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

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

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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.

pvsindhu_caste_newsminute

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

pvsindhu_1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

pvsindhucaste_2

 

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’.]

pvsindhu_caste_trends

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.

 

The Affirmative Action debate: A summary

I wrote about why I think affirmative action is not only an acceptable, but also a fair, way of ensuring that the underprivileged in this society get an opportunity to make their lives better. There were responses, and replies – some considered, some impulsive. I’ve attempted to summarise the arguments here.

The argument for affirmative action is straightforward to those inclined to think a certain way: some sections of society are consistently underrepresented in education and employment, when there is no reason for them to be. Hence affirmative action.

The recurring arguments against reservation seem to be these (recurring because I’ve heard these from at least three people):

1) The basis for affirmative action should not be caste, because that will only deepen the divide. Reservations should instead be based on financial means – there are a lot of poor people among the ‘upper’ castes, who one might think deserve help. I agree to some extent with this. On the other hand,  I read this in yesterday’s news: It seems a village panchayat in Rajasthan has fined three Dalit men for drinking water from a public tap.

The story has evoked outrage, and condemnations have been issued from high up atop the tree-house. On the ground, though, the Dalit men were roughed up for protesting, the sarpanch is still loose, and the police have only reluctantly registered this as an incident. It is perhaps ironic that this should happen in the same state that saw the Gujjars and the Meenas fighting, one to be called more backward than the other. Or perhaps ironic doesn’t cover the scale of the idiocy or the injustice.

2) Reservations have been in force for six decades. It has either already achieved its goals and is now just fodder for elections and political rallies, or if it hasn’t worked after sixty years of implementation, expecting it to work now is just optimism to a fault. Reservations aren’t the way to bring about lasting social change.

One hopes that better economic status will lead to better social acceptance. If this isn’t going to happen, and if Dalits are going to be treated like crap regardless of financial status, I’d rather they be able to at least earn a living.

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

[End. Fini. Kaputski. Reservations]

I get email – revisiting Affirmative Action

I wrote about affirmative action, and why I think the principle of having reservations for marginalized sections of society is sound. My reasoning was quite simply that there is nothing that’s fundamentally different among people from different castes, that these divisions are entirely artificial, and that therefore, the fact that a certain group of people is consistently under-represented means that they have been marginalized. If this is accepted, the fair thing to do is to support this group of people till they can stand on their own feet.

Amitha, whom I pestered into reading the blog, and who told me she was against reservations, said this by email (I’ve made cosmetic changes to the language to make it more, um, ‘me‘):

“The answer, patently obvious, is that this group of people has faced undue subjugation in the past which has left them unable to compete with the general population that hasn’t faced this sort of discrimination.”

I’ve thought about this and it feels right to have reservations from this point of view.

But also, if a  generation belonging to a scheduled caste has benefited from reservation,  is well educated, and is doing well economically, then that should be a good foundation for the next generation in the same family. The younger generation of this once under-privileged class stands on par with the general populace. Don’t you think reservations should end here for this family since the newer generation obviously hasn’t been disadvantaged?

The following is most of what I said in reply:

2) My point was never that reservations should be blanket-implemented without regard for anything other than caste. Caste just seems to me to be a relatively fair parameter in today’s context (especially so in parts of North India, I must add).

3) Obviously, I’m open to the necessary bounds, limits, restrictions, and qualifications being placed on reservations. ‘Only a few generations of your family will get reservations. After that, you’re on your own.’ seems to me to be a fair argument. (Perhaps one generation isn’t enough).

4) That last point is particularly important in India, because we have a very large number of people

(a) who need help, and,

(b) to do all this on an individual case basis.

5) The best thing to happen in this regard is for the affirmative-action debate to become part of the political  discourse and public debate of the country. That, in fact, holds for pretty much everything – sunshine is the best disinfectant.