Dec 232013
 

This column appeared in the DNA on the 12th of December

Shortly after eleven, on Wednesday, I got a call from a friend who is gay. He was close to tears.  “The Supreme Court just made me a criminal” he said. “All I have done is been honest about my sexuality, and asked is the right to be with the person I love.  And now that has made me a criminal”. The call, one of many, followed the Supreme Court ruling on Section 377 where it upheld the law that criminalised gay sex, setting aside a 2009 Delhi High Court judgment.   Naz Foundation had challenged the Constitutional validity of section 377. Its contention was that the section violated a whole host of rights of citizens including the Right to Equality (article 14) and Non-Discrimination (article 15). And the Delhi HC essentially agreed. However, the esteemed SC has seen this issue differently and passed it back to Parliament to legislate.

Section  377 is a throwback to the colonial era, 1861 to be precise, when Lord Macaulay drafted the Indian Penal Code. It says, “377. Unnatural Offences — Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine.” Essentially Lord Macaulay came to the land of the Kama Sutra and Khajuraho and criminalised everything that did not fit into his vision of acceptable sex. Hardly surprising — given the country and the culture that he came from, where Lady Hillingdon, as late as 1912 describes the act of sex with her husband as being so exciting that every time he approached her room she closed her eyes and thought of England. Lord Macaulay, incidentally had contempt for the ‘natives’ of conquered lands. On being asked about the contribution of natives to literature, his response was: “A single shelf of a good European library is worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.”  It is this man’s pronouncements on sex and sexuality that have been upheld by the highest court in India.

When India got Independence and adopted a new Constitution, section 377 of the IPC  was not repealed. We can outrage about the Constituent Assembly and the lawmakers in that era, but we also need to remember it was a different, more conservative time. It was a time that the very act of giving Hindu women rights of succession or divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act caused uproar and the law minister — Dr Ambedkar — resigned in protest when the bill was not passed in the first ever Lok Sabha. It took an election to get those rights in place. On a different level, although people like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar fought relentlessly to get the Widow Remarriage Act 1856 passed — as late as the 1970’s — film maker Ramesh Sippy killed off a lead character (Amitabh Bachchan playing Jay) in Sholay because he felt that audiences would not accept the concept of a widow (Jaya Bachchan playing Radha) remarrying. Yet, today neither the concept of a woman divorcing, nor inheriting, nor a widow remarrying seem to be alien to Indians.

The Europeans have always had rather strange notions of sex and have used the Church and the Monarchy, in the past, to impose these laws on the people. Homosexuality was not just a sin but also a crime —  and punishment in many European monarchies included death. On the other hand, the ancient civilizations of the East while not actively promoting homosexuality did not really care enough about the sexual habits of their subjects, to legislate. They assumed social norms would take care of social order, and that intervention by the State would not be required. Neither China nor India had laws against ‘unnatural sex’ as defined by Macaulay. It is possible that neither culture thought anything was ‘unnatural’ about any form of sex. And, a glance at ancient Indian literature would validate this point. Kings had better things to do than obsess about what people got up to in private spaces.

So it is back to Parliament. A Parliament made up of members who refuse to criminalise marital rape. A Parliament made of members who dilute anti-stalking laws on the grounds that “Everyone has stalked women at some point in their lives…. stalking is a norm in the country,” (Sharad Yadav of the JD(U)). And it is Parliament, with these Parliamentarians, that is supposed to repeal a law that criminalises gay sex.

This is not just about gay rights. It is about rights as laid down by the Constitution. It is about equality. And about non-discrimination. You cannot have the so called ‘moral’ majority deciding the limits to our freedoms. You cannot have populist morality defining freedoms. And, you definitely cannot legislate on what consenting adults do in the privacy of their homes.

The Delhi High Court, in 2009, when it struck down Section 377, said “If there is one constitutional tenet that can be said to be the underlying theme of the Indian Constitution, it is that of ‘inclusiveness’. This Court believes that the Indian Constitution reflects this value deeply ingrained in Indian society, and nurtured over several generations. The inclusiveness that Indian society traditionally displayed, literally in every aspect of life, is manifest in its recognising a role for everyone in society.  Those perceived by the majority as ‘deviants’ or ‘different’ are not on that score excluded or ostracised… in our view, Indian Constitutional law does not permit the statutory criminal law to be held captive by the popular misconceptions of who the LGBTs are. It cannot be forgotten that discrimination is the antithesis of equality and that it is the recognition of equality which will foster the dignity of every individual.” It is this principle that needs to be adhered to. It is tragic that the Supreme Court did not see it fit to uphold this.

Dec 232013
 

This column appeared in the DNA on the 28th of November

Over the last week, the media has been agog with allegations of sexual misconduct, and then rape, against Tarun Tejpal, the owner of Tehelka. The incident took place in Goa where Tejpal and one of his companies, Thinkworks, organised the annual jamboree Think. It was attended by international celebrities such as actor Robert de Niro, author Evgeny Morozov (To Save Everything Click Here: The folly of Technological Solutionism); former World Chess Champion Gary Kasparov, crusading journalist John Pilger and others. It also saw a bevy of India’s who’s who   MP Jay Panda, Amitabh Bachchan, Gopal Srinivasan. The sessions were interesting and had great panellists. One of its opening sessions was called The Beast in Our Midst a panel discussion with rape survivors moderated by the editor of Tehelka, and co-owner of Thinkworks, Shoma Chaudhury. Incidentally, Chaudhury also moderated two other sessions that are of interest Naked Rage on Occupied Territory: Women and the Body as a Weapon and Beauty and the Beast the Problem of the Global Media. Amidst all this intellectualism and a desire to articulate the issues facing the modern world and their possible solutions, Tejpal tried to use his charm to get a young colleague to have sex with him. When charm didn’t work, he tried force.

Tejpal stands accused of rape.

In a case of rape there are usually no witnesses. There are mostly only two main testimonies one of the violator and the other of the violated. But, in this case, given the chain of mails that are now in public domain, the answer may be simpler. The world at large came to know of the story when an internal Tehelka email from Chaudhury managing editor who had appended Tejpal’s ‘apology’ to the mail was leaked to the media. In the mail Chaudhury described the attempted rape as an ‘untoward incident’ and Tejpal calling it a ‘bad lapse of judgment, an awful misreading of the situation, have led to an unfortunate incident’.The woman journalist at the receiving end of these ‘untoward’ ‘unfortunate incidents’ had different words to describe her predicament:  “The editor-in- chief of Tehelka, Tarun Tejpal, sexually assaulted me at Think on two occasions last week.” In another letter, from Tejpal to the young journalist, he writes: “I apologise unconditionally for the shameful lapse of judgement that led me to attempt a sexual liaison with you on two occasions on 7 November and 8 November 2013, despite your clear reluctance that you did not want such attention from me”.  ‘Attempting a sexual liaison’ when a woman is ‘clearly reluctant’ can only mean Force and Rape. These are words we shouldn’t hesitate to use in this context. Tejpal, however, thought otherwise, as he said in his anticipatory bail plea to the Delhi High Court “only light-hearted bantering which led to a moment of privacy between the two individuals”. It was a lot worse.

Tejpal is a powerful man with powerful friends and the public backlash has only begun. Shoma Chaudhury, a woman who has espoused women’s causes in the past, has suggested that the accuser is lying. And some other powerful men are casting aspersions on the woman in the guise of “fairness”. ‘Why did the woman get into the lift with him’ said one of the older men called in to defend Tejpal on a news channel. (He later retracted). Presumably, the same reason why anyone gets into a lift, to get to another floor. Another said something about two people kissing in a lift not being rape; a third asked why a lift, why not a private space. And, of course, there is Tejpal’s own bail application which states that this is a BJP plot to discredit him implying that the woman is a plant and, therefore, lying.

The vilification of the woman had begun. She must have asked for it, how could she have (gasp) got into a lift with a man. Never mind that the man in question was old enough to be her father; was her boss and had a duty to look out for her, protect her, nurture her talents and ensure she became a better professional;  never mind that he violated her trust, her body and then tried to brazen it out; that he  violated the faith of the readers and supporters who believed in Tehelka’s brand of fearless journalism.

There are those who will argue that sexual encounters in the workplace are unavoidable. While this may be the case with equals, the norms and the rules are quite different when it comes to people at different levels in the hierarchy, especially those in a direct reporting relationship.  The question is that when the ‘encounter’ is between a junior and a senior, how much of it is mutual attraction and how much of it is pressure. When an older charismatic achiever turns his (or her) attentions on a much younger person, seemingly mentoring, seemingly encouraging, and draws him/her into a sexual relationship, is it mutual consent or is it sexually predatory behaviour? At the risk of sounding dreadfully old-fashioned and terribly middle class, one would submit it is the latter.

And, finally, most women have faced some form of unwanted attention at least once in their professional and private lives. Most have learnt to bury the experience deep in their subconscious and move on with their lives. Others have given up their careers, often their passions, to escape from it. Yet others have not been believed. Maybe, this case is a wake-up call for women to fight back. Like the Nirbhaya case last year, this one is going to be a cause célèbre. The young woman in question has shown incredible courage in coming forward and making a case of it. It cannot be easy. The pressure on her must be phenomenal. It is also going to be the start of a series of claims of sexual harassment that companies across the board not just media have to deal with. The dam has broken, the flood will begin

Dec 232013
 

This column appeared in the DNA on the 14th of November

If Campa Cola had created so much buzz when it was a soft drink manufacturer, it would probably still be in business, selling aerated water to the consumer market. Alas, that was not to be the case. Campa Cola, for those born post the liberalization era, was one of the largest soft drink manufacturers in India. It made its mark at the time when Coca Cola departed India in the late 1970s. It was also one of the first victims of Pepsi and Coke re-entering India. The land allotted to Campa Cola was acquired by builders who constructed upscale apartments. The builders had permission to build apartment blocks of six floors each. Many of the buildings are much taller. The tallest one is 17 floors high. All this happened a long time ago, and like much else in India there was a ‘nod-nod, wink-wink among all concerned’.  Banks give loans, owners buy properties, electricity connections are given, tankers supply water, and it all proceeds as though everything is normal and legal. The modus operandi is as follows: File a plan, get municipality approvals based on the plan, begin construction, violate all that is in the plan, and then pay a small fine to regularise the construction. It happens all the time. There are posh localities in the suburbs of Mumbai that still get water via tankers, five years after residents have moved in, because the entire complex is yet to get an OC (Occupation Certificate) from the BMC. And more often than not things like this gets regularised — someone knows someone, who knows someone, and for a little compensation (for greasing palms and getting through the bureaucratic labyrinth) everything gets fixed. Except that in the case of Campa Cola houses it did not. The current fracas is over 35 floors that were constructed without permission, occupied without an Occupation Certificate, and which was ordered to be demolished by the BMC.

Naturally, the residents were shocked. They refused to move out. Upper middle class agony, expressed in fluent English and anglicized Hindi makes for great news television. It makes audiences identify with those portrayed. And, more importantly, it makes news anchors outrage in an even shriller manner. Suddenly, the residents of the Campa Cola Compound were no longer the educated, well-heeled, well-connected individuals who had access to lawyers and could check contracts and building paper work, but innocents who were duped by a corrupt system. And once the media got into the fray, so did the politicians. To give him his due, Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan refused to pass an ordinance that would halt the demolition. But, the rest got onto the bandwagon, including his own party members. Suddenly, a bunch of people who should have known better while they were busy breaking the law, were portrayed as babes in the wood. The very same people who would otherwise rant when illegal slums and pavement dwellers began using the same analogies to defend their illegal constructions. ‘we have always lived here’ ‘our children grew up here’ ‘where will we go’ ‘our entire community is here’.

Any house owner in Mumbai (possibly elsewhere too) will tell you that buying a flat is fraught with tension. The chain of ownership is often vague, and very often there are situations where buildings have neither Occupation Certificates, nor No-Objection certificates. Most of us are not used to reading technical documents in archaic technical language, and most just glance at the requisite paperwork to see if it is complete before buying. But, ignorance is not a defence against breaking the law.  And when you strip the Campa Cola Compound case of all the emotion, the tears and the angst, all you are left with is one thing: The law was broken, and those who broke the law may get away with it, with the media whipping up outrage to dissuade the law from taking its course. At the time of writing this column, the Supreme Court — reacting to media reports — has stayed the demolition.

In April this year, the residents of Golibar, a slum in Mumbai, were protesting for the same reason.Their homes were being demolished to make way for buildings. They had occupied the land since the mid-1960s. Television news did not care. Demolitions are proceeding as per plan. In June this year, slums at Ejipura in Bengaluru were demolished after residents were evicted in an area they had lived in for decades. Media coverage was nowhere near as sympathetic.

It seems that the middle class likes the idea of the rule of law when it is applied to others. It is quite comfortable breaking the law, and sheds copious tears when it is caught. The sentiment is simple — the rich get away with it because they have influence with those in power. The lower middle class and poor get away with breaking the law because they are the mass, and political parties need mass votes. Given that the middle class have neither the political influence nor the numbers, it does the next best thing — use the media, made up of people like them, to amplify issues. And it has worked.  While in the occasional case like a Jessica Lal when the media got it right, the fact remains that this sort of coverage of raw emotions has repercussions in terms of the rule of law. Think back to the hijacking of IC 814 and ask if the media had not constantly broadcast and amplified the heart-rending anguish of impacted families would the Government of India have been placed in such a ridiculous position?

Two sections of India that most often talk about declining morality and increased lawlessness have in the last week gotten together to do both: The middle class and the media. It is pointless to point fingers elsewhere. If you want the rule of law, you start by following it, not by breaking it, because others do just that.

Dec 232013
 

This column appeared in the DNA on the 31st of October

About a decade ago, I traveled to film my first documentary. It was a hot and dry May and we were filming the destitute Dalit and Pardhi women near the town of Udgir, Latur District, Maharashtra.

The documentary was on how self-help groups helped the women achieve financial independence and reclaim their lives through grit, courage and hard work. Each self-help group, which had approximately 20 members, and each woman in that group saved one day’s wages between Rs20 and Rs50. When the group reached a certain threshold in savings, the NGO working with the group gave them a female goat. The idea was simple: the female goat would mate and before long there will be a herd of goats. And that is exactly what happened. The women, in a span of two years, had a herd of 250 goats and were earning money with goat milk and milk products. What was interesting was what they did with the money they set up an anganwadi and a pre-primary school where their children could study without discrimination.
While one celebrated the women’s success, I couldn’t but help thinking ‘What was the State doing?’ Isn’t it the role of the State to provide quality education? After all, we are paying taxes, and the application of tax money includes education, especially for the poorest. There was a governance gap, and  destitute women used their miniscule incomes to plug that gap to give their children a better future.

Earlier this year, in the scorching heat of May, I was out filming another documentary in Vidarbha, Yavatmal, Nanded, Adilabad and adjoining districts. The documentary was not on farmer suicides as documentaries on Vidarbha tend to be but on the traditional knowledge of the Banjara and Kolam tribes. What I saw in the villages was impressive. Water pumps in every 10 homes, concrete roads, good sanitation, primary schools and girls and boys going to school. There seemed to be a lot more worldly goods two wheelers, DTH connections, TV sets and the like.

Older teens were in nearby cities for further education both boys and girls. On the face of it, governance seemed to have delivered the basics and more. But, two interactions left me wondering. A villager told us that his son was in the ‘shehar’ studying engineering. That they had managed to cobble together the first year’s fees, but were thinking of mortgaging their land for money needed in the second year. Our local guide was also the principal of the local college and he informed the villager that for his son, education at this level should be free because of a variety of central and state schemes. In another case, there were these old women, very feeble and totally blind with thick cataract. We asked why they didn’t get their eyes operated, and the answer was it was too expensive. Once again, cataract operations for women (and men) in that category are totally free provided by both the State and various NGOs. People simply didn’t know about it. There was a governance gap, and the poorest, weakest and the most marginal had slipped through this gap.

The role of the government is simple. It is to get things done based on policies that they have put in place. If the policy is subsidised food items and kerosene delivered to the population, then the governance gap arises when the public distribution system fails to deliver; if the policy is quality education to all children between the ages of 6 and 14, then the governance gap is the inability to provide schools and qualified teachers; if the policy is free medicines and hospital treatment to the poorest members of society, then the governance gap is not enough hospitals and doctors; if the policy is a society where women can walk without fear on the roads of India, then the governance gap is lack of adequate policing; if the policy is the creation of several thousand kilometres of roads in the country, then the governance gap is the shortfall; if policy is about keeping the borders secure, then the governance gap is incursions into the Indian territory; if the policy is a safe and equal society for all citizens, then the governance gap is riots. The list can go on and on. We just have to look around us, in our own everyday lives and see the governance gap.

Every time someone breaks a signal and drives away, there is a governance gap, because at the most basic level there is no respect for the law and law-breakers can get away with it.

Gandhi had talked about Sarvodaya (welfare of all), but he clarified that this is based on Antyodaya the welfare of the last in society. It is impossible for the Centre or even state legislatures to look at the needs of the  Antyodaya. For that you have local governments corporations and panchayats.  If you look at the West, the basics health, social service, education, sanitation, garbage collection and road maintenance are mostly in the realm of services provided by local government. The states and the Centre put in place policies that help local governments deliver, but the local governments will have to take these services  to the local community.

To ensure good governance, citizens have to be informed about what the government plans to do, and they should be empowered with the ability to question the government when it doesn’t deliver.

In reality, a highly centralised set-up makes that difficult. The best way to ensure good governance is to enable local governments and local representatives to deliver quality services to the local community where they live and work. And, more importantly,  empower citizens who live in that area so that they can take their representatives and administrators to task if there is ‘no delivery’.

Unless there is decentralisation, and local corporations and panchayats are  empowered, the gap in governance will continue.

Oct 242013
 

The Last of the Great Playback singers of Indian Cinema has passed on today, marking the end of a glorious era of Film Music. Manna De is no more. His music however, lives on.  Compared to Mohd. Rafi or Kishore Kumar – he didn’t sing as much for Hindi films, but the songs that he sang left a mark.

It’s been a long time since i put together a compilation of songs, for quite sometime my music consumption has been predominantly Hindustani Classical Music.But, Manna De along with Mohd. Rafi gave me my first ever taste of the classical, something that has been with me for life.

Manna De, more than any other Hindi singer – was completely at ease with classical music. A voice like honey, he was comfortable with all sorts of songs – the philosophical (Tu Pyaar ka Saagar Hai) l, the romantic (Yeh raat bhigi bhigi) , the teasing (dil ki umange hai Jawan) , the classical (Ketaki Gulab Juhi), the tragic (sur Na saje)  .

Here in no order of preference, are some of my favourite songs sung by Manna De. if you have your favourites, please post them.

Yeh Raat Bhigi Bhigi - Mukesh is said to be the voice of Raj Kapoor, but i personally preferred the duets that Manna De sang for him with Lata. Be it this, or Pyaar huva or Aaja Sanam …. Shankar Jaikishen composed the music, and the film is Chori Chori . The guitar as the prelude is possibly one of the most distinctive pieces of Hindi film music. i need to hear two chords to identify the song. Enjoy Raj Kapoor & Nargis in this brilliant composition.

Na to Karvan Ki Talaash Hai - My favourte Qawalli from Hindi Films. Manna Dey, Asha Bhonsle, Mohd. Rafi and others. The song runs for almost 10 minutes. Manna De opens the classic piece and Rafi ends it… both are at their best in this song. Roshan Sahab (the father of Rakesh & grand father of Hrithik) composes a masterpiece, lyrics are by Shailendra -

Tu Pyaar ka Saagar Hai – I used to have this huge crush on Balraj Sahani when i was a kid. in those glorious days of watching Chitrahaar and Hindi films on Doordarshan. I could never understand his films in those days – but i simply thought he looked yummmm :) i still do. and of all his songs, this one was played the most frequently. Soul stirring stuff. Balraj Sahani & Nutan in the film Seema. Music by Shankar Jaikishen.

 Kaun Aaya mere Dil ke Dwaare – I cannot remember watching this film, though i must i have. i devoured everything on Doordarshan whether it was Krishi Darshan or Santakukdi or Kilbil … Anoop Kumar (Kishore Kumar’s brother) and Anita Guha in Dekh Kabira Roya. Music by Madan Mohan

Dil Ki Girah Khol Do – the film “Raat aur Din”. The subject multiple personality disorder. The year 1967. And a commercial success. Nargis in her last leading role. Fabulous film. Fabulous music. Watch it also for a very young Feroze Khan. Music Shankar Jaikishen

Ja Tose Nahin Bolu Kanhaya – Raga Hamsadhwani. Lata Mangeshkar & Manna De. The movie is Parivaar and the music director is Salil Choudhary .

Hoke Majboor Mujhe - The film Haqeeqat. Possibly the finest war film ever made in India. From the point of view of the men who serve. Directed by Chetan Anand it starred Balraj Sahni (him again), Dharmendra and a host of others it is set around the 1962 war – which no one talks about. The song ‘kar chale ham fida jaan aur tan saathiyo’ by Rafi is guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes. But, this song, more philosophical is equally good. Check out Manna De in this

Mausam Beeta Jaye – The film “Do Bhiga Zamin”, the director Bimal Roy. Music Salil Choudhary. Actor Balraj Sahni and the voice Manna De. I cry everytime is see this film – nothing has changed for the farmer. When we decided to make our film “Jhing Chik Jhing” i went and rewatched this film — the famers’ lot is the same. there is a line in Jhing Chik Jhing where Bharat Jadhav says ‘we are farmers, we grow food but our children go hungry; we grow cotton and our kids wear torn clothes’. This is not the post to call for agricultral reform or greater support to farmers, but consider it said :(.

By the way, despite the subject this was not an art film. it was a commercially viable film .

Ketaki Gulab Juhi - a duet with Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. The song is a competition between the two singers, and in typical Hindi Film ishtyle … Pandit Bhimsen Joshi loses. If your mind can overcome this fact… listen to the song…

Zindagi kaisi yeh Paheli - Manna De sings for Rajesh Khanna – a man with a medical death sentance. the music by Salil Da. The film Anand. Lyrics by Yogesh.

Laga Chunri Mein Daag – Music by Roshan (grandfather to Hrithik ). The film is Dil Hi to Hai starring Raj Kapoor and Nutan

O Meri Zohra Zabeen – the Film is Waqt – the first of the last and found sagas …. The song is picturised on Balraj Sahni (be still my fluttering heart),the music is by Ravi and lyrics by Sahir Ludhianvi.

Mud Mud ke Na Dekh Mud Mud Ke – Asha and Manna De in this fabulous number from Shree 420. Picturised on Nadira & Raj Kapoor. The music is by Shankar Jaikishen and lyrics by Shailendra. The film is about a young idealist Raj Kapoor, who is seduced by wealth, fame and fortune – represented by Maya (nadira) … and brought back to the straight and narrow (not to mention poverty) by Vidya. The song marks the turning point in the film when Raj Kapoor goes over to the evil side….

Pucho na Kaise Man - The film was hackneyed but the music was great. Staring Ashok Kumar in a triple role , the film is Meri Surat Teri Aankhen. Music by S.D.Burman

Sur Na Saje Kya Gaaon Mein - the film Basant Bahar. music by Shankar Jaikishen – who hitherto had been considered to be ‘pop’ music composers without a handle on classical – and how they proved the world wrong. Starring Bharat Bhushan who possibly had some of the best classical songs featured on him. The other great song in this film is Ketki Gulab Juhi sung by Manna De and Bhimsen Joshi !

Phir Kahi Koi Phul Khila - the film is Anubhav – a complicated tangle of marital relationships. It has a wonderful sound track. Other classics in this film include the brilliant number by Geeta Dutt – Mujhe jaan na Kahon, meri Jaan. The film stars Sanjeev Kumar and Tanuja as the newly married couple with more than than their share of problems.

And, today when it seems that the heavens are spring cleaning (atleast in Mumbai) one of the most famous duets sung by Manna De and Lata Mangeshkar … his ease with both high and low notes, and the sheer beauty of his voice.