Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Human Rights Vs. Animal Rights

I can only laugh at how selective we are in reacting to issues. Some issues get the attention of authorities faster than others. Some influencing variables to this effect are the complainant's official position, and the nature of the complaint (whether easily solvable or not). This post is about an issue that bugs me on IIT Kanpur campus.

Image source
The complaint management system is quite good in here; that is, if the complaint is of the manageable and acceptable type! For example a complaint about a street light takes about a week or ten days to be resolved. But you are sure that such complaints will get resolved. Toilet and plumbing related complaints are resolved immediately- mostly on the same day, within a few hours. Not all issues are resolved this quickly.

I have been complaining to the authorities about the issue of street dogs in the residential areas of IIT Kanpur. Where I live, there are families, small kids, toddlers and elderly people. Not all of them like to be surrounded by dogs. When I say 'surrounded', I mean to be around ten or more dogs every time I step out of my doors. These dogs have taken my new footwear. They have been missing ever since. They have taken footwear of three of my guests. Luckily they were recovered immediately. They jump on people (out of love- according to dog-lovers)! So dogs are a problem around here. On top of it, keeping pet dogs and feeding them are PROHIBITED by rules on campus. But there are people who call themselves 'dog-lovers' who keep dogs near their homes, feed them, and pet them. It's all good. Let them break rules as they wish. None of my business.

But the problem is, that when their love dogs comes into action, my peace of mind is taken or rather stolen. Just as they love dogs, I and people like me do not like dogs around us. When their 'right' to keep dogs/ love dogs is used, my privileges as a 'normal' person are dismissed. Why am I denied the right to have a dog-free surrounding while a few people's 'right' (though against the campus rules) to love dogs is fulfilled? If you discuss this issue with the so-called dog lovers, they will preach about the rights of dogs, their own rights, etc. What they miss is that people other than themselves and their dogs too have rights. And that is called 'human rights'.

The issue doesn't end here. 'Dog lovers' love dogs only when they feel like it. When they have time. Or when they have some food remaining on their plates. At other times, love is limited to talking about dog-rights. The problem with this kind of love is that it is DEVOID OF RESPONSIBILITY. When love is devoid of responsibility, no one owns up the troubles made by these dogs. When a dog bites you, it is your bad luck. When your shoe is eaten by a dog, it is unfortunate. When someone gets rabies (may it not happen), it is not the dog-lover's doing. In short, dog love is an 'all-talk-no-action' show.

Now, my dog-related complaint was filed about 2 months ago. There isn't even a reply- forget about any action on it! Why is there a selective attention to complaints? Not sure. May be authorities are afraid of rules- rules to protect rights of animals. OK. Let animals have their rights. I am waiting for a day when human rights get equal attention from the authorities here on campus. 

Tips and Fixes for Researchers

Image from HERE

Why is research a tedious experience? Here are a few reasons, and fixes.

  1. Most research requires plenty of frustrating alone-time with books and other instructive materials. And some people are not cut out to be alone. Such people will feel miserable when alone with books for more than a few days. When this duration becomes weeks and months, they grow impatient, get out to party, and find it difficult to scoot back to the desk.

    Here is a fix for this problem: When you feel like being alone in your lab or library is too long to be alone, take a break. But before you take this break, decide how long the break is going to be. And when you get back on time to your books, reward yourself with something you love. When this goes on for a week or a month, give yourself a longer break- may be a day or two, a weekend away from work.
  2. Most researchers find it difficult to organize the ideas they have gathered/thought through. It can be difficult for large projects that involve many complicated ideas that interact to give your thesis its flavour.

    Here is a fix:
    Once you stumble upon an idea, and know that it is going into your thesis, write the heading and a small explanatory paragraph (synopsis) in a separate sheet of paper or a file. Keep adding to this file as you get more ideas for the thesis. By the end of your reading phase, you will have a number of such synopses. Now you take these small paragraphs with headings and arrange them on a table. What you see before you is your thesis- spread out. You can now jumble them in the best fashion that fits your purpose. Once you find the best organization, file the paragraphs, and start writing!
  3. Most researchers find it difficult to sit and write. Reading is one thing. Writing is another. You not only need patience, but also discipline, peace of mind, organization of ideas and the best of yourself. So for most researchers, writing becomes a painful and never ending process despite the deadlines.

    Here is a fix: Before you write something, you make a plan. Let this plan be complete with a list of ideas, intentions, references, and goals. So when you finally sit to write, you have a plan to follow. And you know where you are, and when you will be able to finish.
  4. Most researchers hate editing. Editing is a damn bad job because it needs endless hours of re-reading your own writing. You need to have patience.

    Here are two fixes: a. Give an incubation period of at least a week before you begin editing anything you have written. If you try to edit your writing soon after writing, you may not be able to see the glitches, because everyone likes what and how they write. So give some time before you edit. b. If you have a dear friend who is good at writing or logical thinking, give a manageable part of your draft writing to this friend. Let him/her take time and comment on your writing so that you can sit and correct yourself. 
Now, are some of your research problems solved? If not, do not be frustrated. Know that there are thousands in the fraternity/sisterhood. Our tribe is large, and all of us wallow in similar pain. This is a dirty river we ought to cross to string those two or three letter degrees to our names. Let us just do it.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Being grateful!

Too hot to work. I need to sit in an air conditioned room in order to work.

When I come to think of it, I have changed a lot. I who hated air conditioning have come to consider air conditioning as an inevitable part of official life. Why?

Picture from HERE
I can't quite think of how I have changed this way. Probably it is the weather in Kanpur. Maybe people change when temperature oscillates between 0 and 50 degrees. But physical realities around us should not change our mental/spiritual dispositions that easily, right? Can I justify murdering someone because I don't 'like' that person? No. That would be ridiculous. Or, can I justify sacrificing my beliefs because of one negative instance? I don't think so. So there must be something else that has urged me to change.

Did I begin taking things for granted? I would like to consider this as a very good explanation of the change in myself. I don't think I appreciate my blessings as well as I should. I realize this in the small incidents of life. For example, when I wake up in the morning, I have a washroom right by the side of my room, and I take it for granted. When I used to stay in hostel, I did not have this facility. And I clearly remember hating it. I like to have a private washroom all for myself. I don't like to share a washroom with strangers because of multiple reasons. Cleanliness is one. The point is, I have taken my personal washroom for granted! See- I have changed. I can give multiple examples of this in terms of things and facilities I possess: like cellphone, computer, study room, etc.

In terms of people too I am blessed abundantly. I have people to share my joys and sorrows with. I have people to whom I can confidently ask for help or favours. I have people from whom I can borrow money on short notice. I have people who will welcome me to their homes despite the fact that I don't have a permanent home to welcome them to. I have people who think of me, and wish me a better future. I have people who respect me for what I am to them. I thus have innumerable reasons to live happily and be thankful. But I take these people and facilities for granted.

I need to change myself. How?

I shall be grateful to people. I will thank people verbally and non-verbally for the love, care, consideration and concern they have for me.

I shall be grateful to the facilities I use. I will use them with a grateful heart. I will not exploit such facilities, and use them responsibly.

Good start, huh? I would like to think so. Small changes, small steps are how everything begins. I would like to be positive about things. 

Monday, June 04, 2018

The Igbo language called 'silence'

Silence can be quite powerful. We all know that. But how powerful? Here is how silence is used by the Igbo tribe of West Africa.

Importance of Speech among the Igbo people

Igbos are an eloquent people. They love to speak in the most beautiful manner to convey messages. Language is a very important social possession for them. Probably for the same reason, they use silence as a tool for communication. In general, Igbo people greet everyone. Greeting is given much importance. Speech therefore is central to the Igbo lifestyle.

Silence as grief
When someone dies, the grieving family is not supposed to be spoken to. The grieving family is supposed to be so heartbroken, that they are considered not able to stand any communication. Therefore, if you wish you convey your condolences, you go and stand before the person you want to console. In silence. When you think the person is consoled, you sit down in the house. When you think it enough consolation with your presence, stand in front of the grieving person again in silence for an amount of time you judge sufficient. Then you leave in silence.

Isn't it beautiful? In our cultures, we go to a grieving family knowing not what to say, but say something and all of us feel super awkward. The Igbo system of silence is excellent since the social norm is such that there is no necessity to speak. Silence says it all!

Silence as consent
When a boy wants to marry a girl, the boy needs to get the girl's consent. Before the marriage, Igbos have customary courtship- like Western dating. The would-be husband has to please the would-be wife with gifts and fulfillment of her wishes. But this comes only if the girl gives her consent for courtship. How do you get this permission? You ask for it. Asking for permission involves certain rituals. Either the boy or his middleman, in the presence of the family and relatives have to ask the permission of the girl for marriage.

The response of the girl is scripted by the Igbo culture. There are only two possibilities. Either the girl runs away or she stays there. If I were the suitor, and if she ran away, I would think she doesn't like me. But the truth is, that according to Igbo culture, the girl runs away because their culture insists that she doesn't know how to respond appropriately with her 'yes', so she runs to her room to rejoice in seclusion. So, running away is giving consent. If the girl stays, it means that the suitor has to leave. The ashamed suitor leaves when it becomes clear to him that the girl won't 'run away'!

Silence during social gatherings is considered as consent. For example, if some decision is made in a gathering, your silence is counted as consent, and you would be expected to take responsibility of the decision made at the meeting.

I find this beautiful and empowering at the same time. For one thing, the Igbos have a hierarchy of genders. Men are more powerful than women in the family and society. But when it comes to marriage, the girl has the power to refuse. That is beautiful. No forced marriage.

Silence as enmity
If you have an enemy, you certainly won't speak with him/her. But Igbos don't stop it there. They not only stop talking to the enemy, but also express their enmity in body language by culturally sanctioned ways. For example, if your enemy walks up to you on a road, you stop and turn around, cover your mouth with your hands. You enemy also does the same. It is a signal to your friends that this person is not trustworthy, and is an enemy.

In my culture, if an enemy comes to me, either one of us or both of us will be hospitalized if it results in least harm. The Igbo way is peaceful, yet powerful. And there is no violence involved. Simply smart!

Silence as social sanction
If someone in the village community acts against the common good or common laws, they are ostracized. Igbos do this by banning all communication with the ostracized person/persons. No speaking, no greeting, no trade, no exchange of goods. It is like the modern day sanctions imposed by the rich countries on poor/less powerful ones. The silence, and accompanying isolation results in change of behaviour in the ostracized. It cannot but result in it, because the villages are designed in such a way that without the other, you cannot survive!

This corrective mechanism of silence is what I like the most. No obedience? No talking! Don't know how practical will this tactic be in our civilization!

Silence as ritual
During ceremonies, participating Igbo people are bound to observe silence. Others are expected to maintain silence around these people. Ogbanigbe festival, Lchu iyu nwu ritual, and cleansing ritual related to Ogbanje children are some ceremonies where silence is observed.

Silence as respect
Silence is observed by the one one on the lower rung in hierarchy, as an expression of respect between hierarchically related people. For example, parent/child, elder/younger, husband/wife, male/female.

Silence as protection
If someone has a communicable disease, they are supposed to be isolated. No one is expected to speak to them. This observance must have come from fear of dreadful diseases like smallpox that have taken many Igbo lives.

Silence interpreted as deferred action
If you make someone angry, you expect them to get angry. Igbos believe that such instant response finishes the emotion then and there. But if someone serves you the silent treatment, Igbos know that something is in the offing. The culture then expects that if someone reacts with silence, they would react later with some terrible action.

Nwoye (1985), Gregory O. Eloquent Silence Among the Igbo of Nigeria. In Tannen, D. & Saville-Troike, M (ed.) Perspectives on Silence. Ablex Publishing Corporation, New Jersey.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Learn from dogs

A dog is a perfect example of how to set your goals. When a dog is hungry it will find its food. When the dog is thirsty it will find water to drink. What is certain is that a dog is not distracted by what happens around it when it sets it's goal on something.

This is something that we must learn from a dog. When the hungry dog finds food and realizes that there is someone near the food, it will wait patiently until the food becomes accessible. When the obstacle moves away the dog moves forward and eats it.

The dog knows that it cannot stay hungry forever. It's hunger needs to be satisfied. It cannot forget it's need. We humans lack this kind of dedication to our goals. If we can be so dedicated to what we want, we can achieve anything. Let us learn a lesson or two from dogs too.