Thursday, May 25, 2006

I am not pro reservation...

...but I am not anti reservation either.

I would like to start this post with some facts and figures:
Total population of India: 1,028,610,328
SC/ST Population: 250,961,940 (~25%)
OBC Population: No definitive number, assumed to be around 52%
Percentage of Upper Caste: ~22%

The Consitution of India bars reservation beyond 50%.

I have been pretty unconcerned (read cold) toward this reservation issue but there was a big debate at work yesterday and every one was throwing up numbers in the air. So I went back and tried gathering as much information on the net before I had anything further to say. My sources include the Census of India, newspapers and some reports I found on the matters, a few of which also talk about the Mandal Commission. I know its really sad to know that more than 75% of the population of India is considered backward but lets move on...

Part I - On Social Justice:

Firstly who constitues the Other Backward classes?

The Mandal commission proposed 3 categories to identify the OBCs depending on social, economic and educational backwardness. A detailed description is given in Identifying OBCs.

I am not very convinced about the different parameters used to evalute whether a particular group belongs to the OBC or not, but it definitely talks about sections of society that are deprived.

India still remains a nation of extremely poor people. The central estimate is pegged around 40% but I belive it is somewhere in the range of 55-60%. I know, it hurts to accept the fact that more than 60 years after independence, majority of the population is still living in such a pitiable situation. More so because of the callousness of people who are affluent and can bring in change. But this post is not intended towards the social indifference in the Indian society.

Hence most of the people who would get affected by the reservation are people who belong to the upper/middle caste. The middle cast constitutes about 7% of the Indian population. Of the upper class 10% have so much money that they do not really care about the reservation issue, they can always send their kids aboard for studies if they WANT to. So doing some simple arithmetic the fraction of the population that is getting affected in an adverse manner if at all is about 12%.

Another EXTREMELY important aspect of governance. Goverments are not run like corporates and thankfully so. They have to keep the benefit of the masses in mind !!

So of the goverment thats affects 50% of the population in a positive manner at least makes social sense. I know there are other ways of improving the situation, like good primary education, vocational education, micro-finance initiatives but all this would take time and effort and initiatives are already on their way in these directions too. But coming back to question of reservation, if this reservation helps someone get education and a job later, his entire family transforms. The turn around time is much less in this scenario.

Part II - On Education

Now lets talk about meritocracy, and let me tell you all this talk about meritocracy is pure balony and nothing else. The only places in India that where one can get good educations are the top tier colleges like the IITs, AIIMS, BITS, a couple of others and of course DU. But once you move away from the these colleges, the quality of education decreases exponentially. All education means in India is just getting a degree. I have hardly come across anyone who really learnt something during their college days and yeah I HAVE interacted with a lot of people. The second/third tier colleges are dime a dozen and many more would mushroom if there is a demand for them, so the students going there should not be really alarmed.

Now coming back to the premier institutes. They still have 50% seats thats are based on Merit. The very best will still get in, and if you really care about meritocracy thats all you want. People getting into these insitutes would be more focused and determined about their goals in life because the competition is so much tougher. People wont just land up in IIT because thats what everyone around them aspires to do. Then and only then would we have good Engineers/Doctors in the true sense of the word. And even if 20% of these students were really good, thats all it would take to change the country. Sadly thats not the case (maybe another post on that sometime...). So as far as retaining the best talent is concerened this "current" system of reservation does nothing to hinder the growth of true merit. People with true caliber would still go places in this scenario.

Now lets consider someone who belongs to the general category and was just on the border and would get rejected because of this act. He does have an option, an option to work harder and make it to the insitute. And is working hard bad? A developing country like India needs people who work really hard!!!

After my little research I feel various organizations like Youth for Equality are fighting a non-issue. They should have fought when the standards of IIT-JEE were smashed, they should have revolted when the number of IITs were being increased. India does not have enuf Profs to teach in the existing IITs where will they get profs for 11 more IITs. These are things that would have really taken down the name of IIT but we didn't hear even a whimper of protest. Did these people take up to the roads when they discovered the sorry state of affairs in primary education, or Narmada Dam issue for that matter. There are so many more important issues that need addressing, but alas their selfish motive is blind to them.

The reservation helps a major section of the society in a positive way and makes things a little harder for a smaller section. I really do not see how that is a cause for such uproar until all those protesting want is things made easier for them, easier for them to get into colleges to get jobs. India at this juncture can ill affoard these luxuries. And they talk about MERITOCRACY !!!! I am amused...

Part III - On Autonomy of Educational Insitutes

The only reason that concerns me about this reservation issue is the ease by which the Legislature can affect the course of education in this country. It is not reservation but the power of the Legislature to govern and change the functioning of colleges is what irks me. And this is not something that should be allowed in a Knowlege based society. US is what it is today because of private universities, that have complete autonomy in their governance. Sadly in India all these good colleges are goverment funded, and whereever thats the case the funding agency decides the course of research and teaching in the country. This flaws plagues not only India but a lot of European countries like Germany. They used to produce the BEST engineer till about the 40's but now they are reduced to second rate counterparts of the US univs. I hope people with capital (the big corporates, alumni of the premier institutes) realise this flaw in the educational system and take steps to change it before its too late. These should be private insitutes of the stature of MIT, Standford and Yale.

And after all the deliberations I think it makes sense to have some kind of reservation. What kind and what percentage I am not knowledgeable enough to comment.

At the end: I DO NOT approve of students getting beaten up during the demonstrations but at the same time I do not approve of students taking to streets for solving their problems. What then is the difference between people who attend Laloo's rally and the ones who attend the Maha Rally of the medicos/engineers. I believe it is just cheap mindless theatrics in a fit of josh.

There could have been more ways of solving the problems of poverty, of backwardness. This is one way and the numbers show that if implmented in a correct manner they would indeed affect the society positively. If not you better come up with an action plan before you curse the goverment for their deeds.

What is the current goverment's motive behind the reservation, and would they be able to implement it in a fair way? I don't know.

Jai Hind

Census of India
Positive Discrimination in India: A Political Analysis
Identifying OBCs

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Which element am I ?

Your Element is Metal

Your power colors: white, gold, and silver

Your energy: contracting

Your season: fall

You are persistent (and maybe even a little bit stubborn).
If you see something you want, you go for it.
You have a lot of strength, and it's difficult to get you down.
Very logical, you tend to analyze everything going on in your life.

Friday, May 19, 2006


A mail about this contest dropped into my inbox today. You are supposed to travel through India for 15 days and document you expereinces. I have always wanted to do this since I left college, and all my "close" and "trustworthy" friends (read: Supriyo and Madhur) kept ditching me on this. I had planned to hitch rides from truckwallas and buswallas and maybe hop onto the train for certain legs of the journey. Starting from Kanpur, I would go on to Amritsar or Peshawar depending on whether I had the required visas. Then it would be a visit to Rishikesh via Delhi. From there on I would have moved on to the heart of India, to MP, places like Bhopal, Indore that I have only childhood memories of. After exploring the forts of MP I would again hit NH 1 and head on eastwards towards Calcutta. Would laze off there for a few days, relishing the great Bengali cusine and then move on to Silliguri, and then further on to the North East for a week. But more that visiting these destination I was interested in talking to these people, putting up in one of those roadside dhabas, travelling in the truck with music blaring on the radio. As I write this I can almost visualize the sounds and the smells. I am looking forward to someone joining me, if you are game and jobless let me know :-)

I had planned another escapade with my roommate Rishabh, we had coaxed a fisherman to accompany us on the boat from Kanpur to Allahabad on the Ganges. The journey would have taken 4 days and 3 nights. Have u ever been on a river in the night? Its an amazing experience. Total darkness all around, and you are surrounded by water. The land is far enough for you to swim and reach and in the darnkness it becomes almost impossible to locate the shore. It has an eerie kind of enchantment. Anyways all arrangements were made and a day before we were supposed to leave Rishabh mother found out about it, and me acting like the nice guy as I always do, talked Rish out of the plan :-(

Some how I have this fascinstion for the Ganges, I lived for a couple of years in Calcutta when I was a kid, then I moved on to Patna, and then finally to Kanpur. I have stayed on the banks of the Ganga for almost half of my lifetime and for some reason I tend to keep moving closer to the source. Sometime in the future I would like to settle down in Rishikesh if there is anything like settling down for me ;-) Another things I liked about the All India Trip was the fact that I would intercept Ganges at so many places. The river meanering away in the distance dotted with small fishing boats. The sun setting on the horizon, painting the entire sky with a golden hue and reaching out into the river to quench its thirst. And once it has satiated itself darnkness breaking out. The dark sky daubed with orange puffs of clouds. The chants of the temples wafting on the river and countless diyaas starting their fleeing journey on the waves of the river...
Devī Sureśvarī Bhagavatī Gange,
Tribhuvanatārinī taralatarange,
Śankaramaulī vihārinī vīmale,
Mamamatirāstām tavapada kamale.

Disclaimer: The author is in no way affiliated to or the contest

Thursday, May 18, 2006

On Startups...

Read this talk by Paul Graham on startups: How American are Startups? He makes some really interesting points which I have always believed in:

"You need two kinds of people to create a start-up: rich people and nerds."

I have always felt that only a right blend of the two can actually get the engines revved up to go. Startups need money to hire smart people, and its takes really smart peole to turn the investment into a 100X profit. Only an organization driven by innovation/IP can offer these kinds of returns in short period of time. Normally in India there is a disconnect between the two. The "RICH" are mostly people that belong to the old world economies, like the Tatas and the Birlas, most of these are not people who have become rich a part of the new world economy. They are still in the brick and mortar timeframe and I think it makes a lot of sense for them to be so because of the manner in which these industries work. None the less they are changing, but these changes cannot be forces and can only advance organically. There is some money that is coming in though funds like West Bridge Capital, Blue River, Intel Fund for India but its nothing compared to the money floating around in the valley. And most of these funds tareget IT/ITES companies (except the Intel Fund) which is not a really innovative bussiness, at least not a lot of techical innovation takes place in this industry. Most of the good startups in India like TV.Veveo and Riya are funded in the Valley by American funds. Paul specifically metions this "Won't work in a poor company. India might one day produce a Silicon Valley, because it has the right people but it's still very poor. US has never been as poor as some countries are now, so we have no data to say how you get from poor to Silicon Valley. There may be a 'speed limit' to the evolution of an economy." I feel there is still a BIG gap between the nerds and the people with the moolah, the gap of two different economies.

One of his statements that really made me smile was "So basic recipe for a start-up hub is a great university and a nice town. You could improve on Silicon Valley easily. Just let people in." Sadly India still does not have either. Yeah not even the IITs are good enough places for innovation/enerpreneurism, they are just good "undergrad" teaching institutions. And the only one that has some flickr is situated in a God forsaken place called Kalyanpur :p

Drew this while I was getting bored in a telecon... Write in ur suggestions :D

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

More info on HIV

What is HIV?

HIV is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It attacks your body's ability to fight illness and weakens your immune system, eventually leading to AIDS, the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. Most people who acquire AIDS die from the disease or its complications.
HIV is spread through contact with 4 bodily fluids: blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk. There are 3 ways that HIV can be transmitted: blood-to-blood contact (such as sharing a needle with someone who is HIV-positive); unprotected sex (oral, anal or vaginal) with a person who is HIV-positive; and from mother to child (before or during birth or from breastfeeding).
HIV is not spread through casual contact like hugging, shaking hands, sitting next to someone, sharing meals, using telephones or by being bitten by an insect.

How does HIV work? - The 4 Stages:

HIV develops in 4 stages:
Stage 1: In the first stage, HIV infection is recent and usually occurs 2 - 8 weeks after the virus has been introduced to the body. During this time, a person may feel like they have the flu. The immune system is still able to fight back and symptoms may only last a few days up to 2 weeks.
Stage 2: In this stage, a person may look and feel perfectly healthy. Symptoms may not exist for another 8 - 10 years in some cases. However, the virus is still at work and damaging the immune system.
Stage 3: In Stage 3, a person begins experiencing symptoms that may include fever, night sweats, swollen lymph glands in the neck, underarm or groin area, upper respiratory infections, fatigue, diarrhea, rapid weight loss, decreased appetite, vaginal or oral yeast infections, white spots in the mouth or rashes. HIV can also cause damage to a person's nervous system, making them forget things easily and/or confused. These symptoms are persistent and may last anywhere from several weeks up to several years. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms for more than a week, you should see a healthcare provider. While these may be signs of other illnesses, it is very important to seek medical advice.
Stage 4: In the final stage, HIV has severely damaged the immune system, leaving a person's body vulnerable to infection and disease. AIDS has now fully developed. In some cases, this does not occur for more than 10 years after infection, especially with the help of treatment. It is also important that a person's AIDS status be diagnosed and confirmed by a medical professional.
With the body weakened by AIDS, other infections such as tuberculosis (TB), invasive cervical cancer, PCP (AIDS-related pneumonia), wasting syndrome, candida/thrush, CMV retinitis, Kaposi's sarcoma and toxoplasmosis can simultaneously occur.

About Treatment

An early HIV diagnosis and steady treatment can help a person live a full, active life. Currently, there is no cure for HIV infection or for AIDS. But new treatments are working to battle the virus and prolong the lives of those infected. You can talk to your healthcare provider to learn more and decide what's best for you.

Know the Risks, Prevent the Disease

HIV affects all walks of life - anyone can get it. Of course, some forms of behavior are riskier than others. That's why it is important to know the risks as well as the ways to prevent HIV. The safest ways to prevent HIV are abstinence (not having sex), not injecting drugs or sharing needles, and for pregnant women, inquiring about treatments during pregnancy.

  • Practicing safer sex through the use of latex condoms or polyurethane condoms will help reduce the spread of HIV. Use a new condom every time, and a water-based lubricant for vaginal and anal sex.
  • Using oil products such as petroleum jelly or body lotion with latex condoms can cause the condom to break.
  • Condoms should never be reused.
  • If you do inject drugs, do not share your equipment and only use needles and syringes that are new and have been sterilized.


HIV testing is widely available. Most test centers are able to process your results within a few weeks and provide counseling to handle your concerns and answer questions.


National AIDS Control Organisation
Ministry of Health & Family Welfare
Government of India
9th Floor, Chandralok Building
36, Janpath
New Delhi 110001
Tel: 23325343, 23731774, 23731778
Fax: 23731746

It was so frustating to find one contact number for an AIDS Helpline by googling. Sad state of affairs :-( Info cut and pasted from here

Saturday, May 13, 2006

AID/HIV in India

One of my favourite magzines COLORS is running an article on the situation of AIDS/HIV around the world. I remember watching a documentry on AIDS way back in 1994 when it had started taking on monsterous proportions, and its a shame that the public awareness about the virus still lags by so many years. Currently about 0.9% of the adult Indian population is infected, with the estimated numbers close to 5.21 million. About 0.88% of the expectant mothers carry the infection and most of them are unaware of their condition. These numbers are mostly speculative as most of the cases go unreported, because of the social stigma attached with the HI virus and also because of the lack of skilled doctors. Its is only recently that the Medical Council has started training doctors to detect and handle patients. The following chart shows the increase in infection over the last couple of years.

The spread of this epidemic is second only to some African nations and even a 0.1% increase would result in millions of people getting affected. Today India stands at a critical point where if adequate measures are not taken would result in an uncontrolable outbreak of this disease. There are several organization like the Gates Foundation, NACO, GAP that are doing commendable work in these areas though they are looking mostly at the grassroot levels. Most the of the people who are infected with AIDS are truck drivers, sex workers( ~9%) and about 11% drug users. But it has started spreading into the common population. In the earlier days of AIDS everyone in the US thought that the virus was something restricted to the gay communities until they found themselves in their midst. It is not long before the it becomes a pandamic especially because the so called "normal" citizens of this country choose to be unaware of it. And these are the reasons I believe it would happen:

1. The sorry state of affairs of the Indian medical system. Walk into one of the goverment hospitals, like AIMS, Safdarjung or one in your local neighbourhood and you'll see the filth and the total lack of consideration for patients. The situations in private hospitals is even worse where there is no accountability. This is the country where the patient consider the doctors second only to God, and sadly most of the new doctors abuse this trust. Almost 30% of the disposable needles are reused. And there are very few legislations or government agencies in place to prevent such a gross abuse of the Hippocratic oath. There should be effective mechanisms in place that monitors the quality of medical facilities and the doctors.

2. India stands are a crossroad where its is being bombared with ideas from all over the world. Young kids are coming out of their shells and experimenting with their bodies. Its one thing to raise a hue and cry about the Indian culture going down the drain and quite another to acutally do something that makes a difference. These growing up children should be educated about themselves, about sex because its very natural that they would experience attraction towards the opposite sex. The least that can be done is make them more aware of the pitfalls, the hygiene. Make them more aware about STDs, AIDS, contraceptives... And all the grown ups like to do is turn a blind eye to this problem, like it does not exist.

And only once people start accepting that a menace like AIDS exists amongst them can they accept people who suffer with this dreaded disease and accept them as a part of the society.

The first step towards solving any problem is acknowledging that the problem exists.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

बच्चों कि लिए- इकबाल

Dedicated to my my niece Avni :)

लब पे आती है दुआ बन के तमन्ना मेरी
ज़िन्दगी शम्मअ़ की सूरत हो खुदाया मेरी

दूर दुनिया का मेरे दम से अंधेरा हो जाये
हर जगह मेरे चमकने से उजाला हो जाए

हो मेरे दम से युंही मेरे वतन की ज़ीनत
जिस तरह फूल से होती है चमन की ज़ीनत

ज़िन्दगी हो मेरी परवाने की सूरत यारब
इल्म की शम्मअ़ से हो मुझको मोहब्बत

हो मेरा काम ग़रीबों की हिमायत करना
दर्द-मन्दों से, ज़ईफों से मोहब्बत करना

मेरे अल्लाह! बुराई से बचाना मुझको
नेक जो राहा है उस पर चलाना मुझको