Break the link between employment and healthcare!

Cross-posted from Interrobang:

The US Supreme Court ruled along political lines on the 30th of June, 2014 that “closely held corporations”, over 90% of all US businesses, are now free to discriminate against women (and it was specifically women and birth control) if their religion leads them to believe birth control kills babies, or that women who use birth control are Satan’s spawn (the belief does not have to be factual).

The Supreme Court says corporations can hold religious objections that allow them to opt out of the new health law requirement that they cover contraceptives for women.

The justices’ 5-4 decision Monday is the first time that the high court has ruled that profit-seeking businesses can hold religious views under federal law. And it means the Obama administration must search for a different way of providing free contraception to women who are covered under objecting companies’ health insurance plans.

Salon AP coverage

I am not going to debate the wrongness of this decision, the notion that businesses can have religious beliefs, and can use them to discriminate against certain types of people is not up for debate. And, the discrimination is very specific and targeted…

The other, more ubiquitous discrimination is in the notion that the health care you get has anything to do with the work-for-pay arrangement you have with the organization you work for. I am probably the millionth person to mention this, and whole books have been written on the subject, but, the link between healthcare and your employer is wrong because it anchors discrimination. This particular egregious case goes one step further and discriminates based on gender as well, not just work status.

The US had a chance to sever health benefits from employment when they had a three-year debate on expanding health insurance coverage. Thanks to the ability of small political minorities to filibuster and block action, and a corporate-funded reluctance for change, the US kept their employer-based health insurance system in place, and with it, all the discrimination that entails. Uwe Reinhardt reiterated a number of these points recently in the New York Times.

Back Home

Is BC any better? Yes and no. Thanks to Canada’s Medicare, parts of our health care system are universal and not subject to employment ties. But, there are several exceptions making us a two-tier health care system:

  1. The health insurance tax or MSP (what our government cutely calls a “fee” in order to not call the yearly increase in this fee a tax increase): Many employers will pick up part/all of this tax for their employees, whereas one that doesn’t can pay more than 1000 dollars a year for a family. While there is an element of progressiveness to the pricing with very low-income people paying less/nothing, it is weak, families making > 30K per year pay full price.
  2. Drugs: For some reason, drugs are not covered by our “universal” healthcare system and are provided by workplace “supplemental benefits”, as if taking a thyroid pill every day is a “supplement”. The CCPA makes an excellent case for universal pharmacare, if you need more convincing. 10% of Canadians cannot fill prescriptions for financial reasons.
  3. Our public health insurance system assumes people don’t have eyes or teeth. So, if you want your cavities filled, a root canal, or want to see clearly, you need “supplemental benefits”, and these are mostly employer-provided. Oral health is a clear marker of health inequality.
  4. Mental health is not covered, this is inexcusable, as Andre Picard notes.
  5. Treatments that improve overall health, like massages, are not really covered. Once again, your employment status determines whether you have the “luxury” of holistic preventative measures to reduce stress, pain, and many other issues.
  6. Historically and currently oppressed groups, Canada’s indigenous people for example, get a short shrift on the benefits like massage, nutrition, counselling and holistic treatment they need because of disparity in employment availability.

This quote from the Andre Picard article I mentioned summarizes the discrimination.

The well-to-do pay. The middle-class scrape together the money the best they can, sacrificing so their child can get care. And those without the means wait, or do without care.

There are other side-effects. Because “benefits” are expensive, companies have a vested interest in only having certain “valuable” employees benefit. The rest get treated as contractors, have their hours strategically reduced, and much more.

It’s almost as if there’s an unspoken moral argument here, you don’t deserve good teeth or a massage if you don’t work for a living.

Yes, you can buy individual supplemental insurance, or pay per use, but neither of these are cheap because you as an individual have no bargaining power.

We in BC also have a long way to go to break the link between healthcare and employment. Will it cost the average BC resident more money? Let’s consider:

  1. A simpler system with one buyer is administratively efficient. It takes the thousands of decision points every HR administrator or group in every company/union has to make and transfers that to a single entity. Public universal plans are about four to ten times more efficient (pdf) than fragmented private plans.
  2. A bigger entity can negotiate much better rates for you, whether it is for drugs, or for dentistry, or for anything else (a bigger risk pool). If all of Canada administered one simple pharmacare system, we would negotiate much lower prices with pharmaceutical companies. We would also have better funding to run and evaluate effectiveness studies.
  3. Funding preventative, holistic healthcare means fewer hospital visits. In a universal system, there are no artificial barriers between a massage, drug treatment, surgery, stress reduction counselling, or ergonomic counseling for back pain. You don’t have to prove your work injured you in order to get the right treatment, your first point of contact with a medical professional (not necessarily a doctor) decides which path works best. You do not have to get sick enough to go to the hospital before you get treatment covered by insurance.


There are concerns with a universal single-payer system:

  1. As Vox points out, if a government administering the single-payer system decides not to pay for contraception, then no one gets it. So, getting good universal healthcare is about constantly winning political battles. The good thing about universal healthcare in Canada is that it is incredibly popular, polling near 90% approval (pdf). So once quality is improved, governments will find it hard to cut back.
  2. Like any other public system, the quality of the institutions drafting policy and administering the system is vitally important. Well run public systems are efficient. But conservative movements in the last 30+ years have worked hard to dismantle the quality of public institutions and trust in such institutions. In this reality of shrinking budgets and staff levels where bureaucrat is a term of insult, ensuring that public system expansion is handled efficiently is no given. There is an entire industry of political parties, think tanks and media devoted to tearing down the concept of a publicly administered good, and ready to pounce on every little misstep (Remember the Obamacare roll out anyone?)
  3. Will employers raise wages from all the savings they get from not providing health benefits, and will these raises cover the increase in taxes we will pay for universal healthcare? Probably not right away, but it will happen eventually.


Clearly, we can’t transition tomorrow. A public system would need to be in place and functioning before our employers get out of the health insurance business. I would phase universality in the following order:

  1. Drugs
  2. Teeth and eyes
  3. Preventative and palliative care.

We would also need to rethink the”fee for service”, where healthcare providers are paid per widget, and think about a different system closer to a salaried model, more on that in future blog posts.

Snippets of dreams remembered

Or what happens when you make a single-minded effort to sleep in on the long weekend. These dreams all happened between 5 AM and 9 AM Sunday morning. I don’t usually interpret dreams, and am always pleasantly surprised when I remember them.

Banana FlowerI wake up in my old bedroom in Chennai feeling bad that I have only one day to go on my trip, and that I need to start packing to leave. My packing is all awry, my passport is nowhere to be found. When I actually wake up, I am home, and happy that my “trip to India”, whenever that might be, has not even begun.

Bee on flowerI turn around in bed and feel sharp pain as a bee (or wasp, my dream said bee) has bitten me in the ass (yes). I turn once more, and the sting is actually near my elbow, or is it? Were there two bees? Was there actually a sting? My dream state is not sure. Either way, I wake up, no bees.

SaddleI am fixing S’s bicycle seat, and every time I shake it (this seems to be an important part of the fixing), a new part falls out. The seat, the post and the bike get more and more complicated and full of parts falling all over the place. I feel frustrated and lost, this seat is never going to get fixed, I question my skills. I wake up, relieved it was just a dream, but the seat’s still next to me in bed, parts still falling off. I then wake up for real. I love dreams within dreams and used to get them often, to terrifying effect. Thankfully, they’re now an occurrence rare enough to require immediate documentation.

PS: I was reminded by the NVPA recently that I am required to keep a dream journal.

Double for Nothing: Leaving the left lane empty

Car Space

Apparently. my fine province is poised to bear down heavily on those most dastardly of villains, people who dare drive their motor vehicle in the left lane…

“There will be a number of measures that we will be implementing to do a better job in getting people out of the left lane,” Stone told Kamloops’ CHNL radio last week. “You know, it already is the law, today, not to be in the left lane unless they’re passing. … [There are] a number of initiatives that we’ll be announcing soon that we hope will make a difference to get those left-lane hogs out of the way.” – See more at:
“There will be a number of measures that we will be implementing to do a better job in getting people out of the left lane,” Stone told Kamloops’ CHNL radio last week. “You know, it already is the law, today, not to be in the left lane unless they’re passing. … [There are] a number of initiatives that we’ll be announcing soon that we hope will make a difference to get those left-lane hogs out of the way.” – See more at:

“There will be a number of measures that we will be implementing to do a better job in getting people out of the left lane,” Stone told Kamloops’ CHNL radio last week. “You know, it already is the law, today, not to be in the left lane unless they’re passing. … [There are] a number of initiatives that we’ll be announcing soon that we hope will make a difference to get those left-lane hogs out of the way.

Jack Knox: B.C. poised to make a move on left-lane hogs – Local – Times Colonist.

I get it, people who drive slowly in the left lane are annoying and are a potential safety hazard. But, given that a car already needs so much more space than a bicycle, a bus full of people or pedestrians, does having a rule saying you’re only supposed to use half the road for the majority of your driving make any sense? Think about an alternative reality in which bike lanes are built for double the capacity just in case you want to pass a slower cyclist, would never happen, right?

A minor point, but some of the aspects of our personal auto culture are egregiously wasteful, yet attract little attention because “it’s always been that way.”

NaMo and me: Thoughts on the Indian election

ModiThe Indian electoral map is now covered in a swathe of orange (my favourite colour, the irony…) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its leader Narendra Modi (NaMo) prepares to become the first single party majority government since 1984. Their victory was enabled by a big swing away from the ruling party, and a first past the post election system that leaves them in absolute power with less than a third of the electorate voting for them. This post is not about numbers and electoral analysis, there’s plenty of of that elsewhere.

As a left-wing, non-religious progressive sitting far away from India, I am dismayed at the power the BJP will have to make things difficult for minorities of all kinds, non-Hindus, the GLBTQ, and more. The BJP has made noises about “simplifying” environmental clearances, which only means more mines, more coal and more displacement, especially of poor people and tribal communities. Fundamentalist acts of violence may also increase, Kafila has already compiled a number of incidents of Hindu aggression towards mosques and Muslims. This parliament will have the lowest Muslim representation in a while, with not a single Muslim BJP representative.

Pankaj Mishra writing in the Guardian has a good summary on Modi, the BJP, its religious cadre the RSS, and more…

Boasting of his 56-inch chest, Modi has replaced Mahatma Gandhi, the icon of non-violence, with Vivekananda, the 19th-century Hindu revivalist who was obsessed with making Indians a “manly” nation. Vivekananda’s garlanded statue or portrait is as ubiquitous in Modi’s public appearances as his dandyish pastel waistcoats. But Modi is never less convincing than when he presents himself as a humble tea-vendor, the son-of-the-soil challenger to the Congress’s haughty dynasts. His record as chief minister is predominantly distinguished by the transfer – through privatisation or outright gifts – of national resources to the country’s biggest corporations. His closest allies – India’s biggest businessmen – have accordingly enlisted their mainstream media outlets into the cult of Modi as decisive administrator; dissenting journalists have been removed or silenced


So, what happened?

India party-wise election resultsThis NDTV article is a quick and basic summary of why Modi and the BJP won. On the negative side for the congress, the atrocious corruption, a reluctant leader (5th generation placeholder of a once “great” ruling family), a prime minister who has to sit in the upper house because he can’t win elections, a country with infrastructure gaps and poverty greatly in odds with the aspirations of its people, and general disgust with the status-quo. I would have been dissatisfied with the congress as well.

On the positive side for the BJP, their party was well organized, they had a big ground advantage with the RSS and more, Modi’s long tenure as chief minister of an outwardly successful state (Gujarat’s success predates Modi by more than 10 years, but why let facts get in the way) helped, and the cult of personality around his “decisiveness” was built by the BJP and amplified by the media. India is of course a very complex electorate which requires very different messages to the different groups. But the overall message was simple, Modi rocks!, we’ll do better, Rahul Gandhi is an idiot, and the congress is corrupt.

What next?

I find it hard to believe the unqualified declarations, like this one on live mint, that this is some kind of “capitalist” revolution. India has been here before. There seems to be a collective amnesia on the previous BJP-led administration that was in power between 1998-2004, made very much the same noises, albeit with a moderate face in front, Mr Vajpayee, and made a big show of development in cities, “business friendly” (code for crony capitalist) policies, nuclear chest-beating and more. All this culminated in the infamous “India shining” election of 2004, where the BJP’s triumphant march to re-election was upended thanks to the utter failure of trickle-down economics to actually better the lives of the millions without basic infrastructure and a route out of poverty. While India’s upper class celebrated victory, rural India unexpectedly returned the congress to power. The BJP would do well to remember this. They can’t ignore basic income/food support to the poor, or ignore the vast inequality, riots will break out. So, it will be a hard slog. I also don’t see any answers on how the BJP is going to transform India’s institutions to provide its people with their basic needs, because this is not about who is in power, this is about the quality of a country’s institutions (What I learned from “Why Nations Fail”).

How do I feel?

I have not lived in India for more than 15 years, so I have missed most of this, and when I visit, I live in a state that is generally doing well, one where regional parties dominate, and where the BJP won one out of 39 seats. I also avoid the shouty political media when I’m there. I was born into an elite-caste middle class community with much privilege. Indian politics left me cold and disgusted when I lived there, so anything I say needs to be clearly filtered as coming from one who was an outsider then, and even more so now.

While I am disturbed, I am not sure what many other progressives dismayed by the results would have wanted instead. Yes, the conservative BJP will treat its minorities atrociously, people may die, and their so called market reforms are likely to only exacerbate India’s already unacceptable inequality. But I don’t see what alternative the voters had. The ruling party was corrupt, disorganized and bereft of vision and inspiration, the various left of centre parties fragmented, inexperienced, and generally shut out. A change was coming, and the BJP was the only party positioned to take advantage of that change. I can’t bring myself condemn the Indian electorate for going with a message of change and good governance (true or not). The gap is in the inability of progressive Indian polity to build an alternative. While the Aam Aadmi Party and Kejriwal has made progressive and populist noises recently, and even managed to win state elections in Delhi, they are young and in Kejriwal, they have a rather unpredictable leader. They were not ready, and voters can’t be expected to trust inexperience.

Going forward, there are many routes for a left of centre progressive movement to take hold in India. The AAP, and other smaller parties would do well to look to countries like Brazil where worker and peasant movements slowly built and organized their way into power, and are still doing well by making their countries’ institutions better. India deserves a good progressive political option and one that is able to provide good governance without abetting pogroms against minorities, a low bar, but one both the BJP and the congress has so far failed to meet. I don’t know if the AAP is the answer, they performed reasonably well first time out with a 2% national vote percentage (not much, but good given the party fragmentation in India), and has room to grow as long as they can attract good people and build from the grassroots. They will have plenty of time before the next election to get better organized, more experienced and be a bigger force. And who knows, maybe the congress could reinvent itself as a centre-left Gandhi family-free party of good governance, stranger things have happened.

Meanwhile, I hope (with little evidence) for everyone’s sake that the BJP concentrates on good governance and building institutions, and gives its chest beating and macho Hindutva glorification a rest (yes, asking a lot). The people of India voted for change and a better life, not more violence, military aggression and fighting with Pakistan. I hope that in my naiveté, I am not being blasé about the ascendance of a very dangerous administration. But I remain a strong believer in the power of the Indian electorate to stick to basics and put authoritarians in their place, not like it did not happen before.

PS: The really nice picture of Modi tattooed (temporary I hope) is from this Jacobin magazine article on Modi,  his “neoliberal orthodoxy and violent Hindu nationalism.

Hey, comment on Victoria’s Cycling Master Plan!


The City of Victoria is coming out with a master plan for biking . They would really like to know what you think about biking in the city and what improvements you like to see in their master plan. Here’s where you can contribute. Look at the poster above for places where the City’s holding consultations and workshops.

If you’re looking for some ideas, the Greater Victoria cycling coalition recently released their thoughts on the city’s master plan (pdf) (disclaimer I am on the board of the Greater Victoria cycling coalition, though my contribution to the report was mostly proof-reading) . Some highlights for you in case you need some ideas to contribute to the city:

  1. Improvements to neighbourhood arteries such as Haultain, Vancouver, and more
  2. Protected or buffered bike lanes on heavier traffic roads such as Pandora (The city is currently planning a one-way track on Pandora).
  3. Clearer road markings on intersections, and the use of “bike boxes” at traffic lights so people on cycles can safely and visibly get ahead of traffic

There’s more. Read the report, it’s not very long.

Here is some of my personal feedback (beyond everything in the report) based mostly on the parts of the city I cycle in,. and the parts where I feel changes would make a big difference.

  1. Protected (buffered) lanes, or cycle “tracks” downtown and beyond: Lanes where cyclists are not buffeted by cars and buses have the potential to increase cycling among those hesitant to ride in traffic. The city is planning to build a buffered lane on Pandora from Cook all the way to Wharf. This is a good start, and needs to be doubled, either with a two way lane on Pandora (which the city is very hesitant to do), or a corresponding cycle track on a street going east. Also, View street is already not a convenient throughway for cars, wonder if a buffered bike lane would fit there.  
  2. Vancouver street: Vancouver is a nice and peaceful street to ride on, wide, only one lane of car traffic each way, residential and mostly flat. Vancouver is already a widely used bike way for people going North-South, especially from Fairfield and Cook street village and North Park. But, there are some difficult stretches. Firstly, Caledonia, where cyclists need to pass a busy street with speeding cars. While cars are not allowed through north on Vancouver street past Caledonia, my near misses and my friends’ similar stories tells me that many car drivers don’t listen. Let’s fix this, either with more enforcement, or actual physical barriers to slow vehicles down/stop them. Also, there are a number of stop signs on Vancouver that result in a choppy cycling experience. Changing these stop signs to allow through traffic on Vancouver would improve the cycling experience. There is marginal car traffic on those east-west roads anyway, so I think this would be an easy fix. While we are at it, changing car speed limits to 30 kph would calm Vancouver down even more. Vancouver’s connection past Bay is also currently a bit klunky and needs improving.
  3. Haultain. This is my favourite street to cycle on in Victoria, and one I use regularly. Haultain, while not on Victoria’s current official cycling network, is well set up for biking, with physical barriers preventing through traffic both at Shelbourne and Richmond, leading to a fantastic cycling experience from Cook street all the way into Oak Bay. From my perspective, Haultain mostly works, but connecting it west past Cook and making an easier path for cyclists coming off the Bay bridge would be useful. The turn onto Cook from Haultain also needs some attention, it’s difficult in peak hour traffic. Also, while bikes are supposed to trigger the Shelbourne light, this seems to not work for me much of the time, which means I wait a while for this light to turn, especially unproductive when there’s little traffic on Shelbourne after peak hours. I wish this light could be turned in to a simple stop/yield, with an optional bicycle/pedestrian triggered light to be used in times of “heavy” traffic on Shelbourne.
  4. portland_bike_boxRight turn lanes and cyclists. Many of our streets without bike lanes, Johnson is a prime example have this feature where the right-most lane becomes a turn-only lane. This may be convenient for cars, but it means cyclists have to keep merging left into traffic, stressful even for experienced riders in traffic and disruptive for motor vehicle traffic as well. It’s here that painting bike boxes could be very useful. But they won’t help when traffic is moving. Cook and Johnson now have a marking where the right-most lane is right-turn only except for buses and cycles. So, when traffic is moving, cyclists could just pedal through, but when it is stopped, they could use the painted bike box. The city should do this at every intersection.

Many more thoughts, but please contribute. The city especially needs to hear from the people I think constitute the heart of cycling in the city, those who cycle, but would not identify themselves as cyclists per se (human is the preferred identity!). You know who you are, speak up (It’s an election year, BTW).

The gas leaking monster of Marcellus, but at least they measure it

PulltoReleaseCO2British Columbia, listen up, wise up and measure methane leakage! Natural gas’ reputation as a clean alternative to coal relies heavily on the drilling and fracking companies being ultra-cautious and preventing the methane from leaking. A leak rate of anywhere >3%, and the methane supercharges climate change due to its high global warming potential.

“A survey over hydraulic fracturing sites in Pennsylvania revealed drilling operations releasing plumes of methane 100 to 1,000 times higher than what the EPA expects from that stage of drilling, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

Via the Washington Post, here’s more data that drilling companies are allowing methane to escape into the atmosphere at far higher levels than claimed. This data adds to earlier measurements by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado in Boulder that showed high leakage rates in Colorado and Utah. This also adds to the body of work from Cornell University (Howarth et al. showing high leakage rates. It is pretty clear that escape rates vary from area to area, and also on the ability/willingness of fracking companies to control emissions. What is BC doing about this? As DeSmog pointed out last year, nothing. We assume that our leak rate is 0.4%, best in the world. While BC’s companies are required to “report” methane emissions, they are based on modeling, not measurement. It is pretty clear now that these numbers are not verifiable or reviewable.

Float On


All refrains "float on", except the 9th one, which is "even if things end up"

All refrains “float on”, except the 9th one, which is “even if things end up”

Sometimes, learning lyrics is hard, and making a table out of it seems to help (disclaimer: I do not use pie charts for anything serious)

Call Direction Response
We’ll all float on Up All right, already
We’ll all float on Up Now don’t you worry
We’ll all float on Down All right, already
We’ll all float on Up All right, don’t worry
We’ll all float on Up, hold All right, already
We’ll all float on Down All right, already
We’ll all float on Down All right, don’t worry
Even if things end up up A bit too heavy
We’ll all float on Down All right, already
We’ll all float on Up All right, already
We’ll all float on Down Okay, don’t worry
We’ll all float on Up even if things get heavy
We’ll all float on Down All right, already
We’ll all float on Up don’t you worry

(Direction refers to whether float is higher in pitch than all, or lower)

Stalking my walking.


Google Now tells me I have walked 74 km in February (one of the last meaningful acts of my phone before it passed away). That’s mostly me walking from my bus stop to work and back, 3.6 km everyday, something I don’t consider exercise to the point that I undergo serious bouts of self-criticism about “not exercising enough”. I post this because I, like many around me, am very concerned about the amount of digital surveillance in our society. Everyday, Snowden’s document dump brings new revelations. Yahoo webcam images, anyone? But the benefits of benign surveillance are potentially big. I would like my phone to remind me that I am exercising, that my bus is scheduled to arrive in 5 minutes (of course, BC Transit does not have real-time information, so this is theoretical), that I am near a grocery store that has my favourite cereal on sale (this would need open data on retail prices), that my neighbour on the bus is reading the same book that I am (okay, too much!).

Cellphones are now intelligent, location and context aware. They can do a lot of good. Hell, I’ll even tolerate the use of some of my metadata for advertising and information gathering as long as it is transparent. But the data is also used by governments non-transparently to track my movements and actions, and I am deeply uncomfortable with it. Till now, my gee-whizness and fairly high belief in the value of a trust-based open information commons keeps me from closing off these data streams. If we stop trusting in the good of an open internet and stop contributing, the internet is seriously harmed.

Book Review of Serious Men by Manu Joseph: Why the misogyny?

SeriousMenI have been meaning to read Serious Men by Manu Joseph for a while now, and I really wanted to like it as well. I did get my hands on a copy finally, and, what a disappointment. Serious Men is billed as a story of class struggles and politics in a government run university, very similar to the one I attended. And on those aspects, it mostly delivers, albeit with a heavy dose of unrealistic narrative moving incidents strewn predictably at all the right points in the plot. The class divisions in the book are real, and ones I was privileged not to really notice when I attended those institutions. The professors were mostly upper class, the lower/mid level administrators mostly other castes. The author brings these divisions out, and uses them to make what could have been an interesting and enjoyable story. But, don’t read it unless you like your women characters one-dimensional and devious.

Spoiler alert

Why all the should haves and could haves? The book is unfortunately steeped in a misogyny so deep that I wonder what Manu Joseph was thinking. One of the narrative movers is the accusation of research fraud levelled by a woman scientist Oparna against her fellow upper caste supervisor and institute head Dr Acharya. See, Oparna gets very attracted to Acharya, makes her intentions clear to him in a fairly unrealistic way. Their interactions culminate in a two week affair when Acharya’s wife Lavanya is out of town. Lavanya hears very quickly of the affair and confronts Acharya, who immediately ends the affair, while still continuing to work with Oparna on his dream project. Oparna’s character throughout this period is reduced to her looks and her demeanour around Acharya and at work. The juxtaposition of her sexual awareness and honesty during the affair, and her complete turnabout into a “scorned woman” after is unbelievable.

Yes, the book is a satire and as such, the author has additional license to exaggerate differences and character flaws, and little need for plot realism. However, an author has a conscious choice in whom they choose to satirize, privileged male authors violate my (soon to be trademarked) “poke fun upwards” guideline on safer humour by writing one-dimensional female characters and making them the objects of satire.

While the author makes both Oparna and Acharya question Oparna’s attraction for Acharya (it’s all about the projection of his charisma and power, never mind his age or his supervisory position), the unlikeliness is not explored further. Fine, young women do have affairs with older men in positions of power. But it’s a terrible stretch for Oparna to deliberately contaminate a sample in the glow of the affair “so he can feel happy about a positive result”, then once the affair ends, claim in public that he forced her to falsify the results. The use of a scorned woman trope  in a book that is supposed to be about class distinctions in academia mostly ruined the book for me. India’s gender disparity means it is a minefield of sexual harassment and terrible power differentials in academia. This book fails completely at understanding the links between gender- and caste-based discrimination. There are three women characters in this book. Two are dutiful “wives”, no other role required, the third, Oparna we already talked about! Oparna is reduced to just her womanly essence, in the end, becoming an unprofessional “liar” for the sake of advancing the plot, which incidentally involves the lower-caste protagonist Ayyan helping the “good brahmin” Acharya against the other “bad brahmins”

Yes, this is a work of fiction and Manu Joseph is free to populate his book with very poorly written female characters and win prizes. But. as this reviewer points out, do you want to read books with passages like these?

“Free love, Ayyan knew in his heart, is an enchanting place haunted by demented women. Here, every day men merely got away. And then, without warning, they were finished. The girl would come and say, like a martyr, that she was pregnant, or would remember that all the time she was being raped, or her husband would arrive with a butcher’s knife. Such things always happened in the country of free love. Ayyan Mani had fled in time from there into the open arms of a virgin. But Acharya had fled the other way.”


“She wondered how women would have handled this situation. What if the jury had been comprised of menopausal women? That was a disturbing thought. They would have butchered her in a minute. But this jury of ageing men was going to be easy.”

Even more

“She would wander through life beseeching men to love her, frighten them with the intensity of her affection, marry one whose smell she could tolerate, and then resume the search for love. And she would suffer the loneliness of affairs…”

Ugh, don’t bother.

My alma maters take a stand against India’s anti-homosexuality laws

377On January 28, 2014, India’s Supreme Court declined to review its terrible decision to re-legitimize India’s colonial era laws against “unnatural sex”. I am disgusted by the judges’ decision to use “judicial restraint” to mask their prejudice. I wholeheartedly endorse this message from the Indian Institutes of Technology against the ruling. The IITs I attended in the 90s were misogynistic environments, with the student bodies being >90% men, with the women present being subjected to either constant attention or unbelievably nasty talk (mostly behind their backs). We received absolutely no guidance on how to treat women well. There was no dating culture, and given that I knew very little about homosexuality or queerness then, I shudder to contemplate what anyone not conforming to 100% heteronormativity went through. This blog post from 2012 appears to signal that not much has changed. The large number of people (including me) who felt deeply uncomfortable in this environment were mostly silenced. I remember speaking against the entrenched misogyny occasionally, but I also remember being silent often. I am glad that so many people associated with IITs all over India signed on to this statement condemning the Supreme Court. Do read their statement in full at the link below.

Where the Delhi High Court’s ruling was a bold effort to give life to the promise of Indian Constitutionalism, the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse it is a deceptive attempt to use judicial restraint as a cover for its refusal to critically interrogate the social effects of legal provisions. Ignoring the lived experiences of LGBTQ people in India altogether, it argues that Section 377 merely penalizes certain acts and does not stigmatize a class of Indian society based on sexuality and gender identity. By failing to recognize the fact that the law exposes LGBTQ people to illegal extortion, harassment and persecution, and by suggesting that the rights of LGBTQ individuals are less worthy of protection because of their “miniscule proportion”, the Supreme Court has failed to perform its constitutional responsibility and betrayed the trust of the Indian people.