Yearly Archives: 2009


Last year Joe the plumber prophetically announced that if Obama were elected there would be socialism in the United States. Looking back at 2009, I am convinced that socialism has arrived. Consider the following: I post on facebook that I misplaced my house key and I get a couch to stay in. I need to go shopping, and I get free shuttle service that too with charming chauffeurs. I wish for food and my housemates respond, and I feel like drinking and I get invited within two minutes of writing it on facebook. Cupcakes and cookies appear magically in the […]

2009: Towards socialism


It is often assumed that Teaching Assistants are powerful, vested with institutionalised power to instruct, monitor and evaluate. No doubt, these represent power over the students. But this is nothing compared to the power that students have over the TA; a kind of power that is silent but brutal. When a hundred notebooks close silently, it can bring the mightiest professor to a halt. A few glances at the clock or one row of blank expressions can freeze the vulnerable TA and crush his ego at the same time. There is no experience more humbling that the knowledge that you […]

Reflections of a retiring TA


My hair-stylist this time was a veteran soldier who had just returned from the war in Afghanistan. It was his fourth month at the hair-styling school and he was learning his skill with volunteer-customers like me who went there for low-cost haircuts. Learning that I was an Indian he said, “I was near there man”, and he told me about his experiences in Afghanistan as he washed my hair preparing it for the job. Our chat was mainly about big guns. I was in the areas bordering Pakistan and we often had issues with Pakistani soldiers, he said. “Did that […]

A soldier turning hair-stylist



It was a beautiful girl from Europe this time. She eyed me curiously as I sat down with an uneasy comfort watching her examine me carefully. She went around me and slowly ran her hand through my hair and said softly, “Oh my god, it’s so long”. “Chop it”, came a chorus of voices from the side in a unanimous agreement. She nodded and they came to an agreement on what to do with my hair. I was reduced to a bystander in their decision about my hair, but not for long. In seconds I stopped feeling like an unwanted […]

Yearning to play


Thanksgiving was originally celebrated in New England when European settlers were helped by Indians to raise native crops that helped the settlers to survive the harsh winter of this region. Two white American friends of mine decided to remember the original spirit of Thanksgiving this season by inviting Indians for dinner, and we responded in style. Two carloads of us joined Melody and Chris, invited by the prospect of a truckload of yummy food. The duo had made so much food that I (a foodie) ended up trying more new varieties of food in one day than I have done […]

Thanksgiving dinner in its original spirit


National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) is primarily a programme aimed at creating public assets that would be useful for the society at large. When NREGA was created, it relaxed this principle by allowing projects in private lands of selected marginalised communities including SCs and STs. The Minister for Rural Development is now trying to extend this by permitting works in private lands owned by small and marginal farmers who are not SCs and STs. This proposal has been welcomed by some like Mihir Shah and has been sharply criticised by Aruna Roy and Jean Drèze among others. I believe […]

Asset creation in private lands using NREGA: Problems & opportunities



The temptation and pressure to confirm in one’s research topic is tremendous – especially if you are a PhD student. In the course of the last 3 years many of my friends have asked me to include some quantitative element in my research. When I tell them that it does not suit my question they’d add, perhaps do what you do and then add some statistical work to it. When my (descriptive) interviews were almost done another friend goaded me to code it and regress it. The notion that regression is what makes a study authoritative is so deeply rooted […]

Friendships and “research methods”


The explosion of digital information about all aspects of our lives, the places we live in, etc. will radically transform the way we write history in the future. Read on.

History in the future


The Minister for Rural Development, Mr C P Joshi has announced that he will revamp NREGA with some major changes, and the new scheme of things has been informally labelled “NREGA-2”. News reports have indicated that the new scheme will be unveiled on the birthday of Rajiv Gandhi. As of now the Ministry has not made available for public discussion the set of changes that will be made, but some ideas have been making their way to the media periodically. This article synthesizes these ideas, and provides links to articles debating the so-called NREGA-2.

What is NREGA-2?



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Zotero is a free-software to manage bibliographies and citations with advanced functions and an easy interface As a doctoral student a lot of my time goes into managing my references. Thankfully there are many tools around to help me manage my references and to speed up the process of inserting citations while I write my papers. After a lot of trial and error I settled on Refworks that I was really happy with. Unfortunately it is a paid software with a stiff fee that I may not be able to afford once I leave the university. Thankfully, a friend told […]

Zotero: The best citation tool around, and it’s free


Madras is one of those conservative cities that likes to keep its boys and girls at a safe distance. Parents clamour to get their children enrolled in colleges that are rather strict about this, and colleges have responded to this with enthusiasm. One famous college made a rule that girls will sit at the front of the college bus and boys behind and there will be a firewall of teachers in between. To counter this attraction other colleges have come up with separate roads and staircases inside the campus for boys and girls. In this context of competitive conservatism, I […]

Salsa in Madras: Social dance in a conservative city


NREGA has been relatively successful in many states in creating a large volume of employment, but critics have pointed out that the quality of projects is often poor. I agree with this assessment and argue that employment tends to be provided since there is a pressure for creating work and paying wages on a timely basis. But there is little pressure for quality from any source, be it administration, social movements or people at large. Unless we get some pressure group for ensuring quality, it is likely that quality of work in NREGA will continue to be poor in the years to come.

Who cares about quality in NREGA?





NREGA presents an unprecedented opportunity for disabled persons across India to earn a living and to showcase their talents. But as things stand, NREGA is not designed for disabled people to participate in it, but we can change it all with some tweaking.

NREGA for the disabled



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Mihir Shah argued in a recent article that trained workers should be appointed in each Panchayat if NREGA has to fulfill its promises. While Panchayats need personnel to implement NREGA, I argue that for the purpose of planning it would be better to create nodal agencies that take up planning sound works in a campaign mode.

Will trained workers in Panchayats improve the quality of NREGA?


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Rumblings of an ex-activist in his early thirties Why have I ceased to care about the world? Why is my commitment vanishing? Fifteen years ago if I saw blind person struggling to cross the road, I would jump off my bicycle to help him cross, and make a mental note on how I will change public transport. Now I watch my watch and glide away hoping someone will do my job for me. I wonder today if I cared then since I did not have a care in the world. Caring parents, carefree friends and a careless school set the […]

I cared because I did not care


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Rumblings of an ex-activist in his early 30s It seems like a short while ago when no dream seemed like just a dream. Making a billion, changing the world, ending poverty, peace and a few such things seemed pedestrian and utterly possible. There was a fire in me to go and be a part of the action, with merely passing doubts about what’s possible. Nothing seemed big, and I wanted to be everywhere. The thirties have come and my dreams have become smaller. A comfortable bed excites me more than a peace march, and jobs more than work. I fear […]

Age is the greatest fire extinguisher



“To be ruled is to be kept an eye on, inspected, spied on, regulated, indoctrinated, sermonized, listed and checked off, estimated, appraised, censured, ordered about…to be ruled is at every operation, transaction, movement, to be noted, registered, counted, priced, admonished, prevented, reformed, redressed, corrected”. Proudhon quoted by James Scott in Seeing like a state. The power of information is often used by those in powerful positions to control others.  The right to information movement inverts this principle and turns the gaze on those in positions of power by making their actions visible and thus amenable to democratic control.  Sharing information […]

Politics, technology & accountability II


In an earlier post I asked if there are technological answers to the problem of accountability, or if accountability is purely a political problem needing political solutions.  I then argued that while accountability is best seen as a political issue, technology can have an impact on the political terrain, and thus have an impact on accountability.  Let me illustrate this an example. Micro-politics of accountability At the heart of accountability in government programmes lies the process of specifying a set of responsibilities, clearly recording activities of various agents, cross verifying this information and holding agents accountable if there are breaches […]

Politics, technology & accountability I