India’s Election Exit Polls: Counting Pebbles!

Credit: MathPickle

A nation of 1 billion, India, is counting its votes on May 23 to see who the next leader of the world’s largest democracy will be. Until then, it’s anybody’s guess. Or is it?

In actual fact, there’s a group of people who specialize in scientifically estimating trends in voting and the results of elections and they’re called psephologists. Yes, you heard right. Originating from the Greek word psēphos which means pebble or vote, it dates back to the time citizens of the first democracy in Athens cast their votes by throwing pebbles into one of two urns.

What is an exit poll? Psephologists in India have been busy during the last month of elections conducting exit polls in several constituencies all over the country. An exit poll essentially surveys a random sample of voters on their way out from the booth and asks them who they voted for.

Different organizations conduct exit polls in different ways and unfortunately, they don’t always disclose their methodology. While sample sizes have been increasing with every election and the 2019 election has the largest sample sizes on record, the accuracy of an exit poll is not always related to sample size.

Why’s that? Stratifying the sample so that it is representative of the community’s demography is more important. Interpreting the data from the exit poll and translating sample voting results into seats for each party also requires significant statistical, political and sociological expertise.

So how reliable are the exit polls? If they rely on biased samples and inaccurately translate sample vote shares into seats, the exact numbers are sure to be off. However, if the exit polls show that one party has won an overwhelming majority, you could conduct some amateur psephology yourself and reduce their seats by say a 20% margin of error and see if the same party still wins.

So which urn will be heavier on May 23? Wake up early and see for yourself if the psephologists got it right!

Written by: Shonar Lala Chinoy

Welcome to the Reiwa Era: An infographic on Japan

Emperor Naruhito, the new Emperor of Japan, ascended the throne on May 1, 2019, after his father, Emperor Akihito stepped down. His becoming the monarch also starts a new era, the Reiwa era, which means ‘peace and harmony’.

Does the Emperor rule Japan?  No it is largely a ceremonial role. The government, headed by the Prime Minister of Japan, runs the country according to its Constitution.

Here is an infographic about this fascinating country:


Putin’s Plan to Disconnect Russia from the Global Internet


What is the law? Russian President Vladimir Putin has passed a law to allow Russia to create a separate internet for its citizens. It will come into effect on 1 November, 2019. The Kremlin (often used to refer to the Government of Russia) calls it a ‘sustainable, secure and fully functioning’ network that will work independently from the rest of the world.

Why was this done? The government says that this law was passed to protect Russia’s access to the internet if it is disconnected from the global World Wide Web infrastructure. This will make it difficult for other countries to spy on or interfere with Russia’s internet use.

Credit: Pixabay

What does it mean for the users? Russia has one of the largest user bases of the internet in the entire world. Almost 78% of its population uses it. As this number grows, the government feels the need to monitor content consumed by its people.  According to this new law, during a state of emergency, the world wide web can be shut down completely. The government would then have complete access and control over the information being given to its citizens over its own internet. Foreign media and news access would also be limited to information permitted by the Kremlin.

Internet censorship is not new to this country. Since 2012, several websites have been blocked and the blacklist is growing by the day. The parliament had previously signed a law that can jail people for 15 days for speaking out against government officials. The recent law created an uproar and thousands of people protested against this bill. They said this is similar to what China is doing and will limit the access of internet to the people.

A debate rekindled? This gives rise to a not-so-new debate. It’s a people versus the establishment scenario. There are plusses and minuses to both sides. The Internet has been an amazing platform for people to get their ideas and opinions heard and debated. It has also been used to spread misinformation and to incite political and other groups. Is this kind of control over information justified in today’s times, or are China, Russia, and some other countries putting in place policies that are strangling the right of an entire generation to undiluted information access?

Write to us at and let us know what you think!

Vaijayanti is a writer, a nature enthusiast and an amateur wildlife photographer. She hopes her virtual pen and lens can make the world a better place

Farewell, Jakarta! Indonesia is getting a New Capital!

As the President of a country, one makes important decisions. Joko Widodo, the newly re-elected, seventh President of Indonesia wants to make a critical decision. He wants Indonesia to have a new capital city! This hasn’t come as a shock to many because this idea is as old as the Republic itself!

Where is Indonesia?

It is a South-East Asian country found between the Pacific and the Indian Oceans. Indonesia is the world’s largest island country. It has the fourth largest population in the world! It’s capital city is Jakarta on the island of Java. Half of the country’s population lives there.

Why does President Joko want to move the capital?

Overpopulation. Java is the most densely populated island of Indonesia. This has put a severe strain on the island’s resources. Also, Java faces very bad traffic, among the very worst in the world! If this is not reason enough to shift the capital, the next one will convince you. The island is sinking. The BBC has called it the fastest sinking city! One half of the city lies below sea level. The drawing of groundwater for drinking, cooking and other daily use activities has allowed the city to sink further. It has become very vulnerable to flooding.

What’s next?

In ten years, all the government offices will be transferred to the new capital. It is a big leap for the island country, which has wanted to move its capital city for seven decades now. A possible choice would be Palangkaraya, on the vast island of Kalimantan. It is a geographically stable option, close to the centre of the country. This will also bring cheer to the inhabitants of the other islands, who feel that their islands are neglected. Widodo would have made a larger vote base happier too!

Vaijayanti is a writer, a nature enthusiast and an amateur wildlife photographer. She hopes her virtual pen and lens can make the world a better place

Don’t Stop the Press!

Reading the news is often the first thing that people do in the morning. Whether its a newspaper or online or a quick recap on T.V., everyone consumes news. However, is all that we read free from bias or freely reported? Does it change from paper to paper? Do citizens in all countries get to read the news at all? Today, on Freedom of the Press Day, let’s look at some of these questions.

What is Freedom of the Press? The United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”. This statement basically says that no government can try to stop reporters from doing their job or expressing their opinions. It is given the same importance as Freedom of Speech. Many countries have this written into their Constitution as it is a very important right. Sweden was the first country in the world to adopt this freedom in 1766.

Why is it important? We all rely on the press to hold the government responsible for their actions by reporting on them and giving different points of view. So a journalist should be able to write about a corruption scandal and should not have to be afraid of any consequences. When people are allowed to have differing opinions and comments, then democracy is really working.  That is why the Freedom of the Press should be fiercely protected.

Like all rights, there are responsibilities. Newspapers and journalists can be sued for libel or defamation (when you report something as a fact against someone that is not true). If it is an opinion, it can not be libel – e.g. if you say, “I think Mr X is a horrible person” it is not libel because it is your opinion. If you say, “Mr X is a horrible person because he slaps children”, that can be libel because you will have to prove that to be a fact.

There is also some information that the government distinguishes as ‘classified’ or ‘against national interest’ to be published. While this is often right, the government can sometimes use this to suppress things that they don’t want the want to keep away from public knowledge. To counter that, many countries have new Right to Information Acts that try to define what exactly is in ‘national interest’.

So is there Freedom of Press all over the world? Unfortunately, no. Many countries have a ban on newspapers and the internet to limit the access that the people have to information. They want complete control over what their citizens read and listen to. Reporters without Borders tracks press freedom in countries by counting how many journalists are kidnapped, harassed or even killed while doing their jobs. They also look at ‘self-censorship’ – which means that people are scared to express their views on say a site like Facebook because others who have, may have been unnecessarily harassed or imprisoned. Though they are eventually released, it creates an atmosphere of fear.

Another organisation, The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), has an annual list of all journalist arrested or killed because of their work. In 2017, 262 journalists were in prison – half of which were in Turkey, China and Egypt.

Infographic: The State Of World Press Freedom | Statista
Infographic: The State Of World Press Freedom | Statista

You will find more infographics at Statista

So what about India? The press in India is free, and there are examples of the rights being upheld in court when they have been under threat. Like in the case of Union of India v/s Association for Democratic Reforms, the Supreme Court ruled that “One-sided information, disinformation, misinformation and non-information…..makes democracy a farce. Freedom of speech and expression includes right to impart and receive information which includes freedom to hold opinions”.

However, in 2019, India ranks 140 of 178 on the World Press Freedom Index. Not great. Cases such as the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, an outspoken journalist,  highlight this point. Media watchdog, The Hoot’s ‘India Freedom Report – Media Freedom and Freedom of Expression’ in 2017, has these statistics:

  • 11 journalists killed
  • 46 attacks of journalists
  • 13 cases of arrests and police cases against journalists, all of whom were let after interrogation.

The report also stated cases of censorship where the media was barred from covering certain events.

In India, as in other countries, there is also an issue with who owns the media. E.g. if Company A owns the news outlet, and there is some bad news to report about it, it is unlikely that that story will get covered in that particular paper. So corporates can be just as manipulative in curbing Freedom of Press as the government.

So in today’s world, you have to question what you read and read widely. The quote below sums up why we need to read widely and the need for the Freedom of the Press,

“I remember asking my father, ‘Why do we need four newspapers?’ He said to me, ‘Unless you read different points of view, your mind will eventually close, and you’ll become a prisoner to a certain point of view that you’ll never question.’”

Mohamed El-Erian: CEO and co-chief investment officer, Pimco

Written by: Pereena Lamba. Pereena is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant. She is also co-author of Totally Mumbai.

Where is Sri Lanka and what is it famous for?

On April 21, 2019, there were a number of explosions across 3 hotels and some churches in Sri Lanka. A number of people were killed, and the world is in shock over this cruelty. Sri Lanka’s law enforcement groups are figuring out who was responsible.

Here’s a little about this beautiful island country:


Put together by Preetika Soni.

Illustrations by Sohail Panjwani.

Myanmar: Brave journalists in prison are awarded the Pulitzer Prize

Credit: Washington Post

Journalists around the world are continually putting their lives at risk to bring us stories that we need to read. The Pulitzer Prize is awarded for outstanding journalism across many categories, but this year, the prize for International Reporting takes on even more importance as it has been given to two journalists who are in jail in Myanmar.

Who are the Prize winners? Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are serving seven years in Yangon’s Insein Prison for “exposing state secrets”. They are a part of Reuters, the global news agency. The men were covering the investigation into the murder of 10 Rohingya men in the village of Inn Dinn. The Rohingya Muslims have been treated atrociously by the military with several thousand fleeing the country as they feared for their lives. The two men had collected a massive amount of evidence from victims of the violence as well as from some of the people who took part in it. Their report was going to be very embarrassing for the government who continues to deny doing anything wrong.

How were they arrested? The journalists were arrested in 2017 on the charge that they had ‘classified documents in their possession.’ They claim that they had been set up. A police officer, pretending to be a source of information, handed them some documents at a secret meeting outside of Yangon. As soon as he had done so, several other police officers came charging into the room and arrested the pair.

Reuter’s Editor-in-Chief Stephen J Adler was quoted on the company’s website saying, “I’m thrilled that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and their colleagues have been recognised for their extraordinary, courageous coverage…….I remain deeply distressed, however, that our brave reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo are still behind bars.”

The report, called ‘Massacre in Myanmar’ was completed by Reuters’ Simon Lewis and Antoni Slodkowski.

This is not the first time that the plight of the Rohingyas has been highlighted through the Pulitzer Prize. In 2014, another report, on the fate of the Rohingyas, also by Reuters, had won this award. Further, in 2018, the staff of Reuters were given the Feature Photography award for images that exposed the violence that Rohingya refugees faced in fleeing Myanmar.

We salute these bravehearts and hope they win their final appeal in Myanmar’s Supreme Court.

Written by: Pereena Lamba. Pereena is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant. She is also co-author of Totally Mumbai.

Africa: Dictators shown the door



The dictators of two countries, Algeria and Sudan, have been shown the door and had it slammed shut behind them. Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir have both been forced to step down after massive public protests against them. 

Let’s see what they have in common:

  1. Both were heads of oil-rich countries, so when oil prices were high, they were like kings, though many of the benefits of the oil money did not reach all the people.
  2. They were both supported by the military and the rich upper classes (more so in the case of Mr Bouteflika) and stayed in power so that they could serve their own needs.
  3. Both have a military army and use strong tactics to control the populations in their countries.
  4. They were very controlling and had strict restrictions on people’s freedoms, especially the freedom of speech.

They had their differences too, especially in how they ruled.

Algeria: President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who had been in power for twenty years, despite having suffered a stroke that left him paralysed and unable to speak well (he has not made a public speech in over seven years!), finally decided to step down. Until now, he was supported by the army and the rich elite, whom many say had the real power in the country – the President was their ‘puppet’, changing rules and laws to suit their needs. Not a great way to run a country! His announcement came after one million citizens took to the streets to force him out of power after suffering his brutal rule for years.

Sudan: Mr. al-Bashir in Sudan had been ruling the country since 1989, had a completely hands-on approach and was very powerful. He has been accused of terrible war crimes against humanity, especially in the Darfur region of the country. The International Criminal Court had even had a warrant out for his arrest. Though he dodged these major setbacks, in 2011, he was pushed to sign an agreement that gave birth to the new country of South Sudan. Mr. al-Bashir was not happy with the move, but when 99% of the South Sudanese population voted in favour of independence, he had to accept it. After protests against his rule began last December, he called a state of emergency in the country in February 2019, replacing all state governors with military forces. Finally, it was the military itself who forced his hand and made him step down.

What happens next? While both these are victories for the people, the troubles are not all over. In Algeria, Mr Bouteflika has been replaced with one of his old buddies, Mr Abdelkader Bensalah, as the acting President. The protestors are up in arms again and have promised to continue their marches and demonstrations till they get rid of the old guard. In Sudan too, people vowed to keep up their resistance after hearing the news that a ‘transitional period’ had begun under the military power.

For both countries, the road to democracy still seems like a long one.

Written by: Pereena Lamba. Pereena is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant. She is also co-author of Totally Mumbai.

Elections got underway this weekend in India

Elections got underway this weekend in India!

    • Up to 900 million people of India will vote to decide who represents them in their district or State, which then influences who eventually represents them in the Lok Sabha or lower House of Parliament.
    • Whichever political party gets the majority of votes – by itself or with a coalition of its partners, will get to run the country.
    • Will Narendra Modi be Prime Minister again, or will someone else be given the chance?
    • Elections will be held in 7 phases and will continue for the next 6 weeks so stay tuned!
    • To read more on the General Elections, Click here.

What you should know about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, has finally been arrested.

What did he do? Assange got access to government secrets through various sources. He then started publishing the information on his website, WikiLeaks, as he believed that everyone deserved to have access to this information.

He has been wanted by the US government for one of the biggest leaks of classified government data in history. This included US army videos and communication from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and hacked emails from the US elections amongst other information. There was also data on other countries, governments, United Nations diplomats, data from Sony Pictures, and more  – nothing was off limits.

He has been wanted since 2012 on other charges, and had sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

The Ecuadorian Embassy gave him asylum and housed him for the past 7 years, but has now given him up to UK authorities.

The UK courts will decide his fate – he faces extradition to the US or other places to face the music.