Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category
Amartya Sen has recently (actually he’s talking about it for a while) commented that Bangladesh has taken over India in human development – at least in a couple of key health indicators and gender equality. I will try to add graphs and pictures to describe that, and also add another country (Nepal) stat to show that it’s not an accident.
The first and foremost, let’s look at the workplace. It’s a no-brainier that women in Nepal and Bangladesh participate in work more often than that in India. Too see it in charts –
This has lead to more empowerment of women in Nepal and Bangladesh and that is the root cause of health related developments. This pattern stays forever, i.e. Nepal > Bangladesh > India was always there. This is mostly because lack of respect and openness in Indian society to allow women to work. I can put statistics about Pakistan and show they are doing worse in all those.
The next one is the most-discussed – the under 5 mortality rates.
The link between these two parts of the stats is obvious. The first part implies that more women in workforce leads to more empowerment of women and that again leads to better maternal health and that again implies more childcare. Bangladesh and Nepal did it better than what India did. Nepal, as predicted from the earlier statistics, did even better than what Bangladesh did.
This also effected in more generic statistics, such as Life expectancy.
Bangladesh was already ahead of India but was able to hold on to that gap. Meanwhile, Nepal did a catch-up, in fact a rapid one, to start below India and get to where Bangladesh is. Nepal deserves every bit of praise for achieving all that. But remember, it all stems from the first one – women are more likely to participate in work.
So, does it conclude that future of Indian social and health indicators are doomed. The answer is no – there are still grounds for development. But for the foreseeable future, India is likely to lag Bangladesh and Bangladesh will lag Nepal in all basic health indicators. This is despite India has more income per-person and more physicians per 1000 person than either of the countries. The fundamental reason is the empowerment of women.
There’s a tendency among news media and leftists to criticize India’s growth and point out that all money is going to a few hands. I see no such proof in numbers. Poverty rates are falling and people under poverty are getting better social security than there used to be a couple of decades ago. All that is made possible because Govt now has more money from tax revenues to invest in social development. I can see it in charts –
As we see in charts, there’s no significant difference in the poorest 10% income share of Nepal and Bangladesh compared to those in India. The share is falling slowly but offset by a healthier growth rate on the top. Also, to maintain context, this numbers in South Asia is one of the best in the world – Finland, Norway or other egalitarian countries are all close or sometimes even worse.
Hence I conclude that its women’s empowerment and not the growth or inequality is the key to getting better at basic healthcare. The problem is, this is a part of culture and it takes a while to change. To accept women at every workplace, people and popular mindset needs a sea-change from where it is right now. It takes time to improve conditions of women in a country with a culture of infanticide, discrimination and sexual abuses. For all practical purposes, Bangladesh and Nepal are going to finish the literacy and healthcare race ahead of India as well.
I was just looking for how Minority Rights has been in our region. I spent time in China, Singapore and USA apart from my motherland India. I discovered in all of these countries, minorities do get better treatment than what they get in India. USA, one of the best and the most advanced democracies of the world, protects the rights of indigenous, linguistic, ethnic and religious minorities in all possible ways. Though they have a very bad history of minority rights and that had led to unequal economic status of different ethnic groups of USA, ultimately they have put genuine efforts to erase them all. Most importantly, they all acknowledge that difference does exist among different ethnic groups.
However, in case of South Asia, it’s all matter of denial. Each country says minorities are treated in the best possible ways they should have. However, as the UN data shows, all these countries has low rank in Human development and high rank in discrimination against minorities.
A report by Minority Rights in 2007 shows that Pakistan, Sri lanka and Nepal (along with Myanmar) are in the top 20 worst place for Minorities. In their report named “State of the World’s Minorities – 2007 “, a couple of our neighbor’s neighbors are also included – Afghanistan and Iran. Only Africa, as expected, has more representation in that list. The report has a truth about India –
“India, however, highlights the importance of implementation of standards: while the state has a plethora of minority rights standards, minorities continue to be vulnerable.”
In their latest report “State of the World’s Minorities – 2008”, the situation did not change at all. I wanted to dig a little bit deeper in the list of countries. The fully downloadable list also includes Bangladesh (at 36) and India (at 62), as expected. I agree that Bhutan, the tiny Himalayan Kingdom, has been ignored and Maldives is too homogeneous to really have any minority issue.
The most funny thing is, after all, we are proud of our culture. All of South Asians think their country has best cultures and yet …
I tried to come up with a rough transcript of what Weinberg said. I hope you’ll enjoy. I am again working on translating some of his works. Steven Weinberg is the Nobel Prize winner in Physics in 1979.
All of these works related to data collection on Big Bang, are resultant of unmanned missions – be it Hubble Space Telescope or a Satellite for observation. An astronaut is not required here. They might bump into the things and the designer has to make the spacecraft especially hospitable for Human beings. You don’t want people working as a part of real scientific observation, except on the ground where it is hospitable for humans. Unfortunately there is a fascination of puting people in space by Russia, USA and some other countries. USA has a policy of going back to the Moon and then Mars at the cost of hundreds of billions of Dollars, if not trillions. This may have some justification in terms of excitement and drama, after all we support football, Olympics and all kinds of drama in theatre. But don’t confuse it with Science – it’s the Disney version of Science. Real science cares about the observation, made by manned or unmanned missions and painfully connecting them to the real world of theories. People are going the Moon and playing golf – looks magnificent but it has nothing to do with science. That’s actually a Walt Disney’s version of Science that is more involved in entertainment and less in actual reasoning.
The thing that really has an impact on us is the culture of Science. No one in this room will ever stand on the Moon. But we all can share the results of Scientific research. We can benefit to sense what kind of world we are living in. We have seen over the centuries the gradual demystification of the world and gradual recognition that we are not at the center of the things. The Universe is not a ‘Cosmic drama’, where we are given some ‘heroic’ roles. It all started with Tyco Brahe realizing that our Earth is nothing but just another planet rotating around the Sun. He was burnt alive. In 1920s, it was discovered by Hubble that our Galaxy is one of many Galaxies floating in the Universe and each of them are having billions of stars in them. There is nothing particular in our Galaxy. And now, we have the idea, which is not yet established, that our Big Bang is nothing special. It’s just another bang in the Universe which Big Bangs go on sporadically due to instability and equations of motion of matter except that ours was the bang that by chance had the right kind of parameters to spawn life on at least some parts of Universe and we can wonder about it.
So, the world once appeared mysterious, and it seemed a nymph in every tree could enable you to explain the way the world works. Everything seemed beyond our understanding unless there were personalities out there doing things, making fire, making thunder. As Science progressed we learned that there is no need to assume the personalities out there to make things happen. We understand the nature works in a very impersonal way. And I think perhaps the greatest impact that this kind of Scientific research may have or I hope will have is not for the knowledge it produces but for the model it provides for seeking the truth. Our Science as a whole offers a way of knowing. We are always tentative and never say that we are sure of something. Some things become very well established with consensus – for example the Big Bang has now. But we admit it might be wrong, especially when we go back in time towards the stage of inflation and the quantum beginning. We admit that we are speculating. However, No one is burnt alive for his difference in opinion in Cosmology, though some people do have very peculiar opinions.
Our knowledge is thus based on observation and reason, implied to be self-correcting and also very much culture-free. The Cosmology that is studied in my country or that of yours (Canada) is the same as the Cosmology that is studied in Japan and India. We don’t have a cosmological truth for you and one for me and one for somebody living overseas. We are uncertain about it, but we all working towards a common truth. It’s not an outgrowth of our culture.
Above all, we have an attitude towards authority that the world could well emulate. We do have heroes in Science – in my own field of Physics and Cosmology we can name Einstein, Hubble, Satellite makers. But they are not Prophets. They are not people whose words we remember and go back to for guidance in Scientific research. No one today reads Einstein’s papers except for historical interests. Any graduate student, here in this University, understands general relativity better than Einstein did because our subject is a cumulative one. Although we honor Einstein, we never dream of settling a scientific dispute by asking what Einstein said about it. In other words, we have our heroes but we don’t have prophets. And looking at the world today, where people are willing to kill each other because of religious certainty, because of books that were written thousands of years ago supposedly by God – looking at the way the world benefitted by its prophets, I would say the example of Science as a good one that we need more heroes and fewer prophets.
My travel plan was like this : Kolkata-Mumbai (Jet Airways), Mumbai-Seattle via Amsterdam (NorthWest/KLM). It started with a bad experience in the flight to Mumbai. The Jet Airways offerred me a raw deal – asked to have Vegeterian meal. I don’t like it. So, I decided to go for a Satyagraha – to reject the food. I am not yet aware of what caused the debacle but I know that it is a open secret now – Jet wants Indians to become Vegeterian. I had been offered a Vegeterian meal in Jet thrice in my last four journeys – those too within last three months. Is the Jet Airways going to become another budget airline?
Whatever the Jet plans, I was interested in having more food at Mumbai Airport. Once I gave my luggage to the Northwest officials, I was free to take a look at the city, since I had almost 4 hours of time. I went to a luxurious hotel nearby and had the buffet dinner at Rs. 900 (all inclusive). Then I realized the mistake that I should not have committed.
In Mumbai, the Domestic and International Terminals are 4kms away from each other. And I have to take an auto to travel to the International one. The domestic terminal doesn’t allow people to get in with an international ticket. So, I can’t use the inside shuttle service for transit. It’s a warning for all transit passengers in Mumbai airport – don’t come out of the Domestic/International airport before the transit. However, getting an auto was not that difficult in Mumbai and I at least unloaded my luggage beforehand.
I should write something about both these airport terminals. The domestic terminal looks gorgeous and as per my knowledge it’s been renovated by GVK. The international terminal was equally bad – and it’s under renovation. As expected, the good to better conversion first takes it to the worse state. The road beside the international terminal had also buses plying on it. And the international travelers had to make queues jostling with the commuters waiting in the bus stops. There are no electronic board showing the correct terminal one should choose. It’s pathetic – worse than an under-construction road. To make it worse, there were no signboards saying that it’s actually under construction (and offering a ray of hope at the end of the tunnel that we’ll show you better things next year) – wrongly putting permanent bad impression in foreigners’ mind.
I was on time and was able to board the flight to leave the country successfully. The first NorthWest flight journey was far from satisfying – the quality of food was not good and they offered breakfast twice in a nine hour journey. Come on, isn’t it a punishable offence to offer only BREAKFAST in such a long route to Amsterdam? I believe it is.
However, the Amsterdam Airport impressed me. There was a quiet book store – full of people who’re trying buy a journey assistant. I bought a book named “The State of Africa” since I have quite less knowledge about the entire continent and I believe it has a lot of things to offer to the rest of the world in near future. The problem stated with the coffee shop. All the pricing written in the shop were in Euro and I didn’t have it. For a item like a cup of coffee, I was not interested to use my card. Hence I asked the “May I Help You”-lady if the shops accept the US Dollar. She assured that they do. However, there was a fine print that she omitted from her sentence. Now I stepped up to a nearby shop and asked the shop person –
“Do you take United States Dollar”.
“What’ the problem with it, except that it’s value is getting lower day by day …” – he laughed and said.
“Well …”, I said “let me have a cup of hot coffee”. It was marked to cost 3 Euros, i.e. close to 4.5 dollars.
Now at the time of payment, I gave him a 10 dollar note and he returned a few coins. I saw those are Euro coins. That’s what they do – they “accept” dollars and pay the change in Euros. How can we say that they “accept”? Well, definition does matter … what else I can say. I only can blame myself for creating 4 Euro non-performing asset. I should have asked a few more questions.
I was planning to take a city tour but I had to abort it since I did not have any EU Visas. It was another hard reality – in Singapore we had no problem, but Europeans don’t trust us.
The last part of the journey was a better one – from the quality of the food to the level of comfort one should have in a 10 hour journey. I sat beside a 55 year old Estonian Woman, who was not at all comfortable in English. She was going to her son’s place after a break of three months in her own country. She has her daughter in Estonia and her son in USA. So, she is shuttling between and hoping to get her daughter in USA once she gets the citizenship. She started showing a lot of old styled photographs of her journey.
The thing that amazed me was her awareness about Indians – especially of Bollywood. Once I said that I was a Bengali, she started remembering that she actually knows a Bengali actor named Jimmy. Can anybody recognize this person? I could not. Madam herself was able to recollect the actual name – Mithun Chakraborty. It’s a pleasure to hear a Bengali getting recognized in different part of the globe. It was the film “Disco Dancer” – where Mithun was known as Jimmy (the famous song : Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy …). Madam later referred to that song also and remembered the days when she used to watch at least four to five bollywood movies in a year. She also knew that Mithun was engaged in some sort of social work and about her three sons. It was really an amazing experience.
In the flight, there was an option to watch movies. I took the opportunity to watch “No Country for Old Man”. The same time she asked me to find a Hindi film from the list and she was happy to watch “Om Shanti Om”. If you think I don’t have a good choice then let me tell you that I had only one more option – Sawariya and I was not keen to torture with the Hindi film with different taste. I followed her closely while she was watching “Om Shanti Om”. She was getting drowsy when the film was been screened in front, but got rejuvenated every time a song was there. The USP of Bollywood movies are the songs in between – something I personally feel good about. But there are customers all around the globe who are ready to grab those and Bollywood gives them a unique choice to enjoy it. That’s whereexactly Bollywood makes money.
Well, I have nothing more to add to this already lengthy blog entry, and also I did not face anything remarkable before I actually landed in United States. So, that’s it for the day and hopefully I’ll be able to update you on my experiences in US.