WORLD INTHAVAARAM, 2023–51

Kumar Govindan
10 min readDec 23, 2023

About: the world this week, 17 December to 23 December 2023; Israel and Hamas; Shooting in Prague, Czechia; Earthquake in China; the Pope and LGBTQIA; Parliament shakes in India; Floods in Southern India; and the Coronavirus and Kerala.

Everywhere

Israel-Hamas War

Late last week, in a tragic accident, Israel admitted mistakenly killing three hostages during a search and rescue operation.

An Israeli soldier stationed in a building in Gaza City’s Shejaiya neighbourhood, identified three suspicious people exiting the building several dozen meters away. All three were shirtless, with one of them carrying a stick with a makeshift white flag. The soldier, who believed the men moving toward him was an attempt by Hamas to lure Israeli soldiers into a trap, immediately opened fire and shouted “terrorists!” to the other forces. The hostages either managed to escape Hamas captivity or were abandoned, before they were mistakenly shot dead.

This is in the tense background of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) having encountered several, seemingly unarmed civilians in the area, who turned out to be Hamas suicide bombers. There have also been countess attempts by Hamas to trick soldiers into an ambush. This is an awfully difficult and unforgiving war.

Over the week, Israel offered the Terrorist Hamas a deal, “Release 40 hostages — the old, woman, and children — and we stop bombing for a week”. Hamas did not take it.

Shooting in the Czech Republic

This week on the 21st December, in the deadliest attack in modern Czech history a gunman shot dead 14 people and injured another 25 at Prague’s Charles University.

The shooting started at the Faculty of Arts building, on Jan Palach Square. The gunman, who was studying Polish history at Charles University, murdered his father before shooting his classmates in a killing spree, and in the end possibly killed himself, after being shot-at by the Police. The motives were not immediately known.

The Police, who discovered a large arsenal of weapons at the building where the shooting took place, were tipped off earlier in the day that the suspect was likely heading to Prague from his town in the Kladno region, outside the capital, with intentions of taking his own life.

The gunman later identified as David Kozak had a gun permit and owned several weapons. He is also suspected of killing a man and his four-month-old daughter in Prague, a week ago. Police are also probing any connection between Kozak and a series of Russian-language messages posted on Telegram. One of the messages indicated that the attack may have been influenced by two previous mass shootings in Russia: one this month at a school in Bryansk near the Ukraine border, and the other in 2021 in Kazan. David Kozak was an excellent student and had not criminal history.

The Czech Republic has relatively liberal gun laws compared to the rest of Europe. To obtain a gun legally, a person needs an official licence, which requires a medical examination, a weapon proficiency exam, and no previous criminal record.

Charles University in Prague, founded in 1347 is the oldest and largest University in the Czech Republic -Czechia — and one of the oldest institutions in Europe.

Bless LGBTQIA

This week, Pope Francis relaxed controls, making the Church a little more LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual) friendly. He is allowing Priests to bless same-sex couples. This is a forward-looking step, and a walk back on a 2021 Vatican Ruling that banned blessing Gay couples, because ‘God cannot bless sin’. However, reading the fine print, the new rule clarifies that a blessing, which is typically, a prayer, should not be given at a Gay Wedding or Civil Ceremony. It also reaffirmed that marriage is between man and woman.

China’s Earthquake

A powerful 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck a mountainous region in northwestern China, resulting in at least 127 deaths and over 700 injuries, making it the deadliest earthquake in the area in nine years. Gansu province is severely affected, along with the neighbouring Qinghai province.

The affected area in Qinghai province is adjacent to the Tibet Himalayan region, prone to frequent earthquakes because of continental plate shifts.

Preliminary analysis shows that the quake was a thrust-type rupture, one of three above magnitude 6 to have struck within 200 km of the epicentre since 1900. At least 32 aftershocks were reported in the hour after the quake hit.

Infrastructure was severely impacted, leading to power and water supply disruptions, damage to rural roads, railway lines, and the cracking of a bridge across the Yellow River.

India’s Parliament: A Tumultuous Week

This week India’s Opposition Parties created a ruckus in Parliament, displaying placards, shouting, disruption the proceedings, and not allowing Parliament to function — all against the rules. They were demanding a statement from the Home Minister on last week’s ‘Smoke in The Eyes’ security breach, which was not forthcoming. This forced the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, respectively, to take punitive action on the errant Members of Parliament (MP) by suspending them.

The string of suspension of Opposition MPs in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha grew to a mammoth total of 146 — a first-time record. That’s almost two-third of the Opposition kicked-out of Parliament, for bad behaviour.

To make matters worse, the suspended MPs sitting on the steps of the Parliament premises got into a ‘College-Times Strike’ mode. They were entertained by one of the MPs mimicking and mocking the Vice-President (VP) of India, who is also the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha. The VP called it an insult on his background as a farmer and Chairman. Another MP was seen nonchalantly filming the episode on his mobile. This created a huge social-media storm that drowned other news, for days.

Meanwhile, the Government cooly went about its law-making business, slipping in path-breaking new Laws to replace the British-era colonial laws. And got them passed, ‘without breaking into a sweat’, in both Houses.

New criminal law reforms, replacing the old are: The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill (BNSS) replaces the Indian Penal Code,1860; the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill (BSS) replaces the Indian Evidence Act, 1872; and the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita Bill (BNSSS) replaces the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898.

With these changes, the criminal justice system of India is significantly reframed, finally growing out of a colonial mindset. The old laws were centred around punishment and deterrence: the new bills shift the emphasis to justice and reformation, in keeping with the changes of modern-day India.

Some highlights of the new Laws:

Twenty new offences have been included in the BNSS. These include organised crime, terrorist acts, hit-and-run, mob lynching, sexual exploitation of a woman by deceitful means, snatching, abetment outside India, acts endangering the sovereignty, integrity, and unity of India, and publication of false or fake news.

In a first, the government has included ‘community service’ as a punishment for theft of less than INR 5,000 and five other petty offences. Adultery and homosexual sex are not listed as crimes. Attempting to commit suicide will no longer be considered a criminal offence.

The sedition law has been repealed, and the sedition provision has been redefined to contain actions against India-deshdroh- instead of actions against the Government-rajdroh. One is free to criticise the Government, but not say anything to demean the nation.

Police will have to register a First Information Report (FIR) within 3 days of the complaint and in cases involving a punishment of 3 to 7 years, the FIR is to be registered after preliminary investigation. Chargesheets will have to be filed in 180 days and the Magistrate will have to take cognisance within 14 days. Forensic science has been given a lot of importance in evidenced gathering, as is electronic evidence.

The Government said that it had received a total of 3200 suggestions from 18 States, 6 Union Territories, the Supreme Court of India, 16 High Courts, 27 Judicial academics, several MPs, and bureaucrats, in the mammoth exercise to make the new laws. And 158 meetings were held to consider the suggestions.

Also passed was the Telecommunication Bill 2023, replacing the 138-year-old colonial-era Telegraph Act, 1885, and other allied laws.

The Govt will allocate spectrum for telecommunications through the Auction Method and for Satellite communications through an Administrative Method. Companies will require an authorisation to start services instead of Licences that are issued at present. It is mandatory to issue SIMs after capturing verifiable biometric data of the applicant to prevent misuse. Obtaining a SIM or any other telecom resource through fraud, cheating, personation will entail a jail term up to three years or a fine upto INR 50 Lakhs per person.

India’s Down South Floods

The South Indian State of Tamil Nadu is having a tough time. Cyclone Michaung had unleashed mayhem in Chennai more than a week ago and just when the State was limping back to normalcy it was hit by the rains again — this time in the southern districts.

Unprecedented rains caused by a cyclonic circulation in the Bay of Bengal battered the districts of Tirunelveli, Tuticorin, Tenkasi, and Kanyakumari, inundating roads, flooding houses, affecting train services, and leaving authorities scrambling to rescue those stranded. Helicopters in the air, and boats on the water were pressed into service.

Tamil Nadu received almost 50 mm of rainfall between this Sunday and Monday, compared with the 2.50 mm that would be normal at this time of year. Kayalpattinam in Tuticorin received more than 95 cm in 24 hours, which sank the Town. Tuticorin City grappled with about 5 feet of water. More than 10,000 people had to be rescued. About 150 people have died, succumbing to the fury of the floods.

Entire neighbourhoods remained submerged, with houses appearing like lonely islands surrounded by murky, brown water. Lakes were overflowing and rivers were in spate. Towards the end of the week, the waters began receding, slowly.

There is this heart-warming story of a Train, which left Tiruchendur Station on Sunday at about 8.30 pm bound for Chennai. About 34 km into the journey it was stopped at Srivaikuntam Station by alert Railway Staff, when it began raining heavily, following a cloud burst. The Railways decided not to allow the train to go any further, which proved to be a wise decision. The rains then intensified and subsequently it was found that about 12 km of track was washed-away due to land eroded by the rains, in the route ahead of the Station. The Station itself was completely isolated as a water island after about 300 passengers had been evacuated. The remaining had to stay put in the Train as the escape route was cut-off. And the Railway Station staff did their darnest until help came, only after the waters receded. Food was dropped-in by Helicopters. Imagine, about 1000 lives would have been lost that day, if it weren’t for the Railway Men. Cheers to them.

Questions on better preparedness and early warning are being asked and hope to see a flood of improvements next time around.

COVID-19 Again, and Kerala

The SARS.CoV-2 coronavirus is on the prowl again, growing its family and trying to spike our lives. Reminds us that the virus continues to evolve in different ways.

This week, what is called the JN.1 variant of the coronavirus was detected in India for the first time.

The JN.1 is a descendant sub-lineage of BA.2.86 or Pirola sub-variant of Omicron, and carries an additional mutation on its spike protein. After Kerala, the JN.1 was found in Goa, then Maharashtra, Karnataka, and in some other States. A total of over 595 Covid-19 cases have been reported.

The JN.1 was first detected in Luxembourg in August this year and later reported in The United Kingdom, Iceland, France, and the United States.

JN.1 was previously classified a Variant of Interest as part of its parent lineage BA.2.86, but the World Health Organization (WHO) has now classified it as a separate Variant of Interest. Talk about a grown-up leaving the parents’ home, fully armed to take-on the World?

WHO said current vaccines will continue to protect against severe disease and death from JN.1 and other circulating variants of the COVID-19 virus. And it is best to continue to hold on to the masking and hand-washing techniques, learnt and executed so well.

Often, the State of Kerala is the first to detect a disease outbreak, wondered why?

Kerala recorded India’s first JN.1 Covid sub-variant in a 79 years old woman at the beginning of this month. Earlier, the State also recorded the first cases of Nipah virus, Monkeypox, and other diseases. There are many other reasons as to why Kerala is the first to record diseases and subsequently becoming a hotbed of them.

Kerala’s geography contributes to the frequency with its sizeable forest cover and intense monsoon pattern making it prone to outbreaks. The State has witnessed several zoonotic outbreaks owing to the shrinkage of natural habitats and proximity to human settlements, in a densely populated region. Take for example, the Nipah virus: a special investigation found that humanity’s drive for resources is destroying the wildlife habitat of bats — which carry tens of thousands of viruses — and creating conditions ripe for a bat-borne disease to spill over to humanity. Civet cats have almost become urban animals as their natural habitats have been wiped out. These animals are believed to be the mediators for the pathogen that caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Bats, which lost their natural habitats, moved into human habitations. These animals are now considered as the reservoirs of Nipah and Ebola virus.

Another reason for Kerala being the home of such diseases is the State’s population. People of Kerala are spread across the globe, with a large number of students studying medicine and many expatriates working as doctors or nurses around the world. They face the occupational hazard of viral attacks and may unwittingly spread undiagnosed diseases to others when they return to India.

There’s also the State’s management and health system. The State has rigourous testing and its population is also highly aware. For e.g., when the first case of monkeypox was reported from Kollam in Kerala, the concerned person who returned from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) underwent a test. This, after he learnt that his contact abroad had tested positive, even though he was asymptomatic.

Many a time, Kerala has been criticised for reporting an outbreak. Experts say that should not be done. Its active surveillance mechanism, capacity-building exercises for healthcare workers, frontline staff, community engagement and strategic interventions have not just been helpful in detecting viruses, but also in keeping the disease outbreaks in control.

It is left to be seen if COVID-19 does make a strong comeback in the State, but Kerala is known for handling outbreaks and, in fact, virologists and epidemiologists have hailed its robust surveillance.

More stories will rain in the weeks ahead. Hold on to World Inthavaaram.

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Kumar Govindan

Once an Engineer, now a Make-in-India Entrepreneur; Wordsmith; Blogger; maybe a Farmer!