Global Problems, NYC

New York Diaries (Harassment on the Streets)

Note: The below is a true story that occurred near Times Square just ~1.5 weeks ago. I write this for one main reason: I was both confused and shocked that no one stopped to help the women in distress. We were in one of the most crowded parts of New York City, and everyone was either a bystander or just walked past as if nothing happened. In retrospect, I think I should have called 911 much earlier instead of waiting for things to stabilize. Lesson learned for next time.

–xx–

The noise on the streets drowned the howling of the woman in front of me. She was dressed in all black, a true New Yorker ready to roll in high spirits on a Thursday night. Her high-waisted jeans were a tight fit for her round hips which surely drew some lustful eyeballs. A black leather jacket and a tiny black purse slung over her shoulder gave her a look of boldness and femininity at the same time, and the contrasting styles further added to her attraction.

Striding along in my New Yorker pace, I clearly heard the wailing this time around. A burly unshaven man about 5 inches taller than the woman pulled her once neatly braided hair so hard, that I nearly jumped up and screamed. His fashion sense was as deplorable as hers was admirable. His khakhis were only half tucked into what looked like rugged snow boots, and his mismatched over-sized jacket hung loose on his broad shoulders.

“Leave her alone!” came the bellowing fierce voice of another woman, who desperately tried to not reveal the fear lacing her tone. She was a stout bulky woman, with a squished nose that almost seemed to sink into her face. Her short braided locks swung in the air as she leapt forward to yank her friend from the grips of this man.

“You come with me. Don’t go home with this man,” she pleaded to her friend. And right the next moment, she turned her full body towards the man and trying to stand tall so as to not look like a joke in front of him, she stared him right in the eyes, and with a stern but also begging note to her voice, she said, “You bother her once more and I’mma call the police on you.”

Jeeringly, the man calmly stood his ground without eliciting any emotion or removing his gaze from her eyes. The stout lady seemed unsettled, but she had to look brave if she even stood a remote chance of saving her friend. Continuing to stare at her face, he snatched her phone from her hand, and flung it onto the streets. Taken aback, she only managed to let out a hopeless scream.

“Try calling them cops now,” he mocked, and grabbing the victim lady by the shoulder, he jostled her forward to indicate that they should get moving. At this point, another lanky man with a cap covering his head, and sweatpants that hung too low on his waist, walked up to the friend in an attempt to provide support, but proved to be quite useless. He knew the other three and seemed to belong to the group, but had been merely standing on the sidelines laughing and watching the drama unfold before his eyes. He laughed and mumbled to himself, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do!” almost as if he was consoling himself for being such a coward.

The phone incident zapped me out of my trance. I stood frozen on the sidelines and watched in horror as this incident unraveled before me. I felt helpless and unsure of what to do. Should I jump in? Let me give it another minute and see if the situation stabilizes. Maybe it’s just a small thing and they will all be fine the next moment. But it seems more serious than that! Hold on, why isn’t anyone else stopping by to help? Am I crazy for standing here and watching and even contemplating to offer help? Surely someone else must care too, right? We are right next to Times Square, and several people have passed by, but no one seems to bat an eyelid. Maybe this is just how things are in New York. But you shouldn’t be this way. Go help her! This internal monologue raced through my head.

A passerby retrieved the stout lady’s phone and she raced forward to catch up to the man and her friend. I scurried along by her side and asked, “Can I help please?”

“No, thank you, we are good” she responded with a faint smile.

How were they good?! How can I help? What am I supposed to do? I looked around and noticed shopkeepers standing by their glass doors watching the scenes as if it were a TV show. Is this a common occurrence such that these locals seem unflinched? Am I making a big deal of this? Should I just forget about this and go home? I can’t just stand here – I have to get going with my life. This last thought is probably what most of the passerbys’ thought of as they strutted along. No one wanted to get their hands dirty in what seemed like a messy domestic abuse situation. No one has the time to help a stranger. What an absurd thought even!

No, I can’t just leave these helpless women to be beaten up.

I went up to the lanky friend and almost pleaded him to help. “You know them. Please intervene. He can’t treat them this way. Go help. Please!”

He tilted his head back and laughed uncomfortably. “I only came to drink with them and have a good time. I don’t know what’s happening. Haha. I don’t know what to do.” And he continued to laugh probably hoping it would somehow cover his balls of cotton. (pardon the language)

“Aaaaah!” The lady in black was on the ground and in clear distress. Her face wreaked of defeat. The man looked down at her and he was furious this time. I swear he could have killed her. “You want to go with her? Then go! Don’t come back to me, in that case.”

“Nooo. I’ll come with you” she managed to let out faintly through her mourning. Her friend was by her side by now; lifting her off the ground with one hand and shoving the man with the other, she was a true hero. “Yes, leave this rotten man and come with me” she told her friend and she dialed a number on her phone. But the man was too quick once again and her phone went hurling out in the middle of the street. He threw it so hard that the crowd finally took notice and there was an inkling of a commotion. The man dragged the sobbing lady and they walked ahead, with the friend right behind them.

I paced forward to help, and noticed another girl who looked like she was in her early thirties, doing the same thing. She was smart enough to be watching the incident from inside a storefront, unlike me who stood right in the middle of this scene and faced the dangers of also being attacked by this whimsical man. My friend later told me I should have been more careful.

The other girl and I both looked at each other and halted at the intersection. She was dialing 911 and pressed the green call button. I looked at her encouragingly. At that moment, I took a right and walked towards my apartment. My heart was pounding and I was still shaking as I entered the comforts of my building.

Education, Global Problems, India

Could a Liberal Arts Education be the Solution to India’s Problems?

With a wave of political and societal changes engulfing India, a combination of factors could usher in a golden era of growth in the country. India’s demographic advantage and growing enterprise culture favor its rise. However, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, President of the Center for Policy Research in India, argues that “whether India takes full advantage of these propitious conditions will depend upon the policy choices it makes.” In describing the Indian electorate, P. Mehta aptly points out that “the impact of policies on well-being is judged less by aggregate future expectations of the impact.” Could this narrow focus on the present spell the very doom for India despite favorable conditions? Could a growth in liberal arts education enable India to look beyond the present and save the country from the perils of climate change and job displacement due to automation?

While climate change and automation are not problems unique to India, they will disproportionately impact India. If this massive population is to save itself, it must become liberally educated.

David Wallace-Well’s book The Uninhabitable Earth notes that climate change will hit India the hardest. India’s equatorial position and large river system schedule the country to receive ~29% of the economic suffering. Not only will people be dying due to heat stroke, but they will also lose their farming jobs as sea levels rise. India is still largely an agricultural society; lacking the technological skills needed to survive in the modern economy, farmers will be entering poverty in drones.

As the exuberance around the startup India campaign launched by Prime Minister Modi wanes, numbers reveal that funding for startups is still lacking. 90% of Indian startups fail in the first 5 years due to lack of creativity beyond emulating business models from the United States. Moreover, ~30% of the country’s population is employed in low-skilled IT services jobs which mostly serve companies in the United States. Now, with cost pressure faced by U.S. firms and Artificial Intelligence (AI) replacing mundane call-center duties, Indian IT workers are no longer in high demand. As of 2017, the World Bank estimated that ~69% of India’s workforce is threatened by automation.

Is India’s population destined to fail? How can education provide workers with the creativity and high skills needed to help the country flourish? India’s current education system focuses on rote learning and memorization, but with these challenges at its doorstep, Indian students need to learn critical thinking skills and develop knowledge in the social sciences. Author Yuval Harrari argues that in the age of AI, creative jobs will be impacted last. India should develop its non-existent creative services fields.

A liberal arts education equips students with reasoning capabilities. It is imperative that future leaders have a good grasp of history, politics and social sciences and develop empathy and judgement to combat the issues plaguing India. Universities such as Ashoka and Flame are pioneers in bringing this education to India’s masses and more such institutions could not only save India from destruction but could also help it achieve dominance in global affairs.

With the proliferation of the Internet and the rise in over-the-top (OTT) in India, the country needs to pick up Neil Postman’s book The End of Education to be aware of the benefits of reading and critical thinking. The burgeoning middle class needs to channel its money towards a liberal arts education for their children.

The sole focus on technical skills will “shackle it (Indian mind) to the technicalities with which it has become so familiar, and disable it from taking enlarged and comprehensive views even of topics falling within its compass.” (George Sharswood)

Recommended Book: The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School by Neil Postman

Fiction, Global Problems

Taliban Brainwashing Children

The officer dragged Khaled into a tent. The unwelcome grim faces of the tent inmates afforded him a mere glance before going back to the dreariness of their minds. Terrified, Khaled found a corner to huddle up.

“Welcome to the dark world, my son,” exclaimed the man sitting next to him. Afraid to break any protocols, Khaled decided it was best to befriend silence. In any case, his shivering body wouldn’t allow him to speak coherently, or for that matter, speak at all.

The man questioned Khaled, “So, where are you from?”

“Ka-Kabul,” Khaled managed to meekly respond. It was only then that the dryness of his mouth became apparent to him. Perhaps risking his life, he asked the man, “Can I get some water?”

The man shook with laughter, which only drove Khaled to cower even more. “Son, this is not your home,” he responded curtly.

Weary and on the brink of fainting, Khaled wasn’t quite sure when sleep drew him in. “Will I ever see my mother again? Who are these people around me? Can I play? Where could Hassan be? Where am I even? Stop! Try to sleep! No more questions, Khaled.”

—-x—-

The bright light of the torch shone on Khaled’s face. The officer’s face stared down at him. “Wake up, it’s time for your first lesson.”

Terrified and afraid of being beaten up, Khaled sat upright in an instant. The ground beneath his feet seemed to be shaking as he stepped outside the tent and onto the barren terrains outside. No, it wasn’t the ground, it was his legs that quivered as he drew upon his last resources of energy to quietly follow the officer. His mind felt like a blank slate — he was too delirious to construct any thoughts at all.

—-x—-

The officer and Khaled entered a small cement house where Khaled was joined by a group of 20 boys, who reminded him of his classmates back home. Three middle-aged men in white overalls marched into the room and motioned for the group of 10-12 year old boys to sit down on the floor. Abdas, second in command to Kharoof, the leader of the Taliwat group, began addressing the boys.

“Children, it is time for you to rejoice. God has chosen you as the lucky ones to carry out his tasks on Earth. You are God’s disciples and God has entrusted us to show you the path to reach him.”

For the group of 20 boys, the following 6 months were marked by a strict regimen of waking up at the crack of dawn, reading the Koran for hours, and engaging in rigorous physical training. Three times a week, Kharoof would come and address the children, “God wants you to go out there and kill those souls who don’t abide by the principles set forth in the holy book. In the process you will sacrifice your lives as well, but it is to fulfill the wishes of God. For those of you who carry out his noble tasks in a dutiful manner, God will have sweet rewards for you in Heaven — delicious feasts, princesses, and endless joy and merrymaking. Now, which of you is a fool to not desire such an afterlife?”

No hand would be raised. The children had come to exalt Kharoof as God’s messenger whose words signified pure and untainted truth.

—-xx—-

Khaled woke up even before dawn; today was not like the other days. After nearly an entire year of schooling, it was time for him to join some of his former classmates in Heaven. Wearing his finest white kurta, he braced himself for the task ahead of him, and met Abdas and Kharoof outside the mosque. The three of them silently walked in and practiced Namaaz (prayer to God). After, Kharoof placed his hands on Khaled’s shoulders, looked him straight in the eyes and with a pleased tone underlying his words, he exclaimed in a deep voice, “You know what you have to do. God is waiting for you. He will be proud.”

Khaled took his place in the back seat of the truck that transported him to Baluchistan, an area in Pakistan. It was 12:15pm by the time he reached the bustling city center thronging with people meandering around the shops, restaurants, and food carts. The fiery sensation in his belly got aggravated as he pressed the button in his right hand.

—-x—-

Breaking News: “20 killed and several injured as bomb goes off in City Center district of Baluchistan. Police reported to investigate. Taliwat suspected behind attack.”

Khaled lay in a pool of blood. With his last remaining breaths, he looked around the chaos he had caused. His gaze rested on the dead face lying near him — he was staring right into his Babajaan’s (father’s) lifeless eyes. A final thought crossed his head, “What have I done? Perhaps this is not what God wanted from me.”

Father and son lay dead next to each other.

—-x—-

Author’s Note: This is a fictional story that talks about the problem of the Taliban grooming children suicide bombers and brainwashing young minds. You can help raise awareness around this grave issue by sharing the story. If you have further ideas, I would love to hear from you.

Further Reading:

How the Taliban groom child suicide bombers

Afghanistan is trying to save its child bombers

Afghanistan: Taliban Child Soldier Recruitment Surges

Ted Talks:

Inside a School for Suicide Bombers

How Cults rewire the brain