looked forward to”, says Melanie D’Souza. She further adds, “I know things won’t be the same this year and I’ll definitely miss the whole family coming for a get-together but, staying safe is more important right now and we must adhere to the rules given.”

A big salute to the police officers who have been doing their best to keep people from gathering in large numbers even for small celebrations and made sure that the necessary distance was maintained.

With the current situation of the country and the increasing number of cases every day, having any type of social gathering is dangerous for people’s health especially when there are so many who still insist on not abiding by the social distancing rules and not wearing their masks properly or not wearing one at all.

To be able to have any sort of celebration or festivities in the future, we need to keep following the rules given to us now.