Thursday, 11 July 2013

Newspaper Unity

All major newspapers in India today concurred on what should be front page news- Convicted MPs must go, by the Supreme Court ruling. 

Monday, 27 May 2013

Doodh ka Daam

Roadside chai-wallah was talking about doodh ka daam during bread-omlitt this morning.. along with news about the heatwave in Bihar. His chai prices change along with this increase in the price of milk.

Significant for me is that I heard about this price rise from him first, and read about it only later in the day on my way home.

Significant also is the effect of doodh ka daam on that tea stall.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Gangrape accused in "critical" condition, and why we should be critical of the same

It has been five months to the day, since the 23 year old physiotherapy student was gangraped on a moving bus in Delhi. She died two weeks later in a Singapore hospital, from the brutalities inflicted on her.

India then launched into a nation-wide process of introspection, with vociferous protests and even a change in laws related to rape. Also in this period, Ram Singh, the main accused of the six, was found hanging in his jail cell on the morning of 11 March. The case has been abated qua Ram Singh, and the State maintains that he committed suicide, while his lawyer alleges murder. The report on the same is yet to be submitted in the court. Today, the trial finished the examination of prosecution witness 74.

A second accused, is Vinay Sharma. A resident of Tihar Jail 7, he has been hospitalized since 3 May and has thus not been attending any of his hearings since. Now his lawyer AP Singh says that Vinay has been slowly administered "sweet posion" at the jail hospital where he had been admitted for a fever and chest pain and that his condition is "critical."

The case of Vinay requires concern- this is not the first time he has had a serious health issue since the trial began. The young man has had a particularly eventful five months. In March, the former gym instructor announced that he plans on writing entrance exams for the Indian airforce. His lawyer went to the extent of filing an application for him to be supplied with fruits and milk, which the presiding judge agreed to. A day before he was to write his exam, he was found to have a broken hand. He alleged that he had been tortured. The jail authorities said that he got into a fight with other inmates.

This time, Vinay's condition is even more serious. His lawyer reports that on the night of 2 May he was beaten on his chest. "Vinay told me that while beating him, the jail authorities said that they would beat him on his face, but the marks would show, and so decided to beat him on his chest," says Singh. He had been suffering a fever for a few days before that, and this coupled with the chest pain, had him admitted to the hospital within Tihar Jail. Instead of getting better, things got worse. The boy began vomiting blood. His lawyer says that Vinay has been receiving a "sweet poison" in his medicines consistently, since being admitted in the jail hospital. He has been transferred to three hospitals in two weeks and has been vomiting blood at all these places. Singh says that at Tihar and at the second hospital (Deen Dayal Upadhyay, a government hospital), the doctors seem to have made light of Vinay's sickness, calling it just a fever. A bail application for Vinay on the grounds of his ill health has been rejected by the court in Saket where his case is being heard. 

Police wait outside Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital, on the day of Ram Singh's "suicide" 

The medical officer at the Tihar jail has submitted a status report today on Vinay. It lists some of the efforts of and opinions made by doctors at Tihar and Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital. Tihar referred him to a government hospital citing "fever, sore throat and oral ulcers." The government hospital has provided a "provisional diagnosis of Pyrexia of Unknown Origin with Bicytopenia" and referred him to a third facility (Lok Nayak Hospital, also a government one). In the two days since he has been admitted at what is considered a specialist facility, there has been no accurate diagnosis of Vinay's condition besides that it is "critical." The report is expected tomorrow.

Allegations of torture of the accused within the jail have been made since the beginning of this trial. Akshay Thakur, another accused, has also just last week claimed to have been tortured. His lawyer says that the jail authorities report that he has been bothering other inmates instead.

Of the six accused of her rape, one is a juvenile, which means he will compulsorily receive a very light sentence, and his proceedings are ongoing at the Juvenile Justice Board.

After the suicide of Ram Singh, the sessions court hearing this case ruled for increased security to be given, and for the accused to be treated well so that they do not commit desperate acts that could lead to mishaps. But something is definitely amiss when the accused persons are found dead, with a broken hand, alleging torture, or alleging torture to the extent that leaves them hospitalized for two weeks with no convincing diagnosis. Is it not in the interest of their justice and ours, for them to be kept alive? Or is it normal for undertrials to fall away during due process? If it is, then does it not require critical concern?

Thursday, 14 February 2013

V-Day as D-day, the Fight to Love, and Related Oxymorons

Valentine’s Day, for all practical purposes, is a commercial creation. The day itself does not bear any deep significance to those who may celebrate it, though the love they celebrate might bear some value. Politically and socially, it is a fluffy construct, and should not require too much inspection. But V-Day is D-day now, as far as women’s rights movements are concerned. The day has grown to be important because it appears that there is now a fight on, for the ability to love and express it.  

In January 2009, men from Sri Ram Sena, a Hindu right wing group, barged into a pub in Mangalore, dragged women out and assaulted them. They felt the need to act as vigilantes because women drinking in a pub was unacceptable to them. They then threatened to strike again, on Valentine’s Day. Pramod Muthalik, their leader said, “Our activists will go around with a priest, a turmeric stub and a ‘mangal sutra’ on February 14. If we come across couples being together in public and expressing their love, we will take them to the nearest temple and conduct their marriage,” If there was resistance to this by the couple, the girl would be made to tie a rakhi on the boy.

In the “WTF History of Indian feminism,” this incident has a chapter. When a social class is faced with such ridiculous opposition, the only way to respond to it adequately is with irreverence. This explains the ingenuity of Slut Walk. In this case, a fitting reply was provided by the ‘Pink Chaddi Campaign.’ A bunch of women got together, and decided to send these saffron-chaddi men, some pink underwear. The aim was to flood the Hubli office of this group with mountains of panties, by Valentine’s Day 2009. And this has made a permanent X-mark on 14 February, on the activist calendar.

The ‘Consortium of Loose and Pub Going Women’ was started, and with a hark back to Gandhi’s ‘Jail Bharo’ campaign (which was invoked even recently during the Anna Hazare agitation), women pledged that they were going to go to a pub, and have a drink. Their slogan was, ‘Pub Bharo.’ Muthalik replied to the women by saying he would send “1000 sarees as return gifts” for the chaddis he receives. By Valentine’s Day, he and about 140 of his goons were taken into preventive custody by the police. Hundreds of chaddis awaited him in his office.

Loving is a hard thing in India. People get killed for loving of their choice. And so we have honour killings, where communities kill their own for eloping or marrying out of their caste. Or fathers kill themselves when their daughters transgress caste lines by loving, and this inflames entire communities, as in Dharmapuri recently. Or for the more ludicrous, police in Bangalore have been intimidating young couples by video taping them while they spend time with each other at public places. 

I want to take the liberty to say that the 16 December gangrape in Delhi, and the subsequent death of the victim, can be seen from some distance, as a wave in Indian feminism. We can see a line from 14 February 2009 to 16 December 2012 to 14 February 2013. Since the rape, there have been massive protests in Delhi, which made history when they reached Raisina Hill, in a country where police permission is required for protests and protests are only permitted in designated areas. Protestors were subjected to water cannons and tear gas. The protests were spontaneous, lacking in leadership, and were united by pure outrage. Important dates that came between 16 December and 14 February, have all seen protest as a response to celebration, including Christmas, New Year and Republic Day. People are still at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, everyday. Some have been fasting, some have set up camp. 

Since then, fast track courts have been set up around India, to deal with long pending rape cases. Life imprisonments and death sentences are being doled out, perhaps in response to the vociferous and dangerous public outcry for the same. The winter session of the Parliament closed with no closure on the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2012, which sought to deal with many issues of violence on women. The path breaking report by the Justice Verma Committee was released on time to widespread appreciation. But the government came out with an ordinance that instead of heeding the prudent Verma recommendations and placating people, has made them more angry due to its haste, ill thought out recommendations and secrecy. At the impending budget session of Parliament which starts on 21 February, activists are pledging that they will keep a watch on how the government allocates funds, and if any will be spared for safety of women.

It is in this ironic period, that Valentine’s Day falls. It has been four years since Pink Chaddi and 14 February, is hardly a fluffy day anymore. It is a day of strategic importance to the women’s movement. It is a day for deep social introspection, the kind of stuff to be philosophized about in academia. For the young people who do celebrate Valentine’s Day, albeit an urban young India, it is now a significant day to reclaim their choice to love and express it and their freedom to live fearlessly. By extension, it is a day to resist moral policing of this expression and sexual violence. This “western concept,” which angers Indian conservatives so much, has been made quite personal to Indians, something the conservatives did not foresee.

Globally as well, this day, this year, is significant because today is when one billion people are expected to “strike, rise and dance” as part of the One Billion Rising campaign. The campaign was started by the very famous Eve Ensler, author of Vagina Monologues- a hit play where each of the monologues deals with different aspects of the feminine experience. The campaign is premised on the realisation that one in three women will be raped or beaten in the world, in her lifetime. This makes one billion women. The movement is asking women and men who support them, to rise, on this "V-Day" and take to the streets and dance. 

The global support for this cause comes at the right time for India, and there are about five different events happening in Delhi alone. The biggest is happening at Parliament Street from 5pm todaywhere the entire street is going to be occupied with singing, dancing, posters, photo exhibitions, street plays, art installations and other innovative interventions. Other events are happening in Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Make it to a rising in your neighbourhood, or organise one yourself, for the freedom to love and be fearless.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

What Would Gandhi Do?

Today at a supermarket, I saw that the entire freezer section was covered in newspaper. A sign on it said, “Due to Gandhi Jayanthi, non-veg not for sales.”

 A “foreign hand” wanted to know if this was normal for India.   

It is. India saw a “beef-eating festival” earlier this year to counter this anti-meat-eating movement (fielded by the right wing, supposedly for religious reasons and/or animal rights and/or “good nationalism,” but accused of doing it to push around an anti-non-Hindu feeling. Many negatives will not make a positive in this country.)

(The beef-eating festival is for real, and truly I imagine, a day will come when Falafel will be banned in schools.)

I had not noticed the meat-moratorium earlier, but it is possibly because I never went grocery shopping on Gandhi Jayanthi (ie: today, Gandhi’s 143rd birthday). Gandhi ate no evil and drank no evil and as such, his home-state of Gujarat is now a “dry-state” and his newest “avatar,” Anna Hazare, apparently follows this approach in his hometown of Ralegan Siddhi, which Ramchandra Guha writes about, “he found the approach of Anna Hazare“deeply brahmanical”. Liquor, tobacco, even cable TV were forbidden. Dalitfamilies were compelled to adopt a vegetarian diet. Those who violated theserules — or orders — were tied to a post and flogged.”

What would Gandhi do?

Gandhi is widely quoted to have said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” 

I am widely quoted to have said, “You can’t/ shouldn’t care about environment and stuff if you don't first care about humans.” (This is open to misinterpretation.)

And as Gandhians, we treat his words in a static way, even while our sentiments are ironically pasted on a backdrop of newspapers. Keep with the times, G. Stay ahead of it even. 

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

G-aping Instead of Acting: Photos from the 'Silence is Violence' Protest Against Sexual Abuse, Bangalore

A young girl is beaten by a mob in Guwhati, India. Don't think “dark alley, no people, underdeveloped area, skimpy clothes.” Think “public place, city, media coverage, the works.” Women in India are subject to a number of ingenious abuses- from dragging them naked through streets, to kicking them to death for having a girl child, to locking up their vagina with an actual lock and key, to female foeticide, to dowry related deaths, to caste related murders.

The recent incident in Guwhati brought people together in protest across the country. Local residents put up pictures of the molesters on hoardings. The “Silence is Violence” protest in Bangalore aimed to turn an idea famously associated with Gandhi, of “seeing, hearing and speaking no evil,” represented by three monkeys in a row, towards a post-Gandhian way of looking at it- if you are silent to a crime, then you are an accomplice.

(For best results: Click on the slide show above. It will take you to the album in which you can view the photos full screen.)

Where does the problem lie? With men? Or is it patriarchy in general, which need not be a gendered activity? Could the women then be faulted for perpetuating the system? Or is it the society at large that makes the system seem imperative? Is it the lax process of law? Or the media that can be insensitive to issues of sexual violence? Or bystanders, who witness violence and do not speak up?

I joked with some of those gathered at the “Silence is Violence” protest, that maybe “We should also take off our clothes.” The drum beats were catchy and people were tapping their feet. One lady asked another, “Do you want to dance?” The other lady replied, “We will be back protesting a lot more if we dance and anger the other protest-groups.” The irony runs deep.