Har Har Mahadev. That’s the name of the app developed by a team at Banaras Hindu University’s Institute of Medical Sciences to block pornographic websites, as well as others considered “inappropriate”. After a user has downloaded and registered the app, any attempt to access such sites will result in devotional songs being played. Vijay Nath Misra of the neurology department said that it had taken him and his team six months to design it—an exemplary use of resources. “We hope the devotional songs that will play on the app will bring some level of change in the user. We will soon be adding devotional songs from other religions too,” he added. He also plans for the app to redirect users to inspiring speeches made by figures such as Nelson Mandela, Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi. Har Har Mahadev!
Eradicate (A Little) Evil
The Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Bill, 2017, was passed by a unanimous vote in the state assembly on recently. Although it does prohibit controversial practices, critics have attacked the government for making last-minute compromises. The bill was intended to also ban vaastu and astrology TV shows, but no such clauses were present in the version passed. BJP politicians who voted in favour of the bill, have also criticised it for focussing only on Hinduism while failing to target any “superstitious practices of other religions”. Rationalists have acknowledged these while endorsing the law as making some progress. Narendra Nayak, president of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, said, “I knew they wouldn’t ban the most popular superstitions, such as astrology and vaastu.”
Scavenging For An Existence
Not so long ago, their vast wingspans would often cast a shadow on the ground as they soared overhead or circled, preparing to descend on a carcass. But now, Pakistan’s white-backed vultures are a rare sight, having been reduced to a mere one per cent of their population of the 1990s, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The culprit is an industrial drug fed for breeding purposes to cattle whose corpses they eat. When the birds ingest the anti-inflammatory drug Diclofenac, they suffer kidney failure. The drug once wreaked similar havoc in India, reducing the vulture population from millions to thousands, before being banned in 2006. It remains legal in Pakistan, with the WWF doing all it can to protect surviving vultures by convincing authorities, pharmaceutical companies and veterinarians to replace it with a safer drug, Meloxicam.
Even before December 25, families in Jharkhand’s Lohardaga district can look forward to a visit from Santa Claus, and perhaps an early Christmas gift if they’ve been good this year. A scheme launched on November 19 (World Toilet Day) intends to reward families who have had toilets built as part of the Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan initiative and make daily use of them. Sixty-six volunteers dressed as Father Christmas will visit each of the district’s 66 panchayats to distribute presents such as stationery, clothes and chocolates. District collector Binod Kumar remarked that he regularly received complaints about people not using toilets, and he hopes that this initiative will help. Will outdoor defecators have lumps of coal tossed at them, one wonders.
Today In Netafashion
Beards are in and khaddar may be on its way out. That’s the impression a fashion-watcher would get from the likes of Telangana Congress MLA S.A. Sampath Kumar, generally seen eschewing the usual uniform in favour of shirts and trousers. He has declared that he will not shave until such time as he becomes a “mature politician”, which is also when he intends to start wearing khaddar. He joins a growing legion of hirsute colleagues including TPCC president N. Uttam Kumar, who had sworn to remain unshaven until Congress came to power in Telangana. Several other MLAs of the YSR Congress and TDP have made similar vows to avoid shaving.
Matriarch Of Manas
They grow up so fast. Ganga the rhino, who as a two-month-old calf was rescued by volunteers during a flood in 2004 and now resides in Manas National Park, Assam, has become a grandmother—the first tagged rhinoceros to be so. She had her first calf in 2013, and it is this firstborn who has now given birth. Ganga was brought to Manas as part of a rehabilitation programme after the rhino population there had fallen to zero. This has now grown to 32, with these rhinos being constantly monitored by the staff—a sign that the UNESCO Heritage Site is in good health.
Stolen Flower Power
Tubular white flowers sticking up like little spires, it shows no compunction as it sucks its host dry. Discovered this year in a semi-evergreen forest in eastern Nagaland at an altitude of 1,500-1,600 metres, Gleadovia konyakianorum is a holoparasite—a parasitical plant that acquires all its nutrition from its host, which in this case is a Strobilanthes species. Lacking its own chlorophyll, the parasite connects with its host and extracts nourishment through a haustorium, a specialised structure also found in other plant parasites. It has been named after the Konyak tribe of Nagas, and is one of only four known species of the genus, with the other three all having been found in India or China.
A Rawalpindi Hunt
The accountability court of Pakistan has declared the country’s finance minister Ishaq Dar a “declared absconder”, highlighting the ongoing tussle between the judiciary and the PML-N government.
Acting on a corruption case filed by the National Accountability Bureau against the finance minister, the court had asked Dar to appear before it. But when he failed to be present on November 21 in person, he was dubbed thus.
Corruption cases revealed through the Panama Papers had earlier led to the ouster of Nawaz Sharif from the prime minister’s post. The court’s ruling had also barred him or his children from contesting the forthcoming elections. The finance minister is also one of the high profile political leaders who is being investigated for corruption.
Dar is accused of amassing assets worth Rs 831.7 million, which is disproportionate to his known sources of income. The ousted PM and his supporters have been critical of the court’s action and called them part of a politically motivated attempt by sections backed by the army. But the drive to weed out corruption from the Pakistani political system has found support among a large number of people in the country.
During an accountability hearing, NAB’s investigating officer told the court that a NAB team had visited the minister’s residences in Lahore and Islamabad after non-bailable arrest warrants were issued against him. But Dar was not found at either of the residential addresses.
The finance minister had apparently left for London for treatment. But the NAB felt that he had left the country to escape the ongoing investigation.
According to the Pakistani media reports, declaring Dar an absconder, the accountability court said that steps would be taken to declare the minister a proclaimed offender within ten days. It also issued a show-cause notice to Dar’s guarantor, who was asked to submit a reply before the court by November 24 regarding the minister’s absence from court.
Dar’s lawyer had presented a medical report for his client dated November 16 in court. The finance minister, who is currently in London, has attempted to excuse himself from appearing in court, citing his ill health.
NAB, however, raised objections concerning Dar’s medical reports submitted to the court, pointing out discrepancies in them. One of them claimed Dar was suffering from a heart disease. But one submitted later said the minister was experiencing certain symptoms that were being diagnosed.
Illustrations by Sajith Kumar