There are 47 Islamic nations among the 177 countries of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) that officially co-sponsored–with India–a resolution to establish June 21 as “International Day of Yoga”.
Yoga is a 5,000-year-old physical, mental and spiritual practice rooted in Hindu tradition, a religious origin that has caused disquiet among some Indian Muslim clerics.
This is the highest number of co-sponsors ever for any UNGA resolution, according to the Union Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). The resolution was passed unopposed without a vote.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promoted yoga as a means to project India’s soft power. Some critics accuse him of subtly furthering a Hindu agenda, while some representatives of Indian Islamic organisations support yoga day, saying that namaz includes yogic postures.
Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Brunei, Mauritiana, Cameroon, Libya and Burkina Faso were among the 8 members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that did not co-sponsor the proposal for the yoga day.
The Non-OIC members that did not co-sponsor the resolution were North Korea, Estonia, Namibia, Swaziland, Switzerland, Monaco, Solomon Islands and Zambia.
More than 35,000 people will gather at Rajpath, New Delhi, to mark yoga day. Among them will be the Prime Minister, his cabinet ministers and diplomats.
In addition, more than 1.1 million National Cadet Corps cadets nationwide will perform a “common yoga protocol”, established by the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH). So, too, will about 0.9 million policemen and women.
Some of the yogic postures under the common yoga protocol:
The word “Yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘Yuj’, meaning to join or to unite and dates to 2,700 BC, and according to this government document, considered an “immortal cultural outcome” of the Indus-Saraswati Valley Civilisation.
The government and yoga: close links
Yoga and naturopathy are widely promoted by the government of India, specifically by the AYUSH ministry.
There are two National Institutes, the Morarji Desai National Institute for Yoga (MDNIY), New Delhi and National Institute for Naturopathy (NIN), Pune, and one Central Council for Research in Yoga & Naturopathy (CCRYN), New Delhi. Granted Rs 101.5 crore over the last four years by the government, they hold exhibitions, seminars and conferences.
MDNIY recently started a B.Sc. in yoga science, and there are 18 colleges in eight states imparting a five-and-a-half year Bachelor of Naturopathy & Yogic Sciences degree and more than 50 stand-alone yoga colleges offering B.Sc., M.Sc., diploma and certificate courses.
The government has also proposed an All-India Yoga Institute.
This article was originally published on IndiaSpend.
Having a baby in a remote village of eastern Bihar in India means being pregnant with anxiety and a sense of helplessness. Without access access to health infrastructure to monitor pregnancies and provisions for emergency care, it is a life threatening situation for both the mother and the unborn child . In cases of abortions, women who approach state-run health facilities are turned away due to a lack of infrastructure and are forced to approach private practitioners. Most of them cannot afford their services. Here’s one such case:
A 24-year old woman in labour was kept waiting for the doctor for 6 hours. The doctor on duty did not turn up and she delivered in the presence of a nurse. She was forced to pay INR 400 for her delivery and even, to use the toilet. She neither received free medicines nor nutrition. This is despite the provisions of the Janani Suraksha Yojana, the Indian government’s scheme to bring down maternal deaths, which makes provisions to reduce out-of-pocket expenditure for women below poverty line —providing free antenatal check ups, IFA tablets, medicines, nutrition in health institutions, provision for blood transfusion, and transport from health centres and back. Mary Nisha reports from Godda district, Jharkhand.
A series on community monitoring of maternal health in India is being produced by IndiaUnheard, a network of 174 community journalists trained by Video Volunteers. VV is a community media organisation that empowers marginalised communities to produce stories, take action and devise solutions.
There is a silent epidemic going on before the eyes of the general public. Millions of people are suffering from anxiety, depression, fear, panic attacks, and many other diseases related to the daily stress of life. As a society, we all wear a mask that projects to others that we have good control of our life. If we show our pain, we are considered weak and not able to fit into societal expectations. The pressure of fitting in leads us to wear this mask, more so for people who are suffering and cannot handle their pain. Desperately wanting help, many turn to Internet Support Groups because then they can create an alias and openly express their problems.
I went through this same route myself. I wore the mask, hid my problems, and participated in many Internet forums. Having done that, now I see the time has come for me to bring these issues to the attention of everyone and remove the social stigma associated with them. Awareness is essential to the process of healing. In most cases this is not a disease, it is rather due to people going through a life transition process that often occurs in midlife. A spiritual awakening has common symptoms.
Here is my journal of experiences based on the notes I took while applying my new insights that I received in daily life.
Being truly alive means being filled with love. Only when we are fully alive and filled with love will we feel complete and be free of suffering, fear, and pain. If our life isn’t like this, then how can we get there? Everyone is born in this state but very few continue to live in that state. As part of growing up in the name of learning and gaining knowledge, we lose the essence of love. It is inherent in today’s culture with its increasing levels of stress and distractions of sustenance, survival, and the everyday worries of life. Our natural state is suppressed even more.
I was leading a normal life with everyday challenges, struggles, and stress, with occasional happiness. I would rate it as an average life, not only for the material success but also for the quality of life I experienced. In the eyes of others, I would be seen as a typical man with a happy family, decent job as software engineer, and having the necessities to lead a comfortable middle class life. I was content with this self-image.
But things turned interesting…
It was May 6, 2010 and it’s hard for me to forget that day, it was the day when the US Stock Market crashed about ten percent during the intraday trading and later recovered most of the losses. It was a wild day in the stock market and later the wild swing in the market on that day was called the “Flash Crash”.
I was very active in trading as I was looking for ways to get more money in my life. I did not make big trades but I would make one or two trade per week. On this particular day, I had high hopes. I had heavy bets on a single company that was going to release its quarterly release that afternoon after market close.
A typical day for me then was to wake up around 6 AM before the market opened, browse the news, and check my emails and then go for a run. I had my smart phone with me all the time so checking the stock ticker was kind of a natural instinct every ten or fifteen minutes. In between the commute to work I was tuned into the business radio shows, which give a running commentary on the market. I was very hooked all day long through the smart phones, computer, radio show, or television shows and my mood would be in accord with what was happening in that world.
On that Thursday, the market was not looking good. It was going down in the morning and then there was the huge crash around noon. The anxiety and the stress that came with the crash compounded by a very poor quarterly report from the company, in which I had invested, put me into a deep depression. Compounding that situation was a rehearsal for a community event in the evening. In the middle of the show rehearsal, I felt faint and kind of dizzy. Without attracting anyone’s attention, I slowly sat down on a nearby chair. From nowhere, an intense fear came over me with heavy breathing and a feeling of total loss of control. Initially I thought it was a heart attack but somehow knew this was something different. Even though I had minor attacks like that before, this attack was full blown almost incapacitating me from doing anything. But I knew that I wanted to be alone. I slowly managed to walk to my car in the parking lot and sat down for a while. The attack lasted for almost an hour and the remnants continued for an hour afterwards. I did not know how to react to the attack but it was a real shock. Losing total control of yourself for a few minutes with fear fully taking you over is very scary. It was a serious wake up call in my life.
I did not know what happened to me that day, but I had to understand what initiated the attack. After checking with the doctors I figured out it was a panic attack. After more research and searching on the Internet, I learned quite a bit about these attacks. Doctors advised me to stay away from stressful situations to avoid a recurrence.
But the attacks randomly persisted and I felt I had to drastically change my lifestyle habits, diet, and exercise so that they could be brought under control. The attacks could be triggered when I was outside in public places, so I had nowhere to hide. A couple of times the attacks were totally out of control and I had to check in to the emergency room, only to find out that everything was normal. The medical world treated it like a disease and they prescribed anti-depressants to bring it under control. I decided not to take the medication. I wanted to heal myself holistically. I would also suggest to others that they be very wary of the placebo presented by the medical community through medication. I encourage you to research and find possible alternative solutions as opposed to just taking the easy way out with pills that mask the underlying cause.
Having grown up with the belief that people can achieve anything, I was not going to swallow the anti-depressant pill as my first option. From my upbringing, I was aware of two choices. My father, who had inspired me throughout my life, healed himself of recurring asthma attacks by practicing breathing exercises and learning yoga. He did this by religiously practicing it while he was in his seventies. On the other hand, my mother who was depressed could not get out of it, even though she tried to heal herself with yoga, meditation and walking. She finally let anti-depressants be her only savior. She did get better and her depression lifted, but her dependency on the anti-depressants did not go away. Given this background and being a spectator of the lives of my parents, it was natural to choose the route my father took. I started to look for healing through meditation, yoga, physical exercises and diet. I was ready to make every change needed in order to heal myself.
I altered my lifestyle to focus and maintain control, however the attacks did not abate, instead they began to recur more frequently. I had to make some drastic changes; I did not have a choice. I decided to stay away from the stock market, switching the radio away from the business news. Instead of running daily, I did slow walking to bring the adrenaline rush under control. I changed my diet to eating lighter foods so that I never felt heavy. I also dropped all the distracting habits that made me lose conscious control, including alcohol. I read a book that would give me peace before going to bed which became a habit. These changes gave me better control over my life but there was no reprieve from my panic attacks.
The challenge during these attacks was the flight or fight response which was naturally triggered by my body. I did not have the control of this mechanism. I felt like a passenger in a car driven by a mad driver. The symptoms of heavy breathing, fainting, losing control of myself and feeling that something terrible was going to happen, scared the hell out of me. After a few attacks I realized I was not going to die and I would survive. After facing many attacks, I figured out that they were illusions created by the mind and the attack was temporary from which I would recover. Some days I would wake up early, go for a walk or run 5 miles and have a typical breakfast. All would seem perfectly normal, and then bam! it would hit me again. Often when I was about to go out somewhere, I would fall victim to the symptoms and get into the panic anxiety mode.
I chose to fight the occurrences with will power and this played a key role. However, having tried this repeatedly, it didn’t help me cross the bridge to the other side. One of the best advices I had was to integrate the attacks into my life and let them happen without fighting against them. It sounded very simple but my automatic fight or flight response and conditioned mind never let it happen that way. The struggles continued for months, but the trust that I would overcome it helped carry me through those tough days.
Everyone Switched Countries, I Switched To A Different State Of Being
In May 2011, I was going through the naturalization process to become a United States citizen. The day to officially take the oath arrived. I had the usual jitters wondering whether a panic attack might strike me during the ceremony. That day, I settled in my seat amid thousands of people in the auditorium. As soon as the lights were switched off and the video presentation started, the butterflies in my stomach started to fly. Was this the beginning of another panic attack?
This day was unique. I had no choice but to fight the panic attack due to the circumstances. My seating arrangement meant I could not escape and if I had left the hall it would have made it more painful to go through the process again. However, even with these considerations something that never happened before happened that day. My nervous system, which normally went into the autonomic fight or flight response when the attack started, did not. Therefore, what the system usually perceived as an attack changed and let it go without responding. This happened as soon as I stopped fighting it.
It was a unique experience of feeling a sudden rush of energy through the body while externally looking calm sitting with other people. I realized I had undergone a major shift in my handling of panic attacks internally while externally I underwent a change of citizenship. Both the internal shift and external milestone happening on the same day was a significant turnaround for me. At this time it was not clear to me why this happened, but later I saw how it worked. I understood there was an energy that was activated in my body and my natural instinct to fight it caused my nervous system to treat is as a threat and put my body in the fight or flight response. This response created a variety of symptoms in my body, which scared the hell out of me, and it was very hard for me to break the attack.
Due to the way I had conditioned my mind and body; my natural response mechanism couldn’t handle the additional energy that was generated. On that day, it was the very first time I had experienced it fully. The energy started to shoot from my hip and it went to my heart, circled around the heart and then came back to the point where it started. The feeling of the energy flow was immediate and with so much fear, I could not enjoy it much. But, once you let the energy flow without blocks, the energy started to go from the hip to heart and circled back. The lesser resistance offered the higher the energy flow was smooth.
Here Is The Synopsis Of My Healing Process In Stages
This was my process to heal panic attacks, but my understanding is they are generic and you can apply them to any part of your lives. This is because the root of all challenges are the same. Whatever you do involves your mind and body and if you have a way to handle and understand that better, then anything external to us is easy to solve. If you win the war with yourself then outside reality reflects the inner victory. Whether you have a serious illness, a challenge in your relationship, financial hardships or bankruptcy in the business, all these can be solved with the following understanding.
1. Initial Fear: Why me?
When life throws a challenge at us the first response that we have is: “Why me“?
What actually happened to me was I had disconnected myself from being part of a universal being and lived as a separate entity possibly for a long time. So when it looked like I had a disease, my first reaction was: “What did I do wrong“? Instead of looking at the real problem I started to look at why I had been singled out to suffer this condition. That was a very natural reaction for my belief system from younger days was constructed that way. By relating to this challenge and finding the root cause it became my stepping-stone to major breakthroughs and led me to the next stage of life. It provided me choices to enter new routes that I had not explored before. It gave me choices of new exercise regimen, diet, and reading habits that impacted my life for the greater good.
Life’s challenges often cause a shock to our system when we first encounter them, but it’s important not to let them drag us down too long. Anyone who goes through a sudden shock in life whether it is a cancer diagnosis or a lottery win returns to normal life after a period of anxiety, excitement, pain or happiness. If we are a sad person even after we win a lottery we will return to that state after our initial excitement goes away. Others have the opposite default state of happiness and a shock like death of a loved one will cause a short span of sorrow after which they will return to their happy state. Therefore, it’s the internal being that we set as base that forms the state of our lives and dictates how we live for the majority of the time. What these shocks offer us is the chance to change the priorities in life and get more aligned with our inner self.
2. Blessing in Disguise
Whether we accept it or not, every challenge is a blessing in disguise. It was very hard for me to accept this fact when I was going through the challenge. Irrespective of how painful it was I now see the wealth of lessons learned about life, about myself and about the understanding of the people involved. After you get through the initial shock to the system, look to see what was the blessing in disguise was offered to you. In order to find this you need to dig digger to find the blessing. When you first start this might take years to determine, but after some time it is obvious and you see it sooner.
3. Embracing the Change
The turnaround happened for me after I accepted the challenge and started to see things as they were. In life everyone is susceptible to all the challenges of life. However we try to protect ourselves, we are always exposed. This is acceptance of the problem. It helped me to handle the issue without much guilt or pain. This understanding meant I didn’t have to blame the situation, blame another person or even worse blame myself. I accepted it as reality. The challenge was there for me to face head on. I thought this is what I had signed up for and this is not the end of the world for me.
I ride a bicycle every day from daybreak till the roads become full of automobiles. It has a basket that carries my phone, wallet and camera. On this day, I decided to haul the bike up a walk bridge, to cross over to the other side where a tree lined avenue awaited me. The two men on the bridge were apparently regular walkers and there was this wonderful play of sunlight on one side of the wire mesh so I thought, let’s shoot this from the bike with one hand like Zen monks clapping.
It all fell in place while editing. I thought it would be a good time to officially come out about my mental illness and all I had was one and a half minutes. The bit from the Syd Barret tribute was an obvious choice; also it was the music I grew up with never knowing it would make sense this way. Most memories and anecdotes of my illness are shocking, humiliating and cringe worthy despite my best efforts at compensating. The spotlight invariably shines on them all the time. As a survivor, I would like to move the spotlight towards other areas and maybe piece together a story that sheds more light on my illness and changes the way people see us.
John Thekkayyam was an officer in the merchant navy in the 1980s and 90s, and is now a writer, radio professional and weather junkie who also makes YouTube videos.
The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore has allowed India manufactured Maggi to be sold in markets, reports said, after it declared it to be free of health risks. While Nestle has hired APCO Worldwide for rebuilding its image and is seeking a judicial review and revocation of the orders of food safety regulators banning Maggi in Maharashtra , it was interesting to note a Wall Street Journal article highlighting what the United States’ FDA found in Indian snacks.
Some number crunching done by WSJ found that “half of all the snack products that were tested and blocked from sale in the U.S. this year were from India. Indian products led the world in snack rejects last year as well.” FDA’s import refusal report which lists among other things the name of the manufacturer, the place of manufacturing, and the charge(s) for refusal, is likely to ruffle snacks consumers in India if the response to the Maggi fiasco is anything to go by. While Haldiram’s snack products had the highest refusals among snack products between January and March 2015, Bikaji, Bikanervala Foods Pvt. Ltd., Jhaveri Industries of Badshah Masala fame, Hindustan Unilevers Ltd., Britannia, MDH Ltd., Adani Food Products Pvt. Ltd., Heinz Pvt. Ltd., and Mother Dairy are some of the popular manufacturers whose products- ranging from whole grain, bakery products, and snack food items to spices, flavors and salts were refused by the FDA. Some of these products had a labeling problem or did not mention their ingredients properly, while others contained pesticides, were sometimes charged as simply “FILTHY”. Some of these were rejected for containing Salmonella – whose permissible limit in India too, as per Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, is very small – which Mayo Clinic says can cause “diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps within eight to 72 hours.”
A high concentration of lead can cause serious troubles and authorities are always likely to crack down on lead exceeding permissible limits. However, the case of MSG is different. It is usually considered safe (although it can lead to health problems in the long run) and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has limits prescribed for it (in the list of permissible limits of MSG) only for table olives and frozen fish fillets. That’s why perhaps the FSSAI, Bengaluru Centre, is confused whether to suggest a ban because it found lead content to be well within the permissible 2.5 ppm. Maggi defended itself by saying that it does not add MSG, although naturally occurring MSG might be present. An Economic Times article said, and it appears, that FSSAI had only “admonished the company for labeling the pack with the line ‘No added MSG'”.
However Maggi fares in the long run, we Indians do need to discuss what the implications of our fast food and snack habits can be. It is already said in media that big multinationals adhere to the strict regulations of developed countries while food products containing contaminants or excessive additives are shipped to developing countries. Take for instance MSG, which is popularly known as ajinomoto. It is a flavor enhancer and can make inferior quality food taste better. There is profit to be made there and it is probably being made, that too, at the risk of the health of the people of developing countries. “Chinese” and other foreign noodles are already being smuggled to the North Eastern states, a report in the Hindu said.
It is imperative then that regulatory bodies buckle up. Limiting this to Maggi or Nestle would be a short-sighted measure and would hardly do anything for the general health of the nation. A senior-vice president at Haldiram’s defended his company saying that “a pesticide that is permitted in India may not be allowed there (the U.S.)”. But given the response to MSG in Maggi, perhaps the regulatory bodies may want to re-consider what they allow and what they don’t in our food. Pesticides have no business inside human bodies whether Indian or American.
Breathing doesn’t come easy to Asgar Ali Siddique, 45, a Mumbai resident, especially if he walks fast or climbs stairs—all because at the age of 15, he and his friends started to experiment with smoking.
One cigarette led to another and soon, Siddique evolved into a chain smoker. Cigarettes, beedis, Siddique tried them all. At 35, he first saw a doctor for his breathing troubles.
“I quit as soon as I realised smoking was causing my breathing difficulty,” said Siddique.
His volte-face was too little, too late because Siddique had developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.
People with COPD breathe as if something were obstructing the flow of air. Toxins in smoke inflame and narrow the airways of the lungs and gradually damage the alveoli, tiny air sacs at the ends of the airways where oxygen is deposited.
Asthma, the second most deadly chronic respiratory condition, involves a sudden allergic response of the immune system to a trigger—anything from vehicle exhaust to peanuts—causing inflammation and construction of the airways. Asthma is marked by breathing difficulties, wheezing, chest tightness and coughing.
Chronic respiratory diseases, with COPD and asthma in the lead, killed 1.25 million in 2012, up 115% from 0.58 million in 1998.
Since the turn of the century, respiratory diseases have stayed at second position in India’s list of top killer diseases. In this time, however, COPD has become a bigger threat, individually overtaking neonatal diseases, a major communicable disease listed third in the rankings.
As a result, more people than ever before are living with the discomfort inflicted by blackened lungs, many more in rural India than urban.
Living with weak lungs in the Indian countryside
As a young bride, Ranjana Vahile never thought twice about cooking on a wood fire. That was the way of life in rural Pune in the 1980s.
She did not know the hearth smoke was quietly making its way into her lungs. Vahile first got wind of the trouble ten years ago, at the age of 45.
“I started to experience breathing difficulties. Coughing spells, with expectoration, followed. Now I also experience fatigue that simply refuses to go away,” she said.
Switching to cooking on a gas stove has made no difference to Vahile’s suffering. She has now developed COPD.
Roughly three times the number of rural people suffer from COPD than urban people. Between 1996 and 2011, the rural prevalence of COPD increased from 9.54% to 14.19% while the urban prevalence rose from 3.46% to 5.15%.
COPD is predominantly a disease of the poor, according to an Indian study on epidemiology of asthma, respiratory symptoms and chronic bronchitis (INSEARCH), funded by the Indian Council of Medical Research.
“A staggering 62.9% of persons with chronic bronchitis were from socio-economically less-privileged backgrounds versus only 3.2% from privileged families,” said Surinder K Jindal, INSEARCH study leader and former head, Department of Pulmonary Medicine, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education & Research, Chandigarh.
About 2.05% of adults suffer from asthma, according to INSEARCH. However, asthma is predominantly a children’s disease.
In Asthma: The Biography, Mark Jackson, professor of the History of Medicine at the University of Exeter, UK, says its prevalence in India has grown from 2% to 15% between 1960 and the late 1990s. Asthma has a current prevalence rate of 10% to 15% in the 5 to 11 age group in India, according to the World Health Organisation.
A one-way street to slow death
Smoking cigarettes and beedis are the biggest cause for COPD in men. Smokers face a threefold risk of developing COPD as compared to non-smokers, according to INSEARCH.
Roughly one in four adult Indian men smokes. They pose a danger to themselves and to those around.
“Passive smokers have twice the odds of developing chronic bronchitis as those with no such exposure,” said Padma Sundaram, respiratory medicine specialist at Manipal Hospitals, Bengaluru.
Indoor air pollution is the biggest cause for female COPD in India.
“In Asia, female COPD is predominantly household air pollution induced,” said Pune-based pulmonologist and chest physician Arvind Bhome.
Outdoor air pollution, such as smoke from traffic effluents, fire crackers, industrial fumes and mining dust, can also cause COPD and set off asthma.
Other asthma triggers are strong odours as from paint and air fresheners, smoking, suspended pollen and dust, sudden climatic changes like entering an air-conditioned room straight after being in the sun, eating cold food and exposure to dampness and cold. Intense emotion, expression and stress also provoke asthma.
Certain foods can bring on asthma. Popular triggers are eggs, milk, peanuts, soy, wheat, fish, sulfites and sulfating agents occurring naturally and used in food processing, some preservatives and food additives.
A global study, the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC), based on the experience of half a million children and teens, draws a connection between fast food consumption and asthma.
In study centres across the world, researchers found that eating fast food at least three times a week increased a teen’s risk of developing severe asthma by 39% and children’s risk by 27%.
Another common asthma trigger is sudden exertion.
Weak-chested Indians shouldn’t tax their lungs
Indians have weak lungs, which compounds the respiratory malaise sweeping their country.
“Our forced vital capacity (a measure of lung function) is low vis-à-vis Caucasians and even other Asians like the Chinese. Indians have shorter chests in comparison with those races,” said Parvaiz A Koul, head of the Department of Internal & Pulmonary Medicine, Sher-I-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, Srinagar.
Research shows Indians have about 20% less lung capacity than Caucasians.
Koul is investigating the role of genetics in developing chronic bronchitis, driven by its high prevalence in non-smoking men and women in Kashmir.
“Here, nearly 1 in 5 men and 1 in 7 women above the age of 40 suffer from lung function abnormalities consistent with COPD,” he said.
Breathe easy: How you can get back your life
Asthma is the lesser evil of the two major chronic respiratory diseases, it is both reversible and preventable.
Medication and inhalants can help control asthma flare-ups. But drugs are expensive and progressive, in that successively higher doses are needed to manage symptoms. So after recuperating from an attack, it makes sense to control exposure to triggers and work on other preventive measures.
Healthy eating helps cut the risk of asthma. This includes restricting salt intake and eating a lot of fruit.
Fruits are rich in antioxidants like Vitamin A/betacarotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium, which help repair the damage caused to the epithelial lining of the lungs by inhaled oxidants or inflammatory processes. Also antioxidants boost the immune system as does exercise.
Asthmatics who exercise experience fewer flare-ups, and they recover faster. But working out during an attack and pushing comfort limits are not good ideas. It takes time to build up stamina for aerobic exercises.
Nikhil Anand, 19, will always remember his first asthma attack. While playing cricket with his friends in Muzaffarpur, his hometown, at the age of 5, he suddenly felt breathless.
Things have gotten much better since his preteens when he would experience a flare-up every couple of months. Today, Anand swears by his workout but is careful to stick to a certain set of exercises.
“I can sense my body protesting if I try to overstep this limit,” he said.
Breathing exercises help improve lung function, affirms Tarun Saxena of the Department of Internal Medicine, Mittal Hospital, Ajmer, and lead investigator of a study to gauge the effect of pranayama in patients with bronchial asthma of mild to moderate severity.
“Since patients of asthma (and COPD) struggle with expiration (breathing out), we taught patients breathing exercises and expiratory exercises,” said Saxena. “In particular, bhramari, making the sound of the honey bee while exhaling and performing a high pitch/forceful prolonged omkara helped patients to maximise the expiration of trapped air.”
Pranayama works on the physical level, by aiding deep breathing and controlled breathing, as well as on the mental plane by helping to de-stress.
Unlike asthma, COPD develops gradually.
“It takes 20 to 30 years to develop COPD,” said Sundaram.
Moreover, there’s no turning back the clock once COPD develops.
“Lungs afflicted with COPD are damaged beyond repair, and severely starved of oxygen,” said Anurag Saxena, internal medicine specialist at Primus Hospital, New Delhi.
Medication can help partially alleviate COPD symptoms. Vahile continues to suffer despite taking three tablets daily, since being “officially” diagnosed with COPD three years ago.
Oxygen therapy is an option, but it is out of the reach of the poor, as is intensive care, when COPD gets exacerbated.
“In case of COPD, exacerbation warranting hospitalisation, the median out-of-pocket costs are as high as Rs 44,390,” said Koul.
It’s a hard life for less privileged people who fall prey to chronic respiratory diseases.
Siddique couldn’t have been given a worse life sentence for smoking. A blacksmith, he’s out of work because breathing in front of a furnace is impossible.
Hardly a day goes by when Siddique does not brood over the government’s approach to curbing tobacco use.
“Of what use are written warnings on cigarette packets for illiterate people like me who can’t read?” asked Siddique. “Pictures are good, we need more pictures. Why doesn’t the government just stop making cigarettes and beedis available?”
A few days ago, we learned Siddique had traveled to Hyderabad to swallow a fish as a miracle cure.
The UNICEF Total Sanitation television commercial called ‘Dulhan’ converges two of India’s most prominent social issues – the suppressive patriarchal idea of keeping a woman in a veil and the public health issue of inadequate sanitation in rural India. On watching the commercial, it is clear that the latter wins out over the former. It promotes development through better sanitation but backslides by encouraging ideas of keeping women in their rightful place, at home in their ghoonghats. Is this prioritizing of social issues justified?
The need for sanitation facilities in rural India became a political priority in 2013 when Narendra Modi said, “Pehle shauchalaya, phir devalaya” (toilets first, temples later). The Planning Commission conducted an evaluation study for the Total Sanitation Campaign, which found that 72.63% of all rural households practiced open defecation. This unsanitary practice leads to diseases, malnutrition, sexual violence and various other hazards. To combat this issue the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (now Swacch Bharat Abhiyan) was set up which aims to build 11 crore toilets across the country in 5 years, many of which have already been constructed.
However, this project is not completely successful as villagers are apprehensive to actually use the toilets constructed for them. In 2014, another survey showed that over 40% of households with a working latrine have at least one member who still defecates in the open. In an interview with Bloomberg, Sunita, a resident of Mukimpur, a north Indian village said, “Feces don’t belong under the same roof as where we eat and sleep.” “Locking us inside these booths with our own filth? I will never see how that is clean, going out there is normal.” She added pointing to the field.
The surveys also indicate that the reasons for the unused toilets are ‘lack of awareness’ and ‘established age-old practices’. Since defecating in the open is the only way the villagers know how, they refuse to accept why it can’t continue regardless of health hazards. Many women preferred open defecation because it gave them an excuse to leave their houses to socialize and ‘exchange gossip.’ These ideological hurdles make it necessary to explain the issue in a context that can be understood by the rural population.
Therefore, since respect for a woman in rural and traditional India correlates to her modesty and dignity, these are important tools to explain her health and sanitation needs. The campaign in Nal Beri, in Bikaner, overcame age-old beliefs by raising questions about the community’s pride and dignity like “A woman has to wear a veil to protect her dignity, but what about her dignity when she lifts her skirt to squat in public spaces?” In spite of being regressive, this campaign was successful in creating a demand for more toilets.
To make up for hindering the ‘socializing’ opportunity women enjoyed with public defecation, many campaigns promoting sanitation involve social interaction among rural women. Also, to ensure women’s empowerment in some village campaigns, households that construct a toilet get a ‘beautiful home’ nameplate for their home where the name of the female family member is mentioned ahead of the male member. This is a matter of great pride for the women.
Although suppressive patriarchal notions must be actively battled for women’s upliftment, sanitation is an important women’s issue too and could be potentially life threatening if ignored. The priorities in the lifestyles of rural and urban India vary greatly. In keeping with this, patriarchal messages may be regressive, but provide a necessary context for villagers to understand the issue.
When Hyderabadi filmmaker Deepthi Tadanki set out to research the subject of corrective rape for her upcoming film Satyavadi, she learned about shocking practices which took place in Bangalore. In one instance, a homosexual boy was forced by his family members to engage in sexual intercourse with his own mother, apparently to “cure” him of his “deviant” sexual behavior. The victims have decided to remain silent because they choose to delete memories of such incidents where their own family members have conspired to push them in the throes of lifelong trauma. At least 15 such cases were reported to an Indian LGBT organization over a period of five years.
Before one pounces on this opportunity to brand corrective rape as an “Indian problem”, let us take a look at the origin of the term “corrective rape” and at horrific examples from around the world. Corrective rape is defined by ActionAid as “a way of punishing and curing women of their sexual orientation” (I want to emphasize here that men too are victims of corrective rape as illustrated by cases in India and Zimbabwe).
The term was coined in South Africa in the early 2000s when charity workers first noticed an influx of such attacks. It was also during that time when, following a United Nations report, South Africa was repeatedly described as the “rape capital” in the world, having one occurrence of rape in every 17 seconds. The brutal gang-rape and murder of Eudy Simelane, a soccer player training to be a referee for the 2010 FIFA World Cup who identified as a lesbian, brought extensive press attention to this phenomenon of corrective rape, resulting in a few survivors finally speaking up about their ordeal.
Pearl Mali was raped by a priest almost every day for nearly four years since she was 12. When she was impregnated, she was also deprived of her parental rights by her own mother. Mvuleni Fana was gang-raped by four men and was beaten up by them until she passed out. Simphiwe Thandeka was raped by a male relative. When the bleeding girl complained to her mother, the latter dismissed it as a “family matter.” All these incidents were accompanied by verbal abuse. The victims were derided with centuries-old patriarchal remarks, such as “This is what a man tastes like”, “I’ll show you your place”, and “Act like a real woman”. Knives, stones, sticks, and other sharp objects are routinely used during the rape. Apart from psychological trauma, the victims suffer from unwanted pregnancies and HIV infection.
While the world looks up to South Africa for some of the most progressive LGBTQI laws—it is the fifth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, and its Equality Act (2010) outlaws hate crimes, the country’s social and criminal justice systems are lagging far behind. 31 lesbians were killed, resulting in only one conviction. According to a support group, more than 10 lesbians are raped every week. The Telegraph reports that out of 25 rapists, 24 will be acquitted. It further notes that in 2013, UNESCO revealed that schools in the country were failing with regards to gender rights. It appears that homophobic religious sermons have replaced inclusive sex education, inspiring schoolboys to “jack-roll”, a colloquial term for gang-rape in the country. “Homosexuals can change,” said Reverend Oscar Peter Bougardt to journalist Clare Carter. What’s more? 61 per cent of South Africans believe that society should not accept homosexuality; that it is in some way “un-African”.
The situation is no better elsewhere. Angeline Jackson, an LGBTQI activist in Jamaica and a rape survivor who identifies as a homosexual woman, tearfully tells me that she was advised by police to “leave this lifestyle and go back to church” when she went to report the crime. Due to a string of similar attacks in the country, the complaint was eventually accepted and the case moved to court. The perpetrator was handed down a sentence of 27 years, but Angeline felt “victimized all over again” because majority of the charges against the rapist related to possession of firearms and kidnapping. At most four years of imprisonment was ordered for rape because “the legislation in her country did not count forced oral sex as rape.” In 2014, the sentence was overturned on appeal, and Angeline was not even notified about it by the court.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon aptly said, “Violence against women and girls continues unabated in every continent, country, and culture.”
To fight corrective rape, many citizens are taking it in their own hands to act. Deepthi Tadanki is adamant in making the film which is only 40 per cent complete due to financial struggles (and in the face of blog comments accusing her of “conniving with Westerners to defame India”). Angeline Jackson is sharing her experience globally and is battling homophobia through the organization Quality of Citizenship Jamaica. An online petition on Avaaz.org has already collected 947,750 signatures. Before corrective rape threatens any more of your near and dear ones, read about it, create awareness, and act now to criminalize this violent practice.
Uterus and vagina owning people, we know as well as you do that there’s half a pile of underwear in your cupboard that you reserve for the red ninja’s visit and a fast depleting supply of “good” underwear you can still wear out, because mass-market undies just aren’t cutting it, with their flimsy and hard to clean fabrics. What if there was a safe, smart and stylish alternative that you could buy with the knowledge that the company is making menstruation that much less daunting for you and also for women in Uganda. THINX underwear, created by Antonia Dunbar, Radha and Miki Agrawal, is aimed not just as buyers’ comfort, but also addressing a serious problem women in developing countries face today. Without proper resources to use during their period, missing one week of school for every month that a woman has her period puts her at a grave disadvantage. In Uganda, THINX and its partner AFRIpads are providing those resources not through hand-outs but by giving Ugandan women the tools to be self-sufficient.
Combining four technologies, THINX underwear provides the ‘perfect backup’ to couple with your tampons or menstrual-cups, keeping the stress of stains and leaks at bay. One of the styles can even hold up to 2 tampons’ liquid, so you don’t have to punctuate busy days with frequent trips to the washroom.
THINX Co-Founder, Miki, and Director of Marketing, Veronica del Rosario spoke to Youth Ki Awaaz about the company’s journey, vision and the taboo of menstruation.
Shambhavi Saxena (SS):Why did you think of designing THINX underwear?
Veronica (V): Let’s just say we had our fair share of underwear mishaps; there’s stories about three legged races, swimsuits, business meetings, yoga classes…all of those experiences we’ve all had! It was more than clear that women everywhere needed something better; new and improved underwear seemed like a no-brainer. Then, the idea really got its legs when Miki travelled to South Africa in 2010 (yes, for the World Cup). Miki asked a 12 year old girl from a rural area, “Why aren’t you in school?” and the girl quietly responded, “It’s my week of shame.” 100 million girls around the world miss school just because they lack the sanitary supplies they need to manage their periods. They knew that they could somehow use the innovative idea of magic period underwear to support these girls. And BOOM. THINX was born!
SS:The product is pretty high tech. What was the 3 year long development process like for you?
Miki (M): The reason why it took 3.5 years to develop was the intense trial-and-error process. We had to work with 4 different technologies (anti-microbial, moisture-wicking, breathable leak-proof, absorbent) that had to all work together and also function properly during the care process. After a couple of years, we finally put together a pair of underwear that we thought would do the trick but then when we threw them in the dryer, one layer shrunk at a different level than another layer which made the garment buckle. We had start over with new fabrics entirely. And! It has to all work in the most sensitive area of a woman’s body.
SS: Has your product met with conservative reactions because of its focus on menstruation? How do you respond to the general attitude of silence or stigma attached to the female body?
V: Menstruation is a huge taboo; it’s our biggest challenge and our greatest one. At first, we thought we would pursue stores and boutiques to have them sell THINX, but we quickly realized that we are the only ones who can tell our story wholly and properly at this juncture (and that’s why we only sell direct from our site). People are also grossed out by blood, even their own, which makes it a hard concept to grasp. We’ve seen some adverse reactions to wearing bloody underwear all day, and the best thing we can do is just have an open dialogue about it, and explain what wearing our product really feels like (hint: it feels clean and dry). If our mission is to break the taboo, we’re doing it— we’ve never seen more women openly discuss their hygiene regimens than now, on our own social media accounts, articles, and advertisements.
Another difficult bit of our business is getting across that THINX is something that you use as you choose. Products before ours have very rigid and specific instructions that come with them, and ours is a much more flexible experience. THINX is most commonly used as backups to tampons and cups, but some women do opt to use them as a replacement on lighter days— and it’s not at all something that we can dictate, because we simply don’t know every woman’s cycle. Every single woman is different, and handles her period differently. What’s cool is, as soon as people actually get to use THINX and see how it works for them, most of the time, can’t imagine their periods without our underwear. That’s a good feeling.
SS:As a company you’re taking your social responsibility very seriously. Tell us about your partnership with AFRIpads?
V: Our giveback is an integral part of our business, and it’s been there since day one (even before that, really). The co-founders did a lot of research on a number of organizations to find the appropriate partner, and fell in love with AFRIpads’ model. It empowers local women and girls in a big way. Miki visited Uganda earlier this year and talked to some of those women who either sew, sell, or use the menstrual kits that we fund, and it’s no exaggeration when they tell us that their lives have changed. The rate of attendance in school just skyrockets when they have access to the materials they need, and the women that AFRIpads employs now have sustainable careers. The whole system is fantastic.
SS:Is it true you spent some time in India? What was your learning experience here? And what pressing concerns did you come across, with regard to feminine hygiene and opportunities for women?
M: My father is from India (mom is from Japan) – I’ve been to India 6 times and each trip is equally more eye-opening than the next. I was 11 years old when I first went to India and it was the first time I saw extreme poverty. I will never forget giving a meal to a 6-year old kid who was homeless and living alone in a train station with elephantitis on his feet. While he walked away dragging his feet, it was the first moment that I realized how LUCKY I was to be born where I was. I won the lottery of life. I had two loving parents, a roof over my head, a school to go to and opportunity to be whoever I wanted to be. When you think about this at age 11, a lot changes. With regards to feminine hygiene, it was never brought up when I was there, it just wasn’t something that people talked about. It was only after I went to South Africa did I start asking around, and it was clear that it was a massive problem in India too that held women back.
SS:Will the company play a role in safe sex and health education for the girls in developing countries it already has a presence in?
M: Our partner organization AFRIpads is doing a lot of health education work in Uganda and we plan to work with other similar organizations all over the world (India, Nepal, West Africa, South America etc) so YES, we do plan of really helping spread health education far and wide.
SS:Putting an inadequate product on the market and making it the only widely available option is a profiting technique. Is THINX aiming to or projected to challenge that system?
V: We absolutely don’t intend to sacrifice quality for profit. Our #1 priority has always been our product and technology, so we’re doing our best to make it the best it can be.
SS:Do THINX come in various colours, styles and sizes for every type of body?
V: When it comes to style, we’ve really put the majority of our focus on perfecting our technology rather than on putting out a ton of styles and colours. Right now, THINX comes in three styles and two colours––black and beige, from size XS – XXL. As soon as this summer, we’ll be expanding our size offering to go from XXS – 3XL, and we’ll be releasing two new styles, which we’re super excited about! Stay tuned!
SS:How can you buy THINX now? And will we find THINX in local supermarkets across the world soon?
V: THINX can only be purchased online via shethinx.com (unless you’re lucky and run into us at an event or something!). We ship internationally, too. Again, selling in stores in general is a long time down the road for us, and selling in stores internationally is even farther down. One day at a time!
In view of Anganwadi meals being served in the tribal areas of Alirajpur, Mandla and Hoshangabad, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, CM of Madhya Pradesh, turned down a proposal that suggested inclusion of eggs in order to make them more wholesome and nutritious.
“It has been a sentimental issue with the CM from day one. Moreover, there are better, more nutritious options available,” believes SK Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister.
The Women and Child Development department, that drafted the proposal after a meeting called last month, is undoubtedly correct in believing that including eggs in the diet of children will result in more steady growth and development, especially at the crucial turn of adolescence.
Chouhan has gone on to publically declare that, “Milks and bananas will be served, but never eggs.” Being a strict vegetarian himself, he has received supportive echoes from the Jain Community which sternly believes that, “When children eat non-vegetarian food, their sensitivity dies.”
The fact that nearly 7 years ago, the strictly vegetarian CM launched a certain “Project Shaktiman”, as a part of which boiled eggs and boiled potatoes were served, is clear indication that such crucial decisions are severely influenced by political stances and electoral agendas. Chouhan had previously declared that his government was “committed to ensuring that not a single child remains malnourished in the state.” This project realised that eggs would be useful in fighting malnourishment as they are rich in protein.
The Jain community in the State has long been lobbying for eggs to be taken off the menu, and have reached out to the CM on several occasions in view of the same. “Do eggs grow on trees? No, it’s consumption has several side-effects. When children eat non-vegetarian food, their sensitivity dies,”said Anil Badkul of the Digambar Jain Mahasamiti. The political clout of the Jain Community has often influenced Chouhan’s decisions.
The irony of Project Shaktiman, which introduced eggs into the meals, and 7 years hence the subsequent banning of eggs in their meals, is hard to dismiss as pure coincidence. It is a clear indication of the extent to which the drive for political power doubles up as apparent concern for the people. It renders all us Indians, at the receiving end, as a duped mass of gullible individuals who are at the mercy of self-serving and unsympathetic political leaders. As though India climbing right on top of the World Hunger List, with 25% of our population being severely undernourished, wasn’t enough. Any possible efforts to reduce occurrences of malnutrition and improper growth need to be battled with constructive solutions, such as the inclusion of high protein-content food items such as eggs. The only other form of protein for these children is dal, which is highly watery and lacks real pulses.
Several other states such as Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan have proposed strictly vegetarian meals as part of the mid-day meal scheme in the past, most often yielding to pressure from private contractors who supply the mid-day meals as well as upper-caste lobbies. As though the beef ban in neighbouring Maharashtra was not controversial enough, such an irrational ban on providing eggs to children in their Anganwadi meals raises several questions regarding what the motives of our political leaders really are.
Conduct an Internet search for “masturbation,” and you will find hundreds, if not thousands, of slang phrases for the act.
This proliferation of slang phrases suggests people want to talk about masturbation, but are uncomfortable about doing so directly. Using comedic terms provides a more socially acceptable way to express themselves.
So before we talk any more about it, let’s normalise it a bit. Masturbation, or touching one’s own genitals for pleasure, is something that babies do from the time they are in the womb. It’s a natural and normal part of healthy sexual development.
According to a nationally representative US sample, 94% of men admit to masturbating, as do 85% of women. But societal perspectives of masturbation still vary greatly, and there’s even some stigma around engaging in the act.
Related to this stigma are the many myths about masturbation, myths so ridiculous it’s a wonder anyone believes them.
They include: masturbation causes blindness and insanity; masturbation can make sexual organs fall off; and masturbation causes infertility.
In actual fact, masturbation has many health benefits.
Good For You
For women, masturbation can help prevent cervical infections and urinary tract infections through the process of “tenting,” or the opening of the cervix that occurs as part of the arousal process.
Tenting stretches the cervix, and thus the cervical mucous. This enables fluid circulation, allowing cervical fluids full of bacteria to be flushed out.
Masturbation can lower risk of type-2 diabetes (though this association may also be explained by greater overall health), reduce insomnia through hormonal and tension release, and increase pelvic floor strength through the contractions that happen during orgasm.
For men, masturbation helps reduce risk of prostate cancer, probably by giving the prostate a chance to flush out potential cancer-causing agents.
Masturbation also improves immune functioning by increasing cortisol levels, which can regulate immune functioning in small doses. It also reduces depression by increasing the amount of endorphins in the bloodstream.
Masturbation can also indirectly prevent infertility by protecting people from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that can lead to infertility – you can’t give yourself one of these infections!
There is one final benefit to masturbation: it’s the most convenient method for maximising orgasms.
And there are plenty of additional benefits from orgasms generally, including reduced stress, reduced blood pressure, increased self-esteem, and reduced pain.
Good For Your Partner Too
From a sexual health point of view, masturbation is one of the safest sexual behaviours. There’s no risk of pregnancy or transmission of sexually transmitted infections; there’s no risk of disappointing a partner or of performance anxiety; and there’s no emotional baggage.
And, only an arm’s length away, is mutual masturbation. Mutual masturbation (two partners who are pleasuring themselves in the company of the other) is a great (and safe) activity to incorporate into other partnered sexual activities.
It can be especially good to begin to learn more about what your partner likes and to demonstrate to your partner what you like. Open communication with a partner will improve your sex life and relationship, but is also important for modelling communication skills for younger generations.
Talking about masturbation also has benefits. Promoting sex-positive views in our own homes and in society, including around masturbation, allows us to teach young people healthy behaviours and attitudes without stigma and shame.
Parents and guardians who feel embarrassed or need extra guidance to do this should seek out sex-positive sources of information, like ones from respected universities.
True to their names, RO filters and purifiers function on the principle of reverse osmosis. Simply put, pressure is exerted on the water containing high concentration of impurities, and it is passed through filters to extract “pure” water. The process came as a breakthrough in the 1950s when people were on the lookout for methods to desalinate ocean water. Reverse osmosis is used not only in the purifiers at home, but also in industries, specifically the bottled water industry, both in India and abroad.
The problem begins with the disposal of the “stuff” that has been separated from the purified water. Reports state that the impure water is discarded back into the ground and aquifers. But why is it such a big deal when it seems like we are merely sending back the water that was not useful?
The answer is, the “waste water” contains higher concentration of harmful substances, which in turn poses a serious health threat to the population, including animals that are dependent on groundwater. Also, the RO process is said to cause a lot of wastage of water, both at the industrial, as well as household levels.
However, Dr. R. Suryanarayana Rao, a Deputy Civil Surgeon at ESI Hospital in Vishakhapatnam believes otherwise. He said that the problem, in reality, is with the “wastage” of the excess water, caused by faulty disposal through drains. Dr. Rao said that the unwanted water could be put to other uses, such as watering plants, when handled properly. He stated that if the water containing wastes is exploited through alternate use, it may not snowball into a health concern. He strongly recommends RO purification over boiling because it ensures that salts and other unwanted components are removed from the water.
However, it is important to remember that the true success of any scientific innovation is when it benefits everybody equally. In this regard, while RO purification is a major breakthrough in the provision of potable water, but the fact that it benefits some while causing harm to others who are dependent solely on groundwater calls for some introspection. It is high time we adopted long term perspectives even for seemingly simple inventions, rather than using science as a quick-fix solution for our daily hassles. The glitch with disposal can best be described as the “last mile problem“, which must be tackled at the earliest, lest we end up causing more harm than good.
Some like it hot, some like it iced, and some just don’t like it at all. Until recently, coffee was on the list of habits to break if you really wanted to be healthy.
Not anymore. Systematic reviews of the research – the most powerful method to weigh up scientific evidence – judge the current evidence as mostly in favour of drinking coffee. Coffee drinking is linked to a decreased risk of premature death, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.
However, some people will need to be cautious of the amount. Heavy coffee intake has been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer and can exacerbate heart problems.
Coffee drinkers live longer. A review of 20 studies including more than 970,000 people found those who usually drank the most coffee had a 14% lower risk of dying prematurely from any cause, compared with those who drank the least.
Even drinking just one to two cups a day conferred an 8% lower risk.
Decaffeinated coffee drinkers who had two to four cups a day still had a 14% lower relative risk of premature death than those who didn’t drink coffee at all.
Coffee drinkers, particularly men, have a lower risk of liver cancer. This is important as liver disease is the sixth-most-common cancer in the world and is more common in men.
Results from six studies, based on the total number of cups of coffee drunk per day, found the relative risk of liver cancer was 14% lower for every extra cup.
Research shows that naturally occurring coffee components, including kahweol and cafestol, have direct cancer-protection and anti-inflammatory properties. Coffee appears able to up-regulate biochemical pathways in the liver that protect the body from toxins, including aflatoxin and other carcinogenic compounds.
Type 2 diabetes
Coffee drinkers have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Across 28 studies of more than one million adults, those who drank three or more cups of coffee a day had a 21% lower relative risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who never or rarely drank it.
For those drinking six or more cups a day, the risk was lowered by 33%.
Interestingly, the risk was lower for both regular and decaffeinated coffee drinkers. For each cup of regular caffeinated coffee there was an extra 9% lower relative risk of developing diabetes and a 6% lower risk for each cup of decaffeinated coffee.
The active components of coffee help reduce oxidative stress, the imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants. Coffee contains chlorogenic acid, which has been shown to improve glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, and caffeic acid, which increases the rate muscles use up blood glucose, as well as having immune-stimulating and anti-inflammatory properties.
Coffee drinkers have a lower risk of prostate cancer. Across 13 studies that included more than 530,000 men, those who drank the most coffee had a 10% lower relative risk of developing prostate cancer than those who drank the least.
For every extra two cups of coffee drunk per day, cancer risk decreased by a small extra amount of 2.5%.
However, when prostate cancer grade was factored in, there was no protective effect for advanced or terminal types of prostate cancer.
Now, the reasons to watch your coffee intake.
Watch you total coffee intake to lower your risk for lung cancer. Studies of more than 100,000 adults found those with the highest coffee intakes had a 27% higher relative risk of lung cancer.
Every extra two cups of coffee per day was associated with an 11% greater risk of developing lung cancer.
There were only two studies on decaffeinated coffee and they had the opposite finding: a 34% lower relative risk for high decaffeinated coffee intakes.
The relationship between coffee and risk of miscarriage and other adverse pregnancy outcomes in older research studies was more likely to be seen in poorly designed studies, especially for outcomes like low birth weight and congenital anomalies.
Some of the risk of miscarriage was probably confounded by the fact that women with severe morning sickness, which is a sign of good implantation of the embryo, tend to cut down on coffee due to nausea.
It also appears that cigarette smoking, which tended to be associated with coffee consumption in older studies, was not always adjusted for, so some of the risk is likely to have been due to smoking.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends pregnant women drink less than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day. This is equivalent to one to two cups of coffee a day (instant coffee has 50-100 mg caffeine per cup; brewed coffee about 100-150 mg).
People with high blood pressure or heart conditions, older people, adolescents, children and those who don’t usually drink coffee will be more sensitive to caffeine found in “energy” drinks, cola and coffee, and it can take longer to metabolise. Switching to decaffeinated coffee will help.
It’s important to note that most of the research on coffee comes from population-based observational studies that measure association and not causation. That is partly because it would be very hard to do a randomised controlled trial of drinking more coffee and measuring health outcomes over many years. But there’s a thought – anyone like to volunteer for that study?
The noodle brand has come under fire recently after samples of it in some parts of Uttar Pradesh were found containing Monosodium glutamate (MSG) and lead in excess of the permissible limit. This has led the Lucknow Food Safety and Drug Administration (FSDA) to appeal to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) in New Delhi to cancel Maggi’s license. An investigation of the product is underway across the country to check the quality. If the investigation confirms the report, you can say goodbye to your favourite lazy snack.
What Is MSG And Why Is It Harmful?
It is a kind of non-essential amino acid found commonly in agricultural products but is also used in food industries as additives in packaged food to enhance flavor. These additives are harmful for health, especially for children. It has been used in the food industry for years, but only upto a permissible limit. The recent sample showed that Maggi contained 17 parts per million of lead, whereas the permissible limit is only 0.01 parts per million. In easier language, Maggi has been found to contain excessive amount of additives that can be harmful for health if consumed for a long period of time.
Turns out, the snack that you’ve been slurping on and relishing for years could be the reason for potential weight gain, brain damage, liver inflammation, high blood pressure, and can also cause damage to your nervous system. Nestle, the manufacturers of Maggi, are in denial of adding MSG and are ‘surprised’ by the excess of lead in their product. They also contend that there is no specified limit for MSG by the food industry. As your favourite product faces possible ban, you can only hope that reports from further sampling come out negative.
What do Marijuana and our Prime Minister have in common? Both can be exaggerated to the extent of being touted as saviors of the human race itself, or be disparaged as one of the worst occurrences of our lifetime – neither being accurate – and it is rare to run into someone whose opinion is more neutral. With popularity and controversy surrounding the drug running at an, forgive the pun, all time high, a balanced discussion on the topic is long overdue.
That led to India’s first-ever conference for the legalization of cannabis in Bangalore on May 10th, organized by 23-year old musician Viki Vaurora, with subsequent editions coming up in Pune, Mumbai and Delhi. Limited to 200 people consisting exclusively of doctors, media personnel and (senior) students, the event concentrated on medical marijuana’s benefits and advocated open research into its potential in the management of cancer and other ailments. Canadian caregiver Rick Simpson, who has treated cancer patients with non-psychoactive Cannabidiol oil for 12 years, also noted India’s long tryst with the drug.
Cannabis or hemp, landed in India via China between 2000 and 1000 B.C. It soon became widely used and celebrated as one of “five kingdoms of herbs … which release us from anxiety” according to ancient Vedic poems. Different parts of the plant were used, all containing a chemical compound ‘delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol’ (THC) that acts on naturally-occurring cannabinoid receptors in our brain, giving its users a ‘high’. ‘Weed’ consumption was legal in India till the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act was passed in 1985, yielding to 25 years’ of pressure from the US Government. As a newly-categorized schedule I drug (i.e., it has a high potential for abuse and no legitimate therapeutic uses), not only its use, but any further research into its medical value, got restricted. With more than 20 states in the US now legalizing its recreational use, plus ongoing research in Israel and Netherlands, activists insist on India needs to keep up with the times.
While laws calling for up to 10 years imprisonment aren’t strictly followed in India’s otherwise ‘punctual’ judicial system, as most consumers escape punishment by paying a ‘fine’, flourishing misconceptions make it such a social disgrace, we haven’t even tapped into its potential for being an excellent source of fibre and fuel. Myths against the plant include it being a ‘gateway drug’ – a mere correlation than scientific fact – or that it turns people into zombies – it does not, while proponents claim it is side effects and addiction free, despite 10-15 % of consumers being at risk of developing mild dependence; recent studies imply chronic use from teenage as a factor for dependence. In fact, data demonstrate that following legalization of Cannabis in US states, consumption rates among teens actually dropped.
The problem with making it illegal is that it leads to a thriving black market and hampers the distribution of correct information. Regulations, like those existing for alcohol, are a must, but putting an overstated blanket statement pushes people into the opposite extreme, risking adulteration with stronger, or low-quality substances. It’s like telling 16-year-olds to go to bed early or the monsters under the bed would get them – it doesn’t work that way with adolescents or adults. They need hard facts, the pros and cons, and the freedom to make their own decisions, as it is with food, exercise and other health-related issues. Meanwhile, a wealth of information remains unexplored, as a low maintenance, multi-purpose herb literally goes up in smoke.
Why do some people love spicy food while others can’t bear the burn? It could be a question of testosterone for those men who like it hot.
Eat an Andhra curry and your mouth will probably be on fire. That’s because of capsaicin. It’s the ingredient that gives hot peppers their bite, and can cause everything from sweating to mild discomfort to outright pain. But despite these very real physical effects, people the world over are into spicy food.
Why can some take the heat better than others? A team of French researchers decided they’d turn to science to help answer the question. They focused in on men since sociologists have suggested that eating spicy food could be a way for some guys to show off their manliness.
Testosterone is linked with stereotypically manly behaviour and might also affect eating habits, so the researchers reasoned that measuring levels of this hormone in men’s saliva would be a good place to begin.
They invited 144 French men to the laboratory to dine on a dinner of mashed potatoes. The men were told they could add as much hot sauce and salt to the meal as they desired. Before they dug in, they were asked if they liked hot foods, and afterwards they told the researchers if they thought the meal they’d just eaten had been spicy.
Men with higher levels of testosterone are more likely to douse their food in spicy sauce than those with lower levels of the hormone, the study found. Salt, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be related to testosterone.
Though men who like it hot have more testosterone in their saliva, the reasons behind the link aren’t clear, say the researchers. It’s possible that higher testosterone levels could be the reason a man enjoys spicy foods, but the opposite could also be true: eating a meal loaded with capsaicin could cause testosterone levels to soar.
There are also plenty of other factors that affect whether a man likes to spice things up. Genetics can play a role by determining his taste preferences, and certain personality traits have even been linked to seeking out spicy food.
Interestingly, the chili-testosterone link would seem to square with the ancient Ayurvedic idea that hot spices are a rajasic food. These high-powered foods are supposed to make you energetic, assertive or even aggressive. In other words, just the kind of personality you’d expect from Mr Testosterone.
Of course, there are also major cultural differences. In some parts of the world spice is the norm, while other regions go for blander cuisine. Research has shown that the more often a person eats hot spicy food, the more likely they are to enjoy it. Hot food takes some getting used to, but once you’ve acquired the taste, it’s irresistible!
Falling ill in India is often like standing in line for an all-you-can-eat buffet. Suddenly, you are spoilt for choices – Allopathy, Ayurveda, Naturopathy, Homoeopathy, Unani or Siddha, religious leaders and rites, amulets, charms and potions etc.. Put that against the backdrop of the public’s lack of awareness of general health and medicine, and it can rewrite one’s fate to anything from complete revival to avoidable death.
This is where the media can intervene and make a difference. By bringing to light the advances of medical sciences and what people stand to gain from it, they can help people in taking informed decisions about their well-being. But lately, the fourth estate has taken to a disappointing trend of criminalizing doctors merely for, what appears to be, sensationalist headlines.
Last month, the Hindustan Times’ front page featured the shocking incident of a man who had an 8-inch wire left behind in his ‘stomach’ following a surgical procedure for removing kidney stones, allegedly evident of the doctors’ negligence. Further investigations and enquiries from skeptical doctors unearthed the fact that it was in fact a catheter left in place as per the protocol, which was to be removed on follow-up. The paper was forced to take down the article, followed by an apology, for failing to confirm facts with the surgeons in question, and for not bothering to get into the details regarding the procedure and all that it entailed.
More recently, Zee news forayed into hard-hitting journalism, revealing the ‘true’ cost of ultrasound scans as merely 3 Rs., while the rest of the Rs. 600 charged by radiologists supposedly went straight into their pockets. In an age where even a cup of tea would cost at least Rs. 5, this thoughtless statement by a national news channel is abhorrent to say the least. A scan costs a minimum of Rs. 500 even in Central institutes like AIIMS, and covers not just the expenses of imaging, but also interpretation and recommendations.
What these media powerhouses and the cynical public needs to look at is the affordability of services in India as opposed to Western countries whose standards are met by most corporate and tertiary hospitals across the country. While the lowest price at which an MRI scan can be done in the US is around Rs. 12, 700 (with average rates of around Rs 1.6 lakhs), getting one done in India would cost much less at a minimum Rs. 3000 in Government institutions, and up to Rs. 12, 000 in the private sector. In fact, the affordability of top-notch services is one of the factors in India’s leading position in medical tourism, at around one-tenth the original cost for comparable procedures in the UK and the US.
On the contrary, by creating news where there is none at the expense of people’s trust in the medical system, they are incurring more harm than they might realize. At less than 2 per cent of the annual budget allocated for public health, and with an average ratio of one doctor for every 1700 patients, the public health system is indeed in an abysmal state. And like every field, medicine has its bad apples as well. But to paint the entire profession black, as well as to collectively render them and their property susceptible to the law of the mob is an unreasonable work environment for highly-skilled, competent medical professionals. The case of Dr. Rohit Gupta, who was hospitalized following attacks by a patient’s relatives as a result of the latter’s succumbing to multi organ failure, is just one among innumerable attacks that doctors have faced over the years for doing their duty. While ignorance can be cited as the mob’s excuse, what reasons do the media giants have for spreading misinformation?
So, dear media, take note of the damages you perpetuate by widening the already existing gap between patients and doctors. Yes, doctors do have a strict moral code to abide by, but please ensure that you do not put them on a high pedestal and to verify facts before broadcasting them. Instead of drawing unfair generalizations, let us join forces and ask the government to reform the healthcare and health education systems, to deliver to its people the health industry they deserve.
Deepti was 16 when she first started feeling sick. She could not stop coughing. At first she thought it was just normal viral cough, but despite medication, her cough never really stopped. The doctor advised a chest x-ray, and it took her more than a month to get diagnosed with TB. Her family could not believe it and had never imagined that she could have this disease.
Her medication continued but didn’t help. After a few months her doctor informed that a part of her left lung had decayed and hence surgery was required. This was because of a more dangerous form of TB called Multidrug-resistant TB. Her parents were confused and had no clue as to what it meant. Life changed for the worse after that with endless medicines and injections.
Finally, after 6 years of fighting the disease she was finally cured.
Surviving TB wasn’t without challenges and doubts. Yet, Deepti was lucky because she had family support and was eventually able to get the appropriate treatment. Barring some people, everyone stood by her and never discriminated against her. However, millions of Indians are not and they continue to suffer without appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
This is Deepti’s story:
Undoubtedly, TB has become India’s biggest heath crisis. Our country has the highest TB burden globally, with close to 2.2 million new cases each year. Though preventable and treatable, TB kills a 1000 Indians everyday and 3 lakh Indians each year. Most prevalent among the 15-54 age group, it also impacts household income and acerbates poverty by pushing families into debt. The annual costs of TB to India stand at USD 23.7 billion.
Over the last few years, India has been facing an epidemic of drug resistant TB (DR -TB). In 2012, cases of Extremely Drug-Resistant TB (XXDR-TB) were reported in Mumbai. The treatment for DR -TB is extremely long and expensive with an exceedingly poor cure rate. DR TB is nothing short of a death sentence for the poor and vulnerable.
But India’s response to this crisis has been woefully inadequate. By some estimates, close to a million patients remain undiagnosed and untreated, falling somewhere between the overburdened public sector and exploitative private sector. Recognizing the urgent need to prioritize TB, this World TB Day, a group of concerned and eminent citizens wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to make TB control a priority in the nation, terming it as a national crisis. The letter’s signatories include prominent citizens such as industrialist Adi Godrej, scientist M S Swaminathan and actor Aamir Khan, who also hosted a path breaking episode on TB in Satyamev Jayate last year.
The letter is accompanied by a set of recommendations drafted by a group consisting of doctors, civil society organizations (CSOs), epidemiologists and social scientists identifying urgent actions necessary to improve TB control in India. These recommendations are in the areas of public awareness, diagnosis, treatment, drug resistance, information systems and private sector engagement.
The recommendations appeal that India must provide free and accurate diagnosis as well as appropriate treatment to every single Indian regardless of whether they seek care in the public or private sectors. The recommendations also suggest that the government needs to provide all TB patients with an upfront Drug Susceptibility Test, to rapidly identify MDR and more severe forms of DR-TB. Moreover, experts suggest that instead of giving a standardized regimen, we need to individualize treatment regimens, choosing only drugs to which we know TB bacteria are sensitive to. The government must also consider introducing, under controlled conditions, new drugs that have the potential for curing the most resistant TB strains.
The key focus areas of these recommendations are prevention, community engagement and empowerment. These, the experts suggest, can be addressed through comprehensive multi-media awareness campaigns to ensure awareness of TB, community engagement and empowerment programs to help fight stigma.
Perhaps the most significant of these suggestions is that the government must actively and effectively engage the private sector. TB in India will never be controlled without participation from the private sector since more than 70% of all TB patients first seek care in the private sector only. The letter suggests learning from experiments currently underway in India where the local city governments have transformed how TB is diagnosed and treated, addressing the crisis upfront.
It also urges the government to recognize the economic and social dimensions of TB and to provide nutrition supplements for all patients with low body weight or those who are below the poverty line. It should also create economic support programs – to support TB patients and their families during treatment period, to avoid further impoverishment.
While the letter is possibly the most comprehensive and detailed set or recommendations on TB, it will have little resonance until sufficient political attention is paid to this health crisis at the highest levels. Politicians continue to unaware of the magnitude of this disease or its implications. Hopefully, the government will take heed and hopefully we can begin to address the crisis that TB is. Until then, it continues to remain India’s silent killer.
Deepti says “I genuinely believe that TB is India’s ticking time. There need to be proper testing facilities where each patient can be tested freely and accurately. Poor patients must be given free drugs, regular support and nutritional supplements as well. We need to support the patients – together we can defeat TB!”
It’s not easy to battle with your own mind. It’s even tougher, when you emerge victorious and talk about it. As I watched Deepika Padukone talk about her own journey in an interview, tears streamed down my face. Having lost a dear friend to the ailment exactly a year back, I understood, I really understood when she tried to talk about that empty pit in her stomach, being scared, and “crying at the drop of a hat”.
Time and again, intensive studies come up with their shiny new facts and figures which reflect our own collective unhappiness as a society. A journal in US National Library of Medicine tells me that more women have a chance of being depressed than men, and yet another tells me that India has the highest number of patients suffering from depression.
The numbers are so high, that about one in every four people in India could be suffering from depression. Given the amount of social silence around the issue, it is probable that a large chunk of the people suffering from depression have never been either diagnosed, or treated. Because of this, the suicide rate in the country, especially amongst the youth, is alarmingly high. At one point in the interview, Dr. Bhatt, Deepika’s psychiatrist fears that it would become an epidemic, if not handled cautiously and addressed immediately.
A lot of people thought that it was convenient to toss away Deepika’s interview as a sham. This idea comes from the stigma related to mental illnesses as a whole. We live in a world where we constantly deny experiencing mental trauma, and contrary to what the numbers say, we think that it is the most unlikely thing to happen to us. Also, a popular belief that goes around is that anyone who suffers from any mental ailments, is probably, “mad”. These are the same people who think that because she’s a well known personality, with surplus luxuries, and an overflowing bank account, she cannot get depressed.
These are also the same people who believe that being mentally ill is just a state of mind and if people want to be unhappy they will be. For people who have been suffering from any mental ailments, this comes across as passive bullying, which forbids them to come out and speak up about their problems. A regressive approach like this pushes probable patients further into their cocoons, probably to eventually let the disease ride over them. The sensitivity that we, as a culture lack has the potential to cost individuals their lives.
In such a restrictive society, Deepika’s coming out was not only commendable, but also inspirational. I want to talk about depression as much as I want to talk about my jaundice, my typhoid, my influenza. I do not want to be ashamed of my own brain. I want to talk about my anxious personality, the tremors I experience occasionally, my paranoia regarding certain things, my obsessive compulsive tendencies, without the fear of being judged, or worst, labelled as an immediate outcast.
This definitely comes from personal experience, when I say that you do need as much support and compassionate advice as possible. Because of the widespread misconceptions around mental illnesses in our society, most around us think a little smiling, laughing, and a few happy moments would repair everything. Depression is not equivalent to ordinary sadness. It is out of your control, it also, often, transcends into physical symptoms. And tending to somebody’s moodswings is not similar to the treatment a depressed person requires, that too, from a licensed professional.
On my part, I want to thank Deepika. I do not know what gave her the courage to speak out, but in doing so, she has brought in a ray of hope for many individuals, who for the fear of being judged or mocked, would rather die due to depression than seek medical help. I think it is time we ushered in a positive and a non-judgmental approach to mental illnesses. While I am not hailing the actress as an ambassador for all the mental patients nationwide, I do consider her as a model whose frankness and vehemence, in this regard, the popular culture will hopefully emulate.
Perhaps, if depression was in anybody’s control, it would have been eradicated by now. Deepika spoke of her struggle just as another human being would, and if she can recover from depression, then anyone can. For instilling this hope, for bringing this issue to light so gracefully and positively, I applaud her. As stated by Deepika herself, “even if you impact one life, or save that one person from taking their life because they are so down and out, I think we achieved what we wanted to.”
You can find the transcript of the interview here.
Post-independent India has had its share of medical achievements to boast of: it witnessed milestones ranging from a doubling of life expectancy to the eradication of Polio. And it continues to churn out world-class health professionals every year. Yet, the UN reports that 70% of our public health expenditure is concentrated in the urban areas, where less than a third of the population lives.
For a country that has faced major healthcare issues since its inception, the least-recommended step would be to starve its already-dilapidated system. But that is exactly what we see in the case of the finance minister Arun Jaitley’s otherwise balanced annual budget.
The allocated budget for healthcare in 2015-16 is Rs. 33, 152 crore, a little over last year’s Rs. 30, 645 crore. The total amount spent in the first three years of the 12th Five-Year Plan has been around Rs. 70, 000 crore, which falls way below the Rs. 2, 68, 000 crore allocated for the 5 year period. While the government aims to meet its fiscal deficit target, slashing Rs. 60 billion from the budget sets our frail healthcare industry on a pitiable expedition. Our healthcare sector will be unable to meet the minimum expenses.
Currently, India spends a little over 1% of its GDP on public health, in contrast to China’s 3%, Brazil’s 4.1% and US’ 8.3%.
The intention for building an integrated system for delivering affordable and accessible healthcare for all is clearly there, but it is not reflected in this year’s distribution.
It is impractical to simplify the public healthcare scenario. We have understaffed, overcrowded hospitals and clinics, rife with corruption, absenteeism and inadequate resources. Their facilities are far from meeting the requirements for dealing with basic issues, such as malnutrition, infections, and preventive healthcare.
More children die because of preventable illnesses, such as diarrhea and pneumonia in our country than in the neighbouring countries, such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Adults face no less a challenge, when as many as 80 per cent of those afflicted with dengue every year either never seek medical care, or are turned away from overcrowded hospitals.
We also have a nation with a teeming population, decreasing mortality rates, and rising life expectancy rates. All of these have lead to an increase in instances of non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
Out-of-pocket expenses on dealing with these healthcare problems push an estimated 39 million Indians to poverty every year. Under addressed mental health issues too paint a tragic picture as India’s suicide rate in the age group of 15-29, arguably the most productive period of an individual’s life, is the highest in the world.
The cutback affects schemes concerning a range of issues including malnutrition, right to education, health, child protection, and support to the disadvantaged groups – the scheduled tribes and castes. While allocations in these areas have always been significantly less, these cuts will push some of the schemes further back and ensure that they can’t be launched at all.
Schemes such as Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) have been hit hard just as they were beginning to show results. Worse still, the Finance Ministry has ordered a cut in the spending for India’s HIV/AIDS program by about 30 per cent to Rs. 13 billion, an absurd step for a nation that accounts for more than half of all AIDS-related deaths in the Asia-Pacific region.
Another missed opportunity was the lack of incentives for the pharmaceutical industry, which has recently come to the forefront as the leading producer of generic drugs worldwide. Facing stiff competition from China, the dearth of support for its capital investment needs, research and development investments, or tax exemptions is a major setback. The ‘Make in India’ campaign’s aid to the development of Indian pharmaceuticals and medical devices would have given a boost to the health industry as well as the economy.
On the positive side, the proposition for the extension of health cover and initiatives to boost health insurance will reduce the out-of-pocket spending. Setting up AIIMS in different locations across India, would strengthen the tertiary care infrastructure in these states. However, the need of the hour is to reinforce primary and secondary healthcare facilities, as is evident from the ongoing crisis of Swine flu.
Further, the spotlight on Swacch Bharath Abhiyaan concentrates on sanitation. Moreover, the tax exemption provided under this program is a commendable step; its acceleration and implementation can help keep disastrous diseases, such as Malaria under check.
Nevertheless, the government has a long road to travel if it is to win back the confidence of its people as well as its healthcare providers. Recent tragedies such as the botched sterilizations in Chhattisgarh have alienated even the poorer classes from accessible facilities. Meanwhile, the morale of its healthcare providers remains at an all-time low. With underpaid staff, under-resourced health centres and a neglected medical education system, they need serious attention from the centre.
India needs to raise its public healthcare expenditure to at least 2.5% of the GDP so as to fulfill the promise of universal health coverage. Tackling the issue requires getting to its multiple roots, including hygiene, female empowerment, and literacy.
The government must gear up to accommodate a dual battle against a developing country’s health concerns and a host of developed world disorders. New methods of fund transfer, procurement, and a supply of life saving drugs and diagnostics for the implementing units should be conceived for better healthcare.
Let’s hope that the Centre considers all these aspects and rethinks its budget allocations for subsequent years.
When Arun Jaitley gave his budget speech in the parliament, he brought a whole lot of cheer to the industry. The government’s budget has a host of positive developments, all of which will no doubt stimulate the economy. The business friendly environment that the NDA has long promised seems closer to being a reality. The centre, however, barely gave any thought to one of our most pressing issues – healthcare.
Despite all the hoopla about Modi’s ambitious plan to offer universal healthcare under the National Health Policy 2015, the idea seems to have disappeared without a squeak. That plan was estimated to cost $26 billion (Rs 160,693 crore). Keeping that in mind, it’s alarming to note that the government’s outlay for The Department of Health and Family Welfare is Rs 29653 crore, almost Rs 6000 crore less than that allocated in last year’s budget. India’s spending on healthcare is already one of the lowest, even in the developing world. It’s spending as a percentage of its GDP lags significantly behind other BRICS countries – just 1.3% of the GDP is spent on healthcare. The second lowest country, China, spends 5.1%. These are horrendous figures, anyway you cut it. So let’s look at what the government has focussed on.
There are plans to set up new AIIMS in several states including Kashmir, Tamil Nadu and Punjab. India might have a shortage of quality doctors, but what we lack even more is matching medical professionals to people who are in dire need of their services. There’s nary a mention of Gramin health centres in the Centre’s budget plan. These are the key venues where most of rural India avails medical care. While there are passing references to setting up medical centres in each village, tangible measures seem to be non-existent.
And there are, rightfully, questions about who the government is fending for. The limit of deduction for health insurance has increased from Rs 15,000-25,000. While it’s a good move, its primary beneficiaries will be middle class families who can afford health insurance. The government seems to be incentivising the middle class to switch over to private healthcare, which is not a bad way of reducing the state’s healthcare burden, but also provides a lower impetus to improve the infrastructure and quality of public hospitals. There’s also the problematic aspect of giving perks to those who can afford healthcare and ignoring the many millions who can’t.
The government also seems to think access to clean drinking water is not a problem. The National Rural Drinking Water Programme has an allocation of Rs 108 crore for a population of 1.3 billion people! Water borne diseases are one of the primary killers in our country, responsible for cholera, diarrhoea and a host of other illnesses. Diarrhoea is the biggest killer of children globally and India alone accounts for over a quarter of deaths .
The centre is also asking states to increase their contribution to schemes such as the National Health Mission. Medical care is the prerogative of the government and to shift the burden to the states will only create even more of a divide in health services between different states.
There’s also the question of how much the government is serious about tackling epidemics like swine flu which have the potential to wreak havoc on the social fabric in our country. A mere Rs 41 crore has been allocated for ‘Matters Relating to Epidemics, Natural Calamities and Development of Tools to Prevent Outbreaks’. Given that so far, more than 19,000 people have been infected with swine flu and over a thousand have died, the outlay is a pittance.
To be fair, the government t has taken some notable measures. Import duties on medical equipment have not been increased. Meanwhile ambulance services are now both tax-free and customs duty exempt. However, what has been proven time and again is that universal healthcare is essential for a country that aims to improve a host of welfare indicators from life expectancy to productivity. It’s the reason why a world superpower like the United States lags behind countries like UK, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden with regards to healthcare. At least with regards to medical care, socialisation need not be a dirty word.
Why do we need LGBT support groups in educational institutions?
In an anonymous letter published in The 5th Estate, a student from IIT Madras recounting his tale writes:
“Homosexuality in college is purely an outlet of comic relief. You call someone gay, you say you’ll be ‘cool’ with it, because you’re oh-so-progressive, and you tease him with another guy (In fact homosexuality has become indispensable in today’s interaction sessions)…”
On a similar note, another student from IIT – Bombay, under the pseudonym of ‘H’ ruminating on his difficulties during the initial days in the institute writes:
“And so I chose the path of aloofness. Under the pretence of being a muggu, and having no desire for human company, I sought refuge in the Institute library all through my fresher year, scrupulously avoiding nearly all social contact.”
As an IIT Delhi alumnus, Balachandran Ramiah, Mechanical Enginnering, B.Tech., class of 1982, recalls his difficulties of being closeted, and the unavailability of a peer group in the following words:
“It was true, however, that I used to feel extremely isolated and lonely, as I could not relate to the other boys’ interest in girls, their small talk, and I could not share my feelings with anybody. I was also not aware of any other gay student on campus, or in my class (I am sure that they were there, but everybody was in the closet and hiding)…”
(Fortunately, today IIT – M has Mitr, IIT – B has Saathi, and IIT – D has Indradhanu, the LGBT support groups and counselling cells, which ensure that such stories are not repeated, and students, irrespective of their sexual orientation, enjoy their stay on the campus.)
I am sure that these personal narratives can put anybody under emotional stress, and make any sensible person put on his thinking cap. So, what do we see here? Have we deliberately chosen to close our eyes towards educational institutions, when it comes to one of the most important aspect of our lives – our sexuality? Why is it a big deal to talk about sexuality in educational institutions? Now, I can almost hear some people grumbling, “Why at all should we talk about it?”
‘Don’t these narratives answer the question well?’
So, with these narratives from some of the premier institutes of India, (I am sure this is just a tip of the iceberg) can I take the liberty to say that the alternative sexuality community in educational institutions are stigmatised?
What is stigma?
Stigma, as we understand, can be loosely categorised under the following headings – prejudice, stereotype, and discrimination. Our films are replete with examples of homosexual stereotypes, e.g., portrayal of gay men as sissy designers, and lesbians as butch psycho killers. People who are prejudiced endorse negative stereotypes. Similarly, discrimination is negative actions against a certain stereotyped individual or group, which can make a troublesome impact on them, limiting the quality of life and opportunities for those who are open and out, about their alternative sexuality status.
Strategies for changing public stigma on campus:
There is no gainsaying the fact that there is no hard and fast, magic-wand method to make the public stigma disappear, either through a legal framework, or by public policy. Since the problem pertains more to society, the strategies of dealing with public stigma have to be more social in nature. Public stigma can be encountered by three major strategies: protest, education, and contact.
Any discrimination against any individual belonging to the LGBT community should be brought to the attention of the support group/counselling cell. Healthy protests can happen at two different levels; firstly, by economic boycott, and secondly, by putting the perpetrator (can range from an individual to a system) to shame through nonviolent protest.
Case in point is the petition against the reinstatement of Act 377 of the IPC by the Supreme Court from the teachers, students, and staff of the different IITs. A simple candle march or a public meeting with placards in solidarity with the stigmatised individual or group can certainly make a difference.
But, protesting has its own problems. There are possibilities of attitude rebound, whereby, people can often be seen saying, ‘don’t tell me what I should do, and what I should not’. Thus, protests may help in diminishing the negative attitude amongst the people, but fail to instill positive attitudes supported by facts and information. So, it is not just about protests, but also disseminating information amongst the masses as well as educating them on the LGBT issues, as these are equally important.
The biggest task that education, which may not necessarily be formal education performs is that it replaces myths with facts. There are myths galore associated with homosexuality (it is a disease and is not natural), which should be replaced by facts (it is natural, and not a disease, courtesy – American Psychiatric Association, which dropped homosexuality from the list of mental diseases in the DSM).
On a larger scale, it has been seen that people who attend small educating sessions on issues like homosexuality are less likely to endorse stigma and discrimination. In educational institutions, short-term/semester-long courses on gender and sexuality should be offered. This will offer students a scope for discussing and debating the LGBT issues in a formal, academic set up. However, on a smaller scale and informal level, screening of queer themed movies, inviting academicians and activists for talks, distributing flyers, encouraging people to write and publish on queer issues in the institute’s magazine and newsletter, will help in dispelling myths, and in widening the world view of the people on the campus.
However, the magnitude and the duration of the positive effect of education are limited and short-lived. Sometimes, it is also related to the prior knowledge of the person as well as his or her preparedness to receive the disseminated knowledge.
The third and, probably, the most effective way to diminish the stigma of the general public is to facilitate the interaction between the members of the stigmatised group and the general public.
Celebrities coming out (unfortunately, iconic figures with possibly homosexual orientation in India, prefer not to openly declare it either), casts its own positive effect on the people. However, if somebody ‘just like me’ comes out to the public as a homosexual, it casts a larger as well as a deeper impact on both the closeted as well as the heterosexual students. Significant improvement in the attitude of the people can be seen by the actions of somebody in the neighbourhood they can relate to, and the students are less likely to endorse prejudiced and discriminatory attitudes towards the LGBT community.
Contact requires immense courage to come out, which also has its own setbacks in the educational institutes that pertain more to the heteronormative mind-sets and act in a homophobic fashion. One has to be very particular about one’s safety, financial independence, availability of a support system, and support from the family before deciding to come out. (Though not a fool proof coming-out guide, this may still help those in need.)
All of us, irrespective of our gender and sexuality, certainly deserve a healthy, stress free, and non-discriminatory educational environment, where our budding talents can come to fruition naturally. One has all the right to seek access to a safe space, where one can just be oneself without actually having to pretend to be someone else.
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