Saturday, December 29, 2012

Tackling the rape problem

Why does one wake up only when something gross & vulgar as the recent gang rape & brutalisation of a 23 year old girl in New Delhi happens? It is not as if she was the 1st to be raped in India. She will not be the last, as well. That is the unfortunate fact of how we, as human beings, live. It sickens me endlessly to know that something like this happens around us, and I mean physically sickening. I write this post after recovering a little.
The reason I write this post is simply this: I am not an activist. I am a thinker. I am a problem solver. I am earnest in my urge to contribute in the best way I can to improve society & societal thinking - by writing & by debating. Not everyone must contribute in processions & slogan shouting. If anyone can use the points here & polish/implement this to improve the state of affairs, then I will consider my contribution worthy.
To me, the rape problem needs to be tackled at various levels. Education is vital but will not help all those who are currently walking the roads of cities & towns. Their brains are set to a large extent. Education too, is largely an act of hope. We hope that those whom we have educated will grow to live what they have learnt. This need not be the case. None of the white collar criminals were raised by families & schools which promoted dishonesty, yet they are, where they are. At the other end of the spectrum is the knee-jerk need for capital punishment. Rape, is often less premeditated than embezzlement (which can affect the lives of scores of people, depriving them of their hard earned savings etc.). Which should get a stricter sentence? I would leave that decision in the hands of less incensed folks.

What I outline below is a 9 step plan to significantly reduce the occurrence of rape without asking or expecting any change in the behaviour of victims. To expect that women behave this way or that is stupid. I cannot subscribe to that. If marrying off girls at the age of 18 or keeping them indoors is a solution, so does locking all men indoors solve the problem. Not creating an opportunity for rape doesn't mean hiding women or making them look undesirable. What a woman wishes to do with herself, her time, her preferences are her business. Even if those choices make her vulnerable, it is nobody's business to demand that she change them. It is the job of the government & citizen alike to ensure that we respect everyone's choices as long as they are restricted to themselves.
As a woman, what do I expect in a city to feel secure?
  • Safety on roads, public places, public modes of transport
  • Ready & immediate access to protection
  • Sensitive environment to seek redress
  • A healthy & mutually respectful environment
As a rapist, what will deter me from raping?
  • Someone always "watching"
  • Swift action by those around (citizens, police)
  • Absence of loopholes to escape from
  • Swift delivery of justice
Using these simple guidelines, here are my suggestions. I apply these suggestions to Delhi to provide an indication of practicality & feasibility. Applying it to other cities is a matter of arithmetic. There is little value in nitpicking details. The numbers below are for illustrative purposes & accuracy is not the intent. I proceed with suggestions that require least change in individual behaviour to suggestions that need some voluntary action.
Surveillance: Delhi has 28,508 km of roads (including national highways). Let's round it up to 30,000 km. If I had all the money in the world, I would install 4 CCTV cameras per km. That would mean that I require 120,000 CCTV cameras to cover the roads of Delhi. If 1 person can monitor 20 screens, then I would need to hire 6000 personnel to monitor the feeds from these cameras. Working in shifts of 6 hours, I would need 24000 personnel hired to man these screens. We would also need to setup rooms to house these screens & store feeds up to a week. If we place the mass production of CCTV cameras at 10K a piece (screen included), the total cost of installation is in the tune of 1,200,000,000 (120 crores). This is about one hundredth the cost of the Delhi Metro Phase 1. Yes, we need to provide salaries to the personnel hired. At 6000 per month (for working only 6 hours per day) the cost is about 14.4 crores a month. But it provides employment to the many who are not employed! So with a one time cost of 120 crores, an annual maintenance of about 50 crores & an annual resource cost of about 170 crores, this is far cheaper than the Delhi Metro project. Hence, I do not need all the money in the world. This is far less than the amount stolen by Kalmadi or other ministers. This is far less than the 2G scam numbers. Heck! This is less than what Satyam's Raju stole! For the government to state that this is too much money would be a shame. We'd rather have safer roads than the Delhi metro!
Beat cops: Delhi is 1484 square kilometers. Let's round it up to 1500 sqkm. If I had 4 beat policemen installed per square kilometer, I have them patrolling the area of 62500 sqmt per policeman. On a shift basis (again of 6 hours per beat), we need 16 policemen per square kilometer. This creates employment for 24000 people. At 6000 per month (for working only 6 hours per day) the cost is about 14.4 crores a month. Bicycles for them are (at the rate of 2500 per bicycle) expensed at 1.5 crores for the entire city. Given that all that a policeman has to cover is 62500 sqmt, a single round takes no more than 15 min. If the citizens participated in ensuring that the beat policeman did their job & aided them whenever possible, the city can easily be covered in about 175 crores per year. We can definitely take a mix of the options so far.

Simple alert: As a woman, I wish to be able to raise an alarm immediately without requiring complicated gadgets or complex education. If most electric utility poles and/or lamppost had a simple red button which, when I hit twice in quick succession (which one tends to do when desperately seeking help), would alert the nearest police station with the location from where this call for help arises, then I have tackled a simple problem of providing a quick & simple interface to raising a call for help. Since it is connected to the electrical system, it could easily be used to generate alerts in the local police stations. Again, given about 5 posts per km (i.e. at a space of 200 mt apart) & a cost of 50 per red button (mass produced), the cost of setting up the buttons is 0.75 crores. Add another 10 crores for the alert system in all police stations & we have an alert mechanism in place for less than 20 crores. Since the police are already there in the police station, no new staff needs to be hired. Since the button is a simple device placed at the height of 5' 4" on each pole it allows for most people to reach it. Accidental contact will be rejected as it requires two successive & rapid hits of the button. Worst case, there will be a few false alarms, but that is better than no means to raise an alarm. Railway stations, public arenas/malls etc. should also have these buttons. I would have them installed in every apartment & house too (many rapes happen at home as well).
Modern alerts: Citizens should be requested to install apps on their phone which make the alerting process simple & the subsequent process non-harrassing by the police answering the call for help. All mobile service providers must make this facility free of cost. Non-smart phones should allow sending a blank SMS-text to a nationally recognised number (across service providers) which lets the police home in on the location from where the SMS-text arose. Over and above the SMS-text reaching the nearest police station, the alert should also be sent to 3 other numbers that each person registers for this service. Citizens can sign up for receiving SMS-text requests coming around 500 metres of where they currently are. This lets people rush to help the (potential) victim.
Self-defence: All schools should make training their girls in self-defence, mandatory. Any woman who approaches the public utility store (ration shop) in their area should be provided a pepper-spray can free of cost. Since they cannot be sold, there is little corruption possible. Carrying one on your body is vital & family & friends will do well in reminding their lady-friends to carry one regularly.
With these in place, I would expect that the number of incidents of rapes (reported or unreported) would significantly reduce. India today reports about 25,000 rape cases a year which is about 1.8 per 100,000 people. Yes, it is much lower (unlike what Flavia Agnes reports in the first Tehelka link below) than in the West & many developed countries, but it is still a problem we can live without. We can deploy this solution in the top 5 cities where rape case are reported most, observe results, learn & improve the solution while deploying them in other cities over time. If this reduces the number of incidents even to a tenth of its current numbers, it is a solution well worth the cost. Speaking of costs, surveillance deployments help the police not only in tackling rape case but thefts, murder, etc. - multiple benefits.
How can we remove rape from its root?
Education: India struggles with providing education to most of its citizens. The education provided to the few, is mostly of a rudimentary literacy level and not education in its truest sense. Nevertheless, we must educate the future generations in being sensitive to human differences & variations. Sensitising children to each others needs, teaching them respect & caring for each other is far more important than learning calculus. Nearly all schools miss this obvious point. Teachers themselves are insensitive towards girl-children thereby passing on their archaic views to the young souls. Education is also not merely a matter of schools. Parents at home should also learn how to demonstrate this so that children grow to respecting women & each other. Educate your maids & your delivery boys. Educate the rickshaw drivers & vendors on the road. I talk to just about anybody who is willing to listen. Female infanticide is another reason why skewed sex ratios come into play leading to a milder voice of women in society. Right education will take many many years to right this wrong of perspective & view. It is nevertheless vital. Education is also required for girls to know how to conduct themselves in the unfortunate event of a rape (do not destroy evidence by bathing, report the issue to the police, seek help from citizen help organisations, etc.).
Sensitising public service: Police (men & women) are callous when treating rape victims. Their insensitive interrogation, their snide remarks on character (as revealed by the sting operation conducted by Tehelka on the police stations) & their lack of follow-up & support to the victims is unacceptable. Educating policemen, deploying more women in handling rape cases (though several complaints have been about insensitive women in the service) as well as in hearing them in courts, educating & supporting the family of the victims and never ever picking on the victim herself, are some of the means by which we can sensitise the service wings into making this entire process easier on the victims. It also discourages the criminals from assuming that "She won't get help anywhere" & carrying out his crime.
Timely legal process: Prolonging the agony often leads to the woman giving up or feeling shattered. It is vital to move swiftly on rape cases though not at the cost of making just decisions. Thorough investigation needs to be conducted to ensure that if a suspect is genuinely wrong, then he can be punished. Often the identified suspect need not be the one who did the criminal act. One must also ensure that his life is not affected/ruined unfairly. One must punish the criminal and also give him an opportunity to reform. To treat a murderer, thief or rapist as a lifelong criminal is something I am not in favour of. Yes, they acted wrongly, but are they beyond repair? If their are psychologically incapable of reform then they must be isolated but in humane ways. The current outrage & demand for hanging, capital punishment etc. are knee-jerk reactions which I do not subscribe to. None of the countries support that (to the best of my knowledge) & I do not find reason why India needs to be an exception.
Lifelong support: Rape victims as much as young witnesses to murder need lifelong emotional support. Once justice has been served, it is vital that the girl & her family are not ostracised from society or treated with condescension. The girl must be supported through her days of education, medical recovery & till she is in a position to live without support. Citizen participation is vital here. If none of those people who thronged the roads of Delhi in protest have the time to spare to aid & support a victim, their participation in those protests is as much as a farce as this government is. It is easy to raise hell but very difficult to silently & patiently participate in helping a girl grow up to psychologically live a normal life. I have signed am signing up for being a friend to any rape victim as long as she needs me.
With these 9 struts in place, I , as a woman, needn't fear life in a city. I, as a rapist, am deterred from performing my act & giving opportunity to reflect on things.

This is my contribution.
Lastly, do not support movies, advertisements or any other popular device of media where women are shown as naturally "keen" on being treated abusively (sexually or otherwise). Songs where the woman enjoys being spanked or stalker roles played by the "hero" only misguide the youth.
Some links to read:
  1. Some thoughts from various thinkers (some sensible, some reactionary):
  2. Why rapes will go on but what we can do:
  3. Delhi police: Why women deserve to be raped!
  4. She asked for it!


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Barbaric American Judicial System

Since I was aware of Aaron Swartz, I have asked nearly a hundred people (friends & strangers) the following sequence of questions:
  • A person is being prescribed 35 years in prison or $1,000,000 as fine. What are your 3 guesses to his crime?
  • If a person was found guilty of pouring acid on another helpless man and dragging other helpless naked men around on a leash and repeatedly (sexually) abusing helpless men & beating them up continuously till they are near death & then letting them heal to be beaten up again, how will you, based on your answer to the previous question, punish this person?
The answers only vary in their details. Every person I know (and this experiment has been carried out with friends across several countries) feels that the crimes must be heinous or massively exploitative to deserve 35 years and upon hearing the sickening details in the 2nd question prescribe punishments ranging from the electric chair to hanging till death that person & everyone associated with that crime.
Ladies & gentlemen, I present to you, the barbaric judicial system that is America. Here is a country that claims to be developed (you shall soon read about its laws against children), educated (surely you are aware of its gun laws & rates of homicide & rape) & a progressive democracy but is as barbaric as Stalin's gulag or even Hitler's camps (and the appendix to this post will provide data). To actually necessitate that the people keep reminding the government of what is right & what is democracy is equivalent to not finding it in the first place.
But this post wishes to raise the global consciousness around the victimisation of Aaron Swartz, a brilliant mind & colleague.
Who is Aaron Swartz? Aaron Swartz is a conscious soul who refuses to accept the status quo on matters of ethics especially the ethics that the American government & corporates take. He is a frequent television commentator and the author of numerous articles on a variety of topics, especially the corrupting influence of big money on institutions including nonprofits, the media, politics, and public opinion. From 2010-11, he researched these topics as a Fellow at the Harvard Ethics Center Lab on Institutional Corruption. He also served on the board of Change Congress, a good government nonprofit.

He has also developed the site His landmark analysis of Wikipedia, Who Writes Wikipedia?, has been widely cited. Working with Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee at MIT, he helped develop and popularize standards for sharing data on the Web. He also coauthored the RSS 1.0 specification, now widely used for publishing news stories at the age of 14 and there is much more to his list of achievements.

He is currently facing 13 felony charges for which he would be slapped with 35 years in prison or $1,000,000 as fines. Yes, the same person in question 1 above. What he is alleged to have done was download several academic articles via a free account that was legally provided to him.
What is illegal in this act? Nothing. What he has been accused of is downloading "more than acceptable" amounts of these documents.
Oh! Is the academic journals storehouse pressing charges against him? No.
Is the institution (MIT/Harvard) who gave him the free account legally, pressing charges against him? No.
How much of a monetary loss has happened? None, because these very articles if downloaded over a period of 6 months instead of weeks would still amount to the stash they found on Aaron's laptops & it would have THEN been legal! Secondly, those articles are now publicly available!
So who exactly is pressing charges? The United States of America!!
Did some article written by the FBI or Obama, get downloaded!!? None.
Then, why? Victimisation.

As David Segal puts it, "It's like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking too many books out of the library".

Here is the complete indictment charges against Aaron. Yes, there are points in it that make you wonder if what Aaron did was entirely correct! Perhaps not (if proven that he actually did them). Allow me to chronologically list things down (minus the drama):
  1. Swartz registered his computer under a fictitious name. This is not an offence. Very few people will register under their full name (unavailability is one reason). If I were in MIT, I would register as Eroteme. MITnet's Rules of Use do not prohibit one from using a pseudonym.
  2. He used a program to download content from JSTOR. Using a software program to download & manage downloads is not an offence. Most computer savvy people use one to accelerate downloads or thread them. Bots are not allowed by JSTOR as per their T&C.
  3. The rapid & massive download of articles impaired JSTOR's computers & threatened to misappropriate its archive. Threatened, not established. No, I am not talking legalese (while I could), but this has to be established else any download of tens of articles could be deemed as "threatening". Notional or perceived offence is not an offence. It is equivalent to my considering you a criminal because you come from a neighbourhood with a high crime rate (and the American judicial system has successfully created many such ghettos already. Do read the content on The Sentencing Project's site) & demanding that you be thrown behind bars with no further evidence required. Impairment of computers can happen for a variety of reasons. If the servers were designed poorly to only manage 10 concurrent requests, then anyone firing 11 might bring them down & can potentially be charged with downloading "massive" amounts of data. If the same 1000s of requests had come from across the globe, we would still find JSTOR servers buckling. Tonnes of sites go through this problem (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Aaron's intention, nowhere, has been proven to bring down JSTOR.
  4. The indictment charges claim that (point 18) Aaron stole those articles. This is baseless. By any definition of thievery, downloading of articles via a legal account does not amount to stealing! JSTOR still had those articles with them. That MIT & JSTOR resorted to means of preventing Aaron access is not equatable to recognising his activity as theft. If it were so, all they had to do was file a complaint with the police & verify each person whose computer was connected to the network using that IP. Neither of them did either of these options. They just rolled their eyes & decided to make it difficult for people to do this in future. And how? Read on.
  5. JSTOR blocked the IP, Who grants IPs? MIT. So what did Aaron do? Request and obtain a new IP. Who granted it? Yes, MIT again. So if getting a new IP was illegal, who performed the illegal act?
  6. JSTOR blocks MIT. Not because MIT was bad but because JSTOR didn't have the brains to secure their contents & prevent unmanageable downloads of their content. If they knew how to stop & later prevent a device from downloading "unacceptable" amounts of legally available data (which is why David Segal's statements make sense) they wouldn't have to make all MIT suffer. Is Aaron responsible for this? No. He wasn't stealing or illegally using any loopholes in JSTOR's systems. Frankly, he would have preferred more robust systems which would have let him complete his task without them buckling.
  7. MIT decides to not give that Acer laptop an IP. Note that MIT did not contact Aaron & warn him or physically remove him from the campus. What Aaron was doing was inconvenient & not illegal. So what does Aaron do in response to MIT's move? He changed his MAC address. MAC address spoofing is not illegal. Anyone with the right know-how can do it. If I changed my network card, the MAC address would change automatically. Had Aaron simply bought another network card & installed it, he would essentially be taking the expensive route to MAC spoofing.
  8. So far, nothing illegal in any of Aaron's activities.
  9. Point 19 tries to cry foul on Aaron's actions. It amuses me to see the bickering childishness of the claim. If all the users of MIT were to simultaneously download several thousand articles from JSTOR, it would have brought the system down & JSTOR would have blocked MIT. I have already cited the MITnet's rules of usage above. Refer to that & compare with the stupid childish claims made in Point 19. None of them hold water as we have already seen.
  10. Aaron obtains another guest account. To obtain another guest connection doesn't appear to be illegal else MIT (with all its remarkable brains) would have prevented it from happening.
  11. All the claims in point 21 have already been proven to be weak & desperate of the United States of America (the only plaintiff in this case).
  12. Aaron uses another computer to carry out his tasks. What is legal for the 1st computer is legal for the 2nd. Hence, nothing to add here. Together they brought down JSTOR's system. Nothing new there. JSTOR blocks MIT. Nothing new there too.
  13. Note the intensity of the "crime". In point 25, the United States of America shamelessly admits to the "horrific" nature of the "crime" committed by Aaron Swartz - he downloaded 2 million articles of which nearly half were research papers & remaining being reviews, news, editorials, and misc. documents. If I could download BBC's public content & in the sheer rapidity of my task, bring down BBC servers, am I a criminal?
  14. Points 26-28 talk about how Aaron plugged his machines directly into the switch without registering with MITnet's guest access services.
  15. Points 29-31 talk about his repeating all of that at another MIT building before being caught with the USB drive containing a program with "distinct similarities" to "".
  16. Point 32 summarises the volume of Aaron's act & Point 33 is the United States of America whining about why they are in the right for filing this case. Note the phrase "intended to" and not actually having done anything as claimed.
My points 14-15 are where things appear grey. Was Aaron right in doing that? Did he break into MIT's buildings? Then why didn't MIT file a complaint against Aaron? Were there any signs of breaking in? Why is none of that part of the whole story? Here is the motion to suppress all fruits of unlawful arrest. Please read through it carefully to understand the legal implications of the "evidence" used against Aaron.
Nevertheless, we can step out of the legalese & simply look at whether what was done (if assumed to have happened) was right or not. Maybe Aaron should have done differently. Maybe he should have not harassed MIT & JSTOR. Maybe he should have spread his downloads across months. Maybe he should have discussed with JSTOR into making this content available free (and they did make it publicly available after the incident). Maybe a hundred million things! Point is, all these "maybe"s essentially are coming up with ways by which Aaron could have been less of a nuisance. It doesn't say "He was wrong & a criminal". That is my point. Downloading an "unacceptable" amount of files otherwise legally available, is not a crime. Even if it is something to be discouraged, it doesn't count as felony! There are 13 felony charges against Aaron Swartz by the United States of American stupidity! Felony!? FELONY!?
The United States of American stupidity have claimed that there is a copyright infringement. But JSTOR was making them accessible via the university account. How then is it copyright infringement? Had he downloaded only 100 per day over 15 years would that be a copyright infringement? No. So why is it an infringement when all done in a couple of weeks? Here is the infantile response from the Copyright Alliance.
This is more like sneaking through a library window in the middle of the night and making off with the entire non-fiction section.
How? The articles he downloaded are still there with JSTOR. How is it theft, then? Given that he used a legal account/access mechanism to download content from JSTOR, he didn't sneak in through any window. Given that the articles are still there & available, he didn't "make off with the entire non-fiction section".
If the allegations prove true, the episode is revealing in numerous respects. First, of the mindset of those who engage in intellectual property theft. The indictment states that Swartz “intended to distribute a significant portion of JSTOR’s archive of digitized journal articles through one or more file-sharing sites.”  Sound familiar? This is no different than those who steal other kinds of copyrighted works and monetize them through advertising or through subscription fees, only in this instance the victims are a non-profit and educational institution.
I would hope that people trying to protect my copyright would be more sensible than this Sandra Aistars. There isn't any case for theft here, sweetie. The indictment states that Aaron "intended" which means he might not have intended to as well. Secondly, even if he intended to, it does not say that he would have made money out of it! So the rest of her babble doesn't make sense because it is baseless or only based on her paranoia. There has never been evidence (AFAIK) of Aaron monetising anything he intended to distribute. Even if you read his Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto you will find that he is dead against it. So where is there this suspicion of monetising what he has obtained? Ms. Aistars would do well in educating herself before continuing to make a fool of herself as follows:
These individuals are not “setting information free” as they like to proclaim. And they are not “removing the middlemen.” They are flat out stealing the work of others and using it to prop up their own commercial endeavors. It is the perfect example of the unapologetic belief that what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is also mine, and if I can get some venture capitalist to cash me out for millions or billions of dollars based on the traffic a library comprised of someone else’s lifetime of work has generated to my site, so much the better.
There is not a single point she makes about the exact nature of infringement that she condemns, because there is none. She keeps harping about the "stealing" that never happened & sympathises with JSTOR & MIT neither of whom have pressed charges because they are both sensible & aware of the lack of any theft.
Here is JSTOR's statement regarding this incident. Note what they have to say:
We secured from Mr. Swartz the content that was taken, and received confirmation that the content was not and would not be used, copied, transferred, or distributed.
Of course, you must note how they carefully word their statement. Not at one place do they state why it is exactly unauthorised. As I have mentioned earlier, if the same activity spread of 15 years is not unauthorised, why would it be when done over few weeks? JSTORs terms of conditions now have mention about denying use of software programs to automatically download content. Not sure if it was there earlier as well. Perhaps it was there. Which means that Aaron did something which JSTOR stated as unacceptable. Fair enough. JSTOR should be punishing him, but they aren't. They clearly state that they don't want to!
The criminal investigation and today’s indictment of Mr. Swartz has been directed by the United States Attorney’s Office. It was the government’s decision whether to prosecute, not JSTOR’s. As noted previously, our interest was in securing the content. Once this was achieved, we had no interest in this becoming an ongoing legal matter.
My point is simply this: Only JSTOR and/or MIT have the right to punish or seek punishment for Aaron and not the United States of American stupidity. By complaining against Aaron & in the manner in which they have, the United States of American stupidity has clearly demonstrated that they will twist anyone's arm if they, their friends, the corporates or anyone so pleases and there is no one who can do anything about it. This is called victimisation.
In case you wonder how corporates are involved here, please read this. And this is not the only way in which they are involved in all of this.
If you are convinced by the arguments laid down here, please visit:
and show your support. Please spread word about this trial. Please educate friends & family about the nature of this trial & what its implication are on individual freedom. What happens today in the USA could happen elsewhere tomorrow. If you care about the best in the human race (and there is very little to be proud of), then please demand that Aaron be freed or receive commensurate punishment only if demanded by MIT and/or JSTOR.
If all that interests you is this case, you can stop reading here (assuming you did make it till here). What follows is my take on the United States of American stupidity as demonstrated in its judicial system. The primary reason I proceed is to show how flawed, partial & unfair it is, which should help you decide why the prescribed sentence for Aaron is disgusting & inhuman. This also provides the reader for data behind the 2nd question asked at the outset.
Please click on the image above for a sample of unfairness. The crimes range over all possible acts of felony! This, is real felony & still none of them get anything close to 35 years in prison! But Aaron who downloads research articles gets 35 years in prison!
Here is where I would like people to revisit the notion of incarceration (and whatever fancy name we give it). Many researchers have argued that incarceration is not the solution & is often the problem. Here is an article that could get you started. United States of American stupidity imprisons an obscene number of people for the littlest of offences. I urge the reader to study the reasons behind why incarceration is not the wisest means to rectifying misdemeanours. Why not invest in correctional facilities which actually work towards guiding anti-social people? Aaron is not anti-social. I think once we understand why & when incarceration helps, many notions of law & correctness will fall into place.

Now allow me to ramble a bit about the elements in the legal system that make me roll my eyes!

While many prisons are indeed shutting down, the judiciary's mentality has not changed much. All you need to search for is crazy sentences (of up to 624 years) that have been slapped on wrong-doers. That doesn't even make sense.

What doesn't make further sense is the idiocy of the ex-President Bush. No, he is not an exception because he was elected twice by the people (which would mean that the current population of USA is an exception to the norm of generations that have populated that country). When Bush granted Toussie pardon, it did get many people angry. He did rescind it, but the entire act raised eyebrows. How can pardon be granted to scheming white-collar crimes? They are plotted & well thought out and not acts of frenzy or misguidance! 

Ramble complete!

The reason why I think USA is far from a progressive democracy is based on two aspects:
  1. The treatment of its own people, segregated based on race, affluence & alignment to its paranoid policies.
  2. The treatment of people who are not American via war crimes & interference in local governance.

While I have provided some evidence to the 1st, evidence to the 2nd point are best provided as references that the avid reader can go through. Allow me to summarise a statistic, though. Stalin's Gulag & Hitler's camps caused the death of several million Ukrainians & Jews, US war crimes (and it is fine to go back in history as Stalin's acts were of the 1930s) are nearly of equal number (counting Hiroshima Nagasaki, Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea, Japanese war crimes, Gulf war, the Al Qaeda drama & the drone attacks amongst the many others) & mounting.

  6. The role the US had to play in Unit 731:
  7. Indirect damages:

How many of these crimes go punished? Virtually none! When a country is unable to be fair to its citizens as well as in its treatment of people of other countries, such a country needs to introspect & listen to the bitter yet vital advice of the wise people within & without. If the USA refuses this opportunity to tone down & introspect, it will be lost for good.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Why you need a guru. Why you don't

This post is entirely an exploration. This is not a disclaimer but necessary identification of what will follow.

Most of the world falls into 3 categories: those who shun a guru, those who revere a guru & those who feel they could use a guru once in a while. Those who shun a guru, typically do so in the space of psychological or inter-personal conflicts. The very same person might revere a Drucker or Nate Silvers or some such expert in a field. Those who revere a guru might do so only in the space of psychological or inter-personal conflicts & only acknowledge domain experts. Those in between treat gurus as people who might be able to give a quick fix or seek a guru as a temporary shelter to gather their thoughts. In this post I do not acknowledge a guru as anyone in these domains or spaces. They are masters of a practice (including psychological guidance) & to revere them or not has very little psychological impact. In the Indian tradition (where the word guru originated), a guru is one who holistically guides the pupil, empowering them to proceed on their own & instilling in them sufficient sense/humility to seek aid when necessary. India has tales of the likes of Eklavya whose guru was a sculpture of a guru who refused to accept him as his student. Rarely ever was the guru solely for a particular skill. Over millenia, the guru became a teacher of a particular skill. Thus, the guru's influence on the pupil's well-roundedness waned.

This post restricts attention to a guru who guides a person in spiritual development. Interestingly, you will note, that if you replaced spiritual development with any skill with an added necessity for a more holistic approach, encompassing the other facets of life, the post still holds much relevance. The need to focus on this narrow set of gurus lies in the broad impact they have on many a person.

Those who have no inclination towards spiritual growth, don't need a guru. Those who attempt to reconcile with Fate or their own equations of Destiny might find solace in the words of an individual, but that is not spiritual development. Those words could come from a maid, a spouse, a neighbour or just about anyone. To chant & sing songs or dance to a frenzy are not aspects of spiritual development. They are at best means to shedding some deterrants to spiritual development but if they don't serve as that, then they are essentially a narcotic. To follow regimens, gather together with similarly inclined folks, to donate money for any cause, to proliferate "teachings" of an individual or establish large 100 acres campuses of some institution - none of this is spiritual development. One might try hard to convince oneself that this will eventually lead one to that, but so can smoking marijuana or starving oneself in a cave. If spiritual development is not the ardent thirst or if it is but a fringe benefit of it all, then a guru is nothing more than your drug to escape from seriousness. It doesn't matter whether you associate with him/her a God/Goddess or sobriquets of Baba, Sri, Amma, Devi, Swami or Guru. If the guru is unaware of your presence (and please do not trick yourself into thinking that the guru knows all) & is not aiding you in spiritual development, then the guru is not your guru. If your argument is "All I seek from him/her is his/her blessings & my life is fine" or any similar consolation, then you are effectively treating your guru as some good-luck charm. If you belong to the fanatic group of followers who believes that their guru is the only guru, then clearly spiritual development is far removed from your agenda & there is nothing more to discuss. We can discuss awe-inspiring magician tricks elsewhere.

A guru has the following traits:

  • Does not indulge in sophistry & is solely focused on clarifying (by questioning or hinting or leading)
  • Is immensely involved in your spiritual journey
  • Clearly seeks to liberate you
  • Ensures that the means employed cater best to your nature
  • Does not trade spiritual development for things you currently possess or can procure (esp. of a monetary nature)

All other traits that the gullible human mind associates with a guru are irrelevant. These include:

  • Must be charitable in nature & have built hospitals & schools & regularly provides food for the needy.
  • Must be asexual or never indulge in sex or be disinterested in food & other "material" elements of life
  • Must always talk about love & human oneness & embrace everyone
  • Must have a large following especially a global one
  • Must have some regimen (singing, dancing, breathing techniques, yoga, etc.) associated with him/her
  • Must have some role to play in social improvement or politics
  • Must have some healing or magical powers

How can someone who has a high sexual libido ever guide me spiritually? The same way someone who has no sexual drive can! What is required for your spiritual development can spring from clear mountain springs or from mire. To treat the act of sex as vile makes our very birth an act of vulgarity including the birth of the guru who is now asexual & revered!

Ok, what about love? How can anyone develop spiritually without being told that to love all & serve all is the way? A "guru" who repeatedly tells you that a sunrise is ugly cannot make you not hold your breath everyday morning. On the other hand, any amount of my telling you to love all doesn't make you love someone who is being brutally critical of you. If the clarity of Love resides in you, you do not need to be told this repeatedly and by not being told, you do not burn down that seed of Love in you.

And what's wrong with charity? A guru can be charitable only if he possesses wealth. If he does then it will be exhausted some day unless he keeps replenishing it by extracting more from his followers (or indulges in business which is a "material" pursuit). None of the charities or establishments are in the name of the million followers of a guru. They are always in the name of the guru who contributed nothing in terms of charity. "Be charitable". Now that I have said that & you read that, would you agree to naming your every act of charity as the magnanimity of Eroteme? It gets uglier when we dig deeper into the mechanics of the so-called charity of these organised houses of gurudom. I shan't go there. To be charitable is irrelevant to spiritual development. It might come of its own accord.

What is spiritual development? What is the ambit of the spirit? What is the spirit? What remains once the chattering of an ignorant and/or mechanical mind have quietened down, in there lies the spirit. Why should I develop that? There is no need to develop it at all. One can keep sharpening the saw of their profession & remain content till their last breath. There is no mandate that everyone must feel a thirst for spirituality & must develop it. Some people feel it well within, some people don't & some people are curious about it as one is curious how that odd-looking dessert might taste. One spoonful, and they move on.

A spiritual thirst exists in one who is dissatisfied with the routine of life & wishes to understand more. They are not disappointed or discontent with life, just dissatisfied with the amount they know and the routine of life. This might seem like the space of philosophical enquiry. If it remains there, then that is what it is. But occasionally, the spirit within feels a deep connection to the Divine "without". There is a great dissatisfaction in not knowing the fabric of that connection. There is a constant urge to connect to the Divine & understand all of life, creation, existence, thought, mind, breath, time & timelessness. This thirst becomes prominent when the delights of common life do not distract. A marriage, a new-born child, a new car, a promotion, a death, a travel to exotic locales - none of this quietens the voice of the spirit within. Then, and only then is there a need for spiritual development. Then and only then can the question of whether we need a guru or not, arise.

Like every upheavel, there are phases. Initially there is angst & confusion, followed by a seeking, a searching. Then there might be adoption (of a teaching or guru) followed by practice & doubt. No matter what the phases are, they eventually end in a calm, a placid mind & soul which simply knows without discerning. Once there is union with the Divine, there is completeness & in there the boundaries of life, creation, existence, thought, mind, breath, time & timelessness (as a notion) cease to exist. The nature of the phases is of lesser importance than the necessary character of the nature of the final phase. The roads to there are many.

Does one need a guru in this cycle of phases? Perhaps. Is it impossible to swirl through these phases & arrive at the final stage without a guru? Certainly not. One doesn't need a guru to connect one's spirit with the divine. Nothing in the guru can replace for the spirit within. All that the guru can do is channelise & spare the individual the hardship of discovering everything by oneself. The guru can also help re-align an individual's misdirected curiousity if his/her time is not right for spiritual development. In that sense, the guru is aware of why, how, when & what exactly needs to be provided for this individual's spiritual development. That would be a guru of the highest order. Most other gurus can help the person discover him~/herself & thus navigate the phases. Whichever mode is employed the guru always lets go of the individual's hand when they are ready to move on to communion with the Divine. That final leg, is an individual journey. No one can proxy for the seeker. The guru is the boat that might help you cross the choppy waters of the ocean. While the average guru might be able to help you as much as is possible, only the guru of the highest order knows with certainty what will happen from the minute before you arrive at their doorstep.

By this measure, none of the popular gurus out there count. They are celebrity showmen/~women who are clever/creative in how they word things & in mesmerising large audiences. Do they help in anyone's spiritual development? No. Those who believe they are spiritually realised, will perhaps realise that their spiritual journey would have happened even without these celebrity gurus who give grand speeches & sing songs & do all the publicity stunts they must.

What is worse is when these celebrity-gurus essentially create a binding dependence thereby making the devotee (sic) feel inadequate without the guru. Tales abound & online fora are plenty where blinded followers reveal their fantatic side. To see them thus after sufficient association with a "guru" convinces me that these celebrity-gurus are clearly after something else.

In summary, you need a guru if:

  • Your spirit needs re-connecting with the Divine & you are lazy
  • Your spirit needs re-connecting with the Divine & you are ill-equipped to cross the initial hurdles
  • Your spirit needs re-connecting with the Divine & you are afraid
  • Your spirit needs re-connecting with the Divine & you are confused

You don't need a guru if:

  • Your spirit needs re-connecting with the Divine & it is strong enough to guide you through the phases (even skip some of them)
  • Your spirit doesn't needs re-connecting with the Divine & all that you seek is some kind words or salve or sedative/narcotic
  • All you have are questions that need answers. A go-to person is not a guru

Personally, I prefer an anonymous guru who is a realised soul & who can liberate me from my ignorance. Both of us would vanish into anonymity.

It is thus that I re-recognise the wisdom of Master Oogway. Such is his vastness & calm that even when he knows that the messenger is the indirect reason for the unleashing of terror, he doesn't prevent Shifu from sending him. A true guru is a trikaalagnani (one who is aware of all time and hence, doesn't fragment it into past, present & future). Master Oogway was that and more. Not only was he the finest in Kung-Fu, he was also at peace in leaving the Jade Palace behind in the hands of a Panda & bunch of people whose Destiny wouldn't defeat Tai Lung. To be aware of what Time has in store without a preference, is the mark of a realised soul. That is the mark of a guru. Po never sought his guidance, but was touched by it. Shifu sought his guidance with a mind full of doubt & was transformed. Different strokes for different folks.

Master Oogway

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A letter

This was the letter I wrote to the teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School. The 1st draft was stronger & held an inappropriate tone of didactic urgency.

Dear Ms. Hammond & Ms. Didonato,

Please accept the Love I send you from India. I read about the tragedy & felt that this might be the best way in which I can reach out to the grief and confusion that looms large in the wake of such incidents. I believe there is salve in holding each other close, wordlessly. This mail is to all the teachers & supporting staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School as well as to the parents, families & friends who wish to ensure that what emerges from this tragedy is a society with a brighter inner light.

I pray for the souls that departed leaving behind souls that suffer a trauma far worse than the sheer pain of death. The parents & friends, families & neighbours have a lot of pain to give form & meaning to & I pray that they find strength & Love while taking necessary time to rise above the vision & voices of this tragedy. Most of all, I hope they find requisite resolve to will this grief to become the fuel for Love. For that I pray & seek the aid of the Divine Soul.

I understand that you have testing days ahead. Not only must you deal with the grief within, you would also, as paladins of a learning society, be sought out to help those who wander confused through these dark nights of aftermath. Some might turn to religion, some to meditation, some to doubt & some to fear but if any of these merely offer suppression of what is, then I hope we realise & accept that all these are insufficient means to address the call of the hour. With all my heart I believe that what we need is clarity & conviction. We need to light the road ahead with a clarity that is timeless & not merely something that is seemingly appropriate for now or the next five years. This calls for wisdom & compassion far superior to popular gestures of forgiveness & charity. I am certain that when you reach deep within into your seat of light, you will find the spring of this wisdom. For that I pray & seek the aid of the Divine Soul.

I realise that the kith & kin of beautiful people who were felled by Adam's misguided choices, are in pain & in shock or are reacting in shock. I wish I was there to help them in the littlest way to heal their wounds by disallowing rage or confusion from finding residence in their hearts. If you feel that I could be of any help in reaching out to them, I would most eagerly do so (and let the timezone differences not be viewed as impediment). They didn't have a choice in the turn of events, but they have one now - either to let this act of confusion perpetrate more of that or bring in the clarity that Love alone should be the education of every child & adult. For that I pray & seek the aid of the Divine Soul.

There is & will be much anger & doubt around. While a common response would be to suppress it, I would think about allowing it to take the shape of a hoe that must turn the soil of confusion & bring about opportunities for seeking a complete transformation into goodness. Goodness, as we all know, needs no strut. In these times of confusion, I have also felt the need to seek out validation or support for rightness & goodness, only to realise that they need neither. Their value is not incidental or a matter of substitution in equations of human consolation. I believe that as the folks of Newtown come to terms with what happened, goodness & rightness will be repeatedly challenged. The bruised souls of Newtown need your gentle & loving guidance to be exposed to this absolute Truth. I imagine you will hear questions of immense proportions: "What did my child ever do wrong?" "How can we ever let this happen?" "What God!?" "How do we prevent this from happening?" "Can we ever be safe?". I pray for sufficient strength for all those who must face these questions. Answers to these will often take the form of agendas, laws, resignation to Fate or God or other choice beliefs that each person might hold. I hope we realise that none of them are answers if they merely try to cosmetically hide what will genuinely heal. Open discussion into the root of all that branches out as confusion of various kinds can heal significantly & also helps people give vent to their confusion. These discussions might seem pointless to wo~/men of action. Please help them realise that action founded on anything other than clarity, necessitates other kinds of (equally premature) action. To stem this relentless chain of acting & necessitating action, one must discuss with an open heart & a Love that is accommodating & nurturing. For that I pray & seek the aid of the Divine Soul.

I am certain that the teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School are gifted with the compassion & understanding to know exactly how to comfort the people of Newtown. Please forgive me if my words appear presumptuous. I merely share all that I feel & think while sitting thousands of miles away.

The children who have come out unharmed are never really so. They are fertile ground for reading this incident non-constructively. I suffer as I realise that they need the right impressions to form on their innocuous minds & hearts. I am sure you are aware of this far more than many others but grief lends a blur which one needs to be conscious of. These children will grow up to be parents & teachers & statesmen. It is now, that the adults of Newtown are deciding the future of the state of America & society in general. Anger & hatred takes firm root in children & morphs into beings one can hardly imagine. I hope that while assuaging the grief of the adults you & the people of Newtown compassionately help these children emerge fearless from this event & find enough calm & guidance to transform this grief into the fuel for Love. This, far more that anything else written in here, is vital & urgent. This, I believe, will ensure that no such incident will happen again anywhere on earth. This alone will help these children shun violence in every form. This alone will sow the seeds of compassion. This alone will rid this world of hatred. This alone will nurture goodness in the human heart. This alone, dear teachers & custodians of the most precious of all things human, will make every death a life well lived. For that I pray & seek the aid of the Divine Soul.

I worry about every question that will be placed before you, every tear shed, every nightmare that might plague a child's sleep, every doubt that we may house against our very own kind. I do not know how all of these will be healed. It is indeed a great responsibility on your shoulders & I shall offer a prayer every day so that you may find reservoirs of strength & courage to face them. I worry endlessly about how these children will grow & carry this incident with them. I hope that Life is kinder to them & to all those who have lost a significant portion of their life over the past few days. I hope Newtown returns to what it was. For that I pray & seek the aid of the Divine Soul.

May all the strength, wisdom, courage, compassion & Love that you need to help the citizens of Newtown transform to beauty, be readily yours.