CS Sharada Prasad | india
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The Intersection

I am a podcast addict. I cannot do any house chores unless I am listening to an audio book or a podcast.

A couple of months ago I came across The Intersection. As their website puts it,

Every fortnight, The Intersection narrates stories that meld culture, science and history in India. Through interviews, anecdotes and original research, Padmaparna Ghosh and Samanth Subramanian bring alive the rich breadth of human imagination and knowledge, making for a riveting listening experience. The incessant punning — well, that’s just a bonus.

I have been listening to them regularly and started to like them. The podcasts are not long and the topics are very interesting. The first podcast about Bombay blood group is a good representation of how eclectic the podcast wants to be.

In India one cannot air news or any political debate over a private radio channel; only state can do so over the radio. This state monopoly is anti-democratic. Podcasts could change this. I hope there will be more podcasts in India, in vernacular languages, that will provide incisive analysis of Indian politics and society.

Why do people honk so much in India?

Yes, this is a question many people ask, including Indians. Over the last decade I have deeply thought about this confounding question and I think I have an answer.

India a country where the society vehemently controls and sometimes even rejects the strongest of the human instincts – sex. The society lacks the basic understanding that sex is a very human thing to have. If you come to think of it, without sex, there would be no humans around, but only cows in India.

Most people these days get to learn about sex through pornography. Hence the whole idea of bodies and expectations from sex is distorted. Not many people get to experience the intimacy in public – such as holding hands or kissing. Result – pent up sexual frustration.

You get better at a sport by playing it more often with different people. Same rule applies to sex. As the society is neither setup for dating nor divorces, most people probably don’t know how to have good sex. Result – pent up sexual frustration.

Just as the talk about sex, the actual act of sex in India is silent. How can one enjoy sex if we have to seal our lips because of the worry that our children, neighbors, or in-laws might hear us? The sonic suppression of sexual act coupled with the absence of orgasms push people to express their frustration through blaring honks on the road. Vatsayana is ashamed of us!

Suppressed orgasms have made India a violent country. They are the primary reason for the ever present road rage in India. Why else would one hit a fellow driver, without even starting a conversation, for a silly bumper dent?

According to my analysis, India is honking and yelling – “I AM HORNY!”

Next time when someone honks, please don’t be mad. Empathize and express your solidarity by smiling and honking back!

Open Defecation – Government is the culprit

Delhi Metro is an ambitious project costing thousands of crores. Yesterday I walked out of IIT-Delhi hostel gate and saw a group of workers working behind the barricade of Delhi Metro, near the flyover. It was about 6:15pm. I walked to the group of workers who were getting out of a huge pit. A brief conversation with them revealed the following.

They are migratory workers (nothing new). They have been living right next to the work site in tents. Contractor provides only water and electricity but no toilet facility. They defecate behind the nearby shrubs ( which is at least 400-600 meters from the tents they live in). I observed that one of the workers was living with a woman and a year old child. I just could not imagine the hassle the woman has to go through.

I tried speaking to the contractor. His name is Sohanlal. He did not answer any of my questions stating that he is too tired and that I should visit him during the morning hours. When I asked him whether I can take a picture of the workers and their family, he said, “Why don’t you go and take pictures of other poor people? They are everywhere in this city”

Laursen and Toubro is the main implementing agency for Delhi Metro. It is accruing profits while the people who work for it are not getting access to basic sanitation. Last time when I was in Delhi, I saw a constriction work at the swimming people. Even the workers there did not have access to toilets and had to defecate in open. Government should stop its double standards. It should insist in all its contracts that basic sanitation be provided to all the workers working on any project funded by the government. Only when the government shows that kind of commitment can a country flourish. Superficial acts will not help.

Delhi is a reflection of affairs in this country – inequality, injustice, violence, rapes, poverty, drugs, prostitution, and religious politics. Delhi has to fix its own problems first before venturing to fix the problems of rest of the country.

Thank you for shopping with us!

The opportunity to spend the long weekends of Dasara and Diwali with my parents, brothers and their family excited me. My mind was pre-occupied with the ways to surprise my family with gifts and celebrate with gusto. I did not have much time to shop as I had to finish my assignments before I left for my break. I decided to do all my shopping online. The offers on the net made me beam with pride. India has progressed a lot! Online shopping, net banking, cellphone coverage, high-speed internet, and online train and bus ticket booking facilities. What more could I have asked for?

The home pages of these shopping portals are seductive. Limited stock cookware, 1 rupee pen drives, phones and TVs on incredible exchange offers. Shopping in the malls is a great exercise for the Indian middle class which is slowly turning obese and diabetic. Online shopping ruined it all by confining the middle class to the comfy couches. But now one can buy an exercising belt online which will vibrate, when tied around your abdomen or thigh, to keep our muscles in shape. That belt is the best innovation of the century.

To surprise my family, I spent several hours at office on the internet finding the best online deals.  I could not spend much time with my wife or child for next two days. I was shopping at office and working at home. But I was glad that I could find some fantastic deals and meet my project deadline. My family packed for the Diwali holidays with all the enthusiasm it could muster. When we reached the train station, it was clear that whole of India was going home to celebrate Diwali.

We reached Bangalore on Thursday morning. With four full days to go, we were giddy with the options of movies we could watch, food we could cook, and stories we could share. While everyone was catching up with one another, I was standing at the gate expecting the arrival of the courier guy. The website had assured me that I would receive my delivery before noon that day. It was already 11:55. I was growing impatient. The courier guy arrived at 12:20, full twenty minutes late. I yelled at him for not being punctual. I told him I would complain to the company about the delay. He apologized profusely. When I collected my big and heavy package with a stern warning, he wished me a happy Diwali, probably to lighten my mood up. I smiled and wished him back.

“How far is your house?” I asked.

“4 kilometers”

“That’s not far. You can go home to have special lunch today. Right?”

“I live alone. My wife and parents live in Bijapur”

“Oh? You should have applied for a two-day leave and spent all four days with your family.”

” We are not allowed to take any time off during the festival season as many people shop on our website and we have to deliver all the gifts by the assured date and time during the festival season. ”

He looked at his watch and said, “I am getting late for my next delivery. Happy Diwali. Thank you for shopping with us. ”

The big and heavy package in my hands seemed empty.

GPX file – Kalindi Khal pass trek

Kalindi - the fiery mountain

Kalindi – the fiery mountain

I completed this trek last month. Online, I could not find any GPX or any other GPS supported files related to this trek. Here is the link to the GPX file logged by my GPS during our trek.

Day 1: Gangotri to Chirbasa

Day 2: Chirbasa to Bhojwassa

Day 3: Bhojwassa to Tapovan

Day 4: Tapovan to Nandanvan

Day 5: Nandanvan to Vasuki Tal

Day 6: Vasuki Tal to Khara Pattar

Day 7: Khara Pattar to Shweta Glacier

Day 8: Shweta Glaciet to Kalindi Base

Day 9: Kalindi base to Raj Parav

Day 10: Raj Parav to Ghastoli

Day 11: Ghastoli to Badrinath

All the photographs were geotagged and here is a link to some of them.

Protecting women?

Of late I am seeing videos and posts about how men ought to protect women, how protecting women is religion etc. An example video is below.

The worrying part of messages like these is that they portray perpetrators, men and religion, as saviours, and women as vulnerable beings who need protection. But that vulnerability, a kind of oppression, imposed on the women from the outside by the societies.  Before saying ‘men should protect women’, we should understand who has made them vulnerable. Then, instead of saying “Men should protect women”, we will say,  “Religions – stop oppressing women!” and “Men should stop being assholes!”

India’s rape culture

Why do people rape? I wish the answer was as pithy as the question. But some of the solutions that have emerged to end rape culture in India are short-sighted.

The most touted of all the solutions is introduction of harsher laws. Some people even stoop to the level of listing a few countries with tighter laws as examples India should follow. The irony is that those very countries also have strict laws to oppress women. For a law to be effective, its enforcement should be facilitated by an efficient police force and a prudent judiciary. But in India, rapes occur inside police stations, and lawyers, judges, and police ask demeaning questions to the victims in public. Indian state itself has been accused of using rape as a weapon in Jammu and Kashmir, North East, and regions affected by Naxalism.

Building toilets is not a solution either. No doubt, building toilets upholds the right of people to live with dignity, and reduces diseases due to water contamination, but, sadly, it cannot stop rapes. The fact that women with access to toilets are also harassed and sexually abused negates construction of toilets as a solution.

Installing Closed Circuit (CC) cameras in public areas and schools is not a solution because CC cameras cannot be installed everywhere, even where they are installed, there can be blind spots. CC cameras cannot always be used to identify the perpetrator, and they cannot be monitored all the time. CC TVs are an expensive and ineffective solution.

Signing online petitions won’t stop rapes. Such things are good for asking the government to extend bus timings, fill up potholes, and clean up a ditch in the neighbourhood. Online petitions have been effective in other countries. But in India, they have not been effective in prodding government to provide better governance. The heights of the naiveté of India middle class lies in sharing and liking posts on social media. Such things work well for kitten pictures, not for social change. The change happens on the ground, in the sweltering Sun. Social media has aided change by being a tool of effective communication and organization. But till people assemble in person, demonstrate, and exert demand, change remains elusive.

There are people who clearly understand that the above solutions don’t work. Such wise people, with deeper understanding of Indian society and culture, have listed radical reasons and solutions for thwarting sexual crimes. These people, mostly right-wing fundamentalists, blame women for aping western culture by wearing skimpy clothes, media for airing provocative images, and internet for facilitating access to pornography. Putting the burden on the victim reflects not the ignorance of these fundamentalists of the fact that women have been the victims even during the pre-public media and pre-internet era, and even when they are fully clad, but the shrewdness behind perpetuating male patriarchy and female oppression. This is also an evidence of the double standards of current Indian society dominated by fundamentalists who brag about the details depicted in Kamasutra and Khajuraho temples but supress expression of sexuality, one of the most natural human tendencies.

A person commits sexual violence for various non-sexual reasons. Though drugs, and alcohol top the list, sexual violence is used to vent pent up frustration and insecurity, and assert gender and caste superiority. The frustration could be a result childhood abuse, high school bullying, or disappointment due lack of upward mobility, and the perception of superiority could be the result of existing social structures. While the rape cases have been increasing, the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, displacement in the name of development is increasing, migration to urban areas is raising, communal hatred and religious fundamentalism is growing, sexual expression is contained in the name of moral policing, middle class is becoming more and more self-centred, politician’s understanding of social issues has hit a new low, and judiciary continues to be slow and inefficient. Some of these factors might be strengthening existing social relations or manifesting themselves into frustrations and insecurities.

Increase in the number of sexual crimes is a reflection of the health of the society, not just of the individual who commits crime. As a society, we need to introspect. Together, we should work towards reducing income inequality, creating safer and educated environment for the interaction of men and women, providing opportunities for people to express their sexuality confidently, building better sanitation facilities, improving childcare and nutrition, treating men and women equally, eradicating caste system and other types of discrimination and exploitation, creating stronger democratic systems, providing employment opportunities, and eliminating of moral policing. As always, it is important to address the cause, not the symptom.

It is time to invest in future generations. Men, from an early age, should be taught to treat women as human beings and not as sexual objects. Men are not entitled to women. Unfortunately, the fact that forced marital sex is still not considered as rape in India legitimizes such entitlement. The oppression of women in Indian families in the name of traditional values is so sophisticated that the oppressed are not even aware of such an oppression. A married Hindu woman carries more external symbols such as mangal sutra, toe ring, and sindhoor, than a married man, that depict her as a property of some man. The confidence among girls needs to be boosted by reassuring them that they matter to the parents, and to the society, irrespective of their profession or complexion. The emphasis should be on girl’s independence and not on obedience to husbands and in-laws. She should be educated to make her realize her innate worth. She is more than a person who just bears a son for the family she is married into.

Time to rethink public radio in India?

Media in India will inevitably fall into the hands of businesses that have vested interest in politics. May be in India it is time to think of a donation and grant based, non for profit, public radio service such as National Public Radio of USA.

Why radio?

When I think of the term media, I hardly think of radio. TV and news-magazines have appropriated the term ‘media’, denying radio the well deserved credit. Compared to the radio, TV and news-magazines pose more barriers to production and consumption of programming. Though production of good quality radio programs is not easy, listening to a radio station cannot be simpler. One need not be literate and wait for a day or week for a new publication, one need not invest in expensive electronics and cable connection. A radio is a medium for all. It does not require the exclusive attention TV or news-magazines demand.

Private radio in India

Currently, private radio stations in India can only entertain people but not educate them. There are community radio stations which can do so, but cannot debate politics or broadcast news. News broadcasts and political discussions in India are monopolized by the radio owned by the government. When businesses control the government, they will also control the flow of information to the public. While a religious fundamentalist heads ICHR and claims that caste system has worked well, there is no discussions about the beneficiaries and victims of caste system on All India Radio. What are the implications of a muted sex education in a country like India?

The production of radio programs is controlled by Prasar Bharathi and people have no say in what kind of programs they want to listen to. Just as people request for their favourite film songs, there should also be a way to choose a favourite discussion panel on a sensitive issue. Though Prakash Javadekar is planning on opening up options for private stations to broadcast news, the sources are limited and the minister is not clear about whether the stations will be allowed to come up with their own news bulletins.

Independent radio stations should be encouraged in a country that touts democracy. People should have the freedom to choose news bulletins, listen to different views and opinions. This will help Indians to develop a well-rounded view of the world. When Indians are blindly supporting Israeli attacks and celebrating the formation of a new BRICS bank, there must be at least one radio station which informs people about the downsides. Democracy can only be strengthened by creating platforms for expressing dissent.

Public money – Private career

Today the finance minister announced the setting up of five new IITs, IIMs and 12 medical colleges. How much will they help India?

IITs and IIMs subsidize the education of Indians, most of whom, after their education,  migrate to other countries without contributing much back to the country that educated them. Some of the professors in these institutes conduct research using public money, patent the findings, and transfer the technology to private companies.

Medical schools are not any different. Very few doctors get into public service. It’s time that India rethinks the way it is subsidizing higher education.

Kalindi Khal – Elevation Profile

Below is an approximate elevation profile of Kalindi Khal trek from Gangotri to Badrinath. A group of 15 of my friends and myself attempted this in May 2007. We had to retreat because of a snow storm.

Using paper maps, I have created a google map and an elevation profile For the people who are curious about the path of this trek.

If Google Maps interest you, here is the link.

If you wish to view the below profiler in a separate page, click here.