Jun 122014
 

An edited version of this appeared in today’s dna

Until a few weeks ago, most of us had a barely passing familiarity with Baduan in Uttar Pradesh.  Around 200 kms and less than a 4 hour drive from the national capital, Delhi – the area hit the headlines after a particularly brutal rape and murder of two teenaged girls.  It is an old story, told again with callous violence and viciousness. Two cousins – some accounts put them at 12 and 15, others at 14 and 15 – had to attend to nature’s call. They had no toilet in their house and they went into the fields to relieve themselves. They never returned home. Their bodies were found hanging, with their own dupattas, from a mango tree. They had been raped, strangled and strung up like the spoils from a shikaar. 2 young men from a neighbouring village, and two police officers are believed to be the culprits.

This is not the first rape in India, and it is unlikely to be the last.  A report by PRS Legislative in 2011, looked at the abysmal state of women’s safety in India. According to the report there were 23,582 rapes in India – almost 65 rapes on a daily basis and around 3 every hour. But, most experts believe that the number of rapes is underreported. There are a number of reasons for this – the starting point of which is the social stigma assigned to the victim of the rape, and the perception of her having lost her honour.  Rather than being seen as a survivor of a heinous crime, she is seen as the provoker of the crime. And, her gender is enough to stigmatise her for life. Different views are put forward – maybe she was dressed provocatively, maybe she led the boys on, maybe she had ‘loose’ morals, maybe she said no but meant yes. We have all heard these comments from people who should know better – politicians, policemen, ‘elders’ of the community and the like.

At the core of the debate on women’s safety lie 3 main issues. The first is the availability of safe spaces – sanitation within the house or rather the lack of it or street lighting or the lack of it, both indicate the lack of safe spaces. The second is the lack of spaces where the two sexes can meet socially on an equal footing – schools, colleges, employment, and social occasions. And the third problem is a age old problem of the distinctions in social hierarchies and the social acceptance of the rapist and the social boycott of the victim.

The one thing your realise when you travel the length and breadth of India – visiting small hamlets and villages, is the lack of sanitation. There are few public toilets that are usable, even on state or national highways. Those that do exist make you fear attack from scorpions and snakes, not to mention the fact that they have doors that don’t shut and windows that give your full view of the world, and the world a view of you –without any means of securing your privacy. Schools and colleges – public spaces where both genders congregate – show a similar problem.  Toilets, and the privacy to use them, are such an important facet of safety and we don’t discuss this problem enough. The norm is to use the world at large as a public toilet – apart from issues of health and hygiene that crop up – there is also the very grave issue of safety. The first thing to do is to address this. Young girls, even if they lived in the most secure state in the universe, should have the right to perform their bodily functions in relative privacy. This is factor that most of us, living in relative middle class comfort in cities, take for granted. Associated with this is the issue of darkness. Unless you have electricity our towns and villages are going to be in dark. And darkness encourages the breach of law.

Where boys and girls grow up together, studying together, sharing playtime – and understanding and respecting differences there tends to be a natural evolution of gender sensitisation. On the other hand when girls and boys are segregated and social intercourse is considered taboo, you have scenarios where stereotypes and older mindsets are perpetuated. The second important factor to help build a safer world for women is creation of spaces where they are not just considered to be equal, but also where their  individuality and personal preferences are respected.   The creation of these spaces needs to be backed by education not just of young boys and girls, but also their parents, teachers, elders in the community, and administration.  Police reforms and Judicial reforms would help, but unless society as a whole is in synch with the need for social reform that prevents young men from seeing young women as prey for the taking – no amount of police on the street or stringent punishment is going to help.

And lastly, there is a problem social hierarchies and what is considered acceptable behaviour. While caste is a factor as is class, there is a third problem, and that is the unwillingness of those who wield power to bring about change. Caste and class reform may take generations and women’s safety cannot be held in abeyance till that is achieved.  And, this is where the Indian State needs to step in. With the recent changes in law rape trials are speedier and more stringent. We have seen the effects of this in both the Nirbhaya and the Shakti Mills rape case – due process was followed and the guilty were punished. This needs to extend to the smallest hamlet in India. Women will be safer, if the system punished the guilty – without fear or favour of powerful local interests.  However,  as long as the guilty walk around with their heads held high and their chests puffed up with pride, and the victims cower in their houses in shame – nothing will change.

Mar 092014
 

And, my column last week for the DNA – on the UPA retrospective 

Ever been to a theatre to watch a film that on paper sounded fabulous — great director, good casting, top-of-the-line banner, great promos? But when you get inside the theatre the film simply won’t get over.
Every moment drags; every dialogue in the film has the monotony of something you have heard before, and no matter what you do, you cannot escape from the highly intrusive soundtrack. Worst of all, you cannot get out of the movie hall.  Most of us have at least watched one such film, trapped inside the theatre for, what seems like, days, unable to get out, unable to move our eyes from the screen while asking the question “what  on earth were they thinking about, when they put this together”. And, when the end credits start rolling, you clap out of the sheer relief that the film is over, and you can get into the bright lights and fresh air outside, and scrub all memory of the movie from your subconscious. Think Ram Gopal Verma ki Aag or Kites. Know the feeling? It is pretty much the way that most felt while watching the last two years of UPA II — it just dragged on, and on, and on.

As the credits roll, this column takes a look at some of the characters and scenes from UPA II:

A for Anthony: The Minister for Defence. A man who confused inaction with integrity and took the old adage ‘if you don’t get out of bed and get on the road, you won’t get run over’ seriously. Unfortunately, that is no guarantee for the ceiling falling on your bed.

B for Bills: The trouble with leaving most of your key bills to the last minute of a five-year Parliament is that nothing is thought through, the sense of dissonance is high and like a bad film, certain elements are put in just to give a sense of faux completion.

C for CWG: The Commonwealth Games that really marked the begging of the end.

D for DMK: The key ally then, fence sitter now and the hands behind the 2G scam.

E for Elections: #Elections2014 and the UPA hoping for a sequel, ie. UPA III. But when a film is such a box office dud, will you really buy a ticket for the sequel?

F for Food Security: Nobody, with a conscience, will disagree with the concept of Food Security — the principle that no individual should go hungry, but as with all concepts, the devil is in the implementation. And, implementation in this particular case is fraught with internal opposition.

G is for Gandhi: The name that ruled the Congress for the best part of the last 45 years. And, it seems that the aura is finally waning, though Sonia Gandhi still has some of that aura. But for all his earnestness, it does not seem that Rahul Gandhi has that aura — the aura of wanting to handle power.

H is for High Command: See Gandhi above. All organisations need hierarchies, and a chain of command. But, if all power is concentrated in one set of hands , then currying favour rather than competence becomes the order of the day, leading to poor decision-making

I for Indian National Congress: The grand old party. It seriously needs to introspect and reinvent itself for the new millennium.

J for Janata: That is us, the people. The voters. Just get this over with seems to be the general sentiment all around.

K for Kaajneeti: That is on hoardings across the country, with voters looking at each other and asking “what is that”?

L for Leadership: Conspicuous by its absence through the five years, especially towards the end.

M for Mani Shankar Iyer: The architect of the Chai pe Charcha campaign. Enough said. M is also for Manmohan Singh, who didn’t say enough.

N for Narendra Modi: If politicians  in the Congress spent as much time in talking about what they did right, as they did about why Modi is wrong, they may have fared better in both  perception and the ballot box.

O for Ordinance: When bills aren’t passed, the route is ordinance. But, in Parliamentary democracy, bills are meant to be debated, deliberated on and passed. It is a good job that the last few bills were not passed via an ordinance, because…

…P for Pranab Mukherjee: He put his foot down and said ‘no’. A leading character in UPA I and in the first part of UPA II, his political skills would be sorely missed, even if his economic skills were not.
Q for Questions: That the people had, for which there were no answers. In fact, part of the UPA’s problem was the fact that it rarely spoke to the people or the press, and when it did it was either so stage-managed or so full of wordplay that it alienated.

R for Robert Vadra: The son-in-law. The man who could get away with everything, or so it seemed.

S for Sheila Dikshit: The Empress of Delhi, who is now the Governor of Kerala after losing her seat to Arvind Kejriwal.

T for Telangana: The disaster of the last five years. While smaller states are not a bad idea, pandering is.

U for UPA II: Coming to an end in a few months from now

V for Voter: That is us. Are you even registered?

W for Win: Winning seat by seat, state by state, to take the nation. From all accounts that is a tough one.

X for X: Marks the spot where we vote, and UPA II hopes that it is for their constituents.

Y for Gen Y: The first and second-time voter who cares less for the ‘isms’ of yesterday and more for how good their tomorrow will be.

Z for Zero Loss: Made famous by Kapil Sibal when confronted with allegations of misallocation of spectrum. If only humility was in action instead of hubris, this government may not have ended up in this state of being generally disliked.

Jan 282013
 

“It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from the OBC and the scheduled castes and no increasingly, scheduled tribes and as long as this is the case the Indian Republic will survive”
– Ashish Nandy

I have been told i am wrong in railing against this statement (ranting would be more appropriate) – but i truly find it abhorrent. To call it irresponsible would be wrong, it would imply that the statement was correct, but someone should have held their silence for ‘political correctness’. At a very basic level it is sans data. Even if you looked at the data that comes out of the GoI, where are the positions of power. And, if there are no positions of power – what corruption are you talking about – chai pani  ?

 

Secy Addl. Secy Joint Secy Director
Total No. of officers 149 108 477 590
No. of SCs - 2 31 17
% age of SCs - 1.85 6.49 2.88
No. of STs 4 2 15 7
% age of STs 2.68 1.85 3.14 1.18

( The number of officers presently working as Secretary, Additional  Secretary, Joint Secretary and Director level posts, in the Government of India and the number of SC and ST officers on these posts and their percentage, as  on 14.3.2011, as per the information available. As regards the number of OBC officers, it is stated that data regarding OBC status of the officers was not being obtained at the time of appointment of officers prior to 1994 and is therefore not available.)

And, if you are talking about elected representatives being corrupt – what are they taking money for and from whom and to what end? corruption requires two parties – who is the other party – which caste ?

if you or I had made the ‘nuanced’ argument correlating caste & corruption, would we be out of line ? When Raj T says that a certain linguistic minority is responsible for crime, he is insulting. when Dr.Nandy says that SC, ST, OBC’s are primarily responsible for corruption – it is a nuanced argument. and this is the argument I made to my mother (who was trolling me on this post from the other room) – if a Noam Chomsky made a statement like this on African Americans & crime and said that it will save the American republic – he would have lost tenure.  I am still reeling at the defense put out on this statement.
I have heard statements like this in ‘polite’ drawing room conversations. “they’ are corrupt, ‘they’ are unruly, ‘they’ don’t follow the law, ‘they break the system, until ‘they’ came into the system, the system was good etc, etc. It is also in these conversations, I hear, questions on universal franchise – is it a bad idea. whether ‘they’ should vote – afte rall ‘they’ don’t pay taxes.

Statements like this, are bad news. In a rapidly changing India, in an aspirational India – targeting 70%+ of the population and labeling them as being corrupt. the very thought of it makes me angry. And, from someone whom i respected, whose works i have studied and whose books adorn my bookshelf- it is also more than anger, it is heart breaking.

This is almost in the same space as saying women who wear short clothes have a higher probability of being raped .. or something equally inane… and then justifying it by saying that it is a great equalizer …we would call out anyone who said that, and call people who defended that statement as regressive.
Yes, free speech is important, and i will defend Mr.Nandy’s right to free speech – but, i also have the right to say he has got it wrong.

Apr 142012
 

The Times of India, today, quotes a report which claims that Rahul Gandhi said that he was a Brahmin.

While it can be argued that since he enjoys a special kind of family based reservation that is dependent on birth not merit, and that birth accords him privelages and power – what he says could be right, theoretically it is not so.

The last Brahmin in that family was Nehru. His daughter broke the caste rules, she married an ‘outsider’. We are a patriarchal system, and you inherit caste and all stuff associated with it from the father . In a way that also explains the Gandhi Nehru family’s sway across the decades. they are not restricted by region or by caste or even by religion. It is as misal paav as it gets.

Manu’s codes are very clear on what happens to people who broke caste laws – they are made ‘out caste’  or Jaati prashta. Caste no longer applies to them or their progeny or their progeny’s progeny. And, in the modern era that is a curiously liberating feeling, you can be what you are without bothering about caste and what caste has to say

How do i know ? my parents broke the caste laws, way way back :D

Mar 072012
 

The Amul Advertisement 

The question is, are they ? worthy that is… not in my opinion. they represent the worst of all other Parties in India, the corrupt brazenness of the Congress, the willingness to take to the streets and disrupt like the BJP, the parochialism of the regional parties, the unwillingness to look at an open market like the left front parties. But, above all, the aspect that gives them their own unique flavour is the nexus between the criminals and the Party. While others may take covert support, there is nothing subtle about the presence of criminals in the SP. It is upfront and present.

But I guess people deserve the Governments that they elect  and UP has elected this lot. The rest of India, as always, will pay a price for the largest, most populous state – remaining backward.

It is strange and surprising that the Congress and the BJP targeted Mayawati and her administration to such a level, without having their own organisational mechanics in place. While Mayawati may have been imperious, and mercurial and turning a blind eye to corruption, – those were not the reasons to target her. It is, as a Dalit Activist friend pointed out, the feeling that “how dare she ? How dare a Dalit Woman not know her place”… that was behind a lot of the attacks on Mayawati.  When you read the English language press on her, you realise how deep rooted caste is in the psyche ..’how dare she wear diamonds’ ‘how dare she carry a bag’ …There are others as corrupt, if not more – remember the scenes of Jayalalitha’s adopted son’s wedding ? – but Jaya speaks English, is convent educated, is one ‘of us’.. Maya, unfortunately, is not.

Yesterday a commentator on DD made a very interesting point – he said that the campaign attacks by Rahul Gandhi, the BJP were so virulent that they served the purpose of shifting the vote to the SP rather than the Congress or BJP.

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The Punjab, the Uttarakhand and the Manipur elections were neither here nor there. Yes, they took place. yes, someone won. Should the winners have won — if there was any sense of right and wrong in the world, no … the Congress should not have won Manipur. the SAD/BJP should not have won Punjab. Khanduri should never have lost…yet these were the results :(.

The only election result that gives me some hope is Goa. The people of the State came out in large numbers – cutting across caste, community and religious lines – to vote out a Government & a criminal cartel that has pillaged their state, and voting in an Honest, effective man. Manohar Parrikar gives me hope to the same extent that the Samajwadi party drains that hope from me.

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And finally, If the Congress wants to win, it needs to decentralize power & let others come to the fore. This is not a family business, and over reliance on one family is suicidal.  The reason for this rout is neither corruption nor any other issues. It is Organisational Paralysis brought about by all decision making – party and Government – being concentrated in the hands of two or three people. If the BJP wants to win, it needs to consolidate power in fewer hands. Too many chiefs and too few followers. Where leadership was clear, they won. Where there was too much they lost.

And why do i care ? because I don’t want a third front government. Rather one or the other – the Congress or the BJP ….but, for that they need to get their act in place.