We- the Worst Generation of Parents

In our quest to raise the happiest, healthiest, smartest, most successful kids we may be trying a little bit too hard. Whatever happened to good enough?

An acquaintance had her two-year-old in a daycare-preschool whose website promises a “premium” and “enriched” experience that may include French, gardening and science. The daycare records goings-on all day via webcam, and at night, my acquaintance and her husband would pore over the video for hours. She did not like what she saw. A certain craft looked too mechanical: The kids were lined up, wrists held, hands dunked in paint and then pressed onto a piece of paper to be later embellished into the shape of a dinosaur. Bam went the hands. Next kid. Bam. An assembly line. There wasn’t anything wrong, per se, it was just…not special. The parents pulled their kid out of the daycare.

The day a friend and I e-gossiped over this story (vacillating between, “What control freaks!” and “Is my own kid’s daycare sufficiently enriching?”), I was waiting out the final practice of my 10-year-old grandson’s soccer season. The practice was on a school night in late September, long after the season should have ended, and everyone seemed tired—well, the parents did, anyway. In the dark, the girls sat on the field in a circle, eating cupcakes brought by some parent who wasn’t me. Hovering around the edges were the parents, as ever. A dad asked me if my child would continue to play indoor soccer through the winter. I told him no, he plays hockey during the school year, and we try to keep it to one activity per season. He looked alarmed. “But aren’t you worried that he’ll fall behind?”

Ah. I recognized this question: It was probably the exact one that caused the dinosaur parents to flee that daycare, and I, too, have felt the familiar panic and inadequacy that is the gurgling toxic river beneath the soil of so many conversations between parents. “Fall behind what?” I wanted to scream. “What’s the endgame here, people?”

Every generation of parents tries to do it better. Perhaps the present-day intensity around parenting is a late–Gen X, early-millennial response to the latchkey years of the ’70s and ’80s, those Ice Storm childhoods of unsupervised afternoons watching sitcoms and running around in alleys. But that sincere urge to curate better childhoods than our own has bumped up against uncertain economic times to create a perfect storm of high-anxiety, slightly insane parenting. Is it possible that we’re actually doing it worse?

Crafting the perfect childhood:

How to raise (perhaps “engineer” is the real word) them for that elusive perfect endgame. I’ve withstood the tut-tutting edicts about co-sleeping and breastfeeding; the schoolyard whispers concerning how to get the “best” kindergarten teacher; the pressure to recreate the Pinterest-sanctioned bento box school lunch with sandwiches in the shape of Angry Birds. Now adolescence awaits, with a $100-billion global tutoring industry and online services that coach kids through the university application process.

The driver, over and over, is fear. We fear that those hours of Bubble Guppies have forever stunted their potential. We fear they’ll have to trade happiness for success and maybe find neither. We fear they’re failing, and we’re failing them. We fear for our children’s bodily safety, and so we chauffeur them from playdate to sporting event and back again. Hopped up on a newsfeed of Amber Alerts and lurking sexual offenders, we never let them out of our sight.

The reality is crime rates are the lowest they’ve been in 40 years, and kids have never been safer. So then let’s turn our fear to their adult futures in a fragile global economy: We fear they will “fall behind.” And so we cultivate these perfect bento box childhoods, fumbling for the best for our kids, overthinking and over-researching because the Internet lets us. There’s no parenting decision that can’t be examined and judged on social media. Of course, only the luckiest, most affluent get to debate whether a juice cleanse for a six-year-old is a good idea (it’s a thing, really). As with the non-question of working versus staying at home, financial realities often dictate domestic choices, and most parents are operating on instinct, just getting by, bento boxes be damned.

But when we do navigate modern parenting mores, the take-away is clear: Good enough is never good enough. Success for our kids seems to be measured in degrees of uncommon achievement that will set them apart. They can’t just play soccer—it has to be select soccer; not just preschool, but “early education.” Even the dinosaur print of a two-year-old must be exceptional. We don’t just fear they’ll fail; we fear they will be ordinary. And that pulsing fear seems to be wreaking serious damage on our kids.

The downside to being your child’s concierge:

Toronto-based psychologist Alex Russell has identified an anxiety epidemic among young people. Statistics Canada backs him up: In a 2012 survey of Canadian mental health, more youth (ages 15 to 24) met the criteria for mood and substance-use disorders than any other age group. Ninety percent of Canadians ages 18 to 24 say they are excessively stressed, according to a 2012 Sun Life Financial Canada survey.

Many stressed kids end up at the office door of Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising at Stanford University. Over the past decade, she noticed a new nervous tenor among students.

“They seemed existentially impotent,” she says. “They were accomplished academically and had done a flurry of impressive activities, but they seemed to be reliant upon a parent to tell them what to do, how to do it, how to feel about things.” Alarmed, she wrote a book called How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, a plaintive plea to well-intentioned parents who become the “concierge” for their kids at a young age, solving all their problems, over-directing their academics and activities, tending them like bonsai trees. These kids emerge less curious and more closed-minded—not the happy kids their parents are trying to mould. A 2011 study by sociologists at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga discovered a correlation between helicopter parenting and students who take medication for depression and anxiety.

Of course, those young adults are the offspring of late-generation boomers, kids who had their self-esteem fluffed like throw pillows and got trophies just for showing up. Our kids will be totally different than those special snowflakes, right? Right?

Our kids may, in fact, be the most special-est snowflakes of all—or at least the most broadcast. Never has it been easier to trumpet our children’s successes or couch them in humblebrags: “I worry sometimes that Ethan’s reading is just too advanced!” Daily Facebook posts run from the benign hockey victory photo to the more skin-crawling trend of showing report cards and college acceptance letters. (A kid who struggles academically or misses the winning goal probably doesn’t get the same play on social media.) How many adults do you know whose profile picture is of their kid? This very public enmeshment of parent and child is perhaps the most dramatic shift in how children are raised. Generations ago, experts advised parents to let babies “cry it out” as both insurance against spoiling them and—uh-oh—good exercise. This advice is brutal, but it speaks to a separation between parent and child that’s unimaginable today.

The scramble for closeness is well-intentioned; parent-child intimacy intuitively feels better than the cool, hierarchical distance of preceding generations. But Lythcott-Haims warns against the use of the word “we”: We did not win the spelling bee or get into Harvard. Our children are not our reflections, and their lives are their own, not a do-over for us. Inserting yourself into your kid’s accomplishments blocks her self-efficacy—a belief in one’s own personal abilities.

Our narcissism can quickly become theirs. A recent Ohio State study showed that kids who were constantly told they were “more special than other children” grew up to display more narcissistic traits as adults than kids who weren’t raised to the steady beat of applause. With a demographic shift toward smaller families and a birth rate hovering around 1.67 children per woman, Canada will soon have more only children than ever before. That’s not necessarily a recipe for an army of egotistical little emperors, but there’s no doubt that this cohort of solo kids truly will be at the centre of family life.

And as one or two child-free friends are happy to point out, kids today can be overindulged brats. Parents may not disagree: In an American poll by Parenting and Today, 59 percent of parents surveyed said their children are more spoiled than they were. Many of us know the mortification of a Christmas morning gift gorge, when the kid pops up from the neck-high pile of brand new Lego, thumbs clicking an iPod Touch, and asks: “Is that it?” Grandma’s eyebrow raise usually underscores the obscenity.

In the era of cheap, disposable goods, a baby’s dresser overflowing with fast-fashion onesies and a family room with multiple gaming consoles aren’t as rare as they once were. Yet this stuff isn’t earned, for the most part. It’s bestowed. One 2014 survey showed that while 82 percent of adults reported doing regular chores when they were kids, only 28 percent require the same of their own children. The qualities chores impart—responsibility and self-reliance—are the ones sorely lacking in those stressed-out Stanford frosh. But parents will often do the dishwashing and dog walking because Junior has robot class or some other CV-stuffing activity.

Why it’s hard to step back:

We know this is crazy. The phrase “helicopter parent” first appeared in 1969, and for the past decade, the majority of parenting experts have urged a loving but chill, non-interventionist model. A slew of books published in the last few years bear titles that say it all: You Are Not Special; The Gift of Failure; All Joy and No Fun; The Collapse of Parenting. And yet…visit a playground, and listen to the steady hum of “Good job!” as parents hover over their toddlers, narrating their play. Alex Russell, in his book Drop the Worry Ball: How to Parent in the Age of Entitlement, writes that this constant mediation starts young and continues right to the eve of university, after parents have completed their kids’ applications and packed their suitcases. In his Toronto practice, he sees common responses to overparenting once the teen years hit: kids who are anxious, gold-star-oriented and fragile; and kids who are anxious, checked out and smoking pot in the basement while playing Call of Duty.

“We are underestimating children’s competencies,” says Russell, who says he’s heard of an elementary school class that banned birthday parties when not every child was invited. “The idea that a 10-year-old can’t handle not being invited to a birthday party is disrespectful to 10-year-olds. Conversely, when we do allow the kids to fail and struggle, and don’t step in to manage, oversee, guide and correct, we’re respecting our kids.”

This sounds perfectly simple, but so often, if parents do dare to step back and grant growing children some autonomy, society steps in to tell them never to retreat.

A single mom in BC had arranged for her eight-year-old to come home from school and stay alone for two hours until she could get home from work. A social worker deemed this unacceptable; the mother disagreed, saying she was confident of her child’s maturity. Her case went to the Supreme Court of BC, and in September, the mother lost. The social worker stated an eight-year-old did not have the “cognitive ability” to be left alone, for fear of accidents including “fires” and “poisoning.” Fires and poisoning are not unimaginable outcomes for a two-year-old on his own, but it’s the rare eight-year-old who can’t tell the difference between bleach and Snapple.

This is what Lenore Skenazy, head of a mini-movement advocating “free-range kids,” calls “worst-first thinking,” a mode that encourages parents to base all decisions on the worst-case scenario. Free-range parenting points the other way, toward optimism. It advocates for unstructured play and letting kids walk alone, giving them the intellectual and physical space to develop into the kind of independent young adults we all hope our kids will grow up to be.

A change may be coming. Perhaps the millennials, the eldest of whom are now having kids, will do this parenting thing better. When asked to rank, in order of importance, answers to the question, “I want my kid(s) to,” 82 percent of millennial parents said they want their child to know that “they don’t need possessions to make them happy, 77 percent want their child to graduate college, and 56 percent want their child to excel at sports.” Happiness above achievement—an interesting idea.

If our own parents tilted too much toward neglect, they gave us space, and the bruises and social gaffes of our off-line childhoods made us who we are. And we aren’t the worst generation of parents ever, just the most anxious. It takes courage to still the currents of fear and just let our children be. But to be better parents, we may have to do less.

7 Changes You Can Make to be a Good Enough Parent Now:

1. Stop narrating play.

Narrating your toddler’s every playground move like he’s in a wildlife documentary is a North American phenomenon, according Bringing Up Bébé author Pamela Druckerman, who parented in France. Don’t get between your kids and their experience of the world.

2. Drop the “we.”

It’s actually their peewee cup game, not yours. Check your ego, and let them own their success—and failure, says Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult.

3. Give them chores…

Even a two-year-old can put his cup in the dishwasher, and a 10-year-old can cook dinner. Chores breed self-mastery and responsibility.

4. …And don’t pay them.

Tying chores to compensation is a mistake, writes Ron Lieber in The Opposite of Spoiled. “They ought to do them for the same reason we do—because the chores need to be done.”

5. Don’t do their homework.

“It’s a short-term gain that sends the message: ‘Hey, you’re not capable of doing this,’” says Lythcott-Haims.

6. Let kids figure things out.

When school-aged kids gorge on Halloween candy, for instance, they learn too many sweets will make them feel ill faster than if you play gatekeeper. Such “non-catastrophic failures” are key to developing resilient adults, says Alex Russell, author of Drop the Worry Ball.

7. Have your own life.

Little eyes see you move through the day, anxious and nagging, shuttling kids between activities. Living a well-rounded life that doesn’t always have kids at the centre damps their narcissism and models a healthy adulthood.

Saturday Special: God is dead, RIP

The Semitic religions – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – flounder when confronted on the question of creation. “Your God is too small for my universe,” Carl Sagan once reacted to a Christian theologian. According to the scientist and thinker Lawrence Krauss, within a tiny circle between your thumb and forefinger against a dark sky, and with a powerful telescope, you could see at least 1,00,000 galaxies, each containing more than 400 billion stars. You may also witness at least three supernovae in a given night. Over the course of the history of the Milky Way, our galaxy, about 200 million stars have exploded, says Krauss. Our sun will explode within six billion years and of course the earth will disappear along with the sun and it is doubtful whether the homo sapiens, his culture, religion and God would survive till that day to see the disappearance of the sun.
“What is God” – many ask this question every now and then. Is He a person? Is He the Creator of the universe and the homo sapiens? Is He a separate entity? If God is separate from the universe, how did the universe originate and we humans come into existence? For the Kaivalya Upanishad, “From me all emerge, in me all exist, and to me all return.” Even though the Semitic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam have borrowed this concept, they tenaciously uphold the doctrine of creation. Contrary to this, Jesus says: “I am the vine, and you are the branches,” but the Church says, “God created the world,” disproving Jesus that the vine and its branches are two different entities; also rejecting the Upanishadic proposition that the universe is not distinct from God. The creationists hold that God created the universe; God and the universe are two separate realities, and the universe is enveloped within time and space. But if God could create, He might have acted in a specific time.
How do we relate the story of Adam and Eve and the birth and death of Jesus in the context of the Big Bang as proposed by Catholic priest Georges Lemaitre, which was named as “Creation” by Pope Pius XII? If the stories of creation, Adam and Eve, have no factual foundation, how should a Christian internalize the theology of God becoming man in order to save humanity from the punishment given by God for the sin of eating a fruit? For a silly act of disobedience, God punished Adam and Eve and expelled them from the garden of Eden and God decided to become man and died on a cross to save humanity from that Original Sin. But it sounds incredible. We know for certain that the story of creation in the Book of Genesis was a myth and the promise of a saviour based on that myth too was a myth.
In the 1st century, in Syria, a man of Jewish origin, called Paul of Tarsus, later on known as St Paul, a Roman citizen who had never seen Jesus, wove a theology in the name of Jesus and handed over it to a small group of followers. Paul converted Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ. Gradually, his doctrines became the backbone of Christianity. Jesus is the centre of Christianity, even though there is no historical evidence about his life. Romans, the rulers of Palestine, who were meticulous in recording historical facts, never wrote even a single word on Jesus. All the gospels were written more than 100 years after the death of Jesus and many of the events in the gospels contradict themselves. Many priests, bishops and popes lived a life, which was in fact contrary to the teachings of Jesus found in the gospels. Besides, there was an inherent atheism in Christian theology preached by many reformers and some priests and bishops themselves were atheists or had no faith in Jesus.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, Christianity has failed miserably to answer many questions raised on God, creation, the Original Sin, the saving mission of Jesus, etc., by scientists and thinkers like Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss, Yuval Noah Harari, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and others. The theory of creation remained the main stumbling block, which made no sense. As a consequence, Christianity is vanishing from many European countries and a good number of churches, cathedrals, convents, seminaries, monasteries and other religious institutions have been closed down or converted into shopping malls and business complexes. As a result of the onslaught of physics on religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam have fallen flat and they miserably failed to provide cogent answers to questions raised by scientists.
As their God is dying or dead, Judaism, Christianity and Islam may disappear within two to three hundred years, predict many social scientists. But religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, which have no dichotomy in their theology on God and the universe, will continue to exist till the appearance of the digital man, because they are closer to modern physics. As the Svetasvatara Upanishad says: “Thou are the Primal Being, Thou appearest as this Universe”.

Churchill a Bigot, But Not Responsible for 3m deaths

Shashi Tharoor has slammed the Oscar given to Gary Oldman for portraying Winston Churchill in ‘The Darkest Hour’. Tharoor quite rightly castigates Churchill for favouring the “terror bombing” of Dresden, plus poison gas and “killing without quarter” of coloured races. Churchill was a racist bigot, calling Indians “beastly people with a beastly religion”.
Tharoor’s biggest criticism is of Churchill’s “colonial holocaust,” diverting food from drought-stricken Bengal in 1943 to feed Allied armies, thus causing 3 million deaths. I have not read Madhusree Mukerjee’s book, ‘Churchill’s Secret War’, which Tharoor cites. But almost all Indians blame Churchill for the Bengal famine.
As an incorrigible contrarian, let me offer a different angle.
Today, we believe in taxing the rich to alleviate poverty and hunger. But through history, kings and nobles paid no tax, and instead heavily taxed the poor peasantry to support their expensive wars and lifestyles. High taxes, often paid in grain, kept peasants dirt poor. They survived in normal monsoons, but died like flies in droughts. Up to 10% died in the worst Indian droughts, holocausts representing routine feudal oppression.
Historically, no ruler anywhere diverted food from armies fighting life-or-death battles to starving peasants. Quite the contrary.
A famous example came in Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. Russian generals avoided decisive battles and kept retreating, even abandoning Moscow. Using scorched earth tactics typical of the age, Russian troops burned all food and fodder in the countryside as they retreated, starving the peasants. This tactic deprived Napoleon’s troops and horses of all local food and fodder. Hunger became a French military problem, sparking occasional mutinies. Ultimately, lack of food forced Napoleon to retreat, harried by Cossacks as he fled.
Russians view this as a great, heroic victory. No tears are shed for the peasants that starved. Nobody knows how many starved: they counted for so little that they were not even counted.
Most readers probably think that, if India had been independent rather than a colony when attacked by Japan in 1942-43, the management of the Bengal famine would have been dramatically different. I am not sure at all, having seen the Chinese film, ‘Back to 1942’.
In 1942, China was independent, not a colony. It was under invasion by Japan, something that soon happened to India. China had a terrible famine in Henan province in 1942 in which 3 million died, as many as in Bengal the next year. Chinese generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek got military supplies and support from the US and Britain for defence against Japan, just as colonial India did soon after.
You might think that Chiang in the 1942 famine behaved very differently from Churchill in Bengal in 1943. But the film grimly depicts the stark, horrifying choices involved. It starts with a local Henan official welcoming provincial governor Li, and pleading for food for his starving county. Li replies sorrowfully that his orders are not to offer relief, but seize 750,000 tonnes of Henan’s grain for the army.
Next, the film shows Time magazine reporter Ted White asking a Chinese minister to combat the famine. He replies that China can eat enough only by first evicting the Japanese.
Next, Governor Li meets Commander Jiang, heading Chinese troops in Henan. Li says drought-stricken Henan cannot give 750,000 tonnes of grain to the army, so please cancel the order. Jiang replies “I agree. On two conditions. First, get the Japanese to leave. Second, get Chiang Kai-shek to order my troops out of Henan.” A stunned Li protests that millions in Henan are starving. The general replies that millions of his troops are also moving to the Henan front. “A dead refugee won’t lose the war for us. A starving soldier is another matter.”
After reporter White highlights Henan’s horrors in Time magazine, Chiang sends some relief grain for starving refugees. But it makes only a marginal difference to mass starvation. To keep up Chinese morale, Chiang’s aides give the official death count in Henan at just 1,062. It’s actually 3 million. Would an independent India, under Japanese attack, have handled the Bengal famine better than Chiang handled the Henan famine? Hindu nationalists, certain of Hindu superiority, would say yes. I have my doubts. I suspect Indian handling would have been little better than China’s, so millions would have died regardless. Churchill can be blamed for increasing the death toll, but not for the entire 3 million deaths.
Gary Oldman deserves his Oscar for fine acting, regardless of one’s opinion of Churchill. ‘Back to 1942’ also deserved an Oscar, but did not get one.

The Latent Debilitating Epidemic Spreading in Youth – Perfectionism

In our roles as academics, young people knock on our doors almost every day. They are typically ambitious, bright and hard-working. They have a broad network of friends, and most come from supportive families. Yet no matter how well-adjusted they can appear, we are finding that our students are increasingly likely to seek our support for mental health issues, as well as academic ones.
We are not alone in observing this trend. Student mental illness on UK campuses is at record highs. And right across the globe, young people are reporting to clinicians at unprecedented levels with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
One possible reason for this is that across the US, Canada and the UK, today’s young people are the first generation to grow up in a society based on the principles of neoliberalism championed by the leaders of the late 20th century – Ronald Reagan, Brian Mulroney and Margaret Thatcher respectively. Over the last 50 years, communal interest and civic responsibility have been progressively eroded, replaced by a focus on self-interest and competition in a supposedly free and open market place.
In this new market-based society, young people are evaluated in a host of new ways. Social media, school and university testing and job performance assessments mean young people can be sifted, sorted and ranked by peers, teachers and employers. If young people rank poorly, the logic of our market-based society dictates that they are less deserving – that their inferiority reflects some personal weakness or flaw.
There is, then, enormous pressure on young people to demonstrate their value and outperform their peers. And there is evidence that they are struggling to cope. In particular, emerging epidemics of serious mental illnesses speak to the negative effects of this market-based society, and a culture which is fundamentally changing the way young people think about themselves and others.
The rise of perfectionism
Leading psychologists, Paul Hewitt and Gordon Flett have suggested that one of the ways in which younger people are acting differently to their older peers is by showing a greater tendency toward perfectionism.
Broadly speaking, perfectionism is an irrational desire for flawlessness, combined with harsh self-criticism. But on a deeper level, what sets a perfectionist apart from someone who is simply diligent or hard-working is a single-minded need to correct their own imperfections.
Perfectionists need to be told that they have achieved the best possible outcomes, whether that’s through scores and metrics, or other peoples’ approval. When this need is not met, they experience psychological turmoil, because they equate mistakes and failure to inner weakness and unworthiness.
We recently published a study in the Psychological Bulletin, which shows that levels of perfectionism have risen significantly among young people since 1989. We think that this may, at least in part, be a symptom of the way that young people are attempting to feel safe, connect with others and find self-worth within market-based, neoliberal societies.
Irrational ideals of the perfect self have become desirable – even necessary – in a world where performance, status and image define a person’s usefulness and value. You don’t need to look far to find examples; corporations and their marketers offer all manner of cosmetic and material solutions for the flawed consumer. Meanwhile, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat provide platforms to exchange curations of the perfect version of oneself and lifestyle with others.
This is a culture which preys on insecurities and amplifies imperfection, impelling young people to focus on their personal deficiencies. As a result, some young people brood chronically about how they should behave, how they should look, or what they should own. Essentially, agitating to perfect themselves and their lives.
It’s no wonder that there’s substantial evidence indicating that perfectionism is associated with (among other things) depression, anorexia nervosa, suicide ideation and early death.
We feel a deep sense of sympathy with our students’ struggles. For the first time on record, young people are expected to be materially less well-off in adulthood than their parents. And it’s not just their material well-being that’s at stake – their mental and physical well-being is threatened by this hidden epidemic of perfectionism.
It’s time for organisations such as schools and universities, as well as the politicians and civil servants who help to shape the way these organisations operate, to take steps to safeguard the welfare of young people. They must resist marketised forms of competition, at the expense of young people’s mental health. They should teach the importance of compassion over competition. If they do not, the rise of perfectionism – and its association with serious mental illness – is likely to continue unabated.

Weekend Special: Danger Cyber Security Analysed

When President Barack Obama made his first State of Union address, there were a series of key challenges for cyber security policy. There was increasing problems of state-linked intellectual property (IP) theft that, in the wake of such incidents like the hacking of the F-35 fighter jet program, were becoming both an economic and national security issue, clouding Sino-American relations. There were growing worries about such ills as transnational criminal networks harming trust in the growing e-commerce marketplace, as well as botnets threatening to clog the “pipes” of cyberspace. Cyber warfare was starting to emerge as a real realm of conflict, with demands for the U.S. military to figure out how it was going to train, recruit, budget and organize for digital operations. And, there were concerns about privacy and state surveillance, but in those halcyon pre-Snowden disclosure days, they were framed mostly around such issues as China’s hacking of Google networks.
These concerns would then animate a series of cyber security programs and activities over the next years of the Obama administration, with mixed success. They ranged from the launch of bilateral talks with China that would culminate in a new agreement on IP theft, to the launch of new efforts to set cyber security standards for both American business and global politics, to new revelations and battlelines of privacy and surveillance, to the creation of an entire new military organization for fighting in cyberspace, U.S. Cyber Command.
Obviously, we are in a fundamentally different world today as President Donald Trump prepares to deliver his first State of the Union address. And, in the field of cyber security, we are also in a fundamentally different place. While none of the tough issues described above have gone away, they have been downgraded in importance by a series of even more thorny problems. For the Trump administration, and the broader national security community, these issues go well beyond mere staffing gaps (although these certainly are considerable, with over a third of key cyber security positions still left unfilled) or concerns with the execution of policy. Rather, from the collapse of cyber deterrence to rise of new types of attacks and vulnerabilities, there are seven fundamental new changes to the cyber security landscape. If the United States is to have any effective cyber security strategy, this new threat environment demands to be understood and faced.
The Collapse of Cyber-Deterrence
Building cyber-deterrence through a mix of both national capabilities and global norms that guide behavior has been a cornerstone of U.S. cyber security since the very realm first emerged. Today, it is not just challenged, but in utter collapse. For multiple years, Russia conducted a successful series of attacks on the American political system, as well our allies, with no real consequence. This campaign hit political targets of both parties, like the Democratic National Committee, and also the Republican National Committee, as well as prominent Democrat and Republican leaders, civil society groups like various American universities and academic research programs. These attacks started years back, but have continued after the 2016 election. They have hit clearly government sites, like the Pentagon’s email system, as well as clearly private networks, like U.S. banks.
In addition to attacking this range of public and private American targets, over an extended period of time, this Russian campaign has also been reported as targeting a wide variety of American allies. These include government, military and civilian targets in places that range from the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, and Norway, as well as trying to influence elections in Germany, France and the Netherlands. It also targeted a range of international institutions, including most recently those linked to the Olympics after Russian athletes were caught cheating.
This is not just about targets, but also tactics. Russia has treated Ukraine as a kind of battle lab for all sorts of new cyber threats and tactics. Think of it as a digitized version of how the Spanish civil war in 1930s was used by the Germans not just to hone the technology of the Blitzkrieg, but to learn just what the world would let them get away with. Most worrisome has been a series of Russian attacks on civilian power grids, the type of attacks that have long been the nightmare scenario of cyber security, but here again with no consequence. This has been accompanied by probing attacks on previously off-limits areas in critical infrastructure, such as into nuclear plants in both the United States and Europe.
This series of actions, with no firm reactions, have been accompanied by a reversal in the global discussion of cyber security policy. At the very same time that the United States has retreated from its leadership role in global discourse, most symbolically with the literal closing of the State Department’s Cyber Coordinator position, China and Russia reversed years’ worth of work at the United Nations on building respect for the laws of war in cyber, and took key steps to win influence on the overall future of the Internet itself.
In the most generous interpretation, the combination of all these trends has undermined U.S. cyber deterrence, by creating mass uncertainty not about American capabilities, but the more politically important dimension of intent and will. In the capital cities of both American allies and adversaries, as well as the chatrooms of non-state actors, there is no great confidence in what exactly the U.S. position now comprises (especially in a world where presidential tweets voice the exact opposite language and threat view of national security strategy documents), nor what actions would compel a U.S. response, or what that reaction would be.
Less generously, these trends have created the opposite of deterrence: incentives. The failure to clearly respond has taught not just Russia, but any other would-be attacker, that such operations are relatively no pain on the cost side, and all gain on the benefits side. Until this calculus is altered, the United States should expect to see not just Russia continue to target its citizens and institutions (indeed, the same Russian organization that attacked 2016 election organization has been reported as presently attacking U.S. Senate offices), but also other nations and non-state groups looking for similar gains.
Influencing the Wrong Problem
When digital security first emerged as a problem area, there was a debate within U.S. military circles as to whether it should be treated as part of a previously existing arena that is known as information operations. Encompassing concepts that range from psychological operations to influence, subversion and disinformation campaigns, Information Operations saw information itself as a way to, as the U.S. military put it, “ influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp” the other side’s decision-making.
Ultimately, cyber security was split off and treated as its own problem area and professional field. This influenced not just how the U.S. military organized, but also how corporations framed their own security problems, such as how social media firms focused on keeping attackers from breaking into their networks, versus simply mimicking legitimate customers. It may well have been the wrong call.
In nations like Russia and China, another pathway was followed. Cyber-attacks were seen more as part of a continuum of the many ways to influence and undermine your adversaries. One of the first to voice this was Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation. In 2013, he gave a speech to fellow officers, which became a centerpiece of Russian strategy to the extent that it was even written into the Russian military’s doctrine. With this, the broader information domain began to be viewed “…like a new theater for conflict and [Russia] has invested in developing its capabilities just as it would in developing a new weapon system.” And it wasn’t just any weapon; Russian military strategists began to describe how a strong information offensive can have a strategic impact on par with the release of an atomic bomb.
The key here was an understanding that hacking digital systems was only a complement to a larger effort to hack human minds and their political systems. For example, whether it was in Ukraine or the United States, the efforts to penetrate the email systems of political opponents of Russia was given real weight when the fruits of the hack were pushed out via the combined tentacles of a massive online army. This network is made up of four groups: thousands of sock-puppet accounts, where Russian human agents pose as trusted commentators and online friends, tens of thousands of automated bots that could drive overall online trends by manipulating search algorithms, and finally legions of “fellow travelers” and polezni durak (Russian for “useful idiots”) inside the target countries, who either knowingly echo out this propaganda and disinformation or do so driven by mostly partisan reasons.
The effect of this is a weaponization of social media , felt across the political environment, poisoning not just U.S. politics, but also targets ranging from the United Kingdom to Italy. Its scale is perhaps illustrated by how, via Facebook alone, 126 million Americans saw ads and posts from a subset of known Russian trolls hiding behind false identities that ranged from U.S. military veterans to African American activists. Similarly, in just the last ten weeks of the 2016 U.S. election, accounts now known to be Russian in origin, but posing as someone else, generated 2.12 million tweets on election related topics, receiving 454.7 million impressions within their first seven days of posting.
Unfortunately, both the U.S. government and private companies have yet to come to grips with how best to respond. This problem made all the more difficult by the sense of denialism at the very top of both.
Mega Gets Mega
For all the new and often highly political ills, the more “traditional” attacks in cyber security have not gone away. Indeed, the last year saw a near doubling in the number of reported cyber incidents to 159,700. The problem is that the worst kind of attacks have reached a new kind of scale.
“Mega-breaches” are defined as data breach incidents that cause the exposure of at least 10 million identities. Think of them as the mass murders in a city already undergoing a massive crime wave. Such attacks used to be incredibly rare; for instance there was just one mega breach in all of 2012. Driven by how much more we are putting online, in still unsecured manners, such major breaches now come at a regular pace. Last year’s mega breaches ranged from the compromise of 57 million of Uber customers’ personal data to the Equifax breach, which lost the credit monitoring data of some 143 million Americans.
These massive breaches have come so quickly, in fact, that where they would have once been the subject of weeks of breathless news stories and demands for government action, most have been quickly forgotten. For example, many recall the Target breach of five years ago that affected 41 million Americans. But few even noticed the 2017 loss of nearly 200 million Americans’ voter data (names, date of birth, address, phone numbers, voter registration details) by Deep Root Analytics, a marketing firm that works for the Republican National Committee.
However, the collective impact on their victims from this ongoing spate of attacks will not be quickly forgotten. As more and more mega-sized breaches occur, and more and more data is lost, more and more of this data will be mined and combined. If we don’t get ahold of this problem, it will make the ways that governments and companies use such data, literally to define who we are and what we are allowed to do, unsustainable.
The Threat Goes Hybrid
The threat actors that troubled us in cyber security originally were the proverbial teenagers in their parents’ basement and other early “hackers” driven by a mix of curiosity and attention seeking. Over time, they were surpassed by groups of attackers that were more organized and effective: state governments, non-state criminal groups, and global hacktivist networks.
Here again, none of these actors have gone away, but a new problem is the hybridization of these threats. Just like the relationship between covert hacks and overt influence campaigns, such combinations work in seemingly opposite ways, that are actually two sides of the same coin. The first is non-state actors that conduct the operations of states. The proverbial example here are Russian criminal networks which have been enlisted to attack political targets in places that range from Ukraine to the United States, frequently using the very same means and modes of attack that they used in theft. By some accounts, these groups or individuals are often pressured or blackmailed into aid through threats of jail time, akin to how the FBI ensured the U.S. branch of the mafia worked to aid American interests during World War II by passing on intelligence of Axis positions in Sicily.
The other hybrid threat is the reverse, where state actors conduct operations that have traditionally been criminal. Here the proverbial example is North Korea, whose hackers have been implicated in attacking banking systems in places like Bangladesh, Vietnam, Ecuador and Poland, stealing at least $94 million, conducting some of the biggest bank robberies in history. Here the goal is not political influence, but cash needed to sustain the sanctioned nation’s economy.
In turn, by being in both worlds, but neither fully, hybrid threats don’t fit into easy categorization to enable the normal responses. For example, seeking cross-border law enforcement cooperation for criminal prosecution is not a viable answer when the criminal is doing the dirty business of the state itself. This means we are yet to figure out exactly how to handle hybrid threats. If we want to defeat and deter them, better defenses are not enough. We’ll have to determine what are their “control mechanisms,” what the military calls the actions that force an adversary to start acting according to our ends and designs, versus only reacting to theirs.
Holding the World Ransom
If this new scale and new attackers weren’t enough, we are also seeing a new form of cyber-attack move to the forefront of concern. Whether it was a credit card or a government secret, when information was stolen in the past, it was to be used to the benefit of the attacker. Now, we are seeing more and more ransomware attacks, where information or access is being kept from the use of the victim, until they pay a ransom to unlock it.
Not so long ago ransomware was a minor area of the field, but now it is arguably the fastest growing with all sorts of insane statistics to underlie how bad it is becoming. By one measure, ransomware saw a 167 times growth (not 167 percent, but times) over one year.
The costs are equally growing, with 2017 the costliest year by far. In the NotPetya attacks, for instance, Maersk suffered $200 million in damages, FedEx $300 million loss , and Merck over $310 million in damages.
All signs point to this trend growing. The first reason is that ransomware crime pays, and pays more and more. The average take per victim in a ransomware attack in 2015 was $294. In 2017, it grew by 266 percent to $1,077 per victim. The second reason is that, aligned with the hybridization problem, states are getting into the act. NotPetya may have caused harm to private business across the world, but it has been concluded that it originated with a Russian attack on Ukraine.
The ransomware problem will get much worse. So far, the targets that have been taken offline have been information systems needed for the operation of an organization, such as digital hospital files or business data. What looms is holding ransom of the machines needed for the operation of an organization. White hat hackers have demonstrated this scary future by already showing off the threats posed by ransomware that can seize control of everything from thermostats to public water treatment plants.
The Stakes Grow with Things
The shift of what will be targeted by ransomware points to a larger shift in the Internet itself, and the growing stakes of cyber security. Our network of networks is evolving from being about communications between human beings to running the systems of our increasingly digital world. The numbers are in some dispute, but roughly 9 billion “things” are online now. In the next five years this will at least double, and likely triple or more. But most of these new things will shift from being computers on our desks and smart phones in our pockets to objects like cars, thermostats, power plants, etc.
This massive growth won’t just grow the Internet economy, but also massively grow the attack surface, the potential points of vulnerability that cyber threats will go after. However, it will also be a bit like traveling back in time, in that the new growth in the “Internet of Things” (IoT) is replicating all the old cyber security problems. With responsibilities for security unclear, and almost no regulation or even basic liability, all too often these devices lack even basic security features, while customers are largely unaware of what they can and should do. The result is that up to 70 percent of IoT devices have known vulnerabilities, and they have already become a key part of botnets. Here again, the situation will grow worse. As one 2018 prediction put it, we should expect to see more and more hacked things “used for volumetric attacks, to exfiltrate stolen data, to identify further vulnerabilities, or for brute force attacks.”
But there is a key new area in this growth of attack, which we haven’t seen much of, yet should expect to come: targeting things to cause physical damage. The pioneering of Stuxnet-style attacks that sabotage the operations of industrial control systems and more and more “things” which rely on these systems is a dangerous combination. IoT attacks will cost not just future money, but lives.
These fundamentally different consequences will cause fundamentally different ripple effects. The Internet of Things won’t just change the Internet as we know it, but the very politics of cyber security. As opposed to opaque attacks with unclear consequences, IoT attacks will be easy to see and understand by the broader public and policymakers. They will lead to far quicker and louder calls for action in response.
Subversion on a Whole New Level
Cyber security concerns so far have been tough enough. But they have only been about adversaries attempting to hack or manipulate already created systems. There are growing concerns that the underlying DNA of the digital systems themselves may be increasingly compromised.
This problem comes in three forms. The first reflects a new kind of dilemma in a new era of geostrategic competition. Never before has a nation been in geostrategic competition with another nation that manufactures substantial parts of both its business and military technology. This is the predicament for the United States, which finds itself beholden to China, all the way down to the microchip level. It creates not just a type of dependence never before seen, but also one that can be exploited through the potential of “hardware hacks,” where vulnerabilities might be baked into systems in a manner that might not be made evident for years if not decades. The chips that you buy today, could cost you a war tomorrow.
The second comes from the dueling incentives of multinational business and national security, again another key shift. In order to maintain access to certain markets, tech companies have increasingly allowed state governments access to their inner workings, all the way down to the source code. For instance, major firms like SAP, McAfee, and Symantec all reportedly allow the Russian government to do so on their products, while firms like Kaspersky have been accused of granting even closer access. The worry is that these same firms provide key security to networks in at least twelve U.S. government agencies.
The third problem is not one of deliberate sabotage, but a worry that errors in the equivalent “DNA” itself may have caused a type of cancer for the overall cyber security system. Security researchers are still coming to grips with the full implications of what is known as Meltdown and Spectre. Due to fundamental design flaws, the chips that almost all our major systems use have potential points of compromises. And, reflecting the above global firm versus national security problem, the maker informed Chinese state-linked firms of the security flaw before the U.S. government.
So far, there is no one security solution, and even the limited patches cause substantial problems. In many ways, these incidents may well be like the 2010 “flash crash” on the stock market, where the consequences of relying on a system that is so incredibly fragile is so deeply worrisome that we all just agree not to worry about it.
What Can We Do On ‘The Cyber’?
Obviously, there are no easy answers to these problems (and there are, of course, many more threats and changes one could add to the list). But that doesn’t mean that they will go away. If the Trump administration wants to improve the state of the cyber union, the United States will have to take a new approach. It will have to re-evaluate not just what is and isn’t working today, but also explore what new actions we ought to take, including options and ideas that have already been proposed but were not viable in previous political climates.
One track might be fundamental shifts in the technology that we use, such as movements to the cloud, to blockchain, to quantum computing, and to artificial intelligence. Each of these holds great promise for cyber security, potentially able to rewrite the balance of power between attacker and defender.
Another track might entail creating entirely new organizations. For example, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 explored the creation of a volunteer National Emergency Technology Guard (NET Guard), but it was never funded. Think of it as akin to a cyber security version of the Civil Air Patrol, where both experienced and student pilots train for personal interest, but are also on call for emergencies. Estonia has used a similar model to build deep resilience against Russian cyber attacks and interference. Importantly, such an organization would be able tap a wider set of expertise than now aiding in national cybersecurity, those who want to serve their nation, but are not physically able or willing to meet the demands of the active duty U.S. military or National Guard.
Or, it might include new laws designed to unlock the free market. An equivalent to the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, but for cyber security would make it easier for the nascent cyber security insurance industry to take off, and enable companies both to better cover themselves and be influenced to good behavior.
Indeed, we should even include rethinking entire worldviews. For the last generation, the legal requirements of cyber security have been largely absent, their substitute mostly aspirational voluntary standards, backfilled by growing liability incentives. This was largely because government requirements were opposed by most business and considered politically unviable. However, threats and times change. Akin to how industry initially opposed regulations like car safety and then embraced and surpassed it, business is starting to re-evaluate its stance on all cyber security regulation being bad. This is based on a recognition that actual and defined requirements might aid in better protecting themselves, especially among their vendors, as well as cut through a growing thicket of lawsuit liability and varied state and global frameworks that is confusing and costly to navigate. In turn, we have to be prepared for how the politics of what is and isn’t viable in cyber security could change in an instant, especially in the wake of a catastrophic attack. For instance, the idea of a national agency for homeland security was an unworkable proposal that had floated about in various think tanks and commission reports for over a decade, until it became viable after 9/11.
At some point in the future, another president will deliver their first State of the Union. How seriously these seven problems are treated in the next few years will determine whether it is one delivered in an era of improved cyber security or of a fundamental breakdown into digital insecurity.

Winning Does Not Always Mean Being Victorious

Last Saturday Australia’s captain Steve Smith confessed that his side had deliberately tampered with the ball by using a sharp foreign object on the third day of the third test at Newlands in an attempt to wrest away the game from South Africa. Cameron Bancroft, who has been specifically assigned the task, tried to brazen it out on the field when he was caught him in the act by local broadcasters and the umpires started questioning him.
Smith admitted to reporters later that it was a deliberate plan by the team’s leadership group and agreed (a bit shamefacedly) that this was not within the spirit of the game. He confessed that his own integrity and the integrity of the Australian cricket team had been seriously compromised by the act. But, curiously, when asked if he would step down from captaincy, he said no. And no journalist, surprisingly, persisted with that line of questioning. Not at that time at least.
When a leader of a team, any team, confesses that he broke the rules of the game and damaged his own integrity as well as that of his team, should he remain the leader? Well, Smith will sit out one match as punishment and lose a bit of his earnings. (His team lost the test and South Africa leads 2 to 1.) But clearly the punishment is only symbolic.
Things are changing. In sport, as well as in public morality, a new checklist has emerged. The first question being asked now is not: Did he cross the line? It is: Did he do it in national interest? If yes, the matter is treated—well– a bit differently. England’s Douglas Jardine (South Bombay born, if you recall) was not so lucky. He was vilified in the annals of cricket for introducing bodyline to thrash Australia 4-1 in the infamous 1932-33 series. Today, in the age of Brexit and hyper-nationalism, Jardine would have been a hero, probably knighted too.
A sporting win is always seen (for some curious reason) to be in great national interest, even perchance it’s by dubious means. But now, this argument appears to have extended to every lawbreaker and lawmaker, every twisted sportsperson and every dictator in most parts of the world. The defence is always the same: I did it for my country. Only Mohammed Amir of Pakistan, one of the world’s finest bowlers who went to jail at 18, cried on hearing the judgement: What! A five year ban for bowling two no balls! (And that too, on his captain’s order.) So familiar is the usual argument that journalists have actually stopped asking why. They know what the answer will be. So even when Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines President, orders his soldiers to pick up a gun and shoot all women who they suspect to be communists in their vagina the outrage is but muted.
It remains as muted when Xi Jinping removes term limits on the Chinese presidency, endorsed by a laughable 99.8 per cent of the so-called parliament, the National People’s Congress. (I shudder to think what will happen to the 0.2 per cent who did not endorse that decision.) And it remains muted when Vladimir Putin in Russia’s nail-biting election scrapes through the presidential polls with only 76.69 per cent of the vote, extending Putin’s time in office to almost a quarter century. (The main opposition leader Alexei Navalny was barred from the race.)
But it is not just China and Russia. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, Turkmenistan’s President won his election with 97 per cent of the vote. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, with 88.6 per cent. Bashar al-Assad of Syria, with 97.62 per cent. Fidel Castro, with 99.01 per cent. And none of them actually compare with Kim Jong-un who was re-elected to North Korea’s parliament with 100 per cent votes after every single eligible person in his constituency turned out to vote with only his name on the ballot paper. And, for those who may have forgotten, Saddam Hussein (God bless his soul!) in one election, also managed to get every single vote. The dictator’s dilemma is actually not about winning elections, but ensuring that the victory is both overwhelming and credible, a tough balance to strike at the best of times.
The truth is: Elections today less and less reflect the choice of the people. They are more and more about smart election manoeuvres. As James Harding in his recent Hugh Cudlipp lecture pointed out, in Turkey and Egypt, Hungary and Poland, the Philippines and Venezuela, we are witnessing pseudo-democracies taking hold. Around the world, command and control is supplanting freedom and choice. Between 2000 and 2015, democracy broke down in 27 countries, 71 countries suffered net declines in civil and political liberties, as per Freedom House. What is more worrying, studies among young people in some of these countries where we thought democracy had deep roots show that the new voters and would-be voters are no more as enamoured of the idea of free choice as I guess my generation was. They have other needs, other expectations.
And this is where the persuasive skills of social media (and now, as we have discovered, its pimps and carpetbaggers) come in. National interest is always the obvious pitch. But there are new sub texts in play. You can blame it on algorithms and fake news or on communal and casteist foreplay but the fact is we are now chasing some of the most primitive ideas in the most technologically advanced times. There lies the rub. The contradictions that haunt us today, the choices we make, the people we admire and vote for, the historic hurts we flaunt, and the brutal rage we often give voice to in different ways have no real pattern that can be anticipated.
Yet Big Data tries. Or claims it can. And we succumb to the temptation of believing that psychometrics can be the new clincher. I remember the Japanese Colonel Saito telling Colonel Nicholson (played by Alec Guinness) in David Lean’s classic Bridge on the River Kwai: “Do not speak to me of rules. This is war! This is not a game of cricket.” To which Guinness replies: “Without rules, Commander, there is no civilisation.” Cricket and politics, both have rules– and so does war. Winning’s not everything. You cannot disgrace the baggy green and claim victory

The Education Miracle of Finland

The Finnish education policy values more quality and less control and competition.
Finland’s success in PISA ― a worldwide study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) of 15-year-old students’ aptitudes in mathematics, science, and reading ― was a surprise to Finns. In 2006, it was the best performing country. Even though the results have declined, Finland still ranks among the top countries.
Finland is an example of a country that has not followed many of the global education reform principles. There is no standardized tests or school inspections but the education system leans on “intelligent” accountability. This means that while there are national quality standards for learning and teaching in the form of national core curriculum and laws and regulations, there are no rankings of the schools based on test results. However, self-evaluation of schools and education providers exists and are regularly applied.
The Finnish education policy values more quality and less control and competition. Schools, teachers and local authorities are trusted and there is a political consensus about the commonly agreed goals of education.
Positive discrimination for the students with special needs and schools with special challenges is mainstreamed and student’s well-being is at the center of attention. Most Finnish students go to their nearby public school, which is a comprehensive school and where all walks of life learn together. The Finnish comprehensive school system follows the Nordic strategy for building high quality and equality in education based on a publicly-funded school system. It does this without selecting, tracking or streaming students during their basic education, which lasts until the end of Grade 9.
Teachers are valued in Finnish society and only about 10 percent of those who apply get in to the elementary teacher education program, which is a five-year master’s degree program part of the university education system since 1970s.
The equity of learning results has been high in Finland compared to other countries
The differences between Finnish schools remain negligible. One of the characteristics of the Finnish education system has been to provide equal opportunities for all. However, according to the latest PISA results, the socio-economic status of the students seems to be playing a role also in Finland.
Students from low socio-economic households have increased particularly due to unemployment. In addition, less students read for fun during their free time which correlates with the lower student performance observed in the latest PISA results.
The growing inequity in education is a significant concern for education professionals and decision-makers in Finland. However, Finland (celebrating its’ 100 years of independence on December 6, 2017), remains one of the best performing countries in the world. According to the recent PISA 2015 results, Finland ranked fifth best in Science, fourth in Reading, and thirteenth in Mathematics.
A key aspect of the Finnish education system: a flexible special education that ensures inclusion and equity in education
In Finland, addressing and responding in the schools to the diverse needs of learners is usually done in such a way that other students don’t know what kind of support and at what level each student might be receiving.
Finnish teachers differentiate their teaching to respond to the learning needs of each student. Elementary school teachers are not alone but supported by other specialists (e.g. special education teachers, psychologists, and the school leadership team) in deciding what kind of support a student might require. This is also discussed and agreed with the student’s parents.
Comprehensive schools in Finland
The comprehensive school is something that Finland has been proud of since it was established. However, the model is being analyzed and discussed to support the students’ well-being and preparedness for the future in our ever-changing globalized world.
To continue supporting excellence and combatting inequity, the Finnish’s Comprehensive School Forum is proposing a new vision for the country’s comprehensive schools, which is expected to be introduced in August 2017.
Initiatives envisioned under this vision include: promoting teachers’ professional development, introducing new activities in experimenting and innovations, providing tutor teachers in every school to support digitalization and new pedagogical approaches, promoting internationalization of education and securing that Finnish schools are ‘in the move’ encouraging students’ physical activity to ensure that each student exercises at least one hour per day.
Coming together for quality education
Various actors such as members of parliament, education authorities at all levels, principals, teachers, other school based staff, parents, students and community members are all engaged and will play a role in implementing this new vision. If successful, this will bring renovated energy to update the Finnish comprehensive school system to improve students’ learning and competences, increase equality of the overall system while decreasing the number of socially excluded students.
Schools are now closed for a well-deserved summer holiday in Finland and everyone is ‘re-charging their batteries’. We look forward to hearing about the next steps in reenergizing the Finnish education system in the beginning of next academic year.


Silent Source of Negative Stereotypes about Hindu Americans

In any country or region, media plays a powerful role in influencing people’s beliefs and world views on a topic. If someone controls the message in the media, they have a disproportionate level of influence on what is generally believed as truth.
Unfortunately, the broadcast media in the US has been unintentionally or carelessly used to paint a bleak, negative portrayal of Hindus and their religion. I will get to the specifics in a bit, but first let me share some background information to set the context.
In the United States, there are around 2.5 million practicing Hindus. As a percentage, it’s a minority. Since these 2.5 million people are pretty spread out (with some exceptions in the East and the West Coasts), in any general region they are a clear minority.
If you look closer at the demographics, members of the Hindu community stand out in almost every sphere – be it education levels or average household incomes.
Being a minority in the US has no advantages, however, even when you are a minority group that is performing better than the average population.
The average American citizen does not get the opportunity to understand what kind of a person a practicing Hindu is unless they have a close relationship with someone from the community. This is not easy for many reasons, two of which are below:
The stats shared above clearly shows that Hindus are a minority, so the probability of having close relationships with someone from the community is statistically low.
People don’t talk about religious faiths and beliefs until they get very close to each other. Just like any other place, life is extremely fast paced in the United States with lots of things to talk about in general. One may thus never get to discuss the topics related to religion at all.
So, where else can the average citizen learn more about Hindus?
Well, one easy place is in TV shows. Here, I will talk about a couple of examples from children’s TV shows. I chose them specifically because a negative portrayal of Hindus here will make a lifelong impression on other kids about who Hindus are. They are watching these shows at an age where it’s easy to consume content and if it’s not checked against reality, what they consume becomes reality.
Case in Point #1: Phineas and Ferb (targeted towards young children)
Baljeet Tjinder is an Indian American character who is portrayed negatively. Baljeet does not fit into the group very well. Baljeet is comically awkward. He spends an excessive amount of time studying Math and Science even during the summer break. He is constantly bullied. Last, but not least, the backstory is that his father, grandfather and great grandfather have all been killed by tiger attacks. As a Hindu American, it is painfully funny to watch these episodes with a heavy emphasis on the painful part.
Case in Point #2: Jessie (targeted towards teenagers)
Ravi, a young Indian American actor is shown to have a very strong Indian accent (ironically, in real life he does not have a strong Indian accent). He is portrayed as weak and awkward, constantly mocked and bullied by other characters in the show. He is made fun of about the traditional Indian clothes (Sherwani) he wears. They call him a “nightclub act” and the other characters can’t pronounce the name of his outfit. Ravi is also mocked while conducting a puja (Hindu religious ceremony) in one of the show’s episodes.
In both the above cases, Hindus are clearly depicted as outsiders and part of the “other” club – they do not belong to the mainstream. They are not true Americans. Even more damaging, the shows send the message to young impressionable viewers that it’s acceptable to treat the so called “other” with ridicule, derision, and disrespect, while normalising behaviors such as bullying.
I can go on and on about this, but I guess you get the point here.
The Final Word
American TV shows are woven very deeply into the fabric of life in the country. The programs like the above silently program the wrong things about Indian culture and Hinduism, and about the people that belong to and practice these traditions. Ironically, this is happening at the same time that the entertainment industry is generally treating other cultures, religions and ethnic groups with greater sensitivity.
The direct implication from the kinds of shows outlined above are the creation of stereotypes about Hindu Americans as:
Weak, both physically and mentally
Nerdy and incredibly awkward
Weird and exotic
These stereotypes only further perpetuate the negative representations of Hindu Americans that already exist in other mediums, such as textbooks.
When Americans, especially children, are repeatedly bombarded with these types of messages from multiple directions, the indirect implication is poor self-esteem and shame for Hindu children, and in more extreme cases being the targets of harassment and bullying physically and/or on social media.
Apart from taking up the task of re-educating our kids and their friends to the reality about Hinduism and Indian culture, it is our collective responsibility to bring this to the attention of leaders in the media and entertainment to urge them to act more responsibly.


Whom to Talk With, in Pakistan

Donald Trump has pulled off the seemingly impossible, a summit between himself and Kim Jong-un of North Korea. Can Narendra Modi do the same with Pakistan?
Mr. Modi has tried, twice, but with the wrong man, Nawaz Sharif. Both times Pakistan rewarded India with bombs instead of butter. Now Nawaz has been ousted. His hand-picked nominee, Shahid Abbasi, is the PM of Pakistan.
Abbasi has a difficult job, navigating the tantrums of both the Pakistani army and Nawaz. Of the Pakistani army he is not at all critical and voices only mealy-mouthed support of Nawaz. But he is a stooge who could at any moment fall between two stools.
Elections are due in Pakistan in a few months. If a PM (Nawaz) could be engineered out by the army, then another PM can be engineered in. But it is not as simple as that.
First, Pakistan had had two rounds of more or less free-and-fair elections since 2008. The army has not meddled much in determining the outcome of these elections. The Pakistani people, as vocal a lot as India’s, have become used to elections. If the army calls off the election and imposes martial law, it would not make it popular with the aam aadmi.
Then there’s Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and powerful province. It is easy to win in Punjab and lose in the rest of Pakistan, and still gain Islamabad’s gaddi. This is precisely what Nawaz was able to achieve in 2013. Now Nawaz, the beloved sher of Punjab, has not only been wounded by the army but almost decapitated. Punjabi pride is hurt.
Nawaz and his firebrand daughter Maryam stoke this Punjabi pride every day, against the army, the judiciary, Imran Khan, just about everyone. This injured Punjabi pride is likely to send Nawaz’s party back to power once again. The army can conspire to keep Nawaz, whom it truly loathes, out as PM, but can it stop Nawaz from installing someone like Maryam in his stead. It is clear that Nawaz doesn’t trust his brother, Shahbaz, fully and doesn’t want him to take the reins.
With a PM officially in place in Islamabad, Mr Modi can talk to the Pakistani army chief Qamar Bajwa only through a back-channel. He may want to open talks with Abbasi as well, for a stooge does have its uses, but it seems that Mr Modi has given up on the current dispensation in Islamabad, and is waiting to see what happens to the polity there in the next few months.
Frustrated that he’ll lose the hand to Nawaz, Bajwa could instigate a coup. Mr Modi should then have no problems in talking directly to him. India has a long history of coddling Pakistani dictators, be it Lal Bahadur Shastri and Ayub Khan, or Morarji Desai and Zia-ul-Haq, or Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh and Musharraf.
But will Bajwa want to talk to Mr Modi? The Taliban is inching its way towards Kabul. The Taliban-Pakistan relationship is not completely clear. While Pakistan acts as if it controls the Taliban, the Taliban can be fiercely independent. But going by the experience of the nineties, expect Pakistan to try to use the Taliban to launch a new jihad in Kashmir.
All of this is not many years away. So why should not Bajwa wait for events to play out, gain an upper hand against India by launching a jihad, and then talk from a position of strength. This is precisely why the Pakistani army has torpedoed both of Mr Modi’s outreaches to Nawaz when the latter was PM.
The other alternative is that Bajwa engineers the installation of someone other than Nawaz as PM. Maryam may not be his first choice, but, heck, the embers of power have a way of making any firebrand douse herself. Maryam might just decide to ditch her father for the army.
And then there is Imran Khan. But Imran has shown no real gains in the Punjab. The army may make a mockery of the electoral process and rig him as PM, but Imran is a mercurial sort of guy. He may do the army’s bidding to win power, but it’s not clear that he will stay beholden to the army all the time. It’s clear that he’s in love with himself, and will do what is needed to protect his interest, but as his interests inevitably clash with those of the army, he could suffer the same fate that has befallen Nawaz.
So really then there is no one, literally, no one in Pakistan for Mr Modi to talk to. Wagahwallahs from India go to Pakistan and sign hosannas to Pakistan’s desire for better relations with India, and deride Mr Modi for his apparent lack of reciprocation, but such dilettantes delude themselves by living in a fool’s paradise. Pakistan seeks the breakup of India and will leave no stone unturned to achieve its nefarious aim.
Mr Modi still has enough time, a year-and-a-half or thereabouts, to pull off peace with Pakistan. His doing so would be a greater achievement than Donald Trump reining in North Korea. But until the Afghan imbroglio resolves itself, Pakistan does not seem keen on talking to India. India then has nothing to do but wait and strengthen its defences against a jihad that is bound to come.

Modernity of Blockchain Debunked-Its Roots Go Back to Medieval Times

Is blockchain a new concept that has is the latest buzz-word in our economy. Iis argued that Blockchain is an emergent technology that may be as transformative as the internet, according to many predictions. But this innovative new technology has a surprising link to the days of medieval treasuries.
The blockchain is a distributed ledger that uses cryptography — mathematical code — to chain together records of transactions in a tamper-resistant and transparent manner. It is being used as an alternative or replacement for national currencies, contracts, internet device authentication and more.
This form of record-keeping, though technologically novel in the digital era, is not so new after all. It existed in the medieval era, during the transition from oral to written forms of memorialization. At that time, symbolic objects played a crucial role in providing evidence of transactions, rights and entitlements.
I’ve been researching how governments and businesses around the world are either planning for or already piloting the use of blockchain for record-keeping. I desire to determine what these applications of the technology actually do — as opposed to what the marketing hype says they do.
To my surprise, I find that in Estonia the government is using distributed ledger technology to protect the integrity of citizens’ medical records. In Sweden, the land registry is testing blockchain to record the transfer of land ownership. I’ve reviewed proposed blockchain systems for land title registration in Honduras, new pilot implementations for land transaction records in Brazil. And I’ve spoken with innumerable ventures looking to transform record-keeping with blockchain technology.
Three patterns for blockchain records
From this research, I’ve noticed three specific design patterns for blockchain record-keeping, which need explanation to understand how blockchain relates to medieval practices. These can be classified in these categories as mirror, digital record and tokenized systems.
The first of these design patterns is what I call the “mirror” type system. I characterize this type of system as being the most similar to current centralized record-keeping.
In these types of systems — be they for medical records, land titles, public archives or some other kind of records — digital records are neither created nor kept “on chain,” despite some claims by blockchain companies to the contrary. Instead, a kind of digital fingerprint of the records in the form of a 256-bit random number, known as a “hash,” is entered into the blockchain.
The purpose of recording this digital fingerprint in the blockchain is to protect the integrity of the records and be able to detect if they were tampered with. To prove that the records are tamper-free, the original digital records must be preserved in off-chain trustworthy digital repositories alongside preservation of their hashes in the blockchain.
Proving integrity of the records involves matching the hash of the record you want to validate with its digital fingerprint on the blockchain. If the hashes match, then the record you hold has not been altered.
Digital records
The second type of approach I’ve noticed is one that I call the “digital records” design pattern. In this type of system, new digital records are actually created within the blockchain itself, primarily by using smart-contracts.
Smart-contracts are computer programs that instruct the blockchain when to carry out a transaction, such as sending funds from one user to another. In these types of systems, the text of records is no longer in natural language that people can read. It is written in computer code for machines to read.
The rise of the smart contract raises a number of challenging and currently unanswered questions, such as what to do in case an error occurs and a smart contract doesn’t behave as expected.
In the 2016 Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO) incident, for example, the attacker exploited poorly written smart code to siphon off 3.6 million Ether — an alternative to the popular cryptocurrency Bitcoin — roughly equivalent to $68 million at the time of the attack.
Equally importantly, current principles, standards and practices for managing and preserving digital records are not designed for smart-contracts and other distributed autonomous records created on chain. Ensuring that society’s evidence infrastructure remains intact presents challenges similar to the early days of email and other electronic records. New approaches, yet to be developed, will be needed.
The third type of blockchain record-keeping design pattern is the “tokenized” type of solution. This is arguably the farthest from our current form of record-keeping, and many would argue the most innovative. With this type of system, not only are records captured on chain but valuable assets are represented and captured on chain.
These assets can symbolize anything of value: currency such as a primary use blockchain, Bitcoin; land, fine wine, food, diamonds, artworks — you name it.
In this third, tokenized form we can find centuries-old predecessors to blockchain.
Medieval objects parallel digital tokens
Are these assets really records? For answers, we may turn to the English archival theorist Sir Hilary Jenkinson, who observed in his 1937 Manual of Archive Administration that “there is a case where an old pair of military epaulettes; and among enclosures to letters, forming in each case an integral part of the document, the writer can recall portraits, human hair, whip-cord (part of cat-o’-nine-tails), a penny piece inscribed with disloyal sentiments, and a packet of strange powder destined to cure cancer.”
In Jenkinson’s view, these “exhibits” formed part of the archive, or collective body of records, because they provided evidence of business transactions.
We now have come to view these so-called exhibits more as museum objects than records because before the digital era, the physical awkwardness of these objects meant that they could not be managed with other records. Just as coins and paper currency once represented records of reserves of gold in a national treasury, Jenkinson’s exhibits were themselves tokens that represented other things.
Today, what once had a material form can be essentially dematerialized. Paper currency can be transformed into cryptocurrency. Land, fine wine, artwork, diamonds, food and other material objects — though still physically in existence — can be transformed into virtual representations called “tokens.” In this way, in a tokenized, blockchain record-keeping system, literally every thing potentially becomes a record.
This is not a new idea.
At the time of the Norman Conquest, many grants were conferred by the bare word (nude verbo) without a writing or charter, but only with a sword, helmet, horn or cup. One example is the broken knife of Stephen de Bulmer kept in the archives of Durham Cathedral. It bears a parchment label recording the details of a gift of land made in the middle of the 12th century — which the knife itself symbolizes.
Just like the knives, horns, cups, rings and other objects customarily used in the conveyance of land during the medieval period, today’s tokenized blockchain record-keeping systems use valuable cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin as symbolic representations of assets like land.
This raises the question of whether blockchain technology will return today’s archival repositories to their medieval roots as the treasure storehouses of kings. Will it be back to the future?

Closing the Digital Divide Shall Strengthen the Global Economy

From cloud computing to artificial intelligence, technology is beginning to revolutionize how the world economy functions. But while these shifts are enriching many in the advanced economies, the developing world is at risk of being left behind. To improve the global South’s economic prospects and avoid a deepening of inequality, developing-country policymakers must take seriously the implications of these shifts for their economies and their countries’ position in the global economy.
For years, the “digital divide” was narrowly defined in terms of Internet connectivity. But today, it manifests itself in the way businesses in rich countries use technology to strengthen their control of global value chains and extract a larger share of the value-added created in the developing world.
Consider, for example, how recent innovations threaten the export-oriented industrialization strategy that has fueled many countries’ development in recent decades. By using abundant and low-cost labor, developing countries were able to increase their share of global manufacturing activities, creating jobs, attracting investment and, in some cases, kick-starting a broader industrialization process. But, for the firms that took advantage of the opportunity to reduce costs by shifting manufacturing to the developing world, there was always a trade-off: offshore production meant limited ability to respond quickly to shifts in consumer demand.
Now, technology may offer another option. By investing in “additive manufacturing,” robots, and other non-human tools, companies could move their production sites closer to their final markets. Adidas, for example, is employing some of these technologies to bring footwear “speed factories” to Germany and the United States.
Similarly, as digital technology facilitates the cross-border sale of services, and protections for domestic service providers become increasingly difficult to enforce, domestically oriented services in developing countries will face growing global competition. While such shifts remain nascent, they represent a long-term threat to the development strategies on which many countries in the global South rely.
With advanced and emerging economies moving fast to capture new opportunities created by technology, the digital divide is widening at an accelerating pace. For example, China, which used a protectionist industrial policy to nurture domestic digital giants like Baidu and Tencent, is now supporting these firms as they move deeper into development of new technologies and try to expand globally.
Similarly, the European Union is supporting technology investments through its “digital single market,” and through new policies in areas like venture capital, high-capacity computing, and cloud computing. Indeed, plans for a “European cloud” have been put forth.
There are very few, if any, comparable frameworks currently in place in the global South. This must change, but how?
Development strategists often suggest that poor countries cannot afford to dedicate resources to the digital economy. While that is true to some extent, failing to account for technology-driven economic trends will merely exacerbate the problem.
In fact, such trends should be at the center of national development strategies. Moreover, at a regional level, there is a need to analyze technology-driven economic shifts and design policies that take advantage of the opportunities they represent, while coping with the associated challenges.
In Africa, for example, ongoing efforts to develop regional trade links and boost industrial cooperation – including frameworks like the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) initiative and Agenda 2063 – should include a focus on digital transformation strategies. Discussions on this front should be informed by lessons from other regions, such as the EU.
This should occur in the context of broader efforts to help local firms expand and become more competitive internationally. Too often, excitement for Africa’s innovative startup ecosystem masks the challenges, such as small and fragmented domestic markets, that could impede long-term success.
Digital technology has already been put to good use in many parts of the developing world. Data-driven farming techniques are helping growers achieve higher yields, while mobile finance is broadening financial inclusion in poor communities. But these innovations will not be enough to prevent developing countries from falling behind in the global economy. To catch up with the global North, policymakers will need new tools.
To invest in those tools, developing countries will also need support from international organizations. For example, ongoing World Trade Organization discussions about the rules that will govern the digital economy should be expanded to include strategies for leveling the global playing field.
Overcoming the resource constraints that limit developing countries’ investment in the digital economy will not be easy. But failing to do so will carry a steeper price. As leaders in the developing world seek to position their countries for sustainable growth, they must think globally and locally, without losing sight of the role that technology will play in shaping the economy of tomorrow

Plugging a Cambridge Analytica Shaped Hole in India’s Privacy Laws

When you order through a food delivery app on your phone, it might retain your address without your explicit consent, so that the next time they know where to send your order. The app might also send discount coupons to the same address without fresh consent. So far so good.
But what if your food delivery history, and location data has also been tracked via your mobile so that it’s possible to identify what times and locations you’re most likely to make large purchases. That data is then shared with an e-commerce website and suddenly you can’t figure out why you see a higher quote for the same product as compared to your friend.
And what if the food delivery app shares your consumption preferences with your health insurance company. They conclude that your excessive intake of fast food indicates high likelihood of certain diseases, and therefore more expensive premiums.
Maybe you were ordering pizzas for your office, and so it’s an inaccurate inference. But you might never have the opportunity to challenge it.
Of course the privacy settings of the delivery app had an “opt out” to third-party data sharing. But you never went so deep. You were just ordering pizza.
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal the cry has gone out that “something” must be done. The Indian government has joined the chorus, and Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has wagged a finger at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg warning that there would be “stringent action” if his company was found complicit in the “theft” of Indian people’s data.
Despite these allegations, this is not a story of unforeseen hacks or breaches. Much like the food delivery example, it is about an entirely foreseeable problem that flows from a lack of accountability through the chain of entities that process vast amounts of personal data, and a failure to ensure informed consent.
If ever there was a moment to recognise that the market for personal data will not correct itself, it is now. What we need more than a summons to Zuckerberg, is a strong data protection law.
In May this year the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is set to come into force in Europe, with variations in several other Asian countries. These already give us the right language to call out the problem, and some tools with which to tackle it.
Here is what we would need to start with:
Purpose limitation: We need the legal principle of “purpose limitation” to restrict unbridled access to personal data. The app economy is fuelled by data sharing – for example, maps that use your location, or communication apps that access your contact list, which may be acceptable. But app developers should only be permitted to collect data that they can demonstrate as proportionate and necessary for the stated purpose of their service.
Consent: As the collective outrage to the Cambridge Analytica revelations demonstrates, people were shocked at the permissive settings on their own Facebook accounts. Default opt-in, what is termed “consent based on silence”, seemed unjustifiable.
India’s privacy law needs clear standards for consent. The European GDPR mandates that this must be freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous. It clarifies that language should be clear and plain, use no unfair terms, and must allow separate consent to be given for different data processing operations. It should be possible to consent to one but refuse it to another. (South Korean law in fact requires active opt-in to any marketing uses of personal data.)
Even-if consent: The fine-print cannot be viewed as a contract that encapsulates the sum total of our rights. Our rights to privacy emanate from the Constitution, and the Supreme Court’s landmark privacy judgment recently reminded us that any interference into privacy must be necessary and proportionate.
Regardless of the user’s consent there must be obligations to fulfil fairness and proportionality. For example, consent should never legitimise the collection of data in excess of a specified purpose.
Legitimate interests of the business: India’s law will need clear standards for what businesses claim to be “legitimate interests”, offered as an alternative to consent. If individuals could not reasonably expect their data to be used in certain ways, or if it would cause a violation of their right to meaningful opt-out, then that should override the business interest. Combining distinct databases, where data was initially collected in other contexts, and for other purposes, and which create complex profiles of individuals without their knowledge, is not legitimate, proportionate or necessary.
The Cambridge Analytica episode demonstrates that enforcing the substance and spirit of privacy law might be a challenge. However, this pessimism should only get us to stronger regulation. A toothless regulator is far easier to ignore – both at the stage of enforcement but even at the prior stage of compliance.
A strong data protection authority with clear standards and punitive powers will have tremendous influence over the legal risk calculus of companies providing services to Indians.
Summoning Mark Zuckerberg may not.

Movies Should Mirror the Diversity & Our Unconventional Desires

The sharpest joke of Hollywood’s biggest award night was how Oscar (the statue) is the most beloved and respected man in the industry, because he keeps his hands where you can see them and, most importantly, he has no penis. Comparably, the most memorable critique of a Bollywood film this year was how it reduced the female audience to a vagina only.
And yet, cinema would hardly be the richer for excising either set of genitalia. The end game is not suppressing this or that desire. It’s not about liberating the feminist imagination by foreclosing masculinist imagery. Fans of sexploitative, jingoist, conquistador genres should relax. Sin-ema isn’t getting canned. Even in science lobotomical procedures are now in disrepute. What is being demanded is equality of opportunity. Let in more diverse stories and storytellers, cast and crew.
At the Oscars the #MeToo and #TimesUp montage reminded everyone that when Thelma & Louise came out in 1991 there was a feeling it would open the doors to many more movies starring female characters. But that didn’t happen. How do we know the Harvey Weinstein shaped black hole will deliver that hope? Simple, just look to Wonder Woman and Black Panther. If the sexual abuse accusations going back nearly 40 years finally got a good hearing, it was in the context of an industry already becoming responsive to equality activism.
Wonder Woman comes from Themyscira, a city-state populated only by women. Black Panther is from Wakanda, a rich, high-tech, well-governed, uncolonised African kingdom – defended by Dora Milaje, righteous and fierce women warriors. She was created during World War II as hundreds of thousands of women filled traditionally male positions. He took birth during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. After painfully long decades of invisibility both superheroes have taken wings. Wonder Woman pulled in around $821 million in 2017 and Black Panther is comfortably racing past a billion dollars worldwide.
American pop culture in general has played a big role in priming the global market to embrace diversity. As the dialogue in a Wachowskis’ drama goes, why do you so often find in the slums from Mumbai to Nairobi that the room has a big TV but no proper bed? How can a TV be more important than a bed? Because the bed keeps you in the slum, while the flatscreen takes you right out.
Audiences relish being transported to alien worlds. They like falling in love with foreign creatures. Like the Mexican director Guillermo del Toro said at the Oscars, the greatest thing the film industry does is “erase the line in the sand”. It’s a two-way loop. As more of Hollywood profits come from international markets, it must heed international spectators’ demand to see themselves mirrored on the screen.
Pakistani actor Kumail Nanjiani, who may well be the funniest South Asian living between New York and LA, complains that there are few pop cultural images of Muslims who are open-minded; when he goes to a theme park he sees Muslim people having ice cream and screaming on the roller coaster but he never sees them like that in the movies, just having fun. Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o recollects that in childhood her one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that she should wake up lighter-skinned. She too underlines the importance of every young girl seeing role models in popular culture who look like her.
Nyong’o and Nanjiani’s insight is that while connecting with characters who don’t look like us is a valuable contribution of cinema, meditating exclusively on people who are different means we start to undervalue ourselves. It causes a loss of self. Translating this in the Indian context the demand for stronger women characters in our cinema immediately comes to mind. But equally one has to ask, where are the agricultural protagonists or Dalit characters? Lagaan, you may be thinking. Of course when it was nominated in the best foreign language film category way back in 2002, the Oscars weren’t so woke.
This year Guillermo del Toro won both the prized best film and best director awards with The Shape of Water, about which the biggest joke went that men screwed up so badly this year that “women started dating fish”. The woman, Elisa Esposito, in the film is mute and isolated. Other characters in the film also suffer acute loneliness. For all the communicating that their talking does they might as well be mute too.
The Elisa-amphibian affair is a magical realist reminder that desiring the Other is just as fundamental a human drive, as fearing. It’s why from Kerala to Uttar Pradesh even the most oppressive societal pressure cannot stop inter-caste and inter-religious relationships. But in the context of the call for movies to mirror the diversity of us, it is also a reminder that this call is growing more urgent precisely because actual social connections are breaking down. The image on the screen, be it of the theatre or the mobile phone, is becoming a more intimate companion than whoever is actually keeping us company.
Elisa describes her relationship with the “fish” in sign language: “The way he looks at me, he doesn’t know what I lack, or how I am incomplete.” To get that recognition from a human being would be great. But to have it from a filmic mirror feels nice too.

From Wall Street to Wall of China

Between the Wall Street and the Wall of China, the red carpet, got a red flag, besides, is fraying in patches. What was rolled open with the famous words, “trust but verify”, has now orders that it be rolled back sufficiently to restore parity of traffic, which had become more exclusive from the “Wall” to the Wall street.
Considering the steps announced, and those proposed, though not much was said, almost all of the world that matters, (India excluded) attended the more technical, robust, almost unidirectional carpet OBOR rolled out by China. President Xi had worked on the opportunity offered years back to provide for the greatest economy, in the process claiming the world’s third post, which, projected forward, would make it the world’s apex economy.
China, was the one to have captured most benefits of the level playing field open market place. The first glimpse of a changing mindset from Mao’s philosophy were seen, despite predictions otherwise, when Hong Kong was ceded by the last British viceroy John Patten, and Chinese leadership left the trade practices untouched! In fact, the practices and themes of western trade were learnt, and mainland. China created Guangzhou, Shanghai and a score of other cities as economic powerhouses.
OBOR came as an offer difficult to refuse when all economic armament was in place. Chinese goods were, and are, much in demand in Asia, EU, and of course the US. The Trojan horse stood at the gates. Economists, politicians realized, but were not backed by any market or material to modify the order.
Economy is an essential part of the ancient Chinese culture, much like “Lakshmi” in Indian culture. Moreover, the concept of “hegemony” along with economy is closely attached. The regional issues, Doklam, (not different from ’62), claims over North China sea, presence in the Indian Ocean, alleged disrupting regimes as in Maldives, an eye on Sri Lanka, Nepal, are some examples. Even the CPEC spells more gains to China, than the land of the country they shall be using.
Chinese hegemony over the regions over which the road moves cannot be set aside in concept, and tank battalions and troops taking up positions may be retained as projections in wishful thinking! After all, as an undivided land, wasn’t so much more accessed to the East India company under Dalhousie’s, “Doctrine of lapse”! Rules change only one way once you have an un-negotiated foreign presence on your soil!
In terms of Chinese trade, 2016 figures show 2119 billion USD exports, as against 1588.7 billion USD worth of imports, a rather comfortable gap. Its largest importer is the US, amounting to 18.3% of its total exports. India figures at 2.8%. Germany and UK are comparable to this figure.
A trend that is worrisome for the world’s leading economy, is a trade surplus of 275 billion USD in 2017 alone. This gap comes from US imports from China amounting to 18.3 %, and US exports to China at 8.5%.
President Trump, recently slammed high tariffs on Chinese goods. In immediate day to day figures, this amounts to 3 billion USD. But more sanctions are in line. The world awaits to what extent the escalation and to what imports shall that apply. On the other hand, China’s main imports are integrated circuits and crude. Major contributors to its imports are South Korea, and Japan, amounting close to 10% each.
There are two other actions that have to be watched, and I believe, the recent US move is a susceptibility test. How would China re-act? Does it have an economic consortium that it shall fall back upon to nudge forward in increasing tariffs on US exports? The other is, shall US put direct or indirect pressure on its trading partners, to do a similar act to take the sanctions on Chinese goods to “blinking” point?
The Harley Davidson issue, the cut in H-1B visas, increased tariffs in steel exports appear to be hints to its trading and political allies to act on the same lines. The countries that matter, and may prefer the US diktat are the EU, Australia, Japan and South Korea. That makes the consortium the US can diplomatically build-up, but it has to be supportive and soft gloved in return. Such sanctions, shall affect the economies of these countries, till and if the dragon stops spitting fire.
So, has the economic war started? I can certainly hear the bugles (the manner in which Ramses-like upgradation to immortality has been proclaimed), and movement on the ground as well. Can China shun US imports, or stop supplying to US? Tactically improbable, because that shall halve its revenues, GDP, output, instantly.
The interdependence of the US-China economies, is at the heart of the issue. The way it is tackled in keeping the other within manageable limits shall be the solution.
Behind this lies a vast diplomatic game. The country that has a larger political acceptance and global influence can tame the other. The US since the days of president Obama has been harping on “look east” India policy. India has no cudgels with China, is a willing trading partner, but raising border disputes, could have been avoided.
China has come down a notch, having exposed its hegemonic intentions. There is always a fear to trade with someone who may buy you out. Unsolicited aggression in business is rarely appreciated. Sure, there is scope for real change, and perceptions. That is the easier and the more affluent path.
With so much strife, nuclear threats included, the path to peace should spell an acceptable parity in trading. That seems well within negotiations! On the other hand, history shows, that it is rarely possible to hold tea and furniture long enough for two rivals who decide to meet on a “summit”
Regarding the 1.1trillion USD US bonds China possesses? Where is the buyer? Show me a buyer, and I shall give you the answer!
“Mein ranjo-gam bhula doon, mein unko bhool jaun,/ Woh aisey kehtey hein, merey bas ki baat hai kya?”
(That I forget the heartache, that I forget her, /She says as though it is within my means)

Cambridge Analytica like Setups Can Change Politics

A few weeks ago, Cambridge Analytica was being touted in political circles as the secret weapon of a party desperate to oust Narendra Modi and reclaim what it sees as its rightful inheritance. Today, alas, that enterprising British company is in the eye of a storm. Its alleged sharp practices have directly contributed to Facebook losing billions in market cap and its iconic founder Mark Zuckerberg losing face for his company’s breach of trust.
The story of Cambridge Analytica and those at its helm is enthralling — especially as described by a British media that dotes on scandals. However, while sting operations can sex up an already delicious story, it is important to separate the wheat from the chaff. The real story is not that Analytica was contracted by Donald Trump for his successful presidential campaign of 2016.
The controversy is principally centred on whether or not the political consultancy firm illegally mined confidential data of some 50 million Americans, supplied by Facebook to a Cambridge University researcher. The fact that the data may have been used to supplement a political campaign is a matter of detail.
The nature of Cambridge Analytica’s political intervention — and why its approach is appealing to parties — is an important one. What, for example, distinguishes Cambridge Analytica from, say, legendary British electoral strategists such as Tim Bell and Lynton Crosby? Where does data mining fit into today’s electoral strategies?
In the past, strategists focused on getting the big message right. In wooing voters, they banked on either reason or emotion, or a blend of both, backed by catchy advertising and targeted attacks on opponents. Indeed, politicians were consistently advised to not get derailed by side issues and focus on the larger message. Strategists relied on demographic data, focus groups and opinion polls to fine-tune tactics. In India though, old-style politicians always preferred instinct to marketing.
For Cambridge Analytica — and it is by no means the only electoral consultancy to run this course — internet has opened spectacular political possibilities. Using the same data that marketing companies have mined to understand consumer behaviour and target customers for selling coffee and cars, the likes of Cambridge Analytica have tried to divert the political focus away from the big message to a multitude of bespoke messages. Whereas earlier the nation or region or community was the unit of attention, the data miners target individuals.
The principle that a marketing giant like Amazon uses, based on past purchases and browsing, to issue individualised recommendations is now used to disseminate political messages. The more the data on individuals — their likes, inclinations, aversions and other habits — the greater the likelihood of accurate targeting and, by implication, dissembling.
Previous elections have always had a multiplicity of messaging, whereby larger concerns have been intertwined with specifically local or even sectarian concerns. What Cambridge Analytica has sought to do, using data mining, is first, shift the hierarchy of messaging by putting individual concerns at the centre and, second, to make it a scientific exercise. If this endeavour succeeds, politics will move from being a collective endeavour towards fragmentation. It will also be more prone to manipulation.
In view of how Cambridge Analytica has sought to change the rules of the game, it is evident why its approach is attractive to politicians anxious to convert the 2019 general elections into either an aggregation of state elections or, even worse, an inchoate cluster of highly individualised grievances.
What is becoming evident, especially after the over-hyped opposition triumphalism following the BJP’s defeat in the Phulpur and Gorakhpur by-elections, is that unrelenting negativism has become an expedient substitute for the forging of a coherent and viable alternative to Modi.
Thus, Parliament has witnessed a fortnight of disruption created by competitive din — Andhra Pradesh MPs demanding special status, Tamil Nadu MPs screaming for a Cauvery waters tribunal, Trinamool Congress MPs cherry-picking issues each day and the Congress joining the tamasha on alternate days. To cap it all, the DMK and actor-politician Kamal Haasan have resurrected the idea of a Dravida Nadu. When disaggregation sets in, voodoo science can play havoc.
The issue of data protection, which first came into prominence during the Aadhaar debate, is obviously one that needs immediate attention. However, it is the ominous political consequences of unchecked data mining of personal information that warrants equal attention. Let us not forget there are political players willing to fish in troubled waters and Frankensteins out to create monsters. For a consideration, of course.

Resurrection – The Theme of Life!

Historic temples of the South bear stoic witness to the fact that creation, destruction and resurrection are recurrent themes of life. In South India, one somehow seems closer to the country’s history, culture and religious lore. The cities are dotted with beautiful temples — small ones in residential areas or market places, and bigger iconic temples, which are the remnants of powerful kingdoms of past centuries. These temples have stood stoic witness to generations that took birth and passed on. They bear the marks of history, as a parade of powerful eras leaves their smear on them — in the form of additions, destruction, enhancement or restructuring.
Once the pride of kingdoms now long gone, these temples still reverberate with the sound of bells and aarti centuries later. Look carefully at the vimanas and inscriptions of a temple, and history speaks to you. At the Brihadisvara temple in Thanjavur for instance, amidst the frescoes and representations of Shiva on the top tower you find a European face, which is believed to be that of Marco Polo! What is he doing up there?
My visits to Tamil Nadu took me to some cities with powerful Shiva temples. History came alive as the Cholas, Pandyas and Nayaks walked out of textbooks and faced me in the form of the temple footprints they have left behind – lingams, murtis, dwarpalas, mandapas, gopurams and vimanas.
Stories of miracles, steadfast devotion and sacrifice abound. The vimana at the Jambukeswarar Temple in Trichy depicts the story of the Shiva-devotee spider who killed a fellow devotee elephant in their last birth, and was reborn as Raja Kochenga Chola, who as part of his penance for killing the elephant, built 70 temples in his human form. The lingam in this temple is said to have been established by Parvati herself in her form as Akilandeswari, sent to earth by Shiva to conduct penance.
Each of these temples reveals fascinating facts related to its construction and awe-inspiring tales about the deities within. But what caught my imagination was the recurring theme of creation, destruction and resurrection running through the stories.
When Shiva in a fit of anger severed the head of Ganesha, he later cooled down and gave him back his life by placing an elephant head on his body. When one of the Lord’s destructive forms killed Daksha, the father of his beloved wife Sati, he kindly brought him back to life, albeit with the head of a goat. And though Shiva opened his Third Eye in anger and reduced Kama, the God of desire, to ashes, later he sought Parvati’s help to revive him.
Shiva’s own immense sorrow at the death of Sati led him to adopt the life of an ascetic, deciding never to marry again. However in time he was able to overcome his sorrow and even get married – this time to Parvati, a reincarnation of Sati
Destruction followed by reincarnation; sorrow by hope and a new life… The whole theme seems to be one of hope, reincarnation and new beginnings. Surely this is one of the great recurring themes of life itself? Resurrection!
Resurrection is a recurrent theme in world culture. Of course the most prominent is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman mythology, Osiris, Orpheus and the Phoenix came back from the dead. Apart from the Shiva tales, in Indian folklore there are other examples of resurrection too, predominant amongst them being that of Savitri who brought back her dead husband Satyavahan from Yama, the God of death!
How about the way we resurrect in everyday life? Our bodies keep shedding and regenerating cells all the time. But more consciously, we keep building and rebuilding our lives, relationships and interactions periodically. Everything changes – some things fast, others over a period of time. Invasions of setbacks and periods of sadness are inevitable; people come and go, the landscape of life undergoes many changes. But much like the temples we must stand stoic and watch the parade of years, making those little changes and adjustments that the march of time demands. Else, we become irrelevant and fall off the wheel of time…

The Olympics-A Mass Propaganda Tool

Chapter 5 of the Olympic charter states “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.” The ostensible purpose of that rule is to allow for the huge global sporting event to bring people together, without fear of discrimination or of political upset. The Olympics is meant to be a blank slate where all the participant countries are united as one.
That, at least, is the utopian view of what the Olympics is, and what its governing body aims for. In practice, the Olympics are an expensive, large scale exercise in distracting citizens from problems and atrocities they face back home. Olympic pride also helps governments assimilate people into becoming nationalists, rooting for their own country and vilifying others.
Indeed, the Olympics are one big political demonstration—but for the rulers of the respective countries, not their citizens. While leaders get to preen at sending delegations to compete, or hosting the games, they strip the athletes themselves from any political speech for the brief moment they appear on a global platform that millions of people around the world might see.
Roman satirical poet Juvenal first wrote about “panem et circenses”—translated as “bread and circuses”—around 100 AD. Centuries that have passed, though his message still resonates to this day.
He wrote with disdain about how citizens effectively gave up their political voices in exchange for cheap food and entertainment—to watch gladiator matches in the coliseum. Those matches effectively were a mass distraction from societal ills (pdf), whether poverty or impending wars. Thousands of years later, nothing has really changed.
“Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they’ll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they’ll roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the Senate, it’s the sand of the coliseum.”—says Gracchus, played by Derek Jacobi, to Falco in the film Gladiator.
While there have been times when countries have been banned from the Olympics, countries that aren’t banned earn a kind of implicit seal of approval; their internal politics are “good enough” to allow them on the world stage. In turn, those nations are able to boost their own internal and external propaganda, and deflect their citizens from the issues at home.
Over the years, we’ve seen country after country spend inordinate amounts of money on stadiums and ceremonies to send audiences around the world into a state of awe—and oblivion, to the huge problems those nations create for their citizens.
China, which has a long history of human rights abuses, hosted the Olympics in 2008, and despite the sharp increase of human rights violations that were directly related to preparations for the games, it was still able to freely present to the world the “modern yet ancient” image it created for itself. Indeed, China has won the 2022 Winter Olympics for Beijing—the first time the Winter and Summer games will be hosted by the same city. Brazil massively overspent on hosting the 2016 Olympics instead of investing in solving its problems with slums and poverty. And like China, Brazil violated a number of human rights when it came to preparing for the games. Let’s not forget about Russia—the country that hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics, despite its long and continual history of human rights violations. Russia, just one cycle removed from hosting the games in Sochi, has been banned from the Winter Olympics because of its doping cover-up—but not because of its prolific problems with human rights violations.
The Olympics allow participating nations to stand on a world stage, despite some of them being repressive authoritarian states that keep their citizens in check with fear and unchecked power. This year, for example, the Olympics allowed North Korea to again put forward athletes to compete. Apparently, the gross human rights violations committed by the North Korean government, such as enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, and forced abortion, were not enough to keep the International Olympic Committee (IOC) from pretending everything is ok. Though an argument can be made that denying North Korea the right to participate would amount to punishing its athletes for the atrocities of the regime, a stronger argument is that the regime needs to be called out for its crimes, which could, in the long run, bring about change that leads to quality of life improvements for all North Koreans.
Another nation that has successfully used to the Olympics to detract from internal human rights violations, and deliver propaganda that it is socially progressive, is Saudi Arabia. For the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, we saw the smiling faces of female Saudi athletes being able to participate in the games. But that doesn’t negate the fact that women are banned from actually participating in sports back at home—part of the country’s long history of discriminating against women in law and in practice.
Again, if you happen to be an athlete from one of these repressed nations and want to speak out against your country on the Olympic stage, you’re not allowed to. This is a state of affairs that goes back to at least 1936, when Nazi Germany was allowed to host the games despite discouraging (to say the least) participation by Jewish athletes and anyone other than whites. African American track star Jesse Owens showed up Hitler by winning four gold medals—but what might world history be if athletes had a voice at the games—or if the IOC had yanked the games from Germany due to rise of its murderous dictatorship? We’ll likely never know, since the Olympics will probably never allow such political speech. Indeed, the most famous political protest at the Olympics—Tommie Smith’s and John Carlos’s black power salute in 1968—brought about their expulsion, and a harsh rebuke from then IOC president Avery Brundage. (Earlier, Brundage, while leader of the US Olympic effort, successfully fought off an American boycott of Hitler’s games.)
So really, let’s not pretend that the Olympics are free of politics, or even a force for change or a global “coming together.” All the games do is allow countries and governments to have a world platform on which to promote the status quo, and distract from myriad problems that their citizens have to face in their daily lives.

Kim Jong-un – A Possible American Ally

The announcement that General Secretary Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump will meet at a summit in May 2018 took the world by surprise. Trump had hinted at a possible meeting in May 2016 when in a throwaway line he said, “I would have no problem speaking to him.” As president, however, he threatened Kim with “fire and fury”. When Secretary of State Tillerson gestured at talks, Trump mocked him.
On 9 March 2018, North Korea dramatically changed its stance towards the US and South Korea. When the South Korean national security director announced that Trump and Kim would meet in a summit he noted that Pyongyang was “committed” to denuclearisation, that the North would stop all nuclear and missile tests and that it understood US-South Korean military drills would carry on.
Why has Kim seemingly climbed down from his commitment to nuclearisation, insistence on testing and opposition to US-South Korean military exercises?
One possibility is Kim is playing around with Trump and South Korean President Moon. In the talks with Moon and later Trump, he would turn again, making them an offer they must refuse: the withdrawal of US troops from the south as a condition for denuclearisation. What he would minimally achieve is the breaking of a taboo. No US president has met a North Korean supremo; the summit would erase that taboo. No matter what its result, the summit would also help signal the legitimacy of Kim’s rule in North Korea. Pyongyang wants full diplomatic recognition for the north, and a meeting with the US president would help achieve this goal.
Kim may also be buying time. The international community has strengthened North Korean sanctions. Pyongyang may use the talks to slow the sanctions and find clandestine ways around them – something it has done in the past. Perhaps Kim hopes that Moscow and Beijing will change their minds on the sanctions after his summit with Trump, particularly if he can make it seem the US and South Korea wrecked the talks.
A more dramatic possibility is that North Korea is looking to change strategic sides. In 1972, Mao’s China did just that. It brought its conflict with Moscow to a head and decided to ally with Washington. Pyongyang’s annoyance with China has been visible for some time. Historically, China lorded it over Korea, going back hundreds of years. That effectively ended in 1910 when Japan annexed Korea. But since 1950 Beijing has once again become Korea’s big brother, which rankles.
Is Kim exploring the possibility of changing sides and becoming an American-South Korean ally in exchange for recognition of the legitimacy of his rule? Clearly, Pyongyang would not become a formal ally. But it could sign a no-war pact with the US and the south, receive food and other aid, and open up to foreign investment.
There are dangers. China could be provoked to cause military trouble. Changing sides would entail Washington warning Beijing to lay off – just as it told Moscow to do so after the Soviet-Chinese military clashes along the Ussuri River in 1969. Is it just possible that the US would even accept a North Korean nuclear weapons programme in this strategic reversal as a way of constructing a buffer between China and South Korea and complicating Beijing’s strategic calculus in the Asia-Pacific?
Changing sides is not without the danger that the US could double-cross Kim at some point and work for his removal. He could be removed by an internal coup and put on trial before an international tribunal. If Kim is thinking of changing sides, he must weigh up which danger is greater – Chinese antagonism or a US double cross.
It is hard to know what is in Kim’s mind. At the very least, a summit with Trump will put Beijing on notice and increase Pyongyang’s bargaining hand with its great northern neighbour.

Racism Goes Mainstream in Denmark

In a newly-presented initiative, published while standing in a so-called ghetto area, where primarily immigrants live, eight Danish ministers declared openly in front of a global audience that Denmark has the intention of passing the toughest immigration and integration laws in the entire Western world.
It is not just refugees who are unwanted. The majority of mainstream political parties do not want immigrants from non-Western countries. One statistical figure keeps getting repeated in the speeches of all the right-wing political parties. It is the statistics of how much the immigration from non-Western countries is costing the Danish taxpayers annually. The latest figure is 36 billion Danish kroner every year, approximately 6 billion US dollars.
Almost a year ago, on 23 March 2017, Washington Post published an article by Samantha Ruth Brown. She wrote about Denmark after having completed her research on how racism and xenophobia manifest itself in Scandinavian politics, especially in refugee policy.
She explained explicitly, ”Few Westerners realize the Danish government has spent the past decade and a half implementing some of the most restrictive immigration policies in the world.”
Contrast this with an article published on 23 February 2018 in Bloomberg View by Megan McArdle, titled, “You Can’t Have Denmark Without Danes”. She concluded after a week’s stay in Copenhagen that Denmark was the happiest country in the world and the Scandinavian countries are the most trusting places in the world.
What Megan McArdle could not decipher because she does not speak Danish is that a very hectic and heavy debate is taking place in Denmark, and unlike Sweden, which follows all international conventions, there are politicians here who openly challenge the Danish adherence to the European Human Rights Convention. What has kept Europe happy has been the rigorous implementation of the Human Rights treaties and absence of war as such because of the desire to respect these internationally binding treaties.
Samantha Ruth Brown saw this coming already a year ago, but journalists often report inaccurately because they do not understand the language. Just a week after Megan McArdle left Denmark, the Danish government presented a plan to demolish and dismantle ghettoes forever in 2030.
The so-called ghettoes in Denmark have a big concentration of immigrants. Poor and jobless immigrants are packed into these areas, as they normally cannot get housing elsewhere. It is a vicious circle, as some immigrants have told me that “since we live here, we get bad grades, no one gives us a job and everyone looks upon us as losers”.
Most of the children born in these ghettoes have parents coming from so-called non-Western countries, but these children do speak Danish fluently. Nevertheless, nobody trusts them. It is this feeling they have in a society that boasts of being the world’s most egalitarian and trusting society.
Eight Danish ministers went into a housing complex called Mjølnerparken, and last week presented what could possibly be termed Europe’s most xenophobic and racist project called “Et Danmark uden parallelsamfund – ingen ghettoer i 2030”. ( A Danmark without parallel society- no ghettoes in 2030).
The government wants to implement 22 harsh measures, and one such measure is to give double punishment for a crime committed in the premises of a ghetto area and its surroundings. It actually means that an average Danish child, or children of rich parents, will get only half of the punishment for committing a crime in their own areas, and because poor immigrants live in poor ghetto areas their children will get double punishment.
This has long-reaching consequences. It means that you cannot get an apprenticeship, a job, etc., and the future is bleak once you are caught by the radar. Other measures mean that you cannot marry someone from outside the EU and get permission for family reunification, if you live in an apartment in a ghetto area.
As far as family reunification laws are concerned, no other country in the Western world has such tough rules. Even mothers with children who live in Denmark are asked regularly to leave Denmark. Children not born in Denmark, who move here because their mother or father gets married to a Dane, do not necessarily get to stay, thus forcing the entire family to leave Denmark.
Every month there are cases in the media of people who have lost their right to be in Denmark even if they have lived here for 8 to 10 years.
Almost all political parties are obsessed with the idea of extraditing Shouib Khan, a gangster leader whose parents come from Pakistan, but he himself was born and brought up in Denmark. The Danish courts are emphasizing in their judgements that he cannot be expelled from the country as he has lived his entire life here, but Danish politicians even from mainstream parties insist that since he speaks Urdu he should be sent back to Pakistan.
Pakistanis no longer see India as an enemy state. Many of them tell me that had India and Pakistan stayed together, then they would have had no reason to migrate to such a racist state. As the marginalization of Muslims in particular and immigrants in general grows, people start rethinking their affiliations of the past.
Without hardly any exception, most election campaigns in Europe are fought on how tougher rules against migrants need to be taken. They want to keep Indians, Pakistanis, Turks, Afghanis, Somalis, etc. out.
Let us hope this inspires people in the non-Western world to mobilize and establish peace in the region so that people do not have to migrate in huge numbers to look for better opportunities. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. This fence is becoming a lot more difficult to climb and cross, and even if you succeed, there is no guarantee of a life without feeling the pain of discrimination. As a Pakistani shopkeeper told me, “Apna vatan to Apna vatan hota hai”. He told me that he is planning to move back to Pakistan with his whole family after some years here.

Sunday Special: Indians & Colonial Hangover

While presiding over a Rajya Sabha session recently, Chairman Venkaiah Naidu asked ministers to refrain from using “colonial terms” during proceedings. Called to lay listed papers, minister of state for finance P Radhakrishnan began by saying “I beg to lay….” Naidu immediately quipped that the minister should just use the term “I rise” to lay the papers and not “beg to”. “Just say I rise to lay on the table…. No need to beg… this is independent India,” he said.
Naidu, who is also the Vice President of India, had brought minor changes in the conduct of proceedings in the Rajya Sabha from day one, asking ministers and members not to use colonial terms while laying papers on the table.
After coming to power, the NDA has made concerted efforts to depart from colonial-era practices – presentation of Budget on February 1, instead of February 28 or 29 and merging the Railways Budget with the General Budget are some of the notable steps.
In fact, Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government started the trend when the then finance minister Yashwant Sinha advanced the timing of the Budget presentation to 11am instead of 5pm in the evening. The practice was inherited from the colonial era, when the British Parliament would pass the Budget in the noon followed by India in the evening of that day.
It is ironical that even after seven decades of independence, the legacy of the British continues in almost all sectors of governance – from judiciary to policing, military practices and even in Parliament, the look, feel, protocol and practices still gives a glimpse of the colonial regime. The durwans attired in colonial dress code with long turbans standing in upright position alongside the Speaker and Chairman is a legacy of the British that is being continued till date. Similarly, the Judges in India are still referred to as ‘My Lord’, ‘Your Honour’.
Even the practice of having peons in government offices and old corporate houses are the legacies of the colonial era that we have gleefully accepted. So, is the culture of ‘Sir’ and ‘Madam’. As far as policing is concerned, our police force still resorts to lathi charge to control unruly mobs- a practice that the British Raj widely used as a tool to suppress the satyagrahis who challenged their regime.
Even till date, we are practising colonial era laws that have been termed outdated in the country of origin. The defence sector also bears a similar story. The qualified ‘jawans’ are used as orderlies to look after the household chores of the big bosses of the armed forces. A remnant of the British legacy, the orderly system has continued under different names “sevadar”, “sahayaks” (in army) etc.
According to reports, in March 2010, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence had opined that the system of employing jawans as “sahayaks”, “prevalent in the army in one form or the other since British days, is a shameful practice which should have no place in independent India.” Similarly, in April 2013, a Parliamentary committee headed by BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu had recommended the government to abolish the orderly system as it affected the morale of the policemen and considerably depleted the strength for normal policing duties.
So, why are we still continuing with colonial culture? Is it because these attitudes have been assimilated so much into our culture that they are now a part of our system? After all, India was under the British Raj for more than 200 years. In that case, the influence should have been traced in other countries ruled by the British regime. However, the US charted a different path after they declared their independence from them.
It would be fair to say that India’s decision to remain a member of Commonwealth nations, coupled with Nehru’s soft corner towards Mountbatten and most important our obsession for everything that is ‘English’ including the language has ensured that it became a part of our identity.
The Congress party which ruled the country for more than four decades, either didn’t pay heed to the culture left behind by the British or enjoyed taking privileges and felt GOOD being treated as superior beings so much so that these privileges became a part of governance. Most important, the common man too imbibed the ‘English’ culture with pride. It became a ‘style statement’ and a yardstick to judge an individual’s ‘intellect’ level.
The BJP government, after coming to power has tried to set a new trend by giving up British culture. Time and again, BJP ministers have made their displeasure against the use of colonial practices. In a bid to end VIP culture, an inheritance from the British Raj, Modi government after assuming power, decided to get rid of red beacons on the officials’ cars of ministers, bureaucrats and other officials.
Similarly, while addressing the 51st convocation of the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade last year, the then commerce and industry minister the present defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman called for a ‘review’ of the British-era tradition of wearing gowns at graduation ceremonies. Students could do things even better than throw up their graduation hats in the air, she had said. Moreover, other Union ministers such as Kiren Rijiju have openly expressed his displeasure over the obsession for English.
According to reports, the Army is now actively considering recruiting civilian staff in peace stations to do away with the colonial-era Sahayak system, in the wake of rising cases of jawans coming out openly against it.
However, these changes are nominal unless there is a concerted effort to change the mindset of the people, who still have no qualms about carrying on the legacy of the Raj era.

Inflammatory, Irresponsible Headlines Define Media

We need the news media. We need to be informed about what is happening in the world. But the way most reporters cover certain events creates more misunderstanding than understanding—and far bigger problems than solutions
This morning we saw news of a tragic incident in Sacramento. Here are the headlines announcing it in mainstream media sources:
CNN: “Sacramento police shot man holding cell phone in his grandmother’s yard”
Vox: “Police shot and killed an unarmed black man in his own backyard. All he was holding was a cellphone”
ABC: “Unarmed man killed by police who fired 20 rounds at him”
Washington Post: “Police shot at a man 20 times in his own yard, thinking he had a gun. It was an iPhone”
Just reading the headlines, you get an unmistakable picture of out-of-control, trigger-happy policemen randomly murdering innocent, unassuming black people on their own property. These same basic facts—police killed, 20 rounds, black man, unarmed, cellphone, own backyard, grandmother—constituted the headline and lead material for the New York Times, Sacramento Bee, Buzzfeed, Salon and on and on and on.
Such reporting is not aimed at informing as a public service. It is aimed at attracting clicks, fueling emotion—and irresponsibly stoking the provocative narrative of violently racist law enforcement making America unsafe for young black men.
Sure enough, protests have started over the incident, with people condemning “killer cops” and holding signs saying “Abolish the police.”
Look just a little deeper and you see additional facts. These facts are at least as pertinent as those news editors have splashed across their headlines. What about the fact that the man had apparently been breaking into vehicles? Or that police witnessed him shatter a sliding glass door in an occupied home, then run and jump a fence into another property? What about the officers’ claim that when they gave him commands to stop and show his hands, he ran?
The fact that he was unarmed is easy to discern afterward—but can be impossible to know in the moment. Is the fact that he was advancing at police with an object extended in front of him that they thought was a gun not relevant?
What about the fact that he has a criminal record, with a robbery charge, possession of a firearm, possession of a controlled substance, and two felony counts of domestic abuse?
To today’s media, no, no, no, no and no. They strip out the context and reduce their reports to narratives that effectively condemn police for excessive force and racially motivated lethality—and absolves the man they killed of all responsibility. They are presumed guilty. He is presumed innocent.
Perhaps these policemen were out of control. But it would have been just as “accurate” for the media to have reported, “Car thief defies police and is killed.” “Neighborhood stalked by multiple felon; police defend burglary victims.” You wouldn’t read those headlines because the media tend not to condemn criminals before a trial. But they don’t mind condemning our policemen.
Here’s another fact you don’t hear nearly as much as the fiction that America is a killing field of black males. In a nation of 325 million people, 987 people were shot and killed by police last year, according to the Washington Post. Of those, 223 were black, and 20 were unarmed. Tragedies do occur. But even if you are black, you are likelier to be killed by a lightning strike than by a policeman.

North Korea’s Olypic Gambit- a Repeat of The Nazis Experimewnt of 1936

During just 16 days in 1936, Adolf Hitler reinvigorated the Nazi party in one of his most successful propaganda coups—hosting the Olympic games in Berlin. Using the sporting event as a platform to shape the party’s image in a more favorable light, Hitler had “every reason to be satisfied” after he and Nazi officials charmed their global counterparts, the historian Oliver Hilmes told Quartz.
“In the 1930s, Nazi Germany had a major image problem after a series of provocations and broken promises,” he says. “But the Olympic games played a major role is showing his ‘friendly face’ and presenting the country as an open-minded and tolerant one, even as a friendly member with the wider community.”
This was quite a feat because only months before the Olympics, the unified forces of Nazi Germany, the Wehrmacht, basically wiped its feet with the Treaty of Versailles and marched into the demilitarized zone of Rhineland.
This is worth remembering today. After a year in which North Korea put the rest of the world on edge with its frequent missile tests and chilling propaganda, there was much cooing over the authoritarian state marching in unison with South Korea at the Winter Olympics, and the presence of some hermit state officials. Meanwhile, two countries with horrendous track records for human rights and corruption, Russia and Qatar, are gearing up to host football World Cups in 2018 and 2022.
In his 2018 book, Berlin 1936: Sixteen Days in August, Hilmes detailed the extraordinary impact that the Olympic games had on re-energizing the Nazi party. Focusing on the stories of people who attended, “everyone from the normal person to diplomats, to socialites to prostitutes,” Hilme detailed how the Nazis were able to use a major sporting event to manipulate the minds of the masses.
The Olympic games was one of the many moments the Nazis successfully cultivated adoration from the masses, it marked an “absolute high point of respect in Germany and amongst the people,” Hilmes says. “It allowed Hitler to show his qualities as a leader, a father of the nation. While he of course had meetings [with officials from around the world], he only spoke once in those 16 days and it was only one sentence.”
That was enough to present the Third Reich in a good light amid the “spectacle and choreography” of the games that “worked very well” in helping propaganda minister Josef Goebbels present the Berlin games as a “festival of joy and peace.”
The Olympics allowed the Nazis to pretend that they were friendly and inclusive. This, of course, was far from the truth. After the African-American athlete Jesse Owens won four gold medals, Goebbals wrote in his diary: “White humanity should be ashamed.” Meanwhile, the Nazis were building a huge new concentration camp, Sachsenhausen, nearby.
Hitler and the Nazi party’s authority was most bolstered by the presence of the US, the UK, France, and other powerful nations at the Olympics. As detailed in his book, people were captivated by Nazi officials. Sir Robert Vansittart from the British Foreign Office said of Goebbels, “I liked him and his wife at once.” An American tourist bypassed security to try to kiss Hitler on the cheek—“I simply embraced him because he appeared so friendly and gracious,” she recalled.
If those countries and citizens didn’t go to the games in Berlin, Hitler may not have had the chance to show off on such a prominent stage. But they did. And now it seems history is repeating itself.
The United Nations, as well as the NGO Human Rights Watch, have detailed how the North Korean government routinely commits gross human rights violations against its citizens, including enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, and forced abortion. The authoritarian state has also provoked its neighbors and adversaries with its frequent missile tests.
Perhaps even more than in Hitler’s time, large and internationally visible sporting events in the age of 24-hour cable news and social media can be incredibly advantageous PR exercises for authoritarian regimes. North Korea brought almost 500 of its citizens to South Korea for the Winter Olympics, and when Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of Kim Jong-un, landed on South Korean soil—the first member of ruling family to visit since the Korean war—it was hailed as a diplomatic high point (paywall) for both North and South Korea. Kim Yo Jong didn’t need to talk or give a speech for people and the media to fawn over her.
Hilmes called it “naive” to believe the Olympics could bring North and South Korea closer.
“If you think back to the Berlin Games in 1936, that’s what the British and Americans thought,” he said. “They thought, ‘maybe we’ve cured Hitler from being aggressive,’ but the opposite was the truth. Remember, while he was publicly sitting there quietly during those 16 days, he gave the order for further militarization.” Within four years, many of the nations at the games were embroiled in World War II.
With the Olympics over, this remains an issue. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cups in 2018 and 2022 are slated to take place in countries with horrendous track records of human rights: Russia and Qatar.
Of course, much has changed in the world since 1936, Hilme said. Still, “it’s ridiculous,” he said: “Qatar, with no huge soccer background and extreme heat, huge corruption, homosexuality is illegal, supports international terrorism, is able to host the World Cup. Same with Russia.”
Investigations are underway into the whether corruption played a part in the FIFA votes to give Russia and Qatar the honor of hosting a World Cup. But assuming the events go ahead as planned, Hilme says, other countries have a question to ask themselves: “Why should liberal and democratic countries have any business being there?”
“Back in 1936, if the US, UK, and France denied attending the games in Nazi Germany, the event would’ve been much smaller and its political strategy would’ve run into a wall,” Hilme says. “It would not have worked out so well for them. So it’s kind of a responsibility of Americans and British people and the rest of the international movement to ask why they take part in such events.”

Saturday Special: Padmavat-A Bollywood Movie-Creates Waves in Muslim World

Padmaavat in Pakistan The film attracted protests in India accusing it of distorting history by portraying a dissolute Muslim ruler’s “love” for Queen Padmavati of a Hindu Rajput warrior clan.
Malaysia banned the Bollywood film Padmaavat citing its negative portrayal of a Muslim ruler. The film attracted protests in India accusing it of distorting history by portraying a dissolute Muslim ruler’s “love” for Queen Padmavati of a Hindu Rajput warrior clan. But India’s Supreme Court allowed the film to be screened. Pakistan saw the movie amid scholarly articles in the national press accusing the movie of vilifying a perfectly nice Muslim king, Sultan Alauddin Khilji.
But what is Padmaavat? It is an epic poem written by a South Asian Muslim, the sufi Malik Muhammad Jayasi… And let’s note: While one does find later transcriptions of the Padmaavat in the Devanagari script, it was originally written in the Persian nastaliq.
Padmavati’s character is apocryphal”, which leaves only Khilji as the historically real person in the film. She is anyway Rani Padmavati of the Singhal kingdom (modern Sri Lanka) where a talking parrot, Hiraman, was banished for falling in love with the princess. The clever parrot ends up as a pet of another raja, Rawal Ratan Sen.
Then there was an objection by historian Tahir Kamran from Government College Lahore who claimed Khilji was not a bad chap, comparatively speaking. Khilji carried out reforms that held off the Mongol assault: “All these reforms from their conception to execution must have kept him preoccupied, leaving no time to camp outside Mewar with his army just in pursuit of Rani Padmavati.”
In medieval times, everybody was supposed to be heavily into cruelty, not sparing even the king’s own close relatives. The pre-Mughal sultans were hardly touched by the humanity one starts recognising in some Mughal kings although, barring Akbar, no one really pulls at the heartstrings of our era.
On May 24-25, at the Lahore Literary Festival Ali Mahmood spoke about his book succinctly titled “Muslims” with more candour than usual among historians. His section on Khilji was forthright: “Alauddin was the nephew and son-in-law of Jalaluddin, the old king, but was ambitious enough to kill the king and take over the throne. The king ignored advice and fell to the nephew’s sword in a typical scene. Jalaluddin went out to meet his nephew who was returning victorious from war, bringing much booty from his conquests.
As they embraced, Alauddin gave the signal to an executioner who plunged his sword into the sultan. With blood pouring from his wound Sultan cried out, ‘Ah, thou villain, Alauddin! What hast thou done?’ Another guard cut off the head of the sultan which was presented to Alauddin, impaled on a spear.”
What Muslims do to each other today in Syria should be condemned because their savagery is out of tune with our times; but back in the 13th century everybody did it. According to Ali Mehmood, what did Alauddin do next: “Setting out for Delhi, he bribed the people with enough gold coins to make them forget the murder of the sultan. On reaching Delhi, he blinded the princes, arrested their mother and secured the throne.”
And what did he do to the Hindus? Alauddin’s policy for the Hindus was severe. In his own words: “I know that Hindus will never become submissive and obedient till they are reduced to poverty. They shall not be allowed to accumulate wealth and property”. Historian Barni wrote, “As soon as the revenue collector demands the sum due from him, the Hindu pays with meekness, humility and respect and he, should the collector choose to spit in his mouth, opens the same without hesitation.”
It is no surprise that this crazy bipolar king was lured by a cunning court sorcerer Chetan to focus on Padmavati. Khilji sent an ultimatum to Chittorgarh telling Rawal Ratan Singh he wanted to “catch a glimpse” of his queen. It was all clearly under duress and the queen knew it. He was smitten and wanted to take her to Delhi with him after preferably killing the raja. What followed was horrible but routine in those days. According to an Urdu source: “A huge pyre was lit and the queen and other ladies got dressed in their best clothes. They sang religious songs and prepared themselves to endure the pain as the flames engulfed their bodies. Rani Padmavati jumped first and the rest followed.”
Malaysia couldn’t take Padmaavat because of Malaysia’s growing radical Islamisation. Some of the goings-on under sharia in its various states are quite shocking, given its large non-Muslim population. So, one is not surprised. But that Pakistan saw the movie with its horrendous portrayal of Khilji is groundbreaking. It might lead to a purgation of what al Qaeda and Islamic State have done to Pakistan.

Juggad-The Frugal Innovation: The Power that France and India Can Unleash


“France’s engineering capabilities, combined with the Indian concept of frugal ingenuity, could help us solve global problems.”
According to a recent Gallup International Association poll, French President Emmanuel Macron and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are rated as two of the most favoured world leaders.
They have a historic opportunity to use their huge popularity and goodwill at home and abroad to heal our fractured world. The way to do it is through co-innovation — by bringing together Indian and French engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, designers, artists and business leaders. Together, these innovators will create solutions to what I call “problems without borders”: social inequality, global warming, chronic diseases, water and food scarcity.
Last December, in Mumbai, I attended the Indo-French STEAM School — which shows how co-innovation can have a major positive impact worldwide. This 10-day programme is co-organized every year by the French Embassy in India, the Paris-based Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity, and Maker’s Asylum, a community space in Mumbai. The programme enables STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) education through hands-on problem-solving based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The 100 participants, mostly from France and India, were architects, designers, artists, engineers, academics, and students. Organized in 19 interdisciplinary teams, they were asked to design a product to tackle one of five specific Sustainable Development Goals in the Indian context: health, education, water/sanitation, energy, and sustainable cities. Over the course of the programme, the participants developed working prototypes of their products.
Out of the 19 final prototypes, here are four that I particularly like. They demonstrate how to harness the power of frugal innovation to devise simple and cost-effective solutions to major socio-economic and ecological problems:
– BAT is a low-cost wrist wearable to aid the visually impaired. According to a Lancet study, 36 million people in the world are blind, a number set to increase to 115 million by 2050. In India alone, 8.8 million citizens suffer from blindness and nearly 48 million have moderate and severe vision impairment, the largest number for any country. BAT wants to make life easier and safer for these people. The device, fitted with a Six Axis feedback mechanism, alerts the user of oncoming obstacles using vibrations, enabling an easier and less obtrusive way to navigate public areas.
– The SADA Kit is a simple, portable solution to prevent water-borne health epidemics caused by open-air defecation in rural India. 2.5 billion in the world still lack access to toilets. 300 million Indian women and girls are affected by it. The SADA kit aims to improve the health, safety, and dignity of these women. The kit comprises of a lightweight portable toilet with a pop-up privacy shield, a waste disposal bag, a small wearable light and whistle, soap, and sanitary pads for women.
– BIJLI aims to make affordable energy accessible to everyone. It is a low-cost device that can be retrofitted to existing bicycles. It transforms kinetic energy from the wheels into electric energy that can be stored in a battery pack or can be used to charge small electronic gadgets like mobile phones. The device can be used on the go or while the bicycle is stationary. Distributed energy solutions like BIJLI can be a boon for the 300 million Indians who live with little or no electricity today.
– WASTED is a smart waste segregation bin that helps spread better awareness of how much waste we generate. By turning the process of segregation into a game and connecting sensors in the actual bin to an app, it enables users to track and compare waste statistics with friends and neighbors. The idea is to “nudge” people and societies towards zero waste. India generates over 100,000 metric tons of solid waste each day, higher than any other country. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that by adopting the circular economy principles—through reuse and recycling of waste and resources—India could reap $624 billion in annual benefits in 2050 and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 44%.
Several STEAM School teams continue to work on their projects and some even plan to turn them into startups. Maker’s Asylum has offered the teams free access to its space, tools, and mentor support, to take their projects forward. But as Vaibhav Chhabra, founder of Maker’s Asylum, points out: “The goal of STEAM School isn’t to solve the SDGs in 10 days, but to teach how to solve them. We empower participants by providing them the confidence, tools, knowledge, space, and communities they need to change the world. STEAM also teaches empathy and tolerance to participants. They learn to transcend their differences, respect each other, and find unity in a shared purpose. They become globally-conscious problem-solvers.”
Vaibhav is right. I interacted with French students from CRI, EM Lyon Business School, and Institut Mines-Télécom at STEAM School. They were thrilled to be part of it and were excited to discover India in a positive light. They said that by working together with Indians, they developed greater respect for India and its culture. In today’s fractured world, we need more STEAM Schools to help young people in the West gain direct exposure to foreign cultures. This is key to breaking down prejudices spread by the (social) media and foster global understanding and mutual respect.
There is an Indian saying that captures the power of synergies: Ek Aur Ek Gyarah Hote Hain, or One and One Equals Eleven. France’s strong science and engineering capabilities, combined with the Indian concept of jugaad, or frugal ingenuity, could help us solve problems that threaten all of humanity.
Macron — who is visiting India this year — has also been inspired by another important Indian principle. In his memoir Revolution, he said that through the Indian epic Mahabharata, he “discovered India in the path of Dharma (the Hindu way of righteousness), which makes us responsible—each one of us in our respective fields and in solidarity with everyone—for the order of the world.”
Macron and Modi must seize this epochal opportunity to assume moral leadership and restore Dharma on earth. They can do so by bolstering co-innovation between India and France — through top-down R&D partnerships such as the International Solar Alliance as well as bottom-up collaborative initiatives like STEAM School.
As a French-Indian, I am thrilled to be part of this process. I left India in 1989 to study in France. During the 80 and 90s, France and India were both relatively closed to the outside world. Cooperation between both countries was very limited. I long dreamed of a day when India and France would team up to create solutions without borders. Now my dream is finally coming true.
The theme of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2018 in Davos was “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World.” You can’t fix a fractured and conflict-ridden world with the competitive zero-sum mindset that has long dominated world affairs. Instead, it’s time to adopt the cooperative “1+1=11” formula. Macron and Modi can show the way.

The Digital Revolution Need not be Inimical to Democracies

Amid the waves of populism currently engulfing many Western democracies, it’s all too easy to forget the core purpose of governments; what the men and women who roam the corridors of power, and the civil service who support them, are actually supposed to do.
In my view, governments have four overriding (and somewhat overlapping) duties.
The first is to regulate: to pass laws, preserve and protect democracy, limit corruption, and strike the right balance between ensuring stability and allowing citizens to run their own lives. When (widely) unforeseen events, such as the 2008 financial crisis, take place, their task is to steer the oil tanker of government through the ensuing storm and reduce the impact on households and businesses. Failure to do so invariably brings administrations down – a sign that democracy, for all its flaws, is functioning and, if the need arises, the electorate can still kick incumbents in the teeth.
A democratic government’s second role might loosely be termed “redistribution”: to uphold a social contract with its citizens, whereby the poorest and most vulnerable are protected. This strand of governance encompasses everything from resourcing and maintaining a viable health service to providing support for the unemployed.
The third is investment in critical infrastructure (roads, bridges, airports) and education (from nurseries to universities), as well as those areas that cannot be left to the mercy of the markets alone – scientific research, the arts, sports, historical monuments and national parks, for example.
The fourth, and some might argue the most important responsibility of government, is to protect its citizens and uphold the rule of law. Without police, a functioning court and legal system, a military and agencies to safeguard people against everything from global pandemics to natural disasters and from homegrown terrorism to external aggression, society in any meaningful sense cannot exist. That Western societies do not descend into riots and mass lawlessness is testament to the fact that representative democracy by and large works.
Of course the degree to which democracies prioritize these four areas varies profoundly. The United States under Donald Trump, for example, is set to spend heavily on infrastructure and defense, while slashing the government workforce (indeed, at the time of writing, he had already ordered a federal hiring freeze). Meanwhile, nations such as France, Finland, Belgium and Denmark devote far more than the OECD average to social services.
Yet, however they spend their budgets, broadly speaking, Western societies, led by the US, were built on the same premise. Namely that governments and major corporations must work together to build long-term stability. Across the past century, as the Stratechery’s Ben Thompson describes, this unwritten contract meant that – via trade treaties, military and police protection, investments in infrastructure and research – governments ensured the development and acquisition of markets for businesses. In return, the private sector provided stable full-time jobs, financing health insurance and pensions for their employees.
At least that was the way it used to work.
Digital changes everything
For all its upsides, the digital revolution – which has done so much to transform our daily lives – has not so much disrupted this decades-old model as upended it. The implicit understanding and partnership between governments and businesses has become unworkable, threatening the very fabric of democracy.
To understand why, it’s first necessary to consider the particular characteristics of lean digital businesses that set them apart from the traditional corporate world, which is itself scrambling to adjust. There are five of them; together, they are game-changing.
First is what we might term “non-localization”. Whether it’s the companies themselves, their headquarters for tax purposes or the teams who build and run them, locations no longer matter and borders are irrelevant. Digital businesses, like talent and money, are fluid and can now base themselves anywhere. Not so long ago, if you wanted to market your product or service in India, you needed a distribution network, an office and employees there. Today, you can build a thriving SaaS product in India, from London, Amsterdam or Palo Alto. Or as a startup in Paris or Stockholm, you can outsource your entire back-office or sales team to India, without even getting on a plane.
Next, many internet businesses are simply platforms or marketplaces (think eBay, Uber, Airbnb, and Etsy), which connect demand and supply, or buyers and sellers. While the battle still rages as to whether Uber is an employer or merely a facilitator for self-employed “entrepreneur” drivers, there’s little doubt on which side the firm itself comes down. Similarly, even those celebrated billion-dollar tech unicorns that do employ staff require far fewer than “traditional” tech corporations. Founded over a century ago, IBM, for example, had over 377,000 employees in 2015; Google, less than two decades old, has a rather more modest workforce of fewer than 16,000. Meanwhile, WhatsApp had around 35 employees when it was acquired by Facebook for $19 billion in 2014. What a fully-automated digital business 20 years from now might look like, we can only imagine.
The network effect digital businesses enjoy creates a winner-takes-all environment, while the consequent and ever-expanding data deluge enables such companies to drive efficiencies and do far more with less. The net result of fewer successful companies employing ever-fewer people is of course a hugely reduced tax base – with the burden of healthcare and pensions falling on individuals, and ultimately, increasingly, government. Furthermore, the fact that these companies are not tied to any particular geography and can base themselves wherever is most tax-efficient (in fact, governments are scrambling to offer incentives to attract these corporations) explains why corporate taxation rates across 28 G20 and OECD countries have plunged from an average of 45% in 1983 towards 25% today.
As a result, the aforementioned contract between corporations and government is slowly splintering; few would doubt who holds the whip hand today.
The list of obligations it is increasingly difficult for governments to fulfill looks set to grow. The squeeze on corporate tax revenues and the coming impact of AI/automation on jobs makes it harder for government to tax and regulate businesses and, as a consequence, hamstrings its role as redistributor. Meanwhile, rising numbers of participants in the gig economy – and according to the McKinsey Global Institute, 20-30% of the labour force in the US & EU-15 are now classified as independent workers – make protecting workers’ rights evermore fraught and complex.
Nor can governments continue to effectively protect their citizens’ privacy. The explosion in the number of data-brokers (there are at least 4,000 data broker companies worldwide and the industry is estimated to be worth some $200 billion), who gather, repackage and resell data derived from publicly available records and online activity, means that private corporations are increasingly straying onto what was traditionally government turf. Areas such as security, censuses and healthcare are just another market opportunity for digital companies who, by definition, prioritize profit over the public good.
And the fact that many hundreds of millions of people have freely handed over their private data to the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Apple and countless others – who have a great deal of freedom to use this data as they see fit – merely emphasizes how governments, who are hardwired to regulate existing behaviours rather than future ones, are reduced to playing catch up with businesses who can – and do – outmaneuver them at every turn.
Slipping into irrelevance
All of the above factors are steadily converging to create a perfect storm for the very notion of Western liberal democracy. As the power of tech companies continues to grow, the corresponding legitimacy of governments starts to leach away. After all, how can a government enjoy the trust of its people if it can no longer fulfill its fundamental obligations? Put even more starkly, if it cannot serve its citizens, or adjust to the hyper speed of the digital economy, then government itself is in danger of slipping into irrelevance.
Indeed, if things do not change, then I believe two extreme yet entirely plausible scenarios may soon see the light of day. In the first – and arguably we are already starting to see this – governments, hemorrhaging power, will start to assert their authority in a very aggressive way. With their backs to the wall, they will become increasingly authoritarian, pandering to tides of popular anger by blocking immigration, stigmatizing minorities, vilifying opponents (and I include the free press here), nationalizing businesses, and beefing up security laws, including, in all likelihood, forcing tech companies to create backdoors with which to collect information on all citizens “in the public interest”.
In the other scenario, governments will become mere gatekeepers, as they grow increasingly algorithmic, with policy shaped by data and public services outsourced to private businesses and the slipstream of the marketplace. Under such circumstances, it is all but certain that regulatory oversight of corporations will be dramatically scaled back, in effect ripping up a government’s contract with its people.
4 main areas to be addressed
Yet, while we may be edging closer to such doomsday scenarios, there is still time for reform. Going into any depth on the necessary steps would require several thousand more words. So, at a high level, I’d argue there are four main areas which urgently need to be addressed.
As money equals power, the first is “solving” corporate taxation. This is an issue which politicians are fond of talking about, but rather less inclined to confront. Why? Because they run headlong into difficulties with the very employers they rely upon to create and maintain jobs for their populations.
In an era where corporation tax rates are in free-fall, certain tech giants have deeper coffers than many exchequers and digital multinationals have become ever more adept at tax avoidance (as opposed to evasion), governments of all stripes need to work together to forge a global response and secure this income stream for the long term. This is likely to involve moving to a destination-based cash flow taxation model, where the location of sales supersedes that of operations. Some tentative steps have been taken in this direction, but meaningful implantation is still a pipedream.
Next, labour laws need an urgent reboot so that they take into account that the on-demand economy is no passing fad, but a sea change in the way people transact. Anyone who doubts the staying-power of the gig economy should consider the way urban lives have changed over the past few years. Millions have grown used to summoning a car, a restaurant-cooked meal or a flat-pack furniture assembler to their door with a couple of taps of their phone. Regulating this growing industry out of existence may be popular with a few incumbents (such as taxi drivers and hotel chains), but would be a major blow to innovation and unlikely be supported by the population at large. That’s why governments should work together to rebuild social protections with on-demand platforms, rather than despite them.
⦁ Borrowing heavily from an ⦁ analysis by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), I’d suggest a couple of options for better supporting on-demand workers. One is to create a new category of worker, which would fall somewhere between full employee and freelancer, with associated protections. Another is to revisit each labour law, in turn, to adapt them to the new reality, focusing on the law’s original intention rather than fixating on whether a worker is an employee or not (we need to get over that distinction, and fast). In the meantime, as the ITIF suggests, lawmakers could introduce temporary exemptions for the gig economy, while these laws are debated and revamped.
The third reform is to leverage technology to boost governmental transparency and efficiency, designing all interactions with the state around the user (as they have in the UK and Estonia). This would include posting all day-to-day government activity and spending online, opening up all government data to spur transparency and innovation, and enabling as many administrative tasks as possible – whether it is renewing a driving license or applying for power of attorney – to be carried out online. The resulting data could be used to improve services, along with feedback and crowd-sourced ideas from citizens. At a stroke, government would begin to be proactive and predictive, replacing the traditional model where authorities respond to events and surveys that are outdated the minute they are released.
Finally, this surge of activity could fuel reform of other key aspects of government. As it touches almost every area of running a country, technology could streamline processes, strip out duplication, reduce bureaucracy, drive decentralization, and most importantly overhaul existing laws to ensure they’re fit for purpose in the digital age. Similarly, tech can enable a tide of participatory democracy, where citizens play a far greater role in local decision-making. Greater accountability will only reinforce democracy, granting it a new lease of life.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the traditional order is currently under threat. As Western governmental systems fray at the edges and their budgets creak under the strain, the digital revolution offers a once-in-a-century opportunity for renewal. Handled correctly, technology-powered reform can refresh democracies – and reenergize their populations in the process.

Weekend Special: Mayong- Much Feared India’s Black Magic capital

Any person who has watched “American Horror Story: Coven” is bound to be fascinated by the land of New Orleans and the ancient traditions of magic that were/are practised there. And of course, most people have heard of Salem, notorious for the witch hunts and a mecca for thrill seekers and those who wish to dabble in the ‘dark arts’. Oh, and who hasn’t heard of Hogwarts, or Diagon Alley? Most of the millennial population is far more familiar with the hallways at Hogwarts than the roads that lead to their own home
Yet, despite our fascination with magic and the occult, few have heard of Mayong – India’s capital of witchcraft. In the year 1667, when the Mughal power was unmatched, Aurangzeb ordered the Mughal general Raja Ram Singh to subdue the Ahoms. Raja Ram Singh, with the entire might of the Mughal army behind him, approached this mission with trepidation.
Was it because he was afraid of the skilled Ahom army? Did he believe that the Ahoms had better weapons and battle-gear than the Mughals? No. What filled Singh with fear and anguish was Assam’s affinity with magic and the fearsome tales that emerged from Mayong, the undisputed capital for all things other-worldly.
In an effort to ward off ‘evil’, Raja Ram Singh took Guru Teg Bahadur with him. While it is true that Teg Bahadur introduced Sikhism in Assam, the story goes that even he couldn’t save the great Mughal general from defeat.
“Mughals were routed in the Battle of Saraighat in 1671 and Ram Singh beat a hasty retreat, never to return. He was lucky; a few others before him did not come back alive. Ikhtiyaruddin Yuzbuk Tughril Khan, a sultan of Bengal invaded Assam in 1256-57 and perished with his army there. Alamgir Nama of Mirza Muhammad Kazim, a chronicle of the first 10 years of Emperor Aurangzeb’s reign, while talking about an invasion by Muhammad Shah in 1332 with one lakh horsemen, says, “The whole army perished in that land of witchcraft, and not a trace was left,” wrote Manimughda S Sharma for TOI, way back in 2012.
Imagine that – the great Mughal army that was unstoppable and had laid many great armies to waste, was routed by those that most of the Indian population still ignores or treats with indifference. Not only were/are the people residing in the northeast of our land brave, they were/are also ingenious in their ways.
However, it would be unfair to ignore the brave leadership of Lachit Barphukan and the brilliant military intelligence, use of terrain and the guerrilla tactics of the Ahom warriors.
The village of Mayong can be found around 40 kilometres away from Guwahati and is next to Probitora Wildlife Sanctuary. Shrouded in myths and stories, it is said that almost every family here has scriptures and manuscripts that have been passed down from the ancient ages. While some families have hidden them skilfully, others have burned them for fear of the magical knowledge falling into the wrong hands.Legend has it that the people here can cure illness using mantras and can even turn leaves into fish.The scriptures that have been found are said to contain knowledge that can turn anyone invincible but they haven’t been decoded yet.
“Isn’t it amazing that a bez (witch doctor) casts a spell and a bell-metal dish sticks to the back of a man sitting upright, defying the law of gravity? I saw this with my own eyes,” said award-winning film critic-turned-filmmaker Utpal Borpujari to TOI.

Social Media & Terrorism

The failure by the social media networks to enforce the prevention of terror-related content on their sites is, in fact, a direct violation of the Antiterrorism Act and the Material Supply Statutes; the general public is also in its right to have the protections of the Community Decency Act of 1996 cover content on social media.
The conclusion is that the social media companies are adopting an adversarial case-by-case approach to enforcing a ban on terror incitement on their platforms.
The nature of Islamic terrorism throughout the world has changed in recent years. Alongside the established and organized groups — such as Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and even ISIS — a new and different type terror has been created, one that is nourished ideologically, spiritually, and intellectually by these groups, yet shows no connection — organizationally or operationally — to them.
This terror is defined by what we refer to as “lone wolves.” These are individuals whose nationalistic motives, religious incitement or psychological needs propel them to commit acts of terror without being a member of an organized group or cell. The one unifying aspect for all these lone wolves is social media.
Social media networks enable any individual to have his voice and his opinions heard so that his proclamations can resonate with audiences that are far-reaching. Unfortunately, the existing freedoms on social media have been manipulated by terrorist groups to create a threat that poses a clear and present danger to citizens around the world.
Terrorist groups around the world have recognized the potential of social media and these networks have become an essential component — in fact, an unhindered course of action — in allowing the global terrorist networks greatly to expand the operations of terror groups and their supporters worldwide, and affect billions of people around the world. These operations and activities include disseminating “open messages,” the recruitment of new members and supporters, but most importantly to advertise and promote the essence of their terror movement and the glorified aftermath of attacks that they have perpetrated. In the process, the terrorist groups can reach a potential army of a million possible soldiers without any direct connection to them.
This is how lone wolves are born.
Under the guise of protecting free speech, the social media conglomerates have not risen to the challenge of stemming the use of their networks and platforms by terrorist entities and have, instead, turned a blind eye to the growing and menacing phenomenon. Equally harmfully, under illusion of virtue-signaling and “political correctness” to show they are not “racist,” they have been censoring material that warns the public about these current dangers.
As a direct result of several high-profile terrorist attacks and the outcry from victims, along with an increased global profile of ISIS and subsequent legal action brought against these companies, social media networks have only marginally addressed the issue of limiting terrorist recruitment and incitement on their platforms.
Sadly, it must be noted that these efforts are neither timely nor aggressive enough to stop the use of these platforms to promote terror, and stem solely as preemptive efforts to stop public outcry and legal action.
The social media networks have the ability and the means dramatically to limit the manipulation of their services by terrorist groups, but they do not exercise this control. Instead, they rely on users to report any unsavory activity. The social media networks continue to permit terrorist groups to use their services openly and brazenly to promote their groups and their hate-filled doctrines. The propaganda arms of many terrorist organizations continue to use the social media networks, primarily Facebook, to spread their messages to ever expanding audiences. Organizations and individuals who are designated as terrorists on U.S. and international watch-lists are able flagrantly to open social media accounts even though virtually all the social media companies are headquartered in the United States.
The conclusion is that the social media companies are adopting an adversarial case-by-case approach to enforcing a ban on terror incitement on their platforms.
Beyond the rhetoric and the pleas for action, the social media applications have not — and it appears will not — self-enforce common-sense restrictions prohibiting terrorist groups from disseminating their radical messages and criminal exploits online, and they continue to shirk their own responsibility for these posts.
The failure by the social media networks to enforce the prevention of terror-related content on their sites is, in fact, a direct violation of the Antiterrorism Act and the Material Supply Statutes; the general public is also in its right to have the protections of the Community Decency Act of 1996 cover content on social media.
It goes without saying that the laws along with their subsequent enforcement must adopt to this fairly new mass communications and mass media reality to force these platforms to assume complete responsibility or else be regulated by the government as if they were a utility, so that this unmitigated threat to the safety of millions of people around the world can be stopped.

Blue Carbon: The Protector Coastal Ecosystems

It sounds like a paradox: a heatwave at the North Pole during the Arctic winter when no sunlight hits the region for six months. Yet this strange event has just happened again, for the fourth time in the last five years. During 10 days in February 2018, temperatures at the North Pole stayed well above the freezing level for at least part of the day.
Scientists are baffled by the frequency and intensity of the anomaly. They warn that the recurrence of such extreme events will accelerate sea-level rises, increase the release of heat from warmer Arctic waters into the atmosphere and disturb the jet stream. It lies within the nature of the global climate system that this will have consequences on people and wildlife tens of thousands of miles away. Among the most vulnerable are coastal ecosystems and communities in the tropics and subtropics.
The crucial importance of coastal ecosystems
Over 3 billion people depend on healthy and safe coastal ecosystems for their economic livelihoods, for food and for protection from storms. The economic value of coastal ecosystems is estimated at the scale of billions to trillions. Coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrass meadows and tidal marshes supply numerous critical ecosystem services, purifying water, protecting coasts and providing nursery areas for fish. On top of this, they store large amounts of carbon – commonly referred to as “blue carbon”: the carbon stored by oceans and coastal ecosystems.
To give just one example, oceanic mangroves store almost three times as much carbon as tropical forests, particularly through soil and peat formation. Globally, there could be as much as 20 gigatonnes of blue carbon stored in mangroves. In other words, mangroves are highly efficient carbon sinks and critical for climate mitigation and adaptation. Meanwhile, economic development and population growth are threatening the existence of those vital ecosystems. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that to date, 67% of mangroves have been lost or degraded, making them one of the most threatened ecosystems on Earth. Under a business-as-usual scenario, all unprotected mangroves could be gone within the next 100 years, with devastating consequences both for people and the planet.
New partnerships that can protect coastal ecosystems are emerging
The issue has of course not gone unnoticed. UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 (Life Below Water) and many national climate mitigation and adaptation goals recognize the importance of protecting coastal ecosystems. In parallel, many public-private initiatives have emerged to accelerate the necessary action to protect and restore blue carbon ecosystems. For example, the World Economic Forum’s Friends of Ocean Action and the High-Level Panel on Building a Sustainable Ocean Economy, chaired by Norway’s prime minister, Erna Solberg, offer crucial platforms to forge partnerships and advance action on the ground.
Mobilizing investment remains a challenge
One critical challenge for protecting coastal ecosystems at the required speed and scale is the mobilisation of investment. As is the case for other climate and sustainable development investment needs, private sector investment and the blending of public and private finance is critically important for reaching scale.
Payments for ecosystem services (PES) offer one proven approach for financing the protection and restoration of blue carbon ecosystems and supporting sustainable livelihoods for coastal communities. In exchange for investing in the protection or restoration of mangroves, for example, businesses receive certified carbon credits to manage their own emissions.
To date, such schemes have been small scale compared to the size of the challenge. Looking ahead, there are three promising opportunities to scale up the market for blue carbon and thereby mobilize additional private sector investment to protect coastal ecosystems and livelihoods.
1. Fewer than 20% of countries include blue carbon in their NDCs
Over 150 countries have at least one blue carbon ecosystem on their territory; in 71 countries all three types (mangroves, seagrass meadows and tidal marshes) exist. However, only 28 countries have included coastal wetlands in their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), the emission reduction plans submitted under the Paris agreement. There are two ways of looking at this omission: as highlighting the need for more countries to include blue carbon in their climate mitigation goals; or as an opportunity to drive investment in complimentary emission reduction activities on top of NDCs. More on this below.
2. The voluntary carbon market demonstrates companies will invest
Lessons learned from the voluntary carbon market suggest companies seek to invest in emission reduction projects that relate to their core business and deliver social, economic and biodiversity co-benefits (see, for example, a case study on Philips Lighting, accessible here). Research reports that 41% of carbon-offset buyers look for a “fit” with their organizational mission, and 24% look for co-benefits such as biodiversity protection and community livelihoods when purchasing carbon credits. This suggests that certified coastal ecosystem protection programmes would resonate with buyers from industries such as tourism, aviation, oil and gas, and shipping. The last three sectors are among the highest emitters of CO2 and have little room for reducing emissions through technology innovation at the required speed, scale and cost.
3. New compliance market for shipping could mobilize finance
Among the above-mentioned industries, shipping stands out as a possible source of demand for investment in the protection of coastal ecosystems. Currently responsible for about 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the industry’s growth projections suggest sector-wide emissions will increase by between 50% and 250% by 2050 – a trend incompatible with the goals of the Paris climate accord. Nevertheless, along with aviation, the shipping industry has been excluded from the agreement. By April 2018, the International Maritime Organization is expected to release a draft climate change strategy for the entire sector. If the strategy were to include global carbon offsetting mechanisms – similar to the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation – it could generate considerable private sector demand for blue carbon and thereby help mobilize private sector investment to protect and restore coastal ecosystems.
Mobilizing blue climate finance will be front and centre at this week’s World Ocean Summit in Cancún and Playa del Carmen, hosted by the Economist Group and the government of Mexico. And rightly so: protecting those vital ecosystems and creating sustainable livelihoods for coastal communities is clearly is much more than a drop in the ocean of climate action. Failing to protect – and where necessary restore – these ecosystems would compromise our chances of avoiding severe social, environmental and economic consequences of climate change.

Social Capital – The Need of the Hour

A few hundred years ago, a series of changes were in motion in the West. A number factors contributed including the war for maritime supremacy, the mushroom of inter-continental trade, the riches gained from colonies, the discovery of America. Relatively small nations (by population) were exposed to free trade (capitalism) and popular governance (democracy).
The wars in the first half of the last century had a role to play as well in accelerating innovation as nations tried to do more with less. By the second half of the 20th century, democracy and capitalism meant money and business were driving the agenda. A few people became very rich. Most citizens were delivered a certain minimum life standard and became known as the middle class.
Some Asian nations – characterised by small populations, large and thriving business, supported by forms of democracy also achieved similar progress as the westerners.
By the close of the 20th century, China had awoken from its slumber and with a unique mix of sledge-hammer governance and public-private commerce began rescuing hundreds of millions from poverty. Today the Chinese economy is amongst the largest in the world and the average citizen is far ahead in terms of life’s necessities as compared to a generation ago.
In India, we seem to be caught in the muddling middle. Our founding leaders imbibed from a heady mix of what appeared to be the best from around the world. The Indian constitution was framed on the principles of equal rights and opportunity. A number of areas of significance e.g. rail transportation or postal service were retained within the public system to ensure affordability and access for all. Meanwhile, private enterprise was provided a controlled playing field. No doubt, all this was undertaken with noble objectives. In reality, however, our western style democratic model makes it challenging for even the most determined political will to effectively solve for the missing basics for hundreds of millions of people. In an attempt to ensure the delivery of essential services, the public system has built large capacities (e.g. over a million schools or thousands of hospitals) but is unable to administer them efficiently and for effectiveness.
The ‘opening’ of India, almost three decades ago provides some lessons that should not be ignored. Around that time, almost 50 years after independence, our tele-density was one phone connection per million families. From a total of seven million phones, India leaped across the proverbial copper cables to reach over a billion connections in just two decades. The publicly controlled telecom system was opened to commercial enterprise and since then innovative programs and pricing has brought telephony into the lives of many.
More recently, there have been attempts to address some problems (e.g. skill building for jobs) by deploying the ‘assisted social enterprise’ model. The need for enabling quick action to address a burning issue while building sustainability in sectors which serve the lowest income segments requires a contextualized approach. Firstly, private enterprise maybe best suited to drive actions and outcomes at speed, with efficiency and for scale. Secondly, the goal must be to build a network of sustainable operations. The ‘skills for jobs’ problem in India is acute with millions of youth achieving working age each year without the requisite ability to obtain employment. The creation of funding mechanisms that take a very patient view of investments and the purchase of services by government are examples of ‘assistance’ being provided to the skill building companies in the early phase of their entrepreneurial journey.
India must be lauded for building a vast network of schools. Today, a school is within reasonable proximity for almost every child. Unfortunately, that is where the happy story stops. Literacy and numeracy are at levels so low they should be deemed a national crisis. However, hoarse cries will not solve the problem. There is a need to acknowledge what has worked elsewhere and deploy as needed.
Most recently, the political administration has declared the intent to migrate all schools towards achieving digital capability. In essence, this means a number of things i.e. internet connectivity, installation of computer systems, availability of individual devices and developing new learning methods. The success of this endeavor will require adherence to the principles of speed, efficiency and effectiveness. This may mean, the public schools network, is opened to private entrepreneurs who may need some initial hand-holding and yet encouraged to explore new models that do not depend on public finance on an ongoing basis.
The scale of our problems is massive. In every case, effective solutions are needed quickly before it is too late for too many. It is possible the harnessed greed of capital can innovate sufficiently to meet this need.

Struggle vs terror

“One man’s terrorist,” goes the received wisdom, “Is another’s freedom fighter”. But this is foggy thinking, the kind of value assumption that justifies whichever side one feels sympathetic towards. The assumption that terrorist violence is a component of most liberation movements and revolutions bears examination.
The largest and most significant of liberation struggles, that of our own subcontinent, was driven by the non-violent agitational campaigns of Mahatma Gandhi and the parliamentary constitutionalism of the Quaid. The terrorist tactics of, say, the RSS, were aberrations that played a negligible role in the totality of these freedom movements.
Elsewhere, too, national freedom has been attained through agitation (South Africa, Kenya, Ghana), constitutional negotiation (Sri Lanka, Nigeria), armed struggle (Turkey, Vietnam, Algeria, Bangladesh), even military coups d’état (Egypt, Libya) and a host of other means. Terror against non-combatants was not a major strategic component of these liberation movements. Terror was successfully employed by the Zionists, but that was a done deal anyhow, and by the Palestinians (notably without success).
Beyond freedom movements, is there a relationship between revolutionaries and terrorists? I have previously likened terrorists to storm crows flying before the winds of incipient revolution. There’s an enormous amount of violence that accompanies revolutions, almost axiomatically. As Mao Zedong said, “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.” But does revolutionary violence deliberately target innocent non-combatants? Is terrorism part of revolutionary strategy?
Is there a link between revolutionaries and terrorists? In the French Revolution, the guillotine was kept busy severing heads. But the French Terror was directed, first, against the functionaries and perceived supporters of the ancien regime and, thereafter, against factions of the revolutionaries themselves.
Pre-revolution Russia witnessed successive bursts of terrorist violence from such groups as the Decembrists, the Nihilists and the Narodnaya Volnya populists. However, both the Bolshevik and Menshevik factions of the Russian Social Democratic Party, which actually conducted the 1917 revolution, were explicit in their denunciation of terrorist methods. The violence of the socialists’ campaigns against the Kulaks, the purges within the Bolsheviks themselves and the Stalinist purges were after, and not part of, the revolution.
The Chinese revolution comprised the campaigns of an armed revolutionary force — the Red Army — during the 1930s and 1940s. Mao was especially careful to target land barons, warlords and the Japanese, and not the ordinary people, who were thought of as the ‘sea’ in which the communists ‘swam like fish’. The campaigns of large-scale mass violence, and the later internecine violence of the Red Guards against the communists themselves during the Cultural Revolution, occurred well after the revolution.
As Lenin said, “A revolution is not a pink tea party.” In each of these cases, there was violence aplenty against the leaders of the pre-revolutionary tyrannies. Successful revolutions used violence to clean up perceived remnants of the old order, and then resolved factional disputes amongst revolutionaries themselves in that strange process where revolutions seem to devour their own children.
Now, many may consider the violence of revolutions unacceptably wasteful of human life. The point is that, barring occasional aberrant behaviour accompanying the breakdown of a state, we have not previously seen terror against non-combatants be­­­­ing systematically used as part of revolutionary strategy. In fact, it was considered counterproductive and cowardly. Both Lenin and Mao categorically rejected terrorist tactics and denounced the perpetrators of such occu­­r­­­­rences.
But, come the media age of the 21st century, and things have changed. Beginning with the spectacular attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in September 2001, which many of us saw happening in real time on our TV sets, terrorist tactics have been the principal component of the campaigns of the so-called Islamist militants — whether the TTP and various Lashkars and Jaishes in Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban, IS in the Middle East, Boko Haram in West Africa, etc.
Traditional revolutionaries and liberationists eschewed terror tactics against the non-combatants they hoped to lead. But today’s religious warriors observe no such niceties. They are uninterested in cultivating democratic support or catalysing popular uprisings. Their methodology is to terrorise local populations into submission, in order to enjoy the power gained from running their proto-states. Simultaneous terrorist actions against the West prompted the emergence there of the likes of Trump, le Pen, Wilders, Farrage, etc, thereby promoting hatred, divisions and barriers between nations.
Terrorism, I would suggest, is not the weapon of the weak, but of the vicious. Such an appreciation is especially significant today, when such asinine mantras as ‘negotiating with the Taliban’ are doing the rounds of power corridors here and abroad.


A Suggested Action Plan for Leaders to Restore Trust

Globalization is facing its biggest test. For 40 years, the process of closer integration through the free movement of goods, capital, people and ideas around the world has recorded many remarkable achievements.
The overall standard of living has never been higher. According to the United Nations, there are more than 200 million fewer hungry people than there were 25 years ago. Also, almost all boys and girls go to school. Meanwhile, life expectancy increased by five years between 2000 and 2015, the fastest increase since the 1960s, according to the World Health Organisation.
In other words, the world is flatter – more equal – than it has ever been.
And yet, in the past year, there has been an astonishing backlash – mainly in developed countries. In the United States, the great bulwark of globalization, there is a rising clamour to reverse the trend towards greater integration – signalled by the election of a president who has pledged to unpick free trade agreements and build walls between nations (rather than tear them down).
In Europe, the UK has voted to withdraw from the European Union – and other nations may follow suit, depending on the outcome of upcoming elections. Several countries have seen an upsurge in populist politicians who are tapping into a rage felt by ordinary people angered by the rising tide of migration and its perceived consequences: diminishing employment prospects, heightened security fears, and challenges to national identity.
It is easy to criticise this backlash as wrongheaded. But it cannot be ignored. The fact is that millions of people feel that they have been left behind by the march of globalization – not only in developing but also in developed markets. Some people have seen their wage – and, with it, their way of life – stagnate. Even in the US, the great land of opportunity, things have ossified. A visit to the so-called “rustbelt” cities provides stark testimony to this.
And yet, some people – the so-called “elites” – have profited amid the gloom. In many countries, the gap between the richest and the poorest in society has got wider, even as relative global income inequality has declined. In 2015, in the 34 member states of the OECD, the richest 10% of the population earned 9.6 times the income of the poorest 10%. In the business world, the gap between the top executives and the workers was even wider. In the US, the top 500 CEOs earned 340 times the average worker’s wage in 2015, according to a report by the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of US unions.
So while globalization has been glorious for billions of people, for some, it hasn’t been glorious at all. Or, at least, that’s their perception. As a result, the world risks going into reverse.
This must not be allowed to happen.
It would be an utter disaster if globalization was stopped in its tracks. There are still 800 million people – more than Europe’s population – who are still registered as “hungry”, according to the United Nations. There are still nearly 60 million children – roughly equivalent to France’s population – who do not attend primary school. There are still around 2 billion adults who do not have a basic bank account.
It is time to get the world moving again. This might seem counter-intuitive at a time of high migration, when clearly millions of people are moving in a desperate search for a new start in life. But the point is this: in so many ways, the world has stalled. Global growth is anaemic, not least because of the slump in international trade caused by a lack of investment and rising protectionism. At the same time, productivity growth has plummeted, and hovers below 1% in the US and most countries in western Europe.
As a result, people feel trapped. Now, they want their future back. They want to see that their expectations of a better life are being met. To facilitate this, the world’s leaders need to focus on one thing: delivering inclusive growth.
A plan for world leaders
Whether you run a country or a company, you need to give every one of your stakeholders the opportunity to grow. If you do that, you can hope to deliver inclusive growth – which is the most sustainable kind.
We have developed an overarching approach for national and corporate leaders. It focuses on five key elements required to ensure the free movement of people, goods, ideas and capital. Try to put aside your myriad other concerns, and focus on these five elements. Give each one a dial on your mental dashboard. If you can make real progress against each element – at the same time – then you can make real progress towards the goal of delivering inclusive growth.
It may sound like so much common sense. And it is. But, time and time again, we have found that common sense gets lost in a crisis.
And there is no question that the world is facing a crisis.
The agenda for national leaders
You should invest more heavily – and more wisely – in:
⦁ Health, education and training: you need to give all your citizens access to hospitals, schools, universities and other reskilling facilities throughout their lives to ensure a thriving workforce.
⦁ Transport Infrastructure: you need a constantly updated network of roads, rail roads, ports, airports to break down internal and international barriers.
⦁ Digital networks: you need comprehensive and fast online connectivity that brings people closer together.
⦁ Financial capital: you need to boost financial inclusion, provide access to a bank account, increase access to credit, and keep developing the financial market.
⦁ Governance institutions: you need to uphold the rule of law, eradicate corruption, and invest in an effective civil service.
The result: sustainable growth thanks to capable citizens with portable skills (which leads to high employment), an interconnected transport network for conveying people and goods, a digital highway for spreading information and ideas, a functioning financial system for fuelling investment, and a governance structure ensuring a level playing field.
The caveat: it does not mean that nobody will lose her or his job. But people will have the capability to find new jobs when they lose their old ones.
The agenda for corporate leaders
This mirrors the agenda for national leaders, but on a smaller scale. You should invest more heavily and wisely in:
⦁ Your employees: in particular, enhanced recruitment to access a diverse group of people and sophisticated retention programs to facilitate personal development and promotion.
⦁ Your supply chains: fast and flexible links between suppliers, manufacturers, retailers and customers.
⦁ Your digital capability: an online facility for sales and/or communication with suppliers, distributors, employees and customers.
⦁ Your use of capital: everything from improved banking relations and the smart use of the capital markets to asset productivity.
⦁ Your leadership structure: an executive and board that can be trusted to deliver on the company’s promise to customers, to employees, to suppliers, to shareholders and to society-at-large.
The result: profitable growth thanks to satisfied employees with transferrable skills, a seamless organisational chain from supplier to customer ensuring the timely delivery of innovative products and services, a two-way online capability for deepening the relationship with customers, returns to investors that are eager and willing to invest more, and a leadership team that can be trusted.
The caveat: this does not mean that all companies will succeed. But many new companies will be established when some old companies fail.
Leading from the front (and by example)
If countries and companies are to achieve inclusive growth, then stakeholders will need to have trust in their leaders. Over the past few years, a spate of scandals affecting political and business leaders – especially during and in the wake of the Great Recession – has led to a significant erosion of trust. Last year, Edelman, a PR firm which produces a global trust barometer, found that government was the least trusted institution, trailing NGOs, business and the media.
So it is incumbent upon the current and next generation of leaders to restore the faith of their stakeholders – voters in the case of political leaders; employees, suppliers and customers in the case of corporate leaders.
To do this, you need to:
⦁ Listen hard: Make sure you meet people and press the flesh. Hear what people have to say. Don’t just rely on surveys and big data analyses.
⦁ Decide: turn your findings into a deliverable action plan
⦁ Communicate: let people know what you are planning to do. Get their buy-in. Be open and transparent.
⦁ Deliver: once you’ve said what you’re going to do—do it
⦁ Follow-up: hold everyone – and above all, yourself – accountable
This may sound overly simplistic in a complex world. But the fact is that delivering to the needs of the large majority of stakeholders – and, ultimately, the large majority of people in society – is neither simple nor easy. If it were, it would have been done by now. It requires determination and persistence. It requires you constantly to question yourself and your actions and to deliver on your promises.
If you can do this, you can hope to spark a new era of inclusive growth in your country or your company.
And together, we can hope to get the world moving again.

The Variable Digital Trust in Our Times

The year 2018 is barely underway and, already, digital trust initiatives have captured headlines. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has said his platform will de-prioritize third-party publisher content to keep users focused on more “meaningful” posts from family and friends. Google has led off the new year by blocking websites that mask their country of origin from showing up on Google News. And the European Union’s upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will affect every organization around the world that handles personal data for EU residents. The regulations will also, no doubt, inform data protection laws and corporate trust-building strategies elsewhere.
Even China’s opaque behemoths have started the year with unprecedented acknowledgments of the need to address trust concerns: Tencent had to publicly deny that it collects user WeChat history after it was openly challenged; Alibaba’s Ant Financial apologized to users of its mobile-payment service for automatically enrolling them in its social-credit scoring service.
What these stories underscore is that our digital evolution and our productive use of new technologies rests on how well we can build digital trust. But is it possible to measure digital trust and compare it across countries? Are there countries where guaranteeing trust is a more urgent priority and will draw a larger share of trust-building resources and regulations? The Fletcher School at Tufts University and Mastercard have a launched a research initiative to address these questions by studying the state of digital trust across 42 countries. Here are some of our initial findings, drawn from the study, “Digital Planet 2017: How Competitiveness and Trust in Digital Economies Vary Across the World.”
Trust Eases Friction
In framing a definition of digital trust, we considered the factors that determine the quality of interactions between two parties using a digital medium: users, who are on the “giving” side of trust, and the companies that build the platforms. We refer to these parties, respectively, as givers (e.g. those who call up a car on a ride-sharing app, check the news on social media or pay for an online transaction) and guarantors (e.g. the ride-sharing company, the social media platform, and the digital payments technology) of trust. In addition, on the side of the guarantors are those providing broad trust-building measures (like cybersecurity companies), laws and regulations (like the forthcoming GDPR), or the technology companies (like Akamai) that make the online experience seamless and convenient.
Trust reduces several types of friction in a transaction between givers and guarantors. This friction has many causes — some are infrastructural or because of poor design and functionality; some are systemic, such as regulatory or legal requirements or identification and data security measures; and some are because of uncertainty between parties to the transaction. This translates into different ways to measure trust.
Trust Can be Compared Across Countries
We wanted to calibrate trust holistically so we could measure it and develop global comparisons. We consider four key dimensions: Behavior, Attitudes, Environment, and Experience. The first two are associated with the givers and the last two are a result of actions taken by guarantors.
1. Behavior: How do users actually respond to frictions in their digital experiences and environment?
Since every digital interaction involves some friction (for example, you have to enter a security code or wait for a page to load on your mobile device), one can make the case that users display a modicum of digital trust by simply completing a transaction. To ensure comparability, we combined anonymized data and observations aggregated at a country level from several data partners, such as Akamai Technologies, Blue Triangle Technologies, and Mastercard, on how tolerant users are to a given level of friction and whether they persist in completing a digital transaction. The higher the proportion of users that complete a comparable transaction across countries for a given unit of friction is interpreted as behavior that is more trusting. We scored 42 countries in terms most to least tolerant behavior.
2. Attitudes: How do users feel about the digital trust environment?
A typical way to gauge trust is to survey users with questions such as: How do you feel about the digital environment? Do you trust and find value in your interactions? Do you trust tech company leaders? Do you trust governments to respect data privacy or tech companies to use your data responsibly? Do you trust businesses and institutions will protect your data and provide value? We combined responses to multiple surveys from a variety of sources, such as the World Values Survey, CIGI-Ipsos, and Edelman’s Trust Barometer.
3. Digital Environment: What are the “guarantor” mechanisms for building trust in the digital economy, and how robust are they?
We considered three essential trust-building factors: privacy, security, and accountability. Privacy is one of the foremost areas of concern for users, from massive hacks of sensitive information to increasing government and corporate tracking of digital activities, identities, and locations of users. Online security is the second challenge for guarantors of trust. With more resources available to malicious actors, and a range of tools easily obtainable, cyber-attacks and repeated use of ransomware have continued to escalate. Data on attack incidents are a useful proxy for the risks to users. Accountability is the third key factor because, as the risk of incidents increases, users need recourse options, such as legal frameworks that hold businesses and institutions accountable or identity management systems.
4. Digital User Experience: How do users experience the digital trust environment?
Enhancing digital privacy, security, and accountability involves some tradeoffs: the measures might add friction, which affects the overall user experience. Left unmanaged, even these “positive” frictions (e.g. multiple passwords, identity authentication) can have a perverse effect of making the user less willing to engage online. In addition, negative frictions make users less trusting. The ultimate goal ought to be “intelligent friction”: balancing a seamless experience with proper protections.
In analyzing this tradeoff, we compared the speed and ease of use when transacting online, drawing upon data on multiple sources of friction — regulatory, infrastructural, and identity and interface-related. We use this aggregate as a proxy for the quality of the users’ digital experience in a country.
Collectively, these four dimensions provide a comprehensive framework for calibrating digital trust, facilitating cross-country comparisons and benchmarking. Indeed, trust involves a system; evaluating trust gaps and taking actions to close them call for holistic approaches.
While market surveys have been the traditional means of gauging trust, decision-makers must also consider a “trust paradox”: what users say is at odds with what they do online. When ranked by behaviors, the top 50% of countries have a median attitudinal score of 2.41, while the bottom 50% have a higher median attitudinal score of 2.51, suggesting that, on average, the more tolerant countries report less trusting attitudes.
Ultimately, for a guarantor, it is behavior that counts; lower tolerance for friction will cause a guarantor to lose business. We recommend that decision-makers rely on user behavior rather than just traditional attitudinal surveys to evaluate how well their digital users trust them. The beauty of digital environments is that such behavior data is abundant.
Trust Surplus vs Trust Deficit
We find a surprising pattern: of the 42 countries studied , the “Break Out” countries, with low DEI rank and high momentum, in general, display higher tolerance for friction and less than favorable experience and environments; the “Stall Out” countries that are digitally mature and have slower momentum have the opposite pattern – lower tolerance for friction and superior experience and environments. The former has a trust surplus and the latter, a trust deficit; in either case, there’s a mismatch between the quality of the digital experience and environment and the users’ levels of tolerance for friction.
User behavior is more relevant as a trust measure than what users report in attitude surveys.
Despite high levels of friction, Break Out country users are more likely to put up with these frustrations than those in more digitally evolved countries. Online users in these countries are, more typically, early adopters, often younger and enthusiastic about new technologies. These users expect there will be problems with the technology and are willing to work with them and view the analog alternatives to be worse.
By contrast, developed country users, who have come to expect high speeds, ease, and reliability, have much lower demonstrated tolerance for friction. The irony is that relatively speaking, these countries have less friction because of superior environments and experiences.
Thus, we expect that “Stall Out” countries will demand disproportionately greater trust-building investments. Technology providers must work harder to win and retain user trust. The privacy, security, and accountability aspects of the digital environments here have to work more efficiently, with less complexity and feel more convenient and fast. This means faster connections, less cumbersome user identity authentication, easier and convenient payment processing, firmer privacy regulations and more credible assurances of privacy and security of data.
Trust-building is not only central to our digital future, it is also complex – and it costs money and resources to guarantee trust. Effectively building trust in a global digital marketplace requires a strategic choice of knowing where to play. You can’t put equivalent investments in every market. Our framework offers an approach to figuring out where to prioritize and ensure profitable growth.
From a user’s standpoint, some countries will have more trustworthy digital environments, investments, and regulations than others. From a tech company’s standpoint, this picture is not a static one; as users’ relationship with the digital economy evolves, they will demand more trust guarantees. And as with everything else in our digital evolution, users’ expectations and interests will change quickly. So will public sentiment and regulatory pressure. It will be up to all digital companies to keep up and innovate in this new frontier for competitiveness: winning digital trust.


Identifying Vladimir Putin: Friend or Foe

Vladimir Putin won yet another election as Russian president on Sunday. With Russia accused of poisoning a spy in England and controversies over election meddling in the United States, it’s more important than ever to understand this man’s character.
“I think I would just get along very well with Vladimir Putin,” said United States President Donald Trump on July 31, 2015, just over a month after declaring his bid for the presidency. If Mr. Trump does get along well with Mr. Putin, what will happen to America? Your Bible gives a shocking answer to that question.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has preyed on both the Democratic and the Republican political parties in the U.S. More importantly, he has been perhaps the most evil leader in this world—especially in his dealings with America, Britain and the Jewish nation in the Middle East.
Putin supports Iran, the number one terrorist-sponsoring nation in the world, with troops and nuclear weapons development. This is a perverted, sick policy since Iran considers America the Great Satan and Judah the Little Satan. How can Mr. Trump foster a profitable relationship with a man who has such disgusting, devastating, satanic policies? Can God get along with the devil? This is the real world! We need to consider this.
Putin has killed more than 160,000 of his own people in Chechnya. It is suspected that he has murdered more than 130 journalists in his own country. He has crushed all forms of independent media. Can you even imagine the American president doing these things?
Spy by Trade
In an article from Jan. 23, 2016, titled “The Death of a Former KGB Operative Is a Reminder of Vladimir Putin’s Past Life as a Spy,” Peter Holley wrote for the Washington Post: As a street-fighting kid growing up in a crowded apartment complex in the Soviet Union, Vladimir Putin dreamed of something bigger. By the time he was a teenager, that something, he’d concluded, was becoming a spy.
“Even before I finished high school, I wanted to work in intelligence,” Putin said, according to a biography posted on the Kremlin website. “Granted, soon after, I decided I wanted to be a sailor, but then I wanted to do intelligence again.”
The biography notes that an ambitious young Putin even attended a public reception at the office of the kgb Directorate to ask how he could become an intelligence officer. From a child, Vladimir Putin dreamed of becoming a spy! The kgb intelligence agency that he joined is the equivalent of America’s Central Intelligence Agency, except exponentially more vile and brutal. The deeds and the actions prove it. Holley continued:
He once said that he was driven to join by “high motives” and hoped to use his skills “to the best for society.” But Putin told his biographers that the allure of espionage transcended high-minded ideals. “I was most amazed by how a small force, a single person, really, can accomplish something an entire army cannot,” he said, according to the Telegraph. “A single intelligence officer could rule over the fates of thousands of people. At least, that’s how I saw it.”
Vladimir Putin’s priorities are the opposite of the high-minded ideals purportedly espoused by the Western world. Espionage is his true passion. Both American political parties believe that he hacked the Democratic National Committee during the presidential primaries last year. He is a spy by trade.
Out for Revenge
Before the kgb collapsed along with the Soviet Union in 1991, how did it impact Vladimir Putin’s worldview? How has the kgb influenced his leadership of Russia? Many analysts and experts say that Vladimir Putin has resurrected the kgb—and made it far more deadly. According to a British inquiry in January 2016, kgb operative-turned-British intelligence agent Alexander Litvinenko died nearly a decade ago after drinking a cup of green tea poisoned with radioactive polonium-210. A British parliamentary committee described the assassination as a miniature nuclear attack on the streets of London. Putin considered that man the ultimate traitor, so he poisoned him with an ingredient used in nuclear bombs! “On his death bed, Litvinenko himself accused Putin of organizing his murder, as well as other crimes as wide-ranging as terrorism and pedophilia” (ibid).
Russian journalist Masha Gessen told the Telegraph in 2012 that Vladimir Putin “is a supersize model of the kgb” (Feb. 25, 2012). Putin resurrected and supersized the kgb! This is a monster times a monster! “To his fiercest critics, the strongman’s authoritarian impulses are contemporary reflections of the ruthless Cold War security apparatus that molded him into a master spy” (Washington Post, op cit; emphasis mine throughout).
If America can get along very well with Vladimir Putin, then shame on us! What nation could befriend this evil, destructive murderer? He is a friend of the devil with numerous anti-God policies! “Communist ideology has gone, but the methods and psychology of its secret police have remained,” Alexia Kondaurov, a kgb general-turned-politician, told the Economist in 2007.
Gessen added, “He’s an average Soviet functionary with stronger than average emotions and higher than average vindictiveness” (Washington Post, op cit). Vladimir Putin is vindictive and vengeful! He has nothing but contempt for the opinions of the Russian people. The Washington Post continued:
Gessen told the Telegraph that the final stages of Putin’s kgb career were actually a period of disillusionment and tumult as the fiercely patriotic operative watched from the geopolitical front row as the Soviet Union disintegrated, and thousands of humiliated kgb officers were cast aside by the state.
“I think a lot of his resentment goes back directly to that period,” Gessen said. “Having been in the kgb in a bad time, having been outside the country when everything was changing, he’s a very vengeful man. That’s one of his particular traits of character. And that vengefulness has carried through. He’s pursuing a vendetta against everybody who was ever opposed to the Soviet Union.” And according to Litvinenko’s widow, Marina, that vendetta extended to her husband.
Britain’s Supreme Court actually convicted Putin for Litvinenko’s assassination. They have no doubt that he was the mastermind behind the murder plot. Vladimir Putin has supersized the kgb murder machine, that machine of deception and lies! Murder is its way of life! Can we “get along very well” with such a monstrous example in this world?
Yet Mr. Trump said a year and a half ago, “I think I would just get along very well with Vladimir Putin.”
Set Your Face Against Him
There are real consequences for getting close to a monster like Vladimir Putin. When Americans finally wake up to the danger staring them in the face, it will be too late. “They have blown the trumpet, even to make all ready; but none goeth to the battle: for my wrath is upon all the multitude thereof” (Ezekiel 7:14). Cyberattacks will cripple our infrastructure, including our military technology, making it impossible to go to war. That is a frightening scenario to think about!

A New Religion on the Horizon in India

India has the distinction of being the birthplace of at least four religions Hindu. Sikh, Jain, Buddhism and new is likely to see a new religion that has been until recently regarded a sect. I am referring to the religious claims of this sect to be a separate religion-The Lingayat sect: Why Hindu and still why not Hindu?
The Lingayats emerged as a reactionary force against Hinduism in the twelfth century. While it rejected most of the broad Hindu traditions, it also assimilated aspects of it, making the demand for a separate religious status a rather complicated affair.
With Assembly elections just a few months away, the demand for separate religious status for the Lingayats, a community that claims a historicity that separates them from the broad fabric of Hinduism, has started gaining ground in Karnataka again. Hinduism being an amorphous religion has seen branches of sub-traditions and oppositional traditions since time immemorial. The Lingayats too emerged as a reactionary force against Hinduism in the twelfth century. While it rejected most of the broad Hindu traditions, it also assimilated aspects of it, making the demand for a separate religious status a rather complicated affair.
However, the issue of the Lingayats is further complicated by the fact that underneath the socio-cultural demand for a separate religion is a burning political struggle for votes. Speaking about the gradual politicisation of the Lingayat agitation in last few decades, historian Manu Devadevan says “the movement took off in the early twentieth century. In the late nineteenth century when the first census took place, most of the communities in India started identifying themselves as homogenous groups. So to a large extent, it was a cultural movement then. You don’t find anything explicitly political there. That happens only after the 1980s.”
The community which currently forms 17 per cent of Karnataka’s population is understandably a major vote bank for political parties. In the past few decades, the Lingayats have emerged as strong supporters of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). By giving separate religious status to the community, the BJP stands to lose much in their effort to create vote bank based on Hindu solidarity. The Congress, on the other hand, stands to gain just as much from the desired branching. This whole agitation, however, revolves around a single core question- who are the Lingayats and what precisely is their religious identity?
Who are the Lingayats?
The tradition of Lingayatism is known to have been founded by social reformer and philosopher Basavanna in 12th century Karnataka. While there exists a debate around whether Basavanna founded the sect or if he merely reformed an existing order, there can be no doubt that under him the community acquired the form of a well-organised, structured mass movement. Followers of the sect continue to revere him as the founder and prime philosopher of their religion.
Basavanna’s religious movement needs to be located in political setup of medieval Karnataka, particularly under the reign of King Bijala II. This period in Karnataka was characterised by the dominance of Brahmanical Hindu values, a social system based on caste restrictions and a feudal economy. The religious, political and social order did not just blend into each other, but also supported and benefited from each other. Further, the religious framework in medieval Karnataka was dominated by Shaivite traditions. “It is of utmost importance to see that Lingayatism, while historically related to this brand of Shaivism, was born as a negation of its fundamental principles which were indistinguishable from the mainstream Brahmanical Hinduism,” writes historian K. Ishwaran. Therefore, while the Lingayats were and still remain staunch worshippers of the Hindu God Shiva, they strongly protest against Hindu social practices such as caste discrimination and wearing of the sacred thread.
Basavanna’s vision of a societal order was one based on human freedom, equality, rationality, and brotherhood. He and his followers spread their ideas through vachanas (prose-lyrics) and their prime target was the caste hierarchy which they rejected with full force. In one of his vachanas, Basavanna asserts that “the birthless has no caste distinctions, no ritual pollution.” He rejected the Hindu Brahmanical ritualism and its adherence to sacred texts like the Vedas.
In contemporary times, followers of Basavanna’s vision is one of the most influential groups in Karnataka. They revere both God Shiva and Basavanna. Some famous personalities in Karnataka who are also followers of the Lingayat tradition include former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, journalist Gauri Lankesh, and scholar M.M. Kalburgi.
How are they considered separate from the Hindu fold?
The emergence of the Lingayat sect can be located within the larger trend of Bhakti movements that had swept across South India from the 8th century AD onwards. The Bhakti tradition was a social reform movement that developed around Hindu Gods and Goddesses but split away from the Hindu fold by offering a path to spirituality regardless of their caste and creed. In a way, they were movements that took birth within Hinduism but strove to rectify what the followers saw as the unjust practices within the tradition. In that sense, none of the Bhakti movements could acquire the status of separate religion in itself but chose to improve the religion within which they were born.
However, the case of the Lingayats was different. While they also fell into the category of a social reform movement within Hinduism, they made some radical departures from the traditional Bhakti paradigm. “While the conventional Bhakti movements were marginally, vaguely and emotionally critical of the existing Brahmanical Hindu system, Lingayatism challenged it to its roots, and made good its challenge by becoming a highly structured movement, striving for the institutionalisation of the same or similar values professed by the Bhakti movements in general,” writes Ishwaran.)
“The Lingayat Bhakti movement in Karnataka assumes the form of a cult in itself. From very early times, the Lingayat status was hereditary in nature. This is something that did not happen within the Bhakti movements elsewhere in South India, which is why they are demanding a separate religion status,” says Devadevan. Therefore, Basavanna’s movement did not just uproot the Hindu cultural practices but also broke away from the other Bhakti movements by forming an institutionalised order for themselves.
How are they considered part of the Hindu fold?
What complicates the issue, however, is that while Lingayatism breaks away from the larger Hindu fabric in significant ways, it also assimilates large portions of it, thereby making their identity difficult to define. The one aspect that strengthens its association with Hinduism is the relationship the cult shares with Veerashaivism. While it is popularly believed that Lingayatism and Veerashaivism are one and the same, historical evidence suggests that they are not.
Veerashaivism is also a Shaiva sect within Hinduism and is predominantly located in Karnataka. “Veerashaivism emerges in the sixteenth century and the followers claim that the philosophers of the twelfth-thirteenth centuries to be their forebearers. They claim that Basavanna was not the founder of the Lingayat tradition, but rather a reformer of an already existing religious tradition which they call Veerashaivism,” says Devadevan.
However, evidence also suggests that Lingayatism departs from Veerashaivism in significant ways. The Veerashaivas accept the Vedic texts and Hindu practices such as caste and gender discrimination. Basavanna, on the other hand, did not just oppose these but also offered an alternative model for them. The Veerashaivas claim mythical origins from the Shivalingam, which is similar in thought to the origin theories of Brahmanism. Basavanna, on the contrary, opposed all Brahmanical roots. However, the debate surrounding whether Basavanna founded the Lingayat sect or simply modified the already existing Veerashaivism sect makes it difficult to discern to what extent they can be considered separate from the Hindu traditional framework.
Further, the complications also arise from the fact that Lingayatism, while rejecting large portions of the Hindu traditional practices, does assimilate aspects of it, just like it absorbs aspects of other contemporary religious traditions like Jainism and Vaishnavism. “ These are influenced by the Upanishads, Jain and Vaishnava traditions. They have drawn from Vedic traditions,” says Devadevan. The close associations that the Lingayat followers share with Hinduism, both sociologically and historically, make it a complicated case of to be or not be Hindu.

Lenin fell a long time back

I am not a Communist. But I saw one state where Communists ruled non-stop for 34 years and gave India some of its finest and most honest political leaders. I am not sure about the cadres though. But then, in politics, leaders are leaders and cadres are cadres and they don’t always behave alike.
In college, I watched some of my brightest and cleverest friends abandon their studies and go to Naxalbari to fight the good fight for a cause they so strongly believed in: The rights of peasants in a nation that couldn’t care less for them—and still does not. And yesterday, as I watched outside my window a sea of red sickle and hammer flags as thousands of farmers entered Mumbai, their feet bruised and blistered, having walked many miles, I recalled the power of red in those days.
Nothing has actually changed for these farmers over decades. As their families have grown, their land holdings have shrunk. Their crops still fail when the rains are not enough or come late. The enormous sums of money spent on irrigation have vanished into thin air with very little to show on the ground, at least here in Maharashtra. And the promises made by successive Governments have remained just that—empty promises. So much so that farmer suicides keep increasing at an alarming rate owing to their indebtedness, penury, and sense of utter hopelessness.
I am not a Communist even though I have watched in admiration, as a young man, how the leaders of Communist parties bravely walked right into the midst of communal riots in Calcutta and restored peace instantly. They were brave people and commanded respect in those days. Religion and caste were not part of their politics. They may not have been great visionaries. They never offered achhe din. But they listened to people and tried to do their best, which (to be honest) was often not good enough.
Their heroes came from all over. Lenin. Stalin. Mao Tse Tung. Fidel Castro. Ho Chi Minh. Neither Castro nor Ho Chi Minh were actually Communists. They were just patriots fighting for their country. But the American propaganda machine worked overtime to label them red and they had no time to argue. They had wars to win. I was young and my heroes were a bit different: Che, Danny the Red who led the student uprising in Paris in the spring of 1968 and Camilo Torres, the Colombian priest who was a precursor of liberation theology which conjoined Marxism with the Catholic faith. None of them believed in Soviet-style totalitarian regimes that Communism had installed in parts of the world. They were fighting for their country, for a dream. Communism, in those days, was not a structured ideology; it was a simple call for action.
So I was delighted when Eastern and Central Europe decided to oust the Soviets. On the night of November 9, 1989 the 96 mile Berlin wall that separated East and West Germany— a heartbreaking symbol of the divide between Communist and free Europe– came tumbling down and the bugle of freedom was blown. Words like Perestroika and Glasnost became part of a new political vocabulary. And John Kennedy’s famous declaration “Ich bin ein Berliner” came alive 26 years later, to reverberate in a new Europe where freedom meant everything. Two years later, on December 25, the Soviet flag was lowered for the last time over the Kremlin. Gorbachev had resigned as President earlier in the day. A new Russia was born. So were many new nations, all ready to discover their own destiny instead of living under the hammer and sickle. That was when Lenin fumbled on his pedestal. The good people of Kiev brought him down much later.
With the fall of the Soviet Union and the winds of freedom blowing all over Europe, the romance of the red was pretty much over here. The bastion in West Bengal was the first to fall. But though Mamata Banerjee dismantled the Left edifice, her own politics remained close to the ground. The Left cadres were now Trinamool. It was just a change of nomenclature. Kerala was now the main stronghold of the Communists. And then there was Tripura, where Manik Sarkar was chief minister for 20 years. He recently lost the elections and since he has no home to go back to (and with Rs 9,720 in his bank cannot afford one either) he now lives in the party office with his wife. He is listed as India’s poorest chief minister.
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee who succeeded Jyoti Basu to become chief minister of West Bengal for 11 years before losing the elections to Mamata Banerjee in 2011 lives in a tiny two-room government flat with his wife and daughter. He fought the elections with Rs 5,000 in his bank. While many are happy to see the back of the Communists, I will miss people like Buddhadeb, a few years senior to me in college, and Manik Sarkar. Only the Left could have given us such people: honest, frugal, untouched by scandal.
There was another Communist I admired: Jyoti Basu, chief minister for 23 years, a bhadralok if ever there was ever one. He was highly respected as a man of erudition and if his party colleagues had not pulled him down, he would have been Prime Minister in 1996. Rajiv suggested his name and there was unanimous support for him but some of his own party colleagues led by Prakash Karat refused to back him. India missed the opportunity of having its first Communist Prime Minister who was as comfortable with Satyajit Ray and Ravi Shankar as he was with Karl Marx.
No, I am not a Communist but some of the finest artists, poets, musicians, and thinkers I knew and have met were inspired, in some way, by the romance of the Left. I remember translating Samar Sen and Subhash Mukhopadhyay years ago. They were amazing poets. I also translated Sahir and Kaifi Azmi, Faiz and Sardar Jafri. Fine sensitive poets inspired by the idea of a more just world order. I recall Sri Sri and Gaddar, whose songs still inspire people. Remember Balraj Sahni in Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zamin? Remember KA Abbas who launched Amitabh? I remember Amrita Pritam whose poems I also translated. And Salil Chowdhury whose immortal songs Hemant Mukherjee sang? And the art of the Progressives.
Communism is on its last legs. Everyone knows that. You don’t need to drop Lenin’s statue to prove that. The world has moved on.

On Being Curious About Curiosity

While the world still mourns the loss of Professor Hawking — a renowned scientist famed for his work on black holes and relativity, I am stuck with some curiosities. Why do we have only a limited number of extraordinary scientist on earth? Why are we not able to nurture such incredibly intelligent talent in large numbers?
Curiosity is the mother of invention, they say. It was the curiosity of knowing the reason behind the fall of an apple which made Isaac Newton invent the Laws of Motion. Aryabhatt, Kepler, Einstein and a few more, were those super-brains who led the path to scientific advances. I wonder – why, we did not have another Galileo since generations? Why is that a person who was on a wheelchair from the age of 21, had so much to contribute to the world of science, while those who have access to facilities and luxuries reach nowhere close? Why don’t we have more CV Ramans, Homi Bhabha’s, Ramanujans?
Another question, which triggers, is to understand how these super intelligent scientists could bring out universally powerful inventions in the absence of advanced tools and technology! I am sure there were no calculators, no mechanism to measure gravity or no instrument to calibrate resistance et al. in those days!
In my opinion, the current generation too has the potential to deliver path-breaking researches & discoveries; however, their curiosities are misplaced and not aligned with productivity.
Recently India lost the famous actress Sridevi, and the saga was over-traded in the naive human mind. One teacher told me that, students demonstrated unprecedented curiosity in knowing more about the incident and even spent hours discussing it in school corridors! However, one would rarely find these students stretching their thoughts & debating over subjects of scientific interests. My concern is about ‘curiosity’ – aren’t we as a generation, insidiously getting digressed in the application of curiosity?
Recently in an interview, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak mentioned that in India we measure success by academic excellence, but people lack creativity. Right or wrong, as he may be; the fact of the matter is that the students of science, not just in India but across the globe might not be encouraged to be curious & hence creativity is becoming scarce.
It seems that the ‘art of thinking’ is getting extinct today. When the student is not exercising the ability to think and when the thoughts are restricted within boundaries of available information; innovation & creativity become a severe casualty. Learning is a direct function of asking questions. As a trainer, while my workshops, I encourage the participants to ask questions – how so ever basic, advanced, crazy or ridiculous those might be.
In the delusory race of growth, somewhere, we seem to have compromised with curiosity, or worst killed it altogether. Say for example the students of physics would appreciate that while arriving at the formulae for Force as ‘Mass x Acceleration’ (F=ma) the primary, two, confirmed hypotheses available were:
1) Force is directly proportional to Mass ( F ∝ m)
2) Force is directly proportional to Acceleration ( F ∝ a)
This led to an obvious conclusion that Force has to be directly proportional to both combined, i.e., Mass x Acceleration (F ∝ ma)
To convert this hypothesis into an equation, the researchers supposed the existence of an unknown constant “k” in the scheme of things and delivered the formulae “F= kma”.
Later, for mathematical convenience, it was assumed that the value of this constant (k) is equal to one (1) and thereafter, the students of science in schools and universities across the world are being taught Newtons Second Law of Motion with the equation “F=ma.”
The point to be specifically observed is that “k” which is an inexplicable constant introduced in the equation, remains unexplained and less understood. Over the years, the students of science have taken this “k=1″ as given and never questioned it. To my knowledge, the current age science basics have many such hidden and inbuilt constants, which have never been challenged. Whatever research being undertaken by the new age scholars is getting built on the ambiguous foundation of such constants! No one, probably, is keen to question these laws or is curious enough to think beyond the established framework.
This lack of curiosity, possibly, could be the reason that world has not seen more Newtons and Visvesvaraya’s thereafter! I recommend that our schools should encourage students to ask questions, challenge opinions as well as theorems and be motivated to extract never before corollaries. I sincerely implore the policymakers in the field of education & research to work towards nurturing the fundamental human parameter of ‘curiosity’ – this must be designed as an integral element in the education framework for our future generations. Lest, we get stuck with misplaced curiosities and allow our youth to get unduly keen on the stories of deaths, dramas or other social happenings all around.
Only the power of curiosity can lead us to the next big ‘Eureka moment’ in the world of science & research.

The Hawking Paradox

How are we to be moral in an indifferent universe of big bangs and black holes? Stephen Hawking has the question and the answer.
Between the slow emissions from black holes and the raging unravelling of the Big Bang, locating answers to the other large questions might seem a bit too ambitious. Stephen Hawking’s cosmology, after all, blazed along the path that began with the Copernican revolution. Humans are, as Hawking put it, “just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star.” The universe itself will die, as will life long before it. But, he goes on to say, since we can understand the universe, “this makes us special”.
But, the cleverness of the quote notwithstanding, the problem of morality in an uncaring multiverse remains. Why, if there is no god, no purpose to the cosmos other than its inevitable end, should we be good to each other? For Hawking, as with anyone who does not have a divine, intentional explanation for the first cause, there is an inherent contradiction between ontology and ethics.
But the solution to the conundrum thrown up by Hawking’s model is with Hawking himself.
People, even the planet they inhabit, are but an accretion of atoms and molecules, of stardust from the beginning. On the other hand, a system of ethics, to have any force, must place persons (human and non-human) at its core. That we understand the universe, or are capable of doing so, is not a satisfactory resolution. After all, for all we know, elephants have a great understanding of string theory and the inner narrative of dogs contemplates tera-forming Venus.
The problem of an indifferent, entropic universe’s implications on morality have been dealt with, very broadly, in two ways. First, is to avoid it completely as religion does. Sometimes, cabinet ministers decrying evolution and flat earth-ists do crop up, but religion has, more or less, ceded space and the grand narrative about beginnings and ends to science.
Then, there are those who take on the challenge of locating morality in man head-on. For Jean-Paul Satre “existence preceded essence”. Simply put, unlike say, an amoeba, much of what makes us human is learnt. In the existential scheme of things, then, the starting point is existence and the only certainty is mortality. This is both liberating and constraining: It acknowledges the absurdity of consciousness while still situating the onus of being good on people.
Another moral framework replaces divine intentionality with social forces. When Karl Marx says, “being determines consciousness,” he makes class in the relations of production responsible for “the problem of evil”. The issue many would have with a grand narrative like this is that it is simply religion by another name.
But this brouhaha over gods, cosmology and morality didn’t have quite the same force in the pre-Christian era. Being good was an act and not a system of belief. A good life (eudaemonia) for Aristotle consisted of health, wealth, respect of friends and family and, importantly, luck. For most laypersons, of course, this is likely more in line with what for them too would constitute success. One is good, then, only in as much as it is a useful component of having the good life.
Yet, none of these approaches actually deals with the original problem. Why should Stephen Hawking care about other people given that he knows that life is, in the larger scheme of things, meaningless? Or more generally, for the rest of us, why get out of bed at all? So here it is, the Hawking answer to ennui.
Apart from the obvious inspiration that Hawking’s rich intellectual and public life, despite his debilitating disease, provides, there are two themes that carve out the beginnings of a moral path. Love and Humour.
Within theoretical and applied physics, Hawking’s contributions are considerable and his academic laurels were more than enough to rest on. His choice to be a science communicator to a more general audience can be explained by his sheer love for what he does. In this case, evangelism is born, as it always is, from the desire to share what you know to be good and true. In his personal life, too, by most accounts, he was affectionate caring and understanding. This ability to look outward, it can be argued, was enhanced by his paralysis. But we are limited by our bodies and minds, each in her own way.
The first moral lesson from the scholar of black holes, then, is to love and love outward, to care not from a sense of altruism but a deep desire to share.
Too often, humour can be a way to bully, to put down others and act out insecurities. But it can also be, as with Hawking, a way to navigate the treacheries of life. Many, if not most, young people likely know of Hawking more from his television appearances on The Simpsons, The Big Bang Theory and Star Trek. That he did not take himself too seriously and that by laughing at his own condition, he ceased to let it define him, is evident to anyone who has watched him. In the uncaring multiverse, perhaps even more than in the created universe, that ability to laugh is a useful tool. As Albert Camus pointed out, in a godless universe, absurdity is inevitable.
But if you can love and laugh like Hawking you’re probably doing okay.

Debating Partition, the Oxford Style

Lambasting the British is easy. India needs to examine its own inability to nurture debate. Laali Vadlamani, the young woman whose term as the Oxford Union president is just ending, is perhaps the first Telugu-origin person elected to that prestigious post. Other South Asians who have held that office include Benazir Bhutto and Tariq Ali from Pakistan, Lalith Athulathmudali from Sri Lanka, and India’s Girish Karnad and Montek Singh Ahluwalia.
That the Oxford Union is primarily a debating society and holds debates on major issues, including controversial ones, is well known. A recent one, held on March 1, was on the motion, “This house regrets the Partition of India.”
Invited to participate, I chose to speak for the proposition. Also slated to speak in favour, P Chidambaram, the former finance minister, was at the last minute unable to take part. The London-based commentator and author of a new book on Netaji’s death, Ashis Ray, spoke ably in Chidambaram’s place.
Salman Khurshid, the former foreign minister, and Mridula Mukherjee, history professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, spoke against the motion. Evidently concerned about reactions at home to what they might say, the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis requested to take part had declined.
Along with much of the UK, Oxford was hit on March 1 by a snowstorm, but despite the extreme chill, the late-night debate was attended by a full house.
Two outstanding student speakers opened: Sabriyah Saeed, who is of Pakistani origin, and Eric Sukumaran, who hails from Kerala. Half a dozen other students raising their hands, most of them looking South Asian, were also invited by President Vadlamani to speak.
Not surprisingly, the motion was comfortably carried. Speakers against it had argued persuasively that the future was of greater moment than the past. Though it can teach us, the past cannot be changed. It has to be accepted, not regretted.
Speakers for the proposition said that regretting the Partition did not imply a wish to undo it. To think that Independence was possible only through Partition was not correct.
Also, following Partition, religious majorities in both halves became preponderant majorities, capable of turning into oppressive majorities. The possibility of a nuclear war was certainly one of Partition’s unfortunate gifts.
When the debated ended, students of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin besieged the Indian speakers, said thanks for the debate’s civility and voiced longings for reconciliation in South Asia. It was obvious that free and frank dialogue among South Asians, currently almost unthinkable in Karachi or Mumbai, Delhi or Dhaka, is possible in the UK and elsewhere outside India.
To underline this possibility is one reason for writing this piece. The other is to say that it is time for South Asians to move beyond lambasting the UK for India’s Partition.
Most speakers in the Oxford debate referred to Britain’s divide-and-rule policy. Thus, I reminded the audience that in the summer of 1945, Winston Churchill had asked Viceroy Archibald Wavell — as the latter noted in his journal — to ensure India’s division into “Hindustan, Pakistan, Princestan, etc.”
However, the chief responsibility for what happened in 1947 must rest on the shoulders of the people and leaders of the Subcontinent. Churchill, Mountbatten, Radcliffe and company could never have imposed Partition or the accompanying carnage on South Asia had the people living there in 1947 been determined either to stay together or to separate peacefully.
Cyril Radcliffe is a favourite whipping boy. Though he had never been to India before 1947, he nonchalantly drew lines across Punjab and Bengal and returned home, allowing South Asians thereafter to butcher one another. Satirical poems and cartoons were inevitable.
He was whipped afresh during the Oxford debate. But wait. Radcliffe drew his lines because his fellow judges, four in Punjab and four in Bengal, all of them Indian, half of them Hindu or Sikh and the other half Muslim, could not agree. They cancelled one another, and Radcliffe drew his lines.
If Indian judges had found agreement then, Radcliffe or no Radcliffe, the Indian people would have been given an acceptable solution and acceptable borders, and Partition might have happened without carnage.
Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis can lambast the British to their hearts’ content but that will not change South Asian realities. The lambasting occurred in Oxford, and the British audience took it on the chin. No one objected, no one booed, and no one asked why the attackers had been given UK visas.
The young woman from the Telugu world, presumably a Hindu, became the Oxford Union president. Another young woman, presumably a Muslim, whose grandparents were Sindhi on one side and Jalandhari Muslims on the other, was elected the Union’s “Librarian”, also a post of prestige. These two and their white and South Asian associates in Oxford organised a meaningful debate on India’s Partition.
The event was a plus for Oxford but also for the UK. Spitting fire at the British is easy. Organising in India a candid yet civil debate about river waters, Nagaland, Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, or minority rights is another cup of tea.
Nations that sprout such debates have led the world. Nations that cannot tolerate such debates will not be loved or followed by the world, no matter their GDP, their populations, or their percentage of the young.


Happy Hindu New Year- a Great Tribute To a Civilization

With the dawn today, i.e. the 18th March, the world saw the Hindus celebrate their New year with pumas, archakas, worshiping rivers, and chanting the holy names of Shiva, Vishnu, Durga, praying for the well being and peace for every creation of the gods- humans, animals, mammals, and nature.
It is an unbelievable feat for those followers of Abrahamic religions, who follow one book and one prophet, to see that here is still a great number of people who have kept pre-Islamic and pre-Christian traditions, language and rituals alive in their homes without any change, without any government help, in fact inspite of a government apathy and unwillingness to help them.
In fact a large part of humanity, from Indian states like Andhra, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamilnadu, Kerala, Gujarat- begin their new year under different names but on the same date and period- and also in Nepal ( Vikram samovar is their official calendar), Indonesia, Cambodia and specially Ballenes Hindus celebrate their new year as Baisakh, Vesak, Baisakhi, on same dates. Inspire of the best of the efforts by the British colonizers, who were the most brutal and barbaric forces who wanted to delete the memories of their subjects, people kept their calendar saved and practiced since millenniums.
Take for example the Indian Hindus. They use, for all practical purposes Gregorian calendar- which is a Christian Era time division. Till recently the western Christians had hardly any knowledge of the calendar system- and they practiced a ten month year system, completely forgetting the three months of the winter. It goes to the credit of the Hindu scientists, who often are mocked by the illiterate or semi literate English educated elite- who gave the most scientific time division in 3 BC ( Aetereya upanishad, Shatpath Brahmin and Rg Veda).
So deep are the roots of the Hindu calendar in the psyche of the common Hindu, even today, that inspire of the Gregorian calendar system being practiced in the offices, every festival, birth ritual, death rites, marriages, new home warming time and date, children’s ‘shaving the head’ ( Mundan) ceremony , Ganga snan-(holy bath), Kumbh ( world’s biggest congregation of the Hindus-involving more than twenty million people gathering ), take place only and one according to the Hindu calendar system- called Panchanga.
Salutes to the tenacity, perseverance, flexible nature and deep rooted belief in their ancient arithmetic, geometry, numeric system, cosmology and astronomy, that the greatest scientist, and a highest ranking chief of a multi national conglomerate would practice in his personal life only the Hindu calendar system.
The new Hindu year – Vikram samvat-began 57 years before the Christian Era- established by the great king of Ujjain, who defeated the enemies of the country- and wore the title of Vikramaditya. It is to be remembered that no great Hindu kIng or the gods were ever remembered or respected for their passiveness. They all were essentially warriors who defeated and annihilated the wrong doers. Pardoning an unrepentant wicked was never a part of the Hindu psyche.
When the western Christian world was busy in declaring women as witches and having no soul, and a Galileo was hanged for declaring scientific facts, Hindu scaintists were giving the world the gifts of science and mathematics- they gave zero, Hindu numerals- which were lated called as Indian numerals, measured the circumference of the earth, gave astronomy, named galaxy, stars, months, and orbits, when there were no telescopes. Arybhatta refined the Hindu calendar as early as 5th Century.
A noted scientist and a student of Hindu calendar system R.K. Chopra, (B.Tech. Mining Engg) writes-
“When full moon month cycle was followed, the 12 lunar months made a year of about 355 days. So, after every two and half years a lunar month (of 29.53 days) was added. Thus an average year contained 366 days( i.e. one day extra). This anomaly was rectified by dropping a month after every 30th year (30 solar years @ 365.24219 days = 10957 days; 371 lunar months @ 29.53059 days = 10956 days). The concept of dropping a month was there around 3000 BC and was carried to later period. Even then a small error of 5 lunar dates (tithes) was estimated in 90 years. Therefore a special 5 year period was added with one extra date each year after 90 years.
“Above is the basis of the 95-year Agnichayana vidhi as described in the 6th Kanda of Shatapatha Brahmana (Yajurved, 1000-1400 BC). The 95-year cycle containing 5 Metonic cycles of 19 years was discovered by the Babylonians around 300 BC. Present Indian calendars do calculations by actual positions of the sun and the moon and drop-month may occur after interval of 19 to 141 years.
“The names of the 12 months are taken from the 12 Nakshatras around whom the moon is placed on full moon day. The month can be identified by observing the first Naksatra on the eastern horizon at sunset. To synchronize it with the solar calendar, about once every 2½ years an extra month is added within a year (that means one particular month is repeated twice within that year). This way the festivals are observed by lunar dates but are contained within the same season (± 15days).”
Hindu calendar is divided in twelve months named after rashis- this is more logical, based on scientific research and connects people with the season and climate as well as the constellation of the stars and the position of earth, sun and the moon. and never forgot these most accurate calculations were done y Hindus thousands of years before the western scientist could arrive at the same conclusions.
The Hindu names of twelve months-
1. Vaisakha
2 . Jyestha
3 . Asadha
4 . Sravana
5 . Bhadrapada
6 . Asvina
7 . Kartika
8 . Margasirsa
9 . Pausa
10 . Magha
11 .Phalgura
12 . Chaitra
No doubt that the western scientists and doctors gave the greatest gifts to mankind like electricity, aerodynamics, modern medical science and printing press. Still to look down with contempt and make fun of the Hindu ancient scientific advancement will be self defeating and shameful. Every country and society thrives on the glory of her people and ancestors and that must not be forgotten by the new, modern, secular intellectual India.
Prof. Bhaktiputra Rohitam of the Benaras Hindu University has given a detailed explanation on the scientific aspects of the Hindu calendar which must be a matter of deep research in the other universities. The Hindu Vikram new year beginning on 18th March would be 2076. May the new year bring happiness, joy and prosperity to all. A very Happy New Year- the year of the Indians be auspicious and blissful to every one on this Earth.

Sunday Special: An Unfathomable Independent Woman or a Scheming Temptress

On Women’s Day, we often forget some of the most important figures of history and personalities who left an abiding impact on the society they lived in. I am referring particularly to one person in Medieval Mughal India. Born in Kandahar to impoverished Persian parents fleeing Tehran in search of better opportunity in the Mughal empire, Mehr-un-Nisa grew up to be an extraordinarily beautiful and accomplished young girl. She was married at the age of 16 to Ali Quli Istajlu, who too was a refugee from Persia who had joined Khan-i-Khanan Abdur Rahim – a senior nobleman and poet popularly known as Rahim – in Emperor Akbar’s court.
Ali Quli later fought for Prince Salim (the future Jahangir) in a campaign against the Kingdom of Mewar and was awarded the title of Sher Afghan for his bravery. However, he fell out of favour with the prince after Salim rebelled against Akbar (the falling out had nothing to do with Mehr-un-Nisa). In 1605, after Akbar died, and Jahangir became emperor, he pardoned Ali Quli but transferred him far away, to Burdwan, in Bengal. Two years later, Ali Quli was killed in a fracas with Qutbuddin Khan, the Governor of Bengal.
She was the 35-year-old widow of a man who had fallen out of favour with the Mughal emperor when she caught the eye of Jahangir. Within years, Mehr-un-Nisa, or Nur Jahan as she is known in history, rose to become the most powerful woman in the Mughal empire – coins were minted in her name, she enacted legislation, issued edicts, interacted with foreign traders and determined the empire’s policy. Nur Jahan saved the life and dignity of her husband – it is her bravery in this context that makes her my woman of the day.
The many romantic stories we hear of how the young Salim fell in love with Mehr-un-Nisa and eventually got Sher Afghan murdered, like many of its genre, are latter day fabrications that medieval Indian history expert Satish Chandra said serious historians do not accept.
After Sher Afghan’s death, the young widow, and her daughter Ladli, were brought to Agra. Mehr-un-Nisa was made an attendant to Salima Sultana Begum, Akbar’s wife, and Jahangir’s stepmother. She lived in the Mughal harem for four years during which time she used her skill in embroidery and stitching to become a very popular designer for the Mughal ladies.
She dressed very simply herself – mainly in whites – but fashioned brightly coloured brocades, tissues and silks for the ladies of the harem. Her designs were much sought after and often set the fashion trends.
To her goes the credit for inventing the Dudámí (flowered muslin) for peshwáz (gowns open in the front), panchtoliah for oṛhnís (a new design for veils), bádlah (embroidery with metal strips), kinárí (lace), and farsh-i-chandaní (white cloth for floor covering). She is also credited with designing gold ornaments with elegant new patterns.
In 1611, Jahangir happened to meet her at Meena Bazar – a new year fair started by Akbar in which the emperor was the only male present while noblewomen, princesses and other female members of the royal harem exhibited brocades, exquisite silks, fine muslins, bejeweled turbans and the like. Jahangir fell in love with her, proposed immediately, and they were married on May 25 of the same year.
She was his 18th and last wife. Jahangir gave her the title of Nur Mahal or Light of the Palace and later Nur Jahan or Light of the World. She was also given the title of Badshah Begum
Poet and hunter
Mughal ladies were highly accomplished and studied art, literature, philosophy, and religious studies with learned tutors. Nur Jahan was no exception, but she was a brilliant conversationalist too.
She composed Persian poems occasionally under the pen name of Makhfí, or the concealed one, a pseudonym also used by other female writers in the Mughal court like Salima Sultana Begum and Aurangzeb’s daughter Zebunnisá Begum.
Mughal women were trained in basic warfare and knew how to use swords and other weapons. Nur Jahan was a crack shot, and often accompanied Jahangir on tiger hunts. In his memoirs, Tuzuk-e-Jahangiri, the emperor described one such occasion in 1619: My huntsmen reported to me that there was in the neighbourhood (of Mathura) a tiger, which greatly distressed the inhabitants. I ordered his retreat to be closely surrounded with a number of elephants. Towards evening I and my attendants mounted and went out. As I had made a vow not to kill any animal with my own hands, I told Nur Jahan to fire my musket. The smell of the tiger made the elephant very restless, and he would not stand still, and to take good aim from a howda is a very difficult feat. Mírza Rustam, who after me has no equal as a marksman, has fired three or four shots from an elephant’s back without effect. Nur Jahan, however, killed this tiger with the first shot.
He described another occasion in which she killed four tigers with six shots: She shot two tigers with one shot each and knocked over the two others with four shots. In the twinkling of an eye she deprived of life the bodies of these four tigers. As a reward for this good shooting I gave her a pair of bracelets of diamonds worth 100,000 rupees and scattered 1,000 ashrafis over her.
Nur Jahan had a refined cultural taste and ably assisted Jahangir in his pursuit of art and painting. Her mother, Asmat Begum, had discovered attar or essence of roses, but the credit of distilling and popularising it goes to her.
Apart from this, she took care of orphans, especially girls, and is estimated to have arranged the marriages of, or provided for, five hundred such girls.
She was a great patron of architecture too, and built many beautiful palaces, gardens and mosques. The tomb she built for her father Mirza Ghias Beg (who was later given the title Itimad-ud-Daula or Pillar of the State by the emperor) in Agra is one of the most exquisite examples of Indo-Persian architecture, and provided inspiration for the Taj Mahal. She also built the Pathhar Masjid mosque at Srinagar.
An emperor besotted
It has been implied that Nur Jahan’s dominant role during Jahangir’s reign led to rebellion and disaffection amongst nobles especially with his third son Prince Khurram or Shah Jahan.
While some historians have painted her as an ambitious, scheming temptress who took advantage of Jahangir’s love for wine and opium to take over the reins of the empire, others like professor Satish Chandra have argued that the prejudice against Nur Jahan possibly reflected “the deep-seated anti-feminist bias of many contemporary historians which has often been repeated uncritically” by others.
However, her impact on Jahangir’s life can’t be denied. In his memoirs, the emperor said: “Before I married her, I never knew what marriage really meant… She gradually reduced the quantity of wine I took, and guarded me against unsuitable food and improper things”.
When Jahangir fell sick, which he did often in the latter part of his reign, Nur Jahan monitored his health and took over the reins of government with his permission.
Except for the khuṭbah (prayer for the reigning monarch), she possessed all the privileges of a ruler. Farmans or edicts were issued in her name and grants were conferred under her seal. From 1623-27 AD coins were also struck in her name bearing the words: Ba hukm Shah e Jahangir yaft sad zewar (front) (By order of the King Jahángír, gold has a hundred splendours added to it) Za naam e Nur Jahan Badshah Begum zar (on reverse) (By receiving the impression of the name of Nur Jahan, the Queen Begum.)
She is the only Mughal woman in whose name coins were struck. She would even appear with Jahangir for jharokha darshan, a tradition that Akbar started in which the emperor would show himself at the window after dawn prayers every day to give the common people an audience.
Her father and brother rose to be important nobles during the reign of Jahangir but it was primarily because of their own abilities. As Jahangir said in his memoirs: “… On the basis of seniority in service, extent of sincerity and experience in the affairs of government, I exalted Itimad-ud-Daula to the high post of Wizarat of the Dominion”.
Indian historian Prof Nurul Hasan pointed out that the rise of Itimad-ud-Daula and his family took place after 1616 when Nur Jahan was not so active in politics.
She only stepped into the limelight in 1622 when Jahangir’s health was failing, his son Shah Jahan was in open rebellion, and her father was no longer alive to guide affairs. Ambitious nobles tried to take advantage of this situation but they underestimated her grit.
Woman in battle
In 1626, the emperor was weakened by ill health and Nur Jahan appointed as prime minister, her brother Asaf Khan. An important courtier and Mughal general Mahabat Khan felt slighted. He was considered a potential threat by some sections. Perhaps to put him in his place, Mahabat Khan was asked to render accounts, and to surrender war elephants he had captured during a campaign. A troop of soldiers was sent to escort him to court.
But instead of meekly accompanying them, he came with a trusted body of Rajput warriors and seized the emperor as the royal camp was crossing the river Jhelum on its way to Kabul. Mutamad Khan, the author of Iqbalnama-i-Jahangiri, who was present there, wrote: After Nur Jahan had crossed the river, and reached the house of her brother, she summoned all the chief nobles, and addressed them in reproachful terms.
“This,” she said, “has all happened through your neglect and stupid arrangements. What never entered into the imagination of any one has come to pass, and now you stand stricken with shame for your conduct before God and man. You must do your best to repair this evil, and advise what course to pursue.”
Nur Jahan joined the battle that ensued to release Jahangir from Mahabat Khan’s clutches. Despite a tactical disadvantage, the superior force of the enemy, the deep gushing water and severe injuries to her elephant, she kept shooting arrows at the enemy. But though she fought bravely, attempts to rescue the emperor proved fruitless.
She returned to Lahore and thought of other ways to rescue Jahangir. She had realised by then that she was powerless while separated from the emperor as both their lives were in danger. On Jahangir’s invitation, she joined him in Kabul. Mahabat Khan was now at ease as the emperor was reconciled with him, but Nur Jahan was planning their escape.
Said Mutamad Khan, in the Iqbalnama-i-Jahangiri: Nur Jahan Begum worked against him both in private and in public. She maintained a number of followers, and attached them to herself by money and promises.
Within six months, taking advantage of Mahabat Khan’s weaknesses, Nur Jahan was able to wean away most of the nobles from his side. Realising that his position was precarious, Mahabat Khan fled from the court and later joined Shah Jahan who was biding his time till he ascended the throne.
Nur Jahan’s sharp intellect, cool head and courage led her to her greatest victory, the defeat of Mahabat Khan. However, her triumph was short-lived as Jahangir died soon after in Lahore. The year was 1627.
Nur Jahan gracefully retired from public life once Shah Jahan became emperor, and died in Lahore in 1645. She was 72. She was buried in a red sandstone tomb she had built for herself in Shahadra Bagh, Lahore, a short walk away from her husband’s last resting place.