Friday, July 31, 2015

I understand your difficulties Mr. Tharoor.

Recent speech by Mr Shashi Tharoor which he gave during some debate at Oxford University went viral on internet. In this speech he rebuked the argument that India was in any way got benefited by British rule rather he strongly proposed that it was Britain who was the beneficiary at the cost of India's development. As expected this speech won praise from all quarters in India, even Indian prime minister Mr. Modi made a special mention of this speech. There is no doubt that Mr. Tharoor is a very good writer and excellent orator, specially in English. I love the way he presents his arguments and conducts himself during any debate or discussion. His mannerisms and grasp on various issues are very impressive. Even after being in Indian politics he shows courage to view his opinions about sensitive issues like juvenile justice bill or capital punishment. Many political parties and its leaders stay away from saying anything contrary to general public perception about these sensitive issues but so far Mr. Tharoor has shown courage to express his views boldly on these matters. I hope he continues to do this even in future, I personally may or may not agree with all of his views and ideas but I really appreciate his willingness to express opinions on matters where most other political leaders shy away to avoid the risk of public outrage or party disciplinary action.

Unfortunately his own party (Indian National Congress) is crippled by its own insecurities and therefore can not make use of this brilliant public speaker as their spokes person. According to them it seems he has tendency to speak some of the things which are logical and most of the time correct but not fit for messy Indian politics. Many times some of his statements put his own party in difficult situation because they want spokes persons who speak politically correct language not logical or rational things. It seems no political party in India likes this type of free mind or independent thinker to speak on behalf of them. Mr. Tharoor landed in such trouble just few days back (he faced this problem in past also) when he said that he is not in favor of using disruption of parliament as a tool to corner the government. Actually there is nothing wrong in what he said, there is no use of disrupting the parliament and stalling the important work which parliament and its members are supposed to do. There is no doubt that current ruling coalition NDA (mainly BJP) did this in past but their wrong actions of past can not justify the same actions performed in present by any other party. So even though Mr. Tharoor was right he faced wrath of some of his party members for objecting to party's political tactics. Actually even after all this snubbing and scolding I am glad that people like him or Nandan Nilekani are trying to enter the politics and surviving there. I also understand why these people have to go with Indian National Congress rather than any other political party, the ideas and values represented by this party and its mostly secular fabric matches these people's thinking that is why even after all the problems, issues and drawbacks associated with this party they have to go with this party as there is no other equally suitable alternative for them. This explains their political choice, Politically I consider myself independent and I support any political party based on issues, that is why I also face the same problems when I have to choose any single political party to cast my vote during any elections. I face same dilemma and always have to settle for lesser evil rather than ideal choice. This is why I say that I understand the problems of people like Mr. Tharoor, I really appreciate their efforts to remain in this system and also able to protect their identity. Many people after entering this very robust and old system become part of it, system changes then rather than they bringing any change in the system. There are many examples of this from past and present to prove this hypothesis. It is very easy to criticize the system, get frustrated and say nothing can be done to change it but it takes great amount of patience, determination and stamina to enter in it and try to swim against the current. Very few dare to do it, most of the people enter to swim with the current and reap the benefit which this approach offers. So don't worry Mr. Tharoor, I understand your problems but don't get disheartened by temporary setbacks, please keep on expressing your opinions and initiating discussions on various topics. Let's keep the fire of independent and free thinking minds burning, we owe this to our society.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Dr. Kalam-symbol of hard work, honesty and never ending passion.

Former president of India Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam died on July 27th. India lost a great visionary, a very dedicated scientist and a great teacher. He died while doing what he loved most, that is to share his ideas to inspire students. He always believed that students hold the key for future of any country and it is very necessary to keep a open dialogue with them. He always tried to engage with students all over India, his lectures and seminars were mostly directed towards students and young generation who were looking for some advise and little bit motivation. I personally heard some of his lectures during some conferences, I found his enthusiasm very infectious, this man loved to talk about science, he loved to project very optimistic picture of human future. I even read his autobiography "Wings of fire", this all happened when I was passing through really tough phase of my PhD studies, his words and book was one of the things which inspired and encouraged me to continue my struggle. His honesty, simplicity and enthusiasm always inspired me and I am sure millions of others were benefited by his presence in their lives.

When he became president of India, it was the first time there was a person who didn't belong to any particular political party who was sitting on that chair. Traditionally presidents have very nominal role to play in Indian democratic system, the post is more of a ceremonial one but even there also he made his presence felt and performed his duties to best of his capabilities. Teaching was his first love, he loved to teach, give seminars and lectures. There are many of his speeches available on internet where he talks about his vision of India, his optimism about future generations achieving the impossible. But it is ironical that even though there are many inspirational speeches delivered by him at so many different venues there is not a single speech matching to those other speeches delivered by him in Indian parliament. This shows how a president is made just a mouth piece of ruling government, they are supposed to read the speech provided to them by the current government in parliament. I have not seen any president including Dr. Kalam delivering their own speech with entirely their own thoughts in parliament, this is why I really feel sad that our political class failed to take full advantage of presence of such a inspirational personality in Rashtrapati Bhawan. Whereas whole nation drew lot of inspiration from Dr. Kalam, revered his work, dedication and honesty most of the politicians didn't even bother to learn anything from him. His simplicity, honesty towards his job and dedication to solve problems of his country is something which we all can learn from him.

There is no doubt that Dr. Kalam will be missed in India, that too in era where religious fanaticism is growing, people are more interested in playing the blame game than solving the problems. I wish people specially politicians in India really listen to his speeches or read his books and learn some lessons from them. I wish tribute to him doesn't only come from words but also from actions by all his country people. I personally felt really bad when he didn't get second term as a president, that was terrible move by UPA government. But that is a history now, Dr. Kalam is no more but his legacy should live. For me he is a symbol of honesty, hard work and never ending passion towards his country and its people. He loved what he did and that's the one lesson I learned from him. I hope he inspires many people to work hard in whatever field they choose and deliver their best. Not everyone of us get to work in a field which we want, many times that is not in our hand but we all can work hard in whatever field we get opportunity, this is in our hand. Good bye Kalam sir, thank you for all your hard work and inspiration, you will be remembered as a great teacher. 

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

Friday, July 24, 2015

Untouchability- how a simple precautionary practice turned into such horrible custom?

Untouchability is one of the horrible practices which is still practiced in some parts of the India. This evil practice was so common that it not only became integral part of Hinduism but it also got stuck with many other religions to which people living in that region got converted. These religions like Christianity or Islam don't have system of upper caste or lower caste in other parts of the world but in India they inherited this local practice as they found it very difficult to break this ancient custom so they just made a deal just to ignore it. I saw this being practiced on many occasions as a child and always wondered why some people are treated like this? This practice raised many questions in my mind, why it is not proper to touch people belonging to particular caste? what will happen if we drink or eat in same utensil in which they do? I asked many people about why some people are treated in such inhuman way, but very few offered me any rational explanation apart from giving standard answer that these people belong to some lower caste that's why they are treated like this or it is their bad karma or it's their fate, etc.. This pathetic explanations never satisfied my curiosity, I continued to do my research on this and discussed it with many people who had anything to share related with this subject. Slowly things became clear to me, I got to know that originally it was some precautionary practice which was started during pre-sanitation era to avoid spreading of germs and infections , its abuse by certain sections of society resulted in this horrible practice of untouchability.

So it seems many many years ago people doing certain type of jobs like waste removal, dead body and animal disposal, haircutting and shaving, butchery and meat selling, etc. were quarantined because of nature of their job. Basically people doing all such type of work where there was very high risk of infection or high chances of contamination of some really bad smell or germs were treated with special precaution so that others around them don't get affected by these things. This was supposed to be just a precautionary method to avoid a health risk. This was not based on the religion or caste or social status of that person but a type of job they do. Even today we still practice these things in medical science but in much more scientific and sophisticated way, people use gloves, masks or special protective clothing to avoid infections or contamination. People with serious infectious diseases like tuberculosis or SARS or Ebola are quarantined so that infection doesn't spread and becomes and problem. Whenever we go to see a new born baby we take all precautions so that we don't infect it with germs. But this all is part of hygienic lifestyle with proper scientific reasons behind them not based on some age old belief system where people are treated untouchables just because of the family in which they are born, it doesn't matter what type of work they do. In a way Hinduism is a very tolerant religion so it is strange that such a horrible practice became part of it. Actually it is still very different than many other religions of this world. It is a mixture of many different type of belief systems which were practiced in one particular geographical region. It was never practiced in a way as many of the other religions of the world are practiced (specially monotheistic ones) but now Hinduism is considered as one of the major religions of the world and most people accept this classification. One of the biggest failures of Hinduism is its inability to stop abuse of some of the traditions. Systems such as caste were converted in horrible discriminatory institutions and traditions like sanitary precautions were converted in horrible practices like untouchability. Such systems like casteism and practices like untouchability have no place in current modern society but still some people try to keep them alive for their own selfish gains.

We as a society collectively need to fight against these type of things, no matter what was the original intention behind these practices or traditions, today they have taken a horrible form and are damaged beyond any repair. The way these things were practiced in past and are practiced today no person with any rational mind can justify them, the only option left is to abandon these things, any effort to justify them will attract more criticism and insult. I hope these things phase out from every civilized society as they should not have any place in any civilized world.

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

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

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Religion is like a personal medication, don't brag about it.

During one of my discussions on Facebook someone said that 'religion is also good when taken like medicine'. This statement might sound strange to some people but in a way it is true. I always believed that religion and religious beliefs are very personal matter of any individual much like their personal medication. Many people need some type of medication for some health issues, these issues can be physical or mental. Every patient who visits any doctor for some problems gets their personal prescription to improve their health. Apart from prescription medications people can buy over the counter medicines on their own for variety of medical conditions which are not that serious. Many people have to take these medications daily, some medicines suit them which they continue to take and some do not which they discontinue. But very few discuss about these things very openly in public, we don't go on telling all people around us what medication we take and how good we feel because of that medicine. We don;t start recommending those medicines to each and every individual without knowing their health condition. We don't do this specifically because we feel that it is not appropriate to share a very personal matter in public and also because we know whatever medicine is good or suitable for us may or may not suit other person. There are also very strict laws in many countries to protect personal medical history of patients. People do share these things with their close ones which is very normal thing to do but most refrain from boasting about this thing in public. Now I think that religion is also a very personal thing, many people need it for their personal well being. This need is very genuine requirement and it is quite reasonable that such people try to satisfy this need by using various products available to them. There are many options available in market for them, normally they get one by default (the one in which they are born) but they can change to whatever other religion they like. One can compare it very well with personal medication, people use religion for their personal well being as they use medicines to improve their health. Many of them get some benefits and enjoy the many good things which come along with it.

Things start getting complicated when people start to force their religion on others, that too without bothering to know if other person need it or not. When a deeply personal thing like religion is treated like a social phenomena it brings lot of problems along with it. People who didn't like it started resisting it, some people launched same or similar products which created competition and lot of conflict in market of religion. This competition created lot of bitter rivalries, somewhat similar like rivalries between various pharmaceutical companies. Only difference is pharma company rivalries ultimately help patients as it results in more medicines and cheaper price. On similar lines religious rivalries did create more religions but it also resulted in fierce competition between them which many times gets converted into violent communal conflicts. So far millions of people died in such conflicts all over the world. Even after all this people fail to understand that religion is very personal matter, there is no need to create a public display of it unnecessarily. Society also need to make various rules and regulations about advertising and distribution of various religions and their products.

Now one can ask why something like religion needs a rules and regulations like pharma products. This is specifically because like every medication religion also has many side effects and some of them are really serious. Tendency of many religious groups to indulge in communal violence is one of the major and fatal side effects. Gender discrimination, suppression of certain class of society, superstitions, etc. are few other noticeable and serious side effects. People who practice religion should be aware of these things as these things can directly affect them. It will be a really good idea for every religion to publish list of side effects which it may cause. It will be a really great thing to make it mandatory as it is for every pharma company to list all side effects of their products. It can help people a lot to choose religion which suits their need and style. Various religions can list these side effects based on their history. Most of them have very well documented history which can easily give them a list of various issues and problems caused by others to their followers as well as problems their followers caused to others. The point I am trying to make here is, in today's world religion is a very personal matter, please don't try to make into some sort of social movement. In past it was used as social tool but not that need doesn't exist because today situation is different, so it will be better if we adjust accordingly.  

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

Friday, July 10, 2015

Let go of the need to be right.

We all like to be right all the time, in every situation, in every discussion and during every argument basically all of us assume that we are right while pursuing any argument and I don't think there is anything wrong in it. Most of us feel that it is not only important for our reputation but it is our duty to be right, most of us hate when someone proves us wrong. Some of us are so convinced with our beliefs and thoughts that we feel that whatever we say is always right and people opposing us are wrong or incapable of accepting the truth, this belief is specially very predominant and strong among fanatics. It is all so good and nice if everything goes according to our expectations, we feel happy if we manage to win arguments, score points over our opponents during discussions and debates. This feeling of being right drives us to participate in many debates and discussions, while going through all this we get into mindset of being right all the time. We expect ourselves to be on right side all the time or many of us take the easier route we start believing that whatever side we support is the right side. This makes us to defend our religion, political party, ideology, political or religious leader no matter what they do or what they say. This need to be right all the time has created rigid walls between many groups and factions who are not willing to find any common ground to solve many problems which we are facing today. I think that no single ideology, religion, political party or any other discipline has answer to all the questions and problems which we face today, we need to take best from each field and try our best to solve the issues in front of us. But the need to be right which in turn inculcates the feeling of being right all the time is one of the major hurdles in bringing all interested parties on board to create some amicable solution for many solvable problems.

As a person who has both political and social views I participate in variety of discussions, some of them very fruitful and rewarding where I learn some new things and some of them totally waste of time leading into useless arguments. I try to enjoy both type of discussions and participate in them as long as I get some fun or knowledge out of them. I always say that I like when people prove me wrong specially when they do it by producing reliable and verifiable evidences against the points which I am arguing for. I like it because not because I love being proven wrong all the time but because when it happens I learn something new, I learn something which I ignored or failed to notice, it teaches me something. It will be dishonest and utter lie if I say that I don't feel sad or disappointed when this happens but at the end I feel good to learn something new, after all I don't know everything and I don't have answer for all question. Because of this desire of learning something new I don't feel need to be right all the time, rather I am always in search for evidences either in favor or against the point which I am arguing for. My aim of participating in any discussion or watching any debate is to know more about various facts associated with that particular topic. As humans we all are bound to make some mistakes, we all are bound to mess up or say something which is not right. The best way is not to deny it or sulk over it if someone proves us wrong but to look at the evidence and accept the mistake, learn from it and move on.

I have to be prepared to accept that I might be wrong or I may not have information about some very important piece of evidence to support my argument or there can be two or even more than two right answers for same question. This is the one of the basic understanding on should have while participating in any discussion. Thinking that we are always right puts lot of pressure on us as well as makes us lose our ability to learn any new things from our opponents. Once we let go the desire to be right or stop thinking that we are always right then we become more tolerant to new ideas and views. Once we get rid of this desire to be always right we become more receptive and open to alternate views. We start recognizing and noticing many things which we might ignore if we look at them with bias. It is very difficult to get rid of our bias but at least we should be aware of it. We assume many things are wrong just because they don't match with our thinking. Broaden your horizons and let go the need to be right. Don't be afraid to commit mistakes but also don't forget to learn a lesson from them.

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

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

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Why I don't participate in campaigns like selfiewithdaughter?

I read the news that selfiewithdaughter is trending on twitter since India's PM Mr. Modi asked people to share selfies with their daughters along with tag line 'beti bachao, beti padhao' (which means, save daughters, educate daughters). I understand that his intention behind this is to spread awareness about decreasing male to female ratio in Indian society. Tag line 'save daughters' is specially directed towards female foeticide, where gender selective abortions are very common. But I see a problem in all this, many people who are concerned with dropping male to female ratio or female foeticide issue try to project females or girls as something special, something precious which needs extra protection or attention or care. They all forget that this is the same attitude which resulted in gender discrimination and perception that females are weaker sex or a liability on family. Such campaigns no matter how well intended normally fail to produce any desired results. They do create some media coverage, the issue gets discussed in some debates but hardly anything changes on the ground. There are enough government programs and laws line anti-dowry law in India, there is even a law that gives daughters a equal share in ancestral property but we all know that still dowry is a very common practice and very few people bother to give girls their legal share in ancestral property. They all consider their daughters very special, treat them very nicely, they all love them but they are not considered as EQUALS. Always or in most cases if there is a son he is considered as heir of property or leader of family, there is a different set of rules for sons compared to daughters. I agree that situation is changing slowly but not with the speed with which it should. It is also true that situation of women in many western countries is comparatively much better than countries like India, so we have lot of ground to cover and this campaign is not going to help that much in that direction. Problems on ground are very different, situation and status of women in society needs a major revamp. Unless women are made equal partners in each and every strata of society their situation is not going to improve. One doesn't need to respect only their mothers, sisters or daughters but also our wives, neighbors and colleagues. We should stop looking at women only through prism of some glorified relationship but treat them as individuals. 

So why I think that such campaigns are not useful or why I don't participate in such campaigns specially when I claim to be a feminist and someone who believes in gender equality? Actually I am against any special treatment offered to women or men just because of their gender, this is against my basic concept of equality. My daughter is just one of my kids, she is not any special than my son. She is like any other member of my family with EQUAL rights; no more, no less. She gets all privileges and rights which my son or I get in my family. She is allowed to party if my son is allowed to do it, she is allowed to hang out with her friends (male or female doesn't matter) if my son is allowed to do it, she is allowed to watch the movies or TV programs which are suitable to her age (based on ratings), she is allowed to use words which I am allowed to use while speaking in home or in public, she is expected to do chores like everyone else, she or my son are not treated any different based on their gender. We don't offer any concession or privilege to her just because she is a girl, same is true for my son, he doesn't get anything extra just because he is a boy. She is not assigned any chores just because this is what girls are supposed to learn or do; it is her choice if she wants to learn cooking or not, she has to decide whether she wants to learn driving or not and same is true for my son also. Equality doesn't come with any special privileges, rather theoretically equality means that there should not be any special privileges for anyone. If we want to teach our daughters meaning of equality first and basic thing we need to do is to treat them as equals. If we don't practice equality in real life then just talking about it will not make any difference. Equality means giving equal respect, freedom, opportunity and responsibility to all.

Whether it is positive or negative both type of discrimination is bad, daughters are no special, they are equal and responsible members of any family. They deserve equal status not some special treatment, rather this special treatment offered to them for centuries is the very reason that they are discriminated. Many societies worship female gods, they treat them as special, show extra protectiveness or concern and what is the result of all this?? women are not treated as equals, many restrictions are forced upon them just because of their gender, they are considered as weak or less capable. So now time has come not to give any special treatment but to give them opportunities, freedom and responsibilities which they deserve. Any society or country is not doing any favor by giving women equal rights, rather societies should be ashamed that still women have to demand equal rights for them. These type of campaigns might create some media buzz but we need change in mentality of people, let parents take oath that they will give equal share to their daughters in their property, they will let her choose her career and life partner, they will not restrict her from doing something just because of her gender. Let them promise that they will make sure that daughters will have all the freedom which any other male member of her age from their family enjoys. Parents can post selfies with their daughters on internet, it is very easy thing to do but I hope they go many steps further and treat her as they treat themselves, as a equal human being not something superior or inferior. Gender inequality is very big problem all across the world, it even bigger in countries like India. Even though I don't think that any such campaign have any capacity to bring any real change I will be happy if this initiative helps to create awareness about gender equality. I also hope this doesn't send the wrong message that daughters are any special because they are not, they are equals so please treat them as equals.

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

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