Tag Archives: Social Issues

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.”

The government’s playing with my privacy; so what do I do?

It seems as if this dystopian nightmare forced upon us will never end. Everyday seems to bring up a new story of some random government spying on us. Starting with the US spying on the world to Britain possessing a system worse than the US all the way down to India building the capability to crunch through the mountains of data produced by its citizens, it’s amply clear that our data is not safe in the hands of those we trust to safeguard it. Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft; no wait, especially Microsoft have confessed to helping the government to our data. While Google and Facebook are still trying to do justice to their customers, Microsoft has been going beyond the call of duty at the behest of government agencies and providing them with information about bugs in its software which have not been patched in order to help them tap computers halfway around the world.

How does it affect you?

In all honesty? It doesn’t. Most of us aren’t journalists who need to keep our sources confident or Jihadis planning high-profile attacks on US towers of commerce. We’re mostly ordinary people who use our mail for the bare minimum. We receive newsletters, spam, a long mail from a girlfriend far away, a few photos… Nothing of consequence. (If you do use a Gmail account for sensitive mails, then you really need to get your head examined. Google states that it reads your mails in its terms of service.)

bigbrotherSocial networks are in the same ballpark. The photos we upload on Facebook are the ones we want our friends to see. Or rather, that’s the logic behind it. But honestly, how many of us would call all our Facebook friends close friends? We have a few hundred (if not a few thousand) friends on Facebook and it would be folly to claim that we know each of them equally well. It would be greater folly to say that showing my holiday pictures to that girl I met in a country far far away in a small conference (who I’ve never spoken to since) is any different from showing them to a stranger. Most of our Facebook friends are virtual strangers to us. We breeze past their status updates without caring about their contents.

Twitter is said to be the company most protective of its users’ data. That’s quite ironic, because none of your data on Twitter is private, except perhaps your password. However, I doubt most people have any problems with their government reading their tweets.

Let’s face it. The data we put on Facebook and Twitter can’t be helped. Those two companies could secretly be helping the slave trade and we wouldn’t leave them. We’re bound to each other now.

However, mail is a different story. I like to believe that my email account is for my own eyes only. No matter how trivial my mails, I still like the feeling of having a private mailbox and knowing that if I write something as embarrassing as a love letter, then the only people who will read that mail will be myself and the lady I intend it for. If Google wants to read it and send us ads based on my writings, I sigh and grumble to myself, but it’s okay. Google’s providing me that service for free, I guess I do owe them that advertising money. I’ve made my peace with it, knowing that every service rendered has a price.

However, my government, on the other hand, is a whole new ballgame.

Courtesy Aprill Brandon
Courtesy Aprill Brandon
  1. I pay my taxes
  2. They rule in my name (as well as that of a billion other Indians)
  3. They are the protectors of my rights
  4. Manmohan Singh isn’t man enough to read my writings. Rahul Gandhi even less so.

I pay the government its dues. I expect it to be able to protect me without reading my private correspondence.

Patching your holes

There’s not many ways in which you can protect yourself from the government’s snoopers. However, the one you should be teaching the next generation is to:

Learn programming and not be afraid of the shell and ssh, for they are your best friends in this brave new world.

This one piece of advice shall save your inbox from many. While we all depend on Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, it would be much more expedient to simply remove the middleman from the equation, rent some server space, install CentOS (or Arch if you’re feeling extremely lucky), install OwnCloud and a mail server, purchase a domain and point it towards your own new mail server! This seems like a good place to do a PhD in the art. I’d suggest a simpler guide, but unfortunately it seems that all roads lead to this one. While it may seem a very big deal and pretty hard, for any privacy freak out there, it’s amazingly good. Once you have your own email server set up, you can encrypt your email to deny people from reading it. It’s also a good idea to understand the concepts behind PGP and GPG.

If at any time, you feel that this is too much, remember this quote by Ben Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the USA:

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Protesting against politics

This article (Global protest grows as citizens lose faith in politics and the state – The Guardian) came out a couple of days ago, and not really having time, I archived it. The article talks about a very peculiar thing about the twenty first century. Protests.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that protests are hardly new to this world. Protests have ranged from being irritants to toppling the Bourbon regime in pre-revolution France. However, one thing is for sure. Today’s protests are different from the ones seen earlier. The video below should be a good indicator of the breadth and scale of these protests.

A change in what people are protesting for

Earlier, when people would protest against something, it would be:

  • Against harsh economic conditions
  • Against a ruler waging too much war

Now do remember, I’m talking about common people revolting against the state, not nobles plotting intrigue and planning to overthrow kings. This means that in the days gone by, people generally protested when things got too tough for them. Compare that to today’s protests.

The Storming of the Bastille, by Jean-Pierre Houël
The Storming of the Bastille, by Jean-Pierre Houël

The occupy movement wasn’t exactly a movement against harsh economic conditions. For those of you who will argue with me on this, I will agree that the movement would not have happened without the crash of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. However, the crowd wasn’t protesting against the harsh economic conditions of the day, rather, it was protesting the actions of the government in solving the crisis. Note the distinction. In other words, the people were protesting against government policies and were doing so knowingly. Their aim was not to change the government or its leader, all they wanted to do was to ensure the government changes its policies.

A poster of the Occupy Wall Street Movement - creator: Lalo Alcaraz
A poster of the Occupy Wall Street Movement – creator: Lalo Alcaraz

Another form of protest, albeit a much more controversial form, is the type done by the group Anonymous. Hidden in the shadows and striking out against targets they believe have committed great wrong to a particular community is their modus operandi. In a way, they may be likened to Robin Hood, who would only prey upon the rich to give tot he weak. Anonymous claims to do the same thing, but instead of dealing in money, they deal in control. Anonymous is a group which tries to prove that the control their targets believe they exercise over a particular set of data is not as absolute as they like to think. While condemned by governments and gaining a mixed response from the online community, they nonetheless have managed to enter the collective psyche and have become something akin to a symbol.

Knowledge is free. We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.

And finally, another form of protest we can talk about are the protests against rape in Delhi. These protests aren’t against widespread problems (in the same sense of the word as economic problems are). While chronic rapes in the Indian capital are a cause for worry, they are hardly a cause of fear for the majority. In older days, people would have looked away and not bothered, knowing that it wasn’t their own problem. However, the situation has been turned on its head today, what with widespread education, mass media and the Internet having created a collective conscience and the ability to draw upon it.

Delhi Rape protests
Delhi Rape protests

 

But against whom are we protesting?

In older days, rulers would govern in the absence of fast and free-flowing information. Information would travel as fast as a horse, which, admittedly, is hardly quick. However, to use an old cliche, today, information travels at the speed of light. In older days, rulers would change and bend slowly, knowing that the effects of these new laws would spread slowly and unevenly. However, with both the rapid spread of information and fast-changing markets, governments have sadly become bottlenecks instead of enablers.

Government procedures are designed to be foolproof and safe in order to make sure that ineffective policies do not get drafted. People specialized in lawmaking sit down and make laws based on existing policies. For years, it was thought that public involvement in lawmaking should be limited to choosing their representatives and nothing else. For an interval, this approach was absolutely correct, seeing that very few people had basic education and the knowledge to make a difference at that level.

However, fast forward to the present. Education is slowly, but surely becoming the norm. With the advent of mobile phones and fast wireless internet, a large number of people can be kept in the know in real-time. People debate and discuss things on online forums, numerous polls are conducted daily for random questions, information is disseminated rapidly and feedback is collected even more quickly. People propose change in isolated forums and get petitions signed in order to see their proposals reach the light of the day.

And the government? Let’s just say it’s stuck in the stone age.

People are protesting this lack of malleability. They are protesting current governments’ lack of ability in adapting to new situations. They are protesting against the glacial speed of lawmaking. And most of all, they are protesting against not being included in the proceedings.

Governments of the world, wake up. We’ve let you know what we want. The ball is in your court now.

Why do we lag behind?

I got to see this article just yesterday. What with the IIT results coming out and everything, a few friends of mine wanted some advice about where to go and everything of that sort. While I could easily tell them to come to BITS Pilani, I got curious about just what the world thinks about Indian colleges. I got to an article on the Times Higher Education about Indian universities (courtesy Shankar Venkatraman).

Top ten Indian Colleges
List of top ten Indian colleges – courtesy Times Higher Education

The list comes from the article I linked to in the very beginning of this post. Seems kind of shocking, no? IISc Bangalore gaining such a high rank out there in the world? Well, I guess it is time we recognized the importance of basic science not just in paving the way for applied sciences, but rather in character building as well.

This small piece aside, however, the issue to discuss and think about is not about IISc Bangalore surging ahead of IIT Bombay in rankings. It’s more about the fact that India’s best institute is ranked 130th in the world.

One Hundred and Thirtieth. Not even in the top one hundred. IIT Bombay ranks an even bleaker 192nd place. And after that, India doesn’t even come into the picture. We want to become a world power, and yet we don’t have the quality needed to get there.

I guess many people have talked about introspection and the need for reform. With a man like Kapil Sibal in charge of the modernization of our entrance exams and admission structure, I guess we have introduced reform into our system.

A different kind of reform

We hardly need to change the pattern of our entrance exams, as I see it. While the American system has been considered epic for a while, I’ve read some research (a long while ago) that if you divorce education from its rigor and rote learning, you produce students of the liberal arts. While I’m sure Liberal Arts’ majors are awesome, an emerging power may not exactly want all its students to go in that direction.

A professor teaching a class in BPHC
A high tech classroom does not make a great learning experience. It’s the professor that counts – Photo courtesy the Department of Photography at BITS Pilani, Hyderabad Campus

No. The reform I’m talking about comes in the professors who are teaching us. I, of course, have the experience of just one college. But being a campus of BITS Pilani, I’m sure that if I feel this way about my professors, people from other colleges aren’t too far behind. The professors need to understand two things:

  1. No one respects you until you aren’t good in your own subject and aren’t actively doing work in it. You might point out the various papers you’ve published, but until and unless we see you working on yet another, most of us aren’t likely to respect you.
  2. Learn how to communicate. University students aren’t kindergartners. We care about how you talk to us. We like being talked to as adults and being taught without taunts, heavy accents or boring monotonous droning voices.
  3. Please, please try to understand that dry, boring lectures do not appeal to us. We want demonstrations which make sense and look interesting. We want to know exactly how the things you’re teaching us will help us become good engineers/scientists etc. Involve us and make us feel as if we’re actually being taught something instead of being lectured.
  4. While I appreciate the need for numerical problems, please do not let them define your exams. You see, there are these things called computers which exist today. They run some other things called programs which can calculate upon being given a formula. They kind of seem to make a great deal of difference while calculating, you see.
  5. Please, please let us in on some cutting-edge research you guys are doing? (If at all?)

Am I being arrogant? Maybe. Is it for a good cause? Definitely! Please, do take my criticism the way it is meant. Constructively. I understand that many of you are great people who have done wondrous things in your life. All I ask is that you please try to actually act the part.

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.