Category Archives: Society

India’s crazy. Japan’s crazier. My views on the society around me

The language of Indian Education

There was a lovely article in The Diplomat a while ago which talked about one major perceived failing of the Indian education system namely, the medium of instruction. In India, unlike in most other countries around the world, children are educated primarily in English. The article brings some very valid points to the table. English is a foreign language for most Indians, it states. Learning a foreign language and then trying to learn concepts in that new language would be tantamount to Americans learning Mandarin and using it as a medium of instruction right from elementary school.

A primary school in India
Children learning to write, courtesy Live Mint

The article makes many other points; however, the importance of this one point cannot be overstated. And as such, it is important to state all the benefits and reasons for using English in light of this one important point.

Reasons for keeping English

There are two reasons for keeping English as the medium of education in India’s universities and schools. The first, and possibly the most important reason is that English is the world’s language. International journals publish in English, textbooks are written in English, most scientific terms are English words and if you speak English, you’ll be able to communicate with academics all around the globe. A good, working knowledge of English ensures that the only errors you’ll face are experimental and theoretical, not communication-related.

The second, and the more political one, is that the founding fathers, in an attempt to appease every group in India, decided to not take a stand on our national language. Given the time and situation, it was understandable. Even today, if a politician attempts to sidestep this provision of the constitution, he’d be voted out of office quicker than you can recite the alphabet.

The first reason is quite easily dismissed. A vast majority of Indians have no visa on their passports (if they possess passports in the first place) and are unlikely to go abroad or exchange ideas with foreigners. The second reason, on the other hand, merits a pause and more than just a cursory brush-off.

The cultural and linguistic legacy of British India

British India was a complicated place. There was British India proper, and then there were hundreds of different states all over the sub-continent. Sardar Patel was instrumental in getting these states together to form modern India. However, the legacy of these small and fractured kingdoms as well as India’s rich and storied history is the number of languages left behind for us to manage. The 2011 census lists 1,635 rationalised mother tongues.

A map showing the major languages spoken in India state-wise
A map showing the major languages spoken in India state-wise – sourced from

Of course, that’s all the languages they could find, and just to be on the safe side, let’s assume that there are some duplicates on that list. Taking all that into account, though, the census still tells us that the number of languages spoken by more than a million speakers each in India is 30.

Take a second to absorb that fact. There are 30 languages in India which are spoken by over a million people each. And that’s just half the story. They’re not just spoken by a million people each, each of these languages has more than a million people claiming them to be their mother tongue. This poses an interesting conundrum. One argument goes that Hindi remains by far the most dominating language across the sub-continent, and hence should logically be considered the language of choice across India. Bollywood, arguably the country’s most popular film-making industry is predominantly Hindi-based. The language used by most TV shows (ones which have pan-India viewership, at least) is Hindi. It’s also the one language mandatorily taught across the country. Hindi is a language spoken and understood by most urban residents of modern India across its provinces (except for the deep south and parts of the north-east).

However, India remains predominantly rural. The hinterlands of Andhra Pradesh, for example, do not contain people who would understand Hindi. The argument for using a State’s national language as the medium of instruction is a citizen’s familiarity with it. If a language is used with one’s family members, friends as well as teachers, then it removes one great barrier to learning. Unfortunately, many proponents of the status quo claim that Hindi does not fulfill the criteria required to be such a language. Not enough people use it for casual communication, it is claimed.

A third alternative, one which seems, at first glance, to properly address this issue, is to use a province’s mother tongue as the medium of instruction in its schools. It gets people educated in their mother tongues while retaining the diversity India boasts as a result of its rich history and culture. However, if we look at it with a jaundiced eye, we find a big, fatal flaw in this solution. If you use thirty different languages to teach the basics of science, literature, philosophy and society, then one criterion people would have to pay attention to while searching for an institute of higher learning would be its medium of instruction. Engineering students from the Hindi speaking belt, for instance, would not be able to study in IIT Madras or IIT Bombay, while students of the arts from Andhra Pradesh would not be able to fit in well in Delhi University. This policy would end up isolating regions linguistically which would lead to factionalism and quite possibly, calls to secede from India. Another problem would be that the best talent across the country would not be able to learn from the best teachers simply by the accident of being born in another linguistic zone.

A choice between many evils

In summary, the choices before a politician brave and foolhardy enough to moot changing India’s linguistic practices are all bad. India happens to be in a unique position in history, and as such, it is important for us to consider carefully the steps we take from here. Education is the key to a rich, vibrant society and whatever decision is taken will need to take care of the demographic bulge just across the proverbial corner.

  • Keeping the status quo hasn’t exactly paid us any dividends. There are parts of the country where education levels are sub-Saharan, and in some places, even worse.
  • Switching the medium of instruction to Hindi is both political suicide, and it also reeks of favouritism and linguistic chauvinism. Not only is Hindi not better than any of the other 30 languages we can use, but it’s not the mother tongue of a majority of the population either.
  • Switching to a regional language will lead to factionalism and other problems, like the best minds facing communication barriers.

We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. And quite frankly, there’s no wiggle room. Any choice we make is bad, and it’s really time to see which one of these has the fewest cons.

The colours of the rainbow

I wrote this as an experiment. This piece does not reflect my true views on the LGBT community. As I am not a member of said community, it would be difficult for me to understand their views properly. Hence, I am neutral in the issue. If I were called to vote on the issue of gay marriage, for instance, I would not vote, no matter what the stakes.

“Should he have resigned?” he asked me.

“I don’t know, mate,” I said, working on my laptop.

“Come, on,” he urged me. “Think about it. Give me an opinion! I want to know your stand on it.”

I rolled my eyes. He could be such a drama queen at times.

“Forget the fact that I’m gay, mate,” he said. “And you know that I won’t hold anything against you.”

I sighed. “Fine,” I responded. “I don’t think Eich should have resigned from his post of Mozilla CEO. Happy?”

“Reasons, man!” he hollered, a large grin on his face. “I need your reasons!”

I groaned. The only way to oblige him here would be by acquiescing to his request. I took a deep breath.

“Look,” I began, “What is a company all about, hmm?”

“Building a product,” he replied.

“And what is Mozilla building?”

“Firefox, and Thunderbird, or they were building it anyway. Oh! And Firefox OS.”

“Exactly. And what does Brendan Eich’s stance on Gay marriage have to do with any of them?”

“A lot, I would think,” he replied, his voice turning a tad serious.

“How is that?” I asked.

“Well, imagine if my employer openly discriminated against the LGBT community,” he said. “Would I be comfortable working with him?”

“Mate, giving a donation to prop 8 is hardly discriminating against the LGBT community.”

“But it is!” he was getting serious now. It had started as fun, but I knew that this would need me to abandon my essay to focus properly. “He’s taking away my right to be with the man I want!”

I sighed. “No one’s taking your right to do that away. What you can’t do is legally marry him.”

“And isn’t that discrimination?” he pointed out. “Isn’t that the kind of discrimination sane, thinking human beings want to put an end to? I realise that you’re not particularly receptive to the feelings of the LGBT community yourself, but you’ve never said anything against their agenda either.”

“Well, think about it this way,” I said. “What is the end product of a marriage?”

“Happiness,” he replied instantly.

“Well, lots of heterosexual men would object, but no, that’s not what I meant.”

“Then what?”

“Children,” I replied as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

He stared at me. “Man,” he said at last. “That is so nineteenth century.”

“No, think about it,” I replied. “Can any other institution allow you to have children?”

“No,” he said.

“Then? The only thing a state gets out of a marriage is new citizens. If you take people’s emotions out of the equation, then what is the need to allow gay or lesbian marriage?”

“But you can’t take human emotions out of the picture,” he pointed out. “Lots of people marry for reasons other than bringing forth kinds into the world.”

“And yet a majority of those in a marriage end up having kids,” I pointed out.

“Agreed,” he admitted. “But still, children is not the reason people marry. People have children when they are comfortable enough. It’s just a side product of marriage.”

“The most important side product of a marriage,” I pounced on his statement.

“Happiness is the most important side product of a marriage,” he pointed out. “People get divorced because they’re unhappy in their marriages, you know.”

“I do,” I replied. “I know that marriages break apart because of tension between the couple. But that tension can be caused due to many factors. You need to be happy in whatever you’re doing. Children could be a major reason for that tension, so could religion. Who knows? Maybe the wife suddenly realises her husband is a dumbass. It could be anything.”

“So the point where we disagree is the biological side product of marriage,” he said. “Well, it has been proven that homosexuality is biological.”

“And you know something else?” I said. “The very nature of human reproduction means that homosexuality is doomed to die out.”

“And yet,” he countered with a smile, “it hasn’t.”

I smiled back. “It hasn’t,” I replied. “But again, we’ve drifted off topic. How does this discussion affect what Eich’s decision should have been?”

“Because Eich supports inequality,” he replied.

I sighed. “I don’t think he does, fella. You’re allowed to marry whichever female agrees to marry you, as am I. How’s that unequal? He never tried to make things unequal for you.”

“He’s taking away my right to love whoever I want and not get vilified for it.”

I stood up. “You know something? If I went back home and told my mother that I’ve fallen in love with a Black, African woman, my mother will try to be happy for me. But she won’t be as happy as if I had chosen a White girl. Quite a large faction of my ‘modern Indian family’ will be scandalized.

It would have been the same thing had I suddenly decided to go gay. My parents would have been supportive, I’m sure, but I’m certain my grandmother would have gone into depression.”

“Well, that’s not right either,” he pointed out. “That’s pretty racist and petty of them.”

“My point is,” I said, glancing at him to shut him up, “that their views don’t mean jack to me. I can go against my family’s views and not care that they’ll stop loving me. I think it’s pretty clear that Eich might have, at one point, been against gay marriage, the same way I am academically, but that hardly means that he’s going to order all the members of the LGBT community to GTFO or STFU. In fact, I doubt he would honestly care what you do in the confines of your house, or even if you bring your partner to work for some reason.”

“But imagine this,” he argued. “Your employer is working actively to make sure that you never get to marry a chick from another country. Would you still work with him?”

“But is Eich actively doing that?” I shot back. “He donated $1000 once to prop 8. If my employer had once donated to some cause I hate, short of a terror outfit, of course, I wouldn’t really care. I mean, yeah, I work for you, and we have different views on something. That’s it. End of story. We smile and move on. That’s what a professional should be like.”

“Except that you probably don’t have issues that hit so close to home,” he pointed out. “He’s not violating a fundamental right of yours.”

“He’s not violating one of yours either,” I countered. “His supported view is not enforced any more, and you’re hounding him for a donation he made to a cause which was supported by the majority at that time. It makes little sense.”

“I don’t feel comfortable working with someone who hates people like me. I don’t feel comfortable knowing that he has it in him to fund something which tries to take away from me something which makes me happy.”

“What? The right to be with your partner? No one’s doing that to you. You can’t marry him, but you’re free as ever to walk out into the sunset holding hands. No one can legally stop you.”

He threw up his hands. “You’re impossible.”

“No,” I replied smugly, “My point of view is different from yours. I’m speaking as the devil’s advocate here regarding LGBT rights. Of course you should have them. But even if your employer decides that he or she personally does not share your views, you should not let your professionalism suffer for it.”

“Also,” I continued after a short pause, “Movements like Feminism and even LGBT Rights tend to irritate me. They make a lot of noise. Yes. I agree that you need your rights. Yes, I know that you’re fighting for them. But why do you have to emphasize it all the time?”

“Because every waking second for us is a struggle,” he said softly. “We’re denied things you heterosexual men take for granted. Freedom to choose who you want.”

“Then get into the government and change things,” I pointed out. “Rallies and excessive noise, like feminism, actually creates animosity.”

“That’s how we make people understand, that’s how we force them to look at the issue.”

“And for someone like me who’s actually looked at it, it’s annoying. I sympathise with your plight. That doesn’t mean I’m going to lift a finger to help you.”

“Evil is propagated when good men decide to do nothing. Don’t be one of those men.”

I took a deep breath and let it out. “I’m not going to be an obstacle to someone who’s doing something about it. I’m not going to be someone who doesn’t support people working on this. But don’t expect me to take the initiative. It’s not my fight.

When LGBT decides to add polygamy to it, call me. I’ll be protesting right up there with the best of you.”

India’s bane: HDI

The partition clashes, anti-Sikh riots, the ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Pandits, the Babri Masjid demolition, the Godhra riots. We can add one more incident to these now. The Muzaffarnagar riots.

Riots in India | Courtesy Aamchi Mumbai
Riots in India | Courtesy Aamchi Mumbai

This report from the Independent tells us that the riots being talked about were the result of a very trivial matter (relatively speaking, of course), namely, eve-teasing. However, when a Muslim youth was stabbed to death for allegedly teasing a Hindu girl, things started getting out of hand. Retaliatory strikes from the youth’s family led to the deaths of two Hindu men.

A group of farmers got together to demand justice from those killed. However, inflammatory speeches made by a few politicians coupled with a video made a couple of years ago in Pakistan showing two men being hanged led to heightened tempers and extreme tension. The result? An open clash between Hindus and Muslims leading to around 28 people dead and scores injured, some critically.

Heads have already begun rolling in the police department with top officials being transferred in the aftermath of such brutal violence. The DIG of Saharanpur, the SSP of Muzaffarnagar and the SP of Shamli were the first officials to be transferred.

Of course, just like any other similar incident in India, political capital has already started to be minted from these riots. With the Indian National Congress claiming that the SP and BJP were behind these clashes, the cat and mouse game of vote-bank politics has started.

This cycle of communal violence is perpetual in India, it seems. The rest of the developing world has moved on beyond petty violence and killings. Why do we stay grounded firmly in the past? Why must we always harken back to the days of old when religion was everything and might was right?

To resort to a very cliched point, there are two Indias. One of them is the face we wish to present to the world. The face of a rising India, one which can stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of the United States, China, Germany etc. This India seeks to trumpet its GDP, imported goods, high standards of living and extreme math skills. It is haughty and proud of its achievements. It bristles whenever the west lauds movies like “Slumdog Millionaire” and tells everyone that India is more than a land of snake charmers and poverty. It wishes to see India catapulted into the ranks of the “Greatest countries of the World”. Elitism rules this part of the population and they privately deride any comparison with other emerging economies, especially China.

The other India is the one most Indians are familiar with. The land of rickshaw-pullers, paan chewers and farmers. The land where the only thing that shines is ignorance and religion is a way of life, not just an abstract ideal. The effects of globalization have not truly affected these people. They haven’t heard of Hugo Boss, Apple or Microsoft. And they have no wish to hear about them either. All they wish to know is where their ticket to a better life awaits.

The idea of India doesn’t hold much value for the second group. When you worry about your next meal everyday, patriotism isn’t the first thing to strike your head. Hell, even education is the last thing on your mind when your own stomach is empty and you have five crying kids to feed. The only group bigger than the individual and family these people care about is the group they can fall back on in times of crisis, i.e. their community. And so whenever someone does something against their community, they respond fiercely, vehemently and often violently. And seeing that most people in India are of this mould, there’s a high chance that flying sparks will kindle their anger and lead to killings.

HDI map for 2013 | Courtesy Wikipedia
HDI map for 2013 (the deeper the blue, the better the index) | Courtesy Wikipedia

With a Human Development Index close to Bangladesh (which is rapidly catching up) and (in some states) equal to many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, the India its elite want to hide will never progress beyond where it is. Giving free food, strengthening rape laws, banning politicians from giving hate-speeches and trying for schemes like NREGA only alleviates the symptoms, it does nothing about the real problem, the HDI itself. If it does not increase substantially in the next few years, the Indian story will remain bloody, anarchic and communal for a long time to come.

Keep it simple, stupid!

I’m not sure just how old this philosophy really is. Maybe it’s just a coding principle I’ve read too often. Maybe it’s something Plato wrote (in a much more polite form of the phrase, of course). Maybe it’s beaten into me through constant use of Arch Linux. Who really knows? The important thing is to “Keep it simple, stupid!”

What it really means

The KISS principle refers to simplicity in design. Explaining it in the context of Arch Linux, the KISS philosophy is a guiding principle towards how the developers build their OS. For starters, there is no graphical installer. And in recent releases, there isn’t even a text based one. The installation medium boots you up into a command line with all the tools required to install Arch Linux, and it leaves you to do the heavy lifting.

A lightweight and Flexible distribution that tries to "Keep it Simple".
A lightweight and Flexible distribution that tries to “Keep it Simple”.

This is where the “simplicity in design” part of the KISS principle shines through. Non-Archers might be flummoxed at me describing this as simple. But bear with me. There’s a page on the Arch Wiki called the “Beginner’s Guide”. It details, step by step, just exactly how one installs the OS. It anticipates challenges, tries to troubleshoot common problems and anticipates most beginners’ questions. In short, it holds your hand through the installation, just like any graphical installer will.

At this point, the astute reader might wonder the purpose of this exercise. After all, if both these ways accomplish the same thing, would it not be better to simply make a graphical installer and be done with it? Well, no. The purpose of the wiki page and the bare-bones install is to teach the user how his/her system works; something no graphical installer can do. If you’ve installed and configured your own system from scratch, you mostly know where all your important configuration files are, what they do and what they’re called.

In other words, the KISS principle mandates that your design should be simple enough for any person to peer into and understand the working to a good extent. Arch Linux does this by exposing the configuration files directly to the user. It hides nothing behind fancy GUI prompts. In fact, as soon as you’re done with the beginner’s guide, you’re going to be left with a blinking prompt on a black background. Configure it as you please.


Simply in order to empower the user. A typical Arch Linux user can follow technical discussions, contribute back to the projects he uses and most importantly, a typical Archer can make informed decisions.

Case in point: Ubuntu uses upstart as its init system. Most Ubuntu users don’t even know what it is. They might not even notice if Canonical decides to change it (for better or for worse).

Arch, on the other hand, used BSD-style initscripts till 2011 before shifting to systemd. There were lively discussions on the forums and IRC between developers and users before this decision was made. The devs had to explain their decision to the users and satisfy them before they went ahead with it.

Another point which should be made here: Archers trust their core developers. The KISS principle has led to a lot of trust being built between the members of the Arch community. Our devs don’t hide anything from us. We have no reason to doubt their motives.

And lastly, the Arch Wiki is one of our crown jewels. The community has built it into a goldmine of information the likes of which few other Linux distros can boast of. It would never have been possible had Arch Linux not encouraged us users to dive into and understand the OS.

Beyond programming

American-Style Democracy
American-Style Democracy

The world is not the same as it used to be. It’s more complex, more diverse, has a lot more to offer than it did a hundred years ago. And yet, people insist on treating it the same. Our democracies are opaque, they do things secretly behind our backs. People don’t wish to come out and vote because they feel that it won’t change anything. Complex markets govern what should be simple free trade. Currencies fluctuate for no particular reason, public works get delayed for reasons beyond us, Facebook changes its privacy laws on whim, Google collects data and analyzes it without us understanding how, I could go on and on.

What we need is to know more. And what our governments need to do is to allow us to understand. When democracy was first conceived, the Ancient Greeks knew that without being part of its machinery, they would never be able to understand or take advantage of its depths. That holds just as true today as it did then. Democracy is governance for the people, by the people. For this promise to be realized, the people need to understand its design and philosophy. The processes of democracy should not be veiled, rather, they should be opened to all. The concentration of power in the hands of elected representatives must be lessened and the people must be empowered to have a say in decisions that affect them.

Keep it simple, stupid. After all, if our own representatives do not lie to us and we understand exactly why decisions are being taken the way they are, why would we not trust them?

Courtesy – Mr. Donn’s Social Studies Site

A Diseased Society: Looking Within

Sometimes, it’s worth thinking about the times someone reflects your deeds back at you. I think that you’ve guessed that I’m talking about the Delhi Rape Case. And you’ll be wondering. Another commentator mouthing off about that? Not again!

Well, I’ve written about something similar once before. As I read that post again and reflect on what I was thinking at that time, I realise that not much has changed in my head. I still feel disgusted. I still think that this country has become a cesspool of idiots who have no idea what civilization truly means. I still believe that many Indians are simply not willing to learn about modern civilization and the few rules it absolutely requires them to bind themselves by.

But when I say that not much has changed, I must concede that there is some portion of this society which has understood the malaise gripping the unconcerned majority. The many protests in metro cities and the rippling anger of youth do point to some form of awakening. Though I know not whether these are the thrashes of a dragon mumbling in its sleep or the rumblings of one just woken up, I am hoping for the latter.

There are problems with directing this anger, though. Many people occupy themselves by demanding more stringent laws, asking for a better police force, blaming men and countless other such things. While I do agree that these are problems, I think that they point to a deeper problem than the one we’re admitting to ourselves. Or maybe we do know it, but choose to turn a blind eye towards it, seeing that it’s the easiest thing to do.

Somehow, Dumbledore’s words come to mind. Something about dealing with what’s right, and what’s easy. Ironic that I look to an Englishwoman for the right words here.

Our society has traditionally been a patriarchal one. Boys are given more preference than girls in almost every way. Sometimes even in ways we cannot ourselves control because of their instinctive nature. It all starts with the parents who expect their girl to be a demure, shy damsel who lowers her eyes while talking to anyone. She is taught to be submissive and timid from a very young age. She’s expected to help her mother in the kitchen, be a responsible young lady and smile modestly when addressed, saying little.

In contrast, boys are generally allowed, almost encouraged, to be rowdy and aggressive. A few fights here and there are considered “making one’s bones” in several parts of the country. A rude boy is oft-considered a wily rascal by his fond parents, but a rude girl is a shame. Boys are allowed to have unlimited tantrums and demands, but very few girls are given that privilege. There are many families with educated fathers who would prefer that their own girl be educated till the bare minimum, namely till the point where she can help her son in school during his formative years. Tenth grade. Twelfth, if she’s lucky.

And even for those who do go to school, gender equality is not really taught in our schools, is it? I mean, yes, boys are told that girls are equal to them, but how is it really enforced? In school, a teacher drills “not-spitting” into a child. She drills the necessity not to litter as well. She teaches them patriotism and polite behaviour. But teaching them about the equality of girls and boys, about the crimes boys commit against girls and the horrible trauma as a result is taboo in our society. It’s generally mentioned brusquely and then forgotten. In some cases, forever.

And look where that brings us. Indifferent parents, indifferent teachers and an indifferent society. There’s a very good reason India’s ranked one of the worst places to be born a girl in. Not only are you unsafe inside the womb (gender-specific abortion), but completely vulnerable outside too. There are girls well below the age of consent who are being felt up, fondled or worse while I’m writing this. And the sad bit is, most of the people who’re doing this are are friends and family of the parents. When the parents get to know about what’s happening, they mostly tell the girl to be quiet and try to limit her exposure to the man. This leads to a mindset. A very ugly mindset. It tells the girl that whatever happens, once she gets violated, there’s no one to help her. There’s no one to hold her hand and tell her that everything’s about to be OK, that nothing will be able to hurt her any more, that her parents and society will work together and do everything to make sure that the person involved knows just how wrong he is. Instead, a subconscious notion of being helpless fills the girl.

Of course, there are other things which make this very difficult as well. Uncooperative police, a painfully slow judiciary and an unsympathetic or rather, a non-existent social support system. But I believe that these are simply the symptoms of a diseased society. In fact, when I was discussing the abnormal number of rape cases in India with a friend, her response to me was, “Well, Look at our population. Don’t you think we’d have a correspondingly larger number of rapes as well?” It’s probably harder to deal with all those cases, or so she thought.

Well, I’m not comfortable thinking along those lines. I honestly believe that when it comes to things like rapes, every society should have zero tolerance. I mean, many crimes have extenuating circumstances which allow you to legally commit them, and no, I’m not talking about theft. More like murders. You can get away with killing someone for self-defense, if your lawyer can prove you really were in danger. However, there’s no such circumstance for rape. There’s no excuse for violating someone in such a horrifying way and staining her soul for life.

So for all those who advocate equating rape with murder in our laws, consider this, while murder does away with a person’s life and causes immeasurable grief to said person’s family, rape destroys a girl’s life without killing her, condemning her and hers to a life of eternal shame. How can they even be compared?

And a small message to those who persist on calling for more stringent laws, stronger police and other such things, please, people, start with yourself. It starts very innocently. The planting of such an idea is so subtle, it almost seems as if it was Leonardo Di Caprio’s work from Inception. Maybe a sudden liking for Yo Yo Honey Singh, maybe a liking for violent porn. That’s how it grows, you know. It may never go beyond that, and for many, it doesn’t. But there’s always a chance that it will. And it’s best to watch out.

An immature society: rapes, rants and rotten roots

Let me make it abundantly clear. I come from Chandigarh, the capital of the state of Haryana, where this screwed up business actually happened. However, like any other thinking man, actually accepting all of this makes no sense to me. Or rather, I am of the belief that it should make no sense to anyone. I realise this opinion is a bit late in coming, but bear with me. I’ve actually got down to write after a few months, a few days delay should be OK by most.

Around a week ago, the Sarva Khap Jat panchayat, the umbrella organisation of all the khaps in the Jat world decided to meet in Sonipat to discuss a bizarre issue, namely the lowering of the legal age at which girls can get married to 15. No, Faking News did not strike again, sorry folks. This news, sadly enough, is very real. The khaps have gone around the bend, and after linking Noodles with rapes, have decided that the best way to reduce the number of rapes taking place in Haryana is to simply reduce the legal age limit at which girls can get married.

Now, to put it all in perspective, Haryana is a state where there have been around 15 rapes in one month. Not a statistic to be proud of. No matter what your population, 15 newspaper-covered rapes means hundreds of undocumented ones. Sad, isn’t it? And the saddest part of all of this is that Haryana has one of the lowest sex ratios in all of India. It’s close to 750, if memory serves.

Now, to all the readers not aware of the position of khaps in Haryana society, let me clarify. They have no constitutional right to exist. A khap is simply an unconstitutional court passing judgements on those it deems unworthy in its village. The practice of having khaps arbitrate seems to point at the failure of two systems. First, the local judiciary, and second, the local education system. While certainly not as backward as the Taliban or the Mali rebels, Haryana khaps do have a very conservative (and that’s putting it mildly), almost medieval view of things. A khap passes judgement as and when it pleases. While I’m not very familiar with the functioning of a khap myself, I’m certain that khaps exist to satisfy the “preserve-our-culture” urges of old men who cannot accept the pace at which the society around them is changing.

If a man decides to marry outside his caste (yes, the system is followed in the rural areas, let not the reports of social progress deceive you) in a Haryana village, he’d better hide somewhere they’ll never think of searching. Honor killings are so very common it’s almost unbelievable. I’m guessing that if the media decided to report every case of honor killing done to avenge the “shame of the girl running off with the guy”, newspapers would be a hundred pages long and TV channels would need more than 72 hours in a day to collectively cover everything.

What does all of this indicate? I’m guessing that it indicates a view of the world so fundamentally at odds with today’s worldview that there can be no assimilation. It’s one thing to be paternalistic. But to disrespect girls so much as to approve of female infanticide, honor killings in case of love marriages (the norm around the world, still a wonder in India) and to treat them as mere objects to be owned at a man’s convenience seems to indicate a rot more ingrown than mere fundamentalism. “Mere” fundamentalism, the enlightened social scientist may ask? Yes, mere. The Taliban and these khap panchayats do many of the same things. Mere fundamentalism can simply be something like the Salafism of the eighties and nineties. Those Salafists were not political, they were not violent. They advocated themselves yes, just like any other sect, but they allowed you choice. If you wished to be one, go ahead. Otherwise great. Whiel their values and strict interpretation of Sharia might not win them brownie points in anyone’s eyes, they are still not beyond fundamentalism.

Khaps, however, go beyond just strict adherence to a set of rules.The enforcement of these rules by force and the removal of all choice related to them is barbaric, and their usurpation of the justice system and the imposition of their values as the values of Haryana rural society thwart all attempts at a rational modernisation of these areas. If the presence of cell phone towers and vehicles were enough to indicate modernisation, the world would look elsewhere to find backwardness. But I believe that the best way to measure moderisation is to see the way a society treats its women. That reflects its maturity.

And these khaps, I’m afraid, are stuck in early adoloscence with a bad case of teenage angst.