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  • There are three types of people in the world, those who don't know what's happening, those who wonder what's happening and those on the streets that make things happen.

Archive for August, 2013

Name and Shame

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on August 8, 2013

rti

“Name and Shame” has been a much touted policy in India over the last couple of years. Towards the end of 2012 there were calls to “name and shame” sex offenders. Earlier this year, the Election Commission of India proposed using the same treatment for politicians colluding with media houses. And last month, national banks decided to “name and shame” loan defaulters as well as guarantors of those loans by publishing their photographs and other details in newspapers and at notice boards of bank branches and community centers.

Amartya Sen, in his book “An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions”, highlights the power of media in not only designing the framework of behavior and social norms but also in manipulating human behavior within that framework.

The activism of the media has a definite role to play both in demanding and encouraging institutional reforms, and in influencing human behavior. Human beings respond to incentives. To want to do well for oneself is not the same as cupidity, and there is no dishonor to humanity in accepting that completely selfless behavior is very rare. Incentives include not only financial gains and profits, but also public admiration and praise as a positive influence, and naming and shaming as a potential deterrent. Adam Smith noted that it is ‘praise worthiness’ that should move us most in our moral thinking, but also recognized that it is actual praise that tends to encourage human beings, just as actual blame restrains them.

Over the last few years, the Indian media has displayed activism that is altering the social and political landscape of the country. Scams are being unearthed, the guilty are being exposed. Even though the weak judicial system allows a lot of the culprits to walk free, the drive to “name and shame” is having its desired effect. It is this activism that has prevented skepticism from turning into a “fatalistic acceptance” of the current corrupt state of affairs. We finally have reasons to believe that things can really change in our country.

Posted in Philosophy, Political Philosophy | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Modern day Segregation

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on August 2, 2013

untouchables caste india

The “untouchables” constituted the lowest rung of the caste system in India. Centuries of reform movements have alleviated the sufferings of those condemned to the bottom of this man made social hierarchy. However, segregation is only too evident in many parts of India. My most recent encounter with such social injustice was during my last political marketing campaign that took me to rural heartland of north India.

While campaigning in villages, I came across demographic distribution that fit a pattern. In every village the “untouchables” lived in a cluster around 200 meters away from the rest of the population. Though disturbing, this did not come as a shock to me. I was aware of the fact that we Indians were far from ridding ourselves completely of the ancient evil. However, what I observed next was disturbing. In every village the “untouchable” cluster would be towards the south while others would be in the northern part of the village. This layout was the same in all of the over 150 villages I visited. No exceptions. This pattern had to have a reasoning behind it. Hence, I inquired.

A local “wise” old man told me that since the wind blew from the northern direction, having the “untouchables” live in that part of the village would mean that the wind would be  “unclean” when it reached the other parts of the village. Winds that touched the “untouchables” would be dirty and upper caste people could not risk becoming “corrupt” by coming in contact with the same wind.

In his latest book “An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions” Nobel laureate and economist Amartya Sen reasons how India, in pursuit of economic growth has neglected expansion of human capabilities and freedom. The neglect of physical and social infrastructure (health, education etc.) has meant that while we have achieved economic growth, real development has not kept pace with it. He couldn’t be more right.

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