Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Can you solve this Verification dilemma?

A couple of years ago Akhilesh Yadav announced that any Muslim girl who passes her Class 10 exams would get a cheque for Rs 30,000 to pay for her dowry or further education.
Since, to please my parents, I had just managed to pass those same exams on my 51st attempt, I went along to claim my cheque.
The Bureaucrats, true to form, tried to put obstacles in my way. Indeed, one of them hinted that I sounded more like an elderly Tamil man rather than a delicate Muslim damsel.
'You are trying to destroy my Religion by tempting me, with an offer of filthy lucre, to lift my veil and disclose my moon like face' I shrieked angrily.
They assured me that they had no desire at all to see my face and explained that a lady official would take me to a separate room where I could unveil myself without fear of breaking the rules of my Religion.
'Don't be foolish!' I shouted, 'Unveiled women don't understand modesty. Even if this lady officer of yours isn't a shameless lesbian, still what is to prevent her blurting out to all and sundry the secret of my beauty? Veil is there so modesty is preserved. Purpose is defeated if the populace comes to know that the face behind this veil is such as causes Dawn to bite its rosy fingers in envious dismay and the Nightingale to abandon the Rose.'
'But,' one half blind little clerk said, 'How will people know that it is you beneath burkha?'
'Arre ulloo ke patte,' I shrieked, 'You people yourself said they had never seen a six foot tall, 90 kg, lady in burkha! Of course, everybody will know it is me! Even suppose there were 2 Muslim girls of my description. Still, 50 percent of the time the Religious purpose of the veil is defeated. Since strict observance of burkha is ordained so as to cover against even a fraction of a percentage risk, clearly, more especially in a State where burkha wearing Muslim women are a minority, even if I was of normal size, still Religion militates against what you suggest.'
'All right, all right,'  the Bureaucrats said, 'Our director, Begum Tabatabai, wears burkha and is from the most scholarly and pious lineage. Even you can't suspect that a lady of her stature would garrulously recount the tale of your supposed beauty. Thus you may kindly unveil before her. '
'Agreed!' I said, 'Now give me my cheque.'
'First, you have to see Begum Tabatabai.'
'To verify you are indeed a female.'
'But how do I know she is female? You said she wears burkha like me'
'She will lift her veil first.'
'But how can I participate in a conspiracy to destroy the Religion of my Muslim elder sister? You are only asking her to unveil before me because you suspect I am a man.  Even if I have prior knowledge that your conspiracy will fail- i.e. I know it is a case of 'impossible attempt'- still I would be guilty of aiding and abetting your dastardly plot against Religion. Modesty can never plot against Modesty. To attempt to recruit it for so fell a purpose is to directly attack Islam. Is this really what Akhilesh Bhaiyya wants?'

What expedient did the bureaucrats hit upon such that I neither got my cheque nor could claim that Muslim Religion was being destroyed?


  1. I don't really see that there's any real dilemma here. Let each side specify a set of acceptable verification protocols and then see if any validating agent exists acceptable to both sides.
    In this case, there's probably some Cultural workaround- perhaps a eunuch could be employed?

    1. The problem here is that there can't be a 'hand-shake' between protocols because one is impredicative and strategic while the other is not.
      Essentially Begum Me is saying 'the modest Muslim woman can't let the modesty of any other Muslim woman be endangered or plotted against.
      Solutions which use an Eunuch or Xanith, or dumb woman or common 'mahram' relative or sequence of verifying agents etc all fail for this reason.

    2. Sorry, I've edited the article to make this clearer.

    3. Why can't there be a handshake? If you are saying the other party scrambles its code to prevent it then that's still a verification event. You can only verify those who want to be verified.
      Suppose the point of the exercise was to see who had a serious infectious disease. Those who pass are let out of quarantine. Those who fail or refuse to be tested are left in quarantine.
      Okay, I suppose you can say that Religion is something which only God really knows about. But, in this case, 'Muslim' is a marker of socio-economic deprivation. So someone who doesn't want to provide verification and thus doesn't get the palliative measure isn't really a big problem. After all the whole thing is voluntary.
      There is no real problem here. I don't see why you can't have certification by some appropriate authority- e.g. head mistress of a Muslim School- because, clearly, the Community has accepted the lady as genuine and modest and so on.
      There is no 'verification dilemma' here.

    4. If the aim of verification is as you say- i.e. to pick out some objective fact- then yes. However, if the aim is more nebulous or involves an essentially contested Identity class there will still be a problem.
      I'll post what I think is the solution in a couple of weeks.

  2. Suppose there is only one beautiful girl who wears burkha. Then, knowledge of this fact means that there is some probability that behind any given burkha that very beauty is concealed. Since we know that people play lotteries in the hope of gaining huge wealth even if the odds of them winning are very very low it follows that a rational person with low or negative risk aversion might feel erotic arousal at the sight of anyone in a burkha. Thus, broadcasting the news that even one burkha wearer is beautiful is tantamount to conspiring to defeat the Religious purpose served by wearing it. Hence, a lady who both claims to be a Beauty and also claims that Modesty forbids her unveiling has already conspired against Modesty and is thus estopped from relying upon that argument. Indeed, she now has an obligation to lift her veil to disclose that she is actually a man or else to run away claiming to fear criminal prosecution for fraudulent female impersonation. This is because the stated definition of Modesty requires the denial that there is even one beauty underneath the burkha. Suppose, Windwheel, that you actually look very beautiful to the bureaucrats, you can't lift your veil to disclose this fact because then it would become common knowledge that there is some probability that any given burkha clad woman is you and thus the burkha would begin to carry an erotic charge- thus defeating the ends of Modesty- and so you have to say, 'Yes, I'm an ugly hairy man. OMG I better run away before you hand me over to the police.' and then match your actions to your words.
    More generally, this isn't really a verification dilemma at all. The impredicativity and strategic component built into your protocol doesn't just militate against a 'hand-shake', it self-certifies the very thing the other party's protocols are meant to establish.
    I suppose there is some Sufi angle to this which you are trying to highlight. Still, I can't see anything very interesting about this.

    1. Nice try but no cigar. Estoppel & Waiver only work if there is a prior 'jurisdictional' agreement- i.e. protocols are subject to a meta-rule such that either there is a hand-shake or both return the same result- i.e. verification is uncontested.
      In this case, Begum Me isn't endangering the Modesty of Muslim women by claiming to be a great Beauty PRECISELY because the other side is refusing to admit she is a woman at all. Begum Me can stand her ground. The bureaucrats can't force her to unveil because she can beat the shit out of them and walk away claiming to have been defending her Virtue.

  3. What is the solution?

    1. Boko Haram.

    2. Indecent exposure

  4. I'm sorry. I said I'd post a reply in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, in U.P politics that means a couple of years. Now that Akhilesh has a gatbandhan with Rahul Baba (an eventuality I was aware of thanks to my omniscience but which you stupid desis would have thought highly improbable back in 2014 which I was why I delayed posting the solution) it is easy to see that the verification dilemma can be easily solved by the latter. Since no one can understand what he says, verification occurs without any threat to modesty. However that verification can't itself be verified and thus I don't get my cheque.