Should we blame racism for the state of education in India?

the opiniator

“Do you agree to these rankings of universities in which Indian universities are slipping? “, a bright, young colleague of mine asked.

“You might find my views on this topic somewhat shocking”, I hinted, “In fact you might even find them a bit tangential in the beginning.” I added

And the same views I am about to share in this post.

I said tangential because my views do not relate to the authenticity of the survey in question. Instead, they relate to whether any real difference exists in the quality of education in India viz-a-viz Europe or the US. And if it does, where are the reasons probably rooted? Has it got something to with races? Is racism a reality? Does it still exist?

We are seemingly as far as we could possibly be from the question my colleague asked.

Race is one of the most controversial and divisive words…

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Whistle Blowing: Bravery or Folly! – Why do people choose to be whistle blowers or take corruption head on ?

Edward Snowden has become synonymous with “whistle blowing”. He brought to light the mind boggling level of snooping by the NSA. Today one thing is certain about his future – uncertainty.

snowden

Bradley Manning passed on classified information related to US military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has been sentenced to 35 years in prison.

bradley manning

Back in India too there have been acts of whistle blowing in fact acts of taking corruption head on.

Satyendra Dubey was an IIT alumnus who was working for National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) where he came across blatant flouting of norms. He decided not to turn a blind eye and bring this to the cognizance of the higher authorities. He also wrote a letter to the Prime Minister seeking his intervention. He paid the price for his crusade with his life on Nov 27, 2003.

satyendra dubey

Shanmugam Manjunath was an IIM Lucknow alumnus who was working as Marketing Manager for Indian Oil Corporation where he found out about unfair practices including adulteration at a petrol station in Lakhimpur Kheri. He decided to seal the petrol station. He too paid the price with his life on Nov 19, 2005.

manjunath shanmugam

These instances are examples of great individual courage and selflessness driven by extremely high passion for setting things right. Unfortunately, the desired objective was almost completely missed.

I would like to acknowledge that there might be some acts of whistle blowing where the ensuing publicity is a strong motivator. But I believe that the above instances do not fall in this category.

But then why do people choose to be whistle blowers or take corruption head on? 

Do people become whistle blowers after they grossly underestimated the gravity of threat involved in whistle blowing? Or do they choose whistle blowing in a spirit of colliding head on with that threat? Or do they overestimate their own power and potential in the system?

These are the questions that puzzle the onlookers especially the ones who have a suppressed desire to raise voice against corruption.

I guess a whistle blower acts on a premise of hope that the good work started by him by bringing the wrong doings to light will be taken up by the people who wish to correct the system but are not brave enough to take the first step. He trusts the system at least for anonymity or confidentiality. He acts on a hope that his effort and sacrifice will not go in vain.

If my above guess is correct then the act of whistle blowing is a courageous act of folly.

The folly is fighting for the people who don’t deserve such a fight. The folly is expecting support from the people who love status quo so much that no act of sacrifice can diminish that love. The folly is pinning hope to wake up from slumber the people who are dead from within.

Of course I am talking about people like me. I can write and express my desire to fight the system but when a Satyendra Dubey calls me for support I may chicken out. My strongest defence would be the safety of my family because my world begins and ends with my family.

Fear is contagious. It needs a trigger and then it transforms into panic. But even courage is contagious. It just needs a spark to galvanise a helpless crowd into an army.

May be a whistle blower overestimates the power of his spark.

The world strongly gripped in the shadow of fear shrugs and moves on. The echo of the whistle dies down.

Thanks for your time. Your comments are extremely valuable.

Right to Privacy? You must be kidding!

snooping4

Post NSA snooping episode, the invasion of privacy by governments has emerged as big ‘talking point’. People who consider privacy as the basic human right have raised alarm over human rights being eroded by the biggest champion of human rights – the USA. But surprisingly it has remained just – well  – a ‘talking point’. No big ripples, no mass protests that one would have expected, have shaken the world.

Why? I try to answer this in this post.

Privacy is the choice to keep our affairs to ourselves. Inside my home whatever I do should be nobody else’s business. As long as I am not interfering with anybody’s affairs, I should be left to manage my own. Concept of privacy should not be confused with that of confidentiality which means ‘ensuring that information is accessible only to those authorized to have access”. Privacy is choice to not share personal information whereas confidentiality is applicable on the personal information which has been shared with a party like a bank etc.

The most basic choices are called needs: food, shelter and clothing. There are lot of people in the developing nations that are not in a position to exercise even these basic choices.

Privacy is a choice that comes much higher and the financial status allows one to exercise this choice in a more assertive way. But even financial status doesn’t guarantee it.

So a person, who has to find food in a bin, cannot complain of lack of privacy. In India people have to take bath in the open due to lack of water supply to their homes. They cannot complain of lack of privacy either. There are people, even females, who have to relieve themselves in the open because of lack of toilets. Of course privacy is almost a non issue for them although they try their best not to offend anyone.

But somehow no one seems to bother. We won’t be able to recognize someone who daily searches for food in a nearby bin.  This may be because this has become congruent to our eyes.

But if someone from a well to do family is asked to search food in a bin, he will not be to do this without feeling that every eye is watching him. He might be right too because the sight will be quite in-congruent. But if the same person suspects that a important document has mistakenly reached that bin he will be prepared to ignore the eyes and search the bin.

My point is that we tend to compromise on privacy in case of urgency and that in an urgent situation we don’t mind doing things for which we ideally seek privacy. Eating, sleeping, relieving, talking on phone, reading…..etc.

reading1 sleeping1  eating 1 bathing1

But urgency depends to a great extent on the financial status of a person. It may also depend on some demographic and cultural factors. For example age can be a strong factor influencing the sense of urgency. Health can also be a strong factor. In fact high degree of repeated urgency is addiction. And an addict hardly cares for privacy except for evading law.

Thus, if I can create a sense of urgency for someone I can access his privacy. And depending on my intentions I may or may not misuse this access.

Today one very important aspect is security against terrorism. 9/11 catastrophe resulted in a huge sense of urgency. People in the US started feeling a sense of vulnerability that was unknown to them. In fact the message that went out to the entire world was that “if this can happen to the US it can happen to anyone”

Thus on the one hand terrorism has troubled the governments across the world, on the other it has given them a tool to create a sense of urgency through which they can force the common man to compromise on his privacy. For example installation of CCTV cameras is a direct invasion into the privacy but people don’t object because security comes first.

frisking1

Even confidentiality can be breached in the name of security. What if the transactions are being done by some terrorist?

Thus every online transaction we make can be a potential source of breach of privacy. It’s not only the government that is interested. It is the corporate that is equally interested in what we are interested in. And all this is not a secret at all. Still we are vulnerable.

Of course we can safeguard our privacy and confidentiality by not using net banking, not booking tickets online, not shopping online, not having video conferencing….etc.

“Are you nuts?” you would ask me. This is because the modern times have created some more urgency. Or dare I say addiction.

An urge which has become urgent: to consume more and more. So we actually don’t mind, when where and how, who is watching us doing what. Whatever!

I think all this at least partially explains why the world didn’t stop after the NSA snooping episode.

Thanks for your time. You might have an opinion quite different from mine. Your feedback is extremely valuable.

Was Gandhi a great man?

There is something called past.

In the physical realm of the universe it exists in the form of momentum and inertia. In this realm this past is often used to predict the future. This is because any entity with momentum holds its path. Also when a larger entity hits a smaller entity, it can change the course of that smaller entity.

In the metaphysical realm however, the past exists only and only in the mind. And here it is all powerful. It moves the humanity. It is the consciousness that drives the humanity and more often than not it is the past that as the conqueror of the consciousness drives the humanity.

The greatest hurdles in the road to future have been created by the past in the collective consciousness of societies and nations. People often find it easier to overcome challenges that prop up in the present than to face challenges that are rooted in the past.

The two strongest social forces – religion and politics – best exploit this nature of the past.

If the human mind loses its affinity and submission to the past, both religion and politics will lose considerable grip over people.

To know how it feels to try and stop a car moving at even 10 kmph from the front, one needs to try to do this. It can be unexpectedly and highly damaging. The past morphed into prejudices like casteism and racism also acts like a moving car.

Thus, to know how it feels to face the wrath of racism, one needs to face it once. It can be humiliating in the least and devastating to the unthinkable levels.

To stand in front of a juggernaut of racism and force it to change its course can only be called an act of sheer greatness.

This is because standing in front of this juggernaut means fighting with the past rooted in the collective mind of a great many people.

In other words I am suggesting that racism is partially a manifestation of the Golem effect. Golem effect is a situation when poor expectations of the boss lead to below par performance of a subordinate. When a race with a past of astonishing achievements looks down upon another race that lacks the momentum of achievements, it can be difficult for the latter to break free.

Try to visualise a 19 yr old in the end of the nineteenth century going to London to study Law. When he came back to India in 1891 he was too shy to succeed as a practising lawyer. The same young man went to South Africa (a British colony at that time) in 1893 as an employee of a law firm and spent 21 years there.

Gandhi young

During this time he came across a number of humiliating experiences directed at him on the basis of his color. These experiences were in no way extraordinary as it was common in those days for the people of non-white origin to be subjected to humiliation and abuse.

However his response to these experiences was truly extraordinary.

He decided to come in the way of racial juggernaut; and that too without any violence. This idea in itself would seem extremely ridiculous to many.

While in South Africa, he continuously fought for the cause of the expatriate Indian community. He witnessed a number of irregularities in the Indian society, which was in itself divided on the lines of caste and religion.

Again his response was extraordinary.

He decided to challenge another juggernaut. He dreamed of an identity that was “Indian” unencumbered by the ideas of caste and religion.

The greatness of the man was in challenging the status-quo and believing that he will succeed.

When someone is determined to succeed he/she goes about acquiring whatever is need to succeed. Else success would remain elusive and wishful thinking. A person willing to stand up against the vices like racism and casteism, has to fight in the public domain, meeting, negotiating with and convincing both the people and the authorities. Gandhi realised this and worked on these skills. He also realised that to fight the collective power of racism, he would need the power of masses which needed to mobilised from a state of dormancy.

So much so that by the time he came back to India in 1915 he was a skilful public speaker and negotiator. He could effectively present his ideas and project his dreams. He could identify the areas of grave injustice and devise non-violent ways of protest.

I am not saying that India won freedom because of one man – Gandhi.

What I am saying is that even in today’s age of relative liberation it is difficult to imagine a person standing up non-violently against injustice.  So it is nothing short of greatness to lead a long term and nonviolent protest against the might of the imperialist forces of a race that was highly confident of its superiority; a protest that unmistakably dented this confidence.

I am not saying that Gandhi was a saint – free from the human vices.

What I am saying that it can be only after fighting a very long battle with sustained and unwavering grit and determination against a mighty adversary that a person can earn love and respect of millions of fellow countrymen and admiration of people across nations and races.

No doubt Gandhi was a great man. He did not hold any government position of power, he was not awarded the Nobel prize, but he is and will remain alive in the collective consciousness till ages.

He was great because showed that to fight the momentum of injustice a counter-momentum of awakening and mobilisation of society can be only way and also showed us how to walk on that way.

gandhi

Today as our society is facing widespread injustice perpetrated by our own race and countrymen, what are the chances of getting someone like Gandhi? Unsure? I will tell you. The chances are abysmally low.

That’s because a great man like Gandhi is born once in centuries!

 

Whose India is this? Can we rescue our nation with a collective effort?

At the very onset let me make it clear that my question is not targeted at a particular political party, community or profession. I am talking to anyone who genuinely identifies himself as an Indian. And I doubt that such people are in minority. This is because most of us have started identifying ourselves on the basis of our religion, ethnicity, language, profession or income group. The last thing that comes to our mind is the entity known as India.

But isn’t that very natural, you would ask. Do all Americans always think of themselves as Americans and not as Whites or as Afro Americans and so on? Or the Chinese for that matter. And still they have set standards of achievement that have led and inspired the world.

Although most of us identify ourselves as true patriots I doubt whether we really understand what patriotism is. But lecturing on patriotism is not the goal here.

What I aim to outline here is that one of the reasons we have not been able to realise the true potential of this wonderful land called India is lack of collective ownership. I believe it this sense of collective ownership that has worked wonders in the ascent of so many civilizations and also of nation states like the US, Japan, Germany, and China.

In fact our achievement of attaining independence also can be ascribed to this sense of collective ownership across the narrow divides. This may be probably because this sense often arises as a response to hugely negative experiences like a foreign onslaught.  In the times of relative security and prosperity the true character of a people is tested. It is here that we don’t match up to the Japanese and the Chinese.

This is not to say that we are grossly disadvantaged as compared to these countries. In fact even as a nation state albeit under the British influence we were  able to build  a system based on the modern principles of democracy and equality and to a great extent have been able to by and large respect most of these principles.

Where we have lacked is that post liberalisation, during the relative boom and relative rise in prosperity, most of the people failed to focus beyond ensuring that they do not miss out on the benefits of the boom. And this failure, if we may call it so, is collective as entrepreneurs, farmers, professionals have all been party to it.  In this rush for being a beneficiary of a socio-economic phenomenon, most of us have remained oblivious to our ownership of our nation.

We are living here as one lives in a rented house i.e with a sense of limited responsibility. Our responsibility begins by paying taxes and ends at criticizing the government.

Criticizing the government has assumed emotive proportions vastly due to advent and rise of the social media. It is justified to an extent but it should not be the only way to express our love for our country.

Let us understand the challenges of the government. Government is an entity created by the constitutional governance system. It derives its power from the compliance of over 1 billion people in the constitution and so it is tremendously powerful. This power gets multiplied in the times of economic prosperity as the government erroneously and often deliberately assumes itself to be main reason and the force behind the phenomenon and also aggressively projects itself to be so.

As an outcome of a wrong assumption of being the main cause behind the boom, the government becomes oblivious to the possibility of the fact that it might be reaping the fruits of a previous government or a number of favourable global factors and also to the certainty of facing the consequences of its own short sighted decisions which are sometimes victims of hubris. What makes matters worse is that the moment government senses trouble, it suddenly goes risk averse and even more myopic as it doesn’t want to be blamed for any future trouble. This leads to an unimaginative and sapped policy formulation. The opposition becomes merely an excuse to justify the suspended policy scenario.

There are two points where I might seem counter-intuitive.

First, I am not including greed as a flaw of governance because it is not the dividing factor between the government and the subjects. In fact both the government and the subjects are equally inflicted with greed of making hay while the boom lasts.

Second, I believe that most of us are not fundamentally evil. Most of us including the government, the opposition and the common man are patriotic enough to have positive intentions about our nation but not enough to take pains to ensure the safeguards.

Let me now to come to the point of collective ownership.

Firstly we need to realise that economic health of the nation is our collective responsibility and thus both the prevention and cure of economic problems lies in our collective hands. In absence of this strong realisation, status quo cannot be challenged. We must understand that collective ignorance has been crucial factor in the downfall of some EU countries like Greece.

Second, there should be massive campaign to increase among the educated class and the business class the understanding of the basics of economics and the significance of GDP. We all must understand that as a nation we as good or as bad as our GDP growth rate.

Third, we must all be driven by a common goal of doing our bit to ensure that the economy grows at decent rate. This includes not only increasing production but also controlling wastage of natural resources. Here it must also be understood that the gains of the economy will be collective gains too which in the short run will be neither equal nor pro rata.

Finally, we must demand the government a socio-legal space for the formation of non political but representative voluntary bodies of acting as economic watchdogs and pressure groups to provide both the possible growth horizons and the warning signs. Of course and there must be enough competent people willing to utilise this space even if it means extra effort on their part. These groups must be allowed make their suggestions and feedback public on their web sites. A separate ministry must be created to ensure these suggestions are passed on to the respective ministries and are responded promptly by either implantation or explanation for the otherwise.

I am keen to know whether my ideas find resonance!