Apr 022012

My column in today’s DNA 

“The intent of matrimony is not for man and wife to be always taken up with each other, but jointly to discharge the duties of civil society, to govern their families with prudence, and educate their children with discretion.” Said an anonymous author in an American Magazine, way back in 1807, exemplifying the almost universally accepted view on marriage. Marriage was for alliances – political and economic, it secured bloodlines, it created economic units, it trained the next generation. All those kinder gentler ‘emotions’ that we talk about today such as love and companionship were not even part of the overall equation. It was also a time when the woman was property, a belonging. She was owned by her parent’s family before marriage and her husband’s family after marriage, decisions made for her by her father, husband, and later, her son or the oldest male relative. Few women in that period were educated, even fewer had control over their lives or destinies. For most, life was to be led in complete and utter obedience to the prevalent system.


Indiawas no exception to the miserable state of women. The powers that be, at that time, possibly thought that there was nothing wrong with the way women were treated, it was after all, for their own good. Women could be carried away by enemies, by their own sexuality, by freedom. They needed to be protected from all of it. And that meant locking her up behind closed doors, all her life . And, if she needed to be killed to be protected, so be it. A woman had no status without a man to protect her. Wives, widows, daughters, daughters-in-law, mothers, sister were all treated badly. Some women rose up to be matriarchs but her role was to impose the rigid rules of patriarchy.


It took men of exceptional vision and courage to change the status of women inIndia. We rattle off names like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chander Vidyasagar, Jyothirao Phule, Haribilas Sarda, Maharishi Karve, Bhimrao Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru little understanding the public and social pressure, revilement and censure these men had to face to take up the cause of rights for women.


Raja Ram Mohan Roy fought to ensure that Sati was banned. He went against the Hindu orthodoxy to fight for the rights of women. He agitated for the women to inherit property. He worked towards education for women. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar  took this one step forward. He worked tirelessly to ensure the rights of widows, including working to get the Widow Remarriage Act, of 1856, passed. Jyotirao Phule too worked in the area of preventing female infanticide, widow remarriage and girls education. Life was further complicated for Jyothirao Phule because he was from theMalicaste and had to combat caste discrimination and strictures to fight for the right of women. Maharsishi Karve, the founder of SNDT university, not just fought women’s rights, the rights of widows – he married one.  Rai Sahab Haribilas Sarda was another champion of women’s rights. He sponsored the bill that outlawed pre pubescent marriages for girls inIndia. The Sarda Act, named in his honour, set the marriageable age of Indian girls – not just Hindu girls – to fourteen. The next major blow against orthodoxy and for the rights of Hindu women was the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955. It allowed Hindu women the right to divorce. Championed by Ambedkar and made an election issue by Nehru it was fought tooth and nail by the Hindu Orthodoxy, which lost.


For every leap of women’s rights from the time of Raja Ram Mohan Roy – the bogey of destruction of family has been raised. In each case it has been defeated. An institution that stands on the exploitation of one party, will break sooner or later. Women’s rights will not make families weaker, they will make them stronger.


Today as women stand on the threshold of yet another leap forward to women’s rights with the proposed amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act, including the right for the woman to claim 50% of ‘joint’ property, as well as faster divorces – it is time that we paid a silent tribute to all the men who over the decades who fought for the rights of women. Without them it would have been impossible to get this far. Finally, is tragic that the rights of women, inIndia, are divided by religion and that Muslim women are deprived of the rights that Hindu women are given by law. It is sad they had no champions to fight for their rights and that successive Indian governments sacrificed the rights of Muslim women in order to woo the orthodoxy for electoral gain.


Feb 122012

State Womens Commission chairperson Jyoti Panigrahi, who had quoted controversy by stating in her “Pipili” report to the government that she did not come across allegation of gang rape, said on Friday the AIIMS report establishes her observation. “I have not gone through the AIIMS report as yet. But what I gathered from news reports, it did not find evidence of gang rape. Branding the girl as a gang rape victim without any basis is an insult to her,” she said.

via AIIMS experts find no evidence of rape in Pipili case – The Times of India.

The victim was, however, strangled, says the news report …

No wonder India has such a terrible record vis-a-vis violence towards women. State Women’s Rights Commission heads believe that ‘branding’ someone a gang rape victim is an insult to the victim. It isn’t. Being labelled a rapist is an insult. Rape is an insult ….

IMHO, until society stops looking at the rape victim as a someone ‘who has lost her honour’ and starts seeing her as a ‘victim of a violent’ crime, you are not going to see much improvement in sexual violence towards women. It is not the woman’s fault, nor is it her crime. She is the victim. The criminals are those who rape, and those who stigmatise the woman

Mar 262011

An abridged version –  of this appeared The DNA on Thursday … ( i abridged it, i really need to learn to express ideas in fewer words) :)

Way back in the mid 1970’s, my parents were posted in New Delhi. I was in the first standard – and the only thing that I can remember is not being allowed to go out to play. Bad Man will come, my parents would say, and that was enough to get me to stay indoors. This was the time when the Billa and Ranga case had horrified the city. Two thugs had kidnapped two children and murdered them. Even in an era before the mass media, the fear that went through the neighbourhood was palpable. We were taken to school by an army of mothers, and brought back by another army. And then, my Father was transferred to Mumbai and, I played till I was ready to drop. The one thing about Mumbai that has always been there – right from the time I was a child till now – is that sense of physical security. I have taken rickshaws in the middle of the night from office or the studio to my home; I have driven home in the wee hours of the morning, been stuck all night in rains outside– and it has never, ever felt unsafe.


Many years later, as a professional, when I visited Delhi on work – my ears ringing with ‘be safe’, ‘get picked up and dropped back’, ‘Delhi is not a safe city’ – there was that sense of being on guard. How much of it came from all the advice that I received, and how much from a sixth sense – most women tend to know when they are not ‘safe’ – I do not know. I enjoyed my visits to Delhi, admired its beauty, appreciated its hospitality – but returned back to the hotel before dark. I never ventured out on my own anywhere. And returned to Mumbai where I could do all that and more.


I have travelled through large tracts of India. Travelled by ST buses, stayed in villages, shot in remote areas – but have never felt insecure about my safety. But Delhi has always made me feel unsafe. Given the headlines that we have all been reading in the last few years – about assault, rape and murder in India’s capital – it is hardly surprising. No female seems to be safe. Pre-pubescent girls, teenagers, students, housewives, grandmothers, working professionals – Delhi seems to be equal in making everyone a target. If any other minority – and let’s face it women are a minority in India and particularly in North India – were targeted the way women were, the hue and cry would stall the system.


So what is it about the region that makes it so unsafe for women?


Mr. P.Chidambaram indicated it could be the high level of immigration – but Mumbai has a large population of immigrants too. Mrs. Dixit indicated it could be because women were out at night – travel by local train post 10 pm in Mumbai and you would see women out late. KPS Gill suggested that it is because women wear ‘provocative clothes’ – whatever that means. All these go to put the onus of the blame on the woman. Of course, after a rape or a murder there is baying of blood holding the Government and the Police responsible Even if the accused are caught and sent into the legal labyrinth its’ too late for the victim.  But, is there something else, I wonder, that makes Delhi so unsafe for women.


For me, the first and most important reason is bad parenting of the male child. Parents bring up their sons as though they were reincarnations of God. Utterly spoilt, not knowing that the word “No” exists, not doing an iota of work within the house, and not brought up to respect either their sisters or their mothers, they grow up parroting their childhood behaviour. Touching someone’s feet or getting a rakhi tied is not the only symbol of respect. Respect comes form every day actions. So, if Delhi and the rest of India has to be more equal towards the female, that behavioural change begins with the way the child is brought up. Values, Culture, Tradition is all very good – but there has to be a clear emphasis on the difference between right and wrong. And, this cannot be done by the State. It is the job of the family – and the famous Indian family system and family values has failed in this regard.


The second is societal. Ever heard the terms “has gayi to phas gayi’ or“ladki ghar ki izzat hai”  – both end up assuming things on behalf of the woman. The first assumes that no means yes, and the second assumes that a woman only has those rights that conform with the family honour.  Both sets of behaviour have been sanctified by mass media and upheld by patriarchs with vote banks at their disposal.  In the name of tradition and culture – women’s rights have been trampled on. From the mass genocide – let’s call it what it is – of females across India in general, and the north of India in particular, to dowry; from feudal behaviour – a woman who leaves the home is fair game – to harassment it has all been excused in the name of tradition. If this is indeed our tradition it needs to change. Maybe this is where religious organisations can help. Give the girl child the right to perform last rites; the right to carry on the family name. Maybe there can be religious strictures against families that don’t treat their daughters well. As a people we are all right with the idea of committing crimes. We are not all right with the idea of sin.


The third reason is Governance – both local and state. The first thing that struck me when I visited Delhi was how dark the city was compared to Mumbai. The bulk of the light in the suburbs came from shops and little lanterns that street traders had. I live and work in the suburbs of Mumbai – use by lanes and shortcuts to reach destinations. All are usually brightly lit. The only time I have seen such darkness in Mumbai is when a power girder trips somewhere. Working streetlights go such a long way to reducing the sense of physical insecurity. Is there a correlation between 70% of streetlights in Delhi not working and the level of violence ordinary citizens in general, and women in particular have to face? I don’t know – but one solution could be to fix the streetlights.  Then, comes policing – there is visible police presence in Mumbai – albeit traffic police. Somehow uniformed presence increases the feeling of security. Apart from the odd incident or two – Mumbai Police are fairly helpful to citizens at large. More importantly, my guess is that their presence prevents crime. They actually don’t have to do too much but stand there in uniform.


At the final level, there is the Judicial system – cases of violence against women need to be fast tracked. Be it dowry, foeticide, or rape. On paper they are, in reality they aren’t. Why aren’t parents being arrested for murder of their unborn child? Why is society quiet when rapists are let off after agreeing to marry the girl or paying blood money of Rs.50,000/- . And, finally instead of introducing the Death Penalty for rape & murder of women –as Mrs.Sushma Swaraj seems to suggest, the system should look, instead at chemical castration. In a society that values masculinity and maleness – maybe that is the most effective deterrent.


The  article is here :

Apr 172007

This from today’s DNA:

A 24-year-old undertrial in Orissa has married a teenage girl whom he allegedly raped and got pregnant a few years ago. The traditional tribal wedding between Padmini Murmu, 16, and Khaira Hansda was solemnised at the Circle Jail at Baripada, the district headquarters of Mayurbhanj, 250 km from the state capital Bhubaneswar, where Khaira is lodged on charges of rape, a jail official said.

I suppose that kissing someone in public, or marrying outside one’s religion is against ‘Indian culture’ but getting married to the man who raped you is very much part of our culture. Afterall, the guy has redeemed the girls’ reputation by filling her forehead with sindoor. By the way, the girl is underage even now, which means that she was even more underage when she got raped. And the jail authorities organised this marriage ? ….. Isn’t there something about upholding the law that is a must for our civil servants? Before we pooh pooh this and say that the victim was a tribal, and possibly uneducated and these things happen there (where ever there is supposed to be) let’s not forget that our esteemed judges have offered the victim the prospect of matrimony with the, rapist a fair few times in cities no less. I wonder where are the morchas, or the protests or the spontaneous expression of our outrage – surely raping, harming, killing someone is against our culture – much more than kissing and cuddling and making independent choices.