Chakka Jam and Humane Value

It was October 1994, Durga Puja time. People had come back to celebrate Dussehera at their homes. My family was not singled out from this ritual of homecoming during the Puja vacations. Our house was well packed too. But, no one in our family was happy. Reason being, my mother was not keeping well. She had a severe asthmatic attack some time in the morning of 13th October, 1994. Fortunately, most of our family members were at home when that tragic incident occurred.

Immediately, my eldest brother arranged a taxi to take her to the nearest hospital. It was around 10 am and a bit cloudy outside. The nearest hospital was hardly 1.5 km from our home. It is a fairly well equipped hospital with a strength of some 15+ doctors serving round the clock. But, we were not that fortunate to avail this facility. It was Durga Puja time. Hospital was almost empty, except for the patients (though it was open), not a single doctor was there. Even the duty doctor had gone to visit Puja Pandals.

What to do?

There was no chance to consult a doctor there. At any cost we had to save our mother from any worst eventualities. Nearest hospital (happens to be the district hospital) was 15 kms away. Can we wait for another 30 minutes, as it takes 30 minutes to reach the other hospital? That was a big question, a question of life and death for us. We had to, there was no other way for us.

Without wasting any more time, we asked the taxi driver to start, and he took the shortest route to the other hospital. Every minute was precious for us. Praying to God was the only option that was left in our hands. That taxi took some 20 minutes to reach one end of the district head-quarter where the hospital was located almost at the other end. Thanks to the driver, he could manage to drive at a short notice and at a short span of time through the stony/bumpy road. We had finally a flickering light of hope to reach the hospital before things got out of hand any further.

But, alas… that did not happen.

There was a Chakka Jam (Road Blockage) in the city — protest by some miscreants and a group of unemployed youth. The reason…. some thing silly had happened some 2000 miles away from that place, which did not have anything to do with the people of that place. They were shouting slogans occasionally, had piled rocks, wooden logs and burning tyres on the road. They had blocked the main road which connects the city to the outer world. Many Buses, Cars, Taxis, Trucks were waiting in the queue, hoping that the agitators will leave. My brother asked the driver to wait some 200 mts away from the spot.

Initially, we did not have any option other than to request them to allow us to go. I along with the taxi driver had to wait there with my mother. Both my elder brothers and two cousins (who also accompanied us sensing there was trouble) went to the spot to find out a way to reach the hospital. When they (my brothers and cousins) reached the spot, they could see the people involved in the chakka jam, people with blood and flesh but blood-shot eyes, some common men like us. There were some police constables helplessly sitting some 50 mts away from the spot. It was not clear, what made them sit there? To protect the miscreants? or to keep law-and-order?, nothing seemed to be clear.

We were getting restless as her condition was deteriorating. We were apprehensive and afraid of the people since there was a chance of their turning violent at any point of time. But, we didn’t have any option. My brothers requested the people involved in chakka jam to allow us to go at least in humane grounds, but that did not happen. They did not allow, “marne do” was their answer to our requests. We even requested the police constables to help us, but in vain. They were afraid to interfere. Nothing happened.

Time was running out of our hands. Could not find out any solution and were becoming nervous and agitated. Every single minute weighed like many hours on us. Finally my brothers decided, “we will go at any cost and will cross the hurdle”, was the call. My eldest brother picked up a cycle chain and asked others to keep lathis in their hands and asked us to be prepared for the worst. We stood ready with the lathis to charge at any go. He asked the driver to get ready and asked him to drive fast, without any fear and not to stop at any cost. He asked me to hold my mother firmly.

Finally, our taxi started.

Our driver just put the speedometer at the maximum of 120km/h and drove towards the spot. Before the miscreants could realize that some one is crossing their lakshman rekha, we had already crossed that. Seeing the speeding car rush towards them at such a speed and all of us ready with our chains and lathi, the miscreants just flew away from the spot with disbelief and fear — fear for their life. Seeing this spectacle, others started their vehicles, and the chakka jam just vanished in no time. The crowd of vehicles just followed us. Even some people started beating the miscreants (those left) at the spot at that time and trying to block the road again.

Our action was like crossing the threshold, the barrier, and others just followed. We were driven to cross that threshold for the sake of someone’s life. We reached the hospital in no time and could save our mother.

This is not just a story, an incident from the real life — happened with me but could have happened to you or someone else. But, the point that I wanted to highlight here, is some one or the other has to start — may not be the leaders, may be the aamjunta. We should not stand as mere spectators witnessing all inhuman, pathetic and wrong deeds. To be humane is our first and foremost responsibility. Strikes, chakka jam do happen almost daily. People suffer, pregnant ladies give birth to their children on their way, senior citizens are left helpless and afraid, serious patients die, students miss their exams and the country suffers.

We are provoked and we get provoked and ruin our as well as others’ lives.

Then, for whom are these chaka jams meant? Is it humane? A big question, needs serious thoughts.

Aamjunta do think about it.

A Roadmap for the Future of Research in IIT Bombay

(This article is based on my small speech during the panel discussion on “A Road map for the future” of the Research Scholars’ Confluence, 19-20 October, 2008, IIT Bombay)

As a current research scholar of IIT Bombay, my dream is to witness IIT Bombay growing as a leading research hub of India and the world. Following are some of my ideas for the dream I have, and for the road map ahead.

1. The first point I would like to mention here is “collaborative research“. I agree that we are doing collaborative research at IIT Bombay. But, it is still not enough. Most of our collaborations are with western universities. But, what about the collaborative research with our next door neighbors? We do not have proper and sufficient collaboration with our own research organizations like DRDO, ISRO, CSIR, BARC, etc. We have to realize that most of our PhD alumni are working in these organizations. Organizations of this kind are rich with hard working researchers and creative brains. In my opinion, the brilliant brains of IITs (for which it is known so far) should interact with the hard working researchers of our next door neighbors to make research a success for us, and for the country.

2. To extend the collaborative research, we should form small research groups like IRIS (research group in CSE, of all IITs and IISc), COMNET (research group in Communication and Networking of all IITs and IISc), where we can discuss our problems with our research colleagues of other IITs and IISc and get some help to solve. Similar such initiatives should be taken in all other disciplines too.

3. The 3rd point, and an important point in my opinion is “interdisciplinary research“. A very important achievement would be to unite the research force of the technological, pure science and humanities with the management and application based solutions. Interdisciplinary research have just started in IIT Bombay, needs to be encouraged and emphasized in the future. One should use the expertise of other groups while solving his/her own problems.

4. The fundamental aspect of research is its infrastructure and resources. Fair resource allocation across all research disciplines and all researchers need to be promoted. More and more research grants should be provided, better fellowships should be offered to attract more and more researchers. More industry participation is also required at this stage, for the infrastructure setup and sponsorships. Every research scholar should get some kind of financial help for his/her research. One has to remember that at the age of 30s, the equation is different, very hard to ask for a financial help to our parents. Hence, financial help is must, if we are really serious for the research and our researchers.

5. It is indeed a bad experience on the bureaucratic hurdles and red-tapism. This is a serious issue. The administration should be pro-research and researchers. Implementing new plans, fellowship schemes should be expedited. The amount of time we at IIT Bombay spend to follow up our papers, be it travel grant, or monthly fellowship is just not acceptable. This needs to be looked upon seriously. Else, the most important resource of research scholars – “TIME” will be wasted resulting in inefficiency and lesser output.

6. It is a known fact the we need more research scholars. When the country like USA produces more than 40,000 PhDs per year, how do we expect to compete with them? with less than 1500 PhDs per year (country wide)? Simply not possible. IITs have to increase their PhD strength. In that direction, what about getting at least a fraction of their own BTechs/MTechs? It is a fact that many high quality undergraduates (BTechs) and post graduates (MTechs) leave India to pursue research abroad. If we can provide better research facility in terms of research groups, infrastructure, fellowships, then I’m sure, a fraction of that brain drain can be stopped. But, our attitude towards our PhDs needs to be changed. With 25% (of the total strength) students doing PhDs, we are no more undergraduate centric. We have to remember that.

7. Yes, we need quantity. But do we need quantity at the expense of quality? Are the quality measures we are following adequate? In my opinion the quality measures we have at this moment are simply not sufficient. The “Annual Progress Seminars” are not properly followed, many of our faculties do not read the reports, not for one year, for all these years. Students too do not take progress seminars seriously. This is a serious issue. Either we have to implement this strictly and/or implement something other, like comprehensive tests or something similar. It is good to cite here, that recently CSE dept has introduced comprehensive tests for their PhD scholars. In my opinion, this should be implemented across the depts.

8. The other out of box point, is hiring research faculties. There are cases, some PhDs do not want to pursue a career in teaching, but are very much interested in research, and want IIT like environment. The question is how to involve them into our system? Can we hire them as research faculties at IIT Bombay? They can lead the research groups and guide many young researchers leading to better output. Their dedicated research activity can be complimented with the dedicated teaching staffs for the benefit of all.

9. The last the most important point I would like to mention here is the PhD Alumni-Alma mater interaction. IITs are famous and known for their BTech Alumni. But, we need to change this, add the value and strength of our PhDs. The PhD alumni can definitely help in this regard, by supporting research activities or by involving themselves and their organization into the research facility of IIT Bombay. This needs to be promoted. It is time for us to be known for our PhD alumni too.

These are some of the few thoughts/points I have for the dream – for the road map ahead.

Thank you.

The Dangers of Democracy without any Responsibility

” . . .and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln

The quote sounds interesting and amazing. It was hard to think of such kind of govt., a century ago. Democracy is now more or less experimented and tested (and enjoyed by some people) by many countries; a success in some countries, and a failure in few countries.

If one looks back and analyzes the success and failure of democracy, he/she can trace back to the (lack) of participation of the basic unit of democracy – the common man. We have to remember that, democracy can’t survive without active participation of the common man. Then, the question arises, what does the active participation means? By, casting votes?, by contesting elections? or/and some thing else?

Yes, we do need to cast our votes and participate in the election process, express our concern, support for a cause, oppose the wrong deeds/mistakes/lapses; but the most important thing is owning responsibility for all of these, which we are part of. We have to take the responsibility of both success and failure; for the survival of democracy.

For an example, even though at the time of independence, both India and Pakistan had tried to build a democratic setup/govt., democracy could not achieve in Pakistan, whereas a (pseudo-)democracy has prevailed in India for the last 60 years. In Pakistan, no one took the responsibility of failure, (failure of the army, failure of the judiciary, failure due to terrorism), resulting in frequent changes in constitution, suspension of elected governments and imposition of martial laws.

Contrary to Pakistan, in India at least some people took the responsibility of failures (even though no one openly accepts), and made democracy a success over the years.

True, it is a success in a broad sense, but…, neither as per Lincoln’s definition, nor as per the need of the country.

We do have democratically elected government, but do we select the leaders democratically ? NO; they are either imposed on us in a dynastic manner, or made by terrorizing people or through corrupt means or through pre/post-poll compromises.

Hardly 15-20% leaders are elected democratically, seasoned at the grass-root level. Then, should we continue with the 15-20% actual democratic leaders or need more? It is our responsibility and our job to decide. Else, who knows, the mere 15-20% will be marginalized and can be diminished.

In another sense, “by the people” will become a reality, if and only if, each and every person participates in government building. People should realize that nothing comes free, if you want to enjoy the fruits of democracy then responsibility is required. We have to participate or else the nation will pass into wrong hands.

Success and failure are the integral part of any system, any form of government, be it democracy or communist. Like success, failure too has an important aspect in nation building. The mistakes of the past, which resulted in failure need to be taken up with a pinch of salt. Will have to accept the mistakes at the appropriate level, pointing fingers at others will not help !

That is just a self satisfying and egocentric technique. In reality, that needs to be stopped at any cost. Else, minority – majority, rich-poor, privileged-unprivileged complexities will emerge.

Like supporting for good cause, opposing for the wrong deeds are quite necessary in democracy. It is our responsibility to oppose against the mistakes, the failures, the lapses, the partial approach and the divisional politics. But how? Through strikes? through violent means? through terrorizing people?

That is the big question and is quite relevant in the current political-economical scenario. One has to remember, that strike, or protests should be used for the benefit of the mankind, not for its destruction, not for a political mileage and selfish goal.

To many people, protesters have a bad image: the rabble in the streets. Although the majority of protest activity in democracies is nonviolent in reality and intent, an aura of actual or potential violence commonly accompanies media presentations and popular perceptions of protest; be it students’ strike in late 60’s or 90’s, or farmers’ opposition in 2008 or the regional violences of 2007-08. These images are part of an overall view which balances the “‘right to protest” against a need for “law-and-order”. It is our responsibility to distinguish between the right to protest and playing with law-and-order, meant to oppose ill treatments and the destructing forces, for the benefit of all.

Public speaking is an integral part of democracy. Many grass-root level leaders have emerged from rallies, from public speeches. But, speaking in public should be self-censored; a few sensitive words of a speech can create havoc in the society. Speeches need be made with a sense. The speaker has to take the responsibility of the consequences, else an irresponsible talk/speech can get things magnified and creates turbulence resulting in law-and-order problem.

Leaders leading a nation have to be responsible. The minority-majority or caste/religion based politics requires a full stop for the benefit of all. We have to realize this and should act/react responsibly. Some times the reaction requires some understanding, and a hasty decision needs be stopped in a responsible manner.

Aamjunta… are you responsible enough?

 

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