Monday, August 31, 2015

Five Jonathan Haidt videos

Over the last year or so, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt , is one of the most insightful books that I have read. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding how the human mind thinks in terms of liberalism, conservatism and on polarizing issues which involve morality such as politics and religion.

Here are 5 videos of Prof Haidt on some really interesting topics, well worth your time listening to.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Is Indian Secularism completely unsatisfactory ?

[Warning: Very long rambling piece, so don't recommend reading unless you have quite some time to expend - TLDR type].

India's religious fault lines were once again brought to the fore over the last few days with the the drama surrounding the hanging of Yakub Memon. To me this has brought up the question: Is India's secularism  a complete farce that satisfies no one ? 

Over the last few days, an incredible amount of moral confusion has been spread by conflating the basic issues of the validity or otherwise, of capital punishment with the merits of the case of Yakub Memon. However, by the end of it all, it seems to me that champions of India's Muslim community, both in politics - such as Naqeeb e Millat  - Mr. Asaduddin Owaisi, and India's leading "Secular-liberal" intellectuals are making a number of very serious charges against the Indian State and its institutions, but also perhaps at the "very Hindu" government at the center.  After all, the Yakub hanging has led to both, discussions at chai -stalls as well as leading op-ed columnists expressing that he got a raw deal because we have a Hindu government.

The narrative is One Smart Line

It is worth mentioning that India's  "liberal" intelligentsia, which has for some time had a symbiotic relationship with left of center, "secular" parties, is now locked in an increasingly shrill battle with what they perceive to be the "fascist", "communal" forces of the Sangh Parivar.  In these times of Social Media, this influential civil society which is the "Sec-lib" intelligentsia, comprising of prominent members of the media, the legal fraternity, the arts and so on, has come across a new stumbling block - the disorganized but rambunctious online supporters of the Right, who will not take things lying down. Call them Internet Hindus or Sanghis, or as is in fashion these days, "Bhakts", they are certainly giving a run for the money to the established Main Stream Media voices who have been used for long, in controlling the narratives. The arrival of the Modi Sarkaar has notched up the volume of our daily debates, for better or for worse.

Now, coming back to the earlier point, some of the charges being made by our secular champions are:

  1. The Indian State is biased against Muslims when it comes to criminal justice.(Sometimes Dalits are also being combined into the argument, for added impact: For Eg this has been thrown around a lot recently:  A recent study by the National Law University shows that a mindboggling 94 per cent of people on death row are Muslims or Dalits
  2. This is happening in a number of ways. For eg:  Criminals/ Terrorists - who happen to be Muslims - such as Afzal Guru/ Yakub Memon - have got the death penalty, but similar punishment is not being meted out to criminals/ terrorists who happen to be non Muslim - for eg: Killers of Rajiv Gandhi and Beant Singh, or the likes of Mayaben Kodnani/ Aseemanand/ Sadhvi Pragya etc.
  3. Another charge is that the police/ other investigative agencies should varying degrees of interest during investigations in incidents in which Hindus are the prima facie bigger guilty party as opposed to those which have prima facie - more Muslims as the guilty party. So for eg, incidents such as the 92 Mumbai riots are seen as not having been investigated with the same alacrity as the 93 Mumbai bomb blasts.
  4. The deep rooted bias displayed by the Indian state through its law enforcement and justice systems is also a day to day affair demonstrated in things such as the general poor treatment of Muslim youngsters by the police for any alleged law & order violation.
In addition to the above points which are part of the debate in the instant case relating to Yakub Memon, Muslims are also victims of several other societal discrimination. They also are a regular victim of discrimination when it comes to looking to rent houses (serious issue in my opinion), to facing the brunt of what they perceive to be the tyranny of majoritarioism in terms of having their patriotism questioned every now and then (take the case of Hamid Ansari, Vice President for example  - yet another truly unfortunate thing), having Yoga or Vande Mataram or Gita being thrust upon them as unwilling participants (trivial & easily fixable issues IMO) or things like the beef being banned (A Holy Cow for many Hindus - literally).

All these points, put India's claim of being a secular state in question. Secularism, enshrined in India's constitution, is supposed to ensure that people of all religious faiths are equal in the eyes of the state, thereby protecting the minority communities from being at a disadvantage. The net effect of the charges and claims made by the champions of India's minorities, is that they are heavily disadvantaged and being discriminated against by the state and the government and the very lofty promise of secularism, is essentially an empty one, not translated into reality. In other words. we have set ourselves a goal, a standard, which is almost impossible to meet.

If India's minorities, especially the Muslim community, are so thoroughly disadvantaged as the claims suggest, one might then extrapolate that India's insufficiently secular structure would be something that is satisfactory for the Hindu Right. But as we know it is clearly not. Consider the following points

  1. The Hindu Right feels frustrated at an emotive level on a number of points: Starting from not having a Hindu nation-state despite being the only country in the world with a significant Hindu population and hence the sole homeland of Hindus, and being a numerical majority of ~ 80%, The sheer feeling of impotence and incredulity of being unable to build a Ram Temple at Ayodhya - the birth place of Lord Ram and so on.
  2. Secular projects like the Uniform Civil Code are not supported by yes, so called Secular-liberal parties because they would rather be in the good books of the WAKF Board and their ilk.
  3. The practice of so called secular politics, and the cultivation of Muslim vote banks - has led to the a feeling of alienation of ordinary Hindus - who's interests are completely sacrificed at the alter of secularism - a point particularly true in the Hindi heartland (See linked article below).
  4. Having been out of power for most of independent India's history, the Hindu Right Wing is also discovering how "the game" has been completely rigged against the Majority community when it comes to Education through the disastrous Right to Education Bill, or that the wealth of Hindu temples is often in the hands of the state and not Hindus themselves (unlike say Mosques/ Churches).

What I described above, are just a few points of bias that both sides of the divide face and the discontent they have on several issues. But the lists above were merely illustrative and by no means complete. One side cries for the "State violence" and Human rights violations in Kashmir while the other laments the exodus of Pandits under threat of Mass Murder.  One side is threatened by Love Jihad and Ghar Wapasi, the other worries about demographic changes/ conversions happening in several states. One fears a murderous spate of riots by Hindutvawadis, the other - terrorist attack from Jihadists - both internal and external, especially in context of a post 9/11 world. This can become a never ending list of wrongs and issues faced by each side and a cause for mutual distrust and antipathy.

So here's the incredible irony of the whole situation created by India's secular framework. Over the years, the "secular-liberal" establishment led by the Congress Party, has nurtured the Muslim vote bank, essentially created a Muslim veto on pro Hindu issues of law and civil society, and thereby created & strengthened, what some consider a reactionary, Hindu Right Wing; at the same time failing to both improve the lot of minorities economically, and also provide them with a level playing field in terms of criminal justice matters - essentially undermined by what is human bias of officers of the Indian state. Or to put in very crudely - while Hindus (and especially upper caste Hindus) have become disadvantaged in the eyes of law on various civilian matters, it seems to be the case that they are at an advantage when it comes to escaping punishment in terms of criminal matters.

The above described situation seems to be a status quo under a UPA Type government, but things are a little different now. Just before Modi becoming Prime Minister, Rohit Pradhan had written this piece which gives an interesting take on the equation of Modi with Muslims. The below extract from there is very instructive.
The core Modi supporters believe that Muslims are a pampered lot who run amok in the name of secularism and disproportionately influence the political discourse to the detriment of the more numerical but hopelessly divided Hindus.  The principal idea here is to make the Muslims realize their place in the society. And once they are cognizant of their diminished influence, there would neither be any need for violence or any display of overt religiosity. In other words: the silence of the graveyard.
Modi would perhaps be the first Prime Minister elected in the express and rabid opposition of Muslims. They are likely to greet his rise with sullen indifference further accentuating the religious cleavages in the Indian society. The sense of being let down by the mainstream ‘secular’ parties would only encourage the rise of Muslim fundamentalism leading to their further isolation from the mainstream of the Indian society. It has dangerous portends for India’s long-term stability but perhaps is an inevitable course correction to the excesses of her ‘secularism.’
It is the greatest indictment of Indian secularism that it has always rested on the bedrock of Hindu caste divisions. Modi with his outreach to hitherto ignored groups within the larger Hindutva project is challenging that. Muslims have thrived politically only because the Hindus have preferred caste divisions to religious appeals except in the most exceptional circumstances. It remains to be seen whether Modi can permanently bridge the caste divisions within the Hindu society but even if he is partially successful, he would fundamentally rewrite the rules of Indian politics. 
So, what exactly changes for India's status quo with regard to secularism under Modi. It is quite simply this: While for India's champions of secularism: It is the fear that the inherent systemic bias against Muslims will now be multiplied by active discrimination by the Modi Sarkaar; but while for the Hindutva Right, this is of course a time of hope that core issues of Hindutva agenda will be taken up and worked upon.

Personally, despite the fears of the one side and the hope of the other, I do not see any dramatic shifts in the status quo. What will happen is that the inherent systemic bias that goes against India's minorities will be increasingly attributed to Modi, of course, but that's just something called politics. 

Do we have a way out of this - theoretically yes, but practically no. Theoretically it is working towards a better, more professional police force and a more fairer judiciary that gives a better sense of justice; while at the same time reduction in appeasement driven politics and policies. Essentially the idea of pitting interests of one community versus the other through zero sum games has to stop, while always working to find areas of common interest and mutual benefit. I do also wish that our internal debates become a little less fevered, that folks don't go on ratcheting up the rhetoric that it appears that they would actually prefer the next riot or attack happen so that their theory is proven right. But then again, who am I kidding.

 It is quite possible though that the cacophony of both mainstream & social media is an exaggeration, and that most folks, who put down their heads and work to earn a living are far more sanguine about things. Economic growth of the country and individuals is possibly a great solution for it seems - the better off you are, the better both society and law treats you.

So, to conclude while it is quite clear that India's Secularism is shoddy and unsatisfactory, is doing away with it even an option ? 

What I am perhaps asking is : Is it better for minorities to be in an unsatisfactory secular state which fails to live up to its promises vs a state which clearly has a religion and thereby sets its expectations accordingly. This is something I am curious to know. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Jana Gana Mana

Jana Gana Mana, India's national anthem is an incredibly beautiful song. Sadly, it has also been the subject of a lot of unnecessary controversies, the main jist of them being that it was written by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore in praise of King George V. This controversy, which should have been a non issue by now, having been clarified on more than one occasion by Rabindranath himself, was once again brought up by the current Rajasthan governor and former UP CM, Kalyan Singh. The latest rant was about removing the word "Adhinayaka" from the anthem as it referred to the British apparently as per him.

Over the next few days, a number of write-ups came up defending Tagore and I liked two of them in particular. One was this Facebook post by veteran journalist, Kanchan Gupta who mentions that :
What is now the National Anthem of the Republic of India is the first stanza of a five-stanza Brahmo Sangeet or psalm. It was composed by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore on December 11, 1911, in adulation of Param Brahma.
The other interesting post was in Swarajya by Aravindan Neelakandan titled: Why Should The RSS Dislike Jana Gana Mana?  This also refutes the myth of Tagore composing the song for the British.

What was interesting for me was to learn about the full song of Jana Gana Mana. As we know, only the first stanza of the song is considered as India's National Anthem, reading and listening to the next 4 stanzas of this incredibly beautiful song gives an idea of the deeper meaning and symbology associated with it.

The 3rd para containing the following lines is particularly suggestive of one man, at least for me:
Hey Chiro Saarothi, Tabo Ratha Chakrey Mukhorito Potho Dino Raatri
Daaruno Biplabo Maajhey,Tabo Shankhodhwoni Bajey
Sankato Dukkho Traataa

 The 4th and the 5th para of course refer to the Divine, protective Mother and so the Krishna-Kali symbology makes great sense.

Moving on, I tried to find on YouTube some good renditions of the full song of Jana Gana Mana and I found three versions worthy of sharing.

First is this version performed by 39 of India's finest singers & musicians (with the background narration of Harsh Neotia the only slightly irritating part in it).

Second, is this lovely rendition by Sukhada Bhave (couple of minor errors in the wording notwithstanding).

Third, is this sublime rendition in Bangla by Swagatalakshmi Dasgupta - my favourite version.

Apart from being the creator of India's national anthem, Tagore also is the author of Aamar Sonar Bangla, which went on to become the national anthem of Bangladesh and is also an incredibly beautiful song. As Wikipiedia notes, he also wrote the music and lyrics for Nama Nama Sri Lanka Mata in the Bengali language for his student Ananda Samarakoon, who returned to Ceylon in 1940 and translated Tagore's song into the Sinhala language Apa Sri Lanka, Namo Namo Namo Namo Matha. In fact, I could not help but notice a bit of similarity in the music between the Indian & Sri Lankan anthems :)

And so, Jana Gana Mana, the national anthem of Republic of India, is so many things; it is a a divine prayer to the almighty, a sublime composition and a patriotic song. Take it the way you will, but I think it deserves our love and respect. Dragging in into petty political disputes by the left or the right, does great disservice to this beautiful piece of art and Rabindranath Tagore's genius. The great man and his work of art, deserve better.

PS: Collating some other beautiful renditions of the National Anthem here, based on a friend's suggestion.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Even the West is going mad. Here are n number of reasons why !

The first para in the Wikipedea page for  Political correctness is as below:
Political correctness (adjectivally, politically correct, commonly abbreviated to PC) is a pejorative term used to condemn language, actions, or policies seen as being excessively calculated to not offend or disadvantage any particular group of people in society. The term had only scattered usage prior to the 1990s, usually as an ironic self-description, but entered mainstream usage in the United States when conservative author Dinesh D'Souza used it to condemn what he saw as left-wing efforts to advance multiculturalism through language, affirmative action, opposition to hate speech, and changes to the content of school curriculums. The term came to be commonly used in the United Kingdom around the same period, especially in periodicals such as the Daily Mail, a conservative tabloid that became known for the trope "political correctness gone mad."

I don't know about you, but growing up here in India - political correctness never felt like a pejorative term to me. It was actually seen as the right thing to do most of the time, being politically correct and being diplomatic was all right.

Whatever be the connotation, over time a strange thing has been happening. The demands for political correctness from the left have started increasing day by day that now, even self proclaimed "liberals" are terrified of just speaking. Consider this incredible story in The Vox : I'm a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me. Read it and get terrified of what is happening on campuses in US. And as I keep wondering - how many years before this hits the Indian scene - I give it a max 10 years.

The previous article linked talked about the story of Laura Kipnis and this link here describes the shocking story in detail: The SJW Crusade Against Laura Kipnis . The new super cool left - Social Justice Warriors are running amok and in this instance - their victim was yes - a prominent LEFT Wing Scholar.
It is stunning, and scary as hell, to see how much power aggrieved students have to ruin a professor’s life and career by using federal law to wage culture war against their professors for being insufficiently kowtowing to the sensibilities of these Little Empresses.
And this sort of thing is of course championed and encouraged by the "liberal" bastions of the media. Take this article in that great newspaper The Guardian" What do the politically correct brain police have against venerable man comedians like Jerry Seinfeld? which takes a dig at Seinfeld for his complains about too much PC. Here's a piece in The Spectator on the same issue: If comedians can’t take a politically incorrect joke, who can?. This line from Seinfeld is hilarious:
‘I don’t play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me, “Don’t go near colleges. They’re so PC”’ he said, before launching into a story about the time his 14-year-old daughter accused his wife of being ‘sexist’ for suggesting that she may soon want to start seeing boys. ‘They just want to use these words. That’s racist. That’s sexist. That’s prejudice. They don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.’
Every day, you get some hilarious twister story. Here's a latest one : A civil rights activist who claimed herself to be black was not a black person at all. And now she says she doesn’t give “two s***s” about her parents' remarks which disclosed that she is black. Some money quotes:
"I actually don't like the term African-American. I prefer black”. (Well if you are of Czech origin and pretending to be black - you couldn't say you were African-American could you ? )
“I would say that if I was asked I would definitely say that yes I do consider myself to be black.”
She felt it was more important to “clarify” herself to the “black community,” rather than one that “quite frankly I don’t think really understands the definitions of race and ethnicity.”
As I said before, just a few years before you will lose complete sanity here in India. This was just a preview of the "new age" cool of victim playing that is coming. Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Some reactions to the British Elections 2015

Last month's "surprising" victory of David Cameron and his Conservative Party in last month's elections in the UK was not only presently surprising for me, but I also came across some really "fun" reaction and analysis in the media.

1) There was an absolute shocking meltdown from the Labour supporting Libtards, Lefties and SJWs with protests on the street which included - yes vandalism. From a distance here - terribly assuming as well as prescient of a sign of things to come in India for the future.
#LondonProtest – anti Tory demonstrations held outside Downing Street

2) The Telegraph had a strong piece on this reaction from the British Left.
Stop your whingeing: why the Left are such bad losers

3) Nick Cohen, yes in The Guardian, had this incredibly piece wherein he talks about all that is wrong with Labour - their hypocisy and their self hatred.
Labour would do better if it learned to like the English

4) Another piece in The Telegraph - a stinging criticism of Red Ed.
No tears for Ed Miliband, please. He was the reason Labour lost

5) In the New York Times - an analysis by a former Labour Party cabinet minister
Peter Mandelson: Why Labour Lost the Election

6) Why the Tories crushed Miliband

7) In Breitbart: Milo Yiannopolus being brutal: ED’S DEAD: WHERE THE BRITISH LEFT WENT SO HORRIBLY WRONG

8) Another piece in the New York Times talking about recent wins by Center- Right parties: The Center-Right Moment

9) And on similar lines, in The Atlantic, What Republicans Can Learn From British Conservatives.

PS: Best thing about the UK Elections: This hilarious Hindi song video as a promotion for the Tories during the campaign. Enjoy :)

Two videos which give great insight about the Pakistani Army & ISI

Monday, June 1, 2015

Arsenal's 12th FA Cup Win

Last season, Arsenal won their 11th FA Cup. I had compiled the videos of the highlights of the finals of each of the Cup wins. Well, it is a delight to say that by winning the FA Cup in 2015, I am getting the opportunity to update that list - reproduced below. Arsenal now have won the FA Cup, a record 12 times, going ahead of Manchester United - with whom they shared the record jointly of 11 wins in the last year. This was also Arsene Wenger's 6th FA Cup win as a manager, and he now shares the record jointly with George Ramsey of Aston Villa from pre WW 1 years.

A 4-0 demolition of Aston Villa at Wembley with Alexis Sanchez's stunning strike for Goal #2 meant that this year's final was nothing like the nerve-wracking contest from last year. So here we go - the list updated with FA Cup 2015 !

1) 1930 FA Cup: Arsenal beat Huddersfield Town 2-0.


1936 Final: Arsenal beat Sheffield United 1-0.


1950 Final: Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-0.


1971 Final: Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1

1979 Final: Arsenal beat Manchester United 3-2.

1993 Final: Replay: Arsenal beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 in  a replay. Original match: 1-1.

1998 Final: Arsenal beat Newcastle United 2-0.

2002 Final: Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-0.

2003 Final: Arsenal beat Southampton 1-0.

2005 Final (Penalties): Arsenal beat Manchester United 5-4 on penalties. Match ended 0-0.

2014 Final: Arsenal beat Hull City 3-2.

PS: Arsenal celebrated this latest win with an open top bus parade etc today and videos and telecast of that are available all over the place. Here's how they celebrated in 1936 and it is interesting to watch.

2015 Final: Arsenal beat Aston Villa 4-0

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Land of Seven Rivers by Sanjeev Sanyal - A small tribute

I was never really a history buff during school. In fact, one of my favourite lines to dismiss the subject used to be : the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history. When it came to viewing the past, I used to prefer reading and re-reading mythology, if nothing else, it was certainly more interesting.

I had seen Sanjeev Sanyal over the years a few times on business channels, speaking with his economist hat on. However, it was only recently that I learnt about the fact that he is also a writer. It was through one of those serendipitous journeys on the internet that I came across this video of him speaking with Amish Tripathi - that I got to know about his writings and specifically this book : Land of Seven Rivers.

This is not a review of the book: Land of Seven Rivers: History of India's Geography, I am no book reviewer or critic. But here are just a few points about the book :

  1. This is not a pure history book per se, but an attempt by the author to give a history of India's geography - about India's changing natural and human landscape, cities and kingdoms, trade routes and rivers and so on. 
  2. As the author himself points out in the introduction, the book also is a little bit about the geography of India's history & civilization - as he tells us about the Saraswati river for example.
  3. The three key takeaways for me from this book personally were:
    • That history books can be written in a way, it is interesting and stimulating to read; I so wish that in the near future, books such as this become more widely read, especially by our young people;
    • That as an Indian, it is a good idea to be more aware, more cognizant about this nation's past, that we are part of a continuum of an ancient civilization with an incredible history and that we can carry forward this unique legacy, not as a burden, but as a gift with all its wonders;
    • That - it is always good to remember that India and Indians prospered during the times when this country and its people were an open culture which was willing to engage with the rest of the world, through trading and cultural interactions. Somewhere down the line, this quality was lost, but thankfully - that quality is back to the forefront now and this can only be a good thing.
Finally, this particular point made - right at the end of the book (which is part of the video link mentioned earlier) is my favourite part from the book. It makes a point about our identity that is worth pondering and reflecting upon. 

I recommend this book as a must read and I look forward to reading other works of Sanjeev Sanyal. Thanks for writing this Sir.

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