Friday, June 26, 2015

Is teenage parenthood very different than child marriage?

This question came up in my mind during one of my discussions with my daughter, we were discussing about merits and demerits of high school kids dating each other. Teenage dating specially in high schools is a part of modern day culture in many developed countries, even in developing countries like India it is becoming very common (at least in cities). In countries like US normally dating starts during high school or middle school and in countries like India it normally starts during college (after high school) where boys and girls start claiming that they have a boyfriend or a girlfriend. The main reason for this time difference is that in India high schools still have very restricted environment with requirement of uniforms, lot of rules and regulations about appearance and many of them are not even a co ed schools where as in US there is relatively unrestricted and free environment in schools (which I think is good). Teenage is a very important phase of any individual's life, many physical and psychological changes takes place in us. We get transformed physically and well as mentally a lot during these years. This can be called as our transition phase of our transformation from child into adult. Many of us get aware of our own sexuality, this is also the time when we start getting attracted towards other person sexually. So I guess dating (in most cases between boy and girl) is a result of all these changes. In many western countries it is a socially accepted phenomena. Most TV shows or movies propagate this culture, and because of heavy marketing and sophisticated propaganda dating has become like a necessary activity during high school days for most kids. There is tremendous peer pressure on kids to fit into this culture, many of them desperately seek for a partner to call him/her their boyfriend or girlfriend. There are relationships which are formed and destroyed, this eventually leads to things like breakups and frustrations associated with it. Kids have to deal with all these things along with pressure their studies, homework, college preparations, expectations of their parents, etc. Some of them manage these things very well, some just can't and suffer from depression, anxiety, panic and many other problems. This has also created a very serious problem of teenage pregnancies. This issue of underage (less than 18 years) girls becoming pregnant and eventually teen age moms and dads is a very important issue. This is important for future of those new born infants as well as their underage parents. School kids becoming parents has to be a serious matter for any society. How can a kid can bear a complete responsibility of another kid? Many people might say that teenage pregnancy or parenthood is a totally separate issue but according to me it is very closely related with this underage dating culture.

Fortunately child marriage is illegal in most parts of the world today, it used to be a very common thing not very long ago. But today many countries have strong law against child marriage and it has reduced significantly. In this case kids were forced to enter into relationship without even knowing about what that relationship actually means. In this case everything was done under family's guidance as kids used to be very young as there was no age limit to get marry. This was a socially accepted phenomena in many societies (India was one of them) but we all know that it was a terrible practice. Many people misused this system and many marriages can be termed as clear case of child abuse. But this ridiculous practice stopped because it created many social problems like issue of child widows. These young girls used to become widows before even knowing that they were married and then they were forced to live very restricted life for no fault of theirs. Many old men used to marry girls much younger than them by misusing this system, this all resulted in social uproar against this system and slowly it was abolished socially and legally.

Friendship is very beautiful thing and essential part of our lives. Many of our serious and long lasting friendships are formed during school and college days. But it seems someone felt that for high school kids just friendship is not enough they also need to have more serious relationship and teenage dating was invented. There is lot of attraction about opposite sex at that age so this invention obviously found many takers became an instant hit. There are merits and demerits associated with this phenomena, specially when there is possibility of sexual encounter associated in these type of relationships. As kids many times they don't understand the consequence of their acts, sexual intercourse is a physical act but it can have many physical and emotional consequences. Apart from its biological consequences it can also have emotional and social consequences. Emotional and social consequences might differ from person to person but biological consequences are same for all. Biology doesn't care whether you are a teenager or adult, whether it is a consensual sex or a rape, any careless or unprotected sexual act can result in pregnancy which can result in reluctant parenthood and being a parent is a huge personal and social responsibility. According to me teenage pregnancy is a byproduct of this uncontrolled dating culture which starts too early in kids lives, so early that many of them don't even know what relationship means and what are the consequences of some of their actions. Proper sex education and spreading awareness about these issues is the only way to handle this problem of teenage parenthood. There needs to be a sense among today's youth about what is proper and what is improper sexual behavior. School years are very important part of anyone's life, this is the time to learn new things, get ready to face new challenges of future and form long lasting friendships, school is not a place to look for a life partner or indulge in sexual acts.

Culture of child marriage was abolished because many people started misusing it, this rampant misuse made some people to protest against it and slowly that protest created a big social movement which abolished that practice from many societies. I always feel sorry for kids who are busy in thinking about their partner's likes and dislikes or how to get over breakups or whether someone is sexually attracted towards them or not. They all do these things at the age when they should be enjoying their school life without thinking about such complicated things. We all get ample time in out lives starting from our college days to worry about these things but school days are not the time to worry about these things. School life has its own style of romance but depression, breakups and anxiety was not supposed to be part of that romance (and it wasn't at least during my school days). I know that teenage parenthood and child marriage are totally different subjects but somehow I see some parallels in both of them, may be I am wrong that is why I would like to know what others feel about this issue.

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

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

Monday, June 22, 2015

Yoga is beyond any religion.

International Yoga day was celebrated on 21st June, whereas whole world participated enthusiastically in this event in India some people and politicians managed to create controversy over this event also. Actually there is a small section of political and social class in India (as well as in many other countries) who has habit of looking at each and every thing through prism of their own religion. Somehow they try to link each and every issue with their own or some other religion and start debating over it with religious angle. Because of this they are often successful in converting even a simple or benign even like International Yoga day into a controversial subject. There is section of society who is very eager to link whatever originated in Indian subcontinent to Hinduism. This is the same section of society which starts saying that Hinduism is not religion but a way of life if someone objects that they can't force Hinduism practices on people from other religions. I personally believe that Hinduism is combination of many different faiths practiced in Indus valley civilizations since long time, it is not same like Abrahamic religions who have some sort of written manuals in form of their holy books with clear instructions about what to do and what not to do. But it is also true that in today's world the term Hindu or Hinduism represents a particular faith or religion not just a way of life. Actually as far as 'way of life' argument is concerned all religions in one way or other are supposed to be a way of life. It is really hard or impractical for people to follow them literally but they all were invented to be a way of life. Some people like to link Yoga with Hinduism, I don't know what is the logic behind it except that this is also very ancient practice like Hinduism. I also don't understand what they get out of it apart from some false sense of ownership but they definitely try to do this. Then there are people from other religions in India (specially belonging to Islam and Christianity) who buy this argument and try to oppose these things without understanding the intentions of people who try to claim this ownership. This creates some sort of communal tension or religious conflict, this is how some people managed to turn a international Yoga day into a communal controversy. 

According to me it is completely wrong to associate Yoga or for that matter any form of exercise with any particular religion. Any physical exercise is performed to remain healthy, the aim is to have physical and mental work out (specially in case of Yoga and many other similar forms of exercises). The main aim is to achieve good health by having required physical activity, there is no need to mix any religion with any of these physical activities. The main controversy associated with Yoga is because of use of some chants like 'OM' during some pranayanamas, many Hindu shlokas also contain this word so some people try to create impression that word Om is something special and as it is exclusively associated with Hinduism, if you practice Yoga you might be indirectly practicing Hinduism. This is as silly argument as it sounds. Actually if anyone feels that by chanting Om they jeopardize their religious identity then they are free no to do it, they can choose any other word which makes them happy or pacifies their mind. The main aim of pranayama is to focus and calm the chaotic mind, one can use any word which helps them to do that. So there is absolutely no need to put special emphasis on one word Om, insisting its use is as ridiculous as opposing its use. People perform Yoga for their own benefit, if they think it is not suitable for them then definitely they can choose any other form of physical activity which suits them more. Yoga is not just chanting Om or few aasanas, it is a whole body and mind work out, it can be very beneficial if performed properly and regularly. Same is true for any other form of exercise. Another very important thing to keep in mind that these things can be extremely harmful if not performed properly they can result in serious physical injuries. So it is necessary to learn properly any form of exercise.

I hope that when whole world is gladly accepting Yoga as one of the useful alternatives of physical activity to maintain healthy lifestyle, people from India will also accept it. Whether they practice it or not is their personal choice and they have complete freedom to choose whatever they feel is more suitable to them to maintain healthy lifestyle. If Yoga can unite rest of the world then I am sure all Indians also can unite or at least don't fight with each other over this simple issue. Stay healthy and stay happy.

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

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

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Conflict of interest.

Indian external affairs minister Mrs. Sushma Swaraj issuing no objection statement to clear travel documents of Mr. Lalit Modi who is considered as fugitive in some financial irregularities cases created lot of controversy and political turmoil. Now the name of current chief minister of Rajasthan Vasundhara Raje Scindia also surfaced in this controversy as it seems that she wrote a confidential letter in support of immigration application of Lalit Modi. Both these people were occupying some constitutional post, Mrs. Swaraj wrote that note as a external affairs minister and Mrs. Scindia was leader of opposition of Rajasthan state assembly when she wrote that letter. This whole controversy is because of legal troubles of Mr. Lalit Modi in India, he is supposed to face inquiry in relation to some money laundering scam related with cash rich cricket tournament IPL but instead of that he escaped from country and now living in London. Both Mrs. Swaraj and Mrs. Scindia have very close ties with Mr. Lalit Modi, they both personally know him, some of their close family member are directly or indirectly associated with him in professional capacity. Mrs. Swaraj is claiming that she helped him on humanitarian grounds. It seems that Lalit needed those travel documents so that he can be with his wife who was undergoing some treatment related with cancer in Portugal. Whereas Mrs. Scindia still not clarified whether she issued any such letter or not. Both these cases are ideal examples of conflict of interest, actually this is a big deal in all developed countries where one has to declare any conflict of interest almost everywhere where it might affect your judgement or work related behavior. Even in research I remember that we need to sign conflict of interest form declaring that we don't have any interests which can create any sort of conflict in our research work, if there is any such thing then we have to declare it so that concerned authorities know about it in advance, failure to do so can have serious professional and legal consequences. 

So what is this conflict of interest which is given so serious consideration, actually it is very simple thing to understand, if there is anything (specially any financial or personal interest) which can affect your professional behavior even remotely then it should be properly disclosed before engaging in that professional activity. I can cite some examples based on my personal experience; for example, if I am acting as a judge in my city's school science fair and there are projects from same school or same grade in which my kids study or projects by kids who I know personally (like my friend's or neighbor's kids) then I have to tell the panel of judges that about it so they all know about it. If possible they might want me not to judge those projects as there is a conflict of interest from my side. But even after this disclosure if they want me to judge those projects then it is my duty to judge it in very impartial manure but I need to disclose that information. If I don't do that then no matter how much I claim to be impartial people can always question my intentions as I didn't disclose that information before accepting that responsibility. If I fail to disclose that information for whatever reasons and it gets discovered after I finished my duty as science fair judge then I give others opportunity to question my intentions and actions, that is why it is better to disclose it. And it is not only required because I might show some favoritism but because of my association with that person or school directly or indirectly, it can have a negative effect also. I might be extra strict with those students just because I might have unreasonably high expectations from my own kids or other kids from their school. This is why disclosure of conflict of interest becomes very important matter.

When you put tobacco business people on a committee which is supposed to decide tobaccos impact on human health, how can you expect a impartial and unbiased opinion from them? At the same time you cannot put a anti-tobacco person on same committee, it needs to be balanced and impartial. These type of things will keep on happening unless people understand and follow the policy of declaring conflicts of interest. Then only parents won't be in a selection committee where their kids are appearing for interview, then only researchers will declare if they have any consulting assignments or shares of any company which is directly related with their research work. There are many things like this which I can list here but I guess readers must have understood my point. If these two political figures who are facing severe political crises would have followed some simple steps of declaring their relationship with Lalit Modi and stayed away from issues related with him then they may not have been in so much trouble. Hope that people learn from these incidents and take care of not engaging in similar activities in future.

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

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

Monday, June 15, 2015

Science is NOT my religion.

I have written quite a few posts about science and religion. I know some people who call science as their religion, where as I do understand their intention behind saying so I don't subscribe to that idea for me it is very clear that science is NOT my religion. I say so because of one basic fundamental difference between both disciplines, religion demands total surrender and requires complete faith (many times to the level of blind faith), it allows questions but only to certain limit and there are certain areas or personalities in almost all religions which are unquestionable and their authority is considered as supreme but science has none of these things. Science is not my faith, I don't believe anything which comes from that field blindly, I need data to accept or reject anything no matter who is the scientist behind that theory or experiment. This basic difference is the key to understand why both of these disciplines are poles apart from each other and were often at loggerheads in past when certain age old beliefs were challenged.

So when someone says that science is their religion, they might mean that they believe in science in same way people believe in religion. But then there is one basic problem in this argument, science does not demand any belief or faith, rather it teaches to be skeptic about everything. One of the basic requisite for being a good scientist is the ability to question things around us, challenge the well established facts to test if they are right or wrong. There is nothing which demands any sort of belief or surrender, experiments and data collected from those experiments suprecede any rules or theories. Anything can be proven right or wrong by experimental evidence. Scientists don't believe in validity of one of the most famous scientific equation, E=MC2 because a great scientist like Albert Einstein proposed it, they accepted it because it was proven to be true by experimental data. Same is true for theories proposed by Newton, Galileo or any other scientist of any era. Certain statements or theories might get some recognition in the beginning just because some famous or successful scientist proposed it but eventually it has to pass the test of experimental validity. Someone need to produce the data to prove or disprove them and this can be done by anyone without being threatened or heckled by supporters of that theory. Any such efforts where certain theory is proven right or wrong by experimental evidence is welcomed by entire scientific community, even students of the scientist whose theory is proven wrong welcome any such effort as it adds new information to their own knowledge about that subject. This is the basic reason why there is no enmity between different branches of science, there is fierce competition between various branches but at the same time there is vast amount of inter disciplinary collaborations.

Challenging well established theories, questioning hypothesis, demanding data to prove any claim are some of the basic things which people learn in science but it is exactly opposite in religion where one is taught to accept supremacy of some entity and then asked to follow certain book (or set of books). Questioning is highly restricted and often sensitivities of followers of that religion get hurt if anyone questions their beliefs beyond certain point. At the same time there is tremendous tension between various religions, history is full of gory violent incidents because of communal conflicts between two or more religions. I do understand the need of religion for many people, many of us need some emotional support and religion acts as a pillar of strength for many. May be science partly does that job for me as it answers many question which I get from time to time. Actually science is a very useful tool for me to navigate through my life but nothing more than that, it can never become a religion for me just because I don't agree the way religion is practiced in today's world. Even today religion fails to come any close to science as far as openness and tolerance is concerned. Because of this tolerance which I learned during my training as scientist I don't mind people questioning whatever I say or write, they have total freedom and right to do that. My sensitivities and beliefs are my problem people don't have to worry about them while questioning me, they should not get hurt by some question or criticism. That is why I categorically say that even though I am a scientist by profession and believe in usefulness of science to solve many problems which human face today I don't consider it as my religion.

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

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

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Despite being a woman...

During his Bangladesh visit in one of his speeches Indian prime minister Mr. Narendra Modi said, "I am happy that Bangladesh prime minister, despite being a woman, has declared zero tolerance for terrorism." There is no doubt that he wanted to praise Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina for doing very commendable job in dealing with terrorists in her own country. So, what is wrong with this statement of Mr. Modi which created some controversy in social media and it became subject of some TV debates? The use of term "despite being woman" is highly objectionable to many including me. I don't think there is any doubt that he should have chosen better words to praise her, actually there was absolutely no need to mention her gender while complimenting her for her stance against terrorism. Special mention of her gender displays typical patriarchal mindset of our society, even our PM did not think that it is wrong to complement any one by citing their gender. This also shows a stereotyping of women as gentle, non aggressive, soft gender who can not deal with tough situations. It will be grossly unfair to say that Mr. Modi is the only politician or person who thinks like this, this mindset is present in many societies including many developed countries, even in India many politicians across the party lines say many such insulting or derogatory comments about women on a regular basis. Whenever there is huge uproar against such comments they are brushed under the carpet by labeling them trivial remarks not to be taken seriously or they cite the usual excuse that they were taken out of context.

Why I am picking this statement? Does this single line diminishes all other achievements of this foreign tour of Mr. Modi? This tour is very successful and I am sure there will be many media releases and advertisements by Indian government to highlight these things, I don't have to do that. But the reason why I am picking up this statement is because this displays deep rooted prejudice against women in our society. Mr. Modi's supporters will off course downplay this incident, actually not only his supporters but every political leader's supporters are very forgiving towards their own leader.

Now let's see how following statements sound,
It is great that despite being a woman you learned how to drive, it is very admirable that despite being woman you are doing a industrial job, it is nice that despite being a woman you earned a college degree, I am glad to see that despite being a woman you are in military, it is good to see that despite being a woman you play football (soccer), I am happy to see that despite being a woman you are a writer...

Actually I can go on offering these so called compliments to women of this world, but the questions is, are these really complements or these are insults in very subtle way or indication of that person's bias towards women? Because of this deep rooted bias he or she feels that women can only do certain type of work and if they excel in any other field it is an exception and therefore it deserves a special praise, this is why they specially mention their gender and use the phrase 'despite being a woman'. We need to ask these touch questions to expose this patriarchal mindset of our society. Why some of us still think that being a woman is like having some sort of disadvantage? If any woman becomes successful then why some of us feel that it is an exception and not a normal incident? Actually because of such mindset women have to face many hostile situations in their day to day lives. Because of this narrow mindedness some people don't welcome their presence as they think they don't belong there. Women need to fight against this prejudice that is why it is not proper to compliment them like this, as long as we compliment them using such phrases we confirm that we are part of that same mindset. There are many examples of successful women from all fields including politics (both from present and past era), we know many strong female political leaders so it is not a strange or unusual phenomena any more. Time has come to get rid of this narrow mindset and stop using such phrases like 'despite of being a woman you did this and you did that' while praising achievements of any woman. I hope we all realize this and next time complement any person and judge their achievements not based on their gender but purely based on the merit of their work and achievements.

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

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

Friday, June 5, 2015

Let's look beyond the bias.

We all have some sort of bias, whether we accept it or not but we all have it. One can debate if that bias affects our thinking or not, whether we take our decisions based on that or not but we all have it. We all have certain likes and dislikes because of so many reasons and mainly they create a conscious or unconscious bias in our mind. I myself really try hard to overcome my own bias, sometimes I am successful and sometimes I am not. It is not a easy thing to do, many times I struggle but at least I know that I have that bias and I also know that this struggle is going to be a continuous and never ending battle in my mind so I need to deal with it on a daily basis. To understand why I try so hard to overcome my bias first we need to understand what bias does to our thinking. First thing which it does is, it directs our mind in particular direction. I realized it during phase of my life when I was learning to think independently. Our bias can be helpful or harmful to our thinking process, it depends on which direction it directs us and how strong that push is. It is also true that whatever type of bias we have slowly it becomes a part of our normal thinking process, based on whether we have positive or negative bias we tend to focus on only positive or negative aspects of that particular person or issue. For example, if I don't like Mr. Obama as a president for some reasons then I will have very strong bias against him. For example, if I don't like him because I don't support his political party then there are very high chances that I will focus only on negative aspects of his each and every speech, action or policy. I will find it really hard to notice any positive parts of his personality or actions. This happens because my dislike for his political party automatically transforms in dislike for his personality as he represent that political ideology, this thinking than automatically directs my mind to look only for negative aspects or flaws in each and everything he does. Same thing can happen with any other person or issue, if I don't like any particular religion or race I might find only negative things associated with that thing, I might overlook all positives associated with it as my mind has already decided that this thing is supposed to be bad so it can not have anything good. This is what bias does to our thinking and that is why we need to be aware of it and try to overcome it as much as possible. It may not be possible to completely overcome it but we can definitely minimize it by being aware of the fact that it exists and that is why we need to be careful before completely accepting or rejecting anything.

Now what is the difference between conscious bias and unconscious bias? Even though both result in same end result they are different. Conscious bias can be called as plain discrimination, where people knowingly behave in biased manure because of some prejudice, hatred or ignorance. We see this type of behaviour in many blind supporters of religion, political party, some leader or cult movement. It is easy to point out and recognize this type of biased behaviour. But unconscious bias is rooted somewhere deep in our minds and many times we are not even aware of it. This can be result of our upbringing, our surroundings, our culture or country we come from. We might dislike some religion or some race without even knowing why to dislike it, we might favor certain food just because we are accustomed of eating it from childhood without even knowing merits and demerits of that food. This type of bias also affects our thinking in certain way but we don't do it purposely, and if we don't take special efforts to eliminate it, it becomes integral part of our personality. First and foremost thing one need to do is to acknowledge that there is a bias in our thinking, then only we can work towards eliminating or reducing it. Many people refuse to accept that their views are biased, there is nothing wrong in accepting it but people just don't feel comfortable in accepting this thing. Taking particular stand or supporting some political party or ideology doesn't mean that that person is necessarily biased. One can get associated with any ideology without being biased towards it or against other ideologies which oppose it. But criticizing all other things blindly which doesn't agree with your views or opposing something without any rational reason or supporting data means there is some kind of bias. I personally support certain views and oppose some but I don't try to silence people opposing me or ridicule them. I always acknowledge that one issue can have many sides or problem can have many solutions and each side or solution can be a legitimate one. We need to recognize this diversity of opinion, then only there can be any useful discussion. In today's world everybody has some opinion almost about everything, the era of majority is always right doesn't exist in many countries, in a way this is a good thing and this is why we have many ongoing debates about various issues. It is very important for all of us to look beyond our biases so that we can not only listen but also understand what other people have to say. Let's try to look beyond our bias and try to have meaningful discussions.

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

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