Myriad Mystical Melancholic Marathon Mindless Meaningless Meetings

There are meetings and then there are more meetings. There are meetings after meetings and there are meetings before meetings. There are meetings in the office, and there are meetings in conference rooms, sometimes in the cafeteria. There are online meetings, there are face-to-face meetings. There are app-based meetings, there are audio meetings, there are video meetings. There is a plethora of meetings. Sometimes my entire working day was lost in shuffling my mind and shuttling my body between meetings. Many times I think just attending meetings is the work, perhaps the only work, that people do. Some people take meetings with almost religious fervour in both quantity and quality. For me, any meeting which lasts more than 15-20 minutes, unless meeting exceptional people or under exceptional circumstances, is just plain debauchery full of verbal diarrhea. Meetings should be precise and to the point, and should not devolve into a seemingly unending saga like a TV Soap opera.

But then, people don’t believe in short meetings. They want elaborate, longer meetings. Mind you I have nothing against longer formats, I would rather read a long-form essay than a character restricted tweet. But these meetings suck the very life out of you as they progress. I could never explain that feeling of uneasiness that crept over me whenever I have to attend the glorious meetings which go on for 2 hours and some more. Longer meetings are like their contents like a gas, nothing concrete.

meetings will expand to fill whatever time is given to them. – Prof. Hall

I would always see others attending the same meeting in the same room, for the same time but never seeing them bored even a zilch. If anything, their enthusiasm for the meeting (whatever the topic) seems to go on and on, as if they had a Duracell battery inside them, and me has just an ordinary battery which runs out of juice in between the race, with the finish line seemingly lying beyond the horizon.

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Do these people drink Boost? Is that the secret of their energy? I have to know this…

But sometimes during these marathon meetings, I have managed to get some creative things done, insulating and isolating myself from the chaos and debris. The important word to note is “sometimes”. Most of the time I was bored to death, thinking about existential questions about life, the universe and everything. But instead of loaded questions like “”What is life about?”” I end up asking much mundane (and cheap) ones like “What is this meeting about?, instead of “What is my purpose in life?”, I ask “What is the update I have to give?” At times I had to give the same updates in three different meetings in a single week. And then people want to talk about optimisation and time-saving techniques and how we can become more efficient, of course in a meeting.

During such moments of philosophical delirium, I take solace in thinking about this quote from Alice in Wonderland:

“ In that direction,” the Cat said, waving its right paw round, “ lives a Hatter : and in that direction,” waving the other paw, “ lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.”

“ But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“ Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat : “ we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“ How do you know I’m mad ? ” said Alice.

“ You must be,” said the Cat, “ or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Of course, why would I go to a boring meeting which gives me both suicidal and mass-murderous thoughts at the same time, unless I am mad? After every single of these myriad marathon meetings, I would comment to myself with deep melancholy “I am never going to get back these hours of my life I have spent/survived in here”.

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Detail from Melencolia I  by Albrecht Dürer

Not that I am the only one with these feelings, the shoulders are stooped, faces drained and brains faded for many fellow tortured souls. For all the knowledge of cognitive and educational psychology that many of my learned colleagues are making a living from, they just cannot ( or rather do not) want to see the problems with meetings which apparently stretch on and on. They think just sitting there will help in building the team and inspiring people and keep them updated. They are wrong. Meetings, especially the long ones, don’t help.

Motivation and concentration, cannot be kept on for long, especially in contexts in which you are passively listening to a subject of not your liking. And, as I have remarked in an earlier post, the passage of time can be very subjective. In the case of such meetings, it seems that we are moving very close to the speed to light, as time seems to mysteriously pass very very slowly. I have many times found myself saying, “It must be at least 15 minutes since they are blethering…” and to my surprise when I check the actual time it is not even 2-3 minutes.

Hai Ram! Anyay hi anyay…

हाय राम ! अन्याय ही अन्याय।।।

Another aspect of long meetings is that they are not only mentally, but also physically draining. Even if you are just sitting at one place during those two hours, somehow the entire body feels drained of its juice (remember the Duracell bunny). Physiologically perhaps this can be explained as the entire body system tuning itself to go to sleep as there isn’t much physical activity, added to lessened mental activity as well. Perhaps this is also the reason why people fall asleep during meetings.

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But about the general idea of meetings that I have is neither subjective nor unpopular opinion. People have researched and have come to the same conclusions.

Yet as valuable and energizing as good meetings can be, too many meetings are seen as a waste of time — as a source of frustration rather than enlightenment. – Rogelberg, Scott and Kelly – The Science and Fiction of Meetings (2007)

Also, the misconception that some people had (and I guess they still do) is that meeting is a type of work. It seems to them that attending a meeting itself is equivalent to doing work. Maybe they are fans of Full Metal Alchemist and inspired by law of equivalent exchange they think meeting about some work is equivalent to actually doing the meetings. So how do we end up having so many meetings anyway?

People don’t do concrete things any more,” he says.

Instead he says there has been a rise of managerial roles, which are often not very well defined, and where “the hierarchy is not that clear”.

“Many managers don’t know what to do,” he says, and when they are “unsure of their role”, they respond by generating more meetings.

“People like to talk and it helps them find a role,” says the professor.

Many of these people can spend half of their working hours in meetings, he says.

–  Pointless work meetings

What this implies is that instead of doing actual work, people want to just talk about it. Yet some people, mysteriously seem to enjoy these meetings, some even recording attendance and taking meticulous notes, as if to provide an alibi for a murder.

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Rogelberg, Scott and Kelly – The Science and Fiction of Meetings (2007)

 

That being said, I always thought who likes such meetings and why do they like it? I had a folk-psychological theory that those who enjoy such meetings actually derive their energies from such meetings. But all these were just shower-thoughts, I mean during these mindless meetings you can think of having a hot shower, and also think about something else at the same time. Your brain saves you, it automatically tunes out of the ambient noise and enables you to do what you want to. But this too has its limits and it is not always possible to do it. This is done of course with a filter and a trigger word. The trigger word is when someone calls your name. At times the image of me as Heisenberg flashes in front of my mental eyes as if I have sadistically commanded them to

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And tathastu suddenly you are centre of attention and you have to pretend that you are supremely interested in the topic of the meeting (however boring) and have to respond. I still get goosebumps thinking about this (think PTSD level), imagine the trauma I must have experienced over the years. But the people who like such meetings seem to be immune to such traumas. Rather they thrive in such troubled waters.

The other reason that I had speculated for this was that these meetings are a form of a power play. Not the cricket kind, but the human politics kind. These meetings allow people to show the pecking order, and also allow them to tell other people things which they would not want to hear otherwise. It is to give those whom you like the work that they want and rest to the work they won’t.

A colleague of mine, who has whitened (ok wait, not whitened but grayed 🙂 his hair dealing day in and day out people like these and had experienced such meetings much more than me, told me about the dichotomy of such work distribution. Work, according to him, is of two types: Monkey work and Donkey work. Now, as the name suggests, monkey work is like monkey work. Monkeys are jovial, they jump from tree top to tree top, eat fruits that they like, raid houses and steal from them, make noises and if you get too close to one they might attack you too. They are the Bandar Log of Kipling.

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In Hindi, Bandar means “monkey” and log means “people” – but can also be used for plurality hence the term simply refers to “monkeys”. The term has also since come to refer to “any body of irresponsible chatterers.”

All said and done, monkeys enjoy life, and people do remember them. They have their own charm and are the most visible and vocal people of the jungle (office?). Now I know, you must be making mental images of who are possible Bandar log in your office while reading this. But they don’t do any real work, they do pretend work. They want their names on events that are seen as glamorous and titles which pompous. But you assign them ass grinding work, they will throw a tantrum as if you have asked them their kidneys, for free. It is not that they don’t want to do quality work, in reality, they can’t get quality work done.

In most cases, the monkey working class is also of the mediocre people which I had written about in the past. It is beyond their ken and competence do get actual work done. Perhaps it is the infinite monkey theorem at work.

The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type any given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. In fact, the monkey would almost surely type every possible finite text an infinite number of times. However, the probability that monkeys filling the observable universe would type a complete work such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet is so tiny that the chance of it occurring during a period of time hundreds of thousands of orders of magnitude longer than the age of the universe is extremely low (but technically not zero).

chimpanzee_seated_at_typewriter

Since we do not have infinite time or millions of Bandar log in our office, the chances of them producing any intelligible work is extremely low (but technically not zero). So now you know why work doesn’t get done.

If at all, such work befalls on them like on the protagonist of a Greek tragedy, they insist on having an ensemble of underlings to work with under them. They will assign all work to them and only pitch in when to take the credit. They usually undertake work which does not have concrete objectives, or immediate deliverables. They like work which is vague, sounds inscrutable and is heavily jargonised. And they look and dress much well. They look and talk sophisticated but on a closer/deeper scrutiny what remains is only sophistry. Such are the monkey-work people.

On the other hand, the Donkey work people suffer similar fate to the eponymous animal. They do drudgery and actual work which is not glamorous. They work tirelessly and without much hope for recognition. Most actual work in the office is done by them. And in these meetings, this distinction is made clear.

If you work more, more work will come to you. If you work less, less work will come to you.

The offices run on the basis of the work of the Donkey-work people. Boxer the cart horse from Animal Farm can be considered as a Donkey-work person, though all of us are not that naive or ignorant. Screenshot 2019-11-20 at 11.05.58 AM.png

Animal Farm (1954)

Another aspect of such meetings is the apparent loss of time-sense some people experience when their turn to speak, Csikszentmihalyi will perhaps call it as flow state. It feels like those old people who usually don’t get to talk, and when they get someone they just keep on going. It is as if some people have to complete a quota of words in front of a captive audience in order to satiate themselves. Even if what they are saying is of no importance, or is not in the agenda of the meeting or is meaningless mindless mouthing. It is like a poison that they want to remove from their bodies and minds and in lieu inject it on the hapless captive attendees. There is no dialogue, only monologue. In doing so, they inadvertently, and purposefully they hijack the agenda of the meeting. They will go on and on about ephemeral experiences they have had, for example, elaborately explaining elegant endoscopy (or enema, choose what you will).

The cry baby gets more attention.

Initially, I used to think, it is harmless banter, excruciatingly boring at worst but then it turned out to be sinister scheming. This is true for humans as much as for animals. In birds, the more vocal and active chick gets all the food, while not so vocal ones are starved and at times kicked out of the nest by their siblings. In the case of humans, this is observed too. Babies who cry more, get more food and parents time. They know how to manipulate people around them even by faking crying.

The infants exhibited crying behavior that seemed to become more sophisticated with increasing age. This marked a proactive stance in communicating with the mother on the part of the infant. Interestingly, at 11–12 months, “fake crying” was observed during a naturalistic interaction with the mother. This implied that deceptive infant behavior could be seen at quite an early stage.

Now, I am not sure if this trait is carried to adulthood or it is learned during the intervening years, but they get the same modus operandi seems to work on adults also. In these meaningless meetings, the banter can be seen analogous to crying, and attention whoring. The hijacking of the agenda has another purpose, to eat up the time allotted to others, in case you want to say something of value, such delays will cut down your time. Such episodes remind me of an aunty who makes horrible food but insists that everyone must eat it to the full and also praise her culinary skills.

And if they can, people will put all the content of what they have to speak on slides. If you can’t read it yourself (even if you are seated in the front row), because they have put 10 bullet points at 10 point font on a single slide? Not a problem, they are just anyway going to read aloud the slides. Technology scaffolded GIGO. When I see such slides, the designer in me dies a thousand deaths. And people are This goes against good design principles of presentations. Powerless Pointless Talks (PPTs) can be indeed empowering for these people. I can go on ranting about this, but since this is not the central theme of this post, hence I will stop here.

Another category of monkey workers are sly. When they have to address such meetings or are tasked with providing some answers they work as follows. They will identify possible candidates who might have the knowledge that they require. lf Suppose fate has it, that it is you who they seek. Then they will clandestinely ask you something about some other topic and slowly, but surely drift to the subject they want. Then they will ask you detailed questions, and innocently you will answer. The episode ends there, or so you think. Next time in the meeting, you hear your own words coming out of their mouth. No, you are not controlling their minds! But this is a way of appropriating knowledge. They feel elated and intelligent by telling all others what you have told them and not at a single point giving you any credit or even hinting that they asked you anything. Such is the state of people and the purpose they use the meetings for,

Some of these were just some empirical, albeit biased speculations. Can there be a scientific explanation to this messy behavior in meetings? It turns out there is. Recently a group of psychologists from Sweden did actually study work meetings. And this study enables us to understand many things about meetings.

They say meetings provide an outlet both for people to show off their status or to express frustration. Mine is, of course, the latter case (at least I would want to identify myself as such, my residual self-image), while the monkey people show off their status. They say despite there being more meetings “few decisions are made” and people can have a low opinion of work meetings, yet their numbers keep increasing.

The Swedish study takes another take on the long meetings:

Meetings can “arouse feelings of meaninglessness”, he says. But he argues that is often missing their point.

Once in a meeting – particularly long ones – their function can become “almost therapeutic”.

Regardless of what they are meant to be discussing, they serve a purpose as an “opportunity to complain and be acknowledged by colleagues”.

But this certainly becomes a farce very quickly.

But people going to many meetings can lose patience – and can spend much of the time playing with their mobile phones, say the researchers.

A very common scene in meetings that I have had to endure, and surely you have too.

“Some people find this frustrating and question why they must endure them.”

Then he comes to the crucial insight of the study.:

But he argues that negativity towards meetings can be because their real purposes are misunderstood. (emphasis added)

But he says the real purpose of such meetings might be to assert the authority of an organisation, so that employees are reminded that they are part of it.

Such meetings are not really about making any decisions, he says. (emphasis added)

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Levels of meeting and power play.

“When you have meetings with colleagues at the same level, as a professional, you get to discuss different issues that interest you,” he says.

When the meetings are dominated by different levels of status, they become a “power struggle” and leave participants feeling frustrated.

He also says that meetings can unfairly become the focus of other dissatisfactions.

“People often feel marginalised. They feel that they have no influence or position. In these cases, the perception is that meetings do not improve anything, but actually cause even more frustration.”

–  Pointless work meetings

Anyways, now we know why the malaise of meetings is not going to go away, as it is

  • considered as a legitimate form of work by people who do not produce any concrete work;
  • a way to show off one’s status and power in the workplace among your peers;
  • a way to dominate and frustrate hapless underlings;
  • a way of attention (and implicitly resource) grabbing behavior.

So much for the seemingly myriad and mystical, yet melancholic and mindless meaningless marathon meetings, hope to see you in your next one (No, I really don’t).

Arbeit Macht Frei – Work sets you free

Arbeit Macht Frei – Work sets you free

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On the gate of Dachau, a model concentration camp. The SS were Hitler’s instrument of terror in the creation of the new order. It was only logical that they should run the camps. Their first prisoners were the dissidents of the Nazi state, political and religious as well as racial. The SS schooled themselves in brutality, systematically reducing their victims to total subservience. Depriving them of individuality, no names, numbers.

 – The World At War – Episode 20:  Genocide

We are also close to become a society in which we will not have a name but only a number might become our identity. There were even suggestions by the mahanubhav who spearheaded this project that we should get this number tattoed on hands lest we forget it. Why not barcode or QR code, so that is easily machine-readable too?

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Also, we are making detention camps for people who are not able to prove that they are indeed Indian citizens, a classic case of creating and identifying the other. Ironically, the  detention camps are being built by those who will be detained there, just as in the concentration camps. Too many parallels. History repeats itself. 

Envious (Machiavelian!?) Mediocrity

There are mediocre people all around us. But the thing is, that some of them actually turn their mediocrity into a kind of weapon, and are able to actually advance much ahead in life. They achieve this by various means and modes.

The idea is that you make up for your mediocrity in the field of work by using other skills that you have. For example, if you are mediocre at coding, then you make sure that you don’t get the work that you may not be able to handle. In case you do, you beg-burrow-steal from your peers to help in that and present it with a face that is calm and take the credit. This happens more often than you think.

Mediocrity is like a viral disease. Once a mediocre is firmly established, it is difficult to remove. Mediocrity attracts mediocrity. Mediocre’s find company between mediocre’s.

The problem comes when mediocre people reach positions of power. They become insecure about their position and work. Time and experience teach them to climb on the top, slowly but steadily, mostly without working what they are meant to. But it doesn’t mean that they don’t work. They do, diligently work their way up. They use devious ways to butter up the seniors, licking them in all ways possible. (pun intended) So you will find such people always close to people with power. They are like fruit flies (no offence to Drosophila) whenever there is a person of power, they will be around. They are obsequious: obedient or attentive to an excessive or servile degree. They will make sure that the powerful ones are looked after, their needs are taken care of. They will enquire socially and keep track of who and where their family members are. This is kept in the long term memory; next meeting they will know everything about the powerful person. Their likes and dislikes, how their children are faring. This takes great dedication and effort to do it. It is almost a fulltime job. I know a few people who will dedicate their working hours to do this. It is no surprise they such sycophantic people are well connected. They will know all the important people and who’s who in the field, and more importantly, these people will also know them, even if fleetingly. And they know how to make use of these connections. Someone needs some help, they will know whom to contact. Mind you this might not be strictly related to their field.

I mean I won’t do it perhaps (strictly metaphorically) even if my life depended on doing it. When someone like me, who doesn’t like this see it – cringe level 10,000. They are toadyish: attempting to win favour from influential people by flattery  Every time I see this happening I cannot help myself to feel disgusted, I want to take that slimy person and give them a mouthful, and perhaps a handful too. Sometimes, such people are merrily talking to you in a social event. Suddenly, someone with a huge position comes in sight and poof the sycophant vanishes and behave in a way as if they don’t know you.

Most people are prone to flattery. I mean, each one will have a different thing to be flattered about, but they know what is to be done. A sycophant will get there. They are fawning: try to gain favour by cringing or flattering. It is human nature to feel good if someone does good things for you, says good things to you. And it is exactly this nature is what is exploited.

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”  – Wilde

The sycophant will imitate the powerful person: in the way they dress, in the way they talk and in the way they behave. The sycophant will pick up the vocabulary to raise themselves to the level of the powerful. Though they may not understand it, they will use it. Over time it becomes a habit to them to utter such words. A new person who is not aware of these will assume that the sycophant is knowledgeable. 

Continuing in this manner, before you know, they are already the aides-de-camp for the powerful. They will keep them updated about every little thing that happens to them and around them. It is as if they have a mandate for doing this. By calling on powerful people on a daily basis, they become the eyes and ears of the powerful people. What will you do when you are day in and day out harangued by a slimy person. Eventually, perhaps you will start to feel pity for them. The powerful people listen to them every day and eventually become influenced by them. When this starts to happen, their bigger game unfolds. Such is the tact of the obsequious person.

ENVY – Emulation adapted to the meanest capacity.

The bigger game is to dislodge any competition that they might get for the actual work they are supposed to do. For this, anyone who is deemed to be a threat is categorically targetted. The threat here can be defined as anyone who will perform better than or is better than the sycophant. And this is what the title of the post is about. Envy sets in. They cannot outdo the threat in a traditional manner, but they are envious nonetheless.  To overcome this they will use all their wits and dirty tricks to outsmart the threat. They will over time, with opportune moments make the threat disesteemed in the opinion of the powerful person. They will create communication gaps, which are filled by maliciously spread gossip which is detrimental to the threat. They will accuse, complain, whine, cavil, bitch, nitpick about the threat and their work. Slowly but surely they gain control. Such is the control that they will slowly, but surely turn opinion about the threat towards being low value or even worse nuisance. And the targetted person is in the bad books. This is especially hurtful if the targetted person is not outspoken or introvert. In the next level, the sycophant is not only eyes and ears but also becomes (Wo)Man Friday. They will become executioners also.  Their proximity earns them the favour of positions with a lot of power and lesser work at the same time. They become managers in a sense. They manage the affairs of the powerful. 

When a team is to be hired sycophants will never ever take people who are better than them. They will hire people who are mirror images of them. Perhaps this is the reason that great institution builders are people who get good people in the institute and are not insecure about their position and work.

I am surprised that I am surprised even after all these years I cannot let the cringe go away. After all these years, with so many experiences of sycophantic behaviour, I should come to terms with it. But I can’t, perhaps I never will. 

Edit: Sometime back I received the following couplets which reflect very well the emotions that I had while writing this post. Was going to add these couplets in the original post, but somehow forgot. Here they are

तरक़्क़ी  की फ़सल, हम भी काट लेते,
थोड़े से तलवे, अगर हम भी चाट लेते…

बस मेरे लिहाज़ में जी हुज़ूर न था,
इसके अलावा, मेरा कोई क़सूर न था,

अगर पल भर को भी, मैं बे-ज़मीर हो जाता,
यक़ीन मानिए, मैं कब का आमिर हो जाता…

Don’t know the author, any information on the poet would be appreciated.

Liberals and conservatives

Usually, a liberal is considered to be with a “free thought” trying out new things and conservatives the exact opposite. But a little contemplation will tell us that these two words are indeed relative. The moral, social and political positioning one takes can be different depending on who is looking at you and from where. There is the proverbial LEFT POLE and the RIGHT POLE. Just like any direction away from the North pole is South, any opinion away from the Left pole is right inclined and any opinion away from Right pole is left inclined. Steven Pinker makes a good point about these relative positions:

The meanings of the words are of no help. Marxists in the Soviet Union and its aftermath were called conservatives; Reagan and Thatcher were called revolutionaries. Liberals are liberal about sexual behavior but not about business practices; conservatives want to conserve communities and traditions but they also favor the free market economy that subverts them. People who call themselves “classical liberals” are likely to be called “conservatives” by adherents of the version of leftism known as political correctness.

Nor can most contemporary liberals and conservatives articulate the cores of their belief systems. Liberals think that conservatives are just amoral plutocrats, and conservatives think that if you are not a liberal before you are twenty you have no heart but if you are a liberal after you are twenty you have no brain (attributed variously to Georges Clemenceau, Dean Inge, Benjamin Disraeli, and Maurice Maeterlinck). Strategic alliances-such as the religious fundamentalists and free-market technocrats on the right, or the identity politicians and civil libertarians on the left-may frustrate the search for any intellectual common denominator. Everyday political debates, such as whether tax rates should be exactly what they are or a few points higher or lower, are just as uninformative.

– Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate p. 286-287

Two Cultures

When C. P. Snow talked about Two Cultures, he had in mind the two supposedly different ways of life. The sciences and the humanities. Snow tries to see the differences between the two cultures and makes it a point to show that the two are indeed different. Recently I read Stephen J Gould’s The Fox, The Hedgehog, and the Magister’s Pox. Gould tries to establish that the so-called divide between the sciences and the humanities never existed but was created unnecessarily.

In this article, I am also going to talk about two cultures, but not the ones that Snow choose. I am going to talk about academic and administrative cultures. Any research institute along with its academic staff has a `supporting’ administrative staff. Theoretically, if you ask, the tasks of the two are defined clearly. The academicians are supposed to do academics, that is, to do research, or at least what they consider research or worth doing. The outcome of academicians is to be measured by fellow academicians, in terms of the quality and the quantity of research or visible work done by them.

The academic life is usually one which is not-so-high paying. At least in India, this seems to be the case. A person who retires as the Director of an Institute hardly draws a salary as compared to the ones in the industry with their kind of experience. But that will take us into another discussion about Academics and Corporates, which I don’t want to enter into now. The perks of academic life are in many cases, if not in all, are the curiosity and the associated satisfaction that one derives from the problems that one tackles. When a person starts an academic career, the paths diverge sharply from their colleagues’ paths who have to choose a corporate way. When one enters academics, one of the things that are retained is a sense of freedom. Again this might not be true in all cases, I have seen juniors, especially the Graduate Students being ruled upon like a dictator by senior Professors. But this misses the point that I want to make. The point is that if you can, at least theoretically speaking, pursue your own research agendas, your research questions. For some people, it is the question that drives their academic lives.

Every now and then you hear examples of so-called `nerds’, who do weird things. They are the people who have `devoted’ themselves to their field. I am not trying to defend anyone here for doing all the weird things that they do, but just trying to illustrate the fact that the field that the researcher chooses, is what drives them on in life. It is just due to the handful of these people that makes the difference. Many times it is just sheer genius, many times it is hard work of years. They are the leaders of their field. Well not always, you may find a mediocre person leading the field, with all the proper political connections…

But this is not always the case; there are always misfits. I do know of people who do not have any commitment to the field that they are working in, per se. But they choose the research field as any other job, the enthusiasm is lacking. And they lament upon those who show some enthusiasm. And such people may be quite numerous. They are the followers. In many cases, it is not that they lack the enthusiasm, but it is entirely missing. What I mean by that is they just like workers in a stone quarry, just doing what the supervisor tells you to do, without much understanding. They are like academic coolies. Maybe the term sounds harsh, but that is what it is supposed to be. Whether you are like this or not will strongly depend on who is your reporting authority in the field. These people, if asked, will have no opinion themselves, and even if they do, it will be a carbon copy of somebody else’s.

The way one is moulded in academic life strongly depends upon one’s own capacity for independent thinking and the kind of support that one gets from the colleagues, including and most importantly from the supervisor. The graduate student years decide what kind of academic person you will become. If all your thoughts are nipped in the bud, at all the times, will you be able to think independently? This is also the question that the supervisor has to ask himself/herself: What my student should be like? I guess many of them would differ in the answer that they give and the thing that they actually practice.

Research Institutes are constituted so as to make an academic atmosphere. By this it is meant that the place should provide support for the activities that the researchers do, that is those activities apart from doing research per se. This support if necessary so that the researchers can concentrate on their work completely. Well isn’t that the idea of having a research institute. The researchers are paid for doing that, and many of them if not all do precisely this. They are not doing research as some part-time job, they are professionals, and at least some of them are committed to the field.

A Paradigm as variously defined by Thomas Kuhn would be a more proper term here for the field. As a philosopher, Kuhn redefined many of our existing understanding in the field of science, especially our understanding _about_ science as a field of human endeavour.

Researchers come and join a paradigm, most of them stay within the paradigm and solve puzzles. Only a few lucky of them come up with problems that are unsolvable within the paradigm, and then the revolutions follow. But let us not go further in this interlude. We
will talk about Kuhn some other time.

So coming back to research institutes, we can settle on one thing that a research institute is a place where research is done, and it is meant for that purpose. In a research institute, the agenda is to provide facilities for research. Various people form the infrastructure that is is thus required. Generally, any research institute has a few categories of people. The faculty, the graduate students and the scientific staff other than the previously mentioned ones. The other staff in the institute includes the technical, administrative
and the auxiliary staff, peons, cleaners etc.

The administrative staff is supposed to help the academic staff to lessen their burden from the non-academic work that they have to do. This `non-academic’ work includes managing the finance of the institute, maintaining the premises, handling at recruitments, and looking at various other facilities and services. But in some institute, the administrative staff becomes increasingly powerful, so much so that they dictate the terms to the academics. Promotions are stalled, so are new recruitments and procurements. All this by citing some obscure rules or just sitting on the files for months. This particularly happens when the incumbent person perceived to be “weak”. On the other hand when the incumbent person is perceived to be “strong”, the administration falls in line. The “strong” person at the helm, can ask the administration to bend the rules, or keep them on hold, or even circumvent at times. This makes the institutes grow. On the other hand, following the rules too strictly and with convenience denial makes it difficult for any growth.

Personal vendettas and fragile egos mark office politics. This is a power struggle, which decides the fate of the institute.

The Forbidden Library

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What do you do when you find something offensive? Whether it be a book, a film or any other art form? You ask for a ban. You not only ban the book, perhaps want to ban the creator of the said object, including all their other work. We will explore Let us look at the dictionary meaning of ban:

Screen Shot 2018-10-09 at 4.25.26 PM

Over the centuries, the powers to be, have banned books and other materials or ideas which they found offensive. But the idea for bans is not always from the state. Grieved individuals often take upon themselves to argue for a ban on a given book or other material. But why would anyone want to ban anything? There seem to be two major reasons, both ideological for this. Both of them involve cultural and societal values.

Every society has some agreed upon norms about behaviour in public, interactions between individuals and things which are considered “normal”. Now, if you look at different cultures, it does take a genius to see those different cultures have different norms. If you look at the same culture historically, you will see that norms change with time. What was blasphemous in the last generation is acceptable now. For example, in the Indian context consider inter-caste marriages. It would be almost impossible to think of it (especially if the female is from the higher caste) in our grandfather’s generation. Manusmriti has

In an earlier post, I had discussed the absurdity of television censorship. The main reason seems to be that in the case of television the continuous flow of images with sound creates a sense of participation for the viewers, whereas they are just consuming. The attention span of the viewers on the television is the most treasured commodity. To keep the viewers glued to the screen, the content creators use a variety of means. The spectacle is out there. Feeding the viewers, satiating their bored lives showing them things that they will never ever get. Playboy and National Geographic are essentially same, they show you things that you are never going to see by yourselves. They create a reality away from reality in which the viewer is lured in and then stuck in a quagmire. In this state, the opinions can be changed, altered as per the desires of the creators.

This thematic idea is captured very well in this couplet by Piyush Mishra in a song from Gulaal.

जैसे हर एक बात पे डिमॉक्रेसी में लगने लग गयो बैन

Just like in democracy there is a ban for everything in democracy.

The banning of books or that of materials which the state or a group of people seem inappropriate is perhaps the easiest way to

https://web.archive.org/web/20090413002834/http://title.forbiddenlibrary.com/

On the same theme, some of the stand-up comedians in India have expressed their opinions in this video I am Offended.  It is a good watch, particularly the intolerant times in which we are. This video, I think points to many of the issues that we have considered here particularly in the current social Indian context.

Two works resonate the idea of censorship and banning of books very well. They are Nineteen Eighty-Four and Fahrenheit 451. In both these works, the core idea is the control of ideas, information and knowledge. So much so that the language to be used by the people is restricted. Certain words are removed from public memory by force. Any use of these words is akin to treason. Nineteen Eighty-Four has Thought Police, who control and report what is said. Even saying  thinking about something taboo is a crime.  We can see a certain trend in the contemporary Indian context. This MO has been effectively used to discredit dissent. Using in the age of connected computers this becomes even easier. It is easy to target people sitting in the comfort of your bed, in a sustained and meticulously planned manner. The so-called Keyboard Warriors are now being employed for making life hell for dissenting people. Anything goes.

Seemingly normal works of literature can be banned by using various contexts at different times and places. Just have a look at the list of books banned by governments across the globe. You will see many familiar titles there, and some of the reasons for their ban are even more bizzare. In the Indian context, history is highly coloured. The general public seems to consider historical fiction works as the history. I am a bit acquainted with Maratha history and seeing it being portrayed in a highly problematic manner in many of the popular titles makes me cringe. Yet, these titles remain on the best seller list. People reading these take them to be the de facto history without any need for evidence to the events depicted in these. When challenged about historical facts they cite these works of fiction as if they are some well researched historical documents supported by evidence. One can imagine what kind of conceptual edifice one will create with such misconceived notions about the past.

Alan Moore has interesting views on being a writer:  Words are magic, they can change and transform things. If we think about this, this indeed is the case. Ideas in the form of words do dictate our lives, whether we are aware of it or not. Ideologies in the form of literature does control our life. So, a writer can write against what is popularly accepted. There are writers who are conformists, and there are writers who will swim against the flow. And it is the later ones who will find their work on the banned list more often than nought. Ideas and words are far more dangerous than mere physical humans. Writing in this era of perpetual ephemeral nature of electronic media makes this case even stronger. Entire works of a particular theme can be removed in a blink of an eye. Electronic media though makes it easy for the authors to publish and disseminate their work, it can also be controlled and removed as easily as with a simple click. Force and intimidation are used when direct banning is not possible. Don’t feed the trolls. When such a thing becomes the norm, we start to self-censor, the worst form of censoring. Because the moment you start to nip the thoughts in the bud, your entity changes.

It is forbidden to dream again;
We maim our joys or hide them:

George Orwell categorises the intentions for writing into these four

  • Sheer egoism: 
  • Aesthetic enthusiasm:

  • Historical impulse:

  • Political purpose:

The last of these he expands

Using the word ‘political’ in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

This is where authors who usually end up on the list of banned work find themselves. Perhaps the world-view that the author subscribes to is something against the incumbent and the inherent traditions of a given milieu. Whatever the reasons, mere words can make those in power feel threatened or humiliated. So it indeed the case that words do have magic, if it was not so we would not have works being banned at mere thought.

 

The Villain

Can’t but help post this little gem from an eleventh-century Sanskrit author by the name of Kshemendra. This is the first chapter of his book Desopadesa which is a satirical work on different types of base people in the society. One can’t stop from making the comparison of people around us, particularly those in power with what he describes.

The Villain

Salutations to the villain. He is like a mortar: full of chaff as well as grain, and always fit for crushing both. Friend and foe are the same to him, as are respect and derision, and he is practised at bypassing rules. Thus is he ordained for salvation/ but he is also vile, like a dog: greedy for crumbs, fierce in quarrels and always dirty. His tongue pollutes the worthy as the dog’s does the bowl. In tardiness, malevolence and harming good works out of ill will, he is like the planet Saturn. Strangely, he is also that planet’s opposite: a thunderbolt that strikes mankind. (5-8)

Though a fool devoid of sacred learning, the villain claims to be a scholar because of his past good deeds. In extolling his own merits he is like Shesha, the thousand-headed serpent, and in running down others, like Brihaspati, the guru of the gods.

His throat is so afflicted with jealousy that his tongue cannot utter words of praise for the good, even if it is pulled out with a pair of tongs; though in slandering them, he has eyes and mouths on every side. His ears, too, are everywhere, and he hears all as he bides his time. (9-11)

The villain is like the world: illusory by nature; afflicted by passion, hatred and craziness; deluding even great minds. Whom has he not corrupted? Like a person’s pubic parts, he is, in fact, a source of shame, addiction and infatuation, and an instigator of desire. (12-13)

Ignoring his own and another’s food, the wretch always sits close to his patron, whispering slander into his ear as if it were the cosmic science. Indeed, he talks of everyone’s faults. But who talks of his? For who will ever discuss the blemishes in a dirty garment? As if in sport, the trickster even creates pictures in the sky: But he is still considered base, for among the tall he remains puny: (14-16)

With a villain, influential,

mad for money, base and cruel,

holding high office,

O people, alas, where will you go? (17)

Yet, a villainous fool is preferable to a clever villain, just as a toothless snake is to a deadly serpent, black and winged. Pollution follows the villain as it did the ogre Khara. Both are spoilers of human habitation; arrogant and hostile to the learned; devourers of mankind. Should a villain tum, by some stroke of luck, into a sincere and good person, it would be like an ape in the forest turning to prayer with its arms upraised. (18-20)

To say that a villain will praise merit is questionable, that he will love, unreasonable, and that he will give something, quite meaningless. But to say that he will kill cannot be an untruth. Influencing the master by whispering slanders in his ears night and day, I believe he spreads his control everywhere. What is the worth of anything, in the course of getting which the dust from his chamber door will adorn one’s head? It can only be a defect, never a merit. Arrogant with a bit of money, given to grand talk, the villain is a strange invention of the Creator. With eyebrows raised, he maligns, in public gatherings, the reputations of good men, which are as radiant as the expanse of Mount Kailasa.

(21-24)

from Desopadesa by Kshemendra

Reflections on Liping Ma’s Work

Liping Ma’s book Knowing and teaching elementary mathematics has been very influential in Mathematics Education circles. This is a short summary of the book and my reflections on it.

Introduction

Liping Ma in her work  compares the teaching of mathematics in the American and the Chinese schools. Typically it is found that the American students are out performed by their Chinese counterparts in mathematical exams. This fact would lead us to believe that the Chinese teachers are better `educated’ than the U.S. teachers and the better performance is a straight result of this fact. But when we see at the actual schooling the teachers undergo in the two countries we find a large difference. Whereas the U.S. teachers are typically graduates with 16-18 years of formal schooling, the typical Chinese maths teacher has about only 11-12 years of schooling. So how can a lower `educated’ teacher produce better results than a more educated one? This is sort of the gist of Ma’s work which has been described in the book. The book after exposing the in-competencies of the U.S. teachers also gives the remedies that can lift their performance.

In the course of her work Ma identifies the deeper mathematical and procedural understanding present, called the profound understanding of fundamental mathematics [PUFM] in the Chinese teachers, which is mostly absent in the American teachers. Also the “pedagogical content knowledge” of the Chinese teachers is different and better than that of the U.S. teachers. A teacher with PUFM “is not only aware of the conceptual structure and the basic attitudes of mathematics inherent in elementary mathematics, but is able to teach them to students.” The situation of the two teacher is that the U.S. teachers have a shallow understanding of a large number of mathematical structures including the advanced ones, but the Chinese teachers have a deeper understanding of the elementary concepts involved in mathematics. The point where the PUFM is attained in the Chinese teachers is addressed. this Also the Chinese education system so structured that it allows cooperation and interaction among the junior and senior teachers.

Methodology

The study was conducted by using the interview questions in Teacher Education and Learning to Teach Study [TELT] developed by Deborah Ball. These questions were designed to probe teacher’s knowledge of mathematics in the context of common things that teachers do in course of teaching. The four common topics that were tested for by the TELT were: subtraction, multiplication, division by fractions and the relationship between area and perimeter. Due to these diverse topics in the questionnaire the teachers subject knowledge at both conceptual and procedural levels at the elementary level could be judged quite comprehensively. The teacher’s response to a particular question could be used to judge the level of understanding the teacher has on the given subject topic.

Sample

The sample for this study was composed of two set of teachers. One from the U.S., and another from China. There were 23 U.S. teachers, who were supposed to be above average. Out of these 23, 12 had an experience of 1 year of teaching, and the rest 11 had average teaching experience of 11 years. In China 72 teachers were selected, who came from diverse nature of schools.In these 72, 40 had experience of less than 5 years of teaching, 24 had more than 5 years of teaching experience, and the remaining 8 had taught for more than 18 years average. Each teacher was interviewed for the conceptual and procedural understanding for the four topics mentioned.

We now take a look at the various problems posed to the teachers and their typical responses.

Subtraction with Regrouping

The problem posed to the teachers in this topic was:

Lets spend some time thinking about one particular topic that you may work with when you teach, subtraction and regrouping. Look at these questions:
62
– 49
= 13

How would you approach these problems if you were teaching second grade? What would you say pupils would need to understand or be able to do before they could start learning subtraction with regrouping?

Response

Although this problem appears to be simple and very elementary not all teachers were aware of the conceptual scheme behind subtraction by regrouping. Seventy seven percent of the U.S. teachers and 14% of U.S. teacher had only the procedural knowledge of the topic. The understanding of these teachers was limited to just taking and changing steps. This limitation was evident in their capacity to promote conceptual learning in the class room. Also the various levels of conceptual understanding were also displayed. Whereas the U.S. teachers explained the procedure as regrouping the minuend and told that during the teaching they would point out the “exchanging” aspect underlying the “changing” step. On the other hand the Chinese teachers used subtraction in computations as decomposing a higher value unit, and many of them also used non-standard methods of regrouping and their relations with standard methods.

Also most of the Chinese teachers mentioned that after teaching this to students they would like to have a class discussion, so as to clarify the concepts.

Multidigit Multiplication

The problem posed to the teachers in this topic was:

Some sixth-grade teachers noticed that several of their students were making the same mistake in multiplying large numbers. In trying to calculate:
123
x 645
13

the students were forgetting to “move the numbers” (i.e. the partial products) over each line.}
They were doing this Instead of this
123 123
x 64 x 64
615 615
492 492
738 738
1845 79335

While these teachers agreed that this was a problem, they did not agree on what to do about it. What would you do if you were teaching the sixth grade and you noticed that several of your students were doing this?}

Response

Most of the teachers agreed that this was a genuine problem in students understanding than just careless shifting of digits, meant for addition. But different teachers had different views about the error made by the student. The problem in the students understanding as seen by the teachers were reflections of their own knowledge of the subject matter. For most of the U.S. teachers the knowledge was procedural, so they reflected on them on similar lines when they were asked to. On the other hand the Chinese teachers displayed a conceptual understanding of the multidigit multiplication. The explanation and the algorithm used by the Chinese teachers were thorough and many times novel.

Division by Fractions

The problem posed to the teachers in this topic was:

People seem to have different approaches to solving problems involving division with fractions. How do you solve a problem like this one?

1/(3/4) / 1/2 = ??

Imagine that you are teaching division with fractions. To make this meaningful for kids, sometimes many teachers try to do is relate mathematics to other things. Sometimes they try to come up with real-world situations or story-problems to show the application of some particular piece of content. What would you say would be good story or model for 1/(3/4) / 1/2 ?

Response

As in the previous two cases the U.S. teachers had a very weak knowledge of the subject matter. Only 43% of the U.S. teachers were able to calculate the fraction correctly and none of them showed the understanding of the rationale underlying their calculations. Only one teacher was successful in generating an illustration for the correct representation of the given problem. On the other hand all the Chinese teachers did the computational part correctly, and a few teachers were also able to explain the rationale behind the calculations. Also in addition to this most of the Chinese teachers were able to generate at least one correct representation of the problem. In addition to this the Chinese teachers were able to generate representational problems with a variety of subjects and ideas, which in turn were based on their through understanding of the subject matter.

Division by Fractions

The problem posed to the teachers in this topic was:

Imagine that one of your students comes to the class very excited. She tells you that she has figured out a theory that you never told to the class. She explains that she has discovered the perimeter of a closed figure increases, the area also increases. She shows you a picture to prove what she is doing:

Example of the student:

How would you respond to this student?

Response

In this problem task there were two aspects of the subject matter knowledge which contributed substantially to successful approach; knowledge of topics related to the idea and mathematical attitudes. The absence or presence of attitudes was a major factor in success

The problems given to the teachers are of the elementary, but to understand them and explain them [what Ma is asking] one needs a profound understanding of basic principles that underly these elementary mathematical operations. This very fact is reflected in the response of the Chinese and the U.S. teachers. The same pattern of Chinese teachers outperforming U.S. teachers is repeated in all four topics. The reason for the better performance of the Chinese teachers is their profound understanding of fundamental mathematics or PUFM. We now turn to the topic of PUFM and explore what is meant by it and when it is attained.

PUFM

According to Ma PUFM is “more than a sound conceptual understanding of elementary mathematics — it is the awareness of the conceptual structure and the basic attitudes of mathematics inherent in elementary mathematics and the ability to provide a foundation for that conceptual structure and instill those basic attitudes in students. A profound understanding of mathematics has breadth, depth, and thoroughness. Breadth of understanding is the capacity to connect topic with topics of similar or less conceptual power. Depth of the understanding is the capacity to connect a topic with those of greater conceptual power. Thoroughness is the capacity to connect all these topics.”

The teacher who possesses PUFM has connectedness, knows multiple ways of expressing same thing, revisits and reinforces same ideas and has a longitudinal coherence. We will elaborate on these key ideas of PUFM in brief.

Connectedness: By connectedness being present in a teacher it is meant that there is an intention in the teacher to connect mathematical procedures and concepts. When this is used in teaching it will enable students to learn a unified body of knowledge, instead of learning isolated topics.

Multiple Perspectives: In order to have a flexible understanding of the concepts involved, one must be able to analyze and solve problems in multiple ways, and to provide explanations of various approaches to a problem. A teacher with PUFM will provide multiple ways to solve and understand a given problem, so that the understanding in the students is deeper.

Basic Ideas: The teachers having PUFM display mathematical attitudes and are particularly aware of the powerful and simple concepts of mathematics. By revisiting these ideas again and again they are reinforced. But focusing on this students are not merely encouraged to approach the problems, but are guided to conduct real mathematical activity.

Longitudinal Coherence: By longitudinal coherence in the teachers having PUFM it is meant that the teacher has a complete markup of the syllabus and the content for the various grades of the elementary mathematics. If one does have an idea of what the students have already learnt in the earlier grades, then that knowledge of the students can be used effectively. On the other hand if it is known what the students will be learning in the higher grades, the treatment in the lower grades can be such that it is suitable and effective later.

PUFM – Attainment

Since the presence of PUFM in the Chinese teachers makes them different from their U.S. counterparts, it is essential to have a knowledge of how the PUFM is developed and attained in the Chinese teachers. For this Ma did survey of two additional groups. One was ninth grade students, and the other was that of pre-service teachers. Both groups has conceptual understanding of the four problems. The preservice teachers also showed a concern for teaching and learning, but both groups did not show PUFM. Ma also interviewed the Chinese teachers who had PUFM, and explored their acquisition of mathematical knowledge. The teachers with PUFM mentioned several factors for their acquisition of mathematical knowledge. These factors include:

  • Learning from colleagues
  • Learning mathematics from students.
  • Learning mathematics by doing problems.
  • Teaching
  • Teaching round by round.
  • Studying teaching materials extensively.

The Chinese teachers during the summers and at the beginning of the school terms , studied the Teaching and Learning Framework document thoroughly. The text book to be followed is the most studied by the teachers. The text book is also studied and discussed during the school year. Comparatively little time is devoted to studying teacher’s manuals. So the conclusion of the study is that the Chinese teachers have a base for PUFM from their school education itself. But the PUFM matures and develops during their actual teaching driven by a concern of what to teach and how to teach it. This development of PUFM is well supported by their colleagues and the study materials that they have. Thus the cultural difference in the Chinese and U.S. educational systems also plays a part in this.

Conclusions

One of the most obvious outcomes of this study is the fact that the Chinese elementary teachers are much better equipped conceptually than their U.S. counterparts to teach mathematics at that level. The Chinese teachers show a deeper understanding of the subject matter and have a flexible understanding of the subject. But Ma has attempted to give the plausible explanations for this difference in terms of the PUFM, which is developed and matured in the Chinese teachers, but almost absent in the U.S. teachers. This difference in the respective teachers of the two countries is reflected in the performance of students at any given level. So that if one really wants to improve the mathematics learning for the students, the teachers also need to be well equipped with the knowledge of fundamental and elementary mathematics. The problems of teacher’s knowledge development and that of student learning are thus related.

In China when the perspective teachers are still students, they achieve the mathematical competence. When they attain the teacher learning programs, this mathematical competence is connected to primary concern about teaching and learning school mathematics. The final phase in this is when the teachers actually teach, it is here where they develop teacher’s subject knowledge.  Thus we see that good elementary education of the perspective teachers themselves heralds their growth as teachers with PUFM. Thus in China good teachers at the elementary level, make good students, who in turn can become good teachers themselves, and a cycle is formed. In case of U.S. it seems the opposite is true, poor elementary mathematics education, provided by low-quality teachers hinders likely development of mathematical competence in students at the elementary level. Also most of the teacher education programs in the U.S. focus on How to teach mathematics? rather than on the mathematics itself. After the training the teachers are expected to know how to teach and what to teach, they are also not expected to study anymore. All this leads to formation of a teacher who is bound in the given framework, not being able to develop PUFM as required.

Also the fact that is commonly believed that elementary mathematics is basic, superficial and commonly understood is denied by this study. The study definitively shows that elementary mathematics is not superficial at all, and anyone who teaches it has to study it in a comprehensive way. So for the attainment of PUFM in the U.S. teachers and to improve the mathematics education their Ma has given some suggestions which need to be implemented.

Ma suggests that the two problems of improving the teacher knowledge and student learning are interdependent, so that they both should be addressed simultaneously. This is a way to enter the cyclic process of development of mathematical competencies in the teachers. In the U.S. there is a lack of interaction between study of mathematics taught and study of how to teach it. The text books should be also read, studied and discussed by the teachers themselves as they will be using it in teaching in the class room. This will enable the U.S. teachers to have clear idea of what to teach and how to teach it thoughtfully. The perspective teachers can develop PUFM at the college level, and this can be used as the entry point in the cycle of developing the mathematical competency in them. Teachers should use text books and teachers manuals in an effective way. For this the teacher should recognize its significance and have time and energy for the careful study of manuals. The class room practice of the Chinese teachers is text book based, but not confined to text books. Again here the emphasis is laid on the teacher’s understanding of the subject matter. A teacher with PUFM will be able to choose materials from a text book and present them in intelligible ways in the class room. To put the conclusions in a compact form we can say that the content knowledge of the teachers makes the difference.

Reflections

The study done by Ma and its results have created a huge following in the U.S. Mathematics Education circles and has been termed as `enlightening’. The study diagnoses the problems in the U.S. treatment of elementary mathematics vis-a-vis Chinese one. In the work Ma glorifies the Chinese teachers and educational system as against `low quality’ American teachers and educational system. As said in the foreword of the book by Shulman the work is cited by the people on both sides of the math wars. This book has done the same thing to the U.S. Mathematics Education circles what the Sputnik in the late 1950’s to the U.S. policies on science education. During that time the Russians who were supposed to be technically inferior to the U.S. suddenly launched the Sputnik, there by creating a wave of disgust in the U.S. This was peaked in the Kennedy’s announcement of sending an American on moon before the 1970’s. The aftermath of this was to create `Scientific Americans’, with efforts directed at creating a scientific base in the U.S. right from the school. Similarly the case of Ma’s study is another expos\’e, this time in terms of elementary mathematics. It might not have mattered so much if the study was performed entirely with U.S. teachers [Have not studies of this kind ever done before?]. But the very fact that the Americans are apparently behind the Chinese is a matter of worry. This is a situation that needs to be rectified. This fame of this book is more about politics and funding about education than about math. So no wonder that all the people involved in Mathematics Education in the U.S. [and others elsewhere following them] are citing Ma’s work for changing the situation. Citing work of which shows the Americans on lower grounds may also be able to get you you funds which otherwise probably you would not have got. Now the guess is that the aim is to create `Mathematical Americans’ this time so as to overcome the Chinese challenge.

Ma, L. (1999). Knowing and teaching elementary mathematics: Teachers’ understanding of fundamental mathematics in China and the United States. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

They Thought They Were Free

In this post we will look at some experiences that people in Germany had during the rise of Nazi Party. Overall the trend is that you make it almost impossible for anyone opposed to your thought as an outcast, and others just follow the herd. Many measures of the present incumbent have parallels to this. And especially the current drama of demonetization of high denomination currency notes.

This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.”

They say that it was essential that it should have been kept secret, otherwise the point of exercise would have been futile. People of the country are asked to make sacrifices for the betterment of the country. Otherwise the country was in crisis. So we had to take emergency steps. What is happening in all this introduced chaos is the issues which need to go in public imagination are removed. These are issues which the government doesn’t want people to discuss, debate. Like a magician they are directing the public attention with gimmicks and shenanigans when their slight of hand remains invisible from public scrutiny.

In all these perception managing exercise the ever changing breaking news in our main-stream-media plays an ubiquitous role. They are supposed to be a pillar in the democratic process, but instead we find that they are malleable and play hand-maiden’s role for diverting and capturing public imagination. Most of the time this is in sync with what the incumbent government wants.

“The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?”

Thinking is also outsourced. Experts are called in, to provide excerpts from ideas too complex and too common for common citizens to comprehend. Each idea is digested in studios, what is generated is a pre-digested version of the ideas so that you don’t need to do it. You perhaps do not have time to do it. There are more relevant things than ruminating about rationalisations regarding political policies. And if at all you do question or think about these, one of the basic logical fallacy of ad hominem is employed. Shoot the messenger, we already have the message (or massage after McLuhan). Messenger is the mess-maker. Here in public imagination the questioner becomes the questioned. The questions are irrelevant, motive, history and ideological stance of the person asking the question is more important. Questioning policies and performance metamorphose from act of trying to understand to act of treason to undermine.

The perpetrator becomes predated. Overnight they are condemned to become public and hence national enemies. Any one who does not support becomes anti-national by default. To live here you have to live by our rules, otherwise you should go away. Who gave this authority to them? This is again questioned back, you must have something to hide, hence you are not supporting this. Then it captures public imagination, those questioning are enemies within. Dissent is treason.

And we have in form of Pakistan the “Other”. The national enemy without. When there is a dullness in the public imagination, raise the ante in form of the bogey man for all our troubles. Again here the pattern is well laid out.

Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, ‘everyone’ is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none.

What might happen next, what event will break the news, tomorrow is unknown. Through surveys through debates it is brought to fore that “All is well.” If it is not well for you, the trouble is with you. All the problems are only for people who are enemies within. Those supporting, are the ones who are honest, happy and hardworking. Rest of you need to prove you allegiance, we already have by token sloganeering, literally and figuratively both.

And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have.”

If you think too much you become the pseudo-leftist-communist-atheist-liberal. Taking a stance against the establishment is an act of defiance against the country. The content of the stance is not important, questioning is. Your thought is against the wisdom of the entire society. The entire system acts against you. The system forces you to choose. AADHAR is a case in this category. All the arguments against are drowned in a sea of arguments which do not address the concerns raised. Look at the benefits for the poor they say, those who fall in line, are normal. It is only people like you living in ivory towers feel bad about it. Outside everyone is using it, and they are happy about it. The dubious and shady way in which it was legalised itself should have sent shudders, but rather it has evoked a lukewarm response. Those in power are so intoxicated that even supreme court ruling that it should not be mandatory is ignored left right and center. Each day incrementally small changes and notifications are provided. Each day it is becoming near impossible to live without it. This is already under the premise that it is needed. No one can question that. And if you do, they ask what is your problem? Why can’t you fall in line? Just accept it will you. People must have bank account and must have ID cards, who cares if it is not constitutionally mandated?

Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed.

But till we find out and till we realise the water is already boiling and we and our coming generation is already cooked.

They Thought They Were Free  – Milton Mayer

Trump’s Trumpeting Triumph

Election of Donald Trump and Democracy

I have two observations to make for the election of Donald Trump to the president’s office in he United States. First there is a certain sense of bewilderment in general public as well as the intelligentsia, they ask this question: “How can this possibly happen?”, “This is the doom of America” among other things. The arguments that are generally given are he is white-supremacist etc. And one of the major reasons for people to not expect him to win was that major media houses were against him. They portrayed a very peculiar negative picture of him through and through the last few months of campaign. Anything he said was scrutinized and all kinds of people were supposed to be against him. But how did we know this all? It was through the very same media houses that were biased against him. Can you really expect the media houses to give us an accurate description of ground reality when their entire aim was to derail his campaign. So what happened is that the entire rhetoric that was built upon against him didn’t stand actually reflect what the pulse on the ground was. People had different moods and different agendas on mind. And they were frustrated with the nexus that they thought was reason behind their miseries. So all this so called appeal to the “logic” or “reason” of the people to see Trump stood for (according to the media houses) and not vote for him had no takers. All those attempts by his followers were seen as hollow and shallow attempts to demean and demonify Trump. And in the final days to the election the shrillness only increased. Each attempt by a new group or a new person to vilify Trump was seen as desperate attempts to keep him out of power. He was the one who could do something, who promised to do something. He was the hero America needed to be great again. In contrast to this Hillary Clinton’s campaign can be seen as an ass saving campaign. She was caught in many hiccups, but managed to balance the possible derailment of her campaign, be it her emails or other things. The very fact that she managed to come to finals bating Sanders, in spite of so many problems itself reeked of crookedness for many. The entire anti-Trump rhetoric, instead of helping her, hurt her. So for his supporters there was no appeal to reason against him as they were already convinced beyond doubt that he is the person, and at the same time attempts to stop him were seen as conspiracies of the old system. The intelligentsia rhetoric was hollow and appeal to reason was a treason.

The Indian Election of 2014 had a similar trend. In this Narendra Modi was the candidate (also right wing). In this case also we see that the appeal to reason seen as a treason. Though he did not promise a wall, but tall promises were nonetheless made. The entire image was manipulated as if he will deliver all the things in a jiffy, when elected. We see similar bashing of the intelligentsia in this case also, the rhetoric also went overboard by calling anyone not agreeing with their tag line as anti-national, which continues till day.

For those particularly in intelligentsia lament at Trump’s victory as “Democracy has lost”, they are missing a very crucial aspect. The election of Trump actually shows the true nature of democracy. It is literally the rule of the people. And if more people think a particular candidate is good for them they will choose him. To claim it as a “Dark day” is to question the democratic process itself. These same people would have been perhaps happy if Hillary Clinton was selected. But then this for me is just changing of the goalposts when you have lost an argument. If you cannot convince people to vote for someone, it is not loss for democracy, rather it is the way it operates. The democratic process cannot remain correct if some candidate wins and problematic when someone else wins, of course under the assumption that these are fair elections, not rigged ones. This for me reflects obliviousness for the obviousness of democracy.

Whistleblowing as an act of political resistance

The individuals who make these disclosures feel so strongly about what they have seen that they’re willing to risk their lives and their freedom. They know that we, the people, are ultimately the strongest and most reliable check on the power of government. The insiders at the highest levels of government have extraordinary capability, extraordinary resources, tremendous access to influence, and a monopoly on violence, but in the final calculus there is but one figure that matters: the individual citizen.

And there are more of us than there are of them.

–  Edward Snowden

After Nehru…

Longish quotes from London Review of Books from After Nehru by Perry Anderson

To be impressive, however, is not to be miraculous, as Indians and others still regularly describe the political system that crystallised after independence. There was never anything supernatural about it: terrestrial explanations suffice. The stability of Indian democracy came in the first instance from the conditions of the country’s independence. There was no overthrow of the Raj, but a transfer of power by it to Congress as its successor. The colonial bureaucracy and army were left intact, minus the colonisers.

For twenty years, across five polls between 1951 and 1971, Congress never once won a majority of votes. In this period, at the peak of its popularity as an organisation, its average share of the electorate was 45 per cent. This yielded it crushing majorities in the Lok Sabha, amounting to just under 70 per cent of the seats in Parliament. In effect, the distortions of the electoral system meant that at national level it faced no political opposition. At state or district level, this did not hold. But there, the centre had powers that could deal swiftly with any local trouble. These too were heirlooms of the Raj, eagerly appropriated by Congress.

No other system of inequality, dividing not simply, as in most cases, noble from commoner, rich from poor, trader from farmer, learned from unlettered, but the clean from the unclean, the seeable from the unseeable, the wretched from the abject, the abject from the subhuman, has ever been so extreme, and so hard-wired with religious force into human expectation.

Fixing in hierarchical position and dividing from one another every disadvantaged group, legitimating every misery in this life as a penalty for moral transgression in a previous incarnation, as it became the habitual framework of the nation it struck away any possibility of broad collective action to redress earthly injustice that might otherwise have threatened the stability of the parliamentary order over which Congress serenely presided for two decades after independence.

By the end of his life, Nehru would have liked a more presentable fig-leaf for Indian rule, but that he had any intention of allowing free expression of the popular will in Kashmir can be excluded: he could never afford to do so. He had shown no compunction in incarcerating on trumped-up charges the ostensible embodiment of the ultimate legitimacy of Indian conquest of the region, and no hesitation in presiding over subcontracted tyrannies of whose nature he was well aware.

Surrounded by mediocrities, Nehru accumulated more posts than he could handle – permanent foreign minister as well as prime minister, not to speak of defence minister, head of the planning commission, president of Congress, at various times. He was not a good administrator, finding it difficult to delegate, but even had he been, this was a pluralism too far.

Nor was Ambedkar consoled by sanctimonious plaudits for his role in drafting the constitution. He knew he had been used by Congress, and said two years later: ‘People always keep on saying to me: oh sir, you are the maker of the constitution. My answer is I was a hack. What I was asked to do I did much against my will.’

Secularism in India, it is explained, does not mean anything so unsophisticated as the separation of state and religion. Rather – so one version goes – the Indian state is secular because, while it may well finance or sponsor this or that religious institution or activity, in doing so it maintains an ‘equidistance’ from the variegated faiths before it.

As with other oppressed minorities in societies keen to advertise their pluralism, a sprinkling of celebrities – a batsman or film star here, a scientist or symbolic office-holder there – adorns, but doesn’t materially alter, the position of the overwhelming majority of Muslims in India.

What the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act effectively does in such zones, the young Indian historian Ananya Vajpeyi has written, is ‘to create an entirely separate space within India, a sort of second and shadow nation, that functions as a military state rather than an electoral democracy, and only remains hidden because it is not, at least so far, officially ruled by a general or a dictator’. This space should ‘not be thought of as a zone of exception, but as a contradiction so extreme that it undoes the totality in which it is embedded’, which breaks down into ‘two distinct and mutually opposed regimes’ that form ‘two nations: India and non-India’.

Had the party or state been truly secular, in each case this would have been a priority, but that was the last thing it had in mind. There cannot be a genuinely secular party or state unless it is willing to confront religious superstition and bigotry, rather than truckle to them. Neither party nor state has ever contemplated doing that, because both have rested, sociologically speaking, on Hindu caste society. The continued dominance of upper castes in public institutions – administration, police, courts, universities, media – belongs to the same matrix.

After Independence, Gandhi’s doctrines were consigned to the museum, but his saturation of politics with Hindu pathos lived on.

Indian secularism of the post-independence period had never sharply separated state and religion, let alone developed any systematic critique of Hinduism.

The BJP does not oppose, but upholds secularism, for ‘India is secular because it is Hindu.’

‘Myths have a way of running away with their proponents,’ G. Balachandran, an Indian critic of this outlook, of whom there have not been that many, has remarked: ‘Belief in the essentially secular character of the modern Indian state and society can often be little more than an exercise in self-congratulation which overlooks or rationalises the sectarian religious outlook pervading large areas of contemporary social and political practice.’

Mayawati’s erection of 150,000 statues of Ambedkar, not to speak of two hundred effigies of her party’s elephant symbol and of herself (the largest 24 feet high, and like the rest covered in pink polythene as the state went to the polls in March, on the orders of the Election Commission, so as not to beguile or distract voters), at the cost of more schools and healthcare, offers an extreme case of this identity politics, which does not seek to abolish caste, as Ambedkar had wanted, but to affirm it.

Castes continue to be, as they have always been, and Ambedkar saw, one of the purest negations of any notion of liberty and equality, let alone fraternity, imaginable. That the Indian state has never lifted a juridical finger to do away with them, but in seeking only to ameliorate has if anything legally entrenched them, says more about its secularism than the omission of any reference to it in the constitution, or the belated passage of an amendment rectifying the omission to embellish the Emergency.

With it has come a large measure of convergence between Congress and the BJP in government, each pursuing at home a neoliberal economic agenda, as far as their allies will allow them, and abroad a strategic rapprochement with the United States. Culturally, they now bathe in a common atmosphere in which religious insignia, symbols, idols and anthems are taken for granted in commercial and official spaces alike.

In India democracy never extended very far from government to the parties contending for it, which were always run from the top down. Today, however, many have become something other than the oligarchic organisations into which the political scientists Ostrogorsky and Michels thought all parties must sooner or later turn. With the exception of the communists and the BJP, they have become family firms competing for market shares of the electorate and so access to public office.

Of the ensuing scenery, André Béteille, the doyen of sociologists of India, has written that the ‘abject surrender’ of Congress to a single family, corrupting all other parties, has done irreparable harm to Indian democracy, poisoning the wells of public life.

The court, now self-recruiting, is the most powerful judiciary on earth. It has acquired such an abnormal degree of authority because of the decay of the representative institutions around it. Even admirers are aware of the risks. In the graphic phrase of Upendra Baxi, India’s leading legal scholar and one of the first to bring a public interest suit before the court, it is ‘chemotherapy for a carcinogenic body politic’

Comparing India and China from another angle, one of the most lucid political minds of the subcontinent, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, has observed that in the People’s Republic, where there is no democracy, communist rule is based on output legitimacy: it is accepted by the masses for the material benefits it takes great care to deliver them, however unequally. Whereas in India, democracy allows just the opposite – an input legitimacy from the holding of free elections, that thereby excuses the political class from distributing more than confetti to the masses who have elected them.

Three years later, with typical dishonesty, the Manmohan regime renamed it as ‘Gandhian’ to fool the masses into believing that Congress was responsible for it.

Caste, not class, and alas, least of all the working class, is what counts most in popular life, at once sustaining Indian democracy and draining it of reconstructive energy.

If the poor remain divided against themselves, and workers are scattered and ill-organised, what of other sources of opposition within the political system? The new middle class has turned against mega-corruption, but is scarcely foreign to the bribe and the wink, let alone favours to kin, at its own level of advantage. Besotted with a culture of celebrity and consumption, on spectacularly vapid display in much of the media, and to all appearances hardening in collective egoism, it is no leaven in the social order. The intelligentsia is another matter. There, India possesses a range and quality of minds that perhaps no other developing society in the world, and not that many developed ones, can match. Whether working inside or outside the union, it forms an interconnected community of impressive acuity and distinction. In what kind of relationship does it stand to the country? Intellectuals are often held, quite wrongly, to be critical by definition. But in some societies, the mistake has become internalised as a self-conception or expectation, and so it probably is for most Indian intellectuals. How far do they live up to it?

A rigid social hierarchy was the basis of original democratic stability, and its mutation into a compartmentalised identity politics has simultaneously deepened parliamentary democracy and debauched it. Throughout, caste is the cage that has held Indian democracy together, and it has yet to escape.

In the 1920s the great Tamil iconoclast E.V. Ramasamy could declare: ‘He who invented God is a fool. He who propagates God is a scoundrel. He who worships God is a barbarian.’

Hindu culture, exceptionally rich in epics and metaphysics, was exceptionally poor in history, a branch of knowledge radically devalued by the doctrines of karma, for which any given temporal existence on earth was no more than a fleeting episode in the moral cycle of the soul.

‘In an overwhelmingly religious society,’ one subcontinental scholar has written, ‘even the most clear-sighted leaders have found it impossible to distinguish romanticism from history and the latter from mythology.’

Moral indignation is too precious an export to be wasted at home. That the democracy of his country and the humanity of his leader preside over an indurated tyranny, replete with torture and murder, within what they claim as their national borders, need not ruffle a loyal Indian citizen.

Nobel prizes are rarely badges of political courage – some of infamy – so there is little reason for surprise at a silence that, in one form or another, is so common among Indian intellectuals.

What is true is that no break away from the union is conceivable in this area, not because of any economic impossibility, but because Delhi can unleash overwhelming military force, as it has done for a half a century, to crush any attempt at secession, and can count on exhaustion eventually wearing out all resistance, as it cannot in Kashmir, where the alternatives of independence or inclusion in Pakistan have not left the Valley, and any free vote would prefer either to the Indian yoke.

Still, at the altar of Trimurti, costs are discounted inversely to gains. Unity, whose moral and political deadweight is heavier, is safer from reproach than democracy or secularity.

The dynasty that still rules the country, its name as fake as the knock-off of a prestige brand, is the negation of any self-respecting republic.

Congress had its place in the national liberation struggle. Gandhi, who had made it the mass force it became, called at independence for its dissolution. He was right. Since then the party has been a steadily increasing calamity for the country. Its exit from the scene would be the best single gift Indian democracy could give itself.

The political ills that all well-meaning patriots now deplore are not sudden or recent maladies of a once healthy system. They descend from its original composition, through the ruling family and its affiliates, and the venerations and half-truths surrounding these and the organisation enclosing them.

via After Nehru | LRB

The Worst Get to the Top

Yes, you read that correctly: democratic government invariably leads to the rule by “demagogues” who manipulate the most immoral segments of society.

The core of this immoral coalition consists of “the lowest common denominator” – the “‘mass[es]’ in the derogatory sense of the term.” The masses consist of the least “educated” and least “intelligent” driven by “primitive instincts.”

The unethical leaders add to this core the “docile and gullible.” They are easily manipulated by propaganda that creates “a ready-made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently.”

Their “passions and emotions are readily aroused” by demagogues “who will thus swell the ranks of the totalitarian party.”

The third component of the totalitarian troika is the “most important negative element.” These are the murderous bigots motivated by “hatred of an enemy … the envy of those better off.”

via Bill Black: How Hayek Helped the Worst Get to the Top.

Anonymity and community in the age of RTI

(Draft under work.)

The year 2005 was a significant event in the history of India, as it
saw the introduction of bill for Right to Information. Under this
act any person could request data from government departments
pertaining to issues of interest. This was seen as first step
towards transparency of government of India, and indeed it was. The
RTI act was a weapon in hands of activists, who could now get the
required information officially. What was important also was that
there was a timeline which had to be adhered to while replying to
the RTI query. The information gathered from the various RTI queries
which individuals across the country empowered the citizens about
their rights regarding many issues. Also equally importantly RTI was
a tool for exposing the corruption running rampant in various
government departments. A RTI query could expose the irregularities
and bypassing of rules and regulations, leading to
corruption. There are many famous cases for their expose of big
names and massive corruption which were brought to light. (Some
examples?)

Some people became what are now known as RTI activists. The RTI
activists were whistleblowers of the RTI age. These activists
exposed many scams at local and national levels. Such expose make
the people involved very uncomfortable. And as it happens in many
cases the people involved are very powerful and would not stop at
anything to attain their goals. In many such cases the RTI activists
were “easy” targets. By using the four-fold approach of /saam/,
/daam/, /dand/ and finally /bhed/ those in trouble try to stop the RTI
activists. Unfortunately in many cases, it turns out the activists
were killed as a result of their whistleblowing acts. (Give
examples)

What the RTI activists in various parts lack is a safety net, by
this I mean they lack support from people with similar
interests. They also lack, in a sense, a feeling of community who
will stand by them in case of such bad incidents. What can be done
for them? What kind of mechanism can result in their protection?
There was a proposed whistleblower bill, which if enacted will
provide security to such people. But the bill was not passed. Is
there any other option? Is there a way in which people can still ask
for information under RTI, without revealing their identity, so that
they cannot be “targetted” as whistleblowers. Is there a way in
which despite being anonymous there is a sense of community among
the activists of the RTI? It seems there can be an alternative way in
which we the people can provide a sense of anonymity and at the same
time that of a community to the RTI activists. What follows is
such a proposal which will try to cover these fundamental issues.

The proposal is to setup a front, which for lack of a name I would
call a /collective/ for now, which will mask those requesting RTI
from various government departments. The activists can send their
queries to the government departments through this collective. This
collective will in a sense create a buffer between activists and the
respective government departments, and associated problematic
elements. Since the RTI queries will be sent through this
collective, there will be sense of anonymity for the RTI activists,
as their names wouldn’t come under spotlight as in the earlier
case. One can also have a way in which the activist need not reveal
their identity to collective, that is we should also allow for
anonymous requests for queries. Some may point out that this might
be abused, but we have to give in this possibility hoping that pros
will outnumber the cons. Thus at no point we would have any data
regarding the identity of the applicant, hence we will not be able
to reveal it, when asked. This as will be pointed out can be abused,
but Thus the collective will form a mask for all the RTI
requests. Of coure people who want their name displayed for their
work, will be proud public faces of the collective. It would be much
more difficult to subdue or silence or attack the collective as it
would not be single point contact, but rather a distributed system.

So what do the activists gain by submitting to the collective,
apart from the anonymity. The collective will have a policy that
all the data that it receives from these RTI queries, will be put
up in public domain. This will in turn create a public archive of
information which will be accessible to anyone. Such a archive will
address many issues, like redundancy in filing of RTI queries, or
making the future RTI queries much more pointed and making material
available for researchers.

Such is a very rough proposal for the formation of the
collective. Suggestions and refinements in the proposal and
possible way of execution of this collective are needed.

World We Live In

“I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded. That’s not something I’m willing to support, it’s not something I’m willing to build, and it’s not something I’m willing to live under.”

via Techdirt.

Triple Standards

With the case of Tarun Tejpal exposed there was a media flurry for breaking the news to the audience. But it was a broken news, it did not need breaking. Though I am not against questions Mr. Tejpal, and some media houses questioning Tehelka having double standards this episode needs a deeper analysis.

Sometime back the Niraa Radia tapes appeared in the public. And they were breaking the news. But soon some very interesting personalities also surfaced in the tapes. They included the likes of Ratan Tata and Barkha Dutt amongst others. And suddenly there was a complete radio silence on that. It seems NDTV especially became really silent about this whole issue. But more importantly none of the other media houses dared to raise questions to Ms. Dutt, the tone and manner which we are seeing in case of Mr. Tejpal, via Shoma Choudhary. Since we have already crossed the double standards, I call this particular episode from media having “Triple Standards”. One for themselves, one for the general public and one for vendetta against fellow reporters who might have made them uncomfortable in the past.

Personally for me, the case against Ms. Dutt was for more serious and grave as the future of entire country was being decided, though no “individuals” were harmed. And also the intent and tonality of the Radia tapes just shows how powerful and at the same time morally corrupt the media have become. So far Mr. Tejpal is concerned he admitted to and will perhaps face law for what he has done. But what about Ms. Dutt? No cases, not even a CBI enquiry! The matter has been suppressed well. Forget about law, one has a feeling that collective amnesia that media is presenting in this case will make even people forget that this incident ever happened. Even after all this there seems to be no remorse and none of other journalist dared ask accountability from Ms. Dutt or for that matter anyone else from NDTV. So this vehement attack on Tehelka on this issue seems more like a soap opera which shows that they do not leave out people from media when they are exposed. What about themselves?

I just no longer see Ms. Dutt speaking on behalf of “We The People” for she is no longer one of us, but rather firmly on the other side.

Privatization, Responsibility and Corruption

Privatisation seems to have gone from dynamic ideological choice, to route of least resistance for the state to abdicate its responsibility in a variety of policy areas. Anything difficult and measurable – problem schools; elderly care; waste disposal; big infrastructure projects – is left to private capital. In exactly the same way that outsourcing has evolved for private enterprise, it has become an expensive way of getting rid of problems to which those in charge have no solutions.

It is much easier to close a free school than to explain why a state school has gone disastrously wrong.

via theguardian

The same is happening in India. Now they are planning to privatize airports and Indian Airlines on the reasons of efficiency. For education, the government supports private school with aids. When the same money could have been used to better the government schools. In each sector the reliance on private sector to do the jobs is increasing. Even in case of vehicles in government offices, the trend is that you employ a private vehicle and a driver, instead of having a driver on the payroll. So is the case with computer maintenance. In each government office there are private firms which are paid large sums to make sure that the computers are kept running. Why can’t there be an internal department to look after that? The privatization both complete and contractual, lead to massive corruption opportunities for both politicians and the bureaucrats as can be seen in the recent series of scams that have surfaced in India. The main problem that is facing the people is privatization of our natural resources and that of responsibilities of the Government, the resulting corruption is just the tip of the iceberg. It is a symptom of the disease. Even then the major media houses never question, why these mega scams became possible in the first place? They are more eager to make scapegoats out of certain people, but the system which allowed the scams to happen is never challenged.

That said, it seems the ideological stance privatization, resulting in denial of responsibility of state and loss of money from the public purse cannot be halted unless there is a strong pressure from within to halt such measures.

Plagiarism Vs. Copyright

It is in the interest of the publishers to confuse plagiarism with copyright. And many people wouldn’t know the difference. So here is a difference between the two:

First, plagiarism is a violation of academic norms but not illegal; copyright violation is illegal, but in truth pretty ubiquitous in academia. (Where did you get that PDF?)

Second, plagiarism is an offence against the author, while copyright violation is an offence against the copyright holder. In traditional academic publishing, they are usually not the same person, due to the ubiquity of copyright transfer agreements (CTAs).

Third, plagiarism applies when ideas are copied, whereas copyright violation occurs only when a specific fixed expression (e.g. sequence of words) is copied.

Fourth, avoiding plagiarism is about properly apportioning intellectual credit, whereas copyright is about maintaining revenue streams.

via Plagiarism is nothing to do with copyright

This would also relate to an earlier post, in making the difference between wrong and illegal. It can be exemplified in this case also.

Suppose for her research person A need a particular research article and she or her institution do not have access to it. What does A do?
She asks her friends in other institutes if they have access to this article. That means that the institute they are working in have subscription to the journal in which this article was published. Among her friends person B has access to the article. Suppose she sends A an electronic copy of the article. A is happy, that she got the article. B is also happy, that he could be of help to A. But strictly speaking this is illegal. In the fine print all the publisher website have Terms and Conditions which we have to agree to (without reading them most of the times and they are written in legalese). These terms and conditions prevent us from sharing these articles from anyone else who might not have access to. For example for JSTOR the terms and conditions are listed here. If you read these finely what emerges is the way in which the publishers control the flow of information. For example it says:

Institutional Licensees shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that access to the Licensed 
Content is limited to Authorized Users and to protect the Licensed Content from unpermitted use.

This clause essentially makes what happened between A and B illegal and just for sharing this article they might terminate the B’s institutional access to JSTOR. Now we can ask this question that whether the gesture on B’s part to help A was wrong and illegal both? As per definition by JSTOR this is clearly a violation of copyright. But what is the status of A’s research which emerges from this article given by B. Is it illegal? Can it be called as plagiarised (A gives proper citation of course)?  

If you apply Kolhberg’s theory of moral development, the person who has the most developed morality will perhaps help the other without bothering about the copyright!

 

 

Illegal and Wrong

We have to get out of the mindset of thinking that things are wrong because they are illegal. People make laws and people can change those laws.
via Silk Road

Often people equate being illegal to being wrong. Though this may be true at times, it need not be always true. This is a fact that many people forget and do not think about.The laws that we have were made in a specific time with conditions pertaining to those times. And the fact that  they are made by people. They may not be relevant any more. Or it might be just that the laws presented views of the majority or of the rich and the powerful. And many times breaking the law itself is the right thing to do. Gandhi in his life showed this many times. So was it wrong when Gandhi broke the salt law, for example? If there is a law against speaking about wrongs government does, it would be illegal to break such a law, but would it be wrong?

 

 

Cost of environment

Former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha on Tuesday blamed Congress leader and union minister Jairam Ramesh as being “singularly responsible for shaving off 2.5% of the GDP” by not giving environmental clearance to projects during his stint as the environment minister, escalating the war of words between the two.

via ET

Mr. Sinha should understand that economy is not everything. If at all protecting environment costs so much of GDP indirectly, even then it is okay. Perhaps we should provide 2.5% of GDP to protect our environment, and that would ensure it will remain for posterity.  The rampant rape of environment in form of various “developmental” projects and its toll on the flora and fauna is something that needs to be stopped. For example consider the illegal and legal mining in Goa and its impact on the fragile ecosystem there. Ramesh had a choice, and he exercised it. How many ministers do that? If the environment ministry will itself not worry about the environment then who will? Sinha in criticizing Ramesh seems to have forgotten this basic fact. Otherwise what is the reason for the Environment ministry to exist? For there are certain things that cannot be equalized in terms of money, and our flora and fauna is one of them. Mr. Sinha should understand that extinction is forever, no amount of money can bring back lost species or lost ecosystems. But people who are corrupted by lure of money at any cost (to environment and other people) will not understand this. Even if they do, their priorities are set by the bottom line, which is money.

From or with?

My place was not with the heroes, but with the rablle, with the men who had been pressed into the ranks by force of arms, or force of hunger, with nothing to fight or work for and little to gain; whose function in the epics was to be slaughtered by the heroes; whose role, according to the historians, was to provide a mere background for the deeds of great men. The heroes of a money-making society rose from the people, at the expense of the people; I could rise only with the common people.

D. D. Kosambi | The Kanpur Road | Exasperating Essays

 

From the speech which was never delivered…

Ambedkar bm

(Sketch by Karen Haydock)

This post has some quotes (and my reflections on them) from the book The Annihilation of Caste by B. R. Ambedkar. The book has an essay of the same title which Ambedkar was to give in a Conference of a anti-caste mandal in Lahore. This particular speech, unfortunately, was never delivered. The organizers of the speech objected to certain ideas and words in the speech, which Ambedkar refused to remove, this ultimately resulted in cancellation of the event. In the book before the actual essay begins, it has a series of letters exchanged between Ambedkar and the organizers. The letters show how many feathers can be ruffled, just by words which are well thought out, well chosen and well aimed. The analysis of problems of caste by Ambedkar, and its possible solution is a radical one. This surely unsettled people then, as it will now, even though lot of water has passed since Ambedkar wrote this essay, people and their thoughts have not changed. But Ambedkar was not only man of words, he was one who had the will to put his words in action too. And he indeed left the fold of Hinduism, under which he did not believe there was any emancipation for the dalits.

The radical approach of Ambedkar was not looked upon kindly by most people, especially the leaders. It exposes the ineffective steps taken by both the National Congress as well as Socialists in eradication of caste. Ambedkar argues that their efforts will never
be successful as the problem of caste is inherent to the way of Hindu religion and is essential for its survival. I think in all
this analysis, it sort of became pressing on Gandhi to write a counter to the essay, so Gandhi wrote against this essay in
Harijan. The the appendix has sections of Gandhi’s view on the essay and Ambedkar’s reply to it. Ambedkar’s reply to Gandhi, to put it mildly, is brutal. The force with which he tears apart the argument put forth by Gandhi in his defence of the varna system,
and his idea of following saints as exemplars of religious faith, is something which must have been brewing in his mind for long. He bisects Gandhi in to two: the politician and the saint, which are trying to live by the philosophy preached by him. And he shows that this philosophy is just clinging on to “archaic social structure of the Hindus”.

Ambedkar gives a rationale for why he wrote a reply to Gandhi:

This I have done not because what he has said is so weighty as to deserve a reply but because to many a Hindu he is an oracle, so
great that when he opens his lips it is expected that the argument must close and no dog must bark. But the world owes much to rebels who would dare to argue in the face of the pontiff and insist that he is not infallible. I do not care for the credit which every
progressive society must give to its rebels. I shall be satisfied if I make the Hindus realize that they are the sick men of India
and that their sickness is causing danger to the health and happiness of other Indians.

This essay is an eye-opener regards to views of Ambedkar on caste system,and gives us his ideological position on the issues. What
emerges from the reading is that Ambedkar was a rational person. In the sentiments that he has expressed in the essay you can feel the urgency about the things he talks about and at the same time they are not just emotional blurts, but well thought about and
exemplified rational arguments. He elaborates profusely with examples from history and his own times and quotes from many, and builds a convincing case for his ideas, and radical they are.

It is a pity that many of his (so called) followers of today don’t follow his ideas in principle or in spirit.

Prelude to the speech which was never delivered

Ambedkar in his reply on cancelling the Conference for which the speech was made he takes the organizers to task for being not able to keep their word.

I did not expect that your Mandal would be so upset because I have spoken of the destruction of Hindu Religion. I thought it was only fools who were afraid of words. But lest there should be any misapprehension in the minds of the people I have taken great pains to explain what I mean by religion and destruction of religion. I am sure that nobody on reading my address could possibly misunderstand me. That your Mandal should have taken a fright at mere words as destruction of religion etc. notwithstanding the explanation that accompanies them does not raise the Mandal in my estimation. One cannot have any respect or regard for men who take the position of the Reformer and then refuse even to see the logical consequences of that position, let alone following them out in action.

Ambedkar makes it clear that he is not ready to give up his ideological commitments, just for the sake of this speech.

When I see you object even to such a passing and so indirect a reference, I feel bound to ask did you think that in agreeing to preside over your Conference I would be agreeing to suspend or to give up my views regarding change of faith by the Depressed Classes If you did think so I must tell you that I am in no way responsible for such a mistake on your part. If any of you had even hinted to me that in exchange for the honour you were doing me by electing as President, I was to abjure my faith in my programme of conversion, I would have told you in quite plain terms that I cared more for my faith than for any honour from you.

I told you when you were in Bombay that I would not alter a comma, that I would not allow any censorship over my address and that you would have to accept the address as it came from me. I also told you that the responsibility. for the views expressed in the address was entirely mine and if they were not liked by the Conference I would not mind at all if the Conference passed a resolution condemning them.

And finally in exasperation he gives up on the idea of speech thus:

All the grace has by now run out and I shall not consent to preside even if your Committee agreed to accept my address as it is – in toto. I thank you for your appreciation of the pains I have taken in the preparation of the address. I certainly have profited by the labour if no one else does.

I think the fact that speech was indeed never delivered makes it even more powerful, while reading it almost seems that ambedkar is talking to you, directly. And profited, even I have been, by reading this essay.

From the Speech that was never delivered

In the speech itself, Ambedkar makes it amply clear that he knows that he is hated by caste Hindus and the reasons for it. And he makes it also clear that it was not his, but the organizers choice that he be there. And it is no wonder that the offsprings of these Hindus hate him still.

I have criticised the Hindus. I have questioned the authority of
the Mahatma whom they revere. They hate me. To them I am a snake
in their garden. The Mandal will no doubt be asked by the
politically-minded Hindus to explain why it has called me to fill
this place of honour. It is an act of great daring. I shall not be
surprised if some political Hindus regard it as an insult. This
selection of mine cannot certainly please the ordinary
religiously-minded Hindus.

As for myself you will allow me to say that I have accepted the
invitation much against my will and also against the will of many
of my fellow untouchables. I know that the Hindus are sick of
me. I know that I am not a persona grata with them. Knowing all
this I have deliberately kept myself away from them. I have no
desire to inflict myself upon them. I have been giving expression
to my views from my own platform. This has already caused a great
deal of heartburning and irritation. I have no desire to ascend
the platform of the Hindus to do within their sight what I have
been doing within their hearing. If I am here it is because of
your choice and not because of my wish.

Ambedkar then traces the history of social reforms for caste eradication, in which the National Congress and Socialists choose
political and economic reforms respectively as the approach. The socialists eventually were outnumbered and the National Congress had their way, in bringing political reforms first and then the social ones. Ambedkar thinks that social reforms should be primal over others and without them neither the political nor the economic reforms hold any value. But then he asks :

Does it prove that the victory went to those who were in the right? Does it prove conclusively that social reform has no bearing on political reform ?

Who is fit to rule? Does just the mandate for the political party make it fit to rule? This question is pertinent more today, as we
have experimented with democracy for over six decades now. This is something that we need to ask our political class, why should even after so many reforms and so many years and so many promises many of the facts which Ambedkar states are still existent in India?

Are you fit for political power even though you do not allow a
large class of your own countrymen like the untouchables to use
public school ? Are you fit for political power even though you do
not allow them the use of public wells ? Are you fit for political
power even though you do not allow them the use of public streets
? Are you fit for political power even though you do not allow
them to wear what apparel or ornaments they like ? Are you fit for
political power even though you do not allow them to eat any food
they like ?

And on social reformers who have done some reforms he says the following. The reforms were more of cosmetic nature, which did affect only a few amongst the masses and that too mostly from the privileged classes.

It (social reforms) consisted mostly of enlightened high caste
Hindus who did not feel the necessity for agitating for the
abolition of caste or had not the courage to agitate for it. They
felt quite naturally a greater urge to remove such evils as
enforced widowhood, child marriages etc., evils which prevailed
among them and which were personally felt by them. They did not
stand up for the reform of the Hindu society. The battle that was
fought centered round the question of the reform of the family. It
did not relate to the social reform in the sense of the break-up
of the caste system.

On a side note Ambedkar does not mention the work done by Phule in regards to caste eradication here. He is also critical of the
approach of socialists who consider economic reforms to be primal over religious and social reforms. Here he concludes that any reforms that do not tackle the issue of religion and society first will be futile, like drawing line on surface of water.

The fallacy of the Socialists lies in supposing that because in
the present stage of European Society property as a source of
power is predominant, that the same is true of India or that the
same was true of Europe in the past. Religion, social status and
property are all sources of power and authority, which one man
has, to control the liberty of another. One is predominant at one
stage; the other is predominant at another stage. That is the only
difference. If liberty is the ideal, if liberty means the
destruction of the dominion which one man holds over another then
obviously it cannot be insisted upon that economic reform must be
the one kind of reform worthy of pursuit. If the source of power
and dominion is at any given time or in any given society social
and religious then social reform and religious reform must be
accepted as the necessary sort of reform.

He asks:

Can you have economic reform without first bringing about a reform of the social order ?

And what do the socialist promise after the revolution? Just assurances do not suffice for him. Is there a concrete plan he asks?

The assurance of a socialist leading the revolution that he does
not believe in caste, I am sure, will not suffice. The assurance
must be the assurance proceeding from much deeper foundation,
namely, the mental attitude of the compatriots towards one another
in their spirit of personal equality and fraternity. Can it be
said that the proletariat of India, poor as it is, recognise no
distinctions except that of the rich and the poor ? Can it be said
that the poor in India recognize no such distinctions of caste or
creed, high or low ? If the fact is that they do, what unity of
front can be expected from such a proletariat in its action
against the rich ?

How can there be a revolution if the proletariat cannot present a
united front?

If Socialists are not to be content with the mouthing of fine
phrases, if the Socialists wish to make Socialism a definite
reality then they must recognize that the problem of social reform
is fundamental and that for them there is no escape from it.

This is only another way of saying that, turn in any direction you
like, caste is the monster that crosses your path. You cannot have
political reform, you cannot have economic reform, unless you kill
this monster.

Caste System is not merely division of labour. It is also a
division of labourers.

As an economic organization Caste is therefore a harmful
institution, in as much as, it involves the subordination of man’s
natural powers and inclinations to the exigencies of social rules.

We see the point that Ambedkar is trying to get across to the Socialists. He sees what they are missing and tries to bring them to
the reality of caste which, if not tackled earlier will have to be tackled. It seems many a leaders at that time were under the impression that caste was a minor problem, in time it would magically get resolved, when the society is developed economically and politically. But the current state of affairs just proves how wrong they were. Though there is some political and economical and social development, the deep roots of caste that have permeated to the core of the Indian society are strong as ever.

In defense of the caste system some seemingly rational people broughtin “scientific”eugenics. When Ambedkar wrote this speech, it was a time when still the ugly face of eugenics was not seen in its full force. Attempts to incorporate “survival of the fittest” and of
“improving the human stock” were in vogue. It fitted the imperialistic policies very well. I think the eugenic movement was a zeitgeist of those times, as Indian thinkers also jumped into the bandwagon for the protection of pure-blood strains, origins some of which can be puranically traced to the creation of the Universe itself. And many of the idealogues passed on this jumping to their subsequent followers, who are now in full throttle regarding the purity of the Aryan race and its “contamination” by others. But Ambedkar argues that this is not the case as neither the inter-marriage nor the inter-dining, which are two pillars of caste establishment, helps anyway in selecting the best.

Caste system does not demarcate racial division. Caste system is a
social division of people of the same race. Assuming it, however,
to be a case of racial divisions one may ask : What harm could
there be if a mixture of races and of blood was permitted to take
place in India by intermarriages between different Castes ? Men
are no doubt divided from animals by so deep a distinction that
science recognizes men and animals as two distinct species. But
even scientists who believe in purity of races do not assert that
the different races constitute different species of men. They are
only varieties of one and the same species. As such they can
interbreed and produce an offspring which is capable of breeding
and which is not sterile. An immense lot of nonsense is talked
about heredity and eugenics in defence of the Caste System. Few
would object to the Caste System if it was in accord with the
basic principle of eugenics because few can object to the
improvement of the race by judicious mating. But one fails to
understand how the Caste System secures judicious mating. Caste
System is a negative thing. It merely prohibits persons belonging
to different Castes from intermarrying. It is not a positive
method of selecting which two among a given Caste should marry. If
Caste is eugenic in origin then the origin of sub-Castes must also
be eugenic. But can any one seriously maintain that the origin of
sub-Castes is eugenic ? I think it would be absurd to contend for
such a proposition and for a very obvious reason.

Again if Caste is eugenic in origin one can understand the bar
against intermarriage. But what is the purpose of the interdict
placed on interdining between Castes and sub-Castes alike ?
Interdining cannot infect blood and therefore cannot be the cause
either of the improvement or of deterioration of the race. This
shows that Caste has no scientific origin and that those who are
attempting to give it an eugenic basis are trying to support by
science what is grossly unscientific.

To argue that the Caste System was eugenic in its conception is to
attribute to the forefathers of present-day Hindus a knowledge of
heredity which even the modern scientists do not possess.

This shows that the Caste System does not embody the eugenics of
modern scientists. It is a social system which embodies the
arrogance and selfishness of a perverse section of the Hindus who
were superior enough in social status to set it in fashion and who
had authority to force it on their inferiors.

And for a Hindu society he says that the term itself has a foreign origin. This might ruffle some feathers now, especially of those who are trying to save the “Hindu” cause.

The first and foremost thing that must be recognized is that Hindu
Society is a myth. The name Hindu is itself a foreign name. It was
given by the Mohammedans to the natives for the purpose of
distinguishing themselves. It does not occur in any Sanskrit work
prior to the Mohammedan invasion. They did not feel the necessity
of a common name because they had no conception of their having
constituted a community. Hindu society as such does not exist. It
is only a collection of castes.

Since our childhood, we were fed on the by the media and society that India is a nation that embodies “Unity in Diversity”. We have so much which is diverse, languages, customs, costumes, foods and yet it was told to us that in every one of us there is a thread of being an Indian. This is something which the state propaganda machine has dutifully and very well filled in the Indian mindset. Even during his era, this phrase was much used. The very idea that there is a Hindu society, is something which is not acceptable to him.

In every Hindu the consciousness that exists is the consciousness
of his caste. That is the reason why the Hindus cannot be said to
form a society or a nation. There are however many Indians whose
patriotism does not permit them to admit that Indians are not a
nation, that they are only an amorphous mass of people. They have
insisted that underlying the apparent diversity there is a
fundamental unity which marks the life of the Hindus in as much as
there is a similarity of habits and customs, beliefs and thoughts
which obtain all over the continent of India. Similarity in habits
and customs, beliefs and thoughts there is. But one cannot accept
the conclusion that therefore, the Hindus constitute a society. To
do so is to misunderstand the essentials which go to make up a
society. Men do not become a society by living in physical
proximity any more than a man ceases to be a member of his society
by living so many miles away from other men. Secondly similarity
in habits and customs, beliefs and thoughts is not enough to
constitute men into society.

He summarizes his idea thus:

To have similar thing is totally different from possessing things in common.

And about the anti-social spirit which is so permeating in our society he gives roots in caste system.

An anti-social spirit is found wherever one group has ” interests
of its own ” which shut it out from full interaction with other
groups, so that its prevailing purpose is protection of what it
has got. This anti-social spirit, this spirit of protecting its
own interests is as much a marked feature of the different castes
in their isolation from one another as it is of nations in their
isolation. The Brahmin’s primary concern is to protect ” his
interest ” against those of the non-Brahmins and the non-Brahmin’s
primary concern is to protect their interests against those of the
Brahmins. The Hindus, therefore, are not merely an assortment of
castes but they are so many warring groups each living for itself
and for its selfish ideal.

And on why the aboriginal tribes exist, even when we others are reaping fruits of “development”.

Civilizing the aborigines means adopting them as your own, living
in their midst, and cultivating fellow-feeling, in short loving
them. How is it possible for a Hindu to do this ? His whole life
is one anxious effort to preserve his caste. Caste is his precious
possession which he must save at any cost. He cannot consent to
lose it by establishing contact with the aborigines the remnants
of the hateful Anary as of the Vedic days. Not that a Hindu could
not be taught the sense of duty to fallen humanity, but the
trouble is that no amount of sense of duty can enable him to
overcome his duty to preserve his caste. Caste is, therefore, the
real explanation as to why the Hindu has let the savage remain a
savage in the midst of his civilization without blushing or
without feeling any sense of remorse or repentance.

And on comparing cruelty inflicted by Hindus and Muslims, he sees that the former are actually worse off than the later.

The Hindus criticise the Mohammedans for having spread their
religion by the use of the sword. They also ridicule Christianity
on the score of the inquisition. But really speaking who is better
and more worthy of our respect—the Mohammedans and Christians who
attempted to thrust down the throats of unwilling persons what
they regarded as necessary for their salvation or the Hindu who
would not spread the light, who would endeavour to keep others in
darkness, who would not consent to share his intellectual and
social inheritance with those who are ready and willing to make it
a part of their own make-up ? I have no hesitation in saying that
if the Mohammedan has been cruel the Hindu has been mean and
meanness is worse than cruelty.

And on why Hindu religion cannot have people converted, as again caste factor comes in and has been detrimental to its spread.

Hindu religion ceased to be a missionary religion when the Caste
System grew up among the Hindus. Caste is inconsistent with
conversion. Inculcation of beliefs and dogmas is not the only
problem that is involved in conversion. To find a place for the
convert in the social life of the community is another and a much
more important problem that arises in connection with
conversion. That problem is where to place the convert, in what
caste ? It is a problem which must baffle every Hindu wishing to
make aliens converts to his religion. Unlike the club the
membership of a caste is not open to all and sundry. The law of
caste confines its membership to person born in the caste. Castes
are autonomous and there is no authority anywhere to compel a
caste to admit a new-comer to its social life. Hindu Society being
a collection of castes and each caste being a close corporation
there is no place for a convert. Thus it is the caste which has
prevented the Hindus from expanding and from absorbing other
religious communities. So long as caste remain, Hindu religion
cannot be made a missionary religion and Shudhi will be both a
folly and a futility.

Ambedkar does not see kindly towards the so called “tolerance” of the Hindus. He instead says that they are tolerant because they cannot be otherwise.

The Hindus claim to be a very tolerant people. In my opinion this
is a mistake. On many occasions they can be intolerant and if on
some occasions they are tolerant that is because they are too weak
to oppose or too indifferent to oppose. This indifference of the
Hindus has become so much a part of their nature that a Hindu will
quite meekly tolerate an insult as well as a wrong. You see
amongst them, to use the words of Morris, ” The great reading down
the little, the strong beating down the weak, cruel men fearing
not, kind men daring not and wise men caring not.”

And on social exclusion which was the principal way in which the caste system was forced upon the individual. This fact the entire tyranny of the caste system against the individual, is detrimental to the cause of the caste system. Those of us (like me) who are more or less living in urban areas, cannot perhaps imagine what complete exclusion from the society means, as we always have places to go and in the era of the internet new people to meet, if only virtually. And even there most of us do want social recognition by peers, above everything (How many likes on Facebook? How many views? How many tweets?). Peer pressure is very
demanding and we as an individual are devastated if we do are on the wrong side of it.

Now a caste has an unquestioned right to excommunicate any man who
is guilty of breaking the rules of the caste and when it is
realized that excommunication involves a complete cesser of social
intercourse it will be agreed that as a form of punishment there
is really little to choose between excommunication and death. No
wonder individual Hindus have not had the courage to assert their
independence by breaking the barriers of caste. It is true that
man cannot get on with his fellows. But it is also true that he
cannot do without them.

A caste is ever ready to take advantage of the helplessness of a
man and insist upon complete conformity to its code in letter and
in spirit. A caste can easily organize itself into a conspiracy to
make the life of a reformer a hell and if a conspiracy is a crime
I do not understand why such a nefarious act as an attempt to
excommunicate a person for daring to act contrary to the rules of
caste should not be made an offence punishable in law. But as it
is, even law gives each caste an autonomy to regulate its
membership and punish dissenters with excommunication. Caste in
the hands of the orthodox has been a powerful weapon for
persecuting the reforms and for killing all reform.

Then he talks about the idea of Democracy with reference to the caste system.

Democracy is not merely a form of Government. It is primarily a
mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It
is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards
fellowmen.

What is your ideal society if you do not want caste is a question
that is bound to be asked of you. If you ask me, my ideal would be
a society based on Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

Ambedkar also talks about the effects of the social capital in assigning opportunities to people based on their merit, when equal
opportunities are presented to all – would not lead to an equal society. This is perhaps the seed of what was to become the quota
reservation system in the Constitution for different castes in the future.

It may be desirable to give as much incentive as possible to the
full development of every one’s powers. But what would happen if
men were treated unequally as they are, in the first two respects
? It is obvious that those individuals also in whose favour there
is birth, education, family name, business connections and
inherited wealth would be selected in the race. But selection
under such circumstances would not be a selection of the able. It
would be the selection of the privileged.

Ambedkar also dismisses the Chaturvarna theory of the Arya Samaj. In which people would be divided into the four categories dependent on their /qualities/ and not by their /birth/.

Even dependence of one class upon another may sometimes become
allowable. But why make one person depend upon another in the
matter of his vital needs ? Education everyone must have. Means of
defence everyone must have. These are the paramount requirements
of every man for his self-preservation. How can the fact that his
neighbour is educated and armed help a man who is uneducated and
disarmed. The whole theory is absurd.

And on why Manusmriti is still being followed and seen as a rationale for perpetuating the caste system and how it is connected
with the social status quo in India. Perhaps this also explains his burning of this particular book in 1927.

There is no code of laws more infamous regarding social rights
than the Laws of Manu. Any instance from anywhere of social
injustice must pale before it. Why have the mass of people
tolerated the social evils to which they have been subjected?
There have been social revolutions in other countries of the
world. Why have there not been social revolutions in India is a
question which has incessantly troubled me. There is only one
answer, which I can give and it is that the lower classes of
Hindus have been completely disabled for direct action on account
of this wretched system of Chaturvarnya. They could not bear arms
and without arms they could not rebel. They were all ploughmen or
rather condemned to be ploughmen and they never were allowed to
convert their ploughshare into swords. They had no bayonets and
therefore everyone who chose could and did sit upon them. On
account of the Chaturvarnya, they could receive no education. They
could not think out or know the way to their salvation. They were
condemned to be lowly and not knowing the way of escape and not
having the means of escape, they became reconciled to eternal
servitude, which they accepted as their inescapable fate.

…the weak in Europe has had in his freedom of military service
his physical weapon, in suffering his political weapon and in
education his moral weapon. These three weapons for emancipation
were never withheld by the strong from the weak in Europe. All
these weapons were, however, denied to the masses in India by
Chaturvarnya.

And regarding the caste amongst other religion vis-a-vis Hinduism, he makes the comparison and makes the distinction regarding the two. This is something that I have experienced personally being in Nagpur. People are never satisfied with your name, they want to know your surname, so that they can place you in hierarchy of how they want to treat you. If they assume that you are from so and so caste, their behavior towards you will abruptly change, and there is no law, no social sanction against this, against being rude to you based on your caste.

Again it must be borne in mind that although there are castes
among Non-Hindus, as there are among Hindus, caste has not the
same social significance for Non-Hindus as it has for Hindus. Ask
Mohammedan or a Sikh, who he is? He tells you that he is a
Mohammedan or a Sikh as the case may be. He does not tell you his
caste although he has one and you are satisfied with his
answer. When he tells you that he is a Muslim, you do not proceed
to ask him whether he is a Shiya or a Suni; Sheikh or Saiyad ;
Khatik or Pinjari. When he tells you he is a Sikh, you do not ask
him whether he is Jat or Roda ; Mazbi or Ramdasi. But you are not
satisfied, if a person tells you that he is a Hindu. You feel
bound to inquire into his caste. Why ? Because so essential is
caste in the case of a Hindu that without knowing it you do not
feel sure what sort of a being he is. That caste has not the same
social significance among Non-Hindus as it has among Hindus is
clear if you take into consideration the consequences which follow
breach of caste. There may be castes among Sikhs and Mohammedans
but the Sikhs and the Mohammedans will not outcast a Sikh or a
Mohammedan if he broke his caste. Indeed, the very idea of
excommunication is foreign to the Sikhs and the Mohammedans. But
with the Hindus the case is entirely different. He is sure to be
outcasted if he broke caste. This shows the difference in the
social significance of caste to Hindus and Non-Hindus. This is the
second point of difference. But there is also a third and a more
important one. Caste among the non-Hindus has no religious
consecration; but among the Hindus most decidedly it has. Among
the Non-Hindus, caste is only a practice, not a sacred
institution.

On another note I was told that in Kerala, the converts to Christianity are treated as per the caste lines. Those who before conversion were from the lower castes, remain so, even in churches and are treated differently. Is that why even after they have become Christians many in the state of Goa, add GSB (Goud Saraswat Brahmin) as a postfix to their names, just to denote their higher pedigree? And even amongst Muslims, I have seen the idea of caste like structures. The leaders who are nostalgic about the “golden era” of India make the argument that Hindu civilization has survived so many onslaughts, hence it is the fit one, needs a retrospection.

For, I fear that his statement may become the basis of a vicious
argument that the fact of survival is proof of fitness to survive.

Among the solutions to the problem of caste, Ambedkar proposes that inter-marriage between different castes is the solution. The ban on inter-marriage between the castes as the origin and operating mechanism of the castes is something which he elaborates in
another essay of his Castes In India, their Origin and Mechanism, Here he concludes that the custom of endogamy is the main vehicle for propagation of caste.

I am convinced that the real remedy is inter-marriage. Fusion of
blood can alone create the feeling of being kith and kin and
unless this feeling of kinship, of being kindred, becomes
paramount the separatist feeling – the feeling of being
aliens – created by Caste will not vanish. Among the Hindus
inter-marriage must necessarily be a factor of greater force in
social life than it need be in the life of the non-Hindus. Where
society is already well-knit by other ties, marriage is an
ordinary incident of life. But where society cut asunder, marriage
as a binding force becomes a matter of urgent necessity. The real
remedy for breaking Caste is inter-marriage. Nothing else will
serve as the solvent of Caste.

This will give nothing for the holders of caste to cherish for, the pure-blood lines will be mixed and lost.

And on courage of the social reformers he says:

Political tyranny is nothing compared to social tyranny and a reformer, who defies society, is a much more courageous man than a politician, who defies Government.

And given the power of social exo-communication that the society at large holds against the individual, and the trauma one has to go through for defying social norms, from the family members, friends and people around is demanding indeed.

And Ambedkar hits the nail on the head when he writes in his analysis that caste is not a physical object at all, but rather it is a mental state. And the people who have this mental state (dalits included), do not recognize it as a problematic one as they have never thought otherwise but are one with the very idea of caste. This appears a natural order of human society to them, which has divine origins in the /Vedas/ and /Shastras/.

Caste is not a physical object like a wall of bricks or a line of
barbed wire which prevents the Hindus from co-mingling and which
has, therefore, to be pulled down. Caste is a notion, it is a
state of the mind. The destruction of Caste does not therefore
mean the destruction of a physical barrier. It means a notional
change. Caste may be bad. Caste may lead to conduct so gross as to
be called man’s inhumanity to man. All the same, it must be
recognized that the Hindus observe Caste not because they are
inhuman or wrong headed. They observe Caste because they are
deeply religious. People are not wrong in observing Caste. In my
view, what is wrong is their religion, which has inculcated this
notion of Caste. If this is correct, then obviously the enemy, you
must grapple with, is not the people who observe Caste, but the
Shastras which teach them this religion of Caste.

The only way in which this immense hold on the entire society of
Hindus can be released is when they no longer believe in the divine
origin of the caste system. And in order to do this, we have to
destroy the entire system of religion based on sacred books from
antiquity, which inherently is unequal in nature. As regards to make
people inter-dine and inter-marry in order to abolish caste, he sees
them as only cosmetic changes, which will follow naturally when the
above is attained.

The real remedy is to destroy the belief in the sanctity of the
Shastras. How do you expect to succeed, if you allow the Shastras
to continue to mould the beliefs and opinions of the people ? Not
to question the authority of the Shastras , to permit the people
to believe in their sanctity and their sanctions and to blame them
and to criticise them for their acts as being irrational and
inhuman is a incongruous way of carrying on social
reform. Reformers working for the removal of untouchability
including Mahatma Gandhi, do not seem to realize that the acts of
the people are merely the results of their beliefs inculcated upon
their minds by the Shastras and that people will not change their
conduct until they cease to believe in the sanctity of the
Shastras on which their conduct is founded. No wonder that such
efforts have not produced any results. You also seem to be erring
in the same way as the reformers working in the cause of removing
untouchability. To agitate for and to organise inter-caste dinners
and inter-caste marriages is like forced feeding brought about by
artificial means. Make every man and woman free from the thraldom
of the Shastras, cleanse their minds of the pernicious notions
founded on the Shastras, and he or she will inter-dine and
inter-marry, without your telling him or her to do so.

He then asks the people of the /Mandal/:

You must have courage to tell the Hindus, that what is wrong with them is their religion – the religion which has produced in them this notion of the sacredness of Caste. Will you show that courage?

The destruction of Caste is a reform which falls under the third  (first two are inter-dining and inter-marriage) category. To ask people to give up Caste is to ask them to go contrary to their fundamental religious notions. It is obvious that the first and second species of reform are easy. But the third is a stupendous task, well nigh impossible. The Hindus hold to the sacredness of the social order. Caste has a divine basis. You must therefore destroy the sacredness and divinity with which Caste has become invested. In the last analysis, this means you must destroy the authority of the Shastras and the Vedas.

And he was correct in his analysis that just the inter-marriage or inter-dining is not the solution. Open any matrimonial ads and you will find sections and subsections of caste-brides and caste-bridegrooms looking for prospective partners. Unfortunately even
the followers of Ambedkar, the dalits, seek marriages amongst themselves, this is rather sad, as they are holding on to their
identity of the caste against what Ambedkar said. Just putting his images in same caste marriages, which uphold the very notion and essence of what caste is, is a dishonor to the great man.

And this is a quote from a British, which no people in power would relish, but speaks volumes about the character of people who are in power.

The true answer is that a revolutionist is not the kind of man who
becomes a Pope and that a man who becomes a Pope has no wish to be
a revolutionist.

And on the social reason why caste persists Ambedkar says:

…the Caste system has two aspects. In one of its aspects, it
divides men into separate communities. In its second aspect, it
places these communities in a graded order one above the other in
social status. Each caste takes its pride and its consolation in
the fact that in the scale of castes it is above some other caste.

This is the rule of the game, you ought to invest those under you with some powers over some others. This is a complete hierarchy of
positions, with only those at the lowest pedestal not having any say, but those are mentally bound and are the most downtrodden of all. Here he also explain that everybody who is part of this system, has some stake in it, hence a Marxist revolution is not possible.

The higher the grade of a caste, the greater the number of these
rights and the lower the grade, the lesser their number. Now this
gradation, this scaling of castes, makes it impossible to organise
a common front against the Caste System. If a caste claims the
right to inter-dine and inter-marry with another caste placed
above it, it is frozen, instantly it is told by mischief-mongers,
and there are many Brahmins amongst such mischief-mongers, that it
will have to concede inter-dining and inter-marriage with castes
below it! All are slaves of the Caste System. But all the slaves
are not equal in status. To excite the proletariat to bring about
an economic revolution, Karl Marx told them “You have nothing to
loose except your chains.” But the artful way in which the social
and religious rights are distributed among the different castes
whereby some have more and some have less, makes the slogan of
Karl Marx quite useless to excite the Hindus against the Caste
System. Castes form a graded system of sovereignties, high and
low, which are jealous of their status and which know that if a
general dissolution came, some of them stand to loose more of
their prestige and power than others do. You cannot, therefore,
have a general mobilization of the Hindus, to use a military
expression, for an attack on the Caste System.

But then, how do people who do break the norms of the caste are able to save the caste? There is a solution for that in Manusmriti, for every major and minor offence there is a penance in which the direct beneficiary is the Brahmin. So in this way everyone is happy and the caste system goes on.

He breaks Caste at one step and proceeds to observe it at the next
without raising any question. The reason for this astonishing
conduct is to be found in the rule of the Shastras, which directs
him to maintain Caste as far as possible and to undergo
prayaschitta (penance) when he cannot. By this theory of
prayaschitta, the Shastras by following a spirit of compromise
have given caste a perpetual lease of life and have smothered
reflective thought which would have otherwise led to the
destruction of the notion of Caste.

The rationale for the caste system given are not based on reason or morality, but on some rules which were written by men in antiquity and its defenders are the most learned people in the Indian society, who unfortunately see no reason but only rules. They do not follow principles but rules, which are already written. And it is these rules and the unquestioned belief of people in them that are the biggest problems in the eradication of caste.

Reason and morality are the two most powerful weapons in the
armoury of a Reformer. To deprive him of the use of these weapons
is to disable him for action .How are you going to break up Caste,
if people are not free to consider whether it accords with reason
? How are you going to break up Caste if people are not free to
consider whether it accords with morality ? The wall built around
Caste is impregnable and the material, of which it is built,
contains none of the combustible stuff of reason and morality. Add
to this the fact that inside this wall stands the army of
Brahmins, who form the intellectual class, Brahmins who are the
natural leaders of the Hindus, Brahmins who are there not as mere
mercenary soldiers but as an army fighting for its homeland and
you will get an idea why I think that breaking-up of Caste amongst
the Hindus is well-nigh impossible.

But whether the doing of the deed takes time or whether it can be
done quickly, you must not forget that if you wish to bring about
and breach in the system then you have got to apply the dynamite to
the Vedas and the Shastras, which deny any part to reason, to
Vedas and Shastras, which deny any part to morality. You must
destroy the Religion of the Shrutis and the Smritis.

Rules are practical ; they are habitual ways of doing things
according to prescription. But principles are intellectual; they
are useful methods of judging things. Rules seek to tell an agent
just what course of action to pursue. Principles do not prescribe
a specific course of action. Rules, like cooking recipes, do tell
just what to do and how to do it.

Doing what is said to be, good by virtue of a rule and doing good
in the light of a principle are two different things.

A religious act may not be a correct act but must at least be a
responsible act. To permit of this responsibility, Religion must
mainly be a matter of principles only. It cannot be a matter of
rules. The moment it degenerates into rules it ceases to be
Religion, as it kills responsibility which is the essence of a
truly religious act. What is this Hindu Religion ? Is it a set of
principles or is it a code of rules ? Now the Hindu Religion, as
contained in the Vedas and the Smritis, is nothing but a mass of
sacrificial, social, political and sanitary rules and
regulations, all mixed up.

In his analysis Ambedkar rightly makes the claim that what is practised as religion by Hindus (though I would add all other major
religions here too) is just rituals. There may be a spiritual side to religion, but it is lost in the labyrinth of rituals, based on rules,
which are performed to please the Gods.

What is called Religion by the Hindus is nothing but a multitude of commands and prohibitions.

Religion, in the sense of spiritual principles, truly universal, applicable to all races, to all countries, to all times, is not to be found in them, and if it is, it does not form the governing part of a Hindu’s life. That for a Hindu, Dharma means commands and prohibitions is clear from the way the word Dharma is used in Vedas and the Sinritis and understood by the commentators. The word Dharma as used in the Vedas in most cases means religious ordinances or rites.

The first evil of such a code of ordinances, misrepresented to the people as Religion, is that it tends to deprive moral life of freedom and spontaneity and to reduce it (for the conscientious at any rate) to a more or less anxious and servile conformity to externally imposed rules. Under it, there is no loyalty to ideals, there is only conformity to commands. But the worst evil of this code of ordinances is that the laws it contains must be the same yesterday, today and forever. They are iniquitous in that they are not the same for one class as for another. But this iniquity is made perpetual in that they are prescribed to be the same for all generations.

I have, therefore, no hesitation in saying that such a religion must be destroyed and I say, there is nothing irreligious in working for the destruction of such a religion. Indeed I hold that it is your bounden duty to tear the mask, to remove the misrepresentation that as caused by misnaming this Law as Religion. This is an essential step for you. Once you clear the minds of the people of this misconception and enable them to realize that what they are told as Religion is not Religion but that it is really Law, you will be in a position to urge for its amendment or abolition. So long as people look upon it as Religion they will not be ready for a change, because the idea of Religion is generally speaking not associated with the idea of change. But the idea of law is associated with the idea of change and when people come to know that what is called Religion is really Law, old and archaic, they will be ready for a change, for people know and accept that law can be changed

Then he asks this question that why is not profession of a priest regulated? And also sees the logical consequence of this as complete upheaval of the notions that people cherish above their lives. To attain this would be a true revolution.

Every profession in India is regulated. Engineers must show proficiency, Doctor must show proficiency, Lawyers must show proficiency, before they are allowed to practise their professions. During the whole of their career, they must not only obey the law of the land, civil as well as criminal, but they must also obey the special code of morals prescribed by their respective professions. The priest’s is the only profession where proficiency is not required. The profession of a Hindu priest is the only profession which is not subject to any code. Mentally a priest may be an idiot, physically a priest may be suffering from a foul disease, such as syphilis or gonorrheae, morally he may be a wreck. But he is fit to officiate at solemn ceremonies, to enter the sanctum sanctorum of a Hindu temple and worship the
Hindu God. All this becomes possible among the Hindus because for a priest it is enough to be born in a priestly caste. The whole thing is abominable and is due to the fact that the priestly class among Hindus is subject neither to law nor to morality. It recognizes no duties. It knows only of rights and privileges. It is a pest which divinity seems to have let loose on the masses for their mental and moral degradation. The priestly class must be brought under control by some such legislation as I have outlined above. It will prevent it from doing mischief and from misguiding people. It will democratise it by throwing it open to every one. It will certainly help to kill the Brahminism and will
also help to kill Caste, which is nothing but Brahminism incarnate. Brahminism is the poison which has spoiled
Hinduism. You will succeed in saving Hinduism if you will kill Brahminism. There should be no opposition to this reform from any quarter. It should be welcomed even by the Arya Samajists, because this is merely an application of their own doctrine of guna-karma.

This means a complete change in the fundamental notions of life – it means a complete change in the values of life. It means a complete change in outlook and in attitude towards men and things. It means conversion but if you do not. like the word, I will say, it means new life. But a new life cannot enter a body that is dead. New life can center only in a new body. The old body must die before a new body can come into existence and a new life can enter into it. To put it simply: the old must cease to be operative before the new can begin to enliven and to pulsate. This is what I meant when I said you must discard the authority of the Shastras and destroy the religion of the Shastras.

And this is something the apologists for the golden past of India should keep in mind. But they want the golden past in toto, as it was, with its caste system and aided rituals. This I think was in reference to the general wave of Hindu extremism which was raging in 1930s, which was agreeable to the masses in general, and also is raging on now.

” Every society gets encumbered with what is trivial, with dead wood from the past, and with what is positively perverse… As a society becomes more enlightened, it realizes that it is responsible not to conserve and transmit, the whole of its existing achievements, but only such as make for a better future
society.” — John Dewey
” An individual can live only in the present. The present is not just something which comes after the past ; much less something produced by it. It is what life is in leaving the past behind it. The study of past products will not help us to understand the present. A knowledge of the past and its heritage is of great significance when it enters into the present, but not otherwise. And the mistake of making the-records and remains of the past the main material of education is that it tends to make the past a rival of the present and the present a more or less
futile imitation of the past.”

For his own views Ambedkar puts it rather humbly as:

If you will allow me to say, these views are the views of a man, who has been no tool of power, no flatterer of greatness.

Finally he says that just having freedom (from the British) without the social reforms would mean just giving in to another form of
slavery. And unfortunately this is just what happened.

There is no use having Swaraj, if you cannot defend it. More important than the question of defending Swaraj is the question of defending the Hindus under the Swaraj. In my opinion only when the Hindu Society becomes a caste-less society that it can hope to have strength enough to defend itself. Without such internal strength, Swaraj for Hindus may turn out to be only a step towards slavery.

The caste system is very much alive and kicking and we cannot just wish it away. People still insist on marrying in their own caste, as long as this is true, we are not going to have any respite from this evil of the society. And the belief in puranical texts for all source of knowledge is ever increasing. Rationality is going for a toss, and the future looks bleak.

Gandhi’s take, and Ambedkar’s response

What Ambedkar wrote did make people uncomfortable. Perhaps he wrote in a way to make people uncomfortable. Gandhi wrote article against Ambedkar’s address, in Harijan. He says:

No reformer can ignore the address. The orthodox will gain by reading it. This is not to say that the address is not open to objection. It has to be read only because it is open to serious objection. Dr. Ambedkar is a challenge to Hinduism. Brought up as a Hindu, educated by a Hindu potentate, he has become so disgusted with the so-called Savarna Hindus for the treatment that he and his people have received at their hands that he proposes to leave not only them but the very religion that is his and their common heritage. He has transferred to that religion, his disgust against a part of its professors.

One can see the agitation in Gandhi’s mind in the following words regarding Ambedkar.

Dr Ambedkar is not alone in his disgust. He is its most uncompromising exponent and one of the ablest among them. He is certainly the most irreconcilable among them. Thank God, in the front rank of the leaders, he is singularly alone and as yet but a representative of a very small minority. But what he says is voiced with more or less vehemence by many leaders belonging to the depressed classes.

Gandhi gives an argument regarding caste and religion, which might appeal to people who believe in ideal world. But nonetheless this analysis is wrong for the real world in which we live in. Gandhi himself might not be subject to the caste discrimination that he was talking against, which Ambedkar was, hence maybe Gandhi was oblivious to see the things as they are in the real world.

Caste has nothing to do with religion. It is a custom whose origin I do not know and do not need to know for the
satisfaction of my spiritual hunger. But I do know that it is harmful both to spiritual and national growth. Varna and Ashrama are institutions which have nothing to do with castes. The law of Varna teaches us that we have each one of us to earn our bread by following the ancestral calling it defines not our rights but our duties.

And then Gandhi goes on to say something which I find hard to digest. This is like making martyrs out of people, just to warn others that they will too suffer the same fate if they followed suit.

A religion has to be judged not by it’s worst specimens but by the best it might have produced. For that and that alone can be used as the standard to aspire to, if not to improve upon.

If Caste and Varna are convertible terms and if Varna is an integral part of the Shastras which define Hinduism, I do not know how a person who rejects Caste i.e. Varna can call himself a Hindu.

That caste should be removed or eradicated, is something Gandhi does not say, as he again gives in to their divine origin and considers them to essential to a Hindu. And this is something that you find even now deeply rooted in the people, even when the dalits get converted to another religion, and by definition are no longer Hindus, they face the same atrocities.

Ambedkar, in his reply, one by one dissects the arguments put forth by Gandhi. The fierce nature in which he tears apart some of them, and his tone tell us something of his character, that he was fighter and a rebel to the core.

First he takes on the idea that it is the good specimens of religion who had more spiritual basis, to be followed. But this is something not for the common people, but for great saints only.

A saint therefore never became an example to follow. He always remained a pious man to be honoured. That the masses have remained staunch believers in Caste and Untouchability shows that the pious lives and noble sermons of the saints have had no effect on their life and conduct as against the teachings of the Shastras. Thus it can be a matter of no consolation that there were saints or that there is a Mahatma who understands the Shastras differently from the learned few or ignorant many. That the masses hold different view of the Shastras is fact which
should and must be reckoned with.

And relying on high-caste Hindus for emancipating the low castes is not possible!

But nonetheless anyone who relies on an attempt to turn the members of the caste Hindus into better men by improving their personal character is in my judgment wasting his energy and bugging an illusion. Can personal character make the maker of armaments a good man, i.e. a man who will sell shells that will not burst and gas that will not poison ? If it cannot, how can you accept personal character to make a man loaded with the consciousness of Caste, a good man, i.e. a man who would treat his fellows as his friends and equals ?

As a matter of fact, a Hindu does treat all those who are not of his Caste as though they were aliens, who could be discriminated against with impunity and against whom any fraud or trick may be practised without shame. This is to say that there can be a better or a worse Hindu. But a good Hindu there cannot be.

(emphasis in original)

Ambedkar uses the example of Gandhi himself, regarding his preaching. Here Ambedkar points out two things, one regarding marriage of Gandhi’s son to a Brahmin girl, and second regarding the occupation which should be ancestral. Applying Gandhi’s own principle recursively to Gandhi himself, Ambedkar exposes absurdity and impracticality of these ideals.

The Mahatma is not known to have condemned him (Gandhi’s son) for not following his ancestral calling. It may be wrong and uncharitable to judge an ideal by its worst specimens. But surely the Mahatma as a specimen has no better and if he even fails to realize the ideal then the ideal must be an impossible ideal quite opposed to the practical instincts of man.

And on ancestral calling, which has been practiced for ages by
Brahmins Ambedkar says:

Not only must such a person be deemed to be bankrupt of all spiritual treasures but for him to practice so elevating a
profession as that of a priest simply because it is ancestral, without faith, without belief, merely as a mechanical process handed down from father to son, is not a conservation of virtue; it is really the prostitution of a noble profession which is no other than the service of religion.

Gandhi’s varna is something that Ambedkar understands as a masquerade for caste. It is just caste reincarnate in another form, as it is connected to birth, and does not say anything about the qualities of the person.

The essence of the Mahatma’s conception of Varna is the pursuit of ancestral calling irrespective of natural aptitude. What is the difference between Caste and Varna as understood by the Mahatma? I find none. As defined by the Mahatma, Varna becomes merely a different name for Caste for the simple reason that it is the same in essence -namely pursuit of ancestral calling. Far from making progress the Mahatma has suffered retrogression. By
putting this interpretation upon the Vedic conception of Varna he has really made ridiculous what was sublime.

If the Mahatma believes as he does in every one following his or her ancestral calling, then most certainly he is advocating the Caste System and that in calling it the Varna System he is not only guilty of terminological inexactitude, but he is causing confusion worse confounded. I am sure that all his confusion is due to the fact that the Mahatma has no definite and clear conception as to what is Varna and what is Caste and as to the necessity of either for the conservation of Hinduism.

In the following line he asks Gandhi, whose interests he is serving? Gandhi seen here seems to have lost the rational element, and is trying to reason something in which he believes to be true. And here what is seen is the cunning nature of Gandhi’s politics, that of being the saint and the politician at the same time.

Why this prevarication ? Why does the Mahatma hedge ? Whom does he want to please ? Has the saint failed to sense the truth ? Or does the politician stand in the way of the Saint ?

The real reason why the Mahatma is suffering from this confusion is probably to be traced to two sources. The first is the temperament of the Mahatma. He has almost in everything the simplicity of the child with the child’s capacity for
self-deception. Like a child he can believe in anything he wants to believe. We must therefore wait till such time as it pleases the Mahatma to abandon his faith in Varna as it has pleased him to abandon his faith in Caste. The second source of confusion is the double role which the Mahatma wants to play – of a Mahatma and a Politician. As a Mahatma he may be trying to spiritualize Politics. Whether he has succeeded in it or not Politics have certainly commercialized him. A politician must know that Society cannot bear the whole truth and that he must not speak
the whole truth; if he is speaking the whole truth it is bad for his politics. The reason why the Mahatma is always supporting Caste and Varna is because he is afraid that if he opposed them he will lose his place in politics. Whatever may be the source of this confusion the Mahatma must be told that he is deceiving himself and also deceiving the people by preaching Caste under the name of Varna.

The image of Gandhi that we have is of a mass leader and a rebel. Both he was, but we have to make certain reservations regarding these qualities attributed to him. But on closer examination, we conclude for some things and certainly when issue of caste was concerned he was very conservative Hindu. What would have happened if the social structure of caste was attacked by Gandhi himself? Maybe many of his devout followers would have left him, maybe he was not yet ready to give up on his dharma just for the sake of caste.

Gandhi accuses Ambedkar for setting a benchmark for Hindu religion, in which all religions would fail, he responds thus:

… I maintain that the standards I have applied to test Hindus and Hinduism are the most appropriate standards and that I know of none that are better. The conclusion that every known religion would fail if tested by my standards may be true. But this fact should not give the Mahatma as the champion of Hindus and Hinduism a ground for comfort any more than the existence of one madman should give comfort to another madman or the existence of one criminal should give comfort to another criminal.

And the problem with the Hindus is their ideals, which Gandhi is trying to defend in some garb or other. And this is what Ambedkar sees through clearly.

If I am disgusted with Hindus and Hinduism it is because I am convinced that they cherish wrong ideals and live a wrong social life. My quarrel with Hindus and Hinduism is not over the imperfections of their social conduct. It is much more fundamental. It is over their ideals.

They still have a mystic respect for the earlier forms which make them disinclined – nay opposed to any examination of the foundations of their Society. The Hindu masses are of course incredibly heedless in the formation of their beliefs. But so are the Hindu leaders. And what is worse is that these Hindu leaders become filled with an illicit passion for their beliefs when any one proposes to rob them of their companionship. The Mahatma is no exception. The Mahatma appears not to believe in thinking. He prefers to follow the saints. Like a conservative
with his reverence for consecrated notions he is afraid that if he once starts thinking, many ideals and institutions to which lie clings will be doomed.

And these final words in the response unmasks Gandhi’s image as a saint, and paints him as an hypocritical, opportunistic, conservative, irrational, lingering on to antique systems for spiritual satisfaction.

In so far as he does think, to me he really appears to be prostituting his intelligence to find reasons for supporting
this archaic social structure of the Hindus. He is the most influential apologist of it and therefore the worst enemy of the Hindus.

And in the words of Mathew Arnold are “wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born”, which was true when it was said eighty years back as it is now.

On Privacy…

Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we’re doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.

Too many wrongly characterize the debate as “security versus privacy.” The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that’s why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide.

via The Eternal Value of Privacy.

Public decency and morality

This is what Supreme Court of India had to say when petition was filed to lift a ban in 1964 on Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence:

It is convenient to set out s. 292 of the Indian Penal Code at this stage:

“292. Sale of obscene books etc. : Whoever- (a) sells, lets to hire, distributes, publicly exhibits or in any manner puts into circulation, or for purposes of sale, hire, distribution, public exhibition or circulation, makes, produces or has in his possession any obscene book, pamphlet, paper, drawing, painting, representation or figure or any other obscene object whatsoever, or

(b) imports, exports or conveys any obscene object for any of the purposes aforesaid, or knowing or having reason to believe that such object will be sold, let to hire, distributed or publicly exhibited or in any manner put into circulation, or

(c) takes part in or receives profits from any business in the course of which he knows or has reason to believe that any such obscene objects are, for any of the purposes aforesaid, made, produced, purchased, kept, imported, exported, conveyed, publicly exhibited or in any manner put into circulation, or

(d) advertises or makes known by any means whatsoever that any person is engaged or is ready to engage in any act which is an offence under this section, or that any such obscene object can be procured from or through any person, or

(e) offers or attempts to do any act which is an offence -under this section,

19(1) All citizens shall have the right-

(a) to freedom of speech and expression; (2) Nothing -in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of public order, decency or morality”

No doubt this article guarantees complete freedom of speech and expression but it also makes an exception in favour of existing laws which impose restrictions on the exercise of the right in the interests of public decency or morality.

Condemnation of obscenity depends as much upon the mores of the people as upon the individual. It is always a question of degree or as the lawyers are accustomed to say, of where the line is to be drawn. It is, however, clear that obscenity by itself has extremely “poor value in the-propagation of ideas, opinions and informations of public interest or profit.” When there is propagation of ideas, opinions and informations of public interest or profit, the approach to the problem may become different because then the interest of society may tilt the scales in favour of free speech and expression. It is thus that books on medical science with intimate illustrations and photographs, though in a sense immodest, are not considered to be obscene but the same illustrations and photographs collected in book form without the medical text would certainly be considered to be obscene.

“I think the test of obscenity is this, whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deperave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences, and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall. . . . . it is quite certain that it would suggest to the minds of the young of either sex, or even to persons of more advanced years, thoughts of a most impure and libidinous character.”

He wants us to say that a book is not necessarily obscene because there is a word here or a word there, or a passage here and a passage there which may be offensive to particularly sensitive persons. He says that the overall effect of the book should be the test and secondly, that the book should only be condemned if it has no redeeming merit at all, for then it is “dirt for dirt’s sake”, or as Mr. Justice Frankfurter put it in his inimitable way “dirt for money’s sake.

We need not attempt to bowdlerize all literature and thus rob speech and expression of freedom. A balance should be maintained between freedom of speech and expression and public decency and morality but when the latter is substantially transgressed the former must give way.

The taboo on sex in art and literature which was more strict thirty-five years ago, seemed to him to corrode domestic and social life and his definite view was that a candid discussion of sex through art was the only catharsis for purifying and relieving the congested emotion is.

“The law seeks to protect not those who protect themselves, but those whose prurient minds take delight and sexual pleasures from erotic writings.”

via | Ranjit D. Udeshi vs State Of Maharashtra on 19 August, 1964

The word “obscene” in the section is not limited to writings, pictures etc. intended to arouse sexual desire. At the same time the mere treating with sex and nudity in art and literature is not per se evidence of obscenity.

Exception. – This section does not extend to any book, pamphlet, writing, drawing or painting kept or used bona fide for religious purposes or any representation sculptured, engraved, painted or otherwise represented on or in any temple, or on any car used for the conveyance of idols, or kept or used for any religious purpose.”

This was I think long back, but the views have not changed ever since the. The idea that somethings are bad for everyone is something which all cultures adhere to, and it is very hard for people, especially people in power to let this notion go. This is another way of controlling people. This is what is common to fundamentalism and democracy. The notion that our past was a golden one, and anything new will harm it and jeopardize the future of the culture. From what I feel is that there was no golden past, it just was.

And thinking about morality, though they say that there are some universal principles, everyone does not subscribe to same ones. In his theory Kohlberg, outlines these differences. But that said, he does not talk about obscenity, which I think it is highly cultural. For example a burqa clad woman is a common picture in certain Islamic communities, or a woman with ghunghat is all but common in certain Hindu communities, but at the same time some people might be find it too restrictive. And a woman in short skirt might be a common scene in the urban areas in certain countries, but it might be a great taboo for some others. There are no universal standards for what counts as moral or decent.

 

 

RMS on Success

“Success” is not our goal; we’re not here to win a race, we are here to win freedom. I didn’t write GCC with the idea of making a “better” C compiler. I wrote it so there would be a freedom-respecting C compiler, and while I was at it, I did the best job I knew how. We didn’t develop GNU to have a “better” operating system than Unix; we developed it so we could have a freedom-respecting operating system. It’s the same today.

via RMS Answers Your Questions – Slashdot

The Illusion Of Democracy

But, of course, corporate media professionals have long propped up the illusion that the public is offered an ‘impartial’ selection of facts, opinions and perspectives from which any individual can derive a well-informed world view. Simply put, ‘impartiality’ is what the establishment says is impartial.

The major political parties offer no real choice. They all represent essentially the same interests crushing any moves towards meaningful public participation in the shaping of policy; or towards genuine concern for all members of society, particularly the weak and the vulnerable.

US media analyst Robert McChesney observes:

‘In many respects we now live in a society that is only formally democratic, as the great mass of citizens have minimal say on the major public issues of the day, and such issues are scarcely debated at all in any meaningful sense in the electoral arena.’ (McChesney, Rich Media, Poor Democracy, The New Press, 2000, p. 260).

via The Illusion Of Democracy.

PS: Somehow as of today 2-1-2012 1330 hrs IST medialens server is not working and is giving a Forbidden 403 error from my connection. I do not know what the cause is? Is the medialens server down?

Elites And Us

The longer this worldwide disparity and inequality is perpetuated, the more the masses will revolt and the faster we will internally replicate the Israeli model of domestic control – drones overhead, all dissent criminalized, SWAT teams busting through doors, deadly force as an acceptable form of subjugation, food used as a weapon, and constant surveillance.

via Elites Will Make Gazans of Us All | Common Dreams.

Hope that this Orwellian dystopia does not happen.

Gaza Blitz hailed?

It is important to keep this in mind given the accusations of “disproportionality” being hurled at Israel from all directions. They are hogwash. The Jewish state cannot be faulted — but rather should be hailed — for investing precious human capital and limited financial resources to develop a technological miracle: Iron Dome. By intercepting in the last week upwards of 400 rockets destined for Israeli civilian centres, the anti-missile defence system saved countless Israeli lives. Likewise, it also saved Palestinian lives, which surely would have been lost in the event the IDF was forced to retaliate for a direct hit, say, on Tel Aviv.

This is in stark contrast to Hamas’ practice of concealing weaponry in residential buildings, schools, hospitals and mosques, thereby guaranteeing the unnecessary loss of life despite the precision of Israeli strikes.

via Gaza| National Post

Ah! This piece of writing is as crappy – biased – hogwash – etc. etc. (are these the right words?, am at a loss of what words to put here) as it can get. And it is not language that is at fault, by the very idea. The idea that Israel can do anything it wishes, without fearing any consequences is what is through an through present in this line of thoughts. The state of Israel has become the new “Untouchable”. The writer glorifies the killing and pounding of the Gaza region, with a logic that is truly cigol. What he claims as a mere “hogwash”, is the reality which the state of Israel is desperately trying to hide, and this with full support of the corporate and major media houses.  Maybe the author is trying to make this fact oblivious (and wants us to be also ) that Israel is the occupying force, and they hold superior fire power. To say killings and bombings should ” but rather be hailed” the author is making an ideological analogy to the holocaust. If someone on the other hand with same argument had replaced Jews instead of Gazans, and justified the killings, there would have been a huge  cry over this. If these killings can be justified, no wait, rather hailed now, why are the Israelis so much adamant that people see the faulty logic and the tragedy of the holocaust. I think this is the same only with the Israelis taking up the place of executioners with impeccable cigol to support their actions.

After all as Orwell says:

War is Peace | Freedom is Slavery  | Ignorance is Strength

And this is what is exactly being practiced here.

Oh and will I get a phone call for this?

‘to criticise Israel can create major problems. Journalists spoke to us of the extraordinary number of complaints which they receive. We have presented our findings to many groups of media practitioners. After one such meeting a senior editor from a major BBC news programme told us: “we wait in fear for the phone call from the Israelis”. He then said that the main issues they would face were from how high up had the call come (e.g. a monitoring group, or the Israeli embassy), and then how high up the BBC had the complaint gone (e.g. to the duty editor or the director general).’ (p. 2)

via | medialens

May be not because I am not a journalist, neither is my blog very famous!

Free Press and Democracy

A free press is an essential part of a democratic system. In a society like ours, with its stark inequalities, only a media free of government and corporate pressures can ensure that the voiceless are heard. What we are seeing currently is not just blatant collusion between the media and big business but also a deliberate obliteration of much of what happens to the millions who live on the margins.

via Economic and Political Weekly

This is what Media Lens has to say about the BBC which is supposed to be in public interest and impartial.

Instead of providing responsible, public-service journalism, the BBC acts as a conduit for government propaganda. It is particularly noxious that the organisation relentlessly channels the state’s supposedly benign intentions abroad. This is the diet of daily bias and distortion we are all fed. When will BBC heads roll for that?

But isn’t this true of the media in India also? Or elsewhere in the world for that matter. Tehelka reports that many of the barons of power also control the local media in newly formed state of Chattisgad. And what is the use of controlling media when they are not used for gains. When the so called free media becomes a part of the political parties we cannot be sure of what they report.

If the Congress has Naveen Jindal, the BJP has Ajay Sancheti. If the Congress has the Lokmat, the BJP has the Hari Bhoomi. Barring coal, in which both the Centre and the states had their hands in the till, in the case of other mineral resources, the real corruption lies in the states.

It is not that people do not use media for their own gain, media is used for spreading ideology, there are many mouthpiece outlets for political parties and others which propagate the ideas. But what is worst is that the masquerade that many media houses put on themselves claiming to be honest and working in public interest, and people at large believe them, being obliviousto the fact that these very media houses are the ones who are power brokers and very much in the filth as corporates and politicians. A recent example of this was the Radia tapes.

The complete blackout of the Niira Radia tapes by the entire broadcast media and most of the major English newspapers paints a truer picture of corruption in the country than the talk shows in the various news channels and the breast-beating in all the newspapers about the 2G, CWG, Adarsh, and other scams.

via|G. Sampath – DNA

It was not until the non-main-stream media began to show up too much, there was some coverage given. But the very fact that the accused are in complete denial of what happened is what is disturbing. We usually held names like Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi well but these tapes just show how much they are in the filth of what they pretend to expose. From then on, I have given up on NDTV as a reliable source, which earlier I thought it was. But then what do you trust?

At the same time, it is worth noting that neither Barkha nor any of the other journalists whose names have come up have denied that those conversations took place. So why not let the reader or TV viewer read or listen to the transcripts and decide whether Dutt and Sanghvi’s conversations with Radia are a part of “normal journalistic duties” or amount to pimping for politicians and business houses? Or perhaps they were doing social service for the Congress? Play the tapes on your show, na, Ms Dutt, instead of tweeting about them? Why not let ‘We, The People’ decide, instead of you deciding for us all?

via|G. Sampath – DNA

The media blackout of particular events is what I find disturbing. What it shows the kind of camaraderie that exists between different media houses and their corporate and political cronies. That basically means that the news, sorry the Breaking News that you see is like a managed play, with directors and writers deciding what people see, hear and think. In Marathi novel (Ithink it was Swami (स्वामी) by Ranjit Desai) I had read a sentence which fits these situations well, it reads:

मी मारल्या सारखे करतो, तु रडल्या सारखे कर.

( I will feign to hit, you feign to cry.)

This creates an illusion about real problems. Most of the News channels that are beamed in India follow this line. Put all the focus on some non-issues, or twist them from certain angles so that why all this happens remains oblivious to the viewers. If our media was after all serious about the issues that they present, they would have seen to it that things are done.

Many a times what I have also found reading reports on various different news services is that they are same. I mean many a times they are word to word same, as if the reports have been written at one place and distributed. I do not have links right now, but will update this post when I do. This again creates a picture that what news we see is heavily filtered, and sometimes flavours are added to create sensationalism. And the icing is that we all think this is genuine, with “Free Press in A Democracy”. Orwell had a foresight about this as well:

Of course, print will continue to be used, and it is interesting to speculate what kinds of reading matter would survive in a rigidly totalitarian society. Newspapers will presumably continue until television technique reaches a higher level, but apart from newspapers it is doubtful even now whether the great mass of people in the industrialized countries feel the need for any kind of literature. They are unwilling, at any rate, to spend anywhere near as much on reading matter as they spend on several other recreations. Probably novels and stories will be completely superseded by film and radio productions. Or perhaps some kind of low grade sensational fiction will survive, produced by a sort of conveyor-belt process that reduces human initiative to the minimum.

via The Prevention of Literature | George Orwell

The only reason I see that India is feudal and corrupt is that the so called Free Press was never able to take up the challenge to the nexus, and ultimately now has become a part of it.

In our age, the idea of intellectual liberty is under attack from two directions. On the one side are its theoretical enemies, the apologists of totalitarianism, and on the other its immediate, practical enemies, monopoly and bureaucracy.

via The Prevention of Literature | George Orwell

Though there are dissidents here and there, this now has become global phenomena, with the Indian media people just following the suit. And if this is the case, what difference does it make whether you are living in a democracy or a totalitarian state?

And Orwell wraps it up thus:

A totalitarian society which succeeded in perpetuating itself would probably set up a schizophrenic system of thought, in which the laws of common sense held good in everyday life and in certain exact sciences, but could be disregarded by the politician, the historian, and the sociologist. Already there are countless people who would think it scandalous to falsify a scientific textbook, but would see nothing wrong in falsifying an historical fact. It is at the point where literature and politics cross that totalitarianism exerts its greatest pressure on the intellectual.

via The Prevention of Literature | George Orwell

 

Gadkari Newspeak

“It’s not important how much money has been earned. It’s important how it has been put to use, whether it has been put to good use or not.”

via Indian Express.

Nitin Gadkari , the incumbent BJP president, is in news for all wrong reasons these days. Apart from the allegations that his business interests have shadyness by IAC activist Arvind Kejriwal, he is also making blunders in quoting and is also facing some rebellion from within his own party. But the quote above comes in his (or his acts?) defence from the RSS camp. And it is amusing too, as at times RSS distances itself from the BJP, saying that it is their internal matter, but at other times also gives self-proclaimed clean-chits to BJP members. It is interesting to note how the very concept and meaning of corruption is being twisted by RSS cheif Mohan Bhagwat in the quote above The act itself is set aside as to whether it is good or bad, while the motive with which the result of the act (the black money) will be utilised determines the morality of the act. Now that being the case how do we decide whether the money is “put to good use or not”? This is an entirely subjective view. Something that is good for a person or a community may be bad for others. For example if someone makes a lot of money and invests it in something else to make more money, then for that person the use is definitely good use, but for others it is not. And there is nothing like free money, corruption happens only when money meant for something else goes to the corrupt person. With this cigol even murders may be justified. Trying to justify the act of corruption by making statements like this one, is making classic Orwellian Newspeak. This just makes the point that the BJP is just another Congress, which comes with a remote control too.

Reading in e-book era

Reading without surveillance, publishing without after-the-fact censorship, owning books without having to account for your ongoing use of them: these are rights that are older than copyright. They predate publishing. They are fundamentals that every bookseller, every publisher, every distributor, every reader, should desire. They are foundational to a free press and to a free society. If you sell an ebook reader is designed to allow Kafkaesque repossessions, you are a fool if you expect anything but Kafkaesque repossessions in their future. We’ve been fighting over book-bans since the time of Martin Luther and before. There is no excuse for being surprised when your attractive nuisance attracts nuisances.

via Boing Boing.

I agree completely.Though cases like these are going to become more common, unless we switch to a technology which we can see that is Free as in Freedom. Governments and corporates are going to use this technology against the people who are using it. It will create profiles of “dangerous” people who are reading revolutionary material, for example. It will go unchecked if we just are using the technology without questioning it.

Also see RMS’s view on this topic.

On-line Education | RMS

Educators, and all those who wish to contribute to on-line educational works: please do not to let your work be made non-free. Offer your assistance and text to educational works that carry free/libre licenses, preferably copyleft licenses so that all versions of the work must respect teachers’ and students’ freedom. Then invite educational activities to use and redistribute these works on that freedom-respecting basis, if they will. Together we can make education a domain of freedom.

via On-line Education|RMS

Mostly people don’t bother about what they get for gratis on the Internet, but institutions cannot adopt the same approach. Licensing is as much important as much as the actual content. But an archaic system will not go down till it is compelled to, and it will fight till the very end.

Wikipedia | New Politics Of Knowledge

Professionals are no longer needed for the bare purpose of the mass distribution of information and the shaping of opinion. The hegemony of the professional in determining our background knowledge is disappearing—a deeply profound truth that not everyone has fully absorbed.

In their view, Wikipedia represents the democratization of knowledge itself, on a global scale, something possible for the first time in human history.

As wonderful as it might be that the hegemony of professionals over knowledge is lessening, there is a downside: our grasp of and respect for reliable information suffers.  With the rejection of professionalism has come a widespread rejection of expertise—of the proper role in society of people who make it their life’s work to know stuff.

For instance, journalists, interviewers, and conference organizers—people trying to gather an audience, in other words—use “expert” to mean “a person we can pass off as someone who can speak with some authority on a subject.”  Also, we say the “local expert” on a subject is the person who knows most, among those in a group, about the subject.  Neither of these are the very interesting senses of “expert.”

To exclude the public is to put readers at the mercy of wrongheaded intellectual fads; and to exclude experts, or to fail to give them a special role in an encyclopedia project, is to risk getting expert opinion wrong.

If we reject the use of credentials, we reject all evidence of expertise; ergo, lacking any means of establishing who is an expert, we reject expertise itself.  Meritocrats are necessarily expert-lovers.

Experts know particular topics particularly well.  By paying closer attention to experts, we improve our chances of getting the truth; by ignoring them, we throw our chances to the wind.  Thus, if we reduce experts to the level of the rest of us, even when they speak about their areas of knowledge, we reduce society’s collective grasp of the truth.

via On The New Politics Of Knowledge | Conversation | Edge

On the brighter side of it, we are for the first time able to participate in many things. Just being trained in a discipline (PhD?) does not automatically create opportunities for one in the old system. But in Wikipedia it does. How many people who have PhD do get an opportunity to write a text-book or a popular article? I would like to ask how many of contributors on Wikipedia are really subject experts? There might be many, and they would be able to point at the right evidence, when needed to “show off” their authority in the field, which the normal user won’t be. So what’s the fuss about?

 

 

Freedom of Expression in India

This is a meta blog, as it is a blog about this blog.

About 10 years back the GoI decided that there were a lot of dissident voices from the North-East on Yahoo! Groups which were harmful to the health of the nation. The result was that there was a blanket ban on Yahoo! groups. Then people who were using Yahoo! Groups other than what GoI thought was harmful, suffered too. It was a classic case of complete misunderstanding about the nature of how the internet works. Of course then as now people had means to go over the blockade. That was 10 years back, net penetration was not that much, so we could forgive the bureaucracy over such things. Claiming disease called ignorance.

10 years have passed, one would have expected that the babus and their political masters would have learned (something) about how this new technology works and how it is fundamentally different than other mass media. If not the old babus, the somewhat younger generation which replaced them. (Oh, but I heard babus never retire they are kept on the job as part of this or that committee.) In a sense of deja vu, this time also the trouble was in the North-East. After the violence there, and its strange aftermath in Bombay (Middle-West) thousands of kilometers away and also in Bangalore (Down-South). Then began the blame games and it was discovered that the social networking sites were the culprit. So what is the quick fix solution? Ban all of them.

ना रहेगा बास ना बजेगी बांसुरी .

So this blog and my other blogs were not accessible through my humble Photon+ conncetion. It just refused to open these sites. I thought it was some problem with my connection. Only today I came to know the grim reality, that they had actually blocked WordPress, completely! Though other ISPs as of now have not, but it may not be long before they do that. This is akin to banning all printing presses as someone prints something objectionable to someone. And in a democracy, someone will get offended by whatever you say. But it might be just that the babus are also executing their freedom of speech, by giving orders to ISPs for blocking other people’s Freedom of Speech. Here we are in paradoxical situation.

Can Freedom of Speech of one person supersede the Freedom of Speech of other? But the constitution says that all people are equal, then how is this possible?

Orwell comes to our rescue then when says:

All are equal and some are more equal than others.

This cuts the knot for us, and we can perfectly make sense of the things that are happening around us.

Maybe someone needs to  put up a PIL in SC against such blanket bans in the future, to uphold the Right to Free Speech! And I sincerely hope that person who makes such a PIL is more equal than others.
And may be not all of you will be able to read this, as wordpress is blocked…

Irony at its best!

The President (well there is only one President, the President of US of A, rest others are just presidents) said,

“In our global economy, we can’t just have a few leaders of the most advanced economies making decisions that touch the lives of billions of people around the world.”

via Firstpost

Isn’t it ironical that President Obama is saying this. Him, his predecessors and his successors have done it, he is doing it, and they will continue to do it. Is it still a secret that the decisions that indeed affect lives of billions of people are taken by “just a few leaders of the most advanced economies.” How do you otherwise explain monopolies of a few companies over most of the economy in the “Free World”?

… तर मराठी शाळा बंद पडतील

मैदाने आहेत , पण क्रीडा साहित्य नाही .. प्रयोगशाळेत प्रयोगाचे साहित्य नाही .. तुटके बेंच आणि गळकी छपरे .. अशा दारुण स्थितीत असलेल्या मराठी शाळांना संजीवनी मिळावी , यासाठी वेतनेतर अनुदान तातडीने सुरु करावे , अशी मागणी राज्य शिक्षक परिषदेने केली आहे . हे अनुदान न मिलाल्यास राज्यातील शेकडो मराठी शाळा बंद पडतील अशी भीती परिषदेने व्यक्त केली आहे .

via Maharashtra Times.

आता आपण काही केले नाही तर मग कोण करणार? आमच्या खैरात शाळे मध्ये विज बिल भरायची काही तरतुदच नाही आहे. त्यामुळे तिथला विज पुरवठा खंडित पण करण्यात आला होता.

In Denial of Fukushima

The arrogance and jingoism exhibited by the Nuclear lobby in India is well known. Even in face of disaster
Fukushima, the people in DAE remain adamant that there is no option to Nuclear Energy and also that it is safe from accidents, and even if an accidents happens at all they will be ready to control. The optimism that they have regarding issues of safety in case of radioactive materials and nuclear reactors is something a person with a good understanding of science would not share. Too much reliance on the idea that “nothing can go wrong” is what will lead to the horrible consequences of not understanding the Golem. And the statements by the DAE junta does exactly this. The very idea that the reactors are completely safe; are different than what was present in Japan, we can contain the damage, are what are needed to be questioned.

A nice article in Tehelka makes the point more clearer. Here are some lines from the same:

Fukushima also demonstrated unambiguously that communities living near nuclear facilities would be the worst affected in the event of an accident, a lesson that hasn’t been lost on the local populations in Koodankulam and Jaitapur. At the other end of the spectrum was the reaction of the people associated with nuclear establishments, who vociferously argued that it was essential to persist with nuclear power — not surprising, since it conforms to their self-interest.

Whatever the experts at DAE maybe saying, the images that the people at large are seeing are that of desolate landscapes, ruined buildings, poisoned farmlands, and inaccessible homes. The very idea that Nuclear Power can solve all the issue of power in India is questionable. Lets say even if we construct 10 such more plants, where will be the power used? Who will get the priority over the power? The villages near which the power plants are present, or the metro cities whose demands for power and its abuse are ever increasing. Just think about how many electrical appliances  you have, and how many you could do without?

On 15 March 2011, NPCIL Chairman SK Jain trivialised what was going on in Japan saying, “There is no nuclear accident or incident in Fukushima… It is a well-planned emergency preparedness programme… (that) the nuclear operators of the Tokyo Electric Power Company are carrying out to contain the residual heat after the plants had an automatic shutdown following a major earthquake.” Such denial would be laughable but when the person thus opining is in charge of India’s power reactor fleet, it ceases to be amusing.

In September 2011, for example, the DAE Secretary claimed: “We are prepared to handle an event like Fukushima.” This assertion is belied by the Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, who testified to the Parliamentary Standing Committee in 2010 that it was “nowhere (near) meeting an eventuality that may arise out of nuclear and radiological emergencies”.

On more than one occasion, the DAE Secretary has made assertions that the probability of a nuclear accident in India is zero. In November 2011, for example, he stated that the probability was “one in infinity”. The public image sought to be created is one of great confidence in safety. Is such confidence justified?

The first point to note is that the very statement that the likelihood of an accident is zero is scientifically untenable; every nuclear reactor has a finite, albeit small, probability of undergoing a catastrophic failure.

A second question: is the confidence on the part of officials about the zero probability of accidents good for safety? This is not a question about technology but about organisations. … Safety scholar James Reason once noted: “If an organisation is convinced that it has achieved a safe culture, it almost certainly has not.” The DAE and its attendant institutions appear to be convinced not just that they have a safe culture, but that the hazardous technologies they operate are incapable of undergoing accidents. This is not conducive to safety.

What the Koodankulam protest tells us is that these populations are not consenting to be subject to this risk. They deserve to be listened to, not dismissed as stooges of foreign funding. That is an insult to the intellects and minds of millions of people and to democracy itself.

Transparency Revolution

To quote A K Antony on the current state of affairs in the nation.

“Our country is passing through a transparency revolution. Walls of secrecy are crumbling gradually. But politicians, bureaucracy, judiciary, business people, armed forces, and journalists are still not ready for this transition to transparency,”

And then he adds:

“But they will have to follow the transition and I don’t think anybody can take any step in a different direction,”

Lets see how much of this comes through, within our life times.

India would have been a better place without Sathya Sai Baba

Posting for a wider reading.

India would have been a better place without Sathya Sai Baba
Sanal Edamaruku
President
Indian Rationalist Association & Rationalist International

When Sathya Sai Baba died this morning (24 April 2011) at the age of
85 years, he proved once again that miracles and predictions fail. He
had predicted at a public gathering at his head quarters in
Puttaparthy, in 2000, and repeatedly many times, that he would die at
the age of 96 only. And till the last moment, many of his devotees
clung to his word and waited for a miracle. May it be an eye opener
for the millions of gullible people whom he misguided and deluded.

De mortuis nihil nisi bene, they say, say nothing but good of the
dead. But I think Sathya Sai Baba’s case qualifies for an exception.
Too great is the damage that he did to India. His devastating
influence on reason and scientific temper caused huge setback to the
country. At a time, when scientific progress led to great social and
economic leaps and scientific awakening started spreading all over
India, Sathya Sai Baba launched a “counter revolution” of
superstition, supported by irresponsible politicians and other public
figures who should have known better. In my judgment, this is his
greatest crime. I have succeeded again and again to expose him
publicly as a fraud, so did some other rationalists. But due to his
political protectors he was never held responsible for his crimes
against public reason. Nor was he ever booked for any other crime he
was accused of. Numerous cases of alleged sexual abuse and murder are
yet to be investigated, not to mention the financial secrets of his
empire.

Sathya Sai Baba insisted in all seriousness that he was god, the
creator of the universe, and “proved” his divinity with a couple of
small “miracles”. As son of a village tantric he was familiar with the
hand sleights and tricks of the trade. However, he did not only
fascinate poor and uneducated villagers with his fraudulent
performances. Over the years, he managed to attract a galaxy of
India’s rich and powerful, among them ministers, prime ministers,
presidents, chief justices, top industrialists and superstars.

Sathya Sai Baba had a special modus operandi that was the key for his
astonishing success and the root of his enormous clout. Many of his
high society devotees came to serve their own vested interests. Some
came to rub shoulders with the prominent. Many joined the club because
it was working as a powerful syndicate spreading its tentacles all
over the political system. It was a way to the top jobs and a way to
get things done. Others were seeking financial support or wanted to
get rid of ill-gotten black money: The empire, it is alleged, was
based on money laundering, using foreign devotees and branches. In
fact, the huge foreign donations to Sai Baba stood in contrast to the
comparatively modest number of active foreign devotees and the
sometimes quite weak foreign branches, some of them residing in
private homes. That is no great surprise, when one considers that Sai
Baba did not speak any other language than Telugu and traveled only
once in his whole life abroad – to visit his friend Idi Amin in
Uganda.

On his 80th birthday, Sai Baba’s supporters announced that he would
turn from a miracle man to a philanthropist. That was, after I had
demonstrated his miracles so often in TV shows that many kids in the
streets could imitate them. That he since spent a part of the great
fortunes, swindled out of the gullible, for social development around
his ancestral village, is highlighted now to present him as a saint.
But as useful and welcome hospitals, schools and drinking water
projects for the poor always may be: this kind of alibi-philanthropy
is well known even from mafia-bosses. It cannot be weighed against his
crimes and the damage he has done to the Indian society.

In December 2005, I wrote a letter to then President Dr. Abdul Kalam,
one of Sai Baba’s ardent supporters, which was never answered. I
demanded criminal investigations against Sai Baba. If his social
development projects are meant to be indulgence to nullify his crimes,
this procedure is unprecedented and unacceptable, I wrote. It is a
shame for India that well-founded accusations and numerous reputed
witnesses against Sai Baba are ignored without any investigation. Do
saffron clothes make an offender untouchable for the law? Do we have
to tolerate that political protectionism raises its head so boldly,
mocking India’s democracy?

Sathya Sai Baba caused great damage to India. His irresponsible
political patrons corrupted the political culture of India. Encouraged
by the clout of Sathya sai Baba, a new clan of miracle mongers
imitated him. India would have been a better place without Sathya Sai
Baba.

(This or other articles from the  Rationalist International Bulletin
may be reproduced by journals, blogs or web sites without change or
alteration in its content, and with due acknowledgment.)

Rationalist International: rationalistinternational@gmail.com

Pakistan and Afghan-India

“Every time I think we’ve hit rock bottom, I find both countries have shovel in their hand and are digging further down trying to find a new bottom, one Pakistani security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

via Pakistan squeezed by Afghan-India pact – Hindustan Times.

This reflects the current state of affairs between Pakistan and US. What is interesting is that this is going on for quite some time and one does not know what both countries are upto. Hope that this situation is resolved in the time to come.

Negotiations

“You’re never going to end negotiations unless you begin it,”

via BBC News – UN Security Council to consider Palestinian membership.

But if the negotiations are going to be one sided, as they have been so far, what is the use of such things. With US using all its might to crush the aspirations of the people of Palestine, what more can one say. Each day the kind of media attention [read propaganda] that is shown across media channels in favour of Israel is a lot [is it due to all the Jewish media barons?]. And you speak anything against the state of Israel, you become anti-semitic. Maybe Israel should look into its own past to understand what it is up to. Santayana says

Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.

Gift of Love and Mayawati

ITAT had accepted Mayawati’s claim that immovable property worth Rs 62.72 lakh and cash payments of Rs 2 lakh were gifts given by her supporters out of love and affection.

via Delhi high court says ‘gift of love’ to Mayawati not taxable – The Times of India.

Now that this being the case, it reminds me of the Jadu ki Jhappi  of Munnabhai. How many more people will get tax exemptions based on this judgment? And what if a commoner like me argues the same way?

WikiLeaks and India

Now that Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks is causing some people sleepless nights in the West, the effect is slowly being felt in India. With the expose, exposing the incumbent Congress and the opposition BJP every now and then. The counter accusations follow from the parties. Some things that I have noted when an expose happens is as follows:

  1.  Typically the party in the soup tries to downplay WikiLeaks itself, saying that this is what has been said by the US diplomats and is nothing more than office gossip.
  2. At the same time the other party mounts an attack on the party in soup, trying to tell us “Isn’t it the same thing that we were saying from so many years?” And they will tell you how the other party is bad to its core. In this case they never question the authenticity of WikiLeaks. 
  3. The cycle repeats. Only the role of the parties are changed!

So WikiLeaks is like a hot potato, which none of our political parties have courage to handle. As soon as they land with one, they try to throw it away as soon as possible. When it is in someone else’s hand they will try to make some brownie points out of it.

Indian media with some exceptions is trying to play down the damage done by WikiLeaks to the political and the civil system. They may be hand-in-glove with those accused, or may be afraid that their own names may appear in the future issues of WikiLeaks.

Slumdog Oscarpati!!!!!!!!

Slumdog Oscarpati!!!!!!!! 

Slumdog Oscarpati!!!!!!!!And the Oscar goes to ….. Slumdog Millionaire!!!

Well finally it happened. A Oscar to a film made in India with all Indian actors. An when it rains here, it pours, literally. So when Uncle Oscar came to India, he did not come alone, but bought an entire gang with him.

Now with the number of Oscars that have been awarded to the movie, I think it should be rather called Slumdog Oscarpati!!

Well, we Indians have a snobbish way of putting things. We do not appreciate the work done by our fellow people, unless it is appreciated by the West. In this case it went the other way round. Since the people in the West appreciated Slumdog, people in India are smelling rats and fishes. Here are some of them:

How can a movie as ordinary as Slumdog Millionaire win 8 Oscars?

Why was Rahman given Oscar for this movie, he has done much better job elsewhere?

If it was presented as movie made by Indians, [formally for the Oscars Slumdog was a British Production] we would not have won the Oscars?

We are selling our poverty to get the world attention.

The film makers exploited the child actors. Did not pay them lot of money, but made loads of money themselves.

The film is anti-Hindu।

The film portrays India in a bad light.

The movie did not deserve the Oscars.

The Oscars are a ploy to enter into the lucrative Indian movie market by the Western people.

etc. etc. etc.
[No matter how long a list I make, there will be always some objection/criticism that will not be included in this list. Is this is a consequence of the Godel’s incompleteness theorem?]

Given all the objections that are raised, I think the movie should have not have been made. It would have been better, remained as the book Q & A which it was written by Vikas Swarup. The criticisms fall into three categories as I see them

1. Actors and media people, who did not get a part in the Slumdog M.
2. People who smell conspiracy in everything that they hear/see.
3. Indian people who have an inferiority complex, who think that Indians are not good at anything.

I do not have any grudges against any of these people, but I will be presenting my point of view over all these objections. After all, this is my blog.

There is a tirade of media people criticizing the content of Slumdog, as it glorifies the poverty in India. But is this not true? Are there no people who are living in India, with exactly the conditions or even worse that are shown in the movie? Just visit to a nearby slum, and see for yourself. So what is so wrong in depicting what is actually present there? Its not as if all of India lives above poverty line and the movie is falsely depicting the people living in poverty. It is no fiction.

Have no films been made in India which depict the poor? If that had been the case, one might have agreed to the criticisms. But then this theme is not at all alien to Indian cinema, a poor protagonist is a goringly boring theme, is it not? What hurts us is the fact that some firang and not a desi has done this. Shame. Shame. Shame.

Of all the actors that are criticizing the movie, including Amitabh, Preity Zinta and Shilpa Shetty amongst others, would they have dared the same if they thenselves had acted in that movie. Do they ever dare to criticize the movies that they work in? I can smell something burning. Given a chance most of them would have jump at offers from overseas, and it would be considered prestigious for them too, then why this farce?

As for Rahman, yes I know he has done much better work elsewhere. But, then, good music also needs other good things in the movie to make an impact. Personally if you ask me Dil Se is one of the best works he has done.

Cinematography wise the film is brilliant. Period. Though while watching the movie, sometimes I felt faint traces of the Cidade de Deus [The City of God] running among the sequences and camera shots.

Also lets not forget another thing, that there is no point in comparing the movie with the movies which were made before and won the awards. The movie needs to be compared with the movies that it was competing with now, not with all the great movies that were produced world over before. How many times does it happen that a movie certainly deserving an oscar, did not get one. When there is more than one movie which is good, certainly there are hits and misses. Definitely we have much better movies made before Slumdog M, but then it did not compete with them before the award. So we have to compare Slumdog M with the movies that it was competing with now, not all of the movies made before it. And maybe it was the best of the lot, for this year.

Also if we are taking the film apart as we have done, we are not doing any justice to the actors in the film, who gave their efforts for the characters that they were playing. Was that all part of the bigger conspiracy?

Has not this production brought some deserving youngsters to the fame in international cinema? What about them are they not happy for that? Ask them and you will know the answer…

Now the second group. There are two types of people in this world, one who find conspiracies in everything and others who find conspiracies only in somethings. I think I myself fall in the later category.

Some people think this is a propaganda by the Western people to proliferate the Indian production houses and reap the profits from Indian audiences. But why do they need to come to India for that? I mean lot of english movies made without any reference to India or Indians involved in the production have done quite well in India. Remember Titanic?

The others especially, the Sangh Pariwar people see this as a conspiracy to defame hindus. Well, where is that they do not see a conspiracy to defame hindus? All the media [national and international] is against them, well except what they themselves publish [I think sometime later even that might go against them ;)]. So it is no surprise to me that they see this as conspiracy. O
The following quotes from here summarizes the sentiments of the Sang Pariwar.

Every art whether it be the mad jehadi painter Hussain portraying hindu godesses in the nude and obscene posters or the slum dog film portraying hindu gods and hindu customs and blackening the image of hindus and hindu gods or the novels of Arundhtai Roy and Arvind Adiga maligning hindus, their culture and traditions and their parents, become instant hits since enemies of hindus are national and international and sadly national media exaggerate every bit of it.

And another one from the same source:

The film is a plot made by the Americans to despise the Hindus. This is also one type of war. The film should be banned in India. just like De vinci was banned in India. The film is seriously affecting the sentiments of Hindus before International flora. Alas! there is nobody to protect the sentiments of Hindus.Srirama and srikrishna were shown as villains.Godhra riots were shown unnecessarily. The hero , a slum dog could identify the figure on the dollar but not Mahatma Gandhi on Indian currency.

Well Americans? AFAIK the Brits would not like to call themselves Americans. War? Where is that you people not see war? If war is against all Hindus [who technically speaking I am], I don’t quite agree to it.

The film is seriously affecting the sentiments of Hindus before International flora.

Which Hindus I may ask? Those who are already a part of the Global/International brigade of the Sangh Pariwar?

Srirama and srikrishna were shown as villains.

Well Sri Rama did play a part in the film, but Sri Krishna ? Well I think director forgot to portray him and I am sorry on his behalf. But then we have millions and millions of Hindu gods, why did you not depict them all? And as villains, I doubt it.

Godhra riots were shown unnecessarily.

Well, where the hell is Godhra shown in the film? The riots portrayed are the Mumbai riots, which happened at least 10 years before, please do watch the movie before you comment on it.

Why was the dude a Muslim and the dame a Hindu. Both should be Hindus! This is a [film about] Hindu nation!!

So far so good. Apart from religious zealots there are people who also smell fish in Slumdog M. But this is a different kind of conspiracy. The overall structure of this is like a communist propoganda. Financial gains. For the producers of the film. Well don’t the producers want the financial gains from the films that they make? It is a business for them, is it not?

This is a British ploy to enter in to Indian film industry. So be it. If the result is going to be better movies, I am all for it. So where does exploitation of the poor child actors come? If at all Slumdog M did not became a hit, will such a hype be made about this? How many struggling actors are present in Mumbai, who would go to extremes for just landing a small role in the films, let alone getting being underpaid? Success has a lot of enemies. If at all directors and producers knew what film would be always a hit, why would anybody make a movie which would eventually be a flop? Are there no flop movies in the world?

Anyways these are my views about this whole Slumdog Business, lets see what happens next…

The 5 Φ’s of Life

Life as I see it, has five essential `F’s’. Many people may not agree to them, but then this is my blog, so I will tell, whether you like it or not. I will give my reasons for each one, why it is esential according to me. You may agree, or disagree, or give no opinion, it does not matter. Since this blog is more like a personal diary, which I will not link to anybody, I think it is safe to write things here, which I would not like to be in public.

[But then am I not contradicting myself, when I am putting my personal thoughts in a public place?]

So the five F’s

  • Phood: Food is essential for our survival, this represents a living organisms most basic needs. This is what distinguishes us from non-living matter. But the food just should not be for sustenance. It should also be enjoyed. What is the point in eating something that you don’t like? No I don’t mean that we get to eat everything that we like, [I am definitely not suggesting that if you don’t have breads then you should eat cakes], but with whatever we have to eat, we should be enjoying it. If you make the food [not like the plants] but in the more human sense of the world. When you “make” food you get joy of creating something wonderful, if you do not then I am sorry for you. Also the cook should have the complete freedom to do with the food .
  • Philosophy: This is what distinguishes us from the other living beings, we have to have a philosophy of our own, or at least one that is taken from others. But what is essentially needed is to critically look at the aspects of life.
  • Phuck: Well what to say about this? I guess you understand my feelings!
  • Physics: Physics according to some people is the pinnacle of our achievement. Since I am a physicist by training, I have included physics here. Physics has given me a skeptical attitude towards things in life. Though this is not the only path which will lead you here nor that everyone who is a physicist by training will go along this path, but this was my path, hence I list is here.
  • Photography: I have included photography for two reasons.[I am still an amateur [literally and figuratively], as I have not been paid for anything that I have done so far.] One is that photography enables you to store moments, that you have for an extended period of time, and that too in a form that you can share with other people. The other reason is about the art of photography itself. When you are behind a camera, you start to see things differently, from differently perspectives and angles. Is this what not a skeptic needs? Photography in a way provides me with practical tools of implementing many philosophical ideas which would otherwise remain abstract.

A Sociological Perspective On Education Part 1

 
Education is a part of an individuals becoming a social member. In this article we are considering the question of what education is from a sociological framework. What functions in the society actually the process of education serve? So we are considering two main questions viz.
  1. What is the role of education in the society?
  2. Why are the different social groups differing in their educational levels?
The idea of formal education for the masses is very recent. Only after the industrial revolution the masses were provided with free, compulsory, education by the state. Why? Earlier the education was limited to a few people who were rich enough to afford it or were part of the clergy. The same case was in the Indian context also. There were no state run “schools” which made sure that the education would be provided to the masses.
 
But in the last 100 years or so, education has become a major growth industry. And when anything becomes a commodity, the classical demand and supply theory does come into picture. The same has happened with education in the contemporary era. Now higher education being a prized commodity, the consumers are those who can pay for it.
 
First we take into account the functionalist perspective on education. The two questions that we have started with are
 
“What are the functions of education for the society as a whole?”
In the functionalist perspective this leads to an assessment of the contribution made by educational to the maintenance of the social structure.
 
The other question is:
“What are the functional relationships between education and other parts of the social system?”
This leads to analysis which examines the relationship between educational and the economic systems for example.
 
The functionalist view point in general tend to focus on the positive contributions made by education to the social structure.
 
We now consider the stand points of various functionalists’ on this issue.
 
 
 
 
 


According to Durkheim the major function of education was the transmission of society’s norms and values.
 

Society can survive only if there exists among its members a sufficient degree of homogeneity; education perpetuates and reinforces this homogeneity by fixing in the child form the beginning the essential similarities which collective life demands.

Without these “essential similarities” the social life is impossible. The creation of social solidarity is an essential task for the formation and sustenance of the societies; and education does this. Durkheim argues that:

To become attached to society, the child must feel in it something that is real, alive and powerful, which dominates the person and to which he also owes the best part of himself.

 

Education and in particular, the teaching of history, provides this link between the individual and the society. This view can be illustrated by the educational practice in India. The common curriculum developed by NCERT has helped to instil the shared norms and values into a population with diverse backgrounds. It has provided a shared language and a common history for immigrants from every country in Europe. The Indian student learn about the great leaders, the freedom movement and the heritage that they have. In every textbook the pledge that is presented actually socializes the student into a commitment to society as a whole. You can look at the other article in which the history and its relation to the curriculum is present.
 
Durkheim argues that in complex industrial societies, the school serves a function which cannot be provided either by family or peer groups. Membership in the society as a whole is not based on kinship or personal choice. In the school the individual must learn to cooperate with those who are neither their kin nor their friends. Thus the school provides a small scale model for the society.
 

It is by respecting the school rules that the child learns to respect the rules in general, that he develops the habit of self control and restraint simply because he should control and restraint himself. It is first initiation into austerity of duty. Serious life has now begun.

Also Durkheim argues that education teaches the individual specific skills necessary for his future occupation, which is particularly important in the industrial societies where a complex division of labour exists. The social solidarity in the industrial society comes from the interdependence of the labour in the process of production. The necessity of combination produces cooperation and social solidarity. The schools thus transmit both:
  1. The general values which provide ‘necessary homogeneity for social survival.’
  2. The specific skills which provide ‘necessary diversity for social cooperation.’
The industrial society is thus united by value consciousness and a specialized division of labour. Durkheim assumes that the norms and values of transmitted by the educational system are those of the society as a whole rather than of the ruling elite or ruling class. This produces a very different view of the role of education in the society.
 
 
Parsons argues that after the primary socialization within the family, the school takes over as the ‘focal socializing agency’. The school acts as a link between the family and the society as a whole, thus preparing the child for his adult role. In the family the child is treated in terms of ‘particularistic’ standards whereas in the society the standards are ‘universalistic’. By particularistic it is meant here that in the family the child is treated as their particular child rather than using yardsticks which can be applied to everybody; and by universalistic it is meant that the child is judged in terms of yardsticks which are applicable to all individuals.
 
Within the family the status of the child is ascribed, by birth. But the status in adult life is largely achieved. Thus the child moves on from the particularistic standards in the family to the universalistic standards of the society in general. The school is the preparing ground for this transition. The school has universalistic standards against which all the students are measured, these are independent of the sex, race, family background or the class of the student. The schools operate on meritocratic principles; status is achieved on the basis of merit. This is one of the essential aspects of the modern industrial society, where meritocratic principles are applied to all its members. The children are ‘trained’ to be the future citizens in the schools; they are imparted with the basic values of society. This value consensus is essential for the society to operate smoothly. Two major values that the schools inculcate in the students are:
  1. Value of achievement.
  2. Value of equal opportunity.
The value of achievement is itself fostered by rewarding the students which have high levels of achievement; and by placing the individuals in the same situation in the classroom so allowing them to compete on equal terms in examinations, schools foster the value of equality and opportunity. These values have an important role to play in the society as a whole. An advanced industrial society requires highly motivated, achievement oriented skilled workforce; and the school prepares the students exactly for this. All the students high and the low achievers see system as just and fair, as they all had an equal chance to begin with.
 
Another function that the school serves is that of selection of the individuals for their future role in the society. By testing, evaluating the students for their skills and capacities they can select the future jobs for which the future citizen is best suited for. Thus the school is seen as a major facilitator in the role allocation for the future citizens.
 



Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore
 
Davis and Moore agree with Parsons about the role allocating function of the school but they link educational system more directly to the social stratification. The social stratification is seen as a mechanism which ensures that the most talented and able members of the society are allocated to those positions, which are functionally most important to the society.
Though the thoughts of Davis and Moore represent the common sense view of education, there are certain criticisms of them. Particularly important is the questionable relationship between academic credentials and occupational reward is loose. Another reason is doubt about the proposition that the educational system grades people in terms of ability, it has been argued that the intelligence has little effect upon educational attainment. Finally there is considerable evidence that suggests the influence of social stratification largely prevents effective grading of individuals in terms of their abilities.
Criticisms: 

References:
Sociology: Themes and Perspectives
Harlambos and Heald
Oxford 2002

Prejudice and Pride

Pride and Prejudice
As a part of the graduate courses we had to do a few presentations. During the course on sociology of education I reviewed a book Prejudice and Pride by Krishna Kumar. When I was first told about the book I was not too keen to do the review, as the title suggested nothing about the content of the book. But when I was told about the synopsis of the book I became immediately interested. So what is this book with a title made by rearranging the title of another famous book by Jane Austin about. So we will first talk about the subject matter of the book.
What this work is about?
As the back cover of the book says it is a comparative study of the modern representations of modern history in Indian and Pakistani textbooks. The book consists of an inquiry into the perceptions of the past that the Indian and Pakistani children encounter at the school. So the book is about the kind of history being taught in the schools to children in India and Pakistan. So we being the children and product of such an education do differ from our Pakistani counterparts in our  view of history.
History as it is known is seen by different people differently. For some heroes are villains and vice-versa if change the sides of a given conflict. Thus for us Indians the British officers who established and firmed the British rule in India would be villains whereas for the British they were heroes. So to form an objective view about the history of a particular event is very difficult if not impossible. One of the reason for this is the fact that we depend upon historical evidences for building the image of the past. These evidences may be in form of reports, books or other works and folk tales about that particular event. Thus we will be most of the time biased and subjective about the information that we have to build upon the image of the past we have. It will be no wonder that the images of the past that are familiar to us, are at times starkly different from those brought in a different culture.
In general there is gloom in the education systems of both the countries. India is no more better off than Pakistan in general in the education field. The subject matter of this work in particular is the history as taught in the two countries. In a sense there is an absence of academic curiosity in both the countries towards each other. We have no ‘experts’ in India on Pakistan and likewise for Pakistan. Compare this with the experts that the USA and the former USSR had for each other during the cold war era. There were entire think-tanks dedicated to know about the ‘other’.
In case of India and Pakistan, both the countries live under the impression that they know each other. This emanates from the fact that the ‘other’ is, after all, a former aspect of the ‘self.’ India and  Pakistan are politically so far apart, but, geographically and culturally so close that there is no room for an epistemic space between them. This makes us believe that we know the ‘other’ too well.
One of the roles of education in the modern states in the world is imparting a sense of national identity. The children are indoctrinated via history to have a ‘nationalist’ character. So history as taught in the schools takes the burden of nation building than any other subject that is taught. One of the roles of history to arouse the interest of the young in the past and to inculcate a respect for it is sidelined in modern day India and Pakistan. Whatever debates that are present in India and Pakistan on the teaching of history are political and not pedagogic. The pedagogic uses and role of the subject of history has been given up for the more important role of history as tool for nation building.
Why the modern history?
The author choose to concentrate on the modern history of the sub-continent. The ‘modern’ is meant to connote here the era from 1857 to the freedom and formation of the two nation identities in 1947. The older history of the sub-continent is more controversial in the sense that the views that are portrayed by the history as taught in the two nations are radically different. ‘Invaders’ in India are seen as ‘heroes’ in Pakistan. No wonder that even the modern history of the two nations is subject to the bias of the respective countries.
What most people and more importantly the young children don’t realise that there is always another view of the history, through which the now familiar events look totally alien to us. When we come across such histories there is a sense of  jamais vu involved. Suddenly the things so well known to us are entirely changed in terms of the perspectives. Also the events that we think are important with respect to the history that we are taught, would be trivial in some other histories.
 Modern history has greater potential to for engaging children in activities connected with the study of the social sciences than the history of other periods has. So this has the potential to establish the modern period as a subject matter for advanced studies. It will help promote a better understanding between India and Pakistan by helping readers in both countries to grasp how a common recent past is looked by the other.
In this case the researcher being an Indian the impartiality of the researcher demanded great self restraint and imagination on the part of the researcher. Unknowingly the researcher would be biased in forming the opinions which are so ‘clear and simple’ for us. So one of the major objectives of this study is to examine the rival ideologies of nationalism into which schools attempt to socialize the young. Another objective being a probe into the politics of history writing as a means to understand the contribution that schooling makes to the Indo-Pak conflict.
Many things that come out of this study are interesting and I was surely taken aback by some of them. The familiarity that we have with the events of the past is lost when we take the `other’ perspective into account. The study was based on the sample of textbooks taken from both the countries.  The Pakistani text books that formed the part of the study were both privately published and published by the various state boards. The regional variation in the text books of Pakistan was found to be much less than than in India. The Indian sample consisted of the books by various state boards, ICSE and NCERT and CBSE.
The Challenge of The Past
In this section we discuss the cognitive challenge that teaching history at school might present to children. Before coming to the school the children have some tacit knowledge about the past. By primary socialization it is meant the induction of the child in the society. When the children are introduced in the society they are taught the customs, practices and norms of the society that they are going to be a part of. During this a certain amount of knowledge is essentially passed on to the children, which helps them form an identity for themselves in the contemporary society that they are a part of. So by the time children go to school they have acquired the basic deeper imprint of membership of a society as an outcome of primary socialization.
The school thus gets a child with the basic notions already formed, and these are very difficult to change in the school. The school has no option but to work with the personality of the child thus formed. The schools are seen as instruments of cultivating loyal citizens. And in the secondary socialization the children are socialized into an ‘approved’ past. This ‘approval’ is from the state. Also the difference between the awareness and knowledge is quite often blurred for the children. For example consider the statement
India gained independence from the British rule on 15th August 1947.
Now just to ‘know’ this information as a matter of fact is quite different from having a deeper knowledge about the notions of independence, rule etc. Almost all people know this, but how many of them can actually understand the meaning of a sentence like this, when it is translated in terms of the events, people and the circumstances that were present at that point of time. Events which occured in the past require us to appreciate the circumstances, values and choices that shaped the people who were involved
 To analyze historical events we need to go into a time frame without being completely submerged in it. By this it is meant that we have to see the ‘past’ in terms of the ‘past’. We should not cannot impose the contemporary beliefs, thoughts and values on the people and the events of the past, because if we do that we might loose the view that the people of the past had. Thus the cognitive challenge that history presents is certainly great and it requires much more processing on the part of the learner who is presented with the facts of the history. For in history each event has to be seen in dual mode:
  1. The given event as the outcome of the events preceding it.
  2. The given event as the cause of events following it.
Thus for example when we see the rebellion of 1857, we have to see it in the light of the events that caused it, and at the same time we also have to see it in the light of the events that it caused. How we see a particular event would strongly depend on what framework of history we already we have. The most natural way for us to see any event is to fit it in the framework that we already possess. Also anomalies, if any, are usually ‘interpreted’ in a way to fit the framework. Changing the framework itself is very difficult even for the adults and I guess almost impossible for the children. For example if we are told that ‘Gandhi was not at all important for the freedom from the British,’ then how are we going to react? We have been always ‘told’ that this is so, so we believe it. The point that I want to make here is not just about the role of Gandhi’s involvement in the freedom struggle, but rather just to give the reader a taste of what change in the framework could result in.
Coming back to the two positions that a reader in history has to take into account, cognitively what is requirement for making such conjectures? This requires on the part of the children the capacity of  reversibility. The reversibility as defined here is the reversibility of the Piagetian tasks. Piaget places the ability of the reversibility in the concrete operational period of his framework of cognitive development.
One of the ways in which the reversibility can manifest in the children is reversibility of thought.
The children thus have two main difficulties that they face when they are learning history in the school. One of them is cognitive and the other is sociological plus cognitive. The impact of culture upon the image of the past that we have is tremendous, and this is particularly true for children. A child can be often presented with a version of history as a part of primary socialization, which is not the one which is ‘approved’ by the state. The popular social memory both in India and Pakistan about the events in the past shapes the framework of the children, according to which they try to make sense of the facts presented to them later. In this case it will directly conflict with the knowledge that is presented in the school. For example if a child is told at the home that ‘Great unjustice was done only to Hindus during the partition’, then this is certainly going to conflict with the ‘approved’ version of the history being taught at the school. This is what I call the sociological plus cognitive problem that the children face. How can something be true and also be non-true at the same time? This I guess is not only a problem with children but also [more] with adults. The notion that there is only one truth, and that is what I believe in, the rest are propaganda’s seem to fit the right wing frameworks present in both the countries. The very idea of reality can be seen in a different light is not acceptable to most of us. Why? Because we don’t want to be in a world where we cannot understand something that is not the part of our standard framework.
The other major problem that the children face is cognitive. This relates to the fact that how much the teaching of history at school attunes itself to the cognitive levels of the children. As we have seen the interpretation of historical events requires a notion of reversibility on the part of the learner, how many text books address this fact, or even take into account this. As in India so in Pakistan the role of history as a subject is seen more as a subject to be passed than anything else. The pattern of rote learning the subject without understanding the complexities of the issues involved, seems to be the idea of  doing history in both the countries. More emphasis is on the ‘knowledge’ part than on ‘awareness’ of the subject at hand.
Also as far as the ‘good’ careers are concerned the subject of history is taken over by more fruitful subjects of mathematics and sciences. So history is just seen as an auxiliary subject which has to be passed, and which can be passed without understanding, because it is not going to help you in the future to secure a ‘good’ career.
Frames of Popular Perception
In this section as title suggests we will focus on the frames of perception by which the general population forms a framework so as to understand the past. For this we have to understand the notion of  the ‘other’. What is meant by the ‘other’? In both India and Pakistan the past is intertwined with the current and evolving perceptions of the ‘other.’ Our own national identities are seen in the frames of perception by hinting at the ‘other’. Each side has something of the other in it. Each country presents a strong case of dependence on the ‘other’ for defining itself. Thus question can be raised that ‘If Pakistan is an Islamic state how can India be a secular one?’ For if India were a truly pluralist society there would not be any need for Pakistan. We see that India’s portrayal as a ‘secular’ society as opposed to an ‘Islamic’ one in Pakistan is exactly this. We need to contrast ‘our’ nation with ‘their’ so as to prove our identity.
I liked this part of the book very much. It really shakes you and your perception about the past. So what this essentially means is that there is a Pakistan which we Indians may not have the epistemic means to fathom and same is true for a resident of Pakistan for India. It really provides you with a clue of how hard it is to let go the perceptions we already have. As for the case in Pakistan education there has succeeded in dissociating partition from its painful violent reality and has in turn converted it into an achievement for all Pakistanis. The very idea that India does not accept Pakistan’s existence and Pakistan poses no real challenge for India are the two sides of the same emotion. The point that is being made here is that do define the very concept of Pakistan as a nation in the past and in the current times, the perception of the ‘other’ is being taken into account.  Thus the national self awareness is also determined by reference to the  ‘other.’
For case of India the event of Partition is seen as an inevitable turn of events. While the current view of Pakistan is in terms of an active supporter of terrorism. Also due to the unstable democracy in Pakistan a view is that [I somehow liked it very much] ‘An army looking for a country’. Most of the Indian perception about Pakistan is derived from pre-partition memory and the wars that followed with Pakistan. Thus we see that the notion of the ‘other’ is interwined with our past as well as our present.
Ideology and Textbooks
The state in both the countries wants to present its ‘approved’ version of the history to children to inculcate in them the qualities of an ideal citizen of the given state. No wonder that the history as seen in the different frameworks will be different. In this approach the textbooks are instrumental, and this is a direct descendant of the colonial past. Under the British rule in the sub-continent the history was presented in a version that was ‘suitable’ for the administrators. In case of India the Kothari Commission showed willingness to turn nation building into an ideology and to see the education as a prime instrument to propagate it. In India there is a leftward tilt, with the political ideology being essentially modernist and progressive, while pedagogically it is conventional in character. Why this stark contrast in the philosophy and the pedagogy of the history being taught is the question that we want to ask. This is partly because it suits the state ideology so.
 In the case of Pakistan the urge to define and construct Pakistan as an Islamic nation occupies the central place in the system. The concern for national identity of Pakistan occupies form of an obsessive mission, for which ‘evidences’ are seen throughout the history of the modern era. Thus ideology is used in Pakistan to indicate a rationale for self identity.
  In India recent trends to ‘color’ the content have been started, against the official policy to propagate a secular version of the nation. The colonial past gives a common heritage to both the countries in terms of the central control over what is taught and how it is evaluated. In both the countries the prescribed textbooks form the de facto curriculum. Questions like
In what way did the revolt of 1857 influence the nationalists during the struggle for freedom?
  which do appear in exams relate to the fact that there is a way in which the revolt influenced the nationalists and this is the way which you are supposed to know and write about. Does this not destroy the notion of history itself, for the facts themselves can  be evaluated in terms of framework you see them in.
  I cannot help here but to bring from the philosophy of science the notion of ‘theory ladenness of data.’  This is one of the factors which led to the downfall of the Logical Positivists, in the late half of 20th century. What this essentially means is that whatever observations that we have, can be interpreted by us only in the terms of the theory that we are working with. This is something which you cannot do away with. The Logical Positivists on the other hand believed in the exactly opposite thing. They thought that the observations presented an objective truth which can be evaluated without any reference to theories. But this I guess is a normative position than a descriptive one as regards to the science. This view is obsolete in the philosophy of science and now philosophers do believe in the theory ladenness of data. More cannot be said to be true about the subject of history itself. Though it took some time for the philosophers of science to realize, this has been always the case with history. The notion that science is objective in terms of the outlook,  unlike history was abandoned.
  Here I cannot but restrain myself from giving example from George Orwell’s 1984, where in Ministry of Truth’s dictum says:
 
Who control the past, controls the future.
  Who control the present, controls the past.
Is this not what our governments are doing? The more I think about this more I am convinced that our present state has the form of the Orwellian state. Where in the past is rewritten so as the state is always right. The difference being that our textbooks were written once and have been propagating the same stories since then. Is not the state trying to control the future, in terms of the citizens that are being made by the education that is imparted to them. This I guess is the Nehruvian vision, where the educated elite are supposed to keep out of politics. Politics in most of the ‘good’ families is seen as a ‘dirty’ game, where people from ‘good’ families should not get involved. But does not the history stand against evidence to the fact that almost all of the people who were involved in the freedom struggle were from ‘good’ families. During the freedom struggle it was a prestige to be involved politics, but what has changed in the years in between so that the roles are reversed. What the education has succeeded in doing in India, is to dissociate the learned elite from the actual political situation in the country. Is this not the state at work?
Rival Histories
Now we come to the main part of this work, the rival histories that the school children of the two countries are being presented with in the schools. The words and events which have a common meaning in one country have totally different in the other. The very word freedom has different meaning for both the countries, India ‘woken up,’ whereas Pakistan was ‘born.’ Here again I would like to borrow an idea from the philosophy of science; Kuhn’s idea of incommensurability. The basic idea is that different theories or paradigms can be hard or impossible to compare, in a properly unbiased way. Thus when we see the different events in modern history, in the two different paradigms of the two states, they no wonder appear to be entirely different. To say that one version is correct and another a distorted version of it, is to loose the whole point so what is being said here.
The memory of the struggle with the British has great memory for both of the newly born nation states of India and Pakistan. The emergence of the national identity forms a central theme in the histories of both the nations. For the consolidation of the nation state, this memory needs to be preserved and passed on to the next generation. Only then the nation state will be successful, otherwise be in demise. Thus the state itself works towards its own growth and welfare, just as The Party in 1984. This is done for the respective nations by recasting the record of their freedom struggle into a narrative for the young.
Hence we
have two prototypes of the same event, one which serves the interest of each nation state. Thus were born the two ‘master narratives’ for the two nation states. But the question is, should they be the same? In both the states the school historians take the ‘national’ and ‘approved’ stance on the past.
So what is the framework in which this evaluation is done in? In this work, three themes have been explored in the context of the material presented in the textbooks of the two nations.
  1. Politics of mention: By politics of mention it is meant the decision to include or exclude a particular name or event in the discourse of history. This in turn is directly influenced by larger process of identity building.
  2. Pacing of the end:Both the systems have a different pacing towards the end of the struggle. The aspect of story telling having many linkages to the politics involved, but it also has to do with nature of educational system, how it treats knowledge as a body of fact. More attention is given to the individual facts, rather than to the connections between them. Also there is a rapid movement between events, without ascertaining the causal relationships if any between the end.
  3. Conception of the end: Both the narratives come to a stop in 1947. The end point is conceptualized very differently in the two master narratives. For the Indian master narrative the freedom and partition is seen as a great achievement, along with terrible sense loss and sadness, and a sense of failure to subvert a conspiracy is embedded. Whereas in case of  Pakistan it is seen as a remarkable achievement, which is somewhat mitigated by a sense of injustice. For the Indian master narrative the history starts in ancient times and comes to an end in 1947. And in case of Pakistan, the ‘end’ marks formal beginning of the nation state called Pakistan. In fact the history of Pakistan starts from 1947.
Blurred Divergences
With the given animosity present between the two countries we would expect that the histories present in the textbooks would be mirror images of each other. But this is not the case, the two narratives are related but in a highly complex manner. Both the narratives follow a path which see to it that the events and persons mentioned the master plan of each. It is not that eminent personalities are portrayed as villians in the other history. Both focus on ‘high’ politics rather than social dynamics; decisions taken by eminent leaders and British administrators. The freedom struggle is treated as an allegory, composed for the purpose of reminding the young that they are inheritors of great storehouse values. One of the epistemological difference between the two versions is that the Pakistani version focuses more on ‘how’ was freedom achieved and the Indian narrative focuses on ‘why’ it had to take the form it did.
A Beginning Located
So what is the starting point in both the master narratives? Both the master narratives take the Rebellion of 1857 as a starting point of the route to freedom, which ends in 1947. The textbooks of both sides convey the impression that rebels were inspired by a dream of national independence. But the words such as ‘national’ or ‘nationalist’ are not qualified and are not cautioned against. The very fact that these notions do not apply in that era as they apply now is seem to have been forgotten by the writers on both the sides.  So we come to a question of whether there was there any ‘nationalism’ in the revolt of 1857? Most of the Indian writers answer this question positively, and see the revolt as the ‘first war of Indian independence.’ As of now there is not any clear consensus on the issue. One of the ironies that the revolt presents is that of the so called ‘rebels’ and the ‘educated Indians.’ Whereas the rebels are presented to be against the British, the reasons cited are political and religious, whereas the various religious and social reformers who were contemporaries of the same rebels are presented in an entirely different light. What is forgotten that the very reformers which have supposed to lay the seeds of the social enlightenment in India were very supporters of the British rule.


 Children [and I guess even most adults] are not allowed to realize that events of 1857 look remarkably different from different perspectives. In the Pakistani textbooks the events of 1857 have to be placed as the formal beginning of the master narrative. 1857 is seen as an attempt by the Muslim rulers to throw away the British rule and re-establish Mughal rule; attention is brought to the fact that Muslims as a community were willing to fight for rights and status. So who according to the narratives are the heroes of 1857? The Indian narrative answers in plural as
Mangal Pandey, Rani of Jhansi, Tatya Tope, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Nana Saheb. But in case of the Pakistani texts the discussion of 1857 is not elaborated much. For any elaborate discussion on 1857 would show that Muslims and Hindus were capable of fighting as an unified force, and this would certainly not fit in the master narrative of Pakistan. For Pakistani writers any pedagogic narrative should serve a dual role; it should describe how the colonial rule ended and should also explain how Pakistan came into being. So this represents a problem for the writers of ‘Pakistan Studies.’ The other dilemma is in the structure of the narrative itself. One of the key figures in the start of the Pakistani master narrative is Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, who is presented as a ”great hero” and sided with the British during 1857. So how will Pakistani writer solve a dilemma like this:
 If it is a war of independence waged by the Muslims against the hated British foreigner, how can Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, who sided with the British and condemned the native rising be presented to the students as “great hero” and “the greatest thinker of Pakistan?”
So what do we make of this?  The events in 1857 can be seen as a last convulsive movement of protest against the coming of west on the part of traditional India. Though the revolt did have great influence on the subsequent struggle, it is hard to say that it was in any logical way connected to this struggle. In both the narratives the scale of the violence that took place in the revolt remains vague. Why should be this so? This is an unanswered question.
 Both in character and content the topic of national character contrasts sharply with the revolt of 1857. The textbooks even at the lower classes attempt to convey to children a notion of the reform movements; terms like ‘tradition’, ‘progress’, and ‘reform’. But how much of this the children are cognitively capable of learning is a question. I guess even how many adults can understand these notions. For the Pakistani writers the aim is to impart the ability to ‘understand the Hindu and Muslim differences and the resultant need for Pakistan’. Whereas for the Indian writers the idea of secularism has to take root in the nineteenth century reformers. Hence they are said to be ‘deeply influenced by the ideas of rationalism and humanism and of human equality’.

We now take a look at the presentation of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan in the two narratives. In the Pakistani master narrative he is the key figure post 1857 and most of the attention is on the Aligarh movement. The foundations of the Pakistani Master Narrative are established in this era. The categories ‘Hindus’ and ‘Muslims’ are constructed, with some stereotypes accommodating the master narrative. The ‘Hindus’ are given certain essential unalienable properties which are supposed to the part of their nature. They are supposed to be cruel, manipulative, unreliable.
The idea that there was a tacit understanding between the Hindus and British to undermine and rule the Muslims runs through the master narrative. Thus Muslims are seen as the oppressed lot who rose for themselves to create a separate state. Sayyid Ahmad Khan is presented in Pakistani textbooks as solitary person ahead of times; a great leader and a visionary and most importantly who introduced the idea of two nation theory. Though he is verbalized as a great man; he is a as a tool to stigmatize Congress. The connotations that Congress has are that it was a pure Hindu body, and it is used to stereotype Hindus as selfish and sectarian people.
In the Indian narrative on the other hand Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan he is just one of the many reformers that are present during that era. Three major themes of his work are covered in the the textbooks of both sides. They are:
  1. Conciliatory view of the British.
  2. Caution against representative democracy and Congress.
  3.  Institutional work to promote Western Education among the Muslims.
But only the last one is emphasized in the Indian textbooks, so that he becomes just one of many. The special status that is awarded to him in the Pakistani context is absent in the Indian context.
Tools that are required to read into the cultural awakening are not presented to the students. Even if somebody wants to understand the meaning of the terms involved there is no potion but to memorize.
When one reads the texts the unfortunate impression is given that Congress was set up in one day, with clear cut aim for the liberation of India from the British rule. Just as the anti-Hindu sentiments run throughout the Pakistani master narrative, the idea of ‘Divide and Rule’ by the British runs throughout the Indian master narrative. The partition of Bengal on the religious lines is an example of this. But in the Pakistani master narrative Jinnah’s participation in the Congress during the Bengal movement period is suppressed in the Pakistani texts as it does not fit their master narrative, in which Congress is a purely Hindu body and primarily anti-Muslim.
The formation of Muslim league is presented as if it was a natural outcome of the conditions present then. Since the Congress was a purely Hindu body, the Muslims were left with no political organization of their own. So to make the voice of the Muslims to be heard the formation of a Muslim political organization was the only alternative left. The Muslim League was formed as a result. The Muslim League thus steps out of history assuming the status of quasi-divine mechanism that Muslims of India always needed. The formation of the Muslim League is presented as culmination of social and political awakening of the Muslims. On the other hand in the Indian textbooks the creation of the Muslim League is seen as another version of the ‘Divide and Rule’ policy of the British. Thus we see that how one event viz. the formation of the Muslim League ‘fits’ properly in both the master narratives, which have their own agenda of reaching the summit in 1947.
Unity and Breakup [1916-1922]
Even though there were basic ideological differences present in the view points of Congress and the League some sort of communal harmony was present during the events leading to the Khilafat and the Non-Cooperation Movements. So we see now this era of harmony between the two political parties is portrayed in the two textbooks. It is at this juncture that Gandhi enters the political scene in the Indian narrative. As he became the leader of the national movement, the movement is transformed. The transformation of the movement was in terms of the class and the region of the people participating in the movement. Thus the movement became a mass movement due to arrival of Gandhi, and he is seen as a hero in the Indian context. Contrastingly in the Pakistani texts Gandhi is characterized as a ‘Hindu leader.’ The significance of Gandhi’s entry into politics is reduced significantly. The very fact that during this period the freedom of Pakistan depended so much on the freedom of India is oblivious to the writers [and hence to the readers] in Pakistan.
The Khilafat Movement
In the Indian context the Khilafat movement marks the high point of Hindu-Muslim unity. This incidence is always seen in a secular light, hence the triumph of secularism is seen as a guiding value of national movement. The Khilafat movement is to be seen as ‘golden opportunity for cementing Hindu-Muslim unity and bringing the Muslim masses into national movement‘.  On the other hand for Pakistani writers Khilafat along with Hijrat, is remarkable for the fact that Hindus and Muslims worked jointly for their success, but this could not continue because of `the hostile attitude of the Hindus toward Muslims became evident.‘ Also the idea of anti-Muslim sentiment runs throughout the narrative. This statement reveals this idea; `It is obvious that no Hindu could be seriously concerned with whether Khilafat was to survive or not.’ In the Pakistani texts the  Jinnah’s opposition to Khilafat movement is suppressed, as this would not fit the master narrative in the light of the later events. Maybe somebody should raise a question:  How can Quaid-e-Azam oppose the Khilafat movement which was so dear to the Muslims?
As far as the Pakistani narrative is concerned Gandhi is presented as a shrewd character who used the Khilafat movement for attaining his goals. The fact that Gandhi called off the Movement after the Chauri-Chaura incident is portrayed as a decisive moment in Muslims organizing themselves instead of looking for allies. Whereas in the Indian context Gandhi’s role is unique and has three broad dimensions:
  1. A mass leader.
  2. An imaginative strategist.
  3. A social reformer.
Gandhi is the superman of Indian politics, he can do no wrong. The status that Gandhi achieved remains a mystery, so do the reasons for choices he made. There is no way the readers can understand the political games that were played, in the era, as only facts without much interpretation is presented. As far as Gandhi is concerned in the Indian narrative, politician in him is left out; only Mahatma remains. One of the basic premise of Gandhian thought that substituted the value of loyalty to state by self imposed structure of moral behavior is not discussed. The withdrawal of the Non-cooperation gives us the side of Gandhi as a whimsical leader; the explanation. The instinct in the Indian master narrative is to present secularism as an innate value of Indian nationalist movement. This allows the Indian writers to present demand for Pakistan later as sudden and ahistorical an act of manoeuvre on the part of Jinnah and the British, which is seen as a part of the ‘Divide and Rule’ policy of the British empire.
After the mid 1920s after the withdrawal of the Khilafat movement the writers with difficult years to dwell on.   For the Indian narrative there are no dramatic events in this period. There was a lot of communal violence that took place during this period, which is ignored by both the sides. As the Pakistani narrative dwells on the characterization of the people on religious lines viz. Hindus and Muslims, the Indian narrative calls for characterization in terms of  ‘nationalist’ and ‘communalist’. The young are trained to regard ‘nationalism’ and ‘communalism’ as antonyms.Nationalist as ones who fought on behalf of all Indians; communalist as one who fought for their own communities.
Why is this done? Why is the violence sidelined in both the narratives? One of the basic argument given in this favor of is that children should not be exposed to violence. But is this a valid argument? The reason for not exposing the children perhaps lies in the nature of nation building role which schools and history textbooks are supposed to perform. This role demands filtering out of the record of communal violence from the narrative of the national movement to whatever extent possible. Why should be this so?
 In the Pakistani texts a key difference that is evident is in the portrayal of Congress. Congress is portrayed  as a single, cohesive, Hindu body, without any internal differences. The Hindu Mahasabha, which was the right wing political party of the Hindus is politically and ideologically merged with the Congress. This is done so that a Hindu Congress can be well targeted in the Pakistani master narrative.
The Nehru Report
The report prepared by Motilal Nehru, known as the Nehru report is passingly mentioned in the Indian textbooks. But this report is one of the milestones in the history of Pakistan. From what is found that in the earlier episodes of history there is a difference of perspectives and approach in the two master narratives, but in this case there is a total disagreement. This is seen as the last straw of Congress-Muslim relationship. Jinnah presented his fourteen point program in response to this report. Whereas this response by Jinnah is hailed by Pakistani texts, as a step towards the reality of a Muslim nation, in the Indian texts this response is seen as ‘communal’ in character. In fact in the Indian texts there is a tacit policy to give no significance to organized Muslim response at the  secondary level. To regard such demands as purely communal in nature, and to hold such ‘communal’ demands in sharp contrast to ‘national’ demands is to equal to thinking ahistorically. Then in such a framework of  ‘communal’ and ‘national’ where does the support that Khilafat movement got [which was purely religious] fit in? Clearly the Indian textbook writers are missing the point here. How can one movement be ‘communal’ and the other be ‘national’? This clearly shows it as attempt to evaluate a given event with variable standards so as to ‘fit’ the master narrative.
After the 1930s the common points of reference between the two narratives become scarce, and they diverge rapidly. The two narratives employ different persons and events which lead to the desired end. The Indian narrative becomes vary fast in this case, whereas the Pakistani one becomes very slow detailing events that lead to the formation of Pakistani nation state. At this point  how and why make the crucial difference between the orientations of the narratives.  After the naming of Pakistan occurred, Pakistani account finds adequate reasons to under emphasize or altogether ignore even major events afterwards. On the other hand in the Indian narrative the task is to celebrate the struggle and the triumph of the ‘secular’ inspiration; due to this political struggle of religious and other separatists is forgotten. Even the mention of the names of important separatists like Subhas Bose are passingly mentioned.
Since the ‘communal’ activities increased in the last decade, Indian historians have to race through this decade. But in the Pakistani narrative this is the decade worth discussing. In this decade the Indian textbooks mainly concentrate on the civil disobedience movement. And the discussion usually starts with Gandhi’s Dandi march. But the issues and conditions under which this act was done remain mysterious. What exactly Gandhi hoped to achieve by this and why did he do it are unanswered questions. What is presented in the texts is just the factual information about the march without explaining the deeper meaning associated with it. Most of the Indian texts suppress the fact that civil disobedience did not attract the Muslim participation. Also worth noticing is the fact that reference to the Round Table Conferences and  Poona Pact are meagre. The Indian historians looking at the events in the decade with a secular lens, fail to even mention the communal divide amongst the various sections in India. The reader is thus left unaware of the gravity of the communal problem present during this time. Still the image of all Indians, regardless of their religions, fighting against the British rule runs through the narrative. This creates an epistemic shock when demand for a separate Muslim state is made in the 1940s and the demand seems unjustified and ad hoc.
In Pakistani texts the three main things that, have a different focus than the Indian texts are.
  1. Focus on Iqbal’s Allahabad speech.
  2. Lack of emphasis on Civil Disobedience.
  3. Importance given to all three round table conferences.
And the key issue for the Pakistani texts remains the Congress’s refusal to acknowledge the minority problem. This struggle is presented in many texts as the struggle between the Father of Nation on the Indian side and Quaid-e-Azam on the other:
Gandhi insisted that there was only one nation India which were Hindus. But Quaid-e-Azam replied that Indian Muslims were also a separate nation of India which had its own interests.

Thus we see that the facts are once again presented in a way so as to fit the master narratives, leaving out the things that do not fit in, emphasizing only the aspects that do fit in the narrative.
The Government of India Act [1935]
Texts of both the countries mention the main provisions of this Act, in which regional governments were setup, in the different provinces, with the majority being in the hands of Congress. In the Indian texts little is said about the Congress being in power; the era presents no inspiring events for the reader. In the Pakistani texts the results of the election are portrayed as a shock to the League, and which saw a gloomy future for the Muslims if a democracy is setup in India. The Muslims due to smaller numbers will have no say in the government so formed democratically. This brought the Muslim league to the ground reality,  also led the transformation of Jinnah from idealist to political realist.
During this era the Congress governments did some works, which is very sketchily or not mentioned at all. One of the works that Congress governments introduced was the Gandhi’s Wardha scheme for educational reforms. This is not mentioned or elaborated in the Indian texts. But contrastingly in the Pakistani texts this is one of key issues to be discussed. But why should just some educational reforms, that too at the school level should be worth discussing, when other major events are not discussed?
One of the key features of the Gandhi’s Wardha Scheme was the use of child’s mother tongue as a medim of instruction. Particularly in the United Provinces this meant that  the traditional education in urdu to be replaced by that one in hindi. This scheme was seen as an alternative to bookish education. But in the implementation of the scheme many things happened which no body anticipated. The song of vande mataram was supposed to be sung by all school children, which is considered as anti-muslim in nature. Also in every school portraits of Gandhi were placed, which further made muslims irate. And finally the school were to be called vidya mandirs which means a temple of education, but this was very provocative for the muslims. The Muslims saw this scheme as a means to destroy their religion, by aiming at their children. Thus if the children are targeted and taken away from Islam, there would be no next generation of Muslims left in the country. This was a grand plot eliminate muslims forever. The interesting point to be noted is that, Gandhi had deliberately left out religious instructions in this scheme. But the things went the other way.
The contrast between the two texts sharpens as we enter the last phase of the struggle. Quit India movement is the major event in the early 1940s in the Indian narrative, whereas Lahore resolution is the major event in the Pakistani master narrative. The Quit India movement gives the Indian school historian a perfect material to dwell upon and write about in the master narrative. All the key elements of the narrative are present: adventure, heroism, moral struggle and determination. The movement is portrayed as the ultimate patriotic adventure with no trace of politics. The INA follows the Quit India and maybe seen as a continuation of the same. The differences between Subhas Bose and Gandhi are not highlighted. In case of the Pakistani master narrative Lahore resolution is the master narrative, whereas Quit India presented as detached, uninspiring story. The Muslim League is shown to have attained clarity and cohesiveness due to its bitter experience with Congress. The fact that League would push for independence not only from the British but also from Hindus, is seen as unavoidable.  The Pakistani authors appear to be gripped at this juncture by the urge to trace and retrace the familiar record of past references to Hindu-Muslim differences and the idea of partition. The names like Lajpat Rai and Savarkar appear along with Syed Ahmad Khan and Iqbal in context of the idea of partition. Here the Congress is represented as a cohesive Hindu body aimed at destroying the Muslims.
The Cabinet Mission is mentioned, which was supposed to but what it meant or why it failed is hardly explained. The Congress-League relations in this era are not emphasized, while the Cabinet Mission plan is trivialized. In the Indian texts the structuring is around the anxiety to explain why the congress accepted partition. A feeling is created that partition was not completely inevitable but was allowed to take place. Now since the secular nationalism is a superior force, its proponents accepting proposal of division based on religious lines calls for an explanation. A distinction is made between the ‘acceptance’ of an impending course of events and the ‘acceptance’ of the inspiration that this impending course of events was based on. The second part consists of mitigating the scale of success which morally inferior idea of communalism achieved by forcing Partition. ‘The Nationalist leaders agreed to Partition of India in order to avoid the large scale blood bath that the communal riots threatened. But they did not accept the two nation theory.’ Thus Partition is seen as an outcome of circumstances, not as the failure of Congress’s ideology.
In the Pakistani narrative this is the peak of the narrative, the accomplishment of Partition is ascribed to Jinnah. Jinnah is portrayed as semi-divine visionary who succeeded against all odds in getting what he wanted. But the irony about the portrayal of the freedom struggle is that instead of its portrayal as inevitable destiny, it is a product of political happenings. The Muslim League is ascribed the intention of not letting the Congress gets it way, despite the backing of British. Thus we find in both the narratives the British being targeted as being the conspirators with the ‘other.’ A deep mistrust of the ‘other’ along with the British is present in both the narratives.
Here again one finds that the violence and the human tragedies that followed after the partition is not elaborated at all. It does not find more than a few lines in both the master narratives. As with the violence of 1857 the violence and bloodshed is underplayed. There can be three reasons which can be said about why violence is so under represented in both the texts.
  1. Partition is merely one of the topics that has to be covered.
  2. Sanitization of the freedom struggle.
  3. History as presently conceptualized, is incapable of dealing with the violence and suffering.
Some Reflections

We see that the histories of India and Pakistan as represented in their school textbooks have a relation that is far away from simple. The two narratives are related in a complicated way, to understand which it is hard for us as members of the Indian sub-continent to come above and see. It would be very hard for people like us to realize that the history that has been presented to us is ‘biased’ in a way so as to fit the ‘accepted’ or the state approved version of the history. But to have this realization is hard and once you have it it is still harder to let it go. You then tend to ‘see’ every thing with suspicion, with a feeling that you are being indoctrinated into something by someone who is invisible. Then the conspiracy theories are abound. But this realization must come from within, it is hard to come from without.

As for the Indian and Pakistani narratives, I have found a nice analogy which fits both the narratives. If we visualize the path from 1857 to 1945 as a path leading to a mountain summit, we can easily accommodate both of the master narratives nicely. Thus we have the events of 1857 as the starting point from where both the narratives diverge, the paths of the summit are different. Towards the summit the paths take different turns and different events happen in each of the expedition. Some of these events are seen by the people who have taken the ‘other’ path some of them are not. So in a log of the two expeditions which are our master narratives the politics of mention is thus taken into account. Each expedition encounters in their route something that the ‘other’ does not. As for the final summit, when they reach there in 1947, the members of the expedition look past each other and they are looking in different directions as, we see the idea of freedom is different in both the countries.  Partition signifies end of history in India; in Pakistan it signifies birth.

Reference:
 Krishna Kumar
Prejudice and Pride
2003, Penguin
PS: For a very dramatic account of the events leading to the freedom of India and Pakistan, and the violence that followed afterwards I would recommend
Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. Also for the events of 1857, fictional but highly readable account is Manohar Malgaonkar’s The Devil’s Wind. 

Politics…

Recently I hear from Ruchi that there is an unrest in Govandi…
They say some Buddhist monk is found hanging dead and so the unrest. These people they can’t get over it…

And the other lot knows how to use it…
Its all politics…
They say `mi marlya sarke karto, tu laglya sarkhe kar’ and the game goes on, in the end no one wins…
These games are not meant for winning they are just there for waging, only in the dragging of such games without any end results will there be any profit for those who initiate such games. And the people who suffer are common people like you and us.

I really don’t know how to get out or over this, but this particular problem is there, and I guess it going to stay in India for some time to come…