On Wednesday, on his last day on the job before retiring, Rajasthan High Court judge MC Sharma decided to give India something to remember him with. Advocating for the cow to be made the national animal, the judge gave this explanation for why the peacock is India’s national bird. “The peacock is a lifelong brahmachari” or celibate, said the judge. “It never has sex with the peahen. The peahen gets pregnant after swallowing the tears of the peacock.”
The resulting memes nearly broke the internet. But experts who have actually spent years studying the mating behaviour of peafowl were slightly shocked. Among them was Jessica Yorzinzki, assistant professor at the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences of Texas A&M University, US. She spoke toScroll.in about her work.
Since I’ve been studying the mating behaviour of peafowl for the past ten years, it is definitely shocking to hear that statement. We all need to get on the same page of what is going on in the mating system of these birds.
There is no scientific validity in the claim that peafowl do not copulate.
There are many scientists that study the mating behaviour of animals. I particularly studied them in the peafowl. I just used it as a model system for understanding more generally how animals select their mates. I studied a captive population of about 40 birds in the United States. Several years ago, I visited Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur, Rajasthan, to study peafowl in the wild.
The reason I starting studying this is to primarily learn about animal behaviour, the decisions they make, what are the factors that influence how they choose their mating partners, how they deal with predators and so on.
Peafowl, in particular, have an unusual mating system. They are called a lekking species, a certain type of mating system where a female has the choice of the type of male she wants to mate with. If the female is not interested in the male, nothing can happen. The males set up display areas where they show off their feathers and the females have complete choice of which males they want to mate with.
This means that, generally speaking, females mate every season, and they mate with one male, multiple males or the same male multiple times. So they’re definitely engaging in a lot of copulatory behaviour.
In one of my studies, by attaching two small eye trackers on the peahen, I tried to find on what the females were looking at in a male while choosing the peacock they wanted to mate with. I found that they were actually directing their gaze towards the bottom portion of their bodies – their legs and the base of their tails, rather than their head or brightly coloured feathers.
The males, however, can have a different story. There are a few successful males that get most of the copulation during a season. But some of the males who are not as attractive to the female may not get much copulation during the season if the females don’t choose them as a mate. The peacock cannot force himself on the peahen. The male, as everyone knows, displays his feathers and tries to persuade the female to mate with him. If she does not want to she will just wander on and check out the next male.
It is important that information is accurately portrayed about a species. We don’t want to perpetuate information that does not fit with the natural history of the animals that we’re talking about.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.