Friday, July 29, 2016

The charge of the cow brigade

The cow rakshak syndrome needs to be analysed and exposed as a threat to Indian democracy

One of my friends, who is an anthropologist, argues that the middle class Indian does not need to be psychoanalysed on a couch. “A crowd,” he claims, “is a better method of analysing Indian repressions.” India’s politics of anxiety emerges more at the level of the crowd. “Crowds,” he adds, “are for negative democracy, the public for citizenship.” 

For him, the psychology of India unravels at two levels. The first is at the level of the family, and where violence is more patriarchal. The second is at the level of an imaginary Jajmani system — a socio-economic system more predominant in rural areas and of its interaction between the upper and the lower castes. In this caste bundle, there is constant shuffling which provides a sense of order and disorder. But the fact is that what looks like order at one level might be mayhem at the second level. For this he uses the example of the cow and the politics around it which are very much in the news. At the domestic level, the cow is a god and represents something sacred. Simultaneously, it is the embodiment of an agricultural way of life. The cow is Gau Mata representing man’s oneness with nature and is embodied in his totemic relation with the animal.
Now, a symbol of social fissures
But this domestic arrangement acquires political overtones. The nature of the symbol, the cow, changes and it soon comes to represent the worst in the caste system. The political battles around the cow soon become deep. Let me put it this way. The cow expresses the social tensions within an agricultural society that is turning urban in its ways. Here, local panchayats disrupt what is normal by becoming vigilantes. Ironically, the cow becomes a symptom of the deep fissures within a society. Brahmins, Muslims and Dalits are fast losing their moorings in agriculture and the cow becomes a source of violence. Ironically the cow, instead of representing the best of agricultural values, embodies the tension between a changing caste system and the ideals of a constitutional India.
As a result, we are soon inundated with images of and reports about social violence. In such moments of change, the Constitution becomes an empty document. Neither the rule of law nor law and order is maintained. Vigilante groups play kangaroo courts while the rest of the nation can only watch. It is this sociology of violence that we must confront. 

One thing is clear. The Government of India is blissfully deep in slumber as this process plays out. As victims protest the violence, the regime plays a game of being indifferent. I must add that I am not reporting one singular event but a cascade of events. As the urban social landscape flares up, one even begins wondering whether the much talked about smart cities of the future will have a civic place for the cow, even as imagination. Given the nature of Twitter and the Internet, every act soon goes viral. Events in even the remotest corners of the country soon become a global spectacle. They become a part of the ecology of everyday memory and are difficult to shrug off. 

It is not as if these “cow protection” groups protect the cow. They are not like the Jain goshalas where there is deep respect for animal life and cattle are given shelter. These groups see little connection between the cow and the future of agriculture. In fact, the cow, which is an icon, honoured in festivals, and considered as a totem, becomes a symbol that leads to irrational violence. The high caste Hindu, instead of seeking harmony between nature and culture in which the cow is cosmologically represented, now brutally disrupts both.
Minorities at the receiving end
Consider a typical scene that went viral. Four men were stripped, tied to a car and beaten by a high caste group. The brutality of the scene is stark. What added to the brutality was the piety of the gau rakshak pretending he was protecting the ideals of a fading society. Yet it is not as if the gau rakshak understands the Jajmani system or the political economy of a society where lower castes carry away carcasses, playing a scavenging role that keeps other castes pure. The four Dalits were taking away a dead cow to be skinned. This has been a part of tradition, yet the gau rakshak is illiterate about social functions. Worse, these vigilante groups obtain encouragement from the rhetoric of government spokespersons who announce elaborate plans for cow protection. Stopping illicit cattle trade between India and Bangladesh is understandable, but using this as a pretext to inflict atrocities on Dalits is not. 

Such atrocities have been recurring with impunity and Dalits are deeply frustrated. Some have even gone to the extent of ending their lives. 

In all this, one realises that vigilante-sponsored violence is not sporadic but involves organised networks. They even patrol highways looking out for trucks ferrying cows and then attack those in the vehicle, using weapons to mete out instant justice. In turn, the Centre remains silent, almost tacit in what it considers an informal validation of government policy. It is not sacred cows that the regime is protecting. What it is tacitly desacralising is the Constitution. The so-called rights of a cow are getting precedence over the rights of Dalits. The very sacred idea of a cow which seeks harmony between nature and culture now stands emasculated. It is here that fundamentalist movements get some of their energy from. It appears that the Modi government is operating on split levels, with one entity suggesting modern proposals for policy, while the other wants all of this to be anchored to a fundamentalism. It is this which makes the violence so overt. Oddly, the function of policing is being handed over to these groups and the regime sees them as arms that are helping to consolidate the ideology of the government.
A structure of violence
Let me look at another incident which happened last year where a 50-year-old man, Mohammad Akhlaq, was beaten to death and his 22-year-old son severely injured in Dadri in Uttar Pradesh, allegedly by residents of Bisara village, after rumours spread in the area about the family storing and consuming beef. In fact, if one looks at the lynching of Akhlaq and the attack on the four Dalit men for skinning a cow, one sees similarities. There is a third incident I will look at. This time it is on a video that emerged in late June this year which showed volunteers of the Gau Raksha Dal forcing two “beef smugglers” to eat cow dung and drink cow urine. According to reports, their leader admitted that his group had forced the two Muslim men to eat cow dung on June 10. The man claimed that volunteers, acting on a tip-off, intercepted a vehicle transporting “700 kg of beef from Mewat to Delhi” on the Kundli-Manesar-Palwal Expressway. He said the group chased the car for a few kilometres before stopping it near the Badarpur border. “When we caught them, they had 700 kg of beef in their car. We made them eat panchgavya, a concoction of cow dung, cow urine, milk, curd and ghee, in order to teach them a lesson and also to purify them,” the man said. Thus there seems to be adequate evidence of a new fundamentalist rule of law. The sad part is that the political Opposition, especially the Congress party, is reading all this as sporadic events rather than as an emerging structure of violence that does need to be confronted. 

We must understand that there is a style to the violence and its staging. In one way it is plain bully boy brutality, where brute majoritarianism seeks to make a point to some minority group, be it Dalit, Muslim or tribal and that “they must be taught a lesson”. Vigilante and policeman literally mirror each other even as the government appears to be instructing the victims to be restrained!
The unending sequence of probes being demanded matches the widening cycle of violence. It is almost as if it takes only one sacred cow to kill another —in this case, democracy. In all this, middle class India watches silently as it is overcome by “atrocity fatigue” and wants to get back to “aspiration and desire mode”. 

In the end, the Muslim and the Dalit are violated twice. Riots first displace the Muslim, and vigilante groups then forbid him from pursuing his occupation. In the case of the Dalit, he has to face never-ending atrocities. Thus in the roster of democracy, both Muslim and Dalit are less than equal. What needs to be exposed is the sanitised hypocrisy behind these acts of brutality. The cow rakshak syndrome needs to be analysed and exposed as a threat to Indian democracy.
Shiv Visvanathan is Professor at Jindal School of Law.

Menopause reversed, women could now stay fertile forever

Scientists have announced they can now reverse the menopause in what is thought to be a major scientific breakthrough.

Trials claim to have "rejuvenated" women's ovaries using a blood treatment normally used to help wounds heal faster, and have reversed menstrual cessation in multiple women, including a 40-year-old who underwent the menopause five years ago.

The research, undertaken by scientists in Athens, has been presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology's annual meeting in Finland, 'The New Scientist' reports.
The scientists used platelet-rich plasma (PRP), which triggers the growth of tissue and blood vessels and is thought to quicken the repair of damaged bones and muscles by stimulated tissue regeneration.

They injected PRP into the ovaries of women who had already undergone the menopause and say they found it restarted their menstrual cycles, causing them to experience periods again.
From these "restarted" periods, the researchers have been able to collect and fertilise eggs which the women have released, raising the possibility that they could be implanted in their uterus and the women could subsequently have children. However, the team have yet to implant any eggs to test the theory.

One woman who responded well to the treatment was 40-years-old and had undergone the menopause five years previously. Researcher Konstantinos Sfakianoudis told 'The New Scientist': "It offers a window of hope that menopausal women will be able to get pregnant using their own genetic material. It seems to work in about two-thirds of cases. We see changes in biochemical patterns, a restoration of menses, and egg recruitment and fertilisation."

He added: "We need larger studies before we can know for sure how effective the treatment is."
The menopause typically occurs naturally in women between 45 and 55 years of age when their periods start to become less frequent over a few months, before stopping altogether. The process can often be accompanied by a number of symptoms including hot flushes, difficulty in sleeping and vaginal dryness, as well as low mood and anxiety. Menopause can occur at a much earlier age for many women, often triggered by chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatments. the independent

Daylight robbery: Private hospitals prescribing medicines worth Rs 15,200 despite a Rs 800 alternative being available

Private hospitals are making a killing by buying medicines and devices in bulk at huge discounts and selling them to patients at the marked maximum retail price — accounting for 15-35% of their profits. Patients, as a captive market, have little choice but to bear the inflated costs.

Take the example of Shalini Pahwa, diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a kind of cancer. She was given an injection, Novartis's Zometa, that costs Rs 15,200 per shot, every three to four weeks for over two years in a top private hospital in Gurgaon. On a work trip to Bangalore, she got the injection at a hospital there for just Rs 4,000. When she confronted the Gurgaon hospital about this huge cost difference, it readily offered her a cheaper option — Cipla's Zoldria for Rs 2,800.

"Why didn't they tell me earlier of the cheaper option? Why do I have to bargain like in a mandi? Now I go to a different hospital and get the same injection, Zoldonat, manufactured by Natco, for just Rs 800 and I feel just fine," says Pahwa.

A haematologist, who didn't wish to be named, explains the more expensive choices thus: "Some doctors feel safer giving the medicine of the originator company as they feel there will be better quality control. And some people feel if it's cheap it can't be good enough. But generics, especially by good companies, are as good as originator drugs. It's better to give patients a choice."

But quality issues may not be the only reason why a hospital chooses to push the more expensive option. Zometa is sold to stockists for just Rs 13,000, according to an industry insider. At that rate, the hospital would make a profit of Rs 2,200. Clearly, the Rs 2,800 injection could not yield that huge a margin.

Take the case of a broad-spectrum antibiotic, meropenem, used particularly in ICUs for patients with serious infections. Cipla's brand Merocrit is sold for Rs 2,965 per gram by a top hospital. The adult dose is about 1-2g every eight hours for about 10 days. That's about Rs 90,000 to Rs 1.8 lakh on just one antibiotic. Merocrit is sold to hospitals for anything between Rs 700-900 per gram. So the hospital makes anything between Rs 70,000 and Rs 1.4 lakh on just one patient by pocketing the discount.

Interestingly, other brands of meropenem are much cheaper in many not-so-high-end hospitals. "The MRP per gram of meropenem manufactured by Zuventus is Rs 698 and by Lupin, Rs 988. The hospital buying price for the Lupin brand Merotrol is Rs 600. When the patient is charged the MRP, the hospital makes Rs 400 per gram or Rs 12,000 to Rs 24,000 per patient over 10 days on one antibiotic even in a not-so-expensive hospital," explains a veteran doctor who wishes to remain anonymous.

It's not just medicines, hospitals charge MRP on every consumable — from syringes and catheters to bandages and diapers — though they buy them at huge discounts. To protect this revenue stream, patients are not allowed to buy anything from outside the hospital, ostensibly to ensure quality.

"We give hugely discounted rates. It is not our fault that hospitals choose not to pass on the discount to patients," argues a company's sales official who didn't wish to be named.

However, that leaves one question unanswered — why hospital MRPs are so much higher than actual selling prices? Doctors point out that the huge MRP enables companies to attract hospitals with the prospect of high margins. "Pharmaceuticals or devices and diagnostics are two major revenue earners for any private hospital. Besides, as a private venture, we also have to ensure healthy profits for the investors or owners," points out a hospital administrator.

Public hospitals, in contrast, can not only get drugs and devices at even steeper discounts — the government buys in bulk — they have no compulsion either to earn ever higher profit margins. Yet, the failure of governments to boost public health infrastructure in keeping with rising demand has pushed patients to the private sector. And for many, this means impoverishment.

A Dalit woman gets back her job because of intervention of a magistrate.

IAS officer reinstates 36-year-old widow, a Dalit cook, who was dismissed by Principal

To be a Dalit and a widow could be disastrous. For 36-year-old Urmila Devi, who lost her husband a couple of years ago, the combination led to dismissal from her job as a government school cook in Bihar’s Aurangabad district.
Her story has a happy ending, however, and a young IAS officer got her reinstated just 12 hours after she narrated her story to him.
He then had a meal that she cooked, in the same school, along with the students.
Kanwal Tanuj, the District Magistrate, listened to Ms. Devi’s story on Monday evening. She had been dismissed from her job by the principal ‘for being a Dalit widow.’
The principal, Shiv Govind Prasad, had given her job to Ramkeval Yadav.
Mr. Tanuj decided to verify the incident the very next day and made the 45-km trip to Batura Middle School in Rafiganj block. During the visit, he found many discrepancies in the registers. The principal, who could not answer his queries, was suspended.
The officer of the 2010 batch ordered Education Department officials to reinstate Ms. Devi and requested her to cook food in the school kitchen as she used to.
Soon, the magistrate was sitting cross-legged on the verandah and relishing the meal with students, even as awestruck villagers watched.
“It was a natural reaction from a human being and not an IAS officer to act upon the complaint of a Dalit widow. I did what my conscience told me to,” Mr. Tanuj told The Hindu.
The principal said he was being falsely implicated in a two-year-old case due to a “conspiracy.”

Sunday, July 24, 2016

SWITZERLAND’S NOT PLAYING GAMES With Muslim Immigrants: “If you reject our culture, we will reject your application for citizenship

Assimilate or go home…
In the latest move to deny citizenship to anyone who chooses not to assimilate with Swiss culture, authorities have rejected the naturalization application of two Muslim girls who refused to take required swimming lessons at school because boys would be present in the pool.
The girls, ages 12 and 14, who live in the northern city of Basel, had applied for Swiss citizenship several months ago, but their request was denied, Swiss media reported Tuesday.
The girls, whose names were not disclosed, said their religion prevents them from participating in compulsory swimming lessons with males in the pool at the same time. Their naturalization application was rejected because the sisters did not comply with the school curriculum, Basel authorities said.
“Whoever doesn’t fulfill these conditions violates the law and therefore cannot be naturalized,” Stefan Wehrle, president of the naturalization committee, told TV station SRF on Tuesday.
The case shows how those who don’t follow Swiss rules and customs won’t become citizens, even if they have lived in the country for a long time, are fluent in one of the national languages — German, French or Italian — and are gainfully employed.
In April, members of an immigrant family in the Basel area were denied citizenship because they wore sweatpants around town and did not greet passersby — a sure sign that they were not sufficiently assimilated, the naturalization board claimed.
Another recent case sparked widespread outrage in Switzerland when two Muslim brothers refused to shake hands with their female teacher, also citing religious restrictions. Shaking hands with a teacher is a common practice in Swiss schools.
After that incident was widely publicized, authorities suspended the naturalization request from the boys’ father, an imam at the Basel mosque.
The swimming case involving the two girls is the first to deny naturalization applications for not complying with a school program, setting precedence for future cases, Wehrle said.
This is not the first time Switzerland’s Muslim community has stirred controversy over swimming lessons. In 2012, a family was fined $1,500 for forbidding their daughters to participate in swimming classes.
The matter eventually ended up in the Supreme Court, which ruled that no dispensations from swimming lessons should be made on religious grounds.

In Switzerland, unlike in the United States and many other countries, integration into society is more important for naturalization than knowledge of national history or politics. Candidates for citizenship must prove that they are well assimilated in their communities and respect local customs and traditions. – DC Watchdog  Via: Shoebat

Friday, July 22, 2016

Don’t take pills with juice, stick to water: IMA

New Delhi: Washing down pills with juice, particularly of citrus fruits, makes the medicine less effective, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has warned.

In a recent advisory, the medical body says juices have been shown to affect the absorption of drugs, particularly those prescribed for chronic medical conditions such as hypertension or heart disease, and one should have these pills only with water.

"Orange and apple juices have been shown to lower the absorption of certain drugs, thus compromising their effectiveness. On the other hand, grapefruit juice increases the absorption of some drugs. This can turn normal doses into toxic ones," said Dr K K Aggarwal, secretary general of IMA, citing a study by the University of Western Ontario, Canada.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in its consumer health information, also details why grapefruit should not be taken with medicines.

"Some medicines, like statins prescribed to lower cholesterol, are broken down in the body (metabolized) by proteins called enzymes in our small intestine. Grapefruit juice can block the work of enzymes, increasing the amount of medicine absorbed by the body and risking an overdose," says the FDA bulletin.

It adds, "Other medicines, like Allegra (fexofenadine) used for treating allergies, are moved into the body's cells with the help of proteins called transporters. Grapefruit juice can block the work of transporters, decreasing the amount of medicine absorbed by the body and reducing the medicine's effectiveness."

According to Dr S K Sarin, director, Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences (ILBS), fruit juices, particularly citrus ones, can affect absorption in two ways. One, by the changing the blood PH —acidity or alkalinity of blood—and, two, by breaking the coating of the pills.

"In India, there is not much research on the harmful effect of taking medicines with fruit juices. But we generally advise patients to have them with water, unless specified otherwise," he said.

Medical experts also point out how prescription rules are barely adhered to and pharmacists, a key link between the doctor and the patient, are mostly unaware about how medicines should be taken.

"In developed countries, the pharmacist guides patients on how to take medicines and whether to have a certain medication with juice or not. But in India few care about such details, leading to poor efficacy of the drug regimen," said Dr Randhir Sud, chairman, Medanta Institute of Digestive and Hepatobiliary Sciences.

In India, only about 20%-30% of doctors write out a detailed prescription, said Dr Anoop Misra, chairman Fortis C-Doc, "Time of meal, time of day and how to take medicines are important details for any prescription. Any mistake or miscommunication can lead to side-effects. For example, aspirin should be taken after meals to decrease its side effects on the stomach. Milk and calcium should not be given with iron, as its absorption will be less," he said.

Saturday, July 16, 2016


It is reported by the media today that Modi Govt. is hatching a new and big plan to overhaul the Medical Council of India (MCI) by stripping their supreme healthcare regulatory authority (as per the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956)and to replace it with a different independent body for better efficiency and to avoid conflict of interests (see below). This would be a hugely positive change the way it has been painted by the government but will it? Or is it another familiar story of putting the old wine in a new bottle?
Since the BJP-led Modi government came to power, there has been little or no evidence that they are eager to cleanse the long-standing rot inside the MCI and entire healthcare delivery system except perhaps the recent introduction of the 3-member Oversight Committee to look into the function of the MCI. But Modi government had nothing to do with the Oversight Committee as it was formed at the specific direction of the Hon’ble Supreme Court – last hope for justice for the millions of hapless patients in India. In fact, like the previous Congress-led government, corruption has continued to thrive in medical education and healthcare delivery system during the tenure of the Modi government. Despite PBT’s repeated appeals and lawsuits (PILs) against the MCI and Health Ministry, disgraced and criminally-indicted ex-MCI president, Dr. Ketan Desai, is still pulling all the strings inside the MCI. Government has remained a silent spectator as Dr. Desai is promoted to the prestigious post of the president-elect for the World Medical Association (WMA) by top medical leaders in the MCI and IMA despite Dr. Desai’s medical registration remains suspended since his arrest by the CBI in 2010. We have seen no real action against any of the corrupt members in the healthcare system by the present government. We hope that the proposed change to dismantle the corrupt MCI is done without any sinister motive by the government only to save the vulnerable patients and not to hoodwink the ordinary people of India.