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Ascent to the temple of democracy

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Pulapre Balakrishnan

Kerala’s reputation as a society that has evolved to an exceptional degree may have taken a bit of a beating. The reputation itself has been built on the strides made in the sphere of development, by now internationally recognised to be human development as reflected in the health and education status of a people.

When it was first noticed over four decades ago, Kerala’s perceived uniqueness had stemmed from the realisation that it was among India’s poorest States. To have achieved fairly high human development despite relative poverty was considered noteworthy. What was not apparent in the usual indicators, however, was something even more unique, the ending of social hierarchy. The caste system, which was at the centre of Kerala’s social arrangements, disintegrated virtually overnight. This was fuelled by the enactment of a land reform programme that ended feudalism. With feudalism went the equivalence between caste dominance and economic power. If evidence ever was needed for the Marxian view that it was the economic base of a society that undergirded its ‘superstructure’ this was it. What is significant is that the transition had been smooth, without recrimination for loss or retribution for injustice. Social distance in terms of caste distinctions just died.

 

Given the experience of the ending of a feudalism that had persisted for centuries in Kerala, the reception to the Supreme Court’s verdict on the practice of excluding women of menstruating age from the shrine at Sabarimala is disappointing. It is not as if the ruling has been received with sullen acceptance alone. It has been followed by vigilantes actually preventing the very few women who have attempted to enter the shrine since from doing so. Reports of heckling and intimidation that have led to disheartened women returning without darshan is likely to have left many a Malayali patriot ashamed.

To understand the reaction to one of the last bastions of male privilege being thrown open to women, we may turn to the work of the philosopher Michel Foucault.

Foucault had observed that while Marxism, a powerful tool for social analysis, emphasises the relations of production, it ignores the relations of power. Power for Foucault is ubiquitous and ramifies into every dimension of human association. Patriarchy or the idea of rule by men would be one of the sources of power.

Heteronormativity and the claim of the racial superiority of certain ethnic groups have also served as sources of power. Power for Foucault can draw its force from sources that are entirely unrelated to economic class. Thus in Kerala, for instance, patriarchy is entrenched across all classes and social groups. It did not vanish with the land reforms, even if its architects had wanted it to happen. From the recent events at Sabarimala we can see that some sections do not want it to lose its stranglehold even today.

The opposition to women’s entry at Sabarimala is at times met with an appeal to history, that the temples of Kerala have witnessed far greater transformation in the past, having been thrown open to all sections of Hindus over 75 years ago. While this history is correctly recounted, the issue of women’s entry into temples is not a matter of accepting the inevitability of change, it is a matter of recognising what living in a democracy implies for its members. Even as democracy guarantees rights to the individual, it requires him to acknowledge the rights of others. It is easily overlooked that it is democracy that grants the freedom to practise a religion.

The Church was discouraged in the former Soviet Union, China frowns upon the faith of the Uighurs, and the Saudi Arabian state is not exactly tolerant of religious plurality.

However, while democracy assures freedom to practise religion, citizens are expected to practise it in a way that is consistent with democracy. So the traditionalists on the Sabarimala issue must recognise that by excluding women, they are not keeping their side of the social contract as it were. In a democracy, the social contract is not between the state and the people, it is one entered into by citizens among themselves. As B.R. Ambedkar is believed to have advised Jawaharlal Nehru, you cannot have a republic within a republic. In the Indian context, the implication of this principle is that religion must be practised in a way consistent with constitutional values; at a minimum the practices cannot be discriminatory. Legal provisions against domestic violence and the ill-treatment of children point to the reach of democracy even into our homes. Religion cannot claim special dispensation. It need hardly be emphasised that the principle that religion be practised in accordance with the norms of democracy extends to all religions. Indian secularism would be tested on this idea.

In a way, the opposition to the entry of women to Sabarimala is reflective of a wider inequality between men and women that may be observed in Malayali society. Two indicators point to this, despite the very high literacy levels registered by women and a significant presence of women with higher education. First, female labour force participation is low in Kerala in comparison with other States. Surely the equality of women must be visible in their participation in the workforce. In Kerala, women were once a major presence in agriculture but this declined when paddy cultivation atrophied. The low female labour force participation in Kerala affects their ability to influence social norms, especially social attitudes towards female agency.

Second, the presence of women in governance roles is very low in Kerala. Three indicators may be noted, namely, the percentage of women legislators, judges in the High Court and leaders of political parties. It may come as a surprise to note that for the former two indicators the number is lower for the State than it is for Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. This despite the fact that Malayali women participate in elections at least to the same extent as men. Political parties of Kerala have made little effort to induct women into leadership positions. How much of this is due to male chauvinism and how much to inadequate women’s agency is a question to be debated.

However, a recent incident does help us see through the thicket. The union of Malayalam film actors, a highly feted body, was in the news for trying to protect an actor accused of abetting assault against a co-star despite the fact that he had been jailed. They held out till its leadership was publicly dragged over the coals by four determined women, some of them quite young. Such endings are few and far between but give rise to hope that women will eventually receive their due in Kerala.

It is hoped that the Sabarimala shrine, a site of popular worship with a long history and of great beauty, will henceforth be open to women of all ages. But for Kerala ending exclusion at this one site can only be the beginning of the much longer journey to gender equality in its society. The present situation bears comparison with what Nirad Chaudhuri had said of the British Empire, that it “extended subjecthood but denied citizenship”. In the case of Kerala’s women, its society may have extended education but withheld empowerment. So long as women are not represented in the upper echelons of decision-making it will be difficult to break this mould.


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Samsung Galaxy Fold Unveiled, With 7.3-Inch Infinity Flex Display

The Kashmir Monitor

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Samsung’s first foldable phone is here. After teasing the arrival of its first foldable phone in November last year, the South Korean tech giant on Wednesday unveiled the device at its Galaxy Unpacked 2019 event in San Francisco. Dubbed as Samsung Galaxy Fold, the new smartphone combines two screens in one device – one main flexible display of 7.3-inch and the other secondary screen of 4.6-inch. Targeted to the customers, who want the very latest technology in the palm of their hands, Samsung Galaxy Fold will be marketed as a luxury device. The Galaxy Fold goes on sale in April this year in select markets around the world. Samsung is yet to share the market-specific availability details.

Samsung is using the brand-new Infinity Flex Display to put a large 7.3-inch screen in the Galaxy Fold, which can be folded to turn the phone into a compact device that can easily fit in your pocket. The company claims that it had to work on the Galaxy Fold from the ground up and create new manufacturing processes, components, and a lot more to turn the phone from a concept into reality.

To make sure the Galaxy Fold’s folding mechanism works as intended, the company has given the phone a robust backbone in the form of a sophisticated hinge, which uses interlocking gears. This hinge is cleverly hidden in the body of the phone and is not visible at all on the outside, helping the phone keep its elegant look.

 

Samsung Galaxy Fold price, availability

According to Samsung, it will start selling the Galaxy Fold beginning April 26, 2019 in select countries around the world. The Galaxy Fold price has been set at $1980 (roughly Rs. 1,41,300) and the phone will be offered in four colours – Green, Blue, Silver and Black. The company notes, the smartphone will be sold in both 4G LTE and 5G variants.

There is no word on the pre-order details right now or exactly which of the markets will be receiving the device. If we were to hazard a guess, all major markets would be getting the Galaxy Fold, sooner or later.

Samsung Galaxy Fold specifications

Moving to the internals of the smartphone. Samsung has revealed that the Galaxy Fold is powered by an unnamed processor, which is based on 7nm manufacturing process.

It is likely the SoC in question is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855. The resolution of the larger 7.3-inch Infinity Flex Dynamic AMOLED panel is set at 1536×2152 pixels (4.2:3), whereas the smaller 4.6-inch Super AMOLED panel includes 840×1960 pixels resolution (21:9). The smartphone also includes 12GB of RAM and 512GB of inbuilt storage (UFS 3.0) – there is no storage expandability. Since, there is no market-ready flexible battery right now, Samsung has packed two batteries in the phone that are placed on two sides of the phone. The batteries combine their energy and offer a total capacity of 4,380mAh.

For the imaging needs, the Samsung Galaxy Fold comes with a total of six cameras – three are placed on the back, two on the inside, and one on the front. Let’s start with the rear cameras: a 16-megapixel ultra wide camera with an f/2.2 aperture, a 12-megapixel wide-angle camera, with Dual Pixel AF, OIS, and variable f/1.5 to f/2.4 aperture; and finally, a 12-megapixel telephoto camera with PDAF, OIS, an f/2.4 aperture, and 2X optical zoom. As for the front dual camera, it features a 10-megapixel f/2.2 primary sensor and an 8-megapixel RBG depth camera with an f/1.9 aperture. Finally, the cover camera is a 10-megapixel selfie camera with an f/2.2 aperture.

Samsung says that no matter how you are holding the phone, you will have a camera ready to snap a photo whenever you need.

It isn’t just the hardware where Samsung has worked hard to make the Galaxy Fold great, the company has invested equally in the software of the device as well. The Samsung Galaxy Fold runs on Android Pie and packs several software customisations to make use of that massive real estate. The company has included support to run three apps simultaneously on the large 7.3-inch as well as App Continuity for seamless transition from the smaller screen to the larger and vice versa.

According to Samsung, the company has worked with Google as well as the developer community at large to make sure everything works great and seamlessly on the Galaxy Fold. Apps like WhatsApp, YouTube, and Microsoft Office have been optimised to work great on the Samsung phone.

Samsung may be the first mainstream smartphone maker to launch a foldable phone, but pretty much all smartphone makers are working on foldable phones of their own, including Xiaomi, Lenovo, and LG. Even some recently discovered Apple patents hinted at the developed of foldable phones in Cupertino.

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Xiaomi Xiaoai Mini TV Smart Speaker Announced Alongside Mi 9

The Kashmir Monitor

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Alongside the Mi 9 and Mi 9 SE smartphones launch, Xiaomi has also unveiled a new speaker with a touchscreen display. Calling it ‘Mini TV’, the device is a smart speaker at heart, but comes with a 4-inch touchscreen display for added functionality. Apart from the touchscreen display abilities, the Xiaomi Xiaoai Mini TV smart speaker also supports voice control. It can control all the smart fittings in the house, set alarm clocks, play music, and also set custom routine settings. It is looking to give competition to other smart speakers with displays like the Echo Spot.

The Xiaomi Xiaoai Mini TV is yet another addition to the Xiaoai speaker series. The new variant is set to go into open beta registrations on February 28. The company has revealed very little about the smart speaker, and it is listed to sport a 4-inch touchscreen display and will support smart home products. For example, it will support smart doorbell products, showing you who is at your doorstep whenever someone rings the bell. It relays real-time information, and as mentioned, also works on voice control commands as well.

Users can also access videos and music via many supported apps. There’s little else that is known about the speaker, and we should know more in the days to come.

 

Alongside, Xiaomi also launched the Mi 9, Mi 9 Transparent Edition, and Mi 9 SE smartphones in China. Key highlights of the Mi 9 include a triple rear camera setup along with a 48-megapixel primary sensor, Game Turbo technology, 90.7 percent screen-to-body ratio, and a fifth-generation in-display fingerprint sensor. Price of the Mi 9 series starts at CNY 1,999 (roughly Rs. 21,200).

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Scientists develop smart, flexible window that can trap air pollutants

The Kashmir Monitor

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Scientists have developed flexible smart windows that can trap air pollutants, and keep the indoor environment free of harmful particulate matter.

Tuning the light intensity and reducing the concentration of atmospheric particulate matter (PM) in commercial buildings are both crucial to keep indoor people comfortable and healthy.

Smart windows fabricated on the flexible and transparent silver (Ag)-nylon electrodes can tune the light intensity entering commercial buildings to maintain thermal comfort.

 

However, fabricating a large-scale transparent smart window for high efficiency PM2.5 capture has been a significant challenge, until now, researchers said.

Scientists led by YU Shuhong from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) developed a simple solution based process to fabricate large-area flexible, transparent windows for that can efficiently capture PM2.5.

“It takes only about USD 15.03 and 20 minutes to fabricate 7.5 square metre Ag-nylon flexible transparent windows,” researchers said.

The obtained mesh, coated with thermochromic dye, serves not only to tune the light intensity but also to purify indoor air.

The performance of the smart window remained stable even after 10,000 cycles of bending test and 1,000 cycles of stretching deformation, researchers said.

The success of the present design strategy provides more choices in developing next-generation flexible transparent smart windows and air pollution filters, researchers said.

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