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While battling a new cluster of COVID-19 infections, authorities in Beijing have been quick to make use of geo-spatial information, collected through mobile tracking devices in people’s smartphones to identify and isolate potential virus carriers.
The technology, enabled by the device’s built-in global positioning system, has helped officials locate hundreds of thousands of people who might have been to the Xinfadi wholesale food market after late May — the possible ground zero of the latest coronavirus outbreak.
As of Sunday, authorities have confirmed a total of 236 new COVID-19 patients and 22 asymptomatic patients, many of whom are related to the market, Beijing’s health commission said in a press statement Monday.
Prior to the latest outbreak, China had accumulated more than 83,000 confirmed cases countrywide in the past six months, government statistics showed.
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Thanks to the location data, more than 700,000 people at risk of alleged exposure to the market were said to have been notified, given or arranged to be given tests just days after the Xinfadi market was closed on June 13, local media reported.
That shows how aggressive Beijing has been in containing the diseases although it also raises concerns about privacy, says Charles Mok, a lawmaker and tech entrepreneur in Hong Kong.
Some observers have long expressed worries that China’s virus tracking practices and apps, including an existent “QR code,” may outlast its outbreak.
The health QR code, which is widely used by Chinese citizens with smartphones, has since February doubled as digital entry passes in and out of residential compounds or public places after having integrated one’s travel history.
“The problem is also with privacy concerns because the biggest worry is that once this [latest practice of using spatial data] is in place, it is very difficult to take away,” Mok told VOA in a phone interview Monday.
As thorough as it can be, Beijing’s virus tracking policy in the past week appears to have gone overboard since those who weren’t in direct contact with potential virus carriers from the market also got swept up, Mok said.
The lawmaker suspected that the Chinese authorities may be conducting a social experiment to see what they can do with the data.
On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social microblogging site, many residents in Beijing complained that they only passed by the market by car or by public transportation instead of setting foot into the market, but they still received text messages from the city government, which asked them to fill out a digital questionnaire before tests for virus were arranged.
Local media reported on Sunday that the city government in Beijing had completed testing of more than 2.3 million citizens, or around 10% of its population of 21 million.
Many say that they felt they had to comply with the city government’s instructions in order to ease their own minds as well.
“Needless to say, we civilians are completely naked in front of the telecom operators,” one Weibo user commented, responding to other netizens’ complaints about a lack of privacy as a result of the government’s expansive virus tracking policy.
Another user wrote, “you’ve given up right to privacy when you started using the mobile phone. Shall [telecom operators] make illegal use of your privacy [data], they can be prosecuted. However, when personal safety is at stake, it becomes a way to control [the outbreak],” he added.
That comment, Mok said, showed that Chinese people were becoming more and more tolerant of the government’s digital measures in stemming the epidemic.
It worries him, he said, because the Chinese government can easily find excuses in the future to extend its tracking policy for political reasons, and keep tabs on political dissidents.
It comes as no surprise that China would find the technology useful in tracking potential virus carriers, as the government has long used technology to impose online censorship or block keywords on the Internet, said a tech professor from Taiwan, who specializes in mining geo-spatial data for commercial use.
Combining the use of facial recognition and geo-spatial data, China has been successful in tracking citizens whose online comments were found to be critical of the government, the professor told VOA on the condition of anonymity given the matter’s sensitivity.
He said that many governments, including Taiwan’s, are using similar technology to help control the virus. He added some have erected a virtual “electronic fence” to track the whereabouts of those under home quarantine.
But most governments are not as aggressive and invasive as China, which he said has shown little respect for individual’s privacy while accessing personal data, he added.
In lieu of regulations protecting personal information in China, telecom operators there also have little power in rejecting the government’s demand for personal information or exposing its misuse of private data, especially when the top management of many companies is politically connected, the professor added. (VOA)
Kerala is a land of many good things. It has an abundance of nature, culture, art, and food. It is also a place of legend and myth, and is known for its popular folklore, the legend of Yakshi. This is not a popular tale outside the state, but it is common knowledge for travellers, especially those who fare through forests at night.
The legend of the yakshi is believed to be India's equivalent of the Romanian Dracula, except of course, the Yakshi is a female. Many Malayalis believe that the Yakshi wears a white saree and had long hair. She has a particular fragrance, which is believed to be the fragrance of the Indian devil-tree flowers. She seduces travellers with her beauty, and kills them brutally.
Yakshi idol in Veroor, Sri Dharamashastha temple Image source: wikimedia commons
The Yakshi is believed to live in a palm tree which can appear like a palace. Victims are taken here before they are killed. Travellers on highways are often advised not to stop near heavily forested areas, or speak to anyone who closely resembles a Yakshi. Some believe she can change form, while other hold to the belief that she doesn't. after securing her victim, the only trace left behind is body parts like hair, nails, and teeth.
They say, like other ghosts, a Yakshi's feet will not touch the ground. This is something to look out for. Mysterious deaths have been reported across the rural areas in Kerala, and all these have been attributed to the legend.
Keywords: Legends, Yakshi, Urban legend, Ghost, Kerala, Myth, Vampire
The LGBTQ+ acronym stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and others. In India LGBTQ+ community also include a specific social group, part religious cult, and part caste: the Hijras. They are culturally defined either as "neither men nor women" or as men who become women by adopting women's dress and behavior. Section 377 of the India Penal code that criminalized all sexual acts "against the order of nature" i.e. engaging in oral sex or anal sex along with other homosexual activities were against the law, ripping homosexual people off of their basic human rights. Thus, the Indian Supreme Court ruled a portion of Section 377 unconstitutional on 6th September 2018.
But the question is, "was India always against homosexuality"? Has the concept of homosexuality being unnatural existed forever? No, in Indian history and Hinduism homosexuality has never been an offense, in fact in several instances it has been depicted how people embraced their identity, be it sexual identity or gender identity. Section 377 was brought to India by the British in 1862, while India was colonized. Even after the Independence, it was only in 2018 that the Supreme Court ruled it as irrational and illogical.
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Homosexuality in Ancient India
When Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality in India, there was an uproar about it being a western ideology and liberalism. But in reality, homosexuality has existed since the time of the Vedas. The Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association (GALVA) researched and discovered that it was around 3102 B.C. (during the Vedic Age) that homosexuality or non-normative sexual identity was recognized as "Tritiya Prakriti", or the third nature. Ancient India not only made mentions of homosexuality but accepted it as well.
Hinduism is the most vastly followed religion in India. Hinduism does not explicitly mention homosexuality however it does contain a homosexual theme and characters in its text. There have been various instances in our scriptures and texts that have introduced us to LGBT+ characters such as the androgynous form of Shiva and Parvati Ardhanariswara meaning "the half-female lord". One of the most popular and ancient texts on sexuality, eroticism, and emotional fulfillment of life, "Kamasutra" has a complete chapter dedicated to homosexuality and homosexual sex. Numerous Hindu sculptures and temples have statues depicting homosexual activities.
Numerous Hindu sculptures and temples have statues depicting homosexual activities. Facebook
Our Mughals were Queer
Mughals are often seen under the light of cruelty, rigid ethics, nobility, and polygamy. Simultaneously, Mughals are also the ones credited for the emergence of Sufism, abolished jizya tax, love beyond religion, classes, and gender.
In the Baburnama written in memoirs of our very first Mughal ruler Muhammad Babur, several instances documented Babur's infatuation and affection towards a teenage boy named Baburi. We also have multiple Persian couplets as evidence of Babur's affection for Baburi. Mughals engaged in homosexuality and pederasty, and they believed that later was a form of "pure love".
But as time passed homosexuality was suppressed more and more though people practiced it in secret if revealed they were punished. According to the Fatwa-e-Alamgiri Sharia-based text of the Mughal Empire, there is a common set of punishments for homosexuality, which could include 50 lashes for a slave, 100 for a free infidel, or death by stoning for a Muslim.
British Raj and Independence of India
In 1862, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalized homosexual sex came into force. Even after Independence in 1947, the section remained a part of the Indian Constitution. There were protests all over the country to give people of the LGBT+ community basic human rights but it was not until 2018 that The Supreme Court of India ruled the portion of Section 377 has unconstitutional and struck it off. One judge said the landmark decision would "pave the way for a better future.". With Section 377 gone are LGBT+ people allowed to fall in love freely? No, people are still afraid to love because of the stigma in our society when it comes to homosexuality; they are seen as lesser humans.
ALSO READ: Significant Support for Rights for LGBTQ+
Although the Supreme Court has decriminalized homosexual activities, same-sex marriage remains illegal in the country. Homophobia is still prevalent in India, and homosexual children would rather commit suicide than come out to society with their true identity, that's how harsh of a world we live in. Lacking support from family, society, or police, many gay rape victims do not report the crimes. In 1977, writer and Indian mathematician Shakuntla Devi published "The World of Homosexuals". It was the first study in the Indian context; the book contains interviews with homosexual men set in the years of Emergency. She wrote, "rather than pretending that homosexuals don't exist it is time we face the facts squarely in the eye and find room for homosexual people." We've had small victories in our fight against homophobia and getting LGBT+ community the rights they deserve as humans, but we still have a long and exhausting fight ahead of us.
The Mysore kingdom became a popular tourist destination after India became an independent country. The Wodeyar dynasty who succeeded Tipu Sultan are still royalty, but they do not rule the state. Their heritage and culture have become what Karnataka is famous for.
Among the many things that Mysore offers to the state of Karnataka, the Mysore Peta is one. In north India, various cultures have their own headgears. They wear their traditional outfits on the days of festivities and ceremonies. Likewise, in the south, especially in Karnataka, the Mysore Peta is worn.
Made of the traditional Mysore silk, the Peta is usually a white turban decorated with a gold silk thread. It is worn by the Maharaja of Mysore during Dasara, or any other public appearance. This tradition has been preserved and is used all over the state by prominent leaders.
Politicians who want to appease older, more experienced politicians, offer a peta as a sign of honour. International guests are welcomed into the city with a peta and silk shawl. In universities, the peta is worn as a replacement to the black caps, as a sign of graduation and scholarship.
Even today, in the court of Mysore, petas are worn and given out as tokens of honour. The peta of the king varies from the ones a courtier wears, and even among them, there is a difference according to status. Petas are made by a particular family and passed down from generation to generation.
Keywords: Mysore kingdom, peta, silk, Wodeyar