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Wednesday,27-January-2021

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Maharashtra’s new flavour of Rakshabandhan season – cowdung rakhis!

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For the upcoming ‘Rakshabandhan’ festival on August 3, there will be a new, eco-friendly and healthy option for sisters and brothers in Maharashtra – rakhis made of the dung of the pure Indian breed of Gir cow.

The brainchild of a former banker-turned-academician, Priti R. Tembhare, who runs a ‘Gaushala’ (cow-shelter) with 200 Gir cows and another 150 abandoned or handicapped cows, oxen or bulls, the attractive, sturdy and cheap cowdung rakhis have proved to be popular and in demand this year.

“I started on an experimental basis with around 500 pieces… I personally went for marketing it in Gondia and Nagpur, convincing the distributors and retailers on the benefits of these cowdung rakhis. Initially, they were sceptical, but gradually they seem to have embraced it,” an elated Priti Tembhare told IANS from her workshop in Gondia.

It was last year that some women in Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh started making cowdung rakhis which caught the eyes of people, prompting Tembhare to start a similar initiative in Maharashtra this year.

“During the lockdown, many women were rendered jobless in this region… I wanted to do something to make them ‘atmanirbhar’ with a product that was indigenous, natural and in tune with our age-old traditions… I decided to introduce cowdung rakhis,” she said.

The small sample resulted in big orders of over 5,000 cowdung rakhis, the last of which are currently being packaged for dispatch, with the rakhis costing between Rs 15 and Rs 50 a piece.

These humble cowdung rakhis will vie for attention among other rakhis in Mumbai where some affluent ‘sisters’ spend lakhs of rupees for buying platinum, gold, silver, diamond-studded and other high-end rakhis.

Tembhare explained that making cowdung rakhis or other long-lasting objects is time-consuming, undergoing several processes like drying the cowdung, converting it into fine powder, using neem tree or other natural gums plus seeds of tamarind as binding agent to make the rakhis strong.

After Rakshabandhan, she suggests these rakhis can be taped on mobiles, tablets, laptops or other objects emanating harmful rays, which the cowdung reportedly nullifies.

A former banker and then an academician, Tembhare was encouraged in the venture by her automobile engineer husband, Rishikumar Tembhare, who has diverted his skills to train villagers in organic farming, watershed management techniques and supplying free water tankers to problem villages in the area.

“Through our NGO, Laxmi Gaushala Charitable Trust (LGCT) and an orchard, we earn by selling Gir cow milk and other products, plus different types of fruits… But it was insufficient to take care of the workers, especially the womenfolk during the lockdown. The cowdung rakhis seem to be a promising venture which can help supplement our income,” she smiled.

Simultaneously, Tembhare plans to launch cowdung idols of Lord Ganesha for the ensuing Ganeshotsav – Maharashtra’s biggest public festival – which will be celebrated on a modest scale this year owing to the pandemic.

“These small idols of Lord Ganesha are embedded with seeds of certain plants like ‘tulsi’… After immersions, they will mix with the earth and new tulsi plants will start sprouting,” Tembhare said.

On the popularity of the cowdung rakhis, a social media message caught the attention of Mumbai diamond merchant Girish Shah, who runs an NGO Samast Mahajan, and he forwarded it to some persons, and it spread like wildfire, culminating in the large orders.

“We toiled hard for three months… It takes around a week to produce one final batch of around 1,000 rakhis… We had several orders from abroad, but we declined as it proved unviable to send by air cargo in view of the Covid-19 flight disruptions,” said Tembhare.

However, there are many big orders which have been promised for Rakshabandhan 2021, which she will take up immediately after Diwali, and continue ahead the new, healthy and eco-friendly trend of cowdung rakhis.

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Vaccine onboard: Airlines to transport 56.5L doses on Tuesday

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With the much-anticipated vaccination drive to combat Covid-19 on the anvil, domestic airlines on Tuesday have started transporting doses of the vaccine to cities across the country.

Flights across airlines would carry a total of 56.5 lakh doses to several cities during the day from Pune. The first two flights of carrying vaccines have already departed from Pune to Delhi and Chennai.

Taking to Twitter, Union Minister for Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri said: “Civil aviation sector launches yet another momentous mission. Vaccine movement starts. First two flights operated by @flyspicejet & @goairlinesindia from Pune to Delhi & Chennai have taken off.”

In another tweet, Puri said that Air India, SpiceJet, GoAir and IndiGo will operate nine flights from Pune with 56.5 lakh doses to Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Guwahati, Shillong, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Bhubaneswar, Patna, Bengaluru, Lucknow and Chandigarh.

Ajay Singh, the Chairman of SpiceJet, tweeted: “Proud to say that @flyspicejet carried India’s first consignment of COVID vaccines from Pune to Delhi this morning.”

The Union Health Ministry on Saturday said that the much-awaited coronavirus vaccination drive will kick off on January 16.

The roll-out of Covid-19 vaccine will give priority to the healthcare and frontline workers who are estimated to be around 3 crore, followed by those above 50 years of age and the under-50 population groups with comorbidities numbering around 27 crore.

On January 3, two vaccines – Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin and Oxford-AstraZeneca’s Covishield manufactured by Serum Institute of India – were approved for restricted emergency use.

The vaccine approval process has been marred with controversies after Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin was approved for emergency use without the phase-3 trials.

The total tally of Covid-positive cases in India have scaled up to over 1.04 crore cases and death toll stands at over 1.51 lakh, as per Health Ministry data.

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Supreme Court insists on staying farm laws, Centre says don’t rush

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A Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice S. A. Bobde on Monday toughened its stand on the farm laws and said the court has made up its mind to stay the implementation of the three farm laws, which have led to the protest by thousands of farmers at various Delhi borders.

“We do not believe the Centre is handling the situation correctly. We do not believe your negotiations are effective. We are attempting to make the atmosphere conducive by keeping the implementation of the laws in abeyance,” the Chief Justice told Attorney General K.K. Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre.

The Attorney General (AG) insisted that the top court should not pass any order in a hurry.

The CJI replied: “You should not lecture us on patience.”

Four senior lawyers — Dushyant Dave, Prashant Bhushan, H.S. Phoolka and Colin Gonsalves — represented eight farmer unions before the top court.

The Chief Justice told these lawyers to ask the protesting old men, women and children to go back home.

After learning that they are not inclined to go back, the Chief Justice told the lawyers of the farmers, “I am taking a risk and making a personal request. Please convey this message.” The top court has indicated that it may give a part of the order on Monday, as it insisted that the Centre must stay the implementation of these farm laws.

For the purpose of constituting a committee to examine the farm laws, the Chief Justice sought the name of former Chief Justices, who could probably be on the committee which would determine what provisions are good for farmers and what is going to hurt the interest of the farmers. Dave suggested the name of Justice R.M. Lodha. The Chief Justice said he had spoken with Justice P.S. Sathasivam, but he declined as he is not good in Hindi.

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Covid vaccine: Is it Halal or not?

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It’s not only the Muslims, even Hindus and Jews have raised questions about the use of the Covid vaccine, due to prohibited substances in its composition.

Even before the Covid vaccination process starts in India. The Indian Muslims have courted another controversy. The question is whether they’ll be amenable to get vaccinated or not, as there are reports that the proposed vaccines may not be halal as per the Islamic dietary laws.

Muslims, Jews and even Hindus have questioned the composition of the proposed vaccines developed by Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin. Even as India is scrambling to start the coronavirus vaccination drive, Muslims have raised concern over the use of pork products — forbidden in Islam and Judaism, while the Hindus have questioned the inclusion of cow blood in the vaccine.

Halal or haram

The vaccine manufacturers — Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna — have rejected in vain the allegations of using pork gelatine. The manufacturers have clarified that pork products are not part of the vaccines, though pork-derived gelatine is known to be used as a stabiliser for safe storage and transportation of the vaccines.

The approved Covid-19 vaccines have been met with a mixed response from the Islamic theological community, halal associations and halal pharmaceutical experts as to whether the vaccine is halal, despite various governments’ approval, including those of many Muslim-majority countries.

In the UK, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is being given to the public, was approved by the British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) and other Islamic scholars, stating the vaccine was halal “based on the information available.”

According to the British government, the vaccine does not contain any components of animal origin, which has been a concern for Muslims as porcine, which is haram (non-permissible), or non-halal slaughtered beef could have been used.

However, the Standards and Metrology Institute for Islamic Countries (SMIIC), a unit of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC), has so far, not officially stated that the vaccine is halal or not halal. Ihsan Ovut, the Secretary General of SMIIC, in an email to an Islamic website, said there is “no specific standard developed on the halal-ness of COVID-19 vaccines”.

A halal pharmaceuticals expert says the vaccine cannot be claimed as halal if they are not halal-certified. But this No is on technical grounds. According to Dr. Mohammed Ali Al Sheikh, who works at SMIIC, the halal certification has to be carried out by a competent third-party and cannot be claimed by a manufacturer itself, which Prizer did. It is an opinion seconded by the World Halal Authority (WHA).

Acceptance by Muslim countries

However, in spite of these flimsy or technical objections, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, the UAE and Pakistan, countries which claim to be Islamic or are Muslim-majority countries, have approved the Sinopharm vaccine, while Singapore’s government has authorised the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in the country. This step must have been taken after considering the religious sensibilities and analysis of the composition of these vaccines.

In Singapore, which has a sizeable Muslim population, the Office of the Mufti of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), stated on its website that the Covid-19 vaccine is “a basic necessity (daruriyyat)” as it is a life-saving inoculation. In Indonesia, the government has already said it will include the Muslim clerical body in the Covid-19 vaccine procurement and certification process.

Indian Ulema’s view

In India, the controversy was stoked last week by Mumbai’s Raza Academy, a Barelvi outfit, seeking details about all the vaccines being developed and whether they contain pork extract, from the WHO.

The Indian Islamic scholars, as usual are divided on the issue with the majority of them citing verses from the Holy Quran (Surah Nisa and Surah Baqara) to advocate for the vaccine, but not giving a clear-cut guidance to the Muslim populace.

Leading Islamic scholar Akhtarul Wasey, former professor of Islamic Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, trying to put at rest the whole issue, opines that for Muslims pork and alcohol are not permissible for eating and drinking purposes, but if a part of these is used for medicinal purpose then it is allowed in Islam, as that medicine will be taken for the express purpose of saving life, which is allowed in Islam. Furthermore, he asserted that according to Islamic jurists a person suffering from hunger for more than three days and nearer to death is also allowed to eat the meat of a dead animal, in order to survive.

Prof. Wasey urged the Muslim Ulema to be more proactive in this regard and appreciated the stand taken by Deoband and Nadwa, the two leading Islamic seminaries in this regard. He also reiterated the fact that the Polio drive in India was completed successfully and the scourge of Polio in India was wiped out after the intervention of Indian Ulema. In fact, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) has become the first Muslim body in India to categorically state that Muslims are permitted to use the Coronavirus vaccines, even if they contain pork extracts, as it sought to dispel all rumours suggesting otherwise.

In an advisory, the Shariah Council of the JIH said, “Islam gives great importance to human life and also emphasises on its protection.” It added: “If an impermissible object is transformed into another thing, totally different in properties and characters, it may be considered as clean and permissible. On this basis, the use of Gelatine derived from the body part of a haram animal has been considered to be permissible by Islamic jurists. Same is the opinion of some jurists about pork Gelatine.”

It is not just Muslims in India, who were concerned about the composition of the vaccines. Swami Chakrapani, president of the Hindu Mahasabha, had written to President Ram Nath Kovind demanding that the government and pharmaceutical companies clarify whether Covid-19 vaccines contain cow’s blood or not. But the Indian media coolly overlooked this letter.

There’s a similar assessment by a broad consensus of religious leaders in the Orthodox Jewish community as well. Rabbi David Stav, chairman of Tzohar, a rabbinical organisation in Israel, said, “According to the Jewish law, the prohibition on eating pork or using pork is only forbidden when it’s a natural way of eating it. If “it’s injected into the body, not (eaten) through the mouth,” then there is “no prohibition and no problem, especially when we are concerned about sicknesses.”

Nonetheless, the Indian Muslims concerns as to whether the vaccine is halal or not, might be a challenge to convince people to be inoculated in addition to the anti-vaccination phenomena proliferating in many countries.

Meanwhile, there are reports that a halal-certified vaccine may however be on the horizon. Malaysia’s MYEG inked a deal with China’s Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical to conduct Phase-3 clinical trials in Malaysia and to obtain halal certification, based on Malaysia’s DSM standards for a Covid vaccine. Indonesia’s state-owned PT Bio Farma, which is working with China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd, has also confirmed that it is seeking halal certification for the COVID-19 vaccine.

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