Casting Aspersions

Is it right to question the integrity of people of a country based on what their democratically-elected government does? My opinion, based on the current global context, is that it is not correct. In this post, I will explain why. This is mainly in response to Great Bong’s post (link), in which he holds the opposite view. I respect his opinion as long as he is consistant. I will also relate this to blaming every bank employee (in Goldman Sachs etc.) for the banks’ role in the global economic crisis.

A view held by many is that the citizens on the country are ultimately responsible for the actions of the government. Thus, any state-sponsored activity, including terrorism, can be blamed upon every individual from the country. In theory, the government is suppose to reflect the views of the majority in the country, and therefore, the actions of the governments are indicative of the mass opinion in the country. I respect this view, but do not agree with it.

I question that basic premise of the argument that the government reflects the views of the majority. I have seen overwhelming evidence off-late that most democratically-elected governments today are plutocracies. First, there was the plutocracy memo (link) by the Citigroup. Second, I read this Al Jazeera article on the power of lobbying in the US (link). These pieces, among others, make me believe that common man has absolutely no voice in the governance of the country because he does not belong to the elite. Is my vote really worth a billionth of the value of all billion Indian voters put together? Regardless of what most of the country thinks, it is the wealth-driven lobbies, which dictate the domestic and foreign policy. That is disturbing.

Also, when we accuse a nation of being immoral, we should be willing to accept similar, well-reasoned aspersions on us. Let’s take Kashmir and the Northeastern India as examples, where our lawmakers have wrecked havok. We have rigged elections in Kashmir (link) and misused Armed Force Special Provision Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir and the Northeastern India (link) (Also look my post on Kashmir (link)).Based on these irresponsible acts, a Kashmiri or a Manipuri can easily label the rest of the nation as traitors. I am personally not responsible for these acts by our government. We all blame it on factors beyond our control such as the politicians and their vote-bank politics. Just like how I am not willing to take criticism for the atrocities my government commits (maybe, I ought to accept those criticisms), I do not want to blame another nation in entirety for actions of a few individuals of their government.

I apply the same moral compass in blaming bankers working for big banks for the sub-prime crisis. The contempt against the big banks for their hand in the crisis is well justified (link). But are we right in holding every individual who work in these firms responsible for the chaos? I assume that it is an “elite few” at the top who made those decisions that led to the downfall. Most worker have had no role in the crisis. Thus, I do not hold every banker accountable for the crisis.

There is one point for which I don’t have an answer. You may argue that the bankers have a choice to quit their job and work elsewhere. I think that’s a fair point. But I also think about the reality of their choice. After a fairly-long career, changing domains is not easy. The real choice is between a great lifestyle and being unemployed for a long time. Should one’s values be strong enough to punish oneself by being unemployed for no fault of their own?

This post appeared as a column in The Viewspaper (link)

On Kashmir Issue

There are many articles on Kashmir without the viewpoint of an average Kashmiri. This post assumes that the protests in Kashmir today are not a product of the terrorist movement, but by average Kashmiris who are trying to make ends meet. I have seen a few points by media, friends, and few bloggers on this issue. In this post, I don’t plan to make judgements, but present some flaws in the arguments. I will end the post with an empowering-based solution rather than a secession-based solution. I am not willing to debate on who is currently taking part in the protests as it will rely on circumstantial evidence.

I present the question first, followed by arguments, followed by counter arguments. If you have some answers, the comment section is open. Do not get personal; the comments will be moderated.

0. Can we question Kashmiris’ demand for Independence?

Argument:

India is a democratic nation and the constitution does not allow secession. Any grievances they have should be addressed within the framework of the law. They have to do that in a democratic way.

Counter Argument:

If one believes in the ideals of democracy, there is a fundamental hypocrisy in questioning the demand for independence. The point, however, that is open to debate is whether or not there is wisdom in Kashmiris making such a demand. We will examine that in the rest of the post

One of the ideals of democracy is to be able to establish a government that is accepted by a group of people. Thus, there is no justification necessary to demand freedom if one believes in democracy. Freedom is an inalienable right. Therefore, from a philosophical standpoint, demanding freedom requires no justification, only the will of the people demanding it. Therefore, arguing about whether Kashmiris should be allowed to demand secession invalids the moral principles behind democracy and republicanism.

1. Is Kashmiris’ demand for freedom without reason?

Arguments:

a. Independence struggle is fought by those who are oppressed against the oppressor. India has not oppressed Kashmir.

b. Kashmir faces several issues today. These issues are faced by many others too. Bomb blasts are a regular occurance in Kashmir. Bombay, Jaipur, Bangalore etc. have all witnessed them too. Elections were rigged in Kashmir in the 80s. Elections are rigged all the time in Bihar. AFSPA is misused in Kashmir. Even in the north-east, AFSPA is misused. Corruption has caused havoc in Kashmir, but corruption is common everywhere in India. When Bihar, Bombay, and other are not demanding secession, why should Kashmiris?

Counter Arguments:

a. That is not entirely true. Massive rigging (allegedly) of elections (more than Bihar and other states) (link) and denial of justice to Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) victims count towards oppression (link). Rigging elections was a concerted effort by the central government to force-feed their agenda. Misuse of AFSPA is also a form of oppression. You only feel it when you lose a loved one. In Karnataka or UP, you know that the guilty is going to get punished some day. There is statistically more chance of accused facing a court of law in Karnataka or UP (for some crime) than in Kashmir (when an army officer misuses AFSPA). This adds to the loss of hope in the Indian administration.

To say that Kashmir is needed for India’s protection is to say that we are using Kashmir as human-shields and that we are using Kashmir for our own good. That is exactly what the British and the rest of imperialists did to its colonies. They used them for their own good.

If you are looking for regions fighting for Independence with reasons that resonate with Kashmir, Chechnya (link) is good example. Torture was used against separatist forces and the elections were allegedly rigged. Inter-ethnic and separatist conflicts have led to 150,000 people being displaced. In both cases, terrorism (only few people involved) has diluted the legitimacy of their demands. But the plight of the common man in both the regions is similar.

b. In isolation, each of those individual issues do not necessitate secession . But is there a place where all of them have happened at the same time? In Kashmir, all misfortunes have happened. That’s why Kashmir is an exception. Let us also look at the magnitude of each of the issues before we say that their demand for freedom is an over-reaction.

Firstly, bomb blasts have happened at the frequency of once a month for last twenty years. What Bombay, Jaipur or Hyderabad have witnessed is not close to that. Secondly, elections are allegedly rigged in Bihar and few other states too. They are mostly restricted booth capturing and bribery. In Kashmir, the entire legislature was allegedly chosen to represent people favoured by the Indian government (link). Thirdly, there have been reports of the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) being misused by army officials. The culprit goes unpunished (link). I am not sure of the extent of misuse in the north-east.  We have been neglecting north east and I wont be surprised if we do see a big rebellion there. Fourthly, corruption to rest of India is having to wait for 30 min more in traffic or pay Rs. 500 more to get your passport. In Kashmir, it is a matter of life and death. Don’t expect Kashmiris to tolerate corruption like we do.

Demand for secession is born only when people lose hope of having a better life being part of the parent country. In Kashmir, there is no hope. If you go to market, there is no guarantee that you will come back home alive. In other parts of the country, people are hopeful fora better future. NREGA and farmers’ loan waiver are two examples where even the poor are able to see a better future. You cannot say the same about Kashmir. For 20 years they have only seen violence and there is no indication of the war subsiding.

I am only opposed to the insensitivity with which their protests are viewed. I am not talking about what actions need to taken by India. To be insensitive is to further alienate the Kashmiris. That does not bode well.

So, where is the threshold for justification of demand for secession? Is 10 bombs a year a good enough reason? Is it 15? or 100? I think the answer lies in the answer to the following question: when do the people lose hope in the administration? Do you believe Kashmir will be peaceful in next 10 years as part of India? I am guessing the answer is ‘no’. Does a Kashmiri believe his place will be peaceful in 10 years? The answer is definitely ‘no’.  This also poses another question: When to take these demands seriously? Next part will shine some light on that.

2. Will Balkanisation of India happen if Kashmir secedes.

Arguments:

If Kashmir secedes, the rest of India will also split up thanks to some lunatics who will demand independence for frivolous reasons.

Counter Arguments:

Demands for secession  comes when there is a deep discontent and loss of hope. I am sure that if a poll is conducted in Punjab, Tamil Nadu, or Bihar today, integration with India will be preferred over secession. Even farmers in India have hope. Their loans were waived. They have seen India prosper in other avenues. If there is security and economic prosperity, small uprising against the establishment will not enjoy mass support.

Let us examine some examples of fragmentation of nations in history. Aceh insurgency (link) and Khalistan (link, link) movements are examples of revolts without mass support. There is plenty of evidence of countries breaking up when they are militarily or economically deprived (Yugoslavia: link). Some other fights for secession involve oppression by the parent country (Sri Lanka: link, Ireland: link). The break-up of Czechoslovakia is one example which was carried out peacefully. Czechoslovakia held their first election in 40 years in 1990 (link). The rate of decline of employment also played its role.

None of these examples apply to India. Except in Kashmir and north-east, there is no alleged state-sponsored oppression in India.  Our military is very strong. I need historical evidence that shows fragmentation of an emerging economic power.  Only a historical evidence will make me think of this threat of Balkanisation seriously.

Kashmir protest today is an exception and cannot be seen as just another act of Khalistan-like violence. As argued before, their plight is far worse than an average frustrated Indian. Small revolts in other parts of India will not have mass support and they can be handled easily through dialogues or military action. If there is an mass uprising against the government, it means that the government has failed miserably. It is too naive to assume India will get fragmented if Kashmir breaks off. Demands for secession do not crop up over night. People must be willing to give their lives for it.

3. Why can’t the status quo be an option for Kashmiris when India is doing all it can to satisfy them?

Arguments:

Kashmir is important to India for its strategic location. If India withdraws from Kashmir, India will be put in a vulnerable position. That, however, does not mean we are using Kashmiris as human shields. In our absence, Kashmir is going to face attacks from Pakistan and China for its strategic location (link). Knowingly leaving Kashmir will make us as guilty of genocide that will follow as using them as human shields. Because of Kashmir’s inexperience in dealing with an existential threat on their own, it is imperative on our part to govern Kashmir for both the good of Kashmir and the rest of India.

Counter Argument:

Kashmiris are demanding independence mainly because India is unable to protect them even with our best efforts. Status quo is not working. As India believes Kashmir is an integral part of the nation, we ought to restore confidence in them. If it means we must give some power to Kashmir police, we should be willing to so that.  They trust their own police more than they trust the Indian Army. India armed forces can man the peaks near theb order for its security. This is not an overnight effort. There should be a five-year or a ten-year roadmap built that will empower Kashmiri police to be able to protect themselves from insurgency. Because of the precarious state of the valley and the trust of the Kashmiri people in their own police, the police can be given more powers than the police in the other states. I am almost certain that such a roadmap to peace will be accepted by Kashmiris. A sincere promise of peace can stop the protests.

To say that we are doing everything we can, and Kashmiris are incapable of protecting themselves is akin to the missionaries and the British doing a favour to Indian by bringing civility to idol worshipping Hindus (link).

More autonomy is a point on the continuum between status quo and complete independence. We should look at that option. Kashmiris claim that they can better protect their land with more autonomy. Why shouldn’t we give them a chance? They know the terrain better; they know the people better. We ought to be of good assistance and enable Kashmiris to protect themselves. When Kashmiris are shown a roadmap to peace, the hope will be restored and the protests will stop. Status quo does not present hope.

4. Are their means of protest legitimate?

Arguments:

a. Kashmiri Pundit were systematically massacred in late 80s and early 90s. Kashmiris do not have the moral right to demand freedom as they themselves are guilty of breaking the law and order. They have skewed the demographics.

b. The protesters are violent.

Counter Arguments:

a. I assume that it is the common people of Kashmir who are fighting today. It was the terrorists who killed and drove away the Pundits. We are talking about two different sets of people here. Putting them together is as bad as claiming every Muslim is a terrorist.

Side note: I believe that any referendum that is conducted should include all the pundits who were driven out. It is their land too. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, also believes the same (link).

b. All Party Hurriyat Conference (link) has a peaceful agenda. They have been working towards this in a peaceful manner since 1993. Though election have not been rigged since then, AFSPA misuse has not declined. Peaceful methods have been tried. To resort to violence indicates an average Kashmiris’ frustration with the Indian administration.

Protests are targeted against the armed forces, police and CRPF.  They are not making innocent civilians victims. I assume that it is the general population of Kashmir who are holding the protest and not radical Islamists. Their means are justified except for some stray incidents of burning government property. That is wrong. Then again, it the government they are fighting, not the common man.

5. Why can’t American-civil-war-style forced-action work?

Arguement: US was divided into two, and yet The Union managed to restore it to a single country. Though there may be a popular uprising against the Indian government,  the lesson from the US civil war is that there can be solutions that don’t result in Kashmir being separated from India.

Counter Argument: In the US civil war, two armies were were fighting. There were some slaves who were fighting against their own interest. But just because America did it then doesn’t make it right for us to do the same. In the current Kashmir protests, we will be fighting the very people we call our own. They are willing to give their lives up for the cause. Any forced action upon them with incur the wrath the rest of the world. War against Pakistan or China will cripple the economy (not to mention the nuclear weapons). We all know how the war against the terrorist insurgency is going. Forced-action is not an option. Secession-based solution won’t work either. I think an empowerment-based solution will work the best.

Acknowledgement: I’d like to thank Semanticoverload and Karthik Swaminathan for their contributions to this post.

Cultural Insensitivity

A month back, my friends and I were talking about funding for different departments and graduate research assistant stipend during summer. I learnt that some student get twice as much during summer than during regular semester. I hadn’t asked my prof about my pay-check then. I did concede that it was partly because I find it uneasy to talk about money. That’s when it occurred to me about write about cultural differences that I have encountered so far.

Profit is a dirty word

I had read an article (link) by Amit Varma where he talks about ‘profit’ being a dirty word during Nehru’s socialistic governance and later on until economic liberalisations. The thought of profit, and consequently money, being dirty have always been taught to us since primary education. I remember couplets that talk about working hard without really worrying about the result or money that you can get out of it. Also, I remember how angry parents used to get when, as a child, we prayed to god for anything materialistic. The idea that money is last thing to worry about is etched in our minds. Its hard to let go of such ideas in quick time. Asking for raise is not something Indians are comfortable with.

Even e-mailing profs for funding when going for an Internship is hard thing to do. Clearly, expecting money for you work is not wrong. But the idea of money being ‘dirty’ is playing its role here. On the other hand, American students are pretty frank about it. Unlike Indians, they do not go to grad school if they are not funded. Understanding local culture and adopting them and letting go of our conservative mindset is what we need to learn.

Tipping

Indians in US are infamous for being bad tippers (it could just be a stereotype, but i have seen a few people in my university who refuse to tip). Despite arguing that waiters are not paid as much they are suppose to paid because it’s a ‘tipped-job’, some people refuse to accept what I say. We ought not to be so insensitive to any practice here. I believe that while in Rome, we should do as Romans do. There is a reason why romans do the things they do. We ought to respect that.

Japanese Shopkeepers Handling Currency Notes

I have guilty of being culturally insensitive too. In India, you are always taught to offer and receive anything (including money) with your right hand. Money is offered directly to the hand. Also, both the giver and the receiver should either be inside the house or outside when a transaction takes place. I think it’s just a way of saying, “I respect you”. There were two instances when I was in Tokyo when the shopkeepers asked me to place the currency notes on a tray. Forgetting that I was in completely different country, I gave it to their hand in dominating way. This happened twice. It was only later that I realised that I may have offended them. That was when I made a mental note of being sensitive to local customs. I still don’t know if I have offended them. Anyone who knows, please let me know.

Language

Recently, I read about a case (lost the link … sorry) in Canada about an Indian shop keeper who had used the words, “I will kill her if he doesn’t give the sweets to you” to a regular Canadian customer. We Indians know that “I will kill you” is used in jest by everyone. But in a different place, the implications are completely different. The shop keeper was arrested by the police on a complaint by the customer about the “death-threat”. I think the mis-understanding as later resolved. Such thing do happen by accident but it is in our best interest to adapt quickly.

A lot of things are lost in translation. I have heard this statement, supposedly from Koran: “If people do not convert to Islam, kill them (infidels) by swords”. I do not think it is true but even if it is, I am interested to know the context in which it was said. For all we know, “kill them” can mean “ignore them”. Who know what it meant 1300 years ago?

Student in India use “jobless” to say they are free to do stuff. I once said, “I will be jobless tomorrow, you can call me” and they appeared really concerned. Two seconds later I released my mistake and explained the meaning of “jobless” much to their amusement.

Any such funny or serious stuff you guys have experienced? Comment it.

Social Responsibility

Update: This post has been edited for clarity and typos.

What prompted me to write this is another post shared by my friend on Google Reader. It talks about Sarabjit Singh, a woman who did not want her husband released in exchange for terrorist. Kudos to her! I really admire her because she put her country before herself and her family. I did not appreciate the post when the writer called another person, who was desperate to get her family back during Kandahar hijacking, an anti-national. It is becoming rather fashionable to call somebody anti-national. Be it cutting flag coloured cake, playing musical version of national anthem, or if it looks like someone’s leg is facing the national flag. There are lawyers who make a living out of it. I want to explain why demand or negotiating release of hijacked passengers in lieu of terrorist is not anti-national, but plain human. I know some views are controversial, please do not jump to conclusions before reading this post completely.

One of the jobs of the Govt. is to protect its citizens. The govt. is elected by the people, and consequently it is the job of the society to elect the right government. In other words, it is the society which takes care of itself. When plane is hijacked, the govt. failed in its duty to protect its citizens. So what is wrong with demanding the govt to secure the release of the passengers? It is the govt. which has failed and has to set things right. The society is very much entitled to demand this. It is very disappointing to see that a part of a society thinks otherwise. They speak as if it is duty of the hijacked passengers to die for the country.

It is very easy to judge the relatives who are facing the trauma as “anti-national” by others who have no experience dealing with such uncertainties. Everyone loves their country, most of us love ourselves more. That’s the fact. I am really appalled by the ease with which the author of the post judged the woman  as being anti-national. I bet the author has never been in situation where there was a gamble for his loved one’s life.

Many ask, “If we ‘give-in’ to the terrorists, wont it send the wrong signal to the terrorists that every time a plane is hijacked, they can pull another of their terrorist heroes back from prison?” My response is the following: If you are scared that that signal we sent that day makes them think that hijacking a plane is solution to their problems, haven’t you
already conceded that they will hijack again and there is nothing India can do to prevent that? Are you convinced that we can protect ourselves any more? This, to me, is the real felling of “giving in” to the terrorists.

In some sense, many think that govt. “gave up” to the terrorists. Here’s how I look at it: Had we remained stone hearted and let the passengers be killed, we are sending a signal that if we release a terrorist, we cannot catch him again, that we were very lucky to have caught him.

Lets assume that India has a reputation of storming the planes every time they are hijacked. Think for a moment, as a terrorist, what would you do? Would you attempt negotiation with the govt. from the hijacked plane? Or would you blow it up mid-air or against a tall building out of spite? I have a feeling this has been done before.

For once, before calling anyone anti-national, society ought to step into their shoes and look and the options before them. It is the fault of the government/society that the plane was hijacked. After the harm is done, society should try and rectify it. Not treat the victims like guinea pigs in a failed experiment and let them be killed by hijackers. The society has to take the responsibility of bringing them back alive.

Talking about social responsibilities, let me express my views on capital punishment as well. I am myself not sure about capital punishment, but there is one case where I am against it: in punishing serial killers. I was in favour of capital punishment before watching the movie ‘monster’, which portrays a life of a prostitute who becomes a serial killer out of circumstance. I am against capital punishment given out to psychopathic serial killers.

People don’t just “become” psychopathic serial killers. It is the society which makes them. It is the society which gives them tough choices and it is the society which treats them badly. When the results aren’t favourable, society wants to treat the person like a guinea pig and kill him. I dont like the ‘tax payer’s burden’ argument about keeping them in jail (when there is no hope for them to recover) either. It is the society which made them that way. From a moral point of view, society should pay for its failed experiment.

Another argument I have heard is that we all have lived in the same society, and we did not turn out to be serial killers. My simple answer is that every individual is unique, and if you cant respect that, you are the one who doesn’t deserve a place in society. Some favour death penalty for the ‘sentiments’ of victims’ families. I dont buy that because the decision which the family takes is an emotional one and not necessarily the rational one.

Moving a little away from the topic, people love to call those who have left the country for education or job as anti-national. IITians, and in last ten years, NITs, BITS etc, are the main targets. Let’s examine that claim as well.

Firstly, ‘the lakhs of rupees spent on an IITian’ argument. As an IITian, I can say that we were not put in luxury. We had to pay for everything from electricity bill to Rs 600 for renting a gown for the convocation to ‘security’ for the hostels. They subsidized the mess (which was horrible) up to Rs 8 per day per student which, I agree, is quite significant. But then who isn’t subsidized in India? Petrol is subsidized. Diesel is subsidized for farmers, but other people buy diesel cars anyway (they are real anti-nationals if you ask me 😛 ). Gas is subsidized to every household. Taking all of that into account, I am not sure if the subsidy for us is more significant than what is given to the rest of the country. Profs are paid for research and teaching us. Its their job and cannot be counted towards the “burden” of the tax payers. The only place where, I think, the lakhs of rupees figure makes sense is the licensing of the softwares for research. Sophisticated Labs and Labs Equipments are something which undergraduates seldom use. But, I am sure any research that is done in IITs and IISc comes back to nation as inputs for ISRO, DRDO etc. for India’s development. Most of research is done by PhD students who stay in country. I am damn sure the lakhs of rupees figures is not the true figure. The realistic figure, I believe, is a much reasonable amount. I do realize that rest of the colleges do not even get the minimal facilities that we “enjoy”. That only talks about govt. apathy.

Secondly, lets look at the reason why the “brain-drain” occurs. A student expected to pay back to country though research or through entrepreneurship. As far as research is concerned, it is known that hardly any importance is given to it in India. Expenditure towards research takes a back seat. Infrastructure in India is lacking. Who is responsible for that? Government/Society. How about entrepreneurship? India was a socialist country 20 years back. Little wonder that brain-drain was rampant back then. Today it’s, thanks to economic reforms, much less. Again its the government/society responsible for that. Calling people anti-national is doing society no good. There are very few who put their country ahead of their personal ambitions, they are truly amazing. Other are human, not anti-national.

Also, why is the responsibility of the chosen few to bring the country out of the mess it is in. What is the role of the people who judge others as anti-national? Isn’t that an indication of resigned society putting burden on a some of its members to bring them back on their feet.

Before calling anyone “anti-national” the society should learn its responsibility.

Language, Religion and Everything Else

Couple of friends of mine and me had an argument which was kicked offby this peace of news. My reaction, just like many others, was, “wtf?” We all know how the government had done such a mediocre job is building new schools. The right to basic education is being denied to scores thousands of people in the state. Yet, the government goes out of the way to destroy the existing school. This clearly shows the sign of its irresponsibility. Yes, the schools were given to permit teaching in only Kannada as the medium of instruction and they did flout the law. All that govt. had to do was warn them and remind them about the condition on which the permit was given. It wasn’t necessary to take the extreme step. Let’s face it; English is the language in which science is best taught. International standardization for scientific terms has existed for long time. Social Studies, on the other hand, is best taught is the native language. When you learn about a society or about a culture, the native language obviously has the richest vocabulary to express the ideas. It was wrong on the part of the schools to have taken license for schools to run in Kannada medium and flout the rule. I can only say that, it’s now fair if the govt. gives permits to existing schools either as Kannada medium or as English medium provided the schools follow the necessary norms. Though many may hate to admit it, English medium is a necessity and not a luxury in Urban India. In rural India, perhaps, native language works the best.There had been a constant worry among Kannada activists that the language is losing importance. Some of them have taken extreme measures to burn English hoardings in Bangalore to encourage Kannada. This is not acceptable. Kannada Activists have every right to encourage Kannada, but they have no business to discourage English or any other language like they did. There are ways to popularize Kannada and other regional languages. For instance, a good comic book for primary kids and good novels to a high school kid goes a long way in developing interest and enthusiasm in a language. You can’t enforce a language on someone and hope that it popularizes it. You have to develope a natural inclination to a language. The fact that locals are offended by “outsiders” are encroaching Bangalore is laughable. Different kinds of people coming into Bangalore has added diversity and richness into the culture of Bangalore. And remember that the Indian culture we talk about has again evolved over 20 centuries. If we have to retain our identity, we have encouraged it, not prevent people from coming into Bangalore. IT is blamed for “infesting” Karnataka. Remember, IT contributes to 25% of GDP of Karnataka. Given 50% comes from agriculture, the share of IT is phenomenal. It’s up to the govt. (indirectly, the people) to use them.

Regionalism took its tool on our debate. points about how Tamilians never speak in other languages, and how accommodative Kanndigas are as they are “allowing” people to stay in Bangalore were all made by my friends. I did not agree to the fact that Bangalore was decaying because of presence of other people.

The topic of the debate swayed a little bit to how tolerant, in general, Indians are. My friend claimed this has lead to our downfall in some sense. We talked about how foolish India was for not trading POK for Lahore after the ’71 war and other passive attempts to counter terrorism. Speaking of recent comments by Manmohan Singh , I acknowledged the fact that a stronger stance was needed to counter terrorism, state-sponsored or otherwise. Then the debate turned to religion. And that’s what prompted me to write this post.

At this point I made it clear that I don’t find my life very different from a Christian Indian or Indian Muslim. I don’t consider myself a Hindu and that I am an atheist. I don’t want to assume a narrower Identity. I am a citizen of the world first, then India, then my state. This according to them was being too benevolent. They said, “We have to serve our people. One has to be a Village/Town’s person first, State next, country next and then the world.” They claimed, ‘Indians have this tendency of giving a lot to the world and not getting as much in return by being benevolent and tolerant to others.’ Despite the obscene portrayal of Hindu deities by MF Hussein, he was felicitated by the Indian Govt. Govt. was blamed for appeasing the minority for votes (obviously) and splitting the majority and successfully make a living out of it. They claimed that because of the India being a secular nation, political parties are able to use the mantra of “divide and rule”. That is, appease the minority, get their votes, split the majority, get half their votes and win election. However, it isn’t clear to me how the majority is split. Both of them went on to claim that India will be more peaceful nation if it officially a “Hindu state”.

I was taken aback. What sort of a country (and democracy) is it when you don’t have a freedom to choose the religion you want to follow. They went on to claim that Secularism hasn’t worked anywhere in the world. I claimed that it obviously wasn’t true. It is only in India that Secularism has worked because of Hindu Muslim conflict. The only other place where a bitter war is being fought in the name of religion (between two religion) is Israel which isn’t a secular state. Source 1, 2. The rest of the world is quite peaceful secular or not. It is easy for Hindus in India to say make India a Hindu State. What about the minority. Why should they be subjected to the torture of having to follow a religion not appealing to them. India is a free country, a secular country. For a country as diverse as ours, that’s the best.

I was baffled at this point. First, they say that my priority of considering myself citizen of the world first is screwed and second they want to make India a country which bound by laws of a rigid religion whose rules cannot be changed easily. The topic of Narendra Modi was also raised. I called him a cold blooded murderer and a terrorist. This was agreed upon. Then came the issue of conversion, Christian missionaries and of course Graham Steins. One of my friends claimed, he can justify the killings of him and his two sons.


He Explained:
It is against the Indian constitution to coax anyone into converting his religion. Graham Steins did just that. He went to tribal area, spoke to people over there. Introduced then to Christianity. Offended a lot of people. He deserved to die.

I answered back, “how the hell can you justify him being killed for that? What was the fault of his two children? Would you kill Osama’s children? The intention of the missionaries is to spread Christianity. They do a lot of social service. If they can inform people that that is what Christianity is all about. There is nothing wrong in asking them to convert as long as he doesn’t force them.”

He started, “Ok, killing his children was wrong but he still coaxed people. Its against constitution”
Me: “Coax is not a crime. It is surely not wrong. Constitution is wrong there. It should be changed. It can be changed”
Him: “Nothing is right or wrong in abstract sense. I follow what constitution says. I accept it as a norm”
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My opinion: Great argument in rhetoric, hardly holds any weight otherwise.

I asked him if he thinks what missionaries is doing is wrong, does he approve of what ISKON is doing? He replied, “Yes, there are spreading Krishna Conscience, not Hindu conversion.” Logically speaking, since Krishna is Hindu God, shouldn’t an ISKON follower imbibe certain (not
all) Hindu customs and traditions? Isn’t this a hypocrisy? You can’t approve what Iskon is doing and not approve what Missionaries are doing.

He went on to speak about how he insulted people over there and that there is a written proof of that. He offended a priest in the tribe who ran away from the place and that aggravated people. I asked him, “If he was insulting them at their face, how did he even hope to convert people.” He answered, “lets not get into logistics of that.” He told me that police and ministry wouldn’t help the tribe and hence they asked Dara Singh to kill him. He said, “Dara Singh, in a way, helped them.” At some point I asked him the source of this information. He said that it was in a book by Arun Shouri. Why didn’t that surprise me? He is from BJP. He is obviously going to bend facts in Hindu’s favour.

Even then, how does it justify him being KILLED? His view was that Indians have been insulted by Graham Steins’ actions. I questioned him if he believed Christianity was an Insult. He said, “no”. He also stated that such action were “necessary” for Hindus to retain their identity. At this point I was totally agitated. He had just claimed killing was a necessary and not just that. He wanted it to happen once in a while. He continued, “tribal were threatened by him, they killed him. I don’t support the killing. But, it is justifiable.” I made the usual clichéd argument about no one having a right to take a life. I also firmly said a big NO to capital punishment to Dara Singh or to Osama.

What kind of a religion supports violence? Isn’t the intolerance expressed by my friends totally against any religious beliefs? I asked him if he supported Osama Bin Laden’s Killing. There is a parallel here. He merely claimed they were different cases altogether. Seriously, Bin Laden is killing because he feels his religion is being threatened. Dara Singh did the same. Isn’t what he did a Hindu jihad? Just that in other religions there is no name for religion sponsored killing. How can anyone who supports what Dara Singh did, not support ehat Osama is doing? They are being hypocritical.

All of this happened between 1am and 5am. Raising my voice of several occasions and repeating many times, “how can anyone ever justify killing?”, I was waiting for an answer. I still am.

[PS: Ironically, this post on a heated argument had to come right after my post on lack of social interaction in IITM]

Resposibilities..forgotten

In the material world, any economic decision taken, the environment ends up being the victim. Ecology is seldom a concern when it comes to ‘development’. In one of my previous blogs, you may have read about the course I am doing called ‘environmental and resource economics’. Some of the facts here are straight from the course content.

I don’t know how many of you know about endosulfan poisoning in Kerala, here’s what happened there. Have a look at the link http://indiatogether.org/2004/jan/env-endosulf.htm . Kerala govt. had ordered aerial spraying of endosulfan pesticides in mountainous terrains of Kasargod district. Unknown even to scientists that drastic consequences were inevitable in 20 years, the program was welcomed by every segment of the population. Villagers looked at this as signs of progress. Coupled by biological food chain and the natural soil movement, endosulfan tracked its way into human metabolism. People were taken aback by the extent of damage it caused. Economists were reluctant to stop the aerial spraying (it was started in 70s; effect was seen in the late 90s). The damages included physical and mental deformities, diseases of central nervous system and many more. After a long fight, Kerala govt. did impose a ban on spraying but all this was in vain. A private agency claimed endosulfan wasn’t the cause and successfully lifted this ban. The people continue to suffer even today. Please look at these links too.
http://puggy.symonds.net/pipermail/india-ej/2003-October/001039.html

http://www.makingindiagreen.org/pr3.htm

Many of you would know about the Minamata disease caused by slow mercury poisoning. This link will provide the necessary information. http://rarediseases.about.com/od/rarediseases1/a/102304.htm Mercury was disposed off into the sea by Japanese industries. As in case of endosulfan, it penetrated into the human system and caused havoc. The symptoms here included (I quote from the web site) “Individuals began to have numbness in their limbs and lips. Some had difficulty hearing or seeing. Others developed shaking (tremors) in their arms and legs, difficulty walking, even brain damage. Others seemed to be going crazy, shouting uncontrollably.” Thankfully, Japanese are more sensible (or responsible) and took the necessary action.

Any decision that favours natural environment is taken only after much hue and cry. All of us are aware of the decision by UP govt. to close down industries around Taj Mahal. This came after persistent warning from experts and only after the damages on Taj Mahal were visible clearly. Why is it that Delhi buses were forced to CNG only after the city became infamous for being fourth most polluted city in the world? Even today more than 20 year old vehicles are running on roads. Victims of Bhopal Gas tragedy are yet to receive their compensation. Country like USA, which consumes maximum share of resources, and still hungry for more, refuses to sign the Kyoto Protocol!

Frankly, I am quite impressed by India’s ambitious project on interlinking of rivers. But I have a strong concern for the ecological impact it can have. It is a simple rule that when you are unsure about the consequences of an action, do not execute it. I wonder how many have actually thought of its influence on natural river flow. Can it end up drying some of the bigger rivers in the country? In every lecture on this project, engineering challenges are dealt with. But environment is forgotten practically every time.

Here’s an encouraging fact, eastern Himalayas and Western Ghats are included in 18 biodiversity hot spots of the world. Sadly, I guess, these are two of the very very few natural pockets of forest reserves we have.

With this blog I wanted to bring the plight of Kerala’s people to attention. I hope concerned authorities take the appropriate action

Assimilative Indian culture

This was an article i wrote about a year ago, will be published in the next issue of Bharati (IITMadras), I don’t see any signs of the magazine hitting the hostals, i decided to make it my blog. Upon the suggestion from the editor, the title ‘composite culture in india’ was changed to ‘assimilative indian culture’

Assimilative Indian culture
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Few countries in the world have such an ancient and diverse culture as India’s. Stretching back in an
unbroken sweep over 5000 years, Indian culture, down the ages, has developed in to a highly composite culture which has been enriched by waves of migration which were absorbed into the Indian way of life. The assimilative culture has manifested itself into a strong force. This manifestation is the result of co-existance of so many different cultures that were fused into ours in the course of time. As a result out culture became enriched.

The source of different elements of the Indian culture is not unique. The dynasties like that of Aryans, Mugals etc. have infused diversity in our culture. The roots of Indian civilization stretch back in time to pre-recorded history.

Indus valley civilization is one of the earliest knows civilizations in India. The prosperity of this civilization is well known. Even in the 4th or 3rd millennium BC, the urban developement, that had taken place was phenomenal. Roads were built perpendicularly, vast granaries, brick built houses were very common. Though it was mainly an agrarian society, its advancement in urban planning is undisputed. Recent excavations have shown remarkable similarities between the current indian culture and the indus valley civilization. Recent historians and research suggest the the Aryan (vadic) civilization and Indus vally civilization are one and the same.

Our culture is, to large extent, influenced by the aryans. They intermingled with the people, and gradually associated themselves with the social framework. They were the ones who developed the language of sanskrit, which even today is considered to be the most organised language. They composed the hymns of the four vedas, which are the fundamental base of hinduism. Hinduism constitutes eighty percent of today’s population. Earlier, vedas were written on the banks of saraswati and then on the gangetic plains owing to a natural shift that dried saraswati river. Ramayana and Mahabharata is thought is have been written during this period.

6th century BC saw the rise of the two significant religions in the country, jainism and buddhism. Their popularity spread owing to their message of non violence and practicality. In the Third century BC, it was the turn of the Mauryan empire to hold the rule in the country. They extended their empire over the entire sub-continent. The greatest king of this empire, Ashoka, converted to Buddhism later in life and spread the message through a script called Brahmi.

In 326 BC, Greeks tried and succeed in invading India. Through the passages of time and wars, Greek established their supremecy. The interaction between the two cultures resulted in a change in art form. Sculptures made during that era mark a Greek influence. After Ashoka’s death, the Mauryan empire perished.

4th century AD saw the Gupta empire rule the nation. Hindism consolidated its position. This era saw the emergence of the classical art forms and development of various facets of Indian culture. This age registered considerable progress in literature and science, particularly in astronomy and mathematics. Aryabhatta, who lived during this age, was the first Indian who made a significant contribution to astronomy.

Meanwhile, South india remained largly unaffected by the changes in the northern part of the country. Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism established themselves comfortably. The great dynastyies here were the Cholas, Pandyas, Cheras, Chalukyas and Pallavas. The dravidian Architecture flourished during this period. This region was propelled by the trade links with the African nations. New sea routes were discovered for the development of trade. Arab traders permanently settled down in Kerala. They were allowed to practice their religion. This further led to the enrichment of the ‘Indian Culture’. St. Thomas brought christianity into the country during this period.

The impact of mugal reign in India is phenomenal. Our life style changed in every walk of life including the cloths we wear, the language we speak, architecture, of which Taj Mahal is the best example. This was not just one sided. Even the Islamic culture was influenced by us. Urdu, for instance, began to written in the devanagri script. Islamic Sufi cult and hindu bhakthi cult made their presence felt. Followers of Guru Nanak, who founded the Sikh religion, soon became popular. The co-existence of hindus and muslims brought more glory to the Indian culture. The mightiest king of Mugal empire, Akbar himself set an example by getting married to a hindu princess. Marathas played a significant role in shaping the Indian culture. Though their kingdom did not grow in size, they had a considerable hold over their region.

Final intruder into India were the Britishers. French, Dutch and portuguese had their eyes on India, but succumbed to the power of Englishmen. The effect of British on the nation need not be told. However, it is important to mention that foundation of industrialization and commercialization was laid by them.

The need for public awareness on the independence triggered the wave of social reforms. This brought major changes the social outlook of the country. Festivals were used to campaign for the Public outcry against British. For instance, Bal Gangadhar Tilak popularised Ganesha festival in Maharastra. Even to this day it is celebrated in a large scale in that region. Social reforms in society took place during that period.

Our culture did not decay as a result of wars, battles or invasions. The influx of their culture preserved our culture and helped it grow. To this day the people are fascinated by the composite culture of ours. Emerging sceanario of our composite culture is tough to predict. The growth of our culture is unparalleled. Truely our culture symbolizes unity in diversity.