Stop Narendra Dabholkar’s anti-superstition bill

Until today, I had not heard of Narendra Dabholkar. He was a rationalist living in Pune, Maharashtra who fought against superstitious practices that ailed society. A doctor by training, he worked to expose those who used superstition and rituals as a tool to exploit ignorant people. I fully share his stand against such ills and bow to his zeal. I was deeply angered and saddened to read that he was murdered by two gunmen while he was out for his morning walk. Being killed simply for espousing different ideas is evil.

I hope the perpetrators are caught and punished to the fullest extent allowed by law. I also hope that his tragic death sparks a new vigor in wiping these ills from our society.

Narendra Dabholkar was championing an anti-superstition bill in the state of Maharashtra. Some folks are calling for the state to pass this bill as a tribute to the Dr. Dabholkar. I oppose the bill as strongly as I support the fight for rationality. The bill seeks to outlaw various activities that are considered superstitions.

Belief in religion or superstitions is an individual’s right. Performing a ritual or asking others to perform one is within one’s right to speech and expression. Don’t criminalize thoughts and words. As bad as various superstitions are, infringing on an individual’s right to practice one is worse.

I found a funny slide show on superstitions and rituals that cricketers follow. Apparently, even Sachin Tendulkar whom Indians claim to be God is not immune to superstitions. He wears his left pad first while going out to bad. Are we now going to make it a law that he tosses a coin and chooses a pad at random?


Pass the Lok Pal Bill already!

In the past few months, most Indians on Facebook and other social networks would have seen some mention of the Lokpal Bill and Anna Hazare. I have discussed this issue with several of my friends and thought I’d summarize my thoughts and spam my friends’ Facebook feed as well :)

I support Anna Hazare. For most part, I support his version of the Lok Pal. I would like a few minor changes (that I am not mentioning here). If I were a Member of Parliament, the absence of these changes would not stop me from voting Team Anna’s version. The bill, as I understand it, aims to establish an investigative agency called the Lok Pal that is independent of the Central Government and focuses on public corruption charges. I view the Lok Pal as a combination of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

  • The CVC is autonomous, but is not an investigative agency.
  • The CBI is not autonomous, but it is an investigative agency.
  • The Lok Pal would be an autonomous investigative agency.

India needs such an agency. I support the bill.

I am going to use this post to mainly address various arguments I have heard against the bill.

Arguments against the content of the bill

The bill is draconian. No! The rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India still hold. It is finally up to the judiciary to decide who should be punished and how. The Supreme Court of India gets ultimate say.

The bill is unconstitutional. I am yet to see anyone specify a particular section or principle of the Constitution that this bill would violate. What I have read are various arguments that this bill somehow violates the balance of power envisioned in the Constitution. I don’t see how and I’ll wait for the Supreme Court to rule it Ultra Vires if that is the case. The Indian Government has not argued that the bill is unconstitutional. It has merely argued that the bill is bad policy. To be honest though, the Indian Government has not made any argument. They should have televised the proceedings of the drafting committee meeting.

The way to fight corruption is by making government smaller. The bill and this argument do not contract each other. You can make government smaller and at the same time have an investigative agency. Investigation and law enforcement are functions that can be performed only the state. Remember what the SEC and other US federal agencies failed to do before the financial meltdown in 2008.

The bill’s language is kooky. I agree. This is a minor detail that is not a point of contention between the government and Anna Hazare and can be fixed.

The bill won’t work. No comment. We’ll have to wait and see.

Arguments against the method of protest employed by Team Anna

Team Anna behaves as though they are Parliament. Of course, not! It is finally up to Parliament to pass any bill into law. Team Anna is just like any other group lobbying the government. They are lobbying the administration and Parliament publicly and seem to be quite successful!

Unrelated to this issue, but I can’t help pointing these out. 1) I find it ironic that some Parliamentarians talking about the prerogatives of their institution conveniently forget that they did not meet even a single day during last year’s monsoon session. 2) A few years ago Parliament was dealing with how to respond to Greg Chappel.

Every person has the right to speak. Every person has the right to petition Parliament. Every person has the right to protest. Every person has the right to go on a hunger strike, a time-honored Indian tradition of non-violent protest.

Team Anna is blackmailing Parliament into acting in haste. Karan Thapar made this argument on his show. I find this argument similar to what Republicans made against Obamacare a month before it passed. Healthcare reform was first proposed (and defeated) during the Clinton days. It was discussed for a whole year after Obama got elected and yet the Republicans kept asking for a fresh start.

Lok Pal Bills have been introduced eight times in Parliament. Several Parliamentary Standing Committees have issued reports on various bills. This current iteration has lasted more than 8 months. MPs have had enough time to consult experts and their constituents. (I have not heard of any MP claim that their constituents oppose Anna Hazare’s version of the bill.) At what point is it okay for a citizen say, “Enough is enough?”

Ad homimen attacks

Anna Hazare is a frontman for the RSS and Hindu-fundamentalists. Arundathi Roy makes this claim. I don’t even know if this argument has any basis in reality. It sounds like the “Obama is a Muslim” attacks. Firstly, there is no evidence to support the claim. Secondly, what if it were true? How would it matter?

Middle-class folks who support the bill are themselves corrupt and have paid a bribe at some point in their lives. Does one really think that folks like paying bribes? Even so, shouldn’t someone not aspire for what they think will lead to a fairer system and society?

This is a media spectacle/conspiracy. Duh.

I am an academic descendent of Markov

My advisor officially approved my thesis and I am now Dr. Subramanian. Looking up by genealogy was a breeze since my advisor’s advisor is on Wikipedia. I am an academic descendent of the famous mathematician Markov.

“Show me your papers”: The statistical version

Several commentators have claimed the Arizona’s new immigration law to be unconstitutional. Rightly so. The most controversial provisions are vague in specifying when “reasonable suspicion” exists. It is clear that the only way for a police officer to suspect somebody is their race, which would violate the Equal Protection clause (14th amendment). The law also violates the fourth amendment right against unlawful seizure.

However, I do think there is a way to ask someone to show their paper without violating the constitution. State law enforcement should choose people on the streets at “random” and ask them for paper. I am not using the word random to mean arbitrary. I am instead using random to mean the mathematical definition of random. The government decides to ask say thousand folks for their papers every day and the candidates for the check are decided by some random number generator — something that says check the Nth person who drives through the intersection of X and Y cross street. The candidates, or say victims, would be uniformly distributed across the state, thereby not violating the 14th amendment.

The tricky issue is the 4th amendment. How can random searches pass the “reasonable suspicion” test? Well, we can rely on probability and the definition of reasonable. Everyone knows that there are undocumented immigrants in Arizona. They constitute around 5% of Arizona’s population. The probability that any randomly chosen person is an undocumented immigrant is therefore 5%. While 5% might be a low number, think about it. If it were 30%, would it satisfy the “reasonable suspicion” requirement? Who gets to decide at what point pure random checks become constitutional? Lawmakers or a judge?

Pity the tamil guy trying to get married

I recently came across this blog post talking about how your race affects the response you get in the dating site The folks in the worst situation were Indian men, who were replied to only 20.8% of the time (though there are others in the low 20s as well); and Black women, who are replied to 34.3% of the time, which is still way more than what the poor Indian male can manage.

I was curious to know how these dynamics play in an Indian match-making context. I don’t run a dating site and I have no way of getting such data. However, I could easily get aggregate counts of women and men of each age by simply searching for it. The chart below plots the number of Tamil women and men by age on The peak for women is at age 25, with 6499 women, while the peak for men is at age 28, with 21265 men. Holy moly, that is 3.27 men competing for each woman. The aggregates are similar: 181,267 men competing for 54,662 women (ratio 3.31).

It is hard to explain such a disparity. This is my hypothesis. Men are more economically advanced than women, and are more likely to be in a position to use computers and access the internet. And for this to be the case, lots of families should consist exclusively of male or female children (otherwise the tech-savvy brother could create an match-making profile for their sister). With smaller families being strongly encouraged twenty to thirty years ago, this is a strong possibility. This also means that for identically placed families, the economic advancement of their only child depends on the child’s gender. I find it hard to wrap my head around this. If you are family with ten children, five male and five female, I can understand disproportionately favoring the male children, because of existing social norms at that time. But, if it is a family with only one child, why would a parent not want their only child to do well in life, irrespective of gender.

Gender-based economic disparity is likely to be lower in groups that are more socially and economically advanced. The conventional wisdom is that Tambrams are economically better placed in society. The graph below shows the numbers for Tambrams. The ratio of the peaks is 1.82 men for each woman (1313 women aged 25, and 2389 men aged 28). The ratio of the aggregates is 2.07 (8741 women and 18104 men).

Whatever you conclude about the reasons why such a disparity exists, one thing is certain: the average male on is getting royally ripped-off.

Do you have an explanation for this data?

Why does IIT Madras want to know my religion?

Clarification: My outrage is in the following order: Religion >>> Age >> National Origin > Paper count.

IIT Madras is hiring new faculty. I heard ahead of time that an advertisement was coming out on the 20th and I was eagerly looking forward to see it. What struck me most was how unwelcoming it was.

The advertisement started of inviting “applications from Indian Nationals with an established record …” (emphasis mine). I understand IITs are a government institution, but why restrict faculty positions to citizens. State-run universities in the US allow non-US citizens to work, and the USCIS exempts non-immigrants employed in institutions of higher education from their normal H-1B cap.

The experience asked of Assistant Professor applicants includes “Candidates preferably should be below 35 years of age.” Ageism is institutionalized in India, but shouldn’t institutes of higher learning lead the way in being non-discriminatory? Even IISc’s unofficial recruitment page is explicit in its discrimination. The UT-Austin faculty recruitment website has a simple line that says “The University of Texas at Austin is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.” Sometime ago, I came across the following statement on D. E. Shaw’s recruitment page (emphasis mine). I would be so happy to work in such a place.

The members of the D. E. Shaw group do not discriminate in employment matters on the basis of sex, race, colour, caste, creed, religion, pregnancy, national origin, age, military service eligibility, veteran status, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, or any other protected class. Note that for us, this is more than just legal boilerplate. We are genuinely committed to these principles, which form an important part of our corporate culture.

Question on publications And, when it comes to the application form itself, I fail to understand the point of filling out an application form with details that are already in one’s CV. What is the point of asking one to fill in the “number” of papers? What does differentiating between “Journal” and “Conference” publications serve? Journals and conferences are valued differently in different areas. Moreover the tier of each conference/journal itself has to be considered. A quote from an article about journals versus conferences in Computer Science.

Some lesser-ranked universities evaluate faculty on the basis of journal publications, because the Dean of Engineering is unable or unwilling to understand computer science. In most scientific fields, journals have higher standards than conferences; computer science is a rare exception. A top-ranked CS department can convince the dean to use the proper evaluation metric. A lower-ranked CS department cannot (the dean may think the department is trying to fool him or her). If you are at one of these universities, you will need to publish in journals, probably by submitting slightly revised versions of your conference papers to journals. The rush for people at lower-ranked universities (some of whom are excellent researchers, and some of whom are not) to submit even marginal results to journals is another regrettable factor that tends to lower the overall quality of journals.

And I don’t know what the difference is between an international and a national venue. After all, the famed AAAI Conference, till a couple of years ago was a national conference. Do national conferences and journals allow papers only from “Indian Nationals” just like IIT Madras itself does?

Question on religion What offended me the most, and prompted this post is the application asking a person’s religion. How is this even remotely connected to making a decision on a candidate’s application? The only connection I can see is discrimination. I have not seen private sector companies or other educational institutions ask this information, so, I don’t think IIT Madras is mandated to collect this information, even for the purpose of collecting statistics.

This application form would have been prepared at the direction of some IIT-M faculty members. After all, they are the people who make decisions and know what information they need to make such a decision. I am surprised they asked for this field to be there, or it was not caught by any one.

Words that alernate hands when typed

I came across this tweet (original) that claims that “Skepticisms is the longest word that alternates hands when typing.”

Well, here are some words that are longer (and are not plural forms). These include some common words like authenticity, entitlement, enchantment, proficiency, etc.

(13 letters)

(12 letters)

(11 letters)