Friday, 21 April 2017

Disability and Performance: Agency or the Lack of It?

The performative aspect of disability is often seen as a means to assert a disabled identity, which in turn posits a counter discursive corporeality. When it comes to disability theatre, playing out one’s disabled body on stage, before an audience whose assumption on normative bodily aesthetics is questioned in the process, becomes an act of empowerment. A conscious act of expressing one’s physical condition invites debate on whether the experiential and the demonstrative are mutually compatible. Taking this conversation forward, I would like to focus my article on a disabled performers group from China, named China’s Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe, which has 110 disabled performers and was established in 1987. The troupe has so far performed in around 60 countries and received the title of UNESCO Artist for Peace in 2007. Their idea of performing disabled bodies inches towards what may be perceived as a “normalising” experience, rather than an overt manifestation of their physical condition. In one of their famous shows, called ‘My Dream’, the dancers are seen performing a visually captivating movement on stage, with a thousand hands gesticulating behind their lead dancer in what is known as the 'Thousand-hand Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva' ( see image below).
In a review for the book Bodies in Commotion: Disability and Performance, Michael M. Chemers says, “[the book]…is remarkably reflective of [a commotion that blurs conventional borderlines]; indeed, it is a characteristic of [the authors’] inquiries into both performance and disability that do not seek to deny the intrinsic messiness of both sites” (92). In the case of China’s Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe, does presenting disability through an embellished visual aesthetics deny the “intrinsic messiness” that Chemers talks about? Where do such performances by disabled artists stand in the context of inclusiveness and integration? Is the idea of an alternative narrative problematised through such representations?
On the other hand, in Sri Lanka, an organisation called Sunera Foundation runs the Butterflies Theatre which includes “disabled soldiers in its cast and [use] their disablement for a critique of the war”(Shaun and Soldatic 105). Jehan Aloysius, who choreographed the show ‘An Inspired Swan Lake’ with the disabled soldiers, is quoted saying, “‘I wanted the disabled cast including the disabled soldiers to feel sensuous and sexy [in the show]. That was a new experience for them because disability is seen as asexual. That was the kind of change I sought”(107). The idea, in this case, is to see these soldiers explicitly as political and historical subjects, who subvert conventional ideas on disability through the aesthetics of art. Reading the  representational politics actualised by the Sunera Foundation in tandem with  China’s Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe, a reductive analysis would suggest that the latter fails to exert its agency. A close reading of the troupe’s performance though suggests that it is not indeed a simply binary, despite the apparent commercialisation involved in their global presence.
In the Bodhisattva dance, the disabled artists appropriate a popular cultural icon of Guanyin or Kwanyin, the Goddess of love and mercy. The troupe claims that through their performance they intend to spread unity and peace in the world. For a viewer, their disability is only incidental to the performance. It can be argued that they do not challenge their socio-cultural othering by almost conforming to the norms of ableism, but a contrarian view can also be put forth. The dancers, in an interview, summed up their bonding by saying that one acts as an eye for the other, while the other acts as the ear for another. The objective of their performance, as elucidated by the troupe members, can easily be dismissed on grounds that it simplifies the social ontology of a disabled body. At the same time, the troupe’s attempt to convey a symbolic meaning to its audience through dance can be read as appropriating the normative to subvert the audience’s expectations of a disabled body. Also, if one watches closely the movement of the thousand hands behind the lead dancer, it resembles what is popularly termed as “freak show”, displaying dismembered hands behind a single body. Within the boundaries of what may be perceived as a normative narrative, these dancers perform the fantastical on stage and the “able gaze” of the audience is in turn displaced into precarity.
The medical model of disability views the disabled body as different and lacking and works towards fixing that difference, while the social model sees agency in that difference and puts the onus on  society which otherwise thrives on a monolithic structure. In an interview to ‘China Daily’, Tai Lihua, the lead dancer of the troupe, said, “I hope people can still look at me with ordinary eyes... I hope instead that more attention can be given to disabled people who need help.” The article goes on to mention how with enough practice, the performance of the troupe is nearly flawless. If we are to consider the idea of disability propounded in the interview, it hinges towards the medical model, which somewhat encompasses the idea of charity towards the disabled. In another interview to ‘LA Times’, the troupe’s manager, Liu Xiao Cheng, says, “It wasn't enough for this troupe to arouse people's mercies," he said. "We wanted their respect." The dancers then go on to talk about the hardships they faced as disabled people and how they eventually overcame it all by joining the troupe.
Disability rights has emerged out of the shadow of the charity model of disability, following the United Nations legislation on the subject in 2006 and the rise of disability studies as a critical discipline. In this context, I would like to say that the approach of accommodating divergent voices like Lihua and Cheng, besides the likes of Sunera Foundation’s Jehan Aloysius, on their ideas of a disabled body and its representation can be a step forward towards greater inclusiveness than regression. For all these voices, the space of engagement and dialogue can perhaps be carved only through acknowledging individual experiences and offering multitudinous ways in which societal discrimination can be challenged.

Chemers, Michael . M. "Bodies in Commotion: Disability and Performance." Book and Performance Reviews (2005): 92. Web.
"A face for one thousand hands." China daily. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2017.<>.
Grech, Shaun, and Karen Soldatic. Disability in the global South: the critical handbook. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2016. Print.
"Their 'Dream' realized." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2017. <>.

Rupsha Mukherjee has completed Bachelors and Masters in English Literature from Presidency University, Kolkata. Currently, she is working as a Deputy Editor with a publishing company.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Social Media and its Impact on Education

Are today’s students tweeting their way to better grades? Not really. However, at least, nine out of ten people hold one of these social media accounts like Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook.
There are big differences in the patterns of use  from one social media site to another. Facebook is the most visited site and the one with highest rate of postings. YouTube is the second most visited but posting rates are low. While most of us only think about the negative effects of social media which includes cyber bullying, internet addiction etc, we tend to forget that social media is here to stay and there could be a positive upside, too.

A real time example of this use of social media was illustrated by one of my professors during our Microprocessor class. As soon as the class got over, the professor would give us a problem to solve along with a dedicated hashtag like ‘#EE3Micro’ and asked us to post our solutions on Facebook with the particular hashtag. Now just with one hashtag search, professor and students were both able to see all the solutions. This helped the students in figuring out many different approaches to tackle a single problem without point to point communication with their peers.

Setting up hash tags for individual courses to create online discussion communities for their students not only  allows the students to tag their academic posts, and view submissions to see what has been collectively produced but this strategy provokes more thoughtful responses from the students.When students know that their posts can be read not only by their peers but also by their professors, they not only pay more attention on what to say, but take more care of their grammar, spelling and punctuation. 

Social media is all about collaborating, networking, sharing knowledge and content. Thereby, it can be used as a tool to reduce the communication gap that exists in our day to day classroom activities. Use of social media is not without its problems. The two most important concerns about use of social media are privacy and integrity. In spite of these concerns, people believe that social media offers value in teaching and learning.

Social media makes it easier and convenient to access and provide information. Teachers and students remain connected with each other. Professors have started discussion forums by creating groups on Facebook, where students can post their queries, ideas and doubts. This also helps them by inculcating peer learning in their lives. These groups are also helpful to students who shy away from asking questions during classroom sessions. Besides making their work easy, another reason behind professors adopting this social media approach is to create a branding for them professionally. Facebook pages, twitter accounts, various blogs are highly accessed and hence can help professors in getting a high reputation. I guess everyone wants to get known for their work while working!

In every college and university, social media is being integrated in every way possible, including admissions, campus life, alumni relations and in the classrooms. If we are missing out  on the usage of social media, we are pushing away a lot potential audience. It is rightly said, “We live in a digital ecosystem, and it is vital that educational institutions adopt it”.

This article is written by Harpal Singh, an intern with the E-QUAL - Jadavpur University team. He is a final year student of Electrical Engineering at Jadavpur University, Kolkata.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Ethical Hacking and Data Security

As time progresses, so do we. We have come a long way from the time when postmen used to deliver mails to us and it took weeks to send messages. Even the early stage of development of computers seems a long way back. At present, we have very fast and efficient processors and internet, a large computer network around us which enables us in sharing information and communication within a few seconds. With such a great advancement, we have become so accustomed to the technology around us that it is difficult to imagine a life without it. But with the benefits we take advantage of, there are many weak links in the technology that we use; and those weaknesses can be easily exploited.

Hacking is an attempt to exploit a computer system or a private network inside a computer. Simply put, it is the unauthorized access to or control over computer network security systems for some illicit purpose. This is one of the many definitions. Hacking and related cyber-crimes are rampant nowadays.  In times like these, it is very important to keep oneself safe from these crimes. Here comes the necessity of ethical hacking.

An ethical hacker is a computer and networking expert who systematically attempts to penetrate a computer system or network on behalf of its owners for the purpose of finding security vulnerabilities that a malicious hacker could potentially exploit. Just as diamond cuts diamond, malicious hacking attempts on a system can be prevented by ethical hacking, that is letting ethical hackers attack the system under owner’s supervision to find out the security flaws. They use the same techniques to test and bypass a system's securities as their criminal counterparts. Instead of taking advantage of any vulnerabilities found, they provide advice on how to fix them so that the organization can improve its overall security. 

Ethical hacking first started in around 1970s, when the US government used groups of professional called “Red Teams” to hack its own computer systems. Since then, it has expanded into a big market as we live in a digital age where technology and internet have become inseparable parts of our lives. Staying connected to the internet lets any organization connect with the whole world. Here comes the need to get their systems tested and making changes wherever required so that they function without hindrances.

But why do we actually need ethical hacking? What are we actually protecting? The answer is data. Everything we do online either creates data or uses and modifies already created data. For example, the banking system stores financial information of its customers and databases for the social media contain users’ personal information. Cyber-crimes happen to either steal that data or destroy it. To manage these data, we have database management systems and to protect it, we implement security measures. Data security is the main priority for organizations of every type. Examples of data security technologies include disk encryption, backups, data masking and accidental or deliberate data deletion. 

One of the emerging advancement in the field of education, online learning and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), have eased the availability of quality education to the masses. Their reach and importance have been increasing gradually. Employability on the basis of online certification is also becoming more acceptable with time. For this reason, data security becomes extremely important when it comes to hosting and opting for MOOCs. Now the question is, what are the risks involved? There are problems such as plagiarism and data misuse but another more important security issue related to online learning is inconsistent user authentication. This means that a malicious hacker could pose as someone who is a registered user of a course. After gaining access to the user’s account, the hacker could disrupt the course progress or plagiarize the contents, but more gravely than those, s/he could steal the certificates.

Security vulnerabilities are commonly found in Learning Management System (LMS).  LMS helps educators create online dynamic web contents for students. One such popular LMS is Moodle which is open source, which means it is available by anyone for download free of cost. To ensure the security of the users, some MOOC platforms such as Coursera have developed identification mechanisms based on keystroke biometrics like typing patterns. However these mechanisms can be unreliable and privacy intrusive. An approach to solve this is Secure Learning Management System (SLMS) that uses the security properties of a Public Key Infrastructure. Educational Data Mining techniques are also used to extract knowledge from large data sets of the log files in the MOOC platforms. These information include IP addresses, timestamp, user navigation etc. and can be used to build a model for user authentication.   

These advancements do surely help in dealing with the crimes against data security in every aspect of technology, but more importantly, people need to be made aware and informed about the risks that arise with the use of new technology. This awareness is the first and essential step towards the security of the important data one hosts in and shares with the digital world.

This article is written by Aditya, an intern with the E-QUAL - Jadavpur University team. He is a final year student of Electrical Engineering at Jadavpur University, Kolkata.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016


In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, "If you educate the man, you educate the person but if you educate the woman, you educate the nation”. 

If records and statistics are to be believed it is clear that Mahatma Gandhi’s own people have not taken his advice very seriously. This article as the name suggests focuses on the position of women in India with regard to higher education. However  it must be clarified that this article does not look into the little development that has taken place or the small goals that have been achieved that show how far along we have come, which is not necessarily true. The fact remains that the majority of girl students are held back from higher studies simply by virtue of them being girls. The small percentages of improvement are not enough in the world’s second largest population and third largest educational sector after United States of America and China. Formulating laws and policies are not enough as it is seen that most of the times these laws and policies just remain for the inaugural of the event. Addressing the malice of gender discrimination of Higher Education in India has been a long drawn battle for empowerment against powerful structural forces in our society.  

 Most women in India discontinue their studies after their class XII board exams for reasons such as early marriage, myths related to loss of character due to ‘too much education’ and the like, reasons which are not unknown to us. This scene although it is changing now, however, is not changing fast enough. A majority of the families in India are yet to familarise themselves with the concept of the girls in their families receiving a good education as far they like (or can afford to) to begin with and later the question of them having a professional career can be looked into. 

To illustrate this stance, the example of the falling rates of women students in at IIMs from 32% in 2013 to 26% in 2016 shall come handy. India happens to be the hub of IT development and this sharp fall in the number of female students in the country’s top B-school has hit a low. There are only 649 enrolled women in the batch for 2016-2018 at the top six Indian Institute of Management (IIMs) from the near 800 women students who were enrolled in the 2013 batch exhibiting a drop of 19% in these institutes [1] This problem, if the horse’s mouth is to be believed, does not lie with low admissions of women but with low applications for admission in the first place. If fewer numbers of women apply then naturally fewer numbers of women will be admitted into the institute. 

There are also fields of study typified for women. NAAC study reveals that there is ghettoisation of women in fields of Arts and Commerce and mostly men throng in professional colleges of Engineering, IT and such fields.[2]  It must be pointed out that this disparity is much more in the rural than in the urban areas. However, the catch lies in the fact that majority of India’s population lives in small towns and villages and even that amounts to a very large number. 

Where on the one hand Canada has achieved a gender-equal cabinet, we are yet to achieve a gender-equal classroom. A very important reason for this is also the fact that women, for centuries now, have been viewed as unskilled labourers which when not sugar-coated means to be given work that the men folk would not agree to do. This division of labour shows how women do not need the education to do the work they shall do later in their lives such as working on the fields, rolling beedis, looking after the children and cattle or simply looking after their homes.
A more recent turn in the events can be the coming up of online education forums offering a wide selection of courses which people of all ages can sign up to and study from their computers. The question here remains as to what is the participation of Indian women in these online platforms not only as developers and educators but more importantly as the beneficiaries of this system. This can be especially beneficial to women who have had to discontinue for whatever reason(s) and can now, much later in their lives as mothers, home-makers and non-professionals can once again restart their education in any given field maybe not for a degree or career but for the sheer joy of learning and expanding their knowledge base. 

Some of the measures that can be taken up to encourage women to take up higher education are providing women role models in the various fields of education and academics so that their success might inspire women to not only continue their education but also inspire parents that their daughters too could achieve the same if given a chance. Providing counselling for both family and person concerned that having completed the board examinations is not enough and that there is a sea of knowledge out there waiting to be explored. The state and centre governments should also provide scholarships to women pursuing Masters and higher degrees that the excuse of economic insufficiency can be tackled.

There should be an increase in the co-educational faculty of colleges and universities so that girls can have somebody to look up to and aspire to be like while being able to choose from any institution they want to attend. This will go a long way in also educating and familiarising men from patriarchal backgrounds that women too have an equal right to education and the young men who are students now will be the fathers of daughters in years to come and that they do not repeat what they saw while growing up. Lastly, there should be security for women both within and outside the institutions so that the families are not apprehensive about their daughters going to college especially if they are attending college in another city or town altogether. For this women’s hostels should be established within the campus itself (if possible) or close to it for not only security sake but also to cut down costs of daily commute. 

That India will achieve gender parity in education, especially higher education, is beyond doubt going to happen sometime in the future. However it is better for everyone that it happens sooner than later so that no more talent is lost out on. There is now a need to work towards a full-fledged plan to bring women to the academic forefront. The number of women educational prodigies and geniuses that our country has lost out on, we shall never know but the redemption lies in not losing any more of them.


Sreeradha Dasgupta Basu and Varuni Khosla, 2016 August 27, Women losing strength at IIMs down to 26% in 2016 from 32% in 2013, The Economic Times, retrieved from URL

Vibhuti Patel, 2011 October 15, Gender perspective to the issue and challenges in higher education refresher courses, retrieved from URL

This article is written by Naquiya Nadeem, UG-III, Department of History, Jadavpur University, Kolkata.