Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Atrocities on the SC/ST population: What does data say?

If you are an Indian or follow Indian news, you must have seen the horrifying videos of the riots that happened in India yesterday. Thousands of rioteers armed with clubs, swords, guns and petrol bombs rampaged cities across the country, vandalizing public and private property, burning shops, cars and buses, and causing at least 9 deaths and thousands of injuries.

I think there is a tragedy even bigger than the destruction trail of the riots, and that is the polarization of the population that happens because of such events. This can be estimated from the hundreds of inane comments that we daily see on social media. So the purpose of my post is to present certain facts that should potentially help people see things in the right perspective.

The Cause of the Riots
The rioters were supposedly unhappy about a recent Supreme Court's decision that scrapped an automatic arrest provision that was there in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989. I am saying "supposedly unhappy" because a large section of the rioters had absolutely no clue about what they were protesting against. When asked by TV journalists, they couldn't even identify the cause they were fighting for. Of course, that's simply because they had no cause to begin with. They were just paid goons of those political parties that have ruled the country by dividing people on the lines of caste and religion.

The Rationale Behind Supreme Court's Decision
The Supreme Court of India removed the automatic arrest provision from the SC/ST Act because it found evidence that this provision was being abused by unscrupulous individuals. In other words, it found evidence that many people were filing false cases under the SC/ST Act to harass and blackmail good citizens.

This was also not the first time that the Supreme Court took such a decision. A few years ago the Supreme Court of India had also scrapped the automatic arrest provision for dowry and domestic violence cases. It did so because it found that a large majority of these cases were false accusations made by women to blackmail their husbands into paying them large alimonies.

But What About the Atrocities on the SC/ST Population?
If you watched any of the debates on Indian television channels, you must have seen how the so called "defenders of the dalits (oppressed)" justified the violence of the riots by citing statistics about the crimes committed on the dalits. For example, you can see in this debate on Republic TV, how the dalit leader Rahul Sonpimple justifies the riots with these statements: "The government data says that every 18 minutes there is a crime against dalit. Everyday three dalit womens get raped, two murders and two house get robbed [sic]."

The statistics provided by this person were generally correct (Check here for more details), and it was also acknowledged by the anchor and the debaters from the opposite side. That still does not justify the riots, but let's also take a deeper look at those crime statistics. Do the presented crime statistics provide a complete picture? Okay, I accept that every 18 minutes a crime is committed against a dalit, but how does it compare to the crime rate of the overall population? Unfortunately, this was a question that nobody asked. So I did a quick analysis of the publicly accessible NCRB data, which was also the basis of both the Supreme Court's decision and the dalit leader's ire.

Table 1 provides information on the number of murders and rapes that occured in India in 2015 (the latest year for which data is available). Both the murder rate and rape rate for the Scheduled Castes  (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) groups are significantly lower than what is for the overall population of India. 

Table 1: # of Murders and Rapes in India (2015)

# of Murder Victims
Murder Rate
# of Rape Victims
Rape Rate
Total for India
Scheduled Castes
Scheduled Tribes
Note: Crime Rate is Cases Reported of Crime per 1,00,000 of population

Table 2: Population Distribution of India (Based on NCRB Data)
Population (in Lakhs)
India Population
Scheduled Caste Population
Scheduled Tribe Population

To get a clearer picture, I also compared the number of murders and rapes within each groups to their respective population proportions within the country. This analysis is summarized in three pie charts that I prepared using the above data.

As can be seen in Figure 1, SC and ST combined constitute about 25% of India's population. However, as noted in Figure 2, less than 10% of rape victims are from SC and ST communities. Further, it can be seen in Figure 3 that less than 3% of murder victims are from SC and ST communities. These figures clearly show that the dalits are not greater victims of crimes, as claimed by some and believed by most people. In other words, the claim that greater amount of atrocities are being committed against the dalits is false. This is not to say that the dalits do not suffer any disadvantages. However, it is certainly not true that dalits suffer a disproportionately higher number of crimes. The data, in fact, shows the opposite. They suffer far fewer crimes than the general population. So let's not hold erroneous beliefs. And let's not allow ourselves to get swayed by people's comments without evaluating them critically.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Personality Analysis of Lord Rama

Today is Rama Navami, the festival that celebrates the birth of Lord Rama, the Hindu god who is the hero of the historical epic of Ramayana. Rama is an important deity in Hinduism because he is considered to be the seventh avatar of Vishnu, the Supreme God in the Vaishnav tradition of Hinduism. In this article, I do a personality analysis of Rama.

Why Analyze Rama's Personality?
Before I analyze Rama's personality, it is imperative that I explain why I am doing this analysis. Hinduism is one of the very few religious traditions where all spiritual practices are ultimately aimed towards helping us realize our true self. The Hindu tradition recognizes that we are much more than our body and mind, the things that we typically identify with. According to the Vedas and Upanishads, we are actually the Supreme Spirit that we worship. This is reflected in the Sanskrit maxims such as अहं ब्रह्मास्मि (Aham Brahmāsmi) and शिवोहम (Shivoham). The goal then is self-realization (आत्मबोधः), and through it our ultimate liberation (मोक्ष).

However, self-realization is easier discussed than achieved, because we are not simply talking about  intellectual realization, but experiential realization. Intellectual realization, at best, could be small step in the direction of experiential realization. In any case, even intellectual realization may be difficult. How do we go beyond our identification with the body and mind, and realize that we are actually the Supreme Spirit (ब्रह्म)? Extremely difficult, right? This is where the millions of gods and goddesses within the Hindu tradition--including the Vishnu Avatars--come into play. Vishnu is considered the Supreme Spirit within the Vaishnav tradition of Hinduism, but how do you understand and grasp Vishnu who is so abstract? As described in the Vishnu Sahasranama, the Supreme Spirit is Nirgunah  (without any properties), Adrishyah (imperceptible), Ajah (unborn), Amoortih (formless), Anantah (endless or infinite). Vishnu may be formless, imperceptible and infinite, but Rama should be much more easy to comprehend and realize simply because he was also a human being like us. The purpose of analyzing Rama's personality then is to understand him, so that we can first become better human beings. How can we expect to realize the divinity within us if we haven't even succeeded in realizing our human potential? In other words, we first need to become a great human being (उत्तम पुरुष) before we can realize that we are the Supreme Spirit (पुरुषोत्तम). So how do we become a great human being (उत्तम पुरुष)? Modern psychology gives us some insights.

Rama's Personality on the HEXACO Dimensions
HEXACO is a foundational model of human personality that extends the original Big 5 personality model. It discusses six personality trait dimensions:
  1. Honesty-Humility (H): Honesty-Humility refers to the tendency to be either honest, sincere and humble as opposed to being greedy, pretentious and deceitful. From all the stories in Ramayana, we can easily conclude that Rama was very high on the positive end of the honesty-humility dimension. Rama was committed to Dharma, and was always humble despite being a king and an Avatar of Vishnu.
  2. Emotional Stability (E): Emotional stability refers to the trait of not being easily perturbed under stress. The opposite end of the emotional stability is called as neuroticism and is manifested in form of being oversensitive, sad, sentimental, anxious, fearful and hostile. Rama again was very high on emotional stability. In fact, it could easily be argued (as has been done by Sadhguru) that the primary reason we worship Rama is because he always kept his cool and dignity even though a lot of unfortunate events happened in his life. Emotional stability was also a strong characteristic of Lord Krishna, another Avatar of Vishnu. And he describes the importance of it in great detail in the Bhagavad Gita when he discusses the characteristics of a Stithaprajnya (स्तिथप्रज्ञ) or an emotionally stable person.
  3. Extraversion (X): Extraversion refers to the trait of being outgoing, social, talkative. The opposite end of extraversion is called introversion and refers to the trait of being reserved and quiet. Based on my analysis of the stories in Ramayana, I think Rama was more on the introversion side than on the extraversion side of the spectrum. Rama's personality here is a stark contrast to Krishna's personality, who was a strong extrovert. Given that Rama and Krishna were so different from each other on this dimension means that the extraversion-introversion dimension is not as critical to realizing the best within ourselves. We can be a great human being either way.
  4. Agreeableness (A): Agreeableness is the tendency to be caring, compassionate and lenient. The opposite end of this spectrum describes people who are selfish and lack empathy. Again according to me, Rama was a person very high on agreeableness, perhaps even a little too high. I think many of the difficulties that he faced in his life (from having to go on 14 years of exile  in the forests and later having to relinquish his wife) were all because of his extreme agreeableness. Krishna also was on the agreeableness side of the spectrum, but was not too high on agreeableness, and consequently didn't have to endure as much pain as Rama did.  And perhaps that is the reason, only Krishna is considered a Poorna Avatar and not Rama. Krishna had mastered the art of being caring and compassionate without being a pushover. Agreeableness, then may be a good quality to have, but only in small dozes. Otherwise, it can cause a lot of difficulties, at least in our worldly life.
  5. Conscientiousness (C): Conscientiousness refers to being hardworking, industrious and organized. People low on conscientiousness tend to lack self-discipline and are lazy and sloppy. Rama and Krishna were all undoubtedly a very conscientious individuals. This is not surprising, because no greatness is ever possible (even for the Avatars) without a lot of disciplined hardwork.
  6. Openness (O): Openness refers to the trait of being imaginative, creative, intellectually curious, and being attentive to one's inner feelings. People on the lower end of this trait tend to conventional and rigid in their outlook. Given that Rama was a learned man who was well-versed with all the tenets of Dharma, he was surely high on openness, if not necessarily as high as Krishna was on this dimension.
This is just a blog post, not a book or even a book chapter, so I couldn't go into too much detail in my analysis. However, I hope that my analysis of Lord Rama's personality and the comparisons with Krishna's personality provided you with some insights about which personality traits you should focus on developing if you were to actualize your human potential. My conclusion is that conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness and honesty-humility are the most critical facets. Extraversion-introversion dimension is irrelevant in the sense that both extroverted and introverted individuals can achieve greatness, albeit in different ways. Agreeableness is perhaps the most controversial trait in terms of its role in our development. It is certainly good to be caring and compassionate, but evidence suggests that these same qualities could also potentially cause us to be a pushover, especially especially if we are too agreeable.

Ultimately, we need to remember that actualizing our full human potential is just a necessary step, and not a sufficient step, to realize our true spiritual self. People often turn into spirituality as if it was a refuge for the losers. However, we can never realize our true self as losers. Spirituality then is about working and succeeding in cultivating oneself to our highest levels of being so that it becomes easier to gain self-realization. Understanding our personality traits and striving to cultivate more positive ones is a small step in that direction.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

What would you do if you only had a year to live? 3 Lessons from the life of Stephen Hawking

What would you do if you only had a year or two to live? Seriously, take a pause from reading this article and think of how you would spend the last two years of your life if that's all you were left with.
Hawking (23) with his bride in 1965
Now my guess is that many of us would probably try to go the hedonistic route, i.e., we will try to fulfil as many of our pleasure-oriented desires. This may manifest in terms of drinking, seeking sexual gratification, or simply trying to check-off items from our bucket list, such as traveling to certain places in the world.  If we have big familial responsibilities, we may also try to earn as much money as possible before dying so that we can ensure some financial security for our family members when we are no more around to provide for them. That was certainly the theme of the hit TV show Breaking Bad. Some of us may also decide to simply spend more time with our loved ones, or if we are the religious kind, spend praying so that we have a better afterlife. Now I am not here to criticize any of these responses. In fact, all these responses may be valid in their own right. However, just because our response is reasonable does not mean that it is also optimal or the wisest response.

Stephen Hawking was 21 years old when he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig's disease, a disease where the death of motor neurons causes you to progressively lose control of all your muscles, ultimately reaching a point where you even fail to breathe and die. Hawking's doctors gave him about two years to live. We now know that Hawking went on the live till the age of 76, over half a century longer than what his doctors had predicted. This happened partly because Hawking suffered from a specific type of ALS that progressed much slower than the more common form of ALS, and also because of the technological advances that enabled him to stay alive with the help of machines.

Pursue your passion even if it were the last year of your life
Of course Hawking didn't know he would live so long. As would have happened to anyone of us in his situation, he went into a state of depression on receiving the news about the disease from the doctors. And he almost decided to drop out of the graduate school that he had recently enrolled in. However, after the initial phase of shock was over, he decided to continue his pursuit of Ph.D. with a renewed vigor. Now this may seem an unusual choice. But if you know that you enjoy science the most, why would you spent the last years of life any other way but in the pursuit of science?

So do you know what you are most passionate about? Are you spending the bulk of your current life pursuing that? Or are you simply dilly-dallying your life away? This may not be your last year of life, but it may very well be too. We will never know for sure until we are face to face with death. So why waste our life away? Or wait until the time when we are confronted with a fact that we have a year or two to live? Why not live our life as if it were our last year on Earth? Aren't we wasting our life if are living any other way?

Using a lot of technical jargons is not smart. Being able to communicate a complex topic in manner that an average man can understand is.
I learnt about Hawking for the first time when I was in my high school. That was the time when multiple copies of his most famous book A Brief History of Time had arrived at the city library where I grew up. The librarian who was a good friend of mine recommended me the book. I picked up Hawking's book with excitement, but I must confess that I found it a hard read, and did not also complete the book. However, that was a reflection of my lacunae in comprehension rather than Hawking's lacunae in expressing things simply; I know this for sure in retrospection.

There have been many great scientists throughout history, but very few of them have also been successful in communicating their ideas to the general public. Now a scientist need not take up the role of disseminating knowledge to the public. However, when they do and do it effectively, they help immensely in popularizing science.

My Ph.D. advisor Dr. Philip Podsakoff, who is one of the top 3 most highly cited management researchers in the world, used to say, "You should have so much clarity about your research that you should be able to explain it to your grandma in a manner that even she understands it." Needless to say, some of our grandmas may be extremely knowledgeable and may easily be able to delve into the depths of our research. So my professor's intention was not to make any gendered statements. He simply was describing the characteristics of a good thinker. A good thinker is not stuck in technical jargons and equations, and can easily express the main ideas of a complex topic in a manner that even an average person with no technical knowledge can understand it. But irrespective of how good or bad we may be in expressing complex ideas in simple and clear ways, we all can improve.

Scientific research is difficult but it need not be devoid of fun. Just don't take yourself too seriously.
Stephen Hawking once hosted a big party at his university. He had written out invitations to many people for that party, including his colleagues and many other famous scientists. Unfortunately, no one showed up to the party. The reason was simply because Hawking sent out the invitations only after the party was over. He did this to playfully make the point that time-travel is not possible. His logic was that if time-travel were possible, then people from the future would have known about his party and somebody from the future should have showed up at his party through time-travel.

Hawking may have lived most of his life as a quadriplegic, dependent on machines for his survival and to communicate with the world, but that did not diminish his verve for having fun and cracking jokes. He is known to have placed several bets with some of his colleagues on competing theories. Despite his genius brain, he was not always right and lost some of those bets. One of the famous bets he lost was to John Preskill from Caltech, where Preskill's argument that information could escape from Black Holes was found to be true. Hawking had argued the contrary, and conceded his defeat by buying Preskill an encyclopedia of baseball for Preskill. Such friendly competitions not only helped in the progress of science but also made the pursuit of science fun. Unfortunately, not all of us pursue science with a spirit of play. So we can all learn a lot from Hawking. If a great mind such as Hawking didn't take himself too seriously, what excuse do we have? We are all fallible. So instead of justifying our faulty research or hiding it, we need to learn to acknowledge it and even celebrate our failures. That's the only way science can move forward.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

What's wrong with Papon's kiss and the people who came in support of him?

Most Indian readers of my blog would be aware of the kiss controversy that erupted last week when Papon, a 42-year old Bollywood singer, kissed the lips of an 12-year old girl. The girl was a contestant on a music show where Papon is a judge. The kissing incident happened off-stage, I believe in Papon's vanity van where the contestants and some crew members of the show were celebrating the festival of Holi.

I had read about this incident in news but hadn't given much importance to it, because I am not a big fan of celebrity gossip news. In fact, one of my pet peeve is that Google Now feeds me with a disproportionate amount of celebrity news that I don't care much about. Like most other celebrity news that come my way, I had simply read the headlines but hadn't bothered to find details about the incident. However, today I stumbled on the original video of the incident, and watching it made me very angry.

First things first, I strongly condemn Papon's behavior, but even before I discuss the reasons behind it, I must acknowledge that both the girl and her parents have come in support of Papon on this issue. You can watch their response to the incident in the last video shared in this blog post.

Why Papon's behavior needs to be condemned?

1) A potential case of workplace sexual harassment.  There is a big movement going on around the world (including India) over the last several months called the #MeToo movement, where thousands of people have voluntarily shared their experience of how they were sexually harassed in the workplace. I see the kissing incident also as a potential case of workplace sexual harassment, because it happened in the context of the workplace and involved touching someone in a way that goes beyond the acceptable norms within a society.

People have been arguing that the intentions of Papon were good and that he is a good man, which may all be true, but those are no excuses for he kissing somebody else's kid. Papon has explained his behavior by claiming that he is an "emotionally expressive person" and that 's how he expresses his emotions with everybody. My point is that your intentions may all be good, but you could still be accused of sexual harassment, because it can easily be perceived as sexual harassment, especially when you pull a kid's face towards yourself and plant a kiss on her lips. No excuse of you being an "emotionally expressive person" is going to prevent you from being sued for sexual harassment.

2) Kids can't give consent. To be fair to Papon, you could argue that this was a first-time incident (at least, as far as we know). He did not continue to "express his emotions physically" after people expressed their displeasure about it. Some people don't consider a behavior harassment if the victim didn't object to the perpetrator's behavior. In other words, a behavior is seen as harassment only if the perpetrator persists despite the victim's objection. However, the problem with this argument is that kids are unable to give consent and express their displeasure assertively. That is the very reason we have laws against statutory rape and child marriage. In fact, even adults find it difficult to be assertive, especially when they are in low power situations of the workplace. That is the reason I condemn Papon's behavior irrespective of who have come in support of him.

3) Kids are a vulnerable. They need our protection. We need to teach them about "good" and "bad" touch instead of justifying a potential perpetrator's behavior. What angered me most about the incident was not so much the action of Papon (although it did, and I have already explained that). It was also not the silence of the otherwise vocal human rights conscious Bollywood celebrities. What upset me the most about the incident was the mindless way some people came in support of Papon's actions. Below are some examples.

In the first video that I shared on this post, you see some Bollywood heroine (I don't know her name; let me know if you do) trivializing the incident completely by disparaging the people who filed a legal case against Papon. Specifically, she said, "Those who have filed a legal case against Papon are the kind of good-for-nothing people who have nothing better to do." Unfortunately, this is a common strategy employed by some people. Since they can't argue against your arguments, they will simply put you down.

In another article I found, a Bollywood lyricist coming in support of Papon by calling the incident an "unfortunate camera angle and a goofed-up peck-in the cheek gesture." Interestingly, Papon has also given the same "unfortunate camera angle" excuse. Again, there may be some truth in the "unfortunate camera angle" argument, but still what right does an outsider have to even kiss the cheek of a 12 year old girl?

We see in the below video, actress Dia Mirza indirectly supporting Papon by first claiming that she can't comment on the incident because she doesn't know much about it, but then going on to exalt Papon to the heights of a saint.

The most disgusting video: Unfortunately, the worst case of putting a potential perpetrator on the pedestal of God was done not by some outsider but by the girl's parents and the parents of some other contestants. You can see that in below video. They literally say several times, "Papon Sir is like God! How can people even think about this God in such lowly terms?" They also put words in the mouth of the girl by prompting her to speak highly of "Papon Sir" when she is speaking in the video..

The reason I found this video the most disgusting is because parents are supposed to protect their children. They are not supposed to legitimize an adult's inappropriate behavior towards their child. Again, to be fair towards these parents, may be they are very simple-minded people who can't help but see the best in everyone. However, I can never condone such behavior if anyone acted in a similar way towards my nieces or nephews, for example.

Many of my friends know how fond I am of my little nieces and nephews. But despite being their beloved uncle, I have never kissed them on their lips, not even when they were toddlers. There are certain boundaries that should always be respected. To express your love for somebody you don't have to pull them and kiss them.

Thankfully, kids in India are now being taught about the differences between a good touch and bad touch. I came to know about it just two weeks ago when my five-year old nephew in his childlike excitement shared with me on phone all the new things that he had learnt in school that day. One of those things was about the difference between good touch and bad touch. Now, that gives me hope for the future generation of the world... We should certainly not destroy children's innocence, but in the name of protecting innocence we should also not endanger children's lives by making them believe that it is alright for anyone to touch them inappropriately.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Bho Shambho - Raga Revathi

On the occasion of Maha Shivaratri, the festival that celebrates Adi Guru Lord Shiva, I recorded this beautiful composition in Raga Revathi. The composer of this song is Swami Dayananda Saraswati.

By the way, there have been at least two famous monks by the name Swami Dayananda Saraswati in India. The first one lived in the 1800s and was the founder of the Arya Samaj. He is known for his immense contribution to the revival of the Vedantic philosophy and for his work for women's rights, especially widow remarriage and women's education. The composer of this song is the second Swami Dayananda Saraswati, who was also a renowned teacher of Advaita Vedanta and the disciple of Swami Chinmayananda. He lived from 1930 to 2015, and as per Wikipedia was also the spiritual guru of Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi.

Coming to this song, I am grateful to my friend and colleague Dr. Rama Cousik, who taught me this song. I would also like to mention her son, Tejas Cousik, who sings this bhajan much better than I ever will.

By the grace of Lord Shiva, may we all learn to gain complete mastery over our body, mind and emotions. Happy Maha Shivaratri to all!