1. Process on to amend criminal laws: govt.
Clarify stand on criminalising marital rape, says CPI
The government has started the process of comprehensive amendments to criminal laws, Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani told Parliament on Wednesday in response to a question on marital rape, but warned against condemning every man as a rapist and every marriage as a violent one.
“The Government of India has initiated the process for comprehensive amendments to criminal laws in consultation with all stakeholders,” Ms. Irani told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply to a query from CPI member Binoy Viswam on whether the Centre had taken a position on inclusion of marital rape as an offence under the Indian Penal Code.
Ms. Irani’s comment comes at a time the Delhi High Court is hearing a clutch of petitions seeking criminalisation of marital rape and the government is soon expected to present its arguments. Its lawyers had earlier sought more time to formulate its stand on the ground that the issue needed wider consultations.
The petitions have sought striking down of the exception to Section 375 of the IPC, which says forcible sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being 18 years, is not rape.
When the CPI MP asked if the government had taken note of the contradiction in Section 3 of the Domestic Violence Act and Section 375 of the IPC, Ms. Irani, in her oral reply, said, “To condemn every marriage in this country as a violent marriage and to condemn every man in this country as a rapist is not advisable in this august House.”
Section 3 of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 provides a definition for domestic violence, which includes physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse.
The National Family Health Survey-4 (2015-16) shows that 7% of ever-married women experienced spousal sexual violence. Among ever-married women aged 15-49 who have ever experienced sexual violence, 83% report their current husband and 9% report a former husband as perpetrators.
To a question from CPI(M) member John Brittas seeking a timeline for the amendments, Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Kumar Mishra said, “The legislation of such laws is a complex and lengthy exercise, given the spectrum of divergent views of stakeholders. The entire process is a long drawn out one and no time limit can be fixed or given for this legislative process.”
Stating that marital rape should be granted immunity, otherwise the institution of marriage would be destroyed, BJP member Sushil Modi said it was difficult to prove when a woman had consented to sexual intercourse and when she had withdrawn her consent.
2. HC directs State to frame scheme for removing Seemai Karuvelam
Grants two weeks’ time, suggests use of funds and workforce under MGNREGS
The Madras High Court on Wednesday directed the State government to frame a scheme within two weeks for eradicating Seemai Karuvelam (prosopis juliflora) trees from all districts in the State.
A Full Bench of Acting Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari, Justice N. Sathish Kumar and Justice P.D. Audikesavalu passed the interim orders on a batch of cases pending since 2015. Wondering what the government has been doing since 2017, when it was decided to obtain expert opinion on the harmful effects of the invasive species, the Bench impressed upon the need to act fast.
The Bench said there were enough material to prove that the exotic species brings down the ground water table and affects the fertility of lands where it grows. When Additional Advocate General S. Silambanan expressed the government’s inclination to remove the trees, the judges said there was no point in simply cutting them because they regrow in no time.
The Bench insisted on uprooting the trees in such a way that they do not regrow at the same place. Otherwise, it would lead to waste of manpower and financial resources, they told the AAG.
The ACJ said the entire highway between Madurai and Rameswaram was dotted with Seemai Karuvelam because of the failure of eradication measures taken in the past. He said, the scheme to be framed by the government now, could be executed under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) by involving the local residents.
Collectors to monitor
Further, the respective Collectors could be asked to monitor the work and ensure uprooting within their territorial jurisdiction, the Bench suggested.
It was a Division Bench of Justices A. Selvam and P. Kalaiyarasan (both retired now), which had undertaken a massive exercise across the State in 2015 for eradicating the invasive species.
It was done following public interest litigation (PIL) petitions filed by former Madurai Mayor M. Patturajan, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) leader Vaiko and others.
The Bench had then, appointed a team of advocate commissioners for every district to monitor eradication work. The district judges too were asked to keep an eye on the works. However, after doubts were raised in certain quarters about the correctness of eradicating the trees, since they serve as habitat for birds, the matter was taken up by a Full Bench.
- Prosopis Juliflora is a shrub or small tree in the family Fabaceae.
- It is native to Mexico, South America and the Caribbean.
- It was initially introduced in India during colonial times. Since then it has become invasive species
- It causes stomach poisoning in livestock by inducing a permanent impairment of its ability to digest cellulose.
- It causes drying up of water bodies and ground water as it absorbs more than 4 litres of water to obtain one kg of biomass.
- It cannot even shelter birds as it produces less oxygen and more carbon dioxide.
- It causes land erosion due to the loss of the grasslands that are habitats for native plants and animals.
- Dispersal of the species is mainly through animals by endozoochory (dispersal by vertebrate animals).
- Other modes of seed dispersal are –
Autochory – Self dispersal
Barochory – Dispersal by gravity
Anemochory – Dispersal by air
Hyderochory – Dispersal by water
Chiropterochory – Dispersal by bats
Epizoochory – Dispersal by Non-vertebrate animals
3. Electoral bonds worth ₹1,213 cr. sold in January
While the New Delhi branch was used to encash the most bonds, electoral bonds worth ₹117.12 crore were sold there. The RTI reply showed that bonds worth ₹227 crore, ₹154 crore and ₹126 crore were sold in the Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad branches respectively.
After New Delhi, the Kolkata branch had the most electoral bonds encashed (₹224 crore) followed by Chennai (₹100 crore). States where elections are going on had smaller amounts of bonds encashed — ₹50 lakh in Chandigarh, ₹3.21 crore in Lucknow and ₹90 lakh in Goa.
The scheme, started in 2018, enables Indian citizens or companies to buy the bonds from 29 SBI branches in denominations of ₹1,000, ₹10,000, ₹1 lakh, ₹10 lakh and ₹1 crore to be used as anonymous donations to political parties. Since the last set of Assembly polls in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and Puducherry in April 2021, bonds worth ₹150 crore were sold in July 2021 and ₹614 crore in October 2021.
About Electoral Bonds Scheme
- Electoral Bond is a financial instrument for making donations to political parties.
- The bonds are issued in multiples of Rs. 1,000, Rs. 10,000, Rs. 1 lakh, Rs. 10 lakh and Rs. 1 crore without any maximum limit.
- State Bank of India is authorised to issue and encash these bonds, which are valid for fifteen days from the date of issuance.
- These bonds are redeemable in the designated account of a registered political party.
- The bonds are available for purchase by any person (who is a citizen of India or incorporated or established in India) for a period of ten days each in the months of January, April, July and October as may be specified by the Central Government.
- A person being an individual can buy bonds, either singly or jointly with other individuals. Donor’s name is not mentioned on the bond.
Misuse of Electoral Bonds as Pointed Out during SC case:
- Anonymity: Neither the donor (who could be an individual or a corporate) nor the political party is obligated to reveal whom the donation comes from.
- Asymmetry of information: Because the bonds are purchased through the SBI (Central PSU), the government is always in a position to know who the donor is. This asymmetry of information threatens to favour the scheme towards the political party that is ruling at the time.
- Control Over usage: The court asked the government whether there is any “control” over how these donations were used by political parties.
- Scheme facilitates kickbacks: Though the original purchase of bonds could be done using white money, somebody could anonymously re-purchase the bonds from the original buyer and drop it at a political party office. Nobody will know who purchased the bonds from the original buyer. The scheme facilitates kickbacks
- Possibility of Money Laundering: With doing away with all the safeguard that were present in Corporate donations to Political parties (through Companies Act), Indian, foreign and even shell companies can now donate to political parties without having to inform anyone of the contribution.
- Question on procedure followed: The scheme was brought in through amendments to finance bill as the government of the day did not have majority in the Rajya Sabha (that has less powers w.r.t finance bill)
- Conditions for electoral bonds: Only parties registered under the Representation of the People Act could receive donations through electoral bonds, and that they should not have secured less than 1% of the votes polled in the previous elections.
- Tackles Menace of Black Money in Politics: The Electoral Bond Scheme promotes white money into political funding (thus disincentivising black money) as it insists on cheque and digital paper trails of transactions
- Election Commission of India’s Support: ECI was not opposed to the bonds but was only concerned about the aspect of anonymity. It also urged the court not to stay the bonds and said the scheme is one step forward compared to the old system of cash funding, which was unaccountable.
4. U.S., NATO offer trust-building steps to Russia, say leaked files
However, West reiterates that Ukraine has right to apply to join its alliance
Washington and its NATO allies have offered Moscow arms control and trust-building measures to defuse the threat of a new Russian offensive against Ukraine, according to documents published by El Pais on Wednesday.
The proposals, set out in letters by NATO and the United States last month in response to Russian demands, remain firm on insisting that Ukraine and any other sovereign country has a right to apply to join the alliance.
But the reported U.S. response — posted to the Spanish daily’s website — suggests “reciprocal commitments by both the United States and Russia to refrain from deploying offensive ground-launched missile systems and permanent forces with a combat mission in the territory of Ukraine”.
Both the U.S. and NATO documents urge Russia to restore diplomatic ties with the alliance and to renew and renegotiate nuclear missile control treaties with the United States.
Moscow is urged to re-engage with the NATO-Russia council, a diplomatic body “offering dialogue and partnership in place of conflict and distrust.”
A NATO official refused to confirm the text, saying: “We never comment on alleged leaks.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was aware of the report but added: “We didn’t publish anything, and I don’t want to comment on this.”
“Further Russian increases in force posture against Ukraine will force the United States and Allies to strengthen our defensive posture,” the document warned.
5. The sub-lineages of the Omicron variant
How many different lineages does Omicron have and how are they different from each other?
The Omicron cluster encompasses not just a single lineage but rather a family of three sister lineages branching from a common parent. These lineages are BA.1, BA.2 and BA.3 (where BA is an alias for B.1.1.529). Of the clusters, BA.1 is the most prevalent Omicron lineage worldwide, accounting for over 97% of Omicron sequences. Lineage BA.2, although less prevalent globally, is becoming the most frequent variant in recent weeks in many regions, particularly in Europe and Asia. The third sub-lineage, BA.3, is rare as of now.
While there are many mutations that BA.1 and BA.2 have in common, lineage BA.2 has 28 unique mutations as compared to BA.1. This number is also higher than the number of defining mutations in any previously designated VoC, including Delta (lineage B.1.617.2) which has a unique set of 17 mutations. BA.2 was first detected in India in November 2021 and has since become the dominant Omicron lineage in India, increasing from 5% of all Omicron cases in December to over 50% by January 2022.
A preliminary risk assessment analysis by Statens Serum Institut in Denmark estimates that BA.2 is about 1.5 times more transmissible than BA.1. But since all early work done on Omicron was primarily focused on the BA.1 lineage, additional research will be needed to see how concerning the BA.2 lineage is.
The story so far: In late November 2021, the World Health Organization designated the lineage B.1.1.529 of SARS-CoV-2 as a Variant of Concern (VoC) and assigned it the Greek alphabet Omicron. This variant was initially uncovered by researchers based on genomes from southern Africa as well as travellers from the region and was characterised by a strikingly large number of mutations, particularly in its spike protein. The Omicron variant has now been detected in over 130 countries. The variant is now present in all seven continents and associated with an uptick of COVID-19 cases in the regions where it has been detected, including infections in fully vaccinated individuals or people who were previously infected with other variants of SARS-CoV-2. Omicron continues to dominate the pandemic in most regions since early 2022, although this wave ofi the virus n many countries have already peaked.
The timely detection and reporting of Omicron was a result of the efforts of researchers from South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong who shared the initial genome sequences of the variant on GISAID, a database in which researchers from all over the world deposit sequencing data of SARS-CoV-2.
What are lineages?
The SARS-CoV-2 virus evolves by accumulation of genetic mutations. These form the basis of the continued evolution of the virus and are produced during the process of infection and replication of the virus in cells. Clusters of viruses with similar genomic mutations and a common origin are called a lineage or clade of the virus, and the naming of the lineages follows an open system contributed by researchers who form the PANGO network.
What are the sub-lineages of Omicron?
While the initial designation of the lineage was based on just seven genomes, the designation of the lineage as a VoC by the WHO has seen an accelerated pace of screening and sequencing. As a consequence, a larger number of sequences are representative of Omicron. As more genomes became available, researchers noted that not all sequences designated as Omicron had the full set of mutations that were initially reported for the variant. It was also observed that the Omicron cluster encompasses not just a single lineage but rather a family of three sister lineages branching from a common parent. These clusters were subsequently named as lineages BA.1, BA.2 and BA.3 (where BA is an alias for B.1.1.529). The VoC Omicron thus comprises all three sub-lineages, although each of them differs significantly from one another and contains common as well as unique mutations as compared to another.
Of the clusters, BA.1 is the most prevalent Omicron lineage worldwide, accounting for over 97% of Omicron sequences. Lineage BA.2, although less prevalent globally, is becoming the more dominant variant in recent weeks in many regions, particularly in Europe and Asia. In Asia, BA.1 lineage is found in 85% of the total Omicron sequences while BA.2 makes up for 15% of them. The third sub-lineage, BA.3, is rare as of now, accounting for only a few hundred known cases globally and has not yet been reported from Asia.
What is the BA.2 lineage and how is it different?
As the number of COVID-19 cases is declining across many parts of the world, the lineage BA.2 is observed to be increasing in proportion in many countries and competing for dominance with the previously prevalent BA.1 lineage. The BA.2 lineage has so far been detected in over 50 countries.
While there are many mutations that BA.1 and BA.2 have in common, lineage BA.2 has 28 unique mutations as compared to BA.1 which makes it indicatively different from its sister lineage BA.1. This number is also higher than the number of defining mutations in any previously designated VoC, including Delta (lineage B.1.617.2) which is defined by a unique set of 17 mutations.
Databases which collect evidence on the functionality of mutations from published literature are key to understanding the functions of mutations as they become evident from genome sequences. One such database, ESC, is maintained at the CSIR Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology and systematically collects evidence for interpretation of genomes on immune escape mutations.
In terms of spike protein mutations, BA.2 has approximately eight unique mutations as compared to BA.1, some of which are known to be associated with immune escape. However, BA.2 has been predicted to have lesser immune escape potential than BA.1, since it lacks the spike protein mutations R346K and G446S which are majorly associated with immune escape. Furthermore, mutations in the receptor-binding domain of the spike protein, the key part of the virus that allows it to latch on to the host’s cells, are largely shared by BA.1 and BA.2.
It is important to note that BA.1 has a mutation in the gene which encodes for the spike protein which causes one of the primers used in some RT-PCR diagnostic kits to fail (also known as the Spike Gene Target Failure (SGTF) or spike gene dropout). SGTF was used extensively across the world as a proxy for Omicron and enabled researchers to estimate the rapid spread of BA.1. However, BA.2 does not harbour this mutation in the spike protein and therefore does not cause a spike gene dropout. Its prevalence today is therefore largely estimated through genome sequencing.
In contrast to spike protein mutations, there is a larger difference in mutations between BA.1 and BA.2 in the gene ORF1ab, with the lineage BA.2 harbouring nine unique mutations as compared to BA.1 in the gene. ORF1ab gene codes for non-structural proteins in the virus that are responsible for controlling replication, proof-reading and inhibiting innate immunity of the host, possibly influencing transmissibility and disease severity.
Why is BA.2 being discussed?
The BA.2 lineage is seen to be increasing in many countries in Asia including India and in Europe, which is an early indication that the lineage is more transmissible than its sister lineage BA.1.
Despite the decrease in COVID-19 cases in many regions in recent weeks, BA.2 has been seen to be competing with BA.1 and has become the prominent lineage in some countries including Denmark, where cases continue to rise. The BA.1 lineage was detected in Denmark in November 2021 while BA.2 was first detected a few weeks later in December. By the end of January 2022, BA.2 has outcompeted BA.1 in Denmark to become the dominant lineage in the country, and its prevalence is seen to be increasing in several other countries including India, the United Kingdom, Singapore, the Philippines and South Africa.
In India, BA.2 was first detected late in November 2021, two weeks after the detection of its sister lineage BA.1. BA.2 has since become the dominant Omicron lineage in India, increasing from 5% of all Omicron cases in December to over 50% by January 2022. In the United Kingdom, an increase in the number of cases linked to BA.2 has been seen since the first week of January 2022. In South Africa, where the Omicron variant was first detected, BA.2 is seen to be growing in prevalence in the recently sequenced samples, although the Omicron wave in South Africa continues to go down.
Is the BA.2 lineage more transmissible?
A preliminary risk assessment analysis by Statens Serum Institut in Denmark estimates that BA.2 is about 1.5 times more transmissible than BA.1. Another study conducted in Danish households and deposited in a preprint server before formal peer review, suggests that household transmission is higher among contacts of BA.2-infected individuals as compared to BA.1 indicating that BA.2 is intrinsically more transmissible than BA.1. Whether this is driven by immune escape is still an open question. A preliminary combined report for all vaccines by the U.K. Health Security Agency shows that vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic COVID-19 was similar for the BA.2 and BA.1 lineages, although the report is based on a small amount of data and further research will be required to perceive vaccine efficacy.
Since all the early work done on Omicron was primarily focused on the BA.1 lineage, additional research will be needed to see how concerned we should be about the BA.2 lineage. While there are increasing indications to show that BA.2 is more effectively transmitted than BA.1, there is limited evidence yet in terms of how different BA.2 is in terms of disease severity. Very early data from countries like Denmark and India does not suggest a substantial difference in disease severity between BA.1 and BA.2.
As the SARS-CoV-2 continues to be transmitted causing infections in a significantly large number of people, it is apparent that it will continue to accumulate mutations at a heightened pace. Being the currently dominant lineage, it is expected that several more sub lineages of the Omicron variant are likely to come up in different regions of the world as the virus explores its evolutionary landscape and is similar to what was observed for Delta. In the context of the current Omicron wave, it is reassuring that vaccines and boosters continue to be effective in preventing severe disease. Whether BA.2 can cause reinfections in those previously infected with BA.1 and continue unabated is still an open question, for lack of evidence. Additional research efforts revolving around the BA.2 lineage in the upcoming weeks would help ascertain facts and address these pressing questions.
Meanwhile, in the periods of uncertainty, non-pharmacological interventions including good quality masks, ventilation and social distancing have become more important than ever in our fight against COVID-19.
The tendency to view one’s own group as ideal and all other groups with reference to this ideal could lead to prejudice, dislike, dominance, conflict, instability of democratic institutions, and even war
Ethnocentrism broadly refers to ethnic self-centredness and self-importance. This attitude could lead an individual to believe that their own culture or way of life is the correct way of living. It could also result in hostility towards other cultures. It was initially used in anthropology but is now used in many other disciplines.
Early anthropologists argued that ethnocentrism curtailed an individual’s ability to understand other groups and to trust them. This feeling of superiority could lead to prejudice and active discrimination. However, later theorists argued that ethnocentrism might simply be preference for in-groups over out-groups. In other words, you can be indifferent towards perceived out-groups or even like them, but less than you like your perceived in-group. The term has assumed different definitions over the years.
All the expressions of ethnocentrism could be easily attributed to nationalism, but while ethnocentrism is at the level of an ethnic group, nationalism is at the level of a national group.
Ethnocentrism broadly refers to ethnic self-centredness and self-importance. This attitude could lead an individual to believe that their own culture or way of life is the correct way of living. It could also result in hostility towards other cultures. Ethnocentrism is therefore the tendency to view one’s own group, the ‘in-group’, as the archetype and all other groups, the ‘out-groups’, with reference to this ideal. The in-group’s boundaries are defined by one or more observable characteristics such as language, accent, physical features or religion, indicating common descent. While initially used in anthropology, the term is now used widely in sociology, psychology, political science, economics and markets, among other disciplines.
Scientific interest in the term ethnocentrism started in the late 19th and early 20th century. Charles Darwin argued that competition with other groups makes people more cooperative with members of their own group, which further influences group prosperity (Boris Bizumic, 2012). Herbert Spencer argued that societies in general are characterised by internal amity (towards members of one’s group) and external enmity (towards everyone else). Neither of them used the term ethnocentrism, however. Developing their ideas, it was the anthropologist William Sumner who is first said to have coined the term in 1906 in his book Folkways and also used the concepts ‘in-group’ and ‘out-group’. However, it was the geologist and anthropologist William John McGee who is said to have first used the term in print. For McGee, ethnocentrism was a particular way of thinking similar to egocentrism, but characteristic of ethnic groups. Robert A. Levine, an anthropologist, and Donald T. Campbell, a social psychologist, argued that ethnocentrism is a set of 23 characteristics, nine of which are positive attitudes towards a perceived in-group (such as perceptions about virtue and morals) and 14 of which are negative attitudes towards a perceived out-group (such as distrust, suspicion and blame). Early anthropologists argued that this feeling of superiority about the in-group curtailed an individual’s ability to understand the practices and values of other groups and to trust them. This feeling, they said, could lead to prejudice, dislike, dominance, ethnic conflict, instability of democratic institutions, and even war. Ethnocentrism can also affect consumer choices and voting. However, later theorists argued that ethnocentrism might simply be preference for in-groups over out-groups. They said that the segregation of in-groups and out-groups should not necessarily be attributed to bias. In other words, they argued that you can be indifferent towards perceived out-groups or even like them, but less than you like your perceived in-group. Or you may dislike an out-group, but that attitude might not necessarily translate into some sort of discriminatory behaviour in a given situation. The ways of defining ethnocentrism has thus kept changing and there is no definite consensus on the meaning of the term even today. There are many examples of ethnocentric behaviour. Let’s try to understand this concept with a simple example that some of us may be familiar with or may have experienced. Ravi in India prefers to eat food with his hands. Ravi invites his American friend, Robert, to attend his sister’s wedding in India. When Robert arrives at the wedding, he is horrified to see everyone eating with their hands instead of using cutlery, as they do mostly in the U.S. Robert makes a rude remark about this unfamiliar practice, which makes Ravi angry. Robert’s attitude may be conscious or unconscious but his inability to accept this way of eating food as another culture’s practice and his tendency to view it as primitive while seeing his own culture as superior or advanced is ethnocentric. Ethnocentrism is also quite similar to nationalism. All the expressions of ethnocentrism, such as feelings of superiority and even hostility towards out-groups, could be easily attributed to nationalism, but while ethnocentrism is at the level of an ethnic group, nationalism is at the level of a national group. Nevertheless, it is also important to note that nationalism also assumes certain factors that are not necessary for ethnocentrism. National groups are defined by the belongingness to a group that inhabits a national state or aspires to form a national state whereas ethnic groups do not require national states to be called ethnic groups, and they may lack a shared public culture or even territory (Smith, 2001). Ethnocentric feelings and attitudes such as preference for a familiar culture and group superiority have been exploited by nationalism.
A study from India
We can also understand ethnocentrism with a study from India. In a paper published in 1974 in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, Donald M. Taylor and Vaishna Jaggi tried to understand ethnocentrism and causal relations in the south Indian context. Thirty Hindus were asked to attribute the behaviour of their in-group (Hindus) and out-group (in this case, Muslims) performing socially desirable or undesirable acts to internal or external causes. The subjects in the study were presented with a series of one-paragraph descriptions of an actor behaving in a social context. They were asked to imagine that they were in that situation and the actor was directing the behaviour at them. Each situation depicted one of four situations involving a Hindu or Muslim behaving towards them in a desirable or undesirable way. The situations included a shopkeeper being generous to the subject or cheating the subject and a teacher praising or scolding the subject. For each paragraph, the subject was provided with four or five possible reasons for the behaviour. One of these reflected internal attributions (Hindu shopkeepers are generous or Hindus are rude) and the remaining reflected external attributions (the actor was compelled by social rules to behave as he did or there was a misunderstanding between the actor and the perceiver). The study found that Hindus were more favourable to their in-group. They were more likely to make internal attributions for socially desirable behaviour performed by Hindus than for socially undesirable behaviour. Thus, they said Hindu shopkeepers are generous or Hindu teachers praise students. Conversely, undesirable behaviour performed by the same were not seen as reflections of internal behaviour but caused by external factors. The subjects reversed their internal attributions for Muslim actors. Thus, they made internal attributions for socially undesirable behaviour (cheating was seen to reflect the internal characteristic of the actor) and external attributions for socially desirable behaviour. The study showed how ethnocentrism is evidenced not only in the form of generalised attitudes but also in the form of attributions for specific behaviour.