The Versius robot is here – Is it the biggest news ever in robotic surgery?

I learnt surgery in an era which was very different from the time my father learnt the same craft. The first day I entered the operating rooms of Madras Medical College, multiple screens of the laparoscopy unit stared into me. The distinct hum of the harmonic scalpel filled the entire operating room. The oldest medical college in Asia was not a relic. The young men and women in that room were embracing modern tech at a rate which a generation of surgeons before them could have never imagined.

Surgery as we knew it had changed in the last 20 years. Surgeons in the west in the early 1990s faced a choice – learn laparoscopy or stop operating. Many old time legends who were revered by legions of surgeons and students saw laparoscopy as something which could never replace open abdominal surgery. They soon became obsolete. Readers may think that the words are harsh but they do reflect the truth. This situation repeated itself in the Indian sub-continent just a few years later.

“Nothing can beat the feel of your hands in the pelvis” “Bigger surgeons make bigger incisions”. Some of these phrases still reverberate in ORs today mouthed by an older male surgeon who never understands how a long instrument could replace his fingers. They often strut around in the old charity hospitals of India whose ORs they once dominated. As they move from OR to OR the young surgeons(many of them women) wish them with a hurried sweetness. They know him , they have read his books. They also know that he is no more relevant because he refused to learn something new when the time was there. And then there were a few who weren’t so young when laparoscopy was sneaking its way in but decided that there was no way they were going to be left behind. India had its share of masters – Palanivelu, Bhatia and Chowbey who changed the way entire generations of surgeons looked at laparoscopy. I remember my father when I was a kid, travelling a thousand kilometers just to see one of these men operate. I see the same men operate now , on the screens of my iPad.

The idea of robot doing surgery started not long after laparoscopy captured our imagination. In. 1990. Dr Frederic Moll, a tech visionary and a surgery residency drop-out conceptualised the idea of a robot which could help a surgeon operate. The seeds of the Da Vinci were sown.The FDA approval for the robotic system in surgery in 2000 was a game-changer. The surgeon got the wrist ‘back’ and it all seemed good. The new millennium seemed to usher in the robotics era. Pundits predicted the end of laparoscopy. But the initial excitement died down. Urology adapted remarkably well to the system. Complex prostate surgeries and hysterectomies were well served by the robots. But the hype was short lived. Da Vinci proved to be a major white elephant. There are about 4000 Da Vinci units in the world, half of them in the United States. The Da Vinci never was able to penetrate the vast Asian market as it envisaged. Most installations in India never made a profit. The initial cost was upward of 2 million dollars and the annual charges were prohibitive. Insurance was a major hassle in most parts of the world. Convincing patients to shell out a significant hunk of money was almost impossible. The entire system was fraught with major logistics and financial issues. The Da Vinci which was a work of art, could never be utilised to its full potential. Two decades after the first FDA approval, robotics barely made a dent in the minimal access world.

The initial hype behind robotics pushed many leading tech majors to invest in robotics. Johnson & Johnson’s acquisition of robotics startup Aurius Health in a $ 3.4 billion deal and and the much talked about Medtronic robotics team have made surgical robotics a hot area. CMR Surgical is a new entrant but has managed to launch their product relatively fast. Originally known as Cambridge Medical Robotics, CMR Surgical has raised $ 240 million in its latest round of funding in September 2019. Sources in the industry have revealed that CMR is looking to expand heavily in India and Middle East with at least 25 MoUs signed within 5 months of launch of their latest Versius robot. One of the Versius systems installed in Pune,India has already completed 100 robotically done cancer surgeries.

Why do I believe that Versius by CMR Surgical will usher a new age in robotic surgery?

I had an opportunity to play with one of their systems in the Middle East recently. Let me warn you that I haven’t operated on a Da Vinci before but have played simulation on a Da Vinci in a dry lab, a couple of times each lasting a few hours. The Versius unit I handled was preceded by a boring lecture on how good the Versius is. Well, I made a major mistake of underestimating it. The Versius is an absolute beauty. We started with the simulation exercises. The Versius unit comes with the simulation system at no extra cost unlike the Da Vinci units. The exercises were pretty standard involving a lot of cutting, stitching and burning. So how does the system compare to the Da Vinci?

There is need to haunch or bend excessively while operating like you need to do in the Da Vinci system. Simple 3D glasses enable viewing at a comfortable angle. There is also an arm rest which allows you to operate at ease. But the Versius is brilliant in more ways than one. Evolution allocated a greater part of our brain to our fingers than our toes. The makers of Versius at Cambridge have evidently thought about it because the diathermy controls are at your fingers not at your feet. It would be heaven-sent to a subset of paraplegic surgeons who desire to operate. The gameplay(to use game lingo) is as good as the Da Vinci but there is a lot of work to be done on improving the haptic feedback. I didn’t have much play time on real tissue so I hope to update my review soon after I get more hands on live tissue.

Where I think the Versius scores the biggest is its portability and ease of movement. The entire system can be moved from one room to another with minimal effort. No dedicated OR is necessary, making logistics easier for smaller hospitals in India. It will also useful for the legendary travelling surgeons (quite unique to the subcontinent) who load a decade old Maruti Omni with their laparoscopy sets and roll about the district removing uteruses and gall bladders at request. Too far fetched? I don’t think so considering that India looks like the biggest market for Versius right now. Docking the arms of the Da Vinci was always a major struggle and sometimes took up a lot more of precious operating time than expected. You simply don’t need to dock anything on the Versius. The arms are standalone sleek units whose placement is quite akin to the laparoscopy port positions. Versius doesn’t have any advanced energy devices as of now but we hear that it is in the pipeline.

I am not going to comment much on the costs but it definitely is way cheaper than the Da Vinci. Major changes in the Asian healthcare scenario have always been driven by the private healthcare players and cost has been the biggest roadblock for the Da Vinci. Our psyche wouldn’t allow us to use something more expensive when we have something cheaper that works as good. We are looking at a winner here in terms of cost.

The final verdict: Versius is sleeker, easier on the pocket and looks as good as the Da Vinci with regards to handling. Does Da Vinci have anything to fear? Oh yeah a lot. Da Vinci is simply too too expensive for this part of the world. Will it replace laparoscopy? I have a feeling it will. We are staring at a revolution in robotic surgery here simply because the costs are low for a very high end product. Time will tell how good it is in real operating theatres but I definitely am going to bet on this machine from Cambridge.

Vinayak Rengan is a Chennai based surgeon and entrepreneur who is the founder of Surgtest – a surgical education platform that is launching a surgery learning app later this year. He is the founder-editor of where he writes on science, public health and sociology-political issues.


Vinayak Rengan

The hospital where I work in Delhi has a lounge where the surgeons and anaesthetists converge over a cup of coffee to discuss, argue and ruminate over a number of issues – most of it revolving around traffic , weather, Modi and Kejriwal. On a busy weekday morning, there was only one discussion that dominated the lounge. White bearded senior surgeons and fresh out of school young OT boys had heated discussions on the loss of contact of the mission control with the Vikram lander. Terms like orbiter, lander, apogee and orbit raising were used freely and the entire scalpel wielding crowd sighed over the sad fate of the lander. Chandrayaan-2 was now a national issue.

I was disappointed as many were about the loss of contact with the lander. We all sympathised with the ISRO team which worked on a budget less than that of major Hollywood movies. But it was also very heartening to see nurses discussing about the moon mission. Science had indeed entered into our living rooms. There was jingoism, false sense of political pride but yes we have common people learning about science which I think matters more than anything. When the first men landed on moon and the American flag was hoisted on the rough lunar surface, there was an outpouring of national pride and superiority in the United States. The entire mission was intended to upstage the Soviets. The jingoism lasted for long but what lasted more was the curiosity in the minds of millions of children all over the world who wanted to become space explorers. There is no substitute to inculcating rational scientific temper in the minds of children.

It is disheartening a number of activists lashing out at the mission claiming that the money should have been better spent in eradication of poverty. What the international media and our own citizens don’t realise is that the money spent on Indian Space programs has done more for our farmers than what most major governments and NGOs have ever done. When the Indian space program was still in its early stages and bicycles were used to transport equipment, Prime Minister Nehru never bowed down to forces both international and domestic who questioned the rationale of the expense.

The Indian remote sensing satellite network which is the largest civilian satellite network in the world uses its data to monitor natural disasters, aid water management systems and provide data for railways, air and road transport. Crop forecasts which use remote sensing data has been functional with great success since early eighties. This led to the success of CAPE (Crop Acreage and Production Estimation) project which has helped millions of farmers all over the country. We are able to predict our rains and our droughts. We are able to predict disasters and plan evacuations. We are self-reliant on our satellite data to help the armed forces during crisis situations. ISRO runs the most successful satellite education program in the world bringing education to thousands of under-served villages

If this is not enough for the common man, it is also necessary to know that ISRO is also commercially viable, launching satellites for various international organisations for a fee. ISRO stands tall as a successful public sector initiative that must be encouraged not vilified. It represents a symbol of scientific progress in a nation where pseudo-science is often glorified. If you cannot bring yourself to like it, atleast don’t demean it.

“Very many individuals with myopic vision questioned the relevance of space activities in a newly independent nation which was finding it difficult to feed its population. But neither Prime Minister Nehru nor Prof. Sarabhai had any ambiguity of purpose. Their vision was very clear: if Indians were to play meaningful role in the community of nations, they must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to their real-life problems. They had no intention of using it merely as a means of displaying our might.”

— A. P. J. Abdul Kalam,

Vinayak Rengan is a General surgeon who graduated from MMC and the founder of He writes on science, socio-political issues and public health.


A Giant Step Backwards

The Stonebench is taking a strong position on the 10% reservations issue. Editors generally frown when we start on such strong negative note. But it helped that the editor is also the writer. We have never had this many reasons to oppose anything so wholeheartedly.

The Mandal commission was instituted as a means of social justice to uplift the oppressed by providing them opportunities in higher education. Affirmative action was never instituted as a means of alleviating poverty. Poverty is an indirect consequence of social oppression and poverty alleviation is an important component but affirmative action was never intended to resolve poverty. Poverty alleviation is the work of MNREGA and other poor friendly schemes of the government.

However we cannot even claim that this is going to help the economically disadvantaged among the forward classes. The farce of Rs 8 lakh annual income incorporates 95% of the nation’s population. It is an accepted fact that the benefits of this 10% affirmative action will benefit a miniscule of the economically disadvantaged Indians. The top earning Rs 6 lakh to 8 lakh have access to quality primary and secondary school education. These are going to be the actual beneficiaries of this ill-conceived step.

Reservation in India is already being misused by the dominant agrarian and ruling castes. The Jats and Marhattas have already emulated the Tamil Nadu model where dominant castes who have for years continued to perpetrate caste atrocities have taken a chunk of the reservation. The poorest of the poor dalits and manual scavengers can only dream of being benefitted by affirmative action when they have no access to even rudimentary school education.

Increasing the percentage of reserved seats also puts at continuous disadvantage the people competing in the open quota. It is the right of the unreserved also to compete reasonably.

Article 16(4) of the constitution claims that the beneficiaries of reservation have to be ‘minority’ in nature. An income less than Rs 8 lakh puts these bracket of people in the 95th percentile of the population. This bill will not hold in the eyes of any constitutional authority. An amendment to modify article 15(4) and make economic backwardness an criteria of reservation still does not address the issue of article 16(4).

Any attempt at eradicating poverty must aim at improving access to education and better infrastructure. There is no economic, social or constitutional logic for this reservation. We will reserve our judgement about the intention but this bill is definitely a giant step backwards.

Vinayak Rengan is a political commentator and a surgery resident in Chennai. He writes about technology, public health and socio-political issues.

Rise of the Internet Fanatic – Religion and Hate in the Cyber Era

The internet has changed our lives in ways we could not even imagine. The way we book our tickets, the way we prepare for our examinations and the way we watch movies. Netflix and Amazon Prime have modified our living rooms. It has been years since I have actually approached a travel agent to book tickets for me. The rise of internet has also had many darker effects. Cyber sex and hacking were words unknown to our parents. Pornography has influenced the sex lives of so many millennials. The late nineties saw the rise of the internet generation – Liberal, impatient and ambitious. We craved speed – faster networks and instant gratification. But a very decidedly different group of young men and women arose.

What was confined to the Wahabbi madrasas of Saudi Arabia could pervade the mobile phones of young Muslim boys in Tirunelveli. The xenophobia of the saffron fringe could infiltrate the living rooms of the Indian middle class. The fundamentalist Christianity of Billy Graham in the United States was in our fingertips.

A new sub-generation arose. Radical, opinionated and doggedly religious. The phenomenon started about 15 years ago. The Stonebench team approached Dr Akbaruddin ( names changed ) a general practioner in a southern district of Tamil Nadu. His family of devout Muslims was prominent in the nearby few villages. Dr Akbaruddin was a senior doctor who catered to the medical needs of many local villagers. The changes were subtle in the beginning. Dr Akbar’s nephew started growing a beard and Zakir Naik’s sermons started to inspire him. He refused to attend the Muharram festivities in the village because it was allegedly ‘shirk’ (prohibited). Dr Akbar and his family initially enthused by his new found devotion were shocked. One day he asked his own aunt to cover up and wear a hijab. Dr Akbar practiced a moderate and tolerant version of Islam that was suddenly being questioned by his own nephew. The inclusive Islam that his family had practiced for centuries was not similar to the new version. The final straw was when he told his own father not to vote for a friend in the local panchayat elections because he was a kafir. Anwaruddin all of 19 years then left home 7 years ago and joined a radical Islamic evangelist outfit which now proselytises all over Tamil Nadu. He is active on Facebook and frequently quotes radical preachers.

We approached Anwaruddin on Facebook and met Rajiv , a fervent internet Hindu through Anwar. Rajiv and Anwar had spent half a day trolling each other on a Facebook post about Modi. Abuses such as “cow-piss drinkers” and “porkistani” were exchanged liberally between themselves. Rajiv was an fervent internet hindutva warrior. He held beliefs that are incompatible with modern morality along with a masters degree in computer science. He spoke about how Hindus were being “ outnumbered and ill treated “ in our nation. A religion which had survived 3000 years was suddenly under threat. During the day he worked at a corporate office in an IT park. Evenings were spent spilling vitriol over the so called secularists and liberals. He spent hours justifying lynch mobs and cow-protectors. His knowledge about Hindu scriptures was limited but spent evening scourging for phrases in the Quran and the Bible to justify his anger against Muslims and Christians. The Facebook groups of which he was a member fed his fears and fuelled the hate. Violence in the name of a temple was justified. He told me unapologetically how he had once asked his father to stop doing business with Muslims.

It has been difficult being devoid of belief. The first time I encountered it was in school, when a Christian friend offered to ‘save me’. I had to politely refuse the offer. Offers to save me from mathematics classes were more welcome. College was not much different. I met young men and women who were more internet-savvy and more religious than their parents. They were educated and yet were ready to accept the non -scientific beliefs of their religions. I spent hours debating with colleagues about evolution – a concept my religious doctor friends could not accept despite immense proof. LGBT rights were an area when all the bigots of varying denominations agreed upon. “Homosexuality is a sin “they boomed. Babas, maulvis and pastors jointly agreed upon it and their online followers thundered their approval with clicks and likes.

It has become morally acceptable to tell women to stop wearing short skirts. Unsolicited advice is the norm on Facebook. It has also become mainstream to use your office internet connection to abuse a person who disagrees with your views. Bigotry spreads exponentially with every retweet. When I was a teenager, my father was more worried about pornography on the internet. It won’t be the same for my son. I would be more worried about grown men preaching from studios with scriptures in their hands. Drinking chocolate milkshake on Wednesday might be forbidden in your religion. Just don’t ask me not to drink it. Concept of God is a very private thing and is best left confined to the prayer rooms of your homes. Internet is not the place for it.

Vinayak Rengan is a General Surgery resident in Chennai who writes on socio-political issues and technology. He is interested in public health and using technology to solve public health problems. He sometimes forgets his wallet at home and doesn’t keep his room neat.

Why I can’t slap back #metoo

Krithika Rengan
Privilege is a term seldom understood. It can most often be only understood by the oppressed and the victimised. The #metoo debate has captured the imagination of the nation. Opinions fly past us without much thought put into it. The most striking opinion has been a ….

“Strong women don’t have *me too* sob stories, they only have * I slapped him back * short essays.

A thought process like this smacks of privilege and an utter lack of understanding of how power dynamic works. It reflects arrogance and lack of empathy. Abuse doesn’t occur with strangers. Abuse is most often perpetrated by a man/woman in a position of power. The victim is in a position of vulnerability. The abuser is a relative or an uncle. Sometimes he is a teacher, sometimes a superior. It breaks my heart to see the young woman who are coming out now being slut-shamed and having their motives questioned.

I am 50 years now , mother of two brilliant doctors and a doting grandmother to a beautiful young baby boy. I run my own business and for the past 15 years have been able to choose my time of work. 40 years ago when I grew up in Trivandrum , things were different. Father was a chartered accountant and we were socially respected. Ours was a large family. A favourite child of all my uncles , it was a shock when my privacy was first violated. 1970s we weren’t taught about good touch or bad touch. My uncle whom I loved the most decided it was ok to take liberties with me.

Unlike some of the women who found the courage to describe what happened to them, I am unable to type it out on the computer screen. The memories of the incident and its repeats will haunt me for a lifetime. I could confide only to a few and all of them asked me to hush it up. In my family whatsapp groups when I see men discussing the #metoo movement with disdain, I feel like shouting back. Often it ends with meek replies on how I disagree with them. Every word of mine subconsciously aims to not offend them. Yet that is one privilege they don’t afford to us women. Before they decry the entire saga of abuse , they don’t think that it could offend the women in their families.

In school, we had a master who would insist on pinching my underarms for every misdemeanour- real or imagined. I couldn’t talk against him then. I was all but a girl of 12 then. These men misused their position of power and proximity. They knew that their actions would go unquestioned. They would pinch me and next day smile at me as if nothing happened. We are the ones expected not to create a scene lest it offends them. I still don’t have the courage to name the relative who abused me. When I see these women coming out and naming their monsters years later, I know that they are taking a big step towards fighting for a safe environment.

I was born in upper middle class family and had access to good education. Yet it took me decades to come out. I shudder to imagine what the millions of underprivileged young women in this world face.


Krithika Rengan , founder of Charvi Skin Solutions is a mother of two and a loving grandmother. She writes about women empowerment and gender issues.


In the wake of remembering India’s daughters who have been all so barbarously obliterated from existence for man’s need for lust , there now exists a new low where even powerless but not voiceless arm chair critics like me can only gasp at the demoralizing trend of disputations following Asifa’s death .

The anarchists of the world often describe a pattern of human reflections on crime , where we the modern civilization hardly pay attention when an inarticulate tribal women from Chattisgarh is raped and violated but our senses become alarmed if a some obese woman is fat shamed on facebook . Yes we all happen to be busy in our own worlds being imperceptive to most inhumane things that happen in our society unless the event hits you where it matters . In a way , isnt every single one of us guilty and dont even deserve to opine upon, when another vulgar act of sexual offence comes to life . A collective responsibility to ensure adequate response to whistle blowers followed by government bodies efficiently conducting a trial to promptly punishing the guilty , whoever it may be was always the need of the hour . It never struck our senses that our pathetic system grossly lacked this engine but the moment someones religion is thrown upon this pile , there seems to be a sudden surge of attention to this unfortunately usual injustice . Why ? Because this event hit us where it matters , Religion matters to Indians , sadly not for the spiritual need but as an image !

JOKER quote

The land of thousand gods , India for the first time is perhaps witnessing a line of generation whose relation to their religious entity is following a trend of Hero worship and Image building rather than a pathway to salvation or Nirvana . I hate to admit that Euro-caucasian Hindus understand the religion in the right context better than our own people . This is the trend we have been seeing ever since our new government came to power , there has been active efforts to show off power and invincibility that the youth feel they have by being a particular religion , and we have a long line of men in power actually supporting the act .


I’m a Tamilian , I come from the land of temples , Ive probably attended more Temples and mutts than you ever will but always for one purpose and one purpose only , Inner peace and Hope , through the observation of a superior power that may one day guide us to find your true inner self . I had the fear of god ingrained in me since childhood , I did eventually grew out of it but the purpose it served in the construction of my morality makes it an essential rite of passage .There is still a long history of practices , that are ritualistically archaic when people lose the meaning of it but hold on to it simply out of respect for the morales it holds and off course the purpose of delivering peace to oneself is still delivered through these archaic methods .

GOD IS one

Now let me show you something , In the above paragraph , try replacing the word ‘temple’ with either mosque/church , the meaning will still hold fine with regards to the purpose of religion. Isn’t it fascinating that god really means the same in all religion . God is perhaps the most important belief that humans naturally cling on to and as a kid it serves the purpose of being the strict teacher that corrects harshly and as we grow up it soon comes to mean the part of us that is human and still serves to guide us in our journey of transcendency .

Sadly, there are people who interpret it differently and start making religion a cut throat team game or a political wing with the god being their supreme leader and the youth who already are going through their Identity crisis become so engraved it this image that religion gives them and naturally develop a relation to religion like how a Nazi starts glorifying the Fuhrer . This is where it fundamentally goes wrong and a person’s relation to god is lost to his search for self esteem and domination that he hopes his religion will offer . And a man who must be a loyal servant to his leader/cult , will do anything to make him look strong , even kill or avenge someone or behave in ways that is completely inhumane towards another human who just appears as the rival in his eyes . Thus , he is no more a human but only a puppet to the strings of his cult ,and God can no more exist inside this puppet and there we have it , where religion effectively kills the god in some one .

Parade of the SS Guard, the Nazi elite, at a Party rally in Nurmberg in the late 1930s.

Lets look at the recent events of the child Asifa’s murder that clinically depicted this underlying flaw in our generations personality with respect to their relationship with their religion . Here we have a case of grusome child sexual offence with one of the most horrific sequence of events as reported that clearly depicts the work of men who definitely fall into the spectrum of Dissocial personality disorder or in plain terms , a psychopath. However , the revelation of these horrendous offences became a trigger for disgusting debates of “whataboutery” because the media and masses had started tagging the child and the offenders’ respective religions and soon what would have been another non vicarious response people would have given to another criminal psychopath became a national debate of who did it first with social media flooded by altercation between two groups trying to win the deplorable and pathetic argument of “which religion has more offenders ?!“, because clearly (sarcasm loaded) religion is ones identity and his source of image and self esteem and psychopaths come and go everyday and how dare you tarnish my image .

Rapists die

I guess there is only one man who can best explain the behaviour of these people and that is the great psychiatrist Carl Jung .

Here are some of his excerpts where he explains the modern man has become increasingly insecure for several reasons . He says “Modern society came into existence during the industrial revolution, when large portions of the population were driven from small towns into big cities in search of work and opportunity – instigating the birth of a mass society. While the development of a mass society generated benefits through the intensification of the division of labor, it also brought perilous problems. “This new form of existence…produced an individual who was unstable, insecure, and suggestible.” (Carl Jung, The Fight With the Shadow)” . The modern man is made to feel infinitesimal because of the ever growing structures around him that enslaves him and also he has lost touch with the age old relationship he had with god .

Carl Jung

He would go onto describe the rise of excess secularism suddenly , brought on a confusion among us over our own self identity that till about medieval times , we all accepted a human being as the centre of the universe and all being the children of god with the almighty rewarding or punishing us based on our deeds and now these believes no longer are fathomable and with every passing days of our lives , with traditional religion not serving us well ,we have become increasingly insecure of our existence . Our minds unconsciously start searching for power to compensate our feelings of apprehension . Thus as a result , we become suggestible to mass movements and collective ideologies , which as we see is increasingly taking over religions all over the world .

Carl Jung God

Thus as a result , the divine purpose of religion is no where to be seen and only these mass movements in the name of god , solely with a lust for power and desire to seek it at any cost , even at the cost of an 8 year old innocent girls death . So , there you go , take a good look at this little childs picture and if you are indeed a believer of god , I hope you pray she gets her justice so her soul can rest in peace .


Dr .Vel Prashanth Venkatesan is a resident of Psychiatry at the CENTRAL INSTITUTE OF PSYCHIATRY (CIP), Ranchi, India who writes on Indian contexts of psychosocial issues with keen interests in helping towards mental health awareness.

Is Rape devoid of Religion ?

Less than a few months ago , an 8 year old girl was forcibly held for a week at a temple by the head priest, his nephew and a convoluted special police officer. She was drugged, raped and beaten. The trauma continued in repeat mode for a while till she was murdered in cold blood in the forests near Jammu. The priest’s son was ‘invited’ from Meerut to satisfy his macabre lust by his cousin before she was killed. The gory group expressed no regret during the entire episode. The girl was from a Bakharwal Muslim Gujjar community who had squatted in the surrounding areas.

Media screams that religion should be kept out of this issue – A rapist is a rapist. Every child is the same. Unfortunately in modern India that simply doesn’t hold true. Religion can never be kept out of the equation here. The girl was from an ostracised community of Muslim Gujjars who were hated by their neighbours. The perpetrators were ultra-nationalistic Hindus who were hell bent on driving them away. The rape was carried out in Maryada-purush Shri Ram temple by the head priest who was never seen without a red tilak on his forehead. Can religion be far away from this ? It is like saying Muslims can disassociate themselves completely from the atrocities of Islamic state .

The Stonebench team went into analysis mode. We started looking at family whatsapp groups of various Hindu middle class families. We prompted our volunteers to initiate discussion on the Asifa rape and murder case. What we found was interesting. Uniformly across backgrounds , we found that there was outrage. There were calls for death penalty and stricter punishments. There was anger at the rape being carried out in a Ram temple. There was indignation at the away the priest called his son home to rape the poor child. But we also found one shocking element. The discussion soon descended into a vicious chain of whataboutery. What about the Assam rape by illegal Bangladeshi immigrants ? What about the Rohingyas who are raping our Hindu women ? This was understandable considering that most people do that when confronted by uncomfortable truths. We descend into whataboutery and needless blame. There may be an element of truth in all this. Rape is a rape whether it is by an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant or by a Hindu priest. But we noticed something more sinister. In certain groups the discussion descended to greater depths. Some fanboys had to dig out random unverifiable Facebook posts about Bakarwals indulging in drug trade and how this rape was society’s natural reaction. What horrified our team was that even though most of the group members were opposed to such opinions, not many were willing to openly condemn it.

Our nation is a noisy place but when truth strikes us we descend into the cold depths of silence. We use it as a “chaddar” to escape from reality. We condemn the rape in harsh terms. Our Facebook wall are filled with ‘Justice for Asifa’ posts and our whatsapp statuses are filled with photos of shame about the rape. But most of us hesitate to condemn the inhuman protestors who didn’t allow the charge sheet to be filed. Rape has no religion we echo incessantly. But when rape is used as a weapon to induce fear in a community, rape can’t be devoid of religion. It is similar to how calls for ‘terror has no religion’ turned out to be a farce that didn’t resonate with anyone. Just like how the entire Muslim umma has a responsibility to prevent the radicalisation of its community, Hindus have an onus to prevent the venomous worm of bigotry and discrimination from creeping into our families. We cannot expect that our children grow into responsible adults without bigotry whilst passing subtle racist comments at our homes. Religion is such an integral part of our lives and it is imperative that Hindu leaders are strong in their comments and hard hitting with their opinions. We do have an responsibility to tell the world that our religion will not defend such acts.

These are moments when the entire Hindu mega-community must take time out and look inwards. These are moments when we should step back and disown these monsters totally. These are moments when we should introspect why the fringes in the community are taking control of our thoughts. Till we force our leaders rise up strongly against such crimes , I can easily say we aren’t outraged enough.

Vinayak Rengan is a General Surgery Resident in Chennai, India. He writes about global socio-political trends, healthcare and technology.


Nothing has polarised humans into groups as colour did and even relegion perhaps stands second . We find a topic like this , so potentially insinuating owing to its emotional tone and the omnifarious understanding each carry in their head due to their naturally diversified experiences . And also its in our nature to always bring the past into the way we perceive things , something that happens instantly . For all these reasons , my only clear ambition will be to talk about how people perceive BLACK as a colour in the broadest context with no discussion into the racial and political domains ( a separate topic on its own ) and to try and explore why we all dont appreciate BLACK ,the colour in a positive context .

queen-of-dark           The Queen of Dark : Nyakim Gatwech is a 24-year-old South Sudanese model.


If you are a Indian growing up in the millennium , perhaps its not usual for you to observe certain gruesome practices of untouchability in your daily life as our earlier generations practiced or endured with. Yet , here we are in the age of hyperloops and mars missions, still persisting with a notion that makes a dark complexioned girl less confident or ill advises someone to not buy his first car in Black colour. There is always an ominous and obnoxious tone people associate with the colour black since time immemorial , that has largely gone under the shadows and only its subtle subtexts are visible at the surface .


Its a common site in Indian families when a pregnant lady who is gorgeously dark complexioned feeds herself a daily dose of ‘Kesar/Kumkumapoo’ , the saffron flowers of crocus C. sativus , a perennial plant , quite expensive as well , in hope her child gets a lighter skin complexion . In fact her own beautiful mother with a brilliant black glow would persist that she take it daily , not because they are all racists but frankly out of love . A concern that their child doesn’t have to endure a harsh inferiority complex that they had to growing up . Any territory of history that is repugnant is called Black history . Any persons negative aspect is called his dark side . We mourn death with black and call a deadly curse as the black curse . Why did humans come to perceive anything unfavourable as black and to sum it all up  , we have a quote that says “ Face is the index of the mind “ . Imagine if culture categorically creates a learning in us that makes children fear , detest and avoid black as its perceived as negative , how would he/she perceive other humans whose entire skin is black or even worse , how would a child perceive her own self in the mirror when her spectacular black skin gives her an instant notion of being unwanted . One cannot imagine the character crisis everyone with a dark skin face growing .Lydia Dark Indian model

Lydia Marshall , a dazzling dark skinned model from Kuala Lumpur


I wish life was as simple as the imaginary paradise “Wakanda” in the “Black Panther” movie . Its amazing how in the movie , the paradise is an advanced society where all are blacks and looks are appreciated on dimensions other than skin colour and there is a notion of Black being the colour of power and the nations protector ,King T’chala adopts the colour of BLACK PANTHER with pride and there is appreciation of beauty  purely in terms of physique , attitude and skill set . How ideal do you think is our society , where still our movies don’t prefer to cast feminine lead roles played by any scintillating shades of dark skinned actors . Even the patriarchal advantage given to male lead actors to be dark skinned is still flawed with them being complimented on making the cut despite having the ‘disadvantage’ of black skin and it gets more so despicable when the same lead man strictly prefers to fall for a beautiful ‘fair’ lady because he gets what society considers the best .

Wakanda ladies                                      Women from the Imaginary land of “Wakanda”

Thus coming back to the pragmatic attributes of being black , one has to admit for some reason we as an Indian society despite our fantastic diversity and uniqueness in language and customs , always fail to conceive black and white skin on the same parallel . And perhaps there is certain non malleable traits the colour Black posseses that enables this tendency in us that we shall explore now .


Every biological entity is designed to protect itself from danger and any entity that is unknown or mysterious is perceived to be dangerous , and that means DARKNESS/BLACK is mysterious and is a potential danger . It means that all of evolution teaches us to avoid or detest dark entities because they are naturally intimidating . This simply makes any child instantly develop the notion of having to “not prefer” anything black because it can be dangerous and in time this “non preference” leads to disgust . Its not my concern if you feel like questioning the almighty as to why design a universe in such a way that Black by its nature is bound to get repulsion simply because our nervous systems are alarmed by it . But this natural reaction gets so hardwired into our systems and such that the natural response to black is avoidance and it takes several age to unlearn this innate nature in us . Simply put , anyone whose claims their favourite colour as black is interestingly someone who initially developed this liking only in late teen or adolescence after perhaps understanding its real virtue .


The universe’s most dominating colour is Black . Dark matter surrounds us . Black holes engulf anything and everything . Death leaves us in the end with nothing but matters of Carbon which is black. The Most intense form of music on earth is Black metal. The most energising drink is Black Coffee not bloody gatorade . Revolutions to alter power balances start with Black flags .Its not BLACK’s fault that any thing we perceive as power , intimidation or rebelliousness is inescapably given a Black flavour to it . This means that we take black to be a statement of power which in daily terms complicates what we try to carry off . A regular day in the office requires something less complicated as yellow or blue and only occasional black days are tolerated . As soon as you exhibit more than frequent preferences to black , you inexplicably are making a statement of being a rebel and people should be intimidated by you. So as long as you are an easy going character who prefers smoothness and calmness in your life , you may naturally avoid something intense and complex as black in your basic propensities .


The shot from Movie “Kaala”(Black) played by Indian superstar Actor Rajnikant , famous for his style and dark complexion .

There is whole science behind how we tend to approach colours in our daily life for each colour caries within it an inherent meaning , none more so than the robust and complicated meaning of Black .

I think ‘BLACK APPRECIATION’ is a real thing . Its something you teach your children , because its important how a person perceives black. When a whole species of human beings can fight amongst each other at times due to their perception of colour , it takes serious unlearning of nature thats must be inculcated in by parenting . Let your child understand his inhibitions towards black , through appropriate exposures to good aspects of black and trimming of irrational disgust associated with it so he establishes a deep undertstanding of SKIN COLOURS at the end of the day and is comfortable if his/her own skin colour is black and can make other black skinned people feel equally appreciated .



1) Not describing black colour as something less beautiful and appreciating beauty not based on skin colour .

2) Allowing your child to prefer black dresses if thats what he/she likes.

3)Watching  the movie BLACK PANTHER 😉 😉

black panther


Dr .Vel Prashanth Venkatesan is a resident of Psychiatry at the CENTRAL INSTITUTE OF PSYCHIATRY (CIP), Ranchi, India who writes on Indian contexts of psychosocial issues with keen interests in helping towards mental health awareness.


Robin Williams Depression

Robin Williams ( Academy award winning Actor/Comedian 1951-2014)

Let us imagine a world where everyone talks frankly , loves and supports each other such that everybody’s lives are taken care of . Now think for a moment and tell me, would you find anyone getting depressed and committing suicide in this utopia ?

If you’re one of those few who said yes , I’m sure you would have a member of your family or friends or someone who knew to have a good life but had abruptly ended their own in a manner that will still make you gasp in disbelief . And for those majority saying ‘No’it is imperative that you take time to read on before you let someone slip away by just being oblivious to their subtle calls for help.

Its quite disheartening that in a world with people hardly making eye to eye conversations , and ever deteriorating listening skills that we come across ever increasing cases of suicide where most of the victims are men and almost all of them had inadequate mental health assistance simply because of two very avoidable reasons . One being the gross lack of knowledge about psychiatric illnesses and two being the stigma associated with it . Its natural for all of their relatives to have advised these men to ‘Toughen up’/ ‘Man up’/ ‘take it in the chin’ / ‘Don’t be a sissy ‘ , when in reality it has nothing to do with ones approach to life .

Often a sad man needs a party , needs an outing with his pals or a brisk morning jog in the hills with Pink Floyd playing through the earphones or an ‘awe-inspiring’ TED talk to change the moody blues into hope and motivation eventually lifting the spirits . I totally agree thats exactly what even I’d do if Im not feeling good after a bad day and it helps me every single time . But sorry to disagree , we are in no way talking about sad men . We are talking about depressed men , and yes there is an ocean of difference between these two .

The fact that sadness is one of the universal emotions all must go through and because we often we script our own versions of recovery , through feats of courage and love ,we believe quite logically that its not something one can use as an excuse to call sickness. Agreed.

SAd vs Dep

But we are not talking about ‘sadness’ the emotion here , not that gloomy little blue character from the movie ‘Inside Out ‘. ‘Depression’ is not the same as being sad . The dissappointing use of the word in a very common sense does add a great deal to the demerit of this term. Nevertheless , one must understand we are talking about a disorder of the brain , that at the fundamental neurochemical level has an imbalance due to genetic causes and becomes perpetuated in situations one cannot handle for his level of resilience . To this neuropsychiatric condition , Western physicians since time immemorial have chosen to use this unimaginatively colloquial term called “Depression” . As an Indian , I can quote ancient Vedic literatures talking about ‘Tridoshas’ or humors and description of Depressive illness with a name “Tridoshonmad” or the ancient greeks describing this entity of a human being thrown into fears and despondencies , which Hippocrates named “melancholia” , the root of the word melancholy that we use today for describing pensive sadness.

If at all conspiracy theorists start telling you “Depression” is an illness created by pharmaceutical companies to make profit and you find logic in that argument , ask yourself did these companies exist in ancient greek and Indian civilization . The medications used in treatment on major occasions save lives and like any medication may not work in some despite adequate trials due to issue of treatment resistance , a phenomenon experienced in all fields of medicine due to simple lack of cutting edge molecules unique to that particular individual , something only continued research holds key to unlocking. Conspiracy theorists use these scenarios to keep people in murky waters , and as their TRP ratings remain afloat , real lives continue to sink in these murky waters of misinformed mass media .

All of our natural reactions to suicide remain universally similar in that we start finding answers to one question of “ What stress did he have ?” . Then the whole cascade of hypothesis begins flowing from his sociocultural and economic backgrounds and like a detective we collect clues to connect the dots trying our best to sympathize with what would have caused him pain . On some unfortunate occasions there would be an obvious life scenario challenging enough to face , answering these questions but if you honestly take the effort to empathise and not merely sympathize , very often there is a case of suicide which appears as an overwhelming reaction to a commonly observed challenge . And as soon as the question remains unanswered people snap to the next possible logical query of a homicide despite forensic analysis ruling it out completely . The truth is that most people ( including medical experts without any special training in psychiatry ) are surprisingly unaware of the fact that , depressive Illness can occur to anyone irrespective of his achievements and possessions and environmental supports .

To explain this better , let us look at the very recent suicide of a post graduate junior resident of Radiology in PGI Chandigarh on 26th February ,2018 at India’s top Medical training institute . This is 24 year old doctor Krishnaprasath Ramasamy , who after completing his MBBS , had the tenacity and skill to outshine the best performing residents across the country of billions to secure a merit seat in this country’s most reputed institution . Living among doctors from various speciality and being in a place which has a renowned work ethic and infrastructure with support of several colleagues from his own state in order to help with the language barrier , the man in a mere 2 months had found himself unable to cope .

PGI resident

Dr Krishnaprasath Ramasamy from Tamilnadu

The man had initially joined the department of Internal medicine , which he found difficult to cope and quoted language barrier as an issue and duly in subsequent counselling shifted to more comfortable department of radiology where only limited interactions with people are needed but his 15 days in the new Ultrasound section was not helping him and on monday morning his absence in hospital was noticed which upon subsequent probing lead to the ghastly scene of the man hanging by the noose in his locked hostel room leaving every single ‘doctor’ who lived with him in shock and immediate shame . They did retrospectively recall his subtle cries for help with his unsettled choice of departments and frequent cry of language difficulties in a place where plenty of doctors from his state had learned to adapt with no knowledge of local language at the start . His own mother recalls advising him to give it time and toughen up before choosing to quit . As Ive mentioned above , people still hypothesise all possible external stresses to be the cause without considering the gross negligence of psychiatric knowledge even amidst doctors who claim to have tried encouraging him by taking him on outings . Its like gifting a new pair of sneakers to cheer up a below knee amputee.

In case you recognise the first image in the article , The Oscar winning actor/comedian Robin Williams had it all . His career and personal life had often been enviable and yet the suddenness and unpredictable nature of his suicide has even left the ever conspiring media in deafening silence . He had suffered depression and paranoia in a setting of Dementia . This lack of knowledge can no more be tolerated by any one in the field of mental health for basic understanding of the nature of ‘Depressive Illness’ is a must because unless people begin talking about it openly and empathetically like Diabetis or Cancer, valuable men like Dr Krishnaprasath and Robin Williams will forever choose to suffer in silence because their cry for help would only invite insensitive pep talks and illogical conspiracy theories . The society’s expectation for men to remain tough in difficulties , strong in unfavourable situations and calm under pressure will further keep these sufferings submerged within the walls of his bedroom or his therapists chamber if he was lucky enough to get one . And eventually when he cannot hide it anymore , his desperate cry for help would be made possible by the only act that garners reasonable attention without criticism and simultaneously ending his misery , which is death. Being strong is indeed killing our men.

inktober depression

The destruction caused by the illness ‘Depression’ is real and it will be the leading cause of morbidity by 2020 as per WHO simply because of the delay in treatment people need that in turn is contributed by the Ignorance and Stigma towards the disorder . The Brain of a person suffering ‘ Major Depressive disorder ‘ has innate imbalances in his levels of neurochemicals such as Serotonin , Nor epinephrine and dopamine and many others involved in our neural circuits and this can get onset at any age and soon becomes accentuated in stressful scenarios like a fish falling sick and soon thrown out of water , whose already low coping capacities camouflaged in familiar territories becoming disastrously evident in unfamiliar territory. Always the disorder can be identified by looking for cardinal symptoms that become obvious if we take time to listen non judgementally . These include feeling persistently a low mood , losing interest in previously pleasurable activities (anhedonia) , becoming tired in performing the simplest of routine tasks that previously were being done effortlessly and changes in patterns of sleep and appetite . Continuation of any of these changes for more than a period of 2 weeks warrants instant visit to your nearest mental health expert who can be anyone from a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist or a psychiatric social worker who are all connected to each other and work as a team to give a multifaceted support in all domains of one’s life .





smiling dep

Dr .Vel Prashanth Venkatesan is a resident of Psychiatry at the CENTRAL INSTITUTE OF PSYCHIATRY (CIP), Ranchi, India who writes on Indian contexts of psychosocial issues with keen interests in helping towards mental health awareness.

The Rise of the Brash Man

Vinayak S Rengan

Global politics is in top gear but the handbrakes are still engaged. The car is fast but it screeches as the braked tyres slide across the unpaved roads. Welcome to the era of the Brash Men – They are fast, they scream and shout, they are loud – very loud and they think everyone else is a fool. And yes they are all men. With a limited vocabulary and even more limited intelligence , the car often brakes unsure where to go. They are the new young Turks. Just that they aren’t so young either. When 60 decibels will suffice , they need to use 120 decibels. They lampoon the media but often seek their approval. Their source of information is often limited to late night TV debates on channels they hate. They swear often and their expletive ridden rants are lapped up by their supporters. Misogyny is in vogue now and so is infidelity. Welcome to the world of Duterte, Trump and Zuma.

Trump at 120 decibels

The masses need an opium. Most often they are satisfied by religion but it often progresses to leadership. Leaderless religions with no one to follow such as Buddhism, Hinduism and the ancient Asian religions of Shintoism have always struggled to proselytise. The shepherd is an essential component of human psyche. Exhausted by the struggles of daily living in a modern world , unable to cope with need for increasing skill sets and higher education – man often wants another man to tell him what to do. Thinking often becomes a waste of time. A strong leader gives them hope. The Macho leader is an enigma. He is not an illiterate man. He is often a successful professional or a consummate businessman. His involvement in politics is often downplayed or non-existent before he becomes the leader. The concept of a incorruptible outsider who will destroy the current corrupt and inefficient political system is an idea that appeals to the ordinary middle class man.

The ordinary middle class man is a man from the majority community ( racial / religious ) who struggles to make ends meet in an increasingly demanding society. All his problems arise from those around him. The minorities have taken his jobs, his college seats , his streets and sometimes even his women. He lives out of his sense of victimhood. He believes that salvation shall arise when a strong male leader from the majority community shall stand up for his rights and teach everyone else a lesson. He is not very educated and complex words befuddle him. He believes that every other country is against his and his understanding of economics is rudimentary despite the fact that he is very good at using the computer to file his taxes. He thinks women need to sit back home and make him roast meat yet his boss at work is a woman.

A similar scenario arose in Europe in the interwar years. Germans stripped of their pre-war might immersed themselves in a vicious mixture of victim hood and exaggerated sense of racial superiority. In this perilous cauldron of self-pity arose leaders like Hitler and Mussolini. They promised them glory and salvation from everything they faced now. Economic issues assumed a racial tone and the great leader gave them hope. Rabble-rousing speeches extolling the virtues of jingoistic nationalism and racial/religious superiority are honey to the ears of the deprived middle class.

Rodrigo Duterte is a prime example of such machismo. He is an mirror image across the Pacific of Trump. The mirror however is mirror right out of R L Stine’s horror stories. A meaner and more politically incorrect version of Trump , Duterte is a successful lawyer who rapidly rose to become the President of Philippines despite being the last person to file the nomination. He has portrayed himself as a rank outsider despite the fact that he was the mayor of Davao for 22 years. The “Punisher” as he is called is a strong votary of death squads to punish drug offenders. Foul-mouthed with a quick temper he is proud of the fact that he has personally killed a few people. Misogynistic attitude is worn on a sleeve and rape jokes are a regular feature on his speeches.

Duterte in pensive mood

Jacob Zuma, a serial sexual offender who believes that it is a man’s right to touch women without their permission was long seen as a moral successor to the much benign Mandela. His hyperinflated Zulu male pride combined with a perceived moral entitlement due to his role in the anti-apartheid revolution , Zuma proved to be pain in the neck for ANC in South Africa.

His initial popularity couldn’t compensate for rampant corruption and his personal excesses. Recently ousted as the President, Zuma exemplified what is wrong about this world. Each time he was accused of corruption , he blamed imaginary colonial forces who wanted to harm a poor black man. Playing on a sense of black victim hood, all the problems in South Africa apparently arose from the white man hating the black man for his apparent liberation. Dragged to court on rape charges , this serial polygamist has openly said that a woman’s primary role is to get married.


Jacob Zuma in crisis

Trump is a softer version yet a more dangerous one by the virtue of being the so called leader of the free world. His faux pas and gaffes have made him the butt of liberal coffee table jokes but the reality is that he is here to stay. Pride, lust and gluttony may be 3 of the 7 cardinal sins but that hasn’t stopped the evangelical zealots from endorsing him. The tea party conservatives conveniently ignore his extra-marital excesses while self-righteously condemning everyone else. A man who said we couldn’t vote for Carly Fiorina because her face looked ugly is the man who has become the President of United States. When asked how he was going to change Miss USA pageant , he said “ Make the bathing suits smaller and the heels higher “. Americans have made him their president. In 2000, he made a list of women whom he would like to sleep with and in 2003 he made a remark about how he thinks his daughter is voluptuous and he would be dating her if she wasn’t his daughter. Americans have made him their president. He infamously tweeted once

The sad part is that a large chunk of America now fits the classical description of the victim card playing jingoistic white male. A man who resorts to blaming mental illness instead of banning assault rifles is not a man who is fit to lead the great nation. Putin was the beginning. The strong man image , the photo shoot with guns and pandering to the idea that the nation is under siege is now a part of a global leadership manual.

The trend isn’t confined to the those mentioned. Viktor Orban Hungary’s prime minister is busy upping populist anti-immigrant rhetoric while creating a alpha male strong man image. Erdogan in Turkey is doing the same. Do they give results? The answer often is a resounding no. Economic decline and unbridled corruption often are the endpoints of such regimes. Zuma’s rule was marked by near “state-capture” by the influential Gupta family. Strong men of European countries are often ruling over states with mountains of public debt.The macho men are here to stay for a long time. No one really knows what the world faces in the next few decades.

Vinayak S Rengan is a General Surgery resident in Chennai, India with a strong interest in socio-political issues and medical technology. He writes on global politics and scientific trends in the world.