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Current Affairs – 1 July 2021

Current Affairs (1st July 2021)

Gender self-identification

Context:

  • The Spanish government approved the first draft of a bill that would allow anyone over the age of 14 to legally change gender without a medical diagnosis or hormone therapy.
  • Currently, for someone to change their gender in official records, the law first requires two years of hormone therapy and a psychological evaluation.
  • The proposed law will remove these requirements for everyone above 14 years of age. Those between 14 and 16, however, would require parental approval.

What is gender self-identification?

  • Self-identification, or ‘self-id’, is the concept that a person should be allowed to legally identify with the gender of their choice by simply declaring so, and without facing any medical tests.
  • This has been a long held demand of trans-right groups around the world, including in India, as prejudice against trans people remains rampant.
  • In Europe, this issue has remained divisive not only on liberal-conservative lines, but also within the LGBT community.
  • While some believe that the current processes for declaring one’s desired gender are lengthy, expensive and degrading, some feminist and gay-rights groups insist that such a law could endanger women and cause more gay teenagers to be told that they might be trans and thus encouraged towards hormones and surgery.

Where is self-ID legal?

  • As per the advocacy group ILGA (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association), 15 countries around the world recognise self-ID, including Denmark, Portugal, Norway, Malta, Argentina, Ireland, Luxembourg, Greece, Costa Rica, Mexico (only in Mexico City), Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Uruguay.

What is the process for declaring one’s desired sex in India?

  • In India, the rights of transgender persons are governed by the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 and the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules, 2020.
  • Under the Rules, an application to declare gender is to be made to the District Magistrate. Parents can also make an application on behalf of their child.
  • A much-criticised previous draft of regulations required transgender persons to go through a medical examination for declaring their desired sex.
  • This requirement was omitted in the final Rules, which state that the District Magistrate will “subject to the correctness of the applicant’s particulars, get the application processed based on the affidavit submitted declaring the gender identity of any person, without any medical or physical examination, and thereafter, issue an identification number to the applicant, which may be quoted as proof of application.”
  • As per the Rules, state governments have also been directed to constitute welfare boards for transgender persons to protect their rights and interests, and facilitate access to schemes and welfare measures framed by the Centre.

 

US heat wave

Context:

  • The National Weather Service issued another excessive-heat warning for much of Washington state and Oregon. There are also heat advisories in the Northeast, from Philadelphia to Boston.

What causes a heat wave?

  • In most parts of the country, temperatures must be above the historical average in an area for two or more days before the label “heat wave” is applied to a hot spell. But the definition can vary by region; in the Northeast, it is defined as three straight days in the 90s or above.
  • Heat waves begin when high pressure in the atmosphere moves in and pushes warm air toward the ground. That air warms up further as it is compressed.
  • The high-pressure system pressing down on the ground expands vertically, forcing other weather systems to change course.
  • It even minimizes wind and cloud cover, making the air more stifling. This is also why a heat wave parks itself over an area for several days or longer.

What is a heat dome?

  • As the ground warms, it loses moisture, which makes it easier to heat even more. And in the drought-ridden West, there is plenty of heat for the high-pressure system to trap.
  • As that trapped heat continues to warm, the system acts like a lid on a pot — called “heat dome.”
  • In the Pacific Northwest, the heat and the drought are working in concert, exacerbating the problem and causing temperature records to fall day after day.

 

Gravitational waves

Context:

Scientists have picked up the ripples in space-time caused by the death spiral of two celestial juggernauts – a neutron star and a black hole – for the first time.

About

  • There is huge excitement among scientists with the first confirmed detection of a neutron star-black hole (NS-BH) collision being reported.
  • Widely unequal mergers have very interesting effects that can be detected.
  • This groundbreaking discovery of gravitational waves from a pair of NS-BH mergers.
  • Until now, the LIGO-Virgo collaboration (LVC) of gravitational waves detectors has only been able to observe collisions between pairs of black holes or neutron stars.

How were the detections made?

  • As the two compact and massive bodies orbit around each other, they come closer, and finally merge, due to the energy lost in the form of gravitational waves.
  • The Gravitational Waves signals are buried deep inside a lot of background noise.
  • The technique used here to detect the signal is called matched filtering. This was also used for the first discovery of gravitational waves.
    • In matched filtering, various expected gravitational waveforms predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity, are compared with the different chunks of data to produce a quantity that signifies how well the signal in the data (if any) matches with any one of the waveforms.
    • Whenever this match (in technical terms “signal-to-noise ratio” or SNR) is significant (larger than 8), an event is said to be detected. 
  • Observing an event in multiple detectors separated by thousands of kilometres almost simultaneously gives scientists increased confidence that the signal is of astrophysical origin, which is the case for both events.
  • Using Parameter Estimation tools, scientists find the probable masses, spins, distances, locations of these mergers from the data.
  • Both of these events occurred 1 billion light-years away. As the gravitational waves also travel with the speed of light, this means that we observed mergers that happened ~1 billion years ago — well before life appeared on earth!

Significance

  • Inferring from data as to how often they merge will also give us clues about their origin and how they were formed.
  • These observations help us understand the relative abundance of such binaries.
  • Neutron stars are the densest objects in the Universe, so these findings can also help us understand the behaviour of matter at extreme densities.
  • Neutron stars are also the most precise ‘clocks’ in the Universe if they emit extremely periodic pulses. The discovery of pulsars going around Black Holes could help scientists probe effects under extreme gravity.

 

Carcass of Spinner Dolphin

Context:

  • The carcass of a four-feet-long male Spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris) was washed ashore in Odisha’s port town of Paradip within the Bhitarkanika National Park, taking the number of marine animal deaths in the state within five months to six.

About:

  • The spinner dolphin is a rare mammal in Odisha as it is an offshore species and is found in deeper waters as part of large schools.
  • Spinner dolphins are small cetaceans with a slim build. Adults are typically 129–235 cm long and reach a body mass of 23–79 kg. This species has an elongated rostrum and a triangular or sub-triangular dorsal fin.
  • It was perhaps hit by some ships or fishing vessels in the sea and after its death, the carcass was washed ashore.
  • Dolphinswere included in Schedule I of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • They are also included in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and in Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species.
  • They are categorised as ‘Endangered’ on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List.

 

Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation

Context:

  • “Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation”, a Pew Center report on religious attitudes in India stated that Indians value religious freedom, not integration.

Key Findings

  • Indians of all these religious backgrounds overwhelmingly say they are very free to practice their faiths.
  •  Indians see religious tolerance as a central part of who they are as a nation. Across the major religious groups, most people say it is very important to respect all religions to be “truly Indian.” Tolerance is a religious as well as civic value.
  • There are some shared values accompanied by a number of beliefs that cross religious lines:
    • Not only do a majority of Hindus in India (77%) believe in karma, but an identical percentage of Muslims do, too.
    • A third of Christians in India (32%) – together with 81% of Hindus – say they believe in the purifying power of the Ganges River.
    • In Northern India, 12% of Hindus and 10% of Sikhs, along with 37% of Muslims, identity with Sufism, a mystical tradition most closely associated with Islam.
    • And the vast majority of Indians of all major religious backgrounds say that respecting elders is very important to their faith.
  • Despite sharing certain values and religious beliefs – as well as living in the same country, under the same constitution – members of India’s major religious communities often don’t feel they have much in common with one another:
    • The majority of Hindus see themselves as very different from Muslims (66%), and most Muslims return the sentiment, saying they are very different from Hindus (64%).
    • There are a few exceptions: Two-thirds of Jains and about half of Sikhs say they have a lot in common with Hindus. But generally, people in India’s major religious communities tend to see themselves as very different from others.
  • Indians generally stick to their own religious group when it comes to their friends. Fewer Indians go so far as to say that their neighbourhoods should consist only of people from their own religious groups. Still, many would prefer to keep people of certain religions out of their residential areas or villages.
  • Indians simultaneously express enthusiasm for religious tolerance and a consistent preference for keeping their religious communities in segregated spheres – they live together separately. These two sentiments may seem paradoxical, but for many Indians, they are not.
    • Indians’ concept of religious tolerance does not necessarily involve the mixing of religious communities.
    • Indians seem to prefer a country more like a patchwork fabric, with clear lines between groups.