Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Denouncing Hindu traditions is ticket to being "cool" and "progressive"

While the debate and outrage about the Khap panchayats in Haryana banning same-gotra marriage continues, many of the so-called neo-, liberal-Hindus have jumped on to the Hindu tradition bashing wagon. What the Khaps do, or prescribe is not appreciable at all, but why start bashing Hindu traditions on a whole, even without trying to understand it?

I came across this article by "youth icon" Chetan Bhagat.

What's Gotra Got To Do With It?

The great literary genius of today opens the article by saying, "I don't know why it was invented, or why it is still relevant. As if it wasn't good enough to divide people on caste, we needed one more level of sub-caste slicing to ensure as many Indians hate each other as possible." Well, honourable Chetan Bhagat, if you do not know, why are you commenting about it. Even Wikipedia has an explanation about the gotra system. If you do not believe in Wikipedia, it has a set of references given at the end of the articles, which you are free to explore. But no, you choose to bash the Hindu traditions left, right and centre. Because, that is what makes you the "modern", "progressive" and "cool" person that you are. That is what makes you the "youth icon". And it is you, who is making a baseless claim that by sub-dividing into gotra, we are making humans hate each other as much as possible. No sir, we do not "hate" any person from other gotra.

Remember, Hindu religion is the only one which gives mere recommendations and guidelines to its followers. You can be a Hindu even if you do not believe in Ram. But, if you openly express disbelief in Mohammed, you'll be persecuted. Or, in the Christian world, be thrown out of the church.

The gotra system was devised to identify people according to a set of genetic composition. How did this system evolve, may still be a mystery, but it doesn't mean that it was born out of thin air to satisfy someone's ego. There is a rationale behind it. Try to explore that. But, you do not have the time to do it. It is easier to bash the tradition rather than explore the logic behind it. And marriages within the same gotra were avoided so that the diversity of the genetic pool is maintained and there is less chance of aggravation of the weaknesses that people belonging to the same set of gene pools would have.

Sir, in the kind of social circles that you live, you might be meeting wildlife activists and conversation experts. If you sit and talk with them, they would tell you how dangers inbreeding is. That is, the dangers of allowing a pride of tigers to breed amongst themselves. The mother of the pride forcibly kicks the young ones out of her zone so that they do not inbreed with the females. You see, nature too has its own way of ensuring genetic diversity. And this is why, when a tiger and two tigresses were transferred into Panna National Park, they were chosen from different sanctuaries. So, let us leave all your mathematics and calculations of only 0.1% of DNA may be sibling like. All the mathematics and computer simulations of your fellow MBAs and investment bankers couldn't prevent the financial recession.

Many of the ancient Indian customs and religious activities have a reason for existence. The responsibilities of "educated" people like you is to try to search the reason behind it and weed out all that is not correct. For e.g., the ghungat system, dowry, etc. But, you choose to bash and berate every tradition of the Hindus. To add, you are an IIT engineer and an IIM-A MBA holder. You should be scientifically decimating the theory that same-gotra marriages are harmful, but you choose to play with emotions. And you play to the gallery of the neo-Hindus.

I would have liked your article if it was against the dictator-like rule of the Khaps. That is completely unacceptable. That high-handed rule of the Khaps has got nothing to do with the gotra system. It is just that this is one of the issues they are using to flex their muscles. But you choose to centre your article around "regressive ideas" of the Hindus.
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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ripping the Fabric, The Decline of Mumbai and its Mills: Darryl D'Monte

Realms of paper, hours, days and years of policy making (or changing), scores of protests have been spent analysing, dissecting and brooding over the Mumbai mills and its workers. Most of these point at the great textile strike of 1982 as the reason for decline of the mills. What has been made popular is that the workers were responsible for the decline, as they struck work in difficult times.

Darryl D'Monte's book is a refreshing change. D'Monte takes a holistic view of what caused the decline of Mumbai's production industry. The only problem (probably) is that D'Monte focusses on what has been done to make use of mill land, now that the mills have closed down. So, for those who are looking at what has been the effect of the 1982 strike on workers' lives, you will be disappointed.

D'Monte points out all that was wrong with the government- both state level and central-- policies that triggered the downfall of the manufacturing industry in Mumbai. He points out that the socialist India's policy of promoting handloom and cottage industry was the starting point of declining of mills. Organised mills, like the ones in Mumbai, were placed with restrictions that didn't allow them to compete freely in the market. On the other hand, unorganised powerlooms sprung up in the villages as cottage industries, which didn't have workers' unions, and used government policies to undercut the mills. Coupled with this, was the Maharashtra government's policy to not allow mills to expand but ask them to setup industries in the backward areas to develop those places.

Then, there were the mill owners, who did not reinvest the profits they earned, for modernising and improving productivity of the mills. Instead, they gave way hefty dividends to shareholders (of which, they were the largest). As time went by and as machinery became technologically backward, it made economic sense for mill owners to shut it down and sell off the land.

And last of all, the political parties. In 1946, the Bombay Industrial Relations (BIR) Act ruled that there would be only one union, the Rashtriya Mill Mazdoor Sangh (RMMS), that would be allowed to represent all the mill workers. This union went into the control of the Congress, which was the ruling party of the day. And slowly, corruption crept into the union and union officers started colluding with the mill owners. D'Monte highlights the case of Khatau Mills, where the owner, Sunit Khatau, engineered the defeat of sitting mill president and brought in a person of his choice. This was done so that the new president would consent the sale of the mill's land in Byculla and Khatau would restart the mill with a reduced number of workers.

Now that the mills were closed, and the government and mill owners not interested in getting it started, what can be done with the mills? The mill redevelopment policy came in too late. By that time, even genuinely interested owners had lost the zeal to restart the mills. D'Monte goes into details of all the studies- official as well as unofficial- that have been done to make use of the mill land. Mill land measures upto 600 acres, and that too in the heart of Mumbai, most of it in Lalbag, Parel. He points out how different studies recommend using land for setting up convention centres, five-star hotels, hospitals, developing commercial spaces and open public spaces. The money from the proceeds were to be used to pay the workers. But, most of these plans do not address, what can be done to restore the workers' jobs? Only a few mention using the mill buildings to run non-polluting industries, where workers should be re-trained to take such jobs. The book points out to the rise of the underworld, which found its foot soldiers and bosses from the ex-workers in the mills. With no jobs coming their way, they joined the underworld to make money and help families survive.

D'Monte also describes the unscrupulousness of the mill owners, who twisted the redevelopment policy to make money out of selling the land. Like showing that they didn't have 15% open space and selling the land off. Then, demolishing a few buildings and selling it off further. Phoenix Mills owners, the Ruias, even went to the extent of setting up a bowling alley and spa in the mill compound, after telling the BIFR that, it was the workers who have demanded these 'recreation facilities'. Naturally, workers are angered by such plans , as the areas that they once worshipped as their workplace, were being turned into amusement and entertainment areas. And they didn't have any place in these plans.

D'Monte closes with what can be done about the docklands in Mumbai, which too occupy large swathes of lands that may come up for development. He points out that since this land belongs to the public (government), there should be an all inclusive plan to develop it. Left to the market forces, this would see nothing but commercial structures and high rises for the rich coming up in the place of the docks. While this has happened with the mills, something needs to be done to prevent further use of land by speculators and realtors. The public needs to have something for it as the government has doled out enough concessions to all the industries in Mumbai.

After reading this book, we realise that the mill workers were least responsible for closure of the mills. It was a lethal combination of flawed government policy on priorities for industries, unscrupulous mill owners, corrupt union and politicians tying up with the mill owners to grab their share of the pie in the mill land. The hapless worker became a mere spectator in the bigger game for the mill lands.
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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

It happens only in India

In our institute, there is a Humanities student who is doing research on how behavioral traits affect the retention and reproduction capabilities of memory. For this, she had to conduct a survey of more than 200 people to gather enough data.

The best way to gather people in IIT is to send out earnest e-mails to seemingly interested parties. With the existence of mailing lists, it is even more easier to do that. So, on her request, I sent out an e-mail to all the PhD students in IIT and also sent a separate mail to the students of Chemical Department. And lo! More than forty people responded to the e-mail and participated in the survey. Just on the basis on an e-mail. People who didn't know me or the student or haven't met either of us, went to participate just because they were either curious or genuinely interested in helping the student.

But, this very attribute, the student says, is a problem when she would be collating her results and publishing them. She says that foreign reviewers fail to understand how is it possible for people to participate in a survey, if there were no incentives offered to the participants. They are just not able to digest the fact that people came to the survey only because they were curious about the content or they actually wanted to help her with her research work. And that is because, in foreign universities, especially the ones in US, Canada and Europe, it is common to give incentives to people to participate in surveys. Their claim is that people respond only to incentives and therefore it is hard to believe that more than two hundred people participate just on the basis of an earnest appeal.

I guess, this is what is Indian culture. Helping out even without thinking of the incentives. All participants were helping the student with her research work when they participated in the survey. And they have done it without considering the benefit involved as it wasn't anything like an IQ test, where the results can be used for bragging about self. And perhaps that is why we saw no riots during the July 2005 floods in Mumbai. It was the opposite. Residents in low-lying areas helped everybody stuck in the floods. There were people stranded on roof-tops of BEST buses, who needed to be evacuated. Before the government could swing into full action, it was the work of these individual citizens that saved so many lives. This is in complete contrast to the aftermath of the Katrina hurricane, which saw so many food related riots in Louisiana.

As the Shilpa Shetty-Govinda song goes- "It happens only in India!!"
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Sunday, May 02, 2010

The curious case of convenience charges

The inspiration for this article lies in Gul Panag's tweet. We have all been paying that 2% extra when we make payments by credit card at some retail outlets. The IRCTC also charges between Rs. 10-40 as internet booking charges. And multiplexes too having been charging anywhere from Rs.40 onwards as "convenience charges" for internet booking.

Everybody asks the same question- "Why should we pay these charges, over and above the prices?" And people are right. The primary idea of introducing technology is to improve convenience and bring down costs for both the service provider as well as its user. In case of the Railways, internet booking has brought in more transparency with respect to reservations of the tickets. All it required was setting up of the software and secure payment gateways to put the system up in place. May be a few extra servers to handle the extra users who might log into the system. But for the Railways, this is not a very big investment. They already had a reservation software in place, for their use and servers to handle reservation systems. It has helped them reduce dependence on man power, who are unionised and definitely cost more than a set of servers and fiber optical cables and bandwidth. But still they charge that service charge and also 1.8% of the total fare, if you pay by credit card. This is disadvantageous to those who use technology that actually reduces burden on the counter staff.

For multiplexes too, the case is even more curious. They have an interactive website already in place, to display the movie show timings in their screens all across India. They too, needed to just setup the software to book the tickets and secure payment gateways. Booking through the internet gives them a guaranteed customer, compared to those coming on the spot. And it does reduce a lot of man-power time. But then why do they charge those "convenience charges". For whose convenience are they charging us? Their convenience or the viewers?

There might be issues like payments to bank gateways, credit card companies, etc. But then, airline companies too have the same issues. They do not charge extra. Of course, their pricing is dynamic and they may earn a huge premium by selling tickets at the last moment. Are these outlets trying to recover these charges from us? But if this mode of selling doesn't make business sense, then it should be shut down. They shouldn't try to recover these costs from us. And they can't charge us a premium for this service, claiming that it is convenient for you. Ultimately, it also makes business sense for them too. They are able to reach a more number of people, middle men get reduced to a large extent, confirmed buyers available much earlier and less dependence on man-power. But still they charge and still we pay!!
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