No, “Many Indians” aren’t interested in PV Sindhu’s caste

NewsMinute’s numbers are off. Way, way off.

After the Brexit vote results came out, several news agencies (as well as the “fake” newspeople Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Samantha Bee) focussed on the fact that people were asking google “What is the EU?” the day after voting ended. It turns out that the number of people searching “what is the EU?” was about 1000–i.e. essentially zero compared to the 35 million people who voted one way or another in the Brexit referendum.

I think something similar is happening with a recent story in India on PV Sindhu, India’s silver medallist in Badminton in the Rio Olympics. NewsMinute is running a story that google searches for PV Sindhu’s caste have spiked after she won her silver medal. This is true, and can be checked quite simply by using Google Trends. But, as in the Brexit case above, a spike means very little unless accompanied by absolute numbers.

Newsminute provides one graph on absolute numbers, showing that 150,000 people searched for PV Sindhu’s caste in June 2016. They claim that, based on the recent spike, millions of people are searching for PV Sindhu’s caste. If that number seems suspect to you–as it did me–that’s because it appears it is.


Here are my results from Google AdWords. First, the number of people who searched for “pv sindhu”, and “pv sindhu caste”:











There were about 15,000 searches a month for PV Sindhu, and 170 searches a month for her caste over the last six months. Where newsminute got their 150,000 searches from I do not know, but that number is clearly rubbish. About 1% of all searches for PV Sindhu asked for her caste. This ratio holds even with the recent–and bloody well earned–spike in interest in her, as you can see below. If we accepted the NewsMinute number of 150,000 searches for “pv sindhu caste”, it would mean, with a factor of 100 for the spike, and a factor of 100 between the two search terms, that there were 1.5 billion searches for “pv sindhu”. Bullshit. [Edit (11PM): I realised after I posted this that the 150,000 is per month, whereas the hundredfold spike may have been per day. That means that my figure of 1.5 billion may be wrong. If so, it would mean, however, that on the day of her silver-medal win, there were (150,000/30) * (100 * 100)  = 5 crore searches for PV Sindhu. Which brings me back to: ‘Bullshit’.]


Now, 1% in India is a lot of people, and NewsMinute could be forgiven for saying “many Indians” given that about 20,000 people have searched for her caste. But they have to explain why their numbers are so far off.


Dented and Painted

On Christmas day, fifteen of us went trekking at Ananthagiri, a clutch of low hills with some farms and some ponds, about 70 km from TIFR-Hyderabad. On our way down the steepest terrain I have done this sort of thing on, we had to crouch down under the thick shrubbery. At the bottom was a quiet little pond with its assorted birds. By the time we made it down to the pond, all of us had scratches and cuts, and even some bruises. Mine were relatively minor and healed needing nothing more than cold cream. I am, I suppose, dented and painted.

The gang-rape of a 23 year old student in Delhi has shaken up middle-class India. The brutal nature of the assault on this woman and the man who was with her in the Delhi bus seems to have woken up residents of Delhi to the fact that this society is misogynistic and unsafe for women. The Delhi gang-rape isn’t the only horrifying thing that we as a society have seen — not even just since the Delhi incident: see this, this, this (18 women get raped every day in Delhi, say statistics). One can only wonder why we don’t see mass-protests against rape and police inaction — or even active sabotage — more often.

It is hard not to notice that the people protesting the lack of safety for women seem focused — barring some sane voiceson tougher punishment and more policing than on changing the conditions that led to this tragedy in the first place. Raziman points out that this baying for blood is society attempting to wash its hands off any responsibility to actually change for the better. People have asked why this rape gets the attention of “the nation” while many other incidents get brushed aside, their victims left to fend for themselves, if not actually persecuted by the State’s official machinery.

It is against this backdrop that I first read about Abhijit Mukherjee, the son of India’s president, making the remarks that gave this blogpost its title. I remember glossing over the details and deciding that he had simply made a poor choice of words in trying to express the sentiment that we need structural change in this society’s treatment of women.

At the breakfast table yesterday, Sriram Ramaswamy brought up Mukherjee’s comments and the fact that even his own sister has condemned him for making them. He asked us if we know what ‘dented and painted’ means. I confessed to not having thought about it too much. He had; he had also seen Arnab Goswami give Mukherjee the full Monty.

A car that has had a minor bump and has to have its body reshaped – by the sheet-metal body getting its kinks hammered out and re-painted to cover up the bump and the body-work – is what is colloquially called ‘dented-and-painted’.

Calling women protesting an unsafe society ‘dented and painted’ isn’t just a poor choice of words. It is symptomatic of the same malady that makes our society such a dangerous place for a woman to live: the same backwardness that mandates that a two-finger test  be performed on a rape-victim to ascertain whether she is “habituated to sex”, the same misogyny that led members of parliament in 2010 to reaffirm that marital rape will not be punished.

Mukherjee says that he was a student once and that he knows what a good student “should be”: no student who is so morally loose as to go to a discotheque has the right to also hold a candle-lit vigil against rape. And anybody who does, presumably, is only doing this so that she may continue her lifestyle of getting dented and painted.

UPDATE, 29/12/2012: I wrote this last night and posted it this morning. I have learnt, since, that the woman who was gang-raped in Delhi has died from her injuries in a Singapore hospital.

Satire is not slander

Mamata Banerjee has gone nuts.

What do you think the chances are that I get into trouble for saying the above? A professor of Chemistry at Jadavpur university has been arrested for sending an email with a cartoon depicting Mamata Banerjee and her heavy-handed way of dealing with ideas she doesn’t like.

You may remember that she banned English (and even some high-circulation Bengali) newspapers from state-aided libraries in Bengal. The official reasoning was that reading the eight periodicals mentioned in a circular would “significantly contribute to the development and spread of free thinking among the library users.” Free thinking. Except about which newspaper to read.

The cartoon in this case is the following (reproduced from the Hindustan Times page. Click through to go to the page):

The 'cartoon' that led to JU professor's arrest. From top to bottom: 1. Mamata Banerjee points to Indian Railways' logo and tells Mukul Roy: See Mukul, the Golden Fortress; 2. Mukul Roy points to former railway minister Dinesh Trivedi and exclaims: That's an evil man!!!; 3. Mamata says: Evil man, vanish!

The cartoon isn’t even all that funny. The cartoon apparently uses dialogue from a Satyajit Ray movie, so perhaps it is to somebody who is Bengali and knows about the connection. The biggest thing the cartoon has going for it is that Mamata Banerjee apparently has all the sense of humour of a groundnut, and simply can’t stop herself from banning things and getting people arrested.

And her lackeys ministers will obviously fall in line. ‘Both labour minister Purnendu Bose and transport minister Madan Mitra defended the police action, saying the e-mail was in bad taste.’ They must think the cartoon is accurate. Some TMC members of the legislature did say the action of the police was over-reaching, though. Does anybody wonder why they are only MLAs?

And this on the same day that an author has to leave the country because he’s written a biography of Aurobindo that somebody somewhere has a problem with. And on the same day that Raj Thackeray tells the sitting Chief Minister of Bihar that he had better not visit Bombay. (Nitish Kumar apparently retorted that he doesn’t need a visa to visit Bombay.)

As a society, we seem to be collectively going in entirely the wrong direction on the right to free speech.

Update(15/04/2012, 12:45am): Sheila Dixit, the CM of Delhi, has apparently said that Narendra Modi would not dare campaign in Delhi, for fear of getting stoned (not getting stoned, you know, but having stones thrown at him).

Am I back?

Sort of…

My last post was well over a year ago. I hope to come back to blogging in the near future, although I will still not put blogging front and centre in life. Several things have happened in 2011, which I will hopefully get opportunities to get to.

We’ll start with something I wrote in response to a demand that non-vegetarian food be segregated in JNC’s student hostel.

Binayak Sen, the traitor.

That the charges are completely bogus would be an understatement. That Binayak Sen is being hounded by a police state that wants to enforce the draconian act that is the inland version of the AFSPA is plain for everybody to see.

And see it people do.

I had no intention of writing something on the blog this soon after the last post. Something’s happened, however, that I’ve tried to not get worked up about, and failed – miserably. Apart from being a one-off then, this post is also going to be an outpouring. I apologise if it isn’t as well-written as it can be.

A court in Raipur convicted Dr. Binayak Sen of treason and sentenced him to life in prison. The doctor, a gold medallist at CMC Vellore, and a paediatrician who works to provide healthcare to people in the least developed parts of Chattisgarh, and who is also the Vice-President of the PUCL, was charged with treason for carrying messages from a naxal leader to the maoists. That the charges are completely bogus would be an understatement. That Binayak Sen is being hounded by a police state that wants to enforce the draconian act that is the inland version of the AFSPA is plain for everybody to see.

And see it people do.

Former CJIs AM Ahmadi and VN Khare have said the verdict is stupid, in so many words. Amnesty International has called the verdict a dangerous precedent. The point that ‘sedition’ or, as one reporter and apparently the judge who handed down the verdict put it, ‘rajdroh’ is a relic from a different age at best, violates the freedom of speech that the constitution purports to guarantee, and is used whenever convenient has also been made.

The doctor’s statement before the court is a hallmark of his – and I could not mean this more of anybody else – nobleness.

And then this happens: the Union Minister for Law, Veerappa Moily, chastises the former judges who expressed concerns about the sentence meted out to Binayak Sen. The minister’s argument:

[…]such utterances could influence the judiciary and create “confusion” […] one must “bow down” before the verdict unless it is set aside by a higher court. […] Persons who have held very responsible position in the judiciary, they will have to consider that their statements can tomorrow influence the mind of a judge or a magistrate. He will think that a former judge of a High Court or the Supreme Court or a chief justice is commenting upon this, then should I give a judgement. To that extent, it may influence the independent mind of a judge, which will not be fair. It will not be just[.]

It will not be ‘just’ that people speak out against a judgement that is not only brutal, but also lacking legal merit. At least until a higher court sets aside the verdict. Because these pesky people who point out the umpteen number of ways the judgement is stupid might make a better judge realise exactly how stupid the judgement is. How can that be allowed?

And, just to be sure, this business in jurisprudence of consulting the opinions of former judges on similar cases? It’s called legal precedent. Maybe the minister should look it up.

Oh, and if the higher court happens to cite “the collective conscience of the society” that “will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender”, tough luck, I guess. We wouldn’t want to unjustly and unfairly influence the legal process, would we?

Pictures from NatGeo, Life below the ocean, traffic jams in the brain, and a few other things

Because I have nothing original to write, and am in fact preparing for a test on the morrow, here’s a bunch of stuff from ’round the interwebs that I thought was interesting:

1) A brilliant collection of pictures vying for a prize at National Geographic’s Photography Contest 2010. Look in particular for pictures of a supercell thunderstorm (2), the lightning strike at NY harbour (16) and the silhouette of the child (18).

2) Scientists have found life in the deepest layers of the Earth’s crust (called the gabbroic layer). These microbes live off hydrocarbons, apparently. Because the paper is in PLoS, you can read the entire paper without having to go through a paywall.

3) The bottleneck in the brain, from Carl Zimmer. A fascinating discussion of refractory periods where brain activity slows down. Read in particular about the experiments conducted (this appears on page 2) and how we only start timing our thoughts after the refractory period is over. [Hat Tip: Slashdot]

4) You can now add coffee stains to your LaTeX files, without a mug, or any coffee. Very nice! [Hat Tip: Some forty-something professors.]

And, since no list of links is complete without comics, here are two:

5) Jesus and Mo, talking about how Dawkins is worth more points than Grayling:



6) The Dilbert Strip of Nov 20, 2010:

[End. Fini. Kaputski. Links]

The most expensive house in the world

I read this article about Mukesh Ambani‘s new house, which has been built at a cost of 1 billion USD. The post goes into 4 pages and a bit to say ‘it’s his money, and he can spend it how he wants’. I’ve said in the past that this is in stark contrast to what Bill Gates or Warren Buffet do with their money.

The author makes up straw men about how commenters on TOI’s website have no business complaining about Mukesh  Ambani’s aesthetic taste or his right to spend his own money, and not surprisingly, knocks them out cold. The article says, for example:

This mansion – the subjective question of its aesthetics apart – is not some hidden away villa in some godforsaken part of the world; it’s right there, in front of you – it’s not pretentious austerity at least. […] Mukesh Ambani is not a minister putting all this together from fleeced or ill-gotten funds, to the best of my knowledge.

On the other hand, the author seems to accept on faith the statement that Reliance Industries provides employment to millions (because “A reader commented that Mukesh is not responsible for the poverty of the nation, and Reliance provides employment to millions, so he has absolutely no reason to be apologetic about it. “). Even the most preliminary of checks will tell you that Reliance Industries employs – wait for it – 25,000 people. So perhaps we shouldn’t be taking the best knowledge of the author to be worth anything at all.

The article goes on to say, in response to suggestions that maybe Ambani should be a bit more chartiable:

But do we take lessons from people in our respective income brackets, or do we spend our money as we please, most of the time? If Reliance – or any other company – were to crash tomorrow, would any of us take it as our social responsibility to buy shares above their market price to help Mukesh – or anyone else? When companies go bankrupt, we don’t go around collecting donations for their proprietors. So when they make money, and then spend the money the way they feel – so long as it is legal and legit – why do we get angst-filled? Assuming Mukesh is not interested in going down in history as Bill Gates-II, it’s his choice, entirely.

Let’s get that straight. If Reliance Industries, with its 25,000 employees and 3 million stockholders goes bankrupt tomorrow, it is our social responsibility to buy stock at higher than market price. You know, because that’s what people in our income bracket do.

Oh, wait.

Having thus pontificated about the virtues of the free-market and having resorted to the cliche that we should be going after politicians and not businessmen, the author congratulates himself for not being envious of Mukesh Ambani, and for writing an article that is worth nothing more than some space in a dustbin.

And just so I don’t leave this unsaid: the problem isn’t with money, or with people spending money, even extravagantly; the problem is especially not with Mukesh Ambani personally, or his house – eyesorish or not. The problem is that this country’s economic growth has given some people enough money to build houses that tower over cities, while hundreds of millions of others have to worry about their next meal. That this hideously disproportionate distribution of wealth is considered ‘legit’ is perhaps only a slightly smaller tragedy.

This is to say nothing, of course, of how morally bankrupt it is that corporations plunder forests, hills and rivers in this country with no regard for the people who will be affected, and with the connivance of the elected representatives of the people. Well, I guess as long as we (the top 0.5% of the country that is; the others can eat cake if they don’t have bread) aren’t also monetarily bankrupt…



The test I created is still open. I want enough votes for a statistically significant result. Do take the test!

[End. Fini. Kaputski. Ambani]