Monday, January 23, 2017

Women's march done- Now, what next?

Last week, there were quite a few protests who created a lot of buzz on social media as well as in mainstream media. Depending on their liberal or conservative inclination various media houses either reported these events aggressively or totally ignored it as if they didn't happen. I was little confused about the protests on the day of Mr. Trump's inauguration. He won a democratically contested election, the same system of electoral college which declared Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama, and all other previous Presidents declared him the next President of the USA, people need to acknowledge it and accept the reality. This is the beauty of democracy, it will be hypocrisy to praise democratic process only when it works in your favor. The Constitution gave Mr. Trump right to contest the election and he won it, he has a constitutional right to serve as the President of the USA, I didn't understand the main intention behind protest on inauguration day. If it was just to oppose Mr. Trump's victory because some people didn't like him personally then it sets a dangerous precedence for everyone. Oppose his policies if you don't agree, challenge his decisions if you feel they are wrong, criticize his statements, demand an apology, but don't try to question is rights, it is dangerous because tomorrow someone might question your rights also.

But, I do understand the intentions behind women's march, some of the comments made by Mr. Trump about women are derogatory, his so called locker room talk was disgusting. The excuses and the apology offered by him for some of these things are lame and inadequate. So, the women's march had a valid reason. It was good to see so many women coming together and marching to protect their rights and challenge misogynist views. The culture of patriarchy still exists in some form or other in all parts of the world and the USA is not an exception. It shows its ugly face in the form of sexist jokes, discriminatory rants, prejudiced statements, or so-called locker room talks. Such things need to be challenged. Many people might feel that this is a very hypersensitive reaction, or protestors are cherry picking the things just for the sake of making a big deal out of nothing. But, the truth is that things like patriarchy are so deep rooted in the psyche of our culture that it will need a lot of flushing to get rid of it completely. Women need to be vigilant about any behavior which even remotely tries to propagate such mindset because they are the main victims of such mindset. Sexual harassment is still a huge problem both for men and women, comparatively, women are more victimized and that's why this protest was necessary.

Based on news reports it seems that women's march was a huge success, not only in the US but in many other countries it was noticed. Now, what next? Just conducting one huge march or registering protest once is not going to solve these problems. This huge protest should not be the end, but the beginning of the new movement. Marches or protests are good methods to highlight any issue or spread awareness about the problem. But efforts should not end with one-time protest or one march. People (both men, women, and transgenders) should resist any attempts to demean any group by anyone. It is going to be a long march to achieve equality and I hope that everyone in support of it is willing to walk that long.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Friday, December 30, 2016

The journey of Reena-from a shy village girl to an independent woman.

Reena and I got married 18 years back, ours was an arranged marriage, full of all uncertainties and concerns which any arranged marriage brings along with it. The journey was not an easy ride, we had our ups and downs, went through our own struggle to understand each other and adjust with each other. I learned a lot from her and I am sure she feels the same. I lived most of my life in patriarchal society in India where the status of women was not equal to men, I must also mention that in the USA situation is much better, but still, a lot of work is needed even in the USA so one can imagine the situation in India. I was raised in the environment of male superiority, but fortunately, it had an opposite effect on me, it made me a feminist. I realized the importance of making a woman an equal partner in any relationship. I realized that in modern world women are an equal stakeholder and they need to contribute like that.

Reena lived in a small village in Uttar Pradesh until her sixth grade and then she moved to Varanasi. Varanasi is one of the biggest city of UP, but the situation of women is not that different compared to other parts of UP. Definitely, it is better than many villages, but the difference is not that much. So when we got married, my first task was to make my wife independent of me. She came from the culture where the husband had the status of a demigod- the provider for her needs, the protector of her honor and dignity, the controller of her life and destiny, and what not. I needed to break all these myths, this was not an easy task for me as well as for her. It was confusing for her and very complicated for me. There was no easy way for both of us to maneuver through the maze of cultural mess which arranged marriage and patriarchal culture brought in our lives. When I told her that she is an equal partner in our relationship, which means she has equal rights and has to share an equal responsibility. The second part was more confusing and complicated for her (about the responsibilities). Rights without responsibility is a useless endeavor. But I must say that she responded with a lot of courage and responsibility. She took on this challenge head on after initial hesitation. Initially, she thought her responsibilities are limited to traditional household work which women were expected to perform, this was the way she was raised. But when she realized that her scope of duty involves many tasks which she never thought were women's job, she was little hesitant. There was a struggle, I witnessed that struggle, I refused to help on many occasions, but that was necessary for her to realize her own potential. She overcame many obstacles on her own, with no or very little help. I was just her companion, once she decided to take on this challenge, she did things on her own, she deserves the credit for all her success and failures.

When we moved to the USA, it opened many more new doors for her. She was free from all the social and familial constraints which were present in India. This made her embark on an exciting and rewarding journey. Today, I live with a totally transformed person, she is much more confident and independent person. We both support each other, our relationship is more balanced now compared to what it was at the time of our marriage. She is a very confident person and an independent woman who don't need her husband's support for her survival, and I am glad to see that she can manage her life on her own. She is a pillar of strength and support for me along with rest of my family and friends. We both compliment each other as a husband and wife rather than having a typical husband dominated marital relationship. It is not easy to write about your partner or parents or for that matter any person in just one blog post, but I want my readers to get an idea that it doesn't matter who we are or from where we come, if we decide and get enough support we all can achieve many things which may look impossible.

Reena's journey so far is not only a success story in its own way but also a source of inspiration for me. She still has many more challenges and many more obstacles to cross, but now she can do these things on her own. There are many successful people around us, but we fail to notice them. Normally we only recognize the success or failure based on media reports and very often ignore many inspiring stories of people around us. Many times no one bothers to tell these stories of common people like us. Many times we fail to notice some inspirational struggle or success story happening right in front of our eyes. We ignore just because these people don't become celebrities, they don't end up making millions of dollars. I am fortunate to notice and appreciate many such success stories around me. My family members, friends and colleagues faced many challenges and fought hard to overcome them. For me, all these struggles and triumphs are very inspiring. All these stories along with many others provide me the required self-confidence and optimistic outlook towards life, and Reena's journey is one such story. We all have someone around us who is making progress day by day and if we learn to recognize that struggle and draw inspiration from their struggle, life will be beautiful.

Thanks for reading.

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The real meaning of American citizenship.

Citizenship of any country can be obtained either by birth or by being a resident of that country for certain period of time mentioned in its citizenship act. This policy is an important aspect of many immigrant friendly countries like the USA, where many immigrants choose to become a citizen, mainly to avail many benefits which these countries offer to its citizens. For me, citizenship has much deeper meaning apart from just a legal status, especially when someone chooses to abandon one citizenship and accepts another. Citizenship by birth is a right, but citizenship by naturalization is somewhat different. To choose to become a citizen of any country is a conscious decision. It should be done after a lot of deliberation and serious thinking. Because a citizenship is not only a privilege or right offered by the constitution of that country but also a big responsibility. Any person gets attached to his or her place of birth emotionally for various reasons, that place always remains special to him/her. But, if someone acquires a citizenship by naturalization, he or she has to develop a similar love, concern, and sense of belonging to that new country. If this doesn't happen then the benefit is one way, like it happens in an extremely selfish relationship, where one side gets all the perks without giving any commitment or loyalty in return.

According to me, the USA is one of the best places to live, it offers the best set of civil rights in the world among the countries which have a population more than 200 million (I am talking about rights like freedom of expression, practice or not to practice religion, etc.). The American citizenship comes with many benefits, but at the same time, it also comes with some duties. One of the major duty is to give up loyalty to your previous country of citizenship and be loyal to the USA. I have seen that some naturalized citizens fail to understand the importance of this duty. They feel that being a US citizen means having the right to avail all the benefits, but loyalty to the US is an optional requirement. This loyalty does not only mean support the country when it's under attack by outsiders but also being loyal to its constitution, and its values. Being American doesn't mean only to possess an American passport but also understand and promulgate American values and culture. If more and more people fail to understand these things then I feel the gap between various sections of this society will keep on increasing and this is not a good sign for the health of this great country.

The USA is an extremely tolerant country, it has accommodated various cultures and values gracefully. When I mean one needs to respect American values I don't mean a certain set of rigid rules, I mean the spirit of respecting individual liberty and right to choose. These two are the most prominent feature of American society which helped this country to achieve the status of superpower. The real meaning of being an American citizen is not just to hold an American passport but to understand and practice American values. Understand the reason behind the phenomenal success of this country, which it managed to achieve in such a short span of time compared to many other countries in the world. It is a duty of each and every citizen to continue to work towards making this country better than before. Being a citizen doesn't at all means surrender all you previous values or beliefs, this country gives a right of freedom of expression to every resident. Constructive criticism, political activism, opposition to the government and its policies, demostrations, and protests all are part of efforts to achieve this progress. The sense of duty to protect American values is important and I feel all current and future citizens as well as residents of America realize this. This country is a unique and one of the best places to live on earth and let's keep it that way. The real meaning of being an American citizen not only means being eligible to enjoy the benefits offered to its citizens but also perform all the duties expected of its citizens.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing.]

Friday, December 23, 2016

Is it possible to be politically independent in today's world?

The current political environment in most of the countries is very polarized. I can speak about the USA and India as I follow political scenarios in these two countries more than any other country in the world. Both these countries are vibrant democracies, but the current political atmosphere is so charged and polarized it is almost impossible to remain an independent and try to have a balanced and rational political discussion with any political party or ideology supporter. Most supporters of any party or leader are so passionate and blindly in love with their leader that they are not willing to hear anything even remotely against their leader. These people are very eager to brand their opponents anti-nationals, communal, secular (term secular used in a derogatory way), racist, islamophobic, misogynist, or by any other tag which they can think.  Because of these two things have happened, political discussions have become either like fist fights, where two parties fight against each other blow by blow without having any fruitful exchange of thoughts or it has become an almost devotee like the singing of praise of their demigod leader, where every good thing happening around is attributed to some action taken by that leader.

Politically independent people, who can throw light on both sides of the issue, or can debate over the good and bad aspects of the same policy, political party or a leader has disappeared from these discussions. I understand why they don't want to participate in any such political arguments. But, these debates are so predictable and boring because of an absence of any sane voice among all political devotees. Such devotees are required, there is no doubt that all political leaders and parties survive and thrive due to the presence of such devoted supporters, but the presence of such supporters only make that party gain or lose elections, it doesn't help in moving political discourse any forward. In such a politically charged atmosphere, very often there is a possibility of political deadlock, where both sides try to block even good policies from each other just to display their political muscle power. The interest of the country or its people takes a back seat and that leader's ego or interest of that party's  core voters becomes a most prominent factor. These things used to happen in past also, but now it is happening even after an increase in the education level of people and increase in accessibility of information due to the rapid spread of internet related technology (cell phone, computers).

I am a politically independent person, I don't support a single political party of a leader. In an election, of course, I have to choose one from the list, and I make my decision based on the important issues of that time and solutions presented by different parties, but at the same time, I know the weaknesses and drawbacks of my choice. I am willing to accept that the party for which I voted might have some terrible policies about certain economic and social issues, but in an election, you can vote only for one party and not voting (if I am eligible) is not an option for me. If the party I voted wins the election, then I should be ready to oppose any policy they try to implement which was either not on their agenda or which is obviously harmful to a certain section of society. I am not obliged to support whatever they do, just because I voted for him. This is how I deal with the politics, I don't think political parties would like to have voters like me, but this is how I protect my political independence. I am not bound by their core ideologies or their leader's demigod like status. Current politics has become so personality centric that it has become like a war between two cults.

Whenever I discuss politics in any group, I can see the desperation of people do defend their choices at any cost and their frustration when someone exposes weaknesses of their side or starts asking some uncomfortable questions and I can ask many such questions. I am a republican sympathizer in a democrat group and vice versa, I play a similar role in India also among BJP or Congress supporters. The politics is supposed to be there for the benefit of people, it was supposed to create healthy debate and discussion where something better for nation comes out from such debates. It was not supposed to create a war like situation within a country or a deadlock where the nation is stuck in policy paralysis, where nothing moves forward except vicious verbal attacks on each other. None of these things are healthy for any nation. Political differences and strong opposition should exist and no government should get an absolute right to do whatever they want. Every democratic country needs to have some checks and balances to curtail the absolute power. The presence of single ideology is dangerous no matter how good or rational that ideology sounds. I hope people understand the value and importance of dissent. I hope they understand that expressing dissent against the government doesn't mean that they are aginst the country. If a country needs to progress all of its people need to contribute, political opponents have ideological or policy based differences they are not enemies of each other, their existence should not be mutually exclusive. Politics needs healthy and efficient dialogue not monotonous, and vitriolic monologs.

I cherish my political independence and I am really proud of it. It is becoming a very rare trait day by day. I hope people understand the importance of constructive criticism and healthy dialog, until that this drama will continue and people like me won't find any difference between some news channels and channels who telecast dramatic soap operas. Protect you political independence if you can, and even if you become a supporter of some political party become a sensible supporter, not a blind devotee.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing.]

Thursday, December 22, 2016

My fear of needles and my blood donation experience.

I am not that comfortable with needles. I dislike the feeling of getting a flu shot or whenever they draw blood for testing. I am sure many people don't like to get poked by a needle, especially during a medical exam. Some don't like it because of some past bad experience, some due to pain, and some are just not comfortable with that feeling being poked with the needle. For me, it's not about the pain, because it doesn't hurt that much, many other injuries hurt way more than the pain which I feel because of needles, and normally the encounter with the needles is just a matter of a few seconds. I am also not scared of needles in general as I use them in the lab almost every day to transfer or add a variety of reagents in my chemical reactions. I just don't like that feeling, but it won't be wrong to say that I fear needles, this why going for a blood donation was a big challenge for me. I donated blood for the fist time in India when I was in the college, I don't recollect that I was worried or scared of needles that time, may be the presence of friends, a very young age or some other emotion took care of this fear. Since I came to the USA, I wanted to donate blood, but didn't get a chance to because Red Cross doesn't accept your blood at least for one year if you visit any country like India. For the last few years, I visit India almost every year, so I was not qualified to donate blood.

This year I was qualified as I didn't visit India. I went for donation and passed all their initial screening tests. Then the time came to go for actual donation. I was worried it was not going to be very easy for me to tolerate a needle into my arm for so long time. The needle was going to stay in my vein for at least 20-30 minutes if not more, and it was not a very comforting thought for me. The lab technician found the vein from which she wanted to draw the blood easily, but when she inserted the needle somehow she missed it and then she tried to search for it by moving the needle. It was a really uncomfortable feeling, it lasted for 1-2 minutes, but that process was the worst part of the entire blood donation. Eventually, they did find the vein and I could donate the blood successfully.

The nurse turned out to be a Trump supporter, she voted for Mr. Trump and initially she was hesitant to talk more about that. But when I told her that it was her right to choose the candidate, which she thought was suitable for the job and she should not be hesitant to talk about it just because she is living in a democrat state. We discussed quite a bit about the election and I told her my point of view about this presidential election. I clearly told her that I also liked some of Mr. Trump's proposed policy measures, and from the beginning, I thought that he was a dark horse of the presidential race. I even wrote a blog post about him a few months back. But for me that so called 'locker room' conversation was a deal breaker. She agreed with me that it was bad, but said that Hillary is also not that clean, she had her own mistakes which made her equally bad person. She also said that all these people have some skeletons in their closets. It was a fair counter argument, and she did say ultimately that she was OK with women being a President, but she was not OK with Hillary. Actually, many people have used this argument to justify their choice after this election and I fail to understand the real rationale behind it, but it is their right to choose the candidate which they like. This conversation was very helpful to me as it diverted my attention away from the pain of that inserted needle in my hand. We ended our conversation on a very positive note and I told her that I am looking forward towards presidency of her candidate, and I hope that Mr. Trump will honestly try to implement his policies for the benefit of citizens of this great country. She gave me thumbs up for this as well as for successfully completing my blood donation.

I felt a big sense of achievement after finishing the process of blood donation, that feeling was not just because I donated the blood, I know that many people donate regularly, but because I overcame my fear of needles and survived those 30-40 minutes without having a panic attack that too when no one who I know personally was around me. I did this by my own choice. I was not compelled to do this for any other reason other than my own desire to do it. The feeling of not allowing my personal fear or phobia to control my desire to do something good was great, and I think we all are capable of overcoming such fears or mental blocks. We all or most of us have some sort of fear or mental block, which forbids us from doing many things which we all can do for the benefit of society or people around us. If we try to take one small step at a time to overcome those fears, we all can conquer them. I understand that it is not going to be easy, but it is not impossible. 

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing.]

Friday, December 2, 2016

My parent's and I.

Our parents (or guardians or caretakers if not biological parents) are the first individuals who cast some influence on our lives. Our first social and intellectual interaction start with them, they teach us how to walk, talk, eat, and many other relevant physical and social skills. Parents normally have a significant influence on their child's life, many times they can shape up the thinking of the child. I think this is the reason why we see the continuation of same religious and political beliefs running through generations in the same family. Like everyone's parents, my parents are special to me and their influence on my life is significant. First of all, I am thankful to them for bringing me into this world, I know that my birth was not any divine incident. It was just a biological phenomena like every other birth of that time, born out of physical attraction between a male and a female, but still, this interaction was special to me as it resulted in my birth.  

My parents migrated from Uttar Pradesh to Maharashtra few years before my birth. My father came to Pune (a city in a state of Maharastra) to work in a factory. It was a new place, new culture, and completely new language. It was especially difficult for my mom to adjust with this new surrounding as she came from very protected environment to this new world where she has to take care of her family plus learn a new language and adjust to totally unfamiliar surroundings. There was a social and economic struggle, but they managed to tackle all these problems. As far as I remember I always saw my dad working very hard, I never saw this man resting or relaxing, even today he never feels comfortable in sitting at home. Now his body can't cope up with his enthusiasm to work, but still, he goes out and contributes as much as he can. He worked as a machine operator in a gas cylinder valve manufacturing company (Vanaz). When his company gave an option, he took a voluntary retirement in 1989 and started his own business. I was in a high school when he took this bold step, with three kids to feed, this guy took this brave step to invest all his retirement money into a dairy and sweet shop business. He established this business from scratch. He used to do all the work, he was the owner as well as the helper in shop kitchen, whatever work was required he did it without any complaint. We never even had a two-wheeler that time, he used to go on a bicycle to bring milk every day and also to market to procure other stuff. I know the reason why he suffers from a knee pain, he pushed his body beyond its physical limits for many years. When I look back to those days, I can't stop myself from getting impressed by the amount of hard work this man did to support our family. This all was not possible without the support of my mother, they both really worked hard, seldom they had any time to enjoy. We never used to have any spare money to go to a restaurant or watch a movie. The only movie we watched as a family was Sunny Deol's debutant movie "Betab," this movie has a special place in my heart just because of this reason. Going to our native place during summer vacation used to be our only picnic. They both dedicated their lives to establish their family in a new place. They worked really hard and established their business, built their own house in Pune, and paid for the education of their three kids.

They both taught me the value of hard work. Our many problems were related to money, this made me realize the importance of money very early in my life. I am thankful to my parents for countless things, but, I am most thankful to them for not insisting their beliefs and values on me. They never forced me to follow their religious or political beliefs, this allowed me to develop my own independent views about these things. I am really grateful to them for this, I am their son, but I am very different than them in all these aspects and I thank them for making this possible. I can see the amount of influence parents try to put on their kids as far as their religious, social, and political beliefs are concerned, fortunately, my parents never did that. They taught me all the necessary values like respect people around you, work hard, be honest and sincere, the importance of education, and many other things. Apart from education and some social etiquettes, nothing else was forced. We were not allowed to play cards as gambling was very rampant in our neighborhood. My dad never had a drink in front of us, even though many of his friends used to drink regularly in their homes and even tell their kids to fetch the bottle from the wine shop. They were really strict about some of these things and I really applaud them for this. These rules protected us from bad influences of our neighborhood. I don't know the exact number of kids going to school with me that time (must be around thirty), but only three or four successfully graduated from college, and two of them were from our family. These numbers say a lot about their efforts.

They both couldn't go to college, but they made sure that each of their kid got a chance to enter the college. My education and freedom to think are tow biggest gifts to me from them. Their support was very pivotal during my education, it was their decision not to allow their kids to enter the workforce to support their family was very important, this allowed me to complete my college and then my Ph.D. Many of my friends started working at very young age and couldn't finish their college. My education changed my life completely, it allowed me to question many things which I would never have done without the power of knowledge. Their reaction to many of my objections and protests is also admirable, I never expected that they will take my objections so sportingly. Not only they listen to my outrageous (according to them) views patiently, but even changed their views on certain topics after having a lengthy chat with me on those matters. It is not that we don't argue, we do it a lot, my concept of respect is not absolute obedience, no matter who the person is. I challenge their actions wherever I feel I have to and we argue, sometimes we agree and many times we don't, and this is what life is. Our disagreements so far didn't put any cracks in our bonding, it is as strong as ever. Our journey so far is really enjoyable, with some ups and downs for sure, but I do share a special bond with them and over the years that bond has become only stronger. Actually, one post is not enough to say everything about our parents, but I wanted to share something about them with readers. We all love and respect our parents, but rarely share our feelings with them. I think it is better to express our feelings, I learned this after coming to the US, in India rarely people express their feelings to each other in some relationships, especially son-father or daughter-father relationship. It is a personal choice, but I feel it is better to express them and have a very friendly relationship with our parents, it is a very rewarding experience.
Thank you मम्मि (mom), thank you पप्पा (dad) for everything, love you.

Thanks for reading.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Burqa and mini skirt-Symbols of liberation or oppression?

Symbolism is of a great importance for any civilization, various symbols can convey messages about our culture, habits, traditions, and values. The clothes we wear are one such symbol, any society where people are free to wear whatever they want based on their own needs and taste can claim to be a free and tolerant place. Societies, where the dress code is strictly implemented against the wish of people, and they are forced to wear a certain type of clothing can not claim to be a free society. Our clothing is a type of self-expression, may of us try to express ourselves using the way we dress, actually, this is one of the reasons why we wear different dresses for different occasions. I am not a supporter of a dress code (school uniform is a different ball game, it has a special purpose). I like to wear clothes in which I feel comfortable. I hate the idea of being forced to wear a certain type of clothing against my own wish, wherever possible I have resisted these things. Social pressure or peer pressure can be considered as other two important factors which force people to follow certain clothing habits.

Many times Burqua (or a veil) is propagated as a sign of oppression of women. It is true that forcing women or for that matter anyone to wear a certain type of clothing against their wish is wrong, but what if they are doing it out of their own choice? Can then we call it as a freedom to choose or we need to look deeper? I think, it is not that straightforward, we need to ask, under what circumstances that choice is offered? Is there any indirect pressure to dress or appear in a certain way to satisfy social norms? Is there a peer pressure or serious social and professional repercussion if they don't dress in a certain way? These questions might help us to understand the situation in a better way, rather than concluding anything based on dress. I have seen women wearing dark burqas on extremely hot summer days and mini skirts and high heels on extremely cold days, their clothing totally defied the need for weather conditions around them. I always wondered which one of them can be considered that she was free to choose her dress? Maybe none of them. Just because someone is wearing a burqa doesn't mean that person is living in an oppressed culture and just because someone is wearing a mini skirt doesn't mean they are living in a free society. The real freedom means people make informed choices, they chose what they want based on their own needs and requirements, not based on what society expects from them. One lady mentioned to me that it is not easy to be a woman even in developed countries as there are very high expectations about the way they should look or dress. She told me that most people think that women should not have any body hair except on head, eyelids, and eyelashes, I was shocked to know about this expectation. It is very natural to have body hair, it is a natural part of being a living organism, but to force a someone to get rid of them just because of some ridiculous beauty standard, is ridiculous, but it seems there is such an unreasonable expectation and many women subscribe to this. The reason offered is also a very serious one, it seems that if they don't then the social and professional penalty is severe. 

Women need to fight this stereotype on their own, this is one way of subjugating them by putting the burden of unreasonable expectations about external appearance. Forcing a burqa is as bad as forcing a miniskirt, there is no difference. Wearing a bikini or jeans doesn't make you a forward or liberal, at the same time wearing a burqa doesn't make you a backward or oppressed. A person's character should not be decided by the type of clothes they wear. Our clothes should be one of the ways to express ourselves, they should reflect our choice and should be based on our own decisions and needs. Our dress is not the true reflection of our personality only when it is our honest choice, based on free will. Burqa or miniskirt, they both can be symbols of oppression or freedom depending on what circumstances people wear it.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing.]

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Woman president-no thanks, we would rather prefer a sexual predator.

Like many, the result of the US presidential election was surprising for me. It was not shocking as the contest was very tight, but the result definitely surprised me. Politically, I consider myself an independent; I don't subscribe to any political ideology as I find some good, bad, and terrible points from both sides of the political spectrum. I support some of Mr. Trump's immigration and economic policies, but this man lost all my support the day that disgusting video came out, and he pathetically tried to justify that conversation as a "locker room talk."  He literally sounded like a sexual predator in that video, it was horrifying to watch a presidential nominee talking like that not very long ago. It seems for many his self-confession of sexual assault was not an issue at all, they are completely fine with the lame excuse of locker room talk. Now, I know the difference between the dirty talk and sexual assault. The released conversation was not just a dirty talk; he can do as much dirty talk as he wants, but this was a confession of a sexual assault, and there is a huge difference between these two things. But it seems American voters were hardly bothered by this, after all, aren't women expected to go through all this? Aren't rich, powerful, and charismatic people entitled to do such things?

The two choices presented by both parties were not perfect, Hillary's CV was much stronger for that job, but just having a strong CV doesn't guarantee you any job, the interview panel should like you and then only the job is guaranteed. Hillary failed to impress the interview panel. There can be several reasons for election defeat, but this election was special and the question is, how much her gender played a role in her defeat? According to me, her gender played a quite significant role. As per polls and opinions, it seems that Americans don't mind having a woman president; yeah, they don't mind. They want the rest of the world to believe that they are OK with a woman president, but so far this amazing country where women are so talented, qualified, and hard working, couldn't find a single qualified woman to lead this country. Dearth of such talented women is so bad that for the first time some woman made through primaries to get a major political party's nomination. It took more than 200 years to find a black person to lead the country, and no one knows how many years it might take to find a woman to lead this country. 

So, why I think that Hillary's gender played a role in this election? Was she judged with stricter standards just because she was a woman? To understand this, I want readers to imagine a hypothetical scenario, just switch the background or gender of candidates: imagine Hillary as a successful business person with undisclosed tax returns and extremely lavish and flamboyant lifestyle. Imagine release of her "locker room talk" video, where she is bragging about her attempts to sexually assault some man and how she loves kissing young men, grabbing their crotch and she can do whatever she wants because she is rich, powerful, and famous. Do you think she would have had any chance to win any election or even a nomination? If your answer is "no chance," then you know what I mean when I say that her gender played a major role in her defeat. Yes, emails mattered, FBI directors sudden statement mattered, her image mattered, Bill Clinton's infidelity mattered, her time in government mattered, but her gender played a BIG role. This is what made me disappointed, I was not sad that a democrat lost or a republican won, I hardly care about their party affiliation. I was not sad that Hillary lost, as I am not her fan, I was sad that a qualified woman lost to a man of questionable character just because she was a woman.

To explain why this loss was more bothersome, let me give an example of India's parliament election of 2014, there also Mr. Modi, with a questionable attitude towards his own wife won the election with an impressive majority, but his victory was not unexpected as his opponents were really weak. He at least looked like the most competent person among all who were competing for that job. His total disregard towards his wife was not even an issue, no one bothered to think that if a prime minister can treat his wife like this, then what about other citizens? He didn't even bother to give her divorce, just ignored her as if she didn't exist. It showed society's total disregard of women's rights, but I hardly expected that Indian voters will even think about this issue, and as expected they didn't. So, it was not an unexpected result, but I didn't expect something even remotely similar to happen here in the USA. I know that resentment against immigrants or minorities is a very strong feeling and I wrote a post regarding this issue just a few days before the election. In that post I mentioned that use of this emotion can result in huge political dividends, it happened in India so there was no reason why it can't happen here in the US. I would not have been surprised if Hillary would have lost the election to any other republican candidate (even a celebrity candidate) on anti-immigration rhetoric, but Mr. Trump's victory even after the release of that video is surprising to me and it puts a question mark in my mind about society's attitude towards women. Maybe they are not going to be good enough in front of men; no matter how qualified they are or how hard working they are.

Women played a significant role in Mr. Trump's victory. It seems the majority white women voted for him. Obviously, the race was not a factor as both candidates were from the same race, this again proves that gender was the factor. The effect of patriarchy is so strong that even women think that men are most suitable for any leadership position. This thinking is inculcated since childhood and each tradition or custom is designed to validate this thinking. It becomes so embedded in our minds that we don't even realize that we are proponents of patriarchy. The glass ceiling about which many women leaders talk is not just created by men or patriarchy, but women are equal contributors to make sure that ceiling remains intact. Hillary was not an icon for me until November, 9th, but she became one on that day. Her win may not have impressed me that much as much as her loss made me sad. This is not the first time some Hillary has lost to Donald, this has happened many times before and may happen in future also. But that doesn't mean women should stop trying. It is true that she couldn't break that glass ceiling, but definitely she made it crack, and now it is up to others to break it. It is not going to be easy, but it is possible.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing.]

Friday, November 4, 2016

Resentment against immigrants. Why?

I have lived my life as a part of an immigrant family in India and I am an immigrant in the USA. I have experienced build up of resentment against immigrants, but I never suffered any harm because of it. This problem is very real and I want to share my perspective on it. My family migrated from one state of India to another in search of better opportunities (from Uttar Pradesh to Maharashtra). In India, each state is like a different country, with its own language and culture. It is not that easy to adjust, especially if the native language is totally alien to you. One can cook their own food or eat whatever is available, but it takes quite a bit of time and some efforts to learn a new language and get to know a new culture. My parents went through this struggle and I witnessed that. The good part of this struggle was, they never forced any of their kids to learn their own native language (Bhojpuri), I and my brothers learned to speak Marathi instead of Hindi or Bhojpuri. I give total credit of this to my parents, I don't know if they did it on purpose, but this is how it happened. We used to speak three languages simultaneously in our home, Bhojpuri, Hindi, and Marathi. Until recently my parents used to speak with us (their three kids) in Hindi or Bhojpuri and we used to answer in Marathi. It happens even now, but not that much, because now they are very comfortable with Marathi. This system worked very flawlessly, it was so smooth that we didn't even realize that we were using three languages simultaneously. The point here is, they didn't stop us from learning the local culture, language or customs. They allowed us to mingle with our surroundings, form friendships, get into trouble or do whatever other kids from the neighborhood were doing, as a kid, I never felt that I came to Maharashtra from some other state, Maharashtra is my home state and Marathi is my mother tongue. So we grew up and became a proud Maharashtrian in a family migrated from UP. This does not mean that we were totally disconnected with our native place, Uttar Pradesh. We can speak Bhojpuri quite well, love food and visit there whenever possible. I feel lucky that I belong to two states in India. Maharashtra now has a sizable population coming from northern states like UP and Bihar. And as normally happens, some resentment got built against these people among native Maharashtrians, some parties tried to encash these feelings. But, we never felt that this anger was directed towards us as we or at least I never had any doubt about me being a Marathi. But, I also got curious why there is such a strong resentment against immigrants? This feeling is so strong that some political parties and leaders owe their existence to it. Who support such political parties and why? Why this feeling of resentment, which almost like a hatred becomes such a powerful political weapon? It is so powerful weapon that even in a developed country like the USA, this issue is one of the major issues of presidential election and it is one of the major reasons for Mr. Trump's popularity.

Why immigrants go through this phase in any society? Why doesn't it happen when they start immigrating, but only when they become a sizable minority group, and their presence can be seen and felt by the majority? I tried to get answers to these questions based on my own experience. Maharashtra or the USA are very cultured and civilized societies, these places are not alien to the presence of immigrants. Why a country like the US, which is known to be very freindly towatds immigrants is facing this problem?

There is no doubt that the cultural clash is one of the reasons for this problem. When immigrants become a sizable minority, they start registering their presence on various platforms and this disturbs some native people. At the same time, native people start feeling that their culture is under attack or threat, as immigrants start asserting their own culture and traditions. Native population starts feeling that one day their own traditions will disappear. Now, no one cares or bothers to think whether these concerns are real or not, they don't bother to check their validity, but these fears start creating some feeling of resentment in some part of the native population. This fear slowly builds up. Bad economy or poor employment rate fuels more insecurity among people and these feelings start showing their ugly effect by some stray incidents, where some immigrant gets attacked for no reason. Some political leader takes advantage of this fear and makes it a political issue. This is what happened in Maharashtra and this is what happening in the USA, and unfortunately I am a witness to both of these phenomena.

Who is right and who is wrong? Who should be blamed for this situation? Are immigrants responsible for not adapting to their new place and appreciating the new culture and values which has given them so much? Are native people responsible for not being flexible enough and accommodative to include new values and cultural norms in their existing culture? I think the problem is from the both sides, remember, it takes two to tango. If you wanted to create another UP in Maharashtra then why did you migrate from UP? If you wanted to create another India in the USA, why not to live in India itself, after all, the original is always better than the duplicate, right? What's the point in creating another Mexico in the USA? On the other hand, why not to welcome and adapt some great values from all these cultures into the US culture and make it more diverse? Why can't we respect each other without threatening the existence of each other?

All people who think that this resentment against immigrants is unreal or is totally misplaced feeling, are themselves living in a denial mode. A presidential candidate like Mr. Trump or leader like Mr. Thackerey doesn't get support for no reason. People may feel that these leaders are not qualified to hold any public office, but they should not make a mistake to ignore the issues which their supporters raise. They all are not deplorable people, labeling such a big part of population stupid doesn't help. If any mainstream politician doesn't address their concerns, they will choose someone who they think is best to handle their issues, and then we really can't complain, it will be too late. I don't think Mr. Trump is their solution for their problems, but he is their answer to political class for ignoring their concerns, for ridiculing their fear. Now they have someone who can speak for them, he is far from perfect, but at least he is recognizing their problems, and this is enough for most of them. The current political class is trapped in too much political correctness, they prefer ignoring difficult issues. They prefer to wait and watch rather than tackling the problems head-on. The point is, someone should listen to these concerns and try to find solutions, ignoring or ridiculing is not going to help.

I am not here to judge whether this feeling of resentment is justified or not, one can debate about it. Maybe they really feel threatened about their culture or jobs. Maybe they are really concerned they will become a minority and their kids will face problems. Maybe all this fear is totally misplaced, but someone needs to discuss these things, these people should feel that their concerns are also being considered as a mainstream problems. The country is not only facing problems related to guns, abortion, terrorism, and unemployment; but illegal immigration is a serious problem and should be discussed. If not, then someone will take advantage of this anger, today it's Mr. Trump, tomorrow it may be someone else, and please don't make a mistake of thinking that elections can't be won or lost on such issues. I have seen it happening in India and it can very much happen in the US. Discussing such sensitive issues openly is good for both sides, after all, I believe that everyone living here wants this country to be a great country. It is already a great country and let's make sure that it remains one.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The difficulty of being GOOD.

The difficulty of being good is the title of a book by Gurcharan Das. It is a philosophical book which discusses various moral issues humans face with reference to characters from the great Mahabharat. I read this book few year back and found it very engaging. The topic of the difficulty of being good, came to my mind while chatting with one of my friends on the issue of gender discrimination which is present in every religion. I was trying to convey the point that, we all have our own biases and prejudices, many times we don't even realize that, but we all need to introspect and analyze our own thinking to get rid of these things, and it is a very difficult process. It is not that easy to be good at all times. We all speak passionately about the issues or problems which we care about, we all speak in favor of some political figure or celebrity who we love, and against some who we don't like. However, many of us change our stance instantly if we come across the views from the other side. We are normally not that welcoming of the criticism directed towards people we love, we are not that welcoming about the alternate views about the issues about which we care. I am not saying that we need to agree with all those things which opponents say, but many of us get mad to see that people can even think like that. One ideal example is when Hilary supporters can't understand how come anyone can support Mr. Trump and Trump supporters can't tolerate the fact that people are supporting Mrs. Clinton.  This is one simple example to demonstrate the point which I am trying to make.

By "good" I don't mean nice or not mean or tolerant here, I am using this term for being impartial or reasonable or someone who can recognize the differences and still try to look for commonality. I mean someone who can agree to disagree, someone who can see and appreciate that every issue can have two sides and sometimes there is no right or wrong. Someone who can appreciate ambiguity and uncertainty of life, someone who can understand the point of view of an atheist as well as the theist. I understand that I am asking an ideal behavior, but we don't want to give this title of "good person" for doing trivial things, right? There should be some challenge associated to reach to the point where we can call ourself "a good person."

It is not that easy to be an unbiased person or to be a really politically neutral person and criticize or praise all political options which are out there only based on their stand on various issues. It's not easy, especially because we don't get the protection from any camp, we don't feel that we belong to any herd where there are people who exactly think like us, with no arguments and disagreements, and this is not a very comfortable situation for many of us. To avoid this discomfort and insecurity, we choose our sides, we either love or hate some political leader, we get associated with the certain political party, no matter what we try to defend or attack them. We try to show that our religion or country is the best in the world and others are not that good, drawbacks of our own religion are trivial, but other religions have terrible shortcomings. We expect other's should not offend us, but we should be allowed to say whatever we want (personally, I support absolute freedom of expression). When in a majority, we think that minority should respect majority's views and behave accordingly (beef ban in India is an ideal example of this), but the same if group when in minority, expects that their ideas and values should be protected and respected by the majority. This last behavior pattern I observed clearly among Indians living in the USA, many of them supported overwhelmingly Mr. Modi and his call of nationalism and majoritarianism during last general elections of India, but got very apprehensive about Mr. Trump when he said very similar things, but in the American context. These people feared that because of their minority status, they might come under attack or suffer some angry reactions from the majority, but the same group was totally dismissal about similar fears expressed by the minorities of India. I am not trying to say that after Mr. Modi's victory in India minority is in very perilous state or they are suffering at the hands of majority, but his tone during the election campaign was not that different than Mr. Trump's tone, and I can see the different response by the same group of people, just because of their different strength in that society.

The desire to be good, is very common and natural, but the willingness to take conscious efforts to become good is not that common. We all want to be good without taking efforts to become good, and that is why it is very difficult to be good. It is tough, but we all can try to achieve it. I hope readers of this blog will try their best to be a "good person." We need more good people in this world, I don't think anyone will disagree with this statement. Let's first recognize the difficulty of being good and then try to overcome those very sincerely. I am trying my best, are you?

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]