Monday, July 27, 2020

India’s Transgender (Protection of Rights) Act: Why the activists are opposing it?

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Vanshita Banuana

Article Title

India’s Transgender (Protection of Rights) Act: Why the activists are opposing it?

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Global Views 360

Publication Date

July 27, 2020

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Protests in Mumbai against the Transgender Bill

Protests in Mumbai against the Transgender Bill | Source: Tamravidhir via Wikimedia

On July 13, 2020 the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment of India notified the release of draft Rules for the much-disputed Transgender (Protection of Rights) Act 2019, and has given citizens 30 days to submit suggestions and objections.

The Ministry first published the draft Rules on April 18, 2020 and asked for comments by April 30, later extended to May 18. Based on the central government’s consideration of the submitted feedback, the updated Rules were once again opened to critique.

As summarised in this analysis by PRS Legislative Research, the Rules lay out the detailed process regarding issuance of Certificate of Identity, and welfare measures, medical facilities and such for transgender people. It also specifies that the National Institute of Social Defence will act as secretariat for the National Council for Transgender Persons.

Analysis

  1. The Act is infamous for claiming to confer the right to self-perceived gender identity, which is also enshrined in the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) vs. Union of India judgement, but continuously neglecting this right thereby going against both a Supreme Court judgement and its own statement.
  2. This manifested once again in Rule 4 of the first draft of Rules which required a psychologist’s report— while paradoxically insisting that it requires “no medical examination”— as part of the application process. This requirement was removed from the recent draft of the Rules after backlash.
  3. Also, as stated in the Act, it is the District Magistrate who will determine the final “correctness” of the application, essentially stripping transgender people of any supposed right to self determination. It is worth noting that this places the District Magistrate, an executive figure, in a judicial position, one of ‘judging’ the ‘authenticity’ of a person’s gender identity.
  4. The above mentioned application will only provide a Certificate of Identity that states a person’s gender identity as transgender. To be able to apply for a revised Certificate of Identity to change one’s gender to male/female as per Rule 6, a person must undergo gender reassignment surgery and on top of that provide a certificate stating this from the Medical Superintendent or Chief Medical Officer from the medical institution which facilitates the surgery.
  5. This is problematic for a large multitude of reasons, including but not limited to: many transgender people not feeling the need for medical or surgical intervention, the policing of transgender people’s identity as only being ‘valid’ if they undergo surgery, and the sky-high costs of surgery contrasted with large numbers of transgender people living in unsupportive environments and/or being unable to finance their surgery.
  6. The right to self-identification continues to be blatantly violated in Rule 8, under which a District Magistrate can reject an application, following which the applicant has a right to appeal the rejection only within 60 days of intimation of the same, as stated in Rule 9.
  7. The right to self-determination was also thrown out the window when the first draft Rules imposed a penalty on “false” applications, once again referring to the arbitrary power of the District Magistrate. This has also been removed following strongly negative reactions.

It is important to compare the two versions of the Rules despite the second one being arguably better and cognizant of some of the demands made by the citizens and other stakeholders.

The first version of the Rules quite clearly depicted the narrowly cisnormative perspective through which transgender lives are seen by the people in power. Despite the many changes as a result of relentless protests, the Act is nowhere near to truly respecting and empowering transgender people.

The decision to give the final say to the District Magistrate- which some argue made the process harder than it used to be before the Act- and the refusal to provide affirmative action or reservations to ensure representation in positions of authority that transgender people have historically been denied access to.

It also does little to counter discrimination, as is seen most clearly in the punishment of sexual assault and rape being much less than for the rape of a cisgender woman. It advocates for plenty of measures but does pitifully little to ensure or enable these changes.  

History of the Act

The history of the Act is a turbulent one. The 2016 Transgender (Protection of Rights) Bill, was almost immediately slammed by activists, NGOs, other human rights organisations, and citizens, for multiple reasons.

The most derided was the provision to set up a ‘District Screening Committee’ which included the District Magistrate, a chief medical officer and a psychiatrist among others, for the sole purpose of scrutinising a transgender person’s body and identity. It also criminalised organised begging, an activity specifically common among the Hijra community.

The Lower House of the Parliament, the Lok Sabha, rejected all the proposed changes by the parliamentary standing committee along with the demands of the transgender community, and passed the bill with some amendments in 2018. A short-lived victory came in the form of the lapse of the bill due to the 2019 general elections.

However, as soon as the NDA government was re-elected, the bill was reintroduced in the Parliament with some more changes, particularly the removal of the section on District Screening Committees, but was still unsatisfactory.

The full text of this bill was not released when it was approved by the Union Cabinet on July 10, 2019, but on the morning that it was tabled in the Lok Sabha, garnering another consecutive year of protest since it was first introduced.

This is the bill as it exists today, having been passed by the Lok Sabha on August 5, 2019. When the motion to refer it to a select committee failed in the Rajya Sabha, it was passed on November 26, 2019, and received presidential assent on December 5, 2019. Recent developments include a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging the validity of the Act.

Despite it becoming the law of the land, transgender citizens and activists such as Esvi Anbu Kothazam and Kanmani Ray continue to criticse it and the insidious transphobic thinking that has always guided it.

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April 13, 2021 2:10 PM

Detecting The Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays With Smartphones

Smartphones have become the most commonplace objects in our daily lives. The unimaginable power that we hold in our hands is unrealized by most of us and, more importantly, untapped. Its creativity often gets misused but one can only hope that it’s fascinating abilities would be utilized. For example, did you know that the millions of phones around the globe can be connected to form a particle detector? The following article covers the CRAYFIS (Cosmic RAYs Found in Smartphones) phone-based application developed by the physicists from the University of California—Daniel Whiteson, Michael Mulhearn, and their team. CRAYFIS aims to take advantage of the large network of smartphones around the world and detect the cosmic or gamma rays bursts which enter the Earth’s atmosphere almost constantly.

What Are Cosmic Rays?

Cosmic rays are high velocity subatomic particles bombarding the Earth’s upper atmosphere continuously. Cosmic ray bursts have the highest energy compared to all forms of electro-magnetic radiation. When we say ultra-high energy particles (energy more than 1018^eV), we mean two million times more energetic than the ones that can be produced by the particle colliders on Earth.  These rays are thought to be more powerful than typical supernovae and can release trillions of times more energy than the Sun. They are also highly unpredictable as they can enter Earth’s atmosphere from any direction and the bursts can last for any period of time ranging from a few thousand seconds to several minutes.

Despite many theoretical hypotheses, the sources of these ultra-high energy cosmic rays are still a mystery to us even after many decades of their discovery. These rays were initially discovered in the 1960’s by the U.S. military when they were doing background checks for gamma rays after nuclear weapon testing. Cosmologists suggest that these bursts could be the result of super massive stars collapsing - leading to hypernova; or can be retraced to collisions of black holes with other black holes or neutron stars.

How Do We Detect Them?

When the high-energy particles collide with the Earth’s atmosphere, the air and the gas molecules cause them to break apart and create massive showers of relatively low-energy particles. Aurora borealis i.e., the Northern and the Southern lights are the lights that are emitted when these cosmic rays interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. Currently, these particles are hitting the Earth at a rate of about one per square meter per second. The showers get scattered to a radius of one or two kilometers consisting mostly of high-energy photons, electrons, positrons and muons. But the fact that these particles can hit the Earth anytime and anywhere is where the problem arises. Since the Earth has a massive area, it is not possible to place a detector everywhere and catch them at the exact moment.

Energetic charged particles known as cosmic rays hit our atmosphere, where they collide with air molecules to produce a shower of secondary particle | Source: CERN

Detecting such a shower requires a very big telescope, which logically means a network of individual particle detectors distributed over a mile or two-wide radius and connected to each other. The Pierre Auger Observatory in South America is the only such arrangement where 1,600 particle detectors have been scattered on 3,000 square kilometers of land. But the construction cost of the same was about $100 million. Yet, only a few cosmic ray particles could be detected using this arrangement. How do we spread this network around the Earth?

In addition to being cost-effective, such a setup must also be feasible. The Earth’s surface cannot possibly be dotted with particle detectors which cost huge fortunes. This is where smartphones come into the picture.

Detecting The Particles Using Smartphones

Smartphones are the most appropriate devices required to solve the problem. They have planet wide coverage, are affordable by most people and are being actively used by more than 1.5 billion users around the planet. Individually, these devices are low and inefficient; but a considerably dense network of such devices can give us a chance to detect cosmic ray showers belonging to the highest energy range.

Previous research has shown that smartphones have the capability of detecting ionizing radiation. The camera is the most sensitive part of the smartphone and is just the device required to meet our expectations. A CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) device is present in the camera- in which silicon photodiode pixels produce electron-hole pairs when struck by visible photons (when photons are detected by the CMOS device, it leaves traces of weakly activated pixels). The incoming rays are also laced with other noises and interference from the surroundings.  Although these devices are made to detect visible light, they still have the capability of detecting higher-energy photons and also low-ionizing particles such as the muons.

A screenshot from the app which shows the exposure time, the events- the number of particles recorded and other properties

To avoid normal light, the CRAYFIS application is to be run during nighttime with the camera facing down. As the phone processor runs the application it collects data from its surroundings using a camera as its detector element. The megapixel images (i.e., the incoming particles) are scanned at a speed of 5 to 15 frames per second, depending on the frame-processing speed of the device. Scientists expect that signals from the cosmic rays would occur rarely, i.e., around one in 500 frames. Also, there is the job of removing background data. An algorithm was created to tune the incoming particle shower by setting a threshold frequency at around 0.1 frames per second. Frames containing pixels above the threshold are stored and passed to the second stage which examines the stored frames, saving only the pixels above a second, lower threshold.

The CRAYFIS app is designed to run when the phone is not being used and when it is connected to a power source. The actual performance would be widely affected by the geometry of the smartphone’s camera and the conditions in which the data is being collected. Further, once the application is installed and is in the operating mode, no participation is required from the user, which is required to achieve wide-scale participation. When a Wifi connection is available the collected data would be uploaded to the central server so that it could be interpreted.

There is much complicated math used to trace back the information collected from the application. The most important parameters for the app are the local density of incoming particles, the detection area of the phone and the particle identification efficiency. These parameters are used to find the mean number of candidates (photons or muons) being detected. Further, the probability that a phone will detect no candidates or the probability that a phone will detect one or more candidates is given by Poisson distribution. The density of the shower is directly proportional to the incident particle energy with a distribution in x and y sensitive to the direction in which the particle came from. An Unbinned Likelihood (it is the probability of obtaining a certain data- in this case the distribution of the cosmic rays including their energy and direction, the obtained data is arranged into bins which are very, very small) analysis is used to determine the incident particle energy and direction. To eliminate background interference, a benchmark requirement has been set that at least 5 phones must detect and register a hit to be considered as a candidate.

It is impossible to express just how mind-blowing this innovation is. As the days pass, Science and Technology around us keep on surprising us and challenge us to rack our brains for more and more unique ways to deal with complex problems. The CRAYFIS app is simply beautiful and it would be a dream-come-true to the scientists if the project works out and we are able to detect these high energy, super intimidating cosmic rays with smartphones from our backyard.

Further Reading

The paper by Daniel Whiteson and team can be found here.

An exciting book “We Have No Idea” by Daniel Whiteson and cartoonist Jorge Cham can be found here.

The CRAYFIS app can be found here.

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