WORLD INTHAVAARAM, 2021–48
About: the world this week, 21 November to 27 November 2021, maybe another coronavirus wave in the making, America in black & white, India sends its new Farm Laws to the ground, the President of India on an award delivering spree, and dead meat eating, honey making bees.
This week saw Europe battle yet another surge of the never-say-quit coronavirus induced Covid-19. A fourth Wave? Germany is thinking lockdown; Portugal — one for the most vaccinated in the world -announced a week of contact containment after declaring a state of calamity; Czech Republic declared a state of emergency; Slovenia announced a nationwide lockdown; France, Switzerland, and Italy saw the biggest one day increases on record. Austria is already in the swing of a full national lockdown. The story goes on…
A New Variant, B.1.1.529, named ‘Omicron’-declared as a Variant of Concern-is the new hungry kid doing the rounds. It has over 32 mutations in its -now awfully familiar-spike protein and was first discovered in South Africa were the cases shot up by 321% from last week. After the Delta Variant, Omicron is becoming infamous.
The United States (US) is also seeing a spike in Covid-19 cases during this Thanksgiving Season.
Where Art Thou, O Lady of Justice?
On another battle front, the US was busy fighting its internal black & white ghosts — punishing shooters, releasing some, and breaking-out innocent people caught in prisons. Lots of red in the proceedings.
A Jury in the US found three white men guilty of killing a 25 year old black man, Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot while jogging in Brunswick, Georgia, in 2020. The details are inexplicable and stunning: two white men claiming concerns about several break-ins in the neighbourhood, grabbed their guns, jumped into a truck pursued — stalked and cornered — Arbery who was on his usual jog of the day; and later, joined by a third white man, shot and killed Arbery with a shotgun. The best part is, the three killers had the audacity to say that they were ‘defending themselves’ while ‘attempting to make a citizen’s arrest’. Taking law into their own hands without an iota of evidence?
In another story, 61 year old Anthony Broadwater who spent 16 years in prison for a rape he did not commit was finally exonerated this week. He was convicted of the rape of author Alice Sebold, who wrote the fiction book, ‘The Lovely Bones’ and a memoir called ‘Lucky’ in which she detailed the rape, which happened to her when she was a freshman at Syracuse University, in 1981. Based on the memoir and a line-up identification parade, Broadwater who was then 20 years old was arrested. He had just returned home to Syracuse following a brief stint in the Marine Corps.
Anthony Broadwater was released from prison in 1998, but the conviction and subsequent sex offender status tagged him relentlessly, and would have been nailed on him for the rest of his life, if it were not for the exoneration. He struggled to find work after getting out of jail, when employers dug out his criminal record. However, he managed by creating work for himself, doing landscaping, tree removal, hauling, clean-outs etc. Broadwater met the woman to be his wife in 1999 and gave her the transcripts and other documents of his case, telling her to read them and decide if she wanted to be with him. She believed him and decided, ‘Yes’. She wanted to have kids but he did not want to bring children in to the world because of his situation and tarnished name…and now he says it’s too late.
Broadwater said, “I never gave up. I could never, ever give up and live under these conditions…I was going to do everything I could to prove my innocence”. On Sebold, Broadwater said he would like an apology, “I sympathise with her, on what happened to her” he said. “I just hope there’s a sincere apology. I would accept it. I’m not bitter or have malice towards her”.
In yet another story of wrongful confinement in prison,Kevin Strickland, 62 years old, spend more than 43 years in prison — the longest prison time for a wrongful conviction in the history of US State of Missouri. Strickland was convicted in 1979 for the murders of three people, in 1978, who were killed when four suspects broke into a Kansas City Bungalow. The only person who survived the shootings, Cynthia Douglas identified Strickland as one of the suspects. However, she later said police pressured her to tie Strickland to the crime. Strickland had long maintained his innocence saying that he was at home watching Television during the time of the shootings. Cynthia Douglas, who died in 2015 realised her mistake and spent years trying to clear Strickland’s name.
Now, on to some real shooting… killing and actually getting away with it. In August 2020 Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17 year old from Antioch, Illinois fatally shot and wounded two men and wounded another in Kenosha, Wisconsin. This was during protests, riots, and civil unrest following the shooting of a black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer. Rittenhouse and the three men he shot were white. In this case, the Jury reached a ’not guilt’ verdict and Rittenhouse was absolved of all charges. Here, the self defence stand worked- in a State where the Law allows a person to defend himself using firearms.
In the image of the blind-folded Lady of Justice the sword always stays below the scales, which signifies that the sword must be raised only after the evidence is carefully-weighed on a balance, with impartiality. Was the sword raised too soon?
That’s a lot of fire to breathe this week. What do we make of it all? How many Counts of Monte Cristo are we making — with or without the revenge angle?
It’s worth recalling Martin Luther King Jr saying,”Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
India’s Farm Laws Sent To The Ground, Plough Again?
Late last week, in an unexpected turn India’s Prime Minister (PM) announced repealing of Three Farm Laws — passed by India’s Parliament last year. The new Farm Laws were aimed at modernising India’s agriculture sector, giving farmers more freedom to sell their produce, while retaining crucial Minimum Support Prizes. However, it sparked year long protests, mostly in the North Indian States, which refused to go away, and caused spin-off incidents leading to many lives being lost in a growing surge of protests.
India’s PM accepted failure in not being able to implement the new Farm Laws, despite it being said by nearly every Economist worth his money, that the laws were pathbreaking and would unshackle Indian agriculture.
The PM said, “I apologise to the people of the country with a true and pure heart… we were not able to convince farmers. There must have been some deficiency in our efforts that we could not convince some farmers.”
The PM has shown sagacity and a nerve to listen and climb down, which his opponents said he did not have, painting him as an unbending leader. Sometimes stepping back can lead to a great leap forward. Tomorrow is another day!
Keeping Warm Ahead of Winter
With Winter looking to enter New Delhi, the President of India is trying to keep Rashtrapathi Bhavan warm, with a footfall of awards. I reckon he is working on a clever climate change mitigation plan warming-up our hearts too with all these presentations. He walks down to-to pin that medal on a deserving chest and rushes back to claim his high seat. It began with the Civilian Awards- The Padmas- and then ran into the Sports Awards -Khel Ratna — and this week it is the Gallantry Awards presented to the bravest of Indians.
Gallantry Awards have been instituted by the Government of India to honour the acts of bravery and sacrifice of the officers of the Armed Forces, other lawfully constituted forces and civilians. Beginning this Monday the President, who is the Supreme Commander of the Indian Armed Forces, presented Gallantry Awards 2021 and Distinguished Service Decorations in a Defence Investiture Ceremony at Rashtrapathi Bhavan.
What are the Gallantry Awards?
In the period just after its Independence, India had three gallantry awards: Param Vir Chakra, Maha Vir Chakra, and Vir Chakra. Thereafter, three other gallantry awards, Ashoka Chakra Class-I, Ashoka Chakra Class-II and Ashoka Chakra Class-III were instituted by the Government on 4 January, 1952. Subsequently these awards were renamed as Ashoka Chakra, Kirti Chakra and Shaurya Chakra respectively, in January, 1967. Order of precedence of these awards is, the Param Vir Chakra, the Ashoka Chakra, the Maha Vir Chakra, the Kirti Chakra, the Vir Chakra and the Shaurya Chakra.
Some of the awards, for the year are: Maha Vir Chakra to Colonel Bikumalla Santosh Babu, who was martyred in the violent clashes with Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley during Operation Snow Leopard; Vir Chakra Award to Indian Air Force pilot, Group Captain Abhinandan Varthaman, who shot down a Pakistan F-16 fighter jet in the Balakot Surgical Strikes; Vir Chakra to Havildar K Palani who was also martyred along with Col Santosh Babu at Galwan Valley. Kirti Chakra (posthumously) to Sapper Prakash Jadhav for neutralising terrorists in an operation in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). Shaurya Chakra (posthumously) to Naib Subedar Sombir for killing an A-Plus-Plus category terrorist during an operation in J&K.
Watching the receipt of the awards, by family members of those who had made the supreme sacrifice for the country, was heart-wrenching and unforgettable. It brought more than a tear to the eye. It touched a chord deep down: I am able to write this article comfortably sitting in my home due to the untiring efforts, in extreme weather conditions, of our Defence Personnel who watch and safe-keep our borders, most of which are invisible lines. A salute to all of them: we owe them everything.
Honey, I Just Ate All the Meat.
Most of the Bees that we know, generally feed upon pollen and nectar -turning them into honey- but certain species of bees called Vulture Bees, have evolved to feasting on dead meat.
Scientists at the University of California-Riverside, Columbia University, and Cornell University studied the gut bacteria or microbiomes of Vulture Bees in Costa Rica. And found that they were rich in acid loving bacteria similar to those found in vultures, hyenas, and other animals that feed on carrion -decaying flesh of animals.
Contrast this with the guts of honeybees, bumblebees, and stingless bees that are colonised by the same five crore microbes, and they have retained the bacteria for roughly 80 million years — holding them tight in a sticky, sweet, relationship.
With the intense competition for nectar, Vulture Bees has evolved to sourcing their honey from meat rather than nectar. Though they feed on meat the ‘non-vegetarian honey’ is just as sweet and edible. They store the meat in special chambers in the hives that are sealed off for two weeks — to allow them to rot — before they access it to begin the honey making process. And the chambers are separate from where the honey is stored.
Well, how do bees make honey in the first place? Bees fly from flower to flower — over thousands of them — to suck out the nectar with their tongues, and store it in what’s called their honey stomach, which is different from their food stomach. When their honey stomach is full, they fly back to the hive and pass it on, through their mouths, to other worker bees who chew it for about half an hour. The process is repeated, passed from bee to bee, until it gradually turns into honey. Then the bees store it in honeycomb cells, which are like tiny jars made of wax. The honey is still a bit wet, so they fan it with their wings to dry it out and becomes more sticky. When it’s ready, they seal the cell with a wax lid to keep it clean.
Let’s talk about vegetarian Honey and Non-vegetarian Honey?
More shooting and breaking-out stories coming up in the weeks ahead, stick with World Inthavaaram… there’s honey in it!