Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Net Neutrality: The lifeline of the Internet

In this age of information i.e. where information is considered as the most important resource, Internet (or the Web) has emerged as a ubiquitous medium for getting access to all kinds of information. Because of the presence that the Internet (will be calling it the Net onwards in this article) has made in all sectors of life, it has become the primary medium for availing services to users remotely. As with any popular medium of information/services, Net also has its fare share of challenges and debates, the most popular right now being of Net neutrality. Let’s see why Net neutrality means, and why it is a hot topic of debate.

Net Neutrality
Over few decades of evolution that the Net has seen, it has maintained a very peculiar characteristic, as is the case with other public communication and information sharing mediums like telephone, radio etc. The characteristic is its Content and Service Neutralityi.e. the Net itself does not distinguish between the type of content and the service that is being delivered over it. The concept of Net is very loose here, because it essentially means the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as it is the ISPs that act as the access points for users of the Net.
As already mentioned, the concept of neutrality towards content is not something unique to the Net; it hold for almost all mediums of communication/information delivery. Contrast this property with electricity, which is distributed as a commodity rather than as a medium, and is service aware (Electricity bills change based on commercial vs. household connections, peak load basis, use of special devices like air conditioners etc.)

Why are talking about this?
We are talking about Net neutrality due to the ongoing debate on violation of Net neutrality. Out the various such instances, some have been very popular:
1.     The first major incident was in December 2014 when Airtel announced that it will levy extra charges for making voice calls from it’s network over internet (VoIP).
2.     In February 2015, Facebook launched Internet.org in India with Reliance Communications which provides free access to a selected set of websites through an app. The commotion is about the criteria for selecting only these websites for free access, which is apparently biased and violates Net neutrality.
3.     In April 2015, Airtel came up with the Airtel Zero scheme, where it will provide free access to Internet to certain apps, if the app developer firm has already signed the Airtel zero contract.

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has been under constant criticism for not being able to take action against these incidents and has not been able to ensure Net neutrality.
There have been many such incidents that potentially violate Net neutrality. I use the term “potentially” here because the notion of Net neutrality has never been fully formalized and it is still ambiguous as to what constitutes Net neutrality. For example, Facebook claims that Internet.org is an anthropologic initiative and thus does not violate Net neutrality. However, the experts’ opinions suggest something else. So, I will leave this interpretation to the reader, until a formal framework for Net neutrality comes into effect.

Is Net neutrality so critical?
In short, yes, it is. As aforementioned that Net has become the primary medium for exchange of information and facilitation of remote services, it holds utmost power in the sense that sentiment and information filtering on the Net can drastically change scenario of competition in the market and reduce quality of content and services. This will basically eliminate any new players from the cutthroat competition even before they make their online presence.
 Extrapolation of these impacts to a few years in the future paints a very horrific picture of the market where only an elite few (with deep pockets) will hold control of what reaches the end-users and basically manipulate their behavior at will.

Legal aspects
There are absolutely no laws for enforcing Net neutrality in India. TRAI has some guidelines for the Unified Access Service License, that promotes Net neutrality but don’t enforce it.  The IT Act 2000 also does not make any provisions regarding Net neutrality.

The way ahead…
The debate over Net neutrality is going to grow even more turbulent because of the importance of Internet and criticality of Net neutrality not just for large corporations but also for individual end users. Since, we have already established that access to unbiased information is critical for innovation and indiscriminate online presence is necessary for maintaining fair competition, Indian legal system needs to ensure that a formal legal framework is put into effect around the principles of Net neutrality.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Obsession for the first

"Jo Jeeta wohi Sikandar" is a phrase often used to justify the need for the best option and the quest of standing first in a competition.

Bollywood movie 3 idiots has captured this quest very well. The obsession of being first and the importance of running faster than others was demonstrated by Viru Sahsrabuddhe (aka Virus) using the example of "koyal" and "kowa" on the very first day.
Also, on the first day's lecture, he asks a question, "Who was the first person to set foot on the moon?" Most of the students knew the answer.
Then he made this question a little tough reframing as, "Who was the second person doing the same?" Not even a single student knew the answer.

That is the grace of first person that dims the followers.

The rankers in a competition other than the topper always  face the feeling of regret over could-have-been first. The margin between winner and the others becomes the curse figure for the latter.

Was the second person to Neil Armstrong less talented than him or is the runner up in any contest inferior to the winner?

I don’t think so. Each person has his own story with different circumstances. There can never be ideal level playing ground to compare any two persons. Then what is the problem?

The society we live in remembers someone only on the basis of what one has achieved, and not how much potential one possess.

Do they really have true power of making judgments, when they don't really have the experience of that journey?

I can share my own experience when the same people criticizing me over the two opposite decisions. When I was planning to go abroad for a job (P.S.- I was the first in my home to do so :P), I heard few people around me disparaging me over the decision by giving the arguments like,
"You are a girl, that would be a struggle for you to stay alone in a foreign land"
"You don't belong there, you should try a more convenient job"
"You might get spoiled in the US culture (smoking, drinking etc.)".
Fortunately, I decided to go. When I returned back after a few months, the same people were making judgments -
"how come you are back?, see I told you, you couldn't survive there"
"You shouldn't be back here when you were earning so well" etc.

If I have never been first in any competition, does that mean all my achievements should be belittled? If I am taking my work load chill, it doesn't mean I am fraud or if I am taking it too seriously, it also doesn't mean that I am less competent.

What right do people have to do so & pass unfair comments?
They are not God who can pass such judgments.
They didn’t run; I ran the race of my life with my mind and heart.
The least they can do is Congratulate & acknowledge my worth..
But, it does not matter what people say..
They cannot steal my achievement away..

In my next post jealousy I am going to put the other side of learning from all.

Instead of putting obstacles to others progress, we should better ourselves and should atleast avoid saying disparaging words if we cannot encourage them.

I don’t want to be the 1st woman to do this or that, but I want my targets to be wonderful enough for me.
I want to explore the power of "not yet" instead of focusing on right here, right now, and ahead of everyone.

We think- Log Kya Kahenge? Fact is- Log kahenge

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Big Data: Big Deal

In a world run by computers, and everything happening on the Internet, there is a giant, hidden and precious resource that is being generated every moment and every one of us is contributing to it. We know this resource by the name of information or data.  Big Data is one of the new hot terms in the jargon of Internet/Computer science literature.

What is Big Data?
In the field of computer science, every piece of information/media constitutes data. However, for data to be called Big Data, it needs to satisfy the soft criteria of 3 Vs i.e. Volume, Velocity and Variety:
1.     Volume: As the name Big Data suggests, data size should be very large, generally of the order of Petabytes.
2.     Velocity: The data is generated at a very high rate, generally of the order of Gigabytes per second.
3.     Variety: Big Data generally consists of large variety data, mostly unstructured.

Who is generating Big Data?
We are. To understand how we generate big data, we need to know what actually constitutes big data. In most cases, big data is user profile, user preferences and user activity data, where a user means someone who is using a particular service on the web or outside of web. Billions of people are generating plethora of information every second through their interactions with different services that they use. With the advent of Internet of Things (IoT), a world where the vast majority of gadgets, machines and humans are connected to the internet, big data provides a promising future in terms of decisions based on big data.

Why all the fuss?
Data has lately emerged not only as a resource, but also as a precious commodity over past few years. We can only guess how precious this is as a commodity, I would not be wrong to say that it rivals all big commodities in the market like oil, gold etc. and has the potential to beat all these commodities (combined) in terms of gross global value in near future. Some people might think this is too bold of a statement, but let me give some pointers to think about:
Where do you think ALMOST ALL OF THE REVENUE of tech giants like Google and Facebook comes from, when they are not charging anything from the end user? Why do you think the government of India is so keen on investing in UID scheme, smart cities etc., when such basic problems likes illiteracy, discrimination etc. remain unsolved by a great margin? In fact, why do you think most of the services on the Internet are free for the end user?

The Big Data revolution: data never lies
Like every other precious commodity of such a wide impact, Big Data also has the potential to transform the world. If we really look closely, many of our decisions and our behavior are already being governed by data.
As the popular saying goes “Data never lies”, data is already being used by policy makers in progressive governance and big organizations to implement changes, attract people, transform behaviors and eliminate competitions. It would not be an exaggeration if I say that intelligent analysis of data is the key to a successful administration and a cutting edge business strategy in this age of information. In other words, we are going through a Big Data revolution, where data is one of the primary drivers of change, both positive (as we have already seen) as well as negative (as we will see in the next section).

Well there is a darker side too…
As some of the curious readers would have already guessed that, like any other commodity having an ability of such a huge impact on people’s lives, Big Data also comes with a cost and a set of challenges that can not be ignored.
1.    Greed vs Privacy: Since big data is a huge source of revenue, it is very tempting to cross boundaries of user privacy when it comes to using their personal data for filling pockets. As precious it is a commodity, it can not only be used by large corporations who already have a huge source of big data, but also can be sold for insane prices to malicious clients.

2.    Data Colonialism: As it happens with a commodity of such an impact, people with power over it don’t want to let it go.
Large corporations like Google and Facebook already have a soft monopoly over Big Data, but it remains to be seen whether they will use it (or are already using it) to not only generate revenues but also crush competition. However, the scenario here is not as bad as it used to be with oil, since the sources of big data as a commodity are not limited (at least as long as net neutrality is maintained, which is also a big issue of debate nowadays). The more worrisome phenomena is the colonization of the analog universe by the digital. The term Data Colonialism was given by Sorabji in 2013 to describe a scenario where the West has been mining African nations for health data without the African benefiting in any way. This was the case with raw materials extraction from colonies in 18th century- extraction of value.

3.    Transforming behavior: We have already entered the era where advertisements are powered by artificial intelligence which makes use of past user behavior to show advertisements that are more likely to impact user behavior towards a certain product, person, organization, campaign etc. That said, with the power that Big Data provides to large corporations and governments, it potentially provides a powerful tool to modify human behavior on a large scale for their benefits.

The problem of privacy violations can be solved to a large extent by imposing regulations regarding user privacy and performing audits whether those laws are adhered to. However, it is a big challenge since data often crosses national boundaries and there are technological limitations to imposing a law to such an effect.
Data colonialism is a very real possibility but not much can be done other than providing support to competing businesses to maintain an environment of open competition so that such situations do not arise. Although, use of data to transform human behavior for personal gains seems ethically wrong, but law cannot be used to counteract such a practice especially when it is done with user consent. All we can do is to make people aware of the potential risks and let them decide their courses of action.

In short…

In short, Big Data is a very precious commodity and a powerful tool to drive positive changes and lead to a world that runs on intelligent decisions rather than whims and fancies of people. However, this power comes with it’s own set of risks which we need to be aware of as the primary producers of this resource and be vigilant about how this data is being used.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Marital rape: trivialization vs criminalization - Part II

Why should it be banned?
Marital rape is considered as the violation of Fundamental Right guaranteed under Article 14 of the Indian constitution which guarantees the equal protection of laws to all persons. By depriving married women of an effective penal remedy against forced sexual intercourse, it violates their right to privacy and bodily integrity, aspects of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21, by differentiating them from unmarried women.
Marital privacy – which justifies laws such as the marital rape exception is a fundamental denial of society’s commitment to treating all persons with equal concern and respect.
After making high pitch for the government flagship Beti Bachao beti padao, we want our 'Beti' to not have a right on her own body.
If marital rape has been committed, wife is a rape survivor and she has same rights like any other rape survivor.
Don’t women have a right to live  a dignified life even after marriage? I think, this is not true in the current setup. If it was that, then government would have continued the schemes like Sukanya Samraddhi even after marriage. Parents too would have shared the responsibility of a girl child even after marriage like they do for boys. Does marriage provides the license to rape? Hopefully, No. Sexual violence within circle of trust is more painful and the absence of a law to safeguard the same is a human right violation and unjust towards women.

What are the flaws with the legal system?
Our legal system doesn’t provide any concrete protection to the victims of marital rape. Under Hindu marriage act, 1955 one of the "conjugal duties" of the wife is to provide sexual satisfaction to her husband, a very archaic thought congruent to the thoughts of a patriarchal society. Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code(IPC) considers forced sex in marriages as a crime only when the wife is below 15 or the couple is legally separated. Thus, marital rape is not a criminal offense under the IPC. Marital rape victims have to take recourse to the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005(PWDVA).The PWDVA, which came into force in 2006, outlaws marital rape. However, it offers only a civil remedy for the offence.
It is not the case that these irrational acts have not been up for revision. Law Commission's report(2000) and Justice Verma panel's(2013) recommended to do away with the exemption granted to marital rape in the laws. Unfortunately, these were not accepted by the government and the marital rape continues to be unrecognized by law. Parliamentary committee opposed the Verma commission proposal saying that entire family system will be brought under great stress if the Marital Rape is brought under the law.

But it is prone to misuse?
Proponents of marital rape exemption argue that if legalized, this law is prone to misuse as is the case with The Dowry act. I do agree with the same because it is really difficult to prove the charges of marital rape. It is worse when we rely on the methods like two finger test for proving charges of rape in general.
Here, I would say that every law is prone to misuse, let it be a dowry act or an anti defection law, yet we have to accept that the misuse is at the part of investigation.
Moreover, don’t we have acts like Prevention of Atrocities Act(SC & ST), 1989 and similar laws against discrimination? Aren't they prone to misuse? Because here also you have to rely on the statement of the victim prima facia. It can also be used to harass someone. Just because of this lame skepticism, we should not try to evade from our responsibility.

Why isn't law ahead of prejudices?
In a recent case of marital rape, a 27 years old woman herself went up and approached court for marital rape. The court made a superficial assessment and concluded by saying that we wont serve any individual case and asked the victim to come up with a PIL, thus denying to serve the plea. Isn't this absurd that a person cannot stand for himself/herself? I used to think that this is the most conventional thing that a person can seek justice for himself/herself. Similarly, political parties have divisive opinions. Few of them want consensus building in society as a pre-requisite to come with a law. As if society was ready for the revolutionary acts like Untouchability Act, Transgender Act, Child labor Act or affirmative action for vulnerable sections.

What is the international scenario?
Many countries have made it a crime for a husband to force his wife to have sex in recent years. Malaysia changed its laws to that effect in 2007; Turkey in 2005; and Bolivia in 2013. The United States began criminalizing marital rape in 1970s and most European countries in the 1990s. The United Nations has also recommended India to criminalize marital rape. Though we try to emulate US in many areas to prove ourselves as progressive, doesn’t this law provide the opportunity for the same?

Implementation Challenges in criminalizing marital rape
The major challenge is to prove the crime, what shall be the evidence? How will the investigation proceed? Charges of marital rape can be put up just to take revenge and settle scores. There is an enormous amount of social stigma attached to the marital rape. However, the picture is not that bleak as it seems. It is not the going to be the case that just after criminalizing, there will be plethora of cases. As we can see there is nearly 10% conviction rate in normal rapes and dowry cases. Marital rape is a very grey area, so its fate stands tough time. In present times, it may be very difficult to enforce too. But shouldn't the laws and their implementation envision a equitable future and a utopian society.

Is reconciliation not the only solution?
I agree and advocate for couple counselling in cases of differences and argumentative fights. But it cannot be the last resort. There has to be some mechanism on top of it for very abusive relationships.

Isn't the act of considering women as the victim all the time feminist and skewed?
True, it is. Cases of sexual assault against the transgender community are not currently prosecuted as rape under Section 375, which only recognizes women as victims. Here I would like to refer Justice Verma Committee recommendation to amend the section to make it gender neutral with respect to the victim. Because it can be anyone, a man, a woman or a transgender.

What if a man has no sex for a year, can he force his wife? Isn't it about the fairness to men also? What remedy does he has?
For this question, I would say this is a valid ground to have a divorce, so go for it, but why to impose your will on someone else. Respect comes before love and much before sex. If someone is not able to earn that respect, then one should have no right to love other person.

What is it that I am up against?
I am not the extreme leftist person who wants a revolutionary change in laws and want to prosecute half of the country in one go. What I am against of, are the blatant statements made by our lawmakers and even institutions of high respect.
Though the enforcement may be a challenge, but the arguments like, the society not being ready to accept, or crying foul of our backwardness doesn’t hold any water. Atleast they should not set the wrong precedent of trivializing the marital rape. It has actually legalized marital rape(make it permissible and even encourage by vindicating marital rape) in negative sense rather than in positive sense (to prevent it). It is well accepted truth, that many rapes are going on in bedroom then why we are still in denial mode considering marital rape as an exception?
Marital rape clearly reveals our gross double standard on sexual violence.

Way forward
I understand, this issue is sensitive. It took around 30 years for US to come to the present law which got started only with heinous nature of marital rapes. Can't we try to implement it in such a phased manner? Atleast in the cases where it is clearly visible, where a woman has undergone tremendous injury, it should be made punishable as a criminal offence.
Before 2012, it was an odd act to even talk about rape, but it was the solidarity of the nation that came along with Nirbhaya, and today majority of people can condemn the act by taking its name literally. I hope marital rape will also get the same recognition.
We need a social reform because legal reform not sufficient, dowry is still embedded in our society after 10 years of its existence. It is the progressive social consciousness which is need of the hour.
Sexual consent is the right of every woman, married or unmarried, as much as of men, and nonconsensual sex should be treated exactly the same, irrespective of the relationship of the perpetrator to the victim.
It is the inner khap panchayat in us all.

[Meanwhile do watch movie Aakashvani to get a practical picture of marital rape in our society.]

Marital rape: trivialization vs criminalization - Part I

In the aftermath of Nirbhaya BBC documentary, the country came out united. Who would agree with Mukesh Singh's justification to rape? I guess, only miniscule proportion.  Now consider another case, Suppose a person did the same with his wife. I guess these will be the most probable reactions- 1. Aadmi hi vaaiyad tha (the man was beast),  this was an unacceptable act, so she should have gone for legal remedies, and if left to us, we would have lynched him 2. It is not possible marriage is a sacred institution, the wife should have been lying, moreover it is their personal matter and wife has already given consent to have sex at the time of marriage  (any third moderate reaction is welcome).

Though marital rape has been an issue of political and social debate for a long time without any conclusion yet. Lets try to demystify it.

What is marriage?
It is a social and legal institution  in which two people mutual consent to work out things together in the train of life.

What is marital rape?
Marital rape (also known as spousal rape) is non-consensual sex in which the perpetrator is the victim's spouse. It is a form of partner rape, of domestic violence and of sexual abuse.

What does the data say?
Out of the total number of rapes reported to NFHS(though it is an informal survey whose premise was to provide anonymity), 97.7% rapes were committed by the people known to the victim, out of which marital rapes accounts for 2/3rd. UN study has established the fact that 75% men want their wives to agree to sex. There have been many heartrending stories of women raped every night, even during pregnancy and child birth. It is a physical as well as mental trauma because the perpetrator is known to the person, often very close. It is a bitter reality even in developed nations.

Why all the fuss now?
Recently during parliamentary proceedings, a minister reacted on a question regarding the status of marital rape in India, “It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors e.g. level of education/illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament, etc”. Other proponents of the marital rape exception, also, argue that it is essential to preserve the integrity of marriage, which is a crucial social institution, so marital rape cannot be brought within the purview of rape law.

What are the possible reasons?
Though we can easily attribute the prevalence of patriarchal mindset as the main reason, yet there are many deep rooted causes.
According to NFHS survey around 74% marriages in India occur without due consent of the bride and the groom. How can we expect two strangers to be very comfortable with each other at the very first night? And the same thing becomes routine due to lack of any firm resistance. We, as a society are stuck in the bus vs bedroom debate and usually make a remarkable difference between the two. If a woman is getting raped in a bus it is rape, but in bedroom it is a ritual. This trivialization of marital rape is one of the major reasons for the perpetuation of the same.
Moreover, there is huge divide across the society. Though, the main victims are women, yet in most cases it is the elder women who give formal acceptance to marital rape by putting it in the category of necessary adjustment or "compromise" in a marriage. And it goes on and on across generations, and we consume this culture of adjustment. Forced sex has become a “wifely duty.”

Another important reason is economic dependence of women on their husbands and in-laws. Rape every night and domestic violence becomes a small price to pay, when basic survival is at stake.

To be continued...

Friday, 8 May 2015

Modern Feminism = Equality?

This article addresses a very sensitive topic, especially for women.  We are going to look at the concept of Feminism, origin and necessity of the idea and it’s modern transformation.

Feminism is a movement and not a nuisance
As Wikipedia says, Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights for women.

The origin of these movements and ideologies lies in the fact that our society has been male dominated (patriarchal) for a long time.  For such a society, women’s standing up for their rights of equality seems like a nuisance, instead of a fair call.
However, the proponents of feminism based it on the fundamental idea of equality for all.  Taking into account the reality of Indian villages and small cities where women are still treated as second grade citizens, feminism has always been a necessity.

Feminism and Affirmative action
Affirmative action (vaguely similar to reservation in India) for oppressed and backward classes of the society is closely related to the concept of feminism in the sense that they both seek to provide favorable conditions for the section they want to benefit by violating the principle of equal opportunities.  Simply put, they use inequality in competition to provide equality in standard of life.

Modern Feminism
There is no such real term as modern feminism; I am using this term, as I could not find anything more suitable. Although the original motivation for feminism still applies and there is still a lot of work to be done, it is growing into something undesirable in some sections of the society.

The original concept behind feminism was and will be of equality rather than preferential treatment or superiority. The cases where men see women as inferior are the majority, but, I have come across women who put all men (except may be their brothers and father) into the same bucket of being perverts, dominating or extremely rude. The negative traits mentioned here are individual characteristics and have equal probability of being present in women as in men.

It’s a known and researched fact that media has been commoditizing women in India. They are not portrayed as source of inspiration, rather, as source of pleasure or a thing to use. The so-called modern Indian woman has so accepted this portrayal so blindly that if a man tries to challenge this image (sometimes it’s not a challenge, but just a display of male dominance, but as women, we should learn to differentiate between the two), he is hated, scolded and put in the same bucket of having an orthodox patriarchal mind set.
As I already mentioned that feminism does not promote preferential treatment either (there is a difference between preferential treatment and affirmative action). Recently, on social media, I saw a girl beating a man who was teasing her after police arrested him. There is no problem in standing up against eve teasing, but feminism does not give you permission to break the law, unless you need it for self-defense.


The idea is that the concept of feminism is very fundamental in the sense that it only demands equal treatment for women as men, and it should be promoted in a male dominated society. However, women should also learn to treat men as equals, rather than inferior (or superior).  Promote equality through affirmative action not preferential treatment. 

(Don’t) Waste the Thunder, Recycle

6:30 PM, I pressed the doorbell of my flat. As I was waiting for my brother to open the door, my eyes fell on a dozen cold drink bottles ...