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.