News Wrap


India’s Maharashtra state has extended a ban on killing cows to bulls and bullocks. The President of India has given his assent to a bill, twenty years after it was passed by the state assembly. Outlawing beef in India’s second largest state has delighted the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and enraged Muslims and Christians. Possession of beef in Maharashtra, whose largest city is Mumbai, now carries a five year prison sentence, and a Rs 10,000 (£ 105) fine. The state has a population of 114 million, including more than 15 million Muslims, for whom beef is a regular part of the diet. Hindu activists in the state have been trying to impose a ban on beef, since the mid-1990s. In recent months, there were strings of attacks on trucks carrying cattle, and blockades of meat processing plants, which are overwhelmingly staffed by Muslims. Only Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, has tougher laws. The ban would leave thousands of butchers jobless, and push up the cost of alternative meats. There are fears that the ban would drive the beef trade underground. India’s rising income is allowing higher protein diets. Only about 40% of India’s 1.2 billion people are vegetarian. Demand for meat, including beef, grew by 14% between 2010 and 2014. Most Hindus still revere the cow, as a symbol of wealth, strength and abundance. Maharashtra’s ban does not apply to water buffalo, a similar but inferior meat, sold widely as beef in restaurants.

Transgender Mayor
India’s two previous transgender municipal leaders, viz Kamala Jaan of Katni, elected in 1999, and Kamala Kinnar of Sagar in 2009, were perjoratively called ‘‘eunuchs’’ by the media, and within two years were asked to step down by their town courts, who declared their candidacy null and void for contesting in the female category. Historically, India’s ‘‘third sex’’ has been excluded from all social, cultural, political and economic spaces, leaving them vulnerable to physical and sexual violence. Usually shunned by their families or mistaken for eunuchs, transgender Indians often join the ‘hizra’ community, a relatively organized hierarchical system. Their customs include begging for alms, and singing and dancing at weddings and births for luck. In April 2015, the Supreme Court of India declared the transgender community as a legal third gender granting minority rights and privileges to education, employment and health benefits.

On 05 January 2015, the voters of Raigarh, with a population of 137,097 elected 35-year-old Madhu as India’s only transgender mayor. Madhu is an independent candidate, who defeated the two main political parties, the BJP and the Congress, which earned the Raigarh public’s ire for their inability to achieve progress. Traditionally, Raigarh’s biggest urban problem is sanitation. Alleys are dirty and piled high with garbage. Poor people abandoned in old age, step in the streets with nothing to keep them warm. Madhu the mayor, a down-to-earth politician, rides to cityhall on a borrowed scooter, or by rickshaw, or getting a lift. Every morning at 7 am, Madhu and her small team do the rounds of the local wards to tackle her main foe, sanitation. City workers, are pressured to fix clogged wells, pipes and unhygienic gutters. The Sanjay Complex Vegetable Market, supplies produce to all of Raigarh’s 48 wards. The unhygienic conditions of the market are being cleaned up, structures installed to give each vendor a proper stall, and drainage problems repaired. Madhu’s agenda includes cleaning and filling up some of the lakes and ponds that have fallen dry, and creating gardens or small park spaces, for old people to walk and children to play.

Attack on Sacred
In the early hours of 14 March 2015, a 74-year-old Nun was allegedly raped and tortured by a gang of decoits, at the Convent of Jesus and Mary School in Ranaghat, 75 km from Kolkata, in West Bengal. The gang carrying burglary tools, desecrated the school’s chapel, tore the holy scriptures, and smashed a bust of Jesus. The attack has fuelled fears among beleaguered Christians. The assault is the latest in a string of high profile rapes in India, and comes amid a spate of attacks on churches. The attackers gagged a security guard, before assaulting the Nun. They then stole cash, a laptop, and a mobile phone. CCTV footage showed that six men, aged between 20 and 30, scaled the boundary wall at around 11.40 pm, entered the school and disconnected the telephone lines. A week earlier the Sister Superior has repeatedly asked for police protection, after receiving threatening phone calls. Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, was gheraoed by students and locals on NH-34 at Ranaghat, demanding a CBI probe, on 16 March 2015. Investigations are conducted by State Criminal Investigation Department. The Nun, undergoing treatment at Ranaghat Sub-divisional Hospital, has been shifted to outside West Bengal state. The Ranaghat school is barely 38 km form the Indo-Bangladesh border. A police patrol jeep was parked between 11 pm and 4 am, about 50 metres from the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Ranaghat, on the night of the rape and robbery. Nadia, the district concerned, has 17 cases of rape every month. There are suspicions that there is a real state link to the attack on the Ranaghat Catholic School. National Highway 34 runs through Ranaghat town, and work on its expansion is underway. On one side is the Nun’s school and twenty five ‘‘stalls’’ where agencies offer security and protection. The stalls were encroachments along the highway. The stall owners with political influence, were keen on purchasing a vacant plot adjoining the school, but the school was not interested in selling the land. Some months ago, a Trinamool Congress leader had purchased 80 cattahs of land, for a little over Rs 1 crore, where the land was worth Rs 10 crore, from the school.

Chinese year of Goat
The Chinese New Year 2566 is the Year of the Wooden Goat. Prior to the third week of February 2015, a large number of mothers rushed to get Caesarean sections, to make sure their children are not born in the Year of Sheep, because superstitious parents believe that the new year will make their off springs meek and naive. Doctors reported significant spikes in demand for the procedure before 19 February, when the Chinese New Year commenced, and the Year of the Horse ended. Twelve animals are featured in the Chinese Zodiac, with children born in the year of the Dragon, Tiger and Horse symbols supposedly having more vibrant personalities. In Hong Kong prior to the New Year, there was a 20% increase in bookings, including many for Caesareans. Many obstetricians who normally performed two Caesarean operations a week, conducted four a day. On mainland China, 52% people timed their pregnancies, so they would not give birth during the Year of Sheep, sometimes known as the Year of Ram or Goat. There were large increases in birth numbers recorded in hospitals in Liaoning, Shandong and Gansu provinces on mainland China during the last Chinese calendar year, caused by superstitions, and the recent relaxing of China’s single-child policy.

Vol. 47, No. 44, May 10 - 16, 2015