Daily Current Affairs 17.05.2023 ( Khasi council order on father’s surname sets off war of words in matrilineal Meghalaya , Rajasthan’s move spells some hope for gig workers , Not violating sanctions on Russian oil, says Centre after EU Minister’s charge , India moves closer to getting its first indigenous vaccine against dengue , Centre rejects U.S. govt. report citing deteriorating religious freedom in India )

Daily Current Affairs 17.05.2023 ( Khasi council order on father’s surname sets off war of words in matrilineal Meghalaya , Rajasthan’s move spells some hope for gig workers , Not violating sanctions on Russian oil, says Centre after EU Minister’s charge , India moves closer to getting its first indigenous vaccine against dengue , Centre rejects U.S. govt. report citing deteriorating religious freedom in India )


1. Khasi council order on father’s surname sets off war of words in matrilineal Meghalaya

The Khasis, numbering about 1.39 lakh, are one of the three indigenous matrilineal communities in Meghalaya. 

A tribal council’s order not to issue a Scheduled Tribe (ST) certificate to any Khasi person who adopts the surname of her or his father has triggered a war of words in matrilineal Meghalaya.

The Khasis, numbering about 1.39 lakh, are one of the three indigenous matrilineal communities in the north-eastern State. The other two are Garos and Jaintias.

KHADC criticised

The Voice of the People Party (VPP), an 18-month-old political entity that won four Assembly seats in the February 27 election, has been critical of the order of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) order about a month ago.

In that order, the KHADC directed the headmen of all villages and urban localities across the Khasi domain not to issue ST certificates to those who adopt their father’s surname instead of sticking to tradition by taking their mother’s clan name.

“I will fight for my children if there is an attempt to take away their right of being called Khasis,” VPP president and MLA Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit said at a public meeting in the State’s Nongpoh recently.

His children are using his surname. “Why can they not be considered Khasi when my wife and I are Khasis?” he asked.

“We cannot use the surname of the father as we are a matrilineal society. This is applicable to Basaiawmoit and every other Khasi,” KHADC’s chief executive member, Titosstarwell Chyne said.

Lineage Act

He alluded to sections 3 and 12 of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Khasi Social Custom of Lineage Act, 1997, which says only those following the custom of using their mother’s surname will be identified as a Khasi.

‘Preserving tradition’

Asserting that the KHADC was committed to the preservation and protection of the age-old tradition of the community, Mr. Chyne also said it is mandatory for any Khasi woman who marries a non-Khasi needs to obtain the Khasi tribe certificate for applying for the ST certificate for her children.

Men’s rights activists among the Khasis have been fighting for switching over from the matrilineal to the patrilineal system since the 1960s.

A bid by a group called Iktiar Longbriew Manbriew, meaning right to live, was short-lived but its successor, Syngkhong Rympei Thymmai (home and hearth restructured) has been sustaining the crusade since its birth in 1990. The Syngkhong Rympei Thymmai has more than 4,000 members today.

2. Rajasthan’s move spells some hope for gig workers

Aditi Surie is a senior researcher with the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, examining platform capitalism, livelihoods and economic progress for communities on technology-mediated markets.

The initiation of a board is a win for platform workers, but there are many challenges ahead such as covering the gaps in labour rights

The Chief Minister of Rajasthan announced earlier this year that the State would set up India’s first welfare fund called the Rajasthan Platform-Based Gig Workers Social Security and Welfare Fund. This is the first real instance of a regulatory move to unburden gig and platform workers’ vulnerabilities since the Code on Social Security was passed in 2020. The code came amid the COVID-19 pandemic when platform workers became the backbone of metropolitan logistics, acting to serve customers, and working with and for State governments in their food relief schemes.

Many States are yet to act

In 2023, many State governments are yet to pass rules that govern how they will implement the Code on Social Security. This has raised concerns over how fast gig and platform workers can gain benefits in a scenario where they are seen as “independent contractors”, though they are made to follow rules that constitute an employment relationship. Rajasthan stands out as a first mover making haste, with the State facing Assembly elections next year.

Since Independence, construction workers, dock workers, and head loaders (mathadi) have had boards set up for their well-being. Thus, the Rajasthan Platform-based Gig Workers Welfare Board will be a familiar institution that can be used to serve the needs of a technology-mediated workforce. The board, a tripartite institution with representatives from bureaucracy, employers or clients, and workers’ unions or associations, exists as a workaround to what is otherwise embedded in formal employment. In the latter, an employment contract and contributory worker benefits bring together worker, state and employer in conversation with each other. This relationship is meant to ensure quick communication in moments of failure where workers or employers do not get their due, and enable better communication between the parties. In sectors that have more informal workers, there is no ‘straightforward’ way to deliver benefits since on-paper employment relationships are missing. Therefore, the state also does not ‘find’ workers at work to give them benefits. The tripartite relationship has to be built to force employers to acknowledge that they have informal workers; for workers to collectivise to bring a common voice to their concerns; and for the state to liaise and mediate this relationship.

Tied down in the specifics

The Rajasthan Platform-based Gig Workers Welfare Board aims to deliver social security benefits to between three to four lakh workers in the State but is tied down in what kind of schemes and programmes it can set up. The Code on Social Security gives State labour ministries the mandate of choosing from a narrow bouquet of programmes on provident fund, employment injury benefit, housing, educational schemes for children of workers, skill upgrading and funeral assistance. Key protection schemes such as life and disability cover, health and maternity benefits, old age protection and education will only be started and funded by the central government, which can decide which States will get these central schemes, their duration and what kind of gig and platform worker will be eligible for schemes and programmes. This restriction could be further exacerbated by a lack or shortage of funding.

To address this, the code mandates platforms to share 1%-2% of their revenue for these new schemes, answering a key question for central and State governments as to who pays for gig and platform worker protections. The Construction Worker Board uses a similar avenue to take money that amounts to 1%-2% of the project cost from real estate companies and builders for worker well-being. While charging construction projects on revenue is a simple way to fund a board, it will not be as simple to do so in the platform economy context. Many platform companies operate as revenue-negative or have to raise debt or equity funding to make it year to year. Questions about how the Rajasthan government made the financial allocation of ₹200 crore, where this has come from, or how platforms will be charged with their financial responsibility remain unanswered.

The challenge ahead

Worker boards in India have been thought of as a way to build long-term relationships between workers and the state apart from their more operational role in creating a tripartite forum and implementing schemes. There has been a lot of criticism against the construction board — that it does not provide benefits that are useful enough to offset the time, money and other resources workers have to spend in order to register and access benefits. Time will tell how a Gig and Platform Worker Board will fare when gig and platform workers are time-poor considering that they often work for piece-meal wages that are structured through hourly or daily time commitments to platforms. This has been a significant challenge for collectivisation attempts. It is also unclear whether Rajasthan or any other State board will be able to fill the gap in labour rights for platform and gig workers. The Code on Social Security does not consider how to handle the labour rights of gig and platform workers; rather, it only seeks to give them protections from vulnerable aspects of their work.

Nonetheless, the initiation of the board is a big win for platform workers and unions who/which have been fighting to get their issues heard. The fact that the board is being set up before 2024 stands out in the midst of political chatter that States will not implement the new Codes until after the general election in 2024.

3. Not violating sanctions on Russian oil, says Centre after EU Minister’s charge

Jaishankar says Russian crude, if substantially transformed in a third country, is not treated as Russian any more; Borrell calls for action, saying it is a ‘circumvention of sanctions’ if Indian diesel and petrol entering Europe are made from Russian oil

Hours before his meeting in Brussels with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, the European Union’s (EU) Foreign Minister, Josep Borrell, said that Europe should not permit the entry of refined petroleum products from India that are made from Russian oil.

The government reacted by denying that it was violating sanctions and said it was not possible to fully identify the origins of petroleum products being sold in Europe.

Mr. Jaishankar said the contention was baseless. “Russian crude, if substantially transformed in a third country, is not treated as Russian any more,” Mr. Jaishankar said, referring to EU Council Regulation 833/2014.

While Mr. Borrell met Mr. Jaishankar at the trade technology talks, he was not present at the press conference that followed. In his place, EU Executive Vice-President on Competition Margrethe Vestager said there was “no doubt about the legal basis of the sanctions”, and that EU and India would have the discussion as “friends… with an extended hand and of course, not a pointed finger”.

Mr. Borrell’s remarks were made to the Financial Times in an interview, in which the Minister said it was “certainly a circumvention of sanctions” if Indian diesel and gasoline (petrol) entering Europe were made from Russian oil and that EU member states “have to act”.

The newspaper reported that, as per Mr. Borrell, Brussels “was aware that Indian refiners were buying large volumes of Russian crude oil before processing it into fuels for sale in Europe”.

Mr. Borrell said it was “normal” that India was buying cheap Russian oil following the G-7 price cap of $60 per barrel, but that it was not acceptable for that oil to be routed to Europe via refined products. He told the Financial Times that if India was acting as a “centre” where Russian oil is being refined and products being sold to the EU, then “we [the EU] have to act”.

Government sources dismissed the charge that India was circumventing sanctions, saying that the government had no knowledge of such sales. “We are not selling the oil abroad — this is being done by private entities and oil refineries that make commercial decisions. It is also not possible to tell whether these products being sold to Europe are being traded on the high seas, or even coming from India,” a source said.

Earlier this month, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Ministry strongly denied a Finland-based think tank’s report alleging that India led five countries that acted as “laundromats” to buy Russian oil and sell refined products to European countries.

4. India moves closer to getting its first indigenous vaccine against dengue

Mosquito menace: Fumigation being done to control the risk of dengue at a school in Lucknow. 

Drug makers Serum Institute of India and Panacea Biotec respond to call for Phase 3 clinical trials; according to a senior official, the trials, being done to evaluate efficacy, safety and immunogenicity of vaccine, could start close to August

Moving a step closer to developing India’s first vaccine against dengue, drug-makers Serum Institute of India and Panacea Biotec have submitted their responses to the call by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for an Expression of Interest for collaborative Phase 3 clinical trials for indigenous manufacturers.

The Phase 3 trial is being done for evaluation of efficacy, along with safety and immunogenicity of tetravalent dengue vaccine candidate developed by Indian manufacturers. Trials could start close to August for the adult vaccine, a senior health official said.

The ICMR says the dengue viral disease causes significant morbidity and mortality across the globe and in India, 2 to 2.5 lakh cases are reported annually.

The global incidence of dengue has grown dramatically with about half the world’s population now at risk. Though an estimated 100-400 million infections occur each year, over 80% are generally mild and asymptomatic. Hence, in 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified dengue to be one among the top 10 global health threats.

As of now, there is no specific treatment for dengue/severe dengue. “Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop effective vaccines against dengue viral disease,” the ICMR said.

Giving details about the two potential vaccines, Nivedita Gupta, Head of Virology, ICMR, said that the Serum Institute of India’s vaccine initiated one/two studies in paediatric population and the plan for Panacea’s vaccine is to conduct Phase 3 randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in 10,335 healthy adults (aged 18-80) in 20 sites (ICMR-funded).

She added that the Phase 3 protocol has been approved by the Drugs Controller General of India (January 2023) and the company is trying to upscale vaccine production with the trials expected to start in August-September.

The ICMR has noted that the desirable characteristics of a dengue vaccine includes acceptable short- and long-term safety profile (no antibody-dependent enhancement), inducing protection against all four serotypes of dengue, reducing risk of severe diseases and deaths, inducing a sustained immune response and effectiveness irrespective of the earlier sero-status and age of the individual.

5. Centre rejects U.S. govt. report citing deteriorating religious freedom in India

Rejecting the U.S. government’s latest “Report on International Religious Freedom”, which includes a chapter on India, the Ministry of External Affairs on Tuesday said it was based on “misinformation. It said statements by officials were “motivated”.

However the Ministry also said that India “values” its partnership with the United States and would continue to have “frank exchanges”. The report was released on Monday, and comes just a month before U.S. President Joseph Biden will welcome Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a rare state Visit in Washington on June 22.

“We are aware of the release of the U.S. State Department 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom,” said MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi in a statement released on Tuesday. “Regrettably, such reports continue to be based on misinformation and flawed understanding,” he added.

The U.S. report on religious freedom had itemised a number of cases of alleged violence against Christians, Muslims and Dalits in India, and criticised Indian anti-conversion laws. It made a reference to Hindus in Kashmir who complained that they were not being allowed to leave the valley by the government despite being targeted by radical Islamist terrorists.

The report documented a number of alleged hate speech and instigated violence blamed on members of the ruling BJP, naming “BJP state politician Haribhushan Thakur Bachaul, who said that Muslims should be ‘set ablaze’; P.C. George, a former legislator in Kerala, who encouraged Hindus and Christians to not eat at restaurants run by Muslims; and former BJP Rajasthan legislator Gyan Dev Ahuja, who encouraged Hindus to kill Muslims suspected of cow slaughter”, and others.

The spokesperson also slammed comments by a senior U.S. official that followed the release of the report. The official, who spoke without being named, had said that the U.S. government had called upon New Delhi to condemn religious violence and hold groups that engaged in “dehumanising” rhetoric accountable.

The official also said that the U.S. State Department report had outlined “continued targeted attacks” against “Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindu Dalits, and indigenous communities”, “open calls for genocide against Muslims; lynching and other hate-fuelled violence, attacks on houses of worship and home demolitions, and in some cases impunity and even clemency for those who have engaged in attacks on religious minorities”.

“Motivated and biased commentary by some U.S. officials only serves to undermine further the credibility of these reports,” the MEA spokesperson said.

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