Brown Skin: The role of abuse of power in Law Enforcement

September 27, 2015 at 5:44 pm (Opinions, social commentary) (, , , , , , , , , , )

The case of 14-year old school-boy Ahmed is all over the social media recently. He constructed an alarm clock at home and bought it to school, but instead of getting recognition, he was arrested. It was suspected that having brown skin and being a Muslim made it more likely that he would have constructed a bomb and not an alarm clock. If this racial profiling it itself was not provoking enough, there were parallel and subsequent news reports which added fuel to fire.

Ahmed Mohammed

Ahmed Mohammed


In an alternative case scenario, a Caucasian school boy of thirteen years of age was applauded for building a nuclear fission reactor with the help of his school. More and more people are asking how this is justified considering a nuclear reactor is much more lethal than an alarm clock. Reports also stated that Ahmed or the alarm clock were not isolated which would be the case if he were really with a bomb. None of the usual bomb safety protocol was followed. It is being suggested that it is very likely that everyone knew this was not a bomb. It seemed like an avenue for harassment.

Which raises a puzzling question: why does law enforcement fall prey to confirming and acting by societal stereotypes? Is it the fact that there isn’t enough training to sensitize them to the effects of their unchecked beliefs and social biases that they may not only be carrying but also reinforcing? That is true, but there is more to the story. According to Feminist Theory, Law, Marriage, Religion and Police are some of the many institutions that work to maintain the status quo. Their language, hierarchy and functioning in structured in such a way that they are given power to replicate what they grew up learning, and use policing and justice systems to reinforce it.

Further, the role of power itself may add to the whole problem. In the iconic Stanford Prison Experiment, a team of researchers found that when everyday people were arbitrarily put in the role of prisoner and guard, those in the role of the guards enforced authoritarian measures and ultimately subjected some of the prisoners to psychological torture. Many of the prisoners passively accepted psychological abuse and, at the request of the guards, readily harassed other prisoners who attempted to prevent it. The experiment even affected head of the study Dr, Zimbardo himself, who, in his role as the superintendent, permitted the abuse to continue.

Stanford Prison Experiment


In the highlights of these findings, we really have to question the incomplete training of our law enforcement officials as well as the absolute power we invest in them. Cases of misuse of power are rampant in India too, with high rates of communal crime, non-minority criminals, celebrities getting softer sentences and less punishment, crimes on women and corruption.

Two measures that must take place are intensive training to sensitize officers to the biases they carry and the effect it can have, and the other is that there should be stringent punishment if an officer uses his post for satisfying bias-led harassment and torture.



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Thank God I’m Not a Doctor

September 21, 2015 at 4:03 pm (Opinions) (, , , , , , , )

Before I say what I want to, let me just say that I know many good doctors who are both proficient in practice and good-natured people. I know them as colleagues and friends. However, this article is about the increasingly vast majority who are not like that.

You would think that a professional who signs up to be in a profession of health care and may directly contribute to quality and quantity of life of people may want to care about being the crudest level of polite to people who provide for his/her income. Yet, the typical scene at a doctor’s office goes such:

Doctor comes fifteen minutes late

Doctor is visited by Medical Representative (Shiny Pharma guys)

Only half an hour of consult time is left

People rush in, seeing the doctor for 2 to 15 minutes and are lighter in the pocket by one grand in consult fees and then another couple grand in medication and follow-ups.

(Contrast this with the fact that people are hesitant to pay even 500 for one whole hour of intensive psychotherapy. Sometimes you wonder if people don’t bring shit onto themselves on purpose)

Apart from the logistics of it, many doctors are downright rude. No explanation of diagnoses, no explanation of what the medication is for, how long the treatment would run, possible side-effects of medication, and yes, cheaper alternatives. Some doctors also have a delightful habit of sending you for needless diagnostic testing thanks to the cut from the testing industry.

They should really stop calling it a noble profession. Apart from a few doctors, none act noble or do noble.

In a country where the government hospital situation is bad, and the private one so elitist, the large swarming middle-class that we are so proud of is left hanging at tail-end of the auspicious white coat.

Silence please, Doctor?

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India Rising: But to what end?

September 2, 2015 at 8:41 am (Opinions) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

Ever since the BJP Government came into power, with its development agenda, we hear news of growth and development everyday. From the news that our GDP is more than China’s (but what that may mean is still debated, as stated in this article), or whether it’s about newer investments in India, our Prime Minister’s efforts at bettering foreign relations, to newer roads, flyovers and more money put into development infrastructure, it’s all to the slogan of ‘India Rising’.

But can you eat money?

Last I checked, you could not.

We always forget the human development indicators in all this. What’s the point of high rises and big roads if your people are unhappy and unwell? We are losing more and more merit to nations like the US because our policies of education and employment are forcing Indians to leave for greener pastures.

Our basics of poverty alleviation, education, health and mental health – have a long way to go. According to a WHO report, we are one of the most depressed countries, with suicide as second leading cause of death. That way, the only thing that seems to be rising, is unhappiness. Farmer suicides are a constant problem. It looks like materialism and vote bank politics are not a permanent solution.

Does this mean we give up infrastructure development? Of course not. But that will only improve our structures. What about the functionality of these structures? What about the users of these structures?

The expenditure on mental health is 0.6% of the health budget, not even of the GDP. Clearly, our allocation to human development and quality of life indicators need to improve, which of course includes gender ratio as well.

Sports (apart from cricket) are suffering, with football clubs like Pune FC and Bharat FC are shutting down. Our LGBTQ population have little or no legal protection from harassment. Moral policing is on an all time high with police raiding hotel rooms used by two consenting adults. We are becoming more and more intolerant about diversity, which used to be our strong point, and more and more leaning towards safeguarding ‘our kind’ and our thinking with imposed bans and bandhs for reservation, or against helpful laws.

We need a people-friendly government. A policy and police system we can approach and don’t have to be scared of.

It’s good to have good structures to live in, and travel by. But it’s even better if these structures are complemented by basic needs, of which, it’s high time that education, sanitation, livelihood, health and mental health were made an important part. It’s imperative to have human conditions of happiness and satisfaction. Concrete can only do so much.

Are we rising where we need to?

Are we rising where we need to?

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In Sickness and Health

August 2, 2015 at 6:05 pm (Opinions, Random) (, , , , , , , )

I’m down with a bit of flu, some bit of fever triggered by throat infection. I have noticed that I am snapping a lot and not being my usual collected self with family, may be even friends.

I am irritable because of fever and body pain and a few complaints. This – after getting access to medication the day i fell ill. Also, the day after was the weekend so I did not have to go to work. And i do not have to for a while now. This, after I am getting all the rest I need, am at the liberty to eat and sleep as I see fit, and am gradually getting better.

Compare my situation to someone who has had an illness – chronic or acute, mental or physical, without privilege.

If a flu can make me snarky, what can constant pain do?

Yet, we want all patients to be nice, sweet, obedient, playing the victim. If they are angry, hostile, rude or in anyway not how we expect them to be – rosy – we do not treat them well, consciously or unconsciously.

If a flu can trigger hostility and bring down inhibition, stronger stuff definitely can?

Why do we want cute little victims?


Has being a savior become more important than being a humane health professional?

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The Overrun Tenure of Hierarchy

July 7, 2015 at 7:07 am (Opinions, social commentary) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

If you are in a collectivistic culture, like Asia (India) lines of command are a way of life, even if you are not part of the military and armed services. In India, hierarchy is multifold – caste hierarchy, class hierarchy, age hierarchy, gender hierarchy, seniority hierarchy and even piousness hierarchy.

I am sure that there was a time when hierarchies were important to establish order and get work done. However, these hierarchies are oppressive now, from the school to the workplace, from the police station to the hospital, and from the family to the religious institution.

For example, under the District and National Mental Health Programs in India, the psychiatrist is to lead the team, and is also paid better. Why? There could be stringent qualifications for all the professionals and all of them could be paid well. Surely, knowing what medication to give is not enough and mental health requires holistic treatment. But it is driven with the assumption that the psychiatrist is some holy figure – male (no surprises) and with sound knowledge of medicine which no one understands anyway. But medicine has an 80 % relapse rate. Is it wise to trust just that? And it is proven now that much of mental illness is psycho-social and popping pills won’t help.

Another example, take any school or traditional corporate office. The feedback system is so flawed that anyone at the lowest wrung of the chain will always be crushed – in these cases, students and fresh employees. Much of the motivation to climb the career ladder comes from wanting to move to the position of the crusher from the crushed : the only way to make your situation better is to stamp the others and make theirs worse. Ditto for bullying.

Are we then surprised that we are growing herd of people and children who are spewing toxic hatred wherever they go, who themselves feel alone, and the whole point of human connection is lost. We have become mindless chewers of technology and materialism.

the cruel climb

Work is important. Order is important.

But what is more important is to realize that humans have evolved, and our systems from before may simply be redundant. We don’t need to stand over our employees with a stick in our hands to get work done. People have work motivation and achievement needs of their own. Appreciation and reinforcement are concepts that actually work.

Sounds too fuzzy?

Check out this organization that is taking these brilliant concepts to heart, and also making money!

This really is a dream organization: adequate offs, good pay, no hierarchy, and mutual respect. And works get done all the time – and people enjoy doing it!

As Ryan Carson says, ‘We should be thankful that we live in a time where we don’t need to work so much’. And we should be using that to achieve a balanced and holistic life.

Meanwhile, in India we continue to slog in 6 and 7 day weeks.

The tenure of hierarchy has really overrun – from the pot to the parliament.

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Shame and honour

June 21, 2015 at 5:48 pm (Poetry) (, , , , , , , , , )

To have depression,

What a shame!

To kill in the name of caste,

What an honour!

To be poor,

What a shame!

To be in debt paying dowry,

What an honour!

To spend on her education,

What a shame!

A wedding worth lakhs,

What an honour!

To help your wife out,

What a shame!

To ‘discipline’ her,

What an honour!

Middle Eastern woman wearing face covering

To marry in a different religion,

What a shame!

To plunder another religion,

What an honour!

To be childless,

What a shame,

Child marriage,

What an honour!

To donate organs,


What a shame!

To go up whole,


What an honour!

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Disenfranchised Grief

June 14, 2015 at 1:49 pm (Opinions, plea) (, , , , , )

I am not myself for the last few days. One of my cats has gone missing the day after I celebrated the 2-year anniversary of having bought them in. Did he slip out when my brother went to receive a guest at night? Why couldn’t my brother be more careful? Did anyone pick him up and sell him somewhere? Or is he hiding nearby and unable to come back? What if other animals attacked him? What does he eat? He only loved one kind of catfood.

Each day I would try something new after work: look all over in the building, post flyers, try and go around the area with a catnip toy, ask people. And then I get a lead that he may be in the school opposite my house: my dad sees a cat and we are allowed to search for about ten minutes before we are ousted. I have gone to the school twice after that and not allowed to enter. I understand security, but really, could you be that heartless? I am going to try and look in that school again today.

But what if he is not there? What if someone else adopted him because he was wandering? Can I manage to cover all the apartments in the area in case he is in a house? I have ordered a catnip spray to go around spraying in order to lure him, but that will take 5 days to come as it is not manufactured in India.

I have a national entrance test to give and so I need to study, but I am just not able to focus. I sleep with difficulty because I feel I failed yet another day in getting him back. And then I wake up in the morning feeling a stab of pain: he’s still not back. My other cat is lonely. I am distraught.

When will he come back?


When will he come back?

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Happiness is deep fried

May 10, 2015 at 6:24 pm (Opinions, Random) (, , , , , , , )

How often do you have deep friend snacks or food? Most people don’t have it very often. There could be various reasons which mainly come down to either health or expense.

The best way to have deep fried food, is sparingly, and preferably making it at home. Now, if you take shortcuts and have it from outside or have something crappy to satisfy the craving, then although you are done for the short term, you have eaten something that is difficult to handle and breakdown and will most likely give you aches and fat – or both.

Similarly, for happiness to be hand, you need to do certain things. If you cut corners, you maybe fine for now but there’s nothing to be had at the end and a sort of bloated feeling persists all along.

If you are eating right otherwise and indulging every now and then- that is the perfect formula.

If you are working hard most times and taking well-earned measured breaks from it, that’s nice. If , however, you start too late and try to take shortcuts just to fill in for the while, you are as far from happiness as it gets.

The reason I used this analogy is, as tempting as shortcuts are, you are the person who will be most annoyed for taking them, at a later point in your life.

Therefore, whenever you feel like cutting corners, think of a home made golden sizzled pakoda, that does not increase your weight because you had it right!


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Statistics, Stories and Storytelling

May 2, 2015 at 6:51 pm (Opinions) (, , , , , , , , , )

So, at the end of my two year course of clinical psychology at TISS, I had to intern somewhere. In the absence of the full-time maid, Jyothi, I sourced a work-from-home internship with the Bapu Trust, Pune. I would analyze their community mental health data from home and submit reports.

I had to use SPSS and excel and basically a whole lot of descriptive statistics. Now, I have a sort of love-hate relationship with math and statistics. Such that, I do know these branches of science and measurement are vitally important to know how well we are doing a particular venture or project, but at the same time, feeling I might not be great at it. Now, I was marginally better at statistics than other math, but it was still rather elusive.

However, my internship turned out to be fun, because the actual calculating was done by the software. I had to call the shots. THAT is an empowering feeling. I had to say what units of measurement what would be used, what would be compared against what – and then I had to make a simple yet impressive report of it.

Because of being at TISS for two years, I have learned and engrained something – it is good to do good work, but it is as important to evaluate it. In our curious little world, we have more money for wax statues than real people. In the shortage of funds reeled towards social betterment, we in the field have to be thorough about producing results. And even if money were not a constraint, knowing how well you’re doing with an initiative is just good and honest practice – and you’d rather have that as a quality if you want to work for social upliftment.

Slowly, I started to not get befuddled by the humongous amounts of data, but actually find parallels between my internship work and reading a story. It was as if, a type of analysis I choose, is a plot twist I am choosing and it will eventually lead to an ending. Then I play with the numbers the other way around, and an even clearer picture emerges.

Working with raw data and making sense of it is also like story-telling. A whole lot of times, we are fascinated by one aspect of the story we want to tell – maybe the beginning, maybe the ending, maybe the protagonist. But we fill in the other details along the way and try to make the whole story appealing. Similarly, I know where my data comes from and what is expected of the results. Then I fill in with different analysis and voila – I see that in a particular community women with depression benefit better from group interventions than adolescent boys.

I have always pondered and advocated that psychology and therapy be bought down from its elite status to a tool of mental health available to everyone. Bapu Trust and the work they do is a dream come true in that sense. I see hope in wanting to freeing psychology from its elite status, because they are doing it day in and day out. And they are creating a mentally healthy community by doing so. You could claim I am saying that because I am just impressed, but I have statistical proof for it.

APA_Latino_MH_Guidebook images

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Why ‘men will be men’ is most damaging to men.

April 7, 2015 at 6:38 pm (Opinions) (, , , , , , , )

So, if you google ‘men will be men’, you will find a million memes, videos and images that reduce men to sex boxes. Thanks to Imperial Blue’s ad campaign, this is reinforced all the more.

In the typical ad by this company, men are pretending to be fitter because they can only thinking of deceiving a person into sex when they see a woman, or they will ‘protectively’ keep a hand on the shoulder of their wives/ girlfriends to show another male that his is better, or at least he has one.

Apparently, men have the egos of five year olds and the mating rules of the animal kingdom.

I disagree.

I have had the most moving emotional conversations with some male friends of mine. Others have given me great intellectual insights. Still others, have engaged in philosophical debates with me, enriching me all the more with it.

My guy friends are good friends who are there for me, they are good at what they do, they are good at their hobbies, and they are great people.

I refuse to think that their brains do not function beyond sex, gaming and sports.

Most human beings think about sex. It’s normal. No need to make it a man’s domain. And women also like gaming and sports. And there are men who do not like gaming and sports. And even if they do, they do not suck at balancing their emotional lives along with their interests.

Although it is very convenient to want to say ‘men will be men’ for certain stereotypical male behaviour, it is damaging in the long term because it portrays men as some sort of one dimensional, unfeeling, sex boxes. They are so much more. This kind of understanding about how men are and supposed to be, is what reduces the chances of sexual abuse and rape against boys and men being reported, this increases the likelihood of domestic violence on men, as well as makes it possible to misuse women protection laws because men are always seen as perpetrators and strong – they can never be victims. If a person is craving sex all the time, of course they can’t be raped – this thinking is encouraged.

This kind of thinking makes bullying and ragging look like rites of passage and young boys growing up not reporting horrendous acts of violence because you are supposed to ‘take it like a man’.

It makes it very difficult for men to have fulfilling romantic relationships.

Lastly, it reduces women to one-dimensional beings who do not like their male partners to be involved in sports and hobbies and play hard to get. Redundant crap.

After so many years on this planet, we as people certainly have more depth than being the one dimensional man and woman. Even cave-people did.

It’s easy to use ‘men will be men’ to justify something you or your friend did, but it is not very different from when women are offered privileges due to patriarchy (date bills paid by the male partner), and by succumbing to them, women add to the status quo of inequality.

Next time you or someone you know wants to use the above justification, stop yourselves and give yourselves permission to be a complete human, not a one-dimensional sex box.

No, thanks IB.

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