Behavior / 23.01.2014

Hollande. Royal. Trierweiler. Gayet. Tharoor. Pushkar. Tarar. A person hospitalized. Another dead. France and India popped up in the news simultaneously for similar reasons and certainly not at our bidding. True, we had compared the countries before on the blog (Dynastic Succession: What is the Difference Between India and France?) but there was no intent to push the matter further. Now that fate has intervened, however, let us leverage it for comparative speculation on other issues of general interest. To recap, our message on political institutions was clear enough – dynastic succession was acceptable in France at one time but not so anymore; In India it remains very much the norm, something both the majority of the rulers and the ruled take for granted. The question we asked was what this said about the peculiarities of democratic governance in India – was it just the old monarchical...

Analysis / 29.06.2011

By Anjum Altaf My response to Christopher Hitchens’ article in Vanity Fair was not well written because it got hijacked into areas that I did not intend to stress. In this post I will try and refocus the discussion on what I consider germane to the objectives of this blog, i.e., to examine a hypothesis critically in order to establish its validity. The task therefore is to describe the hypotheses proffered by Hitchens and suggest how they may be fairly tested. As part of this exercise, I am not concerned with disputing or establishing the truth of facts; the emphasis is solely on the exercise of reasoning through the arguments assuming the facts to be true. The central concern for Hitchens is the situation in Pakistan. This concern is well placed and thoroughly justified. The challenge that Hitchens assumes is to identify the most fundamental cause that explains...

Analysis / 26.06.2011

By Anjum Altaf Pakistan is like the spouse who makes one froth at the mouth and take leave of one’s senses. In the ensuing rant, it is possible to get almost all the facts right while getting the big picture almost entirely wrong, leaving one feeling, the next day, sheepish and deeply embarrassed – the real damage done, in any such fight, being to oneself. Pakistan’s latest enraged ex is Christopher Hitchens, who could not have done himself any worse damage than what he has accomplished with his ironically titled Vanity Fair blowup, “From Abbottabad to Worse.” Hitchens delivers his verdict right off the bat: Here is a society where rape is not a crime. It is a punishment. Women can be sentenced to be raped, by tribal and religious kangaroo courts, if even a rumor of their immodesty brings shame on their menfolk. In such an obscenely...

Behavior / 20.05.2011

By Anjum Altaf What can the affair of Dominique Strauss-Kahn tell us about stereotyping and our biases? I intend to present for discussion five biases pertaining to religion, nationality, gender, communalism and civilization. Religion Imagine a role reversal in which the man who allegedly emerged naked from the bathroom of a $3,000 a night hotel room in Manhattan had been an Arab Sheikh who attempted to flee after the incident and the maid who was allegedly pounced upon, dragged around and forced to perform oral sex had been a French Jew. Would the media coverage, including the commentary on the blogosphere, have been the same? Or would religion have been a much bigger issue, with extensions to its relationship to the oppression of women, respect for law, the clash of civilizations, and latent hostility to Judaism? It is impossible to say for sure but it is difficult to imagine...

Behavior / 09.05.2011

By Anjum Altaf Patriarchy is the name given to social arrangements that privilege men and subordinate women. The desired end for many is an egalitarian structure that does away with gender bias. There are some obvious and some not-so-obvious facets of patriarchy and its contestation. In this article I will explore some of these with reference to Pakistan. I hope readers from other countries in South Asia would add to the discussion with observations rooted in their own realities. The most obvious point is that patriarchy is real. Its forms cover the entire range of gender relations. There are still places in Pakistan, I am told though I cannot vouch for it personally, where women are treated as property and bartered for various purposes.I do know for certain of women who have internalized patriarchy to the extent that its weakening makes them insecure, the lessening of domination...

Behavior / 21.11.2010

I found our discussion on values and behavior (On Religion as an Individual Code of Behavior) particularly useful. Here I wish to summarize my conclusions and illustrate the arguments further with reference to the ongoing changes in attitude towards the institution of marriage. The principal conclusions are the following: Moral values and related behaviors are not static. They can often change with surprising rapidity. The possibility of change can be triggered by any number of reasons – wars, famines, technology, etc. The changes are usually advocated by a small group of opinion leaders or role models and adopted by a small set of social rebels or dissidents. Wide adoption by people who may or may not have thought consciously about the values result in the changes being incorporated at the level of society. Variations in behavior become acceptable when social taboos erode and often a new...

Behavior / 23.10.2009

Gender discrimination (which includes harassment, abuse and violence) was at the top of our list of the most unacceptable things in South Asia. How bad is the situation? Some time back we had mentioned the introduction of the ‘Ladies Special’ trains in major Indian cities to counteract the harassment of women using public transport. Recently there was an update to that story titled ‘Joy of India’s women-only trains’ mentioning that the service has been a big success. In reading this update I was particularly struck by the remark of one user of the service: "We can laugh, we can sit where we want, we can do whatever we want, we feel free. We can sing a song, as loud as we want." The sense of freedom that this conveys is almost beyond belief – women feel they cannot even laugh or sing a song in the presence...

South Asia / 27.12.2008

Continued from Hinduism -5: Impacts of Interactions With Muslims The aim of this series of posts is to comprehend how Hinduism was impacted by its interactions with outsiders – first Muslims and then the British – in order to better understand where we are today and how we got here. In the last post, we concluded that interaction with Muslims had very little impact on how Hindus viewed their own religion – its philosophy, practices or traditions. However, the social stratification of Hindu society contributed a significant number of converts to Islam or to syncretic practices that could loosely be termed as Hindu-Muslim. We will argue later that the impact of the interaction with the British was very different. But before we address that topic in detail, it is both useful and interesting to presage the argument with a specific illustrative example. The illustration pertains to the attitude...