Dec 292014
I write for the print edition of @dna on the 11th of December
The first step to tackling crime against women calls for radical attitudinal changes

One more December and one more rapein the nation’s capital that has made women across the board feel far more insecure than before. Last weekend, a woman called for a radio cab using an app on her phone – it was a Uber app. She believed that travelling by radio cab would provide her the safety and security of being able to reach home without being attacked. Her faith was shattered, her security breached, and her person attacked by a man who threatened to do to her what was done to the woman in the December 16th rape case — brutalised with an iron rod. Unlike the December 16th case, this woman survived, complained to the police and a manhunt resulted in the accused being arrested.

Most women in India (possibly elsewhere too) would tell you that at least once in their lives they have faced momentary terror at the thought of their safety and security being violated brutally. Most of us would tell you of all the things that we generally ignore — being groped in trains, buses, planes or any crowded space. We would tell you of the taunts that we block out on a regular basis. What we would also tell you is the truth — it is not about the clothes we wear, or the lifestyle that we adopt, or the time we get home. It doesn’t matter if we are young or old, modern or traditional, inside the safety of our home or out and about; whether we work outside the home or are homemakers, whether we are students or workers. It doesn’t matter who we are, and what we do. We are attacked for one and only one reason — we are women. And, what we see is the increased frequency of the crime of opportunity, an almost Russian Roulette with any one of us being a target. The woman who went to Shakti Mills to cover a story, a Jyothi who climbed into a bus expecting to get home to safety, a woman who gets into a rickshaw or a cab, you or I — we are all walking targets, except that we don’t know where the attack will come from, or the men involved.

Like the December 16th incident, there is collective outrage over this case. That outrage is looking for a target — the cab company in question (Uber) — whose promise of security turned out to be a marketing line; the home minister, who is ultimately responsible for the safety of citizens; the system that allowed a man, accused of rape to be out on bail. As more details of the case emerge, the level of rage increases — the accused was a serial sexual offender and had prior cases against him. He was out on bail for sexual offences. While Uber failed to conduct background checks on the man, it is also true that there is no centralised database of those convicted of sexual offenses. While things can definitely improve if employers conduct stringent background checks and law and order is enforced in Delhi and elsewhere, there is one area that needs to be addressed, and is often ignored: Women are seen as targets because that is how boys are brought up. “Jaa rahi hai woh chhammak challo’ “kya item hai’ “Aati kya Khandala” are all things most women have heard at various points of time. Most of us have developed filters to block these out — because hearing them means reacting, and reacting means starting a fight which you cannot win. And, the bigger problem is the consent of many political elders on this. Every time I hear a politician say “boys will be boys” — when it comes to this sort of behaviour — the reaction is not a civil conversation or an outrage on women’s rights, but a primeval desire to pummel sense into him. Physically. Along with other women who feel the same rage.

There is a list of things to improve safety for women. Starting with sensitising police and the judiciary to crimes against women and sensitising politicians and leaders on a changing world. You can have better background checks, but they won’t deter the first-time rapist. You can have more police on the street and faster courts, but they won’t prevent rape at home. So what do you do? Whatever you do will be doomed to failure if boys are brought up thinking every woman is out for the picking and that they have the right to force sexual intercourse on women. If women and girls have to be safe, there has to be a systemic societal and attitudinal changes at the individual family unit. Laws have to be strict. Punishment has to be stricter, and this ethos of ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘what happens to the Indian family if marital rape is penalised’ needs to be met head on and demolished.

The Justice Verma Committee Report that made so many fantastic recommendations to ensure women’s safety needs to be accepted in its entirety. Those dilutions that were made to ensure its passage through Parliament would need to come back in as amendments and, hopefully, passed. The security and safety of women cannot be held hostage to politicians who want to give a free pass to stalkers and rapists.

Being paranoid is not going to help. Being angry is not going to help. Effecting tangible changes that is what will make the world safer for the next generations. It is too late for my generation – we have to live in a world we have made. But, can we ensure a better tomorrow for your daughters and sons, for your grand children – and the answer is, if we have the will to make hard decisions and make the change.

(A version of this had earlier appeared on

Sep 262014
My column in the DNA, earlier this week
The Times of India’s stand is pretty much the same as that of khap panchayats – she was wearing revealing clothes, therefore she asked for it
  • PTI

Last week, the Times of India, that claims to be the most read English daily in the world, peeked down actor Deepika Padukone‘s dress and put up content titled “OMG – Deepika Padukone’s Cleavage Show”. Ms Padukone, unlike most who grin and bear this sort of intrusion into personal space, hit back in a series of tweets that essentially took the news brand to task, in no uncertain terms.

In a Facebook post that has attracted over 2000 comments and over 150,000 likes (at the time of writing), Ms Padukone says, “I am not naive about my own profession; it is one that requires lots of demanding things of me. A character may demand that I be clothed from head to toe or be completely naked, and it will be my choice as an actor whether or not I take either. Understand that this is a ROLE and not REAL, and it is my job to portray whatever character I choose to play convincingly.”

And then the TOI decided to explain itself: “Deepika, we accept your reel vs real argument, but what about all the times, and there have been many, when you have flaunted your body off screen – while dancing on stage, posing for magazine covers, or doing photo ops at movie promotional functions? What ‘role’ do you play there? So why the hypocrisy?”

Well, since the old lady of Bori Bundar has asked, I thought I would help them understand the most basic aspect of women’s rights. And that is actually just one word – one simple yet elegant word – consent. Consent, very loosely defined, is permission or assent. Has the person in question said yes? At a second level is a related question, just as equally valid in the context of women’s rights: “Do women have the rights over their own body?” When a woman says no, no matter who she is, does it a) mean yes? And, as importantly, b) is she going to be judged by what else she says when she says no?

It is all very well to say, you are flaunting your body, albeit in a different context and therefore it is all right for us to intrude on your privacy, and use your body to our advantage. But at a very fundamental level, this is pretty much the same argument that we have been hearing from every regressive element in the Indian ecosystem. What the paper and everybody else needs to understand is that it is very clearly a matter of a woman’s right over her body and her consent for anyone else having a right over it.

The response of the TOI on the Deepika Padukone issue occupies the same space as a famous film scene. In the film Dostana starring Amitabh Bachchan, Zeenat Aman and Shatrugan Sinha, Zeenat Aman plays a modern woman who wears a bikini and a sarong at a beach. When ‘eve-teasers’ whistle at her, she complains to the policeman (played by Amitabh Bachchan). His retort is, “Aap aise kapde pehen kar ghar se niklengi toh ladko ke seeti nahi toh kya mandir ki ghantiyaa bajengi?” (if you wear such clothes and leave your home, what do you expect men to do – whistle or ring the temple bell). Today, we can look back at these lines and say regressive, regressive attitude, blaming the woman for violence and the rest. And we would be right. What do you say to the leading English language daily?

It looks like almost three decades later nothing has changed. It is the same argument that is being used. Today, when we talk about women saying no to sex and then being forced, or to being groped, or being whistled at, the same set of counter arguments pop up.  The argument, whether made by a leading English daily or by the head of a khap panchayat, ‘but she was asking for it’ needs to be treated with the same contempt that you would have for a traditionally dressed woman or man, who with the full fire of righteousness, and in an Indian language tells you that girls who don’t cover up their bodies will be prey to rapists If that had been the case, we could be sure that all of us, including the newspaper in question – would have outraged over medieval attitudes and patriarchal behaviour.

This entire argument goes beyond Deepika Padukone and into the space of women and media created perceptions. I would argue that it is not Bollywood or item numbers that demean women, rather it is these sorts of attitudes that do. When a leading newspaper tells ‘you that you flaunt you body, therefore we can peep into your cleavage’ it is far more dangerous than the head of a feudal setup saying something similar. We know we should oppose the latter as it is antediluvian and archaic insofar as its perception of women is concerned. But, what about the former? If the feudal organisations think of women as their property, this treats women as much the same. And frankly, there is not much to choose from between the two ways of seeing women. Except that one is in English and the other is in an Indian language.


A ‘roadside romeo’ is lumpen, but a media house peeking down a woman’s cleavage is ‘respectable’.
A khap panchayat that says a woman must be well covered to avoid rape is regressive, and a leading English daily which asks but if you flaunt it anyway, why do we need your consent?
No means no, except when we understand it as yes .

I agree with one point in the TOI article, and that is it reeks of hypocrisy. Unfortunately, it is not the hypocrisy of Ms Padukone, but of the media outlet. When the largest English Language daily in India justifies the invasion of the body of a woman – without consent – you should hardly be surprised that you have a system that justifies rape.

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 :