Homosexuality is legal in about 125 countries, not 25 as Indian Media had us believe.

Earlier today, India decriminalized homosexuality. In a fitting judgement, the Supreme Court rightly stated that “history owes the LGBT community an apology”. Euphoria on twitter and in Indian media followed, since the verdict was as anticipated.

As part of the celebrations, one news item got this “history” horribly wrong. The headline (and the text) read that “As SC decriminalises gay sex, India joins 25 nations where homosexuality is legal”. This is incorrect and misleading.

As the article itself mentions, homosexuality is illegal in only about 72 countries. There are about 197 countries in the world (if you consider Palestine and Taiwan as countries which I do). That means homosexuality isn’t a crime in 125 countries.

The 25 countries they mention is where same sex marriages are legally recognized. The article mentions

some of these [25] countries where gay sex has been legalised are: “Argentina (2010), Greenland (2015), South Africa (2006), Australia (2017), Iceland(2010), Spain (2005), Belgium (2003), Ireland(2015), United States (2015),Brazil (2013), Luxemborg (2014), Sweden (2009) and Canada (2005).”

The dates in parentheses are actually the year in which these countries began to recognize (and perform) same sex marriages. Most of these countries had decriminalized homosexuality decades ago.

I consider this a serious error for two reasons.

First it reflects on how due process is ignored in contemporary news cycles. This story was a PTI (Press Trust of India) release and many news outlets (including Times of India, world’s largest English language daily by circulation) have reproduced it without checking for serious and consequential (yes) factual errors.

Second, while we celebrate the decriminalization of homosexuality in world’s largest democracy, this incorrect fact undermines the importance of this judgement. India is a very late in recognizing LGBTQ rights. Until 2018 it belonged to a dark club of 72 countries, largely comprising of former British colonies and a few islamic states that haven’t fixed this draconian Victorian era law (section 377 in the Indian Penal Code). With today’s verdict, India has stepped outside the dark, but is nowhere close to these 25 countries (which the news media equates India with) when it comes to rights of people in same sex partnerships. Further, it is also behind at least a dozen other countries, which recognize same sex unions as civil partnerships including the United Kingdom. Yet such coverage would have us believe otherwise.

Legal challenges aside, the LGBTQ movement in India has to overcome a lot of social prejudice. One such social prejudice sees homosexuality as a Western or First World phenomenon (which it isn’t), and an undesirable external influence on Indian culture. Perhaps coverage like this also misleads in that regard.

I hope this incorrect story is retracted or updated to correct this serious error. And steer the LGBTQ movement in India to its next steps.

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Reimagining the Internet as a mosaic of regional cultures

Angela Xiao Wu, Chinese University of Hong Kong and Harsh Taneja, University of Missouri-Columbia

Most online maps of the Internet are architectural plans, engineering blueprints, anatomical drawings or statistical graphics. For example, the Internet has been represented as millions of devices connected to each other by 300 “[c]ables lying on the seafloor” with its center in a huge hotel in Manhattan.

The Internet can also be viewed as a network of hyperlinks between world languages used to produce online content or represented through Wikipedia as a map of human knowledge.

Yet we learn from historians of cartography that maps reflect the preexisting interests, desires and preconceptions of the society from which they emerge. The same goes with how the vast virtual territory is mapped.

Consistent with the rhetoric emphasizing technical connectivity led by US-based transnational corporations, the prevalent maps of the Internet privilege technical features – such as hyperlinks, content of Web pages, Internet infrastructures and service providers. In these maps, the Web tends to center on the West with the rest of the world at its “peripheries.” These, together with other representations of the global digital divide, highlight the dominance of the West.

Such views limit the public’s ability to envision the Internet as a globally inhabited cyberspace.

We mapped usage of the Internet, as distinct from its technical features. Viewed this way, the Internet is much less West-centric, and rapidly diversifying as the world’s populations engage with it in their own ways.

Mapping global Internet usage

Actual traffic patterns on the Internet differ from its technical architecture. Reimagining the Internet according to global usage, our research reveals a fairly decentralized Web with significant participation from the global South. Our mapping makes visible, on an unprecedented scale, aspects of Internet use that remain “largely invisible” when “viewed from the perspective of network centers.”

We analyzed traffic to the world’s most popular 1,000 websites – which consistently account for 99 percent of global Web traffic – during the month of September in 2009, 2011 and 2013, respectively. These data come from comScore, a world leader in Web audience measurement.

For each of the possible pairs of those 1,000 websites – more than half a million pairs in total – we looked at the traffic shared by its two constituent websites. For example, for the pair comprising The New York Times and Google USA, we looked at how many people visited both sites.

We viewed website pairs as connected if they had traffic overlaps greater than would be expected by random chance, as with the Times-Google pair above, or the pair comprising the Times of India and Google India. Examined in this way, pairs of websites serving users from different cultural backgrounds – such as the Times of India and Yahoo Japan – tend not to be connected.

The Internet as Global Usage: 2009 (left), 2011, 2013 (right).
The dots are websites and the lines represent the existence of significant traffic overlap between them. These show that global Web usage clusters itself into many communities of websites based on shared traffic. What the member websites of these clusters have in common with each other allows us to identify them as expressions of online regional cultures (see legend).

Analyzing online regional cultures

Mapping sites based on how much traffic they share with each other revealed interconnected clusters or communities of shared Web use. These corresponded well with major geo-linguistic regions, and we called them “online regional cultures.“ In addition, there are a few online cultures that span geographic regions; they tend to include either user-generated or adult content.

To conduct our analysis, we borrow the anthropological concept of ethnology, a scholarly tradition that characterizes relationships between cultures based on common traits in beliefs, emotions or practices. To examine these regional cultures comparatively and historically, we calculated how distinctly a regional cultural community stands out on the Web, and the strength of its online activities.

In general, we find that geographical regions where people speak languages not widely spoken elsewhere (such as Japan and Korea) are the most distinct online cultures; regions with geographically dispersed languages (such as Spanish or Russian) or those of multilingual geographies (such as India) less so.

Our study suggests that the Web, when mapped based on its usage, does not have its core in the West, but is a mosaic of online regional cultures that associate with physical places.

In such maps, the Internet is becoming more decentralized, or to be more precise, de-Westernizing, as more users from disparate cultures are taking over its topography by bringing in their own cultural identities. Between 2009 and 2013 the Web witnessed a gradual process of “de-Americanization”; the cluster corresponding to the U.S. has separated from the “global” websites such as Twitter and Instagram – primarily user-generated websites, which are neither centered in North America nor on the English language.

In this process, the American sites have taken their own “corner” of the Web, just like other online regional cultures. Simultaneously, non-Western online cultures have strengthened, especially those linked to Brazil, Russia, China and India. Unsurprisingly, in these places, local Internet industries are thriving and domestic content is flourishing.

Compared to the prevalent technological Internet maps, our user-centric maps from 2009 to 2013 challenge, rather than reinforce, the existing concept of an Internet anchored by Western knowledge, norms and activities. They encourage the (Anglophone, especially) general public to confront the narrow online world with which it is familiar. Further, the trend captured by our maps may encourage Westerners to refresh their own preconceptions by exploring the vastly heterogeneous cyberspace.

These user-centric maps also inform policymakers about how better to empower the global South. Technical connectivity alone is not enough. For online regional cultures around the globe to strengthen, users must be able to build and shape the content they find appealing. For this to happen, local governments need to introduce civic, economic and social opportunities with new technologies. Left to a market dominated by West-based transnational corporations, the global South may not achieve healthy domestic Internet landscapes and online cultures.

The Conversation

Angela Xiao Wu, Assistant Professor of Journalism and Communication, Chinese University of Hong Kong and Harsh Taneja, Assistant Professor of Media and Communication, University of Missouri-Columbia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Here’s how not to capture India in a day

Ridley Scott is asking Indians to capture What they did on October 10 to create a reel of “India in a Day”. Scroll talks about it here . The article shows two Youtube videos. The first one is a concept explication. The second one (scroll down a bit) is “what exactly do they want!”.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/ed0HwXuRfGk“>

Will he able to?

I say this project will yield a very skewed slice of the country . The “urban, left liberal, yuppie anglophone” India. I say this because: See the videos explaining the concept and the example video where the implementing director (some American Desi) is asking people in his very American accent on what he wants them to do.

Watch here:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/EhXqMrqw0BU“>

I am all for people satisfying their creative pursuits. However, I would have appreciated some localization of this effort. Some attempt to make the request a better cultural fit with a wider cross-section of India.

The current video wont appeal to large masses of Indians with bilingual English proficiency. Because they train in English, not in “American”, and at least an American Desi should understand that, if not Ridley Scott.

Let’s wait to see what this turns out into.

Responding to Arvind Kejriwal: News Broadcasters Contradict Themselves

Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party has a knack for hitting the headlines. Usually it is because media love to provide airtime and space to someone who can call others names and Arvind dosen’t mince his words, except when his cough takes over. And true to his style, his recent tirade was against the media themselves .This put the media in a fix.

Although a small “evolved” section of the media , saw nothing extraordinary or alarming in the allegations, the “rank and file” of the media took exception and has decided to react more strongly. In a statement, The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) has issued a warning to the Aam Aadmi Party to exercise restraint.  Here’s an excerpt from an article reporting on this:

NBA reminded Kejriwal and his associates that the electronic media is independent and discharging its responsibilities in a fair, transparent and balanced manner and asked the AAP not to hurl “unsubstantiated and unverified charges” on the electronic media

Curiously the statement goes on to say,

NBA requests the convenor of AAP to “immediately refrain” from making such preposterous allegations failing which NBA members would be forced to reconsider coverage of the activities of  the AAP (underline added).

The suggestion here implies that the decision to cover activities of a political party is based on the party’s favorable view of the news media in the first place. Doesn’t the media contradict itself, it’ s own core principles here? The News Broadcaster Association in other words has justified its own criticism.

Paradise Lost and Regained: The Common Man Only Lost

In a recent incident of Saturday, May 4, 2013, a woman street hawker outside the restaurant was beaten by a ‘bouncer’ employed at the  popular Paradise Biryani. A few customers got outraged and one brave woman, wrote a blog that went viral. Meanwhile, some called the city police. Hyderabad newspapers couldn’t ignore a story that had already caught the fancy of their English speaking reader base, so they reported the incident. The  ‘bouncer’ is being reported arrested. Many may think that’s a happy ending. I beg to differ.

First, consider the two eventual victims in the story. The flower hawker woman. Poor and Female. Thrashed. Scared away from her only livelihood? Need I say more. The ‘bouncer’ Prakash Yadav. Male, Lower middle class.Probably lives away from his family and works as a security man to make ends meet for many. Most likely will loose his job.

Now, consider who is really responsible. One, the Paradise management and two, many of its customers. Why did the bouncer behave in the way he did? Probably because it is the diktat of the restaurant management to keep the area around “clean”. Clean of irritants who the well heeled customers of Paradise potentially would find a nuisance. Such instructions to ward off such “troublemakers” (as this woman). are unarguably motivated by the need to provide a delightful customer experience.  An incident such as this dents their image for sure. But perhaps the news of the bouncer’s arrest, that too reported in newspapers within hours of the incident, is perhaps the best PR redemption exercise.

Of course the bouncer should be punished for inappropriate behavior. But what about the manager who instructed the bouncer to behave in this way? What about the owner who asked the manager to tell the bouncer to behave this way? What about the customers who probably scoff at the  sight of beggars and street hawkers outside the restaurant?

Another bunch of “people like them”  have been further sidelined. As for “people like us”, the blogger, the newspapers and Paradise Restaurant management and the customers, we have all reaped our share of gains.

In sum, the blog and the  resulting action is job well begun, but only half done!

I request share this one widely, so that people also appreciate the harder implications of such stories