Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The poster boy's latest debacle

Why Chandrababu Naidu suffered a crushing defeat at the hustings again? Because "his legacy is still fresh in the minds of people. As is their anger", writes P. Sainath, in an excellent piece in today's The Hindu.

The score was thus:

    Winning more than twice the number of wards the Telugu Desam did, the Congress takes the post of chairperson in 75 of 96 municipalities. It won an absolute majority in 68. The TDP managed that in just six. Of the remaining 22 that are `hung' more will go the Congress way as the smoke clears.
That too when the incumbent Congress govt of AP has had more than its share of follies in the past year, says Sainath. "Who will Mr. Naidu (and user-friendly columnists) blame this time?" After the 2004 ignominious rout, Naidu had a few explanations:
  • alliance with the communal BJP, and the Gujarat pogrom.
  • The Maoists helped the Congress party.
  • the Congress alliance with the TRS, the then newly formed party demanding the separate state of Telengana.
Sainath examines these points one by one. This time around, there was no alliance with the BJP. Maoists are fighting the Congress. The Congress had no alliance with the TRS. Even with the Left, who too have done well, the Congress had fights in certain places. So this time, Naidu, "the messiah of hi-tech", has blamed the Electronic Voting Machines!

Naidu's party had managed to win just one out of the 13 assembly seats of Cyberabad in 2004. This time, his share of the urban vote dropped a further three per cent. What's common in the successive defeats is that the hi-tech messiah was beaten across the spectrum: Rural, urban, city, town, Telangana, Rayalaseema, and coastal Andhra. "The TDP can run, but it can't hide."

Sainath righly points out that this is yet another chance to learn something about how people view the pro-rich, anti-poor measures that pass for `reforms' in this country.

Monday, September 26, 2005

When the Nagas are annihilated ...

All the great rishis and maharishis,
great thinkers, all

the finest minds of our age,

- people we thought of
until, oh, the day before yesterday
as living volcanoes of conscience

ready to blow their tops
at the first sign
of any wrongdoing in the land

or whenever the mighty stayed
from the path of justice -
seem strangely silent

and worried about just one thing:
how to wangle a job for themselves
as officiating priests.

[Related links here and here.]

Applying the Equity Lens - IV

Excerpts from the World Development Report on Equity and Development (2006) [Link]. I was skimming through the report, and thought it's a good idea to bookmark, primarily for myself, a few of the several references to India. What prompted me to look at the report today was this Hindu article.

    Despite the great attention devoted to the question of a systematic relationship between overall inequality and growth at the country level, the body of evidence remains unconvincing. But there clearly are situations in which there is a strong presumption that reducing a specific inequality would promote better investment.

    One such example comes from Operation Barga, a tenancy reform in the Indian state of West Bengal in the late 1970s and 1980s. It has been known, at least since the work of the great Victorian economist Alfred Marshall, that sharecropping provides poor incentives and discourages effort. In such an environment, a government intervention that forces the landlords to give their sharecroppers a higher share of the output than the market would give them should increase effort and productivity. This is exactly what happened in West Bengal, India, when a Left Front government came to power in 1977. The tenant's share of output was set at a minimum of 75 percent as long as the tenant provided all inputs. In addition, the tenant was guaranteed a large measure of security of tenure, which may have encouraged him or her to undertake more long term investments on the land. Survey evidence shows a substantial increase in both the security of tenure and the share of output going to the sharecropper. The fact that the implementation of this reform was bureaucratically driven, and proceeded at different speeds in different areas, suggests the possibility of using variation in the implementation of the reform to evaluate its impact. The evidence suggests that there was a 62 percent increase in the productivity of the land.

Applying the Equity Lens - III

Excerpts from the World Development Report on Equity and Development (2006) [Link]. I was skimming through the report, and thought it's a good idea to bookmark, primarily for myself, a few of the several references to India. What prompted me to look at the report today was this Hindu article.

    History is not endlessly repetitive and, [as this report documents,] many countries have taken on the challenge of breaking inequality traps with some success. Groups have also changed their circumstances or changed social and political institutions. Consider the civil rights movement in the United States, the democratic overthrow of apartheid in South Africa, the more participatory budgeting practices in some Brazilian cities, and the reforms in access to land, education, and local government in the Indian state of Kerala. The challenge for policy is to ask when and how such changes can be supported.

    ... ...

    Democratic deepening in the developing world often begins with the democratization of local government, and that is precisely what two participatory governance initiatives -- in the Indian state of Kerala and in a variety of municipalities in Brazil -- have tried to do.

    In 1996 the state government of Kerala launched what is widely viewed to be the most ambitious initiative for democratic decentralization in India: the People's Campaign of Decentralized Planning. The government not only devolved significant resources and authority to Kerala's 1,214 panchayats (village councils) and municipalities, but it also promoted direct citizen participation by mandating village assemblies and citizen committees to plan and budget local development expenditures.

    [This initiative was] conceived as direct and conscious efforts to break with the elite dominated and clientelistic politics of local government by promoting redistributive policies through broad popular participation. Thus, [it] shifted the political opportunity structure and involved action to strengthen the agency of subordinate groups. [It], in effect, complemented representative forms of democracy with participatory forms of democracy by opening institutions to the direct engagement of civil society. And [it has] strengthened public authority and public action by increasing both the depth and scope of democratic decision making.

    The evidence shows that [this initiative has] deepened democracy, expanding the range of social actors participating in the political arena. [N]early one in four households attended village assemblies in the first two years of the campaign, and despite routinization of the process in subsequent years, these assemblies continue to draw large numbers. Hundreds of thousands of citizens have undergone training in planning and budgeting, and the committees that actually design and budget specific projects have been composed primarily of civil society actors.

    A redesign of institutional incentives and new mobilizational efforts saw women account for 40 percent of the participants in village assemblies (a level otherwise unheard of in India) and the participation rate of dalits (scheduled castes) has exceeded their representation in the population. Moreover, both [this has] created a new cadre of grassroots politicians who previously had no powers (the 14,000 elected panchayat councilors in Kerala). The local public sphere -- the sine qua non of any vibrant democracy -- has become more extensive, more inclusive, and more meaningful.

    [C]itizens now have a voice in determining how public resources are allocated. [P]anchayats have been given authority for up to 35 percent of the development budget, a fivefold increase in their resources base. Panchayats have ranked, designed, and implemented hundreds of projects a year across all development sectors. These have included housing for the poor, small-scale irrigation, local roads and infrastructure, agricultural projects, support services in health and education, and a range of projects specifically targeted at women and dalits.

    [A] large survey of key respondents found that "disadvantaged" groups were the prime beneficiaries of targeted schemes. Case studies show that panchayats have emphasized the need to bring all households up to a certain basic level of well-being, with a heavy emphasis on providing sanitation facilities, decent housing, and safe water to needy families.

Applying the Equity Lens - II

Excerpts from the World Development Report on Equity and Development (2006) [Link]. I was skimming through the report, and thought it's a good idea to bookmark, primarily for myself, a few of the several references to India. What prompted me to look at the report today was this Hindu article.

    In addition to being denied inheritance and property rights, women in many societies face restrictions on their mobility. For example, in the state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India close to 80 percent of women require their husband's permission to visit a health center, and 60 percent have to seek permission before stepping outside their house. These mobility restrictions may be socially imposed, as with gunghat among Hindus--or have religious sanctions, as with purdah among Muslims. Such practices are not just socially enforced, they can be internalized by women who treat them as marks of honorable behavior. These norms are transmitted by parents to their children, ensuring their continuity over generations; in many societies, they are enforced by older women in the community.

    Restrictions on mobility and rules of kinship and inheritance help shape social perceptions about women's roles. If women are socially and economically directed to focus their attention and energy on activities in the home, this is not just what men expect of them -- it is also what other women expect of them. In much of the developing world, women's participation in the labor market is more a function of adversity than active choice -- because husbands cannot earn an adequate income or because of an unanticipated shock, such as a child's illness. Bangladeshi women described it this way, "Men work to support their families, women work because of need." Women around the world participate in a fair amount of market based activity for a wage, but they have to continue to perform most household chores. They thus face a time squeeze, spending more time at work, both in and out of the home, than men do.

    Because social and economic factors determine women's life chances more in marriage than in labor markets, parents invest less in their human capital. Throughout the developing world, women are much less likely to be enrolled in secondary school or university than men. So, they typically work in less lucrative occupations. Moreover, labor markets may themselves be discriminatory, paying women less than men for the same work. For these reasons, even when women participate in the labor market, they earn less than men. Low earnings are a further disincentive for women to enter the labor market, perpetuating traditional social roles.

Applying the Equity Lens - I

Excerpts from the World Development Report on Equity and Development (2006) [Link]. I was skimming through the report, and thought it's a good idea to bookmark, primarily for myself, a few of the several references to India. What prompted me to look at the report today was this Hindu article.

    Stereotypes influence behavior twice through their impact on individuals' self-confidence, and through their impact on the way individuals expect to be treated. To examine the effect of stereotypes on the ability of individuals to respond to economic incentives, Hoff and Pandey (2004)* undertook experiments with low and high caste children in rural north India. The caste system in India can be described as a highly stratified social hierarchy in which groups of individuals are invested with different social status and social meaning.

    In the first experiment, groups composed of three low caste ("untouchable") and three high caste junior high school students were asked to solve mazes and were paid based on the number of mazes they solved. In one condition, no personal information about the participants was announced. In a second condition, caste was announced with each participant's name and village. In a third condition, participants were segregated by caste and then each participant's name, village, and caste were announced in the six-person group.

    When caste was not announced, there was no caste gap in performance. But increasing the salience of caste led to a significant decline in the average performance of the low caste, regardless of whether the payment scheme was piece rate (that is, participants were paid 1 rupee per maze solved) or tournament (that is, the participant who solved the most mazes was paid 6 rupees per maze solved, while the other participants received nothing). When caste was announced, the low-caste children solved 25 percent fewer mazes on average in the piece-rate treatments, compared with the performance of subjects when caste was not announced. When caste was announced and groups were composed of six children drawn from only the low caste (a pattern of segregation that for the low caste implicitly evokes their traditional outcast status), the decline in low-caste performance was even greater. While we cannot be sure from these data what the children were thinking, some combination of loss of self-confidence and expectation of prejudicial treatment likely explains the result.

(*) Hoff, Karla, and Priyanka Pandey. 2004. "Belief Systems and Durable Inequalities: An Experimental Investigation of Indian Caste." Washington, DC: World Bank Policy Research Working Paper Series 3351.

Friday, September 16, 2005

55 @ Locana

Via Google maps, he visits places which he never visited. He zooms in. Familiarity of a foreign city now gives way to, well, foreignness. He decides to google map his own city, zooms into streets he knows well, zooms in further and further. His home, his room, his lap, laptop. He sees himself mapping himself.

[Via Sunil.]

Serge Lang

Serge Lang (78), a great mathematician of our times, passed away this week. I heard the sad news via Peter Woit's blog. Yale Daily News obituary is here.

Lang was a professor at the Yale university for the past 33 years. Before moving to Yale, he was at Columbia for almost fifteen years. Serge Lang was a prolific author. His math publications include about forty math books -- textbooks at various levels and research monographs, and around 150 research papers. Unlike other distinguished mathematicians, Lang was also famous for his forthright views on many different topics, some of which were very controversial. His views on AIDS -- "that a causal link between HIV and AIDS has not been definitively established", for instance. Most of his non mathematical writings are collected in the voluminous book, Challenges, published by Springer. Lang wrote in its introduction:

    ... parts of this book concern several other cases of questionable academic, scientific, or political behavior, in various combinations. All pieces this book reflect my fundamental interest in the area where the academic or scientific world meets the world of journalism and the world of politics. The pieces deal with various questions of responsibility in all these areas. It turns out that the National Academy of Sciences happens to be involved in all of them in some way or another.

    One recurrent problem has been the difficulty I have experienced in getting published. Examples of this difficulty arise throughout. The existing difficulties of getting criticisms of established figures or institutions printed in standard scientific or scholarly journals is one of the fundamental issues dealt with in this book.

Serge Lang was also successful in campaigning against Samuel Huntington's nomination to the National Academy of Sciences. Lang claimed that Huntington "used spurious mathematical reasoning" in his research work to look more authentic. Yale Daily News reports that Lang even had a "Huntington Test" for several of his students in which the students were supposed to comment on passages from Huntington's work to determine whether they could "tell a fact from a hole in the ground"!

Lang never shied away from speaking out. For instance, his article, A Mathematician on the DOD, Government, and Universities, charged that the US Department of Defense regularly use research funding as a means to buy loyalty or to scare and discipline American mathematicians during the Vietnam War. When the American Mathematical Society honored him the Steel Prize in 1999, his response was thus:

    I thank the Council of the AMS and the Selection Committee for the Steele Prize, which I accept. It is of course rewarding to find one's works appreciated by people such as those on the Selection Committee. At the same time, I am very uncomfortable with the situation, because I resigned from the AMS in early 1996, after nearly half a century's membership. On the one hand, I am now uncomfortable with spoiling what could have been an unmitigated happy moment, and on the other hand, I do not want this moment to obscure important events which have occurred in the last two to three years, affecting my relationship with the AMS.

    ... ...

    Torn in various directions, sadly but firmly, I do not want my accepting the Steele Prize to further obscure the history of my recent dealings with the AMS.

Lang, of course, detailed the circumstances which led to his resignation.

If you visit any reasonable library which also has a math collection, and if you bother to have a quick walk near the math shelves, it's hard not to notice Serge Lang's name. In my first week of M.Sc., I saw so many books by a certain Serge Lang that I thought a group of mathematicians wrote under that name. (A prof had told us about Bourbaki in his very first class!) Lang remained very active till the end, researching, lecturing, writing text books, and publishing research papers. I never met him, but I have heard numerous stories that highlight his humour, his diligence, and of course his eccentricities, from friends, colleagues, and teachers. Very recently, perhaps a few days before his death, he lectured at Berkeley, and my blog friend Vishnu was in the audience. Vishnu wrote in his September 10 post that "it was amazing to see the seventy-eight year old Lang talking with great enthusiasm". Vishnu's post also narrates a cute little incident that shows the lighter side of Serge Lang.

    Perhaps no other author has done as much for mathematical exposition at the graduate and research levels, both through timely expositions of developing research topics and through texts with an excellent selection of topics,
says, the AMS Steel Prize citation. I have used a few of his text books. Some of his research works are quite central to my areas of interest. Many of us like his books, a few of us hate his style. But I guess all of us would agree that Lang was one of the 20th century's most prolific and influential mathematicians.

Update (September 25): A Gadfly and Mathematical Theorist, a much delayed nytimes obit (link via e-mail from Ravi):

    ... ...

    Dr. Lang also threw in a whimsical document, "The Three Laws of Sociodynamics," which states, among other things, that "the power structure does what they want, when they want; then they try to find reasons to justify it."

    Dr. Lang started his career as one of the nation's leading thinkers in fundamental mathematics, using aspects of geometry to study the properties of numbers, and evolved into a gifted but challenging teacher.

    Decades of students discovered that if they did not pay attention in class, Dr. Lang would throw chalk. "He would rant and rave in front of his students," Dr. Ribet said. "He would say, 'Our two aims are truth and clarity, and to achieve these I will shout in class.' "

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

This post will ...

... make you hungry!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Not some "mainstream" part of India

Remember the Gateway of India attack in August in which one woman was killed and another injured? The women were from the north-east, and the media said they were from Manipur without really doing a fact-check. Uma had a thought provoking post following that incident titled Many Indias, in which she said:

    So what questions does this raise about the way news is reported, on Independence Day weekend? Many things. For one: did the papers care to check whether the women were 'Manipuris' at all, or in fact Nagas from Ukhrul in Manipur (I recall that one paper actually referred to it as "Ukhril" and not Ukhrul); or did it matter just enough for them to highlight the fact that they are not from some "mainstream" part of India?
Unfortunately, most of our mainstream media as well as our mainstream columnists are rather sloppy when it comes to the north-east. Check out this rediff column by T.C.A. Srinivasa-Raghavan.
    ... since [the communists] had become the zamindars of West Bengal on a permanent settlement that would have shamed Lord Curzon, and also ended up having a go in Kerala and Manipur from time to time ...
Manipur can be Manipur or Nagaland or Tripura. It depends on the context!

Locana -- The Eye: II

My parents started subscribing to The Hindu around the time I was born. We entered their lives together! 'The Hindu' is the newspaper that I'm most comfortable with. I feel happy when 'The Hindu' moves up the ladder of success, and I get angry when it's somewhat insensitive (rarely though, according to me). Thus the first pointer: Kaps reporting this good piece of news.

A couple of weeks back Uma gave an excellent talk in my campus. The talk was about fiction and war. Among other points, she spent some time on McEwan's Saturday and Roth's The Plot Against America as well. Her talk started with a quote from Arnold's Dover Beach, which plays a crucial role in McEwan's novel. Well, I was reminded of Uma's talk when I saw this excellent review of Saturday by Falstaff. [Link via Veena.]

Not exactly a book review, but this does the job of one. Saheli has a nice post on Chris Mooney and his new book The Republican War Against Science. Talking about the view of science and the war on science, Saheli says:

    Reporters and debaters too often fall into the cognitive trap created by years of compare and contrast essays, giving equal time to both sides of the coin. Sometimes the coin just isn't fair, and it's a sign of intelligence to recognize that and acknowledge it.
Well said.

Science and science wars! How about some neat, easy-to-read, posts on science? Sunil plans to do exactly that. Every fortnight.

Pablo's post on trickle-down economics makes very interesting reading. Reading Joseph Stiglitz prompts him to think about this stuff again. As Pablo points out "in some circles, trickle-down is taken as an article of faith that should not be discussed". Indeed!

Abi's post on employment guarantee bill talks about a related question. Here's a striking paragraph:

    I don't want to hear 'growth is the best way, particularly in the long run'. Just as the critics of REGS have pointed to past failures about corruption in government schemes, others may -- rightly -- point to how the higher growth rates in the last 15 years haven't led to significant job creation; apparently, there indeed is such an animal called 'jobless growth'. Moreover, a 'long run' may not exist for many of the rural poor if their poverty is not addressed.
Here's something very interesting. Antara has a funny story about "the fetishization of clarity".

And check out the random dreams of a confused mind's dad!

Harini has an excellent blog mela here. A lot of interesting posts. Great stuff.

Finally: How does one write so evocatively?

P.S: Here's Locana -- The Eye: I

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Father's Memoirs: Excerpts - VII

In 1976, N.V. Krishna Warrier's sixtieth birthday was celebrated in Cochin with much fanfare. Mahakavi G. Sankara Kurup was the convenor of the organizing committee. It was also decided to bring out a felicitation volume on Krishna Warrier and Malayalam literature. As N.V. had no plans to write an autobiography, the organizers thought that it would be apt to have a longish interview with him which could shed light on his phenomenal life. But N.V. was not cooperative. Sankara Kurup was particular that the volume should contain such an interview. He knew that I was pretty close to Krishna Warrier and asked me to take up this job. The same day, I went and met N.V., and, without much of an introduction, told him about the plan to interview him. To my pleasant surprise, he agreed.

Stories of his varied experiences lasted hours. Childhood memoirs, work with Swami Agamananda of Ramakrishna Ashram at Kalady, research work in Madras, participating in the Quit India movement, radical underground journalistic activities during the freedom struggle, N.V. reminisced all these with a lot of enthusiasm. Sankara Kurup seemed to have liked the interview very much. In his speech at the function, Kurup said: "Do not skip this interview, even if you aren't going to read the other essays."

I was still in Thiruvananthapuram when Sankara Kurup passed away in February 1978. He was bedridden at the Medical College Hospital and he sensed that he did not have many days left. Anandam and I had gone to meet him with our son. We had arranged for a pushpanjali in Mahakavi's name at the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple and I had the prasadam with me. He took the prasadam and blessed our son.

My life in Thiruvananthapuram of course included Indira Gandhi's emergency years. Krishna Warrier supported the emergency. One of his poems of those days -- Kozhiyum Pulariyum (The Cock and the Sunrise) -- was very controversial. N.V. was also the convenor of the Kerala chapter of 'All India Writers' Congress', an organization of litterateurs supporting Indira Gandhi, formed at the initiative of Hindi poet Shrikant Verma. I was startled to see N.V. defending even Sanjay Gandhi's programmes.

In any case, it is worth noticing that a majority of the writers who mostly support Krishna Warrier's stand on matters literary did not side with him on this issue. Many of these writers were in the forefront of anti-emergency activities. Jayaprakash Narayan, the leader of the anti-emergency agitations, had also come to Thiruvananthapuram. I too participated in one of the secret meetings that he addressed.

In the general elections of 1977, though the opposition could not win a single seat in Kerala, just a few months old Janata party came to power in Delhi. Both Indira and Sanjay lost the elections. In Kerala, Karunakaran had to quit the chief ministership within a month of taking charge, as it was alleged that he was complicit in the murder of an engineering student, one of the many atrocities of the emergency period.

AKG's -- A.K. Gopalan -- death took place around this time. I had gone to the hospital to see him. AKG was lying unconscious on the bed. Memories of the agitations that he led, memories of his visits to our village, his speeches, his energy and fearlessness, came flooding back. AKG had once come to the office of the farmers collective where I worked for some time in my teen years. He was told about my studies as well as about our financial situation. I remembered his encouraging words, and the affection in his tone. And I couldn't stay there at the hospital any longer.

Many changes were taking place at home too. When Anandam conceived, we felt that it would be nice to have my mother around. In our next visit, we told her about it. Mom was happy to stay with us, but, she was also sad to leave her village, her home for the past sixty years. She was forced to adjust with unfamiliar surroundings. Back home, she used to wear a blouse only once in a while, to go to the polling booth perhaps. That was no longer okay. In Thiruvananthapuram, only Anandam and I could follow her colloquial Kannur language. Vishnumaster and Savitrichechi would try hard to talk to her with a lot of concern, and mom found that comforting.

On May 25, 1976, Anandam gave birth to a baby boy.

The naming ceremony was in his tenth month, in Guruvayur. We named him Anandavardhanan -- "one who increases (our and others') happiness" -- after the author of the celebrated aesthetics text Dhvanyaloka. A couple of years later when our daughter was born, there was yet another dhvani: daughter, Padmaja, is father's, named after the father, Padmanabhan, and son, Anand, named after the mother, Anandavalli, is mother's!

Previous posts in this series: Father's Memoirs: Excerpts - I, II, III, IV, V,VI.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


    'Asalaamalaikum, kind Cloud Sahib!
                I, victim of an unkind sentence,
    am missing my frisky girl these nine months,
                and wish to get a message to her
    in Alakanagari where she lies sleepless
                on a bed drenched in moonbeams
    reflected from the sickle brow of
                Shiva meditating in the wilderness.'
Check out 'Dear frisky' by Alex Cumberbatch.

Swami Ranganathananda

An informative review of a biography of Swami Ranganathananda. It's the first biography of Swamiji and this had to wait this long as the Swamiji was particular that it should be published only after his samadhi. The biography is in Malayalam.

[Link via froginthewell.]

International Literacy Day

    Recently the perspective of a "clash of civilizations" (promoted by a great many commentators, including intellectuals as well as political leaders) has gained much currency, and what is most immediately divisive in this outlook is not the idea of the inevitability of a clash (that too, but it comes later), but the prior insistence on seeing human beings in terms of one dimension only: as a member of one civilization or another. As it happens, every human being has many identities, related to nationality, language, location, class, religion, occupation, political beliefs, and so on. To ignore everything other than some single, allegedly profound, way of classifying people is to set them up into warring camps. The best hope for peace in the world lies in the simple but far-reaching recognition that we all have many different associations and affiliations, and we need not see ourselves as being rigidly divided by a single categorization of hardened groups, which confront each other.

    While we celebrate the power of literacy, we have reason to think also about the content of education and the way literacy can facilitate - rather than endanger - peace and security. The importance of non-sectarian and non-parochial curricula that expand, rather than reduce, the reach of reason can be hard to exaggerate.

    To conclude, we must go on fighting for basic education for all, but also emphasize the importance of the content of education. We have to make sure that sectarian schooling does not convert education into a prison, rather than being a passport to the wide world.

Amartya Sen.

Update: Uma has a great Literacy Day post: Postcard to Akka. Magical, as a comment over there put it.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A child-inspired education system

In an article about the National Curriculum Framework, Prof. Yash Pal writes in today's The Hindu:

    When one talks of individual creativity, one might be accused of "neo-liberal" tendencies. I do not know what sort of abuse that implies, but I cannot accept that any society should feel threatened by the encouragement of individual passion to understand in preference to voluminous short-term memorisation. Long sermons to avoid communalism do not go very far; a deep understanding of the inevitability and value of cultural diversity is far more effective. It is no one's case that there should be complete absence of information. But information and misinformation without understanding is best used for advertising or brainwashing — or for filling up the limited storage space of the brain with junk in which every new idea gets stuck.
I support Yash Pal's position, and I do think the stress in the class room should be on analysis and understanding, not on efficiency and memory.

Not every one is happy though, including several of our distinguished scholars. Romila Thapar wrote in The Hindu that

    there is some fear that the emphasis on pedagogy may erode the disciplinary orientation of the subject. Each of the social sciences has its specific take on knowledge and students should be made familiar with these. To pose normative issues in the polity such as equality, justice, and dignity as alternatives to developmental issues hints at avoiding the question of why poverty, illiteracy, casteism, and communalism have come about. How secularism, democracy, and human rights became a concern in Indian society are themes significant to the social sciences.
Romila Thapar's article is very insightful and she has several excellent suggestions regarding regular assessment of teachers, teacher training programmes, and revamping of the examination system. But I think our school education needs to move more in the direction that Yash Pal articulates in the paragraph that I have quoted. A great benefit of child centred education could be that kids find schooling an enjoyable experience. Drop out rates come down, and they learn slowly but steadily. Our text books talking about secularism, democracy, and human rights, hasn't really helped in inculcating those values in the students who mugged up those books. Whereas a seventh grade student comparing various news reports on a given day and a teacher encouraging her to discuss that in the class might help in bringing in more awareness.

Here's an old Frontline story on related matters written when the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) was implented in several districts in Kerala. Implementing DPEP faced a lot of protests, especially from the left leaning intelligentsia, in Kerala. Now many of them realise that their fears had not much basis.

Some of the stuff that I was supposed to learn in my school days, I never understood then. I never undersrood those later too, because I had read and re-read the relevant parts of the text book many times and the harm was already done. I think it's true that if you develop a distaste for something in your school days, it remains with you throughout. A child centred and child inspired education system doesn't do this harm at least. It keeps one's mind fresh and alert, and such a mind begets new ideas, welcomes new ideas, questioing those at the same time.

Update: "I am over 40, and they expect me to play 'aana' (elephant) and the 'frog in the puddle' before a group of second standard children!", said a teacher to the headmistress at a government primary school, wrote the Frontline correspondent, in his DPEP article. A widely circulated DPEP joke that I heard picturises the teacher bending over to pick up a piece of chalk that fell down. Several kids jump onto his back thinking that it's time to play 'aana'!

Gohana and Akola

P. Sainath on torching of Dalit assets that happens so frequently in our midst:

    About the time 50 Dalit houses were set ablaze in Gohana, the country marked 50 years of a law giving effect to the Constitution's abolition of untouchability. As if to rub in the irony, 25 more Dalit homes have been torched in the same week. This time in Akola, Maharashtra. [Link added.]

    ... ...

    Was Gohana 2005 a one-off aberration? We could then say: awful, but these things happen. And get on with life. The catch of course is that they happen every so often. And to the same people. Even a show of mandatory anguish — "what an atrocity" — doesn't begin to meet the problem. Not when the crime is systemic, societal, and structured. Not when a state disables its own citizens.

    ... ...

    The focus, though, was on looting and on destruction of property. Dalits owning decent houses? With fridges and television sets? They had to be shown their place. Houses having gas connections were destroyed using the absent owner's LPG cylinders. The relatively good houses of the Dalits were an eyesore to their enemies. Gohana's Balmikis had, against daunting odds, emerged from the depths of deprivation. They had created these houses and assets over decades. With a kind of effort that much of society might never understand. In these, they invested not just their money but their emotions, passion, dreams, and the future of their children. The death of those dreams, the destruction of those assets, was achieved in hours. Petrol cans and police connivance were all it took.

The basic problem is the same always, everywhere.
    A Dalit is alleged to have killed someone. All Dalits in his basti must pay the price. The due course of law gets dumped. The caste panchayat reigns higher than the courts.
Check out this piece; communal profiling with state sanction in our own city.

Update (September 8): Abi and Uma also have posts on the same topic.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

I was pleasantly ...

... surprised in this morning's class when my students greeted me with teachers' day wishes! I don't think I cared about these days in a long long time, perhaps after reaching the high school. Anyway it felt nice! They also had a cute card which featured something related to our syllabus. And a nice little gift, and Cadbury Eclairs!

Happy teachers' day to all the teachers among my readers.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Locana -- The Eye

Yesterday marked the second anniversary of Deesha -- Atanu Dey's blog. Best wishes to Atanu. Lots of blogiversaries recently -- Dilip, Charu, Ramnath, and Kaps. I started counting from mine. (An August bunch as Abi puts it!)

A few months ago, I had a post about Dilip D'Souza's Branded by Law, a thoroughly researched and touching work about India's Denotified and Nomadic Tribes (DNT's). Some recent incidents in Mumbai prompt another compassionate article from Dilip. Check out his column: Those Fellows Again!. Says, Dilip:

    There are times when you feel, I've written like this before. And with what I want to write about here, so I have. And yet, it bears repeating. It bears repeating.
Myth of the Melting Pot -- a great article by Sonia Faleiro in Tehelka which questions the dominant stereotypes of immigrant communities in India. Sonia's insightful piece ends thus:
    The migrant merry go round continues. Ruthless and unaccepting of some, seamlessly embracing of others. Time will tell whether this two-way association fosters a truly multi-cultural, cosmopolitan society in India. The State must create laws that address the needs of these communities; the host society must question its notion of the ‘other’; and the newly arrived immigrants must twist and turn to align their new physical environment with their cultural personality. Only then will India be a true melting pot.
Another great post from Uma on why she blogs and why one shouldn't take (her) blogging too seriously. My thoughts are very much like Uma's, only that my words wouldn't put the thoughts so charmingly on your screen! Also check out her post on Katrina. (This post also has links to many great pieces written on that topic, including those on Maitri's Vatulblog and Amardeep's post about race and inequities.)

A brilliant post by one of my favourite bloggers:

    On the outer fringes of the Great Indian Literary Circuit, very close to the borders of fruity insanity, are gathered the motley hordes of editors, critics, reviewers, book-page journalists, utterly confused TV crews and casteless writers such as myself (No UK publisher? Shame! Genre fiction? You call yourself human?) You shall know us by our glazed expressions and by the vegetarian delicacies we hold suspended on toothpicks near our mouths as we watch, amazed and enthralled, the vicissitudes of the intellectual giants of the literary A-list.
... ... Samit Basu on IWE spats.

And do check out the excellent blog mela hosted by Sunil @ Balancing Life.

Finally: Children..they are beautiful and therefore this blog too..

Friday, September 02, 2005

The puzzle that tops the charts & Page 3

The Hindu has a front page article on Sudoku today. The article quotes Wayne Gould, the New Zealander who popularized the game:

    It will fade, but I don't expect it to disappear for good.
Well, it has already faded for me. I don't do Sudoku anymore.

Here's my first Sudoku post. Incidentally, this post got the maximum number of visitors for any single post @ Locana.

The second most popular post here is this. Go through the comments there and you can pick up a lot of trivia. It's like the page 3 at Locana! Of course I can't vouch for the innumerable facts in the comments section over there.

Stop! Don't Swallow

    How can we stop being pillsters? First by accepting our frailties and by acknowledging that falling ill is part of a healthy life. Vijaya Venkat, who has lived without medicines for the last 22 years, says: "Absence of disease is not health, absence of health is disease." So rather than popping a pill, try feeding your cold. If you are browsing, visit a reputed and independent medical site and beware of covert commercial sites. Or even better, just take rest. Sick leave is still part of our employee agreements. And if you're not feeling better, check with a doctor. Don't be a pill popper, under the sugary coating—those are toxic drugs that are sliding down your throat.
A must-read for most of us.

Disasters: man-made & man-made (?)

    When hospitals could take no more victims, the bodies were laid side by side on the footpath and covered with white cloths and foil blankets. It was a scene of raw and pitiable emotion as women pulled back the covers in a desperate search for loved ones. [Link.]
    Hospitals struggled to evacuate critically ill patients who were dying for lack of oxygen, insulin or intravenous fluids. But when some hospitals try to airlift patients, Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Cheri Ben-Iesan said, “there are people just taking potshots at police and at helicopters, telling them, ‘You better come get my family.”’ [Link.]
Also check out Sourin's post here.

CG asks:

    It has always been puzzling to me, the huge difference between the resources a country will allocate to it's military spending, as opposed to everything else. Why is it that a foreign threat to a country is deemed deadlier than a threat from other more home-grown factors like poverty, environmental catastrophes, pollution or lack of basic health care? Continue reading ...

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Rs. 2.5 crores

-- the money believed to be spent on campaigining in this year's Delhi University Students Union elections [Link].

When I click on the X icon ...

... of the window, the window disappears!

You get complaints of this sort when you are a system administrator.

Joseph Rotblat

Joseph Rotblat passed away on Wednesday, reports The Guardian.

    [Rotblat] joined the Manhattan project, in the belief that a nuclear bomb was the only realistic deterrent against the Nazis who were also pursuing the bomb.

    "In 1944, when I learned the Germans had given up the project, the whole rationale for my being there disappeared," Sir Joseph told the Guardian this year.

    He became the only scientist to resign from the project and was accused by the US of being a spy.

    ... ...

    Rotblat later co-founded the Pugwash conferences, a movement that worked behind the scenes, chiefly during the cold war, to discourage the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons. The group's efforts were acknowledged in 1995 when Sir Joseph and the Pugwash group won the Nobel peace prize.