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NEW DELHI—After mounting a spirited challenge to centuries-old traditions, Indian women have gained access to the inner sanctum of a key Hindu temple that had prohibited them from entering for hundreds of years, and are spearheading a movement to have similar bans overturned in other temples and a historic mosque.
When 31-year-old activist Trupti Desai set foot on the platform where the deity of the Shani Shingnapur temple is placed, it was hailed as a huge victory for gender equality in a country where large strata of society remain patriarchal.
Desai’s entry in Ahmednagar in Western Mahasrashtra state this month, along with a small group of other women, marked the culmination of a high-profile campaign that she launched five months ago on hearing that priests had conducted a purification ritual in the temple after a woman offered prayers to the idol.
After police foiled Desai’s attempt to literally parachute from a helicopter onto the raised platform of the open-air temple earlier this year, women activists mounted a legal challenge to the ban.
The Mumbai High Court ruled in their favor, saying it was a fundamental right of women to access any place of worship where men are allowed, and that authorities should facilitate their entry into temples that ban them.
After some resistance, the temple trustees finally threw open the inner sanctum to women. It has not happened easily; the activists had to enter armed with a court order and protected by a ring of policemen because they faced angry counter protests by locals who wanted to protect the temple from what they felt was its desecration by women.
Women have challenged the ban on their entry to the mausoleum at the famous Haji Ali Dargah, a shrine and mosque situated on an islet off Mumbai’s coast. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
“Many people had said that ’til the sun, moon and stars exist, you will never be able to set foot here. I am very happy that women’s power has won, and tradition has lost,” said Desai after tasting victory.
She said her movement does not target religious practices; it aims to fight the notion that women have a lesser status. Most Hindu temples allow women, but a handful of prominent ones have shut the doors on them.
As the campaign to change the status quo gains traction, women have set their sights on other temples with similar restrictions. At least two – the well-known Trimbakeshwar temple in Nashik and Mahalaxmi temple in Kolhapur – lifted their bans on women this month.
But the battle is not over, as similar campaigns are playing out in other parts of the country. The most high-profile one is for access to the famous Sabarimala Ayyappa temple in Kerala state in Southern India, which does not allow women of reproductive age to enter the temple. The ban is born out of the belief that menstruating women are impure.
The Supreme Court, which is due to rule on a challenge to that centuries-old custom, has said it will the test this restriction on the basis of the constitution.
“What right does the temple have to forbid women from entering any part of the temple? Can you deny a woman her right to climb Mount Everest? The reasons for banning anything must be common for all,” said Justice Dipak Misra, one of the three judges said during a recent hearing.
Temple authorities have defended the tradition saying the deity being worshipped is a celibate.
It is not just Hindu temples that are coming under pressure to allow women. Muslim women petitioners have challenged a ban on them in the mausoleum at the 15th century Haji Ali Dargah, one of the country’s most prominent mosques in Mumbai and a famous city landmark. The restrictions were imposed in 2011 by trustees who said allowing women in the proximity of the tomb of a revered saint is “a grievous sin” in Islam.
Zakia Soman, the co-founder of a Muslim women’s rights group (Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan), questions the ban, saying both men and women are allowed right into the holiest place for all Muslims in Mecca.
She said they went to court after efforts to have a dialogue with the trustees made no headway making it clear that as women raise their voice for equality, “these people are getting even more regressive than what they are. We cannot just allow this to pass, we have got to fight it.”
Most Hindu temples, like this one in Gurgaon, do not ban women. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
Women’s rights advocates describe the movement to enter places of worship as an important milestone in the quest for gender equality. They say what is significant is the campaign took root in a relatively small town and not in the big cities, where such battles are usually waged.
A professor of sociology at Delhi University, Mala Shankar Das Kapoor, points out that these campaigns have been drawing nationwide attention.
“A lot of more people will realize that these things need to be stopped, so that gives the women who have been deprived a little more courage to stand for their rights and express themselves. All this adds to the confidence of women asking for equality,” she said. (VOA)
By Nikhila Natarajan
In a continuing study on the effects of machine learning (ML) on public conversation, Twitter has confirmed that its algorithms amplify right-leaning political content. "In six out of seven countries - all but Germany - tweets posted by accounts from the political right receive more algorithmic amplification than the political left when studied as a group," Twitter blogged.
"Right-leaning news outlets, as defined by the independent organisations, see greater algorithmic amplification on Twitter compared to left-leaning news outlets." Since 2016, Twitter users are able to choose between viewing algorithmically ordered tweets first in their home timeline or viewing the most recent tweets in reverse chronological order.
"An algorithmic home timeline displays a stream of tweets from accounts we have chosen to follow on Twitter, as well as recommendations of other content Twitter thinks we might be interested in based on accounts we interact with frequently, tweets we engage with, and more. "As a result, what we see on our timeline is a function of how we interact with Twitter's algorithmic system, as well as how the system is designed."
The new research is based on tweets of elected officials of House of Commons members in Canada, the French National Assembly, the German Bundestag, House of Representatives in Japan, Congress of Deputies of Spain, House of Commons in the UK, and official and personal accounts of House of Representatives and Senate members in the US, as well as news outlets, from April 1 to August 15, 2020.
Tweets about political content from elected officials, regardless of party or whether the party is in power, do see algorithmic amplification when compared to political content on the reverse chronological timeline. | Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash
The study was conducted by Ferenc Huszar (Twitter, University of Cambridge), Sofia Ira Ktena (now at DeepMind Technologies), Conor O'Brien (Twitter), Luca Belli (Twitter), Andrew Schlaikjer (Twitter), and Moritz Hardt (UC Berkeley).
The questions probed were:
How much algorithmic amplification does political content from elected officials receive in Twitter's algorithmically ranked Home timeline versus in the reverse chronological timeline? Does this amplification vary across political parties or within a political party?
Are some types of political groups algorithmically amplified more than others? Are these trends consistent across countries?
Are some news outlets amplified more by algorithms than others? Does news media algorithmic amplification favour one side of the political spectrum more than the other?
Tweets about political content from elected officials, regardless of party or whether the party is in power, do see algorithmic amplification when compared to political content on the reverse chronological timeline. (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: algorithmically, timeline, algorithmic, tweets, political, survey
Even as India celebrates reaching a milestone of 100 crore Covid vaccine doses, Snapdeal co-founder and COO Rohit Bansal on Friday lauded a man who facilitated 64 registrations for the vaccine on the CoWin portal. In a video shared on his Facebook and Twitter page, Bansal hailed Sonu Kumar as a "citizen celebrity".
Bansal said that Kumar not only helped "just co-workers and family but complete strangers too. With patience, empathy and uncanny jugaad". He added that Kumar joined him "many moons ago" and completed his open school from a parking lot.
"Education has helped this wonderful man enable others to get India back on track. Bravo! The CoWin portal on Thursday mentioned that a total of 100 crore vaccine doses has been administered so far to the eligible population under the vaccination drive in India, nine months after the nationwide inoculation programme was started to protect the people against Covid-19.
"It's a cause of significant celebration and happiness," Bansal said in the video. He said that while people just help a few around them, Kumar "bridged the digital gap" for 64 people, who were finding it difficult to register themselves online on the vaccine portal. Kumar said he doesn't feel that he has contributed much towards the 100 crore vaccine dose count. "I have been able to help only 64 people, if I was able to help more I would have been happier." (IANS/ MBI)
Keywords: cowin, covid, india, people, Rohit bansal, Sonu kumar, vaccine
KAMPALA, UGANDA — Uganda has kickstarted a trial for the injectable HIV drugs cabotegravir and rilpivirine. Researchers and those living with HIV say the trial will likely end pill fatigue, fight stigma, improve adherence and ensure patients get the right dosage.
The two drugs have been in use as tablets. The World Health Organization last year licensed their use as injectables.
While the two injectables already went through trials in Europe and North America, this will be the first time they are tested in an African population for efficacy and safety in an African health care system.
Uganda is one of three African countries, along with Kenya and South Africa, which got approval from the WHO to carry out the trials. However, Kenya and South Africa have yet to acquire approvals to start their trials, expected by the end of the year.
Uganda and Kenya will both have three trial sites and there will be two in South Africa, with a total of 512 participants -- 202 from Uganda, 160 from Kenya and 150 from South Africa.
Dr. Ivan Mambule, the lead project researcher at the Joint Clinical Research Center, says participants will need one injection every two months.
"We are going to choose participants who are already on ART [anti-retroviral treatment] and are stable on ART. And we will randomize them to either continue on their normal treatment, which is the pill that they've been taking, or to switch them to this injectable. The injection is on the buttock," he expressed.
In this photo taken in Nov. 15, 2012 a patient, right, is attended to, at the US sponsored Themba Lethu, HIV/AIDS Clinic at the Helen Joseph hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa Image credit: VOA
Uganda has 1.4 million people living with HIV/AIDS. Barbara Kemigisa who is living with HIV and founded the Pill Power Foundation working with rural women, says the injectable drugs will increase adherence to treatment and ensure people get the right dosage.
"One of the things that affects adherence is the fact that people have to hide medicine. In the village, people are hiding medicine in the kitchen roof, in trees, in bushes, in a baby's shoe…If someone is wrapping the medicine in like five plastic bags and digs a hole in the garden and keeps the medicine there, by the time someone is taking that medicine, it's no longer medicine, it's poison," Kemigisa points out.
Nicholas Niwagaba, who has worked with young people living with HIV welcomes the trial, saying it will reduce the pill burden and fight stigma.
"Young people feel like, this is a lot of pills to take. Those who are on the first line, they will have to take one tablet a day. There are those who are on second line and they have to take more than one pill and they have to take it in the morning and in the evening. And of course, this requires you to have actually a balanced diet which is really a challenge for most of young people especially those from vulnerable communities," he says.
According to the WHO, there are 25.7 million people living with HIV in Africa. With only the pill currently available to manage the scourge, this injectable may come as a relief for people living with HIV/AIDS. (VOA/RN)
(This article is originally by Halima Athumani)
Keywords: HIV, WHO, Africa, Research, Uganda