Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Myth of modern feminism

This is a scene from a very conservative family - less than 40 years ago. A young man walks into the house, with a smirk. His mother is at her usual place - near the entrance, on her “Diwan”, overseeing the running of the house.

The young man makes a comment about a girl from the colony. The mother looks at him sternly and gives him a piece of her mind for talking about a girl disrespectfully. “This is not what we have taught you. Daughters belong to everyone. You will never talk about a young girl like this again. You have sisters in the house. You dont want anyone to disrespect them.”

The young man makes his exit, duly chastised. He may still harbor his thoughts. But they will not translate into actions or words in a hurry again.

That won’t happen today. Not in a metro, educated household. In our bid to be progressive, we have undermined and systematically killed an entire social structure which existed to protect the rights of the girl. We believed that we were harbingers of a modern era.

Let me correct that perception a little bit. The first Western study around sexuality happened in the 20th century. In the Kamasutra, both men and women are classified - according to (take a guess) - NOT their experience, NOT how much sexual activity is expected from them, NOT their social or economic class. The classification exists for BOTH genders - men and women. And the basis of that classification is - the inherent libido of the person. That’s an important thing to note. Contrast that with our world, where we believe that all men are forever ready for intercourse and all women must act shy or women do not have a libido as high as men. Vatsayayan would tell you thats bumkum. Many thousand years ago. The needs of the woman were studied and documented as diligently as the needs of the man. And in the gunas that we match during the wedding, one of them is the libido of the bride and the groom. We know about sexual compatibility and its importance in a marriage. We just don’t know that we know.

But let’s not go back that many years. Is 40 years close enough to your reality? The same boys who today have the courage to pass comments, would have been chastised by their parents, the neighbors, the onlooker, anyone at all. Because of the firm belief that daughters belong to all. It was a collective social pressure - that worked to ensure that no one can speak ill of a girl in front of the elders. “Ghar mein maa behan nahi hai kya?” Was a common response to eve teasing. You do not want anyone to speak disrespectfully about your family, don’t do that to another person’s family. Does putting it in English make it easy to understand ?

OR, go back a couple of generations. Who does not know the shameless, nose poking grandmothers who speak about sexual positions, frequency et al, among themselves and with new brides and young girls, with a nonchalant comfort that would put Cosmopolitan to shame? THAT is the culture we left behind. Where sex was openly discussed, young men and women were duly chastised, but the needs of everyone were considered. When a young girl came of age, no one pretended that her sexual needs did not exist.

Was everything great in that system? Of course not! But instead of borrowing what was good and leaving behind what needed correction ( aka assimilation), we did alienation. We created a parallel Victorian culture. We denounced everything Desi and wanted the hinterlands to abandon their entire value system to adopt ours.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we have failed. That, is why movies like Pink don’t talk to the hinterland.

Maybe its time for us to take responsibility and change the dialog. Perhaps its time for us to consider the fact that the first Indian female NASA astronaut came from a village in Haraya that is ruled by the Khaps. In my view, those social systems have strengths that need to be acknowledged and used. When we work with communities, we work with their existing frameworks to bring change. Maybe its time for us to understand, adapt and assimilate, and not uniformly condemn.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A new petition

The word "Liberal" has just initiated a petition against its misuse to denote people who should actually be classified under "Stupid and anti national".

The word further goes on to state that just because another word does not exist to mean this adjective combination, the world has no right to sully its good name. Currently, suggestions are being invited for a term to describe this group.

What's your suggestion?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Ananya Vajpeyi's slander piece in World Policy Journal, and why it made me angry

When an international "policy journal" run by Duke University Press, focusing on "thought leadership and new ideas" publishes a piece full of pure slander, I invest 30 minutes in writing out a rebuttal on why this is all wrong.

Here is the article:

And here is my response to the editors. More than the author, I am angry with the editorial board that claims to run a prestigious  publication and allows such trash to be published: (My writeup refers to the article in a lot of places, but I have reproduced content here, so if you want, you can go back and read there, or read here. Both are fine) :

If this is a scholarly publication, or claims to be, the least it can do is verify the veracity of its publications. This is an  article that does not deserve to be in a tabloid, much less in a "scholarly" publication. "About us" of your publications mentions " Fresh Ideas" - I am guessing that fact does not have to be absolutely discounted in presenting these fresh ideas.

If you are a publication in the pursuit of propaganda, please let me know and I will correct my feedback immediately. But it appears to me that that is not the case.

I cannot even start to point out the sheer factual inaccuracies in this article. The very first paragraph had me laughing. So I will share my first chuckle with you:

"For at least the past two and half millennia, Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists have considered the sign auspicious. But in the 1920s, the National Socialist Party in Germany adopted it, rotating it to give it a diagonal orientation. Ever since, outside of Asian ritual settings, the association with Nazis has stigmatized the symbol."
- Outside Asian ritual settings? Are you insane? A symbol that is auspicious and good for 2500 years will be sullied for all 7 bn people of the world because one party in one country adopted it ? And you decide what the perception of the population is? I am sorry.. where did you get that information? I don't recall. I don't think it was quoted in the article. How the Swastika is viewed in the Western world does not determine how, and in what context, it is viewed in the Eastern, Southern and Northern world. (and you cannot presume the West's perception either. Unless you run a poll and ask people what they associate the symbol with. That's data. And you don't have it)

"And so, until recently, Sanskrit had settled into a kind of quiescence (seemingly even an obsolescence)".
- As FIJ goes, presumed non action by the state, that too on one data point, goes into the realm of judgement (that means: An opinion expressed completely unsubstantiated by data). I will readily provide data that indicates the no. of students that actively learnt Sanskrit - both as part of the mandatory (state driven) school curriculum and voluntarily, but that would be doing the homework of the editorial team for you. And I am not getting paid for that. You are. So tell me, what was the verification you did before allowing an article to use a word like "Obsolescence?"

"Only in the past two to three years, with the rise of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has Sanskrit re-entered the public imagination as part of the “culture wars” between the Hindu right and secular left."
- Please substantiate this statement. How have you decided that there is a cultural war in place here? Allow me to explain. The left, by its own admission, has no subscription to any culture. Therefore, its war can be ideological. Not cultural. IF such a "war" exists (and your editorial team should have a way to explain this war, because even in the capital of the country, I don't see it), you have to also specify how Sanskrit was "a part of" - was it a weapon? Was it an ideological debate? Is an ideological debate of the inclusion or lack thereof, of a language, by itself a bad thing? Is debate a negative word in the definition of the author and the editorial board?

"The ruling party is now fighting to legitimate the two cornerstones of its interpretation of Hindu culture: caste and Sanskrit. These ideas constitute an assault on the more egalitarian, pluralist, participatory, and progressive visions of political modernity that have prevailed since India’s founding. "
- Really? If this is not slander, I would like to know what is. If I was a part of the government, I would send you a legal notice for slander. Please do not make accusations that you cannot substantiate. And you cannot. I live in India, and am a fairly aware citizen. This is not in the grey area of opinion. This is in that black hole of pure slander. Once again, if I was paid to be on the editorial team, I would provide you with evidence of legislative measures that have been taken to work against the caste divide (which, by the way, has a history of its own - that I am not paid to educate you on. So I won't). So if that lawsuit of slander comes up, you are likely to lose it. Because you did not do your homework.

"The ghosts of the caste system and of Sanskrit have now returned to haunt the Indian polity.  "
- And just like that, in one sentence, she equates the caste system with Sanskrit. And your editors were doing ...what?

"The point is to prove that Hinduism pre-dates not only all of the Semitic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) but also all other Indic religions (Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism). "
- Please check your history on this sentence. It is too ridiculous for me to even make a comment. Read a few books on ancient Indian history. Check a few manuscripts with our excellent museums. Or ask your authors to do that and send evidence to you. It is one thing to interpret history in one way and arrive at a different conclusion based on the same facts. Quite another to discount facts entirely and arrive at a guess of what the government or some imagined "enemy" is trying to do.

Pushing back against this insistence on the centrality of Sanskrit are Indian secularists (for whom the language’s overwhelmingly Hindu baggage weighs it down), liberals (who are uncomfortable with its non-modern provenance), leftists (who object to the ideologies of social inequality embedded in Sanskrit texts), feminists (who deem it a repository of patriarchal values), and Dalits (formerly known as Untouchables, who see Sanskrit as inseparable from the caste system, the language of Brahmin domination over the rest of Hindu society).
- Source of this data please. These are opinions expressed on behalf of a group of people. I am not sure if this kind of unsolicited representation of the opinion of vast groups of people is allowed. I would not do it. In at least 3 cases, the author is equating content of texts with the language - I am not sure if I can hold English responsible for the actions of the British Empire. Are you? Is English responsible for the content available in that language? Is English responsible for what was written in it 2500 years ago? I don't think so. Neither is Sanskrit.  The language is not the content. Basic logical fallacy.

Even many of those who know and appreciate the Sanskrit corpus for the wealth of its knowledge systems, the aesthetics of its literary genres, the beauty of its poetry, the brilliance of its thought, the regularity of its grammar, and the profundity of its insights have a hard time defending it against the charges leveled by its many detractors.
- Who wants to defend? And why?

"Since Modi came to power, the BJP government has made Sanskrit a key component of its goal to recast the secular Republic of India as the “Hindu Rashtra”—"
- to this I have the greatest objection. Please produce the government document that even mentions the idea of a Hindu Rashtra. This is slander against the government of India.

Guru Utsav”—literally “Festival of the Guru" ” a name with strong Hindu connotations.
- So what exactly is the word "Guru" doing in the Oxford English Dictionary? Did we Hindu-ise the Oxford Dictionary in the last 3 years? I don't think so.. the word was an English word long before then. The word has Indian origins and we cannot deny the word its origin. Nor can we fault the word for where it came from. Can we say that calling it Teacher's Day smacks of an effort to make India a British colony?

"By encouraging Sanskrit studies at the IITs, Modi’s party wants to drive home the “modern,” “rational,” and “scientific” capacities of Sanskrit, thereby dislodging it from its received status as an artifact of the ancient world, and instead project it as the most appropriate and empowering idiom for 21st century India. "
- Once again, dear Editorial Team, do some homework. "received status" - received from whom? The author? How can a language have a received status? What is the received status of Tamil? Hebrew? English?

"Today Sanskrit has come out of the ivory tower and descended onto the cultural battlefield. It’s time that scholars and academics did the same."
- Thank you, dear author and the editorial team, for the unnecessary invitation. There was no ivory tower for Sanskrit except in your own head. There is no cultural battlefield except in your article. And if I asked you to even define both these terms and the context in which they have been used in this article, my guess is that words and data would both fail you. 

Therefore, dear editors - please correct my understanding. Are you a scholarly journal, or are you a political agenda tabloid? Because as the Indian book on public administration says - politics is not the same as policy. But this article - falls neither under good politics, nor input to policy. This is propaganda. And I have invested 30 precious minutes to give you this feedback, assuming that you are a publication that cares about feedback. If this helps you improve your editorial practices and get back to authors with improved guidelines, it will help everyone - most of all, the readers who might come to this journal looking for thought leadership, not slander.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Sanskrit Gamification

Today, I learnt a new way to teach my son Sanskrit. Its a new game.

He first asked, why is Sanskrit so important?

Mater: Think of a noun. Any noun. What are all the ways in which you can use it? The first dimension is obviously, how many - the number - is it 1, or two, or many?

That's one dimension..

Then, the second dimension.. where all can you use this noun?

For example, you can say, The Boy DID this - where he is the Doer.. then, he did this to his sister - so here, there are 2 uses. Then, he did this for, through.. and so on.. these, in English, are called parts of speech. 

So, that's the second dimension...

Understanding Sanskrit Vibhakti in Shabd Roop
And now, we keep these 8*3 blocks in a toy box with 3 boxes - Male, Female and Neutral.

How does Shabd Roop fit into the overall language structure
So we have a toy box which has 3 boxes. Each Box has many, many nouns, but each of them follows a similar 8*3 block, so it looks like this: