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23 December 2009

Blanket Proposition

The suggestion by two judges of the Supreme Court to Government of India to turn prostitution legal leaves one flummoxed
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Surajit Dasgupta
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As per the understanding of the US Department of State, "While the act of prostitution is not illegal (in India), most activities such as the selling, procuring, and exploiting of any person for commercial sex as well as profiting from the prostitution of another individual are illegal.” This is what its ‘2008 Human Rights Reports: India’ says. Howsoever curious that may sound, and although it’s the truth, the fact must be borne in mind before setting out to celebrate or pan the recent proposal by two Supreme Court judges to the Government of India to legalise prostitution.

Legalising prostitution is a blanket proposition. There is a part of the issue that is about harassment of victims of the trade by authorities because of an odd law (or lack of a proper law), which should be addressed. However, there is another part that deals with criminals. One is driven to his wit’s end to understand how any sane person on earth would want that to be legalised too.

If prostitution as a whole were to become legal, wouldn’t it logically follow that driving someone to prostitution would be legal too? After all, the perpetrator is ‘placing’ the subject in a legal profession, isn’t he? Wouldn’t child prostitution — of an estimated 3 million prostitutes in India, 1.2 million are children — then turn legal as well?

What must change in law are the following:
  • A defence lawyer, fighting for an accused in a rape case, should be debarred from questioning if the victim is a prostitute. Even if she is, sex with her without her consent is rape. Such a question is immaterial, motivated, obnoxious and distracting.
  • If a woman willingly wants to use her body as a commodity, the state has no locus standi in the case to protect her morality or prevent her immorality [here, the definition of "morality" is based on the law, Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956]. Arresting her and trying her in court thus makes no sense at all. [Once in a while when one learns of police busting a sex racket in a residential area, it only elicits mixed reactions. Was the house, which was being used as a brothel, disrupting routine life of those living in the neighbourhood, who are not interested in the trade? If yes, it was surely a nuisance; the seizure was warranted. If no — that is, if only the sex providers and solicitors knew what actually was happening inside that house — police’s poking their nose in what was a consensual adults’ affair is a case of misplaced vigilance.]
  • In the light of the right interpretation of law, that soliciting and procuring sex commercially are both criminal activities in India, it becomes a clear case of violation when the preventive Act turns into an instrument to blackmail the sex worker. What is observed mostly is that the sex worker alone is penalised in both cash and kind. She — in some cases, he — has to humour the syndicate comprising the police, local henchmen, pimps, brothel-owners, other punters and a network of underworld functionaries, all of whom exercise an illegal, vice-like control over the ‘red light’ area. And then, there is the constant physical and mental torment and abuse that the sex worker has to brave. Rarely after a raid is the client apprehended, let alone tried and punished. In some countries where prostitution is legal, paying for sex is punishable too. Legalising the profession may at least free sex workers from harassment of the biased kind. Mercifully, anyway, as the US human rights report mentioned above puts it, “Unlike in previous years, Section 8 of the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, which criminalises the act of solicitation for prostitution, was infrequently used to arrest and punish women and girls who were victims of trafficking.”
  • If prostitution is legalised, the illegal flow of money between the sex workers and other operatives in red light areas will end. This could well prove good economics, provided the ‘unemployed’ touts can thereafter be stopped from venturing into other walks of public life to launch some hitherto unexploited means of extortion.
  • It will be possible for health agencies to identify and treat this potentially high-risk group for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, without wrangling over the medical and humane act’s legitimacy.
As for the sociological aspect, as a corollary to the second point above, it must be impressed upon legislators and the people alike that the view that all prostitutes are oppressed and a result of exploitation by men is ultra-feminist, unrealistic, melodramatic and romantic. For one, matriarchal societies have no less numbers of prostitutes than the patriarchal ones; some comparative international and domestic studies would suggest the former have more!

Notably, the Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver declares, “Some ‘recovery’ programmes and women's groups like to regard prostitutes as victims, despite the fact that many current and former prostitutes believe themselves to be nothing of the kind. This victim mentality is a convenient way of absolving oneself of blame for making ill-conceived or unwise choices. Typically applied to female rather than male prostitutes, it reinforces the archaic notion that women don't know what's good for them and are incapable not only of making their own decisions, but also of taking responsibility for those decisions.” This is an almost all-women group owning up!

That notwithstanding, during the hearing of a PIL filed by NGOs Bachpan Bachao Andolan and Childline complaining about large-scale child trafficking in the country, Justices Dalveer Bhandari and AK Patnaik of the Supreme Court told Solicitor-General Gopal Subramaniam, “When you say it is the world’s oldest profession and when you are not able to curb it by laws, why don’t you legalise it? You can then monitor the trade, rehabilitate and provide medical aid to those involved.”

In terms of status of a country in the international community, many countries that have experimented with the sex industry now realise the folly. A legalised sex industry has not decreased sexual violence against women in any country; rather, the act has turned the spot into an international sex tourism destination. “Over the past decade, the most popular proposed solutions to sex trafficking and ‘out of control’ prostitution is legalisation of prostitution. Prostitution has been legalised with the expectation that it would bring positive outcomes in Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, and recently, in New Zealand. Although legalisation has resulted in big legal profits for a few, the other benefits have not materialised. Organised crime groups continue to traffic women and children and run illegal prostitution operations along side the legal businesses. In Victoria, Australia, legalisation of brothels was supposed to eliminate street prostitution. It did not; in fact, there are many more women on the street than before legalisation. Last year, there were calls for legalising street prostitution in order to ‘control it’:” writes Donna M. Hughes, Professor & Carlson Endowed Chair in Women’s Studies, University of Rhode Island, in her exposition, ‘Prostitution: Causes and Solutions’.

Ergo, most of the negative aspects of prostitution are hardly affected by legalisation of the trade. What it does is makes sex workers legally accessible, which is a reason for which I would rather support legalisation. I am against the fashionable premise that legalisation is a virtual panacea to all ills: that it would reduce human trafficking, that it would clamp down on extortionists of all hues (pimps, brothel owners, underworld kingpins, etc), blah blah!

What I think the Indian Government will be right in doing is to add a clause of exception to the existing law that will make health care for sex workers hassle free. What I am not sure of is how much the government can dictate banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions to accept and process applications from sex workers and also necessarily grant them the loan sought. For, even if these institutions were not to consider prostitution criminal, would they be sure of the stability and steadiness of prostitutes' income, which would assure the institution of these customers not turning defaulters?

It will be au fait to remind the apex court and government that the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 has miserably failed to curb corruption. Its telling effects on the nation was amply illustrated by the very court in its judgment in the case KC Sareen vs CBI, Chandigarh [2001 (6) SCC 584]. Corruption has only multiplied in all spheres of life rather than witness a decline in the past 20 years for which the stringent law has been in place. Should the government therefore legalise graft and fix the amount of commission or bribe that each public servant be entitled to take?

Some alterations in law to curb the excesses in prostitution can be cogitated about. But the maxim ‘if you can’t handle it, legalise it’ is akin to asking the exorcist to embrace the ghost in hope it will no more haunt.

Credits: First photo: Kamathipura, Mumbai. Photographer: John Hurd. Photo licensed under Creative Commons
Second photo: The arrest of five girls from Uzbekistan and an alleged pimp Farida by the south district police, Delhi. Photo published in 'The Tribune', 1 August 2007; reproduction authorised except for commercial purposes

17 November 2009

Koda's Can Of Worms

The alleged scam to the tune of Rs 4,000 crore involving former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda is a teaser. It sounds like the political equivalent of the Jessica Lall murder case, hearing which a judge had famously quipped, "It's known she was killed, but no one murdered her!" The BJP, apprehensive of the possibility that Jharkhand being under President's Rule would have the Centre influence the investigating agencies to protect the ‘guilty’ alliance partners of UPA, has asked for the total revelation of the contents of Koda's diary that reportedly lists the beneficiaries. On its part, the Congress pooh-poohs the demand, referring to the diary as an inconsequential bit of the kind that the Jain of Hawala infamy carried about two decades ago.

In the meantime, officials from several related departments are scurrying for cover even as Income Tax sleuths question Union Bank of India chairman and managing director over his bank reportedly accepting deposits of over Rs 991 crore from Manoj Punamia, a Mumbai-based hawala dealer — purportedly, the promoter of a certain Balaji Bullion group of companies — and alleged frontman of Koda. The dealer had 'disclosed' this in a letter, dated 15 September 2009, written to the Delhi Police commissioner informing him about how he was duped by MS Khan, who had promised him nomination in the Rajya Sabha with the help of two prominent Congress leaders. Of course, this could be the tout's ploy — quite a predictable one at that, if true — to overwhelm the raiding officers with the mention of his political reach. The sundry dramatis personae being under the cloud are a blackmailer Devendra Mukhiya, a businessman Bhim Singh, a section officer in the state mines and geology department Basant Bhattacharya, and Koda’s personal secretary while he was chief minister — Arun Srivastava. Then there are aliases — one Goyalji, an Atul Bhai, a Hemant Lokh, a Lalu, a Vinayak, a Kripashankar, and a Singh Kanpur among many others, each of whom find an entry or more in Koda’s diary, which also mentions a former journalist, who is now an MP, as a beneficiary. The I-T department investigators have interrogated officials of several banks other than the one named above.

Interestingly, the much-maligned politician at the centre of the scandal seems to believe in sharing a fair bit of his loot not only with corruptible peers and relevant department heads, but also with a parallel government comprised of henchmen, aka Maoists. The Enforcement Directorate's grilling four associates of Koda including his personal assistant Harinder Singh has yielded that the ex-Jharkhand CM had issued about 200 prospective mining leases for exploration of minerals in the state and a further 40 for mining purposes. According to Harinder Singh, "the political establishment received Rs 10 lakh per acre at the time of issue of such a licence (total area extends to over hundreds of acres) while the Naxalites got 20% to 30% on each truck of resources taken out of such a mine. The bureaucrats who were supposed to check any illegal activity received 10% to 15% of the share of the minerals and the remainder about 50% was the businessmen's share in the loot."

Now, the story has been a disappointment for all observers who would have every controversy viewed through the prism of a BJP-versus-Congress tussle. The dismay that is bigger is ours. All the money plundered was of the people; but the media, divided in its loyalty to these two political camps, wouldn’t quite tell who the bigger fries were, as it tosses about the names of some petty intermediaries. This is the second major failure of the Fourth Estate in the recent past after the fraud in Satyam. If we are to know of massive misappropriation of public money only when a law enforcement agency raids the robber, state-dictated news bulletins of Doordarshan and AIR suffice. Why have a hundred ‘news breakers’ torturing the eardrums and straining the retina with palaver and twaddle? News presenters have for some time been wondering aloud on TV as to why police cannot grab the Naxalite by his collar if scribes can so easily reach him. It’s time to ask the ‘professionals’ what took them so long, given that every commoner on Jharkhand’s streets has known for several years that the state’s resources were being subjected to terrible pillage by Koda’s likes. There’s got to be more to investigative journalism than visiting police headquarters every morning to know which neighbourhood girl eloped with which boy-next-door, editors and crime reporters must note.

Finally in the theatre of the absurd, Koda still grabs the Kodak moment. Flashing a smile, he says he will spill every remaining bean if cornered further. Doesn’t this explain why the hoot of every whistleblower has reduced to a toot?

Second-guess his sustenance: The certificate of Limca Book of World Records being given to then Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda for creating a record as the first Independent CM to continue in office for six months at a function in February 2007

07 August 2009

Panic, Says Page 1; Don't, Says Edit

Screaming headlines declaring India's first 'swine flu' death followed by measured editorials advising people level-headedness, or the sight of people moving about masked followed by pacifying messages from doctors days later. Honey-I-Blew-Up-The-Kid has been the story of media's information management on the potential H1N1 worldwide pandemic, which in India is still merely an outbreak

When I left Frankfurt, Germany, I got on a deadly 747, and I am gonna go home on a deadly 747 and connect in Chicago, which happens to be a deadly airport, to get back to deadly Atlanta..." Daniel C Rutz, Global Health Communications Team Leader of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was reacting to the opening sentence of a report that had appeared in The Times of India, which said, "The deadly H1N1 swine flu virus continues to spread across school students in Delhi..."

Another report that had appeared in Mail Today found the "government in a tizzy" trying to handle the rising cases of the aforementioned variety of influenza. Does the sub-editor or his boss in the tabloid know how completely out of wits one should be to be in a tizzy? A reading of the report suggested no such extreme condition. There was merely a course correction in the governmental approach to tackling the outbreak.

An alternative vocation for the people who love to play with words is print advertising. So how would these editors fare as visualisers? They sure can sell FMCG, given their proclivity for Godzilla-style story headings. In a country where hundreds fall victim to terrorists' bombs and thousands of farmers commit suicide every year, they gave one (the first) death due to flu — the victim had acquired H1N1, but there was, till the time of reporting, no official confirmation she died of it — a 36-pt font size Page 1 headline!

We, the endlessly tolerant people of India, may have been numbed by the bombardment of reports of death on front page and prime-time television, but death due to a new cause still makes heads turn. This time, heads spun.

A discerning newspaper reader might infer that either Indians by and large do not appreciate the gravity of English words or the editors are plain lazy. From experience, this writer knows it's the latter. It sometimes gets frustrating for a reporter to see the person on the desk job trying to be unduly creative while assigning a title to his story, after just glancing through the submitted report. So, as Dan squirmed at reporters' lack of discretion, I told him he should have invited more editors than reporters to the workshop on H-N-subtype influenzas held at New Delhi's American Center on 27 July.

By representing the deaths in numbers, this writer intends no disrespect to Rida Sheikh's soul, or that of Fahmida Paanwala whose case got complicated due to diabetes and hypertension. The critique is aimed at the increasing lack of sense of proportion in India's media. It's not a malaise that is affecting television alone. The front page news editors want to be worthy competitors. And the result is visible in the streets of Pune. First, as prevention, they did not inform the people in the right measure; then, as cure, they psyched them! In the print medium, we have a saving grace in the form of The Hindu that qualified the report of the first death by adding "suspected" to "swine flu"; on TV there was none, not at least in the first three days after Rida's death.

Mercifully, after 53-year-old Fahmida died, one saw three doctors trying to allay fears on Times Now. For that matter, succeeding the report of the death in Pune, the editorials in all the newspaper this writer follows were found much better drafted, barring the Hindustan Times editorial, the premise of which was misplaced. The Hindu edit was again, expectedly many would say, bang on, the vital informative opinion being more useful as it was published a day before edits on the given topic in other newspapers. The only error in the piece was "swine-origin H1N1 flu virus". The expression was perhaps borrowed from the article by J Gowrishankar published on 2 July that said, "Known in the medical jargon as 'swine-origin Influenza A (H1N1) virus' (S-OIV), the swine flu agent is a novel variant of the influenza virus to which all of humanity represents a virgin (that is, immunologically susceptible) population." That's not accurate information.

Scientists entrusted with the nomenclature are now regretting the haste in which they named the disease as, though it may have crossed the species barrier by jumping from pigs to human beings, the pigs, in turn, had got the virus from birds. Aves in fact are the natural hosts to all H-N-subtype viruses including the so-called swine flu virus. Now it's wrong to call it swine flu also because the transmissions happening these days are human-to-human. If pork-eating were to cause it, Muslims and upper caste Hindus wouldn't have anything to worry. That's clearly not the case. The apparently providential coincidence that the first two Indian victims had to be Muslims rubs it in.

It's now tough to contain the panic. After all, more people read Page 1 than the edit page, and more are swayed by the sight of masked people roaming about the streets of Pune than that of three empanelled doctors saying, in effect, "Chill!" Social networking sites on the web are pleading with the government, "Do something!" Well, the government will do something if the situation merits it in the first place. Right now, the pressure to act is political, not medical. And the media is solely responsible for it.

Unease was growing in this writer for two months until this article couldn't wait any longer. A month ago, when television news channels reported 44 cases of 'swine flu' in the country, I wondered what the fate of a possible 44,000 cases of seasonal influenza would be. Yes, if you are careless about yourself and callous about others, and if the disease is left untreated, the ordinary flu can kill you too. Rarely, that is. That is exactly what H1N1 does. It can kill only if the patient is — or, in case of children, the parents are — ill-informed and careless, and they leave the disease untreated. If the incidents of cases are high in Pune, it's because, either ill-informed or callous, the people of the city went crazy watching the recent solar eclipse in massive crowds that certainly had participants carrying the viruses, both recessive and symptomatic.

The unease worsened the next day when the editor of a prominent weekly insinuated on Twitter that the section of the media that was spreading the scare might be colluding with pharmaceutical companies that produce medicines for the flu. Indeed, the news television channel he heads, going against its general behavioural pattern, refrained from hyperbole in the case of the novel flu. But following the second death, this time in Mumbai, it must have feared losing the scaremongering competition, it seemed last evening (8 August).

In the CDC workshop, this writer brought up the issue of alleged media-pharmaceutical company nexus. Dan didn't make much of the conspiracy theory. But he defended the "noble profession" of medical practitioners and did not comment on the business of pharmacists.

The suspicion remains. Given the non-biological background of most editors, chances are higher that the media inadvertently became a part of the game. But was everything as innocent with the last government? The manner in which the last health minister of the country splurged, buying Tamiflu, in the wake of the Avian influenza outbreak, was puzzling. More so as, being a doctor himself, Anbumani Ramadoss should have known that sitting on a stockpile of the medicine he was importing made no sense. The drug oseltamivir phosphate, developed originally by Gilead Sciences and marketed by Hoffmann-La Roche under the trade name Tamiflu, is effective only when administered at a crucial time after a patient is infected: It must be taken within 12 to 48 hours from the first appearance of flu symptoms. So, how many patients did the state hope it could rush to, all at the respective critical timings? Mind you, it was a tougher call as the bird flu outbreak had happened in patchy clusters of villages, not well-structured urban locales.

As for the drug manufacturer's social responsibility, it must not put in fine print the 1% cases of side effects; the percentage is not medically insignificant. Patients should be told that so many of participants in Tamiflu's clinical trials had complained of nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and headache. Though rarer, other adverse drug reactions should also be known: hepatitis, sudden spurt in the production of liver enzymes, rash, allergic reactions including anaphylaxis* and Stevens-Johnson syndrome (a fatal skin disease). The side-effects are sought to be played down in the product literature issued by Roche.
* Anaphylaxis is an acute, multi-system and severe hypersensitivity allergic reaction.
Moreover, a vital component of relevant information is not being highlighted enough: Influenza viruses change over time. If the H1N1 virus or any other H-N-subtype virus, which is being subjected to the drug, mutates or the causative agent turns more virulent, it might diminish the clinical benefit of any antiviral drug; Tamiflu is no exception.
As of now, India has a stock of 10 million capsules of oseltamivir. Some stocks are also committed by pharmaceutical companies for exclusive use by government. This drug is only available through the public health system and its retail sale is banned as indiscriminate use may lead to development of resistance. If there is widespread infection, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare will review the decision.
Unfortunately, however, as Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad says, Tamiflu is probably the best we have besides the neuraminidase inhibitor* that was developed before it, Zanamivir, which was developed by Dr Peter Colman and is marketed by GlaxoSmithKline under the trade name Relenza. But then, that is not the point. Why hoard what may not be necessary, is. A hundred thousand tablets despatched to affected parts of the country — that's a monumental waste necessitated by two things: paranoia created by the media and a probable effort on the part of UPA Government-II to justify an action of UPA Government-I.
* A neuraminidase inhibitor is an antiviral drug that attacks such flu viruses that block the function of the viral neuraminidase protein; this stops the virus from multiplying.
A viral neuraminidase is an enzyme on the surface of an influenza virus that enables its release from the host cell. If this releasing act is stopped, the virus's 'reproduction' is contained.
It's normal that most people do not have these details. Having heard about Tamiflu and hardly anything more, they are rushing to government hospitals demanding stocks of the drug (and when not obliged, fuming with rage at the government). This factor, which is causing the panic, is more a cause for concern than the disease, the fatality rate of which is much less than that in bird flu caused by H5N1.

That the masses at large are ignorant is witnessed also in the now-ubiquitous masks around the few hospitals designated by government to diagnose and treat the disease in Pune and Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in Delhi. A chance glimpse of a masked man rubbing his eyes with his fingers on our TV screen showed his information is incomplete. If his hands have been exposed to the H1N1 virus, and have not been cleaned thereafter, it could get into his body even through the eyes.

The situation warrants nothing but a massive awareness campaign. Now. Thankfully, the language used in the Indian media and the tenor of speech have begun showing gradual improvement.

It would help further if we desist from our incorrigible habit of finding a whipping boy in the government. This government is not guilty of under-performance; rather, it's saner than its predecessor that over-performed while ordering the antidote.

Why private hospitals are not being authorised for the prognosis, diagnosis and treatment is an undue question. One, it's beyond their wherewithal. Two, health care, especially of this nature, involves a certain degree of pro-active philanthropy (socialism, if you will). Are private hospitals ready for it? Will they voluntarily, as the WHO guidelines expects of governments, maintain and study statistics of "cluster(s) of cases of unexplained ILI (Influenza-like Illness) or acute lower respiratory tract infection, severe, unexplained respiratory illness, changes in the epidemiology of mortality associated with the occurrence of ILI or lower respiratory tract illness, an increase in the number of deaths observed from respiratory illness or an increase in the occurrence of severe respiratory disease in previously healthy adults or adolescents and/or among pregnant women, or abnormally high levels of absenteeism in a school or workplace setting"?

Being a member country of the WHO entails that we keep the UN agency updated on health statistics as a responsible constituent of the world. To that end, government is required to notify the WHO immediately...
  • any changes in the epidemiological, virological or clinical presentation that are likely to be of significance for global risk assessment;
  • any unusual or unexpected public health events, including clusters of severe unexplained acute respiratory illness or unexplained deaths due to respiratory disease, and
  • the ever-fluctuating mortality data ‐‐ the number of deaths due to acute respiratory disease (by age group if available).
If a plethora of private hospitals are in the fray, diagnosing and treating the disease, it will become a Herculean task to manage the data.

What's more important, health care offered by the Indian private sector may dazzle with spic-and-span nursing homes and smart receptionists, but they are nowhere in sight in the horizon of serious medical research. Entrusted with the onerous task of tackling a pandemic, they will be all at sea. The training of private medical practitioners by the National Institute of Virology, Pune, will be time consuming; by that time, for all we know, the virulence of the disease's causative agent may subside or disappear altogether. And the WHO's demand for coordination with it, when data from the private participants will have to be updated regularly, will turn the government from the welfare manager that it currently is into an over-tasked statistician. No prizes for predicting, people — provoked once again by the media — will blame the authority for that too.

Yet another problem with private participation in tackling the spread of the disease has been highlighted by the spat between the health minister and Rida Sheikh's family. With a broader national perspective, Azad was within his rights to remark that the deceased girl, going around in private clinics seeking treatment, might have spread the disease to several other people. While one can sympathise with the mental frame of the members of bereaved family, such a family cannot naturally be expected to appreciate hard, scientific truths right in the wake of the loss of their dear one. The fourth estate would be wrong if it were to use their grievance as a weapon to target the government, which has faltered only on one count: not spreading enough awareness about the H1N1 virus among the masses. The specific complaint of the Sheikh family that can be looked into is why no visible action has been taken on their FIR against the directors of Ruby Hall Clinic and Jehangir Hospital and Dr Sanjay Agarwal of Jehangir Hospital.

The only domain where a few private players have been identified by the government to be competent is vaccine development (ref: Q&A towards the end of this post).

In short, the government is equipped to handle the situation and is working in adequate measure. If its performance seems leaving a lot to be desired, blame the inflated sense of fear that has gripped society due to irresponsible journalism. It may be noteworthy for the media that the CDC has stopped counting the cases of H1N1 as even subjects that show no symptom could be carrying the disease. It's for the same reason that airport screening too will not be effective. Just like in cases of seasonal flu, a patient may begin infecting others a day before he develops symptoms to up to 7 days after he gets sick. Children, especially younger children, might stay contagious for longer periods.

To fight novel H1N1, you need not be a technical genius. If you are sick for a week or longer, stay home and keep away from others as much as possible; avoid travel, going to work or school for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. "Your fever should be gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine," advises CDC.
The Government of India advisory:
Under the new guidelines, any person with flu like symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, cold, running nose etc. should go to a designated government facility for giving his/her sample for testing for the H1N1 virus. After clinical assessment, the designated medical officer would decide on the need for testing. Except for cases that are severe, the patient would be allowed to go home (This was not allowed under the existing guidelines).
The sample of the suspect case would be collected and sent to the notified laboratory for testing. If tested as positive for H1N1 and in case the symptoms are mild, the patient would be informed and given the option of admission into the hospital or isolation and treatment at his own home.
In case the patient opts for home isolation and treatment, he/she would be provided with detailed guidelines/safety measures to be strictly adhered to by the entire household of the patient. He/she would have to provide full contact details of his entire household. The house hold and social contacts would be provided with the preventive treatment.
Notwithstanding the above guidelines, the decision of the doctor of the notified hospital about admitting the patient would be final.
In case the test is negative, the patient will accordingly be informed.
These guidelines have been issued by the Government in public interest and shall be reviewed from time to time depending on the spread of the pandemic and its severity in the country. These guidelines would however not apply to passengers who are identified through screening at the points of entry. The existing policy of isolating passengers with flu like symptoms would continue.
The unaffected, instead of crowding government hospitals in a state of panic, should do something as commonplace as wash hands regularly. If you happen to be in a village with scarce amenities, rub your hands with ash when soap is not available. One with quirks of digging the nose, rubbing the eyes and cleaning the teeth with nails after a sumptuous meal must get over such idiosyncrasies immediately; if he is not bothered by onlookers finding such behaviour repulsive, he should at least be bothered about his health.

The writer, Surajit Dasgupta, is a health journalist and, since July 2009, the chief editor of CII's life sciences journal Pharma Communiqué. He is seen in the photograph below, standing next to CDC's Daniel Rutz. Also seen are journalists from news agencies and regional newspapers. Health beat journalists of all prominent national newspapers, except The Hindu, were conspicuous by their absence in the meet though the American Center had sent invites to all of them. The workshop on H-N-subtype influenzas began at 11:30 am and ended before 1:00 pm, not a rush hour for print media journalists


Addendum
Shockers more, shockers galore:


Q&A
To put the record straight...
(Courtesy: CDC, WHO, ICMR, MoHFW)

What is novel H1N1 (swine flu)?
Novel H1N1 (referred to as “swine flu” early on) is a new influenza virus causing illness in people. This new virus was first detected in people in the United States in April 2009. This virus is spreading from person-to-person worldwide, probably in much the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread. On June 11, 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) signaled that a pandemic of novel H1N1 flu was underway.

Why is novel H1N1 virus sometimes called “swine flu”?
This virus was originally referred to as “swine flu” because laboratory testing showed that many of the genes in this new virus were very similar to influenza viruses that normally occur in pigs (swine) in North America. But further study has shown that this new virus is very different from what normally circulates in North American pigs. It has two genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in pigs in Europe and Asia and bird (avian) genes and human genes. Scientists call this a "quadruple reassortant" virus.

Is novel H1N1 virus contagious?
Yes. It is contagious and is spreading from human to human.

How does novel H1N1 virus spread?
Spread of novel H1N1 virus is thought to occur in the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing by people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something – such as a surface or object – with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.

What are the signs and symptoms of this virus in people?
The symptoms of novel H1N1 flu virus in people include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. A significant number of people who have been infected with this virus also have reported diarrhoea and vomiting. Severe illnesses and death has occurred as a result of illness associated with this virus.

How severe is illness associated with novel H1N1 flu virus?
Illness with the new H1N1 virus has ranged from mild to severe. While most people who have been sick have recovered without needing medical treatment, hospitalizations and deaths from infection with this virus have occurred.

In seasonal flu, certain people are at “high risk” of serious complications. This includes people 65 years and older, children younger than five years old, pregnant women, and people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions. About 70 percent of people who have been hospitalized with this novel H1N1 virus have had one or more medical conditions previously recognized as placing people at “high risk” of serious seasonal flu-related complications. This includes pregnancy, diabetes, heart disease, asthma and kidney disease.

One thing that appears to be different from seasonal influenza is that adults older than 64 years do not yet appear to be at increased risk of novel H1N1-related complications thus far. CDC laboratory studies have shown that children and few adults younger than 60 years old do not have existing antibody to novel H1N1 flu virus; however, about one-third of adults older than 60 may have antibodies against this virus. It is unknown how much, if any, protection may be afforded against novel H1N1 flu by any existing antibody.

How does novel H1N1 flu compare to seasonal flu in terms of its severity and infection rates?
With seasonal flu, we know that seasons vary in terms of timing, duration and severity. Seasonal influenza can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Each year, in the United States, on average 36,000 people die from flu-related complications and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu-related causes. Of those hospitalized, 20,000 are children younger than 5 years old. Over 90% of deaths and about 60 percent of hospitalization occur in people older than 65.

The novel H1N1 flu has caused greater disease burden in people younger than 25 years of age than older people. At this time, there are few cases and few deaths reported in people older than 64 years old, which is unusual when compared with seasonal flu. However, pregnancy and other previously recognized high risk medical conditions from seasonal influenza appear to be associated with increased risk of complications from this novel H1N1. These underlying conditions include asthma, diabetes, suppressed immune systems, heart disease, kidney disease, neurocognitive and neuromuscular disorders and pregnancy.

How long can an infected person spread this virus to others?
People infected with seasonal and novel H1N1 flu shed virus and may be able to infect others from 1 day before getting sick to 5 to 7 days after. This can be longer in some people, especially children and people with weakened immune systems and in people infected with the new H1N1 virus.

Isn't the death rate alarming?
It's certainly a cause for concern, but there is no reason for alarm. The fear factor got augmented by the fact that the H1N1 virus was identified just recently (April 2009) and many people died because they were caught unaware. Even then, those who died constitute a minuscule percentage of all those who were infected.
The characteristics of the novel (new) virus are still not fully known. However, what is certain, the mortality rate is quite low. Death by this flu can be altogether avoided if everybody is made aware of the disease, if people take precautions that are necessary and get themselves treated if they suspect they are affected, without wasting time.

What is the strategy of the Government of India to tackle the outbreak of the H1N1-associated influenza?
The details are available on the website of the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare. You may download the first three documents on top of the website's page and keep them as ready reckoners.


Prevention & Treatment
What can I do to protect myself from getting sick?
There is no vaccine available right now to protect against novel H1N1 virus. However, a novel H1N1 vaccine is currently in production and may be ready for the public in the fall. As always, a vaccine will be available to protect against seasonal influenza. There are everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza.

Take these everyday steps to protect your health:
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners* are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.) Keep away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick.
Other important actions that you can take are:
  • Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures.
  • Be prepared in case you get sick and need to stay home for a week or so; a supply of over-the-counter medicines, alcohol-based hand rubs,* tissues and other related items might could be useful and help avoid the need to make trips out in public while you are sick and contagious
When will the vaccine be available?
It takes approximately five to six months for the first supplies of approved vaccine to become available once a new strain of influenza virus with pandemic potential is identified and isolated. These months are needed because the process of producing a new vaccine involves many sequential steps, and each of these steps requires a certain amount of time to complete. The vaccine development process from start (obtaining a virus sample) to end (availability of vaccine for use) involves: Identification of a new virus, preparation of the vaccine strain (called vaccine virus, verification of the vaccine strain, preparation of reagents to test the vaccine (with reference reagents), optimization of virus growth conditions, vaccine bulk manufacture, quality control, vaccine filling and release, clinical studies and regulatory approval.
In a best case scenario, the first final pandemic vaccine lot would be available for distribution and use in another six months.

By when will Indian researchers be ready with a vaccine? In case we are late, shall we import it from the country that produces it first?
The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) has taken the initiative to fast-track the indigenous production of an H1N1 vaccine in the country. In this regard, the ICMR is presently identifying prospective investigators to undertake phase-I and/or phase-II trials of the vaccine which is being developed by three Indian biotech companies. So far, the government has granted licences for the H1N1 vaccine to three companies, Serum Institute of India, Panacea Biotec and Bharat Biotech and the preventive vaccine against the H1N1 flu is expected to be ready for clinical trials in humans by December.
As India has also joined the international community's effort to make a vaccine for the H1N1 pandemic that has affected 135 countries in the world, it has to identify labs to conduct the human trials as early as possible. The government is not restricting its search for labs to government sector alone. It is an open call for all including the private sector to join the government effort to fast track the indigenous development of the swine flu vaccine in the country.
The difference between the tentative dates by which the anti-H1N1 virus vaccine is expected to be ready in any medically advanced country and India is of just one month. Given this scenario, India may not import the vaccine, unless there is a valid concern that Indian scientists might take much longer to develop it.


What is the best way to keep from spreading the virus through coughing or sneezing?
If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
Keep away from others as much as possible. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Put your used tissue in the waste basket. Then, clean your hands, and do so every time you cough or sneeze.

If I have a family member at home who is sick with novel H1N1 flu, should I go to work?
Employees who are well but who have an ill family member at home with novel H1N1 flu can go to work as usual. These employees should monitor their health every day, and take everyday precautions including washing their hands often with soap and water, especially after they cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective. If they become ill, they should notify their supervisor and stay home.
Employees who have an underlying medical condition or who are pregnant should call their health care provider for advice, because they might need to receive influenza antiviral drugs to prevent illness. For more information please see General Business and Workplace Guidance for the Prevention of Novel Influenza A (H1N1) Flu in Workers.


What is the best technique for washing my hands to avoid getting the flu?
Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. Wash with soap and water or clean with alcohol-based hand cleaner*. When you wash your hands -- with soap and warm water -- wash for 15 to 20 seconds. When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers may be used. You can find them in most supermarkets and drugstores. If using gel, rub your hands until the gel is dry. The gel doesn't need water to work; the alcohol in it kills the germs on your hands.
If you are in a remote human settlement where neither soap nor any other industry-manufactured sanitiser is available, rub your hands with ash.

What should I do if I get sick?
If you live in areas where people have been identified with novel H1N1 flu and become ill with influenza-like symptoms, including fever, body aches, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, nausea, or vomiting or diarrhoea, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people. You should stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.) Stay away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick.Staying at home means that you should not leave your home except to seek medical care. This means avoiding normal activities, including work, school, travel, shopping, social events, and public gatherings.

If you have severe illness or you are at high risk for flu complications, contact your health care provider or seek medical care. Your health care provider will determine whether flu testing or treatment is needed.

If you become ill and experience any of the following warning signs, seek emergency medical care.

In children, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:
  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish or gray skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
In adults, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion (disorientation about time and space)
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
Are there medicines to treat novel H1N1 infection?
Yes. CDC recommends the use of oseltamivir or zanamivir for the treatment and/or prevention of infection with novel H1N1 flu virus. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaled powder) that fight against the flu by keeping flu viruses from reproducing in your body. If you get sick, antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious flu complications. During the current pandemic, the priority use for influenza antiviral drugs during is to treat severe influenza illness (for example hospitalized patients) and people who are sick who have a condition that places them at high risk for serious flu-related complications.

What are "swine flu parties"?
They are gatherings during which people have close contact with a person who has novel H1N1 flu in order to become infected with the virus. The intent of these parties is for a person to become infected with what for many people has been a mild disease, in the hope of having natural immunity novel H1N1 flu virus that might circulate later and cause more severe disease.

CDC does not recommend "swine flu parties" as a way to protect against novel H1N1 flu in the future. While the disease seen in the current novel H1N1 flu outbreak has been mild for many people, it can be severe and even fatal for those affected by other medical conditions. There is no way to predict with certainty what the outcome will be for an individual or, equally important, for others to whom the intentionally infected person may spread the virus.

It is recommended that people with novel H1N1 flu avoid contact with others as much as possible. If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.) Stay away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick.

Contamination & Cleaning
How long can influenza virus remain viable on objects (such as books and doorknobs)?
Studies have shown that influenza virus can survive on environmental surfaces and can infect a person for 2 to 8 hours after being deposited on the surface.

What kills influenza virus?
Influenza virus is destroyed by heat (167-212°F [75-100°C]). In addition, several chemical germicides, including chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, detergents (soap), iodophors (iodine-based antiseptics), and alcohols are effective against human influenza viruses if used in proper concentration for a sufficient length of time. For example, wipes or gels with alcohol in them can be used to clean hands. The gels should be rubbed into hands until they are dry.

What if soap and water are not available and alcohol-based products are not allowed in my facility?
Though the scientific evidence is not as extensive as that on hand washing and alcohol-based sanitizers, other hand sanitizers that do not contain alcohol may be useful for killing flu germs on hands.
(CDC officers at work in Indian villages recommend the use of ash as a cleanser.)

What surfaces are most likely to be sources of contamination?
Germs can be spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth. Droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person move through the air. Germs can be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets from another person on a surface like a desk, for example, and then touches their own eyes, mouth or nose before washing their hands.

How should waste disposal be handled to prevent the spread of influenza virus?
To prevent the spread of influenza virus, it is recommended that tissues and other disposable items used by an infected person be thrown in the trash. Additionally, persons should wash their hands with soap and water after touching used tissues and similar waste.

What household cleaning should be done to prevent the spread of influenza virus?
To prevent the spread of influenza virus it is important to keep surfaces (especially bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, kitchen counters and toys for children) clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant according to directions on the product label.

How should linens, eating utensils and dishes of persons infected with influenza virus be handled?
Linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick do not need to be cleaned separately, but importantly these items should not be shared without washing thoroughly first.
Linens (such as bed sheets and towels) should be washed by using household laundry soap and tumbled dry on a hot setting. Individuals should avoid “hugging” laundry prior to washing it to prevent contaminating themselves. Individuals should wash their hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub immediately after handling dirty laundry.

Eating utensils should be washed either in a dishwasher or by hand with water and soap.


Exposures Not Thought to Spread Novel H1N1 Flu
Can I get infected with novel H1N1 virus from eating or preparing pork?
No. Novel H1N1 viruses are not spread by food. You cannot get infected with novel HIN1 virus from eating pork or pork products. Eating properly handled and cooked pork products is safe.

Is there a risk from drinking water?
Tap water that has been treated by conventional disinfection processes does not likely pose a risk for transmission of influenza viruses. Current drinking water treatment regulations provide a high degree of protection from viruses. No research has been completed on the susceptibility of novel H1N1 flu virus to conventional drinking water treatment processes. However, recent studies have demonstrated that free chlorine levels typically used in drinking water treatment are adequate to inactivate highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza. It is likely that other influenza viruses such as novel H1N1 would also be similarly inactivated by chlorination. To date, there have been no documented human cases of influenza caused by exposure to influenza-contaminated drinking water.

Can novel H1N1 flu virus be spread through water in swimming pools, spas, water parks, interactive fountains, and other treated recreational water venues?
Influenza viruses infect the human upper respiratory tract. There has never been a documented case of influenza virus infection associated with water exposure. Recreational water that has been treated at recommended disinfectant levels does not likely pose a risk for transmission of influenza viruses. No research has been completed on the susceptibility of novel H1N1 influenza virus to chlorine and other disinfectants used in swimming pools, spas, water parks, interactive fountains, and other treated recreational venues. However, recent studies have demonstrated that free chlorine levels recommended by CDC (1–3 parts per million [ppm or mg/l] for pools and 2–5 ppm for spas) are adequate to disinfect avian influenza A (H5N1) virus. It is likely that other influenza viruses such as novel H1N1 virus would also be similarly disinfected by chlorine.

Can novel H1N1 influenza virus be spread at recreational water venues outside of the water?
Yes, recreational water venues are no different than any other group setting. The spread of this novel H1N1 flu is thought to be happening in the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing of people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.

_________
[Click on the headline for a December 2007 overview of how flu-related stories should be handled by journalists]

10 July 2009

Indian EVMs Are Reliable

Suspecting foulplay is unfortunate
__________________
Chandramouli Suresh
__________________
The general elections in India concluded a couple of months ago and the ruling Indian National Congress-led United Progressive Alliance won. The Congress party won over 200 seats. The main opposition BJP was pushed to a distant second securing a little over 115 seats. Just about two months since the results were announced, the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) that have been used for so many elections for several years are suddenly finding themselves mired in allegations of being dysfunctional.

Leader of the Opposition LK Advani says: “We should revert to ballot papers unless the Election Commission is able to ensure that EVMs)are foolproof and every possibility of their malfunctioning is taken care of”. The same sentiment is being echoed by many other opposition parties who have bitten the dust in the recent general elections. Further, we have been seeing, hearing and reading stories of developed countries dumping the EVMs and adopting the good old paper ballot once again. Critics of EVMs say that even the US presidential elections in 2004, which returned George Bush to power, had been rigged. There has also been a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed in the Indian Supreme Court challenging the integrity of these EVMs.

In this backdrop, when the average citizen is confused about the veracity of the integrity of these EVMs, this writer explores the Indian EVM and its security aspects and chances of breaching the same.

The EVMs used in India are not the same as those the West uses. The Indian machine is merely a vote recording device. Technically, its appellation "Electronic Voting System" is a misnomer. The Indian EVMs contain 2 units, namely the Control Unit (CU) and the Balloting Unit (BU). They run on batteries. The CU rests with the presiding officer or polling officer of the booth. Before a vote is cast, the presiding officer needs to enable the balloting unit by pressing a button in the CU. Once he does that, the BU is ready to record the vote. It is interfaced to the BU through a cable. The BU contains vote buttons against the respective candidates' names and symbols. The vote is cast by pressing a button in the BU. A vote so cast is transferred and recorded into a memory device in the CU. A BU, a CU and a battery together constitute an independent unit.

This system cannot be influenced in any manner other than by a physical impact. Contrast this with the Western Voting Machines that are similar to ATMs. In the US, votes are cast on a touch screen surface as against India where the machines have distinct buttons against each candidate. Further, in the Western system, the electronic votes are transmitted through a public network; that is, through telephone and internet lines. These lines are susceptible to hacking and are thus vulnerable; a person can not only manipulate the transmitted information but could also gain control and manipulate the voting machine itself. But no such thing can happen with the Indian EVMs. In other words, the Western voting machines are like a mobile phone while Indian EVMs are like calculators. A mobile phone has various interfaces like Wireless Fidelity (WiFi), infrared, bluetooth, apart from a wireless interface through which we make calls. The information stored on a mobile phone can be accessed/manipulated through all the above means/interface. But in case of a calculator, you will need to press the buttons to influence it, or in other words there needs to be a physical impact. This makes the Indian voting machines free from remote access unlike their western counterparts.

Another allegation from the critics of EVMs is that the software in it can be pre-programmed so that after a particular pattern of voting, the system shall automatically transfer the votes in favour of a particular candidate. This is the most contentious issue that many people point to as they want to know the complete circuit schematics and algorithm used by the software. This is the information which the election commission has not divulged so far. There can be no second opinion that it should be disclosed and put to test and cleared by independent neutral experts. Well, as far as the Indian EVM is concerned, it knows no candidate. In other words, the machine is not intelligent. All it can do is record the number of times each button has been pressed. The CU receives the signal from the BU and, based on the signal received ,increments the count against that particular button. Every CU has a pre-programmed device. The program is stored in a Programmable Read Only Memory (PROM); a Microprocessor simply executes the instructions given in the PROM. The PROM can be recorded or burned only once: at the time of manufacture. A calculator too has a PROM. At the time of manufacture of a calculator, if an instruction (or in other words program) is given that if button “5” is pressed followed by “+” then “3” and finally the button “=”, the result should be “8” which is flashed on the screen. This can never be changed as long as this particular PROM is changed. Those instructions that are stored at the time of manufacturing of these PROMs are the ones that stay till the destruction of the EVM. It is not like a computer where you can have WIN 95, then Windows 2000, followed by Windows XP and finally Vista. Hence, there is no question of further tampering of EVMs.

Moreover, these PROMs are manufactured by two government owned enterprises namely Electronics Corporations of India Limited (ECIL) and Bharath Electronics Limited (BEL). They are tested extensively at the manufacturing facilities for errors and pass some of the most exhaustive standards. Hence, if at all there is some foulplay, it has to be in the labs of the said government undertakings. Once they are out of the manufacturing facility, nothing can be done to them.

Yet another contention of the detractors of the device is that there exists no proper audit trail in the EVMs. Rather it should be read as “there exists no paper audit trail in the EVMs”.

Today is the age of IT. In “WYSIWYG” or “What You See Is What You Get” era, technology is being abstracted, encapsulated and fed to humans. Today all online monetary transactions are without a paper trail. Take the case of booking an e-ticket or making a utility bill payment over the internet or a web check in. What stands as record to these transactions are the electronic data; there are no paper trails. Today the scientific fraternity is so advanced that they are able to design 99.99% reliable electronic systems that virtually runs the entire world. Science has advanced so much; it's sad that human habitual suspicion refuses to take note of it.

Back to the Indian system, the recorded vote in the memory of the CU is a audit evidence by all acceptable standards. The CU has the following options:
  1. Ballot Button – To enable the ballot unit to register a vote;
  2. Total Button – This displays the total number of votes recorded;
  3. Close Button – This closes the recording of votes;
  4. Result I Button – This displays the result;
  5. Result II Button - To display the result;
  6. Clear Button – Clears the memory of stored votes.
Apart from the intrinsic electronic checks and balances, there are also manual checks instituted by the Election Commission of India. Before the commencement of polling, a mock election is conducted, in which the booth representatives of all political parties participate and results are displayed to their satisfaction. The 'close' button ensures that no further votes can be recorded in the machines. The candidates can be fixed against any button by draw of lots on the day of polling, thereby ensuring that prefixing any key by any candidate in a particular manner would not ensure votes for him.

The demand for making the circuit schematic and algorithm public and proving the worthiness of the machine in front of neutral experts is absolutely justified. However, allegations of tampering and arguments that lack of audit trail is tantamount to lack of transparency are far fetched. They only try to subvert a technological achievement by this great nation rather than oppose the technology on the ground of merits of the case and science.

The writer is an engineer (BTech in Information Technology) from BSA Crescent Engineering College, Anna University, Chennai. His final year project was on e-voting where his team simulated an online voting system. In that connection, they met with officials from EC and BEL

05 July 2009

Gagging With Gay Abandon

The media is hysterically celebrating the reading down of Section 377 of the IPC that has decriminalised homosexuals. Fine prints of the judgment are being overlooked at will and ignorance of both science and religion are being bandied about by English media journalists, gay rights activists and, yes, also religious heads. In this backdrop, Research, setting out to put the records straight, finds that neither side in the debate is bang on

The ruling by the Delhi High Court that treating consensual gay sex as a crime is a violation of fundamental rights protected by India's constitution, is welcome. Indeed, what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their bedroom is nobody's business, least the state's. But the euphoria in the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) community succeeding the verdict must not suppress some questions that keep intriguing the learned who are not so visible in the debate. Most importantly, the charged atmosphere of political correctness that one is witnessing now in the media should not stem further scientific research into the subject.

This exposition will have three sections: the first legal, the second scientific and the third religious. In the section that deals with law, this writer will enumerate one by one what is good in the new interpretation by the court and what remains odd, and how society is likely to handle it. In the section on science, the piece intends to enlighten readers about what they should have known by watching Discovery Channel and National Geographic, if not everybody can be expected to subscribe to medical journals. In the portion on religion, Research will cite original scriptures in Sanskrit, Arabic and (Koine) Greek, and translate and explain them to ascertain how correct the respective interpretations by modernists and religious heads are.

SECTION I: Law
Research's argument # 1:
Social background of most policemen subjects all laws to abuse; Sec 377 is no exception

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code states: "Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with (imprisonment for life), or with imprisonment of either description for term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation: Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offence described in this section."

One can see that the term "homosexual" or "same-sex" does not figure in the law. However, problem lies in the clause "against the order of nature", which is open to both misuse and abuse. The incident gay rights activists (including straight people who are fighting for Indian homosexuals' right to equality) highlight repeatedly is one that happened in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, in 2001. The police had invaded two offices of some local AIDS prevention organisations to arrest the staff, levelling on them the charge of "encouraging homosexuality" in the city.

While, to some, the incident projects India as a society with mediaeval ethos, the finer aspect that cannot be missed is the social background of policemen in the country. In no way can the majority of India's police, which is the department's lowest rung, be considered to represent or appreciate the education and values of the country's urbane middle class. Ergo, the burden of guilt of being a regressive nation is not on the middle class. Where then is the pressing need to have the monkey off our shoulders? This nuance is not being made clear in the discourse that we are not levied by a guilt conscious; we simply want the country's policing standards to improve.

This writer was, while frequenting the residential quarters of DCPs situated in Delhi's Hauz Khaz locality as a private tutor several years ago, requested by the officers' orderlies to fill application forms on behalf of their 'class eight pass' relatives living in remote villages all over the country. The applications were for jobs of constables. The casual chats that I used to have with these officers' helps, in course of filling the forms, revealed the stage from where corruption in police begins.

Since several state education boards issue Class X certificates based on an exam that includes the syllabus of Class IX, for a villager who is just about literate and is looking for a job in a city, the maximum formal education that can be claimed is of the eighth grade, as up to that stage the claim need not be substantiated with a board certificate. And if the rising level of the Indian population's education and demand for jobs raises the entry bar, the villager is ready to fake it. Though Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and semi-urban centres of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh are the most infamous for certificate manufacturing and selling rackets, villagers from the most literate state of India, Kerala, too do not shy away from corrupt practices if that is what it takes. I left the application forms of a certain Kutty, a certain Thomas and a certain George half way when asked to fill 'matriculation' against the entry of education, the certificate for which their benevolent relations in Delhi said they would "manage".

[Only on one of these occasions was a DCP present in his house. When asked why he had not helped his servant fill the form, he excused himself by saying he had a prior appointment, quickly put a shirt on his vest and rushed out. As if to plead innocence on the matter, no other DCP was at home when his orderly asked me to fill his cousin's or nephew's application form.]

What follows next, the orderlies revealed, is a bribe of Rs 250,000 (this was the rate in 1999-2000), as the high entry bar in terms of education is easily scaled using fake certificates. Villagers who are determined to get the job sell off their measly land holdings and borrow heavily from local moneylenders to collect the amount. Then, as a candidate, waiting to be inducted as a constable, staying temporarily in Katwaria Sarai, had told this writer once, "इतना तो साल भर में कमा ही लेंगे ; आगे तो फ़ायदा ही फ़ायदा है / itnA tO sAl bhar mEn' kamA hI lEngE, Age tO fAydah hI fAydah hai (I am sure to break even within a year. Whatever I earn thereafter will be profit)!"

In the hands of these virtually illiterate, highly indebted police force, any law is a potent weapon for extortion. And a typical villager's idea of "order of nature" is certainly not homosexuality, much as homosexuals may be present in villages too. Ask a constable what he thinks homosexuality is and the most likely answer you will get is "sodomy". The long demanded but still pending police reforms, which must cover social education of the force as much as correct the flaws in the recruitment process, alone can address this issue. It will go a long way in redressing the abuse of other laws as well.

The uninitiated mass's narrowing down of the concept of homosexuality as nothing but sodomy brings us to the next argument. But before that, it must be added: when placards in the gay pride parade announced, "To love is not a crime," did they factor in the fact that in the eyes of law even heterosexual love has no meaning? Law, by definition, is supposed to be shorn of emotions. This is not nitpicking; the new reading of the law actually does little to honour two consenting adults' feeling for each other as decriminalising a relationship is not the same as legalising it.

Research's argument # 2:
Why ignore court's reluctance to legalise homosexuality? What can be a social fallout if homosexual relations are legalised?

As homosexuality has still not been legalised, the Indian society has to wait for a typical case, say, where a homosexual couple seeks to adopt a child, to come up and wait for a high court or the Supreme Court to set a new precedent on the issue. But if such a verdict in future goes in favour of a homosexual plaintiff, it could have social implications that encompasses what we understand as a child's rights.

Our society has to debate whether it has the right to push an unassuming child into a situation where he/she might be subjected to uncomfortable, intrusive questions at school or the neighbourhood park. There is no point denying the fact that Indians by and large have a terrible sense of propriety when it comes to asking a stranger questions regarding his/her person. Obviously, since parents themselves do not have this sense, they cannot prevail upon their children to develop the sense either.

"Are you married?" may be okay. But if you say, "No," it follows the question, "Why?" If you are married, "do you have children?" If it has been some years for which you have been married, "why no children even now? Don't want it so soon? Planning? Have a problem? Seen a doctor? What does he say?"

In such a society, adults may be able to handle it; they may suppress their unease and anger, put up a silly smile and ignore it. But imagine a child being asked by his/her friend, "Are both your parents men/women?" If a new-born or a little older infant is adopted by a homosexual couple, will the law expect the child to take an informed, mature decision to get into such a situation?

It is beyond both the jurisdiction and capability of a court of law to change society. It must wait for a change in the mindset before issuing a verdict that, by general Indian standards, is revolutionary. This writer had thought of offering citations of researches done on the issue, but found none conducted in India. Of course, a university cannot conduct a research on a practice that is illegal and not widespread in the country. If some homosexual couples have indeed raised children, the subjects are scattered, the sample is beclouded and certainly not big enough to project a representative picture. European countries, the US and Canada have had instances where children have been brought up normally by homosexual parents, but Indian society will take time to reach there. Presuming that the evolution of every society traverses the same path, that is.

Research's argument # 3:
Why ignore the fine print?

As for sex in particular, it is curious to note that the LGBT community went delirious on hearing the pronouncement of the verdict even as the court refused to lift the applicability of Section 377 of the IPC from non-vaginal sex. This vital detail has also not been highlighted, though mentioned in obscure corners, in newspapers.

In the euphoric atmosphere, another important aspect of the judgment that the community seems to be ignoring willingly is that the new reading of the law has the limited ambit of Delhi; for other high courts across the country, this is a precedent following which is not binding for them. One may note, the venue of the infamous 2001 incident, Lucknow, remains outside the jurisdiction of the Delhi High Court.

Research's argument # 4:
A couple's privacy, a homosexual's publicity and visualisation of some real life scenarios

Why were the defendants (BP Singhal and Co) alone worked up so much that they decided to appeal against the verdict in the Supreme Court? Why should the Naz Foundation not plead before the apex court that non-vaginal intercourse too cannot remain in the ambit of Section 377? Also, why should even heterosexuals not be displeased with this clause and make common cause with the gay community?

Declaring homosexual mating as legal but maintaining that Section 377 still applies to non-vaginal sex is a glaring paradox in the judgment.

Is this fine print worth ignoring because nobody has ever lodged a First Information Report about being forced to have non-vaginal sex by his/her partner? If so, what is the fuss about? If nobody knows who is having non-vaginal sex at home, how does one know whether, say, two or more young men sharing a house, leaving for office every morning, coming back home every evening and living in the night under the same roof — there are thousands of them in every Indian city — are straight or gay?

The Indian situation is more complex than that in the West. An example, stating which would look to Indians like stating the obvious, is that of a friendly gesture that is commonplace here. Placing an arm around a friend's shoulder is something all of us have done as we whiled away time at the school playground or inside a neighbourhood park. We did it when we were 5, when we were 15, when we were 25. Some Indians do it all their lives. Do it in France and maintain the posture for a while; you could be construed as gay! So, how is a gay identified in India?

A little known filmmaker alleged on TV on 2 July that he was harassed by the police at a railway station. Since he is not famous and was, at the time of being apprehended, obviously not carrying a placard on his chest declaring his sexual orientation, how did the police identify him as gay? Will it betray this writer's unrefined taste to ask what he was doing at the platform to attract the police's attention? If he made some unsolicited advances at some other man who was a stranger, wouldn't the police catch even a heterosexual man if he were to make unsolicited advances at a woman present on the platform? If he did something to a male companion, wouldn't Indian police catch me even if I were to kiss my wife in the open?

This writer's imagination is not running riots; if the interviewer had asked the filmmaker to elaborate what had happened that day, he would have done more justice to the story.

Research's argument # 5:
A patient's right to treatment

This is the aspect on which the new interpretation of Section 377 will be decisive, hopefully. A homosexual HIV positive or AIDS patient, while visiting a hospital, will not have to face the police before he faces the doctor. Nor will the staff of any genuine NGO trying to help the patient be slapped with the charge of running a sex racket.

Recalling the Lucknow incident, the state at that time had, in spite of all evidence of legitimate activities of the arrested activists, refused to release them. The police went ahead and filed charges against them in a lower court which, in its judgment, called homosexuality a "curse on society". Curse? Yes, given the condition of justice delivery especially in the country's lower courts, it is not surprising to hear magistrates and district & sessions court judges invoke words like "curse" and "sin" in their written judgments, as if they did not graduate with a degree in law but one in theology.

The National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) was a mute spectator to the incident. It could not defend its own policies due to the existing archaic and discriminatory, pre-2 July 2009 interpretation of the law. Understandably, Director-General of NACO, K Sujatha Rao, a relieved person now, reacted positively to the development, explaining that her organisation's reaching out to the LGBT community, a "high-risk" group for HIV/AIDS cases, was hard earlier as the law made it difficult for her staff members to work with sex workers and gays. "They were the hidden population, and we could not reach them as the law was not favouring them," she said.

However, the statistic is confusing. According to the revised 2007 report, India has an approximate 2.5 million people living with HIV. According to NACO, there are 2.35 million men having sex with men (MSM) in the country. So, what percentage of this 2.35 million comprises the 2.5 million HIV positive patients? For many years, the percentage of such patients, the media has repeatedly reported, has been increasing rapidly among heterosexuals too. Why are homosexuals then still being classified as a "high risk" group? Is it actually a higher risk group? It is, if the statistics in the US shows the trend everywhere including India. According to the Americsn Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 16,749 cases of HIV infection through male-to-male sexual contact were reported in 2007. The corresponding figure for high-risk heterosexual contact was 11,111. NACO's web page on HIV data does not show classification by transmission category.

NACO's classification looks anomalous also because of a finer calculation: Among the other high risk groups identified by the organisation, viz., sex workers, truckers and injecting drug users, the percentage of heterosexuals far exceeds that of homosexuals.

To pinpoint the category, NACO's statute should identify what it calls the कोठी/kOTHI (receptive partner) homosexuals as facing a higher degree of risk.

Out of an estimate of 2,500,000 gays and 100,000 lesbians in India, the highest concentrations of homosexual men are in four major states: Maharashtra (48,000), Tamil Nadu (30,000), Delhi (28,000) and Gujarat (26,000). Out of these 30% are yet to identify themselves. Since NACO intervenes only after a homosexual identifies himself/herself, more than a law or the repealing or re-reading of an existing law is needed to cover the entire vulnerable population, whether they are homosexuals or heterosexuals.

***

SECTION II: Science

Too much of noise in the talk shows of news TV on 2 and 3 July had strained this writer. Whatever temptation for some more of it remained was gone with a quick surfing of channels in the evening of 4 July. On panel on NDTV were again the usual suspects. Mercifully, Times Now and CNN-IBN had moved on.

The tenor of debates following the Delhi High Court verdict in those 3 days suggested that, according to TV journalists, that homosexuality was natural was a foregone conclusion. If so, why did they call for a debate on it? The very holding of the debate shows either they have doubts or they want to address the doubt in the mind of the audience? If so, why did no psychiatrist feature in the debate on TV?

The print media proved none the better. Why has no newspaper so far commissioned a medical science professional, who is known for his/her research on the subject, to write on the issue in its edit or op-ed columns? Why this egregious omission?

Research first recalls the work of a scientist, critical to the debate, that nobody is talking about.

Research's argument # 1:
An appropriated and then wronged scientist

Veteran journalist Prannoy Roy hasn't heard of him. Neither has experienced television anchor Arnab Goswami. Nor did a top functionary of a State Minority Commission or a prominent Christian clergy. The gay or pro-gay activists who were in the respective panels of NDTV, Times Now and CNN-IBN on 2 July cannot speak about him. Actress Celina Jaitly has perhaps never heard of him.

English media journalists will not speak or write about him because today they all subscribe to political correctness. Religious heads cannot take the stand that their religion does not allow them to. And his name inconveniences those who advocate homosexuality by claiming that the orientation is natural. Hence, gay rights activists won't name him either. For the actress named above, her desperate attempt to take a scientific line of argument suggests her case is one of plain ignorance or half-baked knowledge of science.

None in the gamut of newspapers, from the almost academic Hindu to consumerist Times of India, recalled the scientist in the morning of 3 July.

He is Dr Robert L Spitzer, Professor of Psychiatry and Chief of the Biometrics Research Department at the New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University, New York City, the US. He is the scientist, the pioneering research of the team of which he was a part in 1973 had paved the way to the US legislature's act of decriminalising homosexuality. Twenty eight years later, the scientist found something more. He published his findings to revise his own older findings that had turned obsolete according to his latest knowledge. But the world had turned too politically correct by then. He was shouted down. In 2001, when he first released his work, he was told by the American Psychiatric Association that his findings were not peer-reviewed and, hence, not acceptable. When he got them peer reviewed in 2003, a sponsor of the journal in which the findings were published, Archives of Sexual Behaviour, resigned and the gay community reacted the way it was expected of them: They raised a ruckus. In the din, no other voice could be heard. And the aftermath of Spitzer's 1973 work, which had set in the social trend of associating oneself with modernity and liberalism by arguing how 'natural' homosexuality is, could not be reversed.

For Dr Spitzer, worse was to follow his epidemiological deduction of 2003. Some Christian publications used it to further their own anti-homosexuality argument. This put a tag of religion on Spitzer's work, thereby raising permanent doubt about his latest work's academic authenticity. Gays and lesbians said his latest survey had a predetermined outcome and that there were visible loopholes in the methodology of his procedure that identified homosexuality (of some subjects in the whole sample) as unnatural. Strangely, the 1973 research too had similar lacunae; nobody pointed them out back then.

There are three big ironies in Spitzer's story: First, he turns from a hero to a villain in a matter of three decades. Second, he is considered academically credible for his first work but politically motivated for the second. Third, and this is the biggest irony, 1973 is considered modern, 2003 is not! Prannoy Roy in particular, who tried to sound as if it were a Victorian era puritanism versus modernism debate by urging his Christian panelist, "Isn't this the 21st century?" must be asked which out of 1973 and 2003 lies in the 21st century.

Let's study how Spitzer defends himself against the charge of a politically motivated research.

Excerpts from an interview of Prof Spitzer with Dr Christl R Vonholdt, Germany
Institute for Youth and Society, 29 February 2000:
CRV: In 1973 the word homosexuality was removed from the APA's list of mental disorders, the DSM. Dr Spitzer, were you the chairman of the DSM when this happened?
RS: No, I was not the chairman. I wrote a position paper. I was a very junior member
of the taskforce. It was called the “Taskforce on Nomenclature and Statistics”. I had met with some gay activists who insisted on meeting with our committee.

CRV: Can you tell us more about the history?
RS: These gay activists met with me and insisted that they have an opportunity to talk to our committee because they found out that I was on this committee which dealt with the nomenclature. I arranged to have them meet with the committee. They made their presentation which, of course, was that homosexuality should be removed, that there was no scientific evidence etc. When they left the meeting, the head of the committee turned to me and said: “You got us into this mess. Now you'll get us out of it. You come up with some kind of a proposal”. So I organized a symposium. It was held in Hawaii at the annual meeting in May 1973. At that symposium, we had different viewpoints for and against removing homosexuality.

I then became convinced that it would be useful to remove it and wrote a position paper which the committee then adopted.

CRV: Why did you think, at that time, it would be good to remove homosexuality from the list of disorders?
RS: Well, I think there were many considerations. First of all, the way the issue had been drawn. The people who believed that it was a disorder and should stay that way were pretty much insisting that as a homosexual you could never be happy, that this was a very serious mental illness and represented a very severe disturbance in personality.

Members of the committee and other people thought that this was not the case, that there were many homosexuals who were quite satisfied with their condition, who did not want to be helped. They were being pressured and unfairly forced into treatment they did not want. So the compromise - and it was actually a compromise - was to say that homosexuality, by itself, is not a mental disorder. However, if it was ego-dystonic, if the homosexual was bothered, he then was entitled to treatment and it would still be considered a mental disorder. So homosexuality itself was removed but when it was ego-dystonic, it remained. In 1987 even that was removed, but that is a different story.

What I think is important to recognize is that both sides of this controversy - and it was very bitter - believed that they had science on their side. The group that was allied with me and with the gay activists believed that it was prejudice that had kept homosexuality as a mental disorder. On the other hand, those who wanted it to remain, predominantly psychoanalytic clinicians, were convinced that we were only responding to gay activists' pressure. I think there was also a feeling in the homosexual community that in order for them to do better in terms of civil rights, they had to overcome this obstacle and that as long as psychiatry labelled homosexuality a mental disorder, they could never go and demand their full civil rights. So that became part of their political agenda.

CRV: I see some inconsistencies here. It is one thing to call a neurosis a neurosis — whatever type of neurosis, and still have people with a neurosis who will say: “I personally don't feel I have a neurosis and I feel happy”, yet one should still not take the word neurosis from the list of emotional disorders. Is there not a difference between what homosexuality is or what neurosis is and what people themselves feel about it? Was that not all mixed in together?
RS: I think you could make that argument. I'm not interested in re-examining the 1973 decision although I am now in a very awkward position because I seem to be now on the other side since I am exploring whether therapy can actually be helpful to those homosexuals who want to change.

CRV: You are doing a study at the moment with people who claim that they have changed. Can you tell us more about this study?
RS: Well, the study has really only finished its pilot phase. I have interviewed about 30 people. Most of them are men and come from a very religious orientation. Most of them are primarily motivated by conflict between their religion and their sexual behaviour and that has driven them into seeking change. Many of them have had therapy with mental health professionals. Many of them have not had any formal therapy but have been involved in ex-gay ministries. I have interviewed them. We have a very detailed questionnaire; it takes about thirty to forty minutes. On the telephone we examine their previous sexual behaviour — but it is not limited to the behaviour. We also are very interested in their arousal, their sexual attraction, (and) their sexual fantasies.

What we are really studying is whether from this [therapy] or not. The study will not answer how frequently this happens. The reason we think it is a useful study is that the gay activists have pretty much convinced everybody that it (change) never happens. So that is why we are interested in first seeing whether it happens at all. So far we have been impressed that it does seem to happen. What we hope to do in the future is to have a much larger sample and also get more individuals who are not motivated primarily by religious concerns. That is actually interesting because when I went into psychiatry in the 1960s, it was very common to have homosexual men come for therapy. It had nothing to do with religion; they just wanted to overcome their homosexuality. It may be that with the gay acceptance and gay affirmative therapy that more recently it is only people or predominantly people motivated by religious conflict who want to make the effort to change.

[Click here for the full interview]
What is evident from the excerpts above is a point that goes in favour of homosexuals who would like to remain so always and another that goes against them. It is clear that it was religion that induced the sense of guilt in most of the subjects that Spitzer examined in 2000-01. On the other hand, the researcher did not handpick them to arrive at any predetermined conclusion; they had approached him voluntarily. Therefore, to cast aspersions on the integrity of the scientist's work of 2001 was grossly unfair. What cannot be overlooked, the use of the word "most" by the doctor shows that not all patients were motivated by religion.

And, since some gays had approached Spitzer for the work that led to the 1973 publication, to make two wrongs a right, should anti-gay people allege that it was the first work, and not the second, that was politically motivated?

The underlined part in the interview shows that this is a developing science. Medical practitioners in general and psychiatrists in particular are not ruling out any possibility. Thus, when pro-gay activists are arguing their orientation is natural and the Church is saying it is not, and both are quoting scientific researches selectively to corroborate their respective claims, they are clearly peddling half-truth. And in science, a half-truth does not exist; it is falsehood.

This writer, after weighing the pieces of evidence in favour of either side in the debate, finds that the argument that homosexuality is not natural is stronger. But, in true spirit of a sincere student of science, this is not his faith or final belief. He did not despair when his fellow-journalists did on Pluto being declared "not a planet". He will not be worked up if some day science proves with finality that homosexuality is natural. There is no scope for opinion; let our beliefs never go against the latest knowledge and cling on to an older one.

Research's argument # 2:
How animal behaviour has been studied wrongly

Curiously, appearing in the debate on Times Now on 2 July, actress Jaitly was the only one who took an overt scientific line of argument. The passages that follow will punch holes in her inference that homosexuality is natural because many animals too display such behaviour. However, this section has more import than the attention the comments of Jaitly, not a scientist, merit. The same analogy was cited in the US Supreme Court case Lawrence vs Texas, 2003, to demonstrate the 'naturalness' of male-male sodomy. The mention of the author of that study will follow the explanation of the phenomenon in the animal kingdom.

There exists a clear distinction between sporadic homosexual behaviour throughout one's life, such conduct at a certain age, and being a homosexual from one's birth to death. In the wild, most males have to compete fiercely to be able to mate with a female. The hierarchy in each family or society of a given species is well defined. Showing savage but natural disregard towards their own children, mothers chase their sons out of the family for the sake of security of more babies taking birth every season, to avoid any brother-sister mating (thereby stunting genetic variety), and to prevent the clash of a growing adolescent male with the alpha male (for incestuous mating!).

For some three to ten years in case of bigger mammals, these 'outcast' males wander in the wilderness waiting to be strong enough one day to be able to overpower the master of a group. But testosterone, the hormone responsible for the male sexual urge, does not wait that long. As testosterone develops, these males must give vent to their burgeoning stock or just go crazy. That is when stopgap homosexuality creeps in.

It serves quite a few purposes. Ejaculation proves that their reproductive organs work. In Thomson's Gazelles (Eudorcas thomsoni, a species of deer found in African grasslands), titillation is with mutual consent. Males do not have intercourse with other males. A deer fondles the genitalia of another with gentle kicks of a front toe for a while and then the second returns the favour to the first.

In case of common chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), the reason is slightly different. A chimp attains puberty when it still appears a kid. The hormonal growth is so fast and replenishment of sperm after each ejaculation is so rapid that a sexually raging chimp would not spare anyone who comes his way. In a matter of an hour, chimps may have a round of heterosexual and another of homosexual intercourse. The females get so used to this treatment that they almost get addicted to it. So, when in a group most chimps are 'busy', a female may get her vulva rubbed by another. Even a great age difference is not an impediment.

In elephants (both African and Asian — Loxodonta africana and Elephas maximus respectively) and sea lions (the Otariidae family, the New Zealand variety Phocarctos hookeri in particular), it's a different game. The one who rides during the couple's anal sex is a bully: It is his way to assert his position in the society's hierarchy. This is like the behaviour of some boys who have lived for many years in hostels, or inmates of a prison who for years have longed to see even the face of someone from the opposite sex. Their conduct is not even of the bisexual variety; it stops right after getting a partner of the opposite sex. That is, it's not bisexual because sex with the same gender and that with the opposite one does not continue simultaneously.
Disclaimer: This writer does not suggest that human homosexuals indulge only in anal sex.
In very clear terms, here, the anus is a compromise for a vagina. The creature being penetrated is a reluctant but hapless participant. No. Rather the victim. The age or the size difference is too much for the smaller of the two to protest. It is sexual harassment. And sexual harassment is less about sex, more about power. The stronger harasses the weaker.

The list of animals that stay homosexuals for a while is big. In short, given a choice, no animal remains homosexual all its life. If it does, the choice did not exist. Animal homosexuality is a rehearsal for the ultimate objective of procreation for which a heterosexual intercourse is the only natural recourse. When one comes across gay partners for life in the animal kingdom, they are cases where neither partner could successfully invade the harem of an alpha male after overpowering the 'ruler'. In the other type of homosexual behaviour, it is a simple case of ragging.

We have got a paradox here. Homosexuals like to give the analogy of animals to prove their point while the religious argue that human beings are a class above animals and hence the comparison does not hold. However, as the arguments above suggest, it is the very analogy that homosexuals have chosen that is not working in their favour. Animals turn out to be too pragmatic to get involved in something that produces, well, nothing. But this is the procreation argument used by religionists who have a tendency to belittle bestial sensibility!

This article cannot accommodate the rationality and justification for homosexual behaviour in all the 1,500 odd species enumerated by Bruce Bagemihl in his 1999 review. But a common term used in most medical journals that have dealt with the issue can be shared with the readers. Biologists are reluctant to use terms such as "homosexual animals" or "homosexuality in animals"; they make it a point to call it "homosexual behaviour in animals". As explained above, the terms do not mean the same.

Also pertinent is the point that Bagemihl is not a biologist. He served on the faculty of University of British Columbia and earned a PhD in linguistics from there in 1988. Time columnist Jeffrey Kluger, of course, called him a "cognitive scientist" too. Now, the study of cognisance can at best be categorised as a social 'science', not a biological science.

Anyway, when any homosexual behaviour is sighted and then cited to further the 'homosexuality is natural' argument, the following questions must be asked:
  • Is the alternative of heterosexual partner available to the subject being studied? If yes, are the heterosexual partners from genetically diverse groups? (Every animal tries to the extent possible not to mate within the family)
  • Is animal homosexuality comparable to the situations in hostels that are exclusively for boys or girls, or to that in jails?
  • Is the female of the species physically domineering so as to scare the male away?
  • In a given couple, isn't the animal that is always seen mounting the other actually a bully? (Compare with similar instances of ragging in colleges)
  • Among males, does the act culminate in ejaculation by both? (If not, the one not ejaculating is not enjoying the experience)
  • Are sperms planted inside the anal orifice always or at least 50% of the time? ('always' is a better premise; animals are alien to the idea of coitus interruptus)
Bagemihl does not get into several of these details in his study of any of the 1,500 species. His published work, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (St Martin's Press, 1999), is clearly an academically incomplete work, betraying impatience to make a political statement. By his own admission, "I'm a scientist who is gay," he says, clarifying, "I can't separate the two. I wrote this as a scientist, but the implications for humans are enormous."

Not understanding the import and exact context of the above questions when they were put in a social networking website, an opponent in the debate countered my question, "Is the female of the species physically domineering so as to scare the male away?" by giving the example of the black widow spider. Since it kills the male after mating with it, why isn't the male scared away, he asked. Wrong question.

The female black widow spider (genus Latrodectus) uses the corpse of the male it mates with as a nutritional source for the eggs it lays in the male's body after killing it post-mating. It's the natural behaviour of all females of this particular species without exception. Scared by such inevitable fate mating would lead to, the whole male population of no species can turn homosexual.

Several rounds of debate that this writer has had in various networking websites has shown that most opponents have this tendency of taking a fraction of my statement as cue and then flying off tangentially.

Research's argument # 3:
Careless, ignorant use of biological terms by the chattering class

In course of debates on the subject with the so-called liberals, one often comes across the term "hermaphrodite". Like the gays' and lesbians' claim of being born that way, many talk of people who are born hermaphrodites while referring to eunuchs! This is outrageously ignorant.

Both according to biology and the Oxford English Dictionary, a eunuch is a "castrated male". It is not expected of (learned or cultivated) sociologists to have a thorough knowledge of science. What exposes their agenda is the deliberate display of wrong language.

A hermaphrodite is either a species where both male and female organs are present in the same individual. Or it is parthenogenetic; that is, while reproducing, the ovum develops without being fertilised by a spermatozoon; hence it involves only one parent. Has anybody heard of a human being who has naturally got the fully developed features of the first or is capable of pulling off the feat of the second? Why then use this word while discussing transgender human beings?

How this class of people, some of whom are columnists in newspapers, cite Hindu texts wrongly to claim there has been an accepted tradition of eunuchs in India since the mythical times will be discussed in the section under religion.

One need not be a scientist to interview hijras of India and find out why they became a part of the group. It is a social construct that is extremely protective of all members of the order and hence becomes a refuge of some jobless, hardly educated, hapless men. The basic eligibility criterion laid down to a wannabe hijra is that, within a stipulated time after joining the order, the male has to get himself castrated.
[The mediaeval method of surgery is too crude a sight to watch and bear. Such instances have been documented and telecast by the BBC, Discovery Channel and National Geographic among several other reputed European and American broadcasters. Indian news channel Times Now too had made a programme on hijras, but it did not have such vivid (graphic?) descriptions.

New research shows not all hijras have undergone castration, but social studies reveal that only those who brave the crude operation and survive it rise the ranks in the hijra hierarchy. Some who join the clan are those who were born with ambiguous genitalia.]
The new entrant has to also convince the head of the clan that his intentions in joining the order are not mala fide; there exist severe rivalries between the different clans of hijras in every Indian town and city; the investigation of the candidate's antecedents is to prevent subterfuge and subsequent sabotage. Once he — there is no need to be confused as to whether such a person should be referred to as "he" or "she" — is a part of the group, he begins bluffing the world around, just like every other man who joined the group before him does: "What can I do if God has made me like this?" What is sad, the audience by and large believes in this cock and bull story. Even if you consider a person born with ambiguous genitalia, it's a medical condition; what's so divine about it?

This paragraph is for my foreign readers; most Indians have witnessed it; many have experienced it. The hijra clans are glorified extortion rackets, sustained by centuries' old superstitions of the land where they thrive. Most people in the subcontinent value their 'blessings' and fear inviting their 'wrath'. Conveniently, the hijras invoke Vishnu's name in front of Hindus (otherwise they worship Bahuchara Mata and Aravan) and Allah's name while in the milieu of Muslims to instil fear in the minds of the people. They come to your house during wedding ceremonies and after your child is born; the local municipality and the office of the registrar of births, deaths and marriages help them get the addresses. The instance after your child's birth is more scary. In the name of blessing your child, they will take him from the cradle or your lap and begin a burlesque dance while singing some film numbers totally out of tune in a croaking voice. After a while, the head of the troupe will pause and approach the head of the household and demand a hefty sum. In less developed smaller towns, the amount is in the range of Rs 200 - Rs 500. In Delhi and Mumbai, it is anywhere between Rs 2,000 and Rs 10,000. If the child's father refuses to pay, they will not return the child. You cannot even enter a scuffle with them as the baby is still in their custody; besides, you are inhibited to hit a 'woman'. To pressurise you more, they could turn vulgar, display their genitalia or even urinate on your floor and hurl the worst of expletives at you. The disgusting show could continue for up to a couple of hours. Mercifully, they will not hurt your child, though they may threaten to.

Outraged by hijras, their means of sustenance and the superstition that feeds their economy, India's British rulers had banned them. In the name of tolerance and laissez faire, and perhaps because the post-independent ruling class did not want to antagonise its superstitious subjects, the ban was lifted. And now you have a breed of 'liberal' ignoramuses shedding copious tears for them. It's time the government policy on transvestites/eunuchs was reviewed. Hopes for it are dim though; even the atheistic communist state governments of Kerala, Tripura and West Bengal have never tried to proscribe the cult.

Nevertheless, for some years, this writer has noticed, Indian men are turning less and less superstitious about them. I once witnessed some young men beating up hijras black and blue while travelling by train from Delhi to Kolkata (while demanding money from those college students, a hijra had grabbed one of them by his crotch).

Now men like those in that train know, when they are hitting a hijra, they are actually not hitting a woman.

Lesbians, gays and bisexuals should seriously consider ousting from their political pressure group all transgenders who are part of hijra rackets. Or, hijras may consider returning to the mainstream; government may think of a feasible employment package for their rehabilitation. No civilised society can bear with the ribaldry that hijras represent.

Research's argument # 4:
The birth and trigger factors of homosexuality — how true?

Two clichéd defences by the two sides in the debate: Homosexuals say they were born as such. Those who say homosexuality is not natural argue that some event in an individual's life triggers homosexuality in him/her. This writer's point is: the two are not mutually exclusive. It is entirely possible that a person is born homosexual but there can be found an event — rather a biological accident — in the life of the subject's mother that triggered a different sexual orientation in the foetus. That is, the trigger exists — either before or after the subject's birth.

For example, when a lesbian is born, the reason could be congenital adrenal hyperplasia. What this jargon means can be understood by following this process: Adrenal glands produce cortisol from cholesterol. Cortisol is a steroid hormone required for normal endocrine function. If non-sex chromosomes suffer from a recessive disease due to mutations of genes for enzymes that help in this production of cortisol, then sex steroids are produced in surplus or less than the adequate quantity. The resultant high androgen levels during foetal development affects the primary and/or secondary sex characteristics of the foetus. Such a female is likely to be born with pronounced male characteristics and have homosexual tendencies (ref: Psychosexual development of women with congenital adrenal hyperplasia).

When a gay is born, he could be hyper-masculine or hypo-masculine. In the first case, explains a Department of Psychology and Graduate Group, Neuroscience, Endocrinology, University of California, "men with more than one older brother, who are more likely than first-born males to be homosexual in adulthood, are exposed to more prenatal androgen than eldest sons. Prenatal androgens may therefore influence adult human sexual orientation in both sexes, and a mother’s body appears to ‘remember’ previously carried sons, altering the foetal development of subsequent sons and increasing the likelihood of homosexuality in adulthood".

In case of hypo-masculinity, there are sexual behaviour-controlling clumps of neurons in the anterior hypothalamus which, if they are about half the size than normal, can make the foetus/baby homosexual. This was a 1991 experiment result that was successfully replicated in sheep in 2003.

One can clearly see that the biological events above can be categorised as one or more of these: disease, disorder, abnormality. It may hence, going by human knowledge so far, be foolish to ask a homosexual to change his/her sexual orientation. But there is no harm trying to explore ways to prevent a foetus from turning homosexual.

It is important not to miss the caveat issued in 1994 by the scientist who had carried out the tests in 1991:
It (the 1991 research) also made the unassuming (Simon) LeVay one of the most misunderstood men in America. "It's important to stress what I didn't find," he points out with the courtly patience of someone who long ago got used to waiting for the rest of the world to catch up. "I did not prove that homosexuality is genetic, or find a genetic cause for being gay. I didn't show that gay men are 'born that way,' the most common mistake people make in interpreting my work. Nor did I locate a gay centre in the brain — INAH3 is less likely to be the sole gay nucleus of the brain than part of a chain of nuclei engaged in men and women's sexual behaviour. My work is just a hint in that direction — a spur, I hope, to future work."

Research's argument # 5:
The news of gay gene was hoax

As recently as May this year, the American Psychological Association updated its records to state: "There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation."

This is a clear departure from the organisation's previous stand: "There are numerous theories about the origins of a person's sexual orientation. Most scientists today agree that sexual orientation is most likely the result of a complex interaction of environmental, cognitive and biological factors. In most people, sexual orientation is shaped at an early age. There is also considerable recent evidence to suggest that biology, including genetic or inborn hormonal factors, play a significant role in a person's sexuality."

Compare the underlined parts in the two paragraphs above.

How was the myth of the 'gay gene' propagated? In 1993, a team led by Dean Hamer studied 76 gay brothers and their families. The team found that the maternal uncles and cousins of the subjects studied numbered considerably more than their paternal counterparts. Then, to check if there was an X chromosome linkage to the phenomenon, the researchers examined the 22 markers on the X chromosome of the gays to check if similar alleles* existed. The result of another test showed 82.5% of sibling pairs had similar alleles in the distal region** of Xq28***. This percentage was way above the range of 50% expected in case of fraternal brothers.
* An allele is a member of a pair or series of different forms of a gene.
** Distal region is the region between more of the two distances (or the most out of three or more distances) between two (or more) things.
*** Xq28 is a genetic marker. To a scientist, a genetic marker is a gene or DNA sequence that looks peculiar and hence stands out, so to speak, in the chromosome being studied. The peculiarity is a result of mutation or some change in the genomic position.

Logic in the experiment: If male sexual orientation is influenced by a gene or genes at Xq28, then gay brothers should share more than 50% of their alleles at this region, whereas their heterosexual brothers should share less than 50% of their alleles. By contrast, if there is no such gene, then both types of brothers should display 50% allele sharing.
Not being able to understand such technical parlance, some journalists reported the tests' results as the discovery of a 'gay gene'. The over-simplified interpretation of the results — and an obvious wrong conclusion drawn from them — created a furore in the science community. It prompted at least five more teams, the works of which are widely known to students of genetics, to carry out tests to check whether the results were similar. These five research teams were headed by S Hu, AR Sanders, JM Bailey, G Rice and J McKnight & J Malcolm. One may study their findings from this paper too: "A genomewide scan of male sexual orientation".

The respective results in case of Hu's and Sanders' studies were 67% and 66% of gay brothers in new saturated samples showing to share a marker on the X chromosome at Xq28. Bailey's team and that of McKnight and Malcolm found no significant dominance of gay relations among their subjects' maternal relations. Rice's lab could not replicate the Xq28 linkage results at all.

Further studies were all the more detailed; they involved full-genome scans. Just four years ago, Brian Mustanski's team, testing a much larger sample of 456 subjects, found much weaker link for Xq28 than what was reported by the other scientists named above. However, they did find other markers with significant likelihood scores at 8p12, 7q36 and 10q26, the latter two having approximately equivalent maternal and paternal contributions.

This makes this writer reiterate: This science is at a developing stage; please do not jump to conclusions. As of now, there is no gay gene known. If it's located in future, we will know... hopefully from thoroughbred science journalists.

Research's argument # 6:
Lay man's philosophy challenging a different order of nature

A question must be asked to homosexuals: If the nature's design of union between a man and a woman could be defied, why couldn't homosexuals devise a method of uniting that does not bear any resemblance with the processes of sexual union used by heterosexual couples?

Another question that is about such similarity is: How come, like in heterosexual union a man remains a man and a woman - woman, in a homosexual couple too, say, L1 and L2, L1 always plays the 'male' and L2 the 'female'? Why can't L1 be the 'woman' and L2 be the 'man' and vice versa alternately? Why for some days in their seven-year long relation couldn't Martina Navratilova, for example, play Judy Nelson's 'wife' instead of always being her 'man'? Being not constrained by two different sets of sexual organs as is the case with a heterosexual couple, shouldn't a homosexual counterpart observe a greater degree of equality or exchange during the process of mating?

The corollary of the second question is: Why is it seen invariably that in a homosexual couple, the partner that acts like a man has more masculine physical features while the one who conducts herself like a woman is physically softer of the two?

Research's argument # 7:
Media policy: be shrill to gag the politically incorrect, and 'win' the debate

In the "Newshour" programme on Times Now on 2 July, all that anchor Arnab Goswami allowed Father Dominic Emmanuel, Director of the Delhi Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church, to utter after any statement that needed a context, were "no, no...", "what I want to say is that...", "my point is...", etc, while his pro-gay activist opponent Anjali Gopalan of the Naz Foundation and Tripti Tandon, advocate for the applicants at the high court, were allowed to speak uninterrupted. Arnab himself raised the pitch and volume of his voice so high every now and then that even a word of the priest's explanation of his case could not be heard. Finally, picking a statement of Father Emmanuel out of context, Goswami asked him, "Do you mean, Father, that children of broken families become homosexuals? That's all we have time for tonight!" He turned towards the other camera in the studio set and said, "We leave it to our viewers. Do write in to us... !"

That was a clear bid to ridicule the stand of religion on the issue. And it was unfair. Since Father Emmanuel had counted a few more reasons for homosexual behaviour in some individuals, that a broken family necessarily turns a child into a homosexual could have, in no way, been what he wanted to say. The priest was anyway wrong, but there was a better way to expose that (explained in the next two paragraphs as well as under the section on religion).

A broken family can have several repercussions. A child of the family may meet with one or more of these consequences: chronic stress, depression, rage, self-medication leading to drug addiction, alcoholism, low self-esteem, lack of confidence in one's capabilities and/or any kind of self-defeating lifestyle (T Harris, GW Bifulco and A Brown, 1986; N Garmezy, 1986; M Maine, 1991). For that matter, if the child is resilient enough, he may bear no implication of the feud between his/her parents at all. But to stay in the context of this section, let us find out if homosexuality is a probability in such cases.

There is no such evidence. However, a family troubled by marital discord may lead to certain situations where a child feels that the opposite sexes are not compatible or, taking advantage of the weak family set-up, a sick aggressor may abuse the child. If the abuser happens to be of the opposite sex, an aversion for that sex may develop in the child's mind. But there is no ruling out of such possibilities even where the family bonds are pretty strong. And there is no thumb rule that the sick aggressor will be of the opposite sex.

Research's argument # 8:
The clergy on TV are neither saints nor scientists, but heckling makes them appear victims

When a Catholic clergy says that a probable outcome of a broken family is a heterosexual boy growing up to become a homosexual man, let us, before dismissing everything related to religion as hogwash, study certain institutional frameworks that the Church has built over the ages.

Take this article by Rev Dr David Kyle Foster, for example. It talks about two probabilities: (1) a homosexual can be a paedophile and (2) a child who is abused could grow up to be homosexual, for the one who had abused him belonged to the same sex. The promotion of his writing by the Church of the Messiah and Mastering Life Ministries may raise doubts over its scientific import. But are the authors that he quotes — Timothy Dailey and David Finkelhor to name two — all dubious?

Not quite. But when the Church quotes them, the citations are incomplete or out of context, or the inference drawn is wrong. Let's take for instance the study by John MW Bradford, D Bloomberg and Det Bourget, viz, "The Heterogeneity/Homogeneity of Paedophilia," [Psychiatric Journal of the University of Ottawa, (1988)]. A Christian website quotes this sentence from the study: "Researchers have variously estimated the incidence of homosexual paedophilia between 19% and 33% of reported molestations... (p 218)"

Why does the author shy from deriving from which sexual group the remaining 67% to 81% come from? On checking the same research work from an academic source, one would find: "... sexual offenders constitute a heterogeneous group..." The mischief stands exposed.

On the contrary, what Arnab Goswami's style does is leave the audience with a nagging thought: Why did he not let that man speak? What could have been the motive? Did he do it on his own volition or was it a decision of the channel's higher management? Such questions in the minds of viewers (the medium's consumers), the market-oriented Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd must understand, can affect their channel's position in the market in the long run.

***

SECTION III: Religion

Research's argument # 1:
The premise that Hindu society has traditionally accepted alternative sexuality is hollow

My clincher in this argument is that the depiction of an incident in a (realistic) book merely suggests that the incident happened. From mere depiction, it cannot be inferred that the incident was accepted by the public at large. Hindu texts do depict several forms of sexuality, but nowhere do they describe what level of acceptance any of those less common forms enjoyed in ancient India. The acceptance part is an imposition on the texts by today's 'modernists'.

On the 12th page of the 3 July edition of The Times of India, mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik, along the lines of several newspaper columnists' pet refrain, wrote: "In the Valmiki Ramayana, there are descriptions of Rakshasa women who kiss women in Ravana's bed on whose lips lingers the taste of their master." What kind of a pro-lesbian argument is this? Is the body more important than the mind? Does Pattanaik suggest that while coupling a lesbian actually visualises or dreams of a man in the place of the woman she is having sex with? In that case, it's an anti-homosexual argument rather than a pro-homosexual one of the type explained in Research's argument # 6 under the science section.

Following is the exact verse, the translation of which Pattanaik must have referred to:

सुंदरकाण्डे नवमः सर्गः
रावणाननशङ्काश्च काश्चिद् रावणयोषितः |
मुखानि च सपत्नीनामुपाजिघ्रन् पुनःपुनः ||५७||

Ninth chapter in Sundara Kaanda:
rāwaNānanashangkāshcha kāshchid rāwaNayOShitah /
mukh
āni cha sapatnInāmupājighran punah punah //57//

Translation: Numerous young wives of Ravana were kissing one another, taking the face of each other for that Ravana.

The writer, seemingly on purpose, ignores the explanation given in the next verse, which is…

अत्यर्थम् सक्तमनसो रावणे ता वरस्त्रियः |
अस्वतन्त्राः सपत्नीनाम् प्रियमेवाचरंस्तदा ||५८||

atyartham saktamanasO rāwaNE tā arastriyah/
aswatantrāh sapatnInām priyamEwācharanstadā//58//

Translation: Those beautiful women were enamoured with Ravana; thus having lost their senses, bewitched and inebriated, they would sniff the faces of their co-wives, taking them for the face of Ravana.

Had Pattanaik read the 58th verse too, would he have argued that lesbians are lesbians either because they are looking for a man in their woman partner or because they are under the influence of alcohol? It is to avoid such mischievous interpretations that in Islamic practice a quote from the Qur'an is considered inadmissible unless the preceding and the succeeding verses too are quoted.

Research's argument # 2:
Spirituality, rationality, science and linguistics combined proves 'liberal' theory bogus

A pet theory of 'liberal' Indians — and foreigners who are taught what India is by these 'liberals' — is that Hinduism sanctioned eunuchs through the icon of Ardhanārīshwara. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The word "ardhanArIshwara" literally means "half-woman god". According to some Hindu theologians, it is a symbol that signifies the plain scientific fact that the world is a result of a union of the man, embodied by Shiva, and the woman, personified by Shakti. Spiritually, this is द्वैत/ dwaita, meaning duality of form.

The Shaivas do not agree. According to them, Shiva alone is the origin of life. If interpreted rationally, this would mean they are saying the first man came into existence before the first woman.

There is a parallel found in the Rgveda where an egg splits into भूत/bhUta (the body) and प्राण/prANa (the life). The first Veda says, "He who appears as a man has a woman inherent in him and she who appears as a woman is as much a man." If the Vedas are too esoteric, a lower vehicle of the Puranas may be considered. The Ardhanārīshwara here symbolises at once both the power of renunciation and asceticism and the blessings of marital felicity.

It would take an outrageously blunt brain to read the above as an ode to eunuchs. Who eunuchs are according to biology has already been explained and how the English language defines eunuchs has already been pointed out.

Research's argument # 3:
Islam forbids homosexuality, but the 'expert' didn't give citations

One of the panelists in the debate on the court judgment on Times Now was Kamal Farouqui, Chairman of the Delhi Minorities Commission. He vehemently opposed the idea of homosexuality being natural and declared, "No Muslim will ever accept it." He was right. If you are a Muslim, you cannot defy the Qur'an. In the holy book, Surah 7:80-84 says:

سُوۡرَةُ الاٴعرَاف
وَلُوطًا إِذۡ قَالَ لِقَوۡمِهِۦۤ أَتَأۡتُونَ ٱلۡفَـٰحِشَةَ مَا سَبَقَكُم بِہَا مِنۡ أَحَدٍ۬ مِّنَ ٱلۡعَـٰلَمِينَ (٨٠) إِنَّڪُمۡ لَتَأۡتُونَ ٱلرِّجَالَ شَہۡوَةً۬ مِّن دُونِ ٱلنِّسَآءِ‌ۚ بَلۡ أَنتُمۡ قَوۡمٌ۬ مُّسۡرِفُونَ (٨١) وَمَا ڪَانَ جَوَابَ قَوۡمِهِۦۤ إِلَّآ أَن قَالُوٓاْ أَخۡرِجُوهُم مِّن قَرۡيَتِڪُمۡ‌ۖ إِنَّهُمۡ أُنَاسٌ۬ يَتَطَهَّرُونَ (٨٢) فَأَنجَيۡنَـٰهُ وَأَهۡلَهُ ۥۤ إِلَّا ٱمۡرَأَتَهُ ۥ كَانَتۡ مِنَ ٱلۡغَـٰبِرِينَ (٨٣) وَأَمۡطَرۡنَا عَلَيۡهِم مَّطَرً۬ا‌ۖ فَٱنظُرۡ ڪَيۡفَ كَانَ عَـٰقِبَةُ ٱلۡمُجۡرِمِينَ (٨٤)

wa lūţāan 'idh qāla liqawmihi 'ata'tūna al-fāĥishata mā sabaqakum bihā min 'aĥadin mina al-`ālamīna//80//
'innakum lata'tūna ar-rijāla shahwatan min dūni an-nisā' bal 'antum qawmun musrifūna//81//
wa mā kāna jawāba qawmihi 'illā 'an qālū 'akhrijūhum min qaryatikum 'innahum 'unāsun yataţahharūn//82//
fa'anjaynāhu wa 'ahlahu 'illā amra'atahu kānat mina al-ghābirīna//83//
wa 'amţarnā `alayhim maţarāan fānžur kayfa kāna `
āqibatu al-mujrimīna//84//

Translation: Al-Araf — And Lot! (Remember) when he said unto his folk: Will ye commit abomination such as no creature ever did before you? (80) Lo! ye come with lust unto men instead of women. Nay, but ye are wanton folk. (81) And the answer of his people was only that they said (one to another): Turn them out of your township. They are folk, forsooth, who keep pure. (82) And We rescued him and his household, save his wife, who was of those who stayed behind. (83) And We rained a rain upon them. See now the nature of the consequence of evil-doers! (84)

Surah 11:78-81:
سُوۡرَةُ هُود
وَجَآءَهُ ۥ قَوۡمُهُ ۥ يُہۡرَعُونَ إِلَيۡهِ وَمِن قَبۡلُ كَانُواْ يَعۡمَلُونَ ٱلسَّيِّـَٔاتِ‌ۚ قَالَ يَـٰقَوۡمِ هَـٰٓؤُلَآءِ بَنَاتِى هُنَّ أَطۡهَرُ لَكُمۡ‌ۖ فَٱتَّقُواْ ٱللَّهَ وَلَا تُخۡزُونِ فِى ضَيۡفِىٓ‌ۖ أَلَيۡسَ مِنكُمۡ رَجُلٌ۬ رَّشِيدٌ۬ (٧٨) قَالُواْ لَقَدۡ عَلِمۡتَ مَا لَنَا فِى بَنَاتِكَ مِنۡ حَقٍّ۬ وَإِنَّكَ لَتَعۡلَمُ مَا نُرِيدُ (٧٩) قَالَ لَوۡ أَنَّ لِى بِكُمۡ قُوَّةً أَوۡ ءَاوِىٓ إِلَىٰ رُكۡنٍ۬ شَدِيدٍ۬ (٨٠) قَالُواْ يَـٰلُوطُ إِنَّا رُسُلُ رَبِّكَ لَن يَصِلُوٓاْ إِلَيۡكَ‌ۖ فَأَسۡرِ بِأَهۡلِكَ بِقِطۡعٍ۬ مِّنَ ٱلَّيۡلِ وَلَا يَلۡتَفِتۡ مِنڪُمۡ أَحَدٌ إِلَّا ٱمۡرَأَتَكَ‌ۖ إِنَّهُ ۥ مُصِيبُہَا مَآ أَصَابَہُمۡ‌ۚ إِنَّ مَوۡعِدَهُمُ ٱلصُّبۡحُ‌ۚ أَلَيۡسَ ٱلصُّبۡحُ بِقَرِيبٍ۬ (٨١)

wa jā'ahu qawmuhu yuhra`ūna 'Ilayhi wa min qablu kānū ya`malūna as-sayyi'āti qāla yā qawmi hā'uulā' banātī hunna 'aţharu lakum fa attaqū Allāha wa lā tukhzūnī fī Đayfī 'alaysa minkum rajulun rashīdun//78//
qālū laqad `alimta mā lanā fī banātika min Ĥaqqin wa 'innaka lata`lamu mā nurīdu//79//
qāla law 'anna lī bikum qūwatan 'aw '
āwī 'Ilá ruknin shadīdin//80//
qālū yā lūţu 'innā rusulu rabbika lan yaşilū 'ilayka fa'asri bi'ahlika biqiţ`in mina al-layli wa lā yaltafit minkum 'aĥadun 'illā amra'ataka 'innahu muşībuhā mā 'aşābahum 'inna maw`idahumu aş-
şubĥu 'alaysa aş-şubĥu biqarībin//81//

Translation: Hud — And his people came unto him, running towards him - and before then they used to commit abominations - He said: O my people! Here are my daughters! They are purer for you. Beware of Allah, and degrade me not in (the presence of) my guests. Is there not among you any upright man? (78) They said: Well thou knowest that we have no right to thy daughters, and well thou knowest what we want. (79) He said: Would that I had strength to resist you or had some strong support (among you)! (80) (The messengers) said: O Lot! Lo! we are messengers of thy Lord; they shall not reach thee. So travel with thy people in a part of the night, and let not one of you turn round - (all) save thy wife. Lo! that which smiteth them will smite her (also). Lo! their tryst is (for) the morning. Is not the morning nigh? (81)

Lot (other spelling/phone: Lut/lut/; not pronounced as the English word "lot"; the 'o' here is close-mid back rounded vowel, and the 't' is voiceless, emphatic, alveolar stop), a nephew of Ibrahim/Abraham, appears as one of the earlier prophets in the Qur'an*. When a Muslim needs to be explained by the clergy as to why or how Islam is against homosexuality, Lot's instance is given.

[*The Biblical account of Lot/Lut is different]
There used to be two cities Sodom and Gomorrah where people were believed to be homosexuals. According to the Islamic belief, Allah sent three angels disguised as handsome men to Lot, who pleaded helplessness in protecting them. The men of the two cities were overjoyed at the arrival of three new 'preys'. Lot offered his men his daughters and pleaded with his folk to spare the three boys, but they wouldn't listen. The angels then revealed their identity to Lot and asked him to leave the place, deserting his wife (who was not deemed 'pure'). Lot left. The next morning the two cities were found completely destroyed. Islamic legend has it that Allah turned those places "upside down" and "rained down on them brimstones hard as baked clay, spread layer on layer".
This writer's point is not why Farouqui did not turn his speech theological; that could have been over the top. My point is, he could have just mentioned what he said had the backing of the Qur'an so as not to leave any doubt in the minds of Muslims. And the message to the TV show anchor is: Why argue with someone, the terms of whose holy book are non-negotiable? Extremist and moderate Muslims do interpret their religion differently. But it's not likely any practising Muslim will come up in support of the acts of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Research's argument # 4:
The Christian argument is more sophisticated; the clergy avoids sounding dogmatic

In Islam, settlement of a dispute is a three-stage process. First find out what the Qur'an says about the issue. If there exists no comparable instance in the Book, try finding analogies from the Prophet's life (the Hadith). If even from there you do not get much clue, call a body of clerics to arbitrate on the issue. The Catholic Church, as has been observed since the time it was witnessed that an overwhelming majority of Christians were ready to believe only what was scientific, does not work that way.

The head of an archdiocese is not likely to say he, being a true Christian, is helpless because the Testament forbids homosexuality. Interestingly, God kills everyone in Sodom and Gomorrah according to the Old Testament too (19:4-5, 24, 25). Paul condemns homosexuals (gays as well as lesbians) in the New Testament as well (To the Romans: 1:26-28).
Some scholars say the Bible is not a translation of the original Old Testament as the Hebrew used in that era is not known to anybody in the present-day world. The translation was offered by Masorites in the 10th century after adding vowels to the original words. Original Hebrew had only 22 consonants and no vowel.

The New Testament was written most probably in Aramaic, the language Jesus and people of Judea spoke at his time. Aramaic is similar but not identical to Hebrew. The New Testament in Greek is a translation from Aramaic. Some scholars disagree; they say the available version in Koine Greek, a language that used to be spoken in the eastern regions of the Roman Empire, is the original one.
Following is the New Testament text referred to above (Original and undisputed Hebrew text of the Old Testament could not be obtained):

26 Διὰ τοῦτο παρέδωκεν αὐτοὺς ὁ Θεὸς εἰς πάθη ἀτιμίας. αἵ τε γὰρ θήλειαι αὐτῶν μετήλλαξαν τὴν φυσικὴν χρῆσιν εἰς τὴν παρὰ φύσιν, 27 ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ οἱ ἄρσενες ἀφέντες τὴν φυσικὴν χρῆσιν τῆς θηλείας ἐξεκαύθησαν ἐν τῇ ὀρέξει αὐτῶν εἰς ἀλλήλους, ἄρσενες ἐν ἄρσεσι τὴν ἀσχημοσύνην κατεργαζόμενοι καὶ τὴν ἀντιμισθίαν ἣν ἔδει τῆς πλάνης αὐτῶν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς ἀπολαμβάνοντες. 28 Καὶ καθὼς οὐκ ἐδοκίμασαν τὸν Θεὸν ἔχειν ἐν ἐπιγνώσει, παρέδωκεν αὐτοὺς ὁ Θεὸς εἰς ἀδόκιμον νοῦν, ποιεῖν τὰ μὴ καθήκοντα,

Translation: 26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. 28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; ...

Today, the Catholic clergy, appearing on TV, wouldn't tread the path of persuading believers in the name of the Lord. He would compile the results of several researches conducted by various reputed universities and quote the most convenient portions to forward the Church's argument, a piece of evidence of which has been provided in the section on science above. If a journalist must interview a Catholic head on the issue, it should either be on print or, if it has to be on TV, the anchor's homework should be thorough. That homework, of course, is not possible without some grinding in science education. But it's not too difficult. There are not more than two dozen odd writers whom the Church quotes. So, read their conclusions, keep a stack of the hard copies on the desk as a ready reckoner, and you are ready to conduct the interview.
[The Protestant clergy is conspicuous by his absence on Indian TV.]
But much more experienced than Times Now's Goswami, even NDTV's Roy did not make the effort. In the debate on 2 July on NDTV, Roy, going against his normally calm and composed demeanour, thundered at Abraham Mathai, deputy chairman of the Maharashtra Minorities Commission, "Who are you to decide what is moral?" If the BBC is any standard, one has never heard its anchor inviting somebody to a discussion and then questioning, "Who are you?" If the interviewee is of no consequence, why was he invited in the first place? Second, by any journalistic and civilised standard, "who are you?" is too rude a question to throw at anybody in any verbal exchange except when the questioner is not well versed in English language and culture, which is not Roy's case. His education and long stay in England during his formative years makes his choice of phrase ironical. Third, anybody who has an opinion can be asked, "Who are you (to have this opinion)?" If a representative of a body of people is called and then asked, "Who are you to say it is morally wrong for somebody else?" (the exact words of Roy), it raises a very fundamental question: How does a democracy function? How do you speak to a crowd? You have to speak to a representative of the crowd. Isn't it that simple? TV journalists don't think so; they ask this question to all representatives of people every other day on every other channel. Fourth, let nobody have an opinion; let science be the decider; let politically correct journalists read science.

***

Conclusion
It cannot be expected of everyone to follow science or religion as if one were obsessed. What hurts is the absence of an appreciation of nuance in journalists who are the most visible in India today. Perhaps they merely represent a common malaise in society where few get it right, where few understand what the statement of a person means exactly. Careful, patient hearing should do away with the question, "What do you mean?" As for senior television presenters, this question mirrors more of the prejudice they imbibed through Western education that sees everything political as left or right, between which every difference is irreconcilable. You take a scientific view and you will be called an atheist. You support some aspect of religion and you will be found a subscriber of dogma. The respective markets that the two clubs cater to forces an English media journalist, who may not have a thorough knowledge of science, to take the risk of being labelled an 'atheist'; and it forces a representative of a religious body, much as he may not know everything about his religion, to take the risk of sounding like an 'obscurantist'. Some, like the Catholic clerics on TV, try being a crossover and end up looking silly.

Till the time this condition prevails, the biggest casualty will be truth, especially the truth that is defined as the latest knowledge of science. The problem is, even those who swear by science get emotionally attached to certain discoveries and when that science is replaced by yet another set of discoveries, these people are reluctant to let the old go.

That homosexuality is natural was the latest knowledge in 1973. That it may not be so was indicated in 2001. At the moment, the position of science is not known with finality; more pieces of evidence are accumulating on the not-natural side though. Unfortunately, though some doctors have tried turning homosexuals into heterosexuals, not much effort is being made to redress abnormalities like congenital adrenal hyperplasia or maintain prenatal androgens in adequate measure or maintain the normal size of some vital neurons in the anterior hypothalamus. The focus in the labs is more on 'why and how it happens?' and not on 'now that we know why and how it happens, let's fix it'.

As for law, irrespective of what science says, homosexuals must be treated as equal citizens. Prannoy Roy equates this stand to "sitting on the fence". The Naz Foundation finds it paradoxical. That again is a failure to appreciate nuance. 'Give me the whole of it, or I'll take nothing' is a misplaced demand to make to religion. The ball is not in the cleric's court; it is in the scientist's.

Surajit Dasgupta

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.