Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Story of Rakesh Tikait: Farmer Leader Whose Tears were More Powerful Than the UP Government

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Vaishnavi Krishna Mohan

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Story of Rakesh Tikait: Farmer Leader Whose Tears were More Powerful Than the UP Government

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Global Views 360

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February 9, 2021

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Rakesh Tikait addressing a crowd at farmer protests | Source: Facebook

Rakesh Tikait addressing a crowd at farmer protests | Source: Facebook

On the evening of 28th January, 2021‚ Rakesh Tikait—national spokesperson of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU)—had an emotional outburst—while addressing the media. His outburst however became a major call back to the farmers across the Western Uttar Pradesh and was a turning point in the protest of the Centre’s new farm reform laws. But who is Rakesh Tikait? And how did he emerge as the new face of the protest? These are the questions which this article is going to answer.

51-year-old Rakesh Tikait hails from Sisauli village of Muzaffarnagar district, Uttar Pradesh. He is the second son of the elder farmer leader, late Mahendra Singh Tikait, who was the president of the Indian Farmers Union. Rakesh Tikait also has four brothers, the eldest one being Naresh Tikait—the national president of the BKU. Rakesh Tikait married Sunita Devi from Dadri village in Baghpat district in 1985. They have a son Charan Singh and two daughters, Seema and Jyoti. Tikait holds a Master of Arts degree from Meerut University.

Tikait joined the Delhi police force in 1985. He was a part of the police force until 1992—an year before which his father Mahendra Singh Tikait held a series of protests against the enhanced rate of fertilisers, hike in electricity rates, and regulation in supply of sugarcane to the sugar mills. He also pitched in for local farmers who were seeking higher compensation for land acquired on the outskirts of Lucknow for setting up a TELCO unit. The movement started fading due to pressure from the government. Hence, Rakesh decided to quit his job in 1993-94 and started taking part in the farmers’ fight with BKU. In the recent past, he has contested two elections, one on a Rashtriya Lok Dal ticket and another as an Independent, but was unsuccessful both times.

As the Tikait family hails from Sisauli, Muzaffarnagar, the family heads Baliyan Khap of 84 villages, giving it considerable influence within the Jat community of Western UP and Haryana.

Due to the Jat community's custom of passing on authority to the eldest son, Tikait’s elder brother Naresh Tikait took over the mantle of both the BKU and Baliyan Khap from Mahendra Singh Tikait. The BKU also has strong influence among the Malik and Deshwal Khaps. The Tikait brothers have been trying to live up to the towering standards that their father has set. Mahendra Singh Tikait was a well-knows figure among both Hindu and Muslim farmers of Western UP, who had shared economic interests.

He has led numerous massive demonstrations against the Centre and state government on farmers' issues and was the voice of farmers. In 1988, lakhs of farmers gathered at Boat Club in the heart of Delhi and placed their 35 point charter of demands, seeking various concessions for farmers including higher prices for sugarcane, cancellation of loans, lowering of water tax and waiver of electricity dues. The protest was Tikait’s biggest protest which eventually brought the Rajiv Gandhi government to its knees.

In 2007, Rakesh Tikait, for the first time contested independently from Khatauli, Muzaffarnagar. In 2014, Rakesh Tikait Joined the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Amroha. This came as a shock to many as Tikait had been critical of RLD and some argue a BJP supporter. A striking case in point being Mahapanchayat in Muzaffarnagar in 2013 that led to communal riots in west UP was in fact jointly addressed by leaders of BKU and BJP.

“I had to choose between RLD and others. I found RLD better. It is the party that has taken up the issue of farmers,” Tikait told the Times of India. However, Tikait failed in both his attempts.

Rakesh Tikait has constantly been the voice of farmers. In 2014, Tikait organized the Dunkal movement at the Red Fort in Delhi demanding the government to increase the price of millet in the interest of farmers of Rajasthan. Tikait’s demonstrations against the government landed him in Jaipur Jail. However, his protests were successful as the government eventually agreed to the farmers’ demand.  

The ongoing farmers protest lost support after the unfortunate events which took place at Red Fort on 26th of January. On this day, the Indian tricolor was allegedly disrespected, several farmers and policemen were victims of violence, the protest aggravated to an extent where a farmer even lost his life. The leaders and the decision makers of the movement did not realize that it is always difficult to control and discipline a rally. A rally on move is more vulnerable to anti-social elements and government linked saboteurs to blend with the crowd and create mayhem. This not only discredited the farmers’ movement but over 13 prominent leaders of the movement including Yogendra Yadav were detained by the police. On 28th of January, Tikait’s turned emotional as he said “ I saw the BJP MLA [allegedly identified by the farmers as Loni MLA Nand Kishore Gurjar] who had come here to attack our elders, my sardar brothers. I could not let that happen, they have all come here on my call, I am responsible for them. This is wrong, the people have chosen them, the people cannot be harmed. I had told the government that I would surrender, but it is my responsibility to make sure all my farmers are safe. I knew what could happen if the police took them if they left from here on their tractor’s trolleys. I knew when they reached Hapur and beyond, BJP and RSS workers would begin pelting stones on them. I cannot let that happen. The farmer was never scared, the farmer will never be scared. Those who incited violence on (January 26th) must be investigated by the government. Tell people the truth.” With a parched throat and welling eyes he said, “I will drink water when the farmers send it from their homes.” This emotional video went viral across Uttar Pradesh through WhatsApp and television telecast. Hundreds of people packed food and water and set off from Uttar Pradesh to reach Delhi. They all broke their fast after Tikait sipped the water that they brought. Tikait’s tears not only guarded the Ghazipur protest site from what seemed like a crackdown but he also reignited the spark and revived the dying protest.

Rakesh Tikait addressing press | Source: Twitter

Critics said that the government had committed a blunder by falsely assuming that the protest had lost its support and sympathy amongst the public after the unfortunate events of Jan 26th. The police did not face much difficulty vacating the camps at the Ghazipur border by late evening of 28th Jan. The government too perceived Tikait as a loose canon and an irresponsible leader. Furthermore, the police did not detain Tikait along with other leaders. At a point of time, he was the only leader left on the stage at the protest site in Ghazipur. Critics speculate that they did not detain him as he previously was a supporter of BJP and in fact voted for the party in the 2019 elections and hence the BJP thought they could still convince him to take a middle ground and further dilute the movement.  However, Tikait turned the tables on the administration. His address resonated across the entire Jat community of western UP, which till then had been passive in extending support to him. The Yogi government cannot afford to take any more chances as the “Jat land” has firmly supported BJP for the past six years, especially after the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013. In addition to this, since the Yogi government came to power in 2017, they have increased the state advised price of Sugarcane by only Rs.10 per quintal. The state advised price for 2020-21 has not been announced yet although the crushing operations have begun at mills as early as November 2020. What is more is that the UP government owes the farmers over Rs.12,000 crore against the cane purchased in the current and the previous season. In UP, a greater source of farmer anger apart from the three reform laws and the SAP of sugarcane is for doubling electricity charges for both irrigation pumps and domestic use. The hike in diesel price by Rs.10/L in one year has further fueled their anger.

Now, a Kisan Mahapnachayat is also taking place in Muzaffarnagar. The same district where the Mahapanchayat was held after the riots in Muzaffarnagar. The latter Mahapanchayat played a crucial role in the 2017 elections.

The Indian Farmers Union has constantly been in talk with the government. Rakesh Tikait has once again been the voice of farmers. Now, the government has to decide whether the movement will end or not given that the Farmers are demanding a complete withdrawal of all three laws.

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April 13, 2021 2:10 PM

Detecting The Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays With Smartphones

Smartphones have become the most commonplace objects in our daily lives. The unimaginable power that we hold in our hands is unrealized by most of us and, more importantly, untapped. Its creativity often gets misused but one can only hope that it’s fascinating abilities would be utilized. For example, did you know that the millions of phones around the globe can be connected to form a particle detector? The following article covers the CRAYFIS (Cosmic RAYs Found in Smartphones) phone-based application developed by the physicists from the University of California—Daniel Whiteson, Michael Mulhearn, and their team. CRAYFIS aims to take advantage of the large network of smartphones around the world and detect the cosmic or gamma rays bursts which enter the Earth’s atmosphere almost constantly.

What Are Cosmic Rays?

Cosmic rays are high velocity subatomic particles bombarding the Earth’s upper atmosphere continuously. Cosmic ray bursts have the highest energy compared to all forms of electro-magnetic radiation. When we say ultra-high energy particles (energy more than 1018^eV), we mean two million times more energetic than the ones that can be produced by the particle colliders on Earth.  These rays are thought to be more powerful than typical supernovae and can release trillions of times more energy than the Sun. They are also highly unpredictable as they can enter Earth’s atmosphere from any direction and the bursts can last for any period of time ranging from a few thousand seconds to several minutes.

Despite many theoretical hypotheses, the sources of these ultra-high energy cosmic rays are still a mystery to us even after many decades of their discovery. These rays were initially discovered in the 1960’s by the U.S. military when they were doing background checks for gamma rays after nuclear weapon testing. Cosmologists suggest that these bursts could be the result of super massive stars collapsing - leading to hypernova; or can be retraced to collisions of black holes with other black holes or neutron stars.

How Do We Detect Them?

When the high-energy particles collide with the Earth’s atmosphere, the air and the gas molecules cause them to break apart and create massive showers of relatively low-energy particles. Aurora borealis i.e., the Northern and the Southern lights are the lights that are emitted when these cosmic rays interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. Currently, these particles are hitting the Earth at a rate of about one per square meter per second. The showers get scattered to a radius of one or two kilometers consisting mostly of high-energy photons, electrons, positrons and muons. But the fact that these particles can hit the Earth anytime and anywhere is where the problem arises. Since the Earth has a massive area, it is not possible to place a detector everywhere and catch them at the exact moment.

Energetic charged particles known as cosmic rays hit our atmosphere, where they collide with air molecules to produce a shower of secondary particle | Source: CERN

Detecting such a shower requires a very big telescope, which logically means a network of individual particle detectors distributed over a mile or two-wide radius and connected to each other. The Pierre Auger Observatory in South America is the only such arrangement where 1,600 particle detectors have been scattered on 3,000 square kilometers of land. But the construction cost of the same was about $100 million. Yet, only a few cosmic ray particles could be detected using this arrangement. How do we spread this network around the Earth?

In addition to being cost-effective, such a setup must also be feasible. The Earth’s surface cannot possibly be dotted with particle detectors which cost huge fortunes. This is where smartphones come into the picture.

Detecting The Particles Using Smartphones

Smartphones are the most appropriate devices required to solve the problem. They have planet wide coverage, are affordable by most people and are being actively used by more than 1.5 billion users around the planet. Individually, these devices are low and inefficient; but a considerably dense network of such devices can give us a chance to detect cosmic ray showers belonging to the highest energy range.

Previous research has shown that smartphones have the capability of detecting ionizing radiation. The camera is the most sensitive part of the smartphone and is just the device required to meet our expectations. A CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) device is present in the camera- in which silicon photodiode pixels produce electron-hole pairs when struck by visible photons (when photons are detected by the CMOS device, it leaves traces of weakly activated pixels). The incoming rays are also laced with other noises and interference from the surroundings.  Although these devices are made to detect visible light, they still have the capability of detecting higher-energy photons and also low-ionizing particles such as the muons.

A screenshot from the app which shows the exposure time, the events- the number of particles recorded and other properties

To avoid normal light, the CRAYFIS application is to be run during nighttime with the camera facing down. As the phone processor runs the application it collects data from its surroundings using a camera as its detector element. The megapixel images (i.e., the incoming particles) are scanned at a speed of 5 to 15 frames per second, depending on the frame-processing speed of the device. Scientists expect that signals from the cosmic rays would occur rarely, i.e., around one in 500 frames. Also, there is the job of removing background data. An algorithm was created to tune the incoming particle shower by setting a threshold frequency at around 0.1 frames per second. Frames containing pixels above the threshold are stored and passed to the second stage which examines the stored frames, saving only the pixels above a second, lower threshold.

The CRAYFIS app is designed to run when the phone is not being used and when it is connected to a power source. The actual performance would be widely affected by the geometry of the smartphone’s camera and the conditions in which the data is being collected. Further, once the application is installed and is in the operating mode, no participation is required from the user, which is required to achieve wide-scale participation. When a Wifi connection is available the collected data would be uploaded to the central server so that it could be interpreted.

There is much complicated math used to trace back the information collected from the application. The most important parameters for the app are the local density of incoming particles, the detection area of the phone and the particle identification efficiency. These parameters are used to find the mean number of candidates (photons or muons) being detected. Further, the probability that a phone will detect no candidates or the probability that a phone will detect one or more candidates is given by Poisson distribution. The density of the shower is directly proportional to the incident particle energy with a distribution in x and y sensitive to the direction in which the particle came from. An Unbinned Likelihood (it is the probability of obtaining a certain data- in this case the distribution of the cosmic rays including their energy and direction, the obtained data is arranged into bins which are very, very small) analysis is used to determine the incident particle energy and direction. To eliminate background interference, a benchmark requirement has been set that at least 5 phones must detect and register a hit to be considered as a candidate.

It is impossible to express just how mind-blowing this innovation is. As the days pass, Science and Technology around us keep on surprising us and challenge us to rack our brains for more and more unique ways to deal with complex problems. The CRAYFIS app is simply beautiful and it would be a dream-come-true to the scientists if the project works out and we are able to detect these high energy, super intimidating cosmic rays with smartphones from our backyard.

Further Reading

The paper by Daniel Whiteson and team can be found here.

An exciting book “We Have No Idea” by Daniel Whiteson and cartoonist Jorge Cham can be found here.

The CRAYFIS app can be found here.

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