Category Archives: Current Affairs

How “surgical” this surgical strike is?

 

Today Morning, right in between our morning news consumption, we all were bombarded with some completely unexpected news. India carried out a surgical strike in POK. Yes, it was asked for by Pakistan and it was long overdue but it was highly unlikely. When you see last 10 day timelines, you understand why it was highly unlikelife-cycle-of-indians-on-social-media-after-a-terrorist-attack-day-1-go-to-war-hit-them-hard-blow-them-up-smash-them-tear-them-apart-cross-the-line-of-control-create-balochistan-muh-toly and why it happened? On September 18, a group of terrorist from across the border attacked a military camp in URI, Kashmir which took the lives of 19 soldiers. This attack was one of the largest on Indian Military on her soil – even bigger than Pathankot attack. What followed was a pretty much routine response from Indian. Immediately after the attack, Director General Military Operations (DGMO) Lt General Ranbir Singh stated that “We reserve the right to respond to any act of the adversary at a time and place of our choosing”. In next few days, what followed was the usual diplomatic activities that included PM Modi’s Kerala speech that said, “Indians will never forget the gruesome act of killing 18 soldiers in Uri” (That time the death toll was 18). Which was followed by Foreign Minister Sushma’s dramatic UN speech, “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones”, which then followed by India’s withdrawal from SAARC and the day of attack itself the news were circulated that John Kerry spoke to Sushma twice over the period of two days and appealed to not let situation escalate with Pakistan.  And the in-between news of revoking Indus water treaty. All these seemed like the regular soft response of India to Pak originated terror attacks. But what followed – the surgical strike – was a completely unexpected response from India.

 

india-map-mos_092916052248

(Source: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/)

 

Now, let’s start with the question what a surgical strike is? Well, the surgical strikes are military attacks that are planned in a very detailed manner to result in the intended outcome, with minimal or no collateral damage and to only harm legitimate targets. Historically surgical attacks are carried out often, not only in India but across the world. The drone attacks that we often see happening around the world nowadays are a kind of surgical attack too. The most famous example of surgical attack was USA’s attack on Bin Laden in Pakistan. The term surgical attack literally comes from medical science (how you surgically remove some unwanted things from your body without harming rest of the body).

 

One thing I did not understand when I got the news in the morning was if it’s a covert or overt operation. If it’s covert operation, how can the official announcements be made and if it’s overt operation, what would be the consequences? The same question was in the mind of almost everybody. Friends in Mumbai started panicking (it’s an assumption in India that if Pak wants to carry out a nuclear attack on India, the target would be Mumbai, and then there will be no Pakistan as India will retaliate), the stock market immediately got down by 500 points and what would follow was the question being asked and discussed almost everywhere, be it social media, newsrooms or corporate water cooler discussions.

 

Surgical attacks normally have limited depth of incursion and fatalities. Most of the time surgical attacks are not officially admitted. However, this time, it was different, India not only admitted that it carried out the surgical attack, it actually notified the Pakistan of the attack after it finished. The said attack resulted in significant causalities in terrorist camps (later unofficial figure mentioned that 7 terrorist launch pads, out of which 5 were major ones and 2 were minor ones were neutralized with 38-45 terrorists were killed and as a collateral damage two Pakistani soldiers also lost their lives).  It was also claimed that one Indian soldier inadvertently crossed LOC and is now held at the Pakistani military headquarters in Nikayal, Jhandroot, west of Mankote.

 

Was this response unique? Something new? No? The new thing is the public acceptance by Indian officials to the attacks. It shows the world and especially to the Pakistan that the attacks on Indian soils will be retaliated. So, what makes government carry out this kind of attack and publically admit it now and not earlier? First, India has improved its position on a global scale in recent years. In the last 10 years, the relationship between India and USA has been improved a lot

surgical-strike1by the effort of Singh and his successor Modi. Now the position of India is strong enough to conduct this kind of attack without having to worry about International reaction. Second, India conducted surgical strikes in POK which falls under Indian territory. According to Simla agreement, both sides will respect the LOC and will not in any way “alter it”. A surgical strike across the border does not alter the LOC, the international borders between India and Pakistan remain unaltered.  So, not only this is the most appropriate response to the cross-border terrorism by Modi government but it is one of the most strategically competent response too.

 

 

But this response does bring worry about consequences of this attack. Let’s be honest, Pakistan is a loose cannon, you can never know what the reaction could be. However, looking at the strategically and military masterstroke that this strike is, Pakistan is not left with much choice. They for sure can’t retaliate with military advances since doing that would require them to accept that India, in fact, carried out the surgical strike. And, accepting that would mean they were indeed harboring terrorists on their soil. So, that option is out of the way. Now they can also decide to not let India get away after this since Pakistani army does want to show their people what they are capable of. However, doing so would not only a mistake diplomatically on the world stage, it would also be a mistake on the military front. None of these two countries can afford a direct war since both countries have nuclear capacities. In fact, the changed tone of Pakistan can be seen from the statements made by Khawaja Asif – Pakistan’s defense minister who less than 48 hours earlier of this strike suggested the willingness to use nuclear weapons against India in an interview given to Pakistanis TV channels SAMAA saying, “We have not developed devices (nuclear weapons) for as item of showpiece, if there will be a requirement, we will destroy them”. But after the strike, the same minister was talking in a complete different tone saying he doesn’t want tensions with India. In an interview with GEO TV he said, “we don’t want a war with India” and “I don’t think there is any such threat”.

 

explosion-600_1416310460

 

So, where does this leave us? Do we still need to worry about consequences? Well, for starter India has started preparing for the consequences. It has started relocating villages from its border with Pakistan and canceled the Retreat ceremony at Attari-Wagah border till October 2nd. As a proactive measure (and it does show how strong Indian response to this URI attack is) India started planning a major Naval exercise in the Arabian Sea which is Pakistan’s only sea trade route. This exercise that supposed to happen in the coming weeks would be called Defense of Gujarat Exercise (DGX) and will employ three dozen warships and submarines as well as Indian Air Force aircraft. Most of the government officials who are even moderately related to safety and security are called off from their holidays or leaves and border states are on high alert. But what should worry India is not the military attack on India from Pakistan, it’s the terrorist attack on India that would be the consequence of this strike. One relief could be that on this Diwali or Christmas, India might not see a cross-border terrorist attack but in next 6 to 9 months when the high adrenalin security measures are calmed down and the memories of this strike are faded away, India might see a major terrorist attack. We can’t just get rid of terrorist from a country whose main export is terrorism in almost all south Asian countries. It’s good to see the proactive security measures right now but one can’t help but be cynic to worry that these security measures are going to be relaxed and then there will be the time the when enemies will strike. And, that time we’ll have to measure the effectivity of this surgical strike if the aim of this surgical strike was to remove terrorism. But for what it’s worth, the surgical strike is successful diplomatically. China hasn’t condemned the strike yet and so did USA which is a diplomatic success and at the same time Bangladesh has supported the strike.

 

swag-mitron

 

One of the most impressive activity this government did – which it always does better than anybody else – was the complete PR strategies. From DGP’s we have the right to respond at our will to Indus water treaty talks, to Sushma’s UN speech to Modi’s Kerala speech everything was well thought and well-planned distribution of words. What were said and what were distributed was some Chanakya level strategy. But the brownie points are given to the public announcement of surgical strike. This creates a new precedent for India to counter terrorism. It shows to the world that India will retaliate in both diplomatic and military ways to the terrorism and the enemy country better be ready for unprecedented consequences of any attempt made to harm India.

 

150107155143-kohima-nagaland-bjp-exlarge-169

 

And in the mean time, Bollywood (Indian Motion Picture Producers Association) banned Pakistani actors from working in Indian movies. Also, India might soon see a highly patriotic movie based on this strike starring Sunny Deol. Let’s hope he doesn’t invade Pakistan single-handedly in that movie.

 

121115521-sunny-deol_6

 

September 29, 2016

Advertisements

We are all Monkeys

We are all Monkeys

“Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog. Nobody ever saw one animal by its gestures and natural cries signify to another, this is mine, that yours; I am willing to give this for that.”

 –  Adam Smith

Two months back, the stories about Sweta Prasad rained down every media outlet in the nation, be it print media or electronic media, and were pushed down our throat like a hot soup in cold morning . On September 02, 2014, nation was bombarded with the news that National award winning actress Sweta Prasad was caught “red handed” in a prostitution racket.

Normally, such news are tabloid worthy that wouldn’t require much attention from the larger part of the crowd, however this case was main headline and turned a scandal by main stream media.  Without any consideration to the persons involved in this incident, the media blatantly published the name of the actress and much more details. A more courteous and proper way could be to report news without mentioning the specific names until the court proves the suspects guilty. Not only did media enjoy having a field day and making a public trial of Sweta, they conveniently ignored to mention her “clients’” names or that one business man’s name that was found soliciting or was “the customer” at the time of raid.

Why was Sweta so publicly humiliated even before she was found guilty of any crime? Mainly because of the choices she made, the choices that we might not approve as a society or even individually. And just because we don’t approve those said choices we might go as far to say that these choices harm society and “Indian Culture” (I am not agreeing or disagreeing with this opinion as I don’t have enough data to support either). However, we just ignored the fact that she is an adult and whatever she has done was not done in a public place or in the presence of minors. At the time of media trial, she wasn’t even suspected for the prostitution racket (a much more serious crime); she was just the suspect of soliciting sex for her own person.

According to the Immoral Traffic (Suppression) Act (SITA) 1956, – the primary law dealing with the status of sexual workers – prostitutes can practise their trade privately but cannot legally solicit or ‘seduce’ customers in public.  According to Wikipedia, a BBC articles states that prostitution is illegal in India; the Indian law does not refer to the practice of selling one’s own sexual service as “prostitution”. Clients can be punished for sexual activity in proximity to a public place. Organised prostitution (brothels, prostitution rings, pimping, etc.) is illegal. As long as it is done individually and voluntarily, a woman (male prostitution is not recognised in any law in India) can use her body in exchange for material benefit. In particular, the law forbids a sex worker to carry on her profession within 200 yards of a public place. Unlike as is the case with other professions, sex workers are not protected under normal labour laws, but they possess the right to rescue and rehabilitation if they desire and possess all the rights of other citizens.

So, even according to the law, Sweta was not guilty of any crime but on the contrary the business man who paid for her services was truly a guilty person here. Also, I might be wrong as I am not a lawyer (someone can correct me on this) but since it seems that Selling sex for money is itself not illegal, but advertising it or arranging it (as a pimp) are; I think our justice system would hardly ever bothers about details like that when the facts can be twisted and IPC sections “close enough” to the truth get used all the time.

One close look at this whole media festival surrounding Sweta incident shows how greedily our media grabs the chance of sensationalizing the news. Just because a story – where child actor becomes adult prostitute – offers a chance to be judgmental, saddened, outraged to the readers, it sells and so the media will sensationalize it.

We can’t even stomach the fact that she “chose” this practise of selling sex not because she was forced to but because (speculation on my part) she found it much more financially rewarding at comparatively easy effort.  Newspapers printed wrong statement of her, right after she was arrested and was kept at rescue home, stating that she was forced into the prostitution because of “helpless, and with no option left to choose”. However Sweta herself after her release from rescue home denied giving any statement like that saying she was in rescue home where she was cut off from the world and wasn’t even allowed to talk with family. And by the way, she – in the same interview denies – to having participated in prostitution but I still do not find it very clear to have it included here. I might be wrong and would gladly accept it if I am.

We as a nation are being regressive over the time instead of being progressive. We are a nation where centuries ago writers like Śūdraka celebrated the freedom to have one of the main character as a prostitute in his plays like Mṛcchakatika with an ease, without having to worry about any scrutiny of the society and yet a mere mention of prostitution by a known face in current times makes us so uncomfortable that we actively try to find “causes” and “reasons” behind her chosen profession. We can’t just stomach the fact that the natural instinct for any living organism is to have food and sex and it would do anything to get either; be it buying, earning or just taking away forcefully.

Now, let me take you to an experiment done in Yale University.*

Keith Chen, a Stanford graduate and an associate professor of economics at Yale was quite puzzled by the above quote from the father of economics – Adam Smith – which implies that only humans are interested in monetary trade. He was curious about the impact of teaching the usage of money to some monkeys. So, He with his co-worker Venkat Lakshminarayanan started research on the same subject. They choose seven capuchins to work with at a lab set up by the psychologist Laurie Santos at Yale–New Haven Hospital. The simple reason to choose capuchins was the fact that these types of monkeys have very small brains which mostly focus on food and sex.

The lab had a large cage where all seven monkeys were held and at the end of the large cage was designed a small cage for testing which allowed only one monkey to be entered. Chen designed money in the form of silver coin with a hole in it.

In the first step, Chen taught the monkeys the monetary value of the coins. When given coins the monkeys would sniff it and when they realize that the coins are non edible, they would toss them away. So, Chen and his colleagues gave the monkey a coin and then showed a treat. Whenever the monkey gave the coin back to the researcher, it got the treat. And thus, after months, the monkeys eventually learned the trade value of the coins and also learned that they can be used to buy treats.

One of the surprising things was to learn that even monkeys had preferences and choices for the treats and they would give the coins to the only researcher that has the treat which they like. Just like the market place where different people spend their money only at the vender that serves their purpose, monkeys learned to trade money for their wants or desires.

In Second step, Chen taught them the idea of inflation. Chen changed price for the treats e.g. if a sweet was bought by only one coin earlier, now the monkey required to pay three coins for that same sweet. So, how did the monkey react to this concept of inflation? Well, Monkeys started behaving rationally and with increased food prices, they started to buy less of the expensive food. Yet, another example where monkeys just behaved like human.  We all know that with increase in price the demand decreases.

We have seen from these experiments of Chen and Lakshminarayanan that the rational behaviour of monkeys regarding money is very identical to that of humans. Monkeys behave the same rational ways humans behave in normal monetary trade. But, what about irrational behaviours? If we have learned anything from human history, it’s that human nature is to be “loss aversion.” It means that given choice we would prefer to have a lot less if the there was not any probability of a loss even if with the slight chance of losing the potential gain is high. We can see this psychological factor in almost all stock trading and gambling games.  When it comes to the losing or gaining something, the irrational behaviour comes to play in decision making among humans. Do monkeys behave same way as humans do?

Chen taught monkeys the concept of gambling to observe if they behave irrationally in the situation of loss and gain.  He staged two games of gamble where for one game he showed the monkeys a grape and then flipped a coin. Depending upon a coin toss the monkey got either a real grape or two grapes from which one was a real grape and the other was a fake grape.  For the second game, he showed the monkeys two grapes but in this game the monkeys got either two grapes as shown or one of the two grapes was taken back.

Now once again let’s make this games clear, In first game, the monkeys were showed one grape, so they either got one grape (let’s say for heads) or two grapes from which one was real and the other was fake(let’s say for tails). So, in either case the monkeys got one grape since for tails one of the two grapes was a fake one. In second game, the monkeys were showed two grapes, so when the coin is heads, they got both grapes but in the event of tails the researcher took one of the two grapes and so the monkeys got only one grape.

One thing to be noted here is that in both games, the minimum number of grapes the monkeys got were the same amount of grapes (one). However, the way these games are designed, in the first game it seems that the monkeys win an extra grape (potential gain) and in second game it seems that the monkeys lose one grape (potential loss).

One might think that the gambling strategies are difficult enough for human themselves so it’s out of the question that the inferior brained monkeys are any way capable of having any dilemma regarding the choices here. Obviously, being the simple minded that they are, they should not be worried about choosing the game since both games gave them at least one grape at the end. However, once again monkeys proved themselves exactly like humans with identical emotional and irrational behaviour regarding money. Monkeys chose first game more just because in the first game they didn’t have to lose anything and in second game they had to lose. This is the classic irrational behaviour commonly seen amongst human where just to avert the pain of losing we prefer the sure bet. Rational monkeys should not be wary about the game since both games secured the same minimum output and yet they chose the one where they didn’t have to deal with the psychological effect called “loss aversion.”

So far, these researchers and we all have learned very surprising facts about monkey brains and their identical behaviours to humans. However what happened next was not only shocking but it was totally unbelievable if it wasn’t for the fact that this behaviour was observed in a lab based experiment in one of the most prestigious universities. Once one of the monkeys – when given twelve coins in testing cage – didn’t collect the coins to buy food / treats as he normally would, instead he threw all the coins in the main cage. As soon as he did this, a riot occurred in the cage to collect the coins. Monkeys again behaved the same way as humans would in a situation where chunk of money was thrown among the crowd; they looted as much as they can. Not only did the monkeys loot the money, they also refused to return the money to the researchers who tried to take back the money. Monkeys now learned that a simple way to earn money is (what our politicians do) crime or taking what is not necessarily yours.

If this is surprising for you, what followed that day would be shocking. Avid all this chaos, where monkeys were looting the coins that the one monkey threw; there was this one monkey who instead of buying food for the coins he looted as he normally should, gave his coin to another monkey. Wow, what a relief? Monkeys are different than humans after all, right? Well, turns out that monkey didn’t just “give away” his coins to another monkey for free. And why would he, if he can buy food from these coins, there is no point in giving away his coins to another monkey, is there? Our very generous monkey started having sex with the monkey whom he gave the coins right after it gave her the coins. And as soon as they are done with the sex, the monkey who received coins as the payment of her sexual favour spent it to buy grapes. Yes, you read it right, the first incident of monkey prostitution (or animal prostitution for that matter) was observed in the lab experiments of one of the best universities in the world. And surprisingly enough the monkeys were not even needed to be taught that. The rational behavioural concepts of money, the value of money, inflation etc are learned very fast by monkeys as well the irrational concepts like “loss aversion” but what was shocking is that monkeys just instinctively figured out prostitution.

Unfortunately, these results were shocking enough for the authorities to stop this experiment in the fear of damaging the social structure of monkeys by introducing the concept of money.

India is a hypocritic country. A very natural instinct like prostitution – which is now proved to be found even in animals and was widely celebrated in ancient India – is such a big taboo that it can’t be discussed openly in public forums and we can’t even state our opinion on that. Indian law itself also tends to be so unclear and grey that it mostly victimizes the party (seller) which is clearly at no fault in the eyes of law.  We as a nation don’t have any problem with sexualizing our pop culture that almost all minors are addicted to, have a porn star as our bollywood star which are mostly the role model of youngsters (not that there is anything wrong with having a porn star working in bollywood), objectifying women in all the media be it films, television serials, news or music; but just the mention of prostitution and we flip out. We’ll watch vulgar and sexually intense bollywood content in our living room with our family, we’ll take pride in our historical temples that have erotic sculptures but if some young couple holds hand or kisses in public we flip out and start nationwide movement to oppose. We as a nation need to handle sex with more liberal, progressive and mature manner.

November 08, 2014

* References and further reading

  • Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, “SuperFreakonomics,”  2009

“Uh uh uh… I didn’t hear you wash your hands.”

“Uh uh uh… I didn’t hear you wash your hands.”

Recently, I saw Indian Government ad for teaching kids the proper technique of hand washing, which reminded me a scene of the movie Jackie brown, where Samuel Jackson says those words to Robert foster who was leaving the washroom.

Hand Wash, a simple yet often forgotten chore.  We all have seen people in public restroom who don’t wash their hands after using the restroom. It’s disgusting and outright inconsiderate to other human being. When we talk about importance of hygiene and of the hand washing, the illiterates, the children and the labour class people are the only groups of people that come to our mind, who we think would possibly need guidance, reminder or education of the importance of good hand washing and hygienic habits. In countries like India, it’s sometimes true that these groups of people often ignore hygienic practices; however, these are not the only groups of people that can be blamed with unhygienic practises. As I am sure, we all have seen educated, qualified and well-to-do people in almost all part of the world often neglect washing hands.

Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt in their book “SuperFreakonomics” has covered hand washing very well. A look at this book not only enlightens us about the unhygienic practises in health sector but also it explains it in a very simple and totally idiot proof way in which one can see how highly educated doctors often ignores / forgets as basic hygienic practise as hand washing.

SuperFreakonoics mentions a report “To Err Is Human,” from the Institute of Medicine in the year 1999 which estimated that between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans die each year because of preventable hospital errors. This death ratio according to the book is more than the death ratio of vehicle accidents or breast cancer. And, surprisingly these preventable deaths are occurred mainly because of the wound infection. The simple and most effective cure for wound infection is to get the doctors and other medical staff to wash their hands more often.

One of the examples of this negligence in hand washing mentioned in the book was about a world-class hospital – Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. The hospital had a hand hygiene rate of just 65% and thus making the hospital realize the need for improvement, which resulted in hospital administrators’ forming a committee.

Paul Silka, an emergency-room doctor at Cedars-Sinai and hospital’s chief of staff along with other administrators at Cedars-Sinai started trying to change their colleagues’ behaviour. Incentives like gentle cajoling via posters and e-mail messages; greeting doctors every morning with a bottle of Purell (Hand Sanitizer); establishing a Hand Hygiene Safety Posse that roamed the wards, giving a $10 Starbucks card to doctors who were seen properly washing their hands, etc. were used to encourage doctors to wash their hands often.

These efforts resulted in increased hand washing among doctors after several weeks, but it was not even close to enough. When this news was delivered by hospital’s epidemiologist Rekha Murthy in a lunch meeting of the Chief of Staff Advisory Committee, the approximately twenty highly educated doctor members of that meeting were highly discouraged. After the lunch Rekha handed each member an agar plate—a sterile Petri dish loaded with a spongy layer of agar so that she could culture their hand.

The results of doctors pressing their palms into the plates were sent to the labs and the images showed disgusting and striking gobs of bacteria colonies.

Now, why was it that highly educated doctors who were advising their patients to wash their hands and be hygienic were the ones who didn’t follow their own advice?

One of the reasons mentioned in the book – that was acknowledged by the committee in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center – is that doctors are extremely busy so the time spent washing hands is time not spent treating patients. One of the doctors in that hospital’s emergency room in Washington, Dr. Craig Feied estimates that he often interacted with more than one hundred patients per shift, so according to him if  he ran to wash his hands every time he touched a patient, following the protocol, He’d spend nearly half his time just standing over a sink.

Another reason for doctors’ negligence in hand washing is that the Sinks aren’t always as accessible as they should be or in the patient rooms. But again, most hospitals like Cedars-Sinai do have wall-mounted Purell dispensers for handy disinfection which are often ignored.

Another reason might be the psychological components like perception deficit. When an intensive-care unit of a children’s hospital in Australia performed a five-month study in which doctors were asked to track their own hand-washing frequency, they reported Seventy-three percent rate of hand washing. In that same study however, their nurses were asked to monitor and report doctors’ hand washing rate and surprisingly the hand washing rate of the doctors was about 9 percent.

One more psychological factor according to Dr. Paul Silka can be arrogance. According to him, Doctors after practising a while can think of themselves as immune to bad bugs.  He says “The ego can kick in after you’ve been in practice a while; “You say: ‘Hey, I couldn’t be carrying the bad bugs. It’s the other hospital personnel.’”

Once again let me take you to that lunch meeting at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where Rekha took prints of the palms of all the members (who were all doctors) which resulted in lab generated palm images of bacteria colonies. Remember that? Well, in order to motivate doctors to wash their hands more frequently, the hospitals used those prints as screen savers of the doctors’ computers. And surprisingly enough, Hand-hygiene compliance at Cedars-Sinai promptly rose up to nearly one hundred percent. A simple solution of disgusting prints as screen savers did what lots of incentives couldn’t do for the doctors who are supposed to be the one curing the patients and are more educated and trained to do so.

This article doesn’t try to put any one in bad frame or is not biased towards anyone. For once, when India is being serious (with the help of the greatest showman India has ever produced – The Prime Minister Mr Modi) about hygiene and cleanliness; we should take a moment and look for the large factors that drive people to do what they do (or in this case what they don’t). People’s behaviour is hard to change because of so many psychological factors and when one tries to change that, he needs to keep all the psychological factors in mind. One of the greatest motivations Cedars-Sinai Medical Center found was to disgust doctors with their own hand prints. Can we do something like that in India? One of the best outcome of Mr Modi’s initiative – clean India – is that people and more so, the so called celebrities and other role models have started talking about the importance of cleanliness. Various television ads by government shaming people who practise unhygienic behaviours are also broadcasted over various networks. I however, find that just like ads for tobacco and smoking, hand washing and cleanliness ads need to show the horrors of the outcomes of people’s unhygienic behaviours and that too in a very aggressive manner for a constant reminder to be considerate. I think if we can’t leave our future generation a pollution free India, the least we could do is give them a clean India where they don’t have to be worried about the spread of preventable diseases.

November 05, 2014

No to “no religion”

No to “no religion”

Recently I met a friend after a long time, let’s call him Patel. We both spent our teenage years together, then spent our adult hood in different countries and now we met again in India. If you live a large amount of time away from your family, society and country; there are certain things that change in your personality and the way you think compare to your folks back home. We both were experiencing the same changes (in different forms) which made us enjoy each other’s company even more.  In addition to having common ideas about politics, civic sense, morals and ethics, we both share almost similar idea about religion and god. I can be identified as an atheist and he tends to be agnostic. However, we both don’t like to be associated with any religion.

What would you do if your identity is defined by your religious practices?  In Patel’s case the religion becomes a bit tricky because he spent most of his life in western world where he was at ease to declare himself an atheist. Not only that, but often the religion also becomes kind of a problem for him because of his marriage to a foreigner (Caucasian lady) and have a daughter with her; however, this becomes issue only in social circles. Atheism became severe issue when he tried to enroll his daughter in an Indian school (in the capital city of India’s most developed state from where the prime minister comes).

This school required him to provide them the religion he practices. Now, Patel’s father is a doctor who was born in a Hindu family and later started practicing Buddhism. Patel himself is a doctor and doesn’t practice any religion. His wife is also a doctor and practices catholic religion. So, when Patel informed the school that he’s not labeling his daughter by any religion, school refused to accept this non religious child. Patel’s reasoning behind not giving his daughter any religion was to let her have her own freedom and he would allow her to practice whatever religion she prefers when she is of a mature age, but until then she would be of no religion and so would write “no religion” in the religion category of school admission form. Patel thinks that religion is a personal preference and schools or any organization cannot force an individual to declare it. The school denied his daughter’s admission application even though she belongs to a highly educated and financially well to do family.

When Patel asked my advice, I was of an opinion that he should write about this to various authorities, to the media and go to the court for his freedom to be non religious. But after a long discussion with his wife, Patel just got his daughter enrolled in another school. The reason according to Patel was that if they get their daughter enrolled in that school by raising this issue in various forums and shaming the school publically, she would have been discriminated. Yes, a father was afraid that his daughter would not have had same treatment as other religious kids from the school, had it been forced to enroll his daughter, given that the parents are non religious. Funny, how we thought that schools are suppose to treat all kids from all religion the same way.

Isn’t it pathetic that our identities are based on our religion, not based on our intelligence, educational, professional background, our social conduct or our persona but just religion?

I like to believe that we all have a fair amount of knowledge of our constitution, but seems like the government doesn’t really possess much knowledge of our constitution as The Centre and Maharashtra Government had stated that “No Religion” filled up in official forms cannot be treated as a religion or a form of religion.

I just remembered this individual incident when I heard the recent Bombay High court judgment allowing citizens to declare if they don’t belong to any religion.

Dr Ranjit Mohite, Kishore Nazare and Subhash Ranware are three individuals who had approached the State printing press to issue them a gazette notification that they belonged to “No religion”. And, when the State rejected their application, they filed a PIL with Bombay High court.

A bench of justices Abhay Oka and A S Chandurkar ruled that every citizen in India, which was a secular democratic republic, had the right under the Constitution to state that he or she does not belong to any religion and does not practice or profess any religion.

In this simple and logical case (although often governments and religions are not firm believer of logic), it was the justice body of India – which often comes out as the only sensible, logical and proficient body of India – that had to give some sense to the government about individuals’ right to the conscience. Court referred article 25A of the constitution which guarantees individual’s right to freedom of conscience and allows to freely practicing, professing or propagating any religion.

The bench of justices stated in their judgment that, “India is a secular democratic republic and there is complete freedom for any individual to decide whether he or she wants to adopt or profess any religion, If a person is practicing any particular religion, he or she can give up that religion and claim that he or she doesn’t belong to any religion and no state authority can infringe upon a person’s right guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution of the freedom of conscience and freely practicing, professing or propagating any religion.”

Well it’s good to see that our courts are standing up to defend civil rights whenever our elected representatives fail. It’s really worrisome to see that issues like these happen in today’s society when we should be devoting our time to social issues, education and other advancements.

At last we have got our freedom defended by the court. Unfortunately for my friend Patel, this comes a little late as his daughter is already in her 4th month of the school. However this may benefit future generations of this country and hopefully no other father has to be worried about religion base discrimination in schools.

September 29, 2014

MOM??? But why???

MOM???   But why???

“The moment this mission was named MOM, I knew it would not disappoint. Moms never fail”. With these words, Indian Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi announced ISRO’s success in reaching Mars’ orbit on September 24, 2014. Who knew the prime minister is so good at PJs and yet a very effective speaker.

In the next few days, media widely covered MOM’s success and with that, anyone who has a slightest connection to media came to know about MOM. Many facts about Mars Obiter Mission (MOM) were tossed around in media and rightfully so. With the success of MOM (Mars Orbiter Mission), India has become only the fourth country (or group of countries) to reach the Mars, other three being United States, Europe and Soviet Union.  Going to the mars itself may not seem the big news to many but, succeeding it in its first try is pretty impressive when not any other county in the world had been successful in reaching to mars on its first try, and when more than half of the attempts made by different space agencies in the world have failed. Yes, you read it right, 23 out of 40 missions to reach mars including Japan’s 1999 and China’s 2011 missions have been failed.

One may argue that years of research and technological advances done by NASA and other space agencies might have made it easy for ISRO to be successful in its first try, but at the same time anyone who has been to India or lives in India, knows how big of a deal it is to get a space program in itself and to get to Mars – not to mention in its first try – when half of the country’s population is below poverty line and Millions of people don’t even have clean water or as basic necessities as toilets in their homes.

While whole nation and most of the educated & aware people around the world applauded ISRO’s achievement, there are many who opposed and criticized India’s space programs. Again, there aren’t many educated people who oppose any country’ s space programs, yet in last few days, I came to know quite a few people (Indian and foreigners) who were very critical of ISRO and their programs. Most of the time, the sole reason to oppose the space programs tends to  be ignorance or misinformation of these kind of programs and their value to society as well as to the nation’s good. While foreigners tend to find India a poor country with many people needing basic amenities, it is not surprising to find them criticising space program. Also, when more than half of the population of a country is below poverty line and struggles to make ends meet, it is understandable to find them getting frustrated with government spending so much money in programs that don’t seem directly affecting their lives.

Without trying to justify anything or taking sides let us just try to look objectively at the benefits of having various ISRO’s space programs. One of the criticisms of ISRO comes from an uneducated view that ISRO is taking a large chunk of government money to fund its programs and thus forcing the government to neglect other issues such as poverty.  It is essential to note that ISRO’s annual allotted budget for 2013 – 2014 is $950 Million, which is about 0.33% of the total Indian budget. Now, compare that with the NASA’s budget for 2013, about $18 Billion which is 0.5% of the total USA budget and almost 19 times more than ISRO’s budget.

If we want to get an idea about government spending on poverty programs, we can compare space programs’ funding ($950M) with other government programs like Employment program (NREGA) that gets a budget of $7.24 Billion (Almost eight times more than ISRO’s total budget) or Subsidized / free food program (FSB) that has a budget allocation of $20 Billion (Almost twenty-one times more than ISRO’s total budget). We can see that space programs gets a fraction of the funding government spends on other necessary programs  which allows us to  safely say that we are not funding ISRO more on account of other essential and important government programs.

It is very easy to just assume that ISRO’s main task is to go to space in their cool spaceships; However, ISRO’s main object (or any scientist’s for that matter) is to collect data. The main task of any science is to collect and analyze data so that we can solve problems or learn more about the world we live in.  ISRO has been so good at their jobs of collecting data that, according to V.K. Dhavan – President of Indian Society of Remote Sensing – it has helped increase the productivity of farming sector by 7 percentages and thus helping the farm sector to contribute about Rs. 50,000 Crore to national GDP over the years. And no these are not just random numbers thrown by some politicians; these are actual studies done by premier economic research institute NCAER. Not only that, but when fishing community used these remote sensing data, they contributed Rs. 24,000 Crore to the GDP and saved 30 percent of fuel consumption with the help of timely updates on sea condition, fishing zones and weather.

Now, let’s remember Cyclone Phalin storm of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh – the strongest storm to hit the state in 14 years – that impacted 12 Million people from Odisha and left more than 100,000 people from both states stranded. With the help of ISRO’s 11 remote sensing satellites, National Remote Sensing Centre in Hyderabad was able to forecast the cyclones more than 72 hours in advance and thus helping to save lives of Indian citizens. A country as vast as India benefits a lot in communication sector from ISRO’s remote sensing and communication programs like IRS and INSATs to connect its remote areas at the same time also benefiting in building an essential infrastructure for the country.

One of the main reasons to fund ISRO is that it is a self funded body. It generates revenue by helping foreign countries in satellite launches and by selling satellite data and imageries through its Antrix Subsidiary – Antrix Corporation Limited. In the year 2013 – 2014, the turnover of Antrix was Rs. 13 Billion, which was way more than ISRO’s allocated government budget. In fact, the primary objective of the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is to showcase India’s rocket launch systems, spacecraft-building and operations capabilities. Specifically, the primary objective is to develop the technologies required for design, planning, management and operations of an interplanetary mission.

While media is celebrating ISRO’s first attempt success, it also didn’t forget to mention the budget of this mission. With $73 Million (Rs. 450 Crore) budget, MOM became cheapest Mars mission and it became very popular among media to compare MOM’s budget with Gravity’s (a Hollywood Sci-Fi Movie) budget of $100 Million.  Even when Mr Prime Minister very conveniently compared MOM’s budget to a Hollywood movie budget, one cannot help but notice that he himself – and again very conveniently – neglects to compare MOM’s budget to any other government programs such as his own dream project “Statue of Unity” – The grand statue of Sardar Patel on the bank of river Narmada which has a budget of Rs 2,980 crore – almost four times more than project MOM.

So, before we criticise ISRO, we should take time to understand its value to the country.  And we should always remind ourselves that investment in science and technology has never failed human kind.

September 27, 2014

Occupy Wall-Street

Occupy Wall-Street*

 

Democracy is a system where the opinions of the majority of the people are supposed to be heard and acted upon. The government should make sure that the public interests are protected. People have the power to choose their own government in a democracy. It is necessary for people, who are running for government offices, that they get more people to like them, support them and donate them. In 2010, the members of five judges in Supreme Court of USA ruled that corporations can spend as much money as they want to support any political party. This rule changes the way democracy works. It means corporations can influence elections for their own benefits, completely neglecting the public interest.

Asbuster is a foundation based in Canada and it is best known for an advertisement-free anti-consumerist magazine they publish. Adbusters Foundations posted a proposal on their blog on July 13, 2011, in which, they proposed a peaceful occupation of Wall Street to protest corporate influence on democracy, a growing disparity in wealth, and the absence of legal repercussions behind the recent global financial crisis.

According to Micah White, senior editor of Adjusters’, they suggested protest via their email list and (it) “was spontaneously taken up by all the people of the world”. “one simple demand—a presidential commission to separate money from politics” would “start setting the agenda for a new America.” says Adbusters’ in their website, where they also promoted the protest with a poster featuring a dancer atop Wall Street’s iconic Charging Bull.

Adbuster’s proposal was supported by internet group called “Anonymous”. “Flood lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street.” was the message from Anonymous to motivate their supports to join the protest. Following Anonymous, other groups began to join in the organization of the protest, including the U.S. Day of Rage and the NYC General Assembly, the governing body of the Occupy Wall Street group.

This protest was held at Zuccotti Park because it was a private property so police could not legally force them to vacant the park without the owner’s request and / or complain to do so. However, the same day New York City mayor Michel Bloomberg said “People have a right to protest, and if they want to protest, we’ll be happy to make sure they have locations to do it” in a press conference.

The idea of occupying Wall Street is influenced by the Tahrir Square protest and Spanish protest, both happened in 2011. Initial weeks of Wall Street where showing trends that mainstream media either didn’t understand or just ignored.

  • The main focus of the protest had not been demands of any form. When people started showing up for Occupy Wall-Street, they weren’t typical white collegiate activist that, one is normally bound to assume given the stereotype of protesters. Although these collegiate students’ groups are in abundance in the protest, and one reason for that could be flexible schedule; this protest witnessed people flying from all over the country. The demographic group of people in their late 20s was a major part of total protesters during the evening (after working) hours.

The direct effect of increased people in the protest resulted in a sense of feeling that this was a real moment and it could be used to improve the country. Now, with increasing people, the power of the protest increased and it seemed feasible that this protest might be able to achieve something. There comes the part where people think, Occupy Wall-Street protest is the mess, scattered or it doesn’t know what the demands are. One of the reasons behind this perception among people was that the protesters were afraid if they gave out a list of any specific demand, the media would label them as a specific demand party, which could then be subsequently ignored.

Since, occupy wall street didn’t make any demands yet, normal people walking down the street, tourist and people from around the country were coming to the protests with their problems and seeking the advice on creating a similar model of protest for their own town / city. Thus started the training (by Occupy Wall Street protesters) – on how to hold forums in Direct Democracy. It’s harder than it sounds, but right now, people can go to Wall Street, and voice any concern, and everyone will listen to them, vote on the point, and it won’t detract from the conversation. Protesters taught them how to do this in their hometown. People realized that to be silent is far more dangerous than they imagined, in democracy.

  • The NYC General Assembly (GA) is composed of dozens of groups working together to organize and set the vision for the Occupy Wall-Street movement. With the passing time, GA slowly realized that if they didn’t demand any goals, people will stop flying in to join, and that would harm the protest either by stagnancy or by misrepresentation.

However, there are differences in opinions.

  • Some groups in GA believed that if they demanded too few goals, people would feel excluded, and would think GA doesn’t want to hear their opinion or GA isn’t the group for them. On the contrary, GA was more interested in getting people voicing their opinions.
  • Some in the GA believed if they made too many demands, they would be seen as unfocused, without cause and would be ignored.
  • Some in the GA believed in a need to make statements about Wall Street just to not be seen as “off target”.
  • Some groups in GA believed that making a statement just about Wall Street might alienate some of the Wall Street people, who might otherwise sympathize with the protest. The reason behind this belief came from the fact that there were some bankers who were sending their friends to declare support, since being bankers, they can’t support Occupy Wall-Street movement directly.
  • There is also an opinion in GA that making demands might actually undermine the power and beauty of the protest.
  • These varied opinions show true democracy which is ignored by media.
  • Many of the protesters have never been into such kind of movement before. They lack the knowledge of political protesting, making demands, fighting for their rights. Growing people might lead to more systematic approach as it would create awareness among the people who know what to do and how to do but just aren’t interested in doing.

These movements that started in New York City and San Francisco on the same day on September 17, 2011, were called as “Occupy Wall Street” and “Occupy San Francisco” . By October 9 these movements were spread across over 95 cities in 82 countries and over 600 communities in the USA. As of today, there are 2609 towns and cities worldwide that are going through the same movements.

* This article was written to explain Occupy Wall- Street movement to a friend. It’s not a well-written article and should not be used as such. Please do your research and find more credible sources for your knowledge. This article just tries to simplify the events for a quick read.

November 23, 2011