The Shape of A Nation

(This is the transcript of the speech I delivered at IIT Bhilai on the 73rd Independence day of India (August 15, 2019).)

Respected dignitaries, director Prof. Rajat Moona, Mrs. Rajni Moona, dearest faculty and staff members, most beloved students, the organizers especially Dr. Sonal Jha, Dr. Rishi Ranjan Singh, and Mr. Ashok Gupta;  My heartfelt greetings to all of you on the 73rd Independence Day of India (70th for the Republic of India).

What I am going to say today may not be very new for many of you, or with which you may not agree — partly or totally. And that is perfectly alright.

It starts from these very few basic questions:

What is a person’s nation? Why is it needed, if at all it is?

Slide 1

What you see now on the slide 1 is India, our country, our nation. Ever since we were born, we knew it.  The map is quite fascinating, is not it, 
almost resembling a woman in some act of some Indian classical dance. Her two arms spread out – east and west, the head forms the north and, it is not difficult to imagine her feet to be the slender south (slide 2).

Slide 2

So this is our country, our nation (slide 3).

Slide 3

It is quite important that every person should have a nation of his or her own. It gives you a sense of camaraderie and belongingness. You feel a sense of security to belong in a nation. Notwithstanding, the most important of all, to my mind, is that, in your own nation, you have automatically earned the right to participate in its internal matters, you have the right to even criticize your nation, and you feel happy that the nation listens to you; and we all agree that there could be no happier feeling than criticizing someone or something to one’s heart’s content 😉

These differences will be extremely stark, and palpable when you live in a foreign nation. For instance, I see that some of my friends who are now citizens of a different country, often receive the opprobrium that “you do not have the right to criticize India, since it is no longer your nation”. Such comments are not very fair, but quite real scenarios.

When India as a country merely means the lifeless landmass within this curvy geographic boundary, India as a nation is a far more deeper and lively (and of course lovely) idea that relates to wide ranging aspects, starting from cultural identity, shared values, to languages and lineages, even to — as common as — cuisines, dresses, climate, etc. So far so good. Right. But not so easy. This is still not enough to complete the idea of a nation. With many other countries, we share our cultural identities, languages, lineages, foods, etc. — as I just said — but we hardly consider them our nation!

I must emphasize that not considering a country our own nation is not equivalent to considering it our enemy: quite the opposite. There are plenty of such examples. 

Then what is a person’s nation? The more you try to define it, the more you fall into trap of missing so many attributes of it. Yet, the feeling of belonging in a nation is one of the strongest. 

Slide 4

You must have seen this map on slide 4 before, at least some of you surely did. This orange patch is India in 1947, as carved out directly from the British India; the white part includes 552 princely states that later on came to be a part of the independent India. Today’s Indian nation could have been a different country, if, even, one of these 552 princely states could not be a part of it.

Interestingly, my very own state, West Bengal, is not there in this map — at least partially — as I see it. Some of you may recall that when certain handful of influential people were literally dissecting the map of British India in about the time 1946-47 behind closed doors, bargaining hard with each other for a few extra miles of the land, one plan which gained some momentum was to have the united Bengal as a separate country — which was roughly equal to today’s West Bengal and Bangladesh combined. If that had happened — a decision over which the people of either West Bengal or Bangladesh had no control — I could have been in a different country today!

But the fact of the matter is this: all these 552 princely states one by one became part of India, so did West Bengal, and finally what we got as our nation is this on slide 1.

Another interesting event that was there on my mind for a long time, and that appears to have almost been erased from our living memory is the story of Burma, now known as Myanmar. Burma was a part of British India until as late as 1937, which is just 10 years before India got her independence. Burma has been separated from British India not because of any freedom movement or any civil uprising, but to reduce the administrative load on the government of British India. If this separation had not happened, the shape of independent India could have been very different again. 

If you go backwards further in time, you will find a lot of such events, a slight change in the outcome of even one of which could have drastically changed the boundaries of many of the nation states that we see today. 

So finally, belonging in a particular nation may be just an accident, a small random beep in history.

Nation is much more about an idea — than about history or geography — the meaning of which takes time to get rooted in our minds. Not only that, the idea of a nation has many layers. And that it needs to be constantly cultivated, debated, worked towards and dissected to get to the bottom of it.  In short, building the idea of a nation is a profound physical, mental and emotional investment. And this exercise is every bit worth it, because this is the most important identity that you carry with you. 

Thank you and Jai Hind.

Disclaimer: Some of the pictures used in this presentation have been taken from various sources on the Internet. If there is any omission on our part to see certain license information leading to violation of copyright or so, kindly notify the undersigned without any delay.

Souradyuti Paul
souradyuti@iitbhilai.ac.in








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Upcoming Workshop on Data Science and Artificial Intelligence at IIT Bhilai (July 2-4, 2019)

Without allowing the momentum to fizzle out, close on the heels of the recently concluded Cybersecurity workshop, the EECS Department of IIT Bhilai is now organizing one more workshop on an even more hot topic, namely, Data Science and Artificial Intelligence on July 2-4, 2019. Doing right justice to our tradition, the workshop will feature talks by (and interactions with) some of the finest practitioners of the craft. As always, all the three sectors — industry, academia and public service — will be well represented in the workshop, in our earnest attempt to make the experience of the audience holistic and complete, without getting biased in any particular direction, due to the absence of the other.

Besides lectures, the worksop will have a poster session as well. This will be a wonderful opportunity for the budding researchers (as well as others) to bounce their ideas off their peers, and to get valuable feedback from them. Such an exercise is usually quite useful ahead of publishing the results as full articles in journals or conference proceedings.

See the published website for more details on the workshop.

National Workshop On Data Security and Cryptology at IIT Bhilai (May 27-29, 2019)

Finally it saw the light of day. To organize a workshop on data security has been on our mind for quite some time. There was a sustained enthusiasm and a demand as well, among both the students and the faculty members, to make that happen. Fortunately for us, IIT Bhilai is replete with people with long experience of working in diverse branches of information security, and of organizing workshops.

So the stage was already set. 

If you are short of time, here is a digest of the workshop in numbers: 3 days, 8 keynotes, 3 tutorials, and 70 attendees from around the country (including 28 faculty members). Enthusiastic participation was especially observed from the engineering colleges in and around the region of Raipur, Bhilai and Durg — IIIT Naya-Raipur, NIT Raipur, Pandit Ravi Shankar Shukla University, Bhilai Institute of Technology to name a few. 

We are pleased and thankful. 

Let’s now have a quick glance at the technical content of the event. 

Various cutting-edge cryptographic techniques, namely, data obfuscation and zero-knowledge proofs were discussed at length. The audience was thrilled to see the sheer magic that cryptography was able to create — compute using without seeing the data, or prove without disclosing the proof ! 

Security policies and frameworks — and how they impact the governance and economic parameters of the country — were also put on the table. This is a subject which is often not accorded its due importance, especially in academic conferences and workshops. We are especially happy to have such a talk on the agenda. 

The workshop witnessed a lively discussion on one of the hottest topics of the present time: the Indian EVM machine and how it functions. Apart from delving into the interplay of various cryptographic techniques, the lecture included a discussion on the deployment of the EVM machine through a host of meticulously planned administrative steps: starting out at the strongroom, leaving behind many intermediary steps to arrive at the polling booth — while along the way surviving innumerable verifications and examinations — continuing up until the time when the results were finally declared by the Election Commission, it was an incredible and arduous journey for the EVM machine, that completes the full cycle when returned back to its starting place to be used again in the next election. We also came to know how each and every administrative step, just discussed, painstakingly takes into account all the issues and concerns raised by representatives of the various stakeholders — the electorate, the polling officials, the candidates, the polling agents and many more. Excitement reached the zenith, as many participants became privy to these EVM details for the first time in their life. 

Another topic, hotly debated, dealt with determining the true nature of the digital revolution the nation is going through, its pitfalls, and the future challenges. The focus was laid particularly on the economic aspects of this digital transformation, in terms of the GDP growth, creation of new jobs, FinTech undertakings, etc. When combined with the emergence (and the fast adoption) of some of the very powerful technologies — IoT, Cloud, Blockchain, artificial intelligence, analytics — its impact on the society could be mind-boggling.

A considerable amount of time was spent on the trustworthiness of cyberphysical systems that were gradually replacing the human-controlled physical systems.

The workshop also featured an elaborate and comprehensive discussion on the endpoint security (which virtually covers all types nodes in a computer network), drawing on the knowledge of many real-life cyber attacks of recent times; Code Red Worm, WannaCry Ransomware, Mirai bot, etc. are some of them.

On to the above list of lectures, loosely tacked was a unique presentation, which was like holding up a mirror to the community of cryptography researchers, reminding them — with plenty of examples from the published literature — to be more careful and restrained while making tall claims, that often fly way off a reasonable practicality.

In addition to keynotes, there were tutorials also, on the following topics: Differential Cryptanalysis, Blockchains and Fault Attacks.

Miscellaneous links on the workshop are below.

A new form of malware: the Volkswagen case

A new era has perhaps arrived where companies can employ engineers for writing cheating software to deceive the customers, the regulatory bodies as well as the testing agencies.

“The cars’ computers were able to detect when they were being tested, and temporarily alter how their engines worked so they looked much cleaner than they actually were. When they weren’t being tested, they belched out 40 times the pollutants.

The Bruce Schneier article on this issue published on CNN. 

I have heard that the Indian government took cognizance of this automobile scandal, and have promised to take appropriate steps to see whether the Volkswagen cars sold to the Indian customers are safe or not.  Feel free  to write in the comments section on Indian government’s action on the issue.

Cybercrimes in India

(Based on my talk delivered on July 29, 2015 as a part of the foundation program of IIT Gandhinagar)

As the name suggests, acts of crimes perpetrated on the cyberspace – as opposed to the physical space — are known as cybercrimes.  These crimes essentially make use of one or more electronic devices connected to the computer networks.  Cybercrimes differ from the traditional or physical crimes in that, in the former the perpetrator need not come close to the victim physically to harm her, and that the execution of the crime is done entirely by means of interactions between electronic devices, where the criminal may be located thousands of miles away from the crime scene.

Continue reading “Cybercrimes in India”

US government surveillance aided by AT&T, reveals the Snowden document

Yet another bombshell just came from the suspected NSA files smuggled by Edward Snowden. This time the NSA — a US government agency working under the department of defence — is purported to have been in close relationship with the telecom giant AT&T for the purpose of collecting data passing through their networks.

The NYT article.

The NSA targets include the UN also, which is headquartered at New York. It is not clear whether all the “spying” had been done with or without court orders.

To read Matthew Green’s take on this issue from all technical, social and cultural standpoints, click.