Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Religion and terrorism.

The issue of terrorism in not new for our civilization, our society has dealt with various forms of terrorism since its existence. Most ugly form of terrorism is lethal violence and most people are mainly worried about this form but it can also manifest itself in so many other forms which are equally detrimental. There is no doubt that any form of terrorism is harmful to any society or civilization, so the issue is undoubtedly very important for all of us. Arms and weapons industry is huge player in this area and it has tremendous influence on how world politics works, the revenue of this industry depends on feeling of fear and there is nothing better than terrorism to infuse this feeling among people of any country. Any society suffering with any form of terrorism faces so many problems, first of all day to day lives of its citizens get severely affected in many ways, many people live in constant fear of attack and it creates feeling of insecurity and distrust among its people. All these things are not signs of healthy society, it affects its growth, stability and productivity. So it is always better to address problems related with any sort of terrorism on priority basis. Ignoring such problems doesn't make them to go away on its own, rather they can give rise to so many other problems which can be very damaging to any country in long run.

Many countries are battling with issue of terrorism in various forms for years. As a Indian I know very well how it feels living in a country to be at receiving end of terrorist attacks on regular basis. Situation in India is not as bad as many other places in world but still one can feel the heat of terrorism. People try to label these acts of terrorism in so many ways, many times these terrorist groups label themselves, they choose to attach themselves with certain region, ethnic group or religion to create an impression that they are fighting for that particular group's interests. In last few years there is increasing use of terms like 'Islamic terrorism' all over world or 'saffron terrorism' in India, these terms try to link some particular religion with terrorist activities happening in that region. The clear intention behind this is to indicate that that particular religion is used as a instrument to incite people to perform acts of terrorism. So the question we need to ask is, is there any relationship between religion and terrorism? Especially when almost everyone claims that all religions teach peace. It is widely claimed that all religions of world spread the message of love then what is the reason same religion can be so easily used to spread hatred and violence? Why are people willing to kill each other in name of religion? Is this a fault of those people or religion gives them this opportunity by being ambiguous about use of violence? Is it possible that in reality almost all religions teach both hate and love, peace and violence? When such extreme options are available people conveniently use the portions of that particular religion which suit to justify their actions of love as well as hatred. I know some of these questions might make some people feel very uncomfortable and might even offend some devoted followers of religion but nevertheless we need to ask them. It seems people very easily get offended nowadays, I was surprised to hear that nowadays speakers need to give a 'trigger warning' before saying anything which might be contrary to some popular belief or against some widely accepted ideology. But we need to ask these questions so that people can understand about this very complicated and sensitive issue. If there is any relationship between religion and terrorism, then we all should be very careful in dealing with some aspects of religion and factors which trigger violent reactions should be recognized and acknowledged.

Most of religions went through various forms of struggles to establish themselves in this world, one can easily read about these things on internet. Some religions originated in very hostile environment and have to fight some bloody wars to defeat their enemies and establish their presence, this might be the reason most of them include recommendations to fight against their opponents (enemies). These recommendations might have been necessary at that time as that was time of 'might is right' era but such conditions don't exist any more. Most of us now understand that all these religions are like personal hygiene products in market, the only difference is that in this case people get this product from their family or parents and few of them chose it on their on (by using the process called conversion). But the truth is that religion is a form of personal welfare product, so different people can have different religion as it suits their requirements and needs. Most of us also understand that there is no eminent threat for any ideology or religion in most of civil societies. Most civilized countries offer their residents right to practice any religion of their choice. If that particular religion is relevant and useful it will survive or it will fade away with time. This is a simple rule of market, if the product is popular and sellable it will stay in the market or something else will replace it. As I said most countries have freedom to practice any religion, some Islamic countries don't have this freedom and we all know the situation of human rights and freedom of expression in those countries. The point I am trying to make is, any violence propagated in name of some religion is in extreme danger is false and a lame attempt to justify some heinous acts.

The truth of matter is every religion needs to own things happening in its name, it doesn't matter if they are good, bad or ugly, they need to take responsibility of all these things. The propagators and followers of any religion can not be selective in owning things about their own religion. They just can't only talk about good things about their religion and purposely ignore all the bad and ugly things. This is called hypocrisy, where someone tries to project only one side of any issue or topic conveniently ignoring other sides as they don't suit their purpose. Historically every major religion has been used to commit autocracies on its non believers at some point of time. Some sort of discrimination was practiced or still is in practice against non believers of that religion. Rather than accepting these things various explanations are offered to justify these acts either directly or indirectly. This is one of the reason why most people don't hesitate to justify the violence in name of religion as almost everyone else has done it, so why not us. Many of these heinous acts get some sort of legitimacy if they are committed in name of some religion. Somehow every religion will have some group of followers who will justify such things and try to dominate the course of discussion.

It seems religion has capacity of generating extremely good or extremely bad emotions in people. Some groups use both these extremes to serve purpose of their organizations. But the problem is most followers are really prompt and attentive in praising good deeds by people from their own religion but at the same time they are little hesitant or completely reluctant to accept many bad acts committed in name of their religion. People need to owe these acts and criticize them in strongest terms if they consider them wrong. Strong criticism from outside of that religion helps to radicalize some of its supporters and it helps the purpose of groups who want to misuse that religion rather than acting as a deterrent. Because no religion takes criticism from outsiders very kindly, because it is assumed that outsiders will criticize mainly out of hatred or jealousy. This is why it very important that strong criticism should come from various factions of that same religion and then only any positive reform is possible. Until these things start happening on large scale it is quite possible religion will be vulnerable for misuse by some bigots from their own fraternity. Today it is Islam tomorrow it might be something else or even something new. Our social and political class need to show courage and commitment to address this problem without getting into a trap of not hurting anyone's sentiment type of mentality. Please remember that as most saints belong to some religion most terrorist also have religion and they clearly mention it. As religion owns these saints they need to own these terrorists also. It is a job of everyone to reject these violent ideas no matter from which holy book or religion they come from. Unless we all unite to fight this evil we will continue to suffer because of it, so lets unite and fight this evil of religious terrorism together.

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

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Mother Teresa's miraculous path to sainthood.

When I read news that Mother Teresa is on her way to become a 'catholic saint' I couldn't decide whether to feel happy or sad. I am a great admirer of her amazing humanitarian work which she did in India, actually her work speaks for itself about her greatness so I wonder why at she needed these random incidents under the name of miracles to get the title of 'saint'. But it seems minimum two miracles are required to be declared as a ' catholic saint', I don't know on what basis they came up with the number '2' but that seems to be the criteria. So even after all that great work which she did most of her life it was not good enough to qualify her to become a saint, and now finally she got that dearly required second miracle recently which cleared her path to become a catholic saint. Seriously Pope? you need such trivial miracles which are random incidents to declare someone like her a saint? I am really stunned to know that church authorities need some sort of non reproducible random incidents (so called miracles) to declare some one like Mother Teresa a saint, can they please explain why her exemplary work is not enough for that? I feel astonished by all this because I come from part of India which has produced many sants (equivalent of saint in Marathi) like, Dyaneshwar, Tukaram, Eknath, Namdev and many others. Actually to be fair with Vatican people there are some miracles attributed to some of these people which according to me are clearly work of fiction. Miracles are attributed just to emphasize their greatness to some people who may not be able to understand the real importance of their work. That is why according to me all of them are not saints (or sant) because they did some miracles but for their scholarly work in the field of devotional literature or for carrying our social reforms or for their humanitarian work. May be many centuries back people needed some sort of stories about different miracles to understand greatness of someone but in today's world why we need such things which we know are some random incidents. Today how believable is the news that someone with multiple brain tumors prayed for her and got cured? Now for a moment let's assume if this is really true then is it recommended for all those who are undergoing medical treatments for similar disease to stop those treatments and start praying to her or someone else with a hope of getting cured. Why not? Actually people do pray whenever they are in deep trouble or when they see no other option, but they do this for their mental satisfaction there is no much logic behind this as there is no data to prove that prayers are as effective as medicines. But people do have habit of praying and many also feel that their prayers produce desired results, but there is no proof for these things. Such psychological boost can work in some cases, actually in medical science there is a phenomena called 'placebo effect' which describes similar scenario, but it is not considered as a miracle.

I wrote one blog post about her many months back, even though I am admirer of her work, her intentions and motives behind her work are questioned by some people. These questions or objections might sound unreasonable to her admirers like me but they are there and one needs to acknowledge their existence. But my main objections to this miracle thing is what is the real purpose behind attributing such lame miracles to anyone? Don't they know that such things spread superstition among people? Especially who are very vulnerable to believe in such things, for such people anything coming from their religious authority is absolute truth and this is dangerous. Superstition is already a huge problem in many societies and if powerful religious institutions like catholic church are instrumental in spreading these things so blatantly then I wonder how can a society can dream of getting rid of these social evils? This is absolutely disturbing to see that they are talking about miracles where some diseases are cured in today's scientific era. I absolutely have no problem with declaring Mother Teresa a saint or God or angel or whatever they want but I have strong objection over so called miracles attributed to her. This is very clear case of superstition, just because something happened randomly or can't be explained by current set of rules doesn't mean it is a miracle. Many years back things like lunar eclipses or even rainbows were considered as miracles by some God but not any more. I think it is a responsibility of any responsible and powerful institution not to propagate culture of falsehood or superstition. This drama of miracle is really not necessary for giving sainthood to a great lady like Mother Teresa, people like her or Baba Amte are great human beings. We can call them saint, god, angel just because of their amazing work, they don't need any crutches of miracles to prove their greatness. I hope people understand this and give well deserved respect to these individuals which they totally deserve because of their superb work not some stupid miracles.

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

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

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Friday, December 18, 2015

An open letter to Mr. Arvind Kejriwal

Dear Arvind,
It was really surprising if not shocking to see you shouting angry slurs at BJP and Mr. Modi on national TV and also on Twitter. I really thought that you learned your lesson from your horrible outburst against Mr. Prashant Bhushan and Mr. Yogendra Yadav which was revealed immediately after your party's spectacular victory in Delhi assembly elections. We all can disagree with others or even can have serious difference of opinion on various matters or criticize each other very strongly without being abusive towards each other. I was under impression that may be finally after that mistake you learned to control your anger, at least in public. But it seems that lesson is long forgotten and you are back with your 'angry young man' avatar that has very little regard for choice of words while expressing his anger. While I totally agree that you have complete freedom to say whatever you want, after all right of freedom of expression comes with right to offend, but I never imagined that you will take it to the extent that it will sound like abuse. Actually frankly speaking my love affair with AAP ended long back, immediately after you decided to resign after 45 days of your brief tenure as Delhi CM. I should accept that I was attracted to your political party because of presence of wide variety of people from different backgrounds who doesn't necessarily subscribe to single ideology. It was interesting mix and generated some hope in people like me that may be people with different set of ideas also can come together and create something unique which can challenge traditional norms of Indian politics and frankly you guys managed to do that but that phenomena was very short lived. I still agree that your party is somewhat different than all other political parties in India but that difference is very minute and the gap is narrowing day by day but yes, still it is somewhat different.

Now, coming back to this particular incident, I agree that Mr. Modi or central NDA government misused power in their hand, I also agree that CBI was in past and still today is used as a tool to settle political scores or strike political deals but didn't you already know all this? Didn't you voluntarily signed up for this job and willingly entered murky arena of Indian politics after knowing all these facts? Or somehow in your wildest dreams you believed that these things won't happen with you and your government? So assuming that even if Mr. Modi or BJP showed their cowardliness and vengeance why you didn't show your bravery and sensible nature by facing that inquiry or raid like any common citizen of India? Why you think that your office is so special that CBI needs to take your permission to raid it if it feels necessary to raid it? If according to you Mr. Modi is a coward  or a psychopath then who are you? A brave CM who is crying foul just for a single raid conducted on his office by using such a foul language? Or is it the case that as a CM of Delhi you expect to be treated differently that any other citizen of India? I still remember that you and your party as well as most leaders of other political parties saying on multiple occasions that you all are servants of common people of India, you all claim to be against that VIP culture. But it seems this rhetoric is only true until you guys win the election and get the power, once you are in government then you all become those VIPs, expect some special treatment and start behaving like a privileged entity. I think you know this but in case you forgot let me remind you that many common people in India go through some of these ordeals of search, raids and arrests everyday without creating any fuss. Many of them go through this as a consequences of their criminal acts but believe me many are put through this for no fault of theirs but they all go through this and believe that system will do justice with them. They believe in same system of which you are also a part now. They don't ask for any special treatment so what you have to say now about no VIP culture and everyone should be treated in same way? I know, that now you or your supporters will argue that then why X CM's office was not raided or why Y scam was not investigated, I agree that there is often selective investigations and political vendetta in some cases. People are raising questions about these things and these things should be questioned in proper way. But if there are some allegations against one of officers in your office then why not to investigate him? Why to put condition that first investigate X and Y and then come to me or my staff? What happened to claim that we will not tolerate any corruption or shelter any corrupt officer slogan, was it just a chunavi jumla, a gimmick to win election, just like your esteemed opponents use many of them in every election? If it was then at least let people know about it, so they stop wondering about such type of behavior.

If you expected that nothing of this sort will happen to you or your political opponents won't play any dirty games with you or they will deal with you using kid gloves or politics will change overnight then I must say that I am amazed by your naiveness. Similar things have happened in past and I am sure they will happen in future also but it is you who promised to bring the change of culture but it seems that now you are trying really hard to fit right into that same culture which you opposed as an activist. Your choice of words was not only wrong but I am sure it was disheartening for many of your supporters to hear these things coming out from you. Actually it puts you in same line of people who called you traitor, Pakistani agent, bhagoda, naxal and what not. I am sure you must be enjoying their company as you really tried very hard to be part of that group. Those people also used abusive language and displayed very low level of personal vendetta and what you did was no different. I would not have bothered to write this mail few months back but recently I thought your government was back on track as you guys were really doing some good work, initiating discussions about relevant topics like pollution and air quality of Indian cities but then this happened. It is like going 5 steps forward and 10 steps backward.

I don't want to make my letter too long and too preachy. I am also not nhere to tell you what to do and what not to do, I am sure you know this better than me. I just raised few questions and I hope you bother to think about them and introspect a little. Let me end by citing a very relevant example for you, I am sure you know the name of Sachin Tendulkar. This man is considered as a great cricketer not just for number of records he broke or runs he scored but also for his temperament, consistency, sincerity and on field behavior. There are equally great players as far as statistics or records are concerned from his era or eras before and after him, many of them are very aggressive not only while playing cricket but while dealing with other players on field and some of them are even known to be extremely abusive during their on field behavior. Sachin is different from all those because he never engaged in on field verbal spats, it is not that he was not abused or people never tried to intimidate him or he was not targeted, opponents from all teams tried all sort of tactics but this man answered all that not with his mouth but with his bat by scoring runs. His performance answered those insults thrown at him, no doubt that he needed to produce very high quality performance consistently to deal with on ground sledging and this is one of the reasons why I consider him as a great cricketer. I hope this example inspires you to do something different from now onward. Because it is of no use just to claim that you are different, you also need to show that in your behavior.

All the very best and take care.

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 11, 2015

Why it is important to understand enigma of american politics, Mr. Donald Trump.

One of the front runners for republican nomination for next year's presidential elections Mr. Donald Trump is creating lot of media waves all over the world since he entered in this election foray. Somehow he manages to grab headlines in print or electronic media because of his statements. Many of his statements have generated very polarized responses with some praising him for calling spade a spade (hinting that he is telling the truth even though he might sound politically incorrect) and some criticizing him for spreading hatred and negativity about certain sections of society (an outright racist or misogynist, etc.). But to everyone's surprise so far he managed to stay in news and also if polls are to be believed he is still one of the front runners to grab the republican presidential nomination. Many people are surprised by his high popularity as well as amount of support his statements are receiving. He is considered as an outsider in politics but definitely for all republican politicians out there he is giving run for their money. To some, this 'outsider' tag might seem like a big drawback, especially when you are planning to run for topmost political post of country but this guy has managed to turn this as his advantage by diffusing all attacks which question his political inexperience. I am not at all his supporter or for that matter any party supporter but I have a deep interest in politics and as a independent observer like to study various aspects of it, and there is no doubt that Mr. Donald Trump is one of the very interesting aspect of this US presidential race.

I live in Connecticut, which is considered as a loyal democrat state, that's why I was really surprised to hear when an old lady who was very devoted democrat supporter for many years said that may be this time she will vote for Mr. Trump if he gets the nomination. It is worthwhile to note that she didn't say that she will vote for some republican candidate but she specifically mentioned Mr. Trump. I guess the main reason behind this is people's frustration with politicians from both the parties, election after election they witnessed every presidential candidate making huge promises during their campaigns, they all promise to bring change and at the end nothing much changes on the ground. So it seems that people are increasingly getting frustrated with inability of seasoned politicians to deliver on their election promises. They are loosing their faith in them, for all those people Mr. Trump is like breeze of fresh air, someone who may not lie and cheat just to win an election. To add to this confidence Mr. Trump already declared that he is not going to take any money for his campaign from so called BIG donors who then try to influence the government. This is very well known fact, termed as 'lobbying'. The donations which these corporations make to various candidates from both major parties is sort of investment on their part to protect their own interests and it doesn't matter which candidate wins these corporate houses make sure to keep their goodwill with both major parties. There is nothing illegal or wrong in this practice as it is allowed by law and everything is declared for everyone to see, so one should not blame these corporations for this as system allows them to do this. They are just using legal way to protect their business interests, it is duty of politicians to make sure that they stay on their course and protect people's interest first. Mr. Trump's controversial statements about illegal immigrants or about Syrian refugees or Muslim immigrants are very insensitive and controversial but I think he know that people will relate with his statements as most politicians don't even dare to address many of these problems because they are very sensitive. Many of seasoned politicians don't want to touch some of these topics because they don't want to get into trouble, they don't want to hurt their vote bank, and because of this attitude many of them just refuse to accept that these problems even exist. This is very wrong, those problems or concerns are there and people need some answers. Why can't democrats explain that if you legalize current illegal immigrants then how it doesn't mean that you are actually encouraging more illegal immigration? Just because people who broke the immigration law are in millions, is it OK to pardon their illegal act? Suppose if government does that today then what is the guarantee that after 10 or 20 years country will not be facing similar situation, and then what to do? Issue another legal pardon and legalize all peaceful illegal immigrants? What is the process followed to make sure that all refugees entering US need genuine help? The point I am trying to raise here is, people have many questions like these and politicians or political parties who are willing to legalize illegal immigrants or want to take more refugees are not able to explain properly why they want to do that. They some how are not able to explain the logic and rational behind their decision clearly. This creates confusion and builds resent. Any opposition to these issues can not be dismissed just based on partisan politics. This should not be projected as democrat vs republican battle. Mr. Trump is not even seasoned republican guy still he is getting so much support, we need to ask, why??

I think one major reason being Mr. Trump's popularity is that there was apparent disconnect between republican voters and politicians, and Mr. Trump is trying to bridge that gap. His ability to say some things which any traditional politician won't even dream of saying it on public platform is paying him some dividends. We all know that many times in politics political parties try to make use of same issues in every election. Actually many political parties are interested in keeping many issues alive because those issues generate votes for them in every election, I have seen it happening in India for decades, in US situation is much better compared to India but these things happen here also. I guess people think that Mr. Trump can challenge this and change this, whether he will get elected or do it, or not is different issue but at least he is projecting himself as 'no nonsense' person and many people are buying that. Many of his controversial statements are highly flawed and clearly inflammatory. They are clearly targeted to make use of feeling of uneasiness in people's mind. I guess he is willing to take the risk and he thinks that rewards are high if it works in his favor. I am sure he also knows that it can backfire on him but then if he is also like rest of politicians then why the heck people should chose him? He wants to set him apart from the rest and I guess so far his strategy seems to be working. Pressure and obligation to be politically correct all the time has made many politicians very defensive, they hesitate to attack any problem aggressively because of fear that it might disturb their core constituency. Fear of being sidelined or hammered by witch hunters in press and public who are just looking for one loose statement to finish someone's political career is very real and huge among all public figures. Mr. Trump seem to be immune of this fear and it seems many people are appreciating this. 

One can agree or disagree with Mr. Trump's statement or even dismiss him as publicity hungry business man or call him insignificant candidate who is not going to make it to finish line of presidential candidacy but there is no doubt that this man has created lot of waves in political arena. If it is good or bad only time will tell, but I think people should ponder over the fact that why is he getting so much support? May be it will help us understanding many issues which are stuck in deadly partisan politics in such a way that it seems they can not be resolved no matter how long both parties try. But there is no doubt that this is dangerous path to achieve power, this is not sustainable approach. You can not create rift in society and then expect peace and unity. Very similar thing happened in India last year. Current Indian prime minister Mr. Modi made use of huge vacuum created by indecisive leadership and inability of politicians to address some real problems like corruption, black money, poor infrastructure, communal tension, etc. He rose the charts of popularity index day by day by making many statements and promises which seasoned politicians in India hesitate to make. He said whatever people wanted to hear, whether it was about taking on Pakistan or China or about black money or so called pink revolution or about dynastic rule. He used all rhetoric and theatrics, never apologized for any of his mistakes or never minced his words while attacking someone and it all worked in his favor. Voters of India saw a ray of hope in him and gave him an unprecedented mandate, but since coming into power he is struggling to clear his image as divisive leader. He is finding it hard to rein in some elements of his own party who totally believe that its OK to make inflammatory statements if it suits them without worrying much about its consequences. Almost a year and half has passed but current government is still finding it very hard to pass some key reform bills in parliament in spite of having clear majority as opposition is just refusing to cooperate. It seems it is easy to win elections by polarizing the society but then it is not easy to neutralize that polarization when you want to run the country. While filling the vacuum created by indecisive political leadership Mr. Trump is setting up same dangerous precedence in US which Mr. Modi did in India. Their intentions might be good, they might be sincerely trying to do something good for their country, we should give both these leaders a benefit of doubt but then the method they are using has some serious side effects which no one can ignore. Today he is targeting Muslims, what if tomorrow he says same thing about Hindus or Africans? What is guarantee that his supporters won't target other minority immigrants who according to them are taking up american's jobs? Polarized or divided society can go in any direction, it is very difficult to predict. Purposely cultivated hatred can manifest in several ways, it is very dangerous to play with this fire. Divide and rule is the best strategy if you just want to rule any society without having any concern about its welfare, many rulers used this trick very successfully in past successfully to exploit some regions for their own benefit. Those societies are still grappling with problems like lack of trust and communal tension. It is very tempting strategy as it seems to provide immediate short term gains, many political parties and leaders still use this in India. Is Mr. Trump want to see similar situation in US? We can find faults with other methods and ways used by other politicians or political parties, policies like minority or majority appeasement are also not good but clear agenda of divisiveness or hatred is the most dangerous among all. So I hope people try to understand what's really going on, I hope even Mr. Trump will realize that he don't need to make such divisive statements to stay in limelight or ahead in polls, after all no election win should be more important than unity and prosperity of nation. Please note one thing here, I am not at all objecting to right of Mr. Trump to say those things, he has complete freedom to say those things and others can criticize him for that as much as they want. I am just trying to discuss merits and demerits of his approach. I hope each one of us understands this and think over these things logically, no matter in which country we reside, which party or person we support.

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

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

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Chennai floods and story of unplanned development in Indian cities.

Entire world watched floods of Chennai on various news channels, international coverage was not as prominent as it should have been but it was somewhere there in news. Even most of Indian media responded very late to report this natural calamity with attention and sincerity it deserves. There can be various reasons to this, may be they thought that useless debate on tolerance and intolerance going on in parliament was more important, may be they thought Chennai is not Mumbai or Delhi so not many people will be interested in that coverage or may be they had no clue that it was that serious, so we don't know what was the reason but national media was very late to show up on the scene, but finally they did show up. There were reports of severe damage to people's homes and other personal property, day to day lives of thousands of people got affected in a way they never imagined. Some scenarios were terrible and beyond imagination. My few relatives live in Chennai, so from them I know how bad was the situation and how people managed to survive mostly by helping each other. Most of the time government machinery is either unprepared for such massive scale disaster or it gets crushed under the huge demand vs less supply scenario. There were also various stories of common people, celebrities and rescue worker's heroics, their brave acts during these moments of crises which managed to save many lives and helped many in distress. No doubt that these stories need to be highlighted but they should not overshadow the real reasons behind this man made natural disaster. 

We all saw what happened and how people are fighting to overcome the problems caused by this disaster but we also need to ask the important question, why this happened and who is to blame? We all know that we can not control rain, drought or any other natural calamities like earth quakes or tsunamis but can we take some preventive or precautionary measures to minimize the damage and reduce casualties? Can we be better prepared for such type of incidents so that they don't create havoc in people's lives? If yes, then why any government in India whether it is a state or central makes it their priority? To understand why I am saying this please go and visit any growing city in India like Pune, Bengaluru or any other city, its name is not important and observe what is going on in the name of development. It is literally unplanned construction on massive scale, people are building something on each and every vacant land legally or illegally. Not only builders builders but people, various institutions are occupying each and every available piece of land and constructing something on it, it almost feels like these cities are on steroids as far as construction is concerned. Land prices are skyrocketing in each and every city, town or village where even little bit of wind of development has reached. People are selling and buying land and apartments like stocks in stock market, prices fluctuate daily, there are land millionaires who became rich just because they had huge ancestral land which is worth more than they ever imagined. These things are good for economy of any country and its citizens if they happen in planned way but there is absolutely no planning in all this, real estate boom just happened and it exploded. There was no time for any planning and no one was even interested in it and unfortunately no one even now intend to correct this mistake. Actually I lived in one such very crowded neighborhood of Pune for most of my life so I know first hand how these neighborhoods come into existence and grow without any legal sanction or planning. They are so crowded that in many places even ambulance or firetruck can't reach if there is any emergency, so just imagine what might happen in case of flood or earthquake. The amazing part is all these neighborhoods originate and flourish right under watch of government and elected members of legislature of every political party, there are no exceptions to this. These people and corresponding government departments purposely ignore this dangerous situation until it becomes unmanageable problem, there are thousands of colonies like these in each and every city of India. This is not development but this is like having a ticking time bomb which is just waiting for some natural catastrophe to explode. 

So why so much of unplanned development is allowed when they could have chosen to develop city in very planned and constructive way? Two main reason come to my mind, first is pressure of growing population which was and still is migrating heavily towards cities in search of better living and second one is rampant corruption in government offices and political parties are part of this. Illegal construction is massive in all these cities and it is a huge problem. There are colonies where thousands of people live with hundreds of homes, all of them constructed illegally. Does anyone knows how to manage this mess? People already occupied dry lakes, shrunken river beds, hills, canals, even they covered up drainage lines and built their residence on top of it. So whenever there is significant amount of rainfall then where will this extra water go? It has to flood neighborhoods, enter people's homes and damage their properties, can we just blame excess rain for this problem? This water has no where to go as all its natural paths are blocked by massive construction or this so called development. We saw this happening in Mumbai, Delhi and now in Chennai but did we ever bothered to take any steps to correct these mistakes? Did we ask ourselves why this is happening so frequently in major cities? Is nature is screwing us up or we are paying the price for screwing up the nature? Unless and until we ask these questions we are not going to find solution to any of these problems, next time it might be some different city or state but same scenario of destruction and loss of life might be repeated.

Thankfully natural disasters like earthquakes or floods or hurricanes don't strike us every day or every year but that doesn't mean we should not be cautious or prepared for them. Because when they strike and we are not prepared then loss is catastrophic, tragedy is humongous. We can not control the occurrence of the rain or earthquake but I think we can definitely prepare ourselves to minimize the damage. I hope these floods initiate some discussion for need of planned development in Indian cities. I hope people and governments don't forget this tragedy so easily and move on as if nothing has happened. Because if they do this then we all are waiting for another Chennai to happen and I don't think anyone of us want to witness this again.

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

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Circus called tolerance and intolerance debate.

Now a days there are heated discussions going on in India on the issue of tolerance and intolerance. Every news channel is having some panel discussion to decide whether India is getting more intolerant or not, on social media some people are busy in proving that intolerance is on rise and some are fiercely contesting this claim by abusing them for raising this issue. The issue has become so important that it is being discussed in parliament also! I personally value quality of tolerance a lot and have written couple of posts related with this topic, one is about why we need tolerant society and another is about my own experience of intolerance in Indian society. Now let's come back to this topic of debate over this issue of intolerance (or tolerance), if you listen to most of these debates then any sensible person can easily understand how misplaced these people's expectations are about tolerance and intolerance. Somehow tolerance is equated with complete acceptance or no objection or submissive type of behavior and intolerance is equated with any objection or strong comment or dissent against your own views. So if I object to anyone's statement then I am being intolerant, if I say anything against any religion or person then I am intolerant, if I don't react to abusive statement then I am tolerant, if I don't express any dissent about anything then I am tolerant. Basically, either you are with me or against me, there is no middle ground. Also there is huge confusion about where 'freedom of expression' fits into all this? I don't even know if these people know that there is something called freedom of expression. So first question everyone should try to ask is, do we accept that people have freedom of expression or not?

Now let's proceed in step wise manure as this topic seems to be very complicated. If there is a freedom of expression, (with some reasonable restriction like no incitement of violence), then anyone can say anything as long as it is not a incitement to engage in violent act. So they need to agree on this first, if people have freedom of expression then they can say express their opinion. That opinion can be anything, like some people should leave this country or I don't feel comfortable about current atmosphere or whatever. So any Yogi, Sadhvi, minister, writer, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, atheist, actor or whoever it may be can say whatever they want and no one should challenge their right to say those things as they are not doing anything unconstitutional or illegal but just using their basic right of freedom of expression. Making any statement or agreeing or disagreeing with someone doesn't make anyone tolerant or intolerant. It all depends on our actions and behavior towards each other, it depends on our attitude towards person with whom we disagree, it depends on how we react to those statements with which we agree or disagree. Just look at the reactions from both sides and you will understand what I am talking about and why I call this debates a big 'circus'. I personally have no objection over any Yogi, minister or actor's expressing their opinions, they have total right to do that. I cannot question that right. I may or may not agree with their statement, I may have very strong objections to contents of some those statements but that person has equal rights to express him or her like me or anyone else have. But it seems people don't understand this simple thing, most of the reactions are like, how dare he or she say this? He or she should be punished or kicked out of country for saying this or let's boycott them for expressing their opinion. I mean common, at least first try to understand what that person said, debate and discuss that topic in detail and then come to any conclusion. But it looks like people are more interested in delivering verdicts of guilty or non guilty rather than resolving the issues and having any meaningful discussions. Atmosphere is getting so polarized that it seems there is no possibility of any middle ground where people can agree to disagree and move on. Even in parliament the discussion is well below the required level, it is not that I expected it to be any different that whatever is going on in TV studios but if you are putting some circus then at least make it somewhat entertaining. I guess recent protests or even this so called 'award wapasi' movement was actually to protest against increase of physical violence which is ultimate form of intolerance. I don't this it has anything to do with change of government or who is PM or who is president. Government should have taken these protests in right spirit rather than taking it personally and trying to dismiss them altogether and thereby giving them lot of media coverage. Addressing concerns of these people might have stopped this issue from becoming a national time pass. I also don't know why people complaining about intolerance want to paint the picture as if today in India you can not say anything against current government, it seems both sides are only interested to go to any extreme just to prove their point.

Tolerance or intolerance shows in our behavior. Tolerant person or society or country don't have to say that we are tolerant or give any proofs to prove that, their behavior is enough at the same time intolerant society or person don't have to accept that they are intolerant their behavior is ultimate proof of who they are. Many times our actions speak louder than our words, so I think people should focus on their actions and let those actions speak for themselves. I don't this this shouting about any correction in behavior is going to bring any desired change, each person should correct their behavior and automatically it will bring change in society or country. I hope both sides understand this otherwise this issue will become another never ending topic of Indian politics like secularism and communalism.

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

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

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Paris attacks: are we going to learn any lessons?

I watched with dismay and utter shock news about brutal attack on Paris by terrorists. I am not going to bother by mentioning the names of organizations or terrorists who carried these attacks according to me they don't deserve that mention. I don't even call them inhuman because only humans are capable of doing something as gruesome like this animal generally don't kill for no reason but humans do it on regular basis. These violent groups only know how to kill people and spread violence, this is their only motive, they take shelter of some religion or ideology but their ultimate goal is to spread hatred and violence. It is true that concept of religion has some inherent weaknesses which makes it a very easy and attractive tool for fanatics. They try to use it to spread fanaticism, it is very easy to incite people to do violent things using religious emotions, we are witnessing it prominently in name of Islam today and have seen it happening with many other religions in past. But what is the solution? Why so many people get attracted to such fanatic groups who just want to spread hatred and violence? Why people are willing to kill innocents just because they follow some different faith, or belong to some other group or eat some different food or worship some different god or dare to break some age old social or religious norms? Why they do this?

Actually I this question comes to my mind every time I read news about some terrorist attack or some mob violence or some communal riot or other violent incidents where someone is attacked without any fault. I also wonder what is the ultimate aim of all this violence? To spread terror? Definitely this has to be their major goal, because for sure they are not spreading any religion or delivering any so called divine message from any book by killing innocents, but to some extent they are successful in spreading terror temporarily. But this also doesn't last long, we humans have capacity to overcome our fears and accept the challenge and there are ample examples from recent past where we did it. New York and US stood firm and strong after devastating 9/11 attacks, Mumbai and India didn't budge after terrorists attacked innocents in Mumbai and I am sure Paris will also come back to normal very soon. But still one can not ignore loss of precious lives of innocents during all these attacks and I am including attacks on innocents during military operations carried out as response to these terrorist attacks also in this. Loss of every innocent life is condemnable and we should regret about it. We can not be selective in our outrage otherwise we will look total hypocrite who care more about some people more than others. Is there any solution to end this violence? Who is funding all these terrorists? From where they get all these sophisticated deadly weapons and vast amount of money? How come arms and weapon industry is so powerful that no country or government can stop sale of these weapons to such dangerous terrorist outfits? How come so powerful countries also fail to control these terrorist groups? Why these superpowers create or support one terrorist group to fight another terrorist organization even after knowing that former will replace the later in coming future and create same problem? How long they are going to play this game of good terrorist organization and bad terrorist organization? We can go on asking so many questions like these but I don't think any government or agency will bother to answer any of these questions. Some of us might offer very logical sounding explanations blaming some country or religion depending on where we live and which religion we belong. But all this blame game and ugly drama of politics, religion and money is going on for decades without any result. The end result is innocents are murdered every now and then either on planes, in music concerts, in restaurants, on roads, on trains stations or in their homes. I don't think we common people can do much about it. Religion, politics, business, etc. are too big and powerful entities which are controlling entire humanity for ages and all these violent incidents are byproducts of something going wrong with one or more than one of these entities.

Terrorism is a tool used by various organizations to take control of human civilizations, it is relatively easy method which people believe produces instant results. This is why many fanatic groups are prone to use it as a means to achieve their aims. Sadly every religion or group or sympathizers of their own group try to justify all atrocities or mistakes committed by that group and we see this trend everywhere. No one is willing to admit their own mistakes but at the same time they never fail to point out other's mistakes. I don't know if we are going to learn any lessons from all these incidents, I don't think anyone is in mood of reflecting on what might have gone wrong. Whole emphasis is on taking revenge and beefing up security but we all know that this is not a permanent solution. Security and defense are very important things, there is no doubt about that but at the same time talks and negotiations to bring peace in conflict affected regions is also necessary. After each and every tragic incident like this I always remember this line, "an eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind". I guess we all know this quote but very few of us understand the real meaning behind it and until we all understand this we can only hope that something doesn't hit our own eye.

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2015

Why so much anger against Wall Street?

While listening to recent Democratic party presidential candidate debate I noticed that candidates were really trying hard to distance themselves from Wall Street and project it as some sort of very dangerous or evil entity which needs to be destroyed or at least controlled using lot of extra rules and regulations. I am not expert on finance and trade related laws and regulations but I think I understand the political aspects of targeting Wall street. More socialist leaning candidates were more revengeful towards Wall street organizations, so out of three candidates on dais obviously Mr. Bernie Sanders was the one who was at the forefront to criticize the symbol of financial might of US. I wonder what is the reason for so much anger which almost sounds like hatred towards Wall Street (abbreviated as WS henceforth in post)? Why some of these candidates feel so much obliged to criticize WS to please their supporters? I am sure all of them have some investment or links which are part of WS business and they all earn part of their income from those investments but then why they try to focus only on negative aspects of WS without even acknowledging that there are many good things happened because of presence of free market?

WS is result of free market system, it is supposed to be a place to trade and raise capital for your business. No doubt that so many scams or bad things have happened in past. Many people as well as organizations tried to misuse some loopholes of existing system which resulted in economic crises. Economic disaster of 2008 is still fresh in our memories and whenever share market starts dipping down sharply many of us who don't understand it very well worry if another 2008 is about to happen or what? So there is no doubt that there are some concerns and apprehensions about the manure in which WS operates but isn't this true with any system with so much power associated with it? That power can be financial, political or military, we all look with doubt at all powerful entities. Even democratically elected President is not spared if he doesn't belong to political party which we support, so we all have that bias towards rich and powerful and let's acknowledge it. But this doesn't mean we should paint totally wrong picture of that person by totally neglecting any good things achieved by him or her. I don't think there is any doubt that economic prosperity is one of the major reasons why people get attracted to US and want to emigrate here. Free market system where people feel that they will be successful entirely based on their talent and capabilities attract many talented people from all over the world to this amazing country. I am not saying that there are no problems in this system and discrimination doesn't exist but by and large system works well to do justice to its people. WS is a important part of this system, people built organizations or companies, they try to make them big, wealth is created and then distributed. Many people are direct or indirect beneficiaries of this system. May be it is not distributed as evenly as many of us want but at least it is created and the truth is that currently there is no better alternative which seems to be as reliable as this. Many of the objections raised by these people who seem to be fierce opponents of WS about unequal distribution of wealth and rising economic disparity are true and valid but some of the solutions offered by them are equally horrible and unpractical. It seems they are intended to destroy this working system with some glitches without even having an alternative which can be at least as good as previous system. It is very easy to criticize but then at least provide some viable alternative to present system. There are no examples of successful countries or societies based on any single ideology, let it be capitalism, socialism, communism or any other 'ism'. What works best is always a mixture of good things from each and every ideology based on requirements of that particular society. So why are we so eager to draw so rigid lines and reject something because it belongs to some other 'ism' which we don't support? Why to call socialism evil or capitalism evil when both of them have some good aspects and some not that good? Why not to take best ideas from all ideologies which suit our society and make something which is good for most people of our society?

I always wonder how long this fight between different ideologies will continue? Why can't be there interdisciplinary collaboration between all these ideologies like scientists do between different disciplines of science? Is it so difficult or humiliating to accept that there can be some bad or outdated elements in socialism, communism or capitalism? Is is so difficult to understand that communism in its original form doesn't sound very practical idea in today's aspirational world? None of these ideas are completely right or wrong, only thing is that some parts of them are no more relevant today or some parts are not practically implementable or some parts are not acceptable in democratic society with freedom to choose and express. Is it so difficult to accept it? May be it is for some people but we need to acknowledge these things and move on, if we become adamant on accepting or rejecting it completely then we will never solve this deadlock and keep on arguing endlessly who is right and who is wrong. Please don't hesitate to highlight any drawbacks associated with any system and  capitalism or WS is not an exception to this. Project loopholes in law, highlight its misuse, question monitory policies based on data and logic not based on populism and appeasement. The way it is done now sounds like hatred and anger directed towards rich and powerful, this attitude is only going to create social divide and nothing else. May be it will help to win some elections but definitely it definitely won't help to solve the real problem. So it will be better if we use this anger to offer constructive criticism not to vilify any entity, please give this approach a chance and see if it produces better results or not.

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 18, 2015

Please don't play victim's card during fight against racism, it won't help.

I read few news items about protest by some students against some alleged racism related incidents on campuses of reputed american universities like Yale University and University of Missouri. No matter how much we criticize racism, casteism or any discriminatory traditions the truth is that they still exist in some form of other. Another ugly truth is that there are many people who still believe in some of these discriminatory practices, so we need to argue with them, discuss with them, debate with them and try to change their opinion by dialogue and discussions. This is the only way, we already have enough laws and regulations to check these things so even after all this if this doesn't stop then we need to continue dialogue and discussions. People living in societies or countries where real freedom of expression is allowed and practiced understand that everyone of us no matter how stupid or outrageous we sound have right to express our opinion. Only exception is that no one should be allowed to preach violence of any type but apart from that in most of these societies anyone is free to express their opinion. United States is one such amazing country, I don't think there is as much as freedom of expression practiced anywhere in world as it is done in USA. So I was really surprised when this group of students at Yale demanded to ban some Halloween costume party or demanded resignation of some administrators for defending right of some students to express themselves. Now one can disagree with someone's opinions or views, one can even feel offended by someone's costume of statement but in a free or democratic society how can one object to that person's right to say or wear those things? As those students who say or wear something with offensive message are free to express their opinions other students are also free to raise their objections and protest if they are feeling hurt. Both are using freedom of expression right so how one group can object to the right of other group? Another question is, is it right to use that feeling of being offended to justify banning something? Is this the right approach to solve this issue? Can this help us to curb the discrimination without taking away fundamental right of freedom of expression? What if some other group tomorrow come up with something which hurt their sentiments and demand to ban something, are these students going to support that demand? There are many issues and questions like these, the battle against racism or any type of discrimination is going on for decades, it is a long ongoing battle but loosing patience  and playing victim's card is not going to serve any purpose.

We can definitely raise our voice against any form of offensive messages but asking to ban them just because they are offensive or hurt someone's emotions is totally outrageous. It can open another Pandora's box where any group can come up with their demand to ban something because it hurt their sentiments. Suppose if tomorrow Hindu's ask to ban sale and consumption of beef because it hurts their deep religious sentiments and also claim that cow slaughter is very offensive to them, are these students going to support their demand of beef ban? This is just one simple example to demonstrate that mere claim of hurt sentiments can not be the valid reason to put forward such a serious demand to ban something. Racism is a result of ignorance, wrong teachings and lack of social awareness. Most discriminatory practices are deep rooted in some cultural or historical traditions which are passed from one generation to other, many of them are outdated and even illegal but somehow that mindset still exists among some people. Some people still believe in superiority or inferiority of races and this can manifest in their behavior in so many ways. But in any free society these people also have right to express their opinion. We need to challenge this behavior and debate these issues, to allow our anger take over our logical sense is not good. Intolerance doesn't solve any problems rather it can create few more of them which can be more serious than the original one. Freedom of expression is very important right we all have and we should not try to take it away from anyone, not even from our fierce opponents. Freedom of speech should come with freedom to offend, so only option we have is to increase our tolerance and question things but please don't try to silence people just because it hurts your sentiments. I hope students who want to fight against discrimination doesn't become reason for some type of discrimination where some people are targeted or punished for expressing their opinion (whatever that opinion is doesn't matter as long as it is not inciting violence). I wish all the strength, patience and courage to these students who are fighting against discrimination because they will need these things. Playing victim's card is of no use, it can only generate some media attention and temporary sympathy but won't help the cause in long run. This disease of racism or casteism or any other discrimination is very old and serious, generations are affected by this problem and fighting against these things is not that easy. Sentiments will be hurt, offensive language or images will be used by opponents to hurt feelings but this is part of any struggle, so anyone who want to fight for any cause should learn to deal with these things. I hope these students focus on real cause and struggle to achieve it rather than getting involved in trivial things such as demand of ban something which is a direct assault on freedom of expression.

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

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

Links:
1. At University of Missouri, Black Students See a Campus Riven by Race
2. Massive Yale student rally makes call for inclusiveness on New Haven campus

Sunday, November 15, 2015

It is wrong to paint all pharma companies with the same brush.

Drug discovery is a very high risk and expensive business, according to recent data it takes more than 1 billion USD  and almost 12 to 13 years to launch new, successful drug in the market. One can debate and discuss various scientific factors related with this statistics and one can even question why this process is so low yielding and inefficient but people who work in this area know that it is not that easy to point out to any single factor for this scenario. It is also true that we need new drugs to stay ahead of our contiguous battle with many bugs and deadly diseases like cancer. Industry and academia are equally engaged in research aspect of drug discovery, many initial leads come from academia on which many times small biotech firms are formed which then go on to develop some novel drugs in that therapeutic area. Even though industry and academia are both equally involved in basic research aspect of drug discovery the development part of drug is exclusively with industry. One of the main reason is that it is very expensive and tedious process with very high failure rate. So what is point behind mentioning all these things? The point is question of 'drug pricing', an ever debated and very controversial topic all over the world. I think everyone will agree that people should be able to access life saving drugs if they need it, but the question is who will pay if they can't afford it? If we look at the pricing of some of the new drugs in developed countries, specially in USA then one can easily understand what I am talking about. For example, price of Gilead's new Hepatitis-C drug Sovaldi is 84000$ for a 12 week course, almost 1000$ per pill. No doubt it is a expensive drug by any standards but it is also very effective and lifesaving drug which has changed the treatment regime for that disease remarkably. This drug is just a one example to show how effective and expensive some of these medicines are. Drug development is a business after all and like any other business this industry also tries to balance its risks with profits. There are share holders and stock market and each pharma company has to make sure that they stay ahead in game by making as much profit to its share holders as they can.

It is always debated what can be a optimal pricing for any life saving drug? Who can decide how much a drug company should or can charge for their new drug? How expensive is too expensive? How about third world countries where most people can not pay for such expensive drugs but need them as much as people from any developed country? There are many questions like this but hardly any satisfactory answers. In US there is very good drug discovery culture and basically they subsidize drug discovery for rest of the world. In most of the developing countries like India drug discovery is considered as waste of money and there is no proper mechanism to encourage it at policy level. So basically whole world is dependent on few handful countries for development for new drugs for any therapeutic area. Hopefully slowly this scenario might change but currently only developed countries are expected to carry the financial burden of developing new drugs. As I said pharma sector is also a business and like all other businesses it also needs investments and has to generate enough profits. So all other factors which play major role in any other commercial industry also play part in this industry also. Whatever is not financially attractive is not pursues no matter how important it might be, recent exit of most of major pharma companies from antibiotic sector is one very good example of this. It is very expensive to develop new drugs, and above that it is very risky only 1 in 10 drugs that enter in clinical phase get FDA approval. So someone has to pay for all those failures, industry has to recover all the money lost during development of other drugs who failed for some reason from that one successful drug. This is one of the major reasons why some of the drugs are so expensive. Actually this is not an attempt to justify high pricing of all the drugs but just an effort to explain the things so that people know the other side of the coin also.

I am sure everyone will agree that the best possible scenario will be to have affordable drugs for all major illnesses available all over the world. They should be accessible to every patient who needs them, irrespective of their nationality or financial status, but we all know that this feat is not possible to achieve in near future. With increased life expectancy all over the world we are going to see many more people who will need some sort of medicine to maintain their health. There are no easy solutions for this very complicated problem, but may be if we try to understand cause of this problem then we can understand the position of pharma industry little better. It is wrong to paint all of them as villains and accuse them of being insensitive and selfish money mongers. Drug discovery is a business so like all other businesses it needs to be profitable, it needs to be very competitive to attract talented and hard working people so that innovative ideas keep on coming. This business also needs to adjust and survive different pressures and trends of market based economy. Society, government and all companies need to devise some formula which can make medicines more affordable for everyone. Pharma industry is just one part of this complicated puzzle of drug pricing. At the same time any sort of criticism should be welcomed from industry insiders as it will make them correct some of their mistakes but it is unfair just to blame them or target them every time, definitely it is wrong to look at only one side of problem and draw final conclusions. Please try to study every angle of any issue before coming out with any final conclusion. I am sure it can be possible to keep on inventing new drugs and make them affordable also, we just need proper system and desire to achieve this.

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 11, 2015

Intolerance was always there in India.

Now a days there is a lot of debate going on in India about intolerance and tolerance. Some people are claiming that since this new government came in power (in 2014) incidents of intolerance are increasing, they also claim that there is feeling of fear and insecurity among minorities and some intellectuals. Other side is claiming that nothing this sort is happening, rather the very fact that these people are allowed to protest is sign of very tolerant and cohesive environment, some irrelevant fringe groups are mainly responsible for whatever ugly incidents are reported but overall everything is fine. Both sides are busy in attacking each other and proving each other wrong, what a splendid display of tolerance. Another point which is highlighted again and again during all these discussions is that India was and still is a very tolerant society. I really don't know what is the real basis of this claim but surprisingly both sides agree to this particular point, the only point of disagreement is whether it is becoming intolerant now or not? History of Indian civilization is very old and one can go and try to understand whether it was a historically a tolerant society or not. I am not interested in that aspect of this argument, I can only talk about what I saw and experienced personally during my life in India. As far as my personal experience is concerned I never saw very tolerant atmosphere during 30 years of my life in India. I always feel surprised when someone claims that India is a very tolerant society, may they have some different definition of 'tolerant' but at least I never experienced it. Now before people jump on to attack me personally and label me as anti-India or anti-Hindu or traitor or whatever other name they want to use to display their tolerant nature let me first explain why I say this.

Any tolerant society is sensitive to the needs and rights of all sections of society and by all sections I am not talking about all religions, castes, etc. which dominate Indian political discussion forums. I am talking about kids, teenagers, men, women, disabled people, majority, all types of minorities, etc. I never saw that sensitivity in appreciable levels and still don't see it, till recently transgenders were forced to live in closet, women are still struggling to get equal status and share, caste is very important factor in marriage and politics, one can list many factors here but I guess readers mush have got my point. Now let me continue with my personal experiences as I base my statement mainly based on my personal experience. As a kid punishments for mistakes in school were very brutal and physically abusive. I am sure any one who went to school in 1980s and 1990s can confirm this point. Getting slapped by teacher was not a big deal, getting hit by stick, duster, ruler was very common phenomena. Even outside the school situation was not much different, it was considered as birthright of parents to smack their kids as much they want and for whatever reason they feel appropriate. As a kid it was normal to get snubbed by elders for asking any uncomfortable question. Any sort of dissent was not encouraged from weaker sections and I don't think this is a sign of any tolerant society. One could not dare to question many traditions and rituals without being getting verbally or worst physically reprimanded. Obedience was considered as a virtue and dissent was openly ridiculed. So these were some of the things which I experienced or witnessed as a kid. I am sure there might be exceptions to this and there might be some people specially with very privileged background who lived in totally different social atmosphere but whatever I described above was in general environment around me and many others. People must have realized that I am talking about poor or lower middle class section of society which constituted very large section of Indian population back then and I think it is still significant in numbers. Even as a teenagers we knew that friendship and all is OK but we can't marry outside our caste without disturbing our parents or other members of family. Tension between various religions and occasional violent communal riots are still a possibility, all these things used to make me wonder where is that tolerance about which I hear on every intellectual forum? Fights between supporters of different political parties were very common, there used to be fights during processions during different religious festivals like Ganeshotsav and that too many times between two mandals on trivial issues like who should get to go first in line. It was and still is very trivial to Call someone anti national or traitor or Pakistani (this word is used as abuse specially for anyone who is a Muslim or says anything in support of them). Books are frequently banned, movies land in trouble for hurting some group's sentiments, paintings and painters are troubled for creating some objectionable art, authors are attacked for writing something offensive or derogatory to someone, moral policing was very common and still happens to some extend even today. Many of these things are still part of public behavior, we can see these things even in social media and still we Indians don't hesitate to call ourselves very tolerant!

But there must be some reason why most Indians claim that our country is very tolerant. One reason might be India did not invade any country in recent history or may be by claiming to be tolerant many of these people mean 'less violent' compared to some neighboring countries. It is quite possible that 'tolerant' means at least we don't kill each other as frequently as some other societies do. May be there is some truth in this line of argument even though frequent incidents of communal riots don't support this claim very well but this might be the major reason for making this claim. But for me this is not good enough to declare any society as a tolerant society and anyways those standards of those countries are not worth to follow for a country like India if it really aspires to become a super power with such a diverse population. It needs to show more inclusive behavior than merely being less violent or better than some of our neighbors. Intolerance was always there in India, sometimes it is more visible than other time that's the only difference. So I really feel strange about this debate of India becoming intolerant now, please at least let me know when was it very tolerant? If anyone is willing to explain it to me then I am willing to listen and please restrict time span to last 40-50 years not more than that. I can definitely talk about last 30 years or so based on my personal experience and I hope others also share with me their own experience not some theoretical rhetoric with no proof or logic.

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

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

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Women are made, not born.

Title of this blog post is a famous quote by French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir on womanhood. I don't know in what context he said it but when I heard it I immediately thought, wow he described it so correctly. For me this quote means, we as a society condition minds of people in believing what men and women should do, how they should behave and what are their roles in society or family. So no gender is supposed to do only certain type of things or behave in certain way, we define it and it is human creation. This quote is actually equally applicable to men, all genders are told what it is supposed to be a man or woman or a transgender and then we all try to fit into one of these roles. In modern world many people are trying to challenge these definitions and break the traditional mold but still it is not that easy. The definitions or characteristics assigned to different genders are so stereotyped that people involuntarily follow them. Men without even knowing subscribe to traditional notions of masculinity, they come under tremendous pressure to perform and succeed like men. Similarly women are forced to follow certain path, their minds are conditioned to teach them what they can do and what they can't. Once this task is successfully achieved then it is easy for patriarchal society to claim what men can do and what women can do. They create ample examples to support this hypothesis and most people agree to these things as they see many examples fitting into these notions. That is why such quotes are important, they tell us inherent flaw associated with such classification. Such quotes and thoughts force us to think and ask some questions and one of the questions should be, whatever we see around or believe is natural or manufactured by centuries of tradition and suppression of certain gender?

Our sex is determined by our DNA and now we very well understand the science behind it and also understand process of fertilization. But once we are born and start our journey in this world society and people around us start conditioning our mind. Many traditions, rituals, cultural or religion beliefs start shaping our mind in particular way. We are told about our gender and also how our gender should behave. We are also told about responsibilities and limitations of our gender roles, what boys should like and what girls are supposed to like. Most of these things slowly become part of our personality, they get embedded in our psyche. Rarely we think about questioning these things. Many of us don't ask, why only women cook in family? Why only men have to go and work outside? Why it is considered as responsibility of man to be a breadwinner of family? Why polygamy is more accepted in some societies but not polyandry? Why only women change their last names after marriage? Why there is no third gender? Now a days these type of questions are being asked and many people are trying to change the things and make things more gender neutral, but one can easily feel that society is not yet very receptive and accommodative about many of these ideas. There is still reluctance to break traditional stereotyped definition of men and women.

Many people including many women still believe that women are incapable of doing certain things but no one is willing to understand why? Is is because they are women or because for centuries they were told that they can't do these things and now suddenly we expect them to match men on every level or go back to their traditional role. Off course they will master these things one day but definitely it will take some time. Men didn't become powerful sex in one day, they got preferred treatment and favorable social atmosphere for centuries to become so called 'stronger sex'. Actually many women have already proven that they can take up any challenge thrown at them but still many of them are way far behind as they are forced to live in that age old stereotyped role but slowly they are also becoming aware of their rights and capabilities. As this awareness will spread across the world we will see more and more women entering in main stream and taking up responsible roles. If society and people around them don't try to suppress their potential then I am sure in years to come we can use this same quote in positive way, until then let's try to create an environment where everyone gets an equal opportunity irrespective of their gender.  

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

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

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

We all are transgenders in someway.

While watching this program on NDTV about situation of transgenders in Indian society, I was wondering what is the reason these people are so stereotyped that they can't live normal life in most of societies around the world. By normal life I mean get same treatment and opportunities which most of us so called 'normal' or 'fixed gender' type people get. In India most of them are forced in certain trade or live in ghettos because of the way society treats them. Why it is so difficult for any society to accept them as equal citizens or for that matter why we are so apprehensive about anything which doesn't fit to the age old definition of "normal"? Who decides what is normal and what is not? Is most common means normal and something which is uncommon becomes abnormal? We need to ask many such questions to counter this narrative which is going on uninterrupted for centuries. It is really sad to see that some people among us get discriminated for something which is quite natural. They face various difficulties and problems not because of their mistakes or actions but just because who they are. The attitude 'oh they are different than us or they are nor normal, so they can't be with us or our kids will become like them' needs to be questioned, everyone needs to get fair chance to fulfill their ambitions and desires, as a society it is our responsibility to create such environment. Most of us agree to this statement but then it seems as a society our behavior doesn't match with this statement.

Sex is determined by DNA and gender is something how we present ourselves in society, it is not necessary for both to match. We are taught and conditioned how men or women should behave or conduct themselves in society. We are taught what is masculine and what is feminine, based on this conditioning we develop our own perception about our own gender and also try to define other's gender. This perception and stereotyping also decides what we call normal and what we consider as abnormal. We are also trained to reject or denounce or stay away from these so called abnormal people. Most of us follow all these traditions or rules without even giving any serious thoughts or considerations. Many of us fail to question many of these definitions which are passed on to us by our society. We follow them as part of tradition or culture, we never bother to check their relevance or validity. Once anything whether it is good or bad becomes a part of tradition or culture stays there for long time. Many societies also develop some protective attitude towards such traditions as they consider it as a integral part of their identity. This is one of the main reason why many people hesitate to question these things openly. I agree that it is not easy to challenge or fight against long practicing traditions or rituals but if they are wrong someone needs to do this. But the problem is that there is not very conducive environment in most societies which can encourage questioning or dissent, rather few who dare to question have to face many hostile reactions. Transgenders are victims of such wrong traditions and misconceptions. According to me we all are transgenders in some way or other. We all possess unique set of qualities, there is no defined set of masculine and feminine qualities which are exclusive to any one particular sex. Variety of feelings or characteristics can be found in both sexes. We all are sensitive, tough, stupid or intelligent, fearless or cowardice, strong or weak, introvert or extrovert our gender doesn't define these things. We all are capable of displaying feelings of tenderness, vulnerability, fear, jealousy, envy to different extent on different occasions. So technically we all can call ourselves as transgenders as we display all these feelings which are normally classified as masculine or feminine qualities. We just don't fit into that stereotyped definition of 'transgender' which people have created by combining some emotional and physical characteristics. But just because some people show physical or emotional characteristics of both sexes more than others we should not label them as abnormal. These people are as normal as any of us, just may be not as common as many of us. They are in minority but that doesn't mean they don't deserve equal rights and recognition. We need to remove this prejudice and bias, we all need to recognize our own transgenderness to acknowledge that there is nothing wrong or abnormal in it. Most common doesn't necessarily mean normal and uncommon doesn't always mean abnormal. Let's remove these barriers and become more inclusive society where every individual is accepted regardless of their gender or sex. Let's start from ourselves, let's embrace and understand our fellow humans irrespective of their gender, sex, religion, race or any other thing which we use to categorize. Let's show love and respect towards each other, after all we all are humans. 

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

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

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Let's remove taboos associated with Menstruation.

I wrote a post about worshiping while menstruating sometime back, in that post I tried to address the stigma associated with menstruation and participation in religious functions. This post gets maximum views during Hindu festival seasons when there are lot of occasions where women might face this dilemma. Many people have expressed different views and concerns in the comments section of that post. Some even asked for advise about what to do if they face the dilemma where their culture and tradition contradicts their logic. So when I read this article I decided to write one more post related with this topic of menstruation and various misconceptions associated with it. Actually taboos associated with menstruation are not only problem of any one religion or any one culture but this exists all over world, in all regions and religions. Many developed societies have broken this barriers to large extend but still this issue is a tabooed subject in many societies all over the world. Why there is so much secrecy around this subject that people hesitate to discuss it in open? Why there is so much ignorance and lack of information about this very important biological phenomena which is directly related with our procreation? It is a simple biological process which is part of our natural life cycle, we know about it since ages. Lot of progress has been done in area of sanitation and hygiene which can remove all concerns and doubts associated with this process. Then even after all this why some societies or cultures continue to treat it as some disease or some problem?

Actually the root cause for all this stigma and discomfort associated with menstruation are some age old beliefs, customs or traditions. One can clearly see that even in societies where proper sanitation and hygiene methods are available women are not treated properly during their periods. Somehow it is still believed that they are impure or not normal during 'those days'. Women are also guilty of not trying enough to remove stigma associated with this essential and unavoidable biological process. Many times they fell prey to all this stereotyping and cultural pressures and surrender to those things without offering any protest. Very few who dare to go against the norm then face the severe criticism and are made to feel guilty about their behavior. Menstruation is not something they choose or do one their own so that they can be blamed in any way for it, it is a biological phenomena. So why are they discriminated because of one very essential natural process on which they don't have any control?

It is good to see that things are improving, the rate of improvement is definitely slow but for sure things are changing. Many females are questioning this unfair treatment, many of them are willing to challenge this stigma and confront discriminatory practices. So all this is bound to bring that desired change, after all how long unfair discrimination will last if entire gender affected by it rebels against it? The more protests come out against such discrimination the more these things will be discussed. These discussions will slowly spread more information and more awareness about issues related with menstruation and stigma associated with it. Surprisingly people don't want to discuss or talk about such a important issue withing their own family, actually we need to give proper information to our kids about all these things, specially about things related with their body and sexuality. This is essential part of their learning which will make them a better human beings. This subject definitely doesn't need any stigma or taboo associated with it, females have suffered some sort of discrimination or other problems because of these things. We need to remove any stigma or taboo or hesitation associated with subject of menstruation and related issues from all societies and cultures. This is too important subject for half of world's population, we can't brush it aside or push under carpet as if it doesn't exist. I am glad to see that now females are taking lead themselves to remove stigma associated with many such issues. I am sure they will create space for their issues in discussion forums at all levels. I request rest of us to join them in this quest.

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

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

Links:
1. A Girl Gets Her Period And Is Banished To The Shed