voicing dissent

Here is why India's leading scientists are also speaking up against intolerance

Some have returned awards and almost 700 have signed an online statement condemning 'the assault on reason and scientific temper'.

Scientists have now joined filmmakers, sociologists, historians, artists and writers in issuing statements and returning their awards in an effort to draw attention to growing intolerance in the country.

Some of the country’s foremost scientists, including Ashoke Sen, recipient of the world’s most prestigious award for physics, Pushpa Bhargava who founded the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, former director of the Indian Institute of Science P Balaram, former president of the Indian Academy of Science, D Balasubramanian and around 100 others issued a joint statement.

Many are recipients of Padma Bhushans and Padma Shris. On Thursday, Bhargava announced that he would return his Padma Bhushan.

“The scientific community is deeply concerned with the climate of intolerance, and the ways in which science and reason are being eroded in the country,” the statement said. “It is the same climate of intolerance, and rejection of reason that has led to the lynching in Dadri of Mohammad Akhlaq Saifi and the assassinations of Prof Kalburgi, Dr Narendra Dabholkar and Shri Govind Pansare.”

While around 100 scientists had signed the statement at the time of its release, they have now uploaded the document as an online petition. At the time of publication, in less than two days, 631 of a targeted 1,000 people had signed the statement.

“Scientists have not been known to articulate opinons in public,” said Amit Sengupta, a signatory of the statement and national convenor of the People’s Health Movement. “We have of course private opinions, but it shows the extent of concern that people who do not normally respond to socio-political issues are speaking up.”

The statement of normally reticent scientists lends weight to hundreds of writers, artists, historians and academicians, who many had accused of having ulterior political agendas when they began to return their awards.

“The writers have shown the way with their protests,” the scientists’ statement said. “We scientists now join our voices to theirs, to assert that the Indian people will not accept such attacks on reason, science and our plural culture. We reject the destructive narrow view of India that seeks to dictate what people will wear, think, eat and who they will love.”

Why they protest

Scientists had many reasons for speaking up, but foremost was a perceived deterioration in reason and debate.

“Discussions being mocked now passes as acceptable social behaviour,” said Vineeta Bal, a scientist at the National Institute of Immunology. “People are getting away with saying that this is what they want and that there can be no argument. Many scientists may not have political opinions or support parties, but when academic rigour is infringed, they will take a stand.”

Scientists, Bal pointed out, were also in a way more dependent on government funding than artists and writers, which might also make their protest have a different meaning to the government.

“Natural scientists have more direct contact with the government because of funding,” she said. “It is not a better or worse thing, just different. To encourage rationality, it is important to have the freedom we are talking about.”

Even so, scientists are unlikely to take the streets, Sengupta said.

“If you look at the community of scientists, the overall majority might not be concerned enough to speak,” he cautioned. “But it is a trend that some of the best minds in the country are speaking out.”

T Jayaraman, a retired physicist now teaching at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, added, “We have no illusion that we are a decisive voice, but we had to stand up and be counted. We could have spoken up for [Narendra] Dabholkar, but there is a tipping point and this was it.”

Jayaraman acknowledged that such statements might be easier for established scientists to endorse, as opposed to younger scientists working as temporary faculty or in institutions directly under the government.

Hundreds of voices

The flurry of award returns and statements of dissent began a month ago, when Hindi writer Uday Prakash returned his Sahitya Akademi award to protest the organisation’s silence about the killing of writer MM Kalburgi. A day later, writer Nayantara Sahgal returned her award and then former Lalit Kala Akademi chairman Ashok Vajpeyi.

Soon, more than 300 writers had returned awards or voiced their dissent with the atmosphere in the country, so much so that for a week in October, not a day went without another writer publicly voicing their condemnation of the murders of Kalburgi, Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar.

So many statements have been made in the last month and half that it is beginning to be difficult to keep track of them all.

In Bengal, 163 intellectuals wrote a joint letter to the President on October 14, to highlight their concern about growing intolerance in the country.

On October 17, 73 sociologists issued a statement condemning the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri.

Two days after that, on October 19, theatre actor Danish Hussain, also known for his roles in Ankhon Dekhi and Dhobi Ghat, returned his Sangeet Natak Akademi award.

When Gulzar spoke on television on October 25 about growing intolerance, he was duly attacked on social media. The musician had said that he, “Never thought that a situation like this would come where a person's religion is asked before his name. It was never like this.” Several on social media thought that he was a Muslim and began to target him accordingly, until they realised he was a Hindu after all.

On October 27, 300 artists signed a statement condemning social violence against ordinary citizens in places such as Udhampur, Dadri and Faridabad.

A day later on October 28, as FTII students returned to classes keeping a strike running for 139 days, 12 filmmakers returned their National Awards.

The scientists’ statement ended, “We appeal to all other sections of society to raise their voice against the assault on reason and scientific temper we are witnessing in India today.”

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.

Play

In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.

Play

Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.

Play

The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.

Play

The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

If financial drama is your thing, then block your weekend for Billions. You can catch it on Hotstar Premium, a platform that offers a wide collection of popular and Emmy-winning shows such as Game of Thrones, Modern Family and This Is Us, in addition to live sports coverage, and movies. To subscribe, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.