Category Archives: Council

Human 3.0

The dominance of humans on this planet has been greatly due to their abilities to use inanimate objects, engineering them to meet their desires. To a certain extent these objects or more precisely tools have been more useful than the animate ones itself. The process of evolution took time but the development of these tools was gradual with a very steep slope. Unarguably, the tool that has led us to discriminate other creatures against humans has been the technology. Life has never been this easy in the human history all credit goes to the level of technology around us. Even today it is impossible to predict the point of saturation of it. But the stretch of one of the fields in technology that has startled humans is Artificial Intelligence. Fundamentals laid on the ground to describe the human thinking based on very clever manipulation of sequences of 1s and 0s. This field of intelligence has seen lot of ups and downs during the course of its development. But this giant was never out of scope and its mammoth possibilities to transform human lives even further gave us the taste of every colour.

 

AI is not the technology of any other generation but now. It might be either “Siri” or “Alexa” assisting you right on your demand or spotting the driverless car in traffic beside you. For instance, the smarter web browsing experience whether the filtering of junk mails or personalising the web, our dependence on it narrates the story . With every sunrise we are not only gifted with a brand new day but also with better experience due to new and improved algorithms heavily influenced by this technology. The ability of these machines driven by AI – – to show advanced cognitive skills, to learn, to perceive,  to process data – has made them capable to perform any task with high accuracy.

 

On 1st january 2016, the dream for a better future took off driven by 193 nations. The dream is to see a better world by the end of 2030 revolving around the development of economy along with attention to the amelioration of the environment. The United Nations ‘17  “Sustainable Development Goals” is set to promote prosperity in the country and at the same time protect the planet, economic growth and the social needs for the same including education, health, social protection, and job opportunities along with checking the climate change and environmental protection.  The concept of “AI for good” is to explore the implementation of it for the greater good of society and ultimately using it to cut the problems faced by us.

 

If the coin gets flipped, we might end up with the very last invention of the human race. We consider ourselves supremely intelligent from our primitive animal cousins, but in reality we are only fractionally more intelligent than them. But that tiny fraction had led us to develop tools, language , civilisation and much more. When AI gets more intelligent than us, not fractionally but by million times called the “singularity”, our breath could be the price we pay. All that is needed now is to be very careful with this technology but the twist being the impossibility of the situation in predicting it before it actually happens.

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Citizen X

The privacy of a person is one of his/her most prized possessions. If at all the person feels that his/her privacy has been violated, it is a great source of concern and is looked down upon. Hence, the privacy of a citizen is of great importance to the governance of a country.

Recently, the nine- judge bench of the apex court in India declared that the previous stance of the top court which states that the right to privacy does not come under the fundamental rights granted to the citizens, as void.  

A privacy law refers to the law regulating, storing and the usage of personally identifiable information of individuals which can be collected. India’s supreme court upholds right to privacy as a fundamental right granted to its citizens. It is an intrinsic part of article 21 that protects life and liberty of the citizens and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by the part III of the constitution. In the instance of encroachment of privacy, with the aid of the law, necessary legal action can be taken.

Many aspects of the right to privacy have been taken into consideration when we talk about a privacy law. The preservation of personal intimacies and sexual orientation (a much debated and volatile topic in India) has been viewed one of the most essential aspect of one’s privacy. The protection of heterogeneity and the recognition of diversity in a vast country such as India is the crux of forming the law for the people. One’s right to safeguard information, emotional and physical well being and various other facets of life have been included in the formation regulation of the privacy law.

HOMOSEXUALITY

Homosexuality is romantic and sexual attraction and behaviour between member of the same gender. Many a times, a person’s identity is defined by their sexual inclination. Homosexuality is considered to be a taboo subject in the Indian society which discriminates the citizens. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in India face Gay and transgender individuals continue to face widespread discrimination in India.

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (colonial era) makes sex with the same people of the same gender punishable by law. It states that “whoever voluntarily had carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment od either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable for a fine.”

The Supreme Court’s decision to hear in open court curative petitions – the last legal recourse available to litigants – on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) is an opportunity for it to rectify the mistake of re-criminalising homosexuality in the country.

AADHAR CARD

The Aadhar card is a unique identification mark, different for every citizen of India which had been developed by the government of India, with an aim to organise the country. The project was introduced in 2009, by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). This program wants each and every citizen to have a unique number which involves an Aadhar number which involves issuing an Aadhar number as well as one Aadhar card, which can later be linked to various schemes and services that are provided by the government.

In the recent times, there have been many speculations regarding the Aadhar card and its close monitoring in every aspect of a person’s life, throwing light to the infringement of privacy felt by many citizens. A recent unanimous judgment by the Supreme Court of India (SCI) in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd) vs Union of India is a resounding victory for privacy. The ruling is the outcome of a petition challenging the constitutional validity of the Indian biometric identity scheme Aadhaar.

ABORTION

Abortion is the termination of pregnancy by the method of removing a foetus or an embryo before it can survive outside the uterus. Abortion caused purposefully is called an induced abortion. When allowed by the law, abortion in the developed world is one of the safest procedures in medicine.

Abortion in India is legal only up to twenty weeks of pregnancy under specific conditions and situations, where the continuance of the pregnancy involves risk to life for the mother or which could cause significant physical and mental health damage.

There have been many instances where unwanted pregnancies have to been carried out due to late detection, crossing the twenty weeks mark. Rape victims and unmarried girls don’t have a strong say in the legal abortion, forcing many to choose the illegal route resulting in the complications in health. Unmarried women find it difficult to abort, because the pregnancies are healthy, but they don’t want to be carried out due to the societal stigma attached to it. Many physical deformities and terminal illness the foetus might have can be detected after 25 or 28 weeks, eliminating the opportunity of an abortion if required.

There have been many debates involving the extension of the permittivity of abortion mark and discussion of giving the pregnant woman more say in whether or not the pregnancy is to be carried out, especially for the unmarried women in India.

The right to one’s own body and what happens to it has been a topic of major discussion. The privacy of an abortion and the records to be kept private has been another source of concern, the privacy of abortion records which are included in health reports posing various difficulties for the pregnant female to get proper health benefits and insurance later in life. Thus, it is high time India makes abortion laws and any laws relating to abortion as it addresses woman’s rights to health, dignity, liberty and privacy.

The various aspects of privacy have been a topic of discussion and debate in India. Granting freedom of expression and safeguarding the privacy of its citizens has been the main idea. Drafting the laws in solid words so as to have a systematic approach in the wide spectrum of privacy is essential for the privacy law in the country. To make the citizen feel safe and respected has been the main objective of the most recent hearings, moving the country to a more transparent yet safe environment.

Pandora’s Box

Traveling from an East Asian sea port, like Busan, South Korea to a European one like Rotterdam would take the average European cargo ship about 45 to 60 days- a journey that would circumvent all of Asia and Europe, passing through the Suez canal. Moreover, for such a journey, with an assumed speed of about twenty knots, traveling the 12000 nautical miles between these two ports would consume about 5000 tons of fuel. Not only does this cost a fortune, it also causes severe damage to our environment – increasing the rate of global warming and upping global smog levels. What if there was a shorter way, one that could effectively cut distance, time, cost and the carbon footprint of this journey? Introducing the fabled North-West passage.

In fact, this passage remained a myth until the year 1906, when Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first to traverse this passage over the course of three years. Further successful attempts by Henry Larsen in 1940 and Willy de Roos in 1970 opened up a whole world of opportunities for further traders. However, this passageway remained seasonally open and difficult to navigate even in the best of circumstances therefore using it as a commercial trade route remained unfeasible.

Eventually with the coming of the 21st century the world saw a rise in global temperatures, triggering a phenomenon we all know as global warming. This global warming saw a gradual melting of ice in the polar regions – leading to the complete opening of routes that hadn’t been easily accessible prior to the 21st century- namely, the northeast passage, the transpolar route and the northwest passage. Geographers predict that the northwest passage will be open to commercial use by the early 2030s – an event that would result in the reduction of thousands of miles of travel on major shipping routes. This would allow shipping companies to transport much larger ships in lesser time than the Panama Canal- the sea route that is currently in use- saving them millions of dollars in transportation. However, the opening of the north-western passage poses just as many problems as it does solutions.

One of these, a problem which has been a source of controversy since the journey of the SS Manhattan through this passage in 1969, is Canada’s claim to it. Since this strait passes through the Canadian archipelago, the Canadian government has claimed these waters as their own. They state that Canada reserves the right to decide which ships are granted transit through this strait and it can debar any vessel from traversing along the north-western passage. This is in stark disagreement with the United States of America and the European Union, who view this as more of a “transit passage”- where, although Canada retains the right to the resources, it can’t control which ships are allowed through. Inevitably, this has since led to conflict between Canada and the rest of the world.

One of the first instances of this conflict dates to 1985 when the US coast guard ship Polar sea passed through the strait en route from Greenland to Alaska. This infuriated the Canadian public despite the fact that the ship submitted to checking by Canadian officials. Tempers flared and a rift was formed between the United States and Canada. Later, in 2005, a fresh round of controversy was sparked when US nuclear submarines were alleged to have traveled through Canadian waters without any form of governmental approval. One of the first moves by Canadian prime Minister Stephen Harper as he was elected into office was to adopt a firm stance on the arctic issue, claiming that the strait was to be classified as Canadian internal waters and be referred to as such by all Canadian forces as of April 9th, 2006. In July 2007,Prime Minister Harper finally announced the building of a deep-water port in the far north, strengthening Canada’s position over the strait.

And it isn’t just the United States and Canada being affected by the opening of this passage. Consider the Russian Federation. After having planted a flag in the arctic seabed- claiming it as their own in 2007- they recently traversed this passage in an oil tanker between Norway and South Korea, taking just over 19 days. A similar journey over the Suez canal would have taken a significantly larger amount of time, marking this as the first of 15 such Russian expeditions. Even the Republic of China has laid eyes on the passage as it sees this as an amazing opportunity to minimize costs and hence increase revenue. Although neither of these countries have chosen a side in the ongoing conflict and hence could be persuaded in either direction, both have shown signs of inclination towards the United states/EU block.

Environmentalists, on the other hand, have a completely different take on the situation. They believe that we should focus on how the strait will impact nature, instead of who owns it. While on one side of the coin, the opening of the passage results in a newer shorter sea route that vastly reduces shipping distances and hence fuel; on the other we have a myriad of problems- from increased number and size of ships (leading to damaged ecosystems), oil spills, chemical leaks and general damage to flora and fauna caused by human activity. In fact, the opening of the passage itself can be discussed from an environmental standpoint as it points to increasing global warming and carbon emissions. With this multitude of problems surrounding this region, we can only hope that the powers involved take the right steps and think about the entire world community in any of their decisions, and plan for the years coming ahead.

Seeking Pseudo-Salvation

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”

                                                                                       ― Warsan Shire

People from North Korea who travel for so many miles through such horrific conditions to free themselves from the chains of misery cannot tactfully be portrayed as lazy benefit scroungers. Regardless, the asylum seekers from North Korea are treated as economic migrants by China. Almost all the repatriated defectors are subject to inhumane treatments but they still choose to boldly cross over the river to see the distant lights flickering everyday as rays of hope.

China, a permanent member of the UNSC,  flagrantly disregards the North Koreans’ refugee rights in China despite knowing that sending them back to Pyongyang would mean torture or even death.Under the Article 33 (1) of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees :“No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

China believes allowing North Korean refugees not only jeopardizes diplomatic ties with North Korea, but also affects national interests. The main concern of China is governing the stay of a large amount of refugees along with the country’s own mammoth population.

Why would someone risk being tortured, arbitrarily detained, into forced labour, raped or even being killed and migrate to a place where they aren’t even welcome – miles away from home – if it wasn’t their absolute last resort? Thinking about Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence and the part about our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, denying someone the right to escape the clutches of a gory abyss, the ‘axis of evil’ created by Kim Jong is simply ridiculing the untold norms of humanity.

The Jews hid from Hitler for they feared being shoved into concentration camps. The North Koreans flee their homeland for they know very little of what it’s like to live outside of a concentration camp. China is safeguarding the interests of its citizens, its economy and political ties and though it sympathises with the refugees, it chooses not to tackle the problem. Is that the going rate for a human life today? Haven’t our brothers and sisters already paid the price for freedom? If you can’t extend a helping hand, at least let them be.

Since when did all the pseudo-comfort zones we created for existing consume our humanity and conveniently rid us of it?

A Clash Of Cultures

‘Ew!’, cried little Mike, ‘what are you even doing?’

‘I’m just eating, can’t you see?’, retorted little Om, with a frown.

‘Yikes! You’re disgusting!’, Mike went on, loudly enough to gather the attention of the entire class.

‘You’re really mean!’, fumbled little Om as he burst out crying, ‘what’s wrong with me eating?’

‘You’re eating without a spoon, with your hands,’ said little Tim from behind, ‘and that’s just awful.’

And so, little Om went home crying on the first day of school.

Finding out who’s at fault here shouldn’t be very difficult, as one might spontaneously accuse Mike or even little Tim for this grave a felony. Although, why? Is it wrong that Mike thought that eating with one’s hands was bad? Is it wrong that he was taught to eat with spoons? Is it wrong that Tim thought like Mike did? Or is it wrong that they spoke their minds?

They’re only kids – who’d just begun schooling – who’d seen and heard whatever they had until then within the confines of their homes. They’d perhaps seen their parents only eat with cutlery for as long as they had lived and thus naturally believed that it was the only, or rather, the ‘good’ way to eat. After all, what we believe, what we think and consequently, what we do, is heavily dependent on our experiences. These experiences build the ‘eyes within our eyes’, making us see the world the way we do. As in the case above, the ‘homes’ we live in as individuals can be a euphemism for family, locality, culture, tradition, religion, country and various other similar divisions of an organised society.

When we come across people we analyse them, or more frankly, we judge them. This could well be a potential evolutionary trait, as it sets up an idea of the possible opportunities or harms a person might harbor. The parameters for this judgement are provided by the eyes within.  So, when people from other ‘homes’ come by, they are subject to this mental scrutiny, designed almost entirely by these ‘homes’ we belong to. This evaluation of an individual’s personality or motives juxtaposed against one’s own standards, comprises the central ideology of ethnocentrism.

It might seem backward amidst today’s strides for global cultural acceptance, but what we need to understand is that it is a naturally ingrained mental phenomenon and is nothing wrong, at least not in its basic definition. It’s what we do with it that makes it correct or incorrect. Stereotypes exist and there’s no denying that, so the sooner we accept this and realize the need for eliminating the negativity associated with being judgmental, the better it is for our future.

The question is, how shall we identify and then eliminate this negativity. For the former, the problem lies with how we treat people once we’ve gauged them. If you think it’s weird when a Muslim man bows down in a garden in the evening, no one’s stopping you. Instead if you go on to stop him from doing so, just because you don’t find it normal, you’re being questionable. If you think it’s inappropriate for two men to love one another, you’re free to think so. But if you try to deny them their rights due to this, just because you find it unusual, you stand on morally grey grounds. If you think it’s wrong for a woman to roam the streets late midnight, you absolutely can, but if you justify that as reason for her getting raped, you need help. Understanding that you may be the ‘others’ you’ve been judging all along for someone else; putting yourself in their place and realizing how your actions could affect those ‘others’; and that we are all diverse forms of the same living species, solves the latter half of the question.

Your ‘normal’ is only yours. So it’s best you keep it to yourself!

Ephemeral Empathy

Spur of the moment phenomena direct most of our lives today. The hundreds of assaults that took place on New Year’s Eve in Cologne were obviously condemnable. The event, described as TAHARRUSH GAMEA, made it to the international front forthwith. Thanks, perhaps, to facebook pages and the twitterati, the air got high on radical ideas and the human brains decisively co-ordinated and lead us all straight out of our comfy homes to rally against the ‘happening’.

Taharrush gamea is an Arab word meaning collective public harassment of a woman by a group of 20-30 men. Two sets of men encircle the woman; while the inner circle assaults, gropes and pulls at the woman – often tearing her clothes apart and sometimes even raping the woman – the outer circle tries to keep the public distracted. Then, the outer circle moves in and exchanges roles with the inner circle to commit the same unimaginable horrors on the woman. To think that an idea so horrifying originated in the 21st century itself (in some Muslim Nations), only to keep women journalists at bay, leaves one uncertain for the future of our world.

But, undoubtedly, assaults have happened since time immemorial, and everywhere in the world. Only when it happens in this manner, in those Muslim Nations, is it termed as Taharrush Gamea. Otherwise, it is simply called harassment. The Cologne attack was termed Taharrush SOLELY because the offenders were Muslim.

So one can wonder, has a similar thing never happened before? Has a woman never been assaulted in Cologne, or anywhere in the rest of the world? Why do only ‘big’ events lead us out to the streets? And why have we always been prejudiced against all of Islam?

According to WHO, one in every three women has been sexually assaulted at least once in her lifetime. I’m sure we haven’t witnessed a ‘million’ protests rising up against sexual assault, while each of those million victims did experience an equally horrible event. Once we are done with protesting, the event fades into oblivion within no time. The dos and don’ts we draw up once in a year during the ‘big’ events end up more like those set of rules we’d deliberately forget. We need to change this attitude of ours. We need to be affected by every small event, by every inhumane move people make.

Agreed, the offenders were migrants and Muslims. But, not all migrants or Muslims should be forced to bear the brunt of the blame of the people – who want all the migrants out of Germany just because of a few hooligans who exist in every country, cutting across all religions. Most of the migrants were genuinely escaping destruction and war in their original countries, and they desired no violence because they obviously had had their share in their lifetime. Holistically speaking, shouldn’t we be a little considerate towards them?

BUT – let the above discussion not leave an impression that we should pour our hearts out to the offenders too. Our guards need to be strengthened, because when offenders end up stating so shamelessly -“I am a Syrian, you have to treat me nicely—Mrs. Merkel invited me!” (Thanks to the liberal open door policy that ‘Mrs. Merkel’ implemented)- we know that people have started taking advantage of a sensitive situation.

 

Free of All but Responsibility

Freedom is among the most cherished possessions of mankind. Pertaining to the tendencies of the human race, freedom provides contentment, but, it brings with itself an overflow of responsibilities. It must be kept in mind that one’s freedom shouldn’t give one the right to impede another’s freedom. The ones who have freedom also have to think upon the right and wrong of their decisions. Freedom is not absolute. It needs to be respected and upheld, and at the same time, it needs to be checked.

“Supreme Court Judge says that her daughters are liabilities.” This caption along with the photograph of justice Gyan Sudha Misra was published on the front page of an English newspaper. During the disclosure of liabilities and assets, Misra had written: “two daughters to be married” in the column against liabilities. Admittedly, there was no need to mention this as only legal liabilities were to be stated, nevertheless, the newspaper was totally misleading as Ms. Misra’s intention was only to tell that she would have to spend upon her daughters’ marriage. It does not prove that her feelings and emotions towards her children were based upon the monetary expenditure of their nuptials. There are numerous cases where the media has focused upon stories merely for the TRP, and has ignored issues of greater importance. Media and press constitute an important part of society as they are fundamental in shaping our world view. Thus a judicious use of freedom and powers is important.

When we use terms like “responsibility”, it might be viewed as giving powers to the state to curtail the rights of citizens for any reasons which are favorable to them. For example, the Press Law of Syria forbids reporting on topics that are considered to be sensitive by the government. Thus the two notions of freedom and responsibility seem to contradict each other.

The depth this contradiction can attain was witnessed subsequent to the Charlie Hebdo massacre. On one side, Islamists have argued that religion should not be subject to ridicule while on the other hand, people have blamed the extremists for their actions. The claim of the French government of being a protector of free speech came into light as pro-Palestine demonstrations were banned in Paris. Many questions were raised by the international community, some being: was it right to ban the burqa? Is it sufficient to condemn the extremists or do we need to argue upon blasphemy and religious beliefs?

Ideally this battle between the ideologies of responsibility and freedom can be resolved, but our world is far from being ideal. It is difficult to draw the line where freedom should end and responsibility should begin. And who is authorized to draw this line? Should all the powers be given to the government or should there be a scope of individual judgment?