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Wednesday, 26 July 2017

PhD scholar speaks out on alleged sexual harassment by IIT Bhubaneswar professor

I am giving you the following information regarding sexual harassment at a work place in a national level institute, IIT, which led to the de-registration of me and my husband from the PhD programme on account of sexual harassment.

At that time, I was the only female student in our professor’s laboratory. From day one, I noticed a difference in the way he behaved with me. However, he always used to say I was like his daughter. My soon to be husband joined IIT Bhubaneshwar as a PhD scholar under the same professor in January 2012. He and I got married in November 2012.

After I got married, I could slowly see the ill-intentions of the professor regarding me and other female students in the lab. When he came to know about my pregnancy, he intentionally started to physically and mentally torture me and my husband. He used to force me to use the staircase to go to the lab on the 4th floor. According to him, it was good for my health in that condition. He made comments on my husband’s body language, speaking style, etc. He said that my husband did not behave like a student. However, in reality, he used to interfere in my personal life which was not acceptable to my husband and he’d protest against it.

He said that he came to know about my pregnancy only two months before the delivery. Yet, at such an advanced stage, he pressurized us to shift near the laboratory in the name of convenience, so that I could do research and spend more time in the laboratory, especially the odd times. I was well aware of his intentions and did not entertain the issue.

I took a six-month maternity leave in 2013, as per the PhD regulations in India and also according to the CSIR, JRF and SRF guidelines. But after three months or so, the professor, acting as the Dean R&D at that time, stopped my fellowship. He blamed it on the pending money from the sponsoring agency – CSIR.

After stopping my fellowship, he insisted that I join the laboratory as soon as possible before the end of my leave. I must also mention that the professor always asked me to not apply for any kind of leave.

In my absence, the professor tortured my husband both physically as well as mentally. He would ask him to work more as he was the only male student at that time. The work he’d make my husband do was not even related to academics. It was more like a clerk or peon’s work.

The actual intention of the professor was to keep all the female students near him to fulfil his sexual desires and to push my husband away from the laboratory. He had also suggested that my husband give me a divorce as I was a working woman and would not be able to take care of my family well. All these issues were creating immense pressure on my husband and he was getting more depressed by the day.

Due to all this, I decided to join before my maternity leave ended. The professor saw that I was not able to spend more time (8 am-8 pm) because of my baby. So, he pressured me again to stay near the institute. But all his efforts went in vain as I refused once again.

When he failed to keep me in front of him, he increased the torture on my husband. It went to such an extent that in June 2014, my husband got a brain stroke and had to get operated at the age of 28.

The professor assumed that my husband would not be able to come back to his normal self. So at that time, he behaved in a godlike way with me and assured to help in every way. However, everything changed once my husband recovered and joined in the research work after only two months or so.

My husband’s presence was not welcomed by our professor. He had instructed him to stay away from the other lab mates (three female students including me) to ensure a ‘good environment’. He assumed that my husband would resign from the PhD programme. But instead, my husband started his research work in full swing. To destruct him from his goal, the professor started his mental torture again. He had been admitted to the hospital again, in March 2015.

I always tried to prevent any interaction between my husband and professor as it had a harmful effect on my husband’s health. He also started to avoid him as much as possible. The intention of our professor was clear to us. My aim was to complete our thesis as soon as possible and be free of him.

However, the harassment went on. He called me during odd hours, made a registry for attendance (which was torn by him only after one month or so as our attendance was good). The professor also suggested me to divorce my husband and proposed to send him to an ashram. Not only this, he also assured me that he will give me ₹10,000 a month as I may face difficulties in my life due to the absence of my husband.

When all his tricks did not work, he started to blackmail me in the name of my husband’s degree. He clearly passed the message to me and later to the other lab members that he would not give a degree to my husband. He even tried to stop his semester registration in January 2016 but the Doctoral Advisory Committee (DAC) allowed him as they did not find any problem with his research work.

The professor thought that if he could terrorise me on the basis of my husband’s degree, I would give in to his demands. I tried to get a temporary leave from the PhD programme to stay away from him. But the DAC members didn’t let me because they did not understand the intention of the person.

The DAC asked me to submit a synopsis, which is actually the pre-PhD. report at IIT. In the pressure of DAC, the professor allowed my synopsis to be submitted, which was appreciated by the DAC and other students of the school in the month of June 2016.

After the synopsis report submission, as per the rules of IIT, the scholar has to submit the thesis within 60 days. I submitted my thesis at the professor’s desk for the final correction, which he delayed intentionally and asked me to make an application to Dean of Academics to extend the time of 60 days to 90 days.

During this period, the professor wanted me to have frequent meetings with him in his office at odd hours, which I strongly refused. After that, he tried to create trouble for me from various ways. This was reflected in his denial to sign on my husband’s registration papers in July 2016. He conveyed to the Head of the School, School of Basic Sciences, IIT Bhubaneswar that he will not sign my husband’s thesis under any circumstance.

The harassment reached to such an extent that I was forced to lodge a complaint to the National Women Commission (NCW), Odisha State Women Commission (OSCW), Women Grievance and Redressal Committee (WGRC) and the Internal Complaints Committee. But IIT found it suitable to investigate the matter through the Internal Complaints Committee where not even a single person was up to the rank of a professor and the investigation proceeded with the accused, keeping in mind his influential position.

In the meantime, the head of the school called a meeting with the DAC, my husband and I. In the meeting, the head of the school proposed that my husband leave IIT Bhubaneswar with all the work he had done till date. We protested against this as he spent four vital years of his career at IIT. He had completed his coursework and research work with the requisite number of publications and was fully prepared to submit his thesis. The head of the school kept the case on hold since things didn’t go according to our professor’s wish. He later forwarded it to the Dean of Academics.

After a number of queries put in front of my husband in August 2016, the Dean of Academics asked him to submit the detailed research report for judgment of the status of the thesis. But this act was illegal as the tenure of the PhD in IIT is for eight years and it is unfair to ask for a report after four and half years.

Simultaneously, the professor found serious problems in my thesis and asked me to get more data. However, in this regard, the person said

(i) I had the data but was not submitting it intentionally.

(ii) I did not work hard enough to get a degree from IIT Bhubaneswar.

This made the DAC, myself and others stunned. In one meeting with the DAC and the Dean of Faculty of Planning at IIT Bhubaneshwar, I was called. The meeting was also recorded. Each of the members got the actual picture about the false information provided by the professor on my thesis and as a result, the other DAC members resigned from the DAC post on the issue of unethical behaviour of the supervisor.

In October 2016, my husband was told that his case was forwarded to the Research Programme Evaluation Committee (RPEC), IIT Bhubaneswar. From there, it was forwarded to the senate and it was decided to cancel the registration of the scholar. My husband was directly intimated by the office order of cancellation of his PhD registration in February 2017, without any prior notice.

Finally, after 10 months or so, the IIT authority asked me to do a semester registration under the accused person, which was not acceptable due to the sexual harassment. harassment. I had shared my ordeal with the National Commission for Women and other committees.

I also forwarded my concern about a full-time government employee (as I got a government job at that time) cannot do registration in any full-time course. As per the norms of the PhD of IIT Bhubaneshwar, if the student gets a job during their PhD tenure, and if they want, they can be allowed a temporary leave for a maximum of 12 months. I had applied for the leave in the month of December.

Also, despite our sincere desire to change the supervisor before the higher authorities, IIT did not take any action. Ultimately, as a measure of punishment to raise objection against the professor, both my husband and I became victims of the Professor and IIT. Without changing my supervisor, IIT cancelled my PhD registration as well, in June 2017. As expected, IIT did not find the person to be guilty.

However, I repeatedly conveyed my message to the committees on the unfair investigation.

The behaviour of the professor to a woman, a couple of bright students and finally to a family harm the society and this land in many ways such as:

1. Our country missed two PhD degrees although the government paid us the necessary stipend to use our brain in research.
2. Such instances are examples of why there have been an increase in the suicide of IITians.

This issue is intimated till date with-
1. To the Prime Minister of India.
2. Ministry of Human Resources (MHRD) through letter and mail.
3. Ministry of Women & Child Development (MoWCD)
4. Chief Minister of Odisha.
5. Chief Minister of West Bengal.
6. National Commission for Women (NCW).
7. National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
8. Odisha State Women Commission.
9. The Director & Deans of other IITs in this land.
10. Council of Science & Industrial Research (CSIR), Govt. of India.
11. University Grants Commission (UGC), Govt. of India.
12. The Board of Governors, IIT Bhubaneswar.
13. Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), IIT Bhubaneswar
14. Women Grievance and Redressal Committee (WGRC), IIT Bhubaneswar.

All the information obtained till date from IIT Bhubaneswar by a number of petitions through RTI Act, 2005.

My Appeal to IIT Bhubaneswar:

1. The case of sexual harassment must be re-investigated as I am not at all satisfied with the outcome of the ICC. The intention and capability of the ICC to give proper justice were made clear to me at the first meeting with them in which one of the members terrorised me on account of complaining to them.

2. IIT has to give the PhD degree to me and my husband without any hassle by making a neutral panel of referees and judge the thesis accordingly.

3. The person must be removed from any important post like Dean, Head of the School, etc. of an institute like IIT where a number of good students are coming to fulfil their dreams.

4. It needs stringent and exemplary action by IIT Bhubaneswar, which will set an example to other staff to not dare to sexually harass at IIT Bhubaneswar. The Internal Complaints Committee of IIT Bhubaneswar did not follow the principle of natural justice read with the Doctrine of Audi Alterem Partem and with the opportunity of being heard as well as the Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation.

It is my earnest request to all of you not only to help a woman get justice for her and her family against sexual harassment but also unethical practices going on by the administration of an international level institute of our country by spreading the issue nationwide.

Editor’s Note: According to a Times of India report, IIT Bhubaneswar has rejected the allegations based on the ICC findings. IIT Bhubaneswar Director RV Rajakumar said that they had followed appropriate rules and had wasted no time in instituting a probe when the allegation came.

Rajakumar told TOI that the de-registration of the PhDs of the woman and her husband had nothing to do with the allegation. According to him, her husband could not satisfy the research programme evaluation committee (RPEC) with the progress of his research in October 2016.

(Source: YKA)

This woman’s preserved 30 indigenous rice varieties

Rice emerged in India 14,000 years ago and with a single variety. Farmers experimented and amplified the genetic diversity and in the course of the last 10,000 years, there emerged 1,10,000 varieties of rice of which only 6,000 now survive. The diversity was lost after the introduction of the green revolution in 1970 with its emphasis on mono culture and hybrid crops.

For Sheela Balaji, chairperson and Managing Trustee of NGO AIM For Seva, this variety was something she wanted to bring back. So she not only grew these lost gems but also made sure that people could taste them and encourage farmers to grow them once again.

While working in Manjakkudi, a village in the Cauvery Delta region in Tiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu, Sheela would always find herself surrounded by paddy fields. Around that time, she happened to see a farmer spraying pesticide on the crops ruthlessly. She could see the farmer getting exposed to the dangerous pesticide too and tried to explain to him the health hazards. However, the farmer explained her that the rice he grew was a hybrid variety and could not be harvested without the use of chemicals.

This was an eye-opener for Sheela, and she was hell-bent on looking for a solution to the farmers’ concerns. During her many farm visits, Sheela started to learn about the diversity of rice that India once had. She also researched the different nutrients and medicinal values that these rice varieties contained. Being indigenous, these varieties grew well in Indian soil and climatic conditions without any chemical input. She then decided to grow only indigenous varieties in the 40 acres of land that belonged to the NGO.

Sheela also came across a festival of grains called Nel Thiruvizha being organised in one of the villages called Adirangam and started conducting this festival in Manjakkudi in 2013.Through this festival, Sheela met more than 500 farmers each year who helped her get the seeds for the indigenous varieties of rice.

She started with just four varieties of rice and within four years, she has preserved nearly 30 varieties.

“I was sure about one thing right from the beginning, that no chemicals will be used in our farm. We have 43 cows, which are organically fed, and their dung and urine was enough to make excellent manure for the entire 40 acres. The first variety that we grew was Mapillai Champa. The rice is very good to keep our body in balance and is an excellent energy booster,” informs Sheela.

After the first festival, more farmers came to know about the success of AIM for Seva’s farm and joined them in the next year’s festival. This year, Sheela took the opportunity to spread awareness among these farmers about the benefits of growing indigenous varieties organically. Many farmers were convinced by these sessions and took up organic farming of indigenous varieties.

“Nearly six farmers converted to organic after the second festival and now I know 9 of them who grow these varieties organically. I know it is just a small drop in the ocean. But then sometimes these drops fill an ocean. It is so satisfactory to see them change,” says Sheela.

However, even after knowing the health benefits and medicinal value of the rice varieties, farmers started growing these varieties only for their consumption and not for selling as there was no demand.

“After the second harvest we were left with so much grain that I started asking people if they want to buy it. But people were used to eating white rice. They did not even know the taste or aroma of these varieties. I understood that just growing them cannot save them forever. Best way to save them is to make people consume them. We need to popularise these varieties. Every individual can do it. Know your indigenous varieties and demand for it. When people will demand, automatically traders will ask the farmers to grow them,” Sheela says.

This idea gave birth to a store, Spirit Of The Earth in the Mylapore area of Chennai. Spirit Of The Earth stocks these varieties of rice for now – Kaatuyaanam, Kalajeera, Karuppu Kauvuni, Kichili Champa, Iluppai Poo Champa, Mapillai Champa, and Thooyamalli.

In a view to retain the essential nutrient value in all varieties of rice, all grains are hand-pounded and semi-polished to retain the husk, which would enhance richness and provide nutrients to the body.

The rice packaging has a line drawn map of Manjakkudi and a paddy stalk on the side, and the sticker has printed details (like rice variety name and if single or double par-boiled). Cooking instructions and health benefits are available in a brochure called Grains of Goodness. There are also trained staff at the store who guide visitors on how they can use the produce.

According to Sheela each of these rice varieties has different medicinal and health values. Some of them are as follows –


This rice variety is light red in colour. It is mainly cultivated in Tamil Nadu and grows upto over seven feet tall. It has the ability to hide an elephant; hence the crop was given this name. (‘Kaatu’ means forest and ‘Yaanam’ means elephant). The rice is said to keep diabetes and arthritis under control, boost immunity and protect against skin problems.

Kalajeera –

This is an aromatic rice variety. It is also known as the ‘Prince of Rice’ and its informal name is ‘Baby Basmati.’ A darker shade, it looks like cumin seeds. It is believed to increase hemoglobin levels and body metabolism. This fragrant grain is also said to have antispasmodic, stomachic, carminative, hypolipidemic, antibacterial, astringent and sedative properties. Ancient text explains that Kalajeera improves memory and controls diabetes.

Mapillai Champa-

This variety is believed to cure mouth ulcers and even cancer. It is very good for people with diabetes as it lowers blood sugar.This fibrous rice keeps the mind and body alert.

In red rice, the bran layer is rich in polyphenols, anthocyanin and has antioxidant properties. Their zinc and iron content is two to three times higher than what you would get in white rice.

“In 1910 the first rice milling machine came to India and that changed our entire eating habit. Today it is believed that white rice is harmful for our health. But every grain is as good as other, we just have to eat it right. In India, the first thing we give to a baby to start solids is rice and we spread rice at someone’s death too. Rice is so much a part of our culture because our geography and our climatic condition make rice the least allergenic and most nutrient grain. So don’t be afraid of rice. It is the queen of cereals. There is no better cereal in the world than rice if you eat it well,” she concludes.

Spirit of The Earth is located at 3rd Floor, Srinidhi Apartments, No. 4, Desika Road, Mylapore, Chennai 600 004. Phone Number – 91 95000 82142, 91 44 2498 7955 / 2498 7966

(Source: The Better India)

Why Whites and Asians have different views on personal success

A new study explores why the latter are far more likely to opt for an elite college where they'd struggle than a so-so one where they'd excel.

There’s a saying in China that it’s better to be the head of a chicken than the tail of a phoenix. The premise of the aphorism—it’s better to be over-qualified than under-qualified relative to one’s surroundings—is so widely accepted that similar versions of it exist across cultures. In Japan, they tend to say that it’s better to be the head of a sardine than the tail of a whale. Americans and Brits often declare that it’s better to be a big frog (or fish) in a small pond than a little frog in a big pond.

Extensive research supports these axioms, particularly in the realm of education. Longitudinal studies have consistently shown that high-performing students at less-selective schools feel more competent, have higher GPAs, and have more ambitious career aspirations than low-performing students at more-selective schools.

Despite the compelling evidence and age-old maxims, however, people abide by that advice to different degrees in different situations. While one study found that on average, roughly two-thirds of people would prefer to have a high IQ and live in a less-intelligent place than the reverse, for example, that percentage varied from 18 percent to 80 percent across different situations.

A new paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Social Psychological and Personality Science sought to better understand what influences those decisions—what psychological factors explain why one person might prefer to be an under-qualified student at Harvard than an overqualified one at Northeastern and why another would prefer the opposite. The University of Michigan researchers compared East Asians and European Americans on the assumption that cultural contexts play a huge role, and their analyses confirmed that speculation: The former were far more likely to prefer being a small frog in a big pond than the latter.

This conclusion may not come as a surprise given common perceptions about what distinguishes East Asian cultures from white American ones. Asians are known to be much more collectivistic, to value humility, and to tend to make decisions based on the common good rather than personal gain. Their white counterparts, on the other hand, are known to be individualistic, to self-promote by competing with peers, and to make decisions based on personal ambition. Extrapolating from that, East Asians might be more likely to assess themselves based on the larger social group to which they belong, while European Americans could be expected to evaluate themselves based more on how they compare to others within their group.

To the researchers’ surprise, though, these cultural stereotypes played little role in explaining their findings. In fact, they found that the East Asians they surveyed were greatly influenced by self-promotional tendencies—it was just a different species of self-promotion: the pursuit of prestige.

East Asian cultures aren’t just collectivistic, said Kaidi Wu, the lead researcher and a graduate student in social psychology at Michigan. They’re also what she described as “face” cultures. In such cultures, “it’s not only important for you to know that you are doing well, it’s also really important for other people—a stranger on the street, a relative, an employer who takes five minutes to glance through your resume—to evaluate you and think of you as this person who’s coming from a really good place. … Your evaluation is predicated on what other people think of you.”

The Baker Library at the Harvard Business School

Wu and her coauthors conducted three studies as part of the analysis. The first simply asked a randomly generated list of University of Michigan students whether they’d prefer to be a big frog in a small pond or vice versa. Whereas roughly 75 percent of the East Asian respondents—most of whom were born in the U.S. or had immigrated to the country at a young age—said they’d prefer being a small frog in a big pond, the same was true for just 59 percent of the European American ones.

The second study was slightly different in that the survey didn’t cite the frog-pond analogy and consulted adults in mainland China rather than East Asian students in the U.S. The researchers asked respondents whether they’d prefer attending a top-10 college where they’d be below average or a top-100 college where they’d be above average; they then asked a similar question but replaced “college” with “company” to gauge workplace preferences. The findings mirrored those from the first study: The Asian participants were more likely to prefer being a small fish. Fifty-eight percent of Chinese respondents preferred the top-10 college, and 29 percent of them preferred the global top-10 company; that was the case for just 27 percent and 14 percent of European American respondents, respectively.

The results from the third study, which sought to understand the motivation underlying these cultural distinctions, were the most counterintuitive for Wu and her colleagues. The researchers looked at the degree to which survey respondents compare themselves with others—e.g., I often compare how many Twitter followers I have with how many Twitter followers my coworker has. This measure is often used to gauge people’s frog-pond preferences: The more likely a respondent is to compare herself to others, the more likely she is to prefer being a big frog in a small pond. Interestingly, Chinese adults were more likely than white American ones to report engaging in such intragroup comparison.

“There’s this seeming contradiction between the collectivistic Asian and the Tiger Mom-ish, uber-competitive Asian student.”
There are limitations to the research, of course. The analysis relied on small sample sizes of between roughly 200 and 300 participants for each of the studies, though that’s typical of psychological studies in recent years. Furthermore, it’s all but impossible to suss out the extent to which a person’s cultural background influences her decision-making, especially as a growing number of students identify with multiple cultures. And myriad factors influence an individual’s decision about where to go to college and work.

Still, Wu emphasized that the study is the first to explore how culture shapes frog-pond education decisions, and its findings challenge conceptions about why people make the decisions they do. In cultural research, “it’s very easy to come up with these reductionistic approaches”—i.e., that Americans are individualistic, East Asians are collectivistic—and to make assumptions based on those simplifications, Wu said.

“There’s this seeming contradiction between the collectivistic Asian and the Tiger Mom-ish, uber-competitive Asian student,” she said. East Asians’ tendency toward big-name institutions at the expense of being outshined by others “isn’t because they are more collectivistic, that they want to preserve harmony and fit into the groove and be part of the larger pond.” Wu’s study suggests it’s more likely because they’re seeking prestige—and defining their success based on where they go to school rather than on how their academic performance compares to that of others.

Wu  argued that there are merits to being a small fish in a big pond, particularly when it comes to academia. Indeed, some research shows that top-10 universities produce almost three times the number of tenure-track professors as do the top 20, in large part because having a social network with elite academic scholars is so crucial to getting hired in heavily hierarchical settings. Wu, who grew up in Shanghai and moved to the U.S. when she was 16, noted that she has “reaped the benefits of a big pond” in that her peers and professors at the University of Michigan have served as a great source of motivation. Some research also suggests that the big pond might be a more advantageous choice for low-income students of color because of the resources and connections they gain from selective schools.

But being in a big pond can be a double-edged sword. Wu’s mission is to better understand the cultural distinctions that help explain these decision-making patterns—insight that is particularly relevant in the age of globalization and might help the growing numbers of Asian students in the U.S. better navigate the country’s higher-education system. In the last decade, the international-student population in the U.S. has grown by 85 percent, with the majority hailing from Asia. In vying for big ponds, many become strained by the pressure to succeed, overexerting themselves to the point that they get swallowed by mental illness or resort to cheating. Meanwhile, the percent of senior Fortune 100 executives with Ivy League degrees has declined since 1980, while the percent with public-university degrees has increased. And a Gallup poll from 2014 of nearly 30,000 college graduates found that attending a prestigious college has no bearing on an individual’s happiness in life and work.

“At the end of the day,” Wu asked, “is it worth choosing the big pond in a cultural context where big frogs in small ponds can also succeed?”

(Source: The Atlantic)

Excerpts from Kalkatta by Kunal Basu

Excerpts from Kalkatta by Kunal Basu: 

A man must enjoy what he does, otherwise he’d never be able to do it well. That’s what Rajesh Sharma had told me on my first day as a subagent. “If you think form filling is boring, you’re bound to make mistakes. You must feel the thrill of a writer, putting together all the clues that make up an applicant’s life story.” I knew that to be true watching Ani who loved his computer, and Rakib whose head was full with his business even when he was out joking with us. Sadly, there were those like Ammi who didn’t enjoy her long hours of needlework, waiting for the day when hereyes would no longer be able to tell thread from cloth.

“You really love sex, don’t you?” Pom asked me one day as we were killing time under the champaka tree. Our Pom was from Manipur, expert in manicure and pedicure. It made me shy to hear her speak like that. It reminded me of Rajesh Sharma’s words. I wondered if I was like Rakib or Ammi when it came to my gigolo work. There were days when I felt like one or the other. Luckily, most of my parties were known to me. I could spend some time thinking about all the naughty things we’d done together, before they arrived. I’d even make them wait while I smoked a cigarette under the champaka tree to think some more. It never failed to get me into the mood. It helped too to forget, as soon as my job was done, switching my mind back to the film I was watching with Rani.
“But you must love some of them, no?”
“Just like you love Justice Sen whose nails you clip every Friday?” I teased her.
“That’s different!” Pom squealed.
“What difference does it make touching someone one way or the other?” I persisted.
“It’s different because what you do to your parties isn’t just a trick, but something ... something that makes you dream.”

Even after she was called away by Rani to tend to a client, I kept thinking about Pom’s words. Maybe giving sex was a trick. I must’ve learnt it while reading all those ganda books on our roof and watching dirty films with Rakib at Shiraz building. A trick one could play with one’s mind, trusting oneself enough to make a dream last only as long as one wished.

All mistakes, though, begin with trust. I’d come to learn this the hard way. Others will happily break your trust in them. But even bigger mistakes come from trusting yourself too much. If you think you’re safe just because you’re far from home and no one will spot you among millions, you are wrong. That simple belief will make you leave a
footprint as big as an elephant’s. It’s like standing naked in the middle of the street and hoping no one will notice
you because they’re expecting to see a cow. And every mistake has just one effect: it makes you weak, like living inside the skin of someone you couldn’t trust.

Sooner or later, Rakib was bound to find out and make me pay a price for hiding things from him. That’s what I thought. In the meantime, I’d have to put up with a few jokes about malishwallahs. Stories about Jami giving special treatment to ninetyyear-old virgins, or buggering some poor babu in the name of massage. Jami doing this, Jami doing that. It’d add some laughter to the noise of cups and plates at Gama’s tea shop.

“We hear you are doing good business.” Munna shook my hand when I met the gang after joining Champaka.
“Too good business.”Bakki nodded.

I’d brought my gift for Rakib: a bottle of Johnny Walker whisky. He was dressed in a suit like a corporate-wallah, and an old man was polishing his boots. He broke open the seal, took one sniff of the whisky and poured it down the drain. Then asked Bakki to fill up the bottle with water, cold water.

I had returned the gun to Rakib a week after he’d given it to me. With Ammi raiding the box room for money, it was too dangerous. What if it was discovered? In no time it’d become public knowledge, and seen as yet another bad incident after I’d betrayed our comrade during the vote counting.

“How is your launda business going?” Rakib asked, having paid the polish-wallah his baksheesh.
He stopped me before I could fully explain the different types of massage we offered to our clients in Champaka.

“I don’t mean oil malish, but the real business that pays you enough to buy Johnny Walker.” Just like he always spoke with his eyes fixed on my forehead, he asked me for all the details of ‘the jobs’ that you have to do with ladies as old as your mother”.

Bakki, who’d returned with cold water from the lassi shop, edged forward to catch every word from my mouth. “Tell, Jami ... how many parties do you get every day ... five or six?” Munna, our hero, was upset at losing his place as a lady killer to me and made a bad joke about laundas having to clean dirty arses of their parties with their tongues. “Wash your mouth with Colgate before you talk to us.” Even Bobby, always happy-go-lucky, a Christian boy who was everybody’s favourite in Zakaria Street including Ammi’s because he said, “Good morning” and “Good afternoon”, kept his mouth shut and opened it only to spit out the gum he was chewing. Then Munna said what Rakib wanted him to tell me.

“Look, Jami, we don’t care what lies you tell your Ammi and Abbu. Can’t help if they’re fools and believe all this herbal-sherbal business. Your Abbu will die of heart fail if he found out. Your Comrade Uncle will throw all of you out, and Langri Miri will be told to cover her whole body to hide the bad smell of her brother at her school. It’ll be hard for us to save you from the police.”

Bobby put a fresh gum into his mouth and added to what Munna said. “The police love laundas. They’d use you if they caught you. I mean really use! Then force you to give names of your parties so that they can blackmail them. They’ll turn you into a lizard, into a dirty informer.”

Yakub passed a menthol to Rakib, and helped him light up with a Ronson lighter. He was his young cousin, an orphan raised by Rakib’s mother. Some agent had found him a job as a waiter in Qatar. Yakub had come to Galaxy and asked me to get him a passport. I had told him to go home, stopped him from becoming a camel jockey. These agents were worse than killers. They charged their commission even before a boy left India, forcing his family to beg for the money. Yakub had taken my place and become Rakib’s favourite since then.

I told Rakib about Swati ma’am and Jagjit sir, to make him understand. Our Champaka was a decent place. Whatever people said about beauty and massage parlours was false, I lied. Munna and Bobby kept shaking their heads, and Rakib asked Yakub to show me the photos he’d taken with his phone. The boy was nervous, but he did what Rakib told him to do.

(Source: The Punch Magazine)

Is ancient India overrated ? A mind blowing analysis by Chinese ex-professor from University of Toronto

Seriously? If anything, ancient India is sorely UNDERRATED.

I mean, I’m an ethnic Chinese living in Canada. But when I was growing up in Canada, I knew jackshit about India. Besides maybe curry.

I mean, people here have a vague understanding of Chinese history but they have NO idea about Indian history. For example, most people know that the Middle Kingdom is how China referred to herself but how many people know about Bharat? How many know about even the Guptas? People know that China was famous for ceramics and tea but how many people know about ancient India’s achievement in metallurgy? People know about the Great Wall, but how many know about the great temples of southern India?

This is partly due to the lackluster historical records that ancient Indians kept and also partly because modern Indians have a tendency to look down upon their ancient heritage and view western ideas and ideals as superior. China also has this problem but not nearly to the same extent.

The discovery that the earth is spherical is credited to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who was born in 384 BCE. However, very few people know that a man from ancient India established the idea of “spherical earth” during the 8th-9th century BCE. The man was called Yajnavalkya who first discovered that the earth is round. He was the first to propose the heliocentric system of the planets. In his work Shatapatha Brahmana, he proposed that the earth and the other planets move around the sun. He also calculated the period of one year as 365.24675 days. This is only 6 minutes longer than the current established time of 365.24220 days

Take the example of Kung Fu. The whole world knows about the martial art called Kung Fu. The person who founded Kung Fu was none other than a prince of the Pallava dynasty from Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu who visited China during the 5th century CE. He became the 28th patriarch of Buddhism and established the Shaolin temple and founded the martial art which became world famous today. That prince was called Bodhidharma.

But how many people know about that Kung Fu and Shaolin was founded by an Indian? Precisely, if we Indians are unaware of our heritage, why should we expect that someone else will know about our history and achievement?

The achievements of ancient Indians are lost in obscurity. Our ancestors had invented many ways which eased the basic life of a common man. These inventions may seem primitive today, but we can’t ignore the fact that these were revolutionary achievements during their era.

The Indus Valley civilization is known for the broad and the sanitized drainage system which was no less than a miracle during those ancient times. But how many people know that the ancient Indians from Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) were the first to invent a flush toilet?

The people around the world use rulers to measure everything. How many people know that Indus Valley Civilization was the first to invent the rulers? A ruler has been found at Lothal which is 4400 years old. Not only this, the people of IVC were the first to invent buttons. The world knows that the Chinese discovered the art of weaving silk dresses. How many people know that IVC people were the first to weave dresses made of cottons.

The ancient Indians were first to invent the weighing scales. Archaeologists have discovered weighs and scales from the excavation sites of Harappa, Mohenjodaro, Lothal etc. These scales were extensively used for trading.

Ancient India has given Yoga to the world- which is widely practiced almost all over the world to keep people fit and fine. Models, supermodels, film stars, athletes, etc. regularly attends Yoga session to keep themselves fit.

Aryabhatta, Brahmagupta and Bhaskaracharya were the three eminent mathematicians from ancient India who established the concept of zero as a mathematical value in different eras. Brahmagupta was the first to invent a symbol for the value “shunya” (zero). Bhaskaracharya was the first to use it as algebra. The oldest inscription of zero can be found at the Chaturbhuj temple in Gwalior fort.

Ancient Indians were pioneers in the field of chemistry too. The person who first invented the “atomic theory” was none other than Acharya Kanad from ancient India[10]. He explained the atomic theory using terms like “Anu”(atom) and “Paramanu”(nucleus).

Ancient Indians were advanced in medical science too. The great physician of his time, Sage Shusrut was the first to carry out different surgeries which included plastic surgery and cataract surgery. His works are composed in his book called Shusrut Samhita (The works of Shusrut). The world hardly knows about Charak, the great specialist in medicine from ancient India. He was the first physician to establish the problems and medicinal treaties in fields like physiology, embryology, digestion, sexual disease, immunity, etc. His works on Ayurveda is composed as a book called Charak Samhita (The works of Charak).

The Chera dynasty of Tamil Nadu invented the idea of producing finest steel by heating black magnetite ore along with carbon. The mixture was kept in a crucible and heated in charcoal furnace. The Wootz Steel originated from India, but today, is popular as Damascus Steel.

Our monuments are grand and are probably, the only way others recognize the importance of ancient Indian civilization. Our gigantic monuments bear the testimony of the greatness of ancient India.

This is the Kailash Temple. It is a megalith which was constructed by cutting out a single rock- a mountain. The whole mountain was cut from the top to carve out the temple campus.

This is Dwarka, the grand and mysterious city submerged in the Arabian sea on the extreme west of India. The submerged heritage is no less than a treasure bearing the pride of our race!

This is Khajuraho, the marvel where the rocks has taken the form. The best of our monuments are not built on soft rocks like marble. Our ancestors carved out even the hardest of the rocks to give it a beauty.

The grandest and largest temple in India- Brihadeshwara temple. Breathtaking, isn’t it?

India is the land of grandest temples and breathtaking architectures. The heritage of India can’t be encapsulated within a small answer! To end the answer with, I will now share my personal favorite- The Sun Temple of Konark!

The main structure of the temple was partially destroyed by invaders like Kalapahad- a military general of the medieval period. Later, the prime structure totally collapsed when British stored gunpowder inside the structure and it caught fire accidentally.

Even though the main temple is gone, the amount of what left is still breathtaking by every means. Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore wrote about Konark- “here the language of stone surpasses the language of man.”

The whole temple was designed like a huge chariot of Sun God having 24 wheels pulled by 7 horses. Each wheel had 8 major spokes denoting 1 prahar (Hindu time period of 3 hours). There There was a huge magnet at the top of the temple which used to keep the idol of the Sun deity suspended in the air due to magnetic arrangement.

Still think, that ancient India is overrated?

Ancient India was a hub of culture and technology and the absolute capital of world spirituality. I could talk about India for hours. India is many things but OVERRATED is definitely not one of them.

(Source: Post Card)

Passing through Ankapur in Nizamabad? Meet the man behind a special Telangana flavoured chicken

The rush of all the vehicles halts at a man who is seen busy preparing masalas or soaking nicely snipped chicken pieces into a well-melted marination of local masalas in a tiny room.

On every weekend afternoon, the village centre of  Ankapur in Nizamabad sees people thronging from Hyderabad, the neighbouring Karimnagar and Medak districts.

Ankapur, also known as 'mini USA', due to its facilities, is located in Armoor mandal in NH-63, 20 kilometres away from the district headquarters.

The rush of all the vehicles halts at a man who is seen busy preparing masalas or soaking nicely snipped chicken pieces into a well-melted marination of local masalas in a tiny room.

Many feel that a trip to Nizamabad or the nearer Sriram Sagar project is incomplete without tasting the famous Ankapur Chicken. This delicious chicken was also listed in the T-food fest which was organised on the occasion of Telangana formation day at Peoples Plaza Hyderabad.

48-year-old Papa Goud, well known for his culinary art, is the unassuming man behind this Telangana flavour that is touring globally. Though this dish exists since the late 1990's in Goud's hotel it only gained fame recently.

Papa Goud says, "I have learnt it from my father Pedda Rama Goud, who used to cook for family functions and marriages in the villages.  Now I am taking orders on the phone and keep it ready by the time they arrive in the village."

When he was asked what makes his cuisine so unique, he holds out packets of local chilli powder and other masalas and says, "I don't buy anything from supermarkets or use packet stuff. My wife Bhulaxmi or I go to the local market to buy them directly from farmers."

While adding homemade ginger-garlic paste he says, "Anything we buy in shops is not as fresh, that is why we prefer this." While adding fresh coriander leaves to the sizzling chicken, he says, "It is a matter of half an hour to 45 minutes, from cutting to heating up the pieces on the stove and mixing the masalas."

Papa Goud has been offered several jobs in star hotels in Hyderabad but he chooses to live in his village independently rather than work for someone else.

While this is a family recipe, Papa Goud does not believe in patenting the recipe.  "Many came to me, worked in my place learnt this and they themselves opened branches. I'm happy this is giving life to many people. Everyone should get a chance, it is unfair to claim rights over it," he says with a smile.

He interrupts our conversation to point out that the chicken is ready.  "Those who have tasted the chicken say 'mast hain'," says a regular patron of the shop.

One can combine Papa Goud's chicken with fresh palm toddy served at the nearby Palm Groves, another of Ankapur's favourite spots. As another patron picks up his takeaway parcel, he says, "We get the regional flavour of chicken that too at a cheap price."

Papa Goud proudly says, "Our chicken has even been parcelled to Dubai and Bahrain for the people who want a taste of Telangana spices with jawari roti."

It is just not the taste that delights his patrons but also the price. The price for a family pack that is cooked with a whole chicken is Rs 500. Separate packs for Rs 120-140 are also available for takeaway.

If it is not possible to go to Ankapur, the Ankapur chicken is also available at other Telangana cities such as Karimnagar, Warangal, Nizamabad. Although the taste might be a tad different from the one Papa Goud lovingly prepares.

(Source: TNM)

As workouts intensify, a harmful side effect grows more common

Three years ago, Christina D’Ambrosio went to her first spin class, pedaling fast on a stationary bike to the rhythms of popular music as an instructor shouted motivation.

But Ms. D’Ambrosio, who exercises regularly, found the hourlong class was harder than she anticipated. By the end her legs were sore and wobbly.

“I thought my body just wasn’t used to that kind of muscle ache because it was my first class,” said Ms. D’Ambrosio, a kindergarten teacher from Pleasantville, N.Y.

Over the next two days, her legs throbbed with excruciating pain, her urine turned a dark shade of brown, and she felt nauseated. Eventually she went to a hospital, where she was told she had rhabdomyolysis, a rare but life-threatening condition often caused by extreme exercise. It occurs when overworked muscles begin to die and leak their contents into the bloodstream, straining the kidneys and causing severe pain.

After a two-week hospital stay, Ms. D’Ambrosio was released and has since recovered. Her case was highlighted in April in The American Journal of Medicine along with two other cases of spinning-induced rhabdomyolysis treated by the same doctors.

The report noted that at least 46 other cases of people developing the condition after a spin class were documented in the medical literature, 42 of them in people taking their first class. The report cautioned that the condition was very rare, and not a reason to avoid high-intensity exercise. But the authors said their goal was to raise public awareness so that people who begin a tough new workout program will ease into it to lower their risk of injury.

“I would never discourage exercise, ever,” said Alan Coffino, the chairman of medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital and a co-author of the new study. “Spin class is a great exercise. But it’s not an activity where you start off at full speed. And it’s important for the public to realize this and for trainers to realize this.”

Rhabdo, as many experts call it, has long been documented among soldiers, firefighters and others whose professions can be physically demanding. An Army study in 2012 estimated that about 400 cases of the condition are diagnosed among active-duty soldiers each year. On occasion there have also been large clusters of college athletes hospitalized with it after particularly grueling workouts.

But doctors say they are now seeing more of it among weekend warriors driven in part by the popularity of high-intensity workouts. Spinning in particular has gained a huge following; large chains like FlyWheel, SoulCycle and others report millions of rides and tens of millions in annual sales. Studies show that high-intensity exercise offers myriad health benefits, but for a small subset of people, many of them beginners, rhabdo can crop up and quickly turn ugly.

In 2014, doctors at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center published a report on two patients who arrived at the emergency room with rhabdo shortly after their first spin class. One was a 24-year-old woman hobbled by pain, her legs swollen and feeling “as tight as drums.” She was rushed to surgery, where doctors sliced her thighs open to relieve a dangerous buildup of pressure.

Another study found that between 2010 and 2014, there were 29 emergency room visits for exercise-induced rhabdo at NewYork-Presbyterian alone. Weight lifting, CrossFit, running and P90X were the reasons for some visits. But the most common one was spinning. Dr. Todd S. Cutler, an internist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian and lead author of the study, said the patients all fit a similar profile.

“These are people who are not unfit,” Dr. Cutler said. “They are being pushed too hard, and they’re not trained to do this, and so they get really bad muscle trauma.”

There is some evidence that certain medications, including statins, stimulants and antipsychotic drugs, as well as genetic susceptibilities may contribute to the condition, said Patricia Deuster, a professor of military and emergency medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

But in general it occurs when people simply do not give their muscles time to adjust to an aggressive new exercise, experts say. A little damage to muscles is a good thing because that stimulates them to grow and adapt to stress. But when the stress is too great, fibers are destroyed. When that happens they break apart and release compounds that can be harmful to the liver, such as a protein called myoglobin, which causes brown or tea-colored urine, a classic symptom of rhabdo.

While almost any intense activity can cause rhabdo, it almost always strikes people who are doing something new. That is why people should always progress from light to moderate and then vigorous intensity when doing a new exercise, said Eric Rawson, chair of the department of health, nutrition and exercise science at Messiah College in Pennsylvania.

“You can be fit, and I can come up with a workout that you are unaccustomed to, and that could be what causes rhabdo,” he said.

Even elite athletes are not immune. Amy Purdy, a bronze-medalist Paralympic snowboarder and “Dancing With the Stars” contestant, went to an exercise class last year after taking three weeks off from her training regimen. The class consisted of a circuit of challenging exercises, she said, including dozens of pull-ups.

“About halfway through I realized my arms were completely fatigued,” she said.

The next morning she could not straighten her left arm. Then it became sore, stiff and swollen, prompting her to go to a hospital. She remained there for eight days as doctors flushed her kidneys with water, she said. She was diagnosed with rhabdo, and when she wrote about the experience on social media she was inundated with responses.

“Thousands of people have reached out to me on my Instagram page who have had it as well,” she said. “Almost everyone was fit before, got it from pull-ups and is trying to figure out the way to get back into fitness without risking a recurrence.”

Two things can help you avoid rhabdo, said Joe Cannon, an exercise physiologist. Before starting a new program, do a less intense version of it first. That means riding a stationary bike at a moderate pace before starting a spin class, or doing just one set of a weight lifting exercise rather than multiple sets and repetitions.

But the most important advice is to know your limits: Don’t be afraid to leave a class or to say no to a trainer if you are struggling.

“One thing I’ve noticed when people tell me they’ve gotten rhabdo in the gym is that they gave up their personal power,” said Mr. Cannon, author of “Rhabdo: The Scary Side Effect of Exercise You’ve Never Heard Of.” “They kept doing what the instructor told them to do because they did not want to look weak.”

That was the case for Nancy Weindruch, a communications executive at the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade group in Washington. In 2015 Ms. Weindruch, who exercised regularly, attended a spin class with her sister, but was not prepared for the instructor’s fast pace and directions to “push past your limits.”

“It went from zero to 60 very quickly,” she said. “Within minutes I knew that I was in over my head. But I swallowed my pride and kept going.”

Three days later, after unbearable pain in her legs, she was admitted to a hospital with rhabdomyolysis and was kept there for six days. Ms. Weindruch eventually returned to exercise, but now she sticks to activities like walking, yoga and the elliptical machine.

“I never thought that exercise could be dangerous,” she said. “But it can be when your body is not prepared for really intense levels.”

(Source: NYT)

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Devdutt Pattanaik reveals the queer history hidden in Indian mythology

The word ‘Queer’ came to me in my teens as something I could use to describe myself. In contrast, ‘Indian’ was a word I was born with. I owned both, but growing up, all I saw were various attempts to divorce them: the health minister who termed homosexuality a disease; the classmate who sneered “this isn’t part of our culture”; the teacher who thought it was only something white kids with dyed hair did. Of course, a few opinions hardly amount to the truth. And in seeking a tenable link between ‘being Indian’, I arrived at the work by mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik.

The author of 30 books and 600 columns, Pattanaik is a mythologist, an illustrator, an engaging speaker, and a management guru. But for many , he’s the guy who made a sizable chunk of India’s queer history accessible to a hungry readership. From the storytelling down to the trademark line art that fills the pages, thumbing through his books on Indian myths is an eye-opening experience. And “Shikhandi: And Other ‘Queer’ Tales They Don’t Tell You” is no exception. The book is a collection of myths from various Indian texts, like the Puranas, the Mahabharata, and the oral traditions of various Indian communities. Each of these myths reveal the fluid nature of gender and sexuality in India. First published in 2014, it has been re-released with the word ‘Queer’ added to the title. So we got chatting with Pattanaik about what makes this book so important. Read on!

Shambhavi Saxena (SS): “Shikhandi” utterly undoes what many of us have been taught – that rigid lines of gender and sexual behaviour are intrinsic to Indian society. When it first came out, was there any backlash? How did you react?

Devdutt Pattanaik (DP): No, there was no backlash. Most Indians are quite mature. I fear politicians and activists who are constantly manipulative. Most people are just bewildered as most of us don’t know much about our ancient texts, stories and philosophies. Our reading is very rudimentary.

SS: The new edition of this book very deliberately emphasises on “queerness”. Why did you think it was necessary to do this?

DP: Because we realised many people did not identify Shikhandi with queerness. So we abandoned the subtle approach and made things very explicit.

SS: This book is about “‘Queer’ Tales They Don’t Tell You’. Can you comment on why they don’t tell us? What can we as a society learn from these tales?

DP: I think they don’t tell us for many reasons. Some are embarrassed. Some do not know how to explain it. Some are disgusted. Some fear it will make us question established notions of gender and sexuality. Although Indian philosophy celebrates the fluid, Indian society is increasingly becoming rigid, because the traditional feel threatened by Westernisation and modernisation, also because many educated Indians feel powerful in making fun of all things Indian, especially Hindu.

SS: In the story from the “Yoga Vasishtha”, you wrote “The story demonstrates the essential discomfort of most Indians when it comes to sex. Sex is seen as something that takes one away from dharma.” Does this idea still have place in 21st century Indian society?

DP: Desire will always threaten social order. Queer desire even more so as it is unfamiliar and unpredictable. Buddha saw desire as the cause of suffering. In “Ramayana”, Ahalya’s desire turns her into stone. In 19th century we destroyed the devadasi culture by seeing it as exploitative and degenerate. Somewhere along the line, even today we valorize violence over love. We will kill a boy for kissing a boy. We prefer to see desire through the lens of sexual violence.

SS: You’ve written in detail about myths from around the world where female desire is suppressed. Are lesbian/queer women doubly suppressed in India? Is it because they pose some sort of threat?

DP: I think women are not allowed to talk about their sexual desire and feelings in general. They are expected to submit to marriage and family. A lesbian woman challenges all established norms. She is at a greater disadvantage as fellow women will also not support her. Imagine a lesbian woman born in a Dalit family in a tiny village in Odisha. Who does she talk to? How does she make sense of her longings? How will those who listen to her understand her longings? Is she lesbian first, Dalit first, Odia first, or woman first? The familiar comforts us. The unfamiliar frightens us and we react by rejecting it or violently suppressing it.

SS: You actually have a background in medicine. Can you shed some light on where India is going wrong with regard to healthcare for trans people?

DP: We still have doctors and yoga teachers in our country openly advocating ‘cure’ for gay and lesbian desires; this despite global scientific evidence. Transgender people are accepted in some quarters as it is physical and visible; gay and lesbian desires are not visible and so are not that accepted in traditional societies. We don’t understand desire at all, and monastic traditions teach us to view it negatively. We valorise celibacy which is unnatural and see desire which is natural as a disease.

SS: The final section focuses on Ram, in a story about embracing members of the trans community. However, unlike all the other figures mentioned in the book, Ram himself does not represent fluid gender or sexuality. What was your reasoning behind including him?

DP: In Hindu mythology, Shiva is more masculine and Vishnu is more feminine. In Vishnu stories, Ram is very masculine while Krishna is androgynous. So the rigid and fluid balance each other. Contrast this with Islamic and Christian mythology that have no room for the queer or androgynous. One does not have to be queer to include the queer; Ram is not queer but he includes the queer. That is the idea. The idea of queer is very much part of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu philosophy. In Buddhist mythology, “pandakas” or homosexuals were not allowed to be monks. So there was discrimination in Buddhism. But no one talks about this as we prefer to imagine Buddha as secular and inclusive, which is not quite true. He rejected the sexual, especially the feminine and the queer.

SS: In the book, you ask: “If a man uses medical science to bear a child and lactate, how would ‘modern’ society treat him?” At the risk of sounding like a lazy interviewer, I’d like to pose the same question to you.

DP: Modern society is equipped to include him, at least theoretically. But let us not forget such stories are found in traditional Hindu stories and academicians prefer to see Hinduism as ‘patriarchal’. There is a vast gap between theory and practice.

SS: So much of scholarship on queer culture in India has been a ‘retrieval’ or ‘recovery’ process, looking back at history, myth and local traditions. Are there any problems that come with trying to locate queerness in the past, that too from our modern – even westernised – perspective?

DP: We need to retrieve it as the ‘modern westernised’ perspective chooses not to see it and assumes modernity is its own invention. That is not true. Modernity, which is comfortable with diversity and mingling, was very much part of India’s past. Both the Left that thinks the worst of India and the Right that imagines India as heteronormative have a biased view of the past. We choose not to see the many diverse aspects of the past as it does not fit into our convenient, combative, and restrictive Left/Right politics. Past needs to be retrieved only to show that Indian society was fluid and inclusive in the past, and can be so do today. Not to justify the present. Not everything in India’s past is desirable (Sati or Caste for example).

SS: Do you have any advice for students and scholars working on contemporary queer culture in India?

DP: Beware of activists posing as academicians. Understand that there is room for rigidity and fluidity. And a functional society does need rules. So we need to be flexible according to context. And fluidity can be accommodated only with love, not anger (fashionable in many politicians/activists today).

How figures who transcend gender and sexuality would respond to the following common assumptions:

“Performing certain activities is entirely dependent on our biological sex.”
Gopeshwar (who became a woman to dance, in Vraj oral tradition) would say: “You have no clue how diverse the world is, do you?”

“It’s a woman’s nature to only find fulfilment in a relationship with a man.”
Ratnavali (who became a companion to a female friend in the Skanda Purana) would say: “You have no clue how much love can accommodate, do you?”

“A woman should keep her passions in check.”
Kali (who became a man to enchant milkmaids in the oral tradition of Bengal) would say: “You are terrified of the unfamiliar, are you not?”

“A child raised by two men will not have a good family life.”
Samavan (who became a wife to his male friend in the Skanda Purana) would say: “Let go of control, and learn to embrace alternate realities.”

(Source: YKA)

How young Indians are growing up censored and silenced

Excerpts from India Now and in Transition, edited by Atul K Thakur:

On the evening of August 1, 2015, the Reddit India community, nothing if not vigorous, had worked itself into a state of remarkable frenzy. For the uninitiated, Reddit is the social network that takes freedom of expression the most seriously; to offend and to be offended are cherished rights for Reddit veterans. Those with less-than-thick skins are swiftly ejected and sent out to pasture.

The Redditors of India were angry and unusually vocal, even by their standards. The reason: Internet Service Providers all over the country had blocked access to some of the most popular pornography sites in India.

Surprisingly, this development came less than a month after a supreme court ruling that explicitly refused to ban pornographic websites. This ruling followed a Public Interest Litigation that sought a blanket ban on porn. Speaking on the matter, the Chief Justice of India HL Dattu said:

Such interim orders cannot be passed by this court. Somebody can come to the court and say ‘Look, I am an adult and how can you stop me from watching it within the four walls of my room? It is a violation of Article 21 (right to personal liberty) of the Constitution.’ Yes the issue is serious and some steps need to be taken. The Centre has to take a stand. Let us see what stand the Centre will take.1

Users reported how logging on to a porn website simply yielded a blank page or a variety of error messages, like "Directory does not exist". One Reddit user uploaded an error message that read: "This site has been blocked as per the instructions of Competent Authority".

L’affaire Wendy Doniger and its aftermath

In February 2014, Penguin announced that it would pulp all available copies of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History (2009).2 This decision came in the wake of a civil lawsuit filed by Dinanath Batra, an octogenarian former headmaster, who started a Hindu chauvinist group called Shiksha Bachao Andolan (literally, "Save Education Campaign"), that has sued the authors of several textbooks, academic treatises, and other works in the past decade, for pursuing what it perceived to be an anti-Hindu agenda.

In an interview with Time later that month, Batra laid out his concerns about Doniger’s book.

Her intention is bad, the content is anti-national and the language is abusive. Her agenda is to malign Hinduism and hurt the feelings of Hindus. (...) Doniger says [in the book] that when Sanskrit scriptures were written, Indian society favoured open sexuality. The jacket of her book shows Lord Krishna sitting on the buttocks of nude women. She equates the shivlingam, worshipped all over India by millions, with sex and calls it an erect penis.3

Much like conservative Christian groups in America, Hindu chauvinist groups in India cannot stand the idea of Hindus and "open sexuality" in the same sentence.

The case of Deepa Mehta’s film Fire is instructive — the cast and crew were not allowed to shoot in Varanasi because the film explored a lesbian romance. This is the first important tenet of censorship in India: life choices that do not fall in line with the censor’s own worldview are quickly branded "anti-social" or in the case of Batra and Doniger, "anti-national". This nomenclature is essential for the kind of impassioned breast-beating facade that must accompany the censor’s claim that the book/film/song has "hurt the sentiments" of a religious or ethnic group.

As the historian Vijay Prashad pointed out in a brilliantly argued piece in The Guardian,4 the Doniger affair was the latest in a long line of scandals which were concocted to assert the supremacy of Vedanta Hinduism, a relatively orthodox and straight-laced version of the religion that naturally, hardliners like the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) prefer for political reasons. Doniger and several other scholars were attacked and censored because she sought to explore the Tantric tradition, which is not interested in imposing restrictions on a person’s dietary or sexual behaviour.

Doniger was also a likely target for persecution because she is a Western scholar of Hinduism and there are those that wish to see Hindu scriptures and mythologies being interpreted only by Hindus. There is a rising perception among the right wing that the media and the intelligentsia are biased towards Western readings of Sanskrit texts.

Meanwhile the triumph of the censors was complete when Aleph, an Indian publishing house, followed Penguin’s lead and decided to withdraw Doniger’s On Hinduism from bookshops. Around the same time, Aleph’s publishing partner, Rupa, published a translation of Narendra Modi’s poems during the 2014 election campaign. Clearly, somebody at Aleph had decided to back the winning horse. Ravi Singh, co-publisher at Aleph along with David Davidar, resigned with a view to opening his own firm Speaking Tiger books, which began operations in 2015.

Singh’s initiative led to a small moral victory for the champions of freedom of expression. In the wake of Aleph ditching Doniger and Singh’s departure from Aleph, they lost a lot of authors who decided to jump ship with Singh and be a part of Speaking Tiger’s line-up (some Penguin authors, like Siddharth Varadarajan had asked the publishers to withdraw their books by then). These authors included Jerry Pinto and Omair Ahmad. Ahmad’s novels Jimmy the Terrorist and The Storyteller’s Tale had previously been published by Penguin. After the pulping of Doniger’s books, he asked Penguin to cancel his contracts and Speaking Tiger editions of his novels are now available in bookshops. In a statement later published by Time Out (Delhi), Ahmad expressed his disappointment with Penguin’s actions.

Penguin does not have the right to criticise Indian laws or the legal system when it has withdrawn without even fighting. What message does this give? That the biggest publishing firm in the world has such little respect for Indian courts that it will abandon the fight without standing up for its authors, and its own decisions, in court? If Penguin will not fight for its own decisions, its own authors, then what is its reputation, all its money and organisation really worth? And if its reputation is worth so little, then it is a shame to be associated with them, not a point of pride.6

Ahmad strikes at the heart of the matter here: Penguin decided to throw in the towel, which was surprising because most legal experts agreed that Batra stood virtually no chance of winning the case against them. Courts tend to favour freedom of expression, unless the text in question is extremely inflammatory and can, in the opinion of the court, lead to riots. The thing is, most individuals do not find it within themselves to prepare for a prolonged battle in court. Moreover, the impact this has on their day-to-day lives often proves to be enough of a deterrent: they simply choose not to fight well-funded, well-armed organisations with vested interests.

When Javier Moro tried to get the book released in India in 2010, Sonia and the Congress’s censors would not budge. 

Even when a section of the Indian public fights against censors, what they tend to miss out on is the larger psychological ramifications of censorship. The censor board, when read in the context of the Italian theoretician Antonio Gramsci’s treatise on hegemony, is a cultural institution that propagates the ideas of the dominant classes in a compelling way, so that the other classes bow down to their belief system. Their loyalty is "consensual" because they are convinced that their best interests lie in aligning with the establishment. Within this framework, any form of dissent or an individual’s freedom to oppose the dominant machinery is liable to invite conflict.

Censorship creates a climate of fear. Young people get the message that they must toe the line or be ready to face dire consequences. Conformism is never good news for a country’s future, but unless the current penchant for censorship is reversed, that is exactly what we are destined to get.

Censorship by hook or crook: that’s the motto of 21st-century India. The behaviour of publishers like Penguin is better understood when you consider the reality that a fanatic fundamentalist group is more than willing to use violence to achieve its narrow-minded aims.

In the last 12 months, school and college syllabi across the country have undergone a booster dose of historical revisionism, designed to rewrite India’s history and give it an almost comically exaggerated pro-Hindu slant. A brief look at the proposed re-writes tells you all you need to know about the callousness and the apathy that India’s censors not only possess, but actually flaunt proudly. In a December 2014 Hindustan Times report, we came face-to-face with our new, censor-approved history.

The Emperor Ashoka’s preaching of non-violence, for instance, "weakened north India" and cowardice spread throughout the kingdom. During his reign, people were saddled with the economic burden of having to feed Buddhist monks. The Qutub Minar was not built by Qutubuddin Aibak, but by a Hindu king called Samudragupta; the monument’s name was Vishnu Stambha. Dalits were "the creation of Muslim invaders during the medieval period". And of course, India is "the most ancient country in the world. When civilisation had not developed in many countries, India’s rishi-munis brought the light of culture and civilisation to them".9

This is the worst kind of censorship, aiming to influence children, youngsters who may very well grow up to become adults peddling this ridiculous perversion of history. But then, the future of our children must be sacrificed to further the political future of India’s censors.

Both sides of the aisle

Which isn’t to say that censorship is the sole refuge of the BJP or right-wing politicians in general. On the contrary, most governments in India have been trigger-happy, as far as banning books and movies are concerned. Indira Gandhi famously claimed to have been defamed by a single sentence in Salman Rushdie’s magnum opus Midnight’s Children. Curiously enough, she sued the novelist in 1984, a full three years after the book was first published. By then, of course, it had won the Booker Prize and was already being talked about as one of the definitive novels about the subcontinent. Rushdie wrote about his encounter with Mrs Gandhi (and the lawsuit that followed) in May 2006, a full 25 years after the novel was published, in an article published by Outlook magazine.10

This was it: "It has often been said that Mrs Gandhi’s younger son Sanjay accused his mother of being responsible, through her neglect, for his father’s death; and that this gave him an unbreakable hold over her, so that she became incapable of denying him anything." Tame stuff, you might think, not really the kind of thing a thick-skinned politician would usually sue a novelist for mentioning, and an odd choice of casus belli in a book that excoriated Indira for the many crimes of the Emergency.

Rushdie would ultimately come to a settlement, preferring not to take his chances in court, where Mrs Gandhi’s actions during the Emergency would almost certainly have come into play.

In 2010, history would repeat itself. Mrs Gandhi’s daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi was the most powerful woman in the country, being the President of the Indian National Congress, which was in power at the time. The Spanish novelist Javier Moro’s book The Red Sari, a "dramatised biography" of Sonia Gandhi’s life, was first published globally in 2008. But when Moro tried to get the book released in India in 2010, Sonia and the Congress’s censors would not budge. They claimed that the book contained salacious and unfounded gossip about the Congress president. Moro and his publishers tried their best to negotiate with the Congress, but to no avail. It wasn’t until 2015, when the Congress had been voted out of power that the book finally released.

Just months before the Moro controversy, the Congress had also forced the director Prakash Jha to edit portions of his political drama Rajneeti. It is worth noting that Jha’s film was nowhere as closely hewed to reality as Moro’s book (which — after all — was fiction but in the form of a "dramatised biography"; this terminology is similar to another seemingly oxymoronic phrase, "non-fiction novel").

Even a purely fictional allusion was deemed to be unsuitable for the audience.

(Source: DailyO)

Excerpts from A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Excerpts from A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James:

Figuring things out is a dangerous thing. It makes you look backward and that’s also dangerous. You keep doing it you find yourself right back at the thing, the one thing that pushed you forward in the first place. I don’t know and I swore I put myself on the damn couch to stop the fucking thinking. I wish he was home. Silly girl you just wished he wasn’t. Barely five minutes ago, girl, I was with you I heard every word. Can people do that? Can people want to be with someone all the time, okay most of the time, and yet also wish they were alone? And not in little compartments but at once? At the same time? All the time? I want to be alone but I need to not be. I wished Chuck was one of the men I thought that would make sense to. Usually I just turn on the radio and let it fill the house, noise, people, music, company that I don’t have to acknowledge or respond to but I know they are there. I wish I could do that with people. I wish people would do that with me. Where’s the man who I can be with who doesn’t need me to need him? I don’t know what I’m talking about. Need is the only reason I’m right here, right now in this room. No. Jesus, what a bitch. Today I shall love his hair.

Tonight I shall love all the sounds he makes when he sleeps. The heehaw, the whistle when one of his nostrils blocks. The half of a sentence. The mumble. The flap flap flap flap snore. The groan. The American fart. That part of the night, three-ish, four-ish, when I can ask a question and he’ll answer, which is how I know he’s not really sure how his family will react to meeting a woman like me, though his mom is just the sweetest gal, really just the sweetest. I know all his sounds because I never sleep. Up all night, sleep all day, there are names for women like me. Women like me don’t sleep. We know that the night is no friend of us. Night does things, brings people, swallows you up. Night never makes you forget but it enters dreams to make you remember. Night is a game where I wait, I count off until I see the little pink streak cut through our window and I go outside to see the sun rise over the sea. And congratulate myself for making it, because I swear, every night. Every night.

Last night I realised I could kill anybody, even a child. Maybe a boy. Don’t know about a girl. Just because you don’t sleep doesn’t mean you don’t dream, there’s something my mother never told me. Last night I could have killed a kid. There was this gate and it was just some rusty gate but I knew I had to get through it. The only way forward is through. Who said that? I had to get through it, if I didn’t I would die, get cut open, sliced with a knife from the neck right down to labia with me screaming all the time, I just had to get through the fucking gate. And there was this kid at the gate, one of those children you see in movies where you can’t tell if it’s a boy or a girl. Maybe he was white but white like linen not skin. And the whole time I could see the white alarm clock about to hit two a.m. and the four walls around me, two glass windows, even the sky outside, but I could also see the gate, and I could hear Chuck snoring but I could also see the kid and I could look down and see slashed-up flesh where my feet was supposed to be. I had run my feet off. And I wanted to go through the gate and this kid was blocking it with this look, not threatening but confident, smarmy, cocky — Chuck would have said cocky. And I took this knife that I had and grabbed him by the hair and lifted him up and drove the knife in his heart and because the blood was blue I didn’t feel bad about stabbing him again and again and every time the knife went through his skin it’s like his flesh was too tough and the knife bent in a different direction than where I aimed and the kid was screaming and laughing and screaming and the only thing to do was pull out the knife and saw his head off and throw it away. And scream as I ran to the gate. Then I woke up. But I wasn’t asleep.

Maybe I should bathe or something. When Chuck was going off to work he asked what am I up to today? Shouldn’t have told him nothing because I went out. Maybe I should take off these clothes or at least these shoes. Even a man who loves to say babykins, I don’t know about this fashion shit, knows the clothes I wear to go out is not the clothes I wear to buy bread. And if he sees his woman in the good clothes he would know she was trying to impress a man and might have succeeded, but that man is not him. I really should at least take off this blouse. Or lie down until the gulls fly away. Maybe if he asks I can say I was dressing up for him, hoping we would go out. But babykins, nowhere’s safe outside, he’s going to say. Not even in Montego. I’ll say that Jamaicans shorten Montego Bay by saying Mobay, not Montego. I’ll say I want to go out, I want to dance and he’ll say but I dance better than you and I’ll pretend that last one didn’t sting.

(Source: The Punch Magazine)