Thursday, September 16, 2010

In Response to Bhagwad's contention that Media Cannot be Manipulated on Large Scale

The original post is here - “Bias” in Indian Media – an Insider’s view (click).

My response, which I have compiled in parts is as follows.



Thanks for the heads up and responding to my post! I would not go into the reliability of your friend's testimony. Because you know him personally, and you must have reasons to lay as much faith in his testimony as you deem appropriate.

While I cannot and must not comment on how much one ought to trust one's friend, I can certainly examine the arguments he and you have made.

By the way, the crux of my post was that the anti-Hindu bias that is apparent is not actually against Hindus, but is only incidentally so. So the first point does not apply to me, at least. I consider media houses mature enough and profit-driven enough to not be directed by ideological zeal, but most likely, money and other favors. Moreover, I have been very specific in my conspiracy theory that the media works for the Nehru-Gandhi family, and not other politicians of the UPA/Congress. So, even if other ministers are criticized, that might actually serve to strengthen the two Gandhis position within the party.

You have given four points in rejection of the argument that media can be influenced to the degree I suspect it is influenced, because your basic premise is that meeting so many conditions is very difficult/impossible, as the media and the Nehru Gandhi family would be deterred from trying anything like this. Am I right in understanding you? Let, me present to you two almost exactly parallel situations:

a. Gujarat riots conspiracy theory:

a.1 It will have to be a massive conspiracy on an impressive scale covering all the police personnel, Rapid Action Force jawaans, Army personnel, fire fighters, hospital employees (who would maintain the records about injured and conduct autopsy, etc.)
a.2. It has to be so well concealed that no one gets any proof whatsoever
a.3. I find it impossible to believe that other well funded parties like the Congress, NCP, BSP would not have exposed such a conspiracy by now if there was any truth in it
a.4. It means that all constables, sub-inspectors, inspectors, DSP, SP, jawaans, firefighters were involved. Meaning that every single police personnel and paramilitary and military personnel (including, at least 3 to 5% Muslims in these forces) was cruel and without conscience and did not try to defy the diktats of Narendra Modi.

Now one might point out that Narendra Modi stands exposed, and some police personnel have started singing, etc. I might return to those arguments later, but for the time-being it suffices to say that all the above check points did not deter Narendra Modi from trying to do what he has been alleged to have done.



Many would not even consider Narendra Modi's active involvement in killings of Muslim a conspiracy theory as they already consider that to be the truth (an example would be your friend, and perhaps even you, going by what you had stated in the blog post exposing the fallacy of Narendra Modi-development argument), so let me come to a much more widely held conspiracy theory.

b. Massive corruption in government conspiracy-theory:

b.1. It will have to be a massive conspiracy on an impressive scale covering all the politicians, IAS officers, accountants, clerks, peons, party workers, etc. Perhaps, even investigative agencies like the CBI, CVC, and in many cases even the members of the Judiciary. [If anyone in the hierarchy or other agencies reveals anything, the entire chain of corruption would be broken and so many careers would be spoilt]
b.2. It has to be so well concealed that no one gets any proof whatsoever
b.3. I find it impossible to believe that other well funded opposition parties (whichever they be) or the media would not have exposed such a conspiracy by now if there was any truth in it
b.4. It means that all the politicians, IAS officers, accountants, clerks, peons, party workers, CBI, CVC, and even members of Judiciary are involved. Meaning that every single of the persons named here is dishonest.

Simply because the above points of deterrence exist, I am not the one to believe that there is no corruption or little corruption in Indian governance, and nor that it is one-off occurrence. Perhaps, the scale of corruption could be mind-boggling if ever the real figures to come out and also that it is quite systematic as well as systematized.



But why corruptions still persists (if one acknowledges that it persists):

1. Corruption benefits everyone in the 'food chain'. In fact, if not for this 'fringe' benefits, there would be little incentive for most to join politics/administration.
2. Those who enter politics or administration have an inkling that their jobs would entail corruption. I might go as far as to say that many who aspire to enter politics/administration do so only because of the lure of the money and power.
3. Those who do not fall in line (are honest/conscientious) are taken care of - not given party ticket/dismissed/(bureaucrats) are transferred. And sometimes, killed. Yes, of course, there must be few who are not prepared for this kind of immorality that politics and administration might require. So, either they quietly leave upon becoming wiser, or because they would have sacrificed too much to enter the field, fearing they cannot do anything else in terms of source of income, they 'compromise' (human mind is great at rationalizing things). After all, everyone wants bread-butter and few material comforts.
4. Even if caught, Indian judiciary is too lax to act on most occasions, so the *risk-benefit ratio* is too much skewed in favor of being corrupt. Remember, not everyone in India is a person of impeccable integrity. In fact, many would like the money/power that politicians/criminals/bureaucrats enjoy, but they do not have the courage to get dirty and caught. So, entering politics/crime, requires a certain kind of *disposition*.

Now I think it is possible to draw the quite similar parallels with people who enter media.



Now returning to the points your raised to reject the idea that the Nehru-Gandhi family influences the media houses to their advantage:

1. "It will have to be a massive conspiracy on an impressive scale covering all the big media houses"

It will have to be a massive conspiracy, no doubt. But the mere scale of the conspiracy would deter people from trying it is not a very valid argument. The most important point here is that there is little deterrence simply because even if something gets detected about one media house, and if another media house tries to expose it, there would would be a 'war of revelations' - every single media house coming up with revelations about each other.

2. "It has to be so well concealed that no one gets any proof whatsoever"

Hypothetically, if some reporter of media house is sued for libel or misinformation, how is anyone of us going to come to know?! Say, someone reveals it through twitter or blog, such information would anyway be dismissed as "unreliable testimony" as they would not be originating from the 'verifiable', 'trusted' sources like any of the media houses.

3. "I find it impossible to believe that other well funded parties like the BJP would not have exposed such a conspiracy by now if there was any truth in it"

The fact is even BJP must be paying to get the news influenced. Some of the articles praising Narendra Modi's efforts seem to be sourced in such payments/favors. But comparing the time for which the two rival parties (i.e., the Nehru-Gandhi family) got to serve the country, it should come as no surprise that the resources at their disposal are vastly disparate.

4. "It means that all editors, associated bloggers and correspondents are involved. Meaning that every single reporter and writer is dishonest"

No, of course, not all the media employees are dishonest. E.g, as I said (in one of my comments on my post) that the print media is much less monolithic than the visual media. There are some people who put up relatively sensible arguments, which are contrarian in tone to the that of better known bloggers (I say this in context of the Narendra Modi-Gujarat riots issue). An example of what I consider a much more logical analysis of the Ehsaan Jafri case than what I usually get to see is this - Unchoose this man (click) by Ashok Malik. But how much prominence do articles like these get? I have unfortunately never heard these kinds of arguments in any of the news debates they show on the TV. Of course, do let me know if you find what he writes insensible.



Now, assume for the time being that one of the bigger parties like the BJP actually files a case amounting to libel, misinformation, etc, what is the worst that will happen for that media house? I leave that question for you to answer. And no, this is not at all a rhetorical question. But while answering, do keep in mind what happened to people like Laloo Prasad Yadav or J. Jayalalitha or Sharad Pawar, who many people believe (sorry for weasel wording) to have amassed lot of money through corruption?

In fact, if you might have checked the links I provided in the article, would have noticed that P. Sainath has quite irrefutably exposed the phenomenon of paid news in at least one news. Perhaps, no action has been taken against those media houses/politician concerned, and even if someone would have demanded compensation for (electoral) damages caused, no one has heard about it. Just in case if you have not gone through it, it is here - Mass media: masses of money? (click).

Now, examining a few of the arguments your friend made:

1. "big media houses like Times dont need money from parties and would in fact run away from any such offers for the strings that would come attached"

Let's examine the word "need" here.

1.a. Narendra Modi did not need to indulge in any of the siding with the Hindu fundamentalists as he had just won an election with impressive majority, and also because he would run away from any such idea because of the political difficulties and criminal liabilities that might come attached.

1.b. Politicians and bureaucrats do not need to be corrupt (they already have sufficient money & financial backup to last for at least one more generation). In fact they would run away from any such opportunities because of the electoral setbacks and legal liabilities that would come attached.

1.c. In response to something Indian Pundit has repeatedly said: Owners of big corporates corporates like Tata and Reliance do not need to indulge in crony capitalism as they have much more money than they might also require and they would run away from any such ideas because of (various kinds of) liabilities involved.



2. "over 2000 muslimes [sic] died in a near-genocide where they were targeted so thats the answer"
"200 vs 2000"

I'm not sure Bhagwad whether your responding in "Hmm" amounted to your buying the argument. But please do consider the following. Do let me know the conclusions I indicate in squared brackets are biased, or if you would like to modify them in any way.

2.a. "2000 Muslims died (zero/near-zero Hindus killed)" --> [It was a systematic genocide, where Muslims were so helpless and the entire state machinery tried to kill off Muslims]
2.b. "2000 Muslims died; 200 Hindus killed" --> [Erm... looks like state government might have helped in killing of Muslims, but it did not try or could not save Hindus]
2.c. "800 Muslims died; 200 Hindus killed" (this was the official figure before 280 missing persons were declared dead 3 years back, which your friend did not quote, perhaps because he automatically assumed that Narendra Modi got thousands of Gujarat police personnel, that of other forces, doctors, clerks - all of which including a few Muslims and those of other religions, and perhaps a few conscientious Hindus - if any exist - would not contradict the figures? Or is it that he did not know of the official figures?) --> [Hindus killed Muslims, Muslims killed Hindus; the damage inflicted by both communities corresponds almost exactly with the breakup of two religions in general population. But it seems unlikely that the government actively sided with people of any of the two religions, though it is possible it might have acted passively as the toll is so high. Whether the forces actually were passive or not would depend on degree of violence showed by the people of two communities]
2.d. "800 Muslims killed; 200 Hindus killed; shoot-at-sight orders; 170 shot dead by the police (~95 Muslims; ~75 Hindus); Preventative arrests over 30,000 (~7,000 Muslims; ~25,000 Hindus)" --> [Looks like the police and other forces did a god job in trying to prevent the riots. At least the allegation that they stood mute seems untenable].



There is a reason I have underlined the figures of number of Muslims and Hindus killed by the police. For in my analysis that is the only piece of statistic that points at a partisan attitude. Why it would seem so is obvious - that there were more Hindus indulging in violence, so obviously more Hindus should have got killed by the police. There was an explanation for that also, but I am not going into it. It ought to suffice that I am skeptical of that explanation.

You have mentioned above that your friend is knowledgeable and intelligent. It must surely have not escaped his mind that different aspects of statistic give rise to drastically different inferences? Moreover, he is in the business of media and by extension an insider. If the figures he knows deviate so drastically from the official figures, what is expected of the laypersons? Then it needs to be asked how did he reach a figure of 2000 dead Hindus? He might also, like many, argue on the lines of it being a huge conspiracy theory and that obviously Gujarat government would release wrong figures! Now, if we turn this argument on its head and claim that obviously, your friend has to survive in the media industry, he cannot speak a word against the media in general (lest he meet that fate where employees are fired and would be seen as a liability by any other media house and would thus become unemployable)?

Around more than a year back I had gone through many links that had confirmed for me that the above figures were true, but I have noticed that since 2002 riots a lot that I had read in newspapers (especially, ToI) has been mysteriously disappearing from the servers or that google is not returning them as search results. Though, this might sound like another huge insane conspiracy theory, coincidentally at least, in one instance the ToI did not cover its tracks properly. It is mind boggling why a news piece with heading like this - More fall prey to police firings in Gujarat (click) should return an empty page, and that too something that had been dated 28th April (Godhra had happened on 27th February)! But any way, just so that the figure of 170 shot dead by police does not seem inordinately high, here is an article from 'The Hindu', which states that police firing had caused 47 deaths in just one single day (i.e., 3rd March). Till that point the total official death toll was 290 (and unconfirmed figure was around 350). Which implies of all those who had died in the violence, ~15% had died in police action in just one day. On 3rd March, totally 86 people had died, so that means at least on that day, more than 50% people who had died were because of police action. That link is here - 86 killed in fresh incidents in Gujarat (click). In wake of these facts how can this theory (let alone perception) be ever sustained the the Gujarat police was passive?



In your argument with Abhilash, you have dismissed Gujarat riots reporting as one off case. But I am afraid, I do not look at it that way. If you take a look at Gujarat riots reporting, I doubt if any other incident in last two decades must have received as much coverage. Moreover, in terms of what it means to the urban electorate, there is very little that separates the two major parties if one removes the Gujarat riots factor.

I next examine two things that your friend said and juxtapose them:

"in streets where some muslims had houses and shops; only those were targeted – based on electoral rolls supplied by the admin – this has been proven in courts" AND "many muslims do not ‘integrate’ into the larger mainstream across the world; even in India 14"

1. The immediate corollary of "do not integrate" is that Muslims are conspicuous. A few bloggers had argued that to know that certain residence is of Muslim or a shop is owned by person belonging to which community does not "need" any documentary support. Many Muslims live in almost 'Muslim-only' residences (e.g., the 'Gulbarg sociecty'; "Gul" means 'flower' in Persian/Urdu). Moreover, in a mob of 50, even if one says that "I had seen the shop owner with skull cap, or seen him do 'namaaz' or had seen a picture of some verses in the shop", it is sufficient to convince the rest that the person would be a Muslim. So, I personally don't see the need for electoral rolls or any such list to spot persons of any religious community. Counter question: Many Hindus were killed by Muslims in the same riots; who supplied them with electoral rolls or whatever it required to identify Hindus and their property?



2. Is a state government supposed to have access to electoral rolls?! Remember, we are talking here electoral rolls, which is something very different from the census data. Though, I am not sure, I think such data would be available only with the election commission (which is independent of the state government). Anyway, what I had instead read/heard was that phone bills/electricity bill records (which are indeed within the ready and legal access of the state government) were used. No, whether electricity or phone bills or alternatively, electoral rolls were used, does not make significant difference to the nature of accusation, but why I pointed this out is because, your friend also claimed that this has been "proved in the court", which happens to be my next point.

3. What is the meaning of "proved in the court"? Have the court hearings in Gujarat riots been finished? Did any judge categorically rule that "it is proved that electoral rolls were used to locate Muslims in post-Godhra riots"? I am not stating that any of this might have not happened. But to the best of my knowledge, an allegation that electoral rolls were supplied by the Gujarat government, if "proved" would have resulted in instant indictment of the government and the ministers (including Narendra Modi). But again to the best of my knowledge, the role of the government is under investigation and in this respect perhaps, the judgment would be announced on 30th of this month. So, the use of the word "proved" in this context comes off as odd to me.

Also, simply saying that 'one must not point out one-off events' is not sufficient. In each case one also has to try to explain why such a lapse occurred? E.g., non-reporting or little reporting of Bareilly riots. I think I had made a strong case as to why I would expect them to be reported prominently (14 days curfew, which is a long period by any standards used in India; in an electoral 'hot bed' - Bareilly; perhaps, around 10 people had died), but the fact is they were hardly mentioned.



You have explicitly stated that you trust your friend's view as he is an insider, moreover, because of your acquaintance with him. But I do not believe that the points I raised in response to his arguments could not have been thought by you. If you did think (and if you find my arguments as valid), would you still trust your friend's opinion more than the logic and stats that lead us to certain kinds of arguments presented here?

Lastly, as I mentioned in the beginning of my comments, it is entirely up to you as to who you believe in, to what degree, and on what bases. I have argued with lot of people on the Gujarat riots issue. I just about bring in the testimony of my relatives (all of who had lived in Ahmedabad and areas surrounding Godhra at that time). Their version totally contradicts what the media portrays. According to them, the police had tried their best to protect the Muslims to escape the label of being anti-Muslim. One of my cousins had told me that a police station had been torched by the Muslim mobs using women as shield. Anyway, many more such things were told, but there are two points I am trying to make with this point. First, for me my relatives are "insiders" (just like your friend is to media), yet that is not the sole reason I believe their version. Though I must confess here that having read about Kausar Bano case and other things, my feelings about Narendra Modi's role were exactly as that of many others, so what my cousin told me had shocked me, but most important sensitized me for the very first time, that media (including prominent houses like 'The Bennett and Coleman') could lie. But the second point is that despite what my relatives told me, I never took them on mere faith - I examined the merits in their statements and tried to correlate them with available data as well as how I understood the world to be. As you might acknowledge, if you do, that is, that though Gujarat riots have been always in so much discussion in the media, any kind of exact figures are so difficult to find! Why is it so, despite the fact that they could be readily known?

I repeat, one might dismiss media's handling of the Gujarat riots as one-off case, but to be honest, it reeks of a huge orchestrated conspiracy, considering how much has been spoken on the issue. In fact, as I explained earlier, had it not been for the partisan and what I consider devious manner of presenting the Gujarat riots, I might have never looked carefully into the sloppiness, lack of reliability and biases of the media.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Wise Donkey and Jai

Wise Donkee and Jai,

Firstly, let me congratulate and thank you both for making extremely good points, and for making this one of the best discussions I have had in recent times.

I believe, I was misunderstood on a few points, and also there was a margin for me to be more clear.

I'm responding to the points individually, but some points would be response to similar/same points raised by you.

1. I of course, did read your post (as has been the case in the past! :) ). What I said follows from simple logic, that whatever color one makes sacrosanct, it could be attached to that ideology, and certain events could be blamed on that 'orange' ideology thus giving rise to the concept of orange terror.

But since your post was satirical, let me put forth my guess of what you had wanted to convey. You were not poking fun as much at PC as against those reacting against the term 'Saffron terror'. I would object to such term only if its usage comes from someone proclaiming "terror/terrorists have no religion". And to the best of my knowledge, PC and his political party has used this line of logic in the past in case of terror attacks when suspects were Muslim. My assumption (which I have reasoned out in the above comment) is that by 'saffron' he simply meant 'Hindu'. So, saffron terror means 'Hindu terror'. Whether such kind of terror exists, or if this label is appropriate would be an entirely different issue. But the term must not be used by those claiming that terror has no religion, except for of course, if they also specify that they have changed their view recently, and now they do believe that "terror could have religion".

2. Yes, environmentalists are an entire different issue altogether. Perhaps, I have heard the opinions of only pseudo-scientific and shrill variety, who believe in some Avatar (the movie)-kind of loving Mother Earth that needs to be saved - with saving their beloved 'Mother Earth' being the end in itself and with no concern for welfare of humans. What I find irritating about such (whose opinions I have come across) environmentalists is that they create many obstacles in path of development and production of basic resources like food/electricity, but hardly come up with even remotely practicable solutions as to what is to be done about immense population that yearns for the very same things? Truly sorry for having generalized their points of contention. Of course, there must be sensible and scientific environmentalists, but unfortunately I have not come across any in India. That is the reason for my generalization, but I admit, such generalization by me was a wrong thing to do. By 'religion of peace' I was referring to Islam. There is no equivocation between Islam and environment activism, except that both share their symbolic color in green. And no, I don't want people with important positions to use ambiguous metaphors. PC should have used instead of 'Saffron terror' whatever ideology he felt was truly behind such events. I prefer 'Naxalism' or 'Maoism' to 'red terror', because communist ideology per se does not call for mass murders, though it seems to have given rise to situations where mass murders become more acceptable in the society that follows that ideology, or when it is imposed. But more important thing to notice is that Mao had said the following (from Wikipedia):

"Revolution is not a dinner party, nor an essay, nor a painting, nor a piece of embroidery; it cannot be advanced softly, gradually, carefully, considerately, respectfully, politely, plainly, and modestly. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another."

So, we know what part of ideology called 'Maoism' is used by people to take up violence. Moreover, if Wikipedia article is to be believed, over 60 million people were killed by policies of Mao. So, it is not that followers of Mao are doing something drastically different from their deity (yes, I know technically maoism is not a religion, but when someone's precepts are elevated to the level of 'divine', 'holy' and 'unquestionable' there is little that separates such ideology from religion).

I do not need to go into what part of Quran supports violence and xenophobia as both of you have read the relevant verses on my blog, so the term 'Islamic terror' makes some sense. But what is 'saffron'? It is a serious question to those who find nothing objectionable in the ambiguity that use of such term entails. I am a firm believer of separation of religion from state, and obviously being an atheist I don't find anything even remotely offending about that usage. My greatest fear is that hiding behind such metaphors takes away the accountability of answering/clarifying that should (ideally) go along with accusation of any nature.

3. I really don't think there were people who were complaining merely because 'saffron' color is associated with Hinduism. They were complaining because by 'saffron' PC meant only 'Hindu'. If not 'Hindu' what had he meant? Why not some other color, there are so many to choose from in the electromagnetic spectrum of 400 nm to 700 nm, right? ;)

I will now respond to the color issue (which incidentally has become the focus of debate here, but I am not complaining, because that is more interesting and something about which we can do something more easily!):

But firstly, I want to thank Jai for pointing out that "individual counter examples are of little relief".

Let me summarize what I had wanted to say in my previous lot of comments, and also respond to other points raised:

1. It is true that there exists a (strong) preference for the light colored skin at least in the Indian society.

2. I am not sure what part of this preference could be attributable to the social conditioning (let's say 'memetics' provisionally) and what part is actually genetic. Here, I want to point out that there indeed are hypotheses (some of them sound quite silly) for various attributes that attract humans to one another sexually and otherwise. This includes, right from muscular nature of men, size and shape of breasts of women, the kind odorants both the sexes emit, height of person, what kind of voice we like in people, or why males are attracted to female's breast, etc. But all these preferences are prevalent enough to make us suspect that there could be an evolutionary basis for that. And here I emphasize on suspect, meaning I am not at all confident, and this I had tried to highlight by saying "could be (not necesarily)".

3. What I did not clarify previously, but since Jai has raised the issue, I now need to is, that just because something might have a genetic basis, it does not become alright to let that trait express, especially so, if it is harmful to individuals/societies. More precisely, just because (supposedly), preference for fair skin color might have a genetic basis, it does not become alright to use it to wrongly discriminate against people. The only reason I mention this point is, that *IF* this preference has a genetic basis, then it would be more challenging to remove that bias than if it would be based simply on cultural conditioning, because it can be seen that some of the cultural conditioning can be overturned in just a couple of generations, but not so, if the trait is genetic. If it is genetic, our effort to counter will have to be better thought out. E.g., women preferring muscular men seems to have a genetic basis (healthier babies, protection from wild beasts and all that), and body composition and metabolism are greatly genetically determined (Indians are prone to central obesity, and thus to diabetes mellitus, hypertension, heart and kidney disorders, etc). But it would be discriminatory against others as well as silly for a woman to select a muscular man for job of an accountant for merely being muscular over other equally 'good' or better candidates. What would we say if a woman prefers muscular men to marry? Now replace, 'men' with 'women' and 'muscular' with 'fair'. If it's pointed out that one could join a gym to build one's muscles, that's not the point, because doing so would correspond to one's using cosmetic products and surgeries to 'improve' one's skin color. I also do not think that woman getting attracted to muscular men actively think while getting attracted something on the lines of 'Yo! My baby would be stronger, and 'my man' would protect me from stray dogs and molesters'! ;)

4. If there is a genetic component for it (and even if it is not), my thrust is on creating a social environment where it becomes easier to express our insecurities and prejudices freely. Remember, just saying that I harbor a bias for fair skin would not necessarily mean I would exercise that bias. Just as I pointed out above, being aware that I could harbor such a bias would rather make me more careful to try to filter it out from my behavior (yes, I had also meant to include professional interactions - of the selecting the candidate from job-interview variety). Try to think of these prejudices (whether they be for fair skin color, height, built of a person, voice, etc.) as milder psychiatric disorders or some venereal disease. The more we demonize the ones 'suffering' from them, the more would they remain in the 'closet'. Whereas, if our attitude and tone towards these prejudices is one of greater empathy and lesser hatred, we might make people more honest about themselves. E.g., consider the following:

"See, it is alright to have those prejudices insofar as you do not take important decisions in your life under their influence. Everyone has some prejudices. The possible reasons you could have the said bias are 1, 2 and 3. As you can see, it is unfair as well as improper to base our decisions on that prejudice because of reasons a, b and c. Now tell me, why do you think a person possessing trait X is liked/disliked by you? Will the trait X have a bearing on what you need the person in its possession of for? Will its possession/absence make significant difference to important areas of your life? Is some other trait more important than trait X in what you need that person for?"

But instead unfortunately what currently is happening is that majority of educated people are getting all sanctimonious and trying to shout from their desktops (not roof tops! ;) ) that they are free of those prejudices. Because if they admit, they would be looked down upon by other people who also (largely) possess the same prejudices. This a very risky situation for the society to be in! Imagine, how many patients of (mild) psychiatric disorder will persist in the society and how much harm would they do! Only to serve our political correctness.

5. WDM: "You know that no 2 individuals can be equal in all respects except color. so the point is, how much importance do you give to the color."

Yes, that's right. But unfortunately not everyone is introspective enough to make out which traits in particular make them like/dislike a person. So, the only way to reveal our latent prejudices is such 'test-and-control' thought experiments.

6. WDM: "Or you might decide to hire a fairer assistant simply because you think, fairer is smarter. or you promote a fairer person because you think they have more chances of success or whatever."

This is a very good point! I personally don't know why I possess the (mild) preference for the fair skin, but of course I have never extrapolated this preference to think that it represents intelligence or smartness. I think 'fair & lovely' and other similar ads never claim that "those possessing fair skin color are smart or that becoming fairer would raise the IQ", but they simply make a point that "fair skin would make you *perceived* as being smarter and more likely to succeed". I'm honestly not peeved with such ad-makers (though I find them patently silly and unrealistic). What is worrying is that people fall for such ads. And by "falling for" I'm not trying to say that they are stupid to be believing those ads (because they are just serving the market, meaning great many people actually want to become fairer; try to imagine a product claiming to make one bald, or greying the hair or giving rise to moustache and beard in females or one staining teeth yellow - how many would want to buy it, how much would the ads and products succeed?). So, my point is they are catering to a market simply because such prejudice already exists in the society.

But one more reason I really feel sorry for those falling for such ads is the underlying mentality that might make them use such 'shortcuts' to succeed or be more acceptable in the society. I'm going to make a contentious point here: If someone feels it is alright to get a job (that does not require fairness as a trait) simply for being fair as that got them unduly ahead of the competition, they might also feel it is alright to bribe/seduce/cajole (qualities that are not looked for in the candidate) to get unduly ahead of the competition. Likewise, if someone is so bothered about social acceptability only to be seen as 'pleasing' to the others' eyes, they are more likely to do other things that are perceived to be 'pleasing' (to other perception modalities), say, by being hypocritical, politically correct, or lying. As I said, this point is contentious, but do let me know if you completely disagree or partly agree and have thought about it this way or not.

7. WD: "You might point out Rani Mukherjee, someone might point out Himesh Resh...."

I don't know what point you were trying to make, I was talking from perspective of positively forgettable/displeasing voice and not of gender. Perhaps, Sachin Tendulkar's voice would have been better example than Himesh from among males? The fact that many find Shreya Ghoshal's or Himesh's voice and singing much better is indicated from the number of albums they have sold. I had given this example simply because again if for any job that does not require one to have a good voice, keeping all factors equal people would be biased in favor of one possessing a better voice. And even this preference is as much silly as that for skin color.

8. WD: "in 5 & 6 you are just being a racist by thinking a darker peson is not beautiful enough and not competent enough. and fairness cream manufacturers say its ok if this happens."

I'm afraid, this affectation for color could go either ways. Some might think good-looking (fair) people to be smart and more competent, but on the other hand others might consider them dumb simply for having a fair skin (e.g, blonde jokes, of course, blonde refers to the color of hair, but they also tend to have a lighter skin; also, I'm not sure if that feeling is merely restricted to jokes or that some people actually think blondes to be dumb). Of course, either kind of stereotyping is silly.

9. WD: "I protest both against the bias and the cream advertisement which reinforces the bias."

I am highly unlikely to tell you something on the lines of "why did you not protest against this or that", though I might ask your views on other issues that you might be not protesting against. But the reason I brought out other examples of prejudices similar to that for skin color is because I want to highlight that they also exist, and might be making us subconsciously unduly biased against others. But another reason, I brought out is to demonstrate there is no way we can tell someone that "your liking the persons with fairer skin is intrinsically wrong". If we tell that, then we will have tell people to stop using other criteria also for liking people (e.g., intelligence, height, caste, vivacity, voice, 'figure'), etc. The thing that binds all the traits I mentioned is that they are significantly determined by circumstance of one's birth. One does not have control over those factors. These prejudices put those possessing the less 'desirable' trait at disadvantage. I also do no believe intelligence is all that subjective. There would be few who would argue that Einstein or Newton or Bertrand Russel were dumb. Sorry to give extreme examples here. Moreover, even if assessment of intelligence is subjective, it puts those 'perceived' to be less intelligent at disadvantage, why should such a discrimination be tolerated? Keeping all factors equal if a lady finds me 'too intellectual' and decides to marry someone else who she feels is more 'practical and grounded', would that be discriminatory against me or not? Or alternatively, I am rejected for being perceived as less intelligent than someone else, would that again be right?

10. WD: "On people not voicing their suspicions. well, there might be those who have been frightened of monsters in the dark and who might be apprehensive of darkness, but its not necessary that they should insist with others that monsters of the dark exist"

It's not about insisting to others, but unless such belief is articulated, they cannot be proved wrong (if they're wrong, that is), nor can they be stopped from taking decisions based on those beliefs. Moreover, one's beliefs whatever they be should be discussed, and we should create an environment that allows their discussion. There may or may not be monsters in the dark, but how does one know without knowing why others believe or disbelieve such assertions?

11. WD: "krishna and shiva are not exactly light skinned."

But their skin color is not the reason they are worshipped. Some people might fear divine retribution for calling them 'bad looking' [of course, gods seek retribution through their believers. See, e.g., what merely painting one of the agents of God could result in]. It must be also noted that they are portrayed to be blue, and NOT exactly dark, which gives them a surreal appearance. It must be asked what intrinsic bias in our minds makes us paint Krishna as blue despite the name being given as 'Shaam' ("dusky"). Why is Krishna almost never painted to be as dark as some laborer working in the sun in fields? What prevents such truthful depiction? Anyway, I was talking of references that equate fair skin color with good looks. Though, I must say I have not dug sufficiently into the Hindu mythology to argue one way or the other on this.

12. WD: "Bias is simply an excuse to intellectual laziness and lack of humanity."

It is this attitude that I fear a lot. Can some biases not be based on observations? E.g., I've seen mosquitoes 'bite' me, whereas houseflies usually don't. Mosquito bites are unpleasant. Assume for the time being, I have no scientific knowledge that mosquitoes and houseflies both can cause diseases. Also note that not all mosquitoes have bitten me. Would I be wrong if I'm biased against mosquitoes and kill them for giving me the itch?

What biases are good and what are bad? How do we determine that without logic-based discussions? E.g., I might be biased towards honest people, who introspect, analyze things and are willing to admit they were wrong if proved so, and who display consistency in their ideas, words and actions. I would like such a person to be my wife, friend, colleague, boss, parents. Yes, one might disagree with which individuals qualify on these criteria and how strongly. But is this bias simply an excuse to intellectual laziness and lack of humanity? Now, think of skin-color, height, voice, etc.

13. WD: "My problem with many of those who object to the term "Saffron Terror" is this. They don't think its obscene if Ram Sena has goons, who hit girls. They don't think Sex Swami and other Godmen who are just criminals use the saffron color to hide their intentions. Its the selective process that reflects their hypocrisy."

I think I have outlined the reasons I object to the term 'saffron terror'. Biggest reason is that it is ambiguous. It does not specify what set of 'beliefs' constitute 'saffron'. If PC and others want to be clear enough on this, they must use the term 'Hindu terror' (perhaps just like 'Islamic terror' and 'maoism') without inhibition, so that their label could be brought into the domain of reasonable debate. But by using 'saffron' they are only scoring a political goal, without taking responsibility to explain what they mean by using such term.

14. "They (those who object to the term "Saffron terror"") don't think its obscene if Ram Sena has goons, who hit girls. They don't think Sex Swami and other Godmen who are just criminals use the saffron color to hide their intentions. Its the selective process that reflects their hypocrisy."

I'm afraid, that is again a stereotyping. You will find an exception in me. I object to the use of the term "saffron terror" and even more strongly oppose Ram Sene kind of organizations, their activities and all kind of swamis and Godmen whose claim to respect is understanding God better than others do. If they indulge in consensual sex, though, that is not a problem with me (provided, they do not prescribe celibacy themselves).

15. "On matrimonial ads, beauty and handsome are subjective..."

I have explained before that even if the estimate of amount/degree of a particular trait ('handsomeness', for instance) possessed by a person is subjective, having such preference still amounts to discrimination against those who are (subjectively) perceived to possess undesirable amount/degree of that trait. So, how exactly does this subjectivity help those who get discriminated against?

16. "I think people look for smartness which includes a social skillset and not just IQ"

Is it alright to to discriminate against those who possess more of 'social-dumbness' (corresponding to skin's high melanin content), which is opposite of social smartness? Is all of this social smartness acquired through hardwork, or is lot of it derived from how parents bring up their children or which school they go to, which neighborhood they would have lived in - factors over which children have little control (just like skin color, height, voice, intelligence, caste)? Scientists are discovering specific genes that correspond to varying levels of neurotransmitters that predispose people to diseases like schizophrenia, mania, depression. It would not be surprising if genes that determine personality are also discovered in a few years. Then what? [Here, I would just like to point out that 'genetic' is not the same as 'hereditary'. Whether children turn out like one parent or the other, or entirely different would depend on how genes interact with each other, but the important point is, there is absolutely no control over what set of genes one gets and how they will 'operate'].

17. WD: "it doesn't help when wheatish skin people believe they are inferior and get intimidated"

Very good point! But, if someone dislikes me for my appearance, I will return that dislike for that person's giving such inordinate importance to physical appearance. It just means their mind is less receptive to ideas, words and actions as compared to appearance. Such person (of either gender) and I would be inherently incompatible. I will never plead that "please consider me 'good-looking' (despite my baldness, not-so-tall stature, obesity, acne, scars, etc.)".

The point I want to make is we cannot tell what should others consider to be good-looking (beautiful/handsome) - whether it should be the height or skin color or 'figure' or hair color or its density. If someone finds dark-skinned colored people better-looking (as Jai had brought out an example), then again I must NOT try to make such person feel guilty about it. If lot of people find fair skinned people better looking, what can we do? Or why should we try to change such perception?

There is no significant difference between preferences based on skin color or caste or height, intelligence, etc. Perhaps, why discrimination based on skin color historically drew so much attention is because it is the only conspicuous trait that is dependent on one's 'ethnicity'. Most other traits are not very different across peoples of differing ethnic origins. But what we see in India is not a discrimination based on race (e.g., a light-skinned Punjabi would still be considered to be more pleasing to look at as compared to a darker-skinned Punjabi). Of course, I am not endorsing such preference, but nor am I opposing it as long as other birth-based traits are also opposed.


1. Thanks for noting my honesty! :)

2. Though, your usage of 'internalize' is much more keeping in with its conventional meaning, by using it I had meant: harboring a deep-seated bias, yet trying to conceal it by refusing to discuss it, or even lying about its existence.

3. I do believe that some preferences/prejudices/biases are indeed genetic. So, I cannot blame persons for harboring them. In fact, I cannot blame persons for harboring even those biases that were 'injected' into them as part of their upbringing. But what I can and would blame people for is putting those biases/preferences to practice where doing so is clearly uncalled for. E.g., if in a job interview I select a better-looking, but skill-wise less deserving person over someone else more deserving but worse looking, I would be wrong. And I would protest that provided it could be proved that the cause for selection was skin color. It is precisely for this reason that I am against creating an environment that is hostile to discussing one's biases. Because a person who is biased against dark skin if made to look like an absolute devil will vehemently deny being biased, but will keep on practicing that injustice without any hindrance on some pretext or the other. But I would not be wrong in finding certain kind of people better looking. I cannot help who I find better looking! I am against the sanctimonious sloganeering of sorts that goes on in name of 'dark is beautiful'. Please let me decide what/who I find more beautiful. Same holds true for the ads that equate beauty with fairness.

3. My greatest thrust is on pointing out that over time perhaps it would be good if society to could evolve out of this inordinate importance given to appearance. I do not want a society, which tells that "any- and everything should be considered good-looking", but one which says, "Okay, so what if one is good-looking or bad-looking. Big deal!", because former stance reeks of dishonesty. Whether I have a right to ask the 'society' to be some way or the other is a different matter, but I wish it were like that. :)


Thanks for the appreciation!

Yes, I agree with you. If you will notice, I have addressed your point above. I would find it wrong if someone is discriminated against because of skin color (or any other trait that is largely birth-determined) when that particular trait is not the one required for accomplishing that job.

To conclude (from my side):

Problem lies NOT with people considering one trait or the other - skin color, height, 'figure', hair color and density and its length, texture and straightness or the thickness of eyelashes, waist size, color of teeth, or the pitch of one's voice, diction and accent as part of "good-looking" or "impressive personality". But problem lies with people conflating (if they do) good looks and personality with other traits that are more predictive of 'success' of an organization or a relationship - intelligence, maturity, wisdom, experience, empathy, sincerity, honesty, etc.. Also, it is a problem if people use 'good looks' and 'impressive' personality as more important criteria to judge people in areas where these two traits have no role and other traits would be more important.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A few more Ideas on God and Respect


Please read what I write here, slowly, with utmost concentration. It is alright if you don't reply or do so after a week or a month. I will remember almost every word of what I write here: so there will not be a need for context. What I write here represents a summary of over 30% of what I understand about the Universe. So, how can I forget it? :)

Thanks for sending the pic of Siddhivinaya! I truly appreciate that you consider me worthy of sharing your thoughts/emotions with and that you do wish me well.

In what I say here, my intent is not to hurt you, but I also have got to be honest. For, dishonesty and respect do not usually go hand-in-hand. And I respect you.

I'll start with an analogy. I respect Ayn Rand immensely, for her ideas mainly. How do I know her? Only through the two novels she had written. Her novels had contained some exemplary characters. E.g., Dominique Francon  (someone with impeccable sense of justice - she had punished herself by marrying a person she had greatest contempt for, only because she was deliberately depriving Howard Roark of herself, who she used to love, and who used to love her back) & Howard Roark (who used to worship architecture - it was his divine; it had stood for functionality, which is representative of honesty. He was ready to sacrifice everything for his joy of seeing his designs come up as buildings. His building designs did not have pretentiousness. He never lied about his love for architecture, and was never ashamed of it). Both were from the novel 'The Fountainhead'. Then, there was Francisco D'Anconia - a perfect human being in my view, perhaps, much more so that the main character of Atlas shrugged (John Galt). But you know, I never worshipped these characters. Why? Because I knew, they were merely the *mediums* (media) for Ayn Rand's thoughts, and not real persons. Whatever highest regard I hold, it is for the author and her thoughts and not the characters (i.e., the creation).

I can respect people largely for three reasons: thoughts, words and actions. If I do not know what the thoughts, words and actions of a person are, how do I respect or disrespect him/her? If I meet an alien, why will I respect/disrespect that alien by default without knowing what his/her thoughts/words/actions are? When I read Ayn Rand's words in her novels and other essays, I know all that are Ayn Rand's words, her ideas - perhaps, first thought by her or perhaps, assimilated from other sources and articulated so beautifully.

If you ask me to see a pic/statue of a deity, I can only think of the effort/feelings behind their making that the maker must have put. If I find that statue/pic is aesthetically beautiful, I would value the maker for the skill and dedication involved (just like I would think of the qualities in Ayn Rand that had enabled her to create the kind of characters she did in her novels). I would never forget that whatever attributes that Ayn Rand's characters had were put in them by Ayn Rand herself. Likewise, whatever attributes I see in a statue/picture would be put in by the sculptor! If I have to respect anything, it would have to be the sculptor.

If I have my mother's picture, I would not step on it, because I would've got accustomed to living with her. I largely know what her thoughts, words and actions are. If she had happened to be very tyrannical and cunning, unethical person and had treated me badly, perhaps I would have actually stepped on her picture. But there is a difference here, whatever attributes I attach with my mother would be in the real world. E.g., if I see her helping an injured pup, she's benevolent. If I see her get uncomfortable on neighbor buying new car, then she is jealous. If she tells me to leak question papers to score well, she is immoral. If she asks me to help a stranger in need, then she has an altruistic bent. Basically, whatever I think of her would be dependent on what she actually does. But, on what basis do I draw any conclusions about God? What does god think, say or do? On what basis do I judge God, who the picture you linked represents?

You said: "a power exists."

What kind of power? On what basis did you reach that conclusion? Perhaps, you feel that a power has to exist because the Universe is so complicated, and so it needs a power to create and maintain it?

If those are the strongest reasons you believe a Creator needs to exist, then let me tell you that more than 8 years back I also used to think the same. But as I understood the Universe better (through studying science and application of formal philosophy), I realized that both assertions were flawed.

We humans think that everything that exists has to be created from something and thus needs a creator. But this is just an illusion. Nothing actually ever gets created. It is only that one thing gets transformed into another. As children we see that by planting a seed, it 'becomes' a huge tree. But actually our senses are misleading us. The tree did not come from the seed! Yes, seed had contained the template (DNA and some nutrients for interim survival) along which the plant grew into tree. But in reality, it was carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen present in the soil and atmosphere that got 'converted' into the tree. But because we cannot see all those gases, we hastily conclude that the 'one who had planted the seed' had 'grown' the tree.

So, I believe that all the matter and energy of which the Universe that is known to us is composed, had always existed. They did not require a creator. Because if we say they had required a creator, we're faced with a much more difficult question - who created the creator, then? If such a complex Universe requires a creator, then that creator must be even more complex than the creation, right? If Universe cannot exist since 'eternity', 'all by itself', why should that creator be able to exist since 'eternity', 'all by itself'? So, at level of philosophy it becomes a better hypothesis to believe that the Universe or its 'raw materials' had always existed (not necessarily the same way we know it) as compared to introducing an intermediary like 'God' which does not make the hypothesis any more appealing, but only makes it bulkier.

The problem with human psyche is that we tend to view things in a very self-centric fashion. If we find that only planet Earth has human life, we hastily conclude that we are special. This psychology is reflected in, e.g., the Church's position that the Earth is the center of the Universe. It was proved false centuries back, but they did not accept it (they did not have much problem accepting that the Earth was round, so being proved wrong was not the only factor in their rejecting a geocentric Universe). I do not want to even go into the murder and persecution they had indulged in to suppress that truth the Sun was the center of the Solar system. But think about it, why was the Church so desperate to suppress the truth? It was because, they were afraid to admit that the Earth (which harbors the humans) is not all that special. Most of the religious persons feel that their religion is the best and that others' are inferior. Why? Because that serves as an ego massage. When I'd done that blog post on Islamophobia, I was not talking of persons born in Muslim families, but ONLY about the ideas contained in the book. Think carefully & *HONESTLY*, what is the biggest reason one would like to follow a book like the Quran (considering its intellectual level and the kind of verses it contains)? Is it because it contains immense wisdom, or is it because it is interesting, or is it because it gives some information that is very useful to the human race (e.g. Newton's law of gravitation)? Or is it simply because it makes the ones following that book feel 'SPECIAL' ("Allah will be with YOU, but those who are not with YOU will be fed to fire, and so YOU are 'SPECIAL'" - of course, no single verse says that, but that is the overall tone of the Book)? I suspect it is the latter. The book keeps on repeating that God will love you and consider you 'SPECIAL' if you follow that book. Imagine, how many would've followed that book had it spoken the unadulterated truth, i.e., "you humans are merely made of atoms and molecules; there is nothing special about your existence, that your Sun is just one of the tiny stars among billions of stars and planets, that your thoughts and emotions are nothing but simple physical-chemical reactions in your brain"? But no, every religion, directly or indirectly asserts that being a humans is special, that God takes special care of humans, because 'humans' are special. You might know a bit about Advaita Vedanta. I actually consider it an elegant (though, falsifiable) hypothesis. It is very close to deism which posits that a creator just created the Universe and left it at that. Which implies that prayers won't work. Which implies that God (that creator) does NOT consider you 'SPECIAL'. Advaita Vedanta likewise claims that all that exists is 'Brahmana'. The Brahmana itself is the creator of all that exists. But all that exists is not the same as what we perceive. What we perceive does not actually exist - it is merely a creation of an entity called 'Maya', which acts as a screen between our sense organs and what perhaps actually exists (this is similar to the concept used in the Matrix series, or rather Matrix makers had taken this concept from here!). Unlike the God of Quran or Bible, Brahmana does not ask us to do good or bad. The only truth is that Brahman (Universe) exists. The aim of the life is to be able to realize this truth. This is actually quite perfect a theory, and comes close to how I view the world (perhaps, it does not have major conflicts with science as we know it today). Of course, there is one major difference between scientists, people like me, Ayn Rand and other naturalist/materialist people v/s Advaita's precepts, i.e., we believe that whatever our sense organs convey to us does stand for some kind of reality, though the inference based on what we perceive may not be identical to what the reality is, Advaita Vedanta posits that there is no/little relation between what we perceive and what the absolute reality is. Okay, I won't go into these philosophical details. What I wanted to point out is that despite Advaita Vedanta having existed in India for over a millennium, how many have assimilated the philosophy, how many live by it? Perhaps, not even 1% of the Hindus. You know, why? Because it does not make humans seem special. It does not say that God will pay special attention to you. It does not say that God is personal. Look carefully, of all the religions that had originated in India and elsewhere, only those have survived the best that have made God personal, human-like. (Hinayana) Buddhism and Jainism hardly thrived in India simply because their Gods had not taken as much interest in human lives as did the gods like Ram, Krishna, Shiva, Vishnu or that of Islam and Christianity.

One of the bigger reasons people find it difficult to contemplate a Universe without a God that gives special treatment to humans is that, doing so will leave a big void in our lives. We will be forced to ask, "why did I take birth?", "what am I supposed to do in my life?", "what is the purpose of my life?", "what will happen to 'me' after I die?" As you might appreciate, these are difficult questions to answer, and when answered truthfully, their answers are extremely disturbing. Believing in a God solves all the problems. See, how:

1. "Why did I take birth?" ---> 'God (who is special and who likewise considers me special) willed so'.

2. "What am I supposed to do in my life?" ---> 'Whatever God has asked me to do or whatever would please the God'.

3. "What is the purpose of my life?" ---> 'To lead such a life that God would be pleased with me and put me in Heaven or award me salvation. Of course, only God fully knows what the purpose of my life is. I must be some 'IMPORTANT' spoke in some 'GRAND' scheme of God. I am important to God.'

4. "What will happen to 'me' after I die?" ---> 'Oh worry not, I will not die, because my soul is indestructible. I would be re-united with the God, or will get to lead life as some other organism or as human'.

But as against that the deist or Advaita Vedantist God (Brahmana) does not answer such questions. Atheism is the worst! With atheism as a caveat, we would answer the above questions thus:

1. "Why did I take birth?" ---> 'My parents wanted a progeny, for reasons best known to them'

2. "What am I supposed to do in my life?" ---> 'Erm... umm... I don't know. Perhaps, what I 'like' to do. Or perhaps, what I 'think' is the right thing to do. Or a combination thereof. But yaar, this thinking business is so bugging! How would I know what I like to do, or I think the right thing to do is indeed the right thing to do? Or perhaps, there is nothing like the 'absolutely right' thing to do?'

3. "What is the purpose of my life?" ---> 'Nothing really! That my conscious mind exists is an accident in the Universe: certain atoms, molecules and quanta of energy when behaving in their routing manner in concert ended being 'me'. There is no fundamental difference between me and a pebble lying on the road. If you heat pebble it gets hot and undergoes oxidation. If you heat me, I will get hot and undergo oxidation. If you drop the pebble from a cliff it will fall with the acceleration of 9.8 meter/second-squared. If you drop 'me' from a cliff, 'I' will fall with the acceleration of 9.8 meter/second-squared. So, just like there is no purpose for existence of pebble on the road, there is no purpose behind 'my' existing. That pebble and I, being composed of same elementary particles and energy and 'obeying' same laws of physics are equally 'SPECIAL' or equally mundane. However, since I am afraid of dying, I will have to survive. Since certain things give me displeasure/pain I will avoid doing them. Since certain things give me pleasure, happiness, I will try doing them. Having seen the way humans live, I feel a perfect human being should have attributes, 1, 2 & 3. A perfect human being should do a, b & c. So, let me try to become a perfect human being by what I think it is to be perfect human being. Let me try to develop attributes 1, 2 & 3 and let me try to to do things a, b & c. That will make me feel 'good' about myself, and I will love myself (narcissism). And that way, my life will pass smoothly till it is the time to die.'

4. "What will happen to 'me' after I die?" ---> 'Nothing, again! 'Me' is just an illusion created by the brain. When I die the brain would stop functioning. It will no longer be able to create that illusion. There would be no 'me' to feel what it is like to be dead. Perhaps, it might be somewhat like being in a deep sleep. Yes, this whole thing sounds frightening. I have so many plans about my life, so many things to achieve, so much to experience, so much to learn, so many people I love, so many people who want love me and want me to live - what will happen of all that? I would never like to die. I like the small pleasures in life - eating good food, blogging, tweeting, reading, joking, being with people I love and who love me, but all this will end the moment I die, but there is nothing really I can do about it.'

As you might see, with atheism as a caveat, answering all these questions become so difficult. Plus, those answers are so frightening and painful, so isn't it better to keep on believing in a God?
Perhaps, I might not mind doing that. But I would be insulting myself if I lie to myself and keep on believing in a God only because it gives me comfort. To paraphrase a philosopher/blogger, "however might I want the answer to be '5', I know 2+2 is 4 and NOT 5"!

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dilip 1

Thanks Dilip!

Being significantly more experienced than me, you must be knowing most of the things I write here, but still I would be curious of what you agree/disagree with. The comment would be very, very long & almost irrelevant to the post where discussion had started (and hope you can excuse that), you may respond only where you find it necessary.

Let me try to simplify one thing. If compelling evidence becomes available, it becomes obligatory that legal action be taken by the concerned authority. All this is irrespective of the country in which evidence is provided, or against which person or whether one providing this evidence seems insincere or not. So, what I find wrong with your approach of asking for justice is, it (at least seemingly) makes taking legal action in given case dependent on whether legal action was taken in the past or not, and legal action in recent cases prevents imminent future crimes (e.g., HS & Naxals).

Seriousness of concern for fellow citizens. There are no easy answers on this. I think there's one very fundamental difference in how you & I look at everything. You tend to look at things in terms of their presence/absence; I tend to grade things (minimum to maximum). I am not trying to get melodramatic here, but people offer their hand to help a total stranger get aboard a running train. But on the other hand (as you have been pointing out), we forget the crimes done in the past & at remote places. People donate blood (for total strangers) taking the effort to go to blood bank or blood donation camp site, they donate hard earned money to charity (for total strangers). But on the other hand people spit, stick chewing gum, litter roads, smoke in public places - all of which inconvenience others. But can in light of these mutually paradoxical behaviors we make a blanket statement - we do not care for fellow Indians? Possibly, concern & apathy are pervasive traits. Meaning, a person sticking gum on a bench is more likely to litter by throwing chocolate wrapper also. This just shows a population is heterogeneous.

There are many reasons as to why do people not show outrage or very little of it against law enforcing agencies' failures in India.

1. We have come to accept inefficiency in all walks of life. This is one of the most ominous things that could happen to the prospect of progress in a society....

Dilip 2

...There used to be a time when people used pay bribes to MTNL people (bakshish) otherwise their phone connections would be disrupted. People had come to accept this. But with emergence of private players, MTNL had to become a lot more efficient & clean. People have very, very few complaints against them as compared to more than a decade ago. Now if MTNL would go back to its old ways people would be aghast. But even in their bad old days, people had tried a lot to change things. They had lodged many complaints. However, people had also got used to the way MTNL was. That MTNL was corrupt & inefficient did not make them lose their sleep. But people right from top to bottom in the MTNL hierarchy used to benefit from this corruption & harassment. Things had improved over a very short time. Because otherwise it was a matter of survival for them.

Our law enforcement system is stuck in the old MTNL gear. People have tried & failed to improve it. But there is one more practical problem. If you would've annoyed an MTNL employee, at most they would cut your phone connection, but if you are involved in a legal tangle with someone powerful, stakes are much higher than your phoneline, maybe, even your life & well being. (This partly answers why differences in approach against B&R and cases involving powerful people, but more about it later)

This inertia in law enforcement agency is simply because just like MTNL, the entire state machinery's hierarchy benefits from the status quo.

2. Disincentives for honesty. Imagine, in our country "politician" has become such a dirty word! More often than not, if someone were to be introduced as politician, we would subconsciously conclude, "must be a crooked guy, possibly a goon also, must not step on his toes". Think of an IAS officer, and first thing that comes to mind is, "must be taking bribes". Customs officer - "must be harassing passengers". And these generalizations are not inaccurate! If you are an honest police constable, you'll just earn maybe around Rs. 10,000. If an honest police officer, around Rs. 50,000 (because of 6th pay commission, otherwise pays would've been much less). And if you happen to come in way of someone really powerful, there are attendant risks of being transferred to tribal areas, becoming fodder for the Maoists, etc., apart from losing promotions & 'face' among peers....

Dilip 3

...Now, judiciary can only be as good as the evidence providing-machinery, which largely happens to be the police force. Plus, there are possibilities to influence judges by enticing/threatening with promotions/transfers & illegal money from powerful people. If not too risky judges would use their 'discretion' to benefit the powerful party (of the accused & the defendant) to gain benefits in return.

Now, what a deadly & effective combination this is for justice to not be delivered when powerful people are involved!

3. Lack of resources/manpower/proper training. Many crime scenes are not even properly sealed as can be seen on TV. I guess, these are not to help the criminals evade, but because of lack of professionalism/training.

All the Indian states are in acute shortage of policemen. Part of the cause is apathy of governments, but there is another important cause, which we tend to neglect - India is an economically poor country. Even the constables currently employed are paid very poorly despite very heavy workload. This creates perfect environment for them to take bribes & manipulate evidence when required. But moreover, governments do not recruit more police personnel simply because they do not have the funds! One might cynically say that if politicians would stop amassing wealth for themselves, more policemen could be recruited. That would be oversimplification. In all likelihood, to recruit 3 constables, a doctor would have to be removed from job, or 2 teachers, or hundreds of farmers would lose quintals of fertilizers. Would that be acceptable?

Likewise, appointments & promotions of new judges are not being made despite so many pending cases. Again part of the reason is the same - we do not want to deprive people of doctors, teachers or farmers of fertilizers. This makes our judiciary exquisitely slow, of course, apart from other disincentives to work in a fair way that I mentioned.

Now coming to a very important question you have asked, "We tried and punished B&R based on that evidence. ... Why won't we try the guilty for 1984 etc, then?"

Let me enlist the possible reasons (applies to all the cases of rioting & not just 1984):

1. Nexus between politicians, police & to some degree, judiciary. Those who had encouraged these crimes or benefitted from them are having the greatest (indirect) power to determine whether to punish their accomplices or not! Can I put it more simply?...

Dilip 4

...2. Nature of crime. Probably this is something you disagree with, but more often than not the manner in which riots occur, lot of evidence gets destroyed. Reliance is greatly upon eyewitness accounts. Some of these accounts are motivated, too. If a witness turns hostile, their testimony becomes totally useless. Some testimonies would be nullified because another witness would contradict the first witness' testimony, etc. And under such circumstance, it would be truly difficult to determine which of the two mutually contradictory accounts is true. Some witnesses could be failing the cross-examination.

3. Lack of direct causation with crime. Very few grass roots level murderers are caught! The people we are holding responsible had probably played a very indirect role, but we know of them because they were at prominent positions. How many people must have Jagdish Tytler, Kamalnath or Sajjan Kumar killed with their own hands? To what extent can one hold responsible for deaths, those persons who had instigated grown up adults who had the option of not getting instigated & not killing? I've not consulted the relevant IPC sections, but a mere instigator's punishment must be significantly lighter than the one actually murdering. Probably this is what allows them to get away with lighter sentences. Of course, if the said instigator also provides murderers with weapons, etc., thus becoming a facilitator of crime, then punishment must be harsher, I guess.

4. Biases of those conducting investigations. This bias could be motivated by relationships, past favors, gratitude (for calling into service despite having retired!), promotions, etc. Biases could lead to attempts at guarding few people or on the other hand wrongful framing. These lacunae must be emerging during court proceedings, significantly reducing the reliability of committee in judges' eyes. Plus you might add to this the usual carelessness, lack of committment to one's job & lack of technology. Quite possibly, the media lets us know only that certain people were suspected but not whether court found the submitted evidence sufficient or not. In many cases if despite suspicion, sufficient evidence is not found, police or investigating agency would not file chargesheet against them as that would cause them embarrassment in the court....

Dilip 5

...5. Enormous challenge to state machinery. Unlike personal crimes with a small crime scene (possibly B&R kind about which I don't know, & it'd be nice if you could provide a link) or a typical terrorist attack, riots are spread over huge areas. State has to prioritize between controlling mobs using police force or instead ask them to go, collect evidence!

6. Rescue/rehabilitation interfere with investigations. This holds true of both terrorist attacks & riots. Both the processes (rescue & rehabilitation) result in alteration in crime scene & destruction of evidence.

7. Misrepresentations by the media. While obviously, it does not contribute to inaction against suspects, it can make us wrongly believe that certain people were not punished despite sufficient evidence. In few riot cases (not all), it is truly possible that despite best efforts, sufficient evidence could not be collected & hence suspects would not be chargesheeted or court would acquit them. But media would not report these subtleties. All they'd report would be 'X' committee had found 'Y' person guilty. Think, in post-Godhra riots, Hindus had killed (~750) Muslims & Muslims had killed (~170) Hindus (if official figures are believed, & subtracting those killed by police action). All the prominent accused whose names today I know are Hindus. If media coverage &/or investigating agencies were completely reliable, would have I also not known names of a few Muslim suspects - those who would be responsible for killing of 170 Hindus? Obviously killing of Hindus would've also left similar evidence as Muslims' killing. I'm not saying 'cuz of this, those found suspect must not be tried, but just pointing out that we can't afford to base our conclusions on media reports with complete conviction (based on which we'd determine the degree of subversion of justice).

Now, of the above 7 points, I can be reasonably outraged by points 1, 4 & 7. But on a personal level, I am much more worried about basic reasons that have caused 1, 4 & 7 (deprivation & lack of values)! I'll return to that later.

"As for evidence of varying strength, the real problem I have is what's the relevance there."

I thought relevance is clear. I would expect someone to be more outraged in case where a stronger evidence is overlooked as compared to when a weaker evidence is overlooked! As former would be a greater insult to one's intelligence!...

Dilip 6

...Why Indians are enraged more with lack of action against HS than people you named?

1. HS is in Pakistan. Inaction is by Pakistan. This is not a legitimate reason for feeling enraged, but then 'us v/s them' kind of communalism operates in many cases like religion, nationality, region, caste, etc. But I guess, you feel this is the only reason Indians feel enraged, whereas I'll point out how there are other (psychological) reasons.

2. Visual medium. When Indians actually see on TV a group of men carrying guns, & know that those men want to kill the viewer ('cuz he's an Indian), naturally survival instincts are heightened. And in face of that if a Pakistani official would say, "sufficient evidence is not available", it leaves an instant feeling of being cheated. Any kind of obvious deception hurts the ego much more than a likely deception. I am quite sure if the same video would've originated in India, outrage would've been the same. And in fact if the Indian government would've said "evidence is insufficient", Indians would've been much more outraged than they are with Pakistan government.

Also visual medium has a much stronger psychological impact. There was a video clip of a police officer slapping a Dalit woman. This had outraged people almost as much as HS video. Moreover, the officer was suspended the very next day. However, reading about someone dying of starvation would not outrage us that much despite the fact that we vaguely know the culprits (hoarders, government & officials) in spite of knowing someone dying of avoidable causes is much more unfortunate than someone getting slapped.

3. Seeing a 'terrorist'. This psychological factor is difficult to explain, but it's like this. Reading "this person is a rioteer", creates a mental image of a person usually going about his work, but one day he killed a few people of a certain religion. Killing people was not his priority in life. This mental image is frightening/revolting, but then mentally lazy people need not create a mental image as well! But when you see for yourself on TV, few men actually holding guns, nothing is left to imagination. You know those people have dedicated their entire life to killing you (because you are an Indian). Killing you is their profession. I believe such image creates much greater fright/revulsion in viewers' mind, & thus do the words - 'terrorist' & 'gangster'...

Dilip 7

...India is a failed state because justice hasn't worked here

Yes & no.

Justice failed in numerous cases, but it has worked in many! India's constantly improved its literacy rate, average life span, infant mortality rate, per capita income, etc. India has also improved its ranking on Human development index. This shows India is on an average improving at faster rate than other countries. Of course, it is no excuse to not keep on improving on all counts, but still it must be specified India is failing in comparison to which country & by what margin.

Coming to last part of this commentathon, I've never opposed your raising voice. But for reasons I pointed out, it's unlikely to work. Moreover, the content (& amplitude) of my voice is different. :)

In a way I'm very disturbed how not just Indian society but whole world is (turning out to be), but I can't help that I tend to focus on the underlying psychological & socioeconomic causes as compared to their overt manifestations (the various ways in which the Indian state fails). Because lowest common denominator in a society are the individuals, in my very limited sphere of influence I try to bring few ideas to their notice. I try to make people see the world in a way, which I feel would improve all our lives.

I truly feel the current crop of adults is irreparable. Honest introspection & rational thinking both are vital to understand how we ourselves have created problems India is faced with. Understanding our biases, motivations, fears, insecurities, are very important to be able to tackle them or alternatively, use them wisely. It is also important to convince people that doing so will actually improve their lives. But people also do not like to hear they are wrong (including myself). They have to be told noncondescendingly as to they are wrong & why so. But for all that to happen we'll have to evolve a society that respects intelligence, honesty, sincerity, committment more than wealth, style, or perceived power. I see on TV, one who insults others most scathingly is seen as a hero. This is worship of abuse & power. Should we be suprised by kind of adults this will create?

Hence, I hope my understanding of problems would lead a few I interact with to raise at least their kids sensibly!

But there's only so much I can do, & to escape feeling of helplessness apathy becomes a good defense mechanism.

I won't repeat all this to you. Take care. :)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Freedom expression in face of potential to hurt others

This is in response to Quirky Indian's post and Pal's comment here (click)


Pal (and Quirky Indian),

I guess, very few people would dispute that Hussain is being hypocritical in employing double standards (and it can almost objectively be proved). And we recognize hypocrisy as a detestable thing in our day-to-day interactions. But is hypocrisy legally punishable? Unfortunately, since we are talking law here, things have to be more concrete than mere emotional appeals. Law is not based purely upon the nature of acts, but as much on their consequences and the intent. Law and ethics had to be developed precisely because people interact with each other, and these interactions evoke different responses in different people. But beyond a limit, we do stereotype people's behavior for simplicity and universal applicability of law. Just because a few people might want to commit suicide does not imply others do not have the desire to live, or they should not have unalienable right to live. So, for instance, "right to live" fundamentally is a form of stereotyping based on how people usually behave and desire or dislike. That people desire life and fear deaths are generalizations, but well accepted ones. That people can feel hurt when the deities they worship are portrayed nude and labeled thus is also a generalization, but can such generalization be employed to make such an act punishable? And again, I will try to present a case as to why it would not be unjustified if Hussain ends up punished.

I used to think (court's) judges' function was to work on the basis of some kind of algorithm, but fortunately that is not the case. They're supposed to take into consideration that small human element. I know it makes things subjective, leaving a margin for transgressions of fairness, but it is much better than robotic application of laws. Law will never be perfect as long as people harbor the intention to be dishonest and indulge in things they themselves know to be unethical. But still, the manner in which our law currently (theoretically) functions still comes close to being perfectly ethical. Think of it, issues related to cyber crime can be brought under the gamut of laws that were created long back only by slight modifications.

If we are to remove establishment of intent in one's actions out of the picture there is no way a surgeon operating upon a stab injury victim can be absolved if the patient dies because the fact that his surgery was antecedent to the patient's death can be used to argue that surgeon caused the death. In this sense, a surgeon trying to save the patient would be no different from a person trying to kill the patient by stabbing.

Remember, surgeries are traumatic events in the sense continuity of the skin is breached, blood is lost, there is damage to liver, kidneys, etc. because of anesthesia used, loss of consciousness if general anesthesia is used. The only things that keep so many potentially harmful things from being considered wrong are:

1. Surgeon's intent (in interest of the patient)

2. Consent of the patient.

3. Potential benefit incurred by the patient (meaning what could be gained has to be perceived to be greater than what the patient suffers: the 'risk-benefit ratio') despite the risk of harm.

Now, but it could be argued that the body of the patient belongs to the patient and he/she may or may not consent to things, but to who does a religious deity belong?

It is here the things get contentious. The constitution has recognized the right to practice religions, which are in turn based on nothing but one flimsy thing called faith. If faith (which is beyond the realm of reason, and hence arbitrary) is used as a yardstick to grant various favors like caste and religion based reservations, then the subjective disgust felt, which is "beyond reason" also becomes admissible. Moreover, this makes the one worshiping the said deity/religious figure in a way its owner. Have you noticed how subconsciously we apply the very same logic in saying "Muslims' Babri Mosque" and "Hindus' Ram Temple"? Otherwise, religious practitioners are not a "financial company" to own any monument, religious or not!

Consider another situation:

'Roadside Romeo' whistles at a girl passing by. What different has he done as compared to Hussain who had invited others to view what he had painted?

How does one establish that our Romeo was whistling at the girl? He was just whistling and the girl happened to pass by. What about Romeo's right to creative expression? Just because the girl "feels" it was obscene does not make it obscene! But the fact is there are established conventions that are well known and people are expected to respect them. Otherwise, why should not standing up when National Anthem is being played considered punishable? What if a person does not feel respect for the nation? What if a person does not think that respect can be shown to the nation by standing during while the anthem is played? Or most imaginatively, what if the person feels that contrary to what others believe (the argument that can be used by Hussain and artists), standing while the national anthem plays only amounts to disrespect of the nation (for "whatever" reason, because by relegating certain human actions beyond the realm of reason and justification, viz., "arts", we surrender our right to question anything about them, and in fact, then anything could be included under the broad term of "art")?

But of course, one may argue that if one applies these standards then no one would be able to air a dissenting opinion.

But again here is where the intent part comes into picture. A "mad" person may be restrained. It amounts to restricting his freedom. However, we still do it in the larger interest of others around. Is the dissenting opinion benefiting the society in any way? Can art benefit the society at large in the same way, opinions or commentaries do? I will remind here, the reason I am bringing in society so frequently is because considering the case involved, we are talking of art in "public" and not in "private" domain.

Consider another situation:

"A" throws knife at "B". B dodges. A throws knife at "C". C dies. A's defense - "it (throwing knife) is my way of expressing my creativity; B could dodge; why did C not dodge?"

Whether this scenario would be taken to be murder and the severity of punishment would depend upon many factors like:
1. Whether A knew that being hit with a knife can lead to death (the reasoning by which drunken driving is punishable)
2. Whether A had intended that B or C die (motive behind the act).
3. Whether B or C actually die.
4. Whether whatever B or C suffer from were directly caused by the throwing of the knife (say, B dies because of malaria despite dodging the knife).

Remember, it is not a case that to punish, all the four are to be proved. Just that the severity of punishment would depend on how many points are proved and with what strength of conviction.

Hussain (hypothetical argument): "it (painting nude images that I label and admit in public to be Hindu Goddesses) is my way of expressing my creativity; B came to the gallery, viewed my pictures and did not feel (dodged) hurt; why did C not dodge the hurt?"

Here, again it could be argued that because the harm is through physical contact, causation and intent are easier to prove. So, is it a case that we do not entertain hurts where physical contact are not involved? What about a mother-in-law who "abets" suicide of her daughter-in-law by merely using some words (nagging) that the daughter in law could have overlooked? What about "practicing untouchability"? Is it not an oxymoron? How could one "practice" an act of omission? What about the fundamental right of any person to not touch another person or to perceive another person as dirty (religious "reason"; religion is beyond reason, just like art)?

And last in my series of arguments, there is one very useful concept that can be used in at least "amateur ethics", which may or may not be admissible in the court of law, but is otherwise very useful - "do not do to others, what you would not have done to yourself". This is the maxim that will keep me from filing a case against Hussain (provided I am interested and have the resources). :) But then, look at the maxim (if one agrees to it) in a slightly broader sense - did Hussain do to "Others'" religion's figures what he would not have done (or do) to his own religion? Apparently, yes.

So, taking into consideration the following criteria (because these are knowingly/unknowingly applied in dealing with all criminal/civil cases), Hussain's series (not just one, which rules out the possibility of making a mistake "unknowingly") of paintings could be judged:

1. Intent.
2. Knowledge of the consequence of his act.
3. Harm:benefit ratio.
4. Causation - as in his act causing the hurt or something else.
5. Magnitude of hurt (degree of hurt to a single individual; plus, the number of individuals thus hurt).

But despite so many arguments I have put forth, there would be different judges weighing the same issues differently, and judgments that come out would vary from complete acquittal to some punishment. The pertinent law is the section 295 A (click) of IPC:

"Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.-- Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of 6[ citizens of India], 7[ by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise] insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 8[ three years], or with fine, or with both.]"

I am not saying I am in complete agreement of the law, but the fact is, it exists. And if I am to go against an established law, I will take into consideration the risk-benefit ratio - what is gained in return of potentially insulting other people's religious sentiments? Is it improving their lives in any way - say, what Taslima Nasreen did, or Baba Amte did, or the way people who expose fraud sadhus do? Did it protect people from superstitions or gave them aesthetic pleasure?

If Hussain was interested in merely expression, as I stated in the preceding comment, then he could have done so by merely hanging the painting on his bedroom wall. The fact that he had to exhibit his paintings to the public implies that his purpose (whatever it was) depended upon the response elicited by his paintings. So, is only "positive" response that he obtained to be considered the purpose of his painting, and not the feeling of "hurt"?

If people are suggesting that existing laws need to be made more flexible, then I would agree. Maybe, the best thing that could be done is that the functioning of judiciary could be smoothened to a degree that having to defend oneself in the court would not remain a disincentive. This is the best way fairness could be maintained.

Fairness lies not in blanket acknowledgment of right to "act" nor of blanket right to "get affected" by the act, but is somewhere in between. This "in between" thing will vary depending upon the sensibilities of the judge sitting over a case (imagine the frequency with which higher courts overturn the judgments of a lower court), and it cannot be helped. But the moment we make any of the rights absolute, it would only make way for its abuse (as I illustrated through the above examples).

But I also understand Quirky Indian's strongest concern - that of acknowledgment of mob rule - just because a "certain proportion" of people feel something does it become legitimate? Of course, it does not, but as I pointed out the lack of a charitable intent and possibility of existence of malicious intent in doing something avoidable that did no particular good to anyone (possibly, excepting himself) do not lend themselves in favor of Hussain.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Why M.F. Hussain is not "so" blamefree

In response to Quirky Indian's blog post (click):

It was nice to revisit this blog post. :)

In nearly half a year, I have been able to think of more number of contentious issues. :)

I'll just enlist them (not that I totally go by them, especially being an atheist, but just wanted to point out that legally/ethically issues are or can be made complicated). ;)

1. How do we draw a line between incidental getting hurt by other people and an intent to hurt? Can someone be punished for holding malicious intent of hurting others physically/emotionally, and acting with that intent? IPC section 44 defines injury thus(click) - "...any harm whatever illegally caused to any person, in body, mind, reputation or property." Does depicting a goddess in nude, which is considered socially/legally unacceptable considering public nudity is punishable today, constitute the artist's saying - "He he, see the goddess you worship is nude. She is a..."? I understand the ambiguity that words like "illegal" in the above definition are attached with, but same is the case with phrasing like "outraging the modesty of a woman" (used in definition of sexual assault), which could include just cracking a "nonveg" joke in presence of a female colleague (not involving the female)! What determines "outraging" is the subjective feeling of the female concerned. I remember, one of the bloggers feeling outraged on a construction worker showing his penis in public. Was her outrage not merely "subjective"? What about the worker's "freedom of expression"? The blogger had the liberty of turn her eyes away, forget the incident and walk away!

In something as simple as a sexual intercourse, consent is never expressed through written contracts. If movies/advertisements are to be believed and common sense applied, a lady's seductive teasing (say, in a pub) may or may not be an invitation to have sex. Whether it is or not, can only be determined with some sort of overture. Here is the problem - can the male be blamed for wrong interpretation, and the consequent overture? Or do we realistically expect males to approach females to have sex only upon receiving a written application on stamp paper from the female? So, if the female "retrospectively" (something we had discussed in your past post) feels that she had not indeed sent any sexual signal, then the male is screwed! He had sexually assaulted her in merely "testing waters"! And of course, issues remain exactly the same even with gender "role-reversal"! Because though a male cannot be legally raped, he can be sexually assaulted. What I am bringing to your notice here, is that in most of the laws, subjectivity of one feeling "hurt" is somehow honored. Honestly, I had developed some sort of respect for Hussain's simplicity seeing his interview on Movers and Shakers, long back. But you could go through this blog post, and his duplicity is revolting: But I understand, my personal disgust does not count. What I want to point out is, considering these arguments, is it possible to file cases against M.F. Hussain? Yes, I believe so. And that is what has happened! Here, I am not saying how law should be, but just pointing out, how it is.

2. How do we punish freedom of speech that directs other grown up adults to kill someone of other religions by making them afraid of the that religion's attempts at domination? Just like how religious people have a right to not get offended, they also have right to think for themselves and a right to maintain peace! In light of this fact, one frightening other grown up persons thus should not be held guilty for anything, because he was just expressing himself, and if any violence ensues, it is only those who physically indulge in it should be punished.

3. The above two points, especially, the first one, were almost merely for argument-sake. But the current point is something I am very serious about. In my opinion, there must be some sort of legal liability for deliberately broadcasting factually wrong information or opinions based on wrong/incomplete facts. This would be best illustrated by Ashley Tellis' case. Because, he was posing as an "expert" on the issue, which can guide other peoples' choices considering they cannot gather sufficient information on a complex subject on their own. If I were to tomorrow write a book, selectively describing the health benefits of smoking, can I be held responsible for damage occurring to people on the basis of their believing me and taking up smoking, despite their right to not believe me? [I am giving example of smoking only because it is well known; you could substitute smoking with any other practice that people do not have sufficient knowledge about in terms of its effects on health].

For instance I found Green Peace's propaganda against Bt-brinjal scientifically totally misguiding, and thus also injurious to the interests of the company that had done the research. If I were to be more resourceful I would have definitely thought of filing a case against them. Should this "freedom of expression" which has power to influence others' choices involving areas of limited public knowledge be with legal liabilities? I believe it should be. But then the next question would be, do legal liabilities that get attached to any kind expression be termed as restriction of that freedom?

Anyway, coming back to Hussain, I'm not sure of how true this is, but I'd read somewhere that on being asked why he had never drawn Prophet Mohammed's pictures himself, Hussain had said something to effect that Islam is not that tolerant a religion! If this is true, then it means that he was at least aware that what he was doing could hurt Hindus, but that he expected them to exercise "tolerance" (tolerance is to be exercised only against something that's potentially hurtful). What does this say about his intent to hurt? Fortunately/unfortunately, in law intent is established not through objective information but circumstantial evidence (like past behavior). Another implication of which is that, thus to establish intent in vast majority of cases is upon the discretion of the judge. Hussain's duplicity and thus the intent to hurt are clearly visible if you take into consideration how he has depicted Hindu deities as against Muslim figures. If it was all about his "subjective" expression of feelings, then it should have been irrespective of how other people (irrespective of their religion) perceive his depictions. Why harbor one "set" of feelings towards Hindu deities, but entirely another "set" of feelings against figures respected in Islam? And am afraid but glad as well, such circumstantial evidence is more often than not employed to establish intent in many cases.

If someone were to point out the engravings on Khajuraho, etc., then it must be remembered that acts done in this century have to be judged on the basis of sensibilities of this century. Example of this would be - sati. It was possibly legal in olden days, but not now! Can we use it as an excuse that our "culture" (just like Khajuraho engravings) had found it legitimate? It is wrong because, in today's world we recognize the equal right of people to life irrespective of their gender and whether their spouse is alive or dead.

What Mutthalik did was wrong because they had taken law in their own hands! People filing cases against Hussain are doing nothing wrong. Let the courts decide whether Hussain ought to be punished or not. It needs to be understood that with celebrityhood comes added responsibility to be less hurting (because, what one expresses reached a wider audience). Also, what is the meaning of "expression"? Is expression to simply draw a painting for (self-pleasure as claimed by "artists") and place it in one's bedroom, or does it necessarily have to culminate in "exhibition"? There is a thin line that separates mere expression from communication, and that line is the effort one takes in making their expression reach others. If I write a blog entry and later delete it, I am still expressing myself. But if I write the entry and send you the link, then I am communicating. What does an artist do when he draws a painting and also sends out invitations where his paintings would be displayed?

Personally, I feel, if it were all merely about artistic expression, then Hussain could have just drawn the same nude ladies, and labeled them 'Rambha' or 'Urvashi' instead of "Saraswati" and "Durga", and hardly any of this ruckus would have got created, and he would still have had the "orgasmic release" of creative expression clearly evading the law! ;) See, how cleverly Rushdie did not name anyone as ******* in his story! ;)

Taslima Nasreen, in contrast, was basing her assertions on something more universal than a religion, i.e., human rights and ethics. I do not see Hindus getting largely offended when pointed out that dowry, female feticide and sati are wrong! So, these double standards set for different religions are to be set right, first. Nasreen chose to wrote the things she did in hope that it would do good to Muslim women, and the society as a whole and also the accepted premise females have same rights as males. So, using the prevalent legal standards, she was doing more "good" than "harm" (offending Muslims). What was the intent of Hussain in drawing the paintings and also displaying them in a exhibitions What "good" did doing so do as compared to the "harm" (offending Hindus)?

I feel religions are given way too much legitimacy over other affairs by the government and the judiciary despite touting India as a secular nation, but the tone was set right with establishment of religions and castes as bases for discriminatory "affirmative action" and other sops like Hajj subsidy. So, now the judiciary and government have not right to say, "hey, religion is a private matter; don't take it seriously". They themselves brought it into public domain by making all non-Muslims contribute to Hajj subsidy, and taking over the functioning of Temple trusts, or whatever other interference they have shown in matters of religion.

But despite my making these arguments, I know I am stating something wrong and contrary to what I want the "ideal" world (as I see it) to be. But I do not think people can be prevented from making complaints in the courts merely on legal/ethical grounds. What we can explain is that we need to be pragmatic, and not react on irrelevant things as far as our survival and personal happiness are concerned. But these things are easier for me to say, because I anyway find religions overrated. I do not know about others, but to me, a person with an intent to hurt others going scotfree is somehow unacceptable. It for me, would rather constitute abuse of freedom of speech, rather than its use.

And lastly, I am not sad at losing a "great" artist. All he was doing was making money, which he would do more avidly so, now that he is in Qatar! ;) His crocodile tears do not mean much to me. A person who is so "free" in his thinking would any way not be attached to frivolous things as invisible lines (international boundaries) drawn on land.