Sexism among IITians

There! It’s official. You have no business being in the IITs if you are not a man. What else do you assume while reading this webpage on the site of the latest IIT global summit? The IIT alumni global summit will take place in December, at IIT Madras. While the IITian "chooses to inspire, innovate and transform", the organisers have thought of "an exclusive track designed to keep Spouses and Families completely informed and entertained". And presumably, spouse in their vocabulary means wife. Because presumably again, all IIT graduates must necessarily be men. Women have nothing to do the institutions unless they are married to its male graduates, right? And the programmes are meant for the "complete woman", who must balance personal and professional life. The men have better things to do. Like inspire, innovate and transform. Seriously, what the fuck?

They have a fantastic guest list of "complete women." Hema Malini, because she is the very epitome of womanly grace. Shilpa Shetty, because she shot to fame with Big Brother and because of Richard Gere kissing her. Then the women will be taken shopping for jewels and saris. Because, that’s all they care about anyway. Emma hits the nail right on the head. It sucks! This reeks of a very chauvinistic attitude. IITians may be brilliant, but they certainly do not seem to hold much store by women’s intelligence. Abi compiles a list of all those who are disgusted. Ludwig calls its "unfuckingbelievable."

Well, it is. I am rapidly losing respect for that bunch of morons who are organising this event and irritating the life out of the rest of the educated crowd. But to me, this is simply a manifestation of a deeper malaise in Indian society. Some men, however educated they may be, cannot really accept that a woman can be equally intelligent. They don’t seem to see, their IIT education notwithstanding, that there can be women IIT graduates who choose to bring their husbands around. Oh of course not. A woman IITian would only be married to another IITian right? After all, which man would want to marry a woman more intelligent than him? It would hurt his, already fragile ego, right? Ugh! These men!! They are disgusting. Someone tell them they are being complete asses!!

Also, here is an image from the 1950s. Speaks volumes about the sexism that existed at the time. All of it is crap, but this one takes the cake.

"Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first – remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours."

Of course. Like this…

Husband: I had a terrible day at the club this evening. I was interrupted three times while drinking whisky by some moron.

Wife: Listen, I have something to tell you. The gas connection expired, the TV conked out and you have forgotten to pay the electricity bill.

H: But listen, the whisky was anyway very watery. God knows what they did.

W: The home loan chap came home today. We have to vacate by tomorrow because you have defaulted.

H: The whisky…

Of course. His topics of conversation are more important than yours. But of course!

Globalisation and higher education

I attended a CSA conference on Globalisation and its Impact on higher education this morning. I came away feeling that the speakers were tilting a little too much towards the left for my taste. I also found that one particular speaker was stuck somewhere in the 19th century for his attitude towards globalisation in the education sector. The speaker in question, Dr. Loganathan, is from the Department of Economics at Sir Thyagaraya College in Chennai. So far so good. The problem starts when he opened his mouth to talk economics. Let me explain. He has a problem with the private sector in education. He also has a problem with foreign participation in education. That is fine, as long as you can substantiate the belief, especially in a panel discussion, with decent arguments. That is where the core problem lies. I wanted to rebut him point by point right there, but not wanting to hijack the discussion, I am limiting myself to this blog. His arguments are given in bold. They are summarised from my notes and are not quoted verbatim. My rebuttals in normal font. So, here we go!

Private participation in education has resulted in too many private engineering and arts and science colleges. Since these colleges charge very high fees, the weaker sections of the population are denied access to education.

Right! I agree. But, these private colleges exist to supplement supply of education on the government’s side, and not to replace it.These "weaker sections" have access to public institutions (colleges, universities, schools etc.), which provide highly subsidised, even free education. Now, what about those who are economically backward but cannot access public institutions because of our reservation policy? I admit, that is a problem. But, one that is completely irrelevant to the discussion on globalisation and its impact on education in India. Another theme for another day.

Private institutions will deny the right of the teachers to form unions, and therefore, the right to go on a strike if they so wish. With education being completely public, there is no such danger.

Of course, there is no danger of anyone ever making teachers accountable. Because, every time someone asks questions, they will go on strike, colleges will shut down indefinitely and students will be affected. Let’s get one thing straight here. Going on a strike in not a right. It is a criminal waste of time, and the taxpayers’ money. Will our communists ever get this right? Kerala is stagnating because of this.

With the entry of the private sector, education is increasingly commercialised. This results in the degradation of Indian culture and the disappearance of the Guru-shishya Parampara.

Eh? Of fine. If you insist. But frankly, I don’t see the point at all. I dismissed this one as the rants of an old man.

The entry of the private sector creates competition. This results in private institutions offering sub-standard education.

I beg to differ. Competition inspires improvement in quality. Also, all public institutions are not great. Our very own Madras University is a case in point. It is not equipped with the most basic facilities such as a photocopy machine or a fax. It possesses hardly any computers for a university of that size, and a wi-fi zone is perhaps too much to hope for. In brief, lack of quality is a generic problem in education in India. At least in the public sector, they can procure these things from a part of the profits they make (we hope).

IIT graduates quit the country to serve a foreign state. This is a waste of the taxpayers’ money. In effect, we are subsidising education for those studying abroad.

Hmm. What to say to such a dumb argument? Don’t give things away free. Follow the IIM route. Make credit available for students who get admission into premier institutions. That way, you provide access and don’t waste taxpayers’ money. What say?

Foreign universities want to accredit and evaluate Indian universities. This is a loss in national pride and dignity.

It is not. We really need a global yardstick for measuring quality of education. If that must be done by foreign universities, so be it. Why are we unnecessarily making this an issue of national pride? We could insist on the same in other countries. If our universities are willing to go abroad that is.

On the whole, it was impossible to digest the fact that a senior professor from one of Chennai’s oldest colleges was talking as if he belonged to the 19th century. We need this mindset to change. Maybe it will be difficult to change the mindset of that generation. It is after all, the generation that has seen the worst of economic crises in their youth. But, let’s hope that at least the younger generations will see globalisation and liberalisation of trade, not as a threat but as an opportunity. Let’s hope.

On violence and CEO deaths

The lynching of the CEO of an Italian auto parts manufacturer is bad enough. What’s worse is the Labour Minister Oscar Fernandes’ justification of the violence proportioning the blame on the management that "pushed the employees to the limit." I am no longer shocked at the politician’s lack of tact, and complete callousness. My few years of observing Indian politics has taught me that we cannot expect any better from them. But, what got my goat were a few comments on Nita’s post on the same issue. Especially a comment by Odzer where he pretty much justified the killing because he was a big shot. I agree that we do not hear about the death of the "common man" every day. I also agree that there is so much publicity because he was the CEO of a company. But tell me something. Does the fact that Mr. Chaudhry made a lot of money as the CEO of an Italian firm justify his killing? Does his family not mourn his death as much as the family of a sweeper who dies? Especially when the person was killed?

The problem is not just with this case. The problem lies in the basic distrust of those who make lots of money. This was a trend I noticed during the recent financial meltdown. Most people I spoke to were far from sympathetic to the fact that thousands of investment bankers lost their jobs. In fact, most of them simply said, "They made so much money for so long. It won’t hurt them to be without a job now." What we do not understand is that someone is not making money at someone else’s expense. Life is not a zero-sum game. For CEOs and investment bankers to be successful, a factory worker or an investor does not necessarily have to suffer. Why are we so apathetic towards the plight of a top official? We kept quiet when an engineer from IIT was murdered in Bihar. But, the Singur issue is burning. We all sympathise and empathise with those poor farmers who are being exploited by the tyrannical Tatas. But, we fail to look at the other side of the issue or take into account the loss incurred by Tata Motors. And this is simply because the Tatas are the rich capitalists exploiters. I may sound extremely pissed off. The fact is that I really am. As long as we cling on to feudal and outdated notions of industry, ownership and investment, we will never progress. That’s what the Communists really want right? So that they can blame the big, bad capitalist world for the stagnation? We are a democracy> If we do not progress, if we stagnate and suffer in chronic poverty, it is because we elect people like Oscar Fernandes who will do anything to preserve his vote bank. After all, we only get the governance we deserve.

I have a dream…

I have a dream. Of stepping out one day to find that people only use the horn when they really need to. But, I have no hope that the dream will actually come true. We Indians have a highly contagious disease. That of honking. My Scooty Pep’s horn stopped functioning about 10 days ago.  was too lazy to get it repaired. So, I tried managing without. Trust me, it’s not that difficult. Yesterday, I finally managed to get it repaired. And I found that I honked when just the previous day, I got by perfectly well without it. I realised I honked impatiently, and absolutely unnecessarily, at least 4 time in the day.

I am no exception. In fact, I belong to the minuscule section of the Indian population who hates to honk. If I misused the horn so much, imagine what a honking addict would do. My grandmother’s house is in a residential area off Nelson Manickam Road that’s relatively quiet. I was sitting there yesterday when a great big Tata Sumo starts honking incessantly and insistently just before the house. It gave me a headache. Wonder why he found the need to honk so loudly in a perfectly calm residential area.

While I am on this topic, I also have a few suggestions for those of you who drive.

  1. If you are at a traffic signal, WAIT!!!! Neither you, nor the guy in front of you can move until the light turns green. If you so desperately want to jump the signal, you are free to do so, but you have no business abusing the poor, law-abiding motorist in front of you.
  2. When you come on the wrong side of the road, you are breaking a law. Your incessant honking or flashing headlights makes NO difference whatsoever to the motorist coming on the right side, nor does it exonerate you from the offence you commit.
  3. While on the question of headlights, DO NOT flash those lights in high-beam on a dark road in the middle of the road. It makes it impossible for the other motorists to drive.
  4. If you are a female driver, and are scared of going beyond 20 kilometres an hour on an empty road, please drive on the extreme left. Do NOT force other motorists to follow you car/bike at that miserable speed. This also applies to senior citizens who insist on driving despite the fact that they can neither see properly nor hear properly.
  5. If you are driving a share auto (one of those monstrosities that you see on Chennai roads), please stop at the SIDE of the road to pick up a passenger. Do NOT stop in the fast lane and then curse loudly when the poor motorcyclist behind you hits your bumper. Also applies for normal autos.
  6. Finally, if you want to take a left turn, please DO NOT overtake a vehicle going straight, on the right and then swerve left. Not only is it dangerous, but also inspires the motorist you just overtook to stop you and practise his/her karate on you.

So there! I can’t think of any more right away. But, your contributions are most welcome.

Arranging marriages

There are two posts by Roop and one by Thought Room that have spurred me on to writing this post. The first post by Roop made me sit back and think. It made me want to write a more balanced perspective. It was in this state of mind that I read Thought Room’s take the issue. This post, tried on the other hand, to explain the arranged marriage custom to foreigners and sounded apologetic to me. It is easy to rationalise and explain why the custom evolved, in the absence of a social security system. It has existed all over the world at some point. In Europe, the upper classes, especially the aristocracy, have married its daughters off to another aristocratic family to further political or economic interests. The difference between India and Europe is that Europe dropped the concept with the fall of monarchy and the rise of democracy. We in India have not changed for 2000 years. The fact that arranged marriages acted as a social network at some point does not justify its continued existence today. As Roop says in her second post, I do not see why I should sacrifice individual liberties in the name of marriage. This holds true for both men and women. It is no less difficult for a man to live life with a complete stranger than it is for a woman to do so.

Also, the whole concept of arranged marriages is driven by considerations of caste, class, status and money. Take for example the issue of dowry. In some communities in South India, the girl’s horoscope is given to the marriage broker with the total amount in cash, and of gold that the parents are willing to give the girl as dowry. So, if a family is looking for a bride, they will first look, not at the bride herself, nor her qualification or character, nor even her family, but the amount of money she will bring in as dowry. To me, that’s not marriage. That’s socially accepted selling of the bride as a marketable commodity. You still think it’s acceptable? I also agree with Roop when she says that we must not be forced to listen to parents on the issue of marriage when trivial things like buying a dress or a pen are entirely up to us. Of course parents have a say in our life. But, that does not include treating one’s own child like a marketable commodity, as is happening in several million families today.

It is scary to contemplate the scenario that Roop talk about. What if, after 5 years of an arranged marriage you realise this is not what you wanted for yourself? You may argue that such a situation can arise even if you chose your own partner. But, think about it. In the latter case, you would made a conscious decision. It would have been your choice. If you regret that decision, so be it. I would rather live with the regret for a bad decision that with the feeling that I could have been given a chance.

I would also like to respond to one comment on the second post by Roop. Sidhusaheb wants to know if we advocate replication of the United States’ "failed society" model. No, we do not. But the climbing divorce rates in the US and elsewhere are not because they are "love marriages" but because more and more people feel the need to assert their individual identity. The fact that divorce rates in India are relatively low does not mean more marriages are happy marriages. It simply means that less number of people are choosing to opt out of an unhappy marriage. Couples stay together for various reasons: social ostracism, kids’ welfare, lack of parental or family support, lack of finances for one of the couple etc. If divorce rates in India increase, that’s not necessarily failure. It could well be an awakening.

Nuclear power is not a bad thing!

I am fed up. Of self-proclaimed experts and the general public ranting about loss of sovereignty and against the nuclear deal. Of bloggers asking stupid, rhetorical questions without really understanding the meaning or import of the deal to modern India. I am trying, yet again on this blog to clarify certain doubts and uncertainties regarding the deal and its repercussions on India’s future.

Two posts, on different blogs, hit a nerve. Both ask some good questions, but also some extremely stupid ones. I am going to try and answer these questions as best as I can. Before I move on, let me say that I am not an expert. But, I am not an ignorant fool either. In fact, I am one of the millions of thinking, educated Indians who think the nuclear deal is a good thing. So, let’s go on.

Let’s look at what Barbarindians says.

We need nuclear power. We need electric power.

Yes, we need electricity. I agree we must reform the energy sector well enough to be able to generate enough electricity to power India. I also agree that we must produce enough to be able to exchange these with electricity. But, for this to happen, we need to look at alternative sources of energy. Nuclear fuel is one of the alternatives.

India’s Nuclear isolation (apartheid) will end:

In case you did not read the newspaper today, it has already ended. The NSG has approved the waiver. Australia self-righteously declared it would not trade with a non-signatory to the NPT, but the rest of the world will. So there! Much as we try and convince ourselves that it has nothing to do with energy, the fact remains that we will only get the uranium required for our nuclear power stations if we import them.

The other things are not really worth discussing. He is being sarcastic in some, reasonable in others and absolutely right in the rest. So, I am quite happy he is thinking straight.

On to Reality Check India. The arguments here are stupider. One, What is wrong with coal based thermal plants?

Huh? Must I really repeat? Coal is a non-renewable source of energy. As is uranium. But we require a few thousand tonnes of coal while we require only a few kilos of uranium for the same output. So, uranium will last longer. Got it? Coal is also highly polluting. Mining safety is a huge problem. People are dying everyday the the Neyveli Lignite mines and elsewhere. And maintenance is high-cost.

I pay Rs 3.50 per KwH (unit) for thermal and hydro power today. The estimate for nuclear power is Rs 16 per unit. Farmers will expect free nuclear power too (esp the big ones). They need to power their A/Cs and 5 KW pumpsets. Who is going to foot the bill ?

Power is heavily subsidised. You pay only Rs. 3.50 because the government, and in turn the taxpayers, foot the rest of the bill. In other words, you foot the rest of the bill too. Free power (thermal, nuclear, hydel or natural gas) is wrong. It must stop at some point. We can stop free power to the farmers even without the nuclear power. It requires political will and not a nuclear deal.

I dearly hope they have war-gamed the scenario where Pakistan decides to test. In the Lok Sabha debates, I heard Pranab Mukherjee thunder “We dont need nuclear weapons to win a war”. Childlike innocence wins wars, perhaps?

What the hell? Haven’t you figured it out yet? Nuclear weapons win no wars. They only destroy. We need a credible nuclear deterrent, not enough arms to destroy the planet several times over.

Finally, I do not think we have reached the dead end for thermal power (coal and gas plants). For comparison, coal makes up 70% of Chinas power. These are not old plants either, they upped their thermal capacity by 20%+ just in 2007-08.

We have not. And yes, China’s power is largely coal-based. But, why does that matter to us? China is facing a shortage too. And they have no problems getting uranium ever. They are a signatory to the NPT. India is different. And for comparison, every year about a thousand people are executed (shot dead by armed police). India should follow suit right? Frankly, such comparisons are neither appropriate nor relevant. Each country is different. India must increase the share of nuclear power in total electricity generation. For a better tomorrow.

As with Barbarindians, here too are some relevant arguments. Whatever be the reasons for my not agreeing with them, the post themselves are eminently readable. At least, they present a non-political view of the issue.

On Ram and Ravan

I just saw this post by Mumbaigirl. She says that the Shiva Tandava Stotram composed by Ravana sounds fantastic. I have not heard it and hence cannot comment. But, she also says that she somehow admires Ravan more because he was a better person than Ram who abandoned his wife after doubting her chastity. I have a lot to say. But before that, you must look at the comments section. One of the commentators says that Ram is God and therefore we must refrain from commenting about him. Another, further down the page advises people to ignore our comments because we are “girls” and “girls nature to gossip. This whole site is a gossip site.” Wow! Talk about male chauvinism!

I have linked to Mumbaigirl before. Her posts are excellent. They are concise, and very persuasive. I might not always agree with her, but I certainly think she makes a lot of sense. It is the case with a lot of other women bloggers I read. But, back to the Ram-Ravan issue. Mumbaigirl was abused and insulted for saying what she believed was right. That’s not fair. I repeat what she said. In fact, I state categorically that Lord Ram was very far from being a complete man. I will not insult or ridicule those who believe, but I think we must read the epics as interesting stories set in a certain time and place rather than as rules by which we must abide and live. Like Mumbaigirl, I too have problems with Ram’s treatment of his wife. He made her undergo a trial by fire because she spent years away from him. But, he too spent the same number of years away from her, didn’t he? So technically, he should have undergone a trial by fire to show that he remained chaste too. Right? But no. He is a man. He does need to prove anything. His chastity is a sacrifice by his wife Sita’s chastity is a sacred duty. What the hell? I am sorry. I don’t agree. I am Hindu too. I believe in God too. But, I refuse to endorse or accept such regressive ideas simply because some king, believed to be God himself, said so.

Then comes the issue of the washerman. He cast aspersions on the character of the Queen of the land. And what does the King do? Send the queen away to the forest. Because the word of a subject is greater than the feelings and sentiments of a wife. You call this godly behaviour? I don’t even call this human. Ram is a controversial character. I don’t care if people choose to believe he is God. I am indifferent to what he means to the right-wing Hindus. To me, he was a man. That’s all. A very famous, and even interesting man. But an imperfect, normal, albeit confused man.

Awarded!! Yes, me…

Thank you so very much, Imp’s Mom for giving me the Brillante Weblog Premio 2008 Award. It’s a fantastic feeling.


Ok. Now, when I Googled this award, I came across this link saying it was a hoax. But personally, I don’t care if it is a real award. That someone thought of me as good enough to merit a mention is good enough. So, here are the rules of the award:

Brilliant Weblog is a prize given to sites and blogs that are smart and brilliant both in their content and their design. The purpose of the prize is to promote as many blogs as possible in the blogosphere.
Here are the rules for this award:

  1. When you receive the prize you must write a post showing it, together with the name of who has given it to you, and link them back
  2. Choose a minimum of 7 blogs (or even more) that you find brilliant in their content or design.
  3. Show their names and links and leave them a comment informing they were prized with ‘Brilliant Weblog’
  4. Show a picture of those who awarded you and those you give the prize (optional).
  5. And then we pass it on!

Now, on to the bloggers I would like to award this prize to:

  1. Sidin Vadukut on Domain Maximus: This guy is an occasional (less and less occasional) blogger who has me clutching my stomach trying not to laugh every time he posts. I am kind of surprised nobody has awarded him so far. At least, not that I know of. Good work Sidin. Keep going! And more often please…. 🙂
  2. Lekhni on The Imagined Universe: I like the name of the blog. I also like her brave attempts at what she calls cooking. I don’t know how she does it, but she somehow manages to make the dishes look good.
  3. Confused on Life is a Street Car named Desire: Hits the nail right on the head. And runs an extremely informative and interesting blog.
  4. Vikram Nandwani on .pOINT_bLANK: Fantastic cartoons. He does not update very often, but when he does, it’s worth the wait.
  5. Ideasmith on The Idea-smithy: Everything on this blog is worth reading.

I only have five on the list because others have already awarded my other favourite bloggers. But, I will mention them because some of them truly deserve to be awarded more than once.

First, I would like to mention Krish Ashok for his absolutely brilliant sense of humour. Then comes Nita for the painstaking research she does before every post. Each post if wonderfully informative and interesting. Roop Rai for the passionate champion she is for the cause against female foeticide. Also for the blog on female foeticide that enlightens and informs. And finally, Planemad for inspiring me to love the city I live in. His photos of the city are fabulous.

Joint families and daughters-in-law

I came across this post by Indian Homemaker just a short while ago. It’s interesting to read. But, wanting to read the original post to which the current one refers, I clicked back to this. Let me take deep breath. I have so much to say, but I don’t know where to start. In the post on joint families, IHM says that joint families are extremely convenient for the boy’s parents/grandparents. I agree. She also says that when a bride steps into her marital home, every action is scrutinised and she ends up being loaded with plenty of responsibility without the authority needed to carry them out. I agree with that too. I also agree when she says that the boy’s parents tend to take the new daughter-in-law for granted. One such case is that of the anonymous daughter-in-law who commented.

However, I think it is important to nuance the arguments a bit. While it is unfair to expect the bride to take on all that responsibility without the authority required, we must also realise that sometimes, the Indian joint family can be a huge safety net. It starts with mundane things like housework. Two daughters-in-law in the same house means that the work is shared. Sometimes the mother-in-law is also nice enough to help. Granted, most of them behave exactly as IHM points out. But, there are exceptions who deserve to be acknowledged. This safety net extends to caring for the children when the mother goes to work. I know many women who feel that their mother-in-law takes better care of the kids than a paid nanny or servant. The kid is their grandchild after all. Also, in cases where the couple goes through a though time financially, the joint family can step in to provide the much-needed solace and support. I understand that this is declining but in case of a problem, the parents’ (of both spouses) step in to help. I would give anything for a safety net like that.

That said, I fully sympathise with the anonymous daughter-in-law. She is unfortunate enough to have in-laws who neither care nor empathise with her as a human being. Such parents deserve no respect. In this context, I would not spare the husband either. A man who is capable of censoring the blog of his wife, one he is supposed to trust and support, deserves a talking to. The bride/wife/daughter-in-law, is a human being and an individual first. She reserves the right to say anything she pleases on any forum. Nobody, especially not the husband, has any power to stop her in that. If he treated his wife well, and made sure his parents did the same, she would find no reason to complain. I read so many blogs that talk about husband and family, that make one envy the family they have. If you are happy, it shows, on your blog and elsewhere. But, if are being abused, dominated or suppressed, that will show too. In the lack of ease with which a suffering blogger writes, and in the melancholy surrounding the blog. As IHM puts it, an adult requires no permission to go shopping, meet friends and family or watch a movie. She is an adult and an individual. It’s time parents-in-law realise that. On that note, check out this post. It contains advice to the in-laws. Good job!