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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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.

The Interpretation of Gender and Unfair Advantages In Sport

If you follow Indian Athletics, you would be familiar the name Duttee Chand, a promising sprinter, in the last couple of years swiftly rose into prominence to become the country’s best prospect in 100m and 200m. However this journey has been cut short as suspicion was raised on her gender. After a battery of tests it was found that she has more male hormones than is permissible to compete as a female. She needs further tests and possibly medical or surgical intervention before she can return to run. This is not the first time a female athlete in India has gone through this. Shanti Soundarajan (2006) and Pinki Pramanik (2012) are at least two other cases in the recent past.

Duttee is still a teenager and as this piece by Shivani Naik in Indian Express suggests, a huge pall of uncertainty glooms over her promising career.For instance, currently she is banned from International contests and is not competing in the ongoing Asiad, where she was expected to make her first big splash on the international scene. That was not be.

These cases raise a larger question. Why do we have such deterministic standards (based on physical characteristics) of what constitutes gender in sport? The manifestation of Gender as a neat dichotomous construct (Male or Female) is more of a social construction (Duttee or any of the other athletes I mentioned earlier were raised as females) than a scientific one. The latter is perhaps more fuzzy.

A further question is that of what constitutes unfair advantage in Sport? For instance height clearly signals an advantage in basketball and volleyball. Yet both these sports do not organize competition by height categories. Hence teams from “taller” [sic] nations have historically fared better.Yet, there are other sports that recognize the import of these advantages. Boxing and wrestling are clearly organized by weight categories. But perhaps all these respective sports look more spectacular because of this organization. We wouldn’t enjoy a basketball or volleyball game as much with shorter players.

Similarly, if women born with certain characteristics can run faster/better, why do we hold that as an unfair advantage? Is it different from being taller than others which lets one pocket more baskets than the rest or be better spikers?

Mumbai Metro Fare Row: Government Should Foster innovation, relinquish control

The Mumbai Metro from Versova to Ghatkpoar, the first 11 km leg of  Bombay’s much needed Metro began yesterday. The reports are impressive, both in media, social media and on this remarkable infrastructure discussion forum .  A quibble remains.

Reliance, the company response for building and operating the metro has notified the fares to be Rs 10, 20, 30 and 40. The Government wants the metro to be priced much lower at Rs 9, 11 and 13. Legally, Reliance, being the majority stakeholder is free to set the fares. Perturbed, the Government has moved the court.

On the surface the Reliance metro fare seems very high. Especially the latter two slabs (Rs 30 for 8 ams, and Rs 40 for 10 kms) seem rather unaffordable. Yet, I am not convinced that the fares need to be drastically reduced or regulated by the government.

Currently Reliance has announced a flat (anywhere to anywhere) promotional fare of Rs 10 , which will prevail for a month.A  smart move.  In that time, they would announce monthly and other season (quarterly) and tourist (weekly, three day and one day) passes , which would presumably work out to much lower than the existing Rs 40 for a single ride, for a medium to heavy user. Further they could introduce lower weekend rates or differentiate between peak/off-peak rates. In other words, there are ways in which Reliance cold make the metro affordable for a regular user but keep the charges high for an occasional user. This is how most systems in the world operate.(For instance in Chicago you pay $2.5 for a single ride on the subway, but $10 for unlimited rides a day, $28 for a week and $100 for a month.)

In sum, I believe that Reliance needs to keep an innovative fare structure that lets the occasional commuter subsidize the regular user. The fares proposed by the Government could make it difficult to maintain the system, and would dissuade the operator from running the service with the needed efficiency and upkeep.

For now, the Government needs to step back, relax and watch if Metro become a long overdue  comfortable means of transit for a section of Bombay. And expedite lines 2 and 3!

Why Capitalism could fail under Narendra Modi?

Bulk of the rhetoric about Narendra Modi’s becoming the PM of India has centered around the Gujarat Riots and whether he is culpable or not. Or related, the incorporation of Hindu Hardliners into the mainstream under his governance.

His proponents argue that he should be supported because his approach to governance fosters “development”.  By enabling a favorable business environment (getting speedy clearances, shortening the red tape etc. ).  And this they argue is reason enough to give him a change to replicate for the country , the wonders he has done to Gujarat.

Now two articles by very illustrious economists hint at why the development argument for Modi may not play out as expected.

First in this piece Mihir Shah, a member of the planning commission explains why the argument that capitalism initially creates wealth disparity but slowly reduces this disparity is flawed. It is flawed because the conditions for that to happen (honest relationships and transactions between business, focus on state provision of education, healthcare) are not met.

How does Mihir’s piece this apply to Narendra Modi? Fair question. Read  SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN ‘s excellent piece to find out exactly why? Basically he argues that Modi in pursuing his pro-development capitalist agenda, violates the exact conditions under which capitalism fails to provide inclusive growth. 

Still want to vote for Mr Modi? Of course depends on what your idea of prosperity is.