If everyone had friends from minority groups, would there be less bigotry overall?

In one of my Instagram stories, I wrote about the need for more Hindus to have at least one good Muslim friend. Likewise, upper castes should have one good lower-caste friend. This I proposed would make the Bhakts more empathetic (Bhakts I believe are predominantly upper caste Hindu men).

Note: You can also listen to this blog in my podcast (to subscribe to my podcast channel, search for VATSAnalysis on your favourite podcast platform)

To this suggestion, someone pointed out that this may not help at all.

“Having a friend really makes little to no difference to Bhakts / card carrying RSS member for that matter. The hypocrisy is too deep”, P commented and shared the below cartoon.

View this post on Instagram

A cartoon by @ellisjrosen. #NewYorkerCartoons

A post shared by The New Yorker Cartoons (@newyorkercartoons) on

“All these people have friends. But they consider them friends only until outside their doorstep”, P added. “They never give up on rituals and cultural processes. They stay with the family circles and with those, they have constructed beliefs that make a villain out of minorities.”

Since this ‘friendship ain’t gonna do nothing’ theory was primarily coming from the P’s personal experiences, I wanted to find out if there were studies available, where sociologists / social scientists had tried to test this hypothesis.

Life’s real answers are mostly neither here, nor there – they are somewhere in between! 🙂

Jamil Zaki is the director of The Stanford Social Neuroscience Lab. Following are some insights he shares in his book:

  • In all-white housing projects in US, 75% of residents said they’d dislike living alongside blacks; but in mixed projects, only 25% disliked having black neighbors.
  • In all-white platoons in US, 62% of soldiers opposed integrating the armed forces; but among whites who had been in a mixed platoon, only 7% opposed such integration.

Do you now think there is a possibility of an evidence based support for what I was instinctively thinking? In fact, there’s a name for it – the ‘Contact Hypothesis’.

Bigotry often boils down to a lack of acquaintance.

Gordon Allport, The Nature of Prejudice

The antidote to bigotry that the Harvard psychologist Gordon Allport proposed in his 1954 book was simple – Bring people together – which in psychology, came to be known as the ‘Contact Hypothesis‘.

But Contact doesn’t work all the time. In fact, in some cases, it can actually make things worse.

The Boston commuter train experiment

When each morning at the same time, some Latino passengers were ‘planted’ on a Boston commuter train – and this was done for ten days – it was observed that the white commuters who saw Latinos grew less tolerant of immigration than they had been before.

“Goodwill contact without concrete goals accomplishes nothing”, Allport proposed, followed by recommendations to make such Contact initiatives truly effective (things like giving the groups mutual goals, making the interactions personal etc.)

Allport proposed that for most favorable results of such Contact initiatives, groups should be given equal status (even if one group has more power in real life). But now we know it takes more than that (in part thanks to the Sender-Responder experiment).

The Sender-Responder experiment

Emile Bruneau – Director of the Peace and Conflict Neuroscience Lab at University of Pennsylvania – started with the premise that if one group is silenced for most part in real life, perhaps they should be given greater status when the groups come together.

To test this idea, he paired Mexican immigrants and white U.S. citizens who had never met. In each pair,

  • one person was assigned the role of “sender” – who would write a short essay about the hardships facing their group;
  • the second person – the “responder” – would read the essay and then summarize it in their own words and pass it back.

When white Americans acted as responders (reading what Mexicans wrote and then summed it up themselves), they said they felt better about Mexican immigrants. The Mexican immigrants who acted as senders also felt the same.

But when Mexican immigrants acted as responders (where they had to read about hardships of white Americans), they felt worse about the white Americans.

Brunue tried similar experiments in different contexts and settings and the results were the same. The minority group is already well aware of the majority narrative / perspective. In a sit-down where say both men and women are supposed to share their perspectives, men get to gain real insights; women – not so much.

Women are so keenly aware of the male experience because our entire existence had to be kind of through that lens. Whereas men have never had to understand the female experience in order to exist in the world.

Sarah Silverman (from The War for Kindness)

Contact Hypothesis works, but it works best when it reverses the existing power structure, rather than ignoring it in the name of ‘equality’.

Before I end, let me share another story / experiment from the book – this one is on psychopaths. Psychopaths, by definition, have impaired empathy – they simply don’t care about other people’s emotion. So the question is – IS IT POSSIBLE TO ALTER THE EMPATHY LEVEL OF PSYCHOPATHS TOO?

The short answer is yes! I know I know…

Christian Keysers and his colleagues traveled to prisons around the Netherlands and scanned the brains of both psychopathic and non-psychopathic criminals as they were shown images of people in pain.

As expected, psychopaths didn’t show a mirroring response (activation of mirror neurons takes place in our brain when we feel someone else’s feelings / pains / movement). The non-psychopathic criminals showed such mirroring response.

This may suggest that psychopaths’ lack of empathy is “hardwired” into their brains. But then Keysers’s team ran a second version of the study – the result was no more the same!

The psychopaths were now asked to focus on victims’ pain and to do their best to imagine how it felt. And when the psychopaths did this, their brains mirrored suffering in almost exactly the same way as non-psychopaths!

Bottom-line – with the right nudge, anyone can be triggered to show empathy.

The book of course talks a lot about short-term empathy and long-term empathy and what works when and the need for more research in select areas etc. There is no way I can sum all that up in a blog (nor should I). If you like the premise and whatever little that I have shared, it’s definitely a meaningful read.

As I end, let me leave you with a Ted talk by Jamil Zaki where he touches upon few more aspects of empathy (like his Roddenbery hypothesis). That will be all for this blog – hope your learnt something useful. If you like what I write, do subscribe to my Sunday newsletter.


Nobel Peace prize, Trump and the Halo effect

In 2009, when I heard Obama had won the Nobel peace prize within months of becoming a US President (meaning he must have been nominated much earlier) – it just felt awfully weird. I drew the below Shitoon.

The above will not appear funny unless you remember a 2009 video that had gone viral, where Obama swats a fly. The video is funny.

Anyway, so I didn’t dig deep much into it then.

When they gave one to Malala few years down the line, I did find it amusing, like many others, but again, didn’t bother to investigate much. Until this happened.

This sounded too ridiculous to be true. But true it was. In fact I learnt that Trump had been nominated earlier too (but obviously didn’t win).

I decided it was time to figure out how such ridiculousness creeps in, in something that is apparently so prestigious that Indians have been offended since long that Gandhi never got one.

By the way, as I am writing this blog, I hear that Trump has been nominated again! Shit gets shittier.

Nomination is of course not the same as winning.

After a bit of reading I now understand that the reason nomination can get ridiculous is because just too many people can nominate any person of their choice. The criteria and the link to submit the nomination-form is accessible to everyone here. There are over 300 nominees this year! Trump is just one of them.

Is it possible then that Modi has been nominated too? Going by the criteria for nomination, yes pretty much possible. One can never officially find out though (true for Trump too).

The Nobel Committee does not itself announce the names of nominees, neither to the media nor to the candidates themselves. In certain cases names of candidates appear in the media. These advanced speculations are either the product of sheer speculation or information released by the person or persons behind the nomination.

Neither the names of nominators nor of nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize may be divulged until the start of the year marking the 50th anniversary of the awarding of a particular prize.

Source – Nobel Peace Prize

Although Gandhi never won, even he was nominated a bunch of times. And given that pretty much anyone can be nominated – so were Hitler and Mussolini. Basically, nomination means shit. They are also forged once in a while.

A 2018 NYT article reports that Trump’s nomination has indeed been forged twice.

Anyway, so who selects the winner from all the nominations? Just a bunch of old people (usually 5 or 6).

The Norwegian Nobel Committee 2020. From left: Thorbjørn Jagland, Henrik Syse (vice chair), Berit Reiss-Andersen (chair), Anne Enger, Olav Njølstad (secretary), Asle Toje.

With all these insights, why does anyone care about the Nobel Peace prize, really?

To find an answer, I read a 2019 book (at least the first chapter) by Geir Lundestad. He was the Director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute and the Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee for 25 years (1990 -2014).

Last year (2019), when Lundestad was asked what he thought of Trump ever winning the prize, this is what he said:

I would be extremely surprised if Donald Trump ever received the Nobel Peace Prize. He may say he wants to bring peace to the Middle East or the Korean Peninsula, but he has not accomplished anything. And his policies do not fall into line with the ideas of liberal internationalism.


As per Lundestad, there are four main reasons that make the Nobel Peace prize “The World’s Most Prestigious Prize”:

  1. It’s 100+ year old
  2. It belongs to a family of prizes (and Nobel Prize for science, economics, literature etc. are hardly as debated + their selection is more sorted / technical)
  3. In spite of few mistakes (not giving one to Gandhi for example – that Lundestad acknowledges in his book) and few controversies here and there (Obama?), the record has mostly been solid.
  4. The prize has proven to be relatively flexible – the peace concept for example has been expanded and the prize has gradually become more global.

The issue with point no. 3 (on track record) is, every time someone like Trump makes a headline, associating himself with the Nobel Peace Prize, it brings down the value of the prize itself. It leads to articles like what ‘The Atlantic’ published today titled “End the Nobel Peace Prize“.

If Trump wins the prize, it will be the fourth Nobel awarded for peace between Israel and its neighbors. That will make Arab-Israeli peace mediators more successful at charming the Nobel Committee than the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has won three times in the prize’s 120-year history, but still less successful than my favorite, which is no one at all. The committee has declined to award a peace prize 19 times.

The record of achievement of the peace laureates is so spotty, and the rationales for their awards so eclectic, that the committee should take a long break to consider whether peace is a category coherent enough to be worth recognizing. Peace had its chance, and blew it.

Graeme Wood, The Atlantic

Before I end this blog, I want to touch upon a different but related topic.

Why did I instinctively find Trump’s nomination ridiculous even before I found out these details?

That’s most likely halo effect at work. Let me explain.

Imagine two random people – Anil and Varun. Following are their traits.

Anil: intelligent-industrious-impulsive-critical-stubborn-envious

Varun: envious-stubborn-critical-impulsive-industrious-intelligent

See how you felt differently about Anil than about Varun (please tell me you did)? I used an illustration from my current favourite book “Thinking, Fast & Slow” (chapter 7) and just added Indian names.

This experiment has been conducted on various people and the conclusion is solid – “the initial traits in the list change the very meaning of the traits that appear later. The stubbornness of an intelligent person is seen as likely to be justified and may actually evoke respect, but intelligence in an envious and stubborn person makes him more dangerous.”

That’s halo effect at work where your brain feels like jumping to a conclusion about a person based on first few information that you gather (you put them in the ‘good’ box or the ‘bad’ box’).

Since Trump is in my ‘bad’ box, my cognitive bias immediately makes me uncomfortable when something like a Nobel Peace prize gets associated with his name.

In fact the halo effect is also a possible explanation for the positive association we have for the Nobel Peace prize itself (point no. 2 from Lundestad – ‘it belongs to a family of prizes’).

The consistently credible Nobel prizes in other disciplines make us view the overall brand in a strong positive light and so even when the nomination / selection and everything else for the Peace prize is totally different, the instinctive part of our brain over-rides the rational, and the brand continues to remain strong!

The below quote from a 2007 Wiki discussions page would be the best way to close this blog.

Some in this discussion have argued that nominations are notable because of the significant publicity given to them. But this is circular: The public gives nominations attention because it mistakenly believes they are notable (as I and many others here believed before looking into it). If Wikipedia decides they are notable because the public does, it will only reinforce the public view that they are notable. If everybody in the world knew all the facts around nominations, it is likely that most would not find them notable.

Source (emphasis is my own)

Hope you learnt something, thanks.


Are you proud of Kalpana Chawla? Should you be?

So this happened.

If you are an Indian, you must have felt an instinctive emotion of “pride”. We feel proud of the Indian team when they get us the world cup and we feel proud of A R Rahman when he wins an Oscar. But why do we? What have we contributed to their achievements?

What about saying ‘I am proud of my country’?

Religion? Heritage? In all these instances, why are we feeling proud of something to which our contribution has been zilch?

I finally understand it from a cognition / psychological point of view.

Basking in reflected glory (BIRGing) is a self-serving cognition whereby an individual associates themselves with known successful others such that the winner’s success becomes the individual’s own accomplishment.


What is the benefit of BIRGing? It boosts your self-esteem.

Disadvantage? BIRGing can be negative when done so extensively that you become delusional or forget the reality that you did not actually accomplish the successful event.

So essentially the ‘instinctive’ reason we BIRG is because the non-rational part of our brain knows it will increase our self-esteem – and that means we can achieve more in life / be more productive etc.

It is only the rational part of the brain, that even asks – ‘but is there any real basis’? Well guess what, no – there is no real basis. At the end of the day, it’s a story that helps us feel good about being part of something bigger than just us.

If you have anything more to add to this, do let me know (other than more jargon like ‘tribalism’, ‘social identity theory’ etc.).

Covid-times Gyaan

How much of the 23.9% GDP growth fall for India can be attributed to Covid?

Note: This article was updated on 04 Sep 2020 (few days after being first published)

Below is what the BJP twitter handle tweeted on 22 Aug.

They used IMF’s forecast from April, even when IMF already had a negative forecast out in June.

Anyway, so now we know what really happened.

My question is: how much of this drop is from Covid and how much of it has to do with actions from Govt. (typically lockdown). One may say that the action of Govt. is a response to Covid – so they are one and the same thing – but are they? Imagine two scenarios:

  1. Govt. doesn’t do much – the economy still goes down – this is purely because of Covid
  2. Govt. does something – here both factors are at play

So for India, how much of the fall is from Covid and how much is from what Govt. did about it+Covid? Can one attempt to find that out?

To begin with, I think it makes sense to first look at some other countries that were impacted by Covid too, the “Govt. response” being different for each country.

GDP growth fell for all of them – as you can see in the below graph that I put together.

Other than 2020Q2 for India, other figures from OECD

India is the orange line. From the countries that I have chosen, India’s last quarterly growth in 2019 was lower only than China (grey). This was pre-Covid. Also, by growth I mean, when compared to the same quarter the year before.

In the next quarter, China’s GDP growth took the sharpest fall (understandably). Other countries GDP growth fell too, but not as much. In fact, India was doing okay in Jan-Feb-March 2020.

And then Covid spread in India.

In the Apr-May-June quarter, India’s growth fell really really bad. The decline in GDP growth is only better than Peru, a country that is one of the worst hit by Covid (just scroll up and look at the per million deaths for Peru). Peru’s GDP growth fell down by almost 30%.

China is the only country whose growth returned to positive in this quarter. Now you tell me, what explains the orange line (India) falling this bad even when other countries were hit by Covid much worse? Or…

has India’s GDP growth fallen this bad BECAUSE we have not done as bad as most of these other countries in terms of Covid spread?

But if this were the case, what explains Peru? Its cases went up AND its economy fell too – both drastically.

Think about it.

How do you think a GoI’s propaganda channel is spinning the news? Just listen to Arnab describe this “global phenomena”. He literally quotes random numbers for countries like USA and Canada. Is he lying on national TV or am I missing something?

At one point, #GDPTruth was trending at no. 5 on Twitter. Most of them using this hashtag seemed to be paid propagandists whose only job looked like passing this off by calling it a “global phenomena”!

Is comparing India with US / Europe like comparing apples and oranges?

Responding to an earlier draft of this blog, some friends seemed to suggest so.

I agree. No two countries are the same. No two fruits are the same. Not even two apples are same for that matter! Comparison after all is just one way of looking at things – because looking at something in isolation is even more meaningless, no?

If you think about it, the figure of -23.9% itself is a comparison! It compares 2020 quarter 2 GDP with 2019 quarter 2 GDP. But 2020 is not like 2019, so why compare? Everything is apples and oranges – from Global Ease of Doing business rankings to GDP forecasts!

Some also responded to my first draft saying this was expected – we were in lockdown for most of the quarter in question – people were saving money (so drastic drop in demand) – factories couldn’t operate (so supply drop).

Nice. Let me quote Daniel Kahneman from Chapter 19 of his book Thinking Fast & Slow (the chapter is titled “the illusion of understanding”).

The mind that makes up narratives about the past is a sense-making organ. When an unpredicted event occurs, we immediately adjust our view of the world to accommodate the surprise.

Learning from surprises is a reasonable thing to do, but it can have some dangerous consequences.

A general limitation of the human mind is its imperfect ability to reconstruct past states of knowledge, or beliefs that have changed. Once you adopt a new view of the world (or any part of it), you immediately lost much of your ability to recall what you used to believe before your mind changed.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow

BJP now has a nice explainer video.

At least in this video (if you watch from 3.30) BJP admits that IMF changed its 1.1% GDP projection for India to -4.5% in June (unlike my first quoted tweet from 22 Aug where they conveniently ignored this).

That aside, I think the above video is a fair attempt to explain the GDP numbers and we will have to wait till Nov to see how much we recover in Jul-Aug-Sep.

The worst case scenario would be when GDP growth continues to be low and the cases / deaths continue to rise and get as bad as the other countries. Because then, paise bhi gaye or jaan bhi?

Gyaan politics

Meritocracy, Dalits, the Supreme Court and the curious case of the creamy layer.

Let me begin with a question. I will answer it later. Which political ideology first propagated the concept of meritocracy?

Ok, now let’s talk about Dalits. And reservation. Last month, while reacting to a piece by Varun Grover, I wrote how at some point Dalits should split themselves into two groups – rich (minority) and poor (majority), so that the benefit of reservation is not usurped by the richer Dalits. I had also added that it’s only for the Dalits to decide the ‘how’ and ‘when’ of this move.

And today, I read the following in the newspapers.

Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) communities don’t constitute a homogenous group and can be further sub-classified to ensure the benefits of reservation in government jobs and higher education institutions percolate down to weaker sections, the Supreme Court observed on Thursday in a ruling that may have far-reaching political ramifications.

Hindustan Times, 28 Aug 2020

Let me quickly lay down the full context (took me some time to research and read up – if I have misunderstood / misreported something, do let me know; will rectify).

The Creamy Layer

1971 (Indira Gandhi is the PM) – Sattanathan Commission introduces the term “creamy layer” – it refers to those members of a backward class who are highly advanced socially as well as economically and educationally. The Commission proposes that the “creamy layer” be excluded from the reservations (quotas) of civil posts.

1976 – State of Kerala vs N. M. Thomas – “benefits of the reservation shall be snatched away by the top creamy layer of the backward class, thus leaving the weakest among the weak and leaving the fortunate layers to consume the whole cake”.

1992 – Indra Sawhney vs Union of India – this judgment validates exclusion of creamy layer for OBCs.

The OBCs who meet some defined criteria (like if their parents have held high govt. office etc.) cannot claim reservation benefits. Same, if they fall under “creamy layer” – meaning the family annual income is above a certain defined threshold value.

1993: The “creamy layer” criteria for OBCs is set at an annual family income of more than INR 1 lakh (this would be revised to INR 2.5 lakh in 2004, INR 4.5 lakh in 2008, INR 6 lakh in 2013, and finally to INR 8 lakh in 2017 ). Note that so far, this concept (and the overall Indra Sawhney case) applies only to OBCs and not SC/STs.

2000: Andhra Pradesh State Govt. enacts a law – the Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Castes (Rationalisation of Reservations) Act, 2000. This requires sub-dividing the Scheduled Castes into four groups and apportioning reservations separately for each.

2004 – E V Chinnaiah v. State of Andhra Pradesh – SC strikes down the Rationalisation of Reservation Act 2000 and says that SC/STs form a homogeneous class and therefore cannot be further sub-classified for reservations.

The way I see it, implies that one cannot say some SC/STs are backward / less privileged and others are forward / relatively more privileged (which in turn suggests that it would be counter-intuitive to apply the “creamy layer” concept to SC/STs). The “Chinnaiah case” judgment is critiqued by many, main argument being that it does not reflect the reality. Also if OBCs can be sub-divided (as per the Indra Sawhney case), why shouldn’t the same logic apply to SC/STs? In fact, in 2018, the SC would ask something similar.

2006 – State of Punjab v. Davinder Singh – Punjab government enacts a law requiring 50% of vacancies in the quota for SCs in recruitment to be filled by the members of Balmiki community (rest 50% by those from the Mazhbi community). Davinder Singh, himself a SC person, challenges this law in the Punjab & Haryana high court (citing the Chinnaiha case as per which, one cannot sub-classify SC/STs). The High Court rules in his favour. The State Govt. appeals in the Supreme Court against this High Court judgement.

2009 – While SC is yet to decide on the legality of the Davinder Singh judgment, another state does something similar (sub-classification of SC/STs for reservation benefits). Tamil Nadu enacts a law that reserves 3% of the total seats in educational institutions and state services for the Arunthathiyar community (who constitute nearly 16% of the total SC population in the state, but their representation in most government departments, corporations and education institutions is less than 5%).

2018 – Jarnail Singh v. Lachhmi Narayan Gupta – a five-judge Constitution Bench says that the well-off members of the SC / ST communities (the creamy layer) cannot be granted the benefits of reservation in college admissions and government jobs. This is a stance opposite to that of the Chinnaiah case.

2019: The Modi Govt. files a plea for a review of the Jarnail Singh judgement; it wants a 7 bench Constitution bench to reconsider the decision.

2020 (27 Aug): SC concludes hearing of the 2006 Davinder Singh case (and other related cases / pleas) and requests Chief Justice of India to place the creamy layer applicability in SC / STs matter before a 7 judge bench.

Now some of the above cited judgements talk about the reasons why it makes sense to view Dalits in at least two sub-groups – 1. the really poor / less privileged Dalits and 2. the more privileged ones (those who are not so poor; even when being rich does not mean less discrimination).

But is there a counter-question to this rationale?

What can possible be wrong in applying the creamy layer concept to SC / STs?

From some Dalit activist’s point of view, following seem to be the two main considerations:

  1. The claims that the well-off dalits (creamy layer) are taking away most of the benefits of reservations, leaving out the poorer / more backward dalits is just a hypothesis – there is no data / research / survey to back this. So why is the SC court trying to solve a problem that doesn’t even exist? Although one must realize that they are the not so poor / privilaged Dalits who are saying this. Nobody really knows what the really underprivileged Dalits have to say. Or can we guess?
  2. Doing this will divide the Dalits; it is of extreme importance that the Dalit community continues to be united so that it can fight the Bahmanical / Savarna oppression with full force.

Both these points are valid. But debatable too. In any case, there are no easy answers.

If only we could get some data, it would be easier to make decisions. Without data, imposing the creamy layer concept to SC/STs can always be argued as a political move than a societal-benefit move based on the ‘intuition’ and ‘logic’ of Savarnas (after all, the representation of Dalits in judiciary is minimal, just like in most spheres of power).

I think that claiming this division as a means to weaken the Dalit rights movement is a little far-fetched hypothesis, even when it’s valid from a certain point of view. To me, the potential benefits to the truly underprivileged Dalits, seems more than the perceived weakening of the Dalit movement (am I missing something?)

Also, if a division is such that the overall Dalit community is split in two equally sized groups – then it is one thing. But given that the creamy layer Dalits are in all likelihood just a tiny fraction of the overall Dalit community, will the division really impact the Dalit movement at all? I would want to know how. Data will certainly help.

By the way, if any of you are still under the impression that given that we are in 2020, it’s high time we all should move to ‘meritocracy’ and simply put an end to this never ending reservation thing, I do recommend you think deeper.

The blog that I mentioned in the opening paragraph may give some clues! If you have never lived a Dalit life, it’s easy to fall for the meritocracy myth.

Talking about meritocracy also brings me back to the question I posed in the beginning. Time to answer it – Mohism was the political ideology that first propagated the concept of meritocracy.

Exaltation of the virtuous is the root of government.

Mozi (470-391 BC), China

Although Mozi attracted a large group of followers, he was regarded as an idealist and Mohism was not adopted by the Chinese rulers of the time. In the 20th century, Mozi’s notions of equality were rediscovered by Chinese leaders Sun Yat-Sen and Mao Zedong.

That will be all for this blog. If not already, you can subscribe to my weekly newsletter here.

Books Gyaan

What’s that one book that will totally change the way I look at things?

I asked this to my Facebook and Instagram followers. They responded. I am listing down all the recommendations that I received (arranged by categories).

I have added few from my own experience too (* marked). From the recommended list, unless otherwise stated, I’ve not read them. That also means my categorization could be faulty in some places. If you spot such categorization errors, please do point them to me and I will rectify.

Also, ideally you should buy a book to read but if money is an issue, here is the torrent of bookstores where you will find 99% of the books.

Though I recommend don’t download all of the books below (you will just save them in a nice folder and then never read anything). Download & read one (or few) at a time.

And one last thing – if there is a perspective-altering book that you think must be in here, let me know; will add.

Category 1: Why the world is the way it is / why we act the way we do

  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2014) by Yuval Harari (have read)
  • Irrational Man (1990) by Bill Barrett
  • Guns, Germs and Steel (1999) by Jared Diamond (started)
  • Factfulness (2019) – Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling (have read)
  • The God Delusion (2006) by Richard Dawkins (started)
  • *Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011) by David Graeber

Sub-category: theories

  • on how brain works – Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemann (started)
  • on how nature works – The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
  • Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind by Annaka Harris
  • on how randomness works – The Black Swan – The Impact Of The Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  • on creativity – The Courage to Create (1975) by Rollo Reece May
  • on how morality works – *The Righteous Mind by Jon Haidt
  • The Art of Dying – by S. N. Goenka & others
  • The Mind Body Problem by Rebecca Goldstein
  • How we die by Dr Sherman Nuland
  • Ways of seeing (1972) by John Berger
  • The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
  • The Power of Moments by Dan & Chip Heath
  • *Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Category 2: Life Philosophy

  • Man’s search for meaning by Viktor E. Frankl 
  • Sidhartha, Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse

Sub-category: the ones where the author writes whatever needs to be written to propagate his theories on the right way to live life (generally put together from a mix of existing theories)

  • Blessing or Curse – you can choose, by Derek Prince
  • Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (Stephen Mitchell’s translation)
  • Life is beautiful by Tony Martin
  • The subtle art of not giving a fuck by Mark Manson
  • The power of intention by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
  • The Heartfulness Way: Heart-Based Meditations for Spiritual Transformation by Kamlesh Patel
  • Inner Engineering by Sadhguru
  • Jinnsutra volumes 1,2 & 3 by Osho Rajneesh
  • Gyanyog by Swami Vivekananda

Sub-category: religious

  • The Bible
  • Bhagwad Gita

Note: Personally, I am not very interested in the last two sub-categories. They tend to become preachy and their only basis are stories and storytelling. But may be if I read enough, I may change my opinion.

Category 3: Science

  • The Baloney Detection Kit by Carl Sagan (or any other book by the same author)
  • The Body: A guide for occupants by Bill Bryson
  • Surely you’re Joking Mr Feynman: Adventures of a Curious Character – by Richard Feynman
  • *A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
  • Physics problems by IE Irodov

Note: I know the last one is an odd one out, but those who needed to solve the problems in the book (especially mechanics), would recall that once you learn how to solve those problems, you do end up developing a new perspective of looking at things.

Sub-category: intersection of science and philosophy

  • Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra

Category 4: Fiction

Pre 1900:

  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Anna Karenina by Tolstoy

First published between 1900-1950:

  • The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
  • The Outsider by Albert Camus
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories by Bruno Schulz
  • Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
  • The Trial by Franz Kafka (have read)
  • Of Mice and men by John Steinbeck
  • As I lay dying by William Falulkner
  • Zorba the Greek – Nikos Kazantazakis
  • The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

First published between 1950-80:

  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • The Post Office by Charles Bukowski
  • The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa
  • Things fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  • Kiss of the Spiderwoman by Manuel Puig
  • One hundred years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (have read)

Post 1980:

  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  • Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (have read)
  • Mars trilogy by Kim Robinson (Sci-fi)
  • Dark Forest trilogy by Cixin Liu (Sci-fi)
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  • *Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
  • *Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Category 5: Health

  • Pure, White and Deadly: How sugar is killing us and what we can do to stop it by John Yudkin
  • Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease by Robert Lustig
  • Lies My Doctor Told Me: Medical Myths That Can Harm Your Health by Dr. Ken Berry
  • The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung (also Life in Fasting lane)

Note: this is not my area of interest in the present; may be will dive into these in the future.

Category 6 – How to…

  • be more productive – Four hour week by Ferriss Timothy
  • do good parenting:
    • Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting – by Pamela Druckerman
    • The Awakened Family by Dr. Shefali Tsabary
  • get what you want – The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (have read)
  • unclutter your life – The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

Category 7 – Comic Books

  • Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson (who has not seen at least some strips?)
  • The Sandman by Neil Gaiman

Category 8 – History

  • Freedom at midnight – by Dominique Lapierre
  • Africa: A Biography of the Continent by John Reader
  • Ten thousand Miles without a Cloud by Sun Shuyun
  • After Tamerlane: The Rise & Fall Of Global Empires by John Darwin
  • Nicholas and Alexandra: The Classic Account of the Fall of the Romanov Dynasty by Robert K. Massie
  • *India After Gandhi – Ram Guha

Sub-category: autobiographical that tell us something about history / historical events

  • King Rat by James Clavell (World War 2)
  • *Our Moon has Blood Clots by Rahul Pandita (a Kashmiri Pandit’s take on his exodus).

By this time, if you have forgotten what * is for – it is to denote the books that were not recommended to me by anyone, but I’ve added to the list based on my personal experience.

Category 9 – Theories on society, its biases, its beliefs etc.

  • Why I Am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd
  • Everyone Loves a Good Drought by P. Sainath
  • *The Republic of Religion by Abhinav Chandrachud

Category 10: Business

  • Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big by Bo Burlinghamis
  • Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh
  • Ben Jerry’s Double Dip: Lead With Your Values and Make Money by Ben Cohen
  • Made In Japan by Akio Morita And Sony
  • *Bottle of Lies by Katherine Eban (on Ranbaxy fraud)

There are two more categories in which nobody recommended me anything, but I would like to recommend them to everybody.

  • 11 Communication & storytelling
    • The Communication Book: 44 Ideas for Better Conversations Every Day by Mikael Krogerus.
    • Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert Mckee
    • Made to Stick – by Dan & Chip Heath
  • 12 Relationship – The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman


Update – found a recent thread on Twitter asking the same thing – this may give you few more recommendations (may update my list with the extra suggestions below).


The rise of Animal Crossing and how brands are trying to benefit.

I haven’t played video-games in a while. I have never been much of a video-game person actually. But few weeks ago, I came across a news link about a video-game called Animal Crossing. Up until then, I had never heard of the game.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ Sells 22.4M Copies Since March Release

International Business News

Nintendo posts 5-fold profit jump as ‘Animal Crossing’ sales top 22 million

Business Standard

I would later find out that Nintendo ended up selling close to 2 million copies of New Horizons just in Japan in merely three days! What explains such massive sales in the time of pandemic? The game itself.

In the game, players land on a deserted island after purchasing a getaway package. Their mission is to complete various odd tasks to transform the once-barren island into a bustling paradise filled with animal neighbors. The game has received wide acclaim for its slow-paced take on living.


“The game honestly couldn’t have come out at a better time for Nintendo,” says James Whatley, strategy partner at Digitas UK. “It’s the most horrendous way to frame it, but it’s true.”

The Drum, Apr 2020

Animal Crossing has existed since 2001 but what its latest version – New Horizons, has achieved is unprecedented.

Now why am I talk about video-games when I don’t even play them myself?

Well because I am a video-creator.

When we think about video as a content, we often don’t realize that video-games are videos too – just that instead of merely watching the video, the viewers (gamers) are themselves in the video (through a character).

And when you have content, you have brands trying to advertise themselves. Animal Crossing seems to be everyone’s favourite this year – a lot of brands have been doing a lot creative things to make their presence felt in this virtual world.

Animal Crossing is emerging as a media channel for brands in lockdown

In July, KFC opened a branch inside the virtual world.

And this month, the mayonnaise brand Hellmanns took things a notch higher by going much beyond just opening a virtual outlet.

In fact this month has been crazy – a lot of brands have been showing off a lot of approaches.

Gillette for example has partnered with a celebrity graphic designer to create its “Skinclusive” Summer Line available inside the game!

If you want to check out some other such brand appraoches, Hollywood Branded has a fantastic collection of examples.


The Getty Museum has created an Animal Crossing Art Generator, a database of renowned art pieces and their corresponding QR codes. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has also hopped on the bandwagon with their online collection…


Talk Show!!

Inspired by the game’s customizing freedom, Gary Whitta, writer of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, created his own late-night talk show complete with celebrity guests and musical sets.


Before I end this blog, let me bring you back from the virtual to the real world. Did you know of Rig Fit Adventure? Just watch the video below. Looks like so much fun (and sweat)!

The company [Nintendo] said it underestimated demand for “Ring Fit Adventure”, which uses a springy plastic “Ring-Con” so gamers can exercise while playing, leading to a worldwide shortage. Higher production has helped lift total sales to 4 million units, it said.

BS, 06 Aug 2020

That’s all for this blog! If you are a gamer and want to share something cool that I should check out, do let me know. I may not be into playing video games, but I am always interested in noting how culture and economics overlaps.

Gyaan history politics

Ayodhya Dispute timeline summary

The first place where I read about the Ayodhya dispute in some detail was L. K. Advani‘s autobiography – “My Country My Life“. This blog began as a summary of what he wrote. And then I read some more on Wikipedia and other online articles (linked in the end) and added additional points / perspectives to create this comprehensive timeline. If I have missed out on anything important or misreported anything, do let me know. (

600 BC (Buddha’s time) – Ayodhya (Saketa) is one of the six largest cities of North India. But over the next few centuries, it falls into relative neglect.

During the 11th and 12th century, the Gahadavalasa build several Vishnu temples in Ayodhya, five of which would survive till Aurangzeb’s reign. 

In subsequent years, the cult of Rama develops within Vaishnavism, with Rama being regarded as the foremost avatar of Vishnu. Ayodhya’s importance as a pilgrimage centre grows.

1520s – Mir Baqi (Baqi Tashakandi) – a Mughal army commander under emperor Babur, supposedly builds Babri Masjid, by demolishing a temple (we will soon come to proof / lack of proof).

Babur – India’s first Mughal emperor

No written records of a mosque at the site exist up until 1700’s (hence the use of word ‘supposedly’). Many have believed that the Mosque was built by Aurangzeb (much later than 1520s). Archaeologists acting as observers during the 2003 ASI excavations at the site would also indicate that Babur probably just ordered a new mosque where a smaller older one existed.

There was clearly a Buddhist community here, in the period, roughly from the 2nd century BC to 6th century AD. To us, it looks like this was then abandoned and reoccupied sometime around the 11th-12th century and possibly because there was a Muslim settlement that came up. And they had a small mosque, which was expanded as the community increased, in size and finally a much larger mosque was built by Babar in 1528.

Supriya Varma, Archaelogist appointed as observer to ASI excavations by the Sunni Waqf Board in 2003. Source.

1574Tulsidas moves to Ayodhya (from Varanasi) and begins writing Ramcharit Manas. Surprisingly there is no mention of the mosque in his writing.

1611: An English traveller William Finch visits Ayodhya and writes about the “ruins of the Ranichand [Ramachand] castle and houses”. Even he makes no mention of any mosque.

1672: Lal Das’s Awadh-Vilasa describes the location of birthplace of Ram, but without mentioning a temple (which some claim implies that a mosque probably exists by this time).

1766–1771 Joseph Tieffenthaler visits India and mentions the Mosque in his writings

Emperor Aurangzeb got the fortress called Ramcot demolished and got a Muslim temple, with triple domes, constructed at the same place. Others say that it was constructed by ‘Babor’. Fourteen black stone pillars of 5 span high, which had existed at the site of the fortress, are seen there. Twelve of these pillars now support the interior arcades of the mosque.

Jesuit priest Joseph Tieffenthaler, on his visit to Awadh

Tieffenthaler also writes that Hindus worship a square box raised 5 inches above the ground – the “Bedi, i.e., the cradle”, and “the reason for this is that once upon a time, here was a house where Beschan [Vishnu] was born in the form of Ram.”

1777 – Sawai Jai Singh acquires the land of Rama Janmasthan

1813-14: Francis Buchanan (also called Buchanan-Hamilton) does a survey of the Gorakhpur Division on behalf of the British East India Company. Buchanan’s report (never published but available in the British Library archives) states that the Hindus generally attributed destruction of temples “to the furious zeal of Aurangzabe [Aurangzeb]”, but the large mosque at Ayodhya (now known as Babri Masjid) was ascertained to have been built by Babur by “an inscription on its walls.”

DISPUTE PHASE 1: 1853-1885

1853: First recorded incident of Hindu-Muslim violence over the site with Hindus alleging the mosque was built on the site of a razed Hindu shrine dedicated to Lord Ram.

1859: British rulers erect a fence and allow Muslims and Hindus to worship in the inner and outer courtyards respectively. This also aligns with the Britishers’ divide & rule policy post the revolt of 1857. By this time, a new chabutra is also built in the Hindu side.

Image via

1862-63: ASI founder surveys Ayodhya – finds no “ancient” structure

Alexander Cunningham, the founder of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), conducts a survey of Ayodhya. He identifies Ayodhya with Sha-chi mentioned in Fa-Hien’s writings, Visakha mentioned in Xuanzang‘s writings and Saketa mentioned in Hindu-Buddhist legends.

Alexander Cunnigham, Founder ASI

According to Cunnigham, Gautama Buddha spent six years at this place.

Cunningham does not find any ‘ancient’ structure in the city. According to him, the existing temples at Ayodhya are of relatively modern origin.

His theory is that when King Vikramaditya of Ujjain visited the city around first century CE, he did construct new temples at the spots mentioned in Ramayana, but by the time Xuanzang visited the city in the 7th century, those temples had “already disappeared” – the city had become a Buddhist centre, with several Buddhist monuments.

1877: The British Govt. opens a door on the northern side of the outer courtyard and passes it to the Hindus to control and manage.

1885 – a court finally intervenes

Some Muslims mount an attack on Hanuman Garhi temple (situated close to the Babri Masjid / Janambhoomi) under the rumours that the Hanuman temple had been built over a mosque. Nawab of Avadh sends his army and saves the temple from getting destroyed.

Mahant Raghubardas appeals to Faizabad High Court to get an order for construction of a temple on Janambhoomi (next to the masjid) – where the chabutra is.

A judgement given within a year says “it is most unfortunate that a masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus, but as the event occurred 356 years ago it is too late now to agree with the grievances. All that can be done is to maintain the party in status quo”.

DISPUTE PHASE II: 1934 till the 60’s (a local issue)

1934: Communal violence erupts, many die and the mosque is damaged. Nirmohi Akhara, a sect that claimed to have been worshipping Lord Ram at his ‘birthplace’ since the 1400s is involved in the clashes and is made to pay for the mosque repairs.

The gate is locked (and would continue to remain locked till 1950).

Soon thereafter, Muslims stop using the site as a mosque or for offering prayers (true till date); Hindus continue to worship (darshan from outside the gate).

1946: An offshoot of the Hindu Mahasabha called Akhil Bharatiya Ramayana Mahasabha (ABRM) starts an agitation for the possession of the site. Given that most of India is busy with the anytime-now independence from Britishers, this is definitely not a “national news” sort of thing at this point of time.

1947 – Announcement of Somnath temple resurrection by Sardar Patel sets the precedent for Govt. intervening in temple constructions.

By 1947 end, Indian Govt. takes over the princely state of Junagadh (Nawab of Junagadh escapes to Pakistan). Four days later Sardar Patel declares that Somnath temple (stood destroyed since 1706) will be rebuilt. Moulana Abul Kalam Azad suggests handing the site over to ASI. Patel refuses. Mahatma Gandhi says he is fine as long as money for construction doesn’t come from GoI. Nehru is not okay – he views this as an act as “Hindu revivalism”.

1949 – beginning of the modern dispute at Ayodhya

Sant Digvijay Nath of Gorakhnath Math joins the ABRM (Akhil Bharatiya Ramayana Mahasabha founded three years earlier). He organizes a 9-day continuous recitation of Ramcharit Manas. At the end of the recitation, Hindu activists break into the mosque and place idols of Rama and Sita inside. This was already anticipated.

The then Faizabad superintendent of police (SP) Kripal Singh had written a latter to the DM – KKK Nayar a month before the “appearance” of the idol at the site.

There is a strong rumor that on purnamashi the Hindus will try to force entry into the mosque with the object of installing a deity.

Kripal Singh’s letter to Nayar, a month before the break-in.

Nair acts surprised!

People are led to believe that the idols have ‘miraculously’ appeared inside the mosque. One of the mahants who did this, admits to doing so in the Ram ke Nam documentary shot and made in the early 90s (before the mosque was illegally demolished by kar sevaks).

Nayar (the DM ) and his fellow local official Guru Dutt Singh do not act to remove the idols despite instructions from then Chief Secretary Bhagwan Sahay and Inspector General of Police BN Lahiri.

Nayar in fact allows daily worship to take place (he would later join the Jan Sangh).

Nehru sends a telegram to UP CM Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant “Dangerous example is being set there which will have bad consequences”.

Sardar Patel soon writes a letter to Pant too – “such matters can only be resolved peacefully if we take the wiling consent of the Muslim community with us. There can be no question of resolving such disputes by force”.

The state govt. locks the complex gate.

1950: The start of the court case in independent India

Gopal Singh Visharad – a Hindu Mahasabha leader, files suit in Faizabad city court seeking exclusive rights to perform prayers for Ram Lalla. He also seeks judicial restraint on the removal of idols. What he doesn’t ask for is any right to “title of the land” (which would be first claimed only in 1959 by Nirmohi Akhara – and then later claimed two more times in subsequent years).

Mahant Paramahans Ramchandra Das files another suit to continue with the Hindu prayers and keeping the Ram idols at the Babri majid.

This same year, Sardar Patel dies and K. M. Munshi (his confidante and a Union Minister) takes over the responsibility of getting Somnath temple built in spite of severe opposition from Nehru (who finds it easy to dominate now with Sardar gone). Once the temple is constructed, the President of India – Dr. Rajendra Prasad inaugurates it. The precedent of state involvement in a so called “secular” country is set (you can read my detailed blog on the myth of secularism in India).

1955: the Allahabad High Court upholds unrestricted right to worship for Hindus but since the “title of the property” issue is not yet resolved, only a priest is allowed to enter the locked gates to perform prayers (regular pilgrims to Ayodhya cannot).

From this point onward, till the 80s – the nation at large moves on and the Ayodhya issue exists only as a local issue – not a national one – until Rajiv Gandhi would bring it back to limelight.

1959: Nirmohi Akhara files suit seeking transfer of disputed site – this is the beginning of the “land title dispute” that would get resolved only after sixty years by the Supreme Court of India.

They claim that their mahant (chief priest) and sarbrahakar (administrator) have been managing the site and been responsible for prayers to Lord Ram there since their founding in the middle ages – what is known as ‘shebaitship’.

1961: Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Board of Waqf files suit seeking possession of Babri mosque site (so this is now the second claim for land title). They also make a plea for the removal of Ram idols from the Mosque. They claim that Muslims had been worshipping till 1949 (when the idols were placed inside).

DISPUTE PHASE III: 1980s onwards – from local to national

1984: First Dharm sansad in Delhi resolves to “liberate” the birthplace of Ram through a peaceful mass movement. Ramjanmabhoomi Muktiyanja Samiti (RMS) is formed. It brings many Hindu religious leaders together for a “common goal”. A mass awareness yatra is undertaken from Bihar (Sitamarhi) to Ayodhya – demanding opening of locks for everybody. Later that year Indira Gandhi is assassinated and Rajiv Gandhi becomes the new PM. Ayodhya issue is still a local issue and not a national one.

1986 – Rajiv Gandhi manages to bring back Ayodhya in the national limelight

A conference of Hindu religious leaders resolves to break open the locks on Mahashivratri. But the state government decides to open the locks and to that effect gets favourable court order (from Faizabad District Court).

The Allahabad High Court orders the opening of the main gate and restoring of the site in full to the Hindus.

Rajiv Gandhi publicizes this “achievement” and makes the so far “local issue”, a national thing.

Rajiv Gandhi, the sixth PM of India

Earlier in the year, Rajiv Gandhi was heavily criticized for surrendering to an unfair Muslim pressure (the Shah Bano case). So this over-publicity to opening of locks is most likely a way for him to undo that image in the public.

1989: VHP (Vishwa Hindu Prasishad – formed in 1964) plans to carry Ram shilas from all over the country to Ayodhya and perform shilanyas of the temple. BJP openly supports VHP (the first time a leading political party did so).

All cases related to the title suit of the disputed site, are transferred to the Allahabd High Court.

Towards the end of the year, both Rajiv Gandhi and the state govt under Vir Bahadur Singh allow the shilanyas, justifying by stating that the site of the shilanyas is “adjacent” to the disputed site. In fact Rajiv Gandhi had kickstarted his Lok Sabha election campaign from Ayodhya this year.

The shialanyas takes place.

Congress loses election by year end and V. P. Singh becomes the new Prime Minister (Janta Dal). It’s a hung government with outside support of BJP.

Vishwanath Pratap Singh, India’s 7th Prime Minister

Some Muslims form All India Babri Masjid Action Committee (AIBMAC) – the first national level Muslim organization to agitate for a change in Allahabad High Court order from 1950s.

1989 – the third title suit is filed by Bhagwan Sri Ram Virajman (the god’s idol, also known as Ram Lalla Virajman) and Sri Ram Janmabhoomi (the birthplace). These deities are represented by their ‘next friend’, retired judge Deoki Nandan Agarwala, associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

Indian law has long recognised that deities can be considered legal persons, and so this suit is included without batting any eyelids.

Allahabad High court clubs all the threee title cases into one – hearing would begin only in 1993 and would go on till 2002 (Godhra).

1990 – the year of the Rath Yatra

Saints associated with Ram Janambhoomi decide to resume Kar Seva. Prime Minister V. P. Singh asks them to give him four months time to solve the problem. 

V. P. Singh Govt. comes up with a resolution formula: the Babri masjid and the site can be handed over to a new Hindu trust on the condition that it would build the Ram temple without disturbing the Babri masjid. Also, a wall would be constructed between the temple and the adjusted structure.

To take this idea ahead, Krishan Kant, the then Governor of AP (would later become India’s VP) arranges meeting between Swami Jayendra Swaraswati of Kamchi Kamakoti Math and Ali Mian, a Muslim theologian from UP.

In the mean time Advani makes a statement warning the PM – “any attempt to scuttle the Kar seva would lead to the greatest mass movement independent India has eve seen”.

Four months get over, no resolution comes and VHP sets up a date for Kar Seva.

“Gains of victory needed to  be consolidated” – Advani says in his autobiography (victory = election victory).

Advani, with help of Pramod Mahajan decides to do a Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya in a way that Advani would reach Ayodhya on the same day as the date of Kar seva (30 Oct 1990). The rath is basically a decorated vehicle. In his autobiography, Advani explains it was Pramod Mahajan who suggested this idea of a “rath” after Advani shared with him that he was contemplating undertaking a pad-yatra. Narendra Modi is another key organizer (who Advani acknowledges in his autobiography).

Rath Yatra begins. It attracts a lot of attention, both on ground and in press (do the check out the Ram Ke Naam documentary that I shared earlier, to see some visuals from the time).

‘Jo Hindu ki baat karega, vahi desh pe raj karega’. I immediately stood up to affirm that BJP represents every citizen of India irrespective of whether he is a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian or a Prasi or any other faith.

L. K. Advani, My country my life

There is no major communal violence in the Rath Yatra route itself. But there are many instances of riots in various other parts of the country.

In the mean time, V. P. Singh Govt is considering a new resolution formula – the central Govt can acquire both ~70 acres of undisputed land and ~2.5 acres of disputed land of the proposed temple complex, then hand over the undisputed land to Kar Sevaks, retain with it the masjid (in as-is condition) + 30 ft area around the masjid, and ask Supreme Court to settle the disputed land area (2.5 acres) – on which the masjid stands.

The SC would be asked to consider its judgment based on whether a temple (not necessarily Ram temple) ever existed where the masjid now exists. As per Advani, V. P. singh accepts this proposal at first. Central govt. decides to work on an ordinance to this effect. V. P. Singh’s Govt. even holds a press conference to announce about this ordinance. But within a day, the Govt. withdraws the ordinance. Apparently, Mulayam Singh Yadav (then CM of U.P) opposed this formula. As a result, BJP withdraws support to V. P. Singh Govt.

“Tens and thousands of devotees from all over country started to arrive in Ayodhya for the scheduled Kar Seva” – Advani.

Towards the last phase of the Yatra, Lalu Yadav, the CM of Bihar arrests Advani. He is released after 5 weeks.

Kar Seva happens in Ayodhya. Police fires at devotees. Some Kar sevaks climb atop the mosque to destroy it but are unsuccessful. 50+ people die.

V. P. Singh loses Vote of Confidence in Parliament and Chandrashekhar becomes the new PM. “He made the most sincere and consistent efforts to final  negotiated solution to the problem” – Advani.

New negotiations with AIBMAC begin. As per Advani, they initially agree for masjid relocation if it can be proved that a temple existed there earlier. But they later change their condition – they would agree for relocation only when it can be proved that there was specifically a “Ram temple” and not just any temple.

1991 – from Kalyan Singh’s land acquisition to Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination

Kalyan Singh of BJP becomes the CM of UP. Immediately after becoming the CM, he, with his colleagues, “visited Ayodhya and took a vow to construct Ram temple there itslef”, as per CBI chargesheet to be filed later.

Later that year, the state government of Kalyan Singh acquires 2.77 acres of land around the Masjid complex under a Land Acquisition Act for the purpose of “promoting tourism”.

This acquired land is not disputed – it includes the spot where Rajiv Gandhi had allowed shilanyas to be performed in 1989). 80% of this 2.77 acres has in fact been acquired from VHP (who had over time acquired the land by “gift” or purchase from original land-owners). The Ram ke Nam documentary also indicates the possibility of corruption and fraud in the entire VHP land purchase business (unaccounted for sources of money).

AIBMAC challenges the land acquisition in the Allahabad High Court – the court asks the Govt. to not make any permanent structure of the land.

Chandrashekhar’s Govt. falls.

Rajiv Gandhi is assassinated.

Congress comes back to power in the centre and PV Narasimha Rao is the new PM.

A 17 day kar seva takes place in Ayodhya. PM invites the sants for discussion. “He assured them he expected the problem to be solved within four months and requested them to discontinue the kar seva” – Advani.

The sants stop the kar seva. But no resolution happens in four months. The sants restart the kar seva.

1992 – the year the Babri Masjid is demolished by Kar Sevaks

In July 1992, the Sangh Parivar lays the foundation for the proposed Ram temple by digging around the Babri Masjid and filling the area with 10-foot thick layer of reinforced cement concrete. This is in spite of the fact that the year before Allahabad High Court had asked the State Govt. to not make any permanent structure of the land.

Kalyan Singh’s government calls it a “platform” for performing bhajans while the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) declares it as the foundation for Ram temple.

Allahabad High Court begins hearing on the title dispute.

In the mean time in Delhi, Kamal Nath (working for PM) proposes to Advani a new solution. Central Govt. can acquire land needed to build Ram Temple and pass it to RJB Nyas on the condition that mosque not be touched till a judicial verdict. Advani agrees. Advani later realizes that Kamal Nath doesn’t have PM Narasimha Raos’ approval on this solution.

Advani and Murali Manohar Joshi start a new yatra (one starting from Varanasi, another from Mathura). In the mean time over 1 lakh “Ram Bhakts” have arrived in Ayodhya.

06 Dec 1992: Many Kar sevaks climb atop the Babri Masjid and bring it down. Kalyan Singh resigns and President’s rule is imposed by evening. Kar sevaks continue building a make shift temple over the night and safely place the idols inside the make shift temple.

Advani leaves Ayodhya for Lucknow.

Within half an hour of our departure from Ayodhya, our car was stopped by the police. On seeing that the car carried Pramod Mahajan and me, a senior officer of the UP Govt. walked up to us said ‘Advaniji, kuch bacha to nahi na? Bilkul saaf kar diya na’

Those who took Hindu concerns and aspirations for granted, and tried to thwart them through an endless process of political machinations and judicial delays, got an answer which they will hopefully not forget.

Advani in his autobiography.

More than 2,000 people are killed in the riots following the demolition. Riots break out in many major Indian cities including Mumbai, Bhopal, Delhi and Hyderabad.

PM charges the leaders of the temple movement with conspiracy, criminal intent and perfidy. Advani claims the demolition was not pre-planned (but if you watch the interviews and the slogans as documented in the Ram ke Naam documentary that was shot before the demolition, the threat to demolition is real and talked about by many).

Govt. orders arrest of the top leaders including Advani, imposes ban on VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal, Jamait-e-Islami hind and the Islamic Sevak Sangh and sets up Liberhan Commission to enquire into the incident.

The best compilation of all the video footage from around the demolition time that I have found on the internet.

1993: Liberhan Commission begins its investigation after 3 months of being setup (which will go on for 17 years).

In the meantime, central Govt. releases a White Paper giving official version of the Ayodhya events leading to the demolition of Babri Masjid. It holds Kalyan Singh’s govt responsible for it because of his instruction to the police ‘not to use force’.

Allahabad High Court allows pilgrims to have darshan of Ram Lalla at the makeshift temple.

In his appearance before the Liberhan Commission, Narsimha Rao is asked why the Centre did not request the Allahabad High Court for an early verdict on the UP Govt’s land acquisition matter. His reply was – “How could the Central Govt. make any sure request even if it wanted to , when it was not a party to the proceedings before the Allahabad High Court.

L. K. Advani from his Autobiography

The President of India orders acquisition of some land parcel around the disputed site and refers the matter to the Supreme Court.

PM Vajpayee / CM Modi

2001: Dharam Sansad at the Maha Kumbh held at Prayag adopts a resolution urging removal of “all hurdles” in the way by 12 March 2002 – the day of Mahashivaratri.

2002: Leaders of the temple movement begin a 100 day purnaahuti yagna in Ayodhya. Advani is the home minister (Vajpayee the PM). Three days later, 58 persons, many kar sevaks die by fire in train in Godhra. Hindu Muslim riots ensue, many die – under the governance of CM Narendra Modi.

Allahabad High Court begins the title dispute hearing.

Supreme Court prohibits religious activity of any kind by anyone either symbolic or actual and also forbids the Govt. of India from handing over any part of the acquired land to anyone.

2003 – the year of the ASI findings

By the order of the High Court, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is asked to conduct an in-depth study and an excavation to ascertain whether the type of structure that was beneath the rubble indicates definite proof of a temple under the mosque.

The remnants are found to have more resemblance to a Shiva temple. In the words of ASI researchers, they discover “distinctive features associated with… temples of north India”. Their conclusion would later be questioned by the archaeologists who are observers on behalf of the Sunni Waqf Board, during the excavation.

ASI offers no explanation for discovery of animal bones and glazed pottery at the site during excavation.

Udit Raj’s Buddha Education Foundation would claim later that the structure excavated by ASI was a Buddhist stupa, destroyed during and after the Muslim invasion of India.

2004: Manmohan Singh becomes the PM

2005: The make shift temple is attacked by five Lashkar-e-taiba terrorists. They are all shot dead.

2009: The Liberhan Commission finally submits its report after 17 years

The Commission indicts 68 people for the demolition, including a number of BJP leaders (Advani, Vajpayee, Murali Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharathi, Kalyan Singh). The report states that the then CM Kalyan Singh had appointed officers to the area who were less likely to act to prevent the demolition.

At the site of the then disputed temple, the Uttar Pradesh police and the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) were placed outside the structure, while the Central Reserve Police Force was inside. On the very first evening, I spotted a PAC constable shouting “Jai Shri Ram” slogans along with kar sevaks barely a few metres away from the disputed structure.

As I moved through the holy town wearing a two-day stubble and soiled clothes, I interacted with many PAC men. Always, I was treated with respect, even deference. One night some kar sevaks and I spent hours chatting with a group of PAC personnel. “We are solidly behind you. Don’t worry,” said a policeman. “If we are ordered on December 6 to attack you, we will lay down our arms and join you,” reassured another. “Come what may, we will force the paramilitary to surrender,” said a third.

Sanjay Kaw – The Asian Age (source)

The LC report also states that the demolition was “neither spontaneous nor unplanned”.

2010: the first verdict

Two archeologists – Supriya Varma and Jaya Menon who were observers during the excavation on behalf of the Sunni Waqf Board, claim that the ASI violated ethical codes and procedures during the excavation. In a paper published in the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), they challenge the methods used in collecting evidence and its interpretation. They also tell the Allahabad High Court that the excavation did not find anything that supported ASI’s conclusion. You can read more about the contradictions to ASI findings here.

The Allahabad High Court pronounces its verdict on four title suits relating to the Ayodhya dispute – land to be divided into three equal parts to Ram Lalla (represented by Hindu Maha Sabha), Sunni Wakf Board and Nirmohi Akhara.

The Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha and Sunni Waqf Board move to the Supreme Court of India, challenging part of the Allahabad High Court’s verdict.

2011: Supreme Court of India stays the High Court order and says that status quo will remain. 

2017: a special CBI court frames criminal conspiracy charges against Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti, Vinay Katiyar, and several others.

2019 – the final verdict

SC forms a 3 member mediation panel headed by former SC judge FMI Kalifulla. The panel fails to resolve the dispute. A 5-judge Constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, of Supreme Court then starts the final hearing on the case.

Sixty years after the start of the land title hearing in Indian courts, a final verdict is given.

SC orders the disputed land to be handed over to a trust to build the Ram temple. It also orders the government to give 5 acres of land inside Ayodhya city limits to the Sunni Waqf Board for the purpose of building a mosque.

2020 – the year of the corona virus

Additional sources:

Full text of the 2019 Supreme Court verdict

audio Gyaan

The myth of a Secular India

You can also listen to the content of this blog, in the below podcast.

This blog (and the podcast above) relies almost entirely on the information presented in the fourth Chapter of the insightful book “Republic of Religion” by Abhinav Chandrachud.

Broadly speaking, two factors go into making a secular state (at least from a broad legal point of view):

  1. no religion should be established by law as the official state religion; and
  2. all citizens should have the freedom to practice their own religious beliefs.

India has never really been a fully secular country in this sense. I will illustrate this claim by focusing only on one aspect of governance – administration of religious institutions (mainly temples).

Pre-colonial rulers were pretty much involved in the administration of religious institutions like temples and mosques.

In 1790, Tipu Sultan for example issued an order to his officials that Hindu temples were under their management – “the offerings to the god and temple illumination are duly regulated… out of the govt. grants”. Tipu Sultan was just following ‘a pattern imposed by centuries of history’ in India.

When East India company took over the control of India, it continued administering religious institutions. There were two main reasons – one, it was a good source of revenue and two, this lent legitimacy to their rule itself.

  • 1796 – the British collector of Madras takes over the administration of Hindu temples at Conjeevaram (Kanchipuram).
  • 1806 – the Indian government issues regulations for the ‘superintendence and management’ of the Jagannath Temple in Orissa, introducing a pre-colonial tax on pilgrims
  • 1810 – a law is enacted for Bangal – “the general superintendence of all lands granted for the support of mosques, Hindoo temples.. and for other pious and beneficial purposes.. vested in the colonial government”
  • 1833 – Madras Govt. reports it is in charge of the administration of 7600 Hindu temples.

So when did the “secularism” move take place?

Common perception is that revolt of 1857 has to do with it – which is true, no doubt. But the effort seems to have started more than a decade before the revolt. For example the pilgrim tax at the temple of Jagannath was revoked in 1840 itself.

What happened is that, with the increasing entanglement of the British East India company with mostly Hindu religious administration, Christian missionaries and members of the Christian clergy in Britain and India, started to get annoyed. And it was discouragement from them that the East India company moved to a ‘secular’ way of governing.

“Pilgrim tax gave the government an incentive to promote and encourage the superstition out of which the tax is derived”, the Court of Directors (CoD) wrote in a letter. CoD is equivalent to the modern day Board of Directors (East India Company was a ‘company’ after all).

The move towards secular administration certainly picked up post 1857.

For example in 1862, a bill was introduced in the legislative council of the Viceroy to “enable the Govt. to divest itself of the management of Religious Endowments”. The bill was soon enacted.

Section 22 of the Act said “it would no longer be lawful for any Government in India, or for any Officer of any Government in his official capacity to take over the superintendence of any land or other property belonging to a Mosque, Temple or other religious establishment… ”

It’s interesting how the native Indians reacted to this withdrawal of the govt. from the management of religious endowments.

Such a move was bitterly criticized by many Indians – mostly because the involvement of the British Govt. was not considered ‘anti-secular’ as much as it was seen as an effective means to reduce corruption in the functioning of many of these trusts.

Anyway so from this point onward, it was left to the courts to exercise limited power of superintendence over religious endowments. They could do so under section 539 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1877 that stated that whenever there was a breach of trust ‘created for public charitable purposes’ then the advocate general or any two (or more) persons having a direct interest in the trust could institute a suit. In fact this provision, slightly modified, still stands as of today in the form of Code of Civil Procedure 1908.

Thereafter some cases were indeed decided by courts as per this law (eg: Manohar Ganhesh Tambekar case of 1887). But things began to change in 1915 when Indian political leaders finally came to power at the provincial (state) level in British India.

The Indian leaders in the provinces started demanding the right to decide how to carry out administration of the religious endowments. And the GoI Act 1919 finally did transfer that power to the Indians (which until then had remained with the Governor General of India).

So soon the provinces got into action. Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Act 1926 for example, established boards of Hindus to be appointed by the government and the trustee of all the temples under the jurisdiction were bound to obey instructions issued by the boards. For example the surplus funds of temples could now be spent by the boards and other such changes. Net, net, these govt. appointed boards were provided with enough powers that in effect, it was the provincial govt. running things.

And then of course India got Independence in 1947.

What was our constitution – being drafted – going to do about the then existing state interference in the operation of religious institutions?

(c) 2020 – Amrit Vatsa

In March 1947, Ambedkar prepared a draft on fundamental rights that contained something called an Establishment Clause (EC), that stated “the State shall not recognize any religion as State religion”.

Another draft prepared by K. T. Shah also said that the sate would be entirely a secular institution which would maintain no official religion and would observe absolute neutrality in matters of religious belief, worship or observance.

Had these clauses found their way into the Constitution, India could have been a truly secular state. That never happened.

When in April, the subcommittee on fundamental rights presented its report to the Advisory Committee – the Establishment Clause (EC) was not there in the report any more. And surprisingly, Ambedkar didn’t even protest.

Later in 1948, after the draft constitution was prepared, comments were again received – this time from B. Pattabhi Sitaramayya and others who did want the reintroduction of EC. But still, nothing happened.

Later, H. V. Kamath tried introducing EC in the Constituent Assembly via a proposed amendment. But his amendment was put to vote and eventually rejected!

Finally it was K M Munshi‘s draft that was used as the template for what eventually became Article 25 of the Indian Constitution.

His 1947 draft “gave all citizens the freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and practice religion though in a manner compatible with public order, morality or health”. There is no mention of even the word secular in there.

The draft also contained an exception that “economic, financial or political activities associated with religious worship would not be included in the freedom to religion”.

Later an additional explanation was added to the draft – “freedom of religion would not debar the State from enacting laws for the purpose of social welfare and reform and that the government could enact laws to open Hindu religious institutions of a public character to any class or section of Hindus”. This was later broadened to Sikhs, Jain & Buddhists.

The Constitution also contained another related Article – no. 26 that gave to every religious denomination or section of it, subject to public order, morality and health, the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes.

Once the constitution came into effect, several states enacted laws which would allow the state government to regulate religious institutions – usually Hindu temples. And over the years SC has permitted a lot of government interference.

Most recently, a religious rule that excluded women between the ages of ten and fifty from entry into the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala was found to be unconstitutional.

At this point it’s important that we understand how judiciary typically decides…

when Govt. interference is constitutional and when it’s not.

SC’s decision primarily rests upon one fundamental question – does the right of the trustees to manage and administer temples amount to a practice that’s “integral” to the religion?

If not, government can intervene because the issue is then in a secular realm.

“Religion” itself means two things, as far as the SC is concerned:

  1. liberty of religious opinion and belief; and
  2. acts done in pursuance of religious belief – these are protected only as long as they are “integral” or essential to the religion.

But then who decides what is essential and what is not? The answer to this is interesting.

Up until the Ayodhya verdict (2019), the onus to decide the above question, rested on Judiciary itself. For example, SC has earlier held that a mosque is not an essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam and namaaz by Muslims can be offered anywhere, even in the open.

In another case, SC held that followers of Sri Aurobindo were not a religious denomination since his teachings were a philosophy not a religion.

What changed via the Ayodhya verdict?

It was argued in the court that many theologically prescribed principles of Islamic law (for example no grave should be situated close to the mosque) were not observed there, so Babri Masjid was technically not a mosque – in the manner that mosques are known to exist by the religious laws of Islam.

But the SC rejected the above argument stating it would be inappropriate for the court to “enter upon an area of theology and to assume the role of the interpreter of the Hadees. …. The true test is whether those who believe and worship have faith in the religious efficacy of the place where they pray.”

The 5 judge bench was hearing to resolve only the “title” dispute – and not any “fundamental right” related provision, but this judgment does set up a new precedent on who decides what is essential and what is not.

As of this writing, a bigger 7 judge bench has yet to decide if courts have the power to investigate whether a practice is essential to religion. We will get more clarity on this – whenever this bench arrives at a decision.

Do we have examples where SC did not let the state intervene in certain aspects of religious institutions? We do actually.

Government cannot interfere with the personal property of the head of a temple or a math, like a mahant or shebait. In the Shirur Math case, the Madras law mandated ‘pathakanikas’ (personal gifts) made to the mahant to be spent only for the purposes of the math, and required the mahant to maintain accounts for those gifts. But the SC struck down that provision.

To be clear, unlike a Mahant, a priest cannot have any such propitiatory rights over offerings made by devotees to the temple, since those offerings are technically for the temple, not the priest.  

Anyway, so I hope with these examples it is now clear that it is just a myth that India is a secular country. This is in much contrast with US for example, where the entanglement of state governments with religious institutions would simply be impermissible. The first amendment to the US Constitution, prohibits the Congress from making any law ‘respecting an establishment of religion’ or ‘prohibiting the free exercise thereof’.

I hope you found these insights useful. If you are aware of any important context / perspective that I may have missed, do let me know.

And once again, if this subject fascinates you, “Republic of Religion” by Abhinav Chandrachud is highly recommended. It has six chapters (‘Temple and State’ being just one of them) that take upon different aspects of governance to illustrate how secularism in its true sense is a myth.

Also if you are not already subscribed to my (sort of) weekly newsletter, please do?


The science behind Ammonium Nitrate Explosion

I will be honest. I didn’t read up much about the tragic accident that took place in Beirut, when I first heard of it. But last night, I read briefly in The Economist that Ammonium Nitrate (AN) has been causing major such explosive accidents regularly since the beginning of the 20th century! And then today morning I read in the papers that ~700 tonnes of seized Ammonium Nitrate is stored in a Container Freight Station in Manali – not the hill station but an industrial region north of Chennai . And this bit of news is definitely scary. Could that explode too? What is the science behind the AN explosion anyway?

As a wedding photographer / film-maker, this clip hits me harder

As I am writing this blog, I’ve just discovered a new information:

18,000 tonnes? Wow! But the NewsMinute article above doesn’t mention if this AN is explosive grade or not. I hope not! Anyway, I just got interested in reading up a bit on the science behind this explosion – sharing it here.

Ammonium Nitrate (AN) is a fertilizer. Why does it explode?

In general, AN (or NH4NO3) is a stable compound and doesn’t explode. You may have read / heard that it also used as an explosive material in mines and landslide clearance – but that is not just AN. That explosive is a mixture of AN and FO (fuel oil, usually diesel) – in short ANFO. The typical ratio of AN and FO is 96:04

But there have been multiple instances of AN explosion too – starting from the beginning of the 20th century.

Wikipedia has a tabulated list of each major AN related disaster.

Anyway, so what causes AN explosion even without the FO? Typically fire. Overall, there are only so many ways to trigger any ‘explosive’ material:

  • heat (or sometimes just spark)
  • impact
  • friction
  • electromagnetic radiations

The quantum of the above parameters needed to make a chemical / compound explode tells us how ‘sensitive’ the material is (and different materials could be differently sensitive to different parameters).

One one of the most sensitive materials that exists is NI3 – Nitrogen Tri-iodide. See for yourself in the video below.

As you can see, NI3 is pretty extreme. But there are several other more usable highly sensitive chemicals like Mercury Fulminate or Lead Azide – they are called primary explosives. They explode by decomposition and it is easy to trigger them to explode.

Then we have the secondary explosives that require relatively more amount of energy to get triggered. Guess what, AN is not even that!

AN (and even ANFO) is a tertiary explosive.You simply cannot make it explode easily. In fact for ANFO, explosion occurs from ‘combination’ instead of ‘decomposition’.

But yes, beyond a certain temperature (or massive force of impact) AN does decompose and explosion can happen – the way it did in Beirut (and in all the other instances listed in The Economist’s chart shared above).

Once a temperature of 170 C is reached, ammonium nitrate starts breaking down, emitting nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas. Any sudden ignition causes ammonium nitrate to decompose directly into water, nitrogen and oxygen, which explains the enormous explosive power of the salt.

DW, 05 Aug 2020

What’s up with the terrifying white cloudy ‘shock-wave’ that that we see in the videos from Beirut?

To understand the answer to this question, you need to know the two phases of decomposition of an explosive material.

In the first phase, a “chemical reaction wave” travels through the material, slower than the speed of sound. The term for it is deflagration. In many explosive materials, the chemical reaction wave speed will never cross this limit (they are called low explosives – propane, gasoline, gunpowder etc.).

But AN is a high explosive (note: not highly). Here as the chemical reaction wave continues to travel, eventually its speed crosses that of sound (detonation), transforming the chemical reaction wave into what we call a “shock wave”.

Shock-waves are high pressure waves that travel through air (or water). The white misty wave thing that you see in the big explosion in the Beirut videos is basically water vapor condensing out of the air, because of really low pressure right behind the high-pressure shock wave. And then you see it disappear right away as the condensed mist evaporates back, once the pressure equalizes (to atmospheric pressure).

Anyway, so that’s the science behind the explosion. What happened really sucks. Other than the 130+ dead, a single explosion has rendered 3 lakh folks homeless (houses damaged or outright destroyed). 3 lakh! In just few seconds!


Research sources: