Monday, September 29, 2008

Mob Mentality

Pritesh wrote this piece on mob mentality. I tried posting this comment. But seems it's too long. So, I am posting it as an independent post.

I had a very close encounter with mob behaviour some time back when Dr. Rajkumar passed away. We were sipping coffee at the
Coffee Board and the procession was passing through the adjacent main-road. Suddenly, they started pelting big stones on us.
Each stone would have caused severe wound if it had found its target. However,
thanks to the sun-shades, no one got hurt. We quickly ran to safety near inside the building. In that process, I had a
glimpse of the people who were throwing the stones. They were smiling and laughing, like small kids.
Soon afterwards, there was a lathi-charge, and the mob started scattering. Many of them jumped the IISc boundary-wall into
the campus. Many of them were caught hold of by the security-guards, and even some students. They were slapped, kicked, and
abused. One slap and they would fall down and start begging for mercy!
I was really astounded to see these 'monsters' becoming so insecure and weak when caught away from the security of
anonymity (as you have rightly pointed out).

Looking at the scenario from another angle, I realised that these poor people lead an utterly uninteresting life. There
life must be such a meaningless drudgery and ethics and morality are theoretical banters for them. A slight bit of
excitement, even if it's got through destruction, gives them that thrill we used to feel drawing on the walls or doing
anything mischievous when we were kids. The sight of that smile which showed that childlike innocence, and that helplessness
when faced with the slightest punishment, made me feel very unhappy at how their life hasn't seen many things interesting
after their childhood that they jump at this first opportunity of excitement, without giving a heed to its implication.

Another example of mob mentality is seen every day on roads. Be it breaking the signal, or be it clogging the traffic by violating
lane discipline, it's a pure example of mob mentality. I feel the presence of that instinct in myself when the red-light in front is
about to turn green, a few seconds to go, and my side traffic has already started moving, of course against the rule. At
that time it's very difficult to resist the temptation to fly myself. I have held stead against the temptation most of the
time; but haven't succeeded always!

Mob mentality is a basic-instinct. It comes from the age-old wisdom of behaving similar to the majority, since, it's the
majority which survives. Its parent instinct is the instinct to immitate, which again is also the greatest tool of learning
for humans ('apes') and other species. The people who turn into mobs are no different people. We all are susceptible to this strong
tendency. It's only that when this is topped with ignorance, boredom and frustration, we become puppets to the signs
from anyone who wishes to make use of it.

The act of preventing oneself from turning into a mob just involves a moment of thought, as you have rightly pointed out.
But just like any other thing which involves just a small change in the thought pattern (corruption, violence, suicide etc)
these are the very things which will take the most fundamental changes in the people and society, since the circumstances
which brew these instincts are there for a long time. They are related with poverty and ignorance.

The real solution of mob-mentality can't be expected before these precursors are taken care of. And I even think, that once
(if and when) these precursors are somehow solved, mob-mentality is so fundamental in us, that it will find another way to
manifest itself.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Sarkari and Private

In a recent discussion with some of my socially enthusiastic friends in IISc (not a rarity there), we were lamenting in a usual manner about how things are with the administration of IISc. IISc remains the same old, with its administration being extremely high-nosed and unfriendly in general with the students. I have come across many less efficient government departments. But, having spent a really long time in IISc, the level of inefficiency in many things are quite an eyesore. Particularly because IISc can't complain of lack of resources to be the reason of whatever inefficiency there is.

I had a recent bitter experience with the finance department when I felt extremely harrassed while trying to get my no-dues from there. In IISc, students pay their tuition fees through the bank in the beginning of the semesters. When we are a few semesters old in the Institute, and have already paid our tuition fees many times, we learn that while leaving the Institute, we need to take no-dues from the finance department. To get the no-dues certificate it's necessary to produce the counterfoil receipts of all the semester tuition fees. If we don't, the clerk will go through a clumsy process of trying to figure out if we have indeed paid our fees for all the semesters, which includes manually sifting through a large number of files. If she doesn't find any of the entries, either due to gross error which is quite probable in such a task, or due to the very fact that she doesn't like you for a reason only she knows, then the fines due to late payment are daunting. Rs. 20 per week from the due date. I ended up paying Rs. 13,000/- approximately, out of which around Rs. 5,000/- went as fines. Thank God it was because some fees I allegedly hadn't paid in my 5th year, and not in my first.

This clumsiness is quite inexplicable. Why can't this process be completely automated? How is it possible that the accounts section doesn't maintain a strong report of when and how much tuition fees a student is paying? A degree of automation was introduced since 2005. Till then, all accounts were maintained in some sort of paper files. Accounting and book keeping is an ancient business. I don't think, maintenance of foolproof records of financial transactions have ever critically depended on computers, especially when the bank where the fees are being paid and the account section are within a kilometre (within the campus) of each other. Then why are students harrassed like this? The only record of our having paid the fees is in the bank challans! How ridiculous! And if it's really that important, why aren't the students explicitly directed to preserve their bank challans right when they join the Institute? Regarding late payment of fees,
if there are defaulters, why aren't they intimated through an automated mail? Why isn't there any broadcast mail reminding students to pay their fees?

Another example. It's been a prolonged debate between the administration and the students about how the scholarship renewal process be handled. Students are supposed to initiate this process by themselves. Each and every student in the Institute has to apply for scholarship renewal every year. And yet, the only way a student has a chance of doing it in time is if he remembers it himself which the admin would ideally have him do, or his guide or the Departmental Curriculum committee reminds him. The admin, as ever, will not ask for it. The penalty for failing to apply for scholarship renewal is quite substantial: You lose your scholarship! The money -- tens of thousands of rupees -- simply vanishes into thin air. The worst part is that if you fail to apply for scholarship renewal during the stipulated period, most likely, you won't remember to do so till the next year, or when you finally notice that your scholarships have stopped getting credited to your account. If you are one of those geeky kinds who don't look at their bank-balance until there's no money in your account (and there are quite expectedly many of this type in IISc), you will most probably realise your mistake when it's too late. One of my labmates lost close to Rs. 150,000/-. By any standards, that's a lot of money. No amount of begging or fighting got him back his money. The administration didn't just refuse to help him, but humiliated him when he approached them. Our professor and the Director refused to act on it, and took the side of the admin at all crucial points. I know of many such instances, which means that this is not a rare event. Still, the admin insists on sticking to this archaic process. The process of scholarship renewal can be automated. Or, at least, it can be transformed into a pull model wherein the admin reaches out to the students to fill their scholarship renewal. A broadcast mail can be sent. The possible defaulters can be personally contacted. I don't think, it's asking for too much. The administration works through its various branches in each department. The load on these offices is not overwhelming. If there are maximum 10 defaulters in a department on an average, they can be reached out personally. This exercise, done once every year, doesn't add to their workload by any unreasonable degree. It's quite atrocious to set the penalty of being absent-minded and forgetful at such a high mark.

The opacity of administrative processes is the bane of IISc life. It's a well-known fact that corruption abounds in mess, hostel, estate, and every conceivable administrative department. There have been instances of workers being caught smuggling material out of the messes by students. Such stories don't go a long way. They die out of the public memory after causing a temporary sensation. Malpractices are common and are the prime reason for systems not working in favour of the students. Students are usually too oblivious to notice the leaks in the services supposed to be there for them. For them, their research is a hard enough problem to solve. Meanwhile, corrupt official are enjoying unprecedented freedom to indulge in all sorts of malpractices, ranging from callousness, laziness and corruption.

On the other hand, I have a good experience in private corporate organisations like Philips and TCS. They aren't so complex and huge as IISc. But the reason that things work here is not their small size but the agility with which the facilities, administration, accounts and finance departments work. Automation is brought in aggressively, wherever applicable. Things are clean, transparent and paperless.

Why can't many things be automated in IISc? One of my friends had a simple answer: IISc is a government organisation. More than serving the declared purpose, it also implicitly must provide employment to a certain number of government employees. The day automation is put in place, all these buggers will be out of their jobs. On the other hand, private corporate organisations work on fear. One does his job well, or loses his job. Unlike a government organisation, there's no place for laziness and non-performance.

Our country is inhabited by a series of generations who are just garbage due to centuries of dependence and complacence. The current government (which of course is constituted of members of that garbage generation) is doomed to feed this generation until they die their natural death. I am afraid that these issues won't go with a generation or two. We carry those genes which have expressed and purified over hundreds of years. It will take a comparable time to get rid of those genes I am sure.

Was just trying to remove dust off my pen. :)

Related post: Automation for IISc