Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The aam insaan - frozen in time and space

I live in the city of qilas and makbaras. For Dilliwalas and especially, purani dilli walas, Lal Qila is the most important monument. It stands as the symbol of a romanticized imperial past. It was, afterall, the residence of their beloved emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar and also of their culture. Whenever I look at the Lal Qila...the beautifully-carved halls...the jharokas...the massive Darwaza and the pit outside the Qila which in its heyday, had water with crocodiles, I try to go back in time, trying to imagine how life must have been in those days. While scenes from Jodha Akbar and Mughal-e-Azam would help me in my quest, a smile would flash across my face and I’ll lament, “wo bhi kya din hote honge”. I would imagine if Bahadur Shah would have never been defeated… how things would have been so different… No, wait…DIFFERENT …really??
Even in the time of mughals, if I was what I am now... would the Lal Qila be mine? The grandeur attached with it and with the Badshah…the mehfils… the chaka-chown, in short, the romanticized past…Would I have had a stake in it? No... Because I am just an aam insaan. Whether it is Bahadur Shah or Manmohan Singh… whether it is Lal Qila or the Rashtrapati Bhawan, I am but the aam insaan. I was suppressed in the 18th century and still am. Whether it is for their Mahals or their swiss bank accounts, it is I who suffers the burden of heavy taxation. I am the mohra in their political games. In their fights, it is I who pays. I am the one who dies when there is a ‘disagreement’ between two rulers. I am the one who dies, gets raped or become orphaned during the communal riots. I am the one who pays the heaviest during an economic crisis.
There have been movements and revolutions which are attributed to the ‘will of the people’. French Revolution…America’s war of Independence and Russian Revolution, they boast about the support of the masses. But little did the masses actually achieve. Even Russian Revolution, ultimately, led to the dictatorship of the rich and the powerful. Infact, when Lenin claimed to established the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, the rural proletariat referred to him as the new Tsar! Today, the general political form of existence is democracy or rule by the people(demos) but we know the reality. Our ‘representatives’ have now even established dynastic rule. Their posts are even becoming hereditary.
So why should it matter to me If it is Shah Jahan or Vajpayee on the throne? They are the rulers and I am the one who is always the ruled.

Monday, July 18, 2011

UID- For whose benefit?

When UID was introduced to the general public, it was regarded as the sole primary document which would determine their fate. Everyone(1.2 billion people) would be issued a unique identification card and would be expected to carry it wherever they would go. Even the refugees and migrants would be issued the card. It was mandatory in the beginning so failing to produce it may have you branded as a terrorist. The Government defended this mammoth-size project by arguing that it will help check illegal immigration and terrorist activities. UID will also have other benefits. UID has been linked to social-welfare programs. There is now a proposal to use UID for realizing the goal of online voting. So UID will ‘empower’ India and Indians, they argue.
This was the Government version of UID. Let’s now see the reality.
UID is proposed to create a central repository of information of each of the 1.2 billion people. The data involves personal information as well as the bank details. It’s a risky affair. If not the ever-hungry Government, the Corporates or anyone can misuse the information.
The Government’s response to this was technology. The data will be stored in an online database. But let’s consider the technological challenges. 1.2 Billion people will mean 6 petabytes(6,000 terabytes or 6,000,000 gigabytes). It will be the world’s largest database. But can we imagine managing this volume? The technological challenges involve system performance, reliability, speed and resolution of accuracy and errors. But a more serious issue is regarding the security. The information can be hacked.
UID will also capture biometric information from the population. The fingerprints and IRIS will be scanned. Apart from the lack of technological infrastructure, a more important concern is the reliability of this information. Patterns of Iris change with age and disease. Also, What about the millions of people with corneal blindness? Fingerprints also face a similar issue. Fingerprints can be tapped and copied. There are also millions who may be without hands. Also, the labourers have their fingerprints marred.
One of the benefits listed out by Government is that it will be linked with the social welfare programs like PDS. Critics argue that the Government does not have resources to extend them to UID applicants. Jean Dreze, a development economist and the man behind the NREGA, argued, “I am opposed to the UID project on grounds of several civil liberties. Let us not be na├»ve. This is a national security project, not a social policy initiative.”
There is also fear that instead of checking illegal migration, it can actually ‘legalize’ it. The Indo-Bangladesh Border is porous. UID may actually increase the illegal immigration. Bangladeshis will be able to get themselves listed as Indians easily and enjoy the ‘privileges’ and ‘benefits’(if any).
Some months back, there was a demonstration by students of Indian Institute of Science against UID. One of the placards read “Happy New Fear”. UID demands our bank details. So though UID is an attached department to Planning Commission but in reality, UID can enable the Government an access to our bank account. They will be able to view all our transactions. So UID carries major privacy issues.
But the best thing about the UID is the inherent contradiction in its voluntary nature. Even though, it is voluntary. It is ubiquitous. UID holders are entitled for exclusive schemes and opportunities.
The idea of UID has been rejected by many countries. From privacy concerns to technological challenges, the concept has met severe opposition. So the effectiveness and nature of UID(whether compulsory or voluntary) varies among different countries. But inspite of this, India has decided to waste crores on this largely rejected policy.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Beauty Respected, Beauty Degraded

Looks are an attraction. There is no denial of this ‘fact’. We may not go for them but we do notice them. So appreciation of beauty is one universal ‘fact’. Another is how we degrade it.
Skepticism always trails behind beauty. Our society expects women to be attractive, no matter what. So in whatever role or occupation she may be, she has to be ‘feminine’ in her way of conduct and dress. Even female POLITICIANS are expected of the same. This is one side of the story. The other side is how there is the famous crap about how pretty ladies manage to get the top posts. Let me put this more bluntly…so people say “you can promote it better…afterall, you are a WOMAN.” A well-known blogger and critic had said(to an all-girls audience), “a girl’s blog always has more followers than a guy’s”. Who should be blamed is not the debate here. I wish to question this mentality.
Then there is this famous actress who is blamed to have destroyed many actors’ careers. I wonder how! She is known only for her beauty. How has her dumping them affected their career? But then beauty is also an easy target point. We can put all the blame on it.
Most men desire for a stunning-looking wife but do not how to ‘handle’ them. One male friend and she will be beaten day and night. She will be accused of an extra-marital affair and no one will question it because she is beautiful! A beautiful girl is always supposed to be a wicked temptress. She is blamed for ‘luring’ the otherwise ‘innocent’ man. Beauty makes her a natural victim.
A very common and widely-accepted concept is that of dumb and beautiful. So a hunk or a pretty lady is not supposed to be brainy. “Just study a bit. You can go for modeling later”, suggested a male teacher to a school classmate. Being dumb and beautiful is a person choice…it is not a ‘fact’.
This article is not in favour of those who are very obsessed about their looks and are very full of themselves because of it. No, this is meant to have a general appeal. It is an attempt to question our contradicting mentality. We appreciate beauty but then why do we degrade it?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Religion- All Faith, no Science?

Religion is unquestionable

“shastro mei likha hai, karna toh hoga” , “ye sab bhagwaan ki maya hai”, “ye toh sadiyo se ho raha hai”…

But it is not always irrational and unscientific.

Religion, like science, begins with a question. Religion is the quest for finding the “ultimate truth”. Religion, like science, searches for that only ultimate path. But that’s not the only connection. Many of our samskaras show not only our cultural(indicator of our kul) but a scientific leaning too.

The Pandit choti is not just a mark of distinction and high(highest) status. According to charaka school of philosophy, there are seven charaka or energy points. The one on the head is the crown charaka called sahasrar. The bunch of the hair protects this point from exposure to sun which can cause a sudden stroke. Even while blessing someone(aashirvaad), the person places his/her hand on the sahasrar. It leads to the transfer of energy. This transfer of energy is also the logic behind touching the feet of the elder or the guru.
The Tika or Tilak is another important religious symbol. The size and form varies with the caste so it represents the ‘irrational’ system of caste. However, the Tilak is rational enough. It is backed by the same charaka point theory. The Tilak is applied on the forehead, between the two eye brows. This is the Aajna chakra point which is the seat of memory and thinking. The tika which is generally of chandan, thus, prevents energy loss by keeping the point cool. But it is to be noted that the bindi applied by women do not serve the same purpose. Neither is there any scientific logic behind the sindoor.

Aarti is a fundamental aspect of the Hindu rituals. Aarti purifies the person not just spiritually but quite literally as it purifies the air around the person. The Agni kills the germs and bacteria in the surrounding air.
The benefit of Upvaasa or vrats is well-known. During an upvaasa, we consume only water and fresh fruits. Thus, they are beneficial for our digestive system and the entire body.

Offering water to the Agni god at the break of the dawn is a common daily ritual. It is believed that the first rays of the sun are beneficial for the eyes.

In Jain tradition, one is not supposed to eat after dusk. Modern science lends support to this practice. It recommends no meal or a light meal at night.

The most controversial domain in this issue is reserved for the taboos on a menstruating woman. While the origin theory of menstruation is not very rational- Indra had slain a Brahmin and it is his blood that a woman secretes out after every 28 days, Ayurveda views the menstruation cycle as a purification process- the impurities are dispelled with the blood discharge. With the discharge of the blood, women lose out on vital minerals, particularly iron. The body is weak with the loss of blood and the accompanying body pain. Thus, women are ‘advised’ to rest. However, this advice took the form of taboos- women cannot enter the temple, the kitchen; they were shunned in a room because they were ‘impure’.

Thus, we started out being all scientific but to make it binding on the people, a supernatural/sacred dimension was added to it. Their blind faith in the omnipresent and all-powerful God provided the perfect platform to sell rationality. They fear that the inability to follow these customs will provoke the wrath of Gods and all hell will break loose. And this is how it always works. Rituals are also used to please the Gods. The world exists on a ‘patron-client relationship’. It is a ‘mutual’ relationship between God and Human Beings. Both are dependent on each other, for survival or means of survival. There is no end to the demands of the ‘greedy’ human beings. God is the patron of these rituals and offers spiritual and material wealth, in return. The best example for this is the Upvaasas or vrats. Vrats are contracts between the God and the devotee. Religion is the binding to be good and ‘moral’. Anything can be sold in the name of Religion. Here, rationality and scientific logic mixed with religion has been passed down for centuries. So is Religion still un-necessary and useless?