Skepticism

Jai Hind!

Today, India celebrates the 61st anniversary of its independence from British Rule. Not quite as exciting as 231 years for you Americans, but we did it with a lot fewer bullets. Since I tend to post about the things that really annoy me about India, I thought I’d dedicate some time to a few completely awesome things about it. Check them out, after the fold.

1. We prove, time and again, that an individual can make a difference

Dr. Bindeswar Pathak of Sulabh International saw the plight of the Dalits (the “untouchables” or members of the lowest caste), who have no other option but to work as garbage collectors, disposing of the trash, feces and urine of the other castes. At least I hope they dispose of it. Anyhow, he created a program where he helps these people (mostly women) learn to read, write and take on new jobs.

2. We have a group of Indian Rationalists who continue to fight the good fight

Led by Sanal Edamaruku, of “Great Tantric Challenge” fame, the Indian Rationalists continue to question gurus and godmen in public arenas, proving them wrong, often on National TV. Check out Edamaruku’s expose of “New Age Hypnotic Guru” Sivanand in March.

And, although I’ve mentioned it before, I can’t say enough good things about the “Gurubusters” documentary. If you haven’t seen it, go look – here, here and here.

3. We remain the world’s largest democracy

We argue and fight, often to extremes. Our government is corrupt and confused. We could be a whole lot more effective if we figured out how to put our differences aside. But we also revel in our diversity and remain the world’s largest democracy. Our constitution confirms that we’re a secular country and we constantly fight attempts from one religion to dominate the government.

4. We love our armed forces

One of the local airlines, SpiceJet, has announced a “Freedom to Fly”program where any serving armed forces personnel get a full discount on the basic airline ticket price (paying only taxes and fees) to allow them to get home more easily and, presumably, more often. 

5. We’re the underdog at the Olympics and we won!

We won our first 2008 gold medal this week – in air rifle shooting.

Our previous gold medals came from field hockey team, which didn’t even qualify for the Beijing Games. Go Abhinav Bindra!

6. We proved that nonviolent resistance can work.

Gandhi’s concept of Satyagraha was and still is controversial. Sam Harris, for example, has some interesting counter-arguments. But we achieved independence 61 years ago because of it and the concept of finding a non-violent way to disobey tyranny is a powerful and beautiful one.

7. We’re looking to space for answers

Yes, India has a space program. I hope all of you recovered from #4 above (realizing that India has a military and an airline named for a Spice Girl) before reading that. Our space program is small, private and has no military ambitions.

While the leaders of the free world imagine advanced weapons systems, scientists in India see space technology as a means to help the developing world.

Not only did it bring television to the entire subcontinent in one sweep in the early 1990s, it has furthered advances in water management, land tenure, archaeology and telemedicine.

Telemedicine, by the way, is basically visiting a doctor through a web cam. Awesome. The minute I can do a physical over Skype, I am there.

8. We’re bringing science education to village children

The Agastya International Foundation is bringing mobile labs to rural India to give primary school students practical experience with science experiments.

The lab carries over a hundred simple, low-cost experiments — most portable enough to be set up under a tree — and a teacher who will involve the students directly in discovery. They’ll step forward to help, and they’ll be urged to ask questions. They’ll see and experience scientific concepts in action. And whether the lesson shows what makes rockets fly, or how sound travels, or what makes a sunset colorful, they will remember and use what they learn

9. Like it or not, we embrace technology and we do it well

According to a Gartner report, three Indian IT services companies (Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys Technologies and Wipro Technologies) will emerge as the next generation of IT service “megavendors,” and are likely to replace the present megavendors (IBM, Accenture, and EDS) by 2011.

According to the study, Indian companies are much more than just the cheaper option:

Gartner attributes the success of India-3 to four critical competencies: process excellence, world-class HR practices, provision of high quality services at a low cost and achievement of significant and disproportionate ‘mind share’ compared to their actual size.

10. We have Bollywood, baby.

We don’t worry about all those complex diversions like ‘plot’ and ‘genres.’ Nope, the biggest movie maker in the world knows how to make movies. They all have pretty much the same plot and they combine all genres in one three-hour awesomepalooza. I’ll leave you with this classic sample:

Chole ke peeche kya hai

So Happy Birthday India. It also happens to be my 10-year wedding anniversary today. Celebrate with me by saying something nice about someplace, someone or something that you love too!

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Masala Skeptic

Maria Walters (a.k.a. Masala Skeptic) has spent a lot of time in ‘furrin parts,’ including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Pittsburgh. Although her passport is from India, she’s spent most of her adult life in the United States. She currently lives in Atlanta and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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22 Comments

  1. Happy anniversary!

    Thanks for the post about India. Your points about science education, non-violence, and democracy serve to remind me that we are all made better by a diversity of approaches to common issues.

    {By the way, the Bollywood link is missing.}

  2. What? Khalnayak for Independence day? Well I guess its a chick-y song. I prefer the down home bonhomie of Mr. India.
    Mandatory viewing for any indian: one bollywood movie and the Tryst of Destiny speech.

  3. Hey, I just went to India (Kolkata) for the first time in May. In meeting and speaking with people (which was amazingly easy considering) I could discern some of the problems you are referring to, but the general awesomeness of the place was overwhelming.

    Also took a trip to Agra while there to see the Taj Mahal and Fort Agra.

    Anyway, thanks for the links and upbeat post. Happy Independence Day and congrats on your 10th.

  4. Also, I hate you… in the related videos section of the vid you linked, there was a Daler Mehndi song. I’d just recently broken my Daler addiction, and then you had to do this… *shakes fist*

  5. Rebecca – Elyse, Stacey and I were planning the Skepchick World Tour back in New York – where were you?!

    Jen – Ghostbusters & Bollywood? That may be the greatest movie of all time. It may be too fantastic to watch!

    Thanks for all the good wishes, folks. We’re going out tonight to celebrate by eating sushi and watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars. At least one of those things will be absolutely awful… Hope it’s not the sushi…

  6. Here’s my nice thing to say about someplace:

    I will point out that India also gave us… my sister-in-law and my niece and nephews. So rock on, India!

    Oh yeah, and all that damned good food.

    Yeah and zero, that was pretty cool, too.

  7. I thought Gandhi influenced MLK, and through him helped the success of the civil rights movement in the U.S.. Am I wrong? If that’s true, then it’s yet another good thing that India helped bring to the world. Not to mention all of the brilliant engineers who have practiced here for many years. Maybe it takes an engineer to know about it…

  8. Happy anniversary! This post was wicked informative, and I thank you for it! Let’s see, someone I love is my fiancé, who is a ridiculously smart and witty man, and a great critical thinker, and I’m glad to have him.

    @factsdontmatter: King was indeed influenced by Gandhi and his message of non-violent civil protest.

  9. @whitebird: the thinking for a long time was that the Arabs invented zero, and in fact they did *introduce* zero to Europe (etymologically speaking, “zero” comes from the Arabic “sifr”).

    But the current state of the art is that Indian mathematicians first introduced zero as a number (not just as a placeholder), but even they might have adapted the idea of zero as a number from Greek astronomers, who may have figured it out on their own. But the Greeks weren’t using it in math, just astronomy, so the Indians adapted the concept and passed it back via the Arabs.

    Zero as a placeholder is a whole different study in the history of math and I think the current evidence suggest that it arose in Babylonia.

  10. Mandela was also heavily influenced by Gandhi. One of the first things he did when he was released from prison was to visit India (this was extremely cool personally because he went through Kenya, where my father was posted and we got to meet him).

    And yes, India invented zero as a mathematical concept. Very cool :)

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