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US Midterm Elections – A Primer for foreigners

US Midterm elections are on Tuesday, November 6, 2018 and these are very important elections for the country. Many of the readers of this blog may wonder what this election is about. What/who is/are being elected? What is the impact of this on Donald Trump? Why are these called midterms? If you have these questions, you have come to the right place. Let’s get down to it and discuss some terms related to the elections, particularly in comparison to the elections in India.
Election Day
Unlike many other countries, US has a fixed Election Day every year — the first Tuesday after November 1. Almost any government election that needs to be held — be it at national level (President, Senator, Member of the House), state level (Governor, state legislators, etc), local level (school board members, sheriffs, mayors), or simply a referendum on one topic or another — is held on this day. Accordingly the ballot paper looks different for different jurisdictions depending upon what the electorate are asked to decide upon. So, let us see what is at stake in this election.
Presidential Election
There is no Presidential election this year. Presidential elections are held every 4 years. Since this election is in the middle of the president’s term, this is called the midterm election. This is unlike other countries, where governments sometimes fall before their terms end and “midterm elections” are held. The US midterm elections have no direct impact on the president’s continuation in office, even though elections are being held to full lower house and one third of upper house of the federal legislature (US Congress). Contrary to the parliamentary system of democracy elsewhere in the world, the head of the government in the US (the President) is an independent entity from the legislature and does not need to enjoy the confidence of the legislature. Even if both houses of the legislature are won by the opposition, the President keeps his post. However, as is expected, his credibility, popularity, effectivity and capability to govern depend largely on getting support from the legislature. That is what makes this election very important for the current president and the administration. As a peek into recent history, the last President Obama enjoyed the confidence of the legislature only for the first two years of his 8 years in office. Midterm elections in 2010 gave the House and the Senate to the Republicans.
House of Representatives

Elections to the House are held every 2 years (even numbered years) – so they are held in Presidential election years and midterms. This is the lower house (think Lok Sabha) with 435 members, with each state being represented by a number of members roughly based on its population. Currently, the majority (235 of 435) is held by Republican Party, the party that the President belongs to. Some polls indicate that the majority party may change to Democrats as a result of this election.

Senators are elected for 6 year terms, with elections being held to roughly 1/3rd of seats every 2 years (even numbered years), coinciding with elections to the House of Representatives. Thus, the Senate (think Rajya Sabha in India) is a continuous house, with 1/3rd members getting re-elected or replaced every 2 years. The house has 100 members, 2 from each of the 50 states, irrespective of their population. Currently, the majority (51/100) in the Senate is also held by the Republican party. There is a good chance that the Republicans will keep that majority. Since elections to only 1/3rd of the seats are being held each time, the Senate is less vulnerable to changes due to political swings.
State and Local Level Elections
In addition to the above federal (central) level elections, elections are also held on the same day to state level elections. For example, in my state Pennsylvania, the governor post is being filled this year, as are all seats to the lower house of the state legislature, and half of the seats to the upper house. State and Local level elections may also include filling posts like sheriffs, judges, commissioners, school board members, etc., depending on local and state laws applicable. Some state and local level elections are held in “off years”, i.e., odd numbered years, but still on the same day in November.
Ballot Measures
In addition to choosing the representatives for National, State, and Local levels, voters may be asked to vote on a question. For example, should there be a requirement for genetically modified foods to be labeled such, should there be an extra tax on petrol to pay for roads, etc. There can be questions on gay rights, voting rights, etc. Ballot measures may be held any year.
So, all of these questions are asked on one day, in one ballot paper, which looks quite like an examination question paper. Here is a sample ballot paper from 2012 from a random constituency in the country, representing the variety of questions asked.

If this topic interests you, do come back for more on posts related to US elections and other similar topics.

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We call BS – Arguments for Gun Control, Part 2

This is a continuation from my yesterday’s article, in which I countered “Virtual President” Bill Whittle’s arguments against gun control. Here are my counter arguments against some more common anti-regulation arguments.
1. People kill people, guns don’t.
Let us together examine the logical validity of this very common argument that come from gun advocates. Yes, of course. People kill people. Bad people kill people. But bad people without a gun are just bad people. With a gun they are murderers. A gun, by itself, is just an inanimate object. But it is the tool of choice that is used by people who want to kill other people. It is the most efficient and default choice. You can do your job of killing someone most efficiently using a gun. No contact needed; you can do your job from a distance, with very little skill. You can fire multiple shots. Success is guaranteed to a much larger extent. Faster the weapon, more the harm. The job gets done so quickly that the victim has no way to run or hide, most likely giving the murderer in most cases a chance to run. You say, guns are not the only way. Let’s address that now.
For that matter, even bombs and grenades don’t kill people, people kill people. Should even bombs be allowed in private hands?
2. Even cars can be used to kill people, you don’t ban them.
Gun control activists say you can kill with a car, a knife, a hammer, etc. and it is impossible to ban or regulate them, so why are guns being singled out. Now, let us look at the comparison.
If some crazy person wants to use a car as his weapon, first of all he cannot go into a classroom with a car. He cannot go into any building, any playground, any theater. That limits his choice to the road, and makes many places intrinsically safe against this “murderous weapon”. Even on the road, once he begins his attack, it is much easier for the crowd to save itself by getting out of his way; just going on the sidewalk can save you, something you can’t do when faced with a gun-toting criminal. Yes, there will be some casualties, but nowhere as close to those possible if the attacker used guns. If you look at the list of vehicle ramming attacks on this page, you will see that the number of dead is much lower and the chances of injured people surviving is much higher.
Similarly, with knives and hammers, one has to have physical contact with the victim, one at a time, and the number of people an attacker can kill remains limited. It will be much easier to overpower and stop a knife wielding person than it will be a gun wielding person. In the often cited China knife attack, an anomaly rather than a rule, it took a group of eight terrorists in a coordinated attack to kill 31 people. Imagine what havoc they could have created, had they been armed with guns.
Another thing some people conveniently gloss over is that the only purpose of a gun is to kill, whereas automobiles, knives, hammers, are tools of convenience without which life is not possible. You may say the gun has other purposes (self defense, hunting, target shooting, etc.), and I am addressing those below. Also see my last article.
Last but not the least, if you really want to compare guns with automobiles, think of how much regulation is in force in use of automobiles. A new driver has to take a written test, a vision test, take safety classes, drive under a learner’s permit for 6 – 9 months, then take a driving test; only then is she allowed to drive an automobile. In addition of all that she is required to buy liability insurance, to cover for the possibility of her car hurting someone. Are you ready to apply similar rules to use of guns? I have heard an argument against this one too. “Driving is a privilege, gun owning is a right.” Well, rights come with responsibilities, and some restrictions; don’t they.
3. But I need it for my self defense and self preservation.
I also talked about it in my last article. It is a myth born out of paranoia that guns are a tool of self defense and self preservation. In any responsible home that needs to be defended, you will need to keep your guns locked away, most likely unloaded, just so that kids don’t get to them. That need for keeping the kids safe also renders the gun useless in an emergency. On the other hand, as documented on this website,

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were 130,557 deaths in 2013 from unintentional injuries, the 4th ranking cause of death in 2013 overall. From 2005-2010, almost 3,800 people in the U.S. died from unintentional shootings.

  • Accidental gun deaths occur mainly in those under 25 years old. Over 1,300 victims of unintentional shootings for the period 2005–2010 were under 25 years of age. Adolescents are particularly susceptible to accidental shootings due to specific behavioral characteristics associated with adolescence, such as impulsivity, feelings of invincibility, and curiosity about firearms.

  • Miller, Azrael, and Hemenway reported in a 2001 study that regardless of age, people are significantly more likely to die from unintentional firearm injuries when they live in states with more guns, relative to states with fewer guns. On average, states with the highest gun levels had nine times the rate of unintentional firearms deaths compared to states with the lowest gun levels.

  • statistically significant association exists between gun availability and the rates of unintentional firearm deaths, homicides, and suicides. In the United States, over 1.69 million kids age 18 and under are living in households with loaded and unlocked firearms, setting the scene for possible tragedy if firearms are not locked and stored properly. A study from 1991-2000 showed that twice as many people died from unintentional firearm injuries in states in the U.S. where firearm owners were more likely to store their firearms loaded.

Now you decide if guns are a good tool for self preservation or self destruction.
4. It’s the culture, the video games, the movies, not guns.
The next excuse that is given by people who don’t want any blame to be placed on guns is to curse the perceived cultural changes in America. Supposedly violent video games and violent movies are numbing people’s minds against violence. Well, I personally am not a big fan of video games, so by all means go after them too. But still, I don’t think a clear link has been shown that indicates that a particular murderer was an avid video game player or a violent movie watcher. No evidence to support link between violent video games and behavior, says this research report from University of York researchers.
The complaint of kids being undisciplined is ages old. My personal opinion is that overall, a majority of children today are more morally grounded than previous generations.  They are less likely to support hateful ideologies like racism, slavery, homophobia, and misogyny than their previous generations. There are some bad apples, as always, and what makes them put their evil designs into action are guns. So, keep them away from guns.
Then there are these memes circulated that we are not allowing God into schools, that is why these murders are happening. I don’t understand how an omnipotent and omnipresent God can be “pushed out” of schools, and how the all-compassionate can be so cruel as to punish innocent students, who had nothing to do with this.
There is so much more on this “culture” front. People are missing the ability to punish their kids. They want to arm the teachers with tasers and guns. The craziness just does not stop.
In order to keep a weird version of 2nd amendment unchecked, they want to kill the first amendment which separates religion from state and allows freedom of expression.
5. AR-15 is not an assault rifle.
Very often people will argue that we are unnecessarily targeting the AR-15 and “AR” does not even stand for Assault Rifle. I think there is a need to understand each other here. We, the ordinary non-gun-owners may not be fully knowledgeable about gun classifications, bore sizes, bullet types, attachments, etc. and most of us do not have a desire to get educated. What we are concerned is is the speed at which a gun or device discharges bullets. If a gun or a gun with an attachment is capable of discharging 45 bullets in one minute, making it easy for a killer to kill without reloading, then we feel it should not be required by people who need a gun for hunting or self defense. If there are other guns that can do this, those should be regulated too.
6. Bad guys will get guns anyway.
Another very common argument is that bad guys will get guns anyway, and by introducing gun regulation we are stripping law abiding citizens of guns. Well, nobody is proposing to strip law abiding citizens of guns. What we are proposing is that it should be harder for criminals and mentally ill people to get guns. Also, the argument that “bad guys will do bad things anyway, so we shouldn’t have regulation” is a very disingenuous argument. There are thousands of arguments against it. We can’t buy prescription medicines without a doctor’s prescription, but bad guys get them anyway, so should we do away with the requirement of a prescription? Murders are against the law but people kill anyway, so should we no longer make murders against the law.
If the law dissuades even one of ten attackers, that will mean many lives saved.
7. Good guy with a gun vs Bad guy with a gun
The final argument is that a good guy is needed to stop a bad guy with a gun. This is also usually proven to be a myth. Yes, in case of law enforcement officers whose job is to enforce law, it is true. But for the ordinary people, it is hard to be armed all the time with a gun ready to shoot. More often than not, the gun proposed to be used for self defense stays locked at home or in a car or in a holster when the situation happens.


We Call BS – Arguments for Gun Control, Part 1

17 victims of Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida
17 victims of Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida | Source

The Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last week has left 17 students and faculty dead, 15 injured, and the whole country arguing on social media about gun control. I spent a lot of time myself this weekend arguing with people on Facebook, pushing the same arguments over and over. Now I decided to compile my arguments on commonsense gun control in one place, divided into two articles. The title of this article comes from the #WeCallBS hashtag inspired by Florida student Emma Gonzalez’s speech.
So, dear gun owner and anti-gun control activist, to start with I don’t want you to give up your gun. I don’t want any laws that make the government take away your gun. Sorry, I take that back. I actually would prefer a gun free society, where nobody (or a small percentage of the population) owns any guns. Believe me, such societies exist around the world and they are as safe, if not safer than, the society that we live in. But I also understand that dreaming of such a society is unrealistic in this country. So, let us make peace with the fact that the US has more guns than it has people, and that fact is not going to change. At 101 guns per 100 people, US is way above the runner up Serbia (58 per 100). Most probably, you are thinking of buying another gun, or two, to add to your cache in the next month or next year. But let us just think about how we can make our society safer in spite of that.
I started with this Facebook video (embedded below) posted by a friend. The video was framed with the text “This is the best and smartest gun argument I have heard yet” and was widely shared. It had 29+ million views on Facebook when I started writing this, and had crossed 30 million views by the time I finished. It is an easy watch, all of 7 minutes. It had some logical sounding arguments, I watched it, and started to research the subject. I propose you watch it too before reading my views on it.

I generally concentrate on the message and try to not attack the messenger, and so I watched the whole video in right earnest, with an open mind, trying to once again understand the logic against gun regulation. This guy was addressing the Congress, so there was no reason for me to doubt his credentials. The speaker starts amid an applause and in the first 30 seconds of the video you see Paul Ryan listening attentively, later in the video you see Chuck Schumer smiling approvingly, Lindsay Graham, John Kerry, and Eric Holder looking on, and other distinguished members of the Congress and the Obama government, listening, interacting with each other. Well, you get the point that this is a little older video and the speaker is addressing the Congress in the Obama era. The guy’s name, shown in the description of the video, is Bill Whittle. So, I researched him a little for this post and wanted to look for a YouTube video instead, in the hopes that it will be without the “frame” (I hate these frames that reduce the quality of the video, and are generally someone else’s copy of the original video). And I did find one. But what I also discovered there and on his website was that he was calling himself the “Virtual President of the United States”. Remember, this was Obama’s presidency, so you see the need for the Right to create a virtual president. Very soon you realize that this is a fake video interspersed with visuals of these dignitaries appearing as listening to him, when he perhaps was standing in his living room filming this video. So, he gets a 10 on 10 on phoniness and duplicity. The applause, the attentive audience, are all fake.
Let us now turn to his message.
1. Mr. Whittle starts with comparing gun violence with a leopard chasing a gazelle. He says violence is built into human psyche, always will be, and some of us are predators and others are preys. So, the bad guys are like leopards and the good guys are gazelles, and the guns are the latter’s horns. And gun control activists are basically cutting off the gazelle’s horns and making it easy for the predator. Now I don’t know how often the gazelle wins against a leopard in the jungle, but the problem with his argument is that gun regulation aiming to disarm the prey is preposterous. Gun regulation is trying to disarm the predator, making it harder for bad guys to get guns. We are with you, we are okay with good guys to have guns, but help us make it harder for the bad guys and insane people to do so. The only way to do so is to make background checks and mental health checks compulsory for gun purchases. So the gazelle-leopard analogy is nonsensical. It may have made sense if anyone was proposing to disarm everyone but the bad guys.
2. Then our Virtual President reels out some funky numbers, using the predictably asinine tactic of comparing guns with automobiles, knives, hammers, even doctors, and concludes that “studies show” 800,000 to 2 million lives are saved by guns every year. What studies? What is the basis for this claim? Is he saying that many people would have been killed in the country without guns in private hands. Which country bears witness to this data? Read this article, based on actual studies reported by David Hemenway, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. Please read the short article, but here is an excerpt:

Almost two-thirds of the people in the U.S. population live in homes without guns, and there is no evidence that the inhabitants of these homes are at greater risk of being robbed, injured or killed by criminals compared with citizens in homes with guns. Instead, the evidence is overwhelming that a gun in the home increases the likelihood not only that a household member will be shot accidentally, but also that someone in the home will die in a suicide or homicide.

3. At about 3:00 minutes in the video, Bill Whittle gives the example of Amanda Collins, who was walking to her car in a University parking garage after an evening class at University of Nevada in Reno. She was attacked and raped, and later on her rapist also murdered another woman. Now the point being made is that had Amanda been armed, the rape and the murder would not have happened — and the reason she was not armed was because guns are not allowed on the campus, something that must be changed. I think this is a very tall claim. First of all how many gun owners carry their guns all the time, to work, to school, to church, to a theater, to a restaurant? Do you, the gun owner reading this article, do so? Yes? OK, let us say she did carry her gun, what are the chances that when she was suddenly surprised by the attacker she would have been able to get her gun before he overpowered her. I looked her up and read about her horrific ordeal, which is very tragic. Listen to her describing her ordeal in this video on the “NRA Women” website. The criminal was hiding behind a pickup truck in the garage, jumped her, and overpowered her. So, yes, there was a small possibility that had the school not been a gun free zone, had she carried her gun all the time, had she been able to outwit and outpower the attacker, the tragedy may not have happened. But to take it for granted in the face of so many ifs is to be disingenuous. Not to speak of the other adverse impact people routinely carrying guns in the class, office, theater, restaurant, can have. Also, the assumption here is that had Amanda been armed, she would not only have saved herself she would also have killed the criminal, so that he would not have lived to commit another crime. At this point, the “Virtual President” directs the “Virtual Attorney General” to challenge any gun control laws, blah, blah, blah (you should watch the video –  it is hilarious when you realize the audience is fake). I should have caught on the “Virtual” bit in my first watching of the video.
4. With the real Attorney General Eric Holder “attentively listening to his boss”, next Mr. Whittle talks about how the Second Amendment is about saving people from tyranny of the politicians “like us”(ha ha!). At this point, John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and Chuck Schumer “nod their approval”. Obviously, Whittle and the audience are shown together in none of the frames, and the camera never pans from him to the audience. This facade is so funny, it is not funny. He goes on to say that by proposing gun regulation, we are ignoring the constitution and have no legal authority to do so. Even if we ignore the vague nature of the 2nd amendment, there is nothing in it that prevents us from ensuring that proper public safety provisions are built into gun ownership. If the first amendment comes with riders and responsibilities, so does the second. So, how is commonsense regulation negating the constitution in any way?
5. Lastly he takes us around the world and explains how atrocities were committed by governments around the world. The assumption is that if the populations of those countries had been armed, the atrocities would not have happened, or the results would have been different. There is no proof, no precedent of such a happening anywhere. In fact, local militia in most countries he has named have turned on the local population. Just try to imagine the scenario. Nobody knows what chaos will arise if there is a tyrannical government and the population rises in arms against it. Will the public fight the US Army? The police? Who will organize such a revolt? Then, don’t you think our shotguns and AR-15s may not be enough against the “tyrannical” government’s tanks, air power, and nuclear weapons? We seem to be pretending to be living in the civil war era mindset and weaponry. The limited likelihood of this happening is also something that makes this argument the final go-to argument for gun advocates (never gonna happen, so why not use this argument!). But even if we take this argument of protection against tyrannical governments on face value, how will commonsense regulation that prevents criminals and mentally unstable people from having guns weaken the public’s protection against tyranny? If anything, we will be stronger with no guns in the hands of crazies and criminals; won’t we?
So, that is the end of my analysis of Our Virtual President’s anti-gun control speech. If this was the best ever pro-gun argument you had ever heard, try again. If nothing else, think of the duplicity, the cunningness in creating this video with the intention of creating such false impressions and a false narrative. In the meantime, in this era of fake news, whoever uploaded this video to Facebook is laughing all the way to the bank, as millions more watch and share the video and lap up his “speech to the Congress” like simpletons.
Since this was a short 7 minute video, Mr. Bill Whittle didn’t have time to go through some other frequently used arguments in favor of gun ownership or against gun control. For example:
1. People kill people, guns don’t.
2. It’s the culture, the video games, the movies, not guns.
3. But I need it for my self defense and self preservation.
4. AR-15 is not an assault rifle.
5. I need it for hunting.
6. Good guy with a gun vs Bad guy with a gun
7. Bad guys will get guns anyway
Let us take a look at these in Part 2 of this series. Feel free to share this article, and share your views about it. Thanks for your time. Click here to read Part 2 of this series.


Ramjas and Freedom of Expression

  • Umar Khalid should have been listened to at Ramjas College. He has a right to freedom of expression. The seminar should not have been canceled.
  • Shazia Ilmi should not have been dropped from the speaker’s list at Jamia.
  • Lipstick Under My Burkha should not have been banned by the Censor Board. In fact, there should be no Censor Board. If Hollywood can be responsible enough to self-censor, why not Indian cinema?
  • Sanjay Leela Bhansali should not have been assaulted in Jaipur.
  • Tarek Fatah should not have been heckled and attacked at Rekhta, and legal action should be taken against the Muslim organization that announced a 1 million Rupee award for his head.
  • Going a few years back, Salman Rushdie should not have been stopped from speaking at Jaipur Literary Festival. In fact his book should be unbanned and he should be free to visit and speak anywhere in India.
  • Taslima Nasreen should have no fears about returning to Kolkata, the city of joy.

Now this is a minuscule list of the examples of quelling of freedom of expression in India in recent times. I have picked diverse examples intentionally from across the political spectrum to let the readers assess if they will stand up against each of these cases of restriction of freedom of speech. So, here is the thing: if you do not stand against each case of suppression of freedom of speech, then you have no right to complain that freedom of speech is being restricted in the country. You can be standing up for your Right wing values, or for your Left wing values, but you cannot be standing up for freedom of speech, unless you respect everyone’s right to free speech.
What actually happened in Ramjas College late last week, and who is at fault, is really hard to judge if you were not actually at the scene, particularly with multiple sides making contradictory claims about the sequence of events. However, I would like to go over three videos and express my opinion. Later in this article, I would like to propose how India needs to take a page out of the West’s playbook regarding freedom of speech, particularly the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.
Video 1: Newslaundry report from Ramjas

This video very effectively documents multiple student statements and testimonies accusing ABVP “goons” of inflicting violence upon the students. It is hard to tell if the video is giving all students a voice, but it goes without saying that the violence perpetrated is regrettable and unacceptable, and so is the suppression of speech and cancellation of the seminar.
However, there is just one more thing I have to say about this video:
Starting at 3:03 minutes Sanjay Kumar, reportedly a DU faculty member, questions why “they” have a problem with the word “Azadi”. I think I have an answer for Sanjay Kumar. I believe this word has been chosen by the Left deliberately to provoke and troll the so called “nationalists”. The screams of azadi remind one of the secessionist slogans raised in Kashmir. “Hum kya chahite, Azaadi” is a typically Kashmiri slogan and makes sense only when raised in a Kashmiri accent — हम क्या चाहिते, आज़ादी. This blogger is a migrant from Kashmir and cannot disassociate the word from the terror the screams for azadi in Kashmir’s streets meant for minority community in the valley. You can justify all you want that you are asking for independence from oppression, poverty, blah-blah, but words acquire meanings, and this word is inalienably linked to Kashmir’s clarion call for separation from India, primarily based on religious differences. Now you can be fully in favor of Kashmir’s azadi from India and I am fine with that, but if that is not what your intention is, then don’t yell “azadi azadi” without a context. A word like “swatantrata” may be a mouthful and I wouldn’t want to burden the poor English medium educated slogan shouters with such a heavy word, but even the word “freedom” may be enough to meet your needs. Point is, the dictionary gives you several other ways of pronouncing your hatred of oppression and poverty — unless your intention is to troll and provoke.
Or, on the positive side, if the word is extensively used in Delhi and rest of the country, it may acquire a new meaning and no longer be so closely linked to Kashmir’s secessionist demand.
Video 2: Newslaundry’s Facebook Live Interview with ABVP Leaders:

This interview of DUSU vice president Priyanka Chhawri and former DUSU president Satender Awana is a very good example of what not to do from a news organization’s point of view. The interviewer is ill prepared. He tries to be critical of ABVP but ends up getting bullied into accepting their point of view on several issues. The student leaders try un-convincingly to assert that the trouble makers were all on AISA side, but their other arguments about the Left’s treatment of right wingers in Kerala, some media outlets’ one-sided anti-ABVP coverage, AISA leader’s untrue tweets about section 144, were driven home well, even though Awana’s aggressive attitude is off-putting. The participating trio in this video seems to be going over some videos of the incidents but the viewers are given no clue about what the three were watching and what they are trying to prove. At one point, Awana turns the laptop screen towards the camera, but there is no way the viewers can see anything. Very unprofessional presentation.
Overall, this was a one sided video. I am wondering how it would have looked if multiple sides were brought in to debate. I’m sure there would have been fireworks! For all the complaints being made about suppression of speech, it seems not letting others speak is not a Left or Right thing, but an Indian thing. This is evident from any “debate” you see on television, or even if you are trying to have a debate with anybody in person. Every participant is bent upon making the dialogue into a monologue.
Several times in this video Satender Awana criticizes JNU’s Shehla Rashid for bringing a stone to the NDTV studio as if that was proof that she was attacked with it. Shehla may have actually been attacked with that stone, but just bringing it to the studio was not proof of her being attacked with it. Also watch this video from NDTV that shows how Miss Rashid shuts and shouts down RSS’s Rakesh Sinha, and how the anchor Nidhi Razdan watches helplessly. You will get a chuckle out of this.
What is important is that the Left needs to get off its high moral horse. Whenever and wherever they can, they suppress dissent equally vehemently, and equally violently. Be it Kerala, be it West Bengal, be it JNU, or be it Jamia, or be it Cuba, China or erstwhile Eastern Bloc. I’m tired of Right wing social media posts as much as I am tired of Leftists’ grandstanding that pretty much tells you, “If you are not with us; if you are not calling Modi a fascist and a murderer, you are a part of the problem.” It is this haughty attitude of the Left that drives people into the laps of Modis and Trumps. Communism is not the greatest thing since sliced bread and if it was, it would have had more representation in the country’s legislative bodies. “But the voters are stupid bigots!”, you say. Well, say that at your own peril.
Video 3: Ravish Kumar – Ramjas College in NDTV

This video is a very important one for several reasons. It brings together several planned participants of the canceled Ramjas seminar and presents to the viewers what they “would have said” at the seminar. Now there is no way of knowing if the participants (read: Umar Khalid) would have stuck to this script, but this video proves two things. One, there was apparently nothing explosive or anti-national that was planned. Two, suppression of speech does not help the suppressors of speech. On the contrary, the suppressed usually gets a wider and more interested audience after that, whether it is a canceled seminar or a banned film. Take Kanhaiya Kumar. I have seen several of his speech videos and I don’t find anything inspiring or of substance in his speeches; it is mostly rhetoric, or jumlas (to use the Left’s terminology). However, owing to what happened in JNU last year, he is now a household name in India, for better or for worse. If he had not been to Tihar, nobody would have heard his name outside JNU. Umar Khalid seems to talk much more sense in comparison, although I am not convinced from his speech that he did not raise anti-India slogans.

Let us talk about the limits freedom of speech can go to in the West, particularly in my adopted country the United States. So, there is this thing called the First Amendment. It reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Most people, when they talk about “my first amendment rights” talk about their freedom of speech. Here are some examples of exercise of freedom of speech that would be hard to exercise in India, and are guaranteed in the US:

1. People can burn the US flag, or criticize or burn a religious book, without being prosecuted.
2. Country’s leaders can be mocked and criticized on the mainstream media much more vehemently.
3. I think the most egregious example of protection of freedom of speech is the fact that a hated organization like Westboro Baptist Church can protest in front of soldier’s funerals and jewish community centers and profess their hatred.
In spite of the above, there are cases of controversial speakers being prevented from speaking at Universities by student groups. However, in general, the point I am trying to make is that free speech is important and no amount of slogan shouting and speech giving can weaken a nation, unless you ban that speech and widen its reach. No amount of criticism of religion, religious books, or religious figures should be able to weaken a religion. Let us counter speech with speech, not with violence. Remember, people have rights, ideas do not.

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Dirty Old Man of Indian Journalism

Khushwant SinghEven though I grew up reading Khushwant Singh’s columns in the 70s and 80s, for recent years I had not read much from or about him. For a short period I wondered if he was even alive — until my last trip to India in August when I laid my hands on what may have been one of his last books – “The Company of Women”. This book was a virtual “mastram” book, and even though he kept the reader hooked with his story telling, there were no pretensions of literary class. It looked like he had either lost his mojo in his 90s or had used a ghost writer. Khushwant Singh died today at the age of 99. He will be missed, for being part of my very early English reading, if for nothing else.
Khushwant Singh was famous for writing about his love of scotch, women and gossip. However, although he wrote a lot about these things, he was never in the news for excess of these things in his personal life. If he drank a lot of scotch, he was never in the news for it. His personal life seemed more like that of a regular family man than that of a casanova that he could have been.
The Illustrated Weekly edited by Khushwant Singh in the 70s was my first real exposure to English reading. Then in 80s his column “With Malice Towards One and All” in The Hindustan Times was my regular read. His column always ended with a joke, usually sent in by a reader. I used to send him (recycled) jokes sometimes, and he published mine once. Another time he sent me a handwritten postcard with the message “Mr. Kaul, I published a similar joke already”.
I believe the first time I heard the word “gay” being used for homosexuals was through his column. He wrote something about the Indian word for gay could be “Khush”, even though it pointed to his name and that he was far from being gay.
Even though Khushwant called himself an atheist, he seemed to maintain a close connection with his Sikh religion. He wrote several books on Sikhism, never gave up his Sikh headgear, and even returned his Padma Bhushan in protest against Operation Bluestar.
Even though I haven’t read too many of Khushwant Singh’s books, the “Train to Pakistan” is a memorable one and was also made into a feature film.
Here’s a little excerpt from his column from a few years ago:

I also got a lot of hate mail. It did not upset me. However, one letter from Canada became a memento. It had the foulest Punjabi abuse accusing me of all manners of incestuous relationships. They were in Gurmukhi. Only the address was in English and very brief: “Bastard Khush-want Singh, India”.
I was most impressed by the efficiency of the Indian Postal Service in locating the address of the one and only bastard in the country.

Good bye, Khush!

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7 Myths That Need Broken for Pro-377 Indians

Read this post in Hindi

In 1861, the British created Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code, criminalizing homosexual behavior. A century and a half later, our attempts to get rid of this archaic law have come to a naught. Most of my friends on social networks have had something to say about the situation, and very few of them have found the Supreme Court’s decision reinstating the anti-sodomy law deplorable. Some who find the decision correct are from a generation before me, who don’t surprise me that much, but there are many who are from my generation and some from the next generation – so called millennials. I do find myself to be the lone liberal in this group of conservatives, but there is a good thing to this — the conversation has started and it will only help bring facts to life and inform people and open their eyes. At least that is what I hope. I have myself had my share of reservations about homosexuals, so I cannot fault the naysayers completely. But as I have read up and got more information about the issues involved, my opinion has evolved into full acceptance of homosexual people. I hope the Indian public and policy makers keep an open mind, get informed and rethink their opinions.
I have not had time to watch the debates on the issue on Indian TV in recent days. However, people on social networks have been complaining about media’s “outcry against the SC decision”, therefore I assume the opponents of Article 377 have got some kind of a platform there. On social networks, however, supporters of the article seem to be having a field day. Following these conversations has brought forward a number of prejudices, preconceptions and misconceptions that people have about gay people. Since most of these people have a logical and scientific bent of mind, I hope for some change of hearts.
In this post, I will try to debunk 7 major myths that Indian people have about homosexuality.
1. Homosexuality causes AIDS
Yes, I have heard some people say this. But, as we all know this cannot be farther from the truth. AIDS is caused by transmission of the HIV virus which can be transmitted by many methods one of which is promiscuous unprotected sex, be it heterosexual or homosexual. Yes, anal sex (man-man or man-woman) is understood to increase the possibility of transmission of the virus. Hence among AIDS victims, MSM are in a greater percentage. However, if a homosexual couple is healthy and committed to each other, and has no exposure to the virus, there is no reason for their sex acts to cause or spread AIDS. So, if your worry is spread of AIDS, be an opponent of unprotected promiscuous sex, not of homosexuality itself. Encourage commitments in same sex relationships, not their criminalization.
2. Homosexuality is a mental illness
Yes, people claiming to be psychologists have told me that. However, American Psychiatry Association (APA) says it isn’t so. Now this association is not some club of western culture, but a group of educated physicians who have reached this conclusion after detailed research and studies. Forty years ago APA removed homosexuality from the list of mental disorders in their DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is considered a reference standard by psychiatrists and psychologists the world over). If you haven’t removed it from your list, it may be time to do so now. Even Indian Psychiatry Association has some interesting articles on the issue on their website, all indicating the same thing – that homosexuality is not a disease and nobody becomes gay of their free will. Who in the world would want to be a social outcast on purpose?
3. Homosexuality is unnatural
OK, what do you mean by unnatural? Something not happening in nature, or not intended by God? If you believe in God, then possibly this is how God made them (homosexual people), therefore who are we to judge them and not accept them as part of the society? There are 1500 species in nature who commit homosexual acts. If your argument is that sex between same gender does not produce children, then tell me what is the prime purpose of sex — expression of mutual love, enjoyment, or procreation? Out of all the sexual acts you have committed, how many have been with the purpose of procreation? Moreover, sex is not all that relationships are based on. Just like us, homosexual couples also have multidimensional relationships and sex is just one of those dimensions. If you don’t believe in God, then I expect you would not have such prejudices in the first place. If you do, I would like to hear from you in the comments box below.
4. Homosexuality is a Western malaise, and against our culture
If you ask me, I’d say it is the Article 377 that is a Western malaise, not homosexuality. This law was created by the British in 1861, and its inspiration must have been the Western prejudices not Indian culture. Now the British have left, but left us with their laws. Back in Britain they have even legalized gay marriage, but we are still wedded to their laws. In Hinduism, homosexuality is not as explicitly condemned as it is in Islam and Christianity. Hindu mythology has characters like Ardhanarishvara and Shikhandi. Khajuraho and other ancient temples are full of sculptures depicting homosexuality (see this page). What I want to say is that in ancient India many aspects of male-female sexuality were possible. On the other hand, in some Muslim countries, it is a crime even to talk about homosexuality. Even in Western countries, while gays are gaining more acceptance, custodians of “culture” are crying foul. So, whom do we want to emulate in India? Or do we want to keep our laws secular and not inspired by religious dogma? It is not a matter of aping the West, as some make it out to be. It is a matter of doing the right thing. Now if you would rather talk about Indian culture, let us talk about the practice of Sati, untouchability, casteism, etc. Are we not trying to get rid of all these evils? Then why not get rid of our prejudices against homosexuals too?
5. The number of homosexuals is negligible
This argument is used to justify that homosexuals do not need specific laws to protect their interests. This argument is faulty on many levels. Will you make laws discriminating against people who are blind, deaf, or left-handed if their numbers are small? Secondly, their numbers seems low particularly because they have to keep themselves hidden to escape social ridicule. Granted their numbers are much much smaller than those of heterosexuals, but they are not as negligible as Ahmedinejad claimed to be in Iran. In your school, in your office, in the train you ride, you may have come across people who are living double lives because they cannot come out. OK, let’s leave homosexuals aside and talk about hijras. Why does our society force them to live secluded lives and almost beg for their survival? Why can they not work in offices, schools? Are they responsible for their plight? Nobody wants to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender of their free will, nor can they change their sexual identity even if they wished to. Try to be in their shoes — what if you or I were in their place?
6. Same sex marriage reduces the sanctity of marriage
Well, this argument is not that common yet in India, because we are still stuck in criminalization of homosexual relationships. Same sex marriage is still a far cry from reality. However, as same sex marriage becomes more acceptable in the West, Christian fundamentalists keep complaining that this is changing the definition of marriage. Another faulty argument. It is not changing the definition of marriage for you. You can still marry whom you want and nobody is forcing gay marriage on you. But if gays are getting married to each other, how is that impacting you? How does someone else getting his right make the rights you have lesser? If you force a gay person into matrimony with a straight person, two lives will be ruined. In India, we may have countless such couples. So, we have no right to snatch others’ rights, particularly when their rights do not harm us.
7. If you allow homosexuality, what is next – sex with animals?
Lots of people talk about the “slippery slope” to incest and bestiality. But there is no logical reason to be afraid of that. First of all, advocates of rights for homosexuals talk about consensual sex, which is not possible in case of bestiality. Either way, laws should only concern themselves with rapes and forcible sexual encounters, and not define who one can have consensual sex with. On the other hand, if religious reasons are used to guide our laws, many other laws infringing on our personal freedom can be made.

Anyway, there is no end to arguments and counter-arguments. What I am trying to say is that people who are against rights for homosexuals are on the wrong side of time. Future generations will fight these laws and sooner or later these draconian laws will end, just as Sati practice and untouchability ended. Also pay attention to the fact that the Supreme Court has not basically justified the law, but has said that the law needs to be changed by legislation. This is technically correct, but there is not much hope from the Parliament here. The highest court in the land has lost an opportunity to correct a historical wrong.
To some extent, one can be thankful that such laws are not enforced as strictly as they are in Muslim countries. But still, the existence of such laws means that the Police can keep asking for bribes for yet another act which should be legal. It also means that LGBT people will keep facing problems in getting jobs, housing, getting married, adopting kids, and so on.
With this hope that in near future all LGBT people will get full rights, I sign off and welcome your responses.
Oh, one more thing. Even though Article 377 is considered an anti-homosexuality law, it does not meet even that objective properly. It only outlaws sodomy, which means on one hand it does not outlaw lesbian relationships, and on the other hand it does outlaw anal sex between legally married man and woman, which carries a ten year imprisonment as punishment. Therefore, it is not just a matter of annulling this ridiculous law, but of ending the discrimination against homosexuals as a whole. Yes, in our society PDA makes many people uncomfortable; therefore both types of couples should limit their intimate acts to the privacy of their homes and bedrooms. Our conventional society deserves at least this concession.


God, Jerusalem and Democrats

In the Democratic National Convention yesterday, rationalism died a painful death, just in order to keep God alive. In spite of two evenings of great speeches, the DNC’s decision to sneak God back onto the platform, that too via the back-door, did not win any fans.
Briefly, this is what happened. Democratic party’s “platform” (party manifesto?) announced and accepted earlier in the week had, thankfully, omitted the word “God” in its text. Turns out their platform had mentioned the name of this imaginary entity seven times in its platform 8 years ago, and once in its platform 4 years ago. It only made sense that by the third convention of the 21st century, this unnecessary item should have wound its way out of the manifesto of a progressive political party in a first world country. Additionally, DNC’s platform had omitted the mention of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — which I personally don’t care about much. Even though they had not said that God doesn’t exist (which it doesn’t), or that Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel (that is where most embassies are situated), Republicans (via Fox TV) jumped on both “omissions”, and in order to not risk losing votes over the issue, Democrats decided to make amends.
The amendments to the platform were presented to the delegates by the DNC Chair and LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, with the apparent expectation that the voice vote will be only a formality. However, the “no” votes sounded as loud, if not louder, than the “aye” votes. He tried it three times, and finally gave up and declared the amendment passed by two-thirds affirmative vote. So much for democracy. And so much for rationality. Watch the voice vote in the following video.

Initially the chorus of “no” votes gave me hope that there may be some rational atheists in the party who are ready to make themselves heard; then I realized that I was being naive to be so hopeful. Turns out the loudest “no”s came from some democrats carrying “Arab American” banners, who must have been opposing the Israel language, not the God language. There is no way to tell if there were any delegates who were opposed to the inclusion of God. I would think that people who would want Israel excluded would be for God, and vice versa. Therefore clubbing the two amendments may not have been a wise move.
Is it possible that there are many more atheists in the Democratic party than are ready to be identified? Is it possible that even Barack Obama is a closeted atheist, and may come out after the political pressures on him are relieved. After all, he did come out for gay marriage this year, even though he had earlier not shown his support for it. After all, he did comment during the 2008 campaign that working class people frustrated with their condition “cling to religion and guns”. Unfortunately, in the current political climate, these statements and logical “omissions” are brushed aside as gaffes or genuine mistakes. When will rationalism and atheism have enough takers so that people own up to these well meaning statements and non-statements?


Is Kashmir Not Even That Big?

In my last post I explained how Kashmir is a small area of J&K, holding the whole state and region to ransom. I explained that Kashmir valley is about 6,000 square miles in area. It is indisputable that Muslims are a majority in J&K, but the separatist Muslims are concentrated in a fraction of the state — the Kashmir valley. The figure of 7% area was calculated based on the following information obtained from the Jammu and Kashmir page on Wikipedia:

The main Kashmir valley is 100 km (62 mi) wide and 15,520.3 km2 (5,992.4 sq mi) in area.

I realized that the Wikipedia page does not give the length of the valley. However, using the above mentioned area, it seems the Wikipedia user who wrote the above assumed a length of about 100 miles. I generally trust the information on Wikipedia, but in this case it seems someone got too enthusiastic, unless the following data given on the BBC News page on Kashmir’s “future” is incorrect. The BBC News site discusses various scenarios of Kashmir’s future on its page, and its Scenario Six matches what I was talking about on my last post. The site says:

With an approximate land mass of 1,800 square miles (80 miles long, 20 to 25 miles wide) it is much larger than Monaco and Liechtenstein – but only one-tenth of the size of Bhutan.

There must be something wrong with the figures on BBC site, which makes the area of the valley only 2.1% of the state’s total area of 86,000 square miles. Tell me about a storm in a teacup!
Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating Kashmir’s secession from India. I just want to tell the separatists that such a small size of land would be untenable as a country. With some Kashmiri leaders already talking about accession to Pakistan, and Pakistan waiting in the wings, you could be out of the frying pan into the fire. Also read the UNHCR report on Pakistan’s Human Rights Violations in so-called “Azad Kashmir”. A quote:

In the first seventy-two hours after the earthquake, thousands of Pakistani troops stationed in Azad Kashmir prioritized the evacuation of their own personnel over providing relief to desperate civilians. The international media began converging on Muzaffarabad within twenty-four hours of the earthquake and fanned out to other towns in Azad Kashmir shortly thereafter. They filmed Pakistani troops standing by and refusing to help because they had “no orders” to do so as locals attempted to dig out those still alive, sending a chilling message of indifference from Islamabad. Having filmed the refusal, journalists switched off their cameras and joined the rescue effort themselves; in one instance they shamed the soldiers into helping. But unlike the death and destruction, the media were not everywhere. The death toll continued to mount.

Now, this is UNHCR, not some Indian propaganda. Ready for some “azadi”, guys?

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Kashmir Is Too Small For Azadi

[हिंदी में पढ़ने के लिए यहाँ क्लिक करें]
Headline on CNN about Leh floods: Death toll from Kashmir flooding rises to 112
Correction: Leh is not in Kashmir. There was no flooding in Kashmir.
A Vaishno Devi Pilgrim: I just returned from Kashmir. Things are peaceful there.
Correction: Jammu is not in Kashmir. There is no jehad in Jammu.
A University of Texas Website Article: refers to the 1999 war in Kargil, Kashmir
Correction: Kargil is not in Kashmir. It is in Ladakh province.
One of the frequent gripes that Kashmiris have about people from mainland India is that they don’t understand Kashmir and Kashmiris. That is true to a large extent. One of the myths that needs to be broken is that “Kashmir is J&K”, because it is actually only a small part of it – 6.98% to be exact. Even the saying that “From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, India is one” is not correctly worded because Kashmir is not the Northernmost part of India; Ladakh is. And if you believe in the official Indian map, then Gilgit and Aksai Chin are the Northernmost parts, none of these being part of Kashmir. Kashmir is well South of the Northern tip of India, so it is geographically a natural part of India. Even Azad Kashmir or PoK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) is not Kashmir. In this blog post I will explain why this discussion is important, considering the existing imbroglio going on in the Kashmir valley.

It has served some of the players in the game well to confuse the issue of Kashmir’s location and boundaries as much as possible. Most people, when asked about where Kashmir is on a map, will point to the “head” shape on the top of an Indian map and say “here it is!” (see the black arrow in the map below). They could not be farther from the truth. Look at the following map and see for yourself where Kashmir actually is.


Arguing About Kashmir

Even though Kashmir is lost to our community (the Kashmiri Hindu community), it is impossible for people of our generation not to get riled up when the issue of Kashmir comes up. A detailed post on Kashmir has been on my mind for a long time, but numerous resolutions for this blog’s upkeep have resulted in a naught (edit: it’s there now!). That has not kept me from waxing eloquent on the comment sections of other blogs, particularly if the bloggers or other commenters have perspectives contrary to my point of view. This post is an attempt to document some of the comments I made on those blogs.