Running from the Digital World

Did you know that your eyes can constantly see the tip of your nose (or more!)? They just learn to ignore it.

We all are aware that our activities are being monitored online. We can see samples of it everyday – the ads that we online, the “add friend” that pops up on Facebook… but like our eyes ignore the nose, we ignore these little things. Sometimes, we install ad blockers, we click on the ‘do not send my data’ or ‘delete my data’ and believe that we are secure.

Recently, while cleaning up my computer, I installed a few tools that analysed the amount of data that was going out from my computer.

Google Chrome showed massive activity. It was sending several packets of information to sites, which on a quick search turned out to be a ‘security’ company. The interesting part about this was I had no sites open at that point. Just Chrome and an empty tab. I shut down Chrome and there were some sporadic things still being sent.

Then, there was the infamous Windows 10. Windows takes a few years to perfect their products, which is strange considering their bandwidth. Windows 10 tells you that to ensure your security there are certain things they want you to use. I could probably delve into what exactly is being sent out, but hell! knowing the way things work, I know they are tracking quite a few key things.

I decided to veer away from the popular tools – Chrome etc and switch to something that was good but not as popular. Strangely, though the browser has been around for decades, several sites do not support it. I’ve to install different components for this. The one good thing though was I was not automatically signed into every Google product I did – and Google pushed hard. Some sites threw me out, even though I tried to login. Some sites put up a pop up every few minutes tell me to sign in via Facebook or Google+ ‘For a better experience’.

**

We are conditioned to tap on ‘Sign in with Facebook / Google’ for any site. It makes life less irritable and it is one less password to remember. But all of these things add up to your user behaviour. The sites and Facebook show you news that they think you prefer.. so if you’ve clicked on two links about Shah Rukh Khan being detained at the airport, they show you similar links about celebrities. They do not show you more links about racial profiling and the terrorist watch programs at the airports. Nope, you are very subtly directed to read more about the celebs and leave things like violation of privacy behind.

You read about Leonardo DiCaprio making a statement about the environment. The next they show you is a link about his girlfriend or him sunbathing somewhere. They don’t show you links about global warming and what our industries are doing.

The ‘curated’ content or ‘personalized’ experience these sites are touting, including the social media platform will keep you in a cage. Is this intentional? Conspiracy Theorists and some others believe so. Or it could just be the ‘algorithm’. The result, however, remains the same. You remain in a cage that you are not even aware about. You are the protagonist of your own Truman Show.

Most people, including me, do not realise how easy it is to shape their influences. You read what your friends share. You read what your newsfeed says. You read what is ‘suggested’ and rarely venture beyond that. So some issues come to the forefront – the death of a Dalit student, the rape of a 12-year old, cow slaughter. Important topics, no doubt. But what about the other stories that you are not reading about? That barely surface from this nonsense and are buried because they did not get enough likes… simply because it was not written about well enough or simply did not contain enough gore to make it interesting.

And what if, and we go into the conspiracy theory mode here, one day the government decides that there’s too much trouble being caused by a particular topic and they want to trend something else to take away the attention? Do you think this hasn’t happened? Do you think this won’t happen? After all, we are all sheep and we follow the herd. So you are happy reading about SRK’s detention, random arguments about local languages and arguments about pellet guns, while elsewhere, something more serious is happening. And we’ll never know about it… because the only person who wrote about it on a blog has gone quiet and the blog disappeared.

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Why Caste Matters & Does Not in India

The NYTimes found the fact that India appointed a Muslim as the director of the Indian Intelligence Bureau a strong enough point to draft an entire article around it. The author wondered if Egypt would take a leaf out of India’s book and follow such a ‘secular’ model.

The article has a simplistic view of India, which is perhaps good for the country’s global standing. They author believes that India is actually secular and democratic country.

As a citizen witnessing numerous riots and clashes in everyday life, I am not sure I agree.

In terms of titular heads of various organizations, we have been quite effective in placing all castes and religions.

We had Muslim Presidents, Sikh Presidents, Prime Ministers, Supreme Court Judges etc.

But the fact that we are making such a big deal about appointing a Muslim as a direction of the IIB just shows that we are not really secular. In a secular country, the religion of a head should not matter. His religion does not really come into play in a post as high as this. We have appointed him for his skill and accomplishments. Does the fact that he is a Muslim make a difference to how he functions?

Caste and religion play an important role in everyday life.

Take Karnataka for instance. The governments here are deeply divided. Janata Dal, which used to be a popular, ‘farmer’ party, leans heavily towards Gowdas. Party loyalists know that you are not as favored if you belong to any other class.

But if you are a Lingayat, you would side with Yediyurappa. He promises you the riches.

I’m not making this stuff up. Just read any news articles in the past few months, where every minister has openly talked about this.

They do not care if they topple the government as long as someone from their caste stays in power.

Take Bihar. It is a constant war between the lower and the  upper castes. Lalu Prasad Yadav won repeatedly, as some articles pointed out, not because he brought in great development. His caste has more members in a more powerful position. And he does represent the underdog vs the Thakurs etc.

There are again the Yadavs and the Gurjars and the Tiwaris, who all have to fall back on areas that are strong with their castemen to gain votes.

I used the words ‘caste men’ specifically here, because in these areas women are yet to smell the air of ’empowerment.’

Though they legally have the power to vote, what is the ratio of women who do vote according to their choice and not what their husbands state.

Sure, the government ads show ghunghat-clad women happily powdering chillies or milking cows that will be sold and get them money, ergo empowerment. But what is the statistic for women education in these areas? What are the statistics for the deaths of women in these areas?

There are some cases that manage to leak out of the caste-enclosed communities and we read about murders in the name of family honour, rape meted out as punishment and more. But I constantly get the feeling that the actual numbers are much higher than what we get to read about.

But then, we are one of the few nations in the world to have had women Prime Minister, Chief Ministers and cops in high position. And we worship female deities as well. We have entire festivals dedicated to them, rather than leaving them on the lower altar.

That does not preclude rapes, murders, female infanticide, lower education rates, child marriage to older men and many such things.

The Indian mind works on a strange level. We are able to beautifully compartmentalize things like ‘laws’ and ‘reality’.

So, there might not be much fuss about a Muslim being a director, or a woman being a PM. Because these are things that affect us for half an hour in the morning, so to speak. We do not consider the larger impact of these things. But a woman walking down on the street late at night, a man offending your God in front of you – these are things that actually get you going.

Once that spark is lit, the other things come into play.

We aren’t democratic. For  most part, it still remains a sham… booth capturing, fake votes and lots more. We still have the system of reservation in every single aspect of our functioning.

It starts at the school level… and then continues through your life, where a guy who perhaps does not even want to be a doctor gets entry into a medical school because a) reservation quotas b) it becomes a point of honour for his family. His talent and aptitude rarely are considered here.

We are not even particularly secular. We discriminate based on sub-caste, caste, religion, gender, language and region. We are as fricking racist as one can get.

And yet, we function. As a whole. Either because we turn a blind eye to a lot of things that don’t go down easy, or we ‘adjust’. And we believe that two wrongs might just equal a right.

So, I would like to hear more about why we are NOT like Egypt. Why we are believed to have a culture of dialogue, peaceful and respectful arguing, and not a rock-throwing, boycotting, conspiracy-mongering atmosphere.

Dear BJP,

Looks like Tehelka read one of my previous posts… Read this about Karnataka and BJP recently.

Tehelka is supposed to be a little anti-BJP, so a friend warns me that we are supposed to take this with a pinch of salt.

Religion is a popular and most favorite card of all political parties. But every time the BJP government plays that card, it puts a few extra cards on it and makes a huge impact. Probably, that is because of the ‘Hindutva’ card they play and have support in the form of hooligan friends RSS and Shiv Sena.

The last huge problem between Hindus & Muslims I remember in the state was when I was in school, more than a decade and a half ago. It was perhaps the Babri Masjid time… when the entire country went crazy. I don’t remember much of the time except it was summer vacation and much of it was ruined because I had to stay indoors. I was vacationing with some relatives who lived in a town with mixed population. Even though we all loved our neighbours, everyone stayed indoors because of a few miscreants.

“A few miscreants” – they are the ones that always create trouble. Do they really care about their religion or are they hyped on their own sense of power and the mob mentality?

Anyway, that is not really the point.

Is Karnataka going the Gujarat way? That is a scary question, particularly if the answer is anything but a firm ‘no’.

Everyone says that the Hindus need to be protected because our Constitution gave the minorities too much power. Perhaps that was the need at that time… the minorities had been abused so often that legally enforcing some rules was the only way out.

But it is time that those laws were revamped. Let is scrap all those reservation systems that are based on caste. Let us give space where it is required.

How many people from the SC/ST actually make use of the reservation system? At least the ones that really do need to make use of it? How many undeserved people get into high places because of laws like this and remain drunk on their untouchability? While being an outcast is something that nobody wants, nobody should dance on the merits of that very thing that we are trying to abolish.

We need a new system. And a system that does not involve religion in any manner.

Personally, I’d rather ban any political party that even has a whiff of religion in it. I do not care if they help a region economically because they are creating a scenario that will destroy all that is built simply in the name of religion.

Think of this as a war… on the surface, buildings are being built, jobs are being created. But these buildings are being built as havens during war, these jobs are created to place those soldiers… and one day, the war will begin and these will be empty shells housing the destroyed. Their coffers will be full. Yet they want want more money and they will proclaim that the others are destroying us… they will stop work till things go there way and then where will the common man be?

Isn’t that what Hitler did? I’m sure he helped Germany a lot but his idea about the human hierarchy is abhorrent. Ditto here.

True, I’m being a little over-the-top but let’s not go there in reality as well.

***

Side note: A few year ago people related to BJP and its associates said women in bars/pubs would destroy Indian culture.
A few weeks ago, the current ruling party made rather derogatory statements about women’s clothing, rape and a certain march. Rape, they said, happened because of the way women dressed.
And yet, these esteemed protectors of Indian culture, were watching porn sitting in the government assembly. They then dared to protest that:

a) they were not watching porn but a video of a woman being raped.

b) They were watching a documentary of a woman being raped. (Never mind the ‘location’ where they were doing it!)

c) The former CM of state who was ousted rather dishonorably claimed “Everyone watches porn. What is the big deal?

The big deal, Mr.Hindu-Culture-Protecting-Corrupt-Former CM, porn (regardless of how many people watch it) is not legal in our country. It does not matter if everyone watches it, as a sworn minister of law, they should not be breaking the law.

Even if porn was legal, they should not be watching it while the assembly in in session. That is like watching porn when you are work, for which you can be fired. That is an indecent act.

And lastly, the big deal is that you are hypocritical ministers who would’ve probably stoned other people to death if they had done the same thing. Sure, everyone watches it. But let us pretend to be a civilized nation.

I sure hope that was not a porn clip of a woman being raped. That would be a completely different level of violation of several laws and moral codes.

India Turning Chinese

India really wants to be like China. We want to have a high rate of GDP growth, promises of a rich future and the same kind of control over its citizens.

Unfortunately, the government seems to believe that the way to achieve this is through muzzling its citizens. The government definitely has a cause for concern. After years of unquestioned authority, which allowed them to siphon millions of public funds, now there is an attempt to create a transparent administration.

In the past couple of years, even as India’s portfolio and visibility has grown abroad, the number of scams unearthed have risen as well. The Commonwealth Games, the 2G scam, the mining issues in Karnataka (relevant to me as I’m from the state), Mayawati’s numerous statues and tantrums, the Radia fiasco, Wikileaks cables putting the icing on the rest. And these are only a few.

The cherry on top of the icing was that the middle class – the common man and the biggest junta – was not willing to stand up for this any longer. We were tired of paying bribes at every counter, long waiting periods for simple tasks and worse. We wanted more powers and punishment for the guilty.

In a surprising brainwave, the powers-that-are realised that much of this is driven by social networking. Social networking has made the world a smaller place. Even if you don’t know someone, you know someone who knows someone. And that far-off someone is well educated about what is happening… and gets you interested.

So the government figures to muzzle this social network – the freedom of speech – a fundamental right.

I believe in responsible journalism. I believe that sometimes we are better off not publicizing information that might jeopardize the safety of the country and such. Like every growing civilization and corporates, we get a little too ambitious on this front and sensationalize news.

What we really need is to regulate the media through an independent body. Once the media does its job, we’ll hopefully have a better government. Now, the media themselves are being watched by people who are better informed.

People on Facebook might while away time playing Farmville or its latest replica, but they also spend hours on a site that allows free sharing of information. Tweets from politicians and others get the message across instantly. And THAT presents danger currently to the government who’d rather than we go back to ignorant times when we would blindly believe that the budget for something stretched into hundreds of crores. After all, how would we know what is the labor cost and material cost and overheads. How would we know about running a business?

This attempt to muzzle the country is not really new. It had happened when another Gandhi was in the Parliament. When she sensed a threat to her power, she declared an emergency. In the current situation, the government obviously cannot do that without facing the ire of too many people.

So their next best option is to try to censor the internet. They want to know what you are writing, who you are writing to and why.

But these archaic leaders might not be aware what the internet is all about really. Even in China, people find a way to air their views. In a tech-oriented country like India, how long will it be before some guy finds a way to route around the censorship? And in any case, trying to censor the internet is like closing your eyes and believing no one can see you.

India is not the best country in the world. There are Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Christians and Atheists all around the world and they are all insulted by something online. Every politician in this world is probably being made fun of right now. Trying to remove all that content is like trying to clean up Dharavi, Mumbai.

The people proposing these laws should understand the difference between defamation and humorous content, and of course, the truth.

***

Just on another note, what the hell is with all the moral censorship again? All that stuff about ‘this is not our culture’?

Women didn’t wear blouses in India not too long ago. Women were priests, held posts and kicked ass not too long ago. We have female Gods, for heaven’s sake! Probably the only culture to have so many female Gods. And we have corrupt female politicians. We are superbly balanced. Screw moral balancing!

Throw The Baby…

So here I am, researching various thoughts and projects, scanning as many news clips as I can… and I slowly make way to the current news.

The first thing I see if the new TRAI guidelines. I should be celebrating the whole ‘no more spam on cellphone’ bit but I am getting a little tired of the ‘whole or nothing’ mentality our governments seem to be running by.

After years of debate elsewhere about network providers even charging for messaging, TRAI intends to limit the number of messages a person can send. 100 a day. Seriously? Does anyone sitting in those stuffy government rooms realize that an average college student sends over 100 messages a day? That there are certain times when a lot of people send over 100 messages a day – like a festival?

The ironic part of this is that the telemarketing companies and such still manage to get away with sending messages because of a couple of loopholes in this law. They simply need to ‘register’ and comply with a couple of points.

The point of this entire exercise was to stop these spam messages… but all it seems to have done is stop the messages from my friends.

Little things have begun to irk me… Heavy vehicles refuse to accede to a ‘no entry’ board at some road… so you just put a couple of major stones in the center of the road, without any reflectors.

People refuse to stick to their side of the lane, so you shrink the little space available with massive dividers.

People drive too fast, so you post a speed breaker at every 10 yards.

You cannot distinguish between ‘dance bars’ and ‘clubs with dance floors’ so you simply ban dancing in the entire city. Further on, you also ban live music because, apparently, that is somehow related to women dancing.

Drinking is bad. It is a sin. Forget the fact that taxes collected from restaurants etc is one of the highest. You think people do bad things like dance, sing and make merry when they are drunk. Worse! Men and women talk to each other in such places. So you ban all those things because you don’t want trouble in the society.

What happened to clear-headed, rational laws?

Soon we’ll have laws that either hike up caste-based reservations to 90 percent or abolish it completely, instead of finding a nice alternative.

Cellphones will be banned because people use them while driving and have accidents.

Cars will be banned because they clutter up the streets and too many of them mess up those finally-fixed roads.

(Yes this is a rant!)

Irom Sharmila

This is a name that is fairly unknown in India. One of those tragedies that the Indian public just ignores.

But it is one of those names that is fairly popular in the international media.

Irom Chanu Sharmila is the “Iron Lady of Manipur”. The woman who has been fasting for 11 years protesting the army atrocities in Manipur and other Eastern states. But the Indian media, like much of the Indian public, is not particularly concerned about Eastern India and the problems there.

It could be our general apathy to death and terror, regardless of who it is caused by. Or it could be the fact that the east Indian culture is a little more liberal and different than the rest of the country. Whatever be the reason, the media has not bothered much to support Irom.

Of course, there is also the fact that ‘news’ is often defined as what is breaking right now and what the others are covering. So, we talk about what every other news channel is talking about, and sensationalizing it.

Of course, Irom’s story does have all those juicy elements – corruption, death, drama etc. But the only coverage it is gaining now is in comparison to Anna Hazare, which was a successful and beautifully executed protest.

Why such apathy towards one of our own? We write about human right violations in China, in Iraq and Afghanistan. We even write about how a celebrity got slapped around. But we do not cover this issue… a crucial one that has been going on for so long in our own backyard.

In college, I visited a charity organization. I cannot remember the purpose… it was a project we were supposed to do… and we chose to visit a small house that had some kids from east India. The ages varied from 2-18 years… and there were stories about how they were all here because the situation in East India was so precarious. They were constantly under attack by rebel forces or the army, the children said.

Why is the Army Special Forces Act still in existence there? Is the situation really so bad that we need to give the army unlimited powers?

I have the highest respect for the defense forces of our country. At the same time, unlimited power without any supervision corrupts even the best of us.

And does a story like Irom’s get any notice only if it has a brilliant campaign team behind it like Anna’s did?

 

Anna Hazare and the hazar hopes

I haven’t actively been a part of the Anna Hazare movement. It does have my full support but I have not been out there on the streets, waving a banner or whatever.

But I discovered today that one the messages making the rounds is actually genuine and figured I could do my part by forwarding the message.

The message: The Government has put condition to get 25 crore people to support JanLokpal bill. To give your support, call +91 22 62550789 (as given by Kiran Bedi) from your mobile. You call will disconnect after 1 ring and your number will be registered automatically. You will get an SMS confirming this.

Naturally, I was skeptical. Any Indian would be… we get tons of such spam messages, including ones that claim for every message you forward, 1 paise or some such amount will be credited to a cancer patient somewhere.

But someone reliable said this actually works. So I picked up the phone, made a call and the call actually disconnected after one ring and I immediately received a message from UR India stating “Thanks for registering your support. If you want to volunteer, please log onto http://www.indiaagainstcorruption.org or send an sms at +919212472681″

I was quite blown and immediately forwarded the message to many on my contact list.

A friend called me right away, asking how I could be so stupid as to forward such messages and spread more disorder. “Be sane! No government would do such a thing!” he said.

I don’t know about any such government. Infact, this was the same sentiment I had. But then this is the Indian government. We believe in the power of cellphone. Villages that do not have electricity have a television and cellphones.

But these are the facts: The phone number is a registered one. I got an SMS.

I don’t know if the government insisted on this. I do know that the campaign was started to get people to support the movement. 25 crore is a huge number. It should have some impact.

The campaign was also supposed to have ended over a month ago but the number is still active and people are still calling in. For a culture that seems to be hooked to cellphones, this is the most effective way of getting people involved – particularly, when it costs them nothing.

I don’t know if it will work. But I’m willing to try. Because I am tired of having to pay a bribe for every little thing – to get a certificate to buy a piece of land, to sell a piece of land, to get my vehicle insured, to get a license to ride the vehicle, to build a house, to clean my gutter, to ensure the safety of my neighbourhood and hell! to prove that I exist in some form of ID.

Perhaps bribery is entwined into our culture but this is one of those things like sati and child marriage that we can do without.

I don’t know if the price of booze will go down if we manage to get back all that cash stashed in the Swiss Banks. But there is a chance of a better life.

I don’t know how we will survive without bribery either… yes, I am aware that everyone someone has a property transaction, there is the white money – declared legally on paper and the black money – paid in cash and the total amount being the real value. If people were really taxed for all this amount, they probably would not be able to survive.

I don’t know what the issue with the taxation structure is in India. But it does seem to be that it is grossly unfair and the common man would not be able to lead a decent life with these inflated rates unless he stashed away some cash.

It isn’t supporting corruption to say this. A few thousand is bad, but it is no where comparable to those who earn millions and do not pay tax. And aren’t held accountable. The ones who take away the money we do pay as tax.

I guess I’m expecting a chain reaction… one part gets clean, eventually everyone will.