Friday, October 20, 2017

Random Thoughts : Ayurveda, Cancer and Keralites

From Pharyngula:

According to a study published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, traditional components of herbal remedies used throughout Asia are widely implicated in liver cancers there. In Taiwan, for instance, 78 percent of 98 liver tumors sampled displayed a pattern of mutations consistent with exposure to herbs containing aristolochic acids (AAs). These are carcinogenic components found in a variety of centuries-old herbal remedies said to treat everything from snakebites to gout, asthma, and pain.

Because of their toxicity, some (but not all) of the herbs and plants known to contain AAs have been banned in Taiwan and other places. These flora tend to come from the genera Aristolochia (e.g., birthwort, pipevine) and Asarum (wild gingers). The Food and Drug Administration has also issued several warnings and advisories over AA-containing remedies.
 There is already an old study similar to this which includes India too.
Herbal medicines are causing millions in India to develop kidney failure and bladder cancer.

So we have couple of studies consistently showing the relationship between cancer and herbal medicines. My understanding is that the incidences of cancer are on the rise among Keralites. And Keralites probably are one  of the biggest consumers of Ayurvedic medicine in India. There should be a proper study on this and we need to bring Ayurvedic medicines under proper scientific scrutiny. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Lessons from Hillary's defeat - II

From Harvey Weinstein's episode, I would think many women didn't vote for Hillary as she didn't take a stance on Bill Clinton's sexual indiscretions which he could carry out because of his power and gender. For many women she was just a symbol and not a saviour against patriarchy. In developed countries like the USA women already have freedom to do almost all things. It's not the religious, cultural or legal diktats but the sexual harassment and sexism are something that still push them back. I believe many women didn't think Hillary could be of any help in this regard. In Bill Clinton's affairs with younger women who were under his power, she might have come across as someone who would maintain the status quo for other benefits. For them the glass ceiling wasn't the presidency but the last of remaining patriarchy in the form of sexism and sexual harassment.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Rise of Patriarchal Society - notes

I was reading this blog post at Pharyngula, then the following research by Mark van Vugt caught my eye.

They also suggest that this imbalance might have evolutionary roots and point to an idea called the male-warrior hypothesis, which states that men have evolved to form strong bonds with other males in their group because in the past this enabled them to defend territory from hostile attackers.
“Men are more ready to cooperate with genetic-stranger males to form these fighting coalitions,” says Mark van Vugt, an evolutionary psychologist at the Free University of Amsterdam who first suggested the theory in 2007.
 I had proposed  in a blog post in 2006 that men bonded at community level and women didn't in our hunter-gatherer past, which was one of the reasons for the rise of patriarchy.
Men -> community; woman -> family

Well, that's what I think. The men formed community and a woman formed a family. During our hunter-gatherer past men bonded but women missed(Are all women individualistic?).
But I'm not making any is-ought fallacy here. I'm not saying women are incapable of bonding but only that it didn't happen in our past and that's one of the reasons for the rise of patriarchy.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Gorakhanatha - a blast from the past

After I wrote “Tragedy of Mangale”, coincidentally, a person connected to the Natha cult is now in this region. The Gorakhnath Math is supposedly named after Gorakhanatha, the disciple of Machchendranatha, who spread the Natha cult in coastal region. Though as an independent movement it isn’t visible (I’ve heard there are few families part of this cult live in Tulu region), it’s supposed to have influenced Hinduism in this region(Malabar + Tulu). But what also fascinated me was how many religions and cults influenced this region in the past.

Like most of the regions in India or South India in particular, the dominant native cultural and religious trait of this region was spirit worship and fertility cults. But the literate superstitions of Hinduism, Jainism, Islam and Christianity soon dominated the illiterate superstitions of the Dravidian tribes subsequently also giving them different identities.

The most dominant religion, Hinduism, assimilated and made the spirits subordinate to their superior gods. The fertility goddesses were sometimes identified with the superior goddesses and at the same time were used to spread the patriarchal propaganda of ‘finding good husbands’. The core of Hinduism was imposition of the caste system, so it never had to confront the faceless cults of the local tribes.

Islam, which is the second biggest religion, didn’t really assimilate the local worship but turned blind eye to the spirit worship practices of the converts. Probably, the rise of fundamentalist Islam has moved the Muslims away from these traditions nowadays but in earlier times many of them used to be active participants. 

Jainism basically accommodated the spirit worship. It’s said that the “atheist” Jinaism had no issue with the worship of Yaksha-s and Yakshini-s (basically spirit worship). I don’t have much idea about this. 

The Dravidian Christianity is a very recent phenomenon in Tulu and northern Malabar region, so, I do not know much about them. But generally, Christianity frowned upon illiterate superstitions of the “pagans” and preferred their own literate superstitions.

Basically, two north Indian and two west Asian religions determine the religious identity of the people of this region. I wonder if that’s always the case with the spirit worshipping regions around the world.

I’ve read mostly about other Asian countries. It appears spirit worship in Mongolia, China and Japan lived along with Buddhism. However, in China the spirit worship tradition could become a literate superstition in the form of Taoism. Basically, Taoism includes the illiterate traditions along with philosophies. It looks like Chinese became literate and developed a philosophical tradition without any outside influence and that is reflected in their religious tradition too. 

Considering all four religions didn’t have to use force (though the caste system was imposition but the tribal chieftains/kings had typically invited the Brahmins), I wonder if there had been a literate tradition of the spirit worship whether there would have been a population with an independent identity like Taoists. Also, in spirit worship the priest/ess isn’t special or his/her position isn’t exalted. He/She’s just a medium for the spirit to communicate. This is unlike the position of the priests in literate religions. As literate followers, I wonder, how this idea of a commoner priest would have affected society in general.

Anyway, now north India’s literacy advantage is no longer there. So, any kind of overawe that the Dravidian tribes of the yesteryears felt is no longer the case. In fact, in literacy rate, the spirit worshipping and fertility cult regions of Tuluvas and Malayalis fare far better than the North. However, there are many ways to influence people. I wonder Adityanath’s chances in leaving a lasting impression here like the legendary Machchendra and Gorakha even though for entirely different reasons.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Tragedy of Mangale

As with most of the Hindu festivals, the celebration of Navaratri and Vijayadashami varies from place to place. While this is not a surprising feature as each region had their own unique traditions and ethos which were subsumed in the caste system, the interesting part is how the stories/myths are interpreted at later time. Today is supposedly Mangala Devi’s day (the city of Mangaluru was named after this goddess).

The legend of Mangale (or Pingale) that I know is as follows. Mangale was a queen of some Malayali kingdom in Malabar(northern Kerala). The kingdom was described as ‘Pramila Rajya’ (ruled exclusively by women). She fell in love with a disciple of Machchendranatha, exponent of the Natha cult. As these were ascetics, she renounced her kingdom, followed them to Tulu region as a common woman. In due time, she gave birth to two children. One day, when Machchendranatha was doing penance, he was disturbed by the loud noise of the children playing. He asked his disciple to calm them down so he could concentrate. The disciple felt that the children were a nuisance to his guru and so he murdered them by smashing their heads against a boulder. Mangale, when she came to know the death of her children, was broken-hearted and died. She was deified by the local people.

The story of Mangale was basically a tragedy. By present day standards, one could fault her for falling for a patriarchal man even though she was from a matrilineal/matriarchal group. But it all depends on between sacrifice for love or sacrifice for identity, which, one views as a nobler cause. The deification of such tragedy figures was generally a defining feature of underprivileged castes who recognized tragedy more than they could recognize triumph. Generally, the popularity of such local divine figures ensured their entry into the caste Hinduism. But as usual even this also got reinterpreted according to Brahmanical ethos.

You can read the Brahmanical version here. Apart from the mandatory Parashurama entry, one can observe that there is hardly anything about the deity itself. Then there is a patriarchal bit about finding 'good husbands'. When I read about the description of this goddess in a forwarded message recently, I felt the write up was commissioned by Jewelry shop owners.  It describes how resplendent she is with all the decorations, wearing a crown, full jewelry and a pink sari in those ten days of the festival. Mangale, in the above legend where she did have a back story, had renounced everything to be with her love.

The Natha cult, I suppose, wasn't part of the Vedic tradition. So the story I heard would be most likely the version they created. The bare bones story could be an unknown woman losing her children violently and dying in sorrow. Such tragic figures are deified in the local traditions. I wonder whether the purity of their pain makes them special. But this is not the story the descendants of those local people of bygone era would like to know.

I suppose Max Weber, pioneer in Sociology, observed that the descendants of the privileged people view the past with nostalgia whereas descendants of the oppressed people look to the future with sehnsucht. But when I read the forwards sent by the underprivileged castes, brainwashed by Hindutva, I don’t see sehnsucht but the nostalgia of the privileged castes. The tragedy of Mangale continues.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Foraging behavior of man

If you are a man, you will mostly have a corner in your cupboard (or elsewhere at home) where you store things that are generally termed as junk. It can be packing material, wood shavings, screws, old pens, old locks whose keys are misplaced or keys whose locks are missing for years etc. etc. which are better thrown away.  When something needs to be fixed at home, you go to this corner and try to find something that fits the bill. Recently I broke a tap and had to close the hole using a polythene cover and an old pen till the plumber came and fixed it. Once the tap was replaced, the old pen went back to it's old place.

I think what I am displaying by collecting all junk is a vestige of the foraging behavior of our ancestors. Cavemen, when foraging for food, would also pick stones that they plan to chisel into a knife like tool or a piece of wood that can make a good spear. When things were difficult to find, storing things made sense. Today, when everything can be easily bought off the shelf, I think it's just a habit that's coded in the genes. (I'm sure women don't do this, they have gotten over this.)

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Idea of a Nation - vi

I wonder whether hardening of anti-immigrant sentiments in the developed countries portend similar social curve in India too. Or are the social dynamics entirely different so that India would be insulated from it? What are the social dynamics in India now anyway?

In many states of India, the proportionate of the population looking for non agricultural jobs has grown substantially in recent times because of improving literacy. However, as the country makes a transition from socialist economy to Keynesian(?) economy the government job opportunities have come down substantially.

Because of huge population, the effective population that applies for jobs is also huge. The poorer states have bigger population than relatively prosperous states. So, the effective competent population from poorer states that fight for jobs is always going to be higher. Unfortunately, such dynamics exist in case of the castes too.

Comparing with the situation in developed countries, one could observe that some of the states in southern India, without reaching the level of prosperity or the quality of life of the European countries, show common factors like low birthrate and immigration. If you compare with Britain, where the immigrants would anyway adopt English, the dominant and privileged position of Hindi in India would hinder the assimilation of the immigrants with the local population (along with the caste system, which though divides the local population itself).

With this background, I wonder whether anti-immigrant voices would become dominant in the states that have job opportunities but aren't developed as much as some of the European countries.

In Europe, the anti-immigrant feeling goes hand in hand with right-wing mentality. However, that's not so in case of southern India. In fact, regional identity is anathema to Hindutva right-wing scheme of things. Nevertheless, the anti-immigrant feeling would be identified with linguistic right-wing thought.

There lies the tragedy. The population that would feel insecure would be overwhelmingly from OBCs and Dalits in any state. In fact, they would even fear the immigration from any other states, north or south divisions notwithstanding. So a set of population, which took generations to come to the mainstream, now finds itself in the kind of competition which the privileged castes never faced when they moved to civilized and scientific world with the advent of modern education in India. Thus while the privileged castes have the means to overcome the competition with that cultural capital, the OBCs and Dalits might struggle thus continuing their overall situation.

I wonder whether one of the solutions to this could be creating an Indian Union with autonomous states. True, the European Union gave rise to anti-immigrant feeling in Britain. However, this is still a good solution in Indian context, if you consider the fact that autonomous states will have a bigger government also providing more representations to the locals in various fields. Thus an autonomous state could act as an employer to a greater number of local people.

This will also ensure that we'll have a single currency, market and open borders. In case of India, a single military too.

An Indian Union will curb  or at least delay the development of linguistic right-wing thought in our society.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Random Thoughts - Education System

Many of us have to make up our mind about the field we are going to chose for the rest of our lives after 10 years of schooling. I believe some (if not  most) of us are confused or lack the passion for any particular field at that age. Nevertheless, we are forced to focus on certain fields even though it may include few topics which are there for students to choose more than one field. Also, once you complete two years of PUC (+2), you choose a field based on your marks. This sort of creates an academic class system.

Instead we need to have a 'Chaos University' where every subject under the sun are taught. So, you have engineering topics sharing space with law and history, pure sciences with arts and vocational courses and so on. Students are allowed to take credit courses in any random order until the day they decide whether they want to become a linguist, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer or doctor. Maybe, mastering one or two (depending on number of  years of their stay) vocational courses might be made obligatory. A student can stay a maximum of 10 years in the university. Basically, I'm trying to realize MOOC in real world.

I think one can join the university immediately after their 10th. I don't see why there should be additional two years in this system.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Random Thoughts - Scientific temperament

The following experiments could be a total waste for any practical purposes but to improve the scientific temperament in our country are totally necessary.

1. Getting a job with or without praying 
 - Praying group along with preparing and appearing for the job interviews went to religious places regularly and made vows if they landed one
 - Control group only prepared and appeared for the job interviews

2. Having a child with or without praying
 - Praying group along with trying different fertility measures went to religious places regularly and made vows if they had one
 - Control group only tried different fertility measures

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Usefulness of Genetic Horoscope - IV_a

According to my SNP based traits, I'm a morning person. However, in my opinion, I'm neither. Now, another research says, morning persons are more likely to see 'the dress' as white and gold. Well,  I indeed saw it as white and gold. Time to change my life routine completely then.