Justic Katju’s letter

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Recently, in an enlightening speech, Justice Markandey Katju mentioned that, ‘90% of the Indians are idiots’ as an honest feedback. However, as usual, some people mistook his words of wisdom and sent legal notice to him. In Justice Markandey Kajtu was a Muslim, people would have labeled him anti-national. I say this, because, once in a seminar, I spoke about the status of science in India and criticized the current standard of science in India… after the seminar… a lady walked up to me and started labeling me as antinational. Anyhow, some idiots can’t take feedback. Below is the letter written by Justice Kajtu to the people that have sent him legal notice.

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Dear Tanaya and Aditya,

I have received your email, and am giving my reply, but before doing so in detail I wish to make some preliminary remarks:

  1. I have been misquoted in the press reports, but it is true that I have said that 90% Indians (not all) are fools. My intention in saying so was not to hurt anyone but to awaken people to the realities, that is, the widespread casteism, communalism, superstitions, and other backward traits in the mindset of a large section of our people which is blocking our progress and keeping us poor.
  2. The figure 90% is not a mathematical figure, it simply means that in my opinion a large proportion of Indians (and again I repeat, not all) are fools.
  3. I never named you, nor any community, caste, or sect, and I never said that you are in the category of 90%. Hence I do not see how you are defamed.
  4. I made this comment not to humiliate or harm anyone but because I love the Indian people, they are my people, and I wish them to prosper and have decent lives, which is only possible if the Indian masses develop the scientific outlook and scientific temper and give up casteism, communalism, superstitions and other mental attitudes which a large part (not all) of them presently suffer from. I wish to see India in the front ranks of the advanced industrialized nations of the world, with our people having a high standard of living, instead of suffering from the present evils of massive poverty, unemployment, price rise, corruption, farmer’s suicides, child malnutrition, absence of health care and good education, casteism etc. So you see I made that statement not to harm the Indian people, whom I love, but to benefit them. The truth is sometimes bitter, but sometimes bitter medicine has to be given to an ailing person.

Having said this, I may proceed to give a more elaborate explanation.
I wish to first of all clarify that I do not regard Indians as inherently stupid or foolish. It is only at present that large parts of our people are foolish. But there was a time when we were leading the whole world in science and technology, and India was perhaps the most prosperous country in the world. It is now that we are having bad times, but we had a glorious past and shall have a glorious future too, but for that we have to get rid of casteism, communalism, superstitions and other backward traits in the mentality of a large part of our people (because of which I call them fools).
India’s Past

With the aid of science we had built mighty civilizations thousands of years ago when most people in Europe( except in Greece and Rome) were living in forests. We had made outstanding scientific discoveries e.g. decimal system in mathematics, plastic surgery in medicine, etc (see in this connection my article ‘Sanskrit as a Language of Science on my blog justickatju.blogspot.in and on the website kgfindia.com). However, we subsequently took to the unscientific path of superstitions and empty rituals, which has led us to disaster. The way out of the present morass is to go back again to the path shown by our scientific ancestors, the path of Aryabhatta and Brahmagupta, Sushrut and Charak, Panini and Patanjali, Ramanujan and Raman.
It is not necessary to mention here all the great achievements of our ancestors, but I may just mention a few.

  1. The decimal system in mathematics was the most remarkable and revolutionary invention in the past, and it was created by Indians. To understand its significance, one must know that the ancient Romans, who built a great civilization (The civilization of Caesar and Augustus), felt very uncomfortable with numbers above 1000. This was because they expressed their numbers in alphabets, I standing for 1, V for 5, X for 10, L for 50, C for 100, D for 500, and M for 1000. There was no single alphabet expressing a number above 1000. Hence to write 2000 an ancient Roman had to write MM, to write 3000 he had to write MMM, and to write 1 million he had to write M one thousand times, which would drive him crazy. 
    On the other hand, our ancestors discovered the number 0, and hence to write 1 million they had simply to put 6 zeros after 1.
  2. Plastic surgery was invented by Sushrut 2000 years ago, whereas Europeans invented it only about 100 or 200 years back.
  3. The English alphabets are all arranged haphazardly, there is no reason why D is followed by E, or E by F, or F by G, etc. On the other hand Panini in the first 14 sutras of his Ashtadhyayi arranged the alphabets in Sanskrit scientifically. Thus , the first sequence of 5 consonants (the  ka varga i.e. ka, kha, ga, gha, na ) are all sounds which emanate from the throat, the second sequence from the middle of the tongue, the third from the roof of the mouth, the fourth from the tip of the tongue, and the fifth from the lips. The second and fourth consonants in each sequence are aspirants in which the sound ‘ha’ is combined with the previous consonant e.g. ka+ha =kha.
  4. 5000 years ago in the Indus Valley Civilization the system of town planning was created with straight streets, covered drains, water and sewage system, etc.

Before the coming of the British India was a prosperous country. Its share in world trade in 1700 was about 30%, which fell to 2% by the end of British rule and is still not more than 3%.

India’s Present
Today there is no doubt that India is a poor country. While there are some pockets of affluence, about 80% of our people are afflicted with poverty, unemployment and other evils, and one major cause of this is the mental backwardness of a large part of our people.
(though there are also brilliant people like the Indian scientists and engineers in Silicon Valley)  Consider the following:

  1. When most of our people go to vote they cast their votes on the basis of caste or religion, not the merit of the candidate. What else is the meaning of vote banks? And this is exploited by some unscrupulous politicians who know how to manipulate and manage these vote banks. That is why many persons with criminal backgrounds get elected.
  2. ‘Honour’ killings are common in many parts of the country. This is a barbaric practice, and shows how backward many of us still are.
  3. Dowry deaths are common in India, and as a former Judge I can tell you that our courts have a large number of cases of young married women who are murdered in a barbaric manner by their in laws for not getting dowry e.g. by pouring petrol on them and setting them on fire.
  4. Scheduled castes are still often treated inhumanly, and an example is the recent attack on dalits in Dharmapuri district in Tamil Nadu.
  5. Female foeticide is common in many parts of India. Often when a male child is born the relatives are happy and distribute sweets, but when a female child is born often relatives get dejected. This is also a sign of backwardness among many of us.
  6. Communalism, which was almost non-existent in 1857, is widespread in our society today. Muslims often face discrimination in getting jobs, houses on rent, etc, as the Justice Sachar Committee report has highlighted.  Muslims are often falsely implicated in bomb blasts and they have to spend years in jail though ultimately found innocent.As I mentioned, upto 1857 communalism was almost non-existent in India. There were no doubt differences between Hindu and Muslims, but there was no enmity between them. In the Mutiny of 1857 Hindus and Muslims jointly fought against the British. After crushing the Mutiny the British decided that the only way to control India was divide and rule.Consequently, the policy came from London to create hatred between Hindus and Muslims. The British Collector used to secretly call the Panditji and gave him money to speak against the Muslims, and similarly he gave money to the Maulvi Saheb to speak against Hindus. All communal riots began after 1857. The communal award in the Minto-Morley ‘Reforms’ of 1909 introduced separate electorates for Hindus and Muslims. Year after year, decade after decade, the communal poison was injected by the British into our body politic, and even after 1947 there are elements which continue this (see online ‘History in the Service of Imperialism’ and my article ‘What is India’ on my blog justicekatju.blogspot.in)Certain agent provocateurs take advantage of our backwardness to incite communal riots, and unfortunately many people fall prey to these evil designs and get emotionally carried away by communal propaganda and fight with each other.
  7. Superstition is rampant in India. Most people believe in astrology, which is pure superstition and humbug. And it is not just the illiterates who believe in it, it is also most of the so called educated people in India. Many Ministers and Judges prefer to take oath of office at the ‘auspicious’ time.A few years back it was announced that Lord Ganesh is drinking milk, and there was a rush of people to offer milk to Ganesh. Earlier, a ‘miracle’ chapati was circulating.
  8. A large section of the media, taking advantage of the backwardness of a large section of our people, dishes out lives of filmstars, cricket, etc as if these are the real issues before the people, when the real issues are socio-economic.

As I said above, when I called most people(not all)  fools I did not wish to harm them, rather it was just the contrary. I want India to become a prosperous country, but this is possible only when the mindset of a large number of people changes, and their minds are rid of casteism, communalism, superstitions, and other backward ideas and they become scientific and modern.
By being modern I do not mean wearing a nice suit or a beautiful sari or skirt. By being modern I mean developing a modern mind, which means a rational mind, a scientific mind, and a questioning mind. As already stated above, at one time we led the whole world in science and technology, but today we are undoubtedly far behind the West and even China. How did this happen? Why were we left behind, why did we not have an Industrial Revolution like Europe? This is known as ‘Needham’s Question’ or ‘Needham’s Grand Question’, named after Prof. Joseph Needham of Cambridge University (1900-1995). It is high time Indians try to answer this question, instead of trying to evade the reality of the backwardness of most of us.

The worst thing in life is poverty, and 80% of our people are poor, which is largely because of the mental backwardness of most (not all) of us. To abolish poverty we need to spread the scientific outlook to every nook and corner of our country. It is only then that India will shine. And until that happens the vast majority of our people will continue to be taken for a ride.

Justice Markandey Katju
10.12.2012

Life–Road Map

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It’s been a while since I posted about my personal life. Honestly, there hasn’t been any progress in my life, so didn’t feel the necessity of posting. And I didn’t want to embarrass myself repeating same stuff again and again (although when I read my old posts, I find them poetic and intimidating). Even as I write this, there hasn’t been much change in my life. Still, my priorities are the same. But the failure to produce anything productive in last few years have taught me lot of things. The first and foremost being, the value of being able to convert the raw ideas into actionable items. Frankly I never had difficulties in producing new ideas, however, the fact that, I haven’t had much success in life testifies that I haven’t been able to convert my ideas into actionable items.

As one grows old, the need for stabilizing the life increases. You either have get adjusted with the direction in which your life is heading or you have to push the life towards the direction of your choice. I am working at Microsoft, earning reasonably good income and have a supporting family… there isn’t much to complain. Yet, I am finding it difficult to adjust with this life. This means, if I have to be happy, the other option is, I need to push my life towards the direction of my choice. In order to do so, I first need to identify the ‘direction’ of my choice. Otherwise, I will be trying out various things but that ‘happiness’ would still be elusive.

I did a mind-map of what exactly I want to accomplish during this life… the list of objectives when accomplished, I would feel satisfied with life. After lot of introspection, this is what I have got.

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Essentially, there are four top priority goals. And each of these goals have a criteria for being successful. I don’t want to go in details about each of these things… but what this essentially means is that, I need to immediately reduce investing time in activities which aren’t my priorities.

The next step was to draft action items for each of these goals. Here’s what I have come up with so far.

Practice Islam: Action Items

  • Offer Salah punctually
  • Give away significant portion of earning in charity
  • · Stay away from Riba and Zina
  • · Read and Understand Tafsir of Holy Quran
  • · Read all six important books of Hadith
  • · Practice the values of mentioned in Holy Quran and books of Hadith.

Be a Good Son, Brother, Husband, etc.: Action Items

  • · Practice Islam and guide the family members towards the right path
  • · Love and respect the family members even if they don’t listen to me
  • · Support and fulfil the (halal) wishes of family members
  • · Be selfless and reduce ego

Make Discoveries: Action Items

  • · Be persistent in learning new stuff
  • · Convert ideas into research papers and publish in top journals (Nature, Phys. Rev. Letters)

To showcase intellectual leadership: Action Items

  • · Complete Masters and PhD.
  • · Connect with people and understand the issues faced at a civilization level
  • · Inspire and guide people through ideas and values

Will keep you posted about my progress. By the way, I do recommend you to try the above exercise if you are not happy with life.

State of Education and Teaching in Indian Universities

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An excellent article written by Krishna Kumar, Professor of Education at Delhi University and a former Director of NCERT, published in THE HINDU news paper.

———— Universities, ours and theirs ————–

As long as we discourage young talent, encourage an obsolete examination system and remain indifferent to research, we will continue to lag behind the West

There are four critical differences between universities of the western world and ours. The first is that they do all they can, when they recruit young faculty, to make way for excellence. We do everything to block its entry. We start discouraging talent early, but a few bright youngsters manage to come up despite our best efforts. They are the ones who face the greatest resistance from our institutions at the time of selection for vacancies. The norms and standards that western institutions apply for selecting young faculty focus on individualised assessment of potential. Senior people and administrators who make decisions make sure that the aspirants are assessed on the basis of what they have published, the quality of research they have done, and how passionate they seem about the pursuit of knowledge and teaching.

Mechanical criteria

In our case, the initial criteria applied are purely mechanical. Any hint of trans-disciplinary interest means that the candidate loses the chance to be interviewed. And those who somehow escape this fate are ultimately sized up at the time of interview in terms of the lobbies they might belong to. Someone rare enough to be independent of personal as well as intellectual lobbies is the first to be eliminated. In the semi-final act of short listing, those lacking support from the dominant lobbies get weeded out. Then, in the ultimate moment, hard bargaining takes place and the institution’s future gets sealed. If there is someone with an unusual background or achievement, you can depend on the selection committee to find a technical ground to reject him or her. The only way he or she might get appointed is if a determined Vice-Chancellor forces the person in. Democratic procedures and correctness have become incompatible with respect for quality. Our universities feel comfortable with the labyrinth of eligibility norms that the University Grants Commission has nurtured with relentless energy to issue circulars over the decades. Selection committees debate over the finest of technicalities to justify the selection of the average, allowing anyone with sheen to get stuck and lost in the maze of criteria.

The second major difference between our universities and the western ones relates to the concept of teaching. We calculate teaching in terms of periods taken. The Radhakrishnan Commission had bemoaned the fact that our colleges work like higher secondary schools. More than six decades after the commission gave its report, life in our undergraduate colleges is just the same. The UGC demands 18 periods of teaching per week from an assistant professor. “Isn’t that reasonable?,” one might ask. Of course, it is, if you ignore what the word “teaching” means. The practice of calculating teachers’ daily work by counting the number of periods they stand beside the blackboard exposes the hollowness of our system and the concept of education. It also shows how little we have progressed since colonial days when accountability was tied to crude measures. How far Britain has moved away from the procedures it introduced in India long ago became apparent to me a year ago when I was invited to serve on a course evaluation committee in a British institute. After examining the course content, the recommended readings and the description of each lecture session taken through the year, the committee met groups of students from the previous three years. We also read the detailed feedback each student is required to give at the end of each course.

Our discussion with students and — separately — with their teachers was frank and detailed. We learnt how students assessed their teachers in terms of preparedness for each class, personal interest in the subject, the pedagogic strategies used to arouse interest, and not just regularity — which was, in fact, taken for granted. In India, we worry about attendance records to keep the student under pressure to attend classes that may be altogether devoid of intellectual stimulation. Despite attendance norms being stringent, there are classes without much attendance. There are also numerous cases of attendance without classes. An obsolete system of examination helps teachers who miss classes and make no effort to relate to students. There are many who take the number of periods required, but their classes have no soul or spark.

Concept of knowledge

The third critical difference between life in an Indian university and a university in the West arises out of the concept of knowledge embedded in the system. The crude measures our regulatory bodies such as the UGC apply in the name of accountability mask the epistemic sterility of the curriculum, the pedagogic process and examination. In the West, curriculum and pedagogy both follow the teacher’s own research interests. Even smaller universities with limited resources attempt to cultivate a research environment. Topics of research reflect the university’s concern for the social and natural world surrounding it. Research is seen as an inquiry to solve problems as well as to induct the young into a community of inquires. Keeping a record of hours spent on direct teaching becomes irrelevant in such a system, even in the case of undergraduate students. To keep their research interests alive and popular, senior professors engage with young undergraduates who bring fresh questions and perspectives to ongoing inquiries. In India, you stop teaching undergraduate classes as soon as you attain professorial status. Teaching and research are seen as two separate activities. While teaching is perceived as institutional work, research is viewed as a personal agenda for moving forward in one’s career. Not surprisingly, infrastructure and administrative procedures that might facilitate research do not exist. Obstacles do, and the teacher who makes the mistake of initiating a research project has to struggle all the way to its completion and the ritual of report submission to the funding agency. No one among colleagues or in the administration cares to know the findings, let alone their implications. Teaching goes on following the grooves of preset syllabi, like the needle boring into an old gramophone record.

The fourth critical difference lies in the library. In the West, even in the most ordinary universities, the library forms the centre of life, both for teachers and students. Librarians enjoy a high status as their contribution to academic life cuts across academic disciplines. They work closely with teachers and students in the various tasks involved in procurement of books and journals, keeping the library quiet and friendly, and ensuring speedy access. Our case is the opposite. The library exists on the margins of the classroom. In many universities, undergraduate students are not allowed to use the university library. Subscription to journals and magazines has dwindled over the years, and maintenance of past volumes is now seen as an obsolete practice because e-storage is available. We forget that the library is not merely a service; it is also a physical space whose ethos induces the young to learn the meaning of belonging to a community of scholars. Our reading rooms carry an unkempt, hapless look, with clanking ceiling fans and dog-eared books waiting to be removed. Book acquisition has been saturated with petty corruption and a crowd of spurious publishers has thrived on the outskirts of the academia.

Symptomatic

These four critical differences are, of course, symptomatic of deeper problems entrenched in structures that govern higher education in India. Those who perceive all problems in financial terms miss the barren landscape of our campuses. Inadequacy of funds is, of course, worrisome, but it cannot explain the extent to which malice, jealousy and cussedness define the fabric of academic life in our country. There is a vast chasm that separates the Indian academia from society. Let alone the masses, even the urban middle class cares little for what goes on inside classrooms and laboratories.

The citizenry does not see higher education as an intellectual resource. Nor do political leaders. The only commonly understood purpose that the system of higher education serves is to alleviate — and keep under tolerable levels of discomfort — what the British economist, Ronald Dore, has called the ‘Diploma Disease’ in his 1976 classic on education in developing economies. Dore has explained why a country like ours will continue to lag behind the West in knowledge and technique so long as we keep using mark-sheets and certificates to screen the young for further education and employment. His insight that the valid goal of widening the pool of talent is defeated by bureaucratisation of selection continues to be pertinent across the colonised world.

Microscopic captures–Part2

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Here’s a little experiment I did. I took a tiny drop of water, approximately around 1mm in diameter. When I put it under microscope, it quickly evaporated. I recorded the whole process of evaporation. Here’s the YouTube link.

Evaporation of water–Microscopic View

As you can see, first the thickness of the water drop reduces… and then it breaks apart (at 1:00). At notice, a micro-organism floating in the water.

Here’s some other microscopic shots I have got.

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Fig: Feather of a mosquito

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Fig: Sticky fluid

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Fig: Head of the ant

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Fig: Tip of mosquito leg

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Fig: Leg of Mosquito

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Fig: Red thread made up of cotton straws dipped in water.

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Fig: Red Cotton straw

More pictures to follow soon.

Microscopic captures – Part1

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An year back I added a microscope to my collection of gadgets, however, didn’t get much time and interest to play around with it. Finally, I got some time to experiment and I must admit, I am falling in love with microscopic world. Here are some microscopic shots, will be sharing more in future posts.

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Fig: Mosquito head: The dots are the eyes of mosquito.

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Fig: Feature of the mosquito.

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Fig: 40x Close-up of Cotton

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Fig: Plant Cells

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Fig: Plant cells. The odd cell in the middle could either be a parasite or a starch cell.

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Fig: Skin cells: I distinctly remember drawing this diagram back in school.

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Fig: Stem Cells of a plant

Technical Conferences in India – The rise of Educational Mafia

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Arranging technical conferences in govt. and private engineering colleges has become a revenue generating business in India. I was going through different conferences that are being held in India in the fields of computer science and was totally shocked at the registration fee for each of these conferences. Registration fee in the range of $200 – $500 is ridiculous for the economy like India.

Now, let’s try to understand the facts. I run a discussion community called “Technical Research papers” on Orkut and it has over 1500 members. Most of these members are students, who aren’t aware much about research and how technical papers needs to be written. After moderating the community for more than a year, one thing that was clearly evident that, majority of the students in India don’t care about research. All they want is a tag of publishing a research paper to enhance their chances for securing an admission in a university (mostly foreign universities in US/Australia/Europe). These students pick the research papers from internet and publish it claiming that it’s their own. Apparently, they don’t even realize that its plagiarism. This is where the educational mafia assists such students.

The conference organizers are well aware that majority of the Indian students are doing plagiarism and they also know that, these students desperately need a publication to their credit to get an admission in a university. This is where the ‘give-and-take’ relationship begins. Or rather, I should say, educational mafia takes over. International and National Conferences are organized by govt. and private educational institutes that accept plagiarized papers. The trick here is that, these conferences generally have inflated registration free, something of the range $200-$500. Considering Indian economy, this price is too high, however, the organizers of the conferences are well aware that, they will receive papers from students who want to publish papers at any cost.

Now, I don’t mean to say, all the conferences organized in India are of this type and all the Indian students do plagiarism. However, majority of the conference are of that type and majority of the students do plagiarism. When you question these organizers, they act like mafia. Typically, when asked for scholarship/registration fee waiver, they would simply reject the paper. In fact, there is no concept of scholarship/fee waiver in majority of the conferences. The worst thing about all this fraud is, it is being done by highly educated professors. When you meet them in person and question them, they would say “they are promoting research among students and they are being lenient so that student attends conferences and learns about research’. That’s a very lame excuse. If they want to promote research among students, they should arrange workshops for students so that they learn the art of research and publishing papers. Accepting plagiarized papers should be strictly avoided.

In India, AICTE provides funding for educational institutions to arrange conferences. Even if a particular institution fails to acquire funding from AICTE, the institution should fund the conference. However, majority of the govt. and private colleges don’t take this route. Instead, they arrange the conferences purely from the money they obtain from the registration fees from the participants. And to make things worse, they try to derive profit out of it.

I wonder, for how long this education mafia and plagiarism would continue in India. And I fear, this will deeply affect the reputation of Indian researchers…