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Daily Current Affairs 07.06.2022(The debates around the Surrogacy Act, The provisions of the withdrawn draft on social media regulations, Habitus, Strategic missile Agni-4 successfully test-fired)

Daily Current Affairs 07.06.2022(The debates around the Surrogacy Act, The provisions of the withdrawn draft on social media regulations, Habitus, Strategic missile Agni-4 successfully test-fired)

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1. The debates around the Surrogacy Act

What are the various provisions under the Act which dictate who can commission a surrogacy? Are the laws too restrictive?

As per the Surrogacy Act, a married couple can opt for surrogacy only on medical grounds. It also prescribes an age-criteria for both the man and woman. Though the law allows single women to resort to surrogacy, she has to either be a widow or a divorcee. Single men are not eligible.

Only a close relative of the couple can be a surrogate mother. She should have been married, with a child of her own. She can only be a surrogate mother once.

Even at the Bill stage, there was some apprehension about the too restrictive regulations. For instance, it does not allow single (never been married) women, or men, or gay couples to go in for surrogacy.

Ramya Kannan

The story so far: Petitioners in the Delhi High Court questioned why marital status, age, or gender were the criteria for being allowed to commission or not commission surrogacy in India. The female petitioner said that she already had a child but the trauma of the first childbirth experience and her need to juggle work with child care persuaded her that surrogacy would be a better option for the second child. But under the provisions of the Surrogacy Act, she was denied a chance at commissioning surrogacy.

As per the Surrogacy Act that kicked in from January this year, a married couple can opt for surrogacy only on medical grounds. The law defines a couple as a married Indian “man and woman” and also prescribes an age-criteria with the woman being in the age group of 23 to 50 years and the man between 26 to 55 years. Additionally, the couple should not have a child of their own. Though the law allows single women to resort to surrogacy, she should either be a widow or a divorcee, between the age of 35 to 45 years. Single men are however, not eligible.

What is the Surrogacy Act?

The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill was introduced in Parliament in November 2016, and passed in the Winter session of Parliament in 2021.

The Act sought to regulate the surrogacy part of a rather flourishing infertility industry in the country. Defining ‘surrogacy’ as a practice where a woman undertakes to give birth to a child for another couple and agrees to hand over the child to them after birth, it allows ‘altruistic surrogacy’ — wherein only the medical expenses and insurance coverage is provided by the couple to the surrogate mother during pregnancy. No other monetary consideration will be permitted.

Why is there a need for a Surrogacy Act in India?

India has emerged as a hub for infertility treatment, attracting people from the world over with its state of the art technology and competitive prices to treat infertility. Soon enough, due to prevailing socio-economic inequities, underprivileged women found an option to ‘rent their wombs’ and thereby make money to take care of their expenses — often to facilitate a marriage, enable children to get an education, or to provide for hospitalisation or surgery for someone in the family.

Once information of the availability of such wombs got out, the demand also picked up. Unscrupulous middle men inveigled themselves into the scene and exploitation of these women began. Several instances began to emerge where women, in often desperate straits, started lodging police complaints after they did not receive the promised sum.

Other issues also began to crop up. For instance, in 2008 a Japanese couple began the process with a surrogate mother in Gujarat, but before the child was born they split with both of them refusing to take the child. In 2012, an Australian couple commissioned a surrogate mother, and arbitrarily chose one of the twins that were born.

The time therefore, was ripe for proper regulation.

Who all are allowed to make use of the services of a surrogate mother?

Any couple that has ‘proven infertility’ are candidates. The ‘intending couple’ as the Act calls them, will be eligible if they have a ‘certificate of essentiality’ and a ‘certificate of eligibility’ issued by the appropriate authority. The former will be issued if the couple fulfils three conditions: One, a certificate of infertility of one or both from a district medical board; Two, an order of parentage and custody of the surrogate child passed by a Magistrate’s court; Thirdly, insurance cover for the surrogate mother.

An eligibility certificate mandates that the couple fulfil the following conditions: They should be Indian citizens who have been married for at least five years; the female must be between 23 to 50 years and the male, 26 to 55 years; they cannot have any surviving children (biological, adopted or surrogate); However, this would not include a ‘child who is mentally or physically challenged or suffers from life threatening disorder or fatal illness.’

Who can become a surrogate mother?

Only a close relative of the couple can be a surrogate mother, one who is able to provide a medical fitness certificate. She should have been married, with a child of her own, and must be between 25 and 35 years, but can be a surrogate mother only once.

What are the controversies behind the Act?

Even at the Bill stage, while there was a general murmur of appreciation, and some strident approval from infertility experts, there was some apprehension about the too restrictive regulations. For instance, it does not allow single women, or men, or gay couples to go in for surrogacy. Representations from these groups emerged even as Health Minister J.P. Nadda introduced the Bill in the House.

Others, primarily those involved in organ transplantation, pointed out how despite a similar, stringent law — the Transplantation of Human Organs Act — organ commerce continues to thrive in the country. Brokers continue to operate, though with less temerity and more covertly, sometimes with hospital authorities, to pull wool over the eyes of the appropriate authority and law enforcement officials. Clearly the issue will have to be handled with a stern visage, even as sensitivities of people are factored in.

What lies ahead?

These apprehensions and perceived hitches due to the exclusionary criteria, have already come to the forefront in the short period that the Act has been operational. A path of litigation is possibly the course ahead, and if a critical mass builds up, amendments might have to be resorted to in order to resolve the grievances and ensure access for all categories of parents.

2. The provisions of the withdrawn draft on social media regulations

What were the proposed changes to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021?

On June 2, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology put out a draft proposal, seeking comments from the general public on a set of proposed amendments to the IT Rules, 2021. The draft document was however withdrawn the same day with a revised version expected to be made available this week.

The draft proposed a ‘Grievance Appellate Committee’, functioning over and above the intermediary’s grievance redressal officer. Broadly, in case a user is not satisfied with the resolution provided by the intermediary, she/he can appeal against the decision at the appellate.

The draft also put forth the obligation that all social media intermediaries resolve all complaints within 72 hours of reporting.

Saptaparno Ghosh

The story so far: On June 2, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) put out a draft proposal, seeking comments from the general public on a set of proposed amendments to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. The draft document was however withdrawn the same day. It had proposed measures to strengthen the oversight mechanism for regulating content on social media platforms. The draft stated that the measures dealt with “new and emerging issues” and addresses identified “gaps” in the legislation so as to make the internet more open, safe, trusted and accountable to its users. The MeiTY reposted the draft amendments on its website, inviting comments from stakeholders in the next 30 days, the same day this article went to press.

What is the law?

Broadly, the IT Rules (2021) mandate social media platforms to exercise greater diligence with respect to the content on their platforms. They are required to establish a grievance redressal mechanism, and remove unlawful and unfitting content within stipulated time frames.

The grievance officer of the platform’s redressal mechanism is responsible for receiving and resolving complaints of the users. She/he is expected to acknowledge receipt of the complaint within 24 hours and dispose the same in an appropraite manner within 15 days. Content portraying an individual in full or partial nudity, in a sexual act or impersonating some other individual in the act (using morphed photos) are required to be removed within 24 hours of receiving the complaint. Its access and spread by any other means on the platform should also be disabled. Other than this, the privacy policies of the social media platforms must ensure that users are educated about not circulating copyrighted material and anything that can be construed as defamatory, racially or ethnically objectionable, paedophilic, threatening the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India or friendly relations with foreign states, or violative of any contemporary law.

What changes were proposed in the withdrawn draft?

The draft proposed an additional level of oversight, namely, the ‘Grievance Appellate Committee’, functioning over and above the intermediary’s grievance redressal officer. Broadly, in case a user is not satisfied with the resolution provided by the intermediary, she/he can appeal against the decision at the appellate rather than going directly to court. However, this did not take away the user’s right to appeal in any other court. The draft stipulated that all orders of this appellate must be complied with. The suggested question on ‘oversight’ stemmed from the fact that the appellate was to be constituted by the Central Govt — empowered to appoint the Chairperson and other members.

Digital advocacy group, Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) said that “worryingly, this would have made the government the arbiter of permissible speech on the internet and incentivised social media platforms to suppress any speech that may not be palatable to the government.” Additionally, the draft put forth the obligation that all social media intermediaries resolve all complaints within 72 hours of reporting. Intermediaries are known to invest sizeable time in thoroughly scrutinising and determining the content and user accounts they are called to censor. For example, Twitter took two-three days to censor former U.S. President Donald Trump’s account following a close review of his tweets and their context, particularly in light of the January 6 violence at the White House, the previous year. The shortened timelines therefore invited fears of a hastier approach to get things done. “Such a short-time line would have created the possibility of disposal of grievances without application of mind and led to arbitrary restriction on speech,” the IFF states.

What needs to be remembered is that all social media platforms deal with a sizeable user base and an even more massive content flow. For example, between March 25 and April 26 this year, Twitter acted against a total of 1,494 URLs for violating varied community standards. In addition, it processed 108 grievances seeking account suspensions and overturned 52 account suspensions during the mentioned period. Even if a miniscule fraction of these people were to approach the appellate, both the microblogging platform and the committee could be potentially burdened. Not to forget, the data is for a month-long period and for a single entity, and such occurrences are recurrent and could only multiply the case count. Further, a sub-clause suggested the appellate dispose such cases within thirty days furthering the probability for hasty decisions.

Have there been any legal challenges?

Both Bombay and Madras High Courts stayed the imposition of sub-clauses 1 and 3 of Rule 9 of the legislative guidelines in August and September of the previous year, respectively. The two sub-clauses dealt with the ‘Code of Ethics’ for online publishers dealing with news and current affairs content and/or curated content. The sub-clauses had stated that the entities subscribe to a three-tier mechanism in dealing with grievances (relevant to their platform) so as to adhere to their code. This entails self-regulation by the publishers (level I), by self-regulating bodies of the publishers (level II) and finally, an oversight mechanism by the Central Govt (level III).

When argued at the Bombay High Court in August 2021, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh mentioned that 97% publishers of news and current affairs had not challenged the 2021 Rules and thus the provisions are accepted and implemented. The Bombay High Court however ruled, “People would be starved of the liberty of thought and feel suffocated to exercise their right of freedom of speech and expression, if they are made to live in present times of content regulation on the internet with the Code of Ethics hanging over their head as the Sword of Damocles.” The Supreme Court will now hear this matter on July 19.

3. Habitus

A concept that explains how inequality is reproduced through the dominant social and cultural conditions that an individual is accustomed to, which then determines their position in society

The term habitus refers to a collective entity by and into which dominant social and cultural conditions of a society are established and reproduced. What one considers, ‘natural’, ‘taboo’, ‘neutral’ and ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is constructed by one’s habitus. 

In sociology, ‘capital’ refers to a person or group’s accumulated status within a stratified society. Economic capital refers to a person’s wealth which determines his economic class in society. Cultural capital refers to a person’s cultural competencies. Social capital refers to the social networks that a person has developed and can call upon to achieve social mobility.

While entering a new field, individuals carry their habitus, a combination of the economic, social and cultural capital that they were introduced to and accustomed to, along with them.

Rebecca Rose Varghese

The concept of Habitus was made popular by French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu in his book Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977). He used the concept to address the sociological conundrum between structure and agency and explained that habitus was shaped by structural position, but also generated action. According to Bourdieu, when people exhibit agency they unconsciously refer to social structures, thus reflecting on and reproducing them. Individual actions are thus reflected by the socialisation and habitus of the individual.

The concept

Though the concept of habitus was first known to be used by Aristotle, it was Pierre Bourdieu who transformed it into a vital concept in social theory. The term habitus refers to a collective entity by and into which dominant social and cultural conditions of a society are established and reproduced. It is a subjective and yet not an individual system of structures, concepts, schemes of perception, actions and norms that are internalised by individuals in the same group. Habitus helps instill a sense of the world in individuals by attributing cultural value to material or immaterial objects. Even at a very intimate level, habitus postulates specific properties. What one considers, ‘natural’, ‘taboo’, ‘neutral’ and ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is constructed by one’s habitus. For instance, while certain social classes appreciate Bollywood music, certain other social classes only consider Carnatic or Hindustani music to be worthy of appreciation.

The sense of habitus or our understanding of the things valued within the habitus is conferred through various institutions or fields. It begins with the family, where one gets attuned to one’s surroundings and culture and is reinforced through institutions like schools and offices. Yet, these institutions may also help restructure and amend one’s original templates of culture and society.

The connection to capital

Though not considered a Marxist sociologist, Bourdieu was influenced by Karl Marx’s work. Both argued that capital formed the foundation of social life and dictated one’s position within society. Bourdieu took this idea of capital beyond the economic and into the more symbolic realm of culture. In sociology, ‘capital’ refers to a person or group’s accumulated status within a stratified society. There are different forms of capital.

Economic capital refers to a person’s wealth which determines his economic class in society. Cultural capital refers to a person’s cultural competencies. A person’s accent, their knowledge about dressing according to occasions, their knowledge of etiquette, taboos and manners, their understanding of cultural objects such as artwork or music, and the books they read are a few examples of cultural capital. Cultural capital can be translated to other forms of capital as it helps in gaining access to social groups like prestigious colleges. This in turn helps with economic capital as they have better job prospects due to associations and networks.

Social capital refers to the social networks and relationships that a person has developed and can call upon to achieve social advantages or mobility. The network connection one’s family has in a company, which helps them get the job easier than others, or gaining membership to an exclusive club because the person knows the club owner’s son, are a few examples of social capital. It also includes ethnic capital which refers to the advantages of belonging to a specific ethnic group, linguistic capital which refers to one’s linguistic skills that help in gaining more acceptance in a field, and intellectual capital which refers to the value that one’s knowledge, capabilities, and relationships bring to an organisation.

Reproducing inequality

Society is a multi-dimensional space with various sub-spaces. Under different contexts, an individual enters these sub-spaces referred to as fields by Bourdieu. Fields include institutions like schools, colleges, universities, or social groups like one’s friend circles and social clubs or even workspaces.

While entering a new field, individuals carry their habitus, a combination of the economic, social and cultural capital that they were introduced to and accustomed to, along with them. The combination of different capitals is automatically transformed into symbolic capital when they enter the field and help in determining their legitimate position in the given field according to the doxa or rules of the field.

Let’s take, for instance, A and B as two students who recently graduated from college and are looking for jobs. A is an upper caste and upper-class male student from a top-ranking university in India. His parents are both professors in social sciences who teach in top ranking colleges in the country. B is a Dalit male student, from a middle-class family and was a topper in a college in his hometown. His father is a government employee while his mother is a teacher in a government high school. Due to their grades and good performance in interviews, both are employed as research assistants at a college in Delhi, wherein their performance would determine a permanent position. A, due to his network with professors from different colleges, and his understanding of classical music and ancient art and culture is able to mingle well and have better conversations with his new colleagues resulting in him becoming popular, while B despite earning the same as A struggles to gel well with his cosmopolitan colleagues as his cultural and social capital is very different from the rest in his field. Though both are equally competent at their work, by the end of the term, A because of his social and cultural capital becomes a permanent employee at the college, while B loses the opportunity as he cannot relate to the doxa of the field.

This example shows how cultural and social capital play an equally important role in determining one’s future. It is not only economic class but also social class that one inherits from one’s family. Thus, habitus and capital not only determine one’s position in society but also result in the reproduction of inequality.

4. Strategic missile Agni-4 successfully test-fired

All operational parameters validated

India on Monday successfully tested the Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) Agni-4, which met all parameters.

Training launch

“A successful training launch of an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile, Agni-4, was carried out at approximately 1930 hours on June 06, 2022 from APJ Abdul Kalam Island, Odisha,” a Defence Ministry statement said.

The successful test was part of routine user training launches carried out under the aegis of the Strategic Forces Command, it stated.

Range of 3,500 km

The missile, one of many in the Agni series of strategic missiles, has a range of over 3,500 km.

The statement from the Defence Ministry said that the launch validated all operational parameters and as also the reliability of the system.

The Defence Ministry further added, “The successful test of the Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile reaffirms India’s policy of having a ‘Credible Minimum Deterrence’ Capability.”

Agni-P Missile

  • Agni-P is a two-stage canisterised solid propellant missile with dual redundant navigation and guidance system.
    • It has been termed as a new generation advanced variant of Agni class of missiles with improved parameters, including manoeuvring and accuracy.
      • Canisterisation of missiles reduces the time required to launch the missile while improving the storage and ease of handling.
    • The surface-to-surface ballistic missile has a range of 1,000 to 2,000 km.
  • Agni Class of Missiles:
    • Agni class of missiles are the mainstay of India’s nuclear launch capability, which also includes the Prithvi short-range ballistic missiles, submarine launched ballistic missiles and fighter aircraft.
      • Agni-V, an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) with a range of over 5,000 km, had been tested several times and validated for induction.
    • The Agni-P and Agni-5 ballistic missiles trace their origins back to the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), which was spearheaded by former DRDO chief and ex-Indian president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam in the early 1980s.
  • Other Ranges of Agni Missiles:
    • Agni I: Range of 700-800 km.
    • Agni II: Range more than 2000 km.
    • Agni III: Range of more than 2,500 Km
    • Agni IV: Range is more than 3,500 km and can fire from a road mobile launcher.
    • Agni-V: The longest of the Agni series, an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) with a range of over 5,000 km.

IGMDP (Integrated Guided Missile Development Program)

  • It was conceived by Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to enable India attain self-sufficiency in the field of missile technology. It was approved by the Government of India in 1983 and completed in March 2012.
  • The 5 missiles (P-A-T-N-A) developed under this program are:
    • Prithvi: Short-range surface to surface ballistic missile.
    • Agni: Ballistic missiles with different ranges, i.e. Agni (1,2,3,4,5)
    • Trishul: Short-range low level surface to air missile.
    • Nag: 3rd generation anti-tank missile.
    • Akash: Medium range surface to air missile.

History of Missile Technology in India

  • Before Independence, several kingdoms in India were using rockets as part of their warfare technologies.
    • Mysore ruler Hyder Ali started inducting iron-cased rockets in his army in the mid-18th century.
    • At the time of Independence, India did not have any indigenous missile capabilities.
    • The government created the Special Weapon Development Team in 1958.
      • This was later expanded and called the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), which moved from Delhi to Hyderabad by 1962.
    • In 1972, Project Devil, for the development of a medium range Surface-to-Surface Missile was initiated.
    • By 1982, DRDL was working on several missile technologies under the Integrated Guided Missiles Development Programme (IGMDP).
  • Kind of Missiles India Have:
    • Surface-Launched Systems:
      • Anti-Tank Guided Missile:
        • Nag
      • Surface-to-Air Missile:
        • Akash
      • Medium-Range Sam:
        • Production of MRSAM systems for the Navy is complete, and it is placing its order
      • Short-Range Sam:
        • For the Navy, the first flight tests have been successfully conducted.
    • Several Air-Launched Systems:
      • Air-To-Air:
        • Astra
      • Air-to-Ground:
        • Rudram
        • BrahMos
  • Most Important India’s Missile:
    • Agni (range around 5,000):
      • It is India’s only contender for an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), which is available with only a few countries.
    • Prithvi:
      • It is a short-range surface-to-surface missile with a 350 km range and has strategic uses.
        • India also tested a anti-satellite system in April 2019.
        • A modified anti-ballistic missile named Prithvi Defence Vehicle Mk 2 was used to hit a low-orbit satellite.
        • It put India only behind the US, Russia and China in this capability.
  • Hypersonic Technology:
    • India is just behind the US, Russia and China.
    • DRDO successfully tested a Hypersonic Technology Demonstrated Vehicle (HSTDV) in September 2020, and demonstrated its hypersonic air-breathing scramjet technology.
  • Missile technology of India in Comparison to (Pakistan and China):
    • India:
      • Under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMP) first came Prithvi, then Agni.
      • BrahMos, at 2.5-3 times the speed of sound, was among the fastest in the world when developed.
      • India is working on Agni VI and Agni VII, which should have a much longer range.
    • China and Pakistan:
      • While China is ahead of India, a “lot of things about China are psychological”.
      • China has given Pakistan the technology, “but getting a technology and really using it, and thereafter evolving and adopting a policy is totally different”.
      • India does not call BrahMos nuclear, it can be used.
      • India’s only nuclear missiles are Prithvi and Agni, but beyond those, tactical nuclear weapons can be fired from some Indian Air Force fighter jets or from Army guns, which have a low range, around 50 km.
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