Bad Evenings and Worse Mornings!

Two days ago I was in Bangalore giving an interview. One of the many questions I was asked was about relocation , I was also asked if I liked my ‘hometown’ Chennai. I remember answering in the affirmative; sure Chennai has terribly hot climate and it could be a little boring at times, but on the whole its safe and has the sea and well I generally like it. After today I think I like Chennai much less.

This evening my mom and I went in search of the i-pill, of course had I been a little less ignorant I wouldn’t have tried despite the circumstances. So this is what we did; we called our regular medical store and were told the i-pill was unavailable, so we then enquired about Norlevo, Pill 72, Ovral G and several other varieties of the ‘morning-after’ pill and found they were unavailable too. About an hour later we had set out on a walk, enquired at six different medical stores and came to naught, so we unhappily drew the conclusion that the ‘morning after’ was simply unavailable.

This struck me as absurd, Chennai – touted as the ‘medical capital’ of India had no medicines of a particular variety?, that was not all nor the the scariest part. In attempt to fill the gap, qualified chemists kept trying to convince me that ‘Mifepristone‘ a MTP Pill available usually only on prescription was the same thing. The fact is, Mifepristone is used in conjunction with other abortive pills (an abortificant) to induce an abortion below five weeks of pregnancy and is positively dangerous if taken in the place of an emergency contraceptive pill, ‘Levonorgestrel’, on the other hand, is used as part of combination oral contraceptive pill and in high doses can be used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse. Unintended consequences in a situation of information asymmetry and really nasty plausible outcomes playing out.

Apparently sometime in 2006, Tamil Nadu’s state Directorate of Drug Control (DDC) decided to take all ‘pills’ of the ‘morning after’ variety of the shelves. The provocation? Apparently the Chennai-based ‘Responsible Parents Forum’ and ‘Satvika Samuga Sevakar Sangam’ felt that the drug induces abortion (and is not a contraceptive); therefore its sale without prescription is illegal, additionally the two protesting groups claimed that there was no public debate before it was included in the Schedule M of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act (DCA), 1940 which makes the drug available over the counter.

I’m not sure whether I should be shocked about how regressive people can be or stand in awe of the stupidity involved. To begin with ’emergency contraceptive pills’ are not the same thing as abortive pills, the text of any ‘morning after pill’ explains that they are ineffective once ‘implantation’ has taken place in the womb or in other words once fertilization has happened, which is why they are termed levonorgestrel-based ECs! Abortive pills on the other hand are designed to work after this fertilization has taken place, the methods then are very different.

Chemical analysis and indeed any minimum degree of bio-chemistry knowledge easily proves that any ‘morning after’ pill contains Levonorgestrel and not Mifepristone (which is what is being sold as replacement, GASP!) as suggested by the hair-brained protesters. What is interesting is that the TN DDC has the right to seize ‘drugs; of a particular kind only if they do not adhere to prescribed standards, or are mis-branded, adulterated or spurious, I really wonder which one of these conditions apply to the ‘mornign after’? As far as is known, in the case of emergency contraceptives such as the ‘morning after’ the dosage is 0.75 mg (recommended by the Drug Controller of India) and sold as a Schedule M drug under a ready licence!

Even more absurd is this quotation from one of the women by name of Ajeetha (sigh!) who was at the forefront of the protests, she says: “the text is objectionable and promotes ‘free sex’. Words such as ‘..when one becomes careless, or things get out of control‘, It takes away responsibility from the act of sexual intercourse. And the branding (Mis-take) is also not so subtle insinuation that pre-marital sex is alright…”.

One of the biggest things to learn about patriarchy is that women themselves are the biggest perpetrators of it! Its been a long time since I have seen or heard of a more vivid example than this. Its fascinating how regressive laws can become in a country that is supposed to be swaggering down the road to development.

Consider capital punishment for rape, in India capital punishment is given in the ‘rarest of rare instances’ for the ‘most heinous of crimes’ which are often such crimes that render their victims in some sense ‘irreparable’. For a moment lets forget the argument that most people who have studied ‘law and economics’ draw – which suggests that at the margin the cost of committing rape+murder for a rapist becomes zero if capital punishment is announced for rapists thereby creating an incentive to additionally rape and kill their victims in fear of evidence coming out for a harsher punishment and so…

But consider this, is this the message we want to give out in society about our women? Ought rape to be a crime that makes no women live a normal life again? Ought we to attach such stigma to a woman who has been ‘raped’ to make her feel that the most ‘heinous and irrepairable’ damage has been done to her? Is chastity all there is to woman? Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying rape is OK, I’m asking if we really want to make women believe that their chastity being lost is something that should make them feel guilty life-long? But I digress.

One thing that is obvious is this, the SS Co. (which sounds dangerously RSS like) and the ‘Responsible Parents Forum’ probably consists of the most irresponsible bunch of people ever known- people who oppose freedom of choice, liberty in action and the access to technology all together. A formidable coalition of fools who believe that Chennai streets are better overrun with teenage mothers and scared teenage fathers, with dustbins littered with unwanted infants and people with closeted minds who will silently engage in marital rape while the law turns a blind eye and proclaims all is fine.

Never mind that Chennai has one of the highest incidence of AIDS in the country, never mind that domestic violence is spiralling in Tamil Nadu and never mind that the un-natural separation between growing girls and boys in this academic ‘temple’ of the south causes more and more roadblocks to conjugal bliss. After all who will ever find out?, we will keep sweeping it under the carpet as long the vermilion stays bright and the sacred threads sparkle along our broad backs!

The tragedy is that its been nearly two years since emergency contraception has been available freely in Chennai, and I am yet to hear of a protest! Tragically Chennai is the same place where the global campaign for microbicides (a form of contraception) began and is still head-quartered. What happened to science and reason or is it only prejudice that matters now?

I get paid to do ‘Development’.

I was looking for career principles online and I stumbled upon Ajit Chaudhuri’s post on to freshers. Its brilliant and reproduced below for anyone who wants to work with/in development.


Welcome freshers !
Tue, 30/01/2007 – 01:03 — maverick
“S/he who follows another’s footsteps leaves no footprints”*

Despite not (yet) having achieved gurudom, I am occasionally asked for advice about joining the development sector. Most of those enquiring can be slotted into two categories. The first are well-spoken but mediocre people who are getting nowhere in their chosen professions and have (therefore?) developed a social conscience. Their impression of the sector is as a place where the effort to returns ratio is second only to the spirituality business. The second are those whose short-term career objective is to join Kofi Annan in New York, and their impression of the sector is as a place where one hops on to intercontinental flights with the same regularity that you and I used the local public transport system in our student days. But occasionally, very occasionally, some young person approaches me with intent in his or her eyes, not knowing what ‘development’ is, with this vague idea of working with people in some faraway place and dirtying their hands, firm only about using their good qualifications and skills to do something different. I never know what to tell the former types – whether to play up their fantasies or to give them a reality check. As to the latter, this is what I have to say.

First, to address the basic questions:
Is there scope for good people here? The development sector needs bright people coming in as much, if not more, than other sectors of the economy. The array of problems that the sector addresses is mind-boggling in its variety, intensity and complexity and, should you decide to make a career here, you will require all the skills and drive that you think you possess. The sector also offers the opportunity to make one’s mark, and leave one’s footprints, in ways that are not possible elsewhere. So please rid yourself of the notion that this is a sinecure for the mediocre, the retired, the idle rich and the infirm.

Is long-term financial survival possible here? All of us have nightmares about being middle-aged, washed out and broke. Whether this sector provides more scope for such a turn of events than others is debatable. Most people here, as elsewhere, manage to get by, build their houses, educate their children, etc., etc. It is possible, and quite easy if you are good, to move to more lucrative segments within the development sector at some stage in your career. But – you will have to deal with the ass kissing, red tape and white domination that often go with the money. Anyway, by that time you will be aware of the pros and cons of the decisions you take. If money is important in the short term, however, then forget about coming here – you will be better off peddling soap or consulting or doing whatever it is that you are alternatively qualified to do.

What to do? Where to go? You need to figure out some basic questions before you start looking, such as rural or urban setting, in which part of the country, in an activist or a welfarist set up, and how close to the community you want to work. Finding organizations to work in that suit these settings is fairly simple after that, and good organizations are always looking for good people. Donor organizations are good places to enquire about these matters.

And now for my personal advice on what you should do:
Start out doing a field job – one that involves living and working directly with a community. The community consists of a large number of people who don’t have to say yes sir or yes ma’am to you and don’t care which fancy institution you did your post-graduation from – you have to earn your spurs from scratch, throw management theory out of the window and prepare to be surprised and tested every single day. You will discover that the class 5 pass man working with you is much better at the job than you will ever be, or that the supposedly pathetic women your activities are directed towards have much more guts than the modern, educated babes back home. Doing something here involves stress, fun and serious learning, and it is this part of your life that will stay on with you wherever you go. Spend a good amount of time here, ensure that you are not stuck with the report and proposal writing jobs and ayah-duty (i.e. escorting funding agency wallahs into the field) that you will be passed on because of your English-speaking skills, and see that you leave something intangible behind when you go. Later in life, when you are dealing with NGOs from a funding or consulting perspective, you will have plenty of NGO-wallahs giving you the what-would-you-know-you-city-asshole vibes – watch their tunes change once you let slip that you were once in their position.

Do the above with a good NGO – be careful about this because, though there are many good NGOs, they are still a small proportion of the total number of NGOs around. Good NGOs, in my opinion, are honest, secular and transparent. They formulate their plans and activities on the basis of the needs of the community they work with and are answerable to them for this. So be careful about this – you would not want your CV littered with associations with family businesses, feudal empires, pimping and middlemen set-ups, money laundering operations, touts, donor puppets, crooks, etc., masquerading as NGOs.

Become an expert – by the time you have put in 2-3 years in the field, there should be some topic relating to your work that you know more about than anybody else in the world. This means relating what you do on the ground to the larger picture, to what is happening elsewhere in the world and to the latest academic debate on the subject. Keep up to date, keep writing, and write to publish. This is easier said than done, field people have an innate distaste and little time for serious writing, but it is this that will separate those who will later go on to effect policy from those who will remain community organizers all their lives.

Eschew jargon – people in the development sector, like the IT sector and several others, have a peculiar predilection towards using jargon. The problem with this is that it serves to exclude people whom you would wish to include and include people whom you would probably want to exclude. Words like participatory, empowerment and sustainable, which you will find bandied about like toffees on a domestic flight, actually mean different things to different people and very often don’t mean anything at all. And when an organization wants to recruit dedicated, motivated and committed people, it usually means that they want to pay less for more work and therefore only suckers need apply. So don’t get caught up in this bullshit, learn the art of communicating exactly what you mean in a simple and understandable way.

Be humble and be nice – nothing like these qualities, even if put on, to enable you to get along. Having said that, don’t put up with nonsense beyond a point that even fake humility and pleasantness can’t handle. People and organizations that cross the line should end up spitting out teeth with their blood, so to speak.

Watch your love life – you will find yourself working closely with members of the opposite sex, often in very intense situations, and you will find yourself liking some of them and vice versa. Have your fun! But, my advice is, don’t find yourself marrying and/or having children with anyone you would not have done so with had things been different. The fiery young activist can end up a leach of a middle-aged man, worrying more about what is happening in Red Square than in the well-being of his immediate family and quite happy to leave you with all the responsibilities while he gabs on about revolution. And the passionate free-spirited feminist is unlikely, later in life, to have a hot cup of tea ready for you when you come home after a hard day at the office. And you will be shocked at how easy it is to forget people once they are out of context.

Should you take the plunge into the sector, you will find yourself interacting with a wide variety of people. Watch out for the following types –

People with halos – you will find a number of people claiming to be doing a favour to humanity by working in this sector, especially at the higher echelons. Many of them have active PR machineries supporting their claims to sainthood, and some even believe in their own hype. You can be sure that, like everywhere else, being hardworking, intelligent and capable are not enough to reach and stay at the very top – you also have to be ruthless and slimy. There are no exceptions to this. So, whenever you hear or read the words ‘S/he/I could have been rolling in it in any other line but chose to sacrifice her/him/myself to the cause of the poor/destitute/vulnerable blah, blah, blah” be warned of the existence of yet another hypocrite in the world.

Emperors – they are the lords of all they survey, and don’t distinguish between their personal assets and their organization’s resources, and this usually includes its women employees. Yes, most, but not all, emperors are males.

Pompous employees of donor agencies – donors have an inexplicable penchant for recruiting morons. They do sometimes go wrong, and you find yourself dealing with someone who knows his or her job and who is able to have a positive effect on your and your organization’s work. But you do often have to deal with someone who thinks s/he has arrived because s/he represents the money, and/or someone to whom development is about budgets and utilizations more than people. While there is no known cure for stupidity, sometimes it helps to let the former type know that they have their nice air-conditioned offices and fancy credit cards because people like you are willing to slog in the sun for peanuts. Don’t take crap from them and, much more importantly, don’t become like them if and when you are in their position at some later stage in your life.

Development tourists – these people travel the world to conferences and seminars on money that is meant for the poor. They are the self-appointed spokespersons for India’s (and sometimes the entire third world’s) poor in Geneva, Stockholm and such places. Their slick presentations, that have audiences thanking God for having created them in this tumultuous world, invariably disguise the fact that they last did something on the ground about twenty years ago – they have since been too busy traveling. Don’t make the mistake of getting impressed by these parasites. And don’t join them expecting to see the world; you will be lucky to have more than a Bangladesh visa stamped on your passport.

If you are still planning to join the sector – a very hearty welcome to you!

By Ajit Chaudhuri (PRM 8)

* A Confucian saying after having undergone a gender audit


The original url is here.

The Hallmark of a Pathetic Institution

I have spent much of my life moving from one pathetic institution to another. So much so, that I could probably write the 101 ways to stay and survive in a D grade institution. The trouble is that this would take much to0 much time which I’m unwilling to devote to such a frivolous pursuit.

I must however vent my utter dismay. Here is a list to ponder upon: You know your institution is pathetic if,

  • If you have enough assignments to fill up weeks together but no form of resources whatsoever including a reasonable library, informed faculty or the internet.
  • Your professors need endless reminding to help you, either with classwork or with related academic work.
  • The air conditioning in your cyber hole doesn’t function, and you are expected to produce quality research in the sweltering heat.
  • Your classmates are a bunch of dorks. They cannot construct a sentence, are incapable of non-linear thought, have nothing other than chatting on their minds and want you to do their work for them all the time.
  • Your institution does not subscribe to any known online news/journal service and expects you to buy individual membership from international statistical services.
  • Hates you because you appear to be slightly smarter than the average dork and way smarter than the average professor.
  • Encourages cut-copy-paste as long as the source is well concealed.
  • Believes group work can do no harm to a bright mind, especially when co-workers are selfish dorks.
  • You leave feeling utterly gloomy and depressed every single day.
  • You are stuck with a bunch of people who all think of nothing more than the promotion of their own community, where merit is passe and where the academic head considers your future a political playground.
  • Pushes you to such levels of insanity, that you end up blogging about it!

If you think of any more, do comment. It is cheering when you know you’re not alone.

Laboured Children

Another day, another law. The UPA government has just passed legislation on child labour- banning it, as expected. There are several things to be said about this; the first being that this legislation is a huge victory for human rights. Secondly, much of its success depends upon implementation– which has in the past been far from perfect. The third and perhaps the most important aspect is that this bit of legislation is incomplete.

The new legislation creates lots of problems. To begin with– who or what will fill the domestic help gap for the middle class? What could be as efficient and yes as cheap as young domestic help? In India, banning is as good as offering the police the opportunity to slip in bribes and turn a blind eye yet again. The reason the legislation is incomplete is precisely this. Assume for a moment that implementation takes place. Scared middle class households and small shops throw out their young domestic labour, where do these children go? Where do they earn alternate employment? Who is to make them go to school? In effect, where Mr. Prime Minister is the back up plan?

The government estimates that, overall, India has 12.6 million child workers (unofficial estimates place the figures closer to 40 million), of whom somewhere around a million may be employed in homes and restaurants. It seems rather absurd to believe that India will manage to implement its new law for such large numbers when it is still struggling with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) in about two-hundred districts.

As Harjot Kaur, director of child labour within the Ministry of Labor and Employment said, “Child labour is not a problem that you can resolve overnight. It is not that today you come up with an act and tomorrow it is eradicated. This is a gradual process.”. So now, child labour is illegal, but what about the roof and the bit of food that has been taken away too?

Alice in Nuclear Blunderland

Read this article at the greenpeace website. It is absolutely brilliant. Reproduced below in case you’re to lazy to click:


Vienna, Austria — Editor’s note: In preparing this article about the meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, we read the news stories from all of the most reputable sources, we read the reports from all of the best institutions, we read the statements from all of the governments and agencies, but nowhere could we find a reasonable, rational, or plausible explanation of what was happening. We decided the only answer was the absurd.

Ever since Alice had slipped down the Rabbit Hole, the news had been getting curiouser and curiouser. She found herself at a very large table where the March Hare, a dormouse, a hippopotamus, and the Mad Hatter were having tea.

The Hatter was telling a story about how George W. TweedleDum had just got back from a trip to India, where he was promising to give away shiny new nuclear technology. At the same time, TweedleDee had been getting very red-faced at the United Nations about some shiny new nuclear technology in Iran that he wanted taken away. He broke off his story to wave an empty teapot at Alice.

“Would you like less tea, my dear?”

“Don’t you mean more tea?” asked Alice politely.

“No no no no. We don’t have any “more tea” we only have “less tea.” And it’s very rude to ask for what we don’t have. Now, would you like some more Peaceful Nuclear Technology and Less Nuclear Weapons to go with that?”

“Umm, yes please” said Alice, thinking this must be the correct answer and not wanting to upset the Hatter again.

“There you go again, asking for what we can’t possibly give you!” cried the Hatter, springing to his feet.

“How about some safe, clean nuclear power instead?” offered the dormouse helpfully.

“That sounds quite nice, I suppose,” said Alice with some hesitation.

“Wrong answer! No such thing!” the Hatter shouted with glee, politely adding “One lump or two?”

Alice was quite put out. “Isn’t it rude to offer something you don’t have?” asked Alice. “And even ruder to offer something that doesn’t exist? What kind of a tea party is this?”

“Why this is an IAEA Board of Governors meeting, my dear, and we’re having an NP Tea Party!” said the March Hare, glancing nervously at a very large watch which was chiming the hour by barking loudly.

“An NP Tea Party? What’s that?”

“It’s all very simple,” said the Hatter as he handed out slices of cake and then went around smacking everyone’s hand when they started eating it, “the NPT is a treaty in which the parties that have nuclear weapons agree to get rid of their nuclear weapons in exchange for the parties that don’t have nuclear weapons promising not to get nuclear weapons. As part of the incentive for not getting nuclear weapons they’re rewarded with the means to make nuclear weapons. Slice of Cake?”

Alice eyed the yellow cake suspiciously. She heard a distant voice shouting “Off with their heads!”

“Now, at the moment we’re discussing the case of Iran, which has signed the treaty and promised not to build nuclear weapons and so has been rewarded with the means to make nuclear weapons. But there are some people at this party who think that they’re actually using those means to make nuclear weapons as a means to make nuclear weapons.”

“Which they’ve said they don’t want…” said Alice.

“Oh yes, but as you of all people should know, my dear, saying what we mean isn’t always the same as meaning what we say. Saying that they aren’t making nuclear weapons is just what you’d expect them to do if they were making nuclear weapons. Proof enough.”

The Hatter took a slice of cake and pushed it into the face of the Hippo, who already had his mouth full. “You shouldn’t eat so much cake,” he sputtered.

George W. TweedleDum suddenly appeared. “Personically, I’d like to see less nuclear weapons in the world. Which is why I’m building more.”

“THAT’s the spirit!” cried the Hatter.

“But I don’t understand!” cried Alice. “If you can use nuclear power technology to make nuclear weapons, and you want to get rid of the nuclear weapons, shouldn’t you stop handing out the nuclear power technology?”

George W. TweedleDum patted Alice on the head. “You are an absurd little creature, aren’t you? Hatter, why don’t you explanify the Treaty thing?”

“The TREATY thing, yes yes, mustn’t forget that!” cried the Hatter as he absent-mindedly dipped the dormouse in his tea.

“Now you see on the one hand, Iran has signed the Non-treaty on Weapons Proliferation, and the Treaty on the Proliferation of Non-weapons Nuclear, and the Proliferation of Treaties on the Proliferation of Weapons, Non…”

“Which are all the same thing,” said the dormouse, yawning.

“So if THEY try to get nuclear weapons, that’s quite illegal and we must send them to the Queen of Hearts’ Security Council for punishment.”

“India, on the other hand,” said the Hatter holding up a second hand and dropping the teapot on the dormouse’s head, “has never signed the treaty, so their nuclear weapons are perfectly OK and they should be rewarded with more nuclear technology.”

“Pakistan, on the third hand,” and oddly the Hatter actually produce a third hand at this point, ” has never signed the treaty, but we’re not so sure about them, so we’re NOT going to reward them with more nuclear technology.”

George W. TweedleDum smiled broadly. “The lessonification here is never, never sign a treaty. That’s my motto. Lot of bother. I promise to keep my nuclear weapons and everybody else has to get rid of theirs unless I say they can keep them. That’s my kind of Treaty. I believe in maintaining high standards. I believe in maintaining high standards.”

“You said that twice.” said the Hatter.

“He has to say it twice,” said the dormouse. “It’s a double standard.”

The Hatter now declared it was time for a vote. “Now, who thinks we should send Iran to the Queen of Hearts? (“Off with their heads! came the cry from the garden next door again…) Everyone looked at the Hippo. The hippo started to raise his foot, and everyone in the party started to raise their hands. Or paws. Then the hippo put his foot down, and everyone in the party did the same. Then George W. TweedleDum took a large hatpin and quietly stuck it into the rather large backside of the Hippo, who jumped into the air with his foot raised, and everyone in the party followed suit.”

“There then, it’s settled, off to the Queen of Hearts with them!” sang the Hatter.

“Is that what you call democracy?” asked Alice curiously.

“Well it looks like democracy, but in reality the Hippo decides, and the Hippo just does what TweedleDum tells him to do” said the Hatter.

“Oh. I see,” said Alice. “I suppose then it’s not really a democracy at all, is it?”

“Well it’s just a very different kind of democracy, my dear. Some people call it a Hippocracy. Cake?”

Tilted Scales of Justice

GujaratThe Best Bakery case verdict was announced on Feb 24th this year. A good four years after the bloody communal riots in Gujarat. The verdict was a good one sans one thing, which is what this post is about. [hat tip: Red]. Nine of the defendants were deemed guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment and Zaheera Sheikh a key witness who has (under pressure) turned hostile in the case has been found guilty of perjury and a year in prison.

There is a reason why the latter bit of the judgement bothers me. This girl saw fourteen people burnt alive and naturally scared. But there’s more to this. Sure, she turned hostile, perhaps she even took money. Perhaps not. But what we do know is that BJP party legislator Madhu Srivastava owned a lot of land near Zaheera’s house.

What we also know is that Gujarat 2002 was a pogrom. The question to be asked is this: How is it, that a witness was allowed to be terrified into lying in court? How is it that while she has been charged with perjury, Narendra Modi goes scott free?

Justice is supposed to be blind and objective. But is it? Should there not be a concession made to Zaheera? Should not the real perpetrators, those who offered the money (regardless of whether it was accepted) and those who threatened her be punished?

Then there are further questions. Logically, in a case like this to ensure justice, it ought to be absolutely imperative that the court direct the police to provide security to the witnesses. What happened instead? The court maintained a rigid silence when the question of biased police officers was brought up.

Let’s imagine then for a second, that this is inevitable. Whatever happened to the public prosecutor? If I am right the public prosecutor can request an adjournment in a situation where witnesses after witnesses turn hostile. Of course none of this is a surprise considering the fact that the public prosecutor did even place on record (let alone follow up on) the National Human Rights Commission report.

So what now? I could naively assume that the the prosecutor managed to overlook these details or I could believe that the system of justice makes too much of of the ‘blindness’ of justice. In this case the scales aren’t even tilted. They’re upside down. And I can’t imagine a bigger tragedy for democracy.