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By KS Jayaraman
Bengaluru: Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech claims to make a “breakthrough” in developing two “candidate vaccines” against the deadly Zika virus, which has already aroused a global emergency, alarming many virologists.
The vaccines are said to be a “made in India” product.
Krishna Ella, managing director of Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech, announced last week that his company is probably the first in the world to file a “global patent” for its vaccines against the virus that is suspected to cause birth defects and neurological problems and is terrorizing Brazil and other countries in South America. The company said it started work on the vaccines a year ago using “live” Zika virus. But, despite repeated requests from reporters, neither Ella nor the company’s spokesperson revealed from where or when the company got this virus.
“It is a serious question,” said Kalyan Banerjee, a renowned virologist and former director of the National Institute of Virology in Pune, a premier laboratory under the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
“Normally one should not import any exotic virus into the country under any pretext,” Banerjee told reporters in an email. “Only the government of India’s biotechnology board or a similar body is authorized to give permission to import after ascertaining all aspects of the virus.”
“It is amazing how the said laboratory obtained the live virus, particularly when there is no record of isolation of Zika virus from the Indian subcontinent,” Banerjee said.
The Zika virus is spread by the Aedes Aegypti species of mosquitoes that are abundant in India.
“Regarding the company getting the virus and making a vaccine, it needs to be carefully investigated,” Banerjee said, pointing out that “loopholes in the import of pathogenic agents may lead to national disaster”.
He said strict vigilance was one of the main reasons why the yellow fever virus – which is also spread by Aedes mosquitoes and causes a fatal disease – never came to India.
Durga Rao, another leading virologist at the Indian Institute of Science here, agrees.
One can import a virus from any source with approval from ICMR or the department of biotechnology, “but an unauthorized introduction of a virus which is not reported yet in India by anyone could be a serious regulatory problem as it can get into the environment easily under our unsupervised facilities”, Rao said in an email.
But inquiries reveal that the vaccine maker failed to follow the standard procedure for importing the live Zika virus whose potential threat to newborns forced the World Health Organization on February 1 to declare a global emergency.
“We did not import the virus and Bharat (Biotech) got it themselves,” ICMR director general Soumya Swaminathan told reporters in an email to a query if the company sought its permission to import.
“There are safety concerns with Zika virus vaccine — so all steps in regulatory approval need to be followed,” she said.
Asked if the DBT gave the permission, its secretary K Vijayraghavan – instead of an emphatic yes or no – said that the question “is best addressed to the industry concerned”. In an email, he said the DBT is committed to working with ICMR and the health Ministry to ensure preparedness.
Apart from its reluctance to reveal the source of the virus used to develop the vaccines, the company has declined to give details about the global patent it claims to have filed in July 2015.
A search of the Indian Patent Office website for Bharat Biotech’s patent applications, or the company’s own website, does not show any specific filing for the Zika virus. One patent expert told reporters that “it is possible that the patent office hasn’t yet published this patent application”.
Some scientists are impressed – and at the same time intrigued – by the Indian company’s foresight in trying to develop a vaccine for a disease that was not yet there.
According to a report in the journal Science, “less than a year ago, Zika seemed too trivial for anyone to bother developing countermeasures”, and Brazil reported its first case (microcephaly) of Zika virus only in May 2015.
“But Bharat Biotech says it started work on the vaccine as early as in 2014 and filed for patents for two vaccines in July 2015 itself,” said one medical researcher who did not want to be named. “This defies credibility.”
But Bharat Biotech has dismissed this argument saying the company was already developing vaccines for chikungunya and dengue and it was natural to work also on a vaccine for Zika virus which too is spread by the same species of mosquito.
Although the Indian company has an early start in vaccine development, bringing the vaccine to the market will be years away, experts say. There is no monkey model yet to enable comparisons of candidate vaccines and human trials have to be done in endemic countries like Brazil, not in India. (IANS)
Tenali Ramakrishna, or Tenali Raman as he is more popularly known is Birbal's equivalent in South India. A court jester and a scholar exuding great wisdom, Tenali Raman was known as one of the greatest courtiers in King Krishnadevaraya's court.
The Vijayanagar Empire ruled a large part of South India between 1336 and 1646. In the 16th century, the kingdom rose to prominence under the eminent leadership of King Krishnadevaraya. His continuous victories against his enemies ensured a successful and peaceful reign for his subjects. As a patron of art and literature, many crafts and cultural assets thrived in the empire.
Krishnadevaraya's beloved courtier, Tenali Raman is the finest example of the splendour of the Vijayanagar empire. He was born in Tenali, a town in Andhra Pradesh. He lived here until he lost his father, after which his mother brought him to Vijayanagar. He was discovered for his excellent wit and wisdom, and appointed in the court. He was one of the king's ashtadiggajas (collective name for the eight poets and scholars).
A statue of Tenali Ramakrishna near a Municipal Office in Andhra Pradesh Image source: wikimedia commons
Tenali Raman as a scholar, published great texts of wisdom, which have now become artefacts of the Kingdom of Vijayanagara. But his fame does not lie in these achievements. He is known for the mischievous jester that mythical folklore portrays him to be. Through stories, many writers have used jokes to impart wisdom and morals to many generations of people. The stories of Tenali Raman are almost legendary in the Southern peninsula.
Textbooks have been written with his moral stories in mind, and these days, many self-help book are also incorporating his wisdom. His most popular stories are, 'Mother Tongue', 'Cursed Face', 'Saluting the Donkeys' and many more. Through these stories, Tenali Raman, in some way, brought about social justice. Perhaps this is why he is most beloved by many people even today.
Keywords: Tenali Raman, Vijayanagar empire, Krishnadevaraya, Jester, Wisdom
It must be noted that different religions and societies in Southeast Asia have alternative narratives of Ramayana, one of the greatest epic.
Here are some of the versions of Ramayana!
Dasaratha Jakarta: The Buddhist Version
Interestingly, this version of Ramayana does not mention Ravana at all and in fact, there’s no mention of Sita’s abduction, too. In this version, Dasaratha is the king of Benaras and not Ayodhya. Also, Rama and Sita leaves kingdom and go to the Himalayas and not forests. Then, after twelve years, Rama and Sita return back to Benaras and get married.
Paumachariya: The Jaina Version
In this version, Lakshamana is the killer of Ravana and not Rama. Here, Rama is an ardent follower of Jainism, and so he cannot be the killer of Ravana. Also, this version states an army of warrior and not monkeys, as stated in Valmiki’s Ramayana. Another interesting feature of this version is that Ramayana is not shown as a villain, rather a magnanimous king and follower of Jainism.
Gond Ramayani: The Gond Version
Gond is an adivasi clan belonging from Madhya Pradesh in India. Interestingly, in this version, the story begins from where Valmiki’s Ramayana ended; when Sita is rescued from captivity. Also, Bhima, one of the Pandavas from the epic of Mahabharata, is mentioned in this version. Unlike Valmiki’s Ramayana, Rama is not the protagonist in this version.
Ramakien: The Thai Version
This is considered as Thailand's national epic, and is still taught in some schools in the country. In this version, Ravana is shown as a learned scholar and a noble king in this version. Also, Ravana’s pursuit for Sita is depicted as true love. There are a lot of similarities between this version of Ramayana and Valmiki’s version, but this version lays a lot of emphasis on Hanuman.
When a baby is born in an Indian household-they invite hijra to shower the newborn with their blessings for their blessings confer fertility, prosperity, and long life on the child. But when that child grows up we teach them to avert their eyes when a group of hijras passes by, we pass on the behaviour of treating hijras as lesser humans to our children. Whenever a child raises a question related to gender identity or sexuality they are shushed down. We're taught to believe that anything "deviant" and outside of traditional cis-heteronormativity is something to be ashamed of. This mentality raises anxious, scared queer adults who're ashamed of their own identity, and adults who bully people for "queer behaviour".
Hijras are a community of people who include eunuchs, intersex, and transgender people. They worship the Hindu goddess of chastity and fertility, Bahuchara Mata. Most hijras, but not all, choose to undergo a castration ceremony known as "nirvana" in which they remove their male genitalia as an offering to their goddess. The whole community is vibrant with hundreds of people with hundreds of ways of expression, the true identity of a hijra is complex and unique to each individual. In India, hijras prefer to refer to themselves as Kinner/Kinnar as it means the mythological beings who excel at singing and dancing.
Hijras worship the Hindu goddess of chastity and fertility, Bahuchara Mata.homegrown.co.in
The hijra community works systematically, the community separates itself from the outside world and teaches lessons to the young ones in secret. Each community has a guru and the other hijras are their disciples or chela. The "hijra ways of life" are taught to the disciples in a secluded environment where they leave their families and live with other hijras in the community. More often than not hijras are thought of as nothing different from transgender and often referred to as transgender; however, scientifically these two terms denote a different class of people. Hijras are a part of the whole community of people with various identities and of spiritual and cultural values meanwhile, transgender merely refers to those people whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned to them at birth, they are a part of the community and do not represent the whole community.
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Historically and culturally the community has existed in the Indian subcontinent as long as the civilization has existed. There are mentions of hijra in The Mahabharata, a holy book of Hindus. Shikhandi who was neither male nor female is a mythological legend. In another version of Mahabharata Arjuna, one of the Pandavas was cursed to be the third gender by Urvashi, when he refused to be sexually involved with her. In a story by Padma Purana, it is seen that Arjuna transforms into a woman to take part in Krishna's mystical dance which only women can take part in. The Hijra figures are prominent in Indian Mughal History as well, referred to as Khwaja Siras and known for their loyalty to the ruler, they worked as the sexless watchdogs of the Mughal harems. They held important positions in court and various facets of administration during Mughal-era India, from the 16th to 19th century. The Hijra community is a testament to the sexual diversity that is integral yet often forgotten in Indian culture.
If the whole hijra community was looked upon with enamor and respect in our history, what happened that when we come across the community we look at them with contempt and are filled with a mixture of negative, fear, laughter, and odd emotions. It's owing to the fact that under British Raj, the Criminal tribes Act 1871 hijras were criminalized and the law was made to eradicate the whole community. However, these acts were abolished by the Indian government after independence, and by 2014, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh all had officially recognized third gender people as citizens deserving of equal rights where the third gender means individuals categorizing themselves as neither male nor female. Even though the progress is slow but in 2015 Madhu Kinnar became the first hijra mayor in India was elected in the city of Raigarh.
ALSO READ: India's first Residential Transgender
Although the hijra community was revered by society and is invited to births and weddings for religious and spiritual ceremonies, they still become victims of abuse and discrimination. Violence and hate crimes against the community have become common. They are deprived of education, job opportunities, seating in restaurants, etc. leading them to live in poor conditions barely surviving. They often have to resort to begging and prostitution to earn a daily living. The government has tried to address this issue by introducing bills for the protection of the hijra community, with prison terms and other punishments for those offending them, but there is little to no less effect on the social stigma against the community.
In India, the hijra community comes under the umbrella term LGBTQ+ and we notice that they lack voice and representation when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights. We need to understand that when we fight for LGBTQ+ rights we fight for the whole community, we fight for hijras who have been victims of violence, hate crimes, and disrespect from none other than the people of our society. And although hijras are a part of the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, they have an independent subculture of their own. It is worth every effort to know about them, to study about them, to befriend them, and to smile at them for they are every bit of human as we are and they have nothing but blessings in their heart.