Health & Life


By Kim Murphy

People who binge drink on the weekend take more days off work, but the cost may be more than just economic.

Recently published research suggested alcohol and drug-related absenteeism costs the Australian economy around AU$3 billion a year. One of the report’s authors was quoted in the media as saying that “alcohol puts a bit of a tax on your immune system“. She said people may not realise drinking or drug-taking was: “causing their stomach upset, headache or worsening cold by Monday…”


From the few studies that explore this, we know excess alcohol intake affects the immune system. But how does this effect manifest itself? Can a “big weekend” make people more susceptible to illness?

Heavy Drinking

Complex and tightly controlled, the immune system is made up of different cells and tissues, that together protect us from viruses and bacteria.

Chronic alcohol abuse can definitely alter the way our body responds to pathogens – reducing the numbers of killer T cells, for instance. These are white blood cells that act like the immune system’s soldiers, working to eliminate infected cells.

A reduction in killer T cells leaves people more prone to infections. But it’s possible other factors sometimes present in people who chronically abuse alcohol, such as poor diet, can also have that effect.

Drinking can influence the inflammatory response too. Inflammation is an important part of the immune mechanism that helps immune cells travel to the infection site (although if uncontrolled, inflammation can cause chronic disease and pain).

One recent study found that in the 20 minutes after a binge drinking session, participants had developed higher than normal levels of inflammation in their body. But two hours later, inflammation had dropped below the original levels.

As their blood alcohol level fell, the number of monocytes (types of white blood cells known as “phagocytes” because they’re able to recognise and ingest microbes) also fell. Participants’ blood showed decreased numbers of natural killer cells as well. These play a similar role as the killer T cells.

Similar results were found in a 2014 study on binge-drinking mice; their phagocytic cells decreased along with other changes to the immune system. These findings suggest even a single session of binge drinking may increase the risk of viral infections, such as colds. But moderate drinking (one drink per day for women and two for men) shows a different picture.

Moderate Drinking

A 1993 study looked at the association between smoking, drinking and the risk of developing the common cold – with volunteers given saline drops containing cold-causing viruses. It found drinking one or more glasses of alcohol a day decreased the risk. But this was only true for non-smokers; smokers were more prone to colds regardless of how much they drank.

An increase in alcohol seems to decrease the risk of developing a cold, but only for non-smokers. Velo Montana/Flickr, CC BY

A larger 2002 study examined the effects of wine, beer and spirits on the risk of developing the common cold. Participants were asked about their drinking and other lifestyle habits, as well as any colds they had over the course of a year.

People who drank wine – red wine in particular – had fewer colds than those who didn’t drink at all. And people who drank more than 14 glasses of wine per week had been the least ill that year. Beer and spirits didn’t appear to be protective against infection. But nor did they increase the risk of developing colds.

But these studies looked at the association between alcohol and colds. What about alcohol’s effect on the immune system itself?

The Immune System

A 2014 study in which rhesus monkeys were given open access to alcohol found monkeys who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol responded better to a vaccine. And monkeys who abstained, or drank heavily, had a lower immune response.

It also found monkeys who were moderate drinkers had slightly increased levels of certain cytokines. These are small proteins that help coordinate the immune response to infections and cell damage, either enhancing or dampening the response.

In these monkeys, the number of immune response-enhancing cytokines had increased, and that might be the mechanism that helped their improved response to the vaccine. It’s possible moderate drinking in humans may also enhance the immune response to vaccines and viral infections.

Different types of alcohol, as well as different intake levels, seem to play a strong role in our susceptibility to colds. And a weekend of binge drinking may indeed increase your susceptibility to viral infections, such as colds.

Given drinking is a social activity, going out for a drink increases exposure to infections as well. Still, like many other things in life, exercising moderation when drinking could help boost your immune response to the common cold and other viral illnesses.

The ConversationKim Murphy is an Immunology researcher at Monash University

This article was originally published here on The Conversation in the Health + Medicine section.


Two years after her wedding in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, Bhanu (left), then 17, swallowed sleeping pills and tried to kill herself. Kriti Bharti (right), a psychologist, helped Bhanu (her name has been changed for this story) annul her marriage to a 55-year-old barber, who allegedly paid her grandfather a marriage fee of two lakh rupees. Image source:

By Devanik Saha:

On a cold December day in Jodhpur, 2014, Bhanu, 17, suddenly collapsed. Her parents rushed her to the hospital where doctors said their daughter—a married woman—had attempted suicide by swallowing sleeping pills.

After the recent release of suicide data by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the discourse has primarily focused on farmer suicides, a politically-sensitive issue. But Bhanu’s case is a reminder that little or no attention is focused on home-makers, a demographic more prone to suicide than farmers.

620 Two years after her wedding in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, Bhanu (left), then 17, swallowed sleeping pills and tried to kill herself. Kriti Bharti (right), a psychologist, helped Bhanu (her name has been changed for this story) annul her marriage to a 55-year-old barber, who allegedly paid her grandfather a marriage fee of two lakh rupees. Image source:
Two years after her wedding in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, Bhanu (left), then 17, swallowed sleeping pills and tried to kill herself. Kriti Bharti (right), a psychologist, helped Bhanu (her name has been changed for this story) annul her marriage to a 55-year-old barber, who allegedly paid her grandfather a marriage fee of two lakh rupees. Image source:

About 18% (20,412) of all suicides in 2014 were by housewives, against 4.3% (5,650) by farmers, according to the NCRB. There appears to be a decline, overall, in home-maker suicides, but the data reveal two things: one, a quiet, festering problem in Indian marriages and two, a problem with the numbers.

P Sainath, journalist and Magaysasay award winner who pioneered reporting on farm suicides, believes many women categorised as “housewives” are farmers.

Women farmers’ suicides are routinely undercounted because conventional societies mostly do not acknowledge women as farmers,” Sainath wrote this week. “And only a few have their names on title deeds or pattas. One result of this is that the ‘housewives’ category explodes in those years where states claim nil women farmers’ suicides. In some states, ‘housewives’ (including many who are farmers but not acknowledged as such) make up 70 per cent of all women suicides in some years.”

Even if that is wholly true, there is little question that thousands of home-makers are indeed killing themselves, as IndiaSpend‘s inquiries with psychiatrists and NGOs across the country confirmed.

Suicides By Home-makers (left) & As % Of Total Suicides (right), 2010-14


How Bhanu went from 6th-standard dropout to teen bride

Bhanu, then 15, was married—against her wishes—to Ramchandra, 55, a barber and farmer. Since Bhanu’s father was a poor barber in Ajmer, he and his wife (Bhanu’s mother) handed over their daughter, and the responsibility for her eventual marriage, to her grandfather in Jaisalmer.

Bhanu’s grandfather pressured Bhanu to drop out of school, abandon studies and focus on learning housework, obviously in preparation for marriage. Bhanu, then in class six, became a bride in waiting. Her grandfather struck a wedding deal for Rs 2 lakh, without informing her parents.

Bhanu was forcibly married, following an ancient tradition called aamne samne ki shadi (literally, a wedding facing each other), where families cement ties through marriage.

While Bhanu married Ramchandra, his niece, age 8, married Bhanu’s 35-year-old uncle. Since Bhanu’s parents and she were more than 480 km apart, they did not hear about her marriage, until it was too late.

When Bhanu’s parents came to the eight-year-old’s wedding, they were shocked, they said, to find wedding rituals underway for their daughter as well. They protested and tried to file a police complaint. The police refused, although the marriage was illegal (18 is the legal age).

It was unimaginable for us that someone like her grandfather, whom we trusted so much, had married her off in a deal,” said her father, who requested that his name not be used. “It was quite shocking for us, but somehow we controlled ourselves and approached Kriti for help.”

Determined to annul the marriage, Bhanu’s parents contacted Kriti Bharti, a rehabilitation psychologist and founder of the Saarthi Trust, an NGO in Jodhpur. Bharti helped them file a court case and gain custody of their daughter. As the case was being tried, Bhanu’s husband repeatedly tried to take her away by force, claiming she was now his.

Do the data explain why home-makers commit suicide? Not quite

NCRB data on suicides and the attributed causes are not trustworthy and detailed enough, said experts. The data do not reflect the fact that suicide is not an event, but a complex interplay of factors.

Deaths in rural India are certified by village headmen (“panchyatdars”), although cases are investigated by the police and the process of registering a death is particularly inefficient in rural areas, according to this study published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry

When it comes to data regarding suicides and the reasons for it, NCRB figures cannot be trusted at all,” said Vikram Patel, a psychiatrist with extensive experience on suicide. “Given the complexity of suicides, just listing single reasons for suicide is too simplistic. Further, the police aren’t trained to handle suicide cases and investigations and reporting is done randomly.”

Dr Rajesh Rastogi, Chief Psychiatrist at Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital, agreed. “Just saying that dowry torture or domestic violence caused depression for a woman to commit suicide is naïve,” he said.

When the police investigate a matter, the reason that is the most publicly visible is attributed as a cause for suicide,” said Kamna Chibber, a clinical psychologist at Delhi’s Fortis Hospital. But that is not usually the real cause.

IndiaSpend had reported previously on how the data on farmer suicides are unreliable. That applies to home-maker suicides as well. Families often do not report suicide.

The stigma leads to under-reporting,” said Lakshmi Vijaykumar, a psychiatrist and member of the World Health Organisation’s International Network for Suicide Prevention & Research. “Many families want to avoid harassment by the police and avoid social ostracism, therefore, they never approach the police.”

What is driving housewives to suicide? Men play a big role

NCRB doesn’t give disaggregated causes data on housewives, only the data for overall suicides.


Based on various psychiatrists’ and psychologists’ experiences, three points stand out:

1. Family background, past psychiatric history, genetic conditions and the immediate environment are significant factors.

2. Issues such as marital dissatisfaction, torture for dowry, domestic violence and economic difficulties are only the triggers or, in medical terminology, “stressors”. While the occurrence of more stressors increases risk, their mere presence cannot cause suicide.

3. India’s patriarchal society and stigma around women discussing depression and mental health issues play a significant role in increasing suicidal tendencies.

The cumulative and repetitive interaction of several factors in a complex manner results in suicides, according to a psychological autopsy study done in Bangalore, the only one on “completed (successful) suicides” and domestic violence.

Personal, biological and external environmental factors and the ability to handle stress and depression play a huge role,” said Patel.

Many studies note that almost 80% of those who commit suicide have depressive symptoms.

Rastogi explained it in simpler terms: Two friends are sitting in a room and a snake enters. Person A is terrified to see the snake, but person B has often stayed in rural areas and has killed many snakes. He barely flinches and advances to shoo away the snake.

What he means is that people handle stress differently. While one spouse may fight back against domestic violence and torture, another may keep quiet and accept it as her fate.

A woman commits suicide only when she is fully convinced that there is no other way to reduce her drudgery. She feels that she is not able to do anything to improve her situation,” said Chhibber.

Bhanu certainly felt that way. She told IndiaSpend that she was always battling her 55-year-old husband Ramachandra.

He constantly threatened me that he would take me with him forcibly, but I didn’t want to go with him,” said Bhanu. “Even during court sessions, he would intimidate me, which really scared me. I lost hope that things would ever get fine. Hence, I decided to end my life.”

Patel said these were widespread fears. “Domestic violence (emotional and physical), and economic difficulties are the major precipitating factors for suicides by married women,” he said.


Women may have support from friends and family but may not have the financial independence to end a marriage.

Why do so many wives aged 15-29 kill themselves?

Over the past four years, 43% of suicides by home-makers have been in the 15-29 age group.

Suicides By Home-makers In The 15-29 Age Group (left) & As % Of All Home-maker Suicides, 2010-13


IndiaSpend has reported previously how India has 36 million child brides, despite laws prohibiting child marriages.

This is the age group when the experiences associated with gender disadvantage are the most common,” said Patel, a view echoed by Chhibber.

Bhanu was 15 years old when she was married against her wishes, pushing her into deep mental conflict. Eventually, despite the support of her parents, the teenager could not cope.

Youth is the time when one is still trying to find one’s footing in life… often due to an unsupportive environment or one’s own personality traits, one is unable to achieve these milestones well and soon enough in life. In such circumstances when trouble strikes, it just becomes easier for one to collapse,” explained Sanjay Chugh, a Delhi psychiatrist. “As we grow older, we become more mature… in times of trouble, do have back up plans.”

Young brides get no allowances for the sudden burden of household responsibilities. A time of discovery and aspiration, for many, remains unfulfilled.

It pressurises her immensely,” said Bharti, “leading to mental imbalance and suicidal tendencies.”

Why aren’t housewives’ suicides discussed?

Farm suicides are widely discussed in India, but no one really talks of housewives killing themselves.

In our country, there is a stigma and fear surrounding mental health and a stifling silence around any conversation pertaining to mental illness,” said Kundu. “Even talking about it is taboo.”

If we have a body part which is burnt, we like to hide it from others because we believe that it can never heal,” said Bharti. “Similarly, our society has already believed that the issue of women getting equal rights and respect cannot be solved; therefore, these discussions never happen. Until, we believe that we truly can solve this situation, we can’t do anything.”

To Vijaykumar, the key point is political irrelevance. “It’s simple,” she said. “Housewives’ suicides aren’t politically important, that’s why politicians and experts don’t discuss it (the issue) much.”

Why decriminalising attempted suicide can help

India accounts for 21% of the global disease burden and is struggling with high malnutrition and high infant- and maternal-mortality rates. So, suicide has never been a significant public-health issue.

It does not help that India is short of mental-health professionals by 87%, according to data tabled in Parliament in 2013.


Last year, the Centre announced a plan to decriminalise attempted suicide and scrap section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, which provides for a year in prison and a fine for anyone attempting suicide.

The Law Commission of India’s 210th report also suggested removing section 309, but there the matter rests.

Vijaykumar listed three benefits of this move:

1. It will allow anyone who has attempted suicide to be treated immediately without the medico-legal process. This will also remove the stigma.

2. It will be affordable for the family–private hospitals often overcharge to treat such patients, citing the legal process involved.

3. It will help collect data on those who attempt suicide and plan services for them. These cases are often under-reported or reported as accidents.

Rather than pressing charges against the victim, the focus should be on prosecuting the person who compelled the victim to commit suicide. The victim has already faced hardships and therefore, putting further pressure on her is unfair.” said Bharti.

Back in Jodhpur, the police did not charge Bhanu with Section 309 because Bharti pressurised them not to, leaning on them, successfully, to file a case of abetment to suicide (Section 306) against Ramchandra. Much legal action depends on arbitrariness.

Bhanu, with Bharti’s help, is now preparing to appear for her class ten examinations through the open-school system as a private candidate, which means she does not have to complete previous classes. She lives with her parents in Jodhpur, as her case meanders through the city’s courts.

Bhanu’s experience has shaped her ambitions. “Kriti didi (Bharti) is my idol, and I want to become a social worker like her,” said Bhanu. Her ambition: To eventually urge and help girls forced into early wedding to annul their marriages.

Bhanu is a pseudonym. We have not revealed her real name at her request.

(Saha is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi.)



By Vaagisha Das

Although India is a leading producer and exporter of vaccines, the country is home to one-third of the world’s unimmunised children. However, this is apparently no cause for worry, as believed by some parents in the U.S., sinceGod gave everyone the ability to heal from within and he gave us all the tools to heal naturally.” Contrasting the state of infant vaccinations in the U.S. with that of India seems almost ridiculous, yet with the growing number of anti-vaccination activists in America, the outcome remains surprisingly similar- gradual increase in the number of unimmunised children, causing widespread diseases, disabilities, and even death. While most American parents are wary of getting their children vaccinated due to an unfounded fear of vaccines causing autism, parents in India are unable to do so simply because they do not have the resources or the knowledge to comprehend why vaccination is needed. Hence, both the cases are based on uncertainty and fear of the unknown, and little is being done to dispel them of preconceived notions.

The Anti Vaccination Movement (AVM) in America is two pronged- one prong denies any direct correlation between vaccines and the diseases that they are taken as protection against diseases, while the other goes one step further and into the territory of vaccines being harmful for health. Supporters of the latter belief claim that the MMR (mumps-measles-rubella) vaccine causes autism, despite there being no evidence for the same. The American Academy of Pediatrics has released a list of more than 40 studies showing no link whatsoever between vaccines and autism, yet parents continue to protest against vaccines. The movement has further been popularised by celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy, who claimed to discover that her son ‘became’ autistic as a result of his shots- even though autism is a congenital disease.

When California sought to tighten its immunisation laws after a measles outbreak- a disease thought to be eradicated fifteen years ago- it faced angry protests from vocal activists, who went so far as to claim that the new law that made vaccination mandatory was akin to the Holocaust. This was based on the pro-choice argument of individuals being able to decide what ‘goes into their body’. Little did these activists keep in mind that unvaccinated kids would be endangering those who were too young, or others who were unable to get vaccinated due to medical conditions. Although the idea of stopping vaccination in its entirety seems far-fetched, these activists have been successful enough to force three states to pull back a ‘personal belief’ exemption for vaccination.

In India, vaccines are similarly available yet unable to be accessed by those who need them the most. However, this is not a matter of choice. Fewer than 44 percent of India’s young children receive the full schedule of immunisations. This is mainly due to ignorance and hence decreased demand, as well as the much popularised polio shots having stolen the spotlight- consequently side lining other vaccines available. For example, pneumonia is the leading killer of children in India, accounting for the death of a majority of children under five years of age. Vaccines for pneumonia, although available elsewhere, and not sold in India- attributing it to the low demand for these. In India’s slums, surveillance as well as keeping tabs on diseases is an arduous task. In many instances, people are unable to discuss or even identify the symptoms- thereby proving time and again the dangers of obliviousness.

Pneumonia accounted for 371,605 deaths in children under age five in 2008, India. According to recent estimates, the 81,275 annual deaths from measles in India account for three-quarters of the global deaths from this disease. It is estimated that two-thirds of the children who die of measles and the other preventable childhood diseases would have survived if they had been immunised. In America, non-vaccination brought an almost eradicated disease back. The limbs of a boy were amputated in order to save him for meningitis – which could’ve been prevented if he had been vaccinated. In such a case, the course of action open to us is simple: in order for this to stop, more of us must speak up until there’s no doubt remaining that vaccines are safe, necessary, and they work.


By Shruti Sonal

Last week, as I stood bored in a corner at my 5 year old cousin’s birthday party, I could not help but observe the food laid out on the table. Numerous bottles of carbonated drinks, more packets of chips than could possibly be eaten, pastries topped with synthetic cream and noodles dripping with oil. However, I stopped myself before going into the “kids these days” mode. I was a part of the first generation that got hands on these products, and never let them go.

As life becomes busier, health has taken a backseat. The habit of eating junk food is inculcated within us from childhood, as chocolates and chips are handed out to halt our tears. Further, they made their way into our tiffin boxes and were stocked on the shelves in our school canteens. The result was that one probably learned how to say Frooti and Lays before they learnt the alphabets. In this context, the Delhi High Court’s ruling, directing the Central government to enforce restrictions on the sale of junk food in and within 50 metres of school premises is significant.

India, having a young population, has long been worried about the rise of obesity, which plagues 5% of its population today. Combined with the liberalization of the economy and rising incomes, the influx of international processed-food brands has changed the way we eat. The key to understanding the popularity of junk food, despite the widespread knowledge that it is harmful to health, lies in science. At the turn of the century, as Americans battled obesity, food chain giants came under scrutiny. In an article published in New York Times, titled “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food“, Michael Moss referred to the “Moskowitz Report” which looked into the reasons that drive people to over-consumption of junk food. Apart from the convenience and affordability associated with packaged food, the report discovered a theory of “sensory specific satiety” that highlighted the tendency for big, distinct flavors in junk food to overwhelm the human brain, which responds by depressing your desire to have more. The report argued that this is the guiding principle behind the success of the processed-food industry, immortalized by the Lays tagline “No one can eat just one!” This allowed researchers to decode the addictive nature of such kind of food items, which contain high levels of salt, starch and fat content that reward the brain with an instant feeling of pleasure.

Thus, once kids start regarding these food items as a part of their daily life, it is tough for them to leave them behind. The teary farewell bid to Maggi, despite the knowledge that it contained harmful elements, emphasized how eating processed food has become an essential part of our routine. In such a scenario, limiting their sale in school will play a key role in ensuring that they’re not overconsumed. Moreover, as lessons learnt in school stay with us for the rest of our lives, it will help in inducing a feeling of guilt before consuming these food times. Growing up in a school that sold coconut water instead of Coca Cola, and fresh Rajma Chawal in place of packaged noodles, I can vouch for the school’s role in affecting an individual’s food habits. It didn’t prevent us from consuming junk food altogether, but ensured that it remained restricted to the “special occasions” when we were allowed to bring a pack of chips and a bottle of soft drink each.

surrogacy-in-india pregnant women

By Vasudha Singh

Parenting is a fulfilling experience that many individuals wish to undertake in their lives. Due to conditions outside of their control many people find themselves incapable undergoing this experience and suffer emotionally at the lack of an avenue for the basic instinct of nurturing. Surrogacy is then a means of making this possible.

In India commercial surrogacy is legal. The Law Commission of India, based on the guidelines of the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) to regulate Assisted Reproductive Technology procedures submitted the 228th report discussing the importance, need for surrogacy, and steps to control surrogacy arrangements. It provides legislation for respecting the privacy of the surrogate with an insistence on consent and contract based financial arrangements, calling for one of the parents to be the donor to respect the bond of affection.

surrogacy in india

Lack of skilled personnel and/or technology in their own country, shortage of donors, exclusion from services due to marital status or sexual orientation and services being available for cheaper prices in other countries are generally the reasons for cross border surrogacy. The cost of surrogacy in India ($30,000-$40,000) is significantly lower compared to US ($120,000-$180,000).

The Other Cost Of Surrogacy

There have been instances of forced surrogacies, arrangements where the surrogate plays little to no part in the decision making process, is lied to about the effects of the hormones and is implanted with multiple embryos for a higher chance pregnancy causing havoc to their health. The clinics or middlemen generally opt for women from poor, illiterate backgrounds for easy money and least risk.

Parents too suffer if the surrogate has a change of heart. Moreover there can be medical complications which cause the parents to shell out money at every stage, increasing the cost many times.

Law Defines A Parent, Not Love

In 2012 the Indian government issued a notification disallowing single/same-sex parents from using surrogates, thus ‘first world treatment at third world prices’ (Health Tourism India) is denied to one of the the biggest consumers of the surrogate market. As a result, other countries such as Thailand and Nepal gained footing in this market. Nepal allows surrogacy for foreign nationals, but the intended parents or the surrogate mother cannot be of Nepali origin. Due to lack of any strict regulations and porous borders, Indian surrogates are brought to Nepal, most probably after the embryo plantation is completed and the child then gets the document for exit from Nepal. However this entire business is conducted in secrecy so the transactions and associated economic benefit is only restricted to the Indian fertility clinics.

The Economics Of Surrogacy

In 2012, the surrogacy market generated $2 billion in India. International Social Work calls the Health Tourism industry as the “country’s second most popular industry” with 5% contribution in GDP (2013) and is expected to grow to $280 billion by 2020.

However, the surrogacy market largely works on black economy. With only 39 of 3000 fertility clinics in India being registered with the ICMR and even fewer following the guidelines, many of these transactions are illegal, and therefore are not counted in the GDP of India. The case of Indian surrogates in Nepal could be counted in the Gross National Product (GNP) of the nation which takes into account goods and services produced by a national outside the country as well.

With infertility on the rise, India needs to firstly, regulate the market so that all transactions are accounted for and secondly, India needs to legalise surrogacy for same sex couples and single parents. 21 countries have made same sex marriage legal and for India to willingly discount its contribution based on archaic laws of the British rule, is irrational. The Third World has a chance to set precedence of social justice and religious reasons for the ‘abnormality’ of same sex marriage does not and should not find place in it.

A few gender imbalanced laws should not deny any human being the chance of experiencing parenting, with their constitutions guaranteeing human dignity for all. All indicators point towards a pro same sex legislation and market regulation, moreover the economy demands it. Lastly, the society will benefit from a regulated market of nurturing than an exploitative one for the parents, surrogate and the child.

Television serial killer Dexter may be more of a psychopath than a sociopath due to his methodically delivered kills. Image source:  Pimkie/Flickr

By Xanthe Mallett

Psychopath and sociopath are popular psychology terms to describe violent monsters born of our worst nightmares. Think Hannibal Lecter in ‘Silence Of The Lambs’ (1991), Norman Bates in ‘Psycho’ (1960) and Annie Wilkes in ‘Misery’ (1990). In making these characters famous, popular culture has also burned the words used to describe them into our collective consciousness.

Television serial killer Dexter may be more of a psychopath than a sociopath due to his methodically delivered kills. Image source:  Pimkie/Flickr
Television serial killer Dexter may be more of a psychopath than a sociopath due to his methodically delivered kills. Image source: Pimkie/Flickr

Most of us, fortunately, will never meet a Hannibal Lecter, but psychopaths and sociopaths certainly do exist. And they hide among us. Sometimes as the most successful people in society because they’re often ruthless, callous and superficially charming, while having little or no regard for the feelings or needs of others.

These are known as “successful” psychopaths, as they have a tendency to perform premeditated crimes with calculated risk. Or they may manipulate someone else into breaking the law, while keeping themselves safely at a distance. They’re master manipulators of other peoples’ feelings, but are unable to experience emotions themselves.

Sound like someone you know? Well, heads up. You do know one; at least one. Prevalence rates come in somewhere between 0.2% and 3.3% of the population.

If you’re worried about yourself, you can take a quiz to find out, but before you click on that link let me save you some time: you’re not a psychopath or sociopath. If you were, you probably wouldn’t be interested in taking that personality test.

You just wouldn’t be that self-aware or concerned about your character flaws. That’s why both psychopathy and sociopathy are known as anti-social personality disorders, which are long-term mental health conditions.

psychopaths vs sociopaths 1
Although most of us will never meet someone like Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs, we all know at least one sociopath. Image source:

What’s The Difference?

Psychopaths and sociopaths share a number of characteristics, including a lack of remorse or empathy for others, a lack of guilt or ability to take responsibility for their actions, a disregard for laws or social conventions, and an inclination to violence. A core feature of both is a deceitful and manipulative nature. But how can we tell them apart?

Sociopaths are normally less emotionally stable and highly impulsive – their behaviour tends to be more erratic than psychopaths. When committing crimes – either violent or non-violent – sociopaths will act more on compulsion. And they will lack patience, giving in much more easily to impulsiveness and lacking detailed planning.

Psychopaths, on the other hand, will plan their crimes down to the smallest detail, taking calculated risks to avoid detection. The smart ones will leave few clues that may lead to being caught. Psychopaths don’t get carried away in the moment and make fewer mistakes as a result.

Both act on a continuum of behaviours, and many psychologists still debate whether the two should be differentiated at all. But for those who do differentiate between the two, one thing is largely agreed upon: psychiatrists use the term psychopathy to illustrate that the cause of the anti-social personality disorder is hereditary. Sociopathy describes behaviours that are the result of a brain injury, or abuse and/or neglect in childhood.

Psychopaths are born and sociopaths are made. In essence, their difference reflects the nature versus nurture debate.

There’s a particularly interesting link between serial killers and psychopaths or sociopaths – although, of course, not all psychopaths and sociopaths become serial killers. And not all serial killers are psychopaths or sociopaths.

Thomas Hemming murdered two people in 2014 just to know what it felt like to kill. Tracey Nearmy/AAP Image
Thomas Hemming murdered two people in 2014 just to know what it felt like to kill. Tracey Nearmy/AAP Image

But America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has noted certain traits shared between known serial killers and these anti-social personality disorders. These include predatory behaviour (for instance, Ivan Milat, who hunted and murdered his seven victims); sensation-seeking (think hedonistic killers who murder for excitement or arousal, such as 21-year-old Thomas Hemming who, in 2014, murdered two people just to know what it felt like to kill); lack of remorse; impulsivity; and the need for control or power over others (such as Dennis Rader, an American serial killer who murdered ten people between 1974 and 1991, and became known as the “BTK (bind, torture, kill) killer”).

A Case Study

The Sydney murder of Morgan Huxley by 22-year-old Jack Kelsall, who arguably shows all the hallmarks of a psychopath, highlights the differences between psychopaths and sociopaths.

In 2013, Kelsall followed Huxley home where he indecently assaulted the 31-year-old before stabbing him 28 times. Kelsall showed no remorse for his crime, which was extremely violent and pre-meditated.

There’s no doubt in my mind he’s psychopathic rather than sociopathic because although the murder was frenzied, Kelsall showed patience and planning. He had followed potential victims before and had shared fantasies he had about murdering a stranger with a knife with his psychiatrist a year before he killed Huxley, allegedly for “the thrill of it“.

Whatever Kelsall’s motive, regardless of whether his dysfunction was born or made, the case stands as an example of the worst possible outcome of an anti-social personality disorder: senseless violence perpetrated against a random victim for self-gratification. Throughout his trial and sentencing, Kelsall showed no sign of remorse, no guilt, and gave no apology.

A textbook psychopath, he would, I believe, have gone on to kill again. In my opinion – and that of the police who arrested him – Kelsall was a serial killer in the making.

In the end, does the distinction between a psychopath and sociopath matter? They can both be dangerous and even deadly, the worst wreaking havoc with people’s lives. Or they can spend their life among people who are none the wiser for it.

This article is part of The Conversation’s Health+Medicine series.

Xanthe Mallett is a Senior Lecturer in Forensic Criminology at University of New England

This article was originally published here on The Conversation


By Vaagisha Das

We have been taught to share many things in order to show our care. Faecal matter would definitely not be one of them. Yet this is what Raahil Batin’s father found himself doing to help treat his son, who had contracted inflammatory bowel disease. Faecal transplant, or to put it in layman terms, poop transfer, is exactly what it sounds like – transporting human waste from a ‘healthy’ donor to a patient with intestinal problems.

Bacteria, contrary to popular belief and overzealous use of anti-bacterial soaps, are not all your typical garden variety of harmful parasites. Some bacteria found in the intestine are immensely useful in food digestion, and their absence may cause the entire process to go haywire. This made doctors come up with an obvious solution- cram the required bacteria, along with the complimentary poop, into the patient’s intestine. Okay, maybe not exactly cram it- there are more scientific methods. Or one could go down the not so beaten track of popping ‘poop pills‘, courtesy advanced medical science. Some phrases of the English language will never be the same again.

Continuing the saga of terrifying yet fascinating medical treatments, here are a few more, ranging from ‘hey, that could actually work’ to ‘how is that actually working?!’

Leech Therapy: Earlier proposed by Sushruta in 800 B.C., leeches were considered the premium treatment procedure for anything involving skin diseases, to fever or inflammations. In a style reminiscent of fashion trends, this medieval practice has come round again as a popular and effective way to drain blood from the body after reconstructive surgery. Anticoagulant properties of the leech saliva make them unique – these bloodsuckers have been around a lot longer than vampires, and are far less sparkly.

Bone Stretching: Ask the kid hanging from the bars in the Complan ad – growing taller is mainly in your genes, and once you’re stuck at 5′ 1″, there is not much you can do. Except that now there is. Not the most pleasant ‘treatment’, this procedure requires breaking bones in order to make them longer. A brace is placed between the two pieces of bone, and regenerated tissue fills the gap in due time, which later forms the perfectly healthy bone. This is also called distraction osteogenesis– because when in doubt, confuse people with science.

Hemispherectomy: A rare process involving the removal of half of the entire brain- no, this is very different from a lobotomy, though it does involve amputation of a part of the brain, mainly the ‘problematic’ area. This would be the localised part where epilepsy and seizures originate, and then the surges spread across the entire brain, much like ripples across the surface of water. Sure, it’s a throwback to when hacking away the problem might have been a surgeon’s favourite, but even with ‘half’ a brain, the patient will likely live to function effectively – the rest of the brain adapts to carry out the function of the missing part, and the rest of the skull space is filled with fluid. Why take pills when you can simply cut out the problem entirely?

Body Chilling Therapy: Walt Disney was not cryogenically frozen, much to the disappointment of urban legend fans. This is because such a technology does not exist outside of science fiction. However, what does exist is a process where the patient is frozen from the inside out – known as induced hypothermia through central venous infusion, a chilled saline solution, when injected intravenously, does something roughly akin to being lowered into an ice bath- it slows down the person’s bodily functions. The lowered temperature reduces the body’s need for oxygen, which in turn slows down the impending cardiac arrest and gives the patient extra time to be rushed to the hospital.

With such medical procedures already in use, maybe switching brains and ‘upgrading’ to better bodies will no longer be limited to the realm of futuristic movies- but are we quite ready for them? Well, maybe we could hold out for the hoverboards instead.

Chattisgarh woman with child. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

By Debarati Ghosh:

The Story of Chaiti Bai

Unlike every other ordinary day in the Bilaspur district of Chattisgarh, 22 year old Chaiti Bai could not go about her daily chores. She was unwell and weak, suffering from jaundice. At the proposal of the Community Health Centre’s messenger, she agreed to get herself treated from their health officer. However, Chaiti Bai and her husband were given a blank paper to sign on, before she could avail the treatment. Without thinking much of it at the time, her husband, Budh Singh signed it, and got her admitted.

Chattisgarh woman with child. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Chattisgarh woman with child. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

What followed soon revealed the sham that the government’s family policy is. Without any prior information about the nature of the surgery, Chaiti Bai was operated upon, and sterilized. While her husband did not receive a single piece of official documentation from the health workers, Chaiti Bai’s condition worsened. She died the next day on her way to the district hospital, leaving her husband with their two children, and a cheque of Rs. 200,000 from the government.

Chaiti Bai was not the only victim of the sterilization camps that plague India. According to reports, 14 of the 83 women sterilized that day in November 2014 died, while the others had to be hospitalized. The Gaurella Community Health Centre has a target of sterilizing at least 800 women per year. Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged for an investigation on this “unfortunate tragedy”; the state award winner for his work on sterilization, who was arrested for the deaths, Surgeon R. K. Gupta blamed the government for the deaths, stated that it was his “moral responsibility” to have performed the sterilizations.

More than 4 million sterilizations were conducted between 2013 and 2014, according to Government figures. The then Health Minister of India, Harsh Vardhan officially stated that the government has recorded 15,264 sterilization related deaths or failed surgeries between April 2009 and March 2013. It’s only with the rise in death tolls at sterilization camps, visibly declining sex ratio and the usage of outdated drugs and procedures like the cycle pumps to inflate their abdomens during the surgeries on hapless women, along with outrage over fowl plays such as the sterilization of the unsuspecting men in return for gun license, that the government’s family planning policies have come under a critical lens of Women Rights organizations and the mainstream media.

The Glitch in the Story

Growing up hearing the slogans of “HUM DO HUMARE DO”, we never quite questioned it, due to its appeal to common sense. The economically and geographically marginalized sections are the primary targets for the state-approved sterilization campaigns that offer a variety of incentives or disincentives for the participants and often employ coercive measures to attain their targets.

While this sounds all too obvious and the government may be applauded for its population control initiatives, something doesn’t quite add up. Questions arise such as:

  • Why are countries like China and Vietnam, with notoriously stringent one-child norm and reproductive restrictions, now removing these rules from their population control policies?
  • What is the role of the western funding agencies like the USAID, World Bank, Rockefeller Foundation or Ford Foundation in this entire picture?
  • And what lies ahead for the Indian economy given the rise in averted births and decline in population, which corresponds to an inevitable dearth of work forces and income generating populace?

These points get us questioning the goal that our government is seeking to attain and bring in the need for a more nuanced approach to the Indian population control policy.

Setting the Record Straight

The attitude to levy sanctions on the reproductive rights of the general population (especially the marginalized sections) goes way back to the times of Darwin and Reverend Malthus, echoed by agencies like the International Planned Parenthood Federation in the 1920s. The contemporary policies on population control can be best described in Amartya Sen’s words as being a “revival of Malthusian thinking in the recent years”. Simply put – letting the poor perish unattended since they are unworthy of life, and focus more on the development of the better race/class/caste.

In a collaborative study conducted on the impact of the Two-Child norm in India, Claire B. Cole notes the impact of India’s receipt of monetary sanctions from western agencies, which range from the targets issued by the Word Bank to avert 40 million births in a span of 10 years or target based economic funding from agencies like the USAID, World Bank, the Ford and Rockefeller Foundation. There are several intermediate agents like the Accredited Social Health Activists or ASHA workers, who receive bonuses for every person they motivate to undergo sterilization. What is bothersome about mushrooming internationally funded NGOs and agencies, is their affiliation which lies with the foreign funders and are thereby, not accountable to India. According to the Human Rights Watch’s report in 2012, these approaches have made the sterilization campaigns an exceedingly coercive process.

While the Population Growth Rate in India has fallen to 1.25% in 2014, due to the population momentum, it will continue to grow for at least the next sixty years. In such a situation, we can only expect to see a severe dwindling in the sex ratio and a decrease in the number of girl child in the Indian society. So much for the noise about developmental policies and progress!


By Manjusha Chatterjee

According to media reports, around 150 million new voters in the age group of 18 to 23 years exercised their political franchise for the first time in 2014. All political parties campaigned for India’s youth vote bank, the largest in the world, today. Politicians spoke of youth empowerment as the key to India’s success and rightly so.

Yet, it seems that we must remind our policymakers that empowering youth also involves safeguarding their future, protecting them from all probable dangers and allowing them to make informed choices. For this, welfare must override business. It is an open secret that business establishments court policymakers in the run for profit-making. Case in point, the tobacco industry, which has been lobbying in favour of weak, ineffective and delayed regulations on tobacco products for years. Regardless of the government in power, cigarette companies as well as bidi and smokeless tobacco associations rush down the power corridors with fallacious and unreasonable data to block tobacco control laws.


India enacted its tobacco control law – the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) in 2003, even before the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) came into force. Despite roadblocks posed by the industry, India has recorded several ‘firsts’ in the sphere of tobacco control: India was among the first to implement a national tobacco control programme, the first to regulate depiction of tobacco use in films and television programmes and the first to adopt a national target of 30% relative reduction in tobacco use by 2025.

One of the measures of COTPA that has received stiff resistance is the pictorial health warnings on tobacco product packages. Ever since the first set of warnings were introduced in 2006, the tobacco industry has rallied, lobbied, and succeeded in diluting and delaying the warnings on account of loss of revenue and clearing massive stockpiles. The most recent setback has been a delay in implementing large sized, 85% pictorial health warnings from April 1, 2015 following the absurd recommendation of a parliamentary committee on lack of scientific evidence on tobacco and cancer. The absurdity of these developments is compounded by the presence of a bidi baron as a member of the committee ‘scrutinizing’ tobacco control laws in India!

Youth are, without doubt, important stakeholders in tobacco control. While 5500 youth initiate tobacco use everyday in the country, school and college students have also been advocating for strong tobacco control laws since the 1990s. Youth have made representations to policymakers on pictorial health warnings since a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development first recommended them in 2001. In 2007, school students had written to the then Health Minister in support of strong pictorial health warnings. After severe delays, a mild set of warnings was implemented for the first time in 2009.

In another incident, as part of India’s legal mandate to rotate pictorial health warnings, thousands of youth signed a petition to the then Prime Minister requesting timely implementation of pack warnings depicting ‘mouth cancer’ in December 2010. They visited several Members of Parliament across political parties. Those warnings were never implemented. Three months since abeyance of the April 1st deadline, thousands of young Indians and tobacco control activists s have already written to the Health Ministry and the Hon’ble Prime Minister urging immediate implementation of the 85% warnings.

Pictorial health warnings, between 2009 and 2014, in India have covered 40% of the front display area of all tobacco products. This mandate falls short of the WHO-FCTC recommendation to cover at least 50% or more. Other countries in the South-Asian region like Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand have already introduced at least 85% pictorial health warnings and Australia has moved forward with plain packaging of tobacco products. India ranks poorly at 136th, in comparison to other countries on pictorial health warnings.

Very simply, pictorial health warnings convey the consequences of tobacco use. They warn users and potential users about what they are signing up for, with every intake. For young people, pack warnings are an effective way to understand the irreparable damage that tobacco use can cause, especially since the tobacco companies see tremendous merit in investing millions on the same packages, to make them colourful and attractive.

Off late, the government’s decision to stall the 85% warnings, loosen regulation on depiction of tobacco imagery in films as well as the Delhi High Court’s directive, on restricting the ban on chewing tobacco in Delhi, are regressive and murky. While countries are strategising roadmaps on tobacco-free futures, India seems to be on the wrong side of the road.

As for the tobacco industry, please know that youth around the world stand together for ‘No More Tobacco in the 21st Century’.

youth and tobacco

Image source:

By Jyotsna Singh:

Note: This article has been republished from Down To Earth.

The biggest recipients of investment through aid programmes of rich nations have been the large commercial hospital chains in the emerging economy countries. Limited to a few million dollars till some years ago, the trend has picked up internationally with hundreds of dollars doled out to corporate chains. Indian corporate hospital chains have been the biggest beneficiaries of such aid programmes. Experts have raised concerns about issues of equity and poverty redressal.

Image source:
Image source:

Authors of a recent editorial in British Medical Journal Benjamin M Hunter and Susan F Murray of King’s College London, UK, carried out a preliminary analysis of investment commitments to private hospitals and clinics by international development finance institutions. They found that at least US $2.3bn has been committed by them of which $1.9bn had been committed in the last eight years.

Indian companies received $470m, ahead of Turkey ($345m), Brazil ($232m), China ($176m), Russia ($123m), and South Africa ($100m).Five beneficiaries are international chains (Saudi German Hospitals, Apollo Hospitals, Fortis Healthcare, IHH Healthcare Berhad, and Life Healthcare) and four are national chains (Max Healthcare, Acibadem Healthcare Group, Medicina, and Rede D’Or). Three of these are Indian chains, namely Apollo Hospitals, Fortis Healthcare and Max Healthcare.

In Britain, the policy is called beyond aid, which aims to address underlying causes of poverty, and focus on the use of loans and equity investments to support the growth of private companies. As part of this strategy, tens of millions of pounds have been committed by the Department for International Development’s investment arm, CDC Group, to private hospitals and clinics in countries like India, Bangladesh and South Africa. The trend became visible in 2012.

The two direct investments by CDC Group were between 2000 and 2012 ($6.1m in Prime Cure Clinics, South Africa, and $5m in Apollo Hospital Dhaka, Bangladesh) have been dwarfed by investments of some $65.5m since (in Rainbow Hospitals and Narayana Health, both India), which are expected to enable these hospital chains to expand to new cities.

The investments are made in the name of job creation and returns on investment. The House of Commons International Development Committee published in February 2015 that beyond aid policies “would be good for the UK in the short run as well as in the long run“.

The authors highlight concerns about impoverishment caused by healthcare costs and suffering caused by unnecessary medical tests in a profit-driven sector. Citing a report by the Department for International Development, they said that far more users of private healthcare are impoverished each year in India than users of the public sector—48 per cent compared with 15 per cent incur catastrophically high out-of-pocket health spending. They said the trend of helping profit-driven hospitals will be detrimental to healthcare in low and middle income countries.

Image source: wikimedia commons

By Garima Kushwaha:

Euthanasia has recently been in discussion since Aruna Shaunbaug’s case in India, who was left in a vegetative state of pain for 42 years, but also after a healthy but depressed 24-year old girl was granted permission for euthanasia in Belgium.

Image source: wikimedia commons
Image source: wikimedia commons

Euthanasia, which is the practice of ending your own life to relieve pain and suffering, is permitted in few countries including Belgium, Netherlands, Colombia and Luxembourg. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Albania and in the US states of Washington, Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico and Montana.

Three main arguments opposing legalization of euthanasia are:

1. Considering psychiatric patients as terminally ill

Euthanasia is meant to relieve pain that is unbearable and incurable. A pain classified as such can be either physical or mental. While mental disorder can be treated through psychotherapy and/or medication, it is, many a times, referred to as “hopeless condition” and hence qualifies for euthanasia. According to the New Yorker, 13% of Belgians who were euthanized last year weren’t terminally ill, as 50-60 psychiatric patients are euthanized each year in Belgium according to the nation’s federal euthanasia commission.

A person requesting euthanasia, as per the law, must be able to request it themselves and must demonstrate that they fully understand their choice. However, depressive illnesses are known to distort a person’s thinking and hence any judgment by a mentally ill person is questionable.

2. Slippery slope from voluntary euthanasia to involuntary euthanasia

The opponents’ of active euthanasia debate how legalized voluntary euthanasia can slip into involuntary euthanasia. The professor of law and medical ethics, John Keown from University of Cambridge, says in his report, “Once a doctor is prepared to make such a judgment in the case of [a] patient capable of requesting death, the judgment can, logically, equally be made in the case of a patient incapable of requesting death”. “If a doctor thinks death would benefit the patient, why should the doctor deny the patient that benefit merely because the patient is incapable of asking for it?” he further argues.

In fact, the New England Journal of Medicine has already reported such spillovers to involuntary mercy killing in a study. According to the Daily Mail, the study found that around one in every 60 patient deaths involved someone who didn’t want to die and half of the patients were over the age of 80. Additionally, two-thirds of those who died were not suffering from a terminal disease.

The report also mentioned that very often doctors would not inform the families because they considered it a medical decision to be made by them alone. The author of the study Professor Raphael Cohen-Almagor of Hull University said: “The decision as to which life is no longer worth living is not in the hands of the patient but in the hands of the doctor.”

3. Hampers doctor-patient relationship

Euthanasia has become a part of a doctor’s job in Belgium. However, the idea that a doctor can take a life may destroy the very foundation of trust between doctors and patients when a doctor, who is seen as a healer, can decide to end the patient’s life on their discretion. This ‘God Complex’ is another point in the controversy.

The American Medical Association opposes both euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in its official statement. The statement reads: “Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.”

The fight against euthanasia law has been steaming up in Belgium after the removal of an age limit for the request. Many opposing groups in Belgium and worldwide are hoping to revoke the liberalization of the law of euthanasia and the right to die. Hence, it is extremely important to consider all the effects, concerns and potential misuse of making such a practice before we propose to bring active euthanasia to India.

Also Read: In Belgium Now, Children Can Legally Commit Assisted Suicide

Image source:

By Kundan Pandey:

Note: This article has been republished from Down To Earth.

High food prices result in malnutrition in India, says a study done on children from Andhra Pradesh.

The research published in the Journal of Nutrition says spikes in food prices during the last global recession were associated with a higher risk of malnutrition among Indian children.

Image source:
Image source:

The researchers from the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and the University of Oxford, with a team from Stanford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, examined the children who experienced “wasting”, a widely-used measure of malnutrition that shows a child has a lower-than-expected weight given their height. This is based on the standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The researchers have used survey data from a sample of 1,918 children from poor, middle-income, and wealthy households living in the state, since 2002 for a longitudinal study on child poverty.

The researchers observed progress in child nutrition between 2002 and 2006 when the proportion of wasted children in (undivided) Andhra Pradesh fell slightly from 19 per cent to 18 per cent. However, this improvement had reversed by 2009 when 28 per cent of children were wasting—an increase of 10 percentage points compared with 2006. This was after high inflation in food prices, beginning in 2007 and continuing through 2009.

The researchers found that children’s food consumption dropped significantly between 2006 and 2009 as food prices increased. There were corresponding increases in wasting among children from poor and middle-income households, but not high-income households between 2006 and 2009. The paper suggests this supports the theory that poorer households have the smallest food reserves and are therefore hardest hit by rising food prices.

The researchers examined interview data from each household on food expenditure based on 15-day periods in 2006 and 2009 across eight food categories (rice, wheat, legumes, meat, fish, eggs, milk, fruits and vegetables). To examine the rise in food prices, the researchers used monthly price records collected by the Government of India.

Lead author of the study from PHFI, Sukumar Vellakkal, said that these findings suggest that poorer households face the greatest risk of malnutrition, in spite of the public distribution system, which provides subsidised food to a large proportion of the population. Better targeting of food security policies may be necessary to meet the needs of India’s most vulnerable households, he added.

Study co-author Jasmine Fledderjohann, of the University of Oxford, said, “Our findings show a sharp increase in wasting associated with food price spikes. It is possible that this rise would have been even greater without governmental programmes like the Public Distribution Scheme or the Midday Meal Scheme, which provides free meals to school children. It’s important to recognise that households may try a number of strategies to cope with rising food prices, such as going without, or switching to low-cost alternatives. More detailed research is needed in this area.”

Image source: Reshma Valliappan

By Reshma Valliappan:

Summer camps are often a thrilling time for kids. It’s those fun moments where a teenager gets to discover their wild side in the wilderness. Every camp specializes in certain outdoor activities based on where they are located. It could be trekking, climbing hills, kayaking, camping, singing songs around a fire, telling ghost stories, getting a crush, learning to cook without a stove. These are just a few.

Image source: Reshma Valliappan
Image source: Reshma Valliappan

However, there are camps that offer the complete opposite. These are basically for troubled teenagers who otherwise spend most of their regular school days doing all of the above while their friends are studying. The camps meant for these kids are devoid of animals and wildlife. There is no climbing, rafting, telling stories, listening to songs and music, or any emotional connections which would be allowed. They are called boot camps or correctional camps. Although they aren’t necessarily named so. Correctional camps are used for many purposes. Highly influenced by military training techniques – some even rely on “quick-fix” solutions. Children who are sent here are considered “lost cases” and parents feel that they have lost all control over these kids. In order to regain control of their children – these subtle named camps work with teenagers using behaviour modification. If you have studied psychology, in those wonderful stupid books of yours, thinking a little bit of Pavlov and Watson makes you an awesome two faced helper – think again.

As a teenager, I had run away from home and begun cutting myself at a very young age. Added to this list was my self-destructive behaviour and recklessness. This topped up with the layer of being tomboyish, playing basketball and being a flirt at a very young age qualified me as a highly appropriate candidate for one such camp. The most important trigger here was when a psychiatrist told my parents I was a boy stuck in a girl’s body. This jolted the daylights out of my parents, putting them into a crisis every day when they saw their daughter showing all the traits the shrink had told them. No surprise that many other parents were in the same boat, as it must have been their collective helplessness that had them throw us in the same camp.

I saw kids walking in, being held tightly by their parents. Some had this fear on their faces which made them look as red as tomatoes, almost like they had been crying on their way here or had most probably been slapped to get here. Mom said, “We”ll see you on the last day” Mr.Crater Face made it very clear to us that there was no escape. While he was introducing himself, I clearly remember how he glanced at some of the boys in the room. He picked on them and told them their pretty faces weren’t going to get them anywhere in life. I was put in the first group and he called us the “difficult attention seeking, good for nothing trouble makers”. As he approached one kid after the other, we heard crying. Some kids had started howling even. Every night we were watched and, we watched. And every night one of us tried comforting the other but simply could not.

The next day he stood and stared at me. Then asked me to make a circle and asked, “Are you a girl or a boy?” “I am a girl” “Really?” “Yes” He asked me to circle again. This time I saw my roommate in tears. I couldn’t understand why though. He made me make another circle and said, “I don’t see anything on you that says you are girl.” He looked at the others and made me stand in different positions.

Does she look like a girl to you?” He asked again, “Where does it show that she is a girl? Does she look like a girl from the back? If you saw her from the back (he made me stand with my back facing them) would you think she is a girl or boy?” They replied, “Boy”. My lips clamped together and I had no answer when he asked me, “Are you a girl or a boy?”

What really happened in between those days are better left forgotten. I don’t know where the rest of the kids are. I don’t know if they even survived after that. We were turned into robots in just one week. (Taken from Fallen Standing; My Life As A Schizophrenist)

I don’t know if I should be happy to be alive or grateful to have forgotten other days of the camp or blessed to be able to tell my story after 20 years. My 15 year old self is still stuck somewhere and I’ve let them both (the girl and the boy) live through me because there can be no other way.

I still do wonder what happened to those kids from my camp. I wonder if they’ve grown as I have. Or if they took their own lives. Or have they just remained robots without any memory. I know Mr.CraterFace is a big name now in my country. I did google him. He is on Facebook spreading the message of love on large platforms. I think I will be blessed if our paths never cross because my 15 year old self might do something I wouldn’t want.

There is nothing I can do to undo anything but only know my purpose and find my own meaning in life. I can only hope that every parent who feels they are losing control of their teenager reads this. Many people don’t even know such camps exist and many parents don’t know what happens in them. It always is too late by the time they do know. We only hear about stuff like this in movies – but movies are based on many true accounts. Every reckless, troubled, disturbed teenager is already living their lives as free spirits. We are called rebels because you expect us to fit into the framework as other children do. Don’t try to correct us because we will grow up hating ourselves or you. Change the social constructs around teenagers and children. Take out time to know the person inside.

For wannabe psychologists who think they know better, every ‘research’ out there on classical conditioning, is a child’s life. Every theory based on psychological experiments cost a child his or her emotional and sexual life. Every label you think you want to use on us, to enable us, to understand our conditions better gives someone else the power to continue such behaviour modifications. There is no monitoring system for the human mind and the abuse against it.

The field of psychology and psychiatry needs an entire course on developing a conscience before learning anything else.

I only wish for humans to develop a collective conscience and humanity.

This article was originally published here.



By Shambhavi Saxena:

At 18, Wisconsin photographer and graphic designer Amy Bleuel lost her father to suicide. To honour him, and break the silence surrounding mental illness, she founded Project Semicolon, “a faith-based non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction and self-injury.” Because of the project, people are getting themselves inked with semicolons, and flocking to image sharing websites with the results.

What does a punctuation mark have to do with mental health, you ask? To a writer, a semicolon means there’s more to come. To someone dealing with depression, or other forms of mental illness a semicolon means “you are the author of your story and you are choosing to continue” (as Bleuel told ABC News). Often, people with mood disorders like depression are driven to suicide for a number of reasons: lack of support and understanding, no access to medication, or the overwhelming feelings brought on by the disorder itself. That, all of this must be suffered alone, and usually without being discussed, isn’t helpful at all. Project Semicolon, in Bleuel’s own words, exists to “start a conversation about suicide, mental illness and addiction that can’t be stopped.”

When she started Project Semicolon in 2013, Bleuel recognized how prevalent depression and other mood disorders are, not just in the U.S., but the world over. Recent research suggests that one in ten Indians suffer from depression. In fact, the World Health Organization published a report last year detailing alarming suicide rates in the country: “258,075 people committed suicide in India in 2012, with 99,977 women and 158,098 men taking their own lives.” The fact that there is only one mental health worker to every 10,000 people globally, and one to every 1, 00,000 people in low- and middle-income countries, is equally worrisome.

Since its inception, Project Semicolon has engaged an audience of more than 74,000 people on Facebook, has a street team taking care of awareness events and fundraising involving more individuals. So, are these tattoos going to take the wind out of the sails of neuro-normativity? Like other divisions of power, neurotypical privilege is going to be hard to break down. But here’s an earnest effort worth backing.

In the past, mental illness was cast as the outcome of interfering spirits, demonic possession, divine retribution or immoral behaviour, and answered with physical punishment or even death sentences. Half a century ago, medical practitioners decided electrocution, near drowning and lobotomies were appropriate, and before you think we’re out of the woods in 2015, remember that people deemed ‘deviant’ by society are still subject to the invasive methods of shock and conversion therapy. Silence about these issues has further contributed to a widespread ignorance, insensitivity and very little pro-activeness, when it comes to responding to or mitigating a mentally stressful situation for any individual. Conversations about depression increased globally following Hollywood actor and comedian Robin William’s suicide. In India, actor Deepika Padukone’s own struggle has opened up the dialogue further.These conversations have brought to our notice the ableism implicit in our view of the world, our standards, our infrastructure, and even our very language, and the very urgent need for change. Today, among several growing efforts to make talking about mental well-being that much easier, Project Semicolon is making waves- one tattoo at a time.

It’s time we talked about mental health; it’s about time everyone is heard.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

By Ruchika Thakur:

India is the country with the largest number of diabetics in the world and the percentage is only expected to double by 2025. Obesity being one of the leading causes for diabetes; it becomes crucial for us to take that extra step to living a healthy life . Watching TV for long hours, binging on unhealthy foods and lack of physical activity are the known causes for obesity which in turn leads to diabetes.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

But it’s not only our lifestyle; Indians are inherently prone to contracting diabetes because of the physical structure. We are known to have a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) plus we have a higher percentage of fat concentrated in the abdominal area compared to the Europeans. Indians also have an increased insulin resistance compared to Caucasians leading to Insulin Resistance Syndrome (IRS). A strong familial aggregation is also observed among Indians, making genetic factors a strong cause for diabetes.

According to International Diabetes Federation, India had 19.4 million diabetics in 1994 and this number increased three times in 2014 to 66.8 million. This means, approximately 17% of the world’s diabetics are Indians and another 77 million Indians are believed to be pre-diabetic according to the Indian Council of Medical Research.

Urban India is especially prone to contracting diabetes compared to rural India. Why exactly is this disease spreading like an epidemic in India? Why are Indians more prone to having diabetes? According to this research paper published in the year 2004, the answer lies in our unhealthy eating habits, physical inactivity coupled with inherent genetic attributes and difference in body composition. Many young adults are contracting Type 2 diabetes, which is full blown diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks and permanently disables the insulin-making cells in the pancreas. This is insulin-dependent diabetes. The second kind of diabetes is the severe form of diabetes, which was earlier unheard of among young adults and children but with increasing obesity in children, a large number of children are plagued with this disease.

So what is the solution? We can’t just blame our genetics for being ill. The solution lies in being healthy, moreover, adopting a healthy lifestyle.

The government has acted in a positive manner to curb the menace of diabetes. It launched a programme based on pilot basis called the National Program for Control of Diabetes (NPCD) in the year 2008, to make people aware about the non-communicable diseases. The main objective was early diagnosis and intervention at nascent stages of the disease. Early diagnosis of diabetes may prevent or slow the onset of full-blown diabetes especially amongst children who show mild symptoms and remain undiagnosed for a long time. The program also aimed at establishing intervention at community and school level.

A positive alteration in one’s lifestyle can prevent diabetes. It can be avoided by regular physical activity, paying attention to your diet and eating healthy foods. And as someone has rightly said “small steps lead to bigger things”, so start with smaller alterations like going for walks, reducing Trans-fats, sugary drinks and opting for their healthier counterparts. After all, it is for you to decide if you want to be a part of the epidemic or not.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Steve Korver:

The Tamponator

The only blood I shed is my enemy’s.”

These are the words of Furiousa, the warrior chick from the blockbuster movie Mad Max: Fury Road, as she gives credit to the absorbing power of her tampons for her ability to kick ass.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, this scenario is just a parody (‘Furiosa of “Mad Maxcan even make tampon commercials look badass’.)

Tampon tantrum

It might sound like we’re stating the obvious, but for most women a quarter of the month, every month, is taken up with your period. That is almost a quarter of your life, ladies!” according to ‘Tampon Run is the best new computer game. Period.’

So why is something so ‘normal’ still so rarely discussed?

This stigma around menstrual cycles inspired two young American girls to create the game Tampon Run where you get to throw tampons at the heads of little men. “Think Super Mario meets Temple Run”.

Just don’t run out of tampon ammo, ’cause then you’re on your own.”

Tampon activism

Men’s restrooms have everything men need, women’s do not. Tampons and pads should be treated like toilet paper. It’s the same,” says the founder of #FreeTheTampons, a movement that wants to make free feminine hygiene products available in all public bathrooms.

And it’s not just females who understand the importance of making sanitary products accessible for all: 15-year-old Jose Angel Garcia of Miami has implemented his own hashtag activism, with #RealMenSupportWomen. The high school student now carries pads and tampons in his backpack as a resource should his female friends be caught without one,” according to ‘Bathroom inequality: TP Is free but tampons aren’t’.

Meanwhile, thousands of women and men from around the world are taking selfies while posing with a tampon, as part of the very successful #JustATampon campaign. “Donations will help tackle discrimination faced by girls globally, not just around menstrual hygiene but other issues they face including child marriage and female genital mutilation,” according to the initiators.

Swiss Army Tampon

Besides damming the flow, tampons have another 1001 uses (very much like condoms).

For example, you can save a life by inserting a tampon into a bullet or knife wound. (‘The Swiss Army Tampon: a life-saving wilderness survival tool.)

Environmentalists are currently using tampons as a cheap way to test rivers for pollution (‘Glowing tampons help detect sewage leaks‘.)

Soon scientists hope to use tampons to screen for endometrial cancer – which accounts for 6% of all cancers for women (‘How tampons might one day help detect cancer’.)

Tampons can also be used to start fires (‘Woman lights tampons aflame, throws them at S.F. building’.)

The real enemy

While fabulously useful, tampons do have another problem, besides being overly stigmatised: ‘Disposable tampons aren’t sustainable, but do women want to talk about it?’.

In short, tampons and pads take a lot of resources and chemicals to produce, and centuries to degrade.

Today tampons are used by over 100 million women worldwide, while pads, which are much more widespread on a global scale due to a cultural aversion to tampons in many regions, comprise a multi-billion dollar industry.”

Other, more sustainable, feminine hygiene products are entering the market, such as re-usable ‘period panties’. In addition, organisations such as Be Girl are working with women in communities around the world to come up with their own locally based solutions. But without being backed by huge marketing budgets, these efforts remain niche.

The paper feminine hygiene industry has done a very good job of convincing women that their period is something [which] should be out of sight and out of mind, something they shouldn’t talk about,” says one activist. “Think about the advertisements we see – it’s all about silent wrappers, discrete and smaller products that are easier to hide or dispose of, and concealing the fact you have your period. Without opportunities for positive period talk, women and girls may not have the opportunity to learn about or even ask about other, more sustainable options.”

Who’s the enemy now?

This article was originally published on Love Matters.


By Jyotsna Singh:

Note: This article has been republished from Down To Earth.

A brand new advertisement with a twist starring real people, not actors, is going to haunt international soft drink giant Coca Cola. Washington-based non-profit health advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has re-made a 1971 ad of Coke with a change of lyrics. It stars people suffering from diabetes, tooth decay, weight gain, and other diseases related to soda consumption. Originally in English, the ad has been dubbed into many language including Hindi and Chinese.


In Coke’s “Hilltop”, which was first aired in 1971, actors sing, “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony; I’d like to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company.” But according to the US-based nonprofit health advocacy organisation behind the new video, CSPI, it is time to change the lyrics.

For decades, Coca Cola, PepsiCo, and other makers of sugar drinks have used sophisticated, manipulative advertising techniques to convince children and adults alike that a disease-promoting drink will make them feel happy and even sexy,” said CSPI executive director Michael F Jacobson. “And they are increasingly doing what the tobacco industry has done: market their unhealthy beverages in low and middle-income countries. They are investing billions of rupees in India, China, and other countries to distract us away from tooth decay and diabetes with happy thoughts. We thought it was time to change the tune.”

Jacobson said that because Indians and Chinese drink much less sugar drinks than people in the United States, Europe, and Mexico, companies see those countries are opportunities for huge future profits. However, he said, the increased marketing and consumption of the drinks will inevitably lead to increasing rates of obesity, tooth decay, diabetes, and heart disease.

India’s per capita carbonated beverage consumption was around 0.6 litres in 2013. The Chinese consumption was 1.47 litres per person in the same year. This is way below 19.96 litres among Americans and 20.61 litres in Mexicans. Even in South American countries, consumption of carbonated drinks is high. In Argentina, per capita consumption in 2013 was 16.56 litres, it was 15.37 litres in Chile and 9.72 litres in Brazil.

With companies investing billions of dollars to maximise consumption of sugary soft drinks in India, as well as other low and middle-income countries, those nations must take steps to protect the public’s health,” said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, of the Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi.

A paper published in international journal Circulation shows that there were 180,000 deaths in the world in 2010 due to consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, with 72.3 per cent from diabetes, 24.2 per cent from cardiovascular disease, and 3.5 per cent from cancers. The findings demonstrated 75 per cent of deaths in low and middle income countries.

In 2010, 2.7 million deaths occurred due to lack of consumption of fruit and vegetables. Authors of the paper titled Estimated Global, Regional, and National Disease Burdens Related to Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption in 2010, argued that “compared with sodium which is nearly ubiquitous across the food supply, or fruits and vegetables which represent large and diverse classes of foods, sugary soft beverages represent only a single class of beverage.”

green revolution

By Akhil Kumar:

A nine-day long online film festival about food and farming called “9×9 Online Film Festival” starts today. As part of this online film festival, 9 short-films about food and farming will be made available to the public. These films have been made by ‘The Source Project‘, and they claim that the sole objective behind these films is to help people understand the reality of what’s really happening to the world’s food and farming systems, and why.

In 1966, India embraced chemical based agriculture, which was ironically called the ‘Green Revolution‘. In this film, which is the first in the series of the 9 films, interviews with Indian food policy analyst Devinder Sharma, and the farming community of Punjab reveal a grim picture of a failed system. Devinder Sharma warns that Punjab might become a ‘citadel‘ of a devastating ‘development model‘ as we are now witnessing the beginning of the second Green Revolution in India. “The Punjab in the north west of India was an experiment to test an oil based, chemically dependent, corporately controlled model. The land, the water and its inhabitants are now testament to a failed system. A system driven not by a desire to enhance an already sustainable system but to destroy it and replace it with one orientated around profit and plunder,” says the video description. Watch the full video here and tell us what you think. To know more about the film festival, visit The Rules’ website.

Not a very Green Revolution from the source project on Vimeo.

To know more about what I think of this film, follow me on Twitter at @Akhil1490

Being vegetarian saves cows' lives, but threatens the future of other sentient creatures. nunro

By Mike Archer AM:

The ethics of eating red meat have been grilled recently by critics who question its consequences for environmental health and animal welfare. But if you want to minimise animal suffering and promote more sustainable agriculture, adopting a vegetarian diet might be the worst possible thing you could do.

Being vegetarian saves cows' lives, but threatens the future of other sentient creatures. nunro
Being vegetarian saves cows’ lives, but threatens the future of other sentient creatures. nunro

Renowned ethicist Peter Singer says if there is a range of ways of feeding ourselves, we should choose the way that causes the least unnecessary harm to animals. Most animal rights advocates say this means we should eat plants rather than animals.

It takes somewhere between two to ten kilos of plants, depending on the type of plants involved, to produce one kilo of animal. Given the limited amount of productive land in the world, it would seem to some to make more sense to focus our culinary attentions on plants, because we would arguably get more energy per hectare for human consumption. Theoretically this should also mean fewer sentient animals would be killed to feed the ravenous appetites of ever more humans.

But before scratching rangelands-produced red meat off the “good to eat” list for ethical or environmental reasons, let’s test these presumptions.

Published figures suggest that, in Australia, producing wheat and other grains results in:

  • at least 25 times more sentient animals being killed per kilogram of useable protein
  • more environmental damage, and
  • a great deal more animal cruelty than does farming red meat.

How is this possible?

Agriculture to produce wheat, rice and pulses requires clear-felling native vegetation. That act alone results in the deaths of thousands of Australian animals and plants per hectare. Since Europeans arrived on this continent we have lost more than half of Australia’s unique native vegetation, mostly to increase production of monocultures of introduced species for human consumption.

Most of Australia’s arable land is already in use. If more Australians want their nutritional needs to be met by plants, our arable land will need to be even more intensely farmed. This will require a net increase in the use of fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides and other threats to biodiversity and environmental health. Or, if existing laws are changed, more native vegetation could be cleared for agriculture (an area the size of Victoria plus Tasmania would be needed to produce the additional amount of plant-based food required).

Australian cattle eat mostly pasture, reducing their environmental impact. Chris Runoff

Most cattle slaughtered in Australia feed solely on pasture. This is usually rangelands, which constitute about 70% of the continent.

Grazing occurs on primarily native ecosystems. These have and maintain far higher levels of native biodiversity than croplands. The rangelands can’t be used to produce crops, so production of meat here doesn’t limit production of plant foods. Grazing is the only way humans can get substantial nutrients from 70% of the continent.

In some cases rangelands have been substantially altered to increase the percentage of stock-friendly plants. Grazing can also cause significant damage such as soil loss and erosion. But it doesn’t result in the native ecosystem “blitzkrieg” required to grow crops.

This environmental damage is causing some well-known environmentalists to question their own preconceptions. British environmental advocate George Monbiot, for example, publically converted from vegan to omnivore after reading Simon Fairlie’s expose about meat’s sustainability. And environmental activist Lierre Keith documented the awesome damage to global environments involved in producing plant foods for human consumption.

In Australia we can also meet part of our protein needs using sustainably wild-harvested kangaroo meat. Unlike introduced meat animals, they don’t damage native biodiversity. They are soft-footed, low methane-producing and have relatively low water requirements. They also produce an exceptionally healthy low-fat meat.

In Australia 70% of the beef produced for human consumption comes from animals raised on grazing lands with very little or no grain supplements. At any time, only 2% of Australia’s national herd of cattle are eating grains in feed lots; the other 98% are raised on and feeding on grass. Two-thirds of cattle slaughtered in Australia feed solely on pasture.

To produce protein from grazing beef, cattle are killed. One death delivers (on average, across Australia’s grazing lands) a carcass of about 288 kilograms. This is approximately 68% boneless meat which, at 23% protein equals 45kg of protein per animal killed. This means 2.2 animals killed for each 100kg of useable animal protein produced.

Producing protein from wheat means ploughing pasture land and planting it with seed. Anyone who has sat on a ploughing tractor knows the predatory birds that follow you all day are not there because they have nothing better to do. Ploughing and harvesting kill small mammals, snakes, lizards and other animals in vast numbers. In addition, millions of mice are poisoned in grain storage facilities every year.

However, the largest and best-researched loss of sentient life is the poisoning of mice during plagues.

With its soft feet and low water use, kangaroo is a source of less ecologically damaging meat. No Dust

Each area of grain production in Australia has a mouse plague on average every four years, with 500-1000 mice per hectare. Poisoning kills at least 80% of the mice.

At least 100 mice are killed per hectare per year (500/4 × 0.8) to grow grain. Average yields are about 1.4 tonnes of wheat/hectare; 13% of the wheat is useable protein. Therefore, at least 55 sentient animals die to produce 100kg of useable plant protein: 25 times more than for the same amount of rangelands beef.

Some of this grain is used to “finish” beef cattle in feed lots (some is food for dairy cattle, pigs and poultry), but it is still the case that many more sentient lives are sacrificed to produce useable protein from grains than from rangelands cattle.

There is a further issue to consider here: the question of sentience – the capacity to feel, perceive or be conscious.

You might not think the billions of insects and spiders killed by grain production are sentient, though they perceive and respond to the world around them. You may dismiss snakes and lizards as cold-blooded creatures incapable of sentience, though they form pair bonds and care for their young. But what about mice?

Mice are far more sentient than we thought. They sing complex, personalised love songs to each other that get more complex over time. Singing of any kind is a rare behaviour among mammals, previously known only to occur in whales, bats and humans.

Girl mice, like swooning human teenagers, try to get close to a skilled crooner. Now researchers are trying to determine whether song innovations are genetically programmed or or whether mice learn to vary their songs as they mature.

“Hoping to prepare them for an ethical oversight” Nikkita Archer


Baby mice left in the nest sing to their mothers — a kind of crying song to call them back. For every female killed by the poisons we administer, on average five to six totally dependent baby mice will, despite singing their hearts out to call their mothers back home, inevitably die of starvation, dehydration or predation.

When cattle, kangaroos and other meat animals are harvested they are killed instantly. Mice die a slow and very painful death from poisons. From a welfare point of view, these methods are among the least acceptable modes of killing. Although joeys are sometimes killed or left to fend for themselves, only 30% of kangaroos shot are females, only some of which will have young (the industry’s code of practice says shooters should avoid shooting females with dependent young). However, many times this number of dependent baby mice are left to die when we deliberately poison their mothers by the millions.

Replacing red meat with grain products leads to many more sentient animal deaths, far greater animal suffering and significantly more environmental degradation. Protein obtained from grazing livestock costs far fewer lives per kilogram: it is a more humane, ethical and environmentally-friendly dietary option.

So, what does a hungry human do? Our teeth and digestive system are adapted for omnivory. But we are now challenged to think about philosophical issues. We worry about the ethics involved in killing grazing animals and wonder if there are other more humane ways of obtaining adequate nutrients.

Relying on grains and pulses brings destruction of native ecosystems, significant threats to native species and at least 25 times more deaths of sentient animals per kilogram of food. Most of these animals sing love songs to each other, until we inhumanely mass-slaughter them.

Former Justice of the High Court, the Hon. Michael Kirby, wrote that:

“In our shared sentience, human beings are intimately connected with other animals. Endowed with reason and speech, we are uniquely empowered to make ethical decisions and to unite for social change on behalf of others that have no voice. Exploited animals cannot protest about their treatment or demand a better life. They are entirely at our mercy. So every decision of animal welfare, whether in Parliament or the supermarket, presents us with a profound test of moral character”.

We now know the mice have a voice, but we haven’t been listening.

The challenge for the ethical eater is to choose the diet that causes the least deaths and environmental damage. There would appear to be far more ethical support for an omnivorous diet that includes rangeland-grown red meat and even more support for one that includes sustainably wild-harvested kangaroo.

Thanks to many colleagues including Rosie Cooney, Peter Ampt, Grahame Webb, Bob Beale, Gordon Grigg, John Kelly, Suzanne Hand, Greg Miles, Alex Baumber, George Wilson, Peter Banks, Michael Cermak, Barry Cohen, Dan Lunney, Ernie Lundelius Jr and anonymous referees of the Australian Zoologist paper who provided helpful critiques.

The ConversationMike Archer AM is Professor, Evolution of Earth & Life Systems Research Group at UNSW Australia. This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Image credit: Loren Kerns

By Dee:

I am 18 years old. I’m in recovery from self-harm. And I know I’m not the only one. There are many more just like me. And it’s time we voiced ourselves. It’s time people listened. So, this is my attempt to bring about awareness.

Image credit: Loren Kerns
Image credit: Loren Kerns

It’s really important for us as humans to express ourselves. When we’re happy we laugh and smile. When we’re sad or hurt we cry or talk it over with friends, right? Let’s just say I’m different. What if you can’t do that? It’s all bottled up. It needs a release. Self-harm helps. When you cut or burn or whatever, the first priority for your body is to manage the injury and the unwanted emotion is pushed away. For the time being it’s being managed.

But it only gets you this far. You can’t do this forever. You decide that now you’re tired of doing it day in and day out. You can’t live without it. And you know you need help. That “self-harm voice” is screaming “it’s no use”. You can’t stop. But you decide you don’t want this ‘friend’ anymore.

You never think it’s this hard to stop. But it is because it’s not just a habit, it’s a defence, a way of managing emotions, a comforting soothing thing. But you have to stop before it’s worse because honestly, you know you deserve better.

You really wish people understood. But nobody does. And worse, even when you try to explain, nobody wants to. And that includes “professionals“. You call up helplines to hear “if you want to stop, just stop” and you try explaining “but I have to” just to hear “is anyone holding a gun to your head and forcing you?”

The battle is always going to be hard because self-harm never occurs in isolation. It’s a secondary response to a problem which is too hard to deal with (depression, anxiety, abuse, loneliness). The best way to manage it is get professional help, which is why professionals need to know about it. So that when a person takes that step to ask for help, they are given the support they deserve.

About the Author: Just a kid wanting to spread awareness about mental health. When I’m older I would like to work in the field of mental health, probably as a psychiatrist or psychologist. My counselor literally keeps me alive, she is that awesome. I would love to help people, specifically children who are abused.


Image credit: 
Charlotte Astrid

By Meetu Pandey:

I came across a news article about an anorexic, 17, who hid weights in her pockets to fool nurses, and died three days before Christmas weighing around 25 kilograms. RIP Love. As a woman who struggled with being a skinny adolescent and now an even skinnier adult, I understand what she must have gone through.

Image credit:  Charlotte Astrid
Image credit: Charlotte Astrid

I might not have been Anorexic, but like millions of ultra-thin girls around the globe, I too have had my share of criticism and humiliation. It is impossible to get through without dents on your self-esteem at some point in your journey. It’s only after we grow up that we realize that physical appearances do not define beauty or success, there is so much more to life than those numbers on your weighing machine. But not everyone survives to understand this, “they” don’t let you.

My anger is mostly towards the individuals who casually slap the hurtful term ‘Anorexia’ on the faces of every thin individual they meet. They need to update their knowledge to understand that Anorexia isn’t a synonym for thin. Being thin is healthy, being Anorexic is fatal. In your utter ignorance you are ruining the confidence of a perfectly healthy person by referring to him/her as a sufferer of a fatal eating disorder. As if there wasn’t enough to deal with in our lives already! Our plates aren’t the only struggles we go through. Come shopping with us for a closer look. The jeans that are impossible to fit, even the smallest sizes come hanging loosely. The pretty top we lose our hearts to, are not always available in an XS. The watch’s strap that always needs an extra piercing. The skirt that we finally decide to wear to that party that got rude comments on our pencil thin legs since you forgot that they were holding up a person with feelings. A complete human being is reduced to a size.

Every time an Aunty exclaims, “Why don’t you eat something?” There is an urge to scream at her, “How else do you think I am alive?” The not so skinny friends who lose breath when climbing those stairs, they never fail to remind us how they are available for fat donation and that we are just made up of bones. Do you even realize you are almost dying on the 30th step? And you are not even fat, you are the “so called” healthy perfection personified panting there and this skinny piece of skeleton is breathing gloriously. And God forbid if we decide to play a sport – “You’ll disappear!” is what we hear from everyone. Now this could make anyone wonder about the lectures she must have missed back in school to have not known about this major breakthrough in medical science.

You rush to help a friend with lifting stuff and they don’t let you, citing the risk that weights must have on your flickering existence. No sweet friend, it is this shaming attitude of yours that is weighing heavily on my existence and not the silly weights.

I can carry them, I am not sick, but your lame remarks are! And no! That hand you put around my wrist making a sad face pointing my weight loss is neither concern nor care. It screams “Look at you“.

You better stop touching us like that, we know the inches our wrist measures, we live in that body, and we see it all the time. If you really care, then appreciate us. The most crucial help I received when going through the struggle was not from doctors or friends who kept saying I am thin. It came from my family, who made me feel I look beautiful and called me healthy even at my ugliest! That’s how I could start believing in myself. That’s how we develop our own mechanism to shield ourselves from the social pressures and critics, it takes time but eventually we realize that what people say doesn’t matter, we can be whoever we want to be and I choose to be my kind of beautiful.

Instead of making the little young soul so conscious about her body frame let her just go to school and study and not hide behind skirts, socks, blazers and quarter length tops. I wish people could be sensitive in their choice of words. How could a young, beautiful teen with dreams, hopes, excitement, a new dress and a lip balm she requested her Mom to buy for your party be a Skeleton?

Image Credit: Developedment

By Bhanvi Satija:

Malarkodi, a 46-year old woman worked for 18 years as a sweeper, at the Hindustan Unilever Kodaikanal Thermometer factor in Tamil Nadu. Today, she suffers from various nervous tremors, gynaecological problems and hearing impairment. Bhawani, another ex-employee at the same factory was a victim of six miscarriages. The cause of the ailing conditions of these two women is the same: a lack of safety measures at their workplace. These horrific accounts narrated in this story have been overlooked for many years, and the victims are yet to receive justice as their calls fall on deaf ears.

Image Credit: Developedment
Image Credit: Developedment

Between 1982 and 2001, there was a thermometer factory in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu; the workers of this factory were exposed to mercury in the workplace due to inadequate protection from toxic mercury. In the 18 years of operation, the factory exposed about 600 workers to toxic mercury – at least 45 of whom have died prematurely, and many others are suffering from nervous disorders, dental problems, vision and hearing impairment and skin problems. In this period, the factory also caused widespread mercury pollution through improper disposal of broken thermometer waste containing large quantities of mercury. It sold much of this waste to a junkyard in Kodaikanal and also dumped large quantities in the forest behind the factory. The plant was eventually shut down in 2001, after the Anglo-Dutch multinational faced massive protests.

Ever since the shutdown, workers have protested outside Hindustan Unilever offices in Mumbai twice – in 2007 and this year. In 2007, the ex-workers had joined to form the 559-strong Ex-Mercury Employees Welfare Association and in 2006 filed a PIL suit in the Madras High Court. The association demanded an economic rehabilitation scheme, healthcare treatment and a monitoring programme at the company’s expense for everyone who ever worked in the factory. It also demanded that the company be prosecuted. HUL, however, denied that any of the health problems of the workers or their families were the result of mercury exposure in the factory. The Madras High Court had constituted a five-member expert committee to decide on the mercury workers’ health claims. The committee had later failed to find sufficient evidence to link the current clinical condition of the factory workers to past mercury exposure in the factory.

Recently, a study done by the Chennai-based NGO, Community Environmental Monitoring has found high levels of toxic mercury in vegetation and sediment collected in the vicinity of the factory. The study further confirmed that HUL’s factory site is still contaminating the air and leaking poisons into its surroundings, including the ecologically sensitive Pambar Shola and the Pambar River. “The factory site continues to release mercury into the environment,” said Nityanand Jayaraman, advisor to Community Environmental Monitoring, to The Hindu.

At the same time, this year a shareholder took note of the plea of the protestors and raised the issue at the company’s Annual General Meeting. “I had been privy to the issue and protests since 2007, and had raised the issue at the meeting. After I raised the issue, CEO Harish Manwani informed all shareholders that the matter would be attended to immediately, and that he wouldn’t mind an out-of-court settlement taking into account the company and workers affected”, said Deepika D’Souza, an environment consultant and a shareholder who attended the AGM, to CatchNews.

The CEO’s statement at the AGM has given some hope to the protestors. However, the company, in its official statement has never fully accepted responsibility and continues to state that “There were no adverse effects on the health of the employees or the environment.” In fact, the focus of the AGM was also, supposedly, on how to avoid a Maggi-like fallout and not about the plea of the ex-employees.

This case is a stark reminder of the Bhopal disaster, in terms of the non-accountability of those responsible. Will the people of Kodaikanal also find space in the next generation EVS classes? Or will justice be provided? Only time (and Harish Manwani) can tell.

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