Monday, 10 April 2017

Don't ban bachelors from housing societies

This is a sign board outside innumerable housing societies in India. Foreigners are not that frequently mentioned but bachelors usually get this board shoved in their face every time they look to legally find a house to rent.

I have personally experienced this. I had moved to Mumbai (like thousands of people who do everyday) and I started searching for a house. I am not married. I have a regular job which allows me to find a half decent house. Its Mumbai so buying a house is out of question for more than 80% of the population of the city. Renting is the only way we can find a place to stay.

Unfortunately and slightly funnily, my estate broker told me in the first fifteen minutes of meeting him that it would be easier for me to find a nice girl, marry her and then find a house than to try and find a house as a bachelor. He laughed. I did not.

Bachelors face similar situations in a lot of cities. Here are some thoughts on that:

1. Legally speaking, anyone who owns a house can rent out the house to literally anyone he/she wants to. There is nothing that any one can do. As long as the house owner follows the rules of the society, pays taxes and maintenance and fulfills all such duties as a resident, there is absolutely nothing that other members of the society can do. The owner of the house is a private individual and the property he owns is his private property, it means that he is free to do whatever he wants to with it. Society's 'rules' or 'model code of conduct' doesn't prevent any home owner from renting out their apartment to anyone they choose. As long as there is no central or state law which explicitly bars individuals, the individual is free to make his/her own decision.

[House Owners can legally challenge society's ban on students]

2. Housing societies can make 'rules' to govern themselves. These rules apply as long as all members of the society want to follow them. They are not legally binding. Any member of the society can at any point of time, refuse to follow these rules. On the other hand, if all of them agree, they can make whatever rules that they think would help them. Given that its private property, no one can stop them from doing that as well.

3. Such anti-bachelor rules discourage young people from moving away from their home towns and living away from family even to explore better opportunities. It paints all bachelors everywhere with the same color and questions their character without any proof or justification. It is a classic case of generalization. Given the number of youngsters the country has right now, this concerns way too many people.

4. Parents whose children have lived in a different city know that pain of finding a nice home in a new city. They empathize with bachelors when their son/daughter becomes one of them. Unfortunately, its sometimes too little too late. Also, these numbers are too small to make any significant impact.

5. It might be true that families are 'safer' bets than bachelors in terms of maintaining the peace of the society and ensuring that nothing 'illegal' doesn't happen in the society. We have to remember that it is the decision of the home owner and not of the society members to take these bets into consideration.

6. It is true that there have been multiple instances of bachelors creating ruckus and also sometimes doing illegal things in rented premises. The response to that should be to hold these bachelors accountable and take them to the police if need be but the response should not be to put a universal ban on bachelors. It is like banning all men from the society because one man somewhere did something wrong. it is like banning all shops because you got cheated by one shop owner.

7. When you ban all bachelors, you are in a way discriminating against people who have chosen to not get married in their lives. The tenant can be 21 years old or 45 years old. If they don't want to, they have the choice whether they want to marry someone or not. It should not come in the way of them getting a place to stay especially when the owner of that house has no problem with it. Also, what about students who shift to another city to study? What if they are boys and are below the age of 21 and hence cannot get married? Should they be forced to live on the streets because the law doesn't let them marry and housing societies don't let them live?

8. There is also an economic aspect to consider, rent income is the support system of so many people in the country. It provides a steady source of income to individuals with little to no work to be done. When property prices are stabilized or are rising, buying property and renting it is a really wise decision. It makes property a lucrative investment location. If rent incomes start falling, its lucrativeness will reduce. People will start to find better investment avenues which will further quicken the fall.

There are ways around it. Police verification of all tenants before a legal rent agreement is signed. It ensures that the bet placed on the tenant become a little more safer and gives genuine tenants a chance to find a nice house to live in.

Don't let your housing society bully you into discriminating when you don't want to. Don't let your housing society make decisions about your private property.

If you are housing society member who has genuine concerns about some tenants, talk to the owner. Take decisions on a case by case basis and not blanket decisions. It is in everyone's interest.

P.S. - If I ever own a house, I will give it out only to bachelor tenants. Just to even the odds a little bit. But that's just me.

P.P.S. - I love how housing societies write 'Visitors parking outside' like they own 'outside'. Maybe this is a post for another time.

Monday, 20 March 2017

The Stigma attached to Mental Health

We do so much to keep ourselves physically healthy. We exercise, we eat the right kind of things, and we eat the right amount. Still, we do become sick from time to time. What do we do in this situation?

We either self medicate (not a good idea) or we go to a doctor. He/she asks gives us medicines and asks us to do or not do a few things and before we know it, we are fit again. On most occasions, its is simple. 

Adult usually go to the doctor all by themselves in case they are not extremely sick. We know its important to do so. Sometimes, our family and friends advice us to go to a doctor. In extreme cases, they take us to the doctor. 

We do all of this for our physical well-being. 

What about our mental well being? 

How many times have you heard someone share that they are going to a doctor? Now compare it to the number of times someone has shared that they are going to a psychiatrist? 

For most of us, the answer to the second question would be in single digits or even zero. Why is that the case? 

According to me, there are four reasons for it:

1. No one things mental health is something that needs to be treated - A lot of times, depression or anxiety is something that is disregarded as being sad or just disturbed. When people tell others that they are feeling depressed or are feeling anxious without any reason, they are often given answers like "do something that you like", "go travel a little", "take a break". These might come from a good place but are not really solutions to a mental health problem. 

2. Social stigma attached to mental health issues - Tell someone you have a physical ailment and you get sympathy and sometimes empathy. Tell someone you have a mental ailment and usually you get contempt or misguided sympathy. Admiting that you have a mental ailment gets you branded as 'damaged'. It is as if there is no cure. Mental ailments are not seen as disease which have a cure. They are seen as defects. This results in people hiding their mental ailments which in turn makes them worse or struggle even more to recover from mental ailments given the additional societal pressure.  

3. Lack of awareness about mental health issues - Sometimes, people aren't even able to recognize that they have a mental illness. When it not identified, it is definitely not going to be treated. It results in the situation getting worse. Unfortunately, awareness about them is really low and there are very few opportunities where they can be identified and worked on. 

4. Lack of professionals in the field - Finding a psychiatrist is not easy. The number of psychiatrists in any place will be much lower than the number of physicians and this in a country where we already have very few physicians doctors. Thankfully this part is changing in India with a lot of professionals coming into the field in the recent years. Peer recommendation has increase both the trustworthiness and availability of psychiatrists. 

Mental health is as important if not more important as physical health. It affects our work, our minds and our way of life as much as physical health. It does a lot of damage in the short term and the long term. Couple if with the issues mentioned above and you have yourselves a potential epidemic which if it happens will not be talked about openly. 

What are some of the things we can do until the time that someone does something?

1. If we come to know of people who are facing mental health issues, encourage them and support them to go seek professional help. Provide every kind of support that person needs. 

2. Create safe spaces to give people the opportunity to discuss mental health issues. 

3. Talk about mental health issues openly from time to time so that more people are aware of what they are and what to look out for. It will probably help people identify the illness. It might also inadvertently encourage someone to either open up about it or seek professional help. 

I am sure there might be a lot of things that we can do. A lot has happened over the last few years and I am sure that a lot will happen over the coming years as well. I just keep thinking about the people who suffer in these situations just because society's understanding of their situation has not evolved. I know it is not easy but it is really really important. 

I think the aim should be make going to a psychiatrist as okay as it is to go to a physician. 

P.S. - I am not a mental health professional. If you have a curated list of psychiatrists then do share it in the comments. I have never been to a psychiatrist. I have known and know people who have faced above mentioned situations and other situations like these. I know how much it can take out of a person and how deeply it can affect everything that person does. I sometimes feel frustrated that I don't know anything that I can do. 

P.P.S. - If there are any factual inaccuracies in the above post, please do let me know. I have written the above post from limited experiences I have had or have read about. I am reading more about it and my knowledge and understanding on the above subject will keep changing. 

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Engage! Engage! Engage!

Bhakt. Aaptard. Congi. Anti-national. Fascist.

If you have been online and have expressed an opinion on anything at all in the past two three years, you would have definitely been called one of these. This is what makes up majority of the vocabulary of online 'discussions'.

The level of debate and discussion in the online world has dropped so much that I am more likely to hear nuanced points from Grade 2 students than from a Facebook or Twitter exchange between adults with different ideologies.

Facebook has become a collection of photos of my friends getting married or sharing articles which either attack or support a government or an issue. While I really appreciate the engagement with important topics. I detest the way that engagement happens. I have either seen people take sides and have extreme opinions or I have seen insignificant things being blown out of proportion followed by random name calling. The number of people I have seen being convinced about an opposing view because of a discussion with someone online is almost next to zero. I agree that the online world is not the most convenient to express views let alone convince someone. I believe we do a really poor job of even trying to be civil in our conversations.

Given below is the photo I saw a few days ago. It truly represents what I believe is the actual political spectrum.

Unfortunately, the online world is giving mics to the right most and the left most individuals on the spectrum. As the photo points out, they do not true representatives of their sides. They form a really small part of the group that believes in the left or the right wing ideology.

I keep writing online world because that's probably the only one that cares so much. In a country like India, where a very small percentage of people have internet and an even smaller percentage actually participates in these discussions online, opinion of online radical groups should ideally have no credibility at all.

Unfortunately, in a click bait and breaking news obsessed world, we have news houses peddling views by these people who have extreme ideologies. It brings them advertisement revenue because everyone seems to love an outrage. The crazier the article and its headline, the more shares it gets. It is pure business for them. It doesn't seem to matter to them that they are radicalizing the undecided crowd and pushing them to the extremes.

Once you have chosen a side, it seems like it is illegal to even listen to the other side's argument. You have to disagree and you have to tell them that you are right and they are wrong. This just promotes echo chambers where because of our online activities, the algorithms show us what we agree with which in turn reinforces it. Hello Confirmation Bias!

[Listen to this debate if you want to understand what role algorithms play in narrowing our world view.]

Confirmation bias is one of the most common traps to fall into. Your opinion of this post might also be affected by confirmation bias you have against or for me. Confirmation bias makes us jump to conclusions without needed any facts/evidence to support that conclusion. Scientists call it jumping 'Ladder of Inference'. 

Our current generation is also prone to over simplifying difficult things to make it 'easy'. Well, some things are complex for a reason. Sometimes when someone over simplifies something, it loses its value. It also leaves it open to misinterpretation. Embrace complexity.

Here is a fallacy which we have seen in action multiple times on social media

This is basically how lawyer students make fun of people online. It is also how 'outrage' is generated. I wonder if we have a recent example of where this was used. Oh wait. Gurmehar Kaur.

I am not on either side of this debate but I know that the above photo and the nine words in it were not her entire argument. It was a lot more than that. Unfortunately for her, these are the nine words that everyone has read the most and well, you already know how that ended.

The point I am trying to make it, there are always going to be people who will believe in different things. It has been the case in the past and it will be the case in the future. If we disregard other people's opinions, we stop ourselves from evolving. It will also completely diminish your chances of trying to convince that other person because if you are not going to listen to them, they are not going to listen to you.

So we end up with people with radical views and no one wanting to engage in a conversation. No one is forcing you to change your opinion but if you don't know the other side's argument, how are you making an informed choice?

I am not saying we should engage with every nameless egg dp-ed twitter account which only abuses but there are genuine people out there who can discuss things in a more civil manner. We must not assume that just because some random guy on the internet is not conversing that all people who believe in something different are not open to conversation.

It also starts with us. We have to be open to new ideas to meet people who are open to new ideas. If you are open minded, you have to be open minded enough to realize that not all people will be as open minded as you right from the start.

People behave the way they do because of experiences and the more deep rooted the beliefs become, the more difficult it becomes for the person to evolve. New experiences is what pushes our beliefs. If we resist them, we are slaves to our preconceived beliefs.

Engage with that person who supports a different political party than you do.

Engage with that person who believes in a different religion.

Engage with that person who think someone you consider a hero is a hack.

Engage with that person who believes in a different economic system.

Engage with that person who believes we must do things differently than the way you believe.

Engage. Engage. Engage.

It is the only way both sides will learn and understand better. It is the only way the 'right' path can be found. It is the only way to live in a civilized society.

Ask questions with genuine intention of wanting to know/understand more and not to patronize or troll or demean.

There are more than seven billion experiences available for you. Why limit yourself to just one?

Make the world a safer space to share ideas and opinions. You never know which one might be that changes our lives forever.

I wrote this as a long rant. I will keep editing it as and when I understand this better myself. Please do suggest any changes that you think might make this better.

Thank you

Saturday, 28 January 2017

The importance of being a follower

We always respect leaders. They are talked about and looked up to by people. Everyone aspires to be a leader. It is very natural. The flamboyance, the charm and the clout of a leader are thing which makes it a very desirable position.

But what we are forgetting is the chief ingredient that makes a leader effective. The followers. The people who make the leader, a leader. The people who give their support. The people who come together and give the leaders the power.

People always ask about our 'leadership skills'. Taking initiative is considered to be the most important thing. C.V.'s will have a specific place where we have to enlist areas in which we have shown our 'leadership skill'. I am not saying trying to be a leader it bad. Not at all. The world needs leaders. All I am saying is just like the world needs leaders, a leader needs followers.

The credit given for being a good follower is almost nothing. People think that following a leader is easy. It's not. It requires sacrifices. Although a follower follows someone because he believes that his and the leader's view match to a greater extent, sometimes when the views of the follower are not in sync with the leader's then the follower is the one who has to let go. Leader might decide the plan of action but its the followers who actually implement it.

Twitter teaches us that we all begin by following someone. It does not necessarily mean we agree to all that leader says but it means that we like the person and respect his views. Side by side, we also post our own views. People who like them follow us.

In a group discussion, people always think that the person who leads the discussion is the best. But what people generally fail to see is the opinion which a person chooses to support. The views you support show more about your character than the view you hold. Because just like a leader is judged by the type of followers he has, a follower is judged by the type of people he follows.

So the next time you seen a group of people working efficiently and one of the members taking the lead, spare a thought for the member who chugs along, unnoticed. :)

P.S. - This in no way means followers are better than leaders. They are both dependent on each other and equally important.

P.P.S. - If you want to know how movements start and what the role of a follower and a leader are, watch this short TED talk

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

The Curious Case of the Khopcha!

It is not unusual to find young couples in India hiding in corners of roads which even Robert Frost would avoid. They are not looking for an adventure. They are only looking to do 'adventurous' things without spoiling their image in the society!

What adventurous activities you ask?

Well, they try to 'cover all the bases'. IYKWIM.

Now my question is, why do people go to such secluded areas for all these 'adventurous' activities?

Its true what they say "In foreign countries, you can kiss in public but cannot urinate in public but in India, you can urinate in public but cannot kiss."

Society 'judges' you whenever they see a guy and a girl sitting alone and chatting. These kind of societal restriction are bound to frustrate youngsters who are bubbling with hormones and still don't understand the 'logic' behind society's arguments.

This has given rise to the growth of Khopchas.

What is a Khopcha?

Like everything offbeat, I decided to check the meaning of this word on Urban Dictionary. Khopchas are used to describe an isolate place/ seclusion especially to conduct nefarious activities.

Nefarious activities? Hmm. Ofcourse something like holding hands and chatting should not come under nefarious activities. But unfortunately, it does. Such crazy restrictions on display of affection by our society is the reason for a lot of our problems.

Imagine this: A girl cannot be seen sitting alone with a guy in a public place because of societal restructions, she agrees to meet him at a secluded location or perhaps at the guy's home when no one is around. It is a date. All good, right? Nope. We are assuming an ideal situation. Imagine something outward starts to happen on the date. The girl has no where to go because she chose to meet at a place where not many people will be able to see her. She compromised her safety on her own.

In an ideal situation, two people could meet anywhere they want to. Public or private. This would give both the girl and the guy enough freedom to plan their safety without sacrificing on their romantic ambitions. They could decide the level of interaction and intimacy on their own.

This would make Khopchas irrelevant. Hence increasing the overall safety of all the citizens.

Lets not be two faced. Lets hold on to our values even when no one is watching. Lets not force people into Khopchas for activities which are not nefarious.

Once we eliminate the need of a Khopcha, we will reduce the frustration that has crept into youngsters, be able better understand what the situation is and help them make an informed decision about what is right and what is wrong and thus start building a more mature society.

Lets start.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Misinterpreting the Robin Hood Concept

When we were kids, we were all told the story of Robin Hood. He was portrayed as the saviour of the poor. The stole from the rich and gave it to the poor. The rich used to be afraid of him and tried to protect their gold from him but could not. He was a hero.

Well, he IS a hero. I agree.

"Its not stealing if you steal a little from the people who have a lot and give it all away to the people who don't have much." - A friend.

Well, there is one major element in the above concept that people always tend to forget. The rich people that Robin Hood used to steal from had acquired their wealth through illegal means. They had exploited the poor and filled their coffers. Robin Hood just helped the poor people get money which belonged to them in the first place.

So, essentially Robin Hood did not actually redistribute wealth. He just saw to it that the rightful owner got it.

So, Robin Hood cannot be used as a defense when you want steal money from the rich and give it to the poor when the rich guy has actually earned it legally.

We might say that stealing money from a thief is justified but just because a person has a lot of money doesn't make him a thief. Nor does it create an obligation on him to share the money with people who don't have it. He earned it. It's his right. He can burn it all up for all we care. No Robin Hood can take it away from him and claim to do the society a favour.

If there is a politician in your country who has hoarded a lot of illegal wealth and stashed them at a Swiss Bank Account and if you somehow manage to steal it, then you can feel like Robin Hood.

But if you steal from say a Tata or a Birla, who have slogged their way to success and then try to act like Robin Hood then you are just another petty thug in tights.

So, the next time you tell kids the Robin Hood story, explain the 'people who got rich through illegal means' part carefully. :)