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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
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A Citizen Led Research Approach to Fighting Air Pollution

The INDIA AIR POLLUTION SURVEY

All of us remember the old saying .”United we stand, divided we fall” from the book Aesop and his fables. If we just tap our memories of the stories of “Four Oxen and the Lion” and “The Bundle of Sticks”, we would immediately relate to the need of being united to fight for a cause.

In this age of internet and social media with digital content being ubiquitous, the being united quotient has considerably reduced. That holds true for societies, communities and even within families. There are a whole lot of likes happening on social media posts, memes and photographs but not enough conversations. As a result, the ability to forge a concerted response to the living situations around us has considerably declined.

This has affected the ability to forge a concerted response to issues relating to pollution, environmental degradation and climate change realities. Social media helps, but in trying to grapple with multiple platforms and limited bandwidth, the ability to engage becomes severely restricted. This makes it easier for Governments to dismiss the few lone voices that vent dissent and disagreement on matters vital to sustainable living. Air pollution is one such issue which is very much our problem regardless of gender, age, community, religion, income strata and any such categorization that functions as vote banks.

The India Air Pollution Survey is a research backed initiative that Citizen Ecofinalytics has taken up to involve citizens to find their voices, express it and become a united community for change. This is a totally citizen backed movement, which means not only do you express your concerns, but also involve persons around you. In doing so, each of us become citizen leaders that are united for a cause.

Here is the link of the survey. https://forms.gle/z1vmPuecSCnvVgJt6

We hope that this is a beginning to being “Citizens United For a Cause”

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7 reasons why Nonprofits need to invest in research

Ask any nonprofit organization, why they need research, and possibly pat will come the reply, well to get funding of course. Some replies may verge on sarcasm on donors holding the key to survival of the organization and some will hint on the possibility of loss of employment. The research and funding relationship can be very simply written in the equation form as “Evidence = Funding:” https://www.nten.org/article/evidence-funding-a-new-blueprint-for-evaluation-plans/

The fact of the matter is that nonprofits are not sellers of products or services, they are development or change agents. That agency needs to be measured and evaluated on some performance matrix so as to assure their patrons, governments and society at large that their contribution to society is indeed authentic, impacting and sustainable.

The direct relationship of research or evidence to funding should therefore not be the only reason why nonprofits need to invest in research. In fact research needs to be an integral part of an nonprofit’s organizational structure. Given below are 7 reasons why nonprofits need to invest in research.

  1. It helps to clarify the overall vision and mission for the organization. Each organization is different and even though they may work in certain common thematic broad areas, how they work individually can be very different. To take an example, women empowerment can be a broad overarching goal for an organization, but it has to be fine- tuned so as to be able to spell out how the organization is going to reach out to create impact for potential beneficiaries.
  2. Specific interventions for particular projects and their stakeholders in identified geographical areas need to be adequately designed to account for what will work and what will not. This requires a theory of change for each particular project or program. A comprehensive literature review helps to clarify and identify the assumptions used for formulating the theory of change and the likely trajectory of change for beneficiaries.
  3. To be able to measure change or impact, it is required to formulate appropriate indicators to keep track of the inputs, processes, outputs and outcomes. Simply saying that the project will have an impact on the knowledge, attitude and practice (KAP) of beneficiaries, is not enough because one also has to formulate a construct that measures the KAP in that context. This requires intensive research and validation for each concept and construct along with devising appropriate measurement scales.
  4. There are some organizations that work directly with the stakeholders, but there are others who rely on a host of partners to reach across to the ultimate beneficiary. Each of these field organizations are bound to have different organizational structure and operating philosophies. Therefore the need to ensure some kind of alignment as per the goals and objectives of the program through monitoring of their functional and operating processes and outputs.
  5. A fair number of nonprofits are involved in advocacy campaigns related to various citizen or community related causes. For these organizations too, research is vital to give insights about the community that they work with. This can relate to their social, cultural and demographic structure, their economic situation and their concerns on the phenomena that affects their lives in positive or negative ways.
  6. Each nonprofit requires active engagement with its constituents including the need to magnify their presence. Social media therefore is an integral and important part of their communication strategy especially if the organization is involved in advocacy campaigns related to human rights, environment, sustainability, women causes that by their nature are mass based. This also holds true for disaster relief organizations. There is thus a trying need to be able to track the reach and impact of social media as well as do a commensurate sentiment analysis of the same. Research related to communication strategies is therefore extremely important. In fact nonprofits that use behavioral communication or more aptly called social behavior change communication invest enormously in researching how communication can lead to behavior change.
  7. While most research is devoted to program design, delivery and evaluation, it is equally important to research the donor community and the level of financial support they provide. This is especially true when nonprofits rely on multiple donors and not just few institutional donors. Donors can be categorized in multiple ways, among them being the forms of contribution, the quantum, the geographical segregation, and as per cause.

All organizations need research, the nonprofit can then be no different. Unfortunately, donors and philanthropists focus majority of their budgets on programmatic interventions leaving only a very small portion for research. This often is so meager that it scarcely allows for robust monitoring and evaluation systems. In most cases, program expenditure will inevitably scavenge on the research one. Funding tied to evidence is no doubt extremely important but nonprofits themselves need research to understand their own work and its impact which can be include both intended outcomes as well as unintended outcomes. Constant listening on the ground is critical to their own growth strategy and alignment to the organizations’ vision and mission. Hence, all nonprofits must keep a dedicated budget for research regardless of the type and size.

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Research and Statistical Consulting

It has been now 5 years working in the area of statistical and research consulting and there are valuable lessons that have been learnt from numerous projects executed and the interactions with clients.

My expertise has been honed more as a quantitative researcher but over the years, one finds that qualitative skills of listening on the ground are as necessary than the carefully constructed answer options given as yes no answers or those given on Likert scales.

More than anything else, statistical and research consulting is all about understanding the client requirements and their limitations. Building that understanding requires having multiple conversations, and the numerous back and forth to arrive at alternative scenarios and answering tons of questions, why this is necessary and why this is not. The client is often uncertain, has limitations of bandwidth, is cash strapped and has to satisfy and pacify a number of internal and external constituencies.

In order to be able to satisfy the client, a research consultant must have the following qualities:

  1. Would like to solve real problems and also empower others to solve problems as well. This often requires the researcher to don the hat of capacity building as well
  2. Be an active listener and ask the required but direct questions in a way that enables the client to think deeply
  3. Be able to put forward the problem in clear and simple terms. This may often require multiple rounds of presentations
  4. Must have a broad knowledge and clear understanding of statistical and scientific methods
  5. Be willing to read, research existing literature and approaches that relate to the clients requirements and area of problem
  6. Be willing to apply existing statistical approaches and design to different environments
  7. Be able to write and communicate effectively the essence of the findings in a manner that the client is able to understand
  8. Ensure that estimates are statistically robust and that recommendations have taken a view of literature on that subject.
  9. Be prepared to give solutions that are actionable for the client while solving the clients’s problems in as much entirety as possible. This is something that needs an emphasis with a double underline.
  10. Avoid recommending to the client research shortcuts that compromise the quality of data or the quality of findings and will ultimately make the client look bad. Make sure that due process of research is followed with documentation of references and discussions
  11. Ensure that if possible get some experience in the actual collection of data or at least if you get only the data, ask questions of who collected the data, whether training was done, what steps were taken to avoid investigator bias, what sampling method was followed and so on
  12. Always take a bit of extra time to check and double check whether you have checked your results and procedures. Sometimes mistakes happen when you have been doing this over and over again and in the hurry to meet the client brief, you forget to double check that tiny coding result or the tiny analysis step. Remember, even it does not make a material difference to the result, still try and ensure that research standards are met.
  13. Be able to communicate effectively in writing as well as orally the final results. Often the client may be looking at the solution in a different way and you have to explain why your approach may be more reasonable and accurate. At the same time be flexible that the client has a point because at the end of the day, he is the one who is probably living and breathing the problem
  14. Be able to make a good estimate of how much effort will be required to solve the problem without actually having to solve the problem itself. That is sometimes the most difficult aspect because you have to bill the client. The client may not realize the intricacies of what is involved and the need to clean data, check its accuracy, run background checks, see what methodology works, performs statistical testing and robustness of estimates, write down results in a way that is accurate and understandable to the client. The client wants results fast, at rock-bottom prices and thinks that all of you have to probably wave a magic wand to get this done in a jiffy. That is the subject of persuasion, conversation and negotiation.

Research consulting is like any other consulting, but sometimes more arduous, because it is evidence backed and requires a fair degree of programming, testing and alternative ways of a looking, structuring and solving a problem. But the road map defined above may well help you to be a good research companion to your clients.