A second Masters…finally!

There! It’s done. I have finally finished studying, for the moment at least. When I finished my Grand O this morning, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. Finally! Now, I can take a good few days of well-deserved vacation. It feels amazing not to have anything to study after years of studying. I think I will take time to get used to it though. I am a post-graduate again! Yay!!

Technical problems and randomness

I have done it! And proud of myself. 🙂 My Windows XP installation crashed last evening. I came back from dinner with friends and tried starting my computer and it simply refused to start. After many failed attempts at reviving it, I finally set down to the task of effecting a complete system reinstall, something I have never done before. It is convenient having a technician father who takes complete care of your computer and its maintenance. A week to go before I get back home and my computer had to choose to fail now. It is a cruel twist of fate that all the notes I needed for my Grand O on Saturday were stuck in electronic form on my system. So, here I was undertaking what I once considered a Herculean task, at midnight.

Twenty four hours later, my computer is good as new. All essential software installed, Windows updates installed and all files and folders completely intact. Boy, am I proud of myself! May I pat myself on the back for it. I am not a techie, far from it actually. But, I am gifted with the ability to wriggle out of the most inconvenient situations (ex. my computer crashing) with a lot of effort. So, it is done! And I am so thrilled that I managed to get it up and running without any major mishaps. Maybe I should have been a techie after all. 😉

Religious intolerance and fundamentalism

Recently, I came across a website called Challenging Islam. It was interesting from a purely academic perspective and so I bookmarked it, promising myself I would come back to it when I had the time. True to my promise to myself, I returned last night, and took the time to read the contents of the site. After pages and pages of rambling about Cuba and what-not, I came upon the library link. I clicked on it out of sheer curiosity. Very soon, I discovered that all the ‘articles’ spoke about how bad Islam was, how unjust and how violent. Now, many of these accusations would have held water if the writers did not refer continually to the Bible to show how ‘different’ and just and good it is. I tend to dismiss the authenticity of any claim that refers all the time to the Catholic Church as an example of the good and the just. Before I continue, I must make a disclaimer, so as to avoid accusations of heresy and Christian-baiting. I am not Muslim, nor am I Christian, nor Jew. In other words, I am not a person “of the book”. I will be criticising Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and every other religion in this post. This is not a personal attack against a single religion. Rather, it is an observation that I wish to make regarding the attitude of religion in general towards certain issues.

Now, on with it. The one article that drew my attention was on the position of women in Islam. This particular article talks of the relationship between the veil and rape. It claims that a “rape epidemic” is sweeping Europe and that a direct connection between rape and Islam is irrefutable. It goes on to demonstrate, using the words of Imams and scholars, that Islam exhorts men to rape women if they are unveiled. What the hell? No thinking individual, irrespective of his knowledge is Islam, will believe that claim for a single minute. No religion, however conservative, would call upon pious men to rape women for the sin of exposing their hair. This article is only one among many that claim that Islam is inherently anti-women and that the civilised Christian world must rise in protest against it.

This is where I started raising a series of objections. First, Islam’s interpretations are given by Imams and scholars, most of whom are men. Second, the Koran in itself may have undergone mutations over the centuries (don’t quote me on it, I am only guessing). Third, most of the people who criticise Islamic practices are Christian and tend to continually refer to the Bible as proof. Most people would agree that the Bible was not translated into English and other vernacular languages until the 8th Century. By then, the original Hebrew Bible went through many transformations. It was inaccessible to the lay public for centuries and the Catholic Church had complete control over its interpretation. The position of women in the world’s major religions is far from satisfactory. The Catholic Church still refuses to accept birth control and abortion that can empower women in more ways that one. Hinduism and its offshoots gave way to atrocious practices such as Sati. Women in Hinduism have long been treated as second-class citizens. A widow was forced to shave off her head and wear plain white, no matter how young she was, until the 1960s. The Christian Church, both Catholic and Protestant have been far from egaliatarian in their treatment of women since the Middle Ages. I don’t know much about Judaism and so will not comment on the treatment of women by the Jews. The point is, women have always been treated as second-class citizens by every religion. Most of the time, the fault lies, not with the religion texts themselves, but with the interpretation of these texts by priests and clergymen, most of whom were men.

Why then do we take the moral high-ground while discussing women in Islam and pretend that it is the only religion that treats its women badly? Why do we demonise Islam and denounce it in intellectual conversations while turning a blind eye to the discriminatory practices that exist in our own religion. To me, that is simple hypocrisy. The problem is never with religion. It is with the people who practise the religion and interpret it to suit their personal interests. If we must protest, we must protest against all discriminatory practices in all religions and stop demonising Islam. But then, that’s just my opinion. Maybe it is simply a politically-motivated campaign rather than a serious criticism of the status of women in religion. I do not know. Any answers are welcome.

Language, culture and politics

During one of my philosophical musings earlier in the day, I wondered how important language was to our lives. From language, my thoughts drifted to the anti-Hindi agitation of the 1960s in Tamil Nadu. And from there, it turned inevitably to the massive north-south divide that still exists in India. I had blogged once earlier on how difficult it was to find a south-Indian recipe on the web. I had raved and ranted about how India was automatically equated with the North and with Paneer Butter Masala and Tandoori Roti. Today’s post is, in a certain way, a continuation of the previous. People’s association of India with Delhi and its surroundings makes me uncomfortable. It makes me wonder why exactly the South is so conspicuously absent in popular memory. While I have nothing against the North or Delhi, it makes me upset, sometimes angry that people wonder if I speak Hindi the minute they meet me. I do, but that’s not the point. The point is that I don’t have to speak Hindi because I was born and raised in Chennai. There is no fair reason for me to learn the language as I get by perfectly well in Chennai with Tamil and English. This said, I would like to issue a disclaimer. I know Hindi, I can speak it fairly well, and simply use English words in place of Hindi ones if I am stuck. Therefore, any possible accusations of Hindi-phobia are entirely unfounded.

A friend of mine told me about a friend of hers, who is coming to France from Greece. This friend had a tough time figuring out the meanings of road signs in Athens because all of them were in Greek. Random thought: Maybe this is what people mean when they say “this is all greek to me!” Anyway, that made me think about the situation back home. As far as I have seen, sign boards are largely bilingual in Chennai. I cannot say the same about Bangalore or Bombay. I remember trying to recollect my Hindi numerals, rather desperately might I add, in Bombay because someone told me to take bus number 63 and I could not figure out how the hell the numerals 6 and 3 are written!

Anyway, this is fast becoming a pointless rant because I have been on this post for so long that I forgot what exactly I wanted to say. Not to mention that I am being extremely random today. Maybe it is a product of the euphoria produced because I am going back home!!

Of the Indian economy and human development…

Reading the news, especially news from India, seems to give me plenty of blog material. The latest in the series is this article from Statesman, Calcutta (oops! its Kolkata now!) stating that over 48% of all outbound investment is from the IT and the IT-enabled sector. The point of this post is not to debate the whys and wherefores of outbound direct investment by Indian companies and its mechanisms, but to wonder how far IT and ITeS can lead us as a nation?

I am not an economist and I will not debate the macroeconomic considerations behind calling India an emerging economy. As a student of Security Studies, I am more concerned with the issue of Human Security. And as a student of International Relations, I am more concerned about human development. So, here I am, asking the question I should have asked a few years ago during the BJP’s “India Shining” campaign. How far can IT take us when nearly 30% (maybe more) of India’s population is illiterate? What do IT, computers and Internet mean to the one-half of India that has no access to drinking water? And finally, how does IT ensure the security and well-being of the citizen, thus bringing into focus the issue of human security?

My immediate response to these questions is that it does not, in fact, contribute in any way to improvement of the lives of nearly 400 millions Indians who live below the poverty line. When I say this, I am not condemning IT or ITeS as unnecessary or pointless. I am simply observing that the money brought in by Indian multi-national companies (yes, they do exist) does not contribute effectively to improving the standard of living of the Indian masses. By masses, I do not mean the middle class and the upper middle class. I mean the real masses who live far away from bustling urban centres. It is easy for us, as Indians, to pat ourselves on the back for the rise of Indian multinational companies, not only in IT and ITeS, but also in other areas like steel, telecommunications and aviation. It is easy also to forget that India still ranks an abysmal 126 out of 177 countries, with a human development index of 0.611, according to the 2006 Human Development Report of the UNDP.

It is important to find out where we are going wrong. Indians often pride themselves on the excellent system of higher education that exists in India. We waste no time in reminding everyone that our IITs and IIMs are comparable to MIT and Harvard Business School. However, we tend to forget that the students of these IITs and IIMs are often from elite, private schools that offer world class secondary education. The HDR says that the combined gross enrolment ratio in primary, secondary and tertiary education is merely 63%. That means that nearly 40% or India’s population has never been to school. How does economic development help the nearly 500 million people who have never stepped into an educational institution?

The problem lies here. It lies in the education sector. An emphasis on higher education and the existence of heavily subsidised universities and colleges serves no purpose if 40% of the country’s population cannot afford access to the first 12 years of schooling that will help them get into these universities. The fees my parents had to pay during my school years clearly demonstrates this. When I was in Class 12, the final year of school, my parents paid nearly 10,000 rupees ($250) a year. This changed dramatically once I got to college. As I did history in an aided college, albeit autonomous, I paid something like 3000 rupees ($75) including maintenance fee that WCC charged for the upkeep of the campus. I would have paid about 700 rupees (less than $20) had I studied in a government college. At post-graduate level, my entire year’s expenses, including exam fee, were no more than 2500 rupees ($65) at the University of Madras. How are people supposed to get to the stage where the government pays for everything if they can’t afford the $250 a year for primary school in the first place? Government-run primary schools are so bad that even the lady who works for my mother as domestic help prefers a badly-run private school. In rural centres, the teachers rarely ever show up. In states like Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, schools are used to host local criminals and/or politicians. How will India ever really shine if primary education is so neglected?

I am not saying that economic development is a bad thing. In fact, economic development is essential to facilitate infrastructure building and education. However, the problem arises when higher education is given preferential treatment over primary education because of flawed government policy. The market in India does its job perfectly well: it creates wealth. The redistribution of the wealth thus created by ensuring access to basic public goods is the job of the government. Sadly, nothing seems to change in India. Every year, the Finance Minister offers sops to the IT sector and the services sector. But, no progress seems to be made on basic issues of health, sanitation and primary education. These are the primary issues that must be addressed if India intends to ever get to the position of a developed country.

The politics of religion

I was planning to post on existential philosophy over the next few days. But, I came across something in the Hindustan Times that spurred me on to posting earlier, and about a topic entirely different from existentialism. It was about the apology issued to the son of Congress politician Vyalar Ravi’s son, Ravi Krishna for some kind of purification ceremony conducted on him at the Guruvayoor Temple. For those who are as clueless about the issue as I was when I read that article, let me explain.

The Guruvayoor Temple, in Kerala in Southwest India is one of the most sacred Krishna shrines in the region. It is a beautiful temple, built in typical Kerala style and the idol of Krishna there is one of the cutest I have ever seen. Many families come to Guruvayoor for the rice-feeding ceremony for children. This means that the first solid food given to the infant must be rice and paayasam (a delicious milk-based Indian dessert) from the temple. It is popularly believed that the child will grow up to be healthy and live a long life. So far, so good. According to news reports, Ravi Krishna came to the temple for this rice-feeding ceremony for his kid. And the head priest ordered a purification ceremony on him because he was accompanied by his wife, who happens to be Christian. Naturally, Ravi Krishna was infuriated. I would have been if my religious affiliations were suddenly questioned because I am married to a Christian. He demanded an apology, which was eventually tendered by the temple management. The priest still refuses to apologise because according to him, he was “protecting the sanctity of the temple.”

That brings me to the reason for my rants. Quite apart from the fact that this incident only became public because the said Ravi Krishna is the son of a hot-shot politician, what infuriates me is the attitude of some people as the sole protectors of the Hindu religion. The regulations of the Guruvayoor temple clearly states that no non-Hindus are allowed into the premises. Not only that, certain types of clothes are not permitted inside the temple. I would not be allowed in if I were to wear a salwaar-kameez (a traditional north Indian dress). I would have to settle for a sari or a long skirt. Similarly, men are forced to wear dhotis. Heaven help them if they are not used to it and it slips off their waist!!

While the temple authorities have every right to restrict entrance to the temple, restrictions solely based on religion are simply not acceptable to me. It appeals to my sense of justice and every cell in my brain rebels against the practice. For long, I was told that Hindu temples only restricted entry because mosques did not permit access to non-Muslims. I actually believed that until I realised that most mosques only have rules of conduct within the building itself. Of course, you would be denied entry if you went there looking like the epitome of the Hindu mother goddess. Just like you would be denied entry if you entered a temple wearing a huge cross. That’s normal. But, in this case, I find it unjust that a random priest decides on whether a person is Hindu or not. From what I learnt, Hinduism is a philosophy, not a religion. What difference does it make what my certificates say if I believe in it? Why would someone who does not believe in it come all the way to Guruvayoor to feed his child? Is it not infinitely more practical to make your rice and paayasam at home? Finally, who is the head priest to decide on whether I am a believer or not? What gives him that power?

We take pride in the fact that Hinduism is all-inclusive. But, if it is indeed all-inclusive, why do we insist on clinging to age-old, bigoted and meaningless beliefs? It is my personal opinion that temples, being centres of spirituality, should open their doors to people of all faiths. So what if mosques in India don’t do it? Who said that religious tolerance and acceptance of the other should be reciprocal. Can’t we try to set an example?

PS: For original news item, click here.

Mon cher Monoprix!

Doing some last minute grocery shopping at 9 15 pm in France can sometimes be an amusing experience. I decided to pick up some food from Monoprix because I needed oil and milk. I figured it would not hurt to pick up some rice and vegetables too. I had nearly finished my shopping when Ana came up and asked where she could find eggs. That reminded me that I needed milk as the 4 weeks-old bottle I had at home had gone bad last night. I noticed a banner telling us that the eggs had been shifted to the shelves near the milk. But pray, where do you find the milk? There it was, in tiny lettering, telling us to follow the markings on the floor to get to the milk. Frankly, I felt like a bloody fool following little blue arrows on the floor in the quest of milk. After walking for about 30 seconds, Ana and I actually found the shelves.

But horror of horrors! My favourite brand of whole cream milk was nowhere to be found. I found myself wondering if I should just go to Champion the next day to pick it up. But, being the lazy girl I am, I decided to look for alternatives. I found this cute bottle with a pink lid. Now, the lid of the bottle of whole cream milk is red. I simply assumed that the colour code had changed and picked up the bottle rather confidently. And what do I find? Marked in bold letters on the bottle are the words, “Lait spécial croissance. Conseillé pour des 10 mois à 3 ans.”

Trust me, I was torn between embarrassment, amusement and frustration. Ana cast this amused look at me and said, “Sorry sweetheart! But you are a wee bit older than that.” At which my embarrassment and frustration gave way to simple amusement. Why on earth would I want to buy “lait spécial croissance” at the ripe old age of 24? I certainly don’t need any help to grow any more. At 5 feet and 9 inches, I tower over most Indian women…and men. The last thing I need is special milk to contribute to any more bone growth.

Anyway, this incident was good distraction after a long, hard day of tests and more tests. Maybe I should think of going to Monoprix more often to amuse myself. After all, laughter is the best medicine!

Reasons for love…

Facebook is a great thing sometimes. It may distract you when you are trying to learn the principles of international humanitarian law, but it certainly appeals to the creative side of your brain and helps you post on your blog at alarming speeds. The 10 posts I put up in May is proof enough. This time, my creativity stems from a rather interesting discussion I had on a group on Facebook on the issue of marriage. Normally, people getting angry would piss me off so much that I would shout right back. But, this time, I got the feeling that these women had no idea what they were talking about.

Ok, ok…let me explain. The discussion was on marriage and it somehow veered off to the arranged marriage vs. love marriage discussion. Someone on that discussion forum actually said that she would lock up her children if they wanted to get married to someone she did not approve of. Honestly, I think that stems from a feeling that your children are your slaves. Parents often forget that their baby has grown and is now an individual with feelings and preferences. Among other things, some of the discussants said that parents knew better because they were more experienced. I agree. But one actually asked me what I saw in my man that I would not find in any other. That really made me….furious…but also terribly sad.

Clearly, these people have no idea what it means to love someone so much that you would go to any extent to be with him. As Pascal said in the 17th Century, “L’amour a ses raisons que la Raison ignore.” Anyone who can rationalise the feeling of love and explain why they love another does not really love the person. They are only with that person because it is logical to be with them. Why are we asked to rationalise and explain our feelings for the people we love all the time. I have been faced with this question many times in the course of conversations with family members. “Why do you love him? What do you see in him?”, they all ask. How am I supposed to explain it? I love him…period. I don’t go into the whys and wherefores of my relationship with him. That’s because I don’t know why I love him. I just do. When people don’t understand that, it is because they have never allowed themselves to understand. It is because they have never allowed themselves to fall in love so completely that reasons become irrelevant. I believe everyone can get love like that. You just need to allow it to happen.

That said, I was also angry about another thing. The girl who asked what I saw in him that I wouldn’t find in another man really pissed me off in more ways than one. The man you love is not a dispensable entity. He is the reason you are fighting tooth and nail with people you love and respect. You love him because he is unique. He is just….himself. He may be difficult and unreasonable at times but I wouldn’t trade him in for anyone else. I love him for who he is. Warts and all. It is very easy to say that he is not anything special and that you can always find someone better. But the question is this. Is the better person necessarily right for you? And by that logic, only the sweetest, most loyal, best-looking and most intelligent people in the world would ever find love. But, it is clearly not so. People love because their heart tells them to.

That brings me back to what I said in my earlier post on marriage. Sometimes, it is good to throw rationale out of the window and think with your heart. What is this obsession with rationality? Can’t a girl be a romantic without people thinking she is insane? Sigh!

Rants…

It has been a crazy week. For the first time in two years, I am thinking about how stressful it is to be at Sciences Po. To tell you the truth, I have never felt this kind of stress until now. Not even when I was forced to sit through 5 exams in 4 days at the end of the first semester. Maybe it stems from the fact that I am at the end of my tether when it concerns grad school, or that I am simply terrified of the future and wish I could turn the clock back a couple of years. Whatever be the reason, the fact remains that I have been stressed, depressed and generally unpleasant to talk to over the last few days. Especially for those outside of Sciences Po. People in the same situation as me know exactly where the problem lies. They are as stressed and a little bit of ranting is expected. But, everyone else thinks I am going pretty much insane.

Nicola and I must be the rant queens of Sciences Po. Maybe we are too influenced by the French and see the negative side of everything. But, trust me, it is a therapeutic experience. Ranting about the unrealistic expectations professors seem to have about our term papers, about how stupid we were to leave the writing to the last 5 days, about how the coffee in the cafeteria absolutely sucks…name it and we have ranted about it. It is nice to know that there is someone who likes to rant almost as much as I do, maybe even more. On the whole, both of us enjoy our Wednesday afternoon rant time. 🙂

But why exactly do I feel like ranting all the time? For the first time in life, I really feel the pressure to find a job. Of course, I can always find something I like to do. But, the question is, will I find a job that corresponds to my level of education? Why do all organisations ask for people with advanced university degrees and at least 2 years of experience? Where do I go for that experience if nobody will give me a job in the first place? To put it mildly, it is frustrating. Maybe I am just pampered. Maybe I am used to getting everything on a silver platter and expect the same this time. Maybe I just need to grow up. At least, when I was finishing my BA, I knew it was only a matter of time before I started teaching at the Alliance Francaise. Two years later, at the end of my MA French, I knew I was coming to Paris. But now? What is the future? What am I going to do? How am I going to cope? Anand tells me I am being paranoid. Maybe he is right. I don’t know.

In any case, I know one thing. I am fed up of university. I have been in it for 7 years. It’s time I get out and start working in the real world. And I also know that I will come back to school some day. Maybe in a year, maybe in ten. But, I know that I will never really leave school for good. I will come back, either to study, or to teach. I love school too much to let go completely.

Free Kian Tajbakhsh

Hey! Finally decided to use this blog for something constructive. Kian Tajbakhsh, internationally respected scholar and social scientist, cousin of my professor, and Indophile was arrested by Iranian authorities on charges of spying. He is being held at Evin Prison in Iran, without access to a lawyer or to visitors. Please take a few minutes to sign this online petition to the Iranian President for his release. He is innocent of all charges and works for the Open Society Institute in Teheran. Please do this for the protection of basic human rights and the freedom of expression.