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Have Resident Welfare Associations’ (RWA) Instituted Best Practices for Residents Safety against Covid-19?

Note: Scroll to the end of the article to take the survey to evaluate the best practices measures taken by your RWA to facilitate safety of Society against Covid-19

Whoever thought that Covid -preparedness of RWAs of societies could ever become an important research topic. The pandemic has managed to expose the long simmering voices of discontent over the functioning of RWAs and their utter unpreparedness in dealing with umpteen residential issues. The jury is out whether the RWAs are utterly inept or whether it is the residents that are unrealistic in their expectations without necessarily focusing on their roles and responsibilities as residents. The reality in most probability would be somewhere in between.

The one thing for sure is that RWA managements require a much closer look by policy makers because it has multiple layers of impact on quality of urban living. Unfortunately, policy makers have largely tended to ignore the large number of multi-dimensional miniature cities within large cities preferring to let RWAs along with the local area administration deal with their inherent and recurrent squabbles.

This neglect became extremely costly when “the Pandemic” descended on to the cities and the administration turned to the RWAs to help implement the lockdown which tried within its means to rise to the occasion. When the rules were strict, it was relatively easy going since it was pretty much about nothing and no one either coming or going out of the gates. There were some minor relaxations to ensure the business of daily life and survival, but manageable for the RWA to implement. But then lockdown 1.0 proceeded to 2.0, then 3.0, to 4.0 and finally with everything opening in the background of a raging and preying virus stepping up on numbers, the RWAs seemed to be on shaky grounds. Long years of non-adherence to active resident participation affected decision making because who really knows what the resident wants or does not want.  Finding out may have been possible if societies had a culture of an active resident participation which would have elements of discussion, inquiry, and consensus. There is little of all that and that is yet another subject of research. Instead most RWAs did what they did in the past, the office-bearers came out with guidelines that were hardly the outcome of consultative processes and in general, hardly ever involved women and their concerns.

Some of these guidelines have pertained to entry of domestic workers and self-employed workers in the societies and even though the Government has now permitted them to enter, societies continue to put restrictions making life difficult for residents specially women who are juggling with multiple responsibilities of home management, children, home-schooling of children, care of parents and in-laws, and supporting work from home spouses. Women who had work from home responsibilities were additionally pressured. Senior citizens were worst affected and those who lived alone would have and continue to face daily days of agony and neglect. It was doubly unfair on domestic workers because it meant loss of incomes affecting even their basic survival and amenity access. They too had children to educate, rents to pay, health costs just like the rest of us. In ostensibly ensuring safety for residents, the RWAs forgot their larger responsibilities to the rest of the society, which too is integral to our existence.

The RWAs found it easier to govern by stricture rather than on advisories and best practices which has proved costly not only for residents but also for the larger society and governments. Agreed, it was not entirely their fault, because like the rest of the country, they too were caught unprepared and governments did not involve them actively in making them part of the Covid education and dissemination campaign. Some governments like Karnataka are slowly waking up to this need and reaching out to residential society managements in putting together best practices within their societies.

The fact is, the pandemic is here to stay for a long time and shutting down society gates will also aid and abet the shut down of the economy as well. Therefore RWAs will have to completely re-orient their approach to a more advisory role and focus on putting within each society, a bouquet of best practices that benefits all stakeholders that may have either residential or a professional relationship with the society. They too are workplaces and hence must also abide by some standard operating protocols which need to be put into place much like any other organized work area. In fact, their responsibility is far more because they cater to number of residents of varying age, health and occupational profiles thus making them sometimes more susceptible.

Given below is a link to a questionnaire which also mentions some best practices that RWAs can and should implement within their societies’ so as to make them better prepared to protect their residents without hampering societal interests and equity. Please do take the survey to find out to how many of these best practices is your society following?

https://forms.gle/kUiSUgefW2DApAsH6

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What Changed: Ramblings of a Covid Touched Life

Life is never going to be the same, at least not for a long time. Roads are still empty, factories are only partly working and life dotting the roadsides has gone back to the village. I hesitate to press the doorbell of my neighbor, to walk out in the open, to occupy a public utility, to travel in public transport. My shadow is perhaps a 3X factor of my physical self and both of us struggle to locate spaces that will accommodate us both. The combing of my hair and the creaming of the face is now perfunctory in front of the physical mirror as I am more preoccupied with the mirror in my soul.

The doorbell now waits for the whole day just to be rung up once by the housekeeping staff to collect garbage. The anticipation of opening the door for the morning newspapers, daily deliveries and for my help is a thing of the past. Day and night seem indistinguishable except for the color of the sky. Silence has draped the world much like dark colored curtains on the windows. Imagine asking the computer what date and day it is.

Chat conversations are peppered with spelling and grammar gaffes and so what. Those are minor compared to the ones that have resulted in millions taking to the streets and dead bodies sharing space with living ones. Aspirations of making it big and taking on the world downsized to just staying alive and getting home somehow. Climbing mountains was not important, nor winning trophies, the greatest achievement just boiled down to how many you could feed so that they did not sleep hungry.

Sales of vanity causing products tanked, but so did the faith in political processes and leadership. All that was empty, so was the likes and hearts on narcissistic posts. All you wanted or who you followed was the one who could get you help or gave you correct information and perspective. The bubbles of religion, caste, race, and class, nation got burst, you realized nothing gives you immunity because the virus was egalitarian, it did not differentiate. The mind pendulum oscillated constantly, based on the sentiment of information that waded and invaded through social media and personal networks.

The heroes were neither the politicians nor the celebrities but just the ordinary folks, who dug into their pockets, spent millions in minutes and hearts trying to feed and ferry.  For the first time, we were not fighting trolls, we were fighting power, privilege, ignorance, inefficiency, apathy, and insensitivity. Peddling religion and caste became secondary, securing jobs, cash flow, health and attendant facilities became paramount.

Civil society, health and sanitation workers, professionals, intelligentsia, long neglected by politicians became the harbingers of hope and positivism and the leaders with a purpose. They had their feet on the ground and their hearts and minds aligned and that was what was required to fight the crisis.  Writers and journalists joined the fight and reported and wrote with a purpose to tell as it is, so you did the thinking and not others for you.

The fight is long, there are going to be miles of suffering to be undergone, and the road to recovery is going to be a very steep climb. Everything will fall into place if hearts, souls, minds and priorities are in place. Let none of us forget that.

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Experience of Online Learning in the Wake of the Covid Pandemic

The Covid Pandemic has driven some of us out of our offices and roads, but ironically has required a huge majority to fend for themselves virtually on the streets. In that process, students of all socio-economic classes, have been “locked out” of their educational institutions during the “lockdown”.

The academic community rose up to the challenge with whatever resources it had and started  zooming in education using popular online platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft teams with some  added support through Facebook, Whatsapp and Google Meet. Concurrently, Whatsapp groups were pressed into action to reach across to parents and students for information, sending of notes and often to send out recorded video lectures and audio files.

Overnight, faculty and teachers learnt the art of speaking to mics, to computer screens and got a crash course in technology. We talked to almost more than 2 dozen faculty members and almost all of them without exception missed the classroom and the interaction with their students. They also had numerous concerns about how the entire learning experience was shaping out at the end of students and their inability to get a clear feedback on this from their students.

A very clear digital divide and therefore access resulted in either complete denial or only patchy reach of these classes for lakhs of students. Students from low income backgrounds had either none or only limited access to computers, smartphones and internet connectivity. Therefore education also got rationed, but in this case only to those who were digitally well-off.

Not that digital connectivity made things absolutely great for even those relatively well-endowed. There were issues of space, privacy, peace and not every household had multiple devices or multiple rooms to have uninterrupted access. Students felt cloistered with almost zilch facilities for interactivity with friends, classmates and faculty.

Video streaming was not always encouraged, lest pictures of homes becomes the objects of comparisons. Many students were facing everyday and sometimes special situations which triggered some sort of mental stress and fatigue which also hampered  earning. There is also a sense of realization that online teaching will not offer any escape or refuge from mental, emotional and sexual abuse.

Online learning in this situation is not a choice right now, it is the only option. To be fair, educational institutions, teachers, governments, policy makers, NGOs have all tried to rise to the occasion by collecting video, audio content and made it accessible to the extent possible through Whatsapp groups of parents, YouTube and at times through dedicated television and radio programs so that the less-privileged would not lose out. But there is a real fear that despite all efforts, there will be lakhs of students who are going to miss out on various facets of education, some on quality, some on quantity and some altogether. There are lakhs of migrants walking on the road and therefore those migrant children have ironically become “school-less”, besides becoming homeless. Let us also not forget that apart from the digital divide, the possibility of a gender divide also cannot be ruled out. With girls staying at home not only will they be required to take on a greater share of household chores but also have very limited access to an already shared digital device in the family.

Given all those above situations, one felt that a reasonable opportunity must also be given for students to give their feedback on their experience of online learning and how it affects them. This survey given that it is web-delivered cannot possibly include those who do not have any digital access, but we felt that at least let us get an idea from those who are to some extent digitally empowered. If we can get their feedback, we know that tomorrow even if we manage to reach out with digital access, we may well find out that the learning experience of digital education is at best going to be fragmented and substantially impersonal. What is more, as early results seem to indicate that online learning at the school level was correspondingly rated higher than at graduate and post-graduate levels. It would therefore indicate that the intervention of both parents and teachers may have contributed to this difference.

This survey, is totally anonymous, with no contact details asked, and is targeted at students aged 12 years and above, and who were required to proceed with their classes online in the wake of the Covid pandemic.

It is offered both in Hindi and English, and takes a maximum 10 minutes to do owing to its multi-choice answer options. If you wish, you can also use it as a telephone survey to reach out to students who may not have internet connectivity or access to a digital device. That would allow anyone to slip easily in in the role of a citizen researcher as well.

English link: https://forms.gle/3q2XPncgXMdvR6HM6

Hindi Link: https://forms.gle/XFvhC1TdYwXZSK9C9

This is a public interest initiative for the student community on behalf of the academic community. You can contribute by sharing widely with the student community.

Note: The survey has been closed

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“Where No Sensible &Sensitive Woman Should Go”

I have been working for over 20 years and have never stopped being surprised by the heady cocktail of power and control that seeks to create innovative exclusionary environments for women. Recently post a heated discussion on my role definition and my agency to raise questions and offer points of opinion, the discussion meandered to an altogether interesting level.

I was told that I am deliberately protected from some meetings and discussions because sometimes arguments can get a bit lively and degenerate into use of cuss words which are not only in Hindi but meet a gold standard so far as indignities to the human being are concerned. Therefore, for the preservation of my dignity and sensibilities, it is best that I should not venture “where no sensible and sensitive woman should go.” I can well understand the sentiment of the person wanting to prevent me from the onslaught of crude language, however my rational mind was still not willing to turn a blind eye to the unfair implications of this situation.

Let me however be absolutely clear, that I have no desire to be part of conversations, clubs, meetings and groups that are not civil or polite and need to depend on slurs or relationship shaming and parts of the human anatomy to ostensibly convey a more “effective” point of view. But mind you, “effective” can also be easily replaced by other adjectives such as liberated, powerful, and dominating and therefore can alter the balance of power between those who use them and those who can’t. There is also this key question whether mouthing foul expletives is a necessary characteristic of manhood and a qualifying criteria to ensure male kinship.

The very fact that profanity ridden conversations offends female sensibilities, also ensures that there is very little female gate crashing of typical male bastions. I don’t think that there can ever be a more fool-proof method of having a proprietorial membership of a club without explicitly stating a exclusion criteria. This can be that of clubs, meetings, societies, and even whatsapp groups etc.

Since my education on the subject of expletives is possibly at the kindergarten stage and therefore my ability to speak in a language replete with one is a grave question mark, I naturally turned to Google for figuring out the “choicest Hindi gaalis.” Lo behold, and one finds that 70% of these abuses are either prefixed or suffixed with mother or sister, or have to do something with the female anatomy, or allude to a profession sometimes adopted by her to keep her body and soul together under extenuating circumstances. I believe the English language abuses follow the same line of practice as well. In fact, one would not be wrong to suggest that not only these two languages, but nearly all the world’s languages are similar in the liberal use of the female gender, her anatomy, and her last-refuge profession to construct the lexicon for abuse and expletives.

Coming to the feminist perspective to this deeply entrenched societal phenomenon, because these discussions, meetings, interactions are barred for women using “the sensibility criteria”, they also end up being exclusionary for women. They somehow manage to convey to her that some things are just not up her ladder. Further, since she is not privy to “important” conversations that happen in those profanity packed meetings, it is best that certain decisions are taken by others and she should neither ask for information, nor give her opinion and definitely not question them. So we have a situation where typical male clubs decide to use abuses using constructed feminine analogies to keep the very same females out. It sounds like convoluted logic, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, this is a situation where no legislation can come to the rescue and hence will continue to guarantee exclusive male membership of quite a few meetings, clubs, discussions etc. Therefore at best, I can only hope that good upbringing, conversations about gender equality, and importance of inclusive practices will bring about some change in this practice. The best of course would be if people just start valuing the really good things of life such as polite and decent conversations that come sans demeaning “choicest Hindi gaalis”

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The Implications for Simultaneity in State and National Elections: Empirical Findings

The Background

The ruling dispensation in the last 5 years or so has on multiple occasions advocated simultaneous holding of state and national elections with the ostensible objective of reducing administrative and financial cost incurred on holding elections at staggered intervals. Recently the proposal has once again surfaced after the new BJP government has come to power.

Reasons for Supporting Simultaneity

There are substantial number or arguments that have been put forward in support of the same. A report on “Feasibility of Holding Simultaneous Elections Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies’ advocated it on three grounds which included policy paralysis that results from the imposition of the Model Code of Conduct during election time, impact on delivery of essential services and burden on crucial manpower that is deployed during election time. [1]

The other major argument that is often quoted to support simultaneity is the sheer volume of arrangements and resources that is needed to conduct an election in India. In 1952, the size of the electorate constituted 173 million voters, by 2014 it had gone up to 863 million and in 2019, there were 900 million voters which included an estimated 130 million first time voters. [2] The expenditure incurred by the Election Commission of India (ECI) on conducting national elections however went up from Rs 10.52 crores in 1952, to Rs 3870 crores in 2014, that is 367 times[3][4][5], which roughly translates into a YOY growth rate of 6%. Figures spent on the 2019 elections by the ECI could not be accessed by the author. The funds spent by ECI is however only a fraction of the total money that is spent by political parties. As per a study by the Center of Media Studies, political parties and candidates spent nearly Rs 60,000 crore in India’s recently concluded general election of 2019, making it twice the amount spent in 2014. It is argued that enforcing simultaneity would substantially reduce the expenditure by political parties since it would reduce duplication on state and national elections. [6]

Implications of enforcing Simultaneity

However there are certain implications that might result in the enforcement of simultaneity. Experts suggest that it may well open the backdoor to situations like the 42nd Amendment Act. Enforcing it may also require increasing or decreasing the term of Parliament and State Assemblies which detracts from the constitutional provision of a full five- year term of legislatures. The Natchiappan Committee made the suggestion of holding elections in two phases, one synchronized with the end of the Lok Sabha and the other sometime during the midterm of Lok Sabha to resolve this practical problem.

The fact of the matter is that lengthy election schedules appear to be unavoidable even during the recently concluded parliament election which was conducted in 7 phases from 11th of April to 19th of May, 2019. Even during this more than a month long jamboree, there were concerns voiced, that it gave enough time for manipulation of later phases of voting. Simultaneous election of state governments will simply imply that the elections will be one long one year instead of being spread over 5 years. There will therefore be continued practical challenges of ensuring the required administrative and logistical arrangements which however was not considered as an insurmountable problem as per a discussion paper by Niti Aayog. [7]

The Impact on Federalism

However, there are far more powerful implications as regards the democratic federal structure of the country that could be impacted by this move. In the last couple of years, the landscape of Indian politics has considerably changed. The dominance of the Indian National Congress (INC) has been considerably diluted to see the emergence of another powerful alternative, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). This has also simultaneously coincided with the emergence of many regional parties and satraps that require all national parties to frequently align with them either explicitly or through other non-tacit agreements especially during the state and local elections.  There has also been a phenomenal increase in money muscle power and use of carefully orchestrated media coverage through all mediums to influence perception and image of parties and their leaders. Winning elections in India therefore, not only requires a poll manifesto that aligns with the aspirations of the Indian voter but also needs in great measure, ingredients of substantial political funding, organizational acumen, well-crafted strategic alliances, careful selection of political aspirants with the accompaniment of a well-designed intensive and intrusive media campaign. In a bid to gain power, political parties apart from the ostensible development agenda also factor in calculations and equations based on caste, creed, religion, language, economic status, nationalistic rhetoric and topographical features while topping it with generous infusions of money and media power. 

Simultaneity in national and state elections with attendant powerful political campaigns can therefore put the voter in a decision conundrum of choosing between state and national issues for which he or she may not be sufficiently informed or even empowered. The partisan role played by the media can sufficiently throw the voter off-balance. There is thus a high possibility of state elections mirroring national elections or vice -versa. This can throw up fractured mandates in national elections if state issues are more dominant in the minds of the voter or more powerful national parties that evict local and regional parties should voters vote more on national considerations.

Not only is the possibility of the voter being influenced either way, there is also the added possibility of the dominant party using both the national and state level machinery to influence state elections especially with state funding and certain projects dependent on central largesse. As such making a choice in favor of simultaneity of holding elections sans the necessary check and balances of enforcement of transparency in political funding, expenditure limits, and models of election conduct can further harm the edifices of a vibrant and independent democratic tradition in the country

Empirical Evidence

The impact on federalism has been corroborated by research studies as well. A study conducted by the IDFC institute and reported by Hindu concluded that there was “on average, a 77 per cent chance that the Indian voter will vote for the same party for both the State and Centre when elections are held simultaneously”. This analysis was done for four rounds of electoral data for 4 rounds of Lok Sabha elections of 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014 wherein state elections coincided with that of national. They noted that the “trend of choosing the same party has gone from 68 per cent in 1999 to 77 per cent in 2004 to 76 per cent in 2009 and 86 per cent in 2014.” [8]

A similar study was done by Jagdeep S. Khokhar and Sanjay Kumar using figures from 1989 elections onwards found, that when simultaneous elections for the Assembly and the Lok Sabha were held, it was found that in 24 elections, the major political parties polled almost a similar proportion of votes both for the Assembly and the Lok Sabha, while only in seven instances was the choice of voters somewhat different. [9]

Analysis by us using only 2014 election results

A similar analysis was done by the author of this article but using only the 2014 elections which was unique at many levels as it gave rise to the hegemony of the BJP. One found that there were 9 states where state elections were held after the May 2014 general elections within the 0-9- month period constituting 1148 assembly constituencies and 151 parliamentary constituencies. For the purposes of doing this analysis, all BJP allies (Shiv Sena, Telugu Desam, Shiromani Akali Dal, Sikkim Democratic Front etc.) were taken to be part of the winning NDA party combination and similarly all the other parties besides NDA were clubbed as non-NDA.

Out of the 151 parliamentary constituencies that subsequently went for state polls, BJP and its allies had won 96 seats or approximately 64% of the contested seats in 2014.  These 151 parliamentary constituencies translated into 1148 state constituencies. This  implied that at the central level the NDA won 737 seats but in actual state level was down to 501 seats whereas for non-NDA, it translated into 411 seats at the central level but increased its tally to 647 state level seats. Bifurcating Telangana and Andhra Pradesh as two separate states, the NDA won 6 out of 10 states having lost Delhi, Orissa, Telangana and Arunachal Pradesh that subsequently went for elections post 2014 within a 9- month period.

Schedule of State Elections Held in the 0-9 month period post May-2014 General Elections

Percentage of Seats Won in the State Elections by NDA and non-NDA compared to National elections in the corresponding constituencies

Building the Model

To arrive at estimates for probability of winning at both national and state level, a logistic regression model was used. The data for constructing the model was taken from the Election Commission Site, whereas party affiliations were adjusted for after going through the site of www.indiavotes.com. Some of the other variables that was used to construct the model was the total voting percentage, the age of the candidate, the time duration from the period when the elections were held, and the type of the constituency. Since most of the candidates were male, sex of the candidate was not found to be a statistically significant variable in the model.

Results of the Model

The results of the model were astounding. The results seemed to suggest that other variables being constant, the party that wins at the center would have a winning log odds ratio of 8.23 : 1 for state elections. Even after adjusting for state level differences, the log odds ratio of winning the state elections would still be approximately 5.16 : 1 should the same party wins at the center. More important, the duration of the interval between the central and the state level elections was an important variable which seemed to suggest that the greater the duration between the two elections, the probability of the winning party at the center also winning elections at the state would considerably decline.

Using this model without adjusting for state differences and using a 0-9-month window period, it appears that should a ruling party win at the center, keeping other variables constant, there is an average 60% probability that it will win the corresponding state elections as well. This probability however varies with the probability being 72.2% if the elections in the state are held alongside the center elections, comes down to 56.2% for state elections held after 5 months, to 49.2% for after 7 months and 42.2% after 9 months.

Conclusions

It is often said that politics and politicians are both fickle. Election results too are equally uncertain. To rule the roost even for 5 years, the stakes are high, and therefore the investment too can be very high. In this process, there are innumerable factors that come into play which can range from money power, perceptions, political and development agenda, caste, religion, socio-economic status, prowess of the candidate, political alliances, percentage of women and young voters, ant-incumbency factor, to even number of parties and participants in the fray. Therefore, any statistical model would never be able to account for all factors given the high degree of variation within each constituency.

Nevertheless, there appears to be strong evidence that national elections do have a high probability of affecting results at the state level as well. For a vibrant federal and democratic set up, that may not be very healthy to have dominance of a party both at a national and state level. As such the proposal to have simultaneity in both state and national elections needs to be examined far more rigorously for its repercussions on the overall democratic foundations of the country.

  1. http://www.prsindia.org/administrator/uploads/general/1451885664_SCR%20Summary-%20feasibility%20of%20holding%20simultaneous%20central%20and%20state%20elections.pdf
  2. https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/lok-sabha-elections-2019-date-schedule-facts-voter-list-all-you-need-know-2006580
  3. https://www.indiafoundation.in/a-case-for-simultaneous-elections/
  4. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/toi-edit-page/case-for-simultaneous-elections-aligning-lok-sabha-with-state-assembly-polls-will-save-funds-for-development-and-poverty-eradication/
  5. https://www.businesstoday.in/current/economy-politics/lok-sabha-elections-2019-election-commision-of-india-election-expenditure-lok-sabha-election-2019-election-commission-tightens-noose-around-erring-candidates/story/330125.html
  6. https://qz.com/india/1635113/modis-bjp-spent-way-more-than-congress-in-indian-election-2019/
  7. https://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/Note%20on%20Simultaneous%20Elections.pdf
  8. http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/state-assembly-elections-nudging-the-voter-in-one-direction/article8438114.ece
  9. https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/The-case-against-simultaneous-polls/article15000825.ece