Breaking The Stereotypes

Virtual assistants have made all our lives more productive ,efficient and less complicated . From forecasting the weather, to setting our reminders they assist us in virtually everything in our lives and have evolved as quite inescapable to human  existence. Life without any of these assistants seem almost impossible now. But wait, have we ever thought why most of these assistants sound female by default? why do we tend to associate them with female identities always? Does this have anything to do with gender stereotypes and the social stigmas prevalent around us.?

Eschewing Gender Stereotypes in Voice Assistants | by Andreea Danielescu |  Chatbots Magazine

 Google, Siri, Alexa and most other popular virtual assistants have defaulted to female voices and in many cases given female names. This evidently points to the deep-rooted social attitude of reinforcing the acts of service to women. From ancient times women were expected to take care of everyone in the family and manage both household chores and several other additional responsibilities with equal efficiency. It’s petrifying that even in this century such stereotypes do exist very strongly in one way or the other amongst us. The typical portrayal of women as ‘natural caregivers‘, capable of handling innumerous tasks acquiescently , still do find a place in our society.  Attributing female identities to virtual assistants will only underpin such biases.  

           At the same time there are several technological reasons behind this. As the majority of the systems are trained in female voices, it is very difficult for them to perceive any other voices. Moreover, women’s voices are discerned as more clear and well-pitched, capable enough to reach out to a multitude. A recent Market research showed majority of the clients round the globe prefer female voice for their virtual assistants as it sounds much more reliable and easily perceivable. On a psychological aspect, many of us unknowingly associate women’s voices with care and responsibility quite habitually. Earlier, the United Nations had asked all the companies globally to turn the voices of their virtual assistants gender-neutral, to completely avoid any promotion of societal paradigms. Apple’s virtual assistant Siri stopped defaulting to female voice and was made available in four different voices this year, thus making a small step for many but a giant leap to equality.

           Companies must try to give their clients an opportunity to choose the voice of their assistants rather than setting one as default. It’s apparent that such stereotypes underline women as obliging, ready to obey without question any blunt voice commands.  Feminizing virtual assistants is an archetype of how these gender inequalities trickle deep into every field. It is indeed a pressing priority to annihilate pervasive gender biases and stereotypes entrenched in our society, which are enormous obstructions in our path to gender equality. Let’s smash the glass ceilings and rise up for an “equal” tomorrow.

For The People !

From the very beginning,  the aberrant appointment of Praful K Patel as the administrator of Lakshadweep was viewed with extreme scepticism by the public and media. Later on, as days and months passed  the worst dreams of the citizens proved out one after the other . The administrator unleashed his true nature by approving several nonsensical laws, spiced with political and personal interests , drenching the peace and harmony of the Island and its inhabitants in the Arabian sea. The grave human rights violation snowballed into a major controversy, and is strongly rippling towards the subcontinent.

Lakshadweep: Why island residents are trending #SaveLakshadweep on social  media - The Week

                  The central government broke the conventional practice of deploying civil  servants as administrators of Union Territories by designating the one-time BJP MLA and minister of the then Narendra Modi government of Gujarat , Praful K Patel as the administrator of Lakshadweep. But tables turned as Patel took charge , he implemented and proposed a series of anti- democratic measures. Alcohol was legalized , the power of  local government  was declined by removing several important portfolios like education and health from their jurisdiction , those who have more than two children were restricted from contesting the Panchayat elections thereby kick starting the demolition of democracy from the Grass root level.

He went on with his controversial plans, introducing Goonda act which enabled the detainment of citizens up to one year without trial (where the lowest crime rate is reported) , abolishing beef as a part of ‘animal  protection‘ , proposing Lakshadweep development authority regulation empowering the administration to snatch away the land of the natives, terminating many contract employees , changing the travel restrictions resulting in rampant spread of Covid – 19 , widening the roads and constructing buildings under the cover of tourism, thereby destroying the public settlements as well as fragile ecosystems of the archipelago. Any development that creates undue exploitation of nature and environment cannot be justified on any grounds. The covid regulations were brilliantly used to contain the protests, as the administrator continued to pursue his tyrannical plans. This denial of public sentiments and opinions as well as the monocratic attitude of the authorities is aimed to rip the heart out of the island’s democracy. At the same time several BJP leaders are of the opinion that the entire controversy is of political nature and the pinpointed laws are only in the draft stage and will not be implemented without the consent of the people.

         Developmental plans should be for the people , not for the promotion of any political agendas or corporate interests. It’s high time some leaders realise the true values enshrined in democracy and the supremacy of people’s opinions. The Central government should intervene in the issue and call back the administrator .Let democracy and only democracy  thrive!

K.K. Shailaja- a victim of the patriarchal viruses ?

Soon after the Left Democratic Font registered it’s resounding and historic win in the legislative assembly elections of Kerala, innumerous speculations emerged about the cabinet formation and the inclusion of fresh faces. But the news of K.K. Shailaja dropped off the second cabinet came as a huge shock to the Keralities. Her much adored covid management and her landslide victory with a historic margin in the assembly polls didn’t earn her space in the cabinet. It raised many eyebrows and sparked massive protests , many  renowned activists, actors and several others took to social media strongly marking their dissent.   How did K.K. Shailaja grow from an ordinary minister to the widely acclaimed “teacher-amma” ? Why did only her exclusion  stimulate massive protests?

Kerala Election Result 2021 | Mattannur Assembly Constituency: 'Teacher'  Shailaja Defeats RSP's Illikkal Augusthy By Over 60,000 Votes×433.jpg?impolicy=website&width=770&height=431

                 Shailaja first came into the limelight in 2018 during the Nipah outbreak. She received immense praise from different corners for the effective handling of the epidemic. Her popularity grew even more stronger during the covid 19 pandemic. She addressed daily briefings, spreaded awareness about the disease, and kickstarted campigns to help contain the spread of the virus.  After the successful slackening of the first curve, teacher-amma’s popularity knew no bounds. She was featured in the Vogue, Guardian and BBC , was recognised by the UN and was also listed as one of the twenty most influential women by the Financial Times last year. All these laurels cemented her image and led to a fantabulous win with a historic margin of over 60,000 votes smashing all records. Thus many assumed she will continue to lead the health ministery in the next cabinet too.

    The experience gathered from dealing with the  Nipah outbreak and two successive waves of covid 19 is of huge importance in the present situation. The delay for a new entrant to understand the system will cost heavily in this crucial time. Shailaja’s popularity did earn immense trust and confidence of the public, it’s a giant challenge infront of the new government to win it back.

However this move has been interpreted as a part of the growing personality cult in the party and the unquestionable leadership of the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The unexpected glory of Shailaja , recognitions, possibilities of her being the next chief ministerial candidate have disturbed many and paved her way out. Many drew parallels between her and the late leader KR Gowri amma who was denied the Chief ministership in the past in spite of her immense popularity due to patriarchal nature of politics.

At the same time many argue that Shailaja teacher was “disproportionately hyped” as Kerala’s health mechanism suffered a huge setback during the second wave. The much celebrated low death rate is also surging high recently, the dearth of oxygen and other health facilities are being frequently reported in many parts of the country. The health department will be thoroughly scrutinised from now on by the public, it is indeed a challenge to prevent any mistakes.

Although the decision to include young and new faces is indeed revolutionary, it’s heart breaking to see a woman excellent in her field being asked to step back, strengthening the patriarchal framework in our society. Let more Shailajas comeup to shun down this male dominance prevalent in every field.

Domestic violence: An Unpardonable offence

Inspite of the strong cognizance regarding women’s rights and the evolving antagonism against gender based violence, women in the modern world still strive hard to materialize gender equality and fend off domestic violence.

Justice and protection for women as victims of domestic violence | European  Union Agency for Fundamental Rights

Domestic violence refers to the violence committed by someone in the victim’s domestic circle. Although domestic violence is a broad concept which includes violence against men , children and even old parents , the abominable fact that 85% of the victims are women, reveals their extreme vulnerability to this inhuman act.

According to the ministry of women and child development the cases took a deep surge during the lockdown. In 2020 , between March 25 and may 31, 1477 complains were filed against domestic violence. This 68 day period recorded more complaints than those received between March and May in the previous 10 years , and was termed as ‘shadow pandemic’ .This transformed domestic violence into the top crime against women in India supplanting rape.

From stigmatizing daughters as “burden” and “misfortune” to fostering “male dominance” and “patriarchy”, majority of the etiquette and stigmas rampant in our society culminate into such heinous crimes against women. Resistance from within the family keep women away from even reporting such instances in the name of “family honour”. Movies and daily soaps have a significant role in labelling domestic violence as a pardonable and a frivolous act. Many even consider it’s a man’s “indisputable right” to beat his wife. The ineffable mental trauma the victim undergoes is not even acknowledged .

While physical and verbal forms of domestic violence are at least addressed it to some extent The economic, psychological, emotional and sexual forms of the violence are not even addressed seriously. Economic dependence of the victim on the partner aggravates the issue. Forbidding the victim from acquiring education or job, persistent humiliation and criticism , controlling their financial transactions, preventing them from talking with friends or relatives unless granted permission can all be included as domestic violence.

The initial step in countering domestic violence is to become aware of the violence you are experiencing. The monolithic social attitude considering women as primary caretakers responsible to serve the ‘entire family’ must be torn down completely. It is pathetic that in a country where religious and cultural traditions keep women in high esteem and women are worshipped in the form of many deities, they are subjected to ruthless violence from womb to tomb. It’s never okay to beat or harass a woman . Equality matters!

The innocent “invaders” of the sea

The native fishermen who cross the invisible maritime borders, in search of livelihood often end up in prisons of the neighbouring country, separated from their family, without being able to communicate to the outside world for several years, only because they tried to earn a living.  In spite of recurrent appeals from several humanitarians and organisations the seizing, protracted imprisonments and custody deaths of indigent fishermen continues, recent victim being Rameesh Taba Sosa who died in the Indian custody last month.

Pakistan frees 68 Indian fishermen held for trespassing | Arab News

           Pakistan has around 275 Indian fishermen and India has 97 Pakistani fishermen in custody as per reports. These fishermen often don’t cross the borders deliberately, many of them know the consequences of crossing these territorial waters quite well, but the absence of any physical boundaries, lack of novel technology to keep a track of their location and the inability to read signs and symbols due to illiteracy are the major reasons of this problem. Even after their arrest due to the lack of proper information transmission, the news remains unknown to their relatives and they are often considered dead. The lethargic bureaucratic machinery causes further delay. Officials fail to act promptly time and again, while the grieving family members keep knocking every door for help.  Most of these detainees are the sole source of livelihood and the only bread winners of their family, thus their sudden disappearance will put family members in deep dilemma and grave poverty, children are at times forced to drop out schools and star working in order to earn a living. The pandemic has exacerbated their plight.  Lengthy legal procedures and negligence of the officers leads to long years of suffering and pain of the innocent fishermen. Many of them are not even provided proper treatment in the jails and suffer both mental trauma and hunger. In some cases, even after their death, the family have to wait for much time to receive their mortal remains and perform their last rites. All these inhuman acts illuminate grave human rights violation.

The historic tension between the two countries have put the lives of people on either side of the borders into intense trouble and suffering. Recent boundary disputes make the maritime trespassing a serious and complex crime. Still, putting humanitarian causes first both countries must come to a mutual agreement. The judicial committee formed in 2008 did create tremendous changes, but it has ceased to meet since 2013. Both the nations must try to resuscitate it soon to lessen this plight. Efforts must be made to amply caution the fishermen about the presence of boundaries. If arrested their release to be made as soon as possible, any unnecessary delay must be avoided completely. It should be made sure that they are treated properly as inmates and their families must be supported fully till their return. It is the moral responsibility of the nations to confirm that the lives of innocent citizens are never put at stake.

Crush The Curve !

Dazzled by the interim success in the first wave India, almost forgot the existence the microscopic pathogen. Our negligence resulted in a sudden upsurge of the positive cases and the profound spread of the lethal virus, necessitating instantaneous and severe preventive measures. The condition became turbulent as the patients started flooding to the hospitals, creating dearth for beds and oxygen shortages coupled with vaccine shortages beleaguered India in all respects.

CFSA's COVID-19 Response Grants: 20 Weeks of Impact - Community Foundation  for Southern Arizona

                   The advent of vaccines and the plunge of the cases did elevate our confidence. As restrictions got lifted gently, we started reverting to the earlier practices. In spite of repeated cautions from the health care workers we continued breaching the safety measures. Public places once again thronged with huge mobs catalysing the exponential growth of positive cases. Celebrations and ceremonies were organised grandly, flouting all the guidelines. We even forgot to wear our masks properly while Covid guidelines remained only on paper. The recent Assembly polls exacerbated the situation, through massive election rallies packed with throngs and giant road shows with no restrictions at all. All of us were subsumed by various other matters and we had little time to worry about the tiny virus. It was very important to remember dense crowds can intensify the situation and develop clusters. India’s official policy of ‘vaccine diplomacy’ also backfired severely creating massive vaccine shortage back home. Thus, the situation turned volatile and cases climbed high, tottering the entire prevention mechanism that was built till date. The Panglossian attitude of all of us, both political leaders and the public alike pushed us into the ravine of the pandemic once again.

The need of the hour to act more responsibly. We should follow the guidelines both in letter and in spirit, the political leaders should act more dutifully and completely avoid crowded events, vaccines should be distributed sufficiently as soon as possible. Wear masks, maintain social distancing and wash your hands at regular intervals, these are to be considered as the responsibilities of each and every citizen. Together, let’s Crush this curve and wipe out this virus from amongst us forever. The challenge is strong, but we will get through this together very soon.

 Stay safe!!

The Citadel – A J Cronin

Citadel is a simple, beautifully written novel that revolves around Andrew Manson, an ardent and passionate young doctor newly out of medical school who carries copious dedication and idealism. He is appointed as Doctor Page’s assistant in the Welsh mining town. Andrew is horrified as he discovers severe irregularities as well as wide unethical practises around him. Several diseases including Cholera were spreading drastically due to bad sanitation and the absence of adequate medical facilities. However, Andrew makes determined and continuous effort to improvise the situation eradicating medical superstitions of the people and dissenting the corrupt doctors which earns him both friends and foes.  

                              Later, Andrew manages to get a job in the town of Aberalaw and he marries his love Christine with whom he starts a new life. Initially they live in utter poverty but with the firm support of Christine, Andrew tackles each challenge.  In spite of tenacious efforts, the young doctor fails to make a difference and ends up in buying a private clinic in London, where he gets acquainted with several wealthy counterparts. Gradually the glimmer of wealth attracts Andrew and he endorses the same practises he strongly resented earlier. Andrew is unable to withstand the inner battle with his own former self and is under constant quest for more money.  The values he held and the call of conscience constantly haunts him. This sudden metamorphosis even creates chaos in his relationship with Christine.

Buy The Citadel Book Online at Low Prices in India | The Citadel Reviews &  Ratings -
Pic courtesy : Google

                                One day Andrew is petrified as he witnesses Dr Harley, his close friend killing one of his patients in the midst of a surgery due to his incompetence. This incident leaves Andrew guilt ridden and acts as a major breakthrough, making him re-think about his past. He finally reconciles with Christine leaving the latter extremely happy. Tragically their respite is short lived as Christine dies in an accident, Manson is engulfed by overwhelming grief and sorrow. One of his close friends Philip Denny comes to his rescue at this point, his company provides Manson consolation and he slowly comes back to life. But fate had kept more in store for the doctor as he is forced to defend himself in an enquiry questioning his decision of referring a patient to doctor Stillman who is considered incompetent. But Andrew successfully wins the case and leaves for London with Harley.

         The language is simple but very strong enough to convey emotions, well knitted with devastation, rectitude and vindication. Author, through the protagonist, tries to highlight corrupt exercises in the medical field quotidian even today. Although the plot is pretty predictable, it is wonderfully concocted together by Cronin. It gently reminds us of the importance of remaining dedicated and ethical in one’s profession. Role played by Christine, especially in the times of turmoil is laudable. She endures all the ups and downs of their life calmly and remains courageous and collected throughout. Stillman’s character elucidates knowledge is more important than medical degrees. Inspite of being written in the twentieth century, the core message is unaffected by time. Citadel still remains a perennial read.

The Citizens of nowhere

“The greatest nations are defined by how they treat their weakest inhabitants.”

                                                                                                                               ~ Jorge Ramos

The Rohingya is a Muslim ethnic minority group from Myanmar known as the most persecuted minority in the world. Both religiously and ethnically different from the Buddhist majority of Myanmar, Rohingyas were never considered citizens and denied even basic rights. Having faced dreadful decades of discrimination and torment in their homeland, they risked everything and walked miles day and night, swum across ghastly rapid rivers, crossed the treacherous seas and fled to different parts of the world for respite but their plight only deteriorated further. After a brief period of attention, the Rohingyas seem to be evanesced from the mainstream media.

Explainer: Rohingya refugees face crowded camps, dangerous sea journeys and  COVID-19 | Amnesty International

                       The Myanmar government refused to recognise them and grant them citizenship effectively turning them stateless entities and denying even basic rights. They were subjected to institutionalised discrimination, injudiciously denied equal education, free movement and choice of religion. They did not receive any legal protection from the government and were considered as illegal migrants from Bengal. Moreover, the tension between Muslim Rohingyas and the Buddhists intensified by the religious differences, frequently led to violent conflicts. In august 2017, the military and the Buddhist mobs unleashed a brutal attack on the Rohingyas, setting their villages on fire, abusing women and large-scale homicide of the innocent civilians forcing them to flee from their own native land. Myanmar’s security forces allegedly fired on the fleeing migrants and even planted landmines near the borders. The UN described the inhuman act as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Although many consider it a genocide, authorities completely deny them. Being stateless in their home country, Rohingyas are unable to travel to any other country legally which made them “illegal migrants”.

                                                  Over 40,000 Rohingyas have migrated to India living in slums and camps scattered across different states. In spite of having the responsibility to accommodate the migrants as the immediate neighbour of Myanmar, we have failed them terribly.  Anti- Rohingya sentiment that developed recently aims to expel the migrants permanently. India repeatedly claims that it isn’t a signatory of the UN refugee convention, and hence cannot consider Rohingyas as refugees, treating them as illegal migrants and labelling them as terrorists, threats to national security and as infiltrators. Crackdown on Rohingyas can be seen as part of the political interests of certain extremists’ groups. This exclusion from the government policies and citizenship rights severely backfired during the pandemic, as they weren’t covered under any relief measures. Unprecedented lockdown snatched away their livelihood and forced poverty and starvation. Living in the conditions of poor sanitation with limited access to health facilities made them quite vulnerable to the pathogen.

   Last month Myanmar descended into a military dictatorship again. Peaceful protestors are being attacked and detained, political leaders are put under house arrest, severe restrictions including curfews are imposed.  Coinciding with this, India is making preparations to deport Rohingyas back to Myanmar. How can we send them back to a place where their lives are in extreme danger? Many of them started fleeing off to Bangladesh in the fear of being ousted to their homeland. It is the time to act more responsibly and humanely above all its human life that matters. We know quite well Rohingyas are the most persecuted community in the world, throwing them to the jaws of military dictators is barbaric.

                   We need to think from a wider landscape and put forth a humanitarian approach at this point. Let’s stand up for human rights and treat the refugees more humanely, give them sufficient rights as well as security and ample life conditions. Real compassion is not restricted within the manmade boundaries. Consider them humans, accept their humanity

Woman, Interrupted

“O Bhagwati, Only if Shiva is conjoined with You, can He create Without You, O Shakti, He cannot even move O, Mother, Hari, Hara and Brahma worship You.”                                                     (Wave of Beauty, Wave of Bliss – Adi Shankaracharya)

Although culture, mythology and history depicted women and men as coequal, the clogged thinking and prejudices of mankind stumbled us on the path to a gender equal world. Every catastrophe ever attacked the world has brought along a sheer rise in the trend of various sorts of inequalities. The current pandemic widened the already existing gender divide worldwide, worsening the predicament of women like never before. 

 Initially the virus and lockdown were reckoned as gender equalizers as they forced people to stay indoors which made them discern the plight of women at home. This led to many positive effects like increased share of workload and household chores, increased sense of belonging towards home and family but respite was short lived. There was a sudden upsurge in the number of domestic abuse cases reported, the UN termed this surge as ‘shadow pandemic’. Women were tortured and exploited widely. The UN Secretary General himself stated that lockdowns can trap women with their abusive partners which can escalate cases of domestic abuse. According to reports more than 92000 calls were received all over India seeking protection during the initial 11 days of lockdown. Horror of such incidents and inability of adequate protection tore down the mental state of many women.

 Moreover, this pervasive malady affected women’s jobs and livelihoods largely as the magnitude of inequality currently prevalent is striking. It was found that female jobs are more at risk than male ones simply because women are disproportionately represented in sectors negatively affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Women hold a majority of the insecure, informal and low paying jobs round the globe which made them even more vulnerable to economic crises. They have less access to social securities and welfare schemes, and thus the economic shocks created by this disease are supposed to outlast the actual pandemic. Extending elementary protections to informal workers and enacting fiscal relief activities at the earliest only can lessen the gravity of the situation.

This crisis also created a drastic shift of attention and resources from basic provisions for maternal and child health around the globe to COVID relief activities.  Many countries ceased health care services for women terming it as ‘non-essential’, this decision not only denied women and girls access to time-sensitive and potentially life-saving services, but also further distanced them from already difficult-to-access basic health care amenities. The Ebola outbreak had taught us what all terrifying effects can side lining essential health care result in, shutdown of routine health services and people’s fear of going to clinics and hospitals where they could get infected backlashed severely as thousands of women and infants died due to neonatal and other maternal health issues. We are heading to a similar situation; the aftermath would be even more acute. 

Education endured severe setbacks during these hard times. According to UNESCO, lockdowns and school closures have already caused almost 743 million girls to miss out on their education, and 10 million more secondary school aged girls are predicted to drop out of their schools before the pandemic gets over. On top of these often girls are the first to be pulled out of schools and forced to work and earn livelihood whenever families face economic hardships.  Restrictions on travel has also made it impossible for social organizations to directly reach out to girls and other communities that need help thus they lost both support and guidance too in this pandemic. 

Apposite help at the right time can ensure mental and physical wellbeing of both men and women. Social, educational and economic opportunities should be ameliorated during this crisis. Fight against this pandemic is not only about flattening the curve of the infected population but also ensuring humanity only wins at the end of the tunnel and comprehending every Shiva is powerless without Shakti.  

Shyamchi Aai – Sane Guruji

Shyamchi Aai is a simple story that revolves around the heart-warming bond of a mother and her son, knitted with strong emotions and embedded with insightful life messages… Author keenly blends the beauty of nature and enticing rural life.   The protagonist of the story, Shyam’s mother (Aai) is such an affectionate and a doting mother whose very presence emitted vibes of calmness and tranquillity; she reflected a divine beauty from within and emanated love for all the living beings around her.  In spite of being uneducated Shyam’s Aai is a wise and bold lady she knows to be both soft and stern to her children moulding them to be better humans, she gave utmost importance to dignity and hated depending on others, she believed one should never run away from learning anything new and everything is possible if you have brains and will. Even when their family’s financial condition was deteriorating, Aai patiently endured it all without any complaints. Shyam’s father (Bhau) was also a wonderful man who never gave up his principles and toiled hard for his children. Once he travels six miles on foot to give Shyam his favourite sweet. Both Aai and Bhau wrap their children with copious love and care, at a point even Shyam feels he is unworthy of it. Each instance of Shyam’s life gives profound messages. Aai awes the readers by dejecting untouchability and with her boundless love to birds, animals and humans both rich and poor alike.  Despite being engulfed by debts, Shyam’s parents allow him to pursue his education and fly after his dreams.   The story also elucidates Shyam’s feelings towards his mother, he studies hard to look after his mother and give her back all the joys she lost.  But constant sufferings and tough grind to make ends meet mutilate Aai’s health, she gets affected by a severe fever. The author describes his mother’s caring nature in her last moments. Although she badly wanted to meet Shyam, she prevents anyone from informing him worrying it will disturb his studies. Even when she was dying, Aai is deeply concerned about others her last words “Take care of yourself” leaves the readers in melancholy. Unfortunately, Shyam couldn’t meet his mother in her last moments but he treasures Aai’s memories, her words still shed light on his path. This is an account of a life filled with poverty, deprivation, hard work, sacrifice, respect and love. Simple but poignant life stories supplemented with the graceful village atmosphere and vivid descriptions of the natural landscape, Shyamchi Aai literally takes you to another world of ecstasy which can never be missed.


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