Sunday, December 31, 2006

Astrology Vs Science I

There are many out there who would like to consider Astrology as science. This is completely illogical. While it can be considered a craft, an art or a hobby, it has no elements to qualify it as a science.

The reason why many think it is science is because it deals with stars, constellations, mathematical calculations which are the tools or ingredients of the prevailing sciences. This is a ridiculous argument. Using goat’s entrails to predict whether it would rain does not make it biology or meteorology. Stopping oneself from entering the street because the cat has crossed your path does not make it zoology. Just because one has built an elaborate scheme using astronomical data to predict things that happen to members of one single species on an insignificant planet revolving round an ordinary start in one of billion billion galaxies does not make it astronomy or a science. 

I would like put forth the following points for people to ponder. (If you don’t want to know the details just go the point # 6 which gives you a comparison).

1. There are four forces in the Universe.
a. Gravitational force,
b. Electromagnetic force,
c. Strong Nuclear force and
d. Weak Nuclear force.
Both Strong Nuclear and Weak Nuclear force work within the confines of atoms and hence I will rule them out in the following discussion since it involves celestial objects and behavior of humans.

2. It leaves us with two forces to deal with- Gravity and Electromagnetism. The electric charge of most of the planets is very minimal compared to their mass, thereby making it insignificant. Venus and Mars have no magnetic field while Mercury has 1/1000 of Earth’s magnetic field. Only Jupiter stands out amongst Sun’s planets with a very strong magnetic field that is 20,000 times stronger than that of Earth while Saturn has 500 times stronger field. Uranus is 50 times stronger while Neptune is 30 times stronger. Pluto has no magnetic field.

3. Mass of Mercury is 1/20 of Earth, Venus is 0.8 of Earth, Mars is 1/10 of Earth, Jupiter is 300 times of Earth, Saturn is 100 times of Earth, Uranus is 15 times of Earth, Neptune is 17 times of Earth, and Pluto is 0.9 of Earth.

4. Farther the planet weaker its strength. Magnetic field falls rapidly inversely proportional to square of the distance. Mars is 800 million km, Venus is 400 million km, Mercury is 900 million km, Jupiter is 630 million km, Saturn is 1300 million km, Uranus is 2700 million km, Neptune is 4400 million km, and Pluto is 5700 million km.

5. If the Earth gravity and magnetic field were to be at Center of Earth, then the effect of these planets on a human being is almost negligible. Almost all the effects are less than one-billionth compared to Earth, exceptions being, gravities of Venus and Jupiter which are 0.2 and 0.3 of millionth of Earth (still very negligible), and magnetic fields of Jupiter and Saturn which ware 2 and 0.1 of millionth of Earth.

6. In all respects, either it is magnetic or gravitational, Earth influences humans million times more compared to any planet out there. In fact, if you are standing next to a truck of 80,000 pounds, it would be influencing you 300 times more than what Mars would. If you are using an electric shaver you would be influenced 16 million times more than what Jupiter would, and if you are close to a transformer in a building, you would be influenced 100,000 times more than what Jupiter would.

The above discussion suggests that no planet can influence a human more than the objects closer to you. None of the forces that these planets can influence have an effect on humans in any significant way. There is no recorded evidence of any other particles traveling from any of these planets or any stars which can influence one human while avoiding another. 

Some proponents of Astrology make another case. They say there are other kinds of influences not known to science. There could be certain ‘cosmic rays’ or rays that travel faster than light and so on. If one were to assume that it is the case (which it is not) we still come to the same conclusion. Take the case of a variant of cosmic rays that seem to affect human beings. They are supposed to have an influence on a newly born baby. When asked how they go inside a hospital building, the proponents of astrology attribute it to their property to penetrate buildings.  

According to them, they penetrate every planet and matter and hence they can pass through the building of a hospital. So, the question is, if they can pass through the building, shouldn’t they pass through the baby as well, without producing any influence on the baby? If one were to assume that these rays only affect the living bodies thereby sparing the building, how do these cosmic rays know the difference between the mother and the baby? If we do assume that they pass through building but stop at living bodies, the question is will they not influence the baby when it is inside the womb? If they can travel through millions of light years penetrating everything that is on the way only to stop at a baby, why should they not penetrate the womb of the mother and influence the baby while it is inside, why is the moment of birth so important? What is birth according to these stars and planets, the moment of conception or the moment of seeing the outside world, or is it when the tether at the baby’s navel is cut off from the mother? Is the boundary of such termination just the skin of human or is it something more (like heart, brain or soul)? So, are we to assume that these planets are aware of each individual who is born on earth? If so, are they aware of each living species on the planet? There would be many billions of living beings on the planet, would they consider the fate of each of those living organism? Or these planets are especially interested in humans only? What about our cousins the chimps, gorillas and orangutans? 

Astrology fails all tests of science and reason. However, people tend to believe it as ever and may be with renewed vigor in these post-modern societies. There is no single scientific proof, reason or theory which suggests Astrology is a predictive science. Most of the success stories of astrology are in fact attributed to mere coincidences, human psychology and human’s wishful thinking. Just because the predictions turn out to be right does not make the mechanism a scientific mechanism. One may observe that each time it rains the goat is inside the house and conclude that they have direct correlation. Next time, to make it rain the man may bring the goat into the building but for some reason there is no rain- that’s when the theory fails. Most of the astrological successes are coincidences based on vague patterns which seem to hold true given a good number of sample cases (like one can always predict that a man is 5’8” in a country if one were to know that it is the average height. He may turn out to be right more than 30% of the time, which is a good success rate).

Also, people tend to look at the predictions that have turned out to be true rather than look at the times they tend to be completely false. That is the nature of humans and nothing to do with any scientific theory. For example, a newspaper articles writes about an astrologer who has predicted again and again many events- like change in governments, death of presidents and prime ministers, aircraft accidents, and even 9/11 disaster. How come he was not taken seriously when he made those predictions in the first place? How come we look back and then say, ‘Yes! He is right’. He may have predicted 200 other events which may not have come true. Nobody bothers to look at those. If indeed he is right, as Munnabhai suggests, he should select the Indian Cricket Team for each game, by picking up only those players who score centuries and take six wickets. 

Given the number of astrologers that we have and each one making thousands of predictions, some of them are bound to be right. Just take a class of 50 students and ask each of them to make ten predictions each for the coming year. We will have 50 predictions. And after the year has elapsed, we may find some of them are indeed right (like India winning the World cup, or a leader of a state getting killed or a major disaster happening in Indian Ocean). Do such success stories make these students astrologically superior? Some, who have got it right more than others (say two out of ten have turned out to be true) may be considered good predictors. What if only those chosen students are asked to make more predictions for the next year. Will they come out right? Most probably no! The reason they came out right was because we had many predictors and hence statistically it was possible that some of those events would turn out right, but once the size of these predictors is shrunk drastically the pool size is small and the chances of getting it right go down as well.

One can go on writing against each aspect of Astrology and completely debunk it. However, people will continue to believe in it. What is sad and also dangerous is not that any people believe in it- nowadays, the most learned, even those graduating from universities with PhDs, believe in this. Astrology is another of the pseudo-sciences which will prevail throughout human history. It may change shape or form and differ in methods, but as long as the man is curious about his future, astrology or any of the predictive hobbies will prevail. What needs to be combated is how it is entering the domains of scientists, PhDs, engineers, doctors, graduates and eminent academicians. Astrology in India is another aspect of growing love for India’s glorious past. Astrology alone is quite harmless, but when combined with other potent forces such as numerology, vaastu shastra, Vedic sciences, etc, tend to feed into supporting the cause of the fascist forces which seem to bank on such grand theories to establish their credentials and bolster their cases to support Aryan supremacies, explain away caste differences, legitimize superiority of certain classes, and glorify their religion vis-à-vis other religions.

Links: Astrology Debunked [Added in 2013],  

Indians and plastics

And suddenly, one day, we got plastics! We see them everywhere, even in a remote tribal village that is cutoff from civilization without access even to a decent road. Plastics come in all forms- sachets, tubes, packets, rubber, polythene, etc. They are found everywhere- every field, every stream, every street, every neighborhood- almost every landscape is littered with shining plastic. We don’t know what to do with them. They never seem to go away. They remain the same, in the soil for years making the land toxic; they block the streams, canals and drainage to flood the cities during rains. Animals eat them, choke on them and die. We don’t know what to do with plastic water bottles or tea cups- they land up on the street. They are littered everywhere- whole of India is a grand garbage dump. We seem to produce tons of this plastic, and they have nowhere to go. They just land up on Indian landscape to adorn it. Soon it may be difficult to go to a place in India where the land isn’t littered with plastic.

Then we have another fascination with plastic- sitting on it. Many new Indians cars are adorned in plastic. The owners never seem to take them off, and like to keep the plastic on for a long time. According to them, it makes them feel like riding a new car. As for me, I feel like sitting on plastic- it’s slippery and makes weird noises when you move. Why would I pay few lakhs of rupees to sit on plastic sheets? Even if they do remove the plastic off the seats, or may be, it’s just got worn off after a month long wear and tear, they still keep plastic cover on sun shades and other accessories.

Some homes have all their new stuff still draped in plastic. Barbie dolls never come out of their plastic boxes. Some refrigerators and microwave still have polythene covered handles. Once, I went to visit some friends. I was watching TV all alone. The sticker on the TV screen was taking up a lot of space, so I just went ahead and removed it. When the owners came back they were shocked, dismayed and extremely annoyed that I took the sticker off. I got to know that they have been retaining the sticker since they bought their TV set almost a year ago. They wanted to believe it’s still brand new! Plastic helps them believe it is always new.

Technology without maturity

We have been given the fruits of modern science and technology without having to go through the pains of attaining it. It was first imposed on us, then we just inherited it, and now we borrow it. Technology is not a solace or answer to all our problems. It has its own byproducts which could be distasteful. It all depends on how we use it. To be in a position to use it appropriately, we need to be a mature country- that we are not! For example, you go to a movie theatre to watch a movie, and the cell phones keep ringing- it’s so annoying to everyone else. Some of them even pick up the phone and keep chatting. The glowing light from across the other guy is irritating and distracting. Some of them keep sending SMS. Another bad habit is picking up phone while having a dinner or a coffee with friends. Once, I saw bunch of friends all sitting across the dinner table, each one talking over the phone. Why did they come to dinner in the first place, to meet these friends who are across the table, or talk to others who aren’t there?

Plastics are result of modern technology. They are extremely useful. At the same time they pose a great threat to environment. It requires maturity to handle it and dispose it. While we have inherited these fruits, we haven’t got a chance to inherit the maturity. If only we could just buy a kilo of maturity in a nearby shopping mall!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Decline of Science in India II

Science is on the decline in India. I have collected some of the signals in the previous article.

These are only few messages- but enough to suggest that Science is on the decline in India. The broader impact of such decline is far more serious than what is stated in these messages. Though we do have many technology institutes- where science is applied, the pursuit of science as a career or as temperament is on the decline. While the first (decline in pursuit of science as career) is clearly seen from different statistics, the decline in scientific temperament can only be sensed or perceived with no hard evidence (as yet).

Decline of Scientific Temperament in India

India’s history is fraught with superstitions, occultism, ritualistic practices, alchemy-like sciences, where irrational and illogical practices were legitimized through religion, tradition and culture. One could not distinguish between philosophy and a ritual. We did have small rational movements in the past which took us on a path of rational thought. Many of those rational movements are also intertwined with our Independence movement, as is common to many such people’s movements in Europe

Our highpoint in scientific temperament and rational thought came about during early 1900s and continued till about 1970s after which there has been a steady decline. Before we could invest in creating solid institutions around that rational thought we are already facing rejection of such rational and scientific thoughts following similar trends elsewhere in the post-modern world. While the West’s reaction is to tone down the excesses of such rational and scientific thought which brought with it neo-liberal forces, India did not even cross the threshold of moving away from superstition to rational thinking and it has already gleefully embraced post-modern ideology and its outright rejection of modern values. 

Herbal medicine, Yoga, nature cure, Vedic sciences, and all other hobbies are now touted at alternate sciences. And what more, this rejection of scientific thought is championed by technologists, academicians, doctors, and literate. Spearheaded by the very people who were supposed to deliver us from ritualistic and superstitious way of life, this post-modern rejection of scientific thought, dubbed as ‘negative western influence’, is now followed by embracement of ancient Indian ways by positioning them as alternative sciences. 

Many technologists and academicians in India are abandoning the scientific temperament. This trend may not reflect in statistics, but can be perceived indirectly. Vaastu Shastra is in fashion- more and more engineers, doctors, professors, educated, well-to-do families, seem to take this up while they construct their house or an office. An entrepreneur from Hyderabad on his blog suggests how Vaastu has helped him in his startup. According to a famous architect in Hyderabad, while less than 20% of the clients asked for Vaastu alignment in 1980s, more than 90% of the clients seek this alignment these days. Buildings are demolished because they are not Vaastu aligned. Many properties are unoccupied- including the mammoth Vikas Soudha in Bangalore, all because of bad Vaastu.

Numerology is on the increase too. Many people change their names (add an extra ‘r’ or extra ‘k’) coming up with such funny names as ‘Hrrithik’; people look for the ‘right number’ for their car or house- I was told that a number should add up to 9, and there are books written on why and how the number 9 is the most sacred entity.  

Astrology is on the rise too- politicians consult astrologers to choose the right date and time to start an event. Many educated and literate people refer to horoscope to choose their partners, and seek an astrologer to plan the wedding, or for that matter any ‘auspicious’ event. We are not talking of illiterate or ignorant people here. All these people have been to top schools of India and graduated in technology, business, medicine, etc. Scientific temperament is out of the door, irrationality, superstition is the in-thing. Hobbies and crafts are now touted as legitimate science!

Importance of Science in progress of mankind

Science is an essential ingredient for human civilization and and its progress. Medieval Europe could unshackle itself from age-old religious orthodoxy, which blanketed it in Dark Ages for centuries, only through embracement of Science. Age of Reason, Age of Enlightenment, Industrial Revolution, French Revolution, and many other great movements of the world that shaped the modern world are rooted in progress of science. These movements gave us the universal values- liberty and freedom to a citizen, equal opportunity, justice to all, etc. Every philosophical and people’s movements in the recent times is founded in an advent of science- be it Theory of Gravity, or Theory of Evolution.  

India has not even instilled those modern institutions completely and has already embarked on the post-modern rejection of such institutions. Indians were confused. Indians did not know if they should go the way Europe has gone few centuries ago by allowing Science to prosper and dominate or take up the recent post-modern rejection by the West of such excesses of Science (which comes out not as complete rejection, but as toning down its influence- more as a reaction). 

What we see now is that India is taking its own path- Indians want to completely skip all these steps to overtake everyone else on the planet by unearthing golden moments and accomplishments from our ancient past. Instead of resorting to hard work and toil, they just want to sit back, relax, and muse over the ancient works to miraculously equate them to the results of the modern Science. Indians are keen on portraying their ancient works as science- according to them, even the hobbies such as astrology, numerology and vaastu shastra are science. 

Bereft of any contemporary achievements, in an overzealous attempt to find our own identity and uniqueness in the modern world, we are doing great damage to ourselves. Instead of taking the hard path of actually inventing, discovering, researching and innovating, we would rather sit under a tree, meditate, and somehow come up with solutions to complex problems of quarks, quantum physics, mathematics, engineering, etc. According to some of us, 'our ancient texts have answers to everything', isn't it? From engineering, aeronautics, to nuclear and atomic physics, and even to the diseases like AIDS!

By shunning the pursuit of science, we are curbing the free thought, creativity, and the ability to question and reason. By treating our ancient texts as alternate science, we are bringing in sanctity, orthodoxy, to justify ignominious rituals and practices of this country. As a post-modern rejection of universal values, we will only pave the way for hijacking of our intelligentsia by those who have vested interests in showcasing Indian hegemony. It will lead to academic and sophisticated justification of caste based discrimination, ill-treatment of women, lack of dignity of work, persecution and ostracism of alien religions, child labor, etc, all under the glorious names of Indian Science, Indian Culture and Indian Philosophy. 

Science and education are the only weapons Indian masses can possess to get themselves out of the stranglehold of casteism, poverty, religious persecution and discrimination. It is the only liberating force for women, underprivileged, and homosexuals. As much as religion is important to different people to carry their personal faith and belief system, science and its pursuit as career and temperament are necessary as the balancing forces. They need to be inculcated and nurtured to combat the forces that tend to bring in irrationality, orthodoxy, and sanctity through the backdoor all in the name of sanctity, tradition and culture.

Decline of Science in India I

Science is on the decline in India. There are not many scientists in the making. It is not pursued as a career. It is not pursued by the government and its agencies. It is not pursued by the multinationals and private companies of India.

According to C N R Rao, the scientific adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, "Science in India is dying. Unless India changes the scientific policies and practices that it has been following for the last five decades, its science could be dead in the next five years." In a recent speech, he said: "The contribution from universities is hitting an all-time low. Even the top institutions are not performing well in terms of research papers and the number of research students they train."

According to Current Science, 25 July 2002, India has declined in its contribution to scientific output. In 1973, Indian scientists were responsible to close to half of the Thrird World’s publication output and ranked 8th largest publishing nation in the world. In 2000, India’s rank slid to 15th. While China accounts for 12% of the world’s research output, India contributes less than 3%. In the last two decades, the number of research papers has arisen by a factor of 23 in China, by a factor of 68 in South Korea, and by a factor of 4.3 in Brazil, but it has decreased in India. The author, Subbiah Arunachalam, asks, “Are we not investing enough on science in India? Are not our scientists productive? Is there something that holds us back?”

According to a Financial Times, 2005, South Korea, which was way behind India in 1980, published more research papers (27,397) last year, while Brazil and Taiwan have also beaten India. "For all its knowledge industry claims, India was not among the top 30 countries in terms of the number of patents applied for," the report said. "Countries like Brazil, South Africa and Israel are far ahead of a retreating India."

According to Sci-Bytes, 15 November 2004, Thomson Scientific collected data on papers published between 1999 and 2003. This study notes that the relative impact of published research from India registered below the world average in most of the fields listed (physics, computer science, materials science, engineering, mathematics, etc). India's overall percent share in all fields is mere 2.32%.

According to a survey conducted by the Indian National Science Academy (INSA), a minuscule 3.6% of talented students opt for science after school as other disciplines offer more in terms of material gains. According to Sikka (2006), who is Scientific Secretary at the office of Principal Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister, only 157 out of every million people in India opt for becoming scientists as compared to 545 in China, 5,095 in Japan, 2,319 in South Korea, 2,666 in Britain and 4,095 in the US.

According to Bruce Nussbaum, BusinessWeek Online, 14 March 2006, “When it comes to innovation, China wins big over India. China is spending 1.5% of its gross domestic product on R&D investment- twice that of India. The US spends 2.7%. China plans to boost R&D spending by 20% in 2006 to get its total figure up to 2% of GDP by 2010.” However the author conceded, “But measures of R&D spending are not measures of innovation.”

According to THE HINDU, in a recent article, while India produces approximately 500,000 graduates per year, it produce only 800 PhDs. India has a turnout ratio of 1 in 62 while US has a turnout ratio of 1 in 9.

According to J. V. Narlikar, renowned astrophysicist from India (Times of India, 6 May 1999),

‘today a student... goes by default to engineering, medicine or... commerce’ in contrast to the scenario that existed in the fifties and sixties when many of our science laboratories, departments and universities were getting established. He says that the present trend of a sharp decline in numbers and standards of students opting for science at the undergraduate level will have its impact in about ten years from now, as is being felt to some extent already; science personnel of high calibre and experience to man our projects will be in short supply. ‘Methodology of science teaching that encourages rote, ill-equipped teachers and labs, lack of inspirational and committed teachers, poorly written text-books, peer pressure to join lucrative courses’ are some of the causes that Narlikar has identified as the causes for the current sickness that has afflicted the science scenario: the glamour of science and a proper and correct image is just not getting projected by our institutions or the universities.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Are Indians creative and original?

[This is an updated and edited version of an article that I wrote in 1998. This is quite negative in its tone. Please bear with me on this. I understand that some things have changed for better in the last few years, however most concerns remain the same. I have added some of the recent events in the flow of the article.]

Someone asked- "Are Indians good only at mastering the skills that have already been proven and established, and lack creativity to create something new and original?"

I don’t think it’s that easy to make a generalization onto an entire nation, but there is definitely a pattern that one can discover which can be applied to a whole class – like, Japanese industries are more quality-conscious, German trains are more punctual. Does that mean all Japanese are quality-conscious and all Germans punctual? Not necessarily, but there is a trait that you can apply to a group or a subgroup as a whole without taking this to an individual level. So, are Indians good only at mastering the skills that have already been proven and established, and lack originality to create something new and original? I don’t think its going to be an easy answer.

We see that India is making good progress nowadays. This progress is derived from achieving the same what the West has already achieved. To do that, we perfect those skills which have already been invented, devised, proven, and thus established to have been working. While Indians do have their own music, their own art, their own science and philosophy inherited from the ancestors of very remote past, they could not come up with anything new in the past thousand years or so (I am resorting to an exaggeration to drive my point- I do know that there are some exceptions). I am trying to find some of the ailments that seem to cripple us from freely floating new ideas, champion new causes, invent new things, and create new expressions.

Can’t take risks

There is a general malaise in India- we just can't take risks. Whether it is our finances or sports, science or philosophy, we have always been lagging behind because we are not the leaders but mere followers; and recently, all we are becoming is ‘better’ followers.

Why can’t we take risks? There may be many reasons, but the primary reason is the way we are brought up by our parents. What they do in their lives matter a lot to us. We are always asked to take a safe path. No examples are set by parents that suggest that one can take risks. For example, Families save; and this money never contributes to country's economy. In olden days, we needed to save because there was no other security, with whimsical kings and rulers one’s savings was one’s assets. Times have changed, and it is not necessary to save the same way as we did in olden times. But, we still think that saving is a virtue just because it was once upon a time. Families that save money and stash the money inside their closets think that they are doing a great deed- they look down upon those who do not. Sometimes such savings are converted into extremely useless goods- such as gold ornaments, utensils made of expensive metals, or stashed in pillows and mattresses. Most families shy from investing in Indian industry (which is risk oriented) and consider it equivalent to gambling.

Young men and women are risk-averse and tend to follow already established paths. Most engineers join a branded company even if the work sucks. Very few would venture out to join a startup. Fathers of the brides are not ready to give their daughters to those who work at startups. All young people want to become engineers or doctors. Everyone wants to make a home, buy a car and settle down (and then do what? I don’t know). This tendency to shy away from risk is all pervading and overreaches into other domains outside the family affairs. It does not allow us cross the boundaries imposed by our traditions. The caste barriers and religious barriers are too high to be surmounted- very few marry outside their caste or religion. Even if they do, they carry the stigma for a long time. Therefore, many do not even contemplate on crossing it, either it is a top scientist's family or a famous doctor's family. This holds true for most of Indian population except certain displaced and immigrant urban populations.

Bad education system

The other malaise is our education system which works on age-old system- a mixture of medieval Indian and some what British school system. The key to an emerging nation lies in its young generation. How are we creating our young people? What are the ideas we are seeding into them in schools? What are the dreams and desires of our children?

Indian schools do not promote originality. A student who replicates what is written in texts is given more marks than those who use own words. We call it ‘mugging’, ‘by rote’, ‘pidi’, ‘ratta’, etc, and teachers hail the boys who do it the best as ‘brilliant’ and ‘clever’. The practice of just mugging up and writing down verbatim is continued all the way from primary school to graduate school. Whatever creativity that kid was endowed due to whatever genetic contribution it would be slowly and completely suppressed or extirpated by the time he is done with graduation. Parents contribute to this by forcing the kids to score more. The kid’s performance is solely judged by the scores he attains. This obsession with scores and marks, overburdening of kids with too much homework which involves more donkeywork than any originality, combined with peer and social pressures restrict originality and creativity from burgeoning in these young minds.

The teachers are not only good at encouraging mere reproduction; they also indulge in practice of threatening the student with dire consequences right from primary school all the way up to the bachelors' degree. The young students undergo physical punishment, endure insults and disparaging remarks, and learn to live with humiliation. Such an experience on a young mind is appalling and would be considered a serious crime in the western world. Many kids end up losing self-confidence. Teachers also practice discrimination and are very renowned for favoritism and nepotism. It becomes very clear for the rest of the class whom the teacher prefers. Young minds are attuned to accept this favoritism and here are sown the seeds for all different kinds of discrimination and prejudices that are to follow in his/her life as he/she enters the mainstream of Indian society- casteism, regionalism, communalism, etc.

Sanctify everything

The next problem is our tendency to make ‘all good and great things sacred’ and to revere them so much that they are transformed into immutable and irrefutable axioms never to be challenged or questioned. While we boast of Vedas, Ayurveda and Arthashastra, nobody ever tries to find new methods that are relevant in the present world. We are complacent about what our ancestors have done and we put a hold on further creation by sanctifying them for all ages to come. When Vedas were created, the authors played with their work, proposed theories contradicting their statements and rectified their work. They could do whatever they wanted because they were not sacred at the time of creation. Nowadays, the norm is not to question them, not to doubt them, not to challenge them, but accept them as they are without regard for amount of time that has elapsed since its creation. There are even efforts to transform these age-old documents into science now. So, instead of bending our backs to work, we take the easy path of achieving the laurels akin to the western world by just converting our old works into science. That turns out to be easy than actually working towards inventing something new.

Not only do we curtail creativity in academics, science and philosophy using the process of sanctification, we also enter the domains of art and music, which actually require that unhindered and unrestrained freedom of expression not bound to any existing rule or law. When it comes to music our plight is dismal. The music teachers do not let their students experiment because music is considered sacred where all the rules have to be strictly followed. Any alteration is disrespect! While we easily welcome an innovation from a westerner, we cannot tolerate an innovative idea from a fellow Indian. Rock and Roll, Disco, Rap, etc, have been gleefully incorporated into Indian Music, while the edifice of Classical Music stands unchanged and unchallenged. While the West has been prolific in inventing new styles of music, we try to retain to the past and curtail any change in the future by sanctifying it. Only those singers who make some modifications to the already established western style to appeal to the Indian audience are accepted and hailed. Therefore you see more remixes and remakes than originals these days. A young student is never given an opportunity to play with his music, art and academics. Little do we realize that creation comes out of tampering and playing with the existing systems! Coming to art, we don’t have any renowned artists. Even if we do have one in MF Husain, we scandalize his art on the name of ‘culture’, ‘tradition’ and ‘heritage’, using all the sanctified words that we can come up. We still stick to the dance forms which are some 1000 years old. We could not create a new "Natya".

Copy everything

Another common trait with Indians is that they can copy anything without remorse or guilt. ‘Plagiarism’ is non-existent. Movies, music and books are easily copied. Our theories in economics and management are completely borrowed from the West. We try to apply a social rule proven in western world into our country without realizing our social structure is completely different. We get frustrated when those theories do not work; and then we blame ourselves for not implementing it properly. Little do we realize that we need different theories which are suitable for our social structure! When that western world has awarded one of us (Amartya Sen) with a Nobel Prize, we bask in the glory of that achievement but never seem to implement his theories to work. We might be good at software but almost all computer languages emanate from the West. It turns out that we are only good at its application. Not many products or solutions have come up from Indian software companies though we have an extensive ecosystem. We are good at nuclear technology and space programs, but most of this science has already been established in the West. We have merely learnt to reproduce it.

Even our Indian Cinema is now renamed ‘Bollywood’ directly copying from the word ‘Hollywood’. We flagrantly plagiarize western music and dance and our crowds lap it up. One of the prominent buildings being built in Bangalore is a replica of Empire State Building of New York. Just count how many important cities in the world copy buildings of other important cities. For Indians, there’s no shame in copying.

‘Chalta Hain’ to everything

Our attitude to everything is "Chalta Hain" (everything is accepted). This is the greatest danger of all. Bad roads are OK, bad traffic is OK, filthy streets are OK, bad sanitation is OK; kids begging on the street is OK. We say ‘Chalta Hain’ to everything. We see how our schools work, but we do not challenge the system. We see how they treat our kids, but we accept it all. No parent is ready to stand up and ward off the discrimination his kid had to endure through. Instead he accepts it and makes his kid shut up. We are committing the gravest crime of all- "Killing the individuality" of our kids.

Our attitude "Chalta Hain" is towards politics, infrastructure, administration, and almost everything. We know that Jayalalitha is one of the most corrupt politicians, but still we would elect her back. By electing such leaders back into power, we legitimize the actions they have done and in a way encourage it. Every politician dreams of earning lots and lots of money when he gets elected and he assumes it as a divine right to take bribe- Did he not struggle to get to that position in the first place?

It’s not just the illiteracy and over-population that is the major problem. Being apathetic to what's going on in our surroundings is the root cause for all problems. How come most of the elite who refrain from exercising their franchise are the ones who spearhead the criticism of the present situation in the nation? Citizens of India can easily afford to make their streets cleaner and better, protect their environments, fight for better education to their kids, and work for upliftment of their fellowmen, all without the help or intervention of its government. Who are we to blame here- ‘The man’ or ‘the state’? Nobody makes an attempt to rectify or improve anything. When everyone is apathetic, we have a big nation of passive recipients who accept every ignominy of the society and call it "great Indian Culture".

Lack of heroes

We do not have many examples to learn from. We do not have idols to emulate; we do not have precedents to follow. All those great people from whom we could learn from are gone with the Independence movement. What is left over is this nation of pathetic populace of mediocrity which squabbles and blabbers and breeds the kids who are only good at mere reproduction like a copier machine. One look at the proceedings of Indian Parliament or a State Assembly would show us the maturity of our leaders. Many actors and sportsmen are mired in controversies- some of them gun-toting criminals, while some are murderers. Some of them just kill endangered species for fun.

There are no good examples or precedents for crossing these man-made boundaries. While it is easily accepted among the present young generation that caste is a malaise and that it should be completely ignored in our society, none of them dare to cross these boundaries. Marryng outside one’s caste is a rarity. It’s strange that one would rather select a mediocre partner from the same caste than a better person from a different caste even though we argue for excellence and quality in education, employment and industry. How does one set an example to the future generations when the elite generation of this time itself succumbs to the pressures of the prejudices of the present society?

The pattern that I see from all the above arguments is that while we are ready to accept a new idea only if it has already been proven to work and is firmly established in some western nation, we never allow any revolutionary idea from our own people. There are three fundamental reasons for that- we do not take risks, we sanctify everything, and we say ‘chalta hain’ to everything. These reasons in turn seem to affect us in many ways. There is a lack of self-respect, lack of dignity of work. There is a tendency to undermine ourselves. A philosophical thinker in India is bogged down with age-old religious theories. A scientist is undermined by his peers. There is a constant need to conform- and we use words like ‘heritage’, ‘tradition’, ‘culture’ to justify that conformance. The parable of ‘Indians crabs’ is seen in every facet of Indian life.

So aren’t we original and creative?

I do not believe that a race, religion, caste or a nation is inherently original or creative. Every individual given the opportunity or access can perform better. Some societies create those opportunities for themselves. Every society has potential to become a great civilization. As individuals and as society we Indians seem to suggest a pattern- that we are being less original and less creative. That’s doesn’t mean we are inferior. It only means we are not being effective in using our potentials. Either we are curbing them at young ages, or not accepting the spark when we see it, or we are suppressing such original and creative works from our people.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

End of Rickshaws in Kolkata: Should we miss them?

In the recent THE HINDU edition of YOUNG WORLD (the complete newspaper for children), 15 Dec 2006, Antara Das writes about recent West Bengal Government’s decision to abolish the use of hand pulled rickshaws.

The only time I ever traveled on this rickshaw was in early 1990s when I visited Kolkata for the first time in my life. My friends assured me that it’s a lifetime experience and that I should definitely take a ride. I was very uncomfortable sitting in a rickshaw that was hand pulled by a man who was barefoot, was thin and scrawny with minimal clothing. However, I succumbed to my friends’ assurances and I sat on it. That five to ten minute ride was the most uncomfortable journey that I took. I was on the edge of my seat all the time- I was uneasy and was feeling queasy. Once the ride was over. I got off and swore I would never ride one again. It was just weird being pulled by another man like that.

I always thought it was inhumane and I never liked those rickshaws. Now, that the government has decided to scrap them, I was very happy. However, Andata Das’s article sends dual message. Just look at some of her sentences.

# The article is titled “Relic on Wheels”

# “But the death knell for this archaic mode of transport has been sounded”

# “This archaic mode of transport will fade away, and with it the memories associated with the kind of experience it had to offer”

# She asks “Inhuman?” and then answers- “Rickshaws, considered a cheap, pollution free and convenient mode of transport, mainly relied on the unskilled labor…”

# “The system of one man pulling the burden of another was being increasingly considered as inhuman, given the heightened awareness about human rights,” but according to her, “…the rickshaw pullers themselves felt that their work was no less undignified…”

# “…for those accustomed to hailing the sturdy rickshaw-wallah to navigate a water logged street, it is going to be a lonely monsoon”

Antara Das seems doesn’t seem to think it is inhuman. She goes nostalgic about it. She seems to miss them actually. She thinks ‘sturdy’ men run these rickshaws. This is how Indians rationalize all inhuman acts in India. Soon, another author will write the glory days of cleaners of night soil. She will miss those days when those lower caste kids would plunge themselves into sanitary tubes to clean the mess. She will term it as cheap and pollution free methods to clean our shits.

Imagine this is what we are feeding as news to our kids. THE HINDU should have been careful!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Islam vs. Rest of the World IV: Steps to Embrace

In the preceding article, I proposed the six steps the Rest of the World should take up to reconcile with the Islamic World. In this article, I shall elaborate on how these steps can actually bring in major changes to alter the dynamics between these two colliding worlds.

Before starting off, I would like to clear one misconception. Conceding to these demands, which also happen to be the demands of terrorists outfits like Al Qaida, is not tantamount to conceding to the coercion tactics of terrorists. Just because Noam Chomsky asks for statehood to Palestine and Osama Bin Laden also asks for the same does not equate these two individuals.

1. Give Palestine its nationhood.

Most of the Islamic terrorist groups in the world, including Al Qaida, and the nations which house these terrorist groups demand for an independent Palestine. The rallying cry for these nations and terrorist groups and the unifying factor amongst various Islamic sects has been this demand. By conceding to this demand, which is actually a very valid demand, even supported by many UN resolutions, the Rest of the World will send the first signal towards reconciliation towards the Islamic World. This is a step which is not only demanded by Islamic World but is also welcomed by some of the West nations and countries from developing and under-developed world.

What does one make of other demands of some of these terrorist groups and nations which call for complete annihilation of Israel? I reason that this demand is only an exaggerated claim that comes out of frustration and utter despair. A person with no hope can demand annihilation of his enemies, but a person with something to hold onto- like his freedom and land, will be able to tolerate his enemy’s existence. Once statehood to Palestine is achieved, there will not be the same kind of fervor among different sections of Islamic World which currently support and fund these terrorist groups. Without the support of the state and people, these terrorist groups will have to wither away or find a new haven. And even some nations do not till recognize Israel, does that change anything from what it is right now? Would Israel compromise its position vis-à-vis those nations just because it has accepted statehood to Palestine?

2. Give Kashmir its independence.

Indian Islamic terrorism is strongly linked with Partition of Indian sub-continent which gave birth to unresolved conflict of Kashmir. Pakistan has gone to war with India three times overtly and once covertly, all in the name of Kashmir. Since its inception, most of the domestic politics and foreign policy of Pakistan is dictated by politics of Kashmir. The problem of Kashmir has remained a sore issue between these two countries since time of Independence. It has contributed to most of the Islamic terror activities in India. [Though, of late, the growing Hindu nationalism is also spawning another set of Islamic terrorism which is independent of Kashmir issue.] Most Kashmiri would like to be either independent of India or join Pakistan. This is a freedom movement whose roots are in the Partition of India.

Freedom for Kashmir also happens to be the key demand for major outfits, like LeT, Harkut, Al Qaida and every Pakistan regime. Though the Kashmir rebellion is nationalistic in nature, it involves many foreigners fighting together under Islamic banner. There are many terrorist groups housed in Pakistan which get active or passive support from its government and intelligence agencies. Even when these outfits are blacklisted (say, by US), they change their name and thrive with connivance from the authorities. Some of them are involved in charity and social work and receive praise from people and its leaders. Many of these outfits openly seek donations to kill Indian soldiers in Kashmir. Pakistan actively supports these terrorists and when pushed turns a blind eye to feign ignorance, all in the name of fight for freedom for Kashmiri Muslim in India.

Creation of an independent or autonomous Kashmir is something that India should do to do something right to the people of Kashmir. It will also make most of the terrorist outfits in Pakistan and Kashmir to lose wind out of their cause. By giving independence to Kashmir, India will see less of Islamic terrorism in India. Pakistan and its people won’t have a noble cause that will allow them to fund and tolerate these outfits within their countries. With no state support and no people support, these forces will wither away. Pakistan will then be open to discuss other economic tie-ups with India. Such bonhomie between these two nuclear nations is vital for this region, and it can come only after solving Kashmir. Without Pakistan supporting these groups most of the Islamic outfits in India will not get the necessary funding and support. This will eventually lead to curbing most of the Islamic terrorist activities in India. [Of course, Indian also has to leash its Hindutva forces from further exacerbating the relations between Muslims and Hindus. It is a topic of another discussion.]

3. Give Chechnya its independence.

Occupation of Afghanistan and its control has actually started a new breed of Islamic militants in the world- people from different nations coming under one flag of Islamic radicalism. Though such groups are not uncommon, Afghanistan took it a different level altogether. Complicity of Russia in the affairs of Islamic World is notable. Now, Chechnya is the crux of Islamic terrorism as far Russia is concerned. Its obstinacy to work with Muslim leaders of Russia has resulted in creating another haven for Islamic terrorists. Once Chechnya becomes independent, it will have similar status like Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, etc, which are predominantly Muslim but quite inactive in harboring Islamic Terrorism. Independence for Chechnya also happens to be the key demands for most Islamic outfits, including Al Qaida.

Conceding to the above three demands should not be equated with giving into the demands of terrorist groups. The reason why many terrorist groups survive is because the nations which harbor them also share the dream of these terrorist groups. The people of that nation gleefully support such terrorist groups and tolerate them in their midst, and even contribute funds. A huge chunk of population on this planet seeks an independent and autonomous Palestine. Once that is achieved, many nations and its people will do not see a need to support these terrorist activities. No nation, including Islamic, do not want to harbor terrorist elements if given choice. They have own set of troubles when they house terrorists, as experienced before, like in Syria having problems with PLO, Pakistan harboring Afghan militants, and now Iraq seeing sectarian terrorism.

Conceding to these demands doesn’t mean one has to satisfy other demands of terrorists- like when they hijack a plane, or a kidnap an official or bomb a boat, etc. Criminal activities have to be dealt with according to the law of the land. These demands are not exclusively of terrorist groups but of almost entire Islamic World and even some of the non-Islamic nations and should be treated as such.

It is extremely important to stop these breeding spots from producing more of these radical youth. The youth of these countries are their future leaders. Unless immediate action is taken, these countries and people will continue to encourage, support and fund these radical thoughts on the name of a cause.

4. Stop meddling in Middle East and other Muslim nations. Allow their forms of governments. Don't topple their governments.

While the above three steps require specific nations like Israel, India and Russia, to give up their lands to the local populations, this step involves whole of West and other developed and developing nations, which comprise Rest of the World. Since the fall of Ottoman Empire, the West has practiced a policy on continued involvement in the affairs of Muslim World, especially Middle East and nearby regions. This has not gone well with the people of Islamic World. Showing defiance to the Western World is a sure shot success for any hero in this world. Many people on this planet adore and idolize Osama, not because he blew up World Trade Center, but because he stood up to the might of the West. In a world of no examples, even a bad example is good enough. In a world of gutless and coward leaders who suck up to the West, Osama stands out as a saint who renounced all riches to embrace the great cause of taking on the West.

Continued mastery of the West over every regime in the Muslim World doesn’t go well with the people. The ruling class of Saudi enjoys great friendship and patronage from the West. King of Jordan and his family had close ties with European powers. Saddam himself was a puppet of West before he turned against them. Shah of Iran was another puppet which the people of Iran dethroned only to have back by CIA. Many leaders in Pakistan were stooges of US. Many regimes were installed by the West when the previous one buckled or previous one became stronger.

A conscious effort by the West to stop meddling with the affairs of Muslim World will allow these people to form their own governments, choose their own leaders, and set their own rules and laws. Imposing our institutions hasn’t worked. It only resulted in disenchanted and disillusioned youth which feed Islamic terrorist groups. Democracy and its institutions cannot be imposed. They have to be embraced by its people willingly.

Once the hatred for West is gone, the people will look inward at their own leaders. There might be periods of strife, but they will form their own systems which work for them.

5. Don't use Muslim nations as your battleground to wage your ideological wars.

When you use their lands and people to wage your wars, and then leave them unassisted and unaided with loads of weapons in their hands and landmines in their towns, what you get is a huge population which is ready to die to kill the one who imposed this cruel punishment onto them. Such events create easy and fertile breeding grounds for Islamic militant outfits.

Once the Rest of the World LAYS OFF these lands and its people, we will see a slow but gradual decrease in the hatred towards the Rest of the World.

6. Let them control their natural resources.

Nobody likes to see their natural resources being shipped off to far-off land that benefit only certain local leaders. They do not like to be politically influenced, stripped off their freedoms, bombed out of their homes, killed and raped, just because they are sitting on top of large reservoirs of oil, natural gas or diamonds. Many in Islamic World believe firmly that US invaded Iraq twice to protect and secure its oil supply. While few elite reap the rewards serving the distant masters in the West, the ordinary people get disenchanted and disillusioned. They seek refuge in only those voices which seem to comfort them, which seem to give hope fighting a noble cause- either at home or in a far away land. Those voices are that of religious leaders who divide the world into white and black, good and evil. These voices create the necessary framework upon which the terrorist groups feed.

No human would like to take help or advice from someone they know has ulterior motives. Only when the people and the governments of Islamic World get the assurance that they control their natural resources, they will open to suggestions, advice and even help. Their hatred for these ‘greedy’ foreigners lessens and they will look at overt political maneuver in positive light. Right now, they discard every incentive, advice and suggestion as another of that White man’s trick.

I believe the above six steps will ease the tensions between Islamic World and Rest of the World. Some of these steps need to be enacted right away, while few others will take up time to implement. Unless we move forward along these steps, we will create this world for clash of civilizations.