The new coronavirus strain in the UK is a ‘super-spreader’ says Centre, here’s everything you need to know

The United Kingdom sees a new highly contagious mutation of the coronavirus strain that has become a “super-spreader” with a 70 percent increased transmissibility rate. India so far has not found any such strain, with our caseload falling below 3 lakhs (2,92,518), the lowest it has been in 163 days.

‘This virus mutation is not affecting the severity of the disease, neither the case fatality nor the hospitalization rate,’ said NITI Aayog Member(Health) Dr. VK Paul. Further explaining, ‘Mutation means there is a change in the RNA of the virus. The change in the virus is called drift and has no significance. This behavior is seen in many viruses including this.’ Earlier scientists had also spoken to comfort the alarmed populations that all viruses mutate and it is in their nature to do so, therefore, vaccines need to be updated repeatedly too. So far 17 changes have been seen in the virus with one change – N501Y being responsible for increasing the tendency of the virus to enter the body.

The central government reacted to the situation by taking further precautions – stopping passengers to and from the UK temporarily till the 31st of December. Passengers that traveled to India from the UK are being checked and tested. If they are found to be positive their specimen is taken for cultures and genomic sequencing. As quoted by Dr. Paul ‘…the new strain of COVID-19 in the UK has no impact on the potential of the emerging vaccines being developed in our country and are available in other countries.’ Further adding ‘…there is no need to panic and there is no change in the procedure and guidelines of the treatment due to this mutation,’ stating that people need to be more vigilant.


The Mount Everest has reached a new height! Here’s how.

Mount Everest’s height is now officially 8,848.86 meters (29,031.69 feet) above sea level. Although this seems unusual it isn’t extraordinary. A mountain’s height can change frequently due to the movement of tectonic plates which lifts it gradually and earthquakes that can bring it down swiftly.

Dang Yamin, a member of a Chinese team that surveyed Everest’s height earlier this year, stated that the countervailing forces may help maintain a degree of stability over time. “Nature tends to strike a balance,” he told the official Xinhua News Agency. Dang also cited, as an example, the massive 1934 earthquake that wiped out 150 years of steady height increase in a few moments.

The world’s highest mountain spans the border of China and Nepal, enforcing them to present a new official height of the mountain together. The subject, however, isn’t settled for good. There are lots of factors for determining the height of a mountain like geological changes, methods, and varying criteria for scaling the world’s highest peak which further complicates the process.

There are various ways to measure a mountain; a Nepalese team in 2019, set up a satellite navigation marker on Everest’s peak to gauge its exact position via GPS satellites with modern, laser-equipped versions of instruments called theodolites to a Chinese team this spring, undertaking a similar mission with the Chinese-made Beidou constellation of navigation satellites, along with other types of equipment.

Standing a little taller than Everest is Ecuador’s Mount Chimborazo which is the world’s highest mountain, and more than 2,072 meters (6,800 feet) above Everest, as measured from the Earth’s core. This is because mountains along the equator are farther from the core, as the Earth bulges in the middle. Mount Mauna Kea in Hawaii is the tallest of them all, measuring 10,211 meters (33,500 feet) from the foot of the mountain to the peak. However, most of it is under the sea level.


Covid-19 Vaccine is likely to be supplied to Centre at Rs. 250 by the Serum Institute of India

In a much-awaited move, the Serum Institute of India closes in on signing a supply contract for a covid-19 vaccine with the country’s central government. As per reports by the Business Standard, on the 8th of December, the institute, the world’s largest vaccine producer by volume, is likely to fix the vaccine’s price at 250 rupees (per dose).

On the 7th of December, the institute lodged the first formal application for emergency-use approval of AstraZeneca’s shot. With this, the government sees a mass supply by the institute. The vaccine was earlier quoted to be priced at 1,000 rupees per dose in India in the private markets. However, the deals signed with larger supplies by the government make the vaccine available at a lower cost. This development comes as India is accelerating its review of vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc and AstraZeneca to authorize for emergency use, as quoted by a senior official.

The Chief Executive Officer, Adar Poonawalla, said the institute’s priority would be to supply the vaccine to Indians, then distribute it to other countries. This step is much needed as India is the second most affected country in the world by Covid-19, after the United States, and currently records more than 9.7 million cases.


Government Regulating Online News and OTT Platforms: A Step Backwards for India

India has always had an audience that consumed western media. With its commentary on several topics that plague the world and its openness to seemingly mundane yet, hushed topics, countries like ours found an outlet that they resonated with. We can see this with Over the Top (OTT) platforms gaining popularity as soon as they ventured into India. These video streaming service providers, namely Netflix and Amazon Prime, mark a fresh change as they are seemingly independent with their content not being withheld by anything. Something India hasn’t experienced before.

This, however, may change. According to a report by The Hindu, the Union government has brought OTT platforms under the ambit of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. As stated by the government, with set organizations to look after regulating content on television, print, news, and entertainment, “content online fell into a black hole with no oversight.” What this means is films and audio-visual programs as well as news and current affairs content that is available on these platforms will now be monitored by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. This change, in the words of ministry officials, enforces a greater discipline online.

We don’t know what this takeover means yet as the ministry hasn’t given out any details as of now. However, it is learned that the same rules that are applied in the Cable Television Network Regulation Act, 1995 may serve as a template to frame rules for online content. Program Code that governs content on TV lists several don’ts that channels are required to observe and follow. There is a possibility that the Electronic Media Monitoring Centre, which currently monitors content on TV, maybe extended to include online content.

We already see a revolt against contents of such platforms with an FIR, recently, being filed against Netflix for showcasing a kissing scene between a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy, against the backdrop of a Hindu temple, in the series A Suitable Boy. The complaint was launched by BJP youth leader Gaurav Tiwari for apparently hurting religious sentiments and promoting ‘love jihad’. With the government seizing more and more control over what we consume, our nation, which is slowly moving towards a more progressive and liberated society could once again be under one strict religious party’s beliefs, flaring a divide further.

This takes us back to India’s long struggle with piracy. Films, recently released, were commonly sold in the form of CDs, in black, at almost every corner. We see this now as torrents, with online downloads of content easily accessible by anyone. In March alone we saw a 62% spike in the rates of film piracy due to the lockdown and the fact that not a lot of people had paid for OTT platforms subscriptions. According to an article by mint ”it has never been easier to view content illegally than now”. With newly enforced restrictions we may only be left with such methods and India once again will have to deal with combating this problem.

If the content on OTT platforms is regulated under the same strict guidelines that are followed to monitor content on television, for example, it may be a huge step backwards for India. With the arrival of these platforms, we saw a new wave of Indian cinema with the freedom to talk about once hushed topics from an Indian perspective rather than relying solely on western takes on these issues. We saw an audience not just open but resonating with films which would once be known as bold films like Lust Stories or A Suitable Boy. The actual consequence of this measure is yet to be seen. For now, we can only hope the measures taken don’t undo the path that has been paved by these films.


Sly Ways Dowry Still Exists in Today’s Times

Dowry is an ancient tradition where the bride’s family gives several gifts to the groom’s family to ensure the marriage takes place. It’s also a word you probably haven’t heard out loud in a while. The practice of dowry has been illegal in India since 1961, still, it continues to thrive not just in villages and small towns but in urban India with educated families practicing it. We see this even in families where women are capable of supporting themselves as well as their own families. Then what makes it solely the bride’s obligation to give ‘gifts’ to the groom’s family?

In several cases, as we’ve seen for years in the news, women are often left vulnerable to harassment, ill-treatment, and even death if they don’t partake in this age-old tradition. Statistics show that more than 7,634 women were killed in 2015 alone in dowry-related cases. Rather than going away, dowry has become an unspoken condition where it is ‘expected’ from the girl’s family to bestow gifts to the guy’s family. This also is condoned as we, in India, still see marriage as the union of families rather than of two individuals, with the girl usually leaving her family behind. With this mindset still in place, the bride’s family thinks it is their job to provide these gifts to secure the girl’s wellbeing with her future family.

This age-old tradition is often disguised in customs and ceremonies performed during the marriage. Events like ‘Milni’ for example are where it is considered acceptable to take money, clothes, or jewelry. Gifts vary from these to refrigerators, washing machines, and cars. It is, however, not the giving of gifts that is the problem, it is the expectation of and from it. The girl’s family is often burdened with this financial strain with giving of gifts from their side in almost every custom as well as the expectation to pay for more than half of the wedding.

The tradition makes women, as well as men, seem like mere commodities. Men are often told their value by the number of gifts they get, often determined by their status and education level. Women are devalued by just the mere act of giving such gifts. This changes when we as individuals decide to take a stand to not participate in this tradition as well as to educate our elders about the same. We as a generation need to voice our values and beliefs to hone a new future where everyone is treated equally and just.


Survey Finds: Close to 20% of Rural Children Had No Textbooks In Pandemic

An Annual State of Education Report (ASER) survey finds more than 20% of rural school children without textbooks during the ongoing period of the pandemic. Statistically, we see less than 35% of children had textbooks in Andhra Pradesh and only 60% in Rajasthan. While states like West Bengal, Nagaland and Assam had more than 98% textbooks.

The survey, conducted by the NGO Pratham for the last 15 years, is done to study and provide reliable estimates of children’s enrolment and basic learning levels for each district and state in India. In September of 2020, the survey was conducted via phone calls, reaching 52,227 rural households with school-age children in 30 States and Union Territories.

The survey revealed that 5.3% of rural children aged between 6-10 years had not enrolled in school this year, with families seemingly waiting for the opening of physical schools. A drop in the enrolment rates in private schools was also seen, with a slight move towards government schools. About one in three rural children had done no learning activity at all in the week the survey was conducted.

Despite 62% of rural households with school-going children having smartphones, two-thirds of rural children with access to a smartphone did not receive any learning materials or activities. We see that with less than 8% getting any materials from their schools in Bihar and 20% in West Bengal, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. However, we see 80% of rural children in Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Kerala and Gujarat receiving such materials.

“When schools re-open, it will be important to continue to monitor who goes back to school, and very important to understand whether there is learning loss as compared to previous years,” said ASER.



The Invisible Reasons Behind India’s Rape Epidemic

One rape case was reported every 16 minutes in India in 2019. This makes India one of the worst places to be a woman. The rise in the cases of sexual crimes in our country is undeniable. Despite the current cultural change and conversation surrounding women’s safety, India seems to be on the brink of an epidemic. This therefore, forces us to dig deep and question the reason behind India’s rape crisis- is there an increase in the crimes committed or is the number this high due to more cases being officially reported.

Due to waves of Feminism, better education and more awareness, sex has gone from a hushed topic to a more open conversation where people unabashedly talk about their experiences with sexual abuse and assaults. This comfort not only destigmatizes the sufferers of sexual violence but also brings with it a further opportunity to better understand the plight that the victims of these heinous crimes go through. Due to the attackers now being named, understanding the mentality and motives behind these crimes is also becoming easier.

To start with it is important to understand the term xenophobia. The term xenophobia is defined as the fear or hatred of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange. This can be linked to racism, discrimination, riots, wars and just violence in general. But how does this relate to a secular nation like India? India is in the midst of the largest migration the world has ever seen – the rural to urban migration. Close to 31 villagers are estimated to show up in a city every minute, over the course of the next four decades. This rapid and unprecedented transformation has led to a very violent cultural confrontation. Men from these villages, many of whom have had barely any interaction with the opposite sex other than their mothers or sisters for much of their lives, go from the age old well set caste systems and gendered roles to a place where these old traditional social systems and roles simply cease to exist. With the dawn of modernization and westernization, this leads to a lot of confusion in the minds of these young men and women. Moreover, the government provides less attention to the issues of these migrants.

Only ten percent of internal migrants are employed by the industries while the rest are forced into the informal sector where they work in the streets and live in the slums, disregarded by the state and even the society. This can lead to a sense of deepened xenophobia with these internal migrants viewing themselves as devalued and weaker i.e. more ‘feminine’. Something similar can also be seen in the society, when certain men fail to perform and match consistently to the perceptions of the dominant masculinities they are then devalued or feminized and placed under the same groups as the women. This rural to urban problem contributes as a causal factor in the accelerating rapes in India, especially in a city like Delhi. Despite this transformation being a contributor to this issue, it does not, however, conclude the discussion given the rise in the rates of rape cases within these villages as well. In a country like India where a woman is viewed as the honor of the family, especially in rural areas, a crime like rape becomes a tool for vengeance. With the government launching new schemes and programs to uplift the lower castes, aiming to get them jobs and education, we see a dispersion in the order between castes. This leads to a lot of anger among people of the higher castes who then project their power by raping women of the lower caste. The same tactics are observed in wars. Raping a woman is viewed as a means to ‘emasculate the men of the other community’.

Another alarming reason behind these crimes is India’s skewed sex ratio. With nine hundred and ten women per thousand men in 2020, India has the second lowest sex ratio after China. This may not seem like a big number but when we translate it into India’s population we see, approximately, forty million more men than women. Because of this skewed sex ratio, the age group of 17 to 35 year olds are left single without brides. The same age group is responsible for the most crime, with ninety-five percent of these men having criminal records. Historically a less female to male ratio is correlated to an increase in the number of crimes, violence, and a more patriarchal society.

Men have raped babies as well as 90-year-old women as well as men. Despite that the conversation always seems to be centered around blaming the women and her clothing. The prevalence of rape culture and unwilling to face the facts, not only heightens this victim blaming but can lead to fewer reporting of such cases. This attitude encourages the perpetrators to keep doing all the heinous things they want without being held accountable. However, we do see a positive wave of change with both men and women pointing out the flaws of the system and uniting to seek justice for victims of these crimes. While India is still in the midst of this epidemic, it is us, all of us who should question and stand up for what’s right which moves us closer to a more equal and just society.