Thursday, September 03, 2015

Karnataka agrarian crisis: What ails the farmers?

By Nithin Sridhar

(An EDITED version article has been published in NEWSGRAM in two parts: Part 1, Part 2)

Karnataka is facing a large scale suicides of farmers on one hand and the issue of drought on the other. The issue was addressed by Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah during his Independence Day speech on 15-August. He had said that, 39 farmers had died between April and June and around 182 farmer deaths happened in July, taking the total number of farmer suicides to 221.

Is there an understatement of the number of farmers who died?

A Frontline report puts the total number of farmers committing suicide at around 284, with 245 of them dying between 1-July and 10-August, which is higher than what Chief Minister had quoted. But, even these figures may have been seriously underestimated. For example, a Mint report quotes that in 2014, the state government recorded only 48 cases of farmers death whereas the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reported around 321 cases of farmers’ death and 447 cases of farm labors’ death.

Therefore, the real numbers of farmers who committed suicide may be much larger than what is officially stated. A few reasons for this mismatch could be, the government’s attempts to prevent any unsavory effect that a higher number could have on already distressed farmers. This can be seen in sudden rise in number of farmers committing suicides for during the month of July.

A more compelling reason could be the state government’s attempts to minimize the number of people be compensated. The Mint report shows how, the state government approved compensation for only 76 cases out of 197 cases of farmers’ suicide till 29-July. Further, the rules for granting compensation are such that, only the families of very few farmers who killed themselves are benefited. For example, if a women in a farmer’s family commits suicide, she may not get compensation, even though she may have indulged in farming. The only occasion when her family can get a compensation is when the land being tilled is in her name. Similarly, if a victim had done farming on a leased land, he could only get compensation, if he has all the proper documents, which many farmers don’t have. There is also a wide spread practice of oral tenancy which is not recognized by government and hence don’t give compensation in such cases.

Yet another reason could be to minimize the political damage that it may do to the political party. The Karnataka is being ruled by Congress party which came to power in 2013. It was out of power after it lost in 2006. During the Congress rule under S.M.Krishna between 1999 and 2004, at least 9200 farmers had committed suicide. This has not only become a huge embarrassment to the Congress then, but was also one of the factors due to which S.M.Krishna had to resign. Therefore, the concern for political implications may have driven an understatement of number of farmer suicides.

Irrespective of the exact number of people who have died, the fact remains that this number is high and has once again highlighted the plight of farmers not only in Karnataka, but in India as a whole.

Farmers are dying across India

According to NCRB reports, between 1995 and 2012, around 2,84,673 farmers have committed suicide across India, with around 86.6% of them being males. Further, the number of farmers who committed suicides constitute around 13.6% of the total incidents of suicides.

The three year average of the suicide rate for male formers from 2010 to 2012 was 15.4, which was lesser than 2007-2009 average which was at 17.4; but was higher than the 1995-97 average of 11.6. The three year average for the same period (2010-2012) for some of the states are as follows: Karnataka (37.4), Kerala (153), Andra Pradesh (46.3), Maharashtra (41.8), Gujarat (11), West Bengal (16.2), Odisha (4), Punjab (4.7) and Haryana (16.4) and Tamil Nadu (16.3).

Therefore, it is clear that, the issue of farmer deaths is not unique to Karnataka, but is widespread across India.

Sugarcane crisis in Karnataka
The recent issue of farmers’ suicide in Karnataka reveals a large scale agrarian crisis that is present across India. It exposes serious challenges associated with farming: moneylenders, debt, support price, crop failure etc. to name a few.

One of the principal causes of the present crisis has been the failure of the sugar mills and jaggery units to pay farmers for their sugarcane produce. Sugar producing factories in Karnataka owe at least Rs 2500 crores to the farmers for the sugarcane purchased during previous crushing season. They also owe another Rs 1000 crore from 2013-14 to the farmers. This is inspite of the Karnataka Sugarcane (Regulation) Act, 2013 stipulating the factories to pay up farmers within 14 days. Further, the rates offered by the mills to farmers were at Rs 700 per ton or less as against the state mandated minimum price of Rs. 2500 per ton.

This twin issues of sugar factories not paying the farmers their past dues and paying them only a paltry amount for their produce create a huge financial scarcity that made many farmers to commit suicide. As a result, the Mandya district, which is the hub of sugarcane production in Karnataka has seen at least 29 farmer deaths till July 29th.

When, NewsGram asked Dr. Muzaffar Assadi (Professor and Chairman in the Department of Studies in Political Science, University of Mysore, who has written extensively on the issue of farmer suicides and the connected agrarian crisis) about the factors behind the farmer suicides in Karnataka, he listed out following immediate causes that drove farmers to commit suicide:

1.The gut in the sugarcane production that was caused due to increased production and decreased demand.
2.The market is already full with sugar and jaggery. Hence, no market is available to accommodate increased sugarcane produce.
3.Sugar factories not being able to pay farmers for their produce.
4.Increase in debts taken by farmers.

Elaborating on the gut situation in sugarcane, Dr. Assadi said that apart from the fact that more sugarcanes are being produced inspite of a lesser demand, other factors behind the gut situation include import of cheap sugar from other countries and MNC’s opting for these cheaper sugars instead of sugars from indigenously grown sugarcanes.

Further, he stated that, sugarcane farmers face a unique problem when it comes to selling their produce. They are restricted by the rules that state that they can sell their produce to only a particular sugar factory allotted to them, usually neither their agricultural land. Hence, they do not have freedom to reject one factory and sell to another at a better price.

This has allowed the sugar factory owners to thoroughly exploit the farmers. The practice of paying the farmers less than the minimum support price is continued by many factory owners, because they know that farmers are desperate to sell their produce and farmers have no other option but to sell to them.

Other issues faced by Karnataka farmers:

But, sugarcane crisis is not the only reason behind the recent farmer deaths. As noted about, till 29-July, only 29 farmers had died in sugarcane hub Mandya district. On the other hand, the total number of deaths till that time was 197. Many people had died in districts like Mysuru, Belagavi, Tumkur, Dharwad and Davanagere.

The increasing debts of the farmers due to the loans taken from the moneylenders at a very high annual rate of interest has been one of the biggest causes behind the sudden increase in the farmers’ deaths. Farmers, especially small-farmers do not easily get loans from banks and cooperative societies. Hence, they are forced to borrow loans from private money lenders who charge very high rate of interest.  Though the law stipulates that the moneylender should not charge more than 14% annual rate of interest, many unscrupulous moneylenders charge 2-3% interest per month and sometimes as high as 36% interest per year. This issue affects all the farmers across the state.

When asked about why the farmers borrow from moneylenders’ inspite of knowing the fact that moneylenders charge huge interest rates, Dr. Assadi said that moneylenders give quick monetary assistance to farmers when they are in need of it. Hence, if a farmer is in distress and needs money, a moneylender will be the first person the farmer would approach. Secondly, he said that in many cases, moneylenders are also seed-providers. In such cases, the moneylenders will provide the seeds to the farmers and later purchase the commodities produced by the farmer, apart from lending him the money for the whole process. This provides an opportunity for the moneylenders to completely exploit the farmers. Dr. Assadi added that, in olden days, the landlords and money lenders used to exploit farmers by confiscating their lands if they had not returned the loans. But, today, moneylenders exploit farmers without confiscating their land, but by increasing their debts and exploiting the commodities produced.

The drought this year in at least 16 districts of the total 30 districts is another factor that has severely affected Karnataka farmers. The drought has caused crop failure at many places and has further increased the woes of the farmers. Analyzing the issue of drought from a larger perspective of ecology, Dr. Assadi called the drought as a “man-made” drought. He pointed out that, how increasing human consumptions and luxuries has led to deforestation, which in-turn has contributed to global warming and climate change, resulting in droughts etc. Hence, ecologically insensitive and harmful human actions have led to various natural crisis.

Therefore, a large number of factors like drought, crop failure, rising debts, lack of loans from banks, borrowings at very high interest rates, selling crops at prices lesser than minimum support prices, not receiving payment for the sold produce etc. have contributed to the agrarian crisis that has taken place in Karnataka. Dr. Azzadi further points out that, the path of agriculture that was adopted by India after its independence was faulty and has resulted in various agrarian crisis over last many decades. He believes that, the linking of agriculture with global market and economy and the top-down capitalism that was implemented in agriculture have done serious damage to the farmers.

Measures that could help tackle agrarian crisis   

Dr. Azzadi believes that only way the agrarian crisis can be tackled on a long run is by de-linking it from the global market dependence. He believes that at least for few years this delinking must be carried out, after which India may decide how it should align with the global market.

He further suggested that Agriculture should be declared as an industry and the benefits given to industries must be extended to agriculture. A new policy must be implemented wherein further fragmentation of the agricultural lands must be prohibited, as fragmentation has resulted in various issues faced by farmers.

He also advocated adoption and promotion of organic farming and reduced dependence on products like fertilizers and other chemicals. He said that a “distress cell” must be opened up at village levels wherein the farmers facing severe distress and mental stress can be provided proper counselling and guidance.

These measures will go a long way in tackling various issues related to agriculture which in turn will help to improve the lives of farmers.

In a 2006 report on farmers suicide, the authors Meeta and Rajivlochan gives a 10-points of intervention which may help in tackling farmers’ suicides:

1.Increase the physical interaction between the government and the village society by insisting on more tours and more meetings of the government officers with gram-sabhas.
2.Active monitoring of the social, economic and psychological conditions of the farmers at the local level and if possible proving proper counselling to them.
3.Strict implementation of the various provisions that safeguard the interest of the farmers like existing money lending act, minimum wage act etc.
4.Providing professional assistance to farmers when they face problems like crop being infested with pests, or the sowing fails. The latest research and knowledge about improved methods of cultivation as well as the information about the usage of seeds, fertilizers etc. must be made to reach the farmer.
5.Improve the efficiency of various infrastructures present at the local level like Primary Health Centers.
6.The village level health care scenario must be drastically improved. At least one trained medical nurse must be present in each Panchayat who can provide succor and guidance to the people.
7.Appropriate vocational education must be provided at village and taluk level to assist people in understanding the complexities of the present day production and marketing techniques.
8.The media must be advised to not to highlight the issue of suicide as this may add fuel that could lead to further suicides.
9.The ex-gratia payment to the families of suicide victims must be stopped (as many may commit suicide so that their family gets compensation). Instead, help may be provided in the form of providing employment to a member of the family.
10.The farmers should be provided direct cash subsidies as the indirect subsidies seldom reach the farmers.

Therefore, the issue of farmer suicides in Karnataka should not be viewed in isolation. But, it should be analyzed as an external manifestation of the deep agrarian crisis that has infected the whole agriculture in India. The relationship between agriculture and globalization must also be debated and discussed, so that a holistic but pragmatic solution can be developed to address the issues of farmers. The farmer issues like illegal money lenders, exploiting middle men, scrupulous factory owners, inflation etc. must be seriously addressed and tackled. Various short-term initiatives and long-term policy changes must be carried out to tackle the agriculture crisis as a whole and achieve zero-farmer suicides in near future.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Why trees are revered in Hinduism

Nithin Sridhar

(This article was published in NewsGram on 12 June 2015)

Since time immemorial, trees have been worshiped all over the world. In Ancient Egypt, Sycamore and Date palm were considered sacred trees. In Ancient Greece, many trees were held sacred to various gods. For example, oak tree was held sacred to Zeus and myrtle tree was held sacred to Aphrodite. Also Nymphs like Alseids and Dryads were associated with grooves and trees respectively. The Celts worshiped the groves of trees. In Japanese Shinto Shrines, the trees such as cryptomeria are worshiped.

But, it is only among the Indians- the practitioners of Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism, that the worshipping of trees has become very deep rooted and an inseparable part of Hindu religion, culture and lifestyle.

Louise Fowler-Smith in her article “Hindu Tree Veneration as a Mode of Environmental Encounter”, writes that “The worship of trees occurred throughout Europe but declined with the rise of religions such as Christianity and Islam,which regarded such activity as pagan. In India, however, Hinduism accepted local cults, many of which worshiped nature. The Rsis, authors of the sacred Hindu texts, understood the importance of preserving the environment, and reference is made to the divine quality of the natural world throughout these Indian scriptures. The early Hindu sacred texts, the Vedas and Upanishads, make frequent reference to sacred trees, referring to them as the most important living forms on earth. This contributed to the gradual change of the cultural perception of the tree. Sacred trees may now be found throughout India”.  She further writes that “Trees are decorated in India for a wealth of reasons. Historically sacred trees have been connected with rites of renewal, sexuality, fertility, conception, birth, initiation, death and rebirth. Throughout India, Hindu communities have their own individual deities, or Gramadevata- which are regarded as synonymous with the locality and everything within it. (…..)The deity is not visible to the local community, so a specific place or object is chosen to direct the act of worship. The Devasthana,or shrine of a Grama Devata, is usually connected with an important feature of the natural world such as a hill, a rock, a stream or pond. These shrines are most commonly associated with a tree or grove of trees, with the tree embodying the local goddess”.

Hence, as far as India and Hinduism is concerned, the worship of trees is not only a very ancient practice, but it is also a current living reality.

The Hindu scriptures lay a strong foundation for the worship of environment in general and trees in particular. Some of the important trees that are worshiped by the Hindus are Peepal, Banyan, Ashoka, Shami and Palasha.

Rig-Veda, one of the four divisions that Vyasa created in the Vedas, dedicates an entire Hymn (Book 10, Hymn 97) to the herbs. The Manu Smriti (1.49) says that plants and trees have life and hence they also feel pain and pleasure.

Some of the Hindu festivals like Amala Ekadashi, Ashoka Pratipada, Bakula Amavasya, Vata-Savitrivrata, Kadalivrata and Sheetala Puja are especially dedicated to the worship of various plants and trees.

To properly understand the philosophy behind the worship of trees, one must first understand the philosophy of Hinduism.

Worship of Trees as Brahman


Hinduism considers that it is Brahman or God who manifests, sustains and absorbs back the entire Universe and all its objects. Hence, each entity, whether living or non-living, is sustained by Brahman itself.

In Bhagavad Gita (10.20), Lord Krishna declares- “I am the Self, O Gudakesa (Arjuna), seated in the hearts of all creatures. I am the beginning, the middle and the end of all beings.”

Similarly, Isha-Upanishad (Verse 1) declares that- “God inhabits all the objects in the Universe”. Hence, God or Brahman manifests all the objects and then becomes seated in their hearts as their very own innermost Self/Atman.

Therefore, plants and trees are not lifeless entities, but instead, they are living beings that are inhabited by Brahman itself.  The same Brahman who inhabits the humans also inhabits the trees. Therefore, at the highest level, the worship of trees is nothing but the worship of Brahman who exists as the Innermost Self of both the trees and the humans. 


The Trees are then realized as being non-different from Brahman. But, such worship in a real sense can be practiced only by liberated sages (the Jivanmuktas) who alone can perceive their Innermost Atman in all objects and all objects as in their own Atman. However, others can worship Trees as a manifestation of Divine.

Worship of Trees as a manifestation of the Divine


Various trees have been associated with various deities. Ashwatta or Peepal tree has been specially associated with Lord Krishna. In Gita (10.26), he declares that among the trees, he is the “Ashwatta”. Similarly, Rudraksha (meaning Rudra’s eyes) seeds are associated with Shiva, Banyan tree is associated with Brahma, Ashoka tree is associated with Kaama (God of Love) and Palasha tree is associated with Soma or Moon.

Almost all Hindu deities are associated with one plant or the other. This association must be understood properly. Trees like Peepal and Banyan are living representation of the Gods. Hence, those Gods can be worshiped directly through the trees without having to invoke Gods into an idol or fire.

It is for this reason that Lord Krishna says he is the Peepal among the Trees, denoting that Peepal tree is home to Vishnu-tattva. Hence, a worship of Peepal is same as worshiping Vishnu in an idol. 


Trees and plants can be worshiped as a direct manifestation of various deities, or as objects conducive to the worship of those deities. Another way of worshiping the trees is by showing reverence to their life-force.

Worship of Trees as Living Spirits


The trees are to be respected and revered as living entities. They are not to be ignored as non-living objects that must be used and exploited for self-interest, but instead they are to be recognized as living forces that sustain the entire Earth.

Rig-Veda (5.41.11) says “May Plants, the Waters, and the Sky preserve us, and Woods and Mountains with their trees for tresses”.

This prayer recognizes plants and trees as living forces of nature that nourish humans and the entire planet. The flowers, fruits and shade that a tree gives are seen as items of nourishment that a tree provides us out of love.

This sentiment that recognizes trees as living beings can also be seen in the ritual that is prescribed for felling of trees for the purpose of making wooden idols for worship.

The tree that was selected for felling was worshiped by offering various substances to it. Then at night the Devatas, Pitrs, Rakshasas, Nagas, Asuras, Ganas and Vinayakas were all worshiped.
The idea behind the ritual is three fold. First, to ask permission from the tree to cut it; second to ask forgiveness from the tree for the violence caused to it; third to request the Devatas to impart better life to the spirit of the tree for the sacrifice it is doing.

These three modes of worshiping of the trees denote three stages of spiritual evolution of an Individual. A person first learns to communicate with the trees with an understanding that they are living forces of nature. Then, his understanding evolves and he perceives various manifestations of divine as inhabiting the trees. He will begin to worship different deities through the worship of different trees. Finally, he attains the self-knowledge that his innermost-self/Atman alone exists and he, the tree and all other objects are all in reality non-different from Atman. Hence, through the medium of tree worship, a person ultimately attains Moksha.

Bhoomi Suktam: Understanding the tender maternal nature of planet Earth

Nithin Sridhar

(The article was published in NewsGram on 5 June 2015)

The purpose of celebrating World Environment Day is to highlight the importance of preserving Earth. On this occasion, let us look into what one of the oldest Hindu scriptures, the Atharva-Veda has to say about environment and planet earth.

BhoomiSuktam or Hymn to Mother Earth is one of the most beautiful hymns that describes the beauty of Mother Earth and imparts lessons regarding the attitude a person must cultivate towards the environment.

It has 63 verses and occurs in Atharva Veda (12.1). The very first verse opens with a bold statement that defines the proper manner in which the Earth and the environment must be understood.

It (Verse 12.1.1) says that the Earth is upheld, is sustained by Truth (Satya), Eternal law/Order/Righteousness (Ritam), Consecration/Initiation (Deeksha), Devotion (Brahma) and Sacrifice (Yajna). That is, the earth that includes both the living beings as well as the surrounding environment are not just held together by gravitational and other physical laws of the Universe.

Earth is not a “jada/non-living” entity. Instead she is the “Queen of what was and what will be”. She is a living mother, a force that is sustained by Truth, Order, Austerity, Devotion and Sacrifice. Hence, it is these attitudes that a human is expected to implement in his life.

This does not mean that the Suktam is denying the physical aspect of the Earth. In fact, the verse (12.1.26), clearly says that rocks, stones and dust constitute the Earth. Hence, the aim of the Suktam is to highlight the fact that physical aspect is only the outermost layer of the ‘Reality’. And in order to understand Earth in a deeper, spiritual and in a meaningful way one must practice the qualities of Truth etc.

The Suktam (in verse 12.1.12) calls “Earth as the mother and humans as her sons”. Hence, as offsprings of Mother Earth, it becomes a duty of humans to not only help her sustain herself, but also to protect and enrich her. Therefore, it becomes an obligation on part of humans to practice truth, righteousness, and austerity in their day to day life.

They should develop the attitude of devotion and sacrifice regarding every object, every entity present in the surrounding environment. It is only such a practice which can sustain and enrich mother Earth. A practice of truth results in a strict adherence to righteousness. A righteous person will always be upright without caving into the selfish desires. Such a person will never commit those actions that can harm other entities that are present in the environment because he realizes that Himsa or injury is adharma or against the cosmic law.

The lifestyle of Ahimsa(non-violence) itself becomes an austerity that is driven by devotion and a sense of sacrifice. If, every person cultivates these attitudes towards the surroundings, it would automatically result in the protection, preservation and enrichment of environment.


The Suktam (Verse 12.1.4-6) further describes Mother Earth as the “Mistress of four quarters in whom food and cornfields have come to be, who bears in many forms the breathing and moving life; in which men of old have performed many tasks, where the gods have defeated demons, which is the home of cattle, horses and birds; which is all sustaining, treasure bearing, firm staying place, gold breasted home of all creatures, who supports the Universal Fire (Virat/Vaishwanara)”.

These verses further bring out the understanding of Earth as a nourishing, all sustaining Mother. All objects both living and non-living, the humans, animals, and the plants, depend upon the earth for their life. They derive their very existence from Earth and at death they merge back into it. It is Earth again which makes it possible for various plants and animals to be exposed to Sun-rays and hence be able to sustain and grow.

This is clearly spoken in the verse (12.1.15), wherein Mother Earth is described as one who supports both bipeds and quadrupeds, because of whom, the rising Sun spreads its undying rays on mortals. The nourishing aspect of the Earth is further highlighted in verses (12.1.29-30), wherein the Earth is referred to as “Purifier” using whose pure water a person purifies himself.

Mother Earth is further described as a place where all human actions are carried out. She is the basis, the foundation that holds together all actions. It is on her foot, that the altars are built and sacrifices are carried out (Verse 12.1.13). It is on her the riks and samans are chanted (Verse 12.1.38). The men sing and dance and the people beat their drums, rise the war cries and battle with each other (Verse 12.1.41). It is on her, the people grow various food grains (Verse 12.1.42), where people speaking different languages, practising different customs, all exist together (Verse 12.1.45).

But, the Bhoomi Suktam is concerned about those human actions that may turn to be harmful to nature. Verse 12.1.35 says, “What, O earth, I dig out of thee, quickly shall that grow again: may I not, O pure one, injure thy vitals or thy heart”.  The verse is clearly speaking about the misuse of natural resources and its harmful effect on the environment. It is advising humans to renounce greed and utilize the resources given by the Mother Earth in a useful way without hurting the nature in the process. The current activities such as unregulated and harmful mining and other such activities are clearly against these tenets expressed in the Suktam.

Towards the end, in Verse 12.1.48, Mother Earth is described as supporting both the fools and the wise, the good and the bad. The verse goes to highlight the motherly love and compassion of Mother Earth. She, in her magnanimity and compassion has given abode to all people, all objects. She does not discriminate between the fool and the wise or between the good or the bad. She supports everyone, including those who harm her and the environment in a dangerous way.

Such, is the compassion and love of Mother Earth for her children. Hence, people should realize her supreme love and sacrifice, and begin to live their lives in such a way that the environment is not harmed in any manner.

The BhoomiSuktam (Verse 12.1.63) ends with a prayer asking the Mother Earth to stabilize life and fill it with grace and splendor.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Why women must be allowed to take up combat roles?

Nithin Sridhar

(A shorter version of the article is published in
Last Saturday, Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar announced that women will not be a part of any combat operations of the armed forces due to the concerns regarding their safety. Expressing his concern regarding the various hardships that women may be subjected to if they were allowed into combat roles, he said “Think of what can happen if a woman is taken as a prisoner in combat operation”. While it is true that, women in combat roles may have to endure many hardships, at the same time it is also true that, men in combat roles also undergo similar hardships. Hence, before advocating a blanket ban on women from taking up combat roles, it will be wise to have a fresh look into the pros and cons of the issue.

This issue is up for debate in most countries including USA which opened up all of the combat roles for women only in 2013 (1). Apart from USA, the following countries like Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Eritrea, Israel, and North Korea also allow women into combat roles (2). 

The US Department of Defense’s Memorandum on “Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule (1994)” defines Direct Ground Combat as “engaging an enemy on the ground with individual or crew served weapons, while being exposed to hostile fire and to a high probability of direct physical contact with hostile force’s personnel. Direct ground combat takes place well forward on the battlefield while locating and closing with the enemy to defeat them by fire, maneuver, and shock effect” (3). One of the most important reason cited for the exclusion of women from such a Direct Combat is that they are not ‘Physically fit’ to handle such missions. Another reason cited is that they would be subjected to torture and rape if captured during combat. The Presidential Commission Report, 1992 prepared in USA (4) listed out various reasons for barring women from combat roles- 

1. Women are shorter, have less muscle mass and weigh less than men, placing them at a distinct disadvantage when performing tasks requiring a high level of muscular strength and aerobic capacity, like ground combat. Female dynamic upper torso muscular strength is approximately 50-60 percent that of males. 

2. Factors affecting cohesion would include: real or perceived inability of women to carry their weight without male assistance, a "zero privacy" environment on the battlefield, interference with male bonding, cultural values and the desire of men to protect women, inappropriate male/female relationships, and pregnancy--particularly when perceived as a way to escape from combat duty.

3. Direct combat units have few, if any, personal comforts comparable to those available in support units. Lack of privacy in combat units could result in morale and cohesion problems when normal and widely accepted standards of personal modesty must routinely be sacrificed in wartime or peacetime training environments.

4. Even if some women are strong enough to handle the physical demands of combat, the introduction of factors such as sexual entanglements and jealousies--even if the women don't invite such attention-- would make the forward commander's job more difficult.

5. A number of public and military surveys have found strong evidence that deployment of mothers in land combat units, implying a national acceptance of deliberate violence and brutality against women, is contrary to American cultural values, particularly when there is no military necessity to use women--much less mothers-in direct combat units.

6. As with combat aviation, the risk of capture is a serious cultural and military issue. David Horowitz testified that future American presidents "will be under pressure to win a war in four days or lose the war at home."

Martha McSally, a retired United States Air Force colonel who was the first woman in U.S history to fly a fighter aircraft in combat strongly contests these opinions. In her paper “Women in Combat: Is the Current Policy Obsolete?”(5) She makes following observations- 

1. Closer inspection of the argument from “physical strength” reveals two troubling double standards. First, as discussed more fully below, the argument that women should be excluded from combat because they do not possess the requisite physical strength is both over- and under-inclusive; many women have the physical strength to engage in ground combat while many men do not. Second, the Army does not submit male recruits to physical strength examinations before assigning them to ground combat positions. (…..)The double standard here is glaring: Male recruits are not disqualified from entering combat career fields for lack of physical strength, but all female recruits are peremptorily disqualified from such fields regardless of their physical strength. 

2. All personnel wearing the uniform must have some basic level of physical strength to ensure they can defend themselves in battle. However, a capable combat soldier must possess more than just physical strength. Skill, motivation, and a fighting spirit are just as crucial for the warrior, and all of these characteristics are gender-blind. Army and Marine leadership have recently been emphasizing additional crucial traits like judgment, discipline, restraint, and intellect, to name a few. (….)In order to get the best team of ground combat warriors based on physical strength and all other relevant qualifications, it is not logical to include marginally qualified CAT-IV males while excluding physically qualified CAT-I–III females.  

3. The Presidential Commission concluded that women’s presence might impede cohesion in ground combat units due to lack of ability to do the job, lack of privacy, traditional male views of women, sexual misconduct, and pregnancy. Cohesion between all males might also be impeded by a number of other elements—i.e., an individual’s lack of ability to do his job or carry his weight, selfishness, racist attitudes, lack of integrity, favoritism, or a variety of other dynamics that could degrade the team. However, none of these elements are inevitable and the right leadership climate can identify and eliminate the primary causes of degraded cohesion: double standards and behavior that “degrades the good order and discipline in the armed forces. The reality is that there are challenges in bringing a group of any human beings—male or female—together to form a cohesive and effective team. Add in the stresses of combat training and life-threatening situations and the challenges increase. Unit leadership must create a climate where every person is respected as a team member with equal opportunity, responsibility and accountability. (….)In sum, cohesion is a leadership issue, and leadership has the greatest effect on unit cohesion regardless of the gender composition of the team. 

4. Some critics of women in combat center their arguments on personal beliefs regarding the proper” roles of men and women. These critics argue that women must be givers and protectors of life—not takers of life—and that a man’s role is to protect and a woman’s role is to be protected. (….)Since the early 1990s, many credible national polls conducted on the subject has found that a majority of Americans support giving women the option to serve in direct ground combat. In January 1990, in the aftermath of the invasion of Panama, a CBS News/New York Times poll of 1557 American adults found that seventy-two percent of those surveyed thought that military women should be allowed to serve in combat units on a voluntary basis. 

5. Critics of women in combat state that Americans are not ready to deal with women POWs and all the risks that go along with being captured. . Elaine Donnelly, a well-known activist against omen in the military, has placed a great deal of emphasis on the risks of rape as a POW. Although the risk exists for women, it also exists for men, and both accept that risk as a part of their job. In either case, rape is a violation of the Geneva Convention. In the current war, male and female reporters, contractors, and civilians are also vulnerable to being kidnapped, tortured, raped, and executed. These are the horrors of war with an enemy whose strategy ignores these conventions. All men and women occupying military positions that render them more vulnerable to capture go through extensive training to prepare for this treacherous situation; each soldier must think through and accept the risks of experiencing potential horrors as a POW. And although the public is rightly outraged when any of our service members are captured, the lack of outrage about female POWs in particular undercuts this reason for excluding women from combat.

After thus considering all the arguments against the recruitment of women in combat roles, Martha McSally concludes that- “Common arguments against women serving in ground combat are not sufficient to exclude all women from being considered for combat roles. Some women have the physical strength to fill ground combat assignments, just as some men do not. Assessing recruits as individuals can provide the most capable and flexible fighting force. Women do not, by their mere presence, diminish cohesion in a war-fighting unit. And the American public is willing to have women serve in any role in the All-Volunteer Force for which they are qualified

These conclusions though made in an American context, they equally apply in Indian context as well. Harjit Hansi, in his paper “Employment Of Women In The Indian Army” (6) gives a list of similar arguments that have restricted the role of Women Officers (WO) in combat roles in the Indian Army. The three prominent arguments listed by him are- 

1. Hazardous Battlefield: Vulnerability of women operating in close contact battles looms heavily on mind of all field commanders. This is one prime concern that has prevented entry of women in combat arms and certain support arms. 

2. Deployment Restrictions: Bulk of the Indian Army (IA) is deployed majorly in difficult and rugged areas. The posts are isolated, sans any basic facilities, cut-off for months and the operational tasking warrant working in close proximity with men. Protracted and solitary deployment of WOs under such circumstances has attendant issues and restricts their employment. 

3. Special Requirements: Due to certain social & domestic obligations and physical constraint, service in Army pose a greater challenge for WOs vis-a-vis their male counterparts. Their role as wife, mother, need for spouse postings etc adversely affect their continuous availability to the organisation, more so at sub unit level, where the deficiency of officers is maximum. Maternity leave of 180 days, 60 days each of Annual Leave and furlough deny a unit of an officer for 10 months with no relief forthcoming.

The hardships faced during war or capture is no doubt real and unbearable. But, it is equally so for both men and women. Hence, arguing that women are somehow more vulnerable than men is faulty. Every person who enlists in armed forces is well aware of the risks involved. Hence, when a woman officer voluntarily is ready to serve in combat roles, she should be given a chance to do so. The same applies in case of deployment to remote areas. It is true that women serve multiple roles as wife, mother etc. But, it is also true that men also serve similar roles of husband and father. Hence, if a woman and her family is ready to adjust to her lifestyle choices, then there is no reason to disallow her from taking combat duties.

Regarding the issue of physical and psychological fitness. though men and women are biologically different, yet this in itself cannot be criteria for disqualification of all women from combat roles. Instead, each interested woman must be subjected to required physical and psychological tests and only those who qualify must be recruited. It should be noted that, recruiting women into combat roles should not translate into compromising with the require standards. As any such lenience or compromise in the merit criteria will directly affect the performance of the said combat units. Instead, a comprehensive criteria must be adopted that takes into account all the various skills and factors and not just the physical strength. Hence, the arguments that are forwarded against the induction of women into combat roles are in reality, only assumptions based on obsolete notions.

Further, the nature of warfare has changed drastically. Traditionally, women were not allowed in front line activities. They were restricted to support activities at the back of the line. But, today, all activities are exposed to front line risks. The line between combat and non-combat operations have blurred. Hence, even those women who are serving in supporting, non-combat missions are also routinely exposed to combat risks. The American encounters in Afghanistan and Iraq serve as an example. Therefore, a blanket ban on women from taking part in combat missions makes no sense. Instead, a provision to allow women to take up combat duties on a voluntary basis must be made. There are considerable advantages in recruiting women into combat roles. 

1. There will be larger talent pool from which people can be recruited into various combat roles. The combat roles not only requires physical strength, but also requires other personality traits like quick decision making, discipline, intellect, strategic thinking etc. Hence, women can add value to combat units. 

2. Recruiting women will also help to bridge the gap between demand and supply of the soldiers and officers. Indian armed forces are currently faced with a shortage of 52000 personnel, including 11000 officers (7). 

3. Women are well equipped to deal with some scenarios than men. The US established all female Lioness team specifically to accompany all male Marine combat units into insurgent infested areas of Ramadi, Iraq. Lioness team was tasked with searching Iraqi women for weapons or explosives, during home raids and served to provide a “calming presence” to Iraqi women and children. A similar job was entrusted to Female Engagement Teams (FET) in Afghanistan. Though both Lioness team and FET were conceived as a support team, they performed combat duties as well.

These show that women in combat units can act as a valuable asset to the armed forces. Hence, the criteria to induct people into combat roles should be purely on the basis of merit and not gender. Therefore, the Defense Minister should reconsider his decision to keep women away from taking up combat roles

3. Memorandum from Secretary of Defense to the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force et al., Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule (Jan. 13, 1994). 
4. Women In Land Combat, Selected Findings - 1992 Presidential Commission. 
5. Women in Combat: Is The Current Policy Obsolete? By Martha McSally. 
6. Employment of Women In The Indian Army by Harjit Hansi. 

Game Theory and Jyotishya

Nithin Sridhar

(This article has been published in under the title "Missing link: John Nash’s Game Theory can make Vedic Astrology more accurate")

John Nash, the famous American mathematician and his wife died last Saturday in a fatal taxi crash in New Jersey Turnpike. His most remarkable contributions were in the field of Game Theory. His discoveries like Nash Equilibrium, have resulted in the use of Game Theory in various branches like economics, politics, warfare, psychology, evolutionary biology, logic, ethics, social and human behavior etc. This article seeks to explore, whether there are some common points between Game Theory and Vedic Astrology (Jyotishya), which can be utilized to integrate them, so as to improve the efficacy of Jyotishya. Before, proceeding further, let us briefly understand, what Game Theory is all about. 

Game Theory is a systematic study of exertion of Free-Will. It is used to study, analyze and predict various human decisions, where the decision of each Individual is influenced by the decision of the others in the game, and all their decisions collectively determines the final result. Roger B. Myerson (in Game Theory: Analysis of Conflict, Harvard University Press) defines Game Theory as “the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers”. He further states that, Game Theory provides general mathematical techniques for analyzing situations in which two or more individuals make decisions that will influence one another’s welfare. Hence, Game Theory aims to understand the mutual relationship and influence of free-wills of different people in the game. 

To be fully defined, a Game must have these four elements- players (those who exert free will and take decisions), the actions (choices) that are available for the players to choose from, the strategies that each player applies in taking action, and the payoff’s or the results that each player obtains as a result of his actions. Some of the assumptions underlying the Game Theory include, the players being rational individuals. That is, the exertion of free-will by each player will be aimed at maximizing his payoffs. Secondly, every player understands that other players are playing for maximizing their own payoff’s as well. Hence, the determining factor behind decision making is “self-interest”.

Now, if we link this concept of Game Theory to the concept of Karma in Hinduism, we will notice that there are certain elements that are common to both. The concept of Free-Will plays a very important role in Hindu view of the universe. The whole universe and all the interactions within the universe follows the law of Karma- the law of cause and effect. Each action results in a specific result. Hence, the present situations and life choices that an Individual faces, is a result of his own previous actions. Similarly, his present actions will place him in various situations in future. Therefore, destiny and free-will are one and the same thing- Karmas. The former refers to the actions performed by the exertion of free will in the past and the latter to the exertion of free will in the present. 

To the question, what drives a person to perform actions? “Desire for happiness” is the answer given by Hindu scriptures. In other-words, self-regard and self-welfare is the primary motive behind all actions. The Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha that constitutes the four purusharthas or goals of life that is central to the Hindu way of life, is designed to lead a person slowly on a path that ultimately imparts Supreme-Bliss. Hence, all actions be it for Dharma, Artha, Kama or Moksha, they are all guided by motivations of attaining the results/payoffs offered by them. If it be said that, taking decisions in self-interest is contradictory to practice of dharma (ethics and duty), the answer is given by Lord Krishna himself in Gita (2.30-38). Lord Krishna urges Arjuna to fight the Righteous Mahabharata battle by saying that, if he fights, then there are only two possible outcomes. Either Arjuna dies in the battle and attains heaven and enjoy the heavenly world or he will conquer and enjoy his kingdom. In either case, following his Kshatriya Dharma and fighting in the war is beneficial to Arjuna. Hence, even in the case of Dharma (ethics, righteousness, morality, duty), being economically rational i.e. taking decision in self-interest is the most natural reaction for a person. Another element of commonality is the factor of influence of decision making process of one player on the other. Though in Game Theory it is explored in a purely rational basis of how a player understands the strategy of the other, the Hindu Philosophy explores the interactions between two Individuals based on the Karmic debts or Rina that binds them. Any interaction between two people is not a coincidence, but it is outcome of complex bond of Rina or Karmic debt that those Individual share with each other. And their present interactions and their mutual exertion of free-wills will be influenced by this Karmic debt that exist between them. The Rina or Karmic debt is a bond of give and take that is formed due to actions in the past. 

Hence, the past Karmas that are bearing their results in the present for an Individual, the Karmic Rinas between the interacting Individuals, the mental make-up of an Individual and the factor of rationality/self-interest of the Individual will determine the manner in which he will exert his Free-Will. Game Theory only uses the last factor, the factor of economic rationality or self-interest in its analysis of free-will. The Behavioral Game Theory also takes into account the mental make-up of an Individual. But, both of them have no information regarding the past actions. Hence, the Game Theory is only limited to present exertion of free will determined by only a limited number of factors.

On the other hand, Vedic Jyotishya deals with predicting the future events based on the past Karmas that have begun to fructify. Every person takes birth as a certain animal, or in a certain house and faces certain situations in his life based on his previous Karmas committed over millions of past lives. The sum total of all the previous karmas are called as “Sanchita Karma”. And a small portion of Sanchita Karma that is ready to give results is called as “Prarabda Karma”. It is this Prarabda Karma that decides the time, place, and manner of birth. It decides the various life events, various life situations that a person is placed into in his life. Jyotishya uses various methods that includes using birth time and location and making the natal chart, to determine the Prarabda Karmas that are in store for a person in that particular life. It then, uses this information to predict the future events. But, what it does not take into account is the performance of Agami Karmas. Agami Karmas are the actions performed by the exertion of free will in the Present. And these exertions of free will can significantly change the events and directions in which the life of a person is moving. But, Jyotishya does not take into account these Agami Karmas. Hence, many of the predictions turn out to be untrue. If the concepts of Game Theory can be harmoniously integrated with the concepts of Jyotishya then the predictions can be made more accurate. Further, Jyotishya will be able to analyze and predict even the exertions of the Free Will in the present.