Questions about Racism, Immigration


Racial Attacks in New Zealand

I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I wrote the blog post about Racism . While that one was in response to Russel’s post about a year back, this one is about the cowardly attack on the 50 odd and rising people died in the racist attack in New Zealand few days back. While I knew things were and charged with Trump and the right or/and alt right is rising in Europe as well but didn’t know that the fire had spread through Australia and New Zealand as well. And before people point fingers, it isn’t as if India is any better in the current circumstances. I came to know of the news on twitter where a gentleman named Khaled Beydoun broke the story . I had not been well the day before hence after work had just slept and woke mid-afternoon. I usually freshen myself but that day either due to laziness or whatever, I opened and was shocked when I read the news on twitter. My eyes, brain must have not properly woken up as I urged Khaled, along with many others to share the stories of the victims so people might know about them. In India, it has been more or less characterised as something to celebrate with slogans like ’50 would-be terrorists slain’ and such nonsense, I did feel it was part of some larger scheme as then also heard that the shooter had a webcam and live-streamed the whole thing on Facebook. Around the same time or a little later, also came to know about Senator Fraser Anning who talked about ‘White Australia’ . The idea behind ‘White Australia’ has been mirrored by the Right in Poland today/yesterday.

Immigration

The idea is similar in many ways to what Brexiteers told to people living in Britain. In essence we see the following characteristics –

a. Immigrants are the problem of all problems – While time and again has shown that Immigrants have been the source of growth in all developed countries, they are still able to get that particular message across. We had movies like Pathemari from South and fortunately or unfortunately many more movies on the same subject pursued in Hollywood. Some of the movies which I have enjoyed and have also found challenging are Moscow on the Hudson, (one of the best performances given by Robin Williams, The Immigrant , Man Push Cart, The Namesake (the Novel first and then the Movie) , Brooklyn , Sugar and many more. To distill down, all the movies, it comes to a singular fact, we love the place where we are born. We learn the taste, the smell, the culture and are assimilated by it long before we know it. It is only when people go to a different place whether to visit or to live as an immigrant that a dissonance is created and people spend their whole lives trying to fix the dissonance somehow.

In fact, I know at least 10-15 friends and family personally who have been forced into being Economic migrants for life, many of them into IT or Information Technology or business. While I may have shared this pattern before, just a few months back, (without taking names), a friend of mine wound up going back to States. He had made good money in States, is and was at a high post, had made enough money to buy a bungalow in Pune. He sent resumes from United States to Indian companies in and around Pune where they promised him comparative earnings, But when he was back in the excuse of being with the family i.e. father, mother, sister et al he found that they were promising him now half or 1/3rd of what they had promised him before. And this is without any of the benefits which he was enjoying in States. His wife is also from Pune, India and a working professional. In the end, he had to sell his bungalow and say a tearful bye to his parents and sister. This is the case in almost all of Kothrud. I may have shared about Kothrud before. This is a place around 5-6 kms. from my place, where thousands of parents are living a good life as their children are abroad. They feel good that the children are earning good, but many or most of them miss the human touch, the love and care that children can give. There are now non-profits and even the police who do try to care of the old and the aged but there is only so much they can do.

Why people leave, the Brain Drain and Politics in India

Just to share some facts about the Indian Industry, the Indian Government has several plans and schemes on paper, but most of them are unworkable in real life. They have fallen flat as Startup India and ‘Make in India‘ which have been reduced to being mere logos within India. In fact, almost all economic indicators are at a record low. While except for mobiles, most electronic products are stalling, even Cars and Bikes sales which are known as bell-weathers of how the Indian Economy is doing tells the story well. In fact, the current stats. of unemployment should raise a cause of concern. The story does have political colors as now it has come to light that RBI had advised against demonetisation before it was announced and now we are fully into election mode. There is and was China-bashing without realizing we need them as we have no alternatives and even no plan. There have been accusations being made against Pandit Nehru for giving the UNSC seat without understanding the politics behind it. While I of course, need to read more of history, it does point to the fact that if Pandit Nehru had taken the seat, then India would have had war with China in 1955 rather than 1962 when it did. The reason I shared the above is at least most of the problems in India are of its own making, or at the very least, its leaders, the same I fear could possibly be said of many countries.

A hypothesis

There are couple of other painful truths which I feel we don’t want to face, we are all migrants if we believe and support the hypothesis and observation that anthropologists have made about Homosapiens, to the extent as to where they were found and how migration happened over generations. By the same coin, an argument can be made that all of us have our hands bloody. Either in the recent or waaay in the past, the history we don’t know, we either wilfully or tacitly killed whatever was native to each land, whether it was humans or nature itself.

Reasoning for fear of Immigration

b. Nationalism will solve all the problems – There is this wide-spread belief that either ultra-nationalism, or being ultra-whatever will solve all problems. It took more than 200 years for the separation between the church and the State if you read the article on Wikipedia and look up some of the links they have mentioned therein and less than 5 years with help of technology to try to have them together. The idea of one race, one thought has been peddled before and it has resulted into untold destruction. and there is no evidence to point that it will be anything different today.

c. The main crux though of the matter though is probably Immigration and jobs, security – This is where the actual fight is. Most people believe that the natural-born should have some sort of entitlement, more than the Immigrants and that Immigrants get favors which from at least my reading has not been true at all. One point though, I am talking about Economic Migrants here and NOT migrants who end up elsewhere from where they are due to war, famine, natural calamities. For such people who are the unluckiest because they are not in charge of their fates I have no clue as it is much more complex than Economic migrants. Any solutions should have humanitarian focus but is easily pulled into politics as has been seen in India and potentially is the same for other countries as well. It is very much possible that at some future date, we may find India culpable in Rohingya genocide if that becomes the case. This reminds me very much of the Komagata Maru incident in which Indians died and the Canadian PM later apologized.

There was only one advertisement from some European freezing country (climate-wise) which said they will provide or give a house to whoever migrates there (have forgotten the name of the country) but in most countries Immigrants have quite a number of issues. Last year when trying to understand about Taiwan, came to know about immigration issues within Taiwan, much of which is espoused quite nicely in the recent issue of thediplomat. I would venture other countries would have similar issues. I had shared before when I visited Qatar and came to know that in almost all Middle-east countries Indians and people from the sub-continent have a work visa and in many ways they are bonded labourers. Only last year they have made some changes. After coming back to India, Pune I was able to ask and know from many people both in Pune and elsewhere and all of them had similar stories to share. I remember reading some article about immigration laws to Australia in which it was said that if a doctor trained in India were to migrate to Australia, he would have to go through the residency period all over again. That would add another 5-7 years for learning medicine again when s(he) could have been helping. This was shared not just in the article but also shared by personal experiences of few friends and people I met, casually had a chat and so on.

Why not Ban Immigration At all

If Immigration is such an issue why not ban it ? The New Scientist ran a series of articles on the same topic couple of years ago. While I would recommend to read them all, the best one which resounded within me was this one . I had a coincidence to meet quite a few doctors, nurses etc. during my travels, also when I was ill in the hospital. My landlord too was a Doctor who served all his life in UK in NHS . While we have somewhat of a quarrel-some relationship due to renter and rentee, he has shared lot about NHS in Britain. Interestingly, lot of his colleagues were from India, apparently close to 30-40% of the doctors and nurses are from India. The same I have heard about Gulf Countries as well. There are also articles by Rukhsana Khan, I especially liked the article in which she shares about immigration in Canada which I found to be quite interesting. The comments much more so as it tells how much as a species we have yet to grow.

The Positives

While the cost has been high, there has been a net positive as far as inclusiveness for New Zealand is concerned. Jacinda Ardern, the world’s youngest female leader, as shared by Economist had been forthright, critical and called it a terrorist attack. This must have been really difficult for Jacinda to do politically especially when you see her background as shared by Economist, the reasons people chose her. But this is what leaders are expected to do, to lead and not be predictable. This is something our great leader has not been able to. The whole world has commended her for the way she has managed to lead, both with grace and empathy. While I did see some people commenting on her need to use the hijab, most people have complimented her for the way she communicated and foremore, bringing restriction to gun ownership esp. in automated rifles . This is something that United States has failed to do despite so many killings which have taken place 😦

While the post has turned to be long there are still many feelings yet to be expressed, the first one is from a person of whose work I am a fan of and make no bones about it –

TL;DR: The effects of the rise of right wing populism are not dramatic and visible. Often they just involve an excruciating micronegotiation of your body and its place in geographies of suspicion. Do you know what happens when you wear skin and body of suspicion? In a country that overnight feels hostile because of an abhorrent act of terrorism, and an election that exercised the democratic will of bringing into power a fundamental extremist political party, you scan your everyday modes of being. The routines and ruts of habitual living suddenly become unfamiliar, suspect, alien. You take on the double weight of the loss and grief of the victims and the shame and repentance of the perpetrator. You inherit pity and terror of the tragedy with no catharsis. And you see yourself change. Instantaneously.

1. You find yourself smiling more. Whenever you are in public, you make an extra effort to smile at strangers, to convince them that the bag on your shoulders only has your laptop and no other weapon.

2. When you see the increased security, you try to look small, wrapped up in a shrug, to convince the scrutinizing gaze that you are not a menace.

3. When you sit on the train you realise that you sit differently. Not taking as much space, Keeping all your limbs to yourself, breathing in self-defence.

4. Your phone vibrates while you are sitting in the train. It is your mom. You wonder if you should take the call, and speak in your heathen tongue, and if it will offend or alarm people around you.

5. You hear the couple sitting next to you, peering over a train time-table and trying to figure out where they should change trains. You pause for a long moment before you give them advice in a language that you only speak brokenly.

6. You pretend not to notice the raised eyebrows when you betray your outsider status by speaking the local language clumsily, and accept the reluctant thanks before trying to hide behind your phone.

7. You are hungry. There is a lunch box in your bagpack. It is the left-over curry from dinner last night. You hesitate opening it lest the smells of your food bring forth a reaction that you might not be able to digest.

8. As you walk to the building where you have a meeting, you see a group of people drinking beer and being loud, and you instinctively scan to see if there is another entrance into the building that you can detour to.

9. You find solidarity in the people who are angry and in shock at this changed electoral and cultural trend in their country. They lament about how things are going bad. You don’t join them and instead spend all your effort in assuring them that you do not blame them, that you are happy to have them as friends and colleagues; you swallow your feeling of vague dread and spend time consoling them about the fate of things to come.

10. You meet a friend. You sit in a café and talk. You see a small group of people in their older whateveragebrackets pointedly looking at you and looking away when you catch their eye. When you see it happening more than once, you talk your friend into going somewhere else. When asked why, you say, ‘this is just so loud’.

11. You sit through an academic discussion. People are talking about vulnerability and safety. Care and creativity show up. The smart, insightful, and inspiring conversations develop, surrounded by plenty and privilege. You drone out because you remember the 5 refugees that you are counselling, who have sent you messages that given the current political climate, they want to drop out of their education development programme. Now is not a good time to be visible, one 19 year old has said.

12. You enter the central station and realise that you are going to have to sprint to the train. You are used to this. But today you walk measured footsteps even though you are going to miss the train. You don’t want to be running in your body, on a late evening train station. You miss the train and wait in the cold wind plucking at your cheeks, for the next one that takes you home.

13. On the ride back, you compose your face in rehearsed pleasantness. You wear your Asian niceness on your cheeks. The tiredness of the day has no place on your face. You are good, you are not a threat, you are acceptable.

14. You put on your headphones and are going to switch to the usual Bollywood mix that you listen to when you walk home. Before you do that, you remove the headphones and play the music. You are checking to see if the music is too loud, and seeping out of the headphones, betraying its ethnicity in its foreign cadences. You lower the volume and decide to play an American pop mix anyway.

15. You walk home on routine routes when you see three people walking behind you. It is a public space. It is your everyday route home. There are people around. You slow down to let them pass. You find comfort in the bagpack snuggling your back, like an armour.

16. You are fumbling for your keys at the entrance of the building. Somebody walks out of the door at the same time. You are happy not to be fishing for keys, so you ask them to hold the door and scurry up inside. The person asks where you want to go. You tell them you live here. You have never seen each other. You nod, wanting to get home. You get out of the slow elevator and from around the corner you see the person from downstairs looking at you. She has taken the stairs to see you safe home.

17. You enter home and even before you have taken off the bag, or the double layers of coats on your shoulder, you feel a weight come off your shoulders. You stretch to your full height. You breathe deeply. In the solace of solitude, you feel the layers of the day strip off. You head into a warm shower and wash all the gazes that have scorched your body. You step out. While drying in front of the misty mirror., you realise that if this continues, it will soon become habit. When your body is a question, you live like an apology. And these are the experiences of a life that is well shielded, protected, and supported by privilege, mobility, work, health, communities of love and trust, and money. So for anybody who is more precarious this must be amplified multiple times. If you know somebody who feels that they are bodies and skins of suspicion, now you know the cruel algebra of life that they are constantly solving. If somebody tells you they are worried, anxious, feeling afraid because of what this populist verdict has delivered, don’t downplay their dread. It is theirs. Let them work through it. You cannot change it by merely offering your love and care. It helps, but this is not a personal question of feelings – it is a structural problem of survival. Their experience is not an accusation towards you. It is merely an apology for themselves. You might not have voted for this to happen. But you are still a part of the system, and the only way out of this is for us to challenge the normalization of hatred and violence.

https://nishantshah.online/ , Nishant Shah , Academic, Educator, Researcher and Annotator, Netherlands.

As shared by Nishant, while I have not met him, have had the privilege to have read many of the articles penned by him many a times in Indian Express and other places. We also have managed to near-miss each other even though I have been to Bangalore quite a number of times to CIS when he was part of CIS . Also this is not just about what he experienced and what many other people who are foreigners or migrants feel, it is also to shed a light to all those who think of migration as the geese which lays the golden goose but forget the cost.

The other is one of my favorite lyricist, poet, writer who made many marriages happen and also likely to bear the cross for the same (from either husbands or wives) Miyan Javed Akhtar Sahab –

To speak of that which everyone is fearful, of that you must write
The night was never so dark ever before, write!

Throw away the pens with which you wrote the odes
In praise of the true pen dipped in the heart’s blood, write!

The narrow circles that confine you, break all of them
Come under the open skies now, of a new creation, write!

That which finds no place in the daily newspapers
That incident which happens everywhere every day, write!

That which has happened finds mentions
But of those that should have happened, write!

If you wish to see spring return to this garden
Call out from every branch and on every leaf, write!

Written by Miyan Javed Akhtar Sahab, translated by Rakshanda Jalil for scroll.in where it first appeared digitally to my knowledge.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

First of all I would like to share about a video which I should have talked or added about in the ‘Celebrating National Science Day at GMRT‘ blog post. It’s a documentary called ‘The Most Unknown‘ . It’s a great documentary as it gives you a glimpse of how much is there yet to discover. The reason I shared this is I have seen lot of money being removed from Government Research and put god knows where. Just a fair warning, it would be somewhat of a long conversation.

Almost all of IIT’s are in bad shape, in fact IIT Mumbai which I know and have often had the privilege to associate myself with has been going through tough times. This is when institutes such as IIT Mumbai, NCRA, GMRT, FTII and all such institutions have made loads of contributions in creating awareness and has given the public the ability to question rather than just ‘believe’ . For any innovation to happen, you have to question, investigate, prove, share the findings and the way you have done things so it could be reproduced.

Even Social Sciences as shared in the Documentary and my brief learnings and takeaways from TISS has been the same. The reason is even they are in somewhat dire-straits. I was just sharing or having a conversation with another friend few days back who is into higher education that IISER Pune where the recent Wordcamp happened had to commercialize and open its doors to events in order to sustain itself. While I and perhaps all wordcampers would forever be grateful for sharing with us such a great place as well as a studios vibe which also influenced how Wordcamp was held, I did feel sad that we intruded in their study areas which should be meant for IISER’s only.

Before I get too carried away, I should point to people that people should look at Ian Cheney’s some of the old documentaries as well (the one who just did the most Unknown) and has found his previous work compelling as well. The City Dark is a beautiful masterpiece and shares lot of insights about light pollution which India could use well to improve both our lighting as well as reduce light pollution in the atmosphere.

Meeting with Bhakts and ‘Good intentions’

The reason I shared the above was also keeping in mind the conversations I have whenever I meet Bhakts. The term bhakt comes from bhakti in Sanskrit which at one time meant spirituality and purity although now in politics it means one who choose to believe in the leader and the party absolutely. Whenever a bhakt starts losing an logical argument, one of the argument that is often meted out is whatever you say you cannot doubt Mr. Narendra Modi’s intentions which is the reason why I took the often used proverb to prove the same point and is the heading of the blog post. The problem with the whole ‘good intentions’ part is, it’s pretty much a strawman argument. The problem with intentions is everybody can either say or mask their intentions. Even ISIS says that they want to bring back the golden phase of Islam. We have seen their actions, should we believe what they say ? Or even Hitler who said ‘One people, one empire, one leader’ who claimed that the Aryans were superior to the Jewish people while history has gone to show the exact opposite. Israel, today is the eight-biggest arms supplier in the world, our military is the second-biggest buyer of arms from them as well as far more prosperous than us and many other countries. Their work on drip-irrigation and water retention, agricultural techniques, there is much we could learn from them. Same thing about manning borders and such. While I could give many such examples the easiest example to share in context of good intentions gone wrong is Demonetisation in India which deserves its own paragraph.

Demonetisation

Demonetisation was heralded by Mr. Modi with great fanfare . It was supposed to take out black money. While we learned later that black money didn’t get wiped out but has become more into your face. This we learned later was debunked by the earlier R.B.I. Governor Raghuram Rajan and then now from R.B.I. itself. This is before Mr. Narendra Modi announced demonetisation. Sharing below an excerpt from the Freakonomics Radio show which has Mr. Rajan’s interview. Makes for interesting reading or listening as the case may be.

DUBNER: Now, shortly after your departure as governor of the R.B.I., Prime Minister Modi executed a sudden, controversial plan to abolish 500- and 1,000-rupee banknotes, hoping to crack down on the shadow economy and tax evasion. I understand you had not been in favor of that idea, correct? p, li { white-space: pre-wrap; }

RAJAN: Absolutely. It didn’t make sense. I was asked for my opinion, and I said, “Look, it is taking away money that people use in transactions. It’s going to create enormous disruption unless we replace it overnight with freshly printed money.” And it’s very important that we have all that in place, difficult to maintain secrecy, and then the fundamental sort of objective of this, which was to get people to bring out the money that they hoarded in their basements and pay taxes on them — I said, “That’s probably not going to work out, because they’re going to find ways to infuse the money back into the system without paying those taxes.”

DUBNER: It’s been roughly two years now. What have been the effects of this demonetization?

RAJAN: Well, I think more than the numbers suggest, because India was growing at that time. And we had numbers which were in the 7.5 percent growth range at that point, at a time, in 2016, when the world was actually growing quite slowly. When growth picked up in 2017, instead of going along with the world, which we typically do and we exceed world growth significantly, we went down. That suggests it had a tremendous effect on growth, but that, the numbers don’t capture it all, because what actually got killed was the informal sector — the people who were doing work with notes rather than with checks, who didn’t have formal bank accounts. And when you look at the job numbers that some private-sector people estimate 10, 12 million jobs were lost in that episode. And, of course, we haven’t recovered them yet. It was one of those places where more economic thinking would have helped.

DUBNER: Was it a coincidence that Prime Minister Modi went ahead with the plan only after you’d left?

RAJAN: Well, I can’t speak on that. I can only say that I made my objections very, very clear.

Freakonomics Podcast Stephen J. Dubner interviewing Mr. Raghuram Rajan, RBI Governor 5th September 2013 – 5th September 2017. Aired on 6th February 2019 .

I would urge people to listen to Freakonomics Radio as there are lots of pearls of wisdom in there. There is also the Good ideas are not enough podcast which is very relevant to the topic at hand but would digress about the Freakonomics radio for now.

The interesting part to ask from the details known from R.B.I. are –


a. Why did Mr. Narendra Modi feel the need to have the permission of R.B.I. after 38 days ?


b. If Mr. Modi were confident of the end-result then shouldn’t he have instead of asking permission and have the PMO have taken all the responsibility.


In any case, as was seen from R.B.I. counting only 0.3% of the money did not come even though many people’s valid claims were thrown out and the expense in the whole exercise was much more than the shortfall. R.B.I. didn’t get INR 10k crore while it spent INR 13k crore for the new currency. Does anybody see any saving here ?

The bhakts counter-argument is that the bankers were bad, if everybody had done their work, then it would have all worked out as Mr. Modi wanted. The statement itself implies that they didn’t know the reality. Even if we take the statement at face-value that all the bankers were cheaters (which I don’t agree with at all) , didn’t they know it when they were the opposition. Where was the party’s economic intelligence, didn’t it tell them so many years they were in Opposition. This is what the Opposition should be doing and knowing about the state of the Economy and know the workings to say the least.

There is also this https://www.scribd.com/document/401570379/Minutes-of-RBI-s-board-meeting-on-demonetisation

These are minutes obtained by Venkatesh Nayak under the RTI tool.

To rub salt to the wounds, now the IPP is at low of 1.7 percent as well 😦 . As always, I’m sure BJP will say these are not the final numbers.

I am curious to know what RSS people would think or make of this video –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYKKrnG26YA

The other terminology people do use when they are unable to win an argument is I don’t know in detail, why don’t you come to the shaaka and meet our ‘prachaarak’ . Pracharaak while a hindi word used to mean a wise man disseminating knowledge but in RSS-speak he is a political spinner. In style, mannerisms they are very close to how born again Jesuists or Missionaries do, the ones who are forceful, don’t want to have a meaningful conversation. The most interesting video on this topic can be seen on twitter

https://twitter.com/akashbanerjee/status/1105309181240885248/

Important Legislations which need Public Scrutiny

The other interesting development or regression which I and probably many tech-savvy Indians would probably noted is the total lack of comments on any of the new regulations by Mozilla about Internet, whether it is the News and Draft Intermedairy rules, the Aadhar Amendment Bill, 2019 which was passed recently, the Draft E-commerce Bill , Data Protection Bill, all of which are important pieces of legislation which need and needed careful study. While the Government of India isn’t going to do anything apart from asking comments, people should have come forward and made better systems. One of the things that any social group could do is either have Stet or a co-ment instance so it could capture people comments and also mail it from their to Meity .

The BJP Site hack

Last and not the least was the BJP site hack which is now in ninth day where it is still under maintainance . It was a hack because there was a meme which went viral on the web. Elliot in his inimitable style also shared how they should have backed up their site . In an un-related event I was attending devops event where how web apps, websites should be done was shared. It’s not rocket science, even if one of the people had looked at ‘high-availability’ they would have got loads of web-pages and links which tell how to be secure and still serve content. Apparently, they just did not take BJP site data but probably also donor data (people who have donated wealth to BJP) . There is a high possibility if it’s a real hack that crackers, foreign agents could put BJP to ransom and have dominion on India if BJP comes back to power. While I do hope such a scenario doesn’t play out you never know. I would probably share about the devops event some other time as there was much happening there and deserves its own blog post.

On the other hand, it could be a ploy to tell to EC (Election Commission) we don’t have the data, our website got hacked when EC asks from where you got the funding for the Elections.

In either way it doesn’t seem a good time for either BJP or even India as a whole if it has such weak I.T. Government 😦

Frankly speaking, when I first heard it, I was thinking hopefully they wouldn’t have put their donor details on the same server and they probably would be taking backups. I chided myself for thinking such stupid thoughts. A guy like me could be screwy with his backups due to time, budget constraints but a political party like BJP which has unbridled wealth wouldn’t do such rookie mistakes and would have the best technical talent available. Many BJP well-wishers were thinking they would be able to punish the culprit and I had to tell them he could use any number of tools to hide his real identity. You could use VPN, tor or even plain old IP spoofing. The possibilities are just endless. This is just when I’m a infosec rookie or baby.

The other interesting part of this hack is till date BJP has neither acknowledged the hack, nor have they shared what went wrong. I think we have been to comfortable and been used to hacks on reddit, gmail, twitter where the developers feel that the users should know the extent of the hack, what was lost and not lost, what they are doing to recover and till when we can expect services to start and then later a full disclosure report as to what they could determine. Of course, there could be disinformation in such information as well but that would have been a better response method than how the BJP IT Cell has responded. Not something I would expect from a well-oiled structure.

Update – 14/03/19 – Seems fb, instagram, whatsapp is down . Also see how fb responded on twitter . Also Indian Express ran an article on the recent BJP hack. We will know what happens hopefully in the next few days .

Processing Insanity

This blog post starts from where it ended a few days ago. I am fortunate and to an extent even blessed that I have usually had honest advise but sometimes even advice falls short when you see some harsh realities. There were three people who replied, you can read mark’s and frode’s reply as they have shared in the blog post.

I even shared it with a newly-found acquaintaince in the hopes that there may be some ways, some techniques or something which would make more sense as this is something I have never heard within the social circles I have been part of so was feeling more than a bit ill-prepared. When I shared with Paramitra (gentleman whom I engaged as part of another socio-techno probable intervention meetup I am hoping to meet soon) , he also shared some sound advice which helped me mentally prepare as well –

So, if you’re serious about what you can do with/for this friend of yours and his family, I do have several suggestions. 

1. To the best of my knowledge, and I have some exposure, no one goes ‘insane’ just like that. There has to be a diagnosis. Please find out from his family if he’s been taken to a psychiatrist. If not, that’s the first thing you can convince his family to do. Be with them, help them with that task.

2. If he’s been diagnosed, find out what that is. Most psychiatric disorders can be brought to a manageable level with proper medications and care. But any suggestions I can offer on that depends on the diagnosis.

3. However, definitely inform his family that tying him up, keeping him locked etc will only worsen the situation. He needs medical and family care – not incarceration, unless the doctor prescribes institutionalized treatment.

Hope this helps. Please be a friend to him and his family at this hour of crisis. As a nation, our understanding of mental health per se is poor, to say the least.

Paramita Banerjee

So armed with what I thought was sufficient knowledge I went to my friend’s home. The person whom I met could not be the same person whom I knew as a friend in college. During college, he had a reputation of a toughie and he looked and acted the part. So, in many ways it was the unlikeliest of friendships. I shared with him tips of Accountancy, Economics etc. and he was my back. He was also very quick on the re-partees so we used to have quite a fun time exchanging those. For the remainder of the exchange I will call my friend ‘Amar’ and his sister ‘Kritika’ as they have been the names I like.

The person whom I met was a mere shadow of the person I knew. Amar had no memory of who I was. He had trouble comprehending written words and mostly mumbled. Amar did say something interesting and fresh once in a while but it was like talking mostly to a statue. He stank and was mostly asleep even when he was awake. Amar couldn’t look straight at me and he had that if I touched him or he touched me he would infect me. He had long nails as well. Kritika told me that he does have baths once every few days but takes 3-4 hours to take a bath, sleeps in there as well. The same happens when he goes for shitting as well. The saving grace is they have their own toilet and bathroom within the house. I have no comprehension how they might be adjusting, all in that small space.

I learned from Kritika what I hadn’t known about him and the family over the last ten odd years. His mum died in the same room where he was and he had no comprehension that she had died, this had happened just a few weeks back. He was one of three children, the middle child, the elder daughter, who is now a widow and has three daughters who are living with them. Amar, his father and the youngest sister who is trying desperately to keep it altogether but I don’t know how and what she will be able to do. 7 mouths to feed and 6 people who all have their own needs and wants apart from basic existence. They are from a low-income group. The elder sister does have lot of body pains although I was not able to ask what from. I do know nursing is a demanding profession and from my hospital stay, at times they have to around the clock 24×7 doing things no normal person can do.

Two of the nieces are nearing teenage years and was told of sexually suggestive remarks to the nieces by one of the neighbors. The father is a drunk, the brother-in-law who died was a drunk and the brother, Amar had consumed lots of cannabis seeds. Apparently, during the final year exams where we were given different centers he went to Bombay/Mumbai to try his hands at movies, then went to Delhi and was into selling some sort of chemicals from company to the other.

Maybe it was ‘bad company’ as her mother on the phone had told me, maybe it was the work he was doing which he was not happy with which led him to cannabis addiction. I have no way of knowing anything of his past. I did ask Kritika if she can dig out any visiting cards or something. I do have enough friends in Delhi so it’s possible I can know about how things came to be this bad.

There was a small incident which also left me a bit shaken. The place where they are is a place called Pavana Nagar. This is on back of Pimpri-Chinchwad industrial township so most of the water that the town/village people consume has lot of chemical effluents and this the local councillor (called nagar sevak) knows but either can’t or won’t do anything about it. There are lot of diseases due to the pollutants in the water. The grains they buy or purchase, Kritika suspects or/and knows also use the same water but she is helpless to do anything about it.

The incident is a small one but I wanted to share a fuller picture before sharing that. I had left my bag, a sort of sling bag where I was sitting in the room . After Kritika took me to another building to show me the surrounding areas (as I was new here and had evinced interest to know the area) , when we came back, my bag was not to be found. While after searching for a while, I got the bag, there was no money in it ( I usually keep INR 100-200 in case money gets stolen from on me. I also keep some goodies (sweet and sour both) just in case I feel hungry and there’s nothing around. Both were missing. The father pretended, he had put the bag away by mistake. I didn’t say anything because it would have been loss of face for the younger sister although it’s possible that she knows or had some suspicions. With the younger kids around, it would have been awkward to say that and I didn’t really wanna make a scene. It wasn’t much, but just something I didn’t expect.

Also later I came to know that whenever the father drinks, he creates lot of drama and says whatever comes to his mind. It is usually dirty, nasty and hurtful from what I could gather.

Due to my extended stay in hopsital due to Epilepsy had come to know of couple of medical schemes which were meant for weaker sections of the society. I did share what I knew of the schemes. While I hope to talk with Kritika more, I don’t see a way out of the current mess they are in. The sense I got from her is that she is fighting too many battles and I don’t how she can win them all. I also told her about NMRI I have no clue where to go from here. Also don’t wanna generalize but there might be possibilities of many Amars and Kritikas in our midst or around us whose story we don’t know. If they could just have some decent water, no mosquitoes it probably would enhance their lives quite a bit and maybe have a bit more agency about themselves. There is one thing that Kritika shared which was also interesting. She had experience of working back-office for some IT company but now looking after the family she just couldn’t do the same thing.

Note and disclaimer – The names ‘Amar’ and ‘Kritika’ are just some names I chose. The names have been given to –

a. Give privacy to the people involved.
b. To embody sustance to the people and the experience so they are not nameless people.


How to deal with insanity ?

There is a friend of mine, from college days. As it happens, we drifted apart from each other, he chose some other vocation and I chose another. At the time we were going to college, mobile phones were expensive. E-mail was also expensive but I chose to spend my money on e-mail and other methods of communication. Then about 6-8 months back, out of the blue, my friend called me back. It took me sometime as I wasn’t able to place him (I just cannot remember people and also features change a lot.) but do remember experiences. We promised to meet but at the time we were supposed to meet, it rained like it never rained before. I waited for an hour but wasn’t able to see him. I tried SMS, called him but no answer. I did try few times but never got him. He used to send me a message once in a while and I used to send a reply back. I was able to talk with his mum some days after that. Yesterday, I was trying to call some people, and his name popped up. On a hunch, dialed his number and his sis. came on the line. She was able to place me (I guess I might have met 6-8 years back or more) but still she was able to place me and she told me he’s gone insane. While I’m supposed to meet the family on the week-end to know what happened, I am still not able to process how it happened. I had known he had fallen into some bad company (his mum had shared this titbit) but can’t figure out for the life of me what could have driven him insane. I told I would be coming on Sunday as I have work, but more importantly trying to create some sense of space or control so I can digest what’s happened. While I know it happens to people, not to people I know, not to people I do care about. I also came to know that all the time my phone was not able to get through is because he has a shitty jio connection or the place where they live, jio doesn’t have a good presence.

Now one part of me has a sort of morbid curiousity as to what chain of events lead to it while at the same time dunno if I would be able to help them or what I should say or do ? Feel totally helpless. If anybody have any ideas, please yell, comment.

Celebrating Science Day at GMRT and WSF

World Social Forum 2004

I would start with WSF which is in this case is The World Social Forum. This is where I got a real taste of what global activisim could do. The year was 2004 and it was against the World Economic Forum (or part of it was happening in Mumbai.) It was a double whammy as either due to design or just a coincidence the Kala Ghoda festival was happening at the same time. It had seemed at the time that change was in the air and things will change shortly but it was not to be. The reason this got remembered as I was cleaning my mailbox after a long time, doing a real deep cleaning and while doing it, came across a bunch of mails and people and ideas. While lot of things on the plate have been won, there have been equal or more number of losses. For e.g. Shell is still into fossil fuels and has grown consistently over the years, even political parties can raise foreign funds thanks to the present Government with retrospective effect of 60 years but non-profits cannot do as apparently “only they can influence people”, not political parties. All of this isn’t news unless you have been living under a rock for the last 4 years or so. It all just seems a bit more perverse than before hence had to share it but this was not the purpose of this blog post.

National Science Day at GMRT

We had been celebrating National Science Day at GMRT for last 7 years with this year being the seventh in the series. The only one I missed was last year but then wasn’t well and didn’t want any possibility of aggravation of health issues as had been sick. I had shared I wouldn’t be able to do any of the heavy lifting and our conversation for the event started like this –

shirish agarwal, [27.02.19 13:14]
@mandiv1 apparently Arvind and Aadesh would not be able to go to Reserved-bit .

shirish agarwal, [27.02.19 13:14]
somebody else would have to do the needful.

Akshat, [27.02.19 13:16]
@shirishag75 don’t worry about the logistics. We will take care.

Snippet of Telegram chat.

Later came to know though that this year all of the equipment and merch. sponsorship was done by Zimbra. There were also some other expenses but all of them were borne by Zimbra. So here are a list of photos which shows some of the photos taken by members of the two groups.

Around the end of the first day
Around the end of the first day

While we were supposed to be around 12-13 volunteers, 9 from both Debian and Mozilla turned up for the event. Six were from the Debian side of things, while three from Mozilla. While there were couple of newbies, most of the people had worked with each other before so it was easy to get by.

oking around after a hard day's work
Joking around after a hard day’s work

After packing and finishing for the day, it was time to rib with each other as well as know each other. Nothing like ribbing and getting ribbed to take the tiredness of the day out. Having a cup of tea or two also helps.

How GMRT looks in the evening
How GMRT looks in the evening
GMRT Antennae in Unison - Akshat
GMRT Antennae in Unison – Akshat

GMRT is based in a semi-rural, semi-forested area. The GMRT Radio telescopes are a group of 30 steerable Radio telescopes situated in an about 27 sq. km. , each Radio telescope cover an area of 45 meters and the whole constellation is in the form of a parabolic dish or a Y-shape to be more precise. This particular picture has been clicked by Akshay as it shows his signature eye and framing. It was upgraded few years back and is now back is to former glory. I also just remembered some questions that were asked to the Tatas in Thoughtworks Complex Systems workshop for SKA for which there were no clear answers but that’s a topic for another day.

Photo Op with the Zimbra Team
Photo Op with the Zimbra Team
Another picture with the zimbra team
Another picture with the zimbra team

This was at the end of the second day when the Zimbra team came to see us. Unfortunately they came after lunch when traffic was low to almost non-existent and people were winding up for the momento and the prize ceremony which is held for students coming from various schools and colleges. Organizations are given a momento as it’s geared so that students are aware of all the science around them, the causation and the effect. They also have some repos. on github if people wanna contribute.

Big thanks to Zimbra for sponsoring us and NCRA and GMRT for giving us the stall, travel, lodging and boarding. Also thanks to all the volunteers from FSCI and Mozilla showing up and making it what it was.

Akshat giving a Debian CD and literature about free software.
Akshat giving a Debian CD and literature about free software

This is probably in the morning on the second day when me and Vikas were out to see some of the other stalls which were there.

Projects I liked

There were probably in excess of 100 odd stalls and while it was virtually impossible to visit all the stalls, all of us did manage to visit some or the other stalls. The ones which I liked were the one where an old gentleman showed how light is refracted. He had a green laser pointer and had asked for a dark room and showed the various ways light was refracted. The one which I really liked was when how probably light refracts in a fibre-optic cable. The other one I enjoyed was when I came to know of the ITER . I was told that they have been able to generate more energy than taken although after coming back just came to know that the project is only 58% completed, the rest taking almost 15 years more to complete.

The other informational projects which I came to know about were the Earth core. While in countless movies, we have reached the center of the earth, in actuality we don’t know. There are assumptions that it may have liquid and some metal on what we have been to explore so far. It may be entirely possible that there may be one more than one more layer of metal and liquid that is being assumed but as we don’t know we can’t do anything about it. The people who were showing that were actually showing how earth’s magnetic poles are moving all the time. They also shared the possibility of the magnetic poles flipping and while I can find quite a few media stories speculating that myth/fact I dunno what to make of it. Of course if does flip, all our communications will be down. Even birds take their bearing from the magnetic north (although instinctively) . Humans would be the worst affected for sure .

While there were many more, there was a whole stall of students using either Arduino Uno or Arduino Mega. I am afraid I didn’t ask which. There were many projects which I liked but they were more thought more in dreams rather than reality. For instance, one of the projects was for a submersible to check the quality of water. They had made a nice UI and used the Arduino to remotely stop and start the boat. As everybody knows, sensors are not so cheap so the only sensor they managed to get was a temperature sensor and they showed how it would work. The assumption being dirty water being more hot than fresh water. Also it would report variances within water temperature. itself so you could know what the temperature of water is at any one point of time.

There was also an Arduino-based bot to clean floors. It looked similar to some of the Japanese bots I have seen. For instance see this one shared on CNET . As it was a college robot, it had an extended arm of about couple of feet with a sensor to detect a foreign object. There was a housewife hanging around who was obviously stressed and was looking at it as a solution to relieve her from some of the household chores. They were also working and looking at to be also used as a mop in addition to the broom but had difficulty figuring out how to get the both the price, engine efficiency and battery also syncing with each other. Of course they weren’t thinking of self-repair but that’s another topic altogether. We also saw projects using Arduino for car theft, museum navigation (for which I gave them a few suggestions) and one using Raspberry Pi 3 with OpenCV to detect cars license numbers for toll gates. I impressed upon them to try the same at their college where it should be much more easily implementable than elsewhere.

I also need to commend all the colleges for this time many colleges upped the budgets to between INR 11 – 15K although it is still a lot lower than what is needed. Vikas, who was with me told some of the students about the robo competitions which are held routinely in many of the Engineering Colleges in Pune.

I would end sharing of the projects by another one I really liked. This was done by some college I don’t remember, we were told about the estuary . Estaury is the place where the ocean and river meet and is one of the best places for flora and fauna to be there. One of the famous estauries she said was a place called Mandvi near Goa, Konkan. Due to lot of garbage being put in the river the estaury doesn’t work in the way it was and is intended to work.

Debian Information

At the end, there was lot of information about Debian which was exchanged with the group. I shared about the Internships article which I had written sometime back and then shared another list of projects yesterday by one of my friends whom I had encouraged to do the same when I was writing the article from bangalore . I do like the one where he talks of the WordPress-libre movement, it does have lot of value but would need quite a bit of time and knowledge, which will come with time.

One of the most often questions asked is how does Debian make money. While Debian is a non-profit it does make money in terms of sponsorships as it is helpful to all the companies who make money of it. The simplest way is to have a look at present and past sponsors of Debconf. Just to share of a few on top of my head. Google sponsors as they use a customized use of Debian as their main OS within the organization. They sponsor quite a bit of Debian Development and probably have a few DD’s (Debian Developer) on their rolls. Hewlett Packard sells and sold quite a bit of Mid-and high-end range of servers to CDN’s, hosting and off the shelf customers who prefer to run Debian on those servers. Lot of HPC machines run Debian. Infomaniak is into hosting and from the looks of it they have prospered with the partnership as now they are Platinum sponsors.

I could go on and on, but is enough to share that there are lot of business and research issues which are solved. Even NCRA and GMRT are big users of Debian as is Pune University, hence they support us the way they can. They are highly dependant on Government Funding.

I also shared some of the Debian Politics but didn’t much as Mayur, Mehul and Aniket were absent, they are from Mozilla and we usually trade happenings and stories :). In many ways, Debian is also going through some changes , in some ways similar to what Mozilla has been going through but that’s a topic for another day. I do hope lot of people do get a chance to go and attend Debtusav Delhi which is also happening soon. This year we are hoping to have lots of Debutsavs if we hope to have a Debconf in India anytime soon. Till later.


Media, Events, CoC and casteism

While I am and was expecting to talk about how members of FSCI and Mozilla celebrated the Science Day at GMRT , I will have do it another blog post as there is much to share on that front.

The need and somewhat slow rise of Independent Media.

This time though, I had been a little saddened by seeing how the platform for alternative voices have been shrinking little by little every day in India, although it has been a bit refreshing to see some new voices come which are trying to find new self-sustainable business models like thewire, scroll.in, newslaundry , altnews and few others. How much they would be able to effect a change and how much they will be able to stand against mainstream media with loads of cash may be debatable but their existence itself is a commentary on the state of mainstream media in India. From being the fourth pillar of Indian democracy, the mainstream media has been reduced to being a Press Agent of the ruling party. I had been wanting to write this blog post from quite some time and more so in the last couple of days but couldn’t as for inane reason wordpress.com has been blocked by BSNL, my ISP. While I may share in a future blog post how to figure out where the issues are and the various way of workaround this blog post is not just about media sadly 😦

Events and need for a CoC

Last month, I was fortuitous to participate and also help out volunteering in some events. One of these events was Wordcamp which was held in Pune. I was fortunate to share some info. about Pune on the website but what I am and was proud about that I was able to suggest and get a CoC for the event. Although it’s a bit buried, it was needed in case people wanted to register. Now the reason I am sharing this blog post is I see that lot of events, especially rooted around technical talks do not use CoC and hence miss out in having a more diverse crowd and more than enough times have seen events lose people because they have not been cared for and there is no way for them to ask for help.

To illustrate the point, I will share about an event which happened sometime back. While the number of people were small, in one of the conversations a person from a lower stratum of social order was attacked because the person had similar privileges than people from richer backgrounds at a lower cost and things got a bit heated. I/we the community lost some good people due to such kind of interaction. What I wanted to do was have a real conversation about topics such as ‘merit’ which again has multiple meanings and also depends partly from privileges and opportunities, some of which are there by accident of birth. I was unable to both comprehend both the hate and the ignorance on display when all the actors were in-between 16-18 years of age. I wish I had some tools so we could have a real discourse as I wanted do. Hopefully at some point I am able to learn non-violent communication so can communicate better in situations like these.

While people think that the CoC is good only for women safety, in our community (thinking India as a community) where we have a variety in each and every sphere we have to be more inclusive, not less.

What is needed to have a CoC

You have an excellent template from either OpenSource Bridge or/and the Pune Wordcamp site as shared above. We also had a CoC one in Debutsav Kochi which made life easy. Apart from bad situations, it also encourages shy people to take part as well. What is needed is just a template with a button to which people need to agree. You also need to have people who would enforce the rules if such a need arises. It should be at least 2-3 people, preferably of both sexes and those who are known to be fair in their dealings. Hope we have CoC in technical events, should make life easier for one and all.

Update – 05.03.2019 – I got the info. from Aditya Kane, a wordpress geek and this is what he had to say

WordPress.org  is actually in the process of adding a caste, social class and background to the COC- also adding a no Weapons Policy (which is usually something thats an issue in the US with their gun laws)  for the events.

Aditya Kane, WordPress expert, one of the Organizers of Wordcamp 19 and before

The no weapons policy is for events in U.S. and other places where gun ownership is easily available. as shared by him. The best table for Gun laws can found at Wikipedia.