Wednesday, January 28, 2009

If you are an NRI and planning to return

I have a few thoughts on what you can prepare for. The following is purely based on my personal experience and I don't intend to generalize. Some of what I am saying may apply only to people in my industry (computer software).

The Reasons to Move Back

1. Family Parties
One reason we moved back was so that we could be with close relatives. We had very few relatives in the USA, and those who were there wanted nothing to do with us.
Now, people will tell you that relatives are a good reason to actually stay away. In my case that was not true.
But the problem for some is that even if you come back, your relatives may be all over India - it is not like the olden days. Families are highly distributed and so your hopes of family parties every week may be dashed.
In my case, we did have fun.

Another reason is the weather - wait, I am joking.

2. Career
One good reason is for career growth - there are people who believe that in the USA it is hard to grow for an Indian. I won't get into controversy, but in India, it is true that if you have enough years of experience, and you are from the USA you can land a good position.
BUT, increasingly, I have seen that NRIs are being recruited more by startups and smaller, medium-sized companies than by large IT companies. The large IT companies sometimes go out of the way to prove that you are not "special" because you are from the USA.
Now, about the work culture and how much "cushy" your job is - I will have more to say about that later.

Will you earn (realtively) more than you did in the USA? A couple of years back, the answer would be yes - although it depends a lot on your years of experience. Now, with the current market, I am not so sure. For senior positions, in technology or management, you could command from 16L per year (10-12 years of experience, Chennai) to 25L per year (in Bangalore). These are very word-of-mouth, but as an average, I believe you could command double the avreage pay for a given experience range in a given city. This may not be possible now, in this market.
Check out this link for some information on average payscale in Chennai.
Why are NRIs so valuable? Are they really worth much more than an Indian employee? We will discuss that later.

3. Cultural Reasons
There are NRIs with a family, who feel that bringing up their kids in India may be a better idea for cultural reasons. Some of them get worried about the consumerist culture in the USA; about the way kids become teenagers very fast; about "attitude"; and so on. (Again, no need for controversy here. I myself have different opinions and I am only narrating what I have heard parents express).
Well, I believe that India is getting to be a hundred times more consumerist; and at least the USA has a movement of people pushing back against the media there. In India, media dominates our lives and is so corrupt and incompetent that they rival with politicians for primary villain status. If you are in India and watching television in the comfort of your home, expect to be bombarded in prime time by images of gore, sex and violence beyond anything in the USA. Women are regularly shown as sex objects and television news commonly shows images of drowned bodies and bloody deaths without any warning.
But, the print media is still vibrant and if you want to stay in touch with the rest of India, newspapers are a good beginning. Other than that the education system in India is in dire need of reform. We will discuss more of this later.

In my case, one of the reasons I felt very excited about coming back was, frankly, the food, music and literature. You can wake up in the morning and walk upto a hotel next to you to get pongal and chutney - that was very important. Try doing that in Philadelphia.
And then the music. There are the FM stations, the television music channels and dozens of talent-hunt shows. You could be walking through a slum and suddenly hear a snatch of your favorite song from childhood. I know that many of these channels are available either on the web or through DTH, so that is a compensation in the USA. But I wanted the real thing.
Unfortunately, the neighbors also tend to play music loud so sometimes you could end up hearing "where is the party?" too many times.
I am interested in modern Tamil literature and the books and writers are all in Tamil Nadu. There are many, of course, who enjoy and stay in touch with literature from abroad. But I felt I would have a much better handle on things here in Chennai.

Now from all of the above you could see a common thread: when I came back, I actually returned to the city that speaks my language and shares my childhood culture. That is hard for most people. Many of my friends advised me to go to Bangalore for better pay. But then, we felt we could have stayed in the USA for that matter. If I think that way, it is far tougher if you are from Bhubaneshwar or Calcutta or Guwahati or Jaipur or Patna (if you are in IT, I mean. Nothing wrong with those cities). This is a crucial decision - if you are coming back to be in your "home culture", you may actually end up somewhere else. Please keep that in mind.

When you make the decision
Start interviewing. Decide on the city and start sending your resumes and attending phone interviews - when you are in the USA. Don't wait till you come back.
A few people want to take a long break when they return - relax for 3 months and then start attending interviews. The assumption is that companies would jump to recruit you - that is risky, I believe. I think they will negotiate with you better if you are actually in the USA. You can always ask for a break before joining.

Most companies do not make a decision till you meet them in person in India. When you come to India you HAVE to go through their stupid security frisking, their HR's attitude and all that. It is your initiation rite into the Indian business culture.

Most startups and even medium companies will flat out lie to you about many things - they may have a bond for employees and they won't reveal it to you until you come back. Their work location may be completely different from what they told you. Their attitude is basically focussed on short-term gain (this is true of Indian business in general). They intend to lie to you, get you to join them; and then hope you won't get angry and leave when you find out the real terms.
(This was not my experience, but I have seen others go through this process).
So here are a few things to ask your potential employer:
1. Is there a bond? What are the terms of the bond? Remember, you can actually refuse to sign a bond, make that clear outright, and still get the job.
2. Which location would you be posted in?
3. What is the notice period for quitting? Try to negotiate this - companies keep hiking it and now it stands at 3 months in some places.
4. What is the percentage travel in the job? Some companies will try to get you to go back to the USA or UK for "visits". If you have returned for peace and quiet, that may not help.
5. How much is the actual monthly pay you will get and what is the variable pay?
6. Do you have saturday and sunday off? This was important to me.
7. Who would you actually be reporting to?

I would suggest an idea here that may work for some of you but not all:
If you are working in the USA with an American concern, and you like them, then there is an alternative you can try. Ask them if you can work from India. I am doing this currently and it is lucrative, and lets you work from home. Of course, if your company does not like remote control this may take some convincing. But with modern technology, it is possible pretty cheaply. You have Skype, broadband lines, and VPN software that lets you work very efficiently.
Get all of your contacts in the USA and let them know you are moving back to India and that you would be open to working from India for them. A few may consider it. You will get paid in dollars: there is no service tax on software exports and you need to pay taxes only in India (because of the tax treaty between India and the USA).

File your taxes properly in the USA and make sure that when you leave, your pending taxes still get paid.
Allow yourselves a couple of months to make the move back. I shipped most of my books back by the US Postal service for cheap (a dollar per pound)- it took 2-3 months to arrive but was in good condition.

The Culture Shock
When you come back, there generally WILL be a culture shock. This will happen even if you have been visiting India once an year. Your relatives and friends in India generally will not understand this culture shock. I have heard people making fun of NRIs for "showing off" for as little as complaining about the weather.
Most people's understanding of NRIs is that they are abroad ONLY for the money. They do not seem to understand that there is a quality of life in most countries that is fundamentally different from India. There is more personal freedom in the West(but maybe not in the Persian Gulf countries), a respect for privacy; people behave maturely in public. Dealing with government agencies is not such a pain. Cars don't try to kill you while crossing the road. Your kids's school talks to you nicely. Hospitals are more friendly.
So, there IS a culture shock, even though you were born and brought up in India. You can talk about it among understanding people, but try not to complain about India to people you know casually or at work. It is difficult for them to sympathize.
The schools are the worst, if you have kids. Parents have no leverage and the education system is stunted in the 19th century. It does not change just because you pay more.
In fact that is a lesson to learn - more money does not automatically bring in higher quality in India.
The hospitals have pros and cons - on the one hand, they are good quality, the doctors are obviously qualified. They are cheaper compared to the USA at least. Health Insurance does exist, but generally only for hospitalization. The problem is that the doctors are overworked. They see fifty to seventy patients a day and have no time for a real diagnosis. In fact, diagnosis is horrendous. The doctors yell a lot and do not have bedside manners at all.
On the other hand, my mom had cancer and they cured it. For much lesser cost than anywhere else in the West.
Kids do fall sick more frequently; and weird epidemics sweep the population. But you gain some resistance and you can manage.
I have been negative thus far - but there are areas in which life here is far better. One such is the explosion of the services industry and the use of mobile phones. You can order anything from a personal chauffeur to grocery items by phone - they will be delivered to home. The service level is high and I have always felt that customer service in local stores is much better in India.
And if you fall sick, your family is close by. Neighbors talk to each other and help out.
Travel is much easier - it is easy to hire vans or cars and be driven as far as Kerala. Agents will take care of all your needs, from food to lodging. As I said, the best thing is the services industry.

Work Culture
Forget 9-to-5. You will be working harder and will have less time with family. But companies do allow working from home for senior staff.
There are three main types of IT companies:
1. Sevices company doing business with overseas clients.
2. Product company selling software products
3. Indian branch of Multi-National Corporations

The Indian services companies are known to be the worst in terms of work culture and stress. Product companies are said to be a lot better (but I have not worked in one).

People "interact" with each other a lot at work. Coffee, Lunch sessions are long and relaxing. People do not usually have voice mail. For a person like me, this was heaven - I could talk all day long with friends. It was difficult to get work done sometimes though.
Personally, I like working in India much, much better than in the USA. It is difficult to explain, but I felt happy going to work on Mondays. I could always meet new people, engage in conversations. Work is not sit-in-your-cubicle-and-stare-at-the-monitor type. There are mostly younger people in IT companies and the atmosphere is like a carnival.
But, it is possible that I felt this way because I was higher up (relatively) in the hierarchy.

Why are NRIs valuable to a company?
One reason why you are valuable is because you already are assumed to possess the following:
1. Good expression of the English language
2. Good "soft skills" such as email etiquette and writing documents
3. Experience dealing with foriegn clients and an understanding of cultural differences
4. And lastly, competence at work
For Indian companies the first 3 items are hard to find and train for. They are valued skills. Competence at work is, of course, available in India too.

Will you regret your decision?
I still am not regretting my decision to move back after 3 years. I may go back and forth, but I think I made the right move. The thing is, it is a very personal decision and difficult to explain to others. If you can justify it with your spouse, then go for it. Do not try to convince everyone around you.

For more "analysis" please read one of my previous posts here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Narendra Modi, Nano, YSR, and Satyam

(Updated below)
Here is a special in about the sops offered to Tata's Nano factory by Gujarat CM Modi.
I participated in the forum discussions in that article and found several weird arguments about Modi and capitalism. Many commenters praised Modi for being competitive in business. Modi seems to be the darling of "India Inc" and his aggressive policies are said to be a model for the nation.
Now it has turned out that Andhra Pradesh government has been following similar policies for transferring public lands to Satyam. You can read Praful Bidwai's excellent article in here.
There is a talking point here - many defenders of Modi claim that pro-business policies followed by Modi are appropriate and will pay themselves off in the future. For example, while the Gujarat government loses lots of tax revenue from the benefits offered to Tata, this loss will be compensated by the thousands of new jobs created by Tata in Gujarat. This same argument is also used by many state governments in India.
It is obvious that most politicians and policy makers have accepted the idea that you can shower lots of favors to a businessman from public money. While in the past this would have been considered scandalous to offer freebies to businessmen, now everyone seems to think it is a very wise, intelligent policy. Surely Modi has received lots of credit for his wooing of Tata.
Whatever this policy is, it is definitely not capitalism. If anything, such policies can be called "Crony capitalism" and have always been detrimental to growth - not favorable. In the rediff forums, most commenters thought such policies were followed by developed countries. That is just untrue. There is a very strong theoretical, logical reason why the policies promoted by Modi and the AP CM, YSR will not work.

I will describe that reason below.

The Market and The Invisible Hand
The fundamental idea that almost every economist in the world accepts is the efficiency of the Market. Adam Smith, in his "Wealth of Nations" described how the market works. Purely selfish motives of individuals (economic agents) in an economic system gives raise to the market. Adam Smith said that such a market would meet demand much better than a centrally planned economy.
Consider an imaginary city, Gotham.
Let us say the Gotham city mayor sits in a room and says which individual should produce how much and which individual should consume a certain quantity. This is a centrally planned economy - it does not depend on the market to match supply with demand. Such a economic system would be very inefficient and would soon fail.
This is what happened to communist countries. Communist economic theory depends on a centrally planned economy.
On the contray, let us say the Gotham mayor and city council created a minimal set of laws. One such law will be to make sure businesses do not use violence against each other. Another may be to make sure that the businesses do not employ slave labor. Yet another may be that businesses do not spoil the environment.
After passing these laws, the Gotham city mayor does nothing. he lets the selfish motives of businessmen play out in the market.
Adam Smith proved that such a market will be much more efficient in meeting needs and only such an economy would grow well. In effect, the centrally planned economy would fail while a free market would succeed.
Every reasonable economist in the world accepts Adam Smith's premise. Developed economies are guided by these principles and they have obviously worked very well.

Markets and Regulation
Then what do economists differ on? What are the policy differences between Paul Krugman (Nobel economic prize winner) and Alan Greenspan (former US federal reserve board chairman)?
The difference is usually on the set of laws passed by the government - one set of economists believe that markets should have zero regulation by the government. This is called laissez-faire capitalism. In the above Gotham city example, the law that prohibits environmental damage will be opposed by free market economists. They believe that environmental issues will be ironed out within the market. Similarly, let us say Gotham city mayor passed a law that imposes a minimum wage for laborers (that is, employers should pay at least that amount for any work). This law would be opposed by free market economists.
The other set of economists believe that government should protect society as much as possible - therefore they would welcome a minimum wage.
Thus, the fight is over government's role. There are many who blame the current financial crisis on the lack of government regulation in the United States. These economists believe that businessmen may be motivated by greed and may violate the market in different ways.
In India, one prime example for such greed acting against society was the rise and fall of several finance companies in the 90s. The market was not well-regulated at that point and allowed businessmen to make money by cheating innocents.

Crony Capitalism
Now, even though both these sets of economists disagree on several issues they also agree on something crucial - the market is the judge of businesses. In a just society, the market should never be weighed down in favor of a specific businessman or group. If you do that, you are weighing down the economic system. The growth produced by such favors to a certain family or group will be short-term. The market will automatically create jobs and manage supply with demand - government should NOT influence the success or failure of indvidual businesses. If they do that, they are not being fair to other competitive businesses.
That is, instead of the market rewarding good ideas and rejecting bad ideas, the government tries to take on that task itself. This is always a bad idea - every economist around the world would oppose such policies.
Such acts of favor or bribes cause a skewed form of capitalism called "Crony Capitalism". It is harmful to an economic system.

Modi and Crony capitalism
In the article linked first in this blog, lists a number of favors arranged for Tata's benefit by the Gujarat government. Tata is a businessman and he has managed to play the role of a noble soul after the Singur protests. He seems to have the negotiation advantage, if there were any negotiations at all. Thanks to the media, there has been a fevered pitch of excitement on Nano and the media has succcessfully managed to make Tata's travalils our own.
There are people who argue that job creation is primary goal. Some guy even calculated that in 10 years the government of Gujarat would get money back from the Nano plant because of tax payments by employees. But there is a vital flaw in such arguments:
What if the Nano is a failure?
Let us say that some design flaws make Nano a failure. Can the Gujarat government assure that the Nano will be a success? They can't - the factory is not even in their control. They have not studied the market or discussed the quality procedures or the thousand other things that can go wrong with a product. By tying themselves to a single businessman's product, the government has committed taxpayer money for something it has no capability to ensure or manage.
Instead sound economic theory requires that the Gujarat government create conditions for manufacturers in general and then wait for business to flourish.
Let me point out another flaw - when Tata gets such a huge set of benefits, his competitors cannot thrive. They are contributing their money while Tata is getting taxpayer money from Gujarat. Thus the market is skewed by the government in favor of Tata.
This is the very definition of Crony capitalism.
What Modi has done is worse than funding public sector companies - he has funded something he has no control over. Atleast with public sector companies the government has the management in its control. Modi, instead, has handed over money for no control.
I have to point out - the slogan of "India Inc" and a purposeful, noble business class has been created and sustained by the media. If Tata was so noble, he would have rejected these crony capitalist sops. Instead, the media has made it somehow the Indian people's task to fund the Nano.

YSR and Satyam
Now, it has turned out that the AP CM has been doing the same thing for Satyam. The same media which was cheering on Modi are now pretending that YSR is corrupt. If YSR is corrupt, so is Modi. Just an year back, everyone was celebrating Satyam and people were applying the same wrong arguments of job creation when YSR was handing over public land to Ramalinga Raju.
In the case of Satyam, the communists have been the smartest in bringing public attention to the government sponsored bailout (read Sitaram Yechury's opinions here) . It seems Manomohan Singh, the renowned free-market economist is now trying to pour public money to Satyam. People are still talking about "job creation" by Raju - if the economy adds ten thousand jobs and then loses double that every few years, it is not growth. If we could grow by cooking numbers all the time, every country would be prosperous.

Update I:
1. At any other period in modern history, if a politician poured public money into private hands, people would suspect bribes. Instead, the politician is hailed as a hero now. This sea change in attitudes (without any matching change in the quality of politicians) is purely a result of brainwashing and propaganda.
For example, the media has successfully created the myth of "India Inc" as a set of patriotic businessmen, focussed on India's growth. People have tended to identify themselves with Tata or Ambani than with other middle class labor. The truth is in a country like India, the rule of law pretty much does not exist, and a feudal system is persistent. In such a scenario, businessmen act as predators - not benign patriots. This is not to blame them - they have incentives to circumvent the law.

For the last twenty years the residents of the Chennai suburbs of Chromepet and Pallavaram have been fighting a battle against the tanning factories in that area. These factories have polluted the air and water bodies of that region and made it almost uninhabitable. Well, the citizens who organized and fought had to face threats of violence and intimidation by the "patriotic" businessmen.
The truth is, the Indian system encourages systematic lawbreakers - just as our politicians have grown to be lawless, so have our businessmen.

2. Let me explain the economic theory a little bit better:
As I said, the main differences between economists is on government's role in passing laws. Why is that? Because every sensible economist believes in the market. More importantly, they believe in a fair market. But how the market maintains neutrality, fairness and encourages growth is not determinable all the time. The market responds to incentives in different directions; sometimes these responses may be complex to measure.

For example, the software industry in India is treated as a sunrise industry and there are many subsidies offered to that industry. By classical economics, such subsidies are wrong and should not be applied - because they lead to "protectionism". Adam Smith and most famous economists after him (such as Ricardo and Marshall) have been against protectionism. Ultimately, they believe that a protected market offers fewer choices and innovations to the consumer.
Yet, the subsidies do seem to be working very well.

As yet another example, the American laws that abolished the differences between commercial and investment banks in 1999 and enabled unregulated derivatives trading may have caused the current financial crisis, 10 years later.

Therefore, the effects of the laws are open to speculation. Mathematical models of great complexity are required for analyzing the direction of the markets from incentives.
But, what is NOT open to speculation is this - every economist desires a fair market.
The key motivator in economics is the fairness of the market. Every economist agrees with THAT, even though they may not agree on how to reach there.

Handing off public land to Tata or Satyam skews the fairness of the market. That is why it is called crony capitalism.

This is why Modi's actions and YSR's actions are wrong - because they go against every economic basics. They may claim they are brave souls experimenting with the economy, but they should experiment with their own money, not our money. I suspect that the truth is not that they are clairvoyant or brave - I think Modi's actions and YSR's actions come from base ignorance and greed. That is a potent combination.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Talking Point - Leave Muslims Alone

This blog is becoming more and more political; that is how I would like it to be. I initially planned a mix of humor and politics. But I am staying at home now and nothing humorous comes to mind.
One of the original intentions of this blog was to handle intellectual talking points. I used to participate in online debates on society, economics, culture and politics in message boards and forums. At that point I realized that most people around me in the real world had no interest in such debates. Online, on the other hand, was useful - it is anonymous, easy to use and people around the world participate.

Cultural Memes

There has been lots of research done on cultural "memes" - ideas that spread around society and influence people's thinking. Let me explain with an example - when Indira Gandhi died, 2000 Sikhs were massacred in Delhi in cold blood. Prime Minister Mr.Rajiv Gandhi explained it thus: "when a big tree falls, the earth shakes".
This was an easy-to-remember, but meaningless and dangerous phrase. But it comforts people and lets them know that they could not have done anything different. It tells them to go on with life as usual.
Another talking point that Sridhar has raised in a comment to my blog is this - that as a democracy, we, the people, are to blame for all our problems (Sridhar also explained his reasoning; I am paraphrasing here). At its core, as he elaborates, the idea is that we do not have a healthy society. And the reason is not politicians as we reflexively blame, but ourselves. It is our own corruption that is the root cause. I have heard of other people say this, but I think this point of view is wrong. I will explain in a later post.
These are ideas - the idea that blacks are to blame for the credit crisis in the USA is a rightwing idea. That climate crisis (global warming) is bogus is a talking point.
What is common to these? They take a simple idea and repeat it over and over again, rarely substantiated with anything more than hysteria. But these talking points have lots of power. Most people in a society are not "engaged" in politics or history - and such talking points embed themselves in cultural memory and refuse to be dislodged. Some are mere differences of opinion, while others cause genocide.

Talking Points can only be fought with vigorous challenging and debunking at a public level. The Tamil writer Gnani writes a weekly column in Kumudham (he used to write in Vikatan). This column very effectively challenges different talking points. His article on the Indo-US nuclear deal was a classic - he pointed out that shifting to nuclear energy does nothing to reduce global warming (a talking point) because most global warming gases are caused by transportation such as cars and trucks.

There is actually a website called run by Josh Marshall that articulates liberal points of view and debunks right wing talking points in the United States.

My goal in this blog (with all humility) is to address a few talking points that bother me. Debunking them here, hopefully spreads a message across. Even if I reach a few people, the idea is in the internet and also helps to me as a future reference.

Having said that, let me discuss a prime talking point here - the question of "Islamic" fundamentalism.


Here are a few ideas I find floating around online and even find expression by educated people:

Item 1: Muslims should explain why terrorism happens. Muslim leaders should condemn terrorism and they don't.
Answer: Terrorism is a tactic of achieving political goals with the threat of violence against citizens. That tactic is practiced throughout the world by different groups. For example, Israel's current bombing of Gaza is a clear act of terrorism - it tries to achieve political goals with collective punishment of Palestinian civilians.
Now, states practice terrorism, and so do non-state actors. Such non-state actors happen to be prominent in formerly colonized countries of the globe, because developing countries have not ironed out issues of sovereignty and self-determination of ethnic minorities. Many of these formerly colonised countries of the world happen to be Muslim. There are also Christian terriorist groups in Africa and of course, LTTE in Sri Lanka.
As an example, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is a "Christian" terrorist group operating in Uganda and Sudan. Some estimates say that the LRA has killed more people than all other such groups put together.
Thus, terrorism as a tactic is practiced by many non-state actors and state actors throughout the world and the phenomenon was neither "started" by Muslims nor do they have to defend their community. We have to note that the word terrorism is heavily abused - for example, the USA designates Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations, although they are seen as legitimate freedom fighters by people of the Palestine and Arab countries.
Thus, the demand, that Muslim leaders condemn terrorist acts performed by a few extremists, is absurd. Muslims suffer as much from terrorism as Hindus.

Item 2: Muslims have their own civil law and do not respect the Indian constitution.
Answer: The Indian constitution makes a uniform civil code optional. The directive principles of state policy, article 44 states the following:
The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.

But, the directive principles are aspirational and are not enforceable by courts (Article 37).
The BJP and RSS drum this again and again - that Muslims should not have their own civil code. But minority rights are guaranteed by our constitution - the party that introduced POTA has no right to talk about the constitution.

Item 3: Muslims are not patriotic enough. They are not proud of India
Answer: No group can demand patriotic proofs from any other citizens - Muslims are under no obligation to prove their patriotism to anyone. Further, these same guys who call Muslims unpatriotic have called everyone who opposes them as unpatriotic. People tend to forget this, but the Shive Sena's origins were in anti-South Indian movements in Mumbai. The Sangh Parivar would call anyone who does not want to speak Hindi unpatriotic.
Note that I am not talking about sacrifices that Muslims have made for India or their contribution. There is no point in emphasizing "contribution". Even if I have not contributed anything to my country, no one has any right to question my patriotism, period.
I would ask members of the Sangh Parivar if they have ever felt proud about India's Muslim heritage - they seem to pretend that Indian history stops after Mohammed Ghazni. Why are they not proud of the Mughals or Lodi dynasty? These are the people who demolished the Babri Masjid - yet they talk about pride in heritage.

Item 4: Islam and the Koran encourage violence
Answer: Every religion does. The Old Testament Bible is full of violence. So are Hindu scriptures. You could literally interpret the Gita as encouraging violence and killing relatives in pursuit of wealth. That interpretation would be absurd, but you can do the same thing with any religious text. Most mature adults can distinguish between a literal interpretation of religion and what is practical. I am always amazed by the capacity of the people who celebrate 3000 years of the caste system to then turn around and accuse other religions of intolerance.
The India Policy Institute has published statistics on the communal riots in India since independence.
Casualties in communal clashes during the period 1968-80 were as follows :-

Year No. of incidents Hindus Muslims Others/Police Total
1968 346 24 99 10 133
1969 519 66 558 49 674
1970 521 68 176 54 298
1971 321 38 65 - 103
1972 210 21 45 3 70
1973 242 26 45 1 72
1974 248 26 61 - 87
1975 205 11 22 - 33
1976 169 20 19 - 39
1977 188 12 24 -- 36
1978 219 51 56 1 108
1979 304 80 150 31 261
1980 427 87 278 10 375
Total 3949 530 1598 159 2289

There are more such statistics and coverage in the pdf here.
As any reasonable person can see from these statistics, Muslims have suffered heavily in communal riots. The data also shows that police firings targeted and killed more Muslims than Hindus.
How can we claim, in such a communally charged country, that only one community is to blame for everything from terrorism to rioting?

Item 5: Muslims will overwhelm Inida with their population growth
Answer: This hysteria reached its peak with a report released a couple of years back that showed Muslim population growth to be slightly higher. Some magazines headlined this thus: "Muslims will be majority in India in another 250 years".
But that result does not make sense. Even if the population growth is 0.1% high, you could do the same extrapolation and conclude that in a thousand years India would be a Muslim majority state. This is just fear-mongering. In relative terms, Muslim population growth is declining. Further I think with a billion people, the last thing Hindus should worry about is population decline.

Many of these ideas are actually caused by common xenophobia - a feeling that the "other" person would eliminate us. It has parallels in every culture - the Germans treated Jews and gypsies as the other. USA treated black people as the other.
There is a strong desire among a few among majority cultures to completely eliminate any diversity. Today it is Muslims, tomorrow it will be Tamils.
The Sangh Parivar and its supporters will call all of their enemies as unpatriotic and owing allegiance elsewhere. They suffer from xenophobia and a good psychiatruc therapy session would cure them of their fears.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Internet Archiving - who owns my data?

(Update below)

Something has been bothering me about the internet (or more precisely, the collection of websites I use in the internet).
As an user, I have a broad range of options available now for publishing my content (such as blogs, images, video). But I do feel paranoid about certain qualities in the current internet.

Let me describe my situation - I write comments in several online discussion forums (such as I write blogs in and I upload videos to I also write comments in other people's blogs, whichever platform they may be. I save my bookmarks in
Now, I value all this content I put in the web. For example, in several debates you come up with a new way of looking at something, an effective reply to a "talking point", a key piece of data that shuts up everybody. I am not talking about other people's content - I am specifically talking about content I myself put on the web in different websites. This is the age of User Generated Content and my content is distributed across different websites.
There are a couple of problems that I face with this distributed content:
1. How can I aggregate all my content and get updates when someone replies to me or links to me? This is a problem that RSS solves. I will not elaborate on this here.
2. How can I collect and provide a kind of catalog of my opinions in all these different websites? Let us say that in the near future I seek admission to Harvard. Is there someway that I can provide a collection of all my valuable content to Harvard so that I can be credentialized? Looking into the future, we can expect a new generation to start creating their identity online by teenage and thus leave a trail of their work and impressions (in whatever format) across the interner as they grow older. How can someone maintain this digital trail and leverage it?
The point is this problem has always existed even before the age of the internet. For example, if you wanted to collect the complete works of Einstein you went to every university he ever went to and searched libraries and archives. Some of these archives are digitized now, but nobody came up with a solution for an easy mechanism to package up your life's work. It was close to impossible in the pre-internet world to have a centralized collection of all of one's life's work.
But, this problem is solvable in the digital age - the facebook, orkut, myspace generation is going to have access to internet most of the time. Fifty years from now, it is possible to expect that a person's life's work can be determined by a biographer or an anthologist merely from the digital world.

So, what prevents me from getting a digital collection of my own work distributed across the internet, right now?
I can, of course, prepare a set of links with my comments, my dailykos blogs, my blogspot blogs and my youtube videos. But that is all I can do - the websites reserve the right to invalidate these links at any point of time. In fact, twenty years from now, many of these may have switched off their servers and gone home.
As an internet contributor, the core problem I face is this - the rich data that is part of "my" internet, is not owned by me. It is owned by at least fifteen different websites. The same problem goes for everyone using the internet.
When I write an article in DailyKos, I want my article, along with the comments (which provide context) to be available for posterity. But I have no control over when they may "retire" the article or when Markos closes it down.
In theory, this is no different from the problems faced by preceding generations - if you are a newspaper columnist, you took paper cuttings of your column; probably photocopied it and kept it at home. That is all you could do.
I think we, in the internet age should demand more though - because more is possible now. For example, taking a printout of a webpage with my article is not good enough - because someone could be commenting on that article this minute; and I don't want to lose that context.
With their myriad ways of annotating, commenting and extending our content, the websites of the internet have made my content richer, more contextual, more centralized than in the pre-internet world. Youtube, blogspot, rediff have all made my contributions richer, but because of that it is more important that I be able to catalog and archive that content.

The tension here is between two poles - the websites have enabled me to contribute and reach a broad audience. For the survival of their business, they want me to keep coming back to their pages. So the data stays in different forms in different websites. I, on the other hand, would like to extract my data (in some format) and keep it in a set of archives so that the data is available for posterity. I am worried that all my valuable contributions will be gone some twenty years later.

I may sound paranoid, but I do care about the longevity of my thoughts - I think everyone who contributes in the internet does.

We should not allow what happened in the past centuries - there was no centralized publishing, so much work of enormous value was gone in a short time because the medium (like parchment or paper) perished. In this age almost everyone with access to the internet can publish their opinions and share their knowledge. It is all searchable. We should leverage the advantage of the digital medium and come up with a solution for extracting our data (even for a fee) and create some standards for extracting User Generated Content.
We also need a standard archiving solution that is not tied to any particular website. For a fee I should be able to store my data in different servers that are part of the meta-internet.
By the way, check out this browser add-in - It provides a way for extracting any webpage for your personal storage. But the storage is still owned by - I think we need an internet archiving project that is more community-driven.

Update I
Refer to what happened to Soapblox in this article.
The content of several blogs running on the Soapblox platform was almost wiped out by hackers. Several years work could have been lost. This is why we need an open source extraction and archiving system.