Akshay Thakur, 31, Pawan Gupta, 25, Vinay Sharma, 26, and Mukesh Singh, 32, were hanged at 05:30 AM on March 20, 2020, giving closure to the family of a young medical student who was gang-raped and tortured on a moving bus in Delhi in 2012.
Recollect what happened on that appalling night on December 16, 2012, to realize how the culmination of the justice process was a just one:
“[…] drunk men dragged Nirbhaya to the rear of the moving bus and took turns to rape her. As she fought back, one of the attackers – a juvenile – inserted a rusted, L-shaped rod – used with a wheel jack – into her private parts, pulling and ripping her intestines apart. Her medical reports later revealed that she had septic injuries on her abdomen and genital organs also.
Done with the savagery, the attackers then threw her out of the moving bus and even tried to run the vehicle over the half-naked blood-soaked woman…”
Appalling as it may sound, and while we completely agree with their hanging, the crime —in the current context — can barely be considered “rarest of rare”.
As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, if more than 68 girls and women were raped every day in 2012, the number increased to 91.38 in 2018.
In other words, such cases are no longer ‘rare’ because these gruesome crimes are happening all through the year, every year.
As statistics point out, during that long period (2012-18), while the number of girls raped in India jumped by 33%, India’s most talked-about case kept dragging on under the weight of the sorry state of affairs of the judicial system in India.
No wonder then that celebrities like Preity Zinta took to social media to not only welcome the hanging but also point out that if the hanging was carried out in 2012 itself, the rising cases of murder might have been kept in check.
There, of course, cannot be any method of arriving at that conclusion. However, it is human nature to avoid getting on the wrong side of a ruthless law-enforcing agency/administration. Test the theory in Singapore, if you must.
The most common and largely rational argument against capital punishment is that sooner or later, innocent people will get killed, because of “mistakes or flaws in the justice system”; and that where capital punishment is used such mistakes cannot be put right.
But then, while long processes like that in the Nirbhaya case invariably take every possible precaution, “mistakes or flaws in the justice system” can also result in the most brutal rapist and/or killer to escape the clutches of law — and even get a sewing machine and cash from a slimy chief minister.
The idea should be to get a Nirbhaya Case justice process done as early as possible.
Every step that was taken in this extremely thorough process needs to be fast-tracked. Of course, some steps can’t happen any faster. But most can be. And that’s what needs to be done. Today.
Else, be prepared for either the number of rapes crossing 100 per day or people showering flowers on Hyderabad police after they eliminate the brutal rapists “who were trying to run away from the police custody”.
Again, we wholeheartedly support the hanging of the four in the Nirbhaya case. It was a just culmination of the process of law.
COVID-19 Editorial: Can ‘Herd immunity’ Prevent It?
Herd immunity is also called community immunity and herd or group protection.
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You probably heard the term ‘herd immunity’ (also called community immunity and herd or group protection) in relation to the coronavirus disease outbreak when some governments, including that of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, (are said to have) considered allowing herd immunity to develop on its own, without a vaccine, by letting the virus spread through their populations.
The argument was that though it might lead to a trail of deaths, the coronavirus would have left millions of recovered people with antibodies to fight it.
The chief science adviser to the UK government, Sir Patrick Vallance, said the country needed to “build up some kind of herd immunity — by having potentially 60% of the population (40 million people) contract COVID-19, as one of the “key things we need to do” — so more people are immune to this disease and we reduce the transmission”.
Later, however, Matt Hancock, the UK Secretary of State for Health, clarified that “creating so-called ‘herd immunity’ in the UK against coronavirus is not part of the Government’s plan for tackling the killer illness”.
Herd immunity happens when so many people in a community become immune to an infectious disease that it stops the disease from spreading.
The underlying scientific/medical argument is that
…individuals could gain immunity to the new coronavirus if they develop antibodies; that can happen through vaccination, or after they get infected and recover…
So, if enough people become immune, that can confer “herd immunity” to an entire population.
This protects even people who aren’t immune because so many others are immune that they prevent the virus from spreading within a community. Herd immunity would effectively end the coronavirus pandemic. Something like this:
It might not naturally occur to us that those who are infected with germs (e.g., viruses, bacteria) do not have the ability to infect infinite numbers of people. Individuals can remain contagious only for a limited time — before their own immune system clears the germ and they become non-contagious.
Equally, different germs require different doses of pathogen* to be transmitted in order to successfully infect another individual, and those that require higher doses may also require more prolonged contact to transmit infection.
[* A pathogen, broadly speaking, is anything that can produce disease. It can also be referred to as an infectious agent, or simply a germ.]
There has been past evidence for the emergence of herd immunity in other recent outbreaks.
In 2015, Zika virus, a mosquito-borne illness caused an epidemic panic. Two years later, in 2017, there was no longer nearly so much to worry about. A Brazilian study found by checking blood samples that 63% of the population in the northeastern beach city of Salvador had already had exposure to Zika; the researchers speculated that herd immunity had broken that outbreak.
In a radically different environ, Norway is said to have successfully developed at least partial herd immunity to the H1N1 virus (swine flu) through vaccinations and natural immunity. Similarly, in Norway, influenza was projected to cause fewer deaths in 2010 and 2011 because more of the population was immune to it.
But the thing about such data is that there is not just as much of it as might want to decisively conclude in one direction or the other.
For a population to achieve herd immunity, a certain proportion has to be immune. That proportion depends on how infectious a virus is, a measure called R0 (pronounce ‘r-naught’) — the average number of people that a victim passes the virus on to.
The more contagious it is, or the higher the ‘Ro’ is, the more people need to be immune for the infection rate to start falling.
For some diseases, herd immunity can go into effect with as little as 40 per cent of the people in a population becoming immune to the disease, such as through vaccination. But generally, a much higher percentage of a population must be immune to the disease to stop its spread.
For example, it has been found that 19 out of every 20 people must have the measles vaccination for herd immunity to go into effect and stop the disease. This means that if a child gets measles, everyone else in this population around them will most likely have been vaccinated, already have formed antibodies, and be immune to the disease to prevent it from spreading further. If that is not the case, and if there are more unvaccinated people around the child with measles, the disease could spread more easily because there is no herd immunity.
And therein lies the problem with the option.
There is no vaccine currently available for COVID-19. We never know when it might arrive. So, the only hope currently is to develop the herd immunity via contracting the Coronavirus.
Supporters of the method argue that about 493,000 people have recovered from the coronavirus already, and it’s likely they are now resistant.
The counter is: What is the degree of immunity?
The world has no idea how long the affected (and recovered) will stay immune. (With some coronaviruses, as well as with ordinary flu, the immunity lasts less than a year.) Also, even if they stay immune for long (like, until the vaccine arrives), the world has no idea how long it would take to reach herd immunity.
It is also unclear how much protection antibodies confer on people who have recovered from COVID-19.
Some early research suggests that not all recovered patients develop coronavirus-neutralizing antibodies to the same degree. According to a report (that has not yet been peer-reviewed) from Chinese scientists, about 10 of 175 participants studied did not develop neutralizing proteins. This suggests they could have a higher risk of reinfection!
That report too does not give enough knowledge. Nothing so far has.
So, perhaps (since we are not medical researchers or doctors), herd immunity isn’t the answer to stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Once a vaccine is developed for this virus, establishing herd immunity could be one way in the future to help protect people in the community who are vulnerable or have low functioning immune systems.
League Editorial: Don’t Be A ‘Covidiot’
In an address to the nation, PM Modi urged people to achieve ‘social distancing’ via a ‘Janta Curfew’.
The title of this editorial comes from this particular tweet on the official Twitter page of League of India:
— League of India (@league_of_india) March 21, 2020
The prime minister, in a televised address to the nation, announced a ‘Janata Curfew’ from 7 am to 9 pm Sunday, 22 March, to stop the spread of coronavirus that has already claimed four lives in the country and infected at least 169 others.
“Under ‘Janata Curfew’ no one will go out of their houses. It will also prepare us for the forthcoming days,” said PM Modi, hinting that such isolation drives could be essential in future to stop the spread of COVID19.
The PM’s appeal to the nation follows a global trajectory wherein, to stop the spread of coronavirus, health officials have instructed the public to practice social distancing — staying home, avoiding crowds and refraining from touching one another.
Social distancing includes ways to stop or slow the spread of infectious diseases. It means less contact between you and other people.
Social distancing is deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness.
Staying at least six feet away from other people lessens your chances of catching COVID-19.
Why? When someone coughs or sneezes they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain the virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing has the disease.
Social distancing is important because COVID-19 is most likely to spread from person-to-person through:
- direct close contact with a person while they are infectious or in the 24 hours before their symptoms appeared
- close contact with a person with a confirmed infection who coughs or sneezes, or
- touching objects or surfaces (such as door handles or tables) contaminated from a cough or sneeze from a person with confirmed infection, and then touching your mouth or face.
So, the more space between you and others, the harder it is for the virus to spread.
It is worth reminding ourselves again that the COVID-19 is very contagious (an infected person will infect 2 to 2.5 others on average, versus about 1.3 others with the flu), and there is evidence that people who have only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all are helping spread the disease.
That makes it more difficult to contain and is partly why we are taking such aggressive social isolation tactics: We cannot always be sure who has the virus, and we don’t want to risk it being passed along unwittingly to a more vulnerable person.
Since emerging from Wuhan, China, in late 2019, the coronavirus has spread to more than 150 countries.
To date, it has infected over 221,000 people globally, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, with 8,966 deaths.
As there is no vaccine available for the coronavirus at present and testing remains relatively limited in many countries, the WHO has stressed the need for citizens to take collective action. Collective action includes ‘social distancing’.
At the base of those ‘collective actions’ lies the first target for health administrations globally viz., to ‘flatten the curve’ of the spread.
The ‘curve’ refers to the projected number of new cases over a period of time.
In contrast to a steep rise of coronavirus infections, a more gradual uptick of cases will see the same number of people get infected, but without overburdening the health-care system at any one time.
The idea of flattening the curve is to stagger the number of new cases over a longer period, so that people have better access to care.
That is all that the government is asking from us. It is merely asking us to sit at home and be with our loved ones. Not too much, right? So, let’s not be ‘Covidiots’.
League Editorial: After Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra, MP Begs Constitutional Reflection
The subject of morality opens upon another debate related to the issue.
With the resignation of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath yesterday after a mass resignation of 22 MLAs of his party, we are fast approaching a place where it becomes imperative for the constitutional experts to rethink the ‘Anti-Defection Law’ as an antithesis to the subterfuge of the mandate given by the electorate.
In 1967, the phrase ‘Aaya Ram Gaya Ram’ attained widespread circulation in Indian politics after a Haryana MLA Gaya Lal changed his party thrice within the same day!
The anti-defection law sought to prevent such political defections which may be due to reward of office or other similar considerations.
The Tenth Schedule was inserted in the Constitution in 1985. It lays down the process by which legislators may be disqualified on grounds of defection by the Presiding Officer of a legislature based on a petition by any other member of the House.
A legislator is deemed to have defected if he either voluntarily gives up the membership of his party or disobeys the directives of the party leadership on a vote.
This implies that a legislator defying (abstaining or voting against) the party whip on any issue can lose his membership of the House. The law applies to both Parliament and state assemblies.
There are exceptions under the law: The law allows a party to merge with or into another party provided that at least two-thirds of its legislators are in favour of the merger. In such a scenario, neither the members who decide to merge nor the ones who stay with the original party will face disqualification.
But, as illustrated yesterday in MP and earlier in Karnataka, the law proves inadequate in achieving its principal mission when the MLAs simply resign — thereby achieving the purpose of defection without defecting per se.
And yet, can any law ever stop an MLA from resigning? The query, of course, is rhetorical.
And what about instances like Maharashtra, when one part of the winning alliance breaks the alliance — an entity that does not have any constitutional validity —and joins hands with the opposing alliance to form a government? There is pretty much nothing that can be done about it constitutionally. It is, at the current juncture, merely a moral issue.
The subject of morality, however, opens upon another debate related to the issue.
The anti-defection law seeks to ensure the stability of a government of the day by making sure that the legislators do not switch sides (at their whims).
However, this law also restricts a legislator from voting in line with his conscience, judgment and interests of his electorate.
This, in essence, forces the members to vote based on the decisions taken by the party leadership, and not what their constituents would like them to vote for.
What, then, about the moral issue of doing what the constituents demand from their (individual) representatives?
There are no easy answers to these questions. Therefore, it becomes mandatory that representatives of all the stakeholders in the Indian democracy begin an urgent, earnest dialogue on the issue.
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