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Children of a lesser God

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Workers look inside a sewage treatment facility Sunday in a posh neighborhood in New Delhi. Five of their colleagues died of toxic gases that while cleaning facility’s tanks. (Burhaan Kinu/Hindustan Times/Getty Images)

Anil, Vishal, Sarfaraz, Pankaj, Raja, Kiran Pal and Umesh……………..Who are these people? They were all young men with a dream and a family to look after but they are all dead. They were sanitation workers and went inside sewer to clean but never came back.

Last week in Delhi, a photograph of an 11-year-old child crying next to the body of his father went viral on the social media. The pictures, tweeted by a New Delhi-based journalist early this week, showed the child sobbing next to his father Anil at a local crematorium, who died while cleaning a sewer last week in New Delhi prompted social media users to raise nearly 55 lakh rupees to support the family.

To step into a manhole to clean the sewer lines in urban India is as dangerous as fighting insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir. In last eight years at least, the death toll among sewer workers has started to converge with that of security forces killed in the beleaguered state. Statistically speaking, it is safer to be a soldier in the army serving in Kashmir than a sewer worker in India.

The Supreme Court has passed strictures against both central and state governments for sending people into manholes without even basic protective gear, and ordered Rs10 lakh to be paid to the survivors of each of those who died in the line of duty. Unfortunately, we don’t recall even a single instance where this compensation was awarded to the family members of dead sewer worker.

Nobody gives a second thought to a man who dies while cleaning the gutter. The best he can hope is just a casual description in the city pages of newspapers unless his death has a horrendous novelty, like in a recent case in Delhi when Anil, a 37-year-old man died of asphyxiation while cleaning a Delhi Jal Board (DJB) sewer in west Delhi’s Dabri last week on Friday.

Police said that Anil, a labourer was lowered in a 20 foot deep sewer by a weak rope tied to his waist which snapped midway. It was a double tragedy for the family as Anil had lost his four-month-old son only six days back. A week back three labourers were asphyxiated while a fourth is battling for life after reportedly inhaling poisonous gases inside a manhole they were cleaning in Lajpat Nagar.

This incident occurred less than a month after four men died while cleaning a septic tank in Ghitorni, Delhi. Joginder (32), Annu (28) and a 25-year-old unidentified man, were declared brought dead at AIIMS. Like in other similar cases reported earlier, the men weren’t wearing protective gear when they entered the sewer line.

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Sewage and septic tank workers, NCR, Delhi

According to reports, in all the death cases of the sewer cleaners recorded so far, none of the workers were equipped with protective gears like masks or any other safety equipment. Inspite of manual scavenging being banned by law, it continues nevertheless. Last month, the Delhi Govt had decided to fully mechanize the cleaning of sewers and provision of life imprisonment was suggested for those who failed to adhere to these new rules.

It is shocking that these sewer workers are forced to operate without bunny suites, masks, and oxygen cylinders. In fact, it was shocking to learn that the workers drink liquor before venturing into these death chambers to numb their senses. It is estimated that almost 90% of the workers are hooked to liquor. Many die young and there are few among those employed with municipalities who live till the retirement age.

Mumbai’s municipal corporation does not have data specifically for sewer workers, but last year, they acknowledged the death of 1386 conservancy workers since 2009. Another report released by the National Commission for Safai Karamacharis, a government agency, said on an average, one manual scavenger has died every five days in India since January 1, 2017.The report also said that if the amount of Hydrogen Sulphide in sewer is high, the death will be instant.

Bezwada Wilson, an activist who launched “Safai Karmachari Andolan” – a campaign against manual scavenging in 1995, told the press that the government numbers are a fraction of the data about sewer deaths as over 300 people were killed in the sewers in 2017 itself. He further added that there is no effort from the government to end this inhuman practice, which primarily employs the lowest rungs of our society, belonging to Dalit caste.

It’s getting difficult for the community of sewer workers to survive because they are already marginalised. If a person calls a worker to clean his sewer, he can neither refuse to work nor can he ask for the safety equipments to enter in the manhole. Though, there is a law in place but nobody gets punished. Law can take place only if there is a political will but unfortunately that is missing. If we look at the budget allocation, it clearly shows that sanitation workers are not a priority for this government.

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Chinese imperialism poses incurable threat to the world

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Xi Jinping

New Delhi: Two viruses have taken over the world. One, a minuscule creature called Covid-19, has killed more than 8,00,000 people around the globe, but is slowing down and will most likely be eliminated in the coming months.

Vaccines have already been developed against it and once inoculated, citizens of the world can expect to go on with their normal lives. However, it is the second virus, that of Chinese imperialism, which poses a long term and a much more potent and incurable threat to the world at large.

China’s shadow looms large over the world. Not only geopolitically, but also in the economic and cultural realms, the Chinese are attempting to remake the world as per their conception of a master-serf relationship. Though in international relations, politics, economics and culture are interrelated, it is important to discuss them separately in order to bring out the nuances of Chinese imperialism.

The age of colonisation and imperialism ended for good in the wake of the breakup and reordering of the international order. This order was based on liberal principles of free trade, respect for international law, prevalence of democratic norms and a security architecture underlined by the presence of two superpowers. Intra and inter country disputes did happen but they were generally localised at best or limited to particular regions.

It is only with the entry of China on the world stage in force that global disruptions have started to manifest themselves brutally. The 2008 financial crisis decimated economies of the West and the East Asian Tigers but China emerged unscathed, riding on the success of its impervious wall which prevented (and still prevents) foreign investments unless approved by the Big Brother Xi. China by then had established mass manufacturing bases in major parts of the country and unimpeded by human rights or basic minimum wages, yoked its population to work tirelessly. The end result: China now mass produces everything from a needle to an airplane.

This has enabled it to dump its produce on other countries initially through the pretensions of free trade (now censored by the WTO) and later through the mega-ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). BRI has been used by China to weasel its way through national sovereignties like a hot knife through butter. Pakistan and Sri Lanka are best examples of what international observers euphemistically call “Debt Trap Diplomacy” but in reality is a gross usurpation of national authority.

China’s tentacles, unlike Covid-19’s, reach far and wide. In fact, Europe faces a double whammy of being repeatedly hit by the coronavirus and China almost simultaneously. With access to the Piraeus port of Greece, China has already started dumping products of all kinds in the European Common Market system. Italy’s untimely submission to Covid-19 was also made possible due to its proximity to the Chinese trading system. After all, Covid-19 and China have become synonymous with each other. In terms of politics, China has undertaken a multi-pronged attack across international borders of many countries.

India has been the first to bear the brunt of Chinese Janus-faced policies of illegal aggression on one hand, while calling for normalisation of trade and other relations on the other. However India is not the only one. The US faces a challenge of another kind. There is a real threat of China’s disinformation campaign affecting the outcome of the US elections in November.

China’s Thousand Talents Program has already ensured massive theft of data and exclusive technology from the US, the latest being Zhengdong Cheng of College Station, Texas who has been charged with making false statements and hiding his affiliations to the PLA. With Taiwan, China is playing the waiting game, pushing its ships and jets closer to the island nation with every passing week under the garb of exercises. Hong Kong for all matters has stopped existing as an autonomous region with only its nomenclature remaining unchanged.

China has also been active on the cultural front. The various China Study or Culture Centres opened in a number of countries act as both espionage and propaganda centres. There is a proactive effort to disseminate Xi Jinping Thought, a constricting ideology that aims to cement the Chinese President as the centre of China’s absurdist and all-encompassing universe.

The number of mushrooming Confucius Institutes all over the world teach everything but Confucian values. They are a front to propagate Chinese communist ideology under the facade of an educational institution and are now being investigated by a number of governments for their links to “The Party”. Chinese Students Associations have also been implicated in a number of countries to stifle criticism of Tibet and Xinjiang by expatriate Chinese students through use of violence and coercion.

Covid-19 is something that will ultimately have a cure. As it is, its lethality is very limited. However, the bigger virus of Chinese Communist Party keeps growing potent everyday and to counter it, the entire world needs to come together. The vaccination to get rid of the Chinese communist virus, though much more painful than the Covid-19 affliction, will have to be undertaken.

(Binay Kumar Singh is a columnist and researcher. Views expressed are personal)

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SEX AND CORONAVIRUS COVID-19

Having sex with yourself, masturbation, has no COVID-19 risk and is one of the best ways to keep enjoying sex during this pandemic.

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SEX AND Coronavirus
SEX AND Coronavirus (Picture Credit WSJ)

FAST FACTS:

  • COVID-19 is passed on through droplets that come out of your mouth and nose when you cough or breathe out.
  • COVID-19 is not a sexually transmitted infection, however, it can be passed on through kissing and close contact, including having sex.
  • If you or a partner have COVID-19 symptoms, you should not kiss or have sex.
  • There are lots of ways to have sexual pleasure without physical contact– try having fun with lone masturbation, sex toys, and phone or webcam sex.
  • If you don’t have symptoms, having sex with a partner you live with is OK.  
  • If you decide to have sex with someone who doesn’t live with you, then you should take precautions to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
  • Sexual health services – including for family planning, contraception and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) – may be disrupted by the impact of COVID-19. Get in touch with your provider for information.

Is COVID-19 sexually transmitted?

Based on current evidence, coronavirus – the virus that causes COVID-19 illness – is not passed on through vaginal or anal intercourse.

However, coronavirus is passed on through contact with droplets from the nose and mouth, including the saliva of an infected person, which can happen through close contact with others. This means there is a significant risk of passing on COVID-19 through kissing and physical touching if one person has the virus. There is also evidence that the virus is present in poop (faeces), so licking around the anal areas (rimming) may also be a way the virus is passed on.  

Can I have sex during the COVID-19 pandemic?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many governments are asking people to stay indoors to limit physical contact between people and the spread of the virus. Here are some things you should know concerning sex.

Sex with symptoms

If you or your sexual partner are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 – a dry persistent cough, temperature, or difficulty breathing – you should limit all close physical contact to stop the spread of the virus. This means avoiding physical intimacy, such as kissing and cuddling, as well as anal, vaginal, or oral sex.

Non-physical contact sex

Having sex with yourself, masturbation, has no COVID-19 risk and is one of the best ways to keep enjoying sex during this pandemic. You can also explore other ways to have sex without anyone physically present, including through phone or webcam.

If you decide to go online, be aware of what you are sharing and who you are sharing it with. Remember to only do what feels right. Your partner may want to explore this new way of being sexual but you shouldn’t feel pressured to share sexual content over the phone or internet if you don’t want to.

Sex with someone you live with

If you live in the same house as a regular sexual partner and you both have no symptoms, then you can continue having sex (with consent) as normal for your relationship.  

If your partner is having sex with other people who don’t live with you, then this increases your risk of getting COVID-19.

Sex with someone you don’t live with

During the pandemic, some countries are actively discouraging hooking up or having sex with people you don’t live with. This is because there is a heightened risk of picking up COVID-19 or passing it on to others, which undermines public health efforts. See below for advice on what to do if you decide to have sex.

If you are a sex worker, consider going online, sext or use videos and chat rooms, or taking a break from your business as usual activities if you can.

High-risk groups and sex

If you have a medical condition that puts you at greater risk of getting severe COVID-19, then you should be extra careful with all aspects of your life – including your sex life. You may want to consider stopping in-person sex or limiting your sex to just one partner who lives with you and is also taking extra precautions.

Limiting the spread of COVID-19 during sex

If you have sex with someone you don’t live with there are a few things you can do to lower the risk of getting or spreading COVID-19.

  • Avoid kissing or exchanging saliva with anyone outside of your household.
  • Avoid sexual activities which include licking around the anus.
  • Use condoms or dental dams to reduce contact with saliva or poo.
  • Take a shower and wash your hands and body thoroughly with soap and water both before and after sex.
  • If you use sex toys, wash these thoroughly with soap and water and do not share them.
  • Consider sexual arousal techniques that don’t involve physical contact – like talking.
  • Mutual masturbation while physical distancing.
  • Limit your physical interactions by reducing the number of sexual partners you have overall, and/or at the same time.

Sexual health services during COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some sexual health services may be disrupted. This includes services for family planning, contraception, sexual health testing and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).  

To limit the spread of the virus, many clinics may move to online consultations, suspend walk-in services, reduce hours, close or be referring people elsewhere. It’s important to stay up-to-date with your local health provider by checking their website or giving them a call.

Contraception and family planning

If you are not planning on getting pregnant, ensure you have an adequate supply of contraception.

  • If you usually use short-acting contraception, such as the pill, or barrier methods, such as condoms, make sure you have at least a 30-day supply.
  • If you use long-acting contraception, such as IUD or implant, make sure you don’t need this changed in the next month. Talk to your health care provider to ensure continuity in your preferred method.

Where legal, the COVID-19 pandemic may also disrupt the provision of essential abortion services. Contact your health provider for advice and information.

HIV and PrEP

Preventing HIV is still important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Make sure you have an adequate supply of condoms, and at least 30 days’ worth of PrEP, if you currently taking PrEP.

Some people on PrEP may decide that their HIV risk is low because they are having less sex during the pandemic. If you decide to stop taking PrEP, make sure you know how to stop it and start it again. For most populations taking daily PrEP, they’ll need to have seven sex-free days before they can stop taking PrEP so that their last sex act is fully protected. Check-out Prepster for lots more information.

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Understand the risks of sex and intimate contact in the time of COVID-19

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Sex and COVID-19
Images used in photo illustration by Shutterstock

With mandatory mask wearing and physical distancing of at least six feet becoming the norm around the nation, the question remains—is sex safe?

In short—it can be, but experts say any type of in-person sexual activity does carry some risk. But there are ways to have intimate contact and remain connected.

How is it transmitted?

Let’s start with what we know. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, so direct contact with saliva—through kissing, for example—can easily pass the virus. While COVID-19 has not yet been found in vaginal fluid, it has been found in feces of people who are infected. So this means that rimming (oral/anal contact) and anal sex may spread COVID-19 as well. Remember that condoms and dental dams reduce contact with saliva and feces during anal and oral sex or oral/anal contact.

recent study has also found the coronavirus in semen, both in men who had active infections and those who had recovered, but it isn’t clear at this point if it can be sexually transmitted through semen.

What’s the risk?

So where does that leave us? With different levels of risk. Given we currently know about COVID-19 and how it’s transmitted, the safest sexual activity is solo or remote. Solo sex (a.k.a. masturbation) can be both satisfying and safe—just remember to wash your hands! And technology makes different types of remote options, like video chats, sexting, available too.

The next safest option is sex with someone you already live with, provided that person is also taking steps to reduce their potential exposure to COVID-19 (like social distancing, hand washing, wearing a mask in public spaces).

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has some excellent guidance on safer sex during these times, which you can read in full here. But here are a few basic tips from NYC Health on how to enjoy sex and to avoid spreading COVID-19:

  • You are your safest sex partner. Masturbation will not spread COVID-19, especially if you wash your hands (and any sex toys) with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after sex.
  • The next safest partner is someone you live with. Having close contact—including sex—with only a small circle of people helps prevent spreading COVID-19. All partners should be consenting.
  • You should limit close contact—including sex—with anyone outside your household. If you do have sex with others, have as few partners as possible and pick partners you trust. Talk about COVID-19 risk like you would other safer sex topics (e.g. PrEP, condoms). So ask: do they have symptoms or have they had symptoms in the last 14 days? Have they been diagnosed with COVID-19? People are considered likely no longer infectious if at least 10 days have passed since the day their symptoms started and if they have not had fever for at least three days.
  • If you usually meet your sex partners online or make a living by having sex, consider taking a break from in-person dates. Video dates, sexting or chat rooms may be options for you.

For couples from whom pregnancy is a concern, don’t forget contraception as well. Once again, condoms (both internal and external) can fill that role, and telemedicine options are available as well, if you can’t venture out to a clinic or pharmacy.

Expert Answers to Common Questions

The National Coalition of STD Directors, in partnership with NASTAD have developed some excellent resources to answer questions about real-life situations many people are experiencing. Like, my partner has a high-contact job, where they cannot practice social distancing. Is it safe to have sex? These fact sheets, based on current evidence, help you understand the different levels of risk for spreading COVID-19 and safety measures you can take for lowering the potential risk of spreading or getting the virus.

Relationships Under Lockdown

Some of you may be thinking, “Sex?! Are you kidding? My partner is driving me crazy!” You’re not alone. Even couples with healthy, strong relationships may find themselves under strain during this time—struggling with being confined 24/7 under stay-at-home orders. Others may be pressed because of distance, forced to live apart due to health concerns or quarantine.

If you’re feeling the stress, there are resources to help. You can get tips on how to respect and help one another and disagree fairly. If you need more support, you can find a counselor who can offer phone or online support.

COVID-19 restrictions can be particularly dangerous for those in abusive relationships. The National Domestic Violence Hotline cites specific ways the pandemic can a survivor of intimate partner violence, from an abuser withholding necessary items or threatening to cancel health insurance, to the lack available shelters due to COVID-related closures.

The National Sexual Health Coalition suggests taking specific steps to stay safe in this situation, including making some space between you and you abuser by taking walks or a drive if possible and They also suggest making an a safety plan and having an emergency bag ready in case you need to leave your home quickly. Loveisrespect.org has an Interactive Guide to Safety Planning that can take you a series of steps and identify your safety options.

A Note of Caution for Parents

With schools cancelled across the country, many kids are spending more time online, possibly with less supervision than usual as parents are struggling to work remotely while caring for children. For this reason, law enforcement has warned that kids are particularly vulnerable to online predators at this time. Some reports suggest an increase in digital activity among sexual predators who target children.

So what can parents do? Talk to your kids about the risks and help them learn how to identify “red flag behavior” in people they may meet online, like asking for personal information or encouraging secrecy. Be an askable parent—willing to talk to your kids without judgement or shame.

The Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children has an extensive list of resources for parents to help their kids stay safe online, including how to access privacy and security settings on a number of apps and online platforms as well as ways to block and report users.

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