It’s high time our government got its act together in sex education

For a country with such a massive population and sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV on the rise, it’s high time our government got its act together in sex education. The Human Resource Development ministry forced an expert panel to shorten its recommendations on sex education to just one sentence, to avoid use of words ‘sex’ and sexual’ in the document. Our sex education program is in trouble and this moralizing could cause irreversible long term damage to our society. The HRD ministry should find out how other countries with cultures that are relatively conservative impart sex education and replicate that here, with some customization.

As it stands now, a lot of schools and even colleges keep boys and girls segregated, even dictating what they may wear or not. Doing that for twelve years and then suddenly imparting sex education to the teens is hardly a way to tackle this. The end result is that we are turning out socially awkward and inept teens. The worst case scenario is that a lack of interaction mystifies the opposite gender leading to stalking and sexual assaults. Some believe Bollywood can influence change and many films are projected as ‘progressive’ but a lot of mainstream films focus more on sexual liberation and promiscuity rather than sexual responsibility. These days many female characters in Bollywood films wear their promiscuity on their sleeve with pride in an effort to ‘break the stereotype’ when in reality, having had multiple partners for anyone should be a reason for neither pride nor shame. Sexual responsibility needs to be focussed upon in sex education programs including consent, one’s own and that of others. This can only be effective if it is done in a holistic manner. Right now there is a strong rhetoric of consent but without a lot else the effectiveness of this rhetoric will be limited. There needs to be a demystification of the genders and society must enable them to interact without the burden of morality.

There also needs to be an effort, through sex education to demolish the perception of sex as a zero sum game where the man gains something and the woman loses something. This is a very wrong, unfair and warped perception of something so beautiful. This will also hopefully gradually do away with the guilt and shame that many people, especially women and seniors, associate with sex. It is perfectly fine to experience sexual desire whatever your age or gender. It’s one of the signs you’re still young and alive! It will make for better, more fulfilling lives when this happens. Even our laws of consent go against this, as of now.

Another aspect of guilt is that somehow in our society people in their sixties or older feel embarrassed to own their sexual desires. All these teenagers, if they eat their broccoli and carrots and are lucky will be sixty someday. This cycle of feeling guilty about sex as you grow older needs to stop. I see this propagated in Bollywood today. When I watched the remake of ‘Shaukeen’, I couldn’t help comparing it to the original which was a wonderful comedy about three loveable old men. I was disappointed that the remake had turned it into a comedy about three sleaze-bags. As a filmmaker myself, I realize that Basu Chatterji being the sensitive filmmaker he is would approach his film without being harsh in his judgement about three old men looking for a fling while someone else might see it as wrong and slot them as ‘dirty old men’ looking to get laid, doing whatever it takes, ruining the premise entirely. This also needs to change and sex education to teenagers can sow the seeds of change. Finally, some believe that with porn on the internet easily available, sex education is redundant. This is absurd because porn websites won’t address the important issues of safe sex, consent and social interaction. For what it is worth, porn has always been easily available. The mediums have changed, from magazines to video tapes and DVDs to the internet. We need teenagers to get educated about sex, just not the way they are being currently.

GST is injurious to our health

The government is gearing up to pass Goods and Services Tax (#GST) next month. This will reduce compliance for large companies and help in movement of goods across state borders. This has the largest companies of our country excited but it won’t work in favor of small entrepreneurs. It is going to increase their compliance burden and drive them to deal in cash. It is also going to increase inflation and put pressure on the middle class and the lower class. Taxation has to be progressive. Direct tax is progressive which is why you pay more tax and at a higher rate when you make more money. Indirect tax inherently is not progressive. When you buy a packet of biscuits for Rs.10 you pay the same tax, whether you are a blue collared worker or a billionaire. This makes indirect taxes regressive because they burden everyone equally irrespective of their economic status. The only way the government is countering this is by taking the opportunity to tax luxury goods. The day is not far when microwave ovens and iPhones will also be classified as luxury goods and taxed at a higher rate. What has made it worse is the way in which GST has been framed. The theory put forth was that multiple taxes create a compliance burden and lead to a high rate of tax. A single tax to replace all would solve this. All the taxes including taxes on tobacco, alcohol and fuel were added together and averaged to arrive at a benchmark average tax. Then the GST rate was discussed. After GST had caught everyone’s imagination, the three most important sources of revenue, tobacco, alcohol and fuel were excluded from GST. However the GST benchmark rate continued to remain the same and was now artificially higher than the earlier effective rate. Additionally, while there was an assurance that no additional taxes would be introduced, there is already talk of a ‘sin cess’ which will apply to among other things even aerated water! There are four rates of GST proposed 6%, 12%, 18% and 26%! The rates for GST which were earlier to be part of the act may now be out of it, which will make it easier to raise the rates. We will soon have a peak income tax rate of 33.6% and a peak GST rate of 26%! To reiterate what I said earlier, GST is injurious to our health!

You know Banwarilal, right?

I just thought of Banwarilal today. You know Banwarilal, don’t you? Of course you do. Everyone knows Banwarilal.

There was this one night when Banwarilal was having a drink at a bar in SoBo. This guy Joe was standing at the bar, and Banwarilal tapped him on the shoulder and said “Hey, don’t you know who I am?” Joe said “No, why the hell should I?” Banwarilal said “I’m Banwarilal. Everybody knows me.” Joe said “Yeah, whatever, buddy.” Banwarilal said “No, really. Everybody knows me. Hey everyone, who am I?” Everyone in the bar shouted “Banwarilal! Yay, Banwarilal!”

Joe said “Yeah, sure, maybe everyone in this bar at SoBo knows you. But they don’t know you in any bars in Oshiwara.”

Banwarilal said “Sure they do. Everyone knows me.” To prove it. Joe and Banwarilal took a cab across town and went into a different bar at Oshiwara. When they walked in, Banwarilal shouted “Hey everyone, who am I?” Everone shouted “Banwarilal! Yo, Banwarilal! Yay!”

“Sure”, Joe said. “Average people in Oshiwara bars know you, but I bet the local MLA doesn’t know you.” So off they went to the local MLA’s house. The butler answered the door. “Ah, Mr. Banwarilal. The MLA was just asking about you. Come on in.”

Joe said “OK, so the MLA knows you. I’d bet that our local MP doesn’t know you.” So off they went to the local MP.

Hours later they were at the house of the local MP “So Banwarilal, good buddy. It’s been a long time. I haven’t seen you since you helped me win the elections. How’s business?”

“Alright”, says Joe. “Everyone in bars knows you. The MLA knows you. The MP knows you. But I’m SURE that Amitabh Bachchan doesn’t know you.” So off they went to Jalsa.

When they got there, Banwarilal said “Now Joe, not everyone gets to see Amitabh Bachchan in the flesh. So here’s what we’re going to do. I’ll go in, and I’ll get THE Amitabh Bachchan to show up with me there and wave to his fans. Then you’ll see that the Big B knows who I am.”

Banwarilal walked into Jalsa. A few minutes later, he and Amitabh Bachchan were on the balcony. He looked down, and saw Joe passed out. He ran downstairs and to the door and through the crowds to Joe and said ‘”Joe, Joe! You OK, Joe?” He managed to revive Joe and then asked him, ‘What happened? How did you faint?”

Joe said “Yeah, I was standing here, looking at you and Amitabh Bachchan. There was this huge crowd of people taking pics with their phones, jostling to get in. Then a couple of people came by and asked ‘Hey, who’s that up there with Banwarilal?'”

A reply to anyone who supports stopping the release of films with Pakistani artists in them

If you still don’t agree that these films with Pak artists should be allowed a smooth release, consider this. There’s a sentiment building against buying China made products. Fair enough. Yet, if I asked you to locate all electronic items in your house which have even a single part made in China and destroy those products, would you do that? Almost all phones, computers, refrigerators, TVs are at least partly made in China. If you do destroy your gadgets, please share a video for me to see but I know you wouldn’t. Your reasoning would be that when you bought the phone, there wasn’t such a strong anti China sentiment. This is how the pressure on the film producers to stall the release of these completed films which cost way more than your iPhone is unfair.

Why we shouldn’t blame the voters

A meme keeps cropping up on my timeline that says, “Stopping (Donald) Trump is a short term solution. The long-term solution is fixing the educational system that has created so many people ignorant enough to vote for Trump”. This assumes that everyone who votes for the Republican side is ignorant, semi-educated or both. There’s also another point of view, closer home, which is about blaming the 31% who voted for Narendra Modi, every time the government seems to go wrong with their policies.

This is a very condescending approach. When you look at it, this is what polarization does to people all over the world. In a polarized electorate, everyone has real fears and real concerns. What voters seek, is the same on both sides. Whether it’s a Mexican angry at Donald Trump talking of building a wall to keep all Mexicans out or a white American frustrated at having to live on welfare after being replaced by an Indian call center employee, they’re looking for job security and a way to make a respectable living. They don’t want to scrimp and save to send their kids to college, while keeping the wolf away from the door. They don’t want to turn down small requests of their families. They want to feel safe. If you see any misery close enough and long enough, with an open mind, you’ll empathize with it. Live for a week, with a family of refugees from a war torn country and you’ll wish you could stop their country from being bombed to dust. Imagine losing every single possession and having to settle in a new country where so many are hostile to your presence. On the other hand, spend time with European women who have been the victims of Taharrush and you’ll want your country to kick out all the refugees. The pain is real on both sides and voters want similar things. They are sometimes stuck with a leader they don’t like but have to choose the lesser of the two evils.

In 2014, we had to choose between the Congress which faced several allegations of scams and had to endure a near stalemate in the last two years of power and the BJP, which promised economic development. What complicated this further was that the Congress was perceived to be secular (or a party appeasing Muslims, depending on who you were talking to) and the BJP has been known for its Hindutva agenda, because of the RSS connection. So, which way would you go, if you’re a secular Hindu? What if you were a Muslim entrepreneur bored with the economic stalemate? Choices become complicated for voters. Eventually, their heroes are wrong and idols have feet of clay. Many voters are reluctant too. A section of Democrats is unhappy with Hillary Clinton and wishes Bernie Sanders could be in the saddle. Many Republicans would rather abstain than vote for Donald Trump. There is little choice here though when you have to pick a side. The hate mongering is because many politicians are adept at whipping up a frenzy and stoking emotional fires, which is what swings elections. No one ever won an election promising a 50 basis points boost in GDP growth. Picking up the most scummy vote bank of a candidate and assuming every voter on that side has the same thought process is unrealistic. And every single person who votes for a politician isn’t buying into the most outrageous promise made, whether it is Narendra Modi’s ‘jumlas’ or Donald Trump’s Mexican wall. Let’s not blame the voters. It’s unfair and cruel.

Here’s why Chinese goods are cheaper

I’ve been seeing a ton of memes on my timeline appealing to people not to buy China made crackers and lanterns. The sole reason why goods sourced from China are cheaper is because it costs them less to produce their goods. So they can sell them for less. This raises the question, why are Indian goods more expensive to produce as compared to Chinese? It’s because the government doesn’t do its job. It’s because we are at a disadvantage in terms of all four factors of production: land, labor, capital and enterprise. When you leave your office in a city like Mumbai, it is torture to get to work. Depending on your social status, you could be stuck in a second class Churchgate local or in a luxury sedan on the way to your corner office at BKC. Traffic snarls are an equalizer due to the poor infrastructure. This wastes time that could be spent productively. You also guzzle more fuel which adds to the production cost of whatever you produce directly or indirectly, whether as an entrepreneur or labor. Taxes in our country are ridiculously high. Millions of people are waiting excitedly for Goods and Services Tax (GST) to be introduced but GST will only add to inflation. Many small businesses may not be able to claim set off because anything to do with the Indian government is fraught with red tape, if history is anything to go by. Also, while the initial rate may be 18%, it may be revised upward anytime. Service tax was 5% in 2003. It’s now 15%. That should tell you something. You can’t trust the Indian government when it says this will be the sole tax, either. A different government will just shrug off any assurances given by this one. Inflation is high and if you believe the 6% figure that the government claims please inbox me. I have a bridge I want to sell you. Corruption and red tape also increase production costs. If a builder has to give bribes to get permissions for his project, he will factor in this in the selling price. Anyone who invests in a commercial premises built by the builder will ask for rent based on his investment. A company that takes it on rent will factor in the rent in its products. Now whether they are producing apparel or furniture or running a poultry farm, their products will be expensive because the builder had to bribe someone. Businesses continue to need permissions and licenses from various government bodies. All this red tape adds to corruption and increases inflation. It also leads to inefficiency. Loans are hard to get for small entrepreneurs while big businesses get their billions easily. Businesses and individuals have to waste a lot of time that would be better spent on productive activities. Ask any student how long it takes to sign up for a course on the Mumbai University website or to look up results. Ask tax payers how tedious it is to register for tax, get an importer exporter code or incorporate a company. Why are our government websites so slow, unreliable and vulnerable to being hacked? Why should the productive time of millions of people be wasted because the government can’t ensure dependable technology solutions? So, stop whipping yourself. Chinese products are always going to be cheaper till the government gets its act together. It’s not you. It’s them!