Sanjeev Sabhlok's blog

Thoughts on economics and liberty

How justified are India’s beliefs about Australian racism?

[I've also got two other blog posts on this subject: here and here]

[Addendum, 6 June 2009: This blog post has received a lot of visits and many comments. Going by some of the comments posted by readers, I suspect that some of them have only read parts of this post. But most importantly, probably none will spend the time to read my draft manuscript 'The Discovery of Freedom' – which is over 500 book-pages long – that I have cited as reference, and which contains extensive discussion on 'racism'. There is therefore great potential for readers to misunderstand what I am saying. Therefore, let me make a few comments upfront:

(1) Biological fact: Genetically speaking, we are ALL – each and EVERY human on earth – essentially BLACK North African brothers and sisters. The white skin emerged as recently as 5500 years ago. We ALL have one COMMON great-great–grand mother, with some of us having a few harmless mutations of skin colour that arose to help us adapt better to low sunlight and snow in the higher latitudes. So welcome to this post, brother, sister. (If you don't agree with this biological fact, you may be a part of the problem. Read up biology and become a part of the solution!). And consider this simple fact: I have donated blood in India, USA and Australia. My blood has therefore gone into the veins of people with all skin colours and helped them live, or even saved their lives. So please, before considering this issue further, let us be clear that we are a single species which is surprisingly homogenous given its vast spread across the world.

‘It is impossible to look at people’s genetic code and deduce whether they are Black, Caucasian or Asian.’[1] ‘Modern human genetics … deliver[s] the salutary message that human populations share most of their genetic variation and that there is no scientific support for the concept that human populations are discrete, non-overlapping entities.’[2]

[1] Henderson, Mark, ‘Gene tests prove that we are all the same under the skin’, Times Online, October 27, 2004, []

[2] Lynn Jorde and Stephen Wooding of the University of Utah, cited in Henderson, Mark, ‘Gene tests prove that we are all the same under the skin’, Times Online, October 27, 2004. []

(2) Racism violates equal freedom. Racism is not merely discrimination against others on grounds of their skin colour, but also on the basis of nationality, state of origin, caste, and tribe. I condemn all forms of racism as these are both false in their underlying logic and violative of equal freedom for all. Everyone should be treated on merit, not on a prejudicial basis.

(3) Individual justice, not paint-brushing entire collectives. Freedom demands individual accountability. (My comment of 4 June says it thus : It is individuals who must be accountable for their actions, not entire communities. There is a serious error of analysis in jumping to collectivist conclusions and generalising beyond the particular incidents. Such errors of analysis, if uncorrected, can themselves become the cause of future problems.)

(4) The challenge of explaining the causes of crime. A hypothetical multivariate equation explaining the incidence of crime would look like:

Incidence of crime = f (availability, opportunity, motive) + Delta, where 

availability = f (availability of victim, availability of criminal), being in turn, a function of (place of residence and work, time of the day, level of drugs use and unemployment in society )

opportunity = f (level of isolation, level of police or other surveillance, level of use of knives and guns in society)

motive = f (greed, hatred – including racism, fear, revenge, etc.)

It is very hard to distinguish the racist element from the ordinary statistics of crime.

5) Why do Indians have to leave India in the first place?

This is a vital issue. It must be noted that the Indian education system is broken, its governance, its police etc. are broken. Its residents continue to flee India because discrimination is rampant, corruption is perhaps the only way to prosper, and because life and property are in constant danger. Its rich live in walled houses and cities, with guards and dogs to protect them from chronic crime. A major part of the solution is to fix India. India needs leaders who can take it out of its mess. I encourage you (if you are from India) to look at the Freedom Team of India and consider whether you are willing to lead India to greatness, so that others will come to India, and Indians not have to leave India for simple things like good education.

6) India own crime rates are sky-high but no frenzy seems to emerge:

At least 6,000 (and up to 25,000) women are killed (not just injured) each year for bringing inadequate dowry. These are called dowry deaths. But there is stunned silence in the media and TV about it. Thousands of murders and thefts, of which very few get reported because the police will not lodge a report without a bribe. Why is the Indian media silent about it? Not to diminish the attacks against Indian students outside India, but to ask: why this frenzy? Why is there no balance in the Indian media reports?

7) Read the report on Overseas Student Education Experience Taskforce (Victoria) chaired by Marsha Thomson:

Addendum 22 July 2009. Complexities involved, including data: Visa crackdown will hit numbers (Australian 22 July

Now Read On!

An Indian student was recently attacked in Melbourne. This is not the first such time. S M Krishna, India’s Foreign Minister said he was appalled by the racist attack (SIFY headline: "SM Krishna condemns 'racist' attacks on Indian students in Australia" or Economic Times: "India on Wednesday expressed shock over the racist attack on four Indian students in Melbourne and asked Australia to take steps to prevent such incidents on Indian students.")

NOTE added on 31 May 2009: I now gather that there has been serious misreporting in the media on this issue, and that SM Krishna's written statement does not allege racism as the motive. See statement of SMK As a result of the new information, I'm deleting the paragraph of this blog posted yesterday that read: "I agree that more can be done to ensure the safety of Indian students. But I am personally outraged at the unsolicited allegation being made about Australian racism by the Indian Foreign Minister (and India’s High Commissioner as well). This amounts to the pot calling the kettle black. Look into the skeletons in your own cupboard, SMK, I would ask!" I should have done due diligence and checked original sources. However, I continue to have the strong impression from many sources that many Indians see Australia as a particularly racist country. And so the rest of this post is still relevant and will remain broadly 'as is' except for minor editorial tweaking {1 June 2009: I've taken part of a comment I posted below into the main text now, and reshuffled the order of the post to make the flow of logic more evident. In addition, I've brought part of the text of my other 'sister' post on this subject here as well, to better substantiate a statement made earlier} The rest of the post should now read thus.

I agree that more can be done to ensure the safety of Indian students. (Addendum 4 June: Here's a write up by Miranda Devine in today's Age that points to the need to beef up Police more generally in Victoria, a matter on which I have no expertise.) (Addendum 5 June: There is plenty of violence going around in Melbourne on an average night.) Let the criminals who perpetrated these crimes be brought to book, and let various steps be taken to improve security of all citizens in Australia/Melbourne. I have nothing to say on that.

But if India tries to use the
'race card' in this debate, it enters deep waters. The allegation of the Indian High Commissioner that there may be "a racist element in some of the attacks" is perhaps unexceptionable although unsubstantiated. But unsolicited allegations in parts of the Indian media about Australian racism are quite excessive. Yes, there is some racism in Australia (and I'll touch upon it below), but we have to be very cautious either about claiming that racism was a causal factor in these attacks or, worse, generalising about a society that has done so much about this issue over the past 30 years.

Indeed, beliefs that attacks on Indians in Australia are racist raise many significant issues.

1) Proof needed that this (or these) attacks are driven primarily by racism

Addendum, 9 June 2009. It now appears from the police chief that there is proof that at least some of the attacks are racially driven. See here. "Some of these crimes are racially motivated; however I also believe that many of the robberies and other crimes of violence are simply opportunistic." Except for white supremacists, other crimes can be easily muddled with racism. The loafers and louts of a society will obviously use foul language that can be construed as racist. But I would suggest these crimes are still largely (not entirely!) opportunistic because of the vulnerability of Indian students who live in crime-infested places.

Crime happens. Others too get attacked. Melbourne is not crime free! It is broadly safe, but not crime free. (Addendum: The violent street culture in Melbourne is significantly on the rise – The Age 16 July 2009). India must prove (apart from getting its own house in order first) that racism is either rife or increasing in Australia; AND that racism was involved in the recent cases. If not, it should treat this as a regular criminal matter and stick to non-inflammatory language. Particularly the Indian media.

Mixing crime with racism is bad statistical analysis. The vast bulk of crime in Australia is 'white against white' crime. Drug related crime, robbery, etc., happens to everyone. All kinds of weirdos exist in all societies. The local Police investigated this particular matter and I recall reading somewhere that they believe that the current incident was not race based. [Addendum 3 June: a news report confirming my hypothesis: "police believed that Indian students had suffered disproportionately because they were more vulnerable. Many needed to take jobs, often at late hours, to support themselves, and they used public transport heavily, often at times when few other passengers were travelling." Addendum 8 June 2009: Came across this article from The Age today ("Indians an easy target for cowards lurking in shadows" by Anson Cameron) which tells a different story to what the Police have been publicly saying, and seems to confirm that Indians are being disproportionately attacked. Apparently the local Police told the author of this article informally that "it's usually Indians or Asians who are targeted because they're small and non-aggressive."If true, and if the Police at senior levels are aware of this, then this is a matter of great concern: a) First, because the reported incident was from Port Melbourne, an otherwise wealthy area with presumably low crime [which means the earlier argument doesn’t apply]. b) Second, the informal argument of the local Police doesn't make sense because there are small and non-aggressive people from all nationalities and 'races'. Are all of them equally vulnerable? Why are small and non-aggressive people of Asian and Indian origin being singled out for attacks? If evidence of this sort is confirmed, I may need to partially change my views and agree that 'race' – if not racism – is perhaps a factor underlying some of these attacks. Addendum 25 June 2009: Indians safer in Australia: Rudd, The Hindu, 25 June 2009. Addendum 4 July, 2009. Some issues with death data Age 1 July, Age 4 July. ]

Although louts and ruffians will always use foul language which can be construed to be racist, ordinary crime should be treated as crime. Period. Except for white supremacists who are genuine racist criminals (and these are seriously curbed by the Police), the rest of the criminals are just that – plain louts. Melbourne has had a spate of stabbings of all kinds of people: not just Indian students. It therefore doesn't behove the Indian media to characterise one of the most multicultural societies in the world as racist. Racism (to the extent it does exist in Australia and in the West) operates more at the economic level. Racists are not, as a rule, criminals who will use violence. Criminals who use violence are usually a totally different category altogether.

The only proof of these incidents being caused by an increase in racism (or being motivated purely by racism) as claimed in the Indian media will be to demonstrate statistically that the crime rate experienced by people of Indian origin in Australia is HIGHER than that experienced by the rest of the Australian population, after controlling for place of residence and work.

It is important to understand that out of the roughly 90,000 Indian students in Australia, some will inevitably get caught in crime. Indian students are particularly vulnerable to crime because they tend to live in high risk and high crime areas and work late night and return back by public transport, walking on empty streets, or driving taxis that collect all kinds of weirdos, drunkards, and drug addicts at late night. For someone with that residence and work profile, I don't think Indian students are experiencing a particularly higher crime rate, ie. they are not necessarily being discriminated by the louts and criminals of Melbourne on the ground of their 'race' . But I'm not the expert on this and will leave it to the Police to investigate and tell the people what is going on.

Addendum 10 June: "According to Victoria police officials, in 2007-08, there were 36,765 victims of crimes such as robberies and assaults in the state, of which 24,260 were Caucasian victims and 1,447 victims were people of Indian origin" (here). This is disproportionately high in relation to the population of peole of Indian orgin. But this data could do with some further analysis. I recall reading somewhere that the Police cluster all kinds of Indian-looking people as people of Indian origin, including Philipinos, so the robustness of this classification needs to be confirmed. Second, the relevant control variables which need to be factored in are: place of residence and work, time of attack, kind of attack (ie. group bashing or simple robbery), nature of occupation, whether around public transport, whether around taxi, etc. Addendum 1 July 2009. Here's some more data [The Age 1 July 2009] that shows possibly higher rates of death of Indian students, but it could well be from higher accidental drownings or suicide – ie. analysis is incomplete. Addendum 14 July 2009. The Australian, today outlined the possibility of high rates of suicide in this group given the complex interaction of corruption in India and expectations of parents.]

2) Pot calling the kettle black

But far more problematically, using a blanket 'race' card for all of Australia amounts to the pot calling the kettle black. Yes, there are racists in Australia. No doubt about it. But look into the skeletons in your own cupboard is what I would ask those who make wild statements about Australia or allege racial motives to what does not appear to be (as reported by the Police) race-based crime. And even if it were, the whole context would need to be seen: history, comparisons over time, and so on and on…

India is currently, in my view, one of the world's most racist countries. A fair skin not only gets you a better spouse (higher status husband, higher dowry from the wife, etc.) but a better job. Even in elections the fairer candidate generally receives higher votes; hence posters of candidates paint them almost pink no matter what their real complexion! Fair and Lovely creams do brisk business. But that is only the cosmetic element, no matter how deep rooted in the Indian psyche. [Addendum 25 June 2009: There is only one test of racism (or its lack of): How many Indians will marry a pitch black African from Somalia or allow their son/daughter to marry such a person? My guess is less than 1 per cent. Accordingly I deduce that 99 per cent of Indians are racists. On the other hand there are a good number of such marriages in the West now. Indeed, Obama is a product of one such marriage. Addendum 29 June 2009: Similarly, Indians have imported 1000 totally untalented British actresses to work in Hindi movies, whereas none from dark Africa. – See this article in The Age.]

The worst form of racism relates to the caste system which is in many ways based on historical differences in skin colour. Tens, if not hundreds, of people are brutally beaten/killed in inter-caste violence each year in UP and Bihar. Roughly half the population in India (if the rural people are included) deny merit a chance and give preference to someone based on caste in jobs. Tribal racism in the North East is rife. If you are a non-Khasi in Meghalaya your risk of physically being attacked by Khasi ruffians increases quite substantially, and so on across almost all parts of India. If you are a Bihari you can be beaten up in Assam, and vice versa (horrendous incidents of this nature have occurred not so long ago). And if you are a Bihari in Mumbai, then expect to be beaten up at whim (at least that is what they were threatened with not so long ago).

The media in India of course loves to highlight residual Western racism (which, as I said, is real). But it fails to point out how small it is in comparison to Indian racism. Yet India remains a horribly racist society. [Addendum 21 June: Here's an article that shows just one aspect of it – Diepiriye Kuku: 'India Is Racist, And Happy About It'. Addendum 29 June: Our True Colours, Outlook, 29 June 2009]. Racism is embedded in its Constitution through the recognition of the caste system. Why would caste matter to a government? India needs its governments to crack down on all kinds of racism including casteism and parochial xenophobia within India and stop worrying about the residual racism in the West.


I have discussed racism at great length in The Discovery of Freedom (draft available here)

a) Race is biologically a non-existent concept hence those who believe in it are totally ignorant. That is our role as the educated people: to eliminate this myth of ‘race’.

b) Modern racism started around 300-400 years ago. Before that, where it did exist, the ‘whites’ were looked down upon (except in India, of course). Ie. modern racism has an economic basis.

c) Most of the famous liberal philosophers were racist. They couldn't see the contradiction in their views. Even Lincoln should be considered racist if his comments are read carefully.

d) Racism was very strong in the West till about 50 years ago.

e) Gandhi played the most pivotal role in reducing racism in the West (through his actions in South Africa and further actions in India, plus his influence on Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela).

f) Racism has declined dramatically in the West over the past generation (30 years) and is extremely low today (not non-existent). With Obama's election, even US could be potentially declared racism-free in the next few decades. My estimate in DOF, based on analysis of various studies, is that roughly 7% of the Western population is currently racist – in terms of actually acting on their racist beliefs. This is a serious blemish on western liberal societies that they need to get over, the sooner the better.

g) Racism has NOT declined in India during this period, making India the last bastion of racism in the world. It was the world's oldest racist society (with its caste system) and remains so even today.

Exploring the journey of Australian racism

Australia has changed very rapidly in the last generation. A very significant percentage (perhaps a quarter) of Australians today comprise new migrants who have come to Australia in the last 50 years from predominantly non-British countries: South Europe, Middle-East, South Asia, South East Asia, etc. Immigration has speeded up even further in the last ten years. Melbourne citizens come from over 144 countries. Australia doesn’t really care much if they get Indians, Chinese, or Vietnamese. Not the policy makers anyway. Anyone with skills who meets the point system can get in.

The Indian media is therefore completely wrong on this one, about calling Australia racist. In my experience, the most racist people I have met in Australia (and I've now been here for 9 1/2 years if you count my earlier stint of 1 year in '92-93) are many of the Indians who live here, not the old Australians. I have close friends among all so-called racial groups, but I have been badly shocked to find Indians speak to me in Hindi in front of their fellow workers about these 'Goras' in a derogative manner, or about 'Chinis', etc. Similarly, in USA I was shocked to find PhD students from India talk derogatively about 'Kallus' (American blacks). Indians who live abroad have this huge chip on their shoulder – racism.

How racist are Australians in giving jobs?

Most Indians who leave India are treated on merit and become successful and well-settled. That is why Indians are among the wealthiest single group in USA and Australia, among other places. On the other hand, in India they face caste and region discrimination their whole life. Or they must bribe their way to "success". So many have left that mess, happy to work in junior roles in the West where at least merit is recognised.

But there does remain a strong tendency among Indian migrants who don't get jobs in the West to classify their new home country as racist in conversations with fellow Indians and with Indians in India. I agree, there may well be a bit of it (7% or so, as I’ve pointed out above). But the work requirements here and work relations are so dramatically different to those found in India that very few new migrants who have worked in the past in India can demonstrate that they understand how to work in teams and demonstrate the relevant language skills. The poor language skills of many Indians show up in the resumes itself, and yet they complain that they were discriminated against due to race. Merit cuts both ways. You are good: you get in. You are not so good then you do other things. The huge number of Indians and Asian graduates from Australia recruited into public service and other jobs shows that employers are looking for skills-match, and are not bothered about ‘race’.

In Breaking Free of Nehru I have written thus:

"The best people among those who apply are recruited, irrespective of their age or where they come from. Yes, there are periodic reports in the press in Australia about stereotyping of new immigrants based on misconceptions or generalizations about their language skills. It is said that some highly qualified candidates do not always get a foothold. Another problem is when potential employers do not care to contact referees from other countries. But in the same vein, elderly Australians and women also find it harder to get jobs in this system. Making detailed applications for tens of positions, including addressing selection criteria in great detail, can also be a very painful process for migrants and older candidates. But if one prepares well for a well-selected role, there is a good chance of being successful.

“Let me give my own example. Had I migrated to India as an Australian citizen at age 41 (the age at which I came to Australia), I could never have entered government service at all for two reasons:
• no open recruitment is undertaken in India at that age; and
• non-citizens are not allowed to work in government in India anyway (in Australia, non-citizens are able to work in state government departments).
However, not only did I get a research job based on my technical statistical skills (nobody would consider me at the management level at that point!), but I was able to move into a management role after about three years."

[Addendum 19 June 2009: Andrew Leigh's research shows there is some racial stereotyping at the entry level jobs in Australia. This is consistent with similar studies in USA and elsewhere in the West, and confirms that a certain amount of economic racism is definitely prevalent in these societies as noted earlier. The Australian, June 18, and actual research here. Similar stereotyping is also experienced by women and the elderly. In other words, being a person of a non-Anglo background acts as a slight disadvantage in terms of job entry and earnings. Despite this, at the end of their career, people of Indian origin generally figure in the top income brackets in USA and Australia due to their ability to rapidly progress once they get an initial foothold. It is quite possible that reverse racism, against 'Anglos' takes place where Indians are owners of a business. ]

[Addendum 8 January 2010 I know of Indian friends who have lived here for many years, even decades. These are no
t new immigrants. They have much local experience. But they are almost without exception convinced that many (not all!) Australians are racist. These views are made on the basis of (claims of) being discriminated against in relation to jobs and promotions. I have personally seen and experienced this at work in a (very few) cases. I know that MOST people here will literally salivate when they come across someone has relatively junior experience in the UK but will ignore even the most highly experienced person from India. I also know that it is, however, not in the interest of good managers to discriminate racially since then their own performance suffers. Those who discriminate will under-perform and will therefore (ultimately) be removed from the marketplace. In any event, this irritating type of racism is ’soft’ racism. Such racists don't (generally) behave badly or offensively, leave alone injure others or kill.]

Yes, racism is not defensible. All racism must be criticised and addressed though equal opportunity laws and through better education. Let Indians claim, by all means, that a few racists do exist in Australia. But please do also acknowledge that there are 5-8 times (proportionately) that many racists in India. Let there be a balanced and truthful coverage of racism, no matter how fictitious this concept.

THE TASK OF OUR GENERATION: to demolish the concepts of race and caste

It is up to our generation to demolish these shameful concepts. I speak forthrightly thus not to condemn India or Indians generally but to set the facts straight and to ask what gives the Indian government the right to its arrogant belief that it can preach to Australia and others about racism. Express concerns about the safety of Indian students, sure! But to preach to Australia about racism. That's a total joke! Fix your own house first is what I'd recommend to India. Don't make a fool of yourself on the world stage given the huge amount of racism practiced in daily life in India today.

If hearing the truth about Indian racism hurts people who are racist or casteist, so be it. Being told the truth might make them reflect. In any event, I'm not here to pander to wrong ideas, no matter whose these may be, even of my fellow Indians. The politics I stand for (yes, I will be entering Indian politics in the coming years if various things that are currently under way make headway) is not related to power and begging for votes. I'm not into power. I'm into freedom and truth. Let us crush this evil of racism entirely across the entire world. Join me in condemning all racism everywhere.

Addendum 28 June 2009: One of Australia's greatest journalists, Philip Adams, wrote in passing in The Australian yesterday (weekly magazine) about his teenage daughter Rory: "She and her friends can't understand all the fuss about homosexuality and are mystified by racism". The world is lucky to have this new generation of kids: the MTV generation, where blacks and whites sing together, where blacks are now the world champions, heroes in song and movies, world best in many sports including golf, where they have now have produced a black president of the world's most powerful nation. These kids today (and I see my kids mingle daily with all 'races' here in Australia) have simply outgrown the concepts of race. They can't understand it. Therefore there are many 'mixed race' (noting that race is not a biologically viable concept) couples on Melbourne's streets.

I hope that the internet, media, and honest self-reflection among the current jaded Indian generation of 'elders' will bring about the revolution of heart that is needed to abolish racism (including casteism) from the face of the earth.

FREEDOM TEAM. Join the Freedom Team of India if you wish to change India.


Don't believe the media hype: racism is often a two-way street, by Akash Arora, Age, 2 June 2009

The views of the Dalai Lama on this issue, Times of India, 10 June 2009

No, we are not racists, by Neil Mitchell, Herald Sun, 11 June 2009

‘After 17 years of living here, I am made to feel like an outsider’Hindustan Times, 10 June 2009 regarding the racism and prejudices in New Delhi.

'Street violence to blame, not racism' – the view of former Australian Medical Association president Mukesh Haikerwal, The Age, 14 June 2009

See no evil by JOSH GORDON in The Age, 17 January 2010. [this one has some interesting and releavant statistics – don’t know the source of these stats – needs to be pursued]

Other related issues:

Indians high-risk violators of visas, The Australian, 20 June 2009.

Indian students violate their visa conditions: Hours late and long danger to students, The Age, 23 June 2009.

Australia has the highest proportion of foreign born people: Paul Sheehan Migration: the true story, The Age 2 November 2009.

Follow up comments (based on the issues I have raised in this post) raised in Facebook:

Some research papers on the subject of prevalence of racism in Australia

Police Chief's analysis of data in The Age, 6 Feb 2010.

The regular crime scene of Melbourn:

ADDENDUM: CASTE DISCRIMINATION IN INDIA (BLOCKED BY CASTE, ECONOMIC DISCRIMINATION IN MODERN INDIA: Edited by Sukhadeo Thorat, Katherine S. Newman; Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 750)

Racism is reproduced through children, who show colour bias

Country 'drifting back to racism The Age June 16 2010

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How many days after that meeting with a corrupt Chief Minister did you quit IAS?

This is a slightly edited version of my discussion within FTI in the last week or so regarding the standards of integrity we need in India.


You are entitled to be sceptical and to wonder why I am so 'arrogant' in calling others spineless crooks when I myself supported the system till 2000? I'll address this briefly.

I had heard a lot about corruption. Everyone in India has. But I had seen that many officers could remain upright (my father being one of them) and so people like 'us' could save India if only we controlled these deviant politicians. That is why I joined the IAS anyway. (One day if I get time I'll type out my hand written notes from my IAS interview of 1982 – I found it the other day. Very interesting!).

I discovered corruption in government VERY EARLY. The relevant CM was NOT the only one. Virtually everyone in the bureaucracy and politics was steeped in corruption. The instances are so many that I need not recount (I've recounted a few in BFN if you are interested). But I didn't understand either the administrative system nor economics, nor politics. So till I became 30 I did my job in the best way I could. But even before reaching 30 I was getting more and more convinced that change could not come about at the bureaucratic level.

Since 30, by 1989, (if not before) I have been totally clear about the fact that there is no alternative to reform of Government except through political means. Indeed, so much did I talk about this that one day after a major fight in the secretariat with an officer, a good friend (he left the IAS as well and now works in the US) came rushing to me advising me not to jump into politics without preparation – well, I wasn't going to anyway at that stage!

To get a sense of my thoughts at age 32/33 please read: and (one of these contains my article published the major Assamese newspaper The Sentinel in 1992).

The 1991 experience with the concerned CM was merely one of many. It simply reconfirmed things. I then started investigating causes. Studied in Australia and US for 6 out of the 10 years of my 30s. Tried to explore what causes this problem.

Here's my autobiographical essay submitted as part of an application for the USC College of Arts and Sciences Pre-doctoral Merit University Fellowship on 22 January 1996 – which I did get and so decided to complete my PhD: It will give you a sense of my attitude towards learning from the 'masters' (gurus).

Everything came together at age 39 in Feb. 1998, and I thought we must have a liberal party in India. Since then numerous efforts and experiences later, FTI. I believe this can work, though I realise it still may not:

a) People differ on what integrity means (I'm stuck in a rut on this. I see things in black and white).

b) People think liberalism is libertarianism and demand freedom without responsibility.

c) Very few people have organisational ability and skills. Most simply are good at talking (not something to be despised, but the fact remains that a liberal party needs organisational experts and we don't have many).


By 60, in 2019, I will either be back in India full time, or have finally quit India (or even life: there are no guarantees anyone will live to 60!).

So from 22 (joining IAS) to 60, I'd have done whatever I thought was good for India – given my limited understanding. If my little contributions make any difference, fine. If not, I'm quite comfortable doing other things. No fuss at all. I don't need to be Prime Minister of India to be happy. Digging up my garden up and taking pictures of flowers gives me the most exquisite happiness. I live for myself and my principles, not for India. If India (whatever that means: for India is nothing but a bunch of individuals) doesn't budge, so be it. I won't, in any event.

I did quit the IAS (and India) when I thought I could and needed to, and had tried all options to launch a political movement. You may well critique my actions and want me to have done other things. Too bad. I just do what I think I need to. If people in India don't care, sorry – but why should I bother? Have I taken any contract for fixing India? Are you or anyone in India paying me anything? (I won't go into details about how I get not a paisa of retirement entitlements for working 18 years in the IAS…) It is a joint responsibility I talk about. As citizens.

You can question me all you like and you'll get what you see. A liberal at heart and in action.

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Do artists have license to abuse freedom of expression?

(extract from the draft manuscript, Discovery of Freedom, for comment)

Art is not the end of social organisation: preserving our life and freedoms, is. The freedom of the artist must therefore equally be bounded by accountability as anyone else’s freedom. Being creative does not give us the license to abuse our freedoms. Unfortunately, many artists deliberately taunt or insult various religions, thus misusing their freedom of expression. While an otherwise respectful critique based on objective data is fine, the problem in this area relates to vilification and abuse of religions. Islam, Christianity and Hinduism have been among the religions most frequently subject to such abuse.

Artists must avoid offensive art and writing by exercising self-restraint. Self-restraint is the fundamental obligation of a free citizen. The artist is obliged to be aware of the impact of his or her work on other’s sentiments. Showing respect and goodwill towards fellow citizens is a basic principle of harmonious living.

But what if this obligation is not met? If an artist fails to display self-restraint then those affected adversely by his actions are entitled to seek compensation through the courts. As a general rule, where physical injury is not involved, accountability must be resolved through civil remedy. If A demonstrably offends B’s emotions (even though he may not personally know B), then A is potentially accountable for that offence and may be called upon to compensate B, either through an apology or by paying financial compensation. A cannot have unbounded liberty. B will need to prove, however, that he has lost certain hours of sleep, and will be able to be compensated only for the precise value of suffering caused by such lost sleep, if any. These civil suits could take the form of class-action suits if many people are affected.

In addition to exploring the civil remedy, everyone in a free society must develop forbearance, even forgiveness. We need a sufficiently ‘thick skin’ and avoid exaggerated emotional responses, that merely harm us by creating needless stress. As the saying goes, ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’. So long as people don’t physically assault us, we should learn to tolerate them. If we don’t like a particular artist’s work, we need not go out looking for it. Ignore those whom one disagrees with. In any event, we are never entitled to physically attack an artist or writer on the ground that our emotions were adversely affected, for such assault would be a purely criminal act.

Unfortunately, violent threats against artists and writers are rife in India today, along with suppression of art and writing by the government. Thus, Salman Rushdie’s book, Satanic Verses, was banned because in India of Muslim protests. A few Hindus prevented the movie, Water, from being made in India. The movie Da Vinci Code was prohibited from being screened in a few states in India because of some Christians vehemently opposed it. Freedom of expression is rapidly becoming a distant memory in India. Indeed, India is not alone in this. Governments across the world are starting to ban books, movies, and internet blogs on the ground that their failure to do so would endanger public order. That is a terrible excuse to make. The government must ensure law and order, and those affected must go to the civil court for redress. Giving in to violent protest is the end of freedom as we know it.

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Flag burning – the test of a free society

(This is a small extract from 'Discovery of Freedom'. I will publish a few of these extracts periodically to test my ideas. Look forward to your response.)

Must a free society tolerate the burning or desecration of its national flag as a political act of civil disobedience? We begin by asking: if this act was banned, would it maximise equal freedom subject to accountability? Clearly, no one comes to the stage of burning their national flag unless they feel that a great many freedoms have been already trampled upon. And so the general environment of the society would need to be considered. If someone burns the flag without any reason, though, then that person’s intellectual ability is surely too feeble, and could ask: what harm could such a mentally feeble person do by burning the flag? After all, to that person it is merely a piece of coloured cloth he is burning without any reason. If that person doesn’t understand the value the flag represents, then so be it. Such an action is not a crime. In other words, if someone is seriously burning the flag, then the society needs to examine itself. If someone is stupidly burning it, it doesn’t matter.

India has not taken any chances, though, and has enacted The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 providing for imprisonment of up to three years, or fine, or both, for anyone who, in public view, mutilates, defaces, defiles, disfigures, destroys, tramples on or otherwise brings the National Flag into contempt. In addition, The Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act forbids the use of the flag in any trade mark or design.

Unlike India, though, which has a fragile sense of identity, and virtually no sense of freedom, the US has ruled that while desecrating its flag is deplorable, people are free to burn the flag as part of their freedom of expression. Its citizens are free to even make underwear bearing the flag’s image. Since many people’s patience with flag burning for political purposes was running thin in the USA, a flag burning amendment to the United States Constitution was proposed in 2006. But the US Senate rejected it, albeit narrowly. Senator Daniel K. Inouye – who lost an arm in World War II, and whose patriotism was unquestioned – said that flag burning ‘is obscene, painful and unpatriotic’, … ‘[b]ut I believe Americans gave their lives in the many wars to make certain that all Americans have a right to express themselves – even those who harbor hateful thoughts.’ Such a resounding commitment to freedom defines the US of America, the world’s only major bastion of freedom today. Three cheers to this brave land which seriously respects freedom by allowing its people to burn its own flag! Liberty expects no less.

India must aim to become a free country and learn to tolerate political protest including peaceful flag burning. Burning symbols, no matter how offensive and distasteful, does not amount to violent expression (it is not exactly non-violent, but it is not violent either, not affecting the human body). If freedom and equal opportunity were available to all, then flag burning would become thing of the past, anyway. It is only if India has something to hide that it will prohibit protest. In any event, it is preferable to let protests be public than to force them underground, for at stage terrorism can become a distinct possibility. More generally, it is inappropriate for a free society to invest any symbol with a hallowed status, for then there would be no end to such encroachments on our freedoms.


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