Five Things Plaguing India’s Potential in Science, Technology and Research

You might be aware of the recent case of group of CSIR (Council of Scientific and Educational Research) scientists at Institute of Microbial Technology, Chandigarh, India, being caught in a case of furnishing fabricated data in research Papers. It comes as an insult for the scientific community to India.

If asked about 5 things that are plaguing India’s potential in Science, Technology and Research, I will give the following points:

  • In general, a paradigm shift from a scientific inclination (bent of mind) towards non-scientific pursuits- This point is contestable. Parents these days do not actually encourage their child/children to take up Science and Research as a career. Maybe they are aware of the plight of M.Sc.s and Ph.D.s in India demanding more pay, comparable to management graduates and B. Techs. All they want is : their child/children should be earning a 7-figure pay package after graduation.
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Kolkata: A boy displays a ‘Micro Air Vehicle’ at the ‘Children’s Science Congress’ during 100th Indian Science Congress, in Kolkata on Friday. PTI Photo
  • Questionable work ethics of the scientists or researchers: In all possibility, incidents like these from the same scientists, and others, might have gone unnoticed in the past. A student who can successfully forge lab data and readings to defend his/her thesis may try to do the same in his professional life.
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Institute of Microbial Technology at Chandigarh, India
  • Significant brain drain of talent from India at all levels (post-intermediate, graduate, post-graduate, doctorate, etc.): loss of talents, who choose to leave India for a more prosperous and fulfilling future in their respective fields
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Brain Drain or Brain in a Drain?
  • Lack of engagement with foreign institutions and agencies at the research level resulting in no or low accountability for local researchers
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Education globalization
  • Lack of funds (such as, for procuring latest instruments) and incentives to successfully carry out the research work
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Pipe dreams?

~Thank you 🙂

 

 

Not a Yahoo! moment

This blog was originally posted on Awesummly. Awesummly is a news app available on Play Store. To download the app, click here.

It is said that Internet is an unforgiving place for yesterday’s great idea. Acquisition of Yahoo! Inc.’s core business by Verizon Communication on 25 July for $4.83 billion validates this fact. Verizon is America’s top ranking telecommunication company, which has started to experience a radical increase in digital content consumption from its mobile users. Hence, Verizon’s acquisition of Yahoo is clear as the latter had emerged as an unavoidable, but struggling, player in the field of content distribution. Last year, Verizon had acquired AOL Inc.(Yahoo’s biggest competitor for a long time) for $4.4 billion. Surprisingly, because of Verizon’s increasing customer base in the area of digital consumption, its biggest competitors now are Facebook and Google, the big brothers in providing content, and not AT&T or Sprint, big names in America’s telecommunication sphere.

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Verizon’s growing empire (source: Bloomberg)

Yahoo has reached its end as an independent company which was founded in 1994 by Stanford graduates David Felo and Jerry Yang. One of the biggest names during its heydays in the nascent world of dot-com, Yahoo was the front door to Internet for many first-generation users. At its peak in 2000, it was valued at $125 billion, having evolved through numerous products such as Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Messenger, Yahoo Answers, Yahoo Finance and many more. By mid-2000s, Yahoo struggled to maintain its spot, courtesy- beginning of era of Google and Facebook. For every Yahoo Search, there was a Google Search; for Yahoo Messenger, there was a Google Talk. Arguably, every Yahoo Mail user started to have a taste of Gmail, and the competition just got increasingly tough for Yahoo.

Just like many companies, Yahoo made goof-ups, but it had to pay a massive price for some of them, as it turns out to be in recent times. A shocking incident as it may come out to be, Yahoo had missed opportunities to acquire both Google and Facebook. Apparently, Yahoo was not willing to spend even $1 million to buy Google! Again in 2008, Microsoft offered a deal of $44 billion which was rejected by Yahoo.

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No more Yahoo!

Flash-forward to the present scene. No doubt, Yahoo has lost its charm. After this acquisition, Yahoo will have stakes remaining in the Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba (estimated at $40 billion), Yahoo Japan and other small portfolio of high-end patents. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, who had a long stint at Google, will be paid a severance package of $57 million. Notably, she was hired in 2012 to revive Yahoo but failed to do so. After all these years of pressure for Yahoo and its ultimate acquisition, one thing on which we all can agree is: Yahoo! came to its logical end.

This blog was originally posted on Awesummly. Awesummly is a news app available on Play Store. To download the app, click here.

Television news media is shaping our perception

This blog was originally posted on Awesummly. Awesummly is a news app available on Play Store. To download the app, click here.

Famously regarded as the fourth pillar of the Indian democracy, the television media in India has expanded both in its purview and responsibilities. It appears to be diverting from its presumed duty of divulging unbiased and neutral information, and from existing as a platform where people can raise and share their opinions — a phenomenon that has caught the attention of news viewers. Primetime debates on TV news channels look no longer like debates, and resemble more like an entertainment show catering to a man in search for a mood change after the day’s tiring work. Arguably, not every panellist’s point of view is addressed in these debates, resulting in a discussion that is heavily biased and sometimes confusing. Surprisingly, viewers tend to be more attracted towards the rhetoric of host and the speakers rather than the outcome of these debates.

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All eyes on you!

Shortcomings of the Indian television media

The quality of reportage by TV channels have raised questions by many sections of society. An instance of astonishing reportage by the TV media is the consistent impression of a fellow politician’s character upon the viewers. While a politician’s actions might be suggesting a positive assertion, such a reportage does not allow time and space to alter the negative image in the eyes of the people. Another shortcoming is the range of news coverage by some of the Hindi news channels, ostensibly labelled as “mainstream” and “national” news channels. Their coverage is remotely pan-India and grossly inadequate — in case it is not known — the 2015 Chennai floods took 3 days to hit the headlines of these news channels; environment issues and tribal affairs fail to find a space in their news ticker. Rarely does one see a news from the Northeast in these channels, and if the Northeast seems far enough, a state like Odisha (which is among the most neglected by the Central government, but the most mineral-rich in India) has a similar story to tell. Little coverage of these areas amounts to little public awareness, leading to reduced scope of outreach and development in these areas. No wonder the organization National Socialist Council of Nagaland- Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) is, to this day, demanding a separate flag and passport for their proposed Greater Nagalim region. Apparently, the only time a person in the north hears of Kanyakumari is in the phrase Kashmir se Kanyakumari tak, most popularly pitched in political speeches in Hindi. Compare this with coverage of the NCR and the North India, and the difference will be all too clear to justify. In all this, the fundamental problem is in the news coverage, and to a greater extent in them being labelled as “national” news channels. How can a channel with a grossly limited coverage be dubbed as a national channel?

It is not only the political affairs that lack their due coverage. Various sports in India marred by minimal coverage have a similar story to tell. Undoubtedly Cricket has a massive fan following in India, perhaps more than all other professional sports combined. Is it then not the right time that other sports like be popularised and promoted? No doubt, the government and the various sports bodies have a role to play, but the media can play an even larger role because of its wide reach and popularity. This assumes greater importance at a time when our country is sending the largest-ever contingent for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil.

Shaping our perception

While a person is entitled to her opinion on a personal level, the same is not true for a news channel which is expected to be all-encompassing to as much an extent as possible. News is expected to be presented as it is without manipulation, and the final judgement of a right or a wrong should be left for the media audience to decide. Moreover, hunting down a single person or a group, for more TRP, and not giving them their due time and space to defend, sets a bad precedent for journalism in our country as this diminishes the distinct roles and responsibilities of the media. In light of the recent controversy regarding the Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, the media trial against him was regrettable. Several TV news channels stepped out of their expected roles of unbiasedness and left no stones unturned in shaping public’s opinion against him. Another incident involved the comedian Tanmay Bhat’s video that went viral in the social media. Though it might be too late to comment on this issue but it still stands relevant: Tanmay Bhat was already made a scapegoat before he could appear in the public to defend himself. The same thing happened in the case of the JNU incident where one of the students, Umar Khalid, was lambasted in a live TV debate and not allowed to put forth his argument. The media trial that followed is known to all. In such incidents, common questions arise: Is this kind of action by media justified? What is the TV news media creating — an informed public or a misguided mob?

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Is this a debate? (cartoon by Vignesh Rajan)

It should be noted that is the same media which airs a high-level coverage on Salman Khan’s acquittal from the Bombay High Court but fails to discover about Kailash Satyarthi and his works until he is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Because of incident such as this, there is a high chance of the public missing out on issues of social importance. Isn’t it the responsibility of the media to make more and more voices heard, and not just the popular ones?

In this age of globalization, it has become all the more important for us as citizens to be aware of the prevailing situations and develop a tendency to engage, if not appreciate, a different perspective, even on a non-permanent basis. We should not let ourselves be derailed by the decibel level while watching a TV debate. And so far as the role of television news media is concerned, the lines by the English writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall fits appropriately — I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

This blog was originally posted on Awesummly. Awesummly is a news app available on Play Store. To download the app, click here.

Top 5 quotes on capacity building

As an ardent follower of quotes which deal with capacity building as an essential prerequisite to achieve one’s dreams and ambition, I have always been fascinated by them. I think the best way here to explain the importance of capacity building will be to directly share these quotes.  Here is my list of top 5 quotes on capacity building.

#5

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#4

Sandeep Manudhane quote

#3

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#2

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#1

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~ Thank you 🙂

My Quotes

As a person who has been reading and following a lot of quotations since childhood, I am passionate about collecting quotes spoken or written by the great men who overcame their own difficulties and limitations. In fact, I have a dedicated folder for all these quotes on my PC. Whenever I wish to be encouraged, I go through this folder and read some of the best quotes – some of them catering to a particular scenario while others for giving me a boost of energy. As a reflection of some of these quotes, I recently compiled my thoughts – these are more of a reflection on my day-to-day and year-to-year experiences. I present to you some of the quotes (thoughts/reflections) which I believe are my own.

Top 4

No.4

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ThAct = Thought + Act

No.3

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Not even the tip!

No.2

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Yes, an action plan.

No.1

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As simple as that.

I hope you all enjoyed reading these quotes. Please do comment and share your ideas and thoughts on these.

~Thank you 🙂

Should Fairness cream ads depicting dark skins be banned?

In a society where a child is told, “Bahar dhoop mein mat jao, kaale ho jaoge” (don’t go out in the sun, you will turn dark), a primary school textbook pictures ugliness to darker complexion, and which has made fairness cream industry a multi-million dollar business, it is of little surprise that we are increasingly becoming obsessed with fair skin complexion. Fairness of skin tone has been associated with being sexy and attractive. To make the matter worse, fairness cream ads try to associate it with confidence, self-esteem and chances of employability.

It is well-researched that skin colour depends on several factors, primarily on the amount of melanin in the skin. Skin colour at birth, therefore, is completely natural. The reason for varying melanin content in the skin depends on the UVR penetration of the skin which in turn varies from region to region (more near the equator and lesser at the temperate regions).

While the debate on this topic may be of lesser relevance for a light-skinned person, the gravity of this can be understood if we look into the difficulties and mental harassment many women in our country face during marriage proposals or during employment opportunities. In a society reeling under pressure from relatives and social acceptance, parents advice their child to apply fairness cream right from his/her childhood. The multimillion dollar cosmetic industry can be held responsible for engendering such prejudices – they go on to use derogatory terms like ugly, dirty for darker skin for their advertisement, which promotes racism and discrimination and shapes the mind-set of people. One cannot ignore the frequency of such TV commercials during a cricket match.
A leading example of a crusader against this negative advertising is Nandita Das who discussed these issues in her book titled Stay Unfair, Stay Beautiful, and has been an active campaigner towards ending this prejudice. She stated that this topic is a kind which should be extensively debated. Like any other social issue, this will also require more awareness and popular participation of people. While it is a personal choice of skin colour for an individual, the mental conditioning through mass communications and advertisements should end. Some of the ways that can be suggested are: skin cosmetic companies should target more on features like pimples, blemishes and dark slots, if not in real then in their advertisements; celebrities can opt out of promoting such products that guarantee white “snow white” skin; use of derogatory terms for dark skin tone should be stopped; people can set an example for others to follow; employers should really be an equal-opportunity provider; giving more lead roles to actors/actresses with darker complexion without compromising on the quality of acting, or as the case may be.

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Stay UNfair, Stay Beautiful by Nandita Das

In conclusion, I would like to state that the need is to provide equal opportunities and end this discrimination of black and white for these issues have no place in this colourful world.

Gravitational Waves

Gravitational waves are space-time distortion or ripple that are caused by some of the most violent events in the Universe such as collision of two black holes, a binary pulsar, creation of the Universe, etc. The huge acceleration of these orbiting bodies (like neutron star, pulsar, black hole) as a result of these events creates a space-time distortion which results in the generation of these waves. These waves were first predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916 in his famous “Theory of Relativity”. In 1972, twenty years after Einstein’s death, two scientists observed the decreasing distance between accelerating bodies in a binary pulsar. The rate of this decrease matched with that predicted by The Relativity Theory. This led to the proof of the existence of Gravitational waves.

On 11 February 2016, a breakthrough discovery took place – Gravitational waves were detected for the very first time by LIGO detectors in Washington. Unlike Electromagentic waves, Gravitational waves do not interact with matter and are transparent to it, i.e. it can pass through matter undistorted. Since these waves emanate from source events like the birth of Universe, exploding stars, collision of black holes, etc., their studies can help us discover hidden secrets about the Universe.

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Two black holes!

In India, a recent cabinet meeting headed by PM Modi approved the decision to setup a LIGO lab in India, which came to be known as LIGO-India project. The setup, to be completed in 8 years, will have the direct support of some of the Indian science bodies and the LIGO observatory in Washington. This provides an interesting opportunity for various stakeholders to be a part of this project from its initiation to the completion. A new and an energised scientific temper is set to grow in India and many opportunities awaits its young as well as experienced scientists.

~Utkarsh Singh

Should India withdraw its troop from Siachen?

Siachen is the highest battlefield in the world at 20,000 ft (6000m) covering a contentious area in the range of 2,300 to 2,600 sq. km. The conflict arises due to the unclearly demarcated line in The Karachi Agreement (1949) and The Shimla Agreement (1972). During Operation Meghdhoot (1984), India was able to capture key Pakistani strategic points and an area of over 3000 sq. km. previously under Pakistan’s control. Since then both the countries have maintained soldiers on a permanent basis, though India occupies better higher and key strategic locations. UN has called for both the countries to stop the fight over this inhospitable and barren land.

More than 2,000 soldiers have died at the Siachen because of the extreme conditions and natural hazards. Last year, around 120 Pakistan soldiers lost their lives in an avalanche and this year 6 Indian soldiers died.

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Indian Army men at Siachen

Keeping in mind the extreme difficulties faced by soldiers and the value of their lives, if India withdraws from the glacier, then it will lose the key location advantage that it has since 1984. Also, even if both the countries decide to withdraw their troops, Pakistan’s word cannot be trusted since the latter is hell-bent on taking each and every inch of Kashmir (Pakistani Army was considering withdrawal after the 2015 Avalanche which killed 120 soldiers). It is a matter of pride and satisfaction for Indian soldiers who complete their requisite period of training at Siachen. The government can consider reducing that duration so that risk of fatality is reduced. Other possible solutions and analysis are:

  • use of remotely Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, but Pakistan may take up this issue with the UN.
  • use of snipers from less vulnerable locations; it will be a safe bet presuming Pakistan will not send its troops in hundreds all at once to capture the Indian side.

~Utkarsh Singh

India-Nepal relations since the past year

As a low populated country that is landlocked, and virtually sandwiched, between India (on the three sides) and China, both of them being a huge nation, it is geo-politically necessary for Nepal to maintain good relations with both of them. About a decade ago Nepal transitioned into a democracy after suffering from Maoist war from 1996 to 2006. India played a key role in helping the Nepalese establishment and Maoist reach a 12-point agreement to end this. Until recently, Nepal was working on a make-shift Constitution before it drafted a new Constitution on 20 September 2015.

On the Indian side, it is understood that India and Nepal have special relations in that the two nations share a unique trust factor – no visa is required for Indian and Nepalese migration to corresponding countries, Indian Army recruits Nepalese people for the Gorkha regiments, no untoward legal restrictions exist for Nepalese to work in India, Nepalese officers work as Indian bureaucrats in India. A vast section of Nepalese economy is dependent on tourism – Pashupatinath temple is a pilgrimage site for Hindus all over the world, a bus transport service exist between India and Nepal. Although there are many issues such as trafficking of Nepali girls into India, right-wing Indian political parties trying to restrict the influx of Muslims into Indian border, uncalled interference of India in Nepal’s political matters also mar this age-old relations.

Aftermath of the devastating 2015 earthquake in Nepal lead India to announce an aid of $1 billion as cash and materials. India was also the first to respond to the calamity (an Indian Air Force plane reached the site within an hour (not sure)). While the people of Nepal were still struggling to recover from the earthquake, its political leaders took a step which caused a discomfort to Indian government – the Constituent Assembly drafted a Constitution, after delaying it for 5 years because of political reasons. India’s only point of contention towards this is the non-fulfilment of the demands of the Madhesi people (an Indian-origin community largely inhabiting the plain terai region in the south and comprising 52% of the population -a clear majority!) over inappropriate representation of the community in the Constituent Assembly in the Constitution. Madhesi political parties also demand for delineation of the provinces in keeping with the demographic composition of their community, and permanent citizenship for their family members. There has been a growing consensus in Madhesi community (and the Indian government) that the political establishment, which comprises primarily of the people of the north hilly region, is trying to marginalize them. This has resulted in violent protest by the Madhesi political parties leading to the blockade of the Nepal-India border causing more humanitarian crisis in the Himalayan nation still recovering from the earthquakes. Nepal lost its essential supply of oil and medicines from India-the prices of fire-wood, oil, medicines and other household commodities sky-rocketed. It was a common scene to find people waiting in long queues to obtain these. What is more of greater concern for India is the growing anger and frustration among the common Nepali people and political parties that belong to the non-Madhesi community towards the Indian government that accuse the latter of backing the blockade and supporting the Madhesi protests – India has completely denied these claims and reiterated its commitment to helping bring political stability to Nepal. A pre-dominant phrase in India’s Nepal foreign policy is the role of India as an Elder Brother, and not a big brother. But Nepal accuses India of interfering in its internal affairs and acting as a pressing handing instead of a helping hand.

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Madhesi protesters in a town in Nepal bordering India

Now, why is India, as has been the perception now, interfering in Nepal? I think the first and foremost reason is the geopolitical strategic advantage India gets by helping Nepal and drawing the government in its favour. Nepal is largely dependent on others in this hour of crisis. If not India, then definitely China will be the next option for Nepal. And India does not want Chinese influence to increase in Nepal, for obvious reasons of regional security and India’s own security. A consequence of this may be Chinese military establishment on Nepali soil under the pretext of Nepal’s national security and regional stability. And what Nepal needs at this hour is more than just an old friend – a helping hand. Secondly, by not adhering to the demands of the Madhesi, the entire southern stretch of Nepal-India border is at the risk of increased instability which will affect bordering Indian states of UP and Bihar Thirdly, India may, after all, want to have its say in the Nepali Constitution as it helped Nepal transition to a democracy, and played a role in ending the Maoist war.

The recent visit of Nepal PM K.P. Oli, which ended on 24 February, has definitely reduced the growing tension between the two countries. (The word “China” was not even uttered in the talks.) His primary purpose, as he categorically stated in the bilateral meeting, was to end the misunderstanding between the two countries. As of now, the blockade has been lifted and the flow of commodities has resumed. Although, the Nepali establishment has agreed to consider the demands of the Madhesi political parties, back home at Nepal, the Madhesi threaten to restart the protest and the blockade. I think, although it is not practically possible for Nepal to listen and give in to the demands of over 100 ethnic groups that live there, what it must not definitely do is marginalise the Madhesi which constitute 52% of the population. By ignoring them, Nepal will miss an opportunity to bring to use the human resource that they may provide. A political consensus must reach between the parties to bring stability to the nation. What India must do is to win back the hearts of Nepali junta, and really act like an “Elder Brother”.

Utkarsh Singh

Nationalism and Patriotism

It is the critical difference between nationalism and patriotism and misunderstanding of the definitions that still confuses many people as to whether to call themselves nationalists or patriots or both of them. The idea of “nation” or “nation-building” or “nation state” was a concept alien to the world until the struggles of people across European territories began to inspire others within and without the continent. It was during this time that the masses began to draw collective feeling of nationhood – that they belonged to an area with defined boundaries encompassing a population, majority of whom shared similar ideas and thoughts – and the ideas of equality, liberty, etc., began to take a comprehensible form. The idea of patriotism – the love for one’s own land and collective pride in its traditional and cultural values, was not foreign for the Indian subcontinent. Centuries of evolution of culture, language, art, religion, dance and architecture automatically, and passively, imbibed a sense of patriotism in the people of Indian subcontinent. This was further fueled by the dynastic rule in the subcontinent followed by the “pre-colonial” Mughal invasions, under which art and literature reached newer heights.

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Protest against the JNU incident in New Delhi.

It was during the colonial rule in which the British directly interfered with the core economics and functionary of India, trying multiple routes to exploit India and its people of its riches, a strategy unlikely of the pre-colonial rule. The collective struggle against a common “enemy” lead to the rise of nationalist sentiments in India. The British brought the Western Education to India to serve the intended purpose of building local managers to serve the British administration, people aware of its know-how – this turned out to be a paradox! Access to western education brought with it the ideas of liberty, fraternity and equality – ideas which once formed the core of the French Revolution. These ideas helped create the necessary paradigm shift in the minds of people to realize the strength of unity and a common objective. Although, the admixture of past experiences of shared cultural and traditional values of the Indian subcontinent and the western notion of nationalism lead to a rise of nationalism radically different from the European type. This one was based on the belief of inclusion and accommodation of various sections of people- a trait which was absent in European-aggrandizing Nationalism. The testimony of this interim development can be the Karachi Congress Resolution of 1931 which included numerous resolutions still much relevant in the present times.

Perhaps our Constitution makers realized the situations existing then and could foresee the problems of the present times. Through a number of meetings of the Constituent Assembly and carrying out extensive and exhaustive discussions over a period of years, they framed a Constitution which could stand strong with its core values as enshrined in the Preamble, still subject to amendments in keeping with the changing times. In view of the recent turmoil on the nature and form of nationalism and patriotism to be practiced arising because of incidents like suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Ph.D. scholar and a dalit student unable to receive studentship and an event in JNU commemorating execution of Afzal Guru, 2001 Parliament terrorist attack convict which was accompanied by alleged anti-India sloganeering by the university campus students, the whole nation seems to be caught in a web of ideological battles among various factions – the opposition accusing the government at the centre of imposing its Hindutva ideology and branding the defaulters as anti-national; institutions questioning the role of television and print media in shaping popular public opinion, etc. In my opinion, the only solution to end this problem is through more and more debates and discussions, for these, as is evident from the past, form the essence of a time-tested process known as democracy.