YKA Editorials

kuch kuch hota hai kajol srk

By Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan for Youth Ki Awaaz:

Welcome back to the space where I tell you what’s what and you disagree with me loudly in the comments section. I love the smell of arguments in the morning.

Let’s begin.

 R asked: 

I’ve been in love with “Karishma” from the time I met her two years ago. Then, she had a boyfriend, but he didn’t treat her well and she kept coming to me and telling me about her problems. I was there for her throughout. She’s finally broken up with him, and I thought this would be a good time for me to make my move. However, she says she sees me as “just a friend.” I can’t help feeling hurt that all those months I was her shoulder to cry on has been a waste, and also a little angry that she led me on. She told me I was her best friend and someone she could always talk to! Why does she keep picking these losers over me? Am I justified in being angry at being friendzoned?

kuch kuch hota hai kajol srk

Dear R,

Short answer: no. You don’t have a right to be angry because someone chooses to not reciprocate your romantic feelings.

That being said, sometimes we get angry even though we have no justification for it. Feelings! They can’t be helped! So I’m going to break down for you why the word “friend zone” is problematic and maybe once you listen to the reasoning, you’ll be better able to accept that your love story with Karishma may not be meant to be.

We’ve all been there, I think. You have friends of the opposite sex, you enjoy hanging out with them, you tell them all your secrets. If you’re both heterosexual, sometimes there’s a little frisson of sexual tension which keeps things interesting. Sometimes there isn’t. But there’s a certain joy that comes with having a good friend of a different gender than yours—theirs is an opposing point of view, they’re just different to you, and that makes your friendship with them rich and deep, in a varied way from your friendships with your same gender pals. However sometimes if you’re both single or in an “it’s complicated” sometimes your friend will want to jump over the boundaries of platonic friendship and become something more. If this works out, fantastic. There’s no couple stronger than the couple who were friends first, partners later. But more often than not, you’re in another place and then you’re confronted with all these feelings: guilt, for not being a better friend and like-liking this person who is so important to you; anger, because why are they changing the dynamics of your pre-existing arrangement?; and sorrow, because you know things aren’t going to be the same anymore. I’ve even been the one stammering out my love feelings to a guy friend on more than one occasion, on more than one occasion I’ve been rejected, and a friendship has turned awkward.

But when the guys I knew sometimes declared their feelings for me, I got the sense that they were almost angry with me for… I’m not sure what. Wasting their time? I didn’t see our friendship as an elaborate courting ritual, I thought it was just that: a friendship. But by tossing around words like “friend zone,” they made me think my companionship wasn’t a thing of value here. It had all been leading up to some romantic and/or sexual relationship and if it didn’t, our friendship was totally useless, like a leaky balloon.

Do you see why this hurt my feelings or would hurt the feelings of Karishma? Karishma was confiding to you as her friend about the things that bothered her about her relationship. She probably trusted you a lot in order to tell you those things that many would call disloyal. And in the end, you saw it as worth nothing if it didn’t mean that the two of you would get together. You call it “leading you on” but it was a friendship, not meant to dangle you at the other end. By being angry and resentful about it, you’re thinking that Karishma-the-person, Karishma-the-friend is not as valuable as Karishma-the-girlfriend.

Friend-zoned is not a thing, dear R. You were pals with someone, who you happened to develop romantic feelings for. That’s all on you. Karishma is just sticking with the original wording of your contract. Get over it and move on.

And the next time, value your friendships for what they are, rather than what they could be.

Aunty Feminist

Aunty Feminist loves to hear from her readers! If you’d like her to answer a burning question you might have, send it to us at [email protected] or tweet your questions to @reddymadhavan.

pregnant-woman baby belly

By Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan for Youth Ki Awaaz:

Greetings of the day, as the PR emails that still come into my inbox, put it. I’m in Bangalore, on a sort of vacation, but never too busy to talk feminism! Let’s get at it.

 P asked: 

Ever since I joined the company I work at, women keep leaving to have babies. I’m a single woman, and have no babies in my future just yet, and I don’t think it’s fair that I have to work hard and destroy stereotypes about “hiring women” just so that they can go off and have their kids. Is maternity leave fair? And how do I—a single woman—also claim my months off with pay, short of having a child?

Dear P,

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Back in the day, I used to work for a leading national newspaper. Now, I was on the features or “soft news” team, one that was comprised solely of women. Some were mothers. I was in my early twenties then, so I worked hard and partied harder. Some mornings I’d get into work with my previous night’s kajal still smeared around my eyes, looking like a panda. And because I could usually churn out a story faster than my colleagues, I also chafed at the bit at having to stay late when they seemed to be able to get out of there at the drop of a hat just by using their kid as an excuse.

“You don’t have responsibilities,” one of them once said to me sneeringly, and I felt so outraged at this, I even blogged about it, a bit of which I will quote here, to show you my twenty-something state of mind: “Another ex-colleague said something once about how we (the single girls) had no excuses for not getting more stories. After all, we had no responsibilities. And, sadly, though I looked daggers, though she took it back etc, I’m sure she still thinks that. Oh, look at her breezing in at noon, all perfumed and low waisted jeans and hungover and oh look at her leaving, all excited about some night out when I have to go home to kids and husband and responsibilities. […] As for not having responsibilities, I may not be dealing with family type shit, or parenting, but I do do stuff. I make sure, for instance, that the maid cooks in the morning. I make sure she doesn’t make anything the other two don’t like. I keep an eye on the groceries and see when we’re low on stocks. I check how much water we have in the fridge and always make sure our reserves are okay, when we run out of boiled water. And so on. […] We look out for each other, my flatmates and I, and we may not be married or have given birth to each other, but still, we’re, you know, family. And in a single person’s world, family is important.”

Anyway, all this to say, I totally get you. I’ve been the woman picking up the slack when other women took off to have babies and disappeared for what seemed like a thousand years. I’ve been the woman who casually side-eyed any professional woman who told me they were pregnant, and wanted to keep working after the baby, because yeah right, as if their workload would ever be the same as mine. Arguments I have also made are: a) if they can have three months off to have a baby, why can’t I have three months off to write a book or go sail around the world or something? b) It’s their own personal choice to have a child, and I don’t see why I have to support their biological clock.

Maternity leave came about so that people could have their children and then return to be part of the workforce instead of dropping out of it. It makes sense, if you think about it, less pressure financially on a family, and babies who benefit from having their mothers around for the first few months of their lives. The fact is that we need babies. Even now when population rates are soaring—we still need people to have babies—even if it is for their own selfish reasons, because the fact of the matter is, P, if you and I never have children, and eventually we’ll be old, it’s those kids who are going to be part of the economy that pays for our pensions. (Well, not my pension, because no one pensions a work-from-home author, but you get what I mean.) In China, thanks to their one-child policy, they have a population that is rapidly ageing and no new people coming to take their place. Germany and Japan both have abysmally low birth rates, which means the workforce is set to shrink by a good 12% in the coming years. Which means not such a great economy. So you see, they may be having their children as their own personal, selfish choice etc but it’s actually helping us in the long run.

Here’s something else: maternity leave in India is actually one of the top 16 longest paid leaves in the world. Isn’t that nice? That means that if you have a baby—and mind you, I’m not saying you have to — you’re entitled to a nice long chunk of time staying at home, getting to know this brand new human. This was a recent amendment to the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961, and means women can now take 26 weeks instead of 12, when they have a child. If your colleague, a smart, strong woman, can come back to work after her child, and be also happy with the amount of time she’s been able to spend with her child, that’s all the better for your company. You won’t have to invest in new people, and this highly skilled worker is not just going to slip through the cracks. (By the way, the law also allows you to take time off for a pregnancy termination or a miscarriage.)

However, things aren’t perfect. If we’re demanding equality for single women in the workplace, let’s take a moment to think about the fathers. Paternity leave rates are usually very low, with men pressured to go back to work as soon as they can. This is not great for families, and also for feelings in the workplace, where I imagine men grumble about having to pick up the slack while women have babies. We need gender neutral laws!

As for when you can take your soul-searching time off, I think there’s an argument to be made there also. Any company should encourage happy, fulfilled employees. There are sabbaticals you can take, but I don’t think most of them are paid. I encourage you to speak to your HR team about this, and also to your fellow colleagues, so you all feel equally valued. Also, another important tip before I close: practise saying, “That’s not my job.” So if your colleague gets time off for her kid’s emergency, it’s your company’s problem, not yours. You’ll feel a lot less resentful for it.

With love,
Aunty Feminist

Aunty Feminist loves to hear from her readers! If you’d like her to answer a burning question you might have, send it to us at [email protected] or tweet your questions to @reddymadhavan.

amrish puri ddlj

By Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan:

Hello everybody! Hope your first few weeks of summer have been filled with iced tea, good books and letting people know your stand on sexism in the workplace. Let’s begin.

 G asked: 

What exactly is patriarchy?

Dear G,

Patriarchy always feels like it should be spelled with a capital-P when you use it. I’m fighting the Patriarchy. It’s all the fault of Patriarchy.

Professor Branestawm

When I was a very young girl, I thought the Government was one bald guy with spectacles who made all the decisions. My parents or teachers would say something like, “It’s a Government Scheme” and I’d think of a bald guy rubbing his hands together, plotting. In my head, he looked a bit like Professor Branestawm, scatty but also a little evil because people kept criticising him a lot. It was a cozy image to have—one guy to blame for everything—and I was almost sad when I found out what the government-small-g actually was.

Well, the patriarchy in most people’s heads turns out to be a single figure as well. One big dude with a long white beard telling you “no” and “you can’t” and “you shall not.” (Hmmm… sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?) Patriarchy is when a society has been geared to consider the needs of some over the needs of others. In this case: men.

Now, it’s not your fault, if you are a man and you’re feeling slightly angry as you’re reading this and you’re thinking, “But I never!” and “Why should women?” You’re probably a decent human being and you respect women and have at least three female role models and would never tell anyone what to do or not with their lives. But, the sad fact of the matter is, that the world is geared to put you first. Your needs are paramount. Your needs also mean that the world (Patriarchy again!) can tell the rest of the people—i.e. women—-what to do and what not to do to make it convenient for men to live happy, productive lives. Which is why for the longest time women were expected to stay at home with the kids while men went out and made the living, because it was easier that way, and this division of labour meant that everything was in its place and no one could easily break out of it, leave husband and children and run off to do her own thing. Or just get a job somewhere without being also expected to be a great mother and wife. This was also the same time men weren’t expected to be anything but good providers—husbands and fathers be damned. Everyone loses—yes, even the men, because how could you say you wanted to stay at home and parent instead while your wife who was bored out of her skull with housework wanted to go out and meet people? You couldn’t.

Back in the day, people made biology arguments. Men were stronger, with more rational minds and so they should make the big adult decisions. Women were weak and scatty, lovely to have and hold but less lovely in a boardroom. Men’s Rights Activists are making this argument to this day. We love women, they’re saying, but we don’t think they can do all the stuff we do. And that, dear G, is empirical bullshit.

Whether you know it or not, patriarchy has touched every single one of your interactions. In the boarding school I went to in my teen years, it used to get extremely cold around October, or February. We were expected to wear standard issue grey wool skirts—completely useless in the face of the elements. A few girls started to make noise about being able to wear pants like the boys (this was a co-ed boarding school), which were laughed at in my day, but I heard a few years later, the noises started up again and louder. Old board members got indignant, there was a lot of hullabaloo, but finally, finally the girls won and could wear long woollen pants on days it got cold. I ask you: should this have been a battle at all? Even in Delhi winter, I see hordes of school girls shivering in the cold as they wait for their bus while the boys are comfortable, even chipper in their long trousers. Patriarchy demands girls look a certain way and boys look another, and that’s just the way it is, please don’t argue with us.

Or take the metro or the local train or whatever form of transport is in your city. The ladies compartment is the ladies compartment, but there’s so much bitching and crying about it from the men in the general coach. In fact, some even call the general coach, the “men’s coach”. It’s not. It belongs to everyone. And in no other country does public transport need to safeguard women from being felt up, harassed, abused, stared at by giving them a compartment of their own. Patriarchy means we get a coach to ourselves, but no one can actually change why we’ve been given a coach in the first place.

Patriarchy. It’s a big word and often gets people rolling their eyes and #NotAllMen-ing, but all it means is the system that has worked to keep us all down. Women and men should be aware of it, and angry, and alert so we can finally change the way things work.

Aunty Feminist

Aunty Feminist loves to hear from her readers! If you’d like her to answer a burning question you might have, send it to us at [email protected] or tweet your questions to @reddymadhavan.

Girl playing videogames in a funny face

By Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan for Youth Ki Awaaz: 

Hi everyone,

I may have to do an edition of why-do-you-hate-feminism soon judging by the comments on the last column, but lucky for you, this is not that day. Today: girl gamers and the system. Let’s get started!

 I asked: 

I’m a girl and I frequently play video games. Thing is, each time I’m playing with/against other people, they quickly assume that all the players in this match are male and so I get referred to as ‘he’ or ‘him’ often (although I don’t mind it). When I do correct them by telling them I’m female, I usually get these responses:
“You’re doing it for attention.”
“That’s probably why you suck.”
“Girls shouldn’t play.”
Or I get harassed a lot.
Why can’t people just accept that women play video games for the same reason as men: for fun? Why is that each time a boy asks for any gaming related stuff, they say ‘It’s normal, boys will be boys and they should be allowed to play.’ but if a girl asks, she is quickly denied the same? Why is there such a huge bias in this area?

I'm no man lord of the rings

Dear I,

Back in the 1990s, my two cousins, who I spent every holiday with, acquired a Nintendo box—or a Chinese rip-off of a Nintendo box—with games to go with. I don’t know how old you are, but this was a sort of grey box with a slot in the back, into which you inserted a video game cartridge. The console would think about it for a few minutes, leaving my cousins free to figure out who would be Player A and Player B. Then Super Mario Bros would load, and that was basically my summer vacation that year.

I was used to my cousins occasionally doing “boy stuff” for which I showed no interest. Cricket? Nah. Matchbox cars? Boring. But watching them spend so many hours in front of this machine made me curious and so I asked for a controller—well, begged for a controller, as a gamer, you must know how hard it is to give up your turn for a noob—and sat down, prepared to conquer this, as I had conquered so many other “boy” things. However, I sucked, and while the two watched me sympathetically, or shouted out instructions which I couldn’t get my hands and fingers to follow, they exuded the personality of suits in a boardroom being very courteous as the sole woman in the room — set up to be pretty and not much else — speaks and then waiting for her to leave so that they can go back to business. We were all between the ages of eight to eleven, but I felt it, so I left them to their game and went off and read a book.

As the years went by, I was called in occasionally when there was no one else to play with and handed a controller, but I stuck to that original impression I had of myself. If I won, I thought it was luck, and so I passed on that cue to the boys who looked at me in disbelief and said, “What? Another game!” To be clear: I never showed this sort of deference in anything else I did. When trump cards were a thing, I was a formidable player. I could swim further out than one of them and even though I was a lazy child, I still went on their adventurous jaunts. Why this feeling of diffidence when it came to video games? Why had I completely conceded it as a “boy thing”? I played with friends for many years, but always as an “okay, okay, I’ll try it too” and as you know, gaming, like everything else, takes practice. I was a noob for the rest of my life.

What it boils down to is that I made it a boy thing for myself so many years ago, and a Boy Thing it has remained in my head. People bought little boys video game consoles, and they bought little girls dolls. Which is not your fault, it’s just centuries of patriarchy moving things into categories by gender. Archery: for men! Sewing: for women! And all the way back to our first cavemen ancestors when the women stayed at home with the babies and the men went out to hunt and gather.

Symmetra - adding a little bit of Desi to Blizzard's latest shoot 'em up 'Overwatch'
Symmetra – adding a little bit of Desi to Blizzard’s latest shoot ’em up ‘Overwatch’

However, we’re in the 21st century now, dear I, and that means that you can do whatever you want to do, “boys things” and “girls things” be damned. Will men continue to be douchebags about it? Probably. There’s always a few douchebags waiting to fulfill their douchebag roles in your life. But, repeat after me: it is not my problem if my life makes you uncomfortable. While people may not accept that girls can play video games just as well as boys, it is not your problem. You’re just doing something that makes you happy.

Sometimes all we can do as women is to hang on to the thing that gives us joy and ignore the faces of all the pissed-off men who think they should be give us a prescribed list of things that make us happy and get annoyed when we go off their list. The next time someone says to you, “That’s probably why you suck/you’re doing it for attention etc,” you say, “Why am I threatening you so much?”

I may not have ever gotten very good at video games, you know. I have a tendency to give up when things are too hard. But in an alternate universe, it’s just the sort of thing that I love and I’m good at. Maybe you’re in that alternate universe now. You can’t change all of the thinking, but you can change a little of it. And you get to play games while you do it.

Aunty Feminist

Aunty Feminist loves to hear from her readers! If you’d like her to answer a burning question you might have, send it to us at [email protected] or tweet your questions to @reddymadhavan.

Featured Image - AF V3

By Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan for Youth Ki Awaaz: 

Hi, you guys!

I’ve got to say I was so blown away by how many questions came pouring through after my first column went up. I was anticipating a sort of slow build-up, where some of you came on board in the first few months and it sort of snowballed into a regular audience, where we’d get a few thoughtful questions every now and then. But, everyone was awesome, and I got a bunch of really good queries and so many places to start that it was hard picking these first two, so I went somewhat chronologically in the selection. I’ll get around to all of them sooner rather than later, I promise.

In the meantime, let’s do this!

 P asked: 

How would you define consent while having sex with a regular partner? Do rules between couples need to be redefined constantly, with every act of intercourse? For instance, would giving in to a sexual act, something you normally wouldn’t have (objectively) still be concerned mutual consent? (Where does pity sex fall in all of this, for instance). I’m asking you this question because a lot of girls that I know, and even in my personal experience, give in to sexual acts (after they have said yes to it previously, but perhaps are not in the mood for it) to avoid risking the ire of their partner, or for brownie points later, or even out of ‘love’. How do we draw the line?

Dear P,

I remember the first man I dated who refused to reciprocate oral sex. “I’m just not into it,” he’d say. He’d accept very happily, even encourage me to go ahead and do just that “because you’re so good at it” and I’d be foolishly flattered, and I think also share in his distaste of my nether regions? Because how could I ask him to be all over that if I wasn’t, you know? I was much younger then, but I remember thinking, “Oh, it’s totally understandable if he doesn’t want to, poor fellow, who can blame him.”

And as a result, he wasn’t the only man I met who did this. I went through the first nine years—nine years—of being sexually active without having an orgasm with my partner. And I thought this was totally normal. Not only did I think this was normal, I also thought I had failed as a woman, as a sexual being, if my partner was not completely satisfied by the end of it. I was not me anymore in this situation, I was some made up Geisha-Porn-Star-Independent-Young-Woman-Who-Watched-Herself-From-The-Outside.

AF - Consent is Key

I think we’ve fallen prey to being hyper-sexualised so much and for so long, that often we forget to regard ourselves as who we are, and start to look at our bodies as part of a narrative that actually excludes us. So you can be with your partner and say, “I’m not really in the mood,” but your partner cajoles and says, “Come on baby, please,” and you’re well within your rights to say no, but you can feel yourself at the back of your head turning from Pooja or Neha or whoever into Sex Girl, where the viewer can only see your long calves in high heels or the top of your bra or something. Sometimes you think, “It’s been so long since I’ve done this, maybe I’m turning into One of Those Women, a cliché, someone who has sex like once a year or something.” Or maybe you think, “His fragile ego may not be able to take another rejection especially after I turned him down yesterday.” Or you think, “Maybe I’ll go along with it to see if I get into it eventually.”

My point is that you can’t call it Not Consent, but you can think about why you need to give in at this point. Is this yielding something that you want to do, or is it Sex Girl contorting herself into impossible positions while managing to keep her lipstick on and her blow out intact? If the latter, put her on a train and send her far away, because she exists only to be viewed from the outside, and you are a combination of complex choices.

Aunty Feminist

 N asked: 

My question is, since you say you’ll help me kick patriarchy’s ass, how are you different from the so-called feminazis?

Dear N,

What have feminists done to you to make you compare them to Nazis? I ask because I’m concerned about this label. Is it the strong independent woman thing? Does that scare people? I can even break it down into a listicle: Five Things The Nazis Did That Feminists Do Not

1) Killed the Jews.
2) Killed the homosexuals.
3) Killed the handicapped.
4) Instituted a manic leader with delusions of grandeur.
5) Started a World War.


No, but seriously. I think feminism is scary to some people because it has an “ism” in it. And it conjures up people lecturing you when all you want to do is have a good time and “can’t you take a joke yaa?” and “why must you be so strident about it?” I’ll tell you why: because sometimes people don’t listen. Because sometimes if I have to listen to the same sexist joke in my workplace for the zillionth time I will shoot somebody. Because being born a woman in India is in itself one big lottery—will I survive? Or will I be aborted/killed at birth/raped and left for dead/killed because my dowry wasn’t big enough/maimed because I rejected someone’s affection/married and forced to keep my head down and my voice low for the rest of my life/sold into sex slavery/murdered because I loved the “wrong” person/uneducated because it would be a “waste of time anyway”?

Tell me after all that that I should stop talking about this “ism”. And tell me again why you think we’re Nazis.

Aunty Feminist

Aunty Feminist loves to hear from her readers! If you’d like her to answer a burning question you might have, send it to us at [email protected] or tweet your questions to @reddymadhavan.

Featured - Aunty Feminist

By Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan for Youth Ki Awaaz:

Dear You,

Maybe it would help you picture me better if you thought of this—our new beginning—as an actual physical meeting. We’re in your favourite coffee shop; or, if you don’t have one, I’ll lend you a favourite bar. We’ve just ordered two glasses of red wine, or iced lattes, and they come with the crumbly melt-on-your-tongue biscotti, and I lift my glass to my lips, and you are about to tell me all about your life. Maybe you need perspective on why your boss is being so mean. Maybe your boyfriend hasn’t called you since the two of you had a fight which you thought was just a little argument but which you are now realising went much deeper than that and hurt his ego. Maybe your mother is asking you to do something—even if out of a place of love—that sits uncomfortably with you. So you cross your legs and you look at me straight in the eye and you say, “What do I do now?”

So, let’s begin.

It’s quite exciting to think you and I are starting here, there’s nothing but blank pages ahead of us. And yet, what better time for a safe space addressing sexism and gender questions? Here’s what’s going to happen: some weeks, I’ll answer questions, any question, like the examples above, and we’ll look at those questions and problems through the lens of gender issues and how to be better human beings. Because that’s basically what feminism is about—when you raise women to be equal to men, with equal rights, then you have human beings who are elevated and aware and able. All the things our society desperately needs.

Some weeks, we may not have questions. And in those weeks, I’m going to answer questions that no one’s asked me. Why does this new budget seem to not address women? Why are a third of Japanese women sexually harassed at work—and why does no one seem to care? Is opening all combat roles to women a step in the right direction? You get the idea. I might turn my attention to the micro before widening the lens again going for a sweep across a broader problem. But it’ll be something we’ll figure out as we go on—because that’s the beauty of blank pages. We have only the merest scratch-in-the-sand version of plans and we’ll let everything bloom organically.

Feminism begins at home. Before I was Aunty Feminist, I was a feminist aunty, around the zillion children my friends seem to have produced in the last three years alone. And, lucky for me, they’re mostly little girls, and I tell them they’re smart or talented or clap enthusiastically when they do something, but I don’t normally tell them they’re pretty. They’re all quite young still, and I don’t know if they understand me, but they’ll have so many people telling them they’re pretty or cute or whatever their whole lives, I want them to have some people in the other corner besides their parents, some people saying, “It’s fine to be pretty or cute, but it’s amazing that you’re so smart!” I carry this over to my adult friends as well, offering up compliments on things they may not have noticed about themselves–“how nicely you handled that”, “wow, you can park really well”, “I wish I had your negotiation skills”. Little things which may or may not make that much of a difference to their lives, but are important to mark.

You are so much more than the first five adjectives people will use to describe you.

Come again. Let’s break down some walls.

Aunty Feminist

Aunty Feminist loves to hear from her readers! If you’d like her to answer a burning question you might have, send it to us at [email protected] or tweet your questions to @reddymadhavan.

maitri rat illustration

maitri rat illustration

Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt recently made sexist comments about female scientists being a “trouble” in the lab, saying that “… You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry”. One wonders whether his lab rats are afflicted with the same syndrome.

Photo Credit

By Pradyut V. Hande:

The Indian Railways has received both praise and flak in unequal measures over the years. While on the one hand, it continues to remain the transportation lifeline for millions across the country, ferrying over 8900 million passengers every year; on the other hand, it has struggled as an integrated organisation to raise its standards of service and quality to a world class benchmark. Consequently, the end consumer has had to pay the price (both monetary and non-monetary) for its “shuddh desi” modus operandi. It’s seemingly lackadaisical approach, gross mismanagement of allocated resources, disinclination to embrace change and lack of customer focus has seen it grind out quarter after quarter of mounting losses. The low fares and provision of cross-subsidies are partly to blame for that worrying trend. However, this is a scant excuse for its repeated failure to seemingly rise above the zone of customer service tolerance.

Photo Credit
Photo Credit

In an attempt to ramp up operations and breathe new life into its service provisions, the Indian Railways has off late embarked on a more proactive Public Private Partnership strategic model. Following the directive of the Railway Board, this appears to be a major step in the right direction, provided it becomes sustainable. After outsourcing the cleaning of 50 major railway stations across the country, the Indian Railways has subsequently deployed “Gate Mitras” hired by private agencies at unmanned level crossings. In yet another turn of events, the Indian Railways will now permit selected private players to operate in the computerised Passenger Reservation System (PRS) landscape.

Presently run completely under the aegis of the Indian Railways and operated solely by their employees, this new venture promises to usher a new era in ticketing convenience. These new ticketing centres would be called Yatri Ticket Suvidha Kendras (YTSK) and would be operated by authorised ticketing agents under stipulated guidelines.

1. YTSKs can be operated by only those authorised agents with a minimum of 5 years experience and the requisite infrastructure to run the same.
2. These operators can setup a maximum of 4 YTSKs that will function under the existing model of the PRS run by the Indian Railways.
3. The YTSKs will open for booking of regular tickets at 9am and for Tatkal tickets at 11am; both of which are one hour after the opening of the existing PRS centres. This has been done with a view to reduce chances of malpractice and still safeguard the interests of the current apparatus

On prima facie evidence, the establishment and the operation of a parallel privatised ticket-booking channel ought to help the Indian Railways reach out to newer customers and markets; thereby, expanding their service provision paradigm. This would also lay the foundations for greater PPP initiatives in the future, provided this succeeds. A greater degree of professionalism, efficiency and higher service standards can only benefit all concerned stakeholders. The Indian Railways’ well documented predilection to oppose phased privatisation or pursue half-hearted PPP undertakings has worked to its detriment in the past. However, a shift towards encouraging greater private party participation opens itself to other major undesirable ramifications.

The Indian Railways is presently the largest civilian employer in the world, with over 1.5 million people on its payrolls (Source). Outsourcing projects to private players would mean a sizable number of in-house jobs would be lost. Consequently, these new PPP initiatives have not won any favour from Railways’ employees themselves. The powerful employee unions are of the staunch opinion that this “back-door privatisation” will cause more harm than good; and not merely from the fact that lay-offs would be in order.

The Indian Railways’ present challenge is to pursue a phased PPP alliance that increases its overall operational efficiency and contributes to its future growth prospects. At the same time, it needs to disallow or at least; minimise the chances of nefarious activities such as corruption and gross mismanagement of appropriated resources in this regard. Perhaps this is wishful thinking on behalf of an everyday realist. But this is the only way forward for the public sector monolith. In the absence of any real competition, the Indian Railways enjoys a near sectoral monopoly that has fuelled its hubris and lack of consumer orientation. The road to recovery will not be forged by guaranteeing lifetime jobs to under- performing employees but by knifing down layers of bureaucracy, expanding and improving its service provisions and suitably collaborating with private partners on multiple projects.


By Pradyut Hande:

For the predominantly optimistic LGBT population of the country, December 11, 2013 turned out to be a “black letter day“. The Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate the ban on gay sex whilst deeming the very act “unnatural” and “illegal” under the provision of the contentious section 377 of the IPC has come as a major blow to the Gay Rights movement in the country. Four years after the Delhi High Court decriminalised the act decried by an archaic law, the Supreme Court’s latest dictate has justifiably stirred up the proverbial hornet’s nest; evoking mixed reactions from myriad quarters.


Let me examine this burning relevant issue through a more discerning lens. For starters, painting one’s personal life on a public canvas is hardly ideal. One’s sexual orientation is an inherently personal facet to his/her personality, which we are in no position to pass judgement on. Thus, the fact that the judiciary deems it fit to “criminalise” or “decriminalise” (take your pick. It’s the Indian Judiciary playing Whimsical Chairs) an act pertaining to the same, defies logic. When there are far more pressing matters of regional, domestic and international significance to address; what will focusing on something of this nature accomplish?

At one level, the Supreme Court’s decision appears highly retrogressive and flies in the face of contemporary wisdom and enlightened intellect. However, at another level, suffice to say; it was merely following the law to the tee. All this has done is to put the “legal ball” right in the Parliament’s court with the onus now on our esteemed policy makers to amend a law drawn up in…wait for it…1860. Why has such a vociferously debated law not been amended yet? Because it’s a lot more convenient to deny the existence of a problem, brush it under the carpet and fervently wish that the public gradually forgets about the same. But alas! The Government ought to realise that that is far from the case now. With the kind of momentum the domestic Gay Rights movement has garnered over the last five years, one was of the opinion that our society was slowly but surely taking assured steps towards the acceptance of something that was considered a societal taboo for so long.

However, all that progress appears to have stalled in the face of this recent development. That is perhaps symptomatic of our thought and action cycle of evolution. One step forward and three steps back. For a pluralistic society that prides itself in walking the tightrope of socio-economic progression, we certainly have a long way to go. The open acceptance of homosexuality by not just the common man, but the polity and judiciary ought to be a step in the right direction. However, that requires more than a massive change in blinkered mindsets across the board. Courage, conviction and sensitisation ought to be the Templars on which we can hope to drive change in this sphere.

While engaging in constructive debate on the subject, a dejected and disillusioned friend of mine stated that India had now lost the right to refer to itself as a “tolerant and pluralistic society“. I don’t believe that to be the case. There is no other country on the planet that remains united in the face of such multifarious diversity. Are we a progressive society though? In many respects, we certainly have traversed a noteworthy way. But as a collective society that strives to bridge the urban-rural, rich-poor, educated-uneducated divide; we are still evolving. Will we ever reconcile ourselves to the existence of homosexuality in our society? The optimist in me and the country’s LGBT population would in unison hope that is actually the case. But for now; we must make our displeasure apparent, channel our anger down constructive avenues and strive to uphold a basic human right.

Ladies and Gentlemen, homosexuality is not a crime. But clamping down on the freedom to choose one’s sexual partner; behind the veil of a proverbially antediluvian law most certainly is.


By Pradyut V. Hande:

China’s new leadership has signalled its intention to facilitate a more proactive role played by market forces in the economy over the next decade as the Dragon seeks to chart out a new course of socio-economic progression whilst keeping growing cross-regional competition at bay. This was made evident through a communique released by the Communist Party at the conclusion of the 4 day conclave of its 205 member strong Central Committee.


After riding the wave of rapid economic development for over three decades, China’s economy is akin to an overheated automobile engine, sputtering in a bid to maintain its erstwhile admirable performance. Excessive reliance on and investment in the manufacturing sector has resulted in overcapacity whilst demand on a domestic and international scale has dwindled in the wake of the global economic slowdown. Thus, perhaps the very industry that bestowed upon the country a perceptible differential resource, cost and execution advantage; has gradually become a liability of sorts. This has increased the overall debt burden whilst driving down competitiveness significantly. In an era where technology changes at blistering pace, the Chinese can ill afford to fall too far behind in the “emerging economy race“. Set in this backdrop, a greater emphasis on innovation and quality control would go a long way in improving its long term global export and domestic consumption prospects. Moreover, encouraging the burgeoning service sector also ought to form a prudent cog in its future wheel of development.

The need for economic reform is always tantamount. However, it assumes even greater significance in a developing economy that is striving to identify future growth drivers in its quest to maintain its regional and global position of ascendancy. Perhaps it is after the path breaking reforms undertaken under the talismanic Deng Xiaoping that laid the foundations for China’s phenomenal current day economic success; that the Communist Party today finds itself at the crossroads of another “pivotal bend in the reformatory road“. The need to reorient its philosophies in order to keep pace with the changing realities both at home and abroad whilst remaining true to its Communist ideals presents a veritable challenge that requires more than just a sizable effort. The fact that the leadership also has its hands full dealing with increasingly irate and sensitised citizens that continue to clamour for a greater say in governance further complicates matters. Pursuing a path of progression whilst striking a balance between capitalism and communism, in the absence of a democratic framework, is no mean task.

Set in this backdrop, the onus on the ruling party to encourage greater private involvement and investment also becomes critical to the State’s long term prospects. However, the Government does not appear to be showing any urgency in its bid to reduce the influence of State-owned and controlled enterprises that currently hold significant sway over the economy as a whole. Encouraging private players would not only reduce some of its debt burden but also enhance productivity, performance and competitiveness.

However, before China augments a more effective Public-Private partnership; there needs to be significant tax and fiscal reform. Establishing a unified land market in both rural and urban areas is also critical in the long run. These reforms must also be complemented by certain civil welfare undertakings such as the establishment of an all-encompassing social security system. The Government must realise that in order to ensure political stability in the long run, a slew of socio-economic reforms on multifarious fronts is of vital consequence. Clamping down on “dissidents” with impunity cannot be a “go to” solution forever. Bestowing greater civil rights on its citizens in the future has got to be viewed with more favour.

Whatever be the case, indubitable is the fact that China’s spectacular albeit tumultuous growth story has hit a minor “speed breaker” of sorts. It is now up to the likes of President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang to not just restore the faith of foreign investors in the country but also its very own disillusioned denizens. After all, it is the People’s Republic of China.


By Rita Banerji:

A few days ago as I sat down to my newspaper at breakfast, my eyes went straight to this small, boxed news on the front page. A 14-year-old school girl in Bangalore killed herself because the man she was in love with had forced her to have sex with him and then left her, saying he had done it only for “fun.” In her suicide note she wrote, “How can he do that to me? I am ruined and have no interest in life.” This was a man who was much older than her, a second year college student, who she was ‘friends’ with, on Facebook.


Later, I kept thinking to myself: What did this poor girl go through in the days and hours leading up to her death? Shame? Guilt? Confusion? Fear? Was there anyone she could talk to? Confide in? Trust? Was there anyone who could tell her that she will be O.K.? What this man had done was wrong. In fact because he is an adult and she is under-age in most countries this is statutory rape, even if she had consented. But she hadn’t. This was a much older man who had taken her to his room and forced himself on her. But there was no one to tell her that. There was no one to comfort her and assure her that it was not the end of the world. Most probably there was no one she felt she could trust or even talk to. The society she’s living in would condemn her. The shame and taboo of what she had done was so great that she saw this as her only way out. In fact, India’s cultural and social set-up are just as guilty of this young girl’s death as the man who raped her.

Over and over again we hear stories like this, full of despair and self-destruction among teenagers and youth in India, who are confused and ashamed about issues of sex. Yet, as a society we continue to harbour an irrational resistance to any kind of open, informed and healthy discussion about sex. Parents don’t discuss it with their children. Teachers won’t discuss it in school and college. And then how can they, when they themselves have a distorted and stigmatized view of sex?

A few years ago, the India Today magazine had asked me if I’d do a couple of online chats for them with young people on queries they may have about sex. This was organized on the back of a national sex survey that the magazine had done that revealed that close to 20% of teenagers and a majority of college aged people in India were sexually active.

There were two things I realized during the India Today online chat:

1) Even though a vast number of teenagers and youth in India are sexually active today, they are dangerously ignorant and misinformed about some of the very basic things they need to know about sex.
2) There is clearly a huge need among the youth to know, but like with the 14-year-old girl here, there is no place where they can go and in a normal, open way ask questions or discuss issues and problems.

You can read some of the online chat questions and answers I did for India Today here.

Below I’ve summarized some of the issues and topics that came up in the chats repeatedly, with the hope that it will help more young people with doubts and question. I’ve also included relevant links that I urge you to follow if you need more information.

1. Is it wrong to have premarital sex? Or is it best to wait till after you are married?
Culturally in India, this has been made a bigger issue for women than men. But this is simply a matter of choice. If you think it is wrong, then you will feel shame and guilt if you choose to have sex without marriage. Conversely, if in your head sex is a normal need; it is the right choice for you. Interestingly, this is a bigger issue in India today than it was in the past. Indian mythology is full of stories of women, like Shakuntala and Kunti who had pre-marital sex. And more than 1500 years before the western feminists made this argument, the Kamasutras were arguing that women had the same sexual urges as men, and there is no reason why unmarried women shouldn’t learn about their sexuality and orgasms the same way that men do.

2. When is the right time to begin to have sex in a relationship?
The only time that is right is when you want to have sex. Of course your partner must want it too. If you and/or your partner does not want to have sex, then it is not the right time. Girls/young women in particular should know that it is extremely important that they feel they not only have the physical urge to have sex, but also feel mentally and emotionally prepared. If you feel — afraid, uncomfortable, guilty, ashamed, or pressurized, it is not the time to have sex. You need to make sure you know and understand your own body, physically and sexually before you venture into sex. If you are heterosexual you also need to know and understand how the opposite sex’s body and sexuality work. Use the links below. You must feel confident and in control of your body and sexuality first, otherwise you will not feel comfortable or good about having sex.

Click here for basic Information for females on sex and related questions. Also see this and this.
Click here for basic information for males on sex and related questions. Also see this and this

3. If you are not using birth control pills and/or condoms can you get pregnant if the male partner withdraws before ejaculation? Can a woman get pregnant if she is having sex for the first time but her partner is not using a condom?

You can get pregnant any time you do not use birth control, whether it is a woman’s first time, or even if the man withdraws before ejaculation. In fact there is no 100% guarantee that even with birth control you won’t get pregnant. Birth control sometimes fails, and there is a small chance that you can still get pregnant. But it is important for both men and women to minimize this risk by using birth control if you do not want a pregnancy. Using two methods together the pill and the condom reduces your risk further.

Click here for basic steps on how to use a condom
Click here for information on different types of birth control methods

4. Is masturbation “dirty?”

No, it is perfectly normal and healthy for people of all ages and genders. In fact it can be a good sexual relief if your partner is not in the mood for sex! Some counsellors have suggested that it might be a safer and healthier alternative for teenagers, who bodies may be ready for sex, but their minds need to mature. They think that acknowledgement and acceptance of masturbation as normal and healthy is one way to promote sexual abstinence in teenagers, and others who because of their circumstances, like for e.g. being in prison may not have access to a partner.

Click here for myths about masturbation everyone needs to dispel.
Also see this link for stress release in couples.

5. When is it ‘safe’ to not use a condom?
Never! The purpose of the condom is not simply prevention of a pregnancy. The most important use of the condom is prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. And there are many types of sexually transmitted diseases besides HIV that may not kill, but will create many health problems, and even cause infertility later. Click here to read about a few. Keep in mind how sexually transmitted diseases work: Every time you have sex with a person, you are having sex with all the partners he or she has previously had, and every one of the partners each of those partners had, and so on. So do the math! Whether you are a straight or gay couple the condom is a must because it is the only protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

Search for your sexual health related questions at this forum by the Society of Canadian gynaecologists.

6. Is it abnormal to have sexual feelings towards someone of the same sex?
No, this is perfectly normal. It happens very often when people of the same sex interact closely in a closed-off environment, like in same-sex schools, or same-sex teams. Sexual attraction is determined by our hormones. And since both men and women have both male and female hormones, it is perfectly possible for a person to be attracted to people of either sex. In fact everyone has some scope of being attracted to someone of the same sex, at some point in time. However, being attracted to or even having sex with someone of the same sex a few times, does not necessarily mean you are gay. To determine your sexual orientation observe your own patterns of attraction. Are you consistently attracted to someone of the same sex? If yes, then most likely you are gay.

This link offers some suggestions that might make it easier for you to work through your questioning about sexual orientation.

7. If you know you are gay when or how do you ‘come out?’
There is no compulsion to ‘come out’ if you are straight, so there should be none for anyone who is gay! However this is a personal choice and whatever you do depends entirely on whether it is something you feel the need to share with others. All you need to do is cater to your own comfort zone. To determine where you want to ‘come out’ or how, how much you want to share, and with whom, ask yourself whether or not you feel comfortable with it.

Click here for links with help and resources for gays and lesbians in India.
Here is ILGA, an international forum for gays and lesbians.
Here is ILGA’s page on India.

8. What is rape?
Any forced sexual or sexually motivated penetration of your body is rape. Penetration of the penis into the vagina, anus and/or mouth are all rapes. The penetration of an object, like a stick, in place of a penis into the vagina and/or anus is also rape.

Click Here for Pandora’s Project an online support and resources website for all survivors of rape and sexual abuse — for men, women, teenagers.

9. How do you know you’ve been raped?
Anytime you don’t want sex and you are forced physically, or forced through mental pressure or blackmail, to submit to someone’s demand for sex, it is rape. Sex where you are not in a state to give consent is also rape. So for example, if you are in a state of unconsciousness, like you are asleep, under anaesthesia or drunk, and you wake up to find that someone has had sex with you, then that is rape.

10. Are men and boys raped?
Yes, men and boys also get raped, usually by older boys or men. It usually involves the penile penetration of the anus or mouth. If the boy is underage and the woman is an adult, 18 years or over, it is still statutory rape.

Click here for a site that discusses how men can deal with the trauma and consequences of male rape.

If you have questions or things you think you want to discuss, please put your questions down below. You can write anonymously too. It important to be informed and/or clear your doubts. I am sure there are other people on-line who will also be happy to contribute to this discussion. But be warned, trolls will not be entertained here!

fake story

By Pradyut Hande:

Every sage invention is said to be a double edged sword. There is always a continual trade-off between existing and potential advantages vis a vis disadvantages that are capable of grossly undermining its beneficial qualities. The Internet and its latest “offspring” – Social Media – are no exceptions to this uncomfortable reality. A recent case in point is the proliferation of the highly inflammatory “satirical” report published by the American News Website – NationalReporter.net on November 3rd. The report titled “The Assam Rape Festival in India Begins This Week” has gone viral given its provocative nature and tone.

fake story

Meant to be a satirical take on the security of women in the country, particularly Assam, or lack of it thereof; the article has ruffled many an already irate feather. For starters, the website in question blundered by failing to delineate the fact that it was a truly fictitious story to begin with. Consequently, the eye catching headline and subsequent story about “every non-married girl in the age group of 7-16 years having the chance to flee to safety or get raped” has led many to believe in its actual existence.

On the one hand, this incident highlights the ease and speed with which any story or news – whether true or false – traverses the entire length and breadth of cyberspace to literally create ripples across the globe. Modern day technology and communication channels have transcended physical and mental barriers to integrate the international community into a closer knit “global knowledge village“. The fact that these tools continue to evolve at such a blistering pace and facilitate penetration into newer markets whilst enhancing accessibility in existing markets; riding on the crest of rising socio-economic prosperity is a humbling thought. Information has become priceless and expensive at the same time. The urgency to disseminate, assimilate and communicate has never been stronger.

At the same time, this incident is also testament to the fact that in the absence of an authentic regulatory authority; even a frivolous figment of one’s imagination can catch the fancy of a fragmented, misinformed, fickle and often gullible global online community. At the end of the day, people will choose to believe what they want to believe. In such a scenario, the onus of offering factually correct information by a more responsible media assumes even greater significance. As far as this provocative piece of news is concerned, all it has sought to do is further tarnish India’s image in the international community for no apparent fault of hers. Granted the fact that crime against women in the country has been on the upswing and the concerned authorities have collectively struggled to address the same; but to concoct such a fallacious story in a sensationalist mould does no apparent good to any stakeholder. Apart from enhancing its popularity and creating a needless online frenzy, the NationalReporter.net has accomplished precious little.

It would also be prudent to note the role of consumers of such “news” as well. One would have thought that in an increasingly “information empowered” global fraternity, opinions would be more balanced and better sourced. However, we are often prone to fall prey to an “opinionated herd mentality” and thus, may tend to resort to blind belief in lieu of educated curiosity and verifiability. So the fact that this report was shared over 89,000 times on Facebook and over 1,000 times via Twitter comes as no real surprise. Instead of jumping the gun, buying into a story, expressing a misplaced opinion and sharing the same; it is highly advisable to exercise discretion, carefully corroborate such sensationalist information and only then make judgements.

For the record, the “news report” is a hoax. It may have been meant to be satirical but it has caused a major international controversy that could easily have been avoided had brighter minds prevailed. There is a lesson to learn for all the stakeholders concerned and the optimist in me hopes that this is actually the case.


By Rita Banerji:

At the start of every wedding season in India, the campaign I direct, The 50 Million Missing, receives frantic emails from women about to get married. They complain about being pressurized for exorbitant dowries in cash or kind, particularly as the wedding date draws near.


We always give the same advice: “Please do NOT marry this man! Dowry is illegal, and these people are blackmailing you, which is also illegal. These are criminal minded people who will continue to extort more dowry from you after your marriage. And they will be violent! We don’t want you to end up dead like thousands of women in your situation who are murdered or driven to suicide!”

Last week we got an email that said this: “I am a 28-year-old school teacher and I am about to get married to an army officer whose parents though haven’t directly asked for dowry have said that their son has bought a new car worth Rs.10 lakh (U.S. $16,500.00) and they want my parents to give half of the price which my parents are going to. I have already given a hint to my mother that I won’t get married to such a family if they keep demanding things. Now they say that we are to give only branded gifts to their guests. I am really worried and don’t feel right about this and neither do my parents but because they have publicly announced my marriage, my mother says it would be foolish to back out considering there aren’t other good marriage offers. I haven’t spoken to my dad who is equally frustrated about the whole attitude of the in-laws but he feels they have a good family background. I love my parents, can’t hurt them or insult them in public neither do I want to ruin my life by marrying such a family. Pleeezzzz tell me what to do? Should I get engaged next month?”

This is complete insanity! This woman’s parents are saying that families who shamelessly make unlawful demands and blackmail them even before the wedding, are “good” families for their daughter to marry into! And they are not alone. Millions of educated, professional middle-class families like this one are saying and doing exactly the same thing — and their daughters are subject to worse blackmail and torture for dowry after the wedding, and thousands of women like this are eventually killed. After all the news we read and hear every day in India about the abuse and killing of women for dowry, how do these parents even think about forcing their daughters to marry into these families? Do they absolutely not care for the safety of their daughters?

This year one of the biggest public fights in India was about removing criminals from government — men convicted of extortion, larceny, rape and murder! But do we realize that as individuals if we continue to marry criminal-minded men or marry our daughters into families that behave criminally, we are embracing criminals in our personal lives and families? Then with what faith do we expect to clean criminals out of government and have a system that ensures the safety of women?

If you are reading this and are in this situation, or have a family member or friend or colleague in a similar situation, this is my advice:

1. Say a total “no” to any marriage proposal that makes even one dowry demand

Treat any dowry demand (whether in cash or goods) as a death threat! Do not marry into this family. And do not trust them. Do not agree to any negotiations. If they seem to be changing their mind, they are only looking for another way to continue doing the same.

2. Get out immediately of any situation of blackmail and abuse for dowry

Sometimes the in-laws wait till after the wedding to start blackmailing and abusing for dowry. We’ve found that this is often true in “love-marriages.” My advice to all women in this situation is — Get out immediately! Do not delay! Anshu was a bright, young woman, working with a multinational who married a man she was in love with. Within days of the wedding as her in-laws demanded and extorted money from her, she realized what criminal people they are. Just 6 weeks after her wedding as she planned to leave the marriage she was killed. To read Anshu’s story click here.

3. If you have daughters, you need to protect them and yourself

Studies and my campaign’s cases repeatedly show that families that abuse and kill for dowry are also the ones that force women to abort girls and also kill or try to kill the infant girls after birth. In middle and upper class families — babies have unexplained ‘accidents’ on staircases or in the bathtub. The father of Pooja Chopra, who was crowned ‘Miss India World,’ had tried to suffocate her with a pillow (her story here). The reason is, they are greedy for dowry, but don’t want to give dowry for the girls born into their family. They are a danger to both the woman and to her daughters. Click here to see one of these cases from our campaign. So women being abused for dowry need to save themselves and their daughters.

4. Know the dowry laws

If you are planning to get married soon make sure you know the dowry laws, what your rights are and how you can protect yourself. Click here for a post that gives you all this information.

5. Speak the truth about your safety to your parents directly

Finally, if you are in a situation like the school teacher in the letter above, you need to speak the truth to your parents directly. Do not beat around the bush with excuses and explanations. You need to tell them directly, that they are gambling with your safety and putting your life in danger. And that no parent who loves their daughter can do this! Make sure they know that even if they do not understand this, you will not marry this man. Your parents cannot force you. If they do, it is illegal. Get out of the house immediately, and find a friend who will understand and support you. If your parents persist, file a police complaint against them.

In December 2012, the women of India came out on to the streets demanding protection from rape and violence. When women are tortured daily for dowry, the violence is not just physical and emotional. It is also sexual! Most sexual violence on women and girls happens within the homes and families. The women of India need to understand that our fight for our right to safety has to begin with our own families first!


By Rita Banerji:

NOTE: This letter is an excerpt from a collection of Gandhi’s letters which have been compiled into a book titled “Mahatma Gandhi’s Letters on Brahmacharya, Sexuality and Love” by Girja Kumar (Vitasta Publishing, 2011). More detailed citations and references on the chapter on Gandhi in Rita Banerji’s book “Sex and Power: Defining History, Shaping Societies,” [pages 265-281, Penguin Books, 2009].

It is a fact. Gandhi had young women in his ashram, some of them still teenagers, one of them his own grand-niece [Manu Gandhi], sleep naked with him in his bed at night. This was an aspect of Gandhi that I had not read about before, and it surprised me at first. I was researching for my book ‘Sex and Power’ which looks at the history of sex and sexuality in India, and it was important for me to investigate this further.


My initial tendency was to regard this as “gossip,” but then some of the biographies confirmed it as fact, but also hurriedly dismissed it as something that we all apparently should accept as the eccentricities of “great” men! That’s not a logical argument for me and so I began to dig into archives for more information till a complete picture emerged. And that picture upset me. I saw Gandhi as a classic example of a sexual predator — a man who uses his position of power to manipulate and sexually exploit the people he directly controls.

Most angering for me was reading about the psychological and emotional trauma of the girls and women who he used for his “experiments,” which is what he called these incidents. The word ‘psychotic’ repeatedly came up in various documents with regards to these women’s mental state. The women, most of who were in their late teens or early twenties [not surprisingly, given he could have ‘experimented’ with the older women or even his own wife!] were repeatedly described as depressed and weeping, and seemed to be completely in his control. Besides this, some of the archival references lead me to believe that Gandhi may well have been practicing the traditional, historic form of Indian celibacy which hinges on one thing only — and that is control of ejaculation. Everything else is permitted.

What I could not understand is why school texts and biographies have selectively edited out this information because it was a big and explosive aspect of the inner dynamics of the Gandhi ashram and its inmates for the last 10 years of Gandhi’s life. It eventually led to the partial break-up of his inner-core circle.

But Gandhi is long dead. So why should the naked girls in Gandhi’s bed matter today?

Well, because the issue goes way beyond Gandhi. What really matters now, and it matters deeply, is how we respond to what Gandhi did!

Today we like to believe that we are far more progressive in terms of recognizing and condemning the abuse of power by men for sexual exploitation and abuse. And yet, I repeatedly find every time I bring this up [for eg. in this article Gandhi to Asharam: Who Empowers the Sex-Crimes of Gurus?] most people’s responses are defensive and regressive!

But this is what surprised me most! Compared to our reactions and responses today, the people in Gandhi’s time seemed to be far more progressive! They not only recognized that he was abusing his position and power in a way that was unethical and depraved, but they outright condemned it, confronted it, and eventually forced him to stop!

On 16th March, 1947, Nirmal Kumar Bose, one of Gandhi’s closest associates wrote a letter to Kishorlal G. Mashruwala, another of Gandhi’s close colleagues, saying, “When I first learnt about Gandhi’s experiment in which a girl took off her clothes and lay under the same cover with him and he tried to find out if any sexual feeling was evoked in him or his companion, I felt genuinely surprised. Personally, I would not tempt myself like that and more than that, my respect for [women] would prevent me from treating her as an instrument in my experiment…”

N.K. Bose’s letter was only one of the many exchanges among Gandhi’s closest associates and friends in the first half of 1947, about this practice of his that angered and upset many. These included prominent leaders of India’s freedom movement such as Vallabhai Patel, J. B. Kriplani and Vinobha Bhave. Many of them confronted Gandhi directly, and others stopped associating with him.

This 1947 storm in the Gandhi camp was set off by R. P. Parasuram, a young man from Kerala who for two years had served as Gandhi’s personal secretary and typist and watched his personal affairs from close by. Like many students in India at that time, Parasuram too had idolized Gandhi and after his studies, had travelled to Gandhi’s ashram to live and work with him, and help with India’s freedom movement.

But two years after working with Gandhi, Parasuram quit the ashram and his job. Before he left he wrote a 16-pg long letter explaining his distress at what he had witnessed in Gandhi’s behaviour with girls and women in the ashram — which included other things besides his ‘experiments’ in bed. He said that as much as he had worshipped Gandhi, his conscience did not allow him to stay silent any longer. And that in order for him to continue, Gandhi had to concede to 5 of his demands [all of which dealt with Gandhi’s physical interactions with girls at the ashram] which he listed in the letter. [See the letter below.]

On 2 January 1947 Gandhi responded to Parasuram’s letter with, “I cannot concede your demands…Since such is my opinion and there is a conflict of ideals…you are at liberty to leave me today.”

Parasuram did leave as did some of Gandhi’s other close associates. But others, especially those who were in more senior positions as friends and associates, continued their pressure on Gandhi to stop.

One of the things that were a big issue was Gandhi’s hypocrisy and manipulation, to what seemed to many to serve his own ends. Gandhi had made an unwritten rule of celibacy for all the inhabitants of his ashram. Oddly, he would even make married couples take this vow because he believed this was central to his philosophy of non-violence. Sexual stimulation of any sort, he preached, evoked violence in one’s thoughts and behaviour. He would tell them that even touching each other was unacceptable. He made the life of one of his own son’s whose wife got pregnant, absolutely hell, angry that they had had sex when he had forbidden them to! Yet he was free to do as he pleased! He was so confident that he wouldn’t be challenged!

Swami Anand and Kedarnath in a question and answer grilling from 15-16 March 1947 shot off questions like “Why did you not take your coworkers into confidence and carry them with you [into] this novel practice?” and “Why do we find so much disquiet and unhappiness around you? Why are your companions emotionally unhinged?”

The Congress President J. B. Kriplani told him that he was simply, “exploiting human beings as means rather than as ends in themselves.”

N.K. Bose suggested this course of action for Gandhi: “… he should not allow Manu [Gandhi’s great-niece] to sleep in the same bed with him until he had tried enough to educate the public into his new way of thinking, or the public had got all the fact about him and clearly expressed its disapproval. Then he [can go]…back to his practice with the full brunt of his suffering for the opinion which he held right.”

Vallabhai Patel told Gandhi off to his face. He said what he was doing was adharma (immoral). In a classic, egotistical way Gandhi retorted to Patel by telling Balkrishna Bhave “for me Manu sleeping with me is a matter of dharma (moral duty).”

But under this onslaught Gandhi eventually conceded defeat, even if not willingly. He said he felt like a “broken reed.” His ego and narcissism had been broken by people around him who fortunately understood and did better than we do today!

This is the question that I’d like to ask everyone reading this. Why is it that hard to say, yes Gandhi, the hero of India’s freedom movement had also used his power and position to sexually exploit/abuse girls and women who came under the mantle of his leadership?

Below is an extract from R. P. Parasuram’s 16-page letter to Gandhi just before he quit. He called it his letter of “indictment.”

1 January, 1947

Revered Bapu,

I write these lines in sorrow and pain…You know how shy and unforward I have been these two years. You must imagine to what depths I must have been agitated then to overcome my shyness and become bold and that too with a man who is considered by many to be the greatest man living…

You must also ponder over the fact as to what it is that has made me bold and say things so boldly. It is because I feel I am so clearly in the right and you so clearly in the wrong. It is the cause that gives me the courage.

It is not that I did not know these before. I knew and kept quiet. I thought “Why should I bring these to him?” There are men like Kanu [Gandhi], Kishorilal-bhai [Mashruwala], etc., experienced men and men knowing you fully. And then I had not the courage. I have come over my shyness with you…

When first I came to the ashram I came with high respect for the ashram and its inmates and its way of life. All that was knocked off in 24 hours…After coming here I must confess to having lost a portion of the respect I had for you….You are the Father of our Nation…You have taken us so far along the path of freedom and independence…You must see the hand of God…in the fact that I have overcome my shyness.

I object to your sleeping in the same bed with members of the opposite sex. In February 1945 or so I was given the draft of a statement to type. I was shocked by the contents…I must tell you that even before I know of this. One day Amin-bhai came and told me that he was shocked to see Manu [Manu Gandhi — Gandhi’s own grand niece] getting into your bed.

In those days I was more shy than I am now. My only friend in the ashram was Amin. Even then I came to know of the discussions about this affair because the ashram people are so careless and can’t keep their mouth shut. Everybody objected to your doing this…

Apart from the question of any affect on you what about the effect on girls?

There is something of other wrong with them [the women who sleep naked with Gandhi]. [The] Punjabi girl who lived opposite my room in Matunga…She used to weep unrestrainedly and that not caring whether others saw her or not. She laughed also unrestrainedly…And then here is Dr. Sushila-behn [The 24-year-old in-house physician at the ashram who Gandhi also used for his ‘experiments’]. How many are the days when she has not wept? She is a doctor and yet she is always a patient, always is ill. Who has heard of a doctor who cries out at night?

Even then the whole thing is considered wrong by the world. I do not like it. Nirmal babu [Bose] does not. Sucheta-behn [Kriplani] did not like it and said “However great he may be, he cannot do such things. What is this?” You must admit that there is something in our objection. You cannot waive it aside.

As for blood relations [This is reference to Manu Gandhi]. The world is sceptic even there. There have been cases of immorality between father and daughter, brother and sister…

I object to your having massage done by girls. When I was studying in college I read a report saying you were being massaged by Dr. Sushila-behn…And now I find you do get yourself massaged by girls.

Those people who know that you are naked during massage time say that you could at least put a cover over it [his genitals]…

The same objection I hold against girls coming to the bathroom when you go there. Ramachandran saw you like that and said you had fallen a little from his estimation. However great you may be, you cannot do these things.

Your placing your hands on shoulders of girls. You had written once that you gave up this practice because others intimated you with evil intention. I have not come across any other writing saying you could resume it. So it was strange to me why you resumed it…During the two years I have been with you, about 50 letters or so objecting to this practice from admirers and calumniators came. None of them got any reply…

Your being seen naked [during his bath and massage] jars on the mind of strangers, admirers though they might be. Ramachandran did not like it. He said it was the limit…

Ever since the 17th December [1946] when in the small hours of the morning you made those dreadful sounds, dreadful because it came from you man of such eminence, even otherwise unbecoming for any wise or old man, my head has not been at peace. I have heard of another such instance from Mr. Ramachandran of the API [Associated Press of India] when you told Sushila-behn to leave you. I have seen such another instance at Delhi…But this event shook me to my depths. I said to myself that God and the nation would not forgive me if I kept quiet…

You commit Himalyan blunders. But you refuse to see these things and when told, you are irritated…I say you are conceited and constitute yourself to be the repository of all the wisdom in the world…

And now to my charges. Unless [my demands] are fulfilled I depart…I beg to differ and go away…Your actions to which I object:

1. Your sleeping with any member of the opposite sex.
2. Being massaged by any member of the opposite sex.
3. Allowing yourself to be seen naked by any member of the opposite sex.
4. Allowing yourself to be seen naked by strangers and even by people who are of your party who are not so intimate.
5. Placing your hands on the shoulders of girls when walking.

Photo Credit: iAreef via Compfight cc


By Rita Banerji:

Date: The Foreseeable Future
Place: The Lion Throne

Dear Sonia Behn,

I’ve been thinking of writing this letter to you all morning, ever since my Leadership Training Team told me that the lesson for today is modesty. My Team tells me that Indians want a leader who is powerful like the lion and humble like the mule. I found this very confusing. “How is that possible? You can only be one or the other–a lion or a mule. MMSji is a mule, and I am a lion. But how can I be both?”I asked them.


They said, “Sirji, don’t look at the lions of Gir! Look at Soniaji! When the whole country voted for her to be our leader, what did she do? She smiled shyly and said she didn’t want the seat. She said she will sit in the back, in the shadow of the seat, which she so humbly gave free of cost to MMSji, and keep serving the country with all her blood and sweat. And everyone was so impressed. They said she is so humble; she is not greedy for power. But see, she became the 6th most powerful woman in the world. The whole country dances to the click of her fingers. But no one knows how. Why? Because she is so modest. Always shy. Too shy to speak. Even when she speaks to the public, which she does so very rarely, even then like a modest person she never raises her eyes and glares at her audience. She keeps her eyes down, modestly on the paper that she reads from, and then smiles sweetly, waves and disappears like a shy rabbit inside her hole. She does not thump her chest, parade around and roar like you, announcing your presence and your intentions so loudly–so loudly, baap re!–they can hear you all the way to the Red fort! But see Soniaji — she never says a word. No one knows what she thinks, what she wants, and what she has done or will do. She just whispers it to the MMSji who follows her instructions word to word. Even when she changes her mind, her instructions clash, and funds vanish, food vanishes, files vanish and even the country and constitution almost vanish, and there is chaos, confusion, and conflicts, no one knows who it is. The public thinks it is all the fault of the mule, who is being…oh so! mulish, and they say that is how the mule behaves. What can we do? See Sirji that is the true magic of power. As Soniaji’s genius baby-boy would say: Like poverty, power is also a state of mind!”

Soniaji, to be honest, I was worried and asked my Leadership Training Team, “But where will I find a mule?” They laughed and said, “Why only one mule, Sirji, you will have millions of mules! Mules who will worship you the Lion master on the throne. You have to whisper one word to them, and they will all repeat it together in one, big loud chorus, and it will drown your roar! Your wish will be the mule choir’s command. But the mules will think they are in power. And they will be happy that finally our country is a true democracy led by a lion leader. With Soniaji’s system everyone was complaining it is a monarchy where the ruler does not even listen to the public! So Sirji — not to worry. You will have your mules too, and your system will be much better!”

However, Soniaji, I also have to say how much my Training Team admires you. They hold you as the role model for my leadership training classes. There is so much I have learned from you. For example, on the issue of the pesky minorities. You and I know that periodically we need to do pest control so they don’t start thinking they are human — like us! Now your party and my party both did pest control in 1984 and 2002 respectively, but what I couldn’t understand is why all these human-rights wallahs are after my blood only? Then my Team studied your tactics and I thought really you are my Bhagwan Shri Krishna coming to guide me personally in my battle! My Team said, “Look at Soniaji. Does she ever make any comment about the ’84 pest control? She is absolutely silent. Like it never happened! But you — you keep saying this and that, that you didn’t, then you say maybe it was wrong. Why all this chatter? Why bring up things that are dead and gone? You must learn to be silent like her, and it will go away on its own. And do you see what she does with her party’s pest control-wallahs? She keeps them close to her heart! She protects them. She knows if she doesn’t they can do pest control on her! But you — you think your work is done, and throw your pest-control wallahs in jail, and think you have erased all record of the pest control! Now you are all clean! But no Sirji, angry pest-control wallahs are more dangerous than the pest! Soniaji knows that!”

So Sonia behn I listened to their advice. And recently, when some of my police pest-control wallahs who I had thrown in jail and thrown away the keys to keep their mouths shut, escaped and began to shout all over town, I was in a big crisis! But this time I listened to advice and did not open my big mouth. Like you, I kept absolutely silent. And it was a miracle — it all disappeared! My Training Team also said, “See Soniaji. Her party may have done pest control. But does she ever call the minorities a pest! Never! She tells them all, that she loves them and will give them human rights! But you, you just say this land should be ruled by us humans and all the minority pests should be kept in special boxes or thrown out. Do you understand Sirji — it is not what Soniaji does with the pests, it is what she says?”

I feel foolish to admit that I was so foolish Soniaji and you so clever. I am also am realizing that many minorities make a big majority vote bank. This of course you could see better from Delhi, than I could in from my little corner of the country. But my Training Team has now educated me about the whole map of India. Oh my god! So many religions, languages and cultures besides mine! Now I am determined to capture all these vote banks! I sent out tweets in all the languages. Then I told all those other religions to attend my meeting in their religious clothes.

But what I don’t understand Soniaji is why then these human-rights wallahs are after me for my party’s pest control? Why they don’t go after you for protecting your party’s pest control wallahs? Not just in India but in America too! I know, I know, the American court just sent a letter to you about ‘84. But still you are free to come and go to America like a bird with their big, strong Intelligence protecting you! Even Kalamji didn’t get such special treatment. You remember how badly they treated him even though he was our President? As for me, even before my plane ticket is bought, they all start shouting that I am a criminal! I am worried Soniaji, if I go there, who knows what they will do to me?

My Training Team says maybe because you firangi people are all of the same biradri. You know how it is — blood is always thicker than water! So my Team has started a project to build my biradri with the firangi folks. Like you know Prince Hari of London is supposed to have relatives in my Gujarat. We just made a nice Amul advertisement celebrating our common biradari. And it is working! The British have embraced and welcomed me unlike the Americans. I know it really is about mutual grazing land. You of course understand that better than me behn. Don’t listen to what they all say Soniaji. I personally think this is the real reason there is no infighting among the members of your party! You graze outside, and they graze inside. Everyone is happy! It makes your party peaceful though I think you should put some sense into your idiot son-in-law’s head. When you say graze on land, it means graze on things that grow on the land: fodder, food, sand, coal. So many things! Why gobble up the land?

But talking about building bridges with the firangi folks, my Team says the Americans love Bapuji blindly. Bapuji is our soft power! I must say though I think it is unfair that those ignorant Americans think you are related to him, when really Bapuji is from my biradari! But we are trying other methods with the Americans. My Team says they love it when you say you want to be like them. So I am using all the phrases from their leader Obamaji — like “Yes, We Can!” and “Dream Team,” for my campaigning. Even when my Team taught me to call your Team a Dirty Team, they made me say it in American — “Get the Dirrrrrrrrty Team out!” If none of this works, then my Team has another plan. They say I should not go to America or any other country and risk jail. I should just stay in our country and tell the public that I’m a true desh-sevak, the public’s servant! I’m not wasting tax-payer’s money by frivolously flying free all over the world like your Party people — especially, don’t mind my saying, Pratibha behn, who took her whole biradri free too! I will be the first leader this country has ever had who spent his entire term on its soil, serving its people. But secretly, Soniaji, my real dream is to be a world leader like Obamaji and get the Nobel Peace Prize.

I hope you didn’t mind my calling your Party “Dirrrty?” My Team made me say that. But the truth is, for me your Party is my Dream Team! If today I am in this position, it is because of your Party. Even when my Party was fighting with me, and many were refusing to name me, your Party had full confidence in me. Even when your Party was not even sure who to name as leader for your Team, they repeatedly nominated my name as leader for my party, and were unanimous! In fact I did not even have to speak for myself. Your Team told the voters, “Narendra bhai says I will take control! He says, I will lead you! He says, I will do it all alone!” The public was so happy to hear this. If the opposition Team can say such good things about me, things they are so frantic for, imagine how good I must be? If it was not for your Team’s hard work, maybe I would have been left behind.

And finally Sonia behn, I cannot end this letter without telling you how much I admire you. You are not only a role model for me as a leader but also as a woman. You are a true Bharatiya Nari! After this Delhi bus rape all these women activists are after us politicians. My Team says, my behans of my biradari love me for the Lion man I am, but these other women activists–you know the ones one of your Party members called “painted and dented”–don’t like me. They keep saying the ‘sex-ratio’ in my state is so low. I thought what is this ration of sex? No, they explain, it is ration of food, and the girls are so thin, and die because they are not given enough food. And that our biradari doesn’t like girls so we also kill them. But I said, No bhai. This is a fashion among girls to be thin now. They don’t eat to be thin, and sometimes they become so thin they disappear. That’s why so many girls are “missing” in my state. This made those women activists even angrier. So my Training Team made me address this meeting of kam-karne wali behans and praise them continuously for an hour! I said, women can do this and that, and everything outside and inside the house, and like the Earth– Dharti mata, bear the burden of all us stupid men! But let me tell you a secret. While I was saying that, I thought of you! You bear the burden of all the stupid men in your party and in your house! You are like ‘Mother India’ — you know the film? Only that you would never shoot your rapist sons in the back! No you would send all your rapist Party brothers and sons riding off into the sunset on a horseback. That’s better than Mother India! You use your power to bring honour and power to your husband and son! They are the focus of your vision, your goals, your work, and your whole life! “Mere pati mahan, mera beta mahan!” Wah! All your power is for them! That is my vision of a true Indian woman! Soniaji I salute you!

But there is one question my Training Team is not able to answer for me Soniaji. So I am asking you. You are the 6th most powerful woman in the world, and still these women activists expect nothing from you. How do you manage this? You shelter rapist politicians and they don’t fight with you. You don’t even have to give the kind of speech I was made to give to the women of India. Or promise them anything or show any interest in their safety and protection. Please tell me your secret. I will eagerly await your reply.

Your student and admirer,
Narendra bhai


By Lata Jha:

While out for a walk in my society building last week, I was waved at frantically by a woman who was looking for directions. I could easily tell that she had been asked to come over to see if she would do well as domestic help. I pointed the way out to her and stopped in my tracks for a second when she charmingly dropped a ‘thanks’ to me in English. I’m not being patronising or pompous here, but it did unsettle me for a minute. She came back a while later, asked for further directions and thanked me the same way again with a disarming smile.


What I noticed was that she insisted on thanking me in English while I chose to respond the entire time in Hindi. Now, this could well be categorised as cute but I think our reverence towards the English language, in general, tends to border slightly on what may not exactly be self respectful. How many times have we overheard parents at stores and theatres persistently speaking to their kids in English? When clearly, they can neither manage it themselves nor is the child old enough to respond coherently. The conversations are painfully efforted. It’s hard to tell if such labour is to prove a point to the world around or to make sure the child learns to be ‘cool’ and ‘hep’ from a young age.

Then of course, there are your own relatives who think they’ve descended from nothing less than the Alps. It’s their duty to flaunt their arduously cultivated skills in English with you. And these are precisely the same people who torment their children by insisting they speak, sing and probably even eat and yawn in English in front of guests. And let us not even waste time talking of the snobs who are ashamed of non English speaking parents.

This is also the one problem I have with convents, and schools, in general. The fact that English is portrayed as the force behind the be-all and end-all of the world. Yes, it’s important to speak the language correctly, but so are a lot of other things.

There is no doubt English is a great language. And we all know how important it is to be comfortable with and fluent in it in today’s age. It removes a lot of barriers, gives you a lot of advantages, and puts you up on a certain pedestal. A lot of things come easy then. But it’s no parameter to being cool. It never was, it never will be.

You don’t become cool by speaking to your child or your relative in English. You don’t become cool by saying you can’t speak your mother tongue. You don’t become cool by saying you only watch English films and that Bollywood is passé. Yes, we’re all fiercely limited and there’s no one who can do it all. But since when have our limitations and challenges become signs of how modern and progressive we are?

I’m sorry, but they’re not. There are millions of other languages in the world, and not one of them is inferior in any way. Neither has language ever been the road to coolness and sophistication. You’re cool when English comes as naturally to you, as the dialect you speak in when you visit your grandparents in the village. You’re cool when you’re generally aware and well-read, not just bred on English literature and rock music. You’re cool when your child can have an open conversation with you, regardless of which language you choose to speak in. You’re cool if you make sense when you talk, and it doesn’t have to be in English.

I am writing this article in English, because that is the language I think I make most sense in. To both myself and to others. I’m not saying it’s a mark of how well I’m doing or how liberated I am in life. I’d be delighted to read work in Hindi on the same theme.

In a world rapidly bowing down to hegemonic powers, I believe these are things that matter. Being proud of tradition and holding on to it; not jumping on to the bandwagon and losing individuality. I don’t think it should be all about English Vinglish. It doesn’t have to be.

life lessons

By Rita Banerji:

The lessons we learn from our teachers often go way beyond our textbooks. Since we just celebrated Teacher’s Day in India, this is my reflection on the lessons about life and living that I learned from my teachers.

life lessons

1. Everyone has something to teach you. Be open!

Our first teachers are always our parents and grandparents. But an incident from when I was 13-years-old, taught me otherwise. My grandfather was known be a brilliant and very innovative engineer. One day, while I was doing my biology homework in his house, he sat down next to me and said, “Have they taught you about the DNA yet?” I said, yes they had. Then he asked me to explain the DNA and its structure to him with the diagrams in my book. I was surprised, because everyone in the family looked up to him as being the most knowledgeable person. I thought it couldn’t be that he didn’t know! I wondered if he was testing me, which he would sometimes do, and it could be quite intimidating. But he wasn’t! He was genuinely interested in knowing and asked many questions. Even though he was from the sciences, the structure of the DNA hadn’t even been discovered when he was a student! And now he wanted to learn about it. So that afternoon, I discovered with amazement, that my grandfather could also be a student, and I his teacher!

2. Follow your heart accepting that it is the toughest path to choose.

Mary Venugopal, my class 7 teacher, was perhaps one of the very few teachers I’ve known who believed that each child has unique talents and inclinations, that should be encouraged. Seeing how much I loved literature and writing, she asked me to be the school magazine’s junior editor. It would have required me to stay on after school a few days a week, to work on the editing with her. My parents however, who would have liked me to become a doctor someday, thought this was an absolute waste of time and refused to give permission. I was very disappointed. Miss Venugopal then cheerfully said that that was no problem! We could still do it during lunch-break every day; even though it meant that she would get no break in-between teaching classes. At the end of the year when the school magazine was published, I felt such joy and disbelief that I had actually done it! I eventually did go into the sciences, however not to do medicine, but to work with the environment, which is my other passion.

3. If you love your work, it shows. A piece of you will be in everything you do.

I will be eternally grateful to my class 12 biology teacher, Mrs. V. Prakash, for putting the map of the human body in proper perspective for me before I graduated from school! Prior to that the biology teachers I had were either too embarrassed or too disinterested. The human reproductive system was taught in coded language and geometric diagrams, where none of us could be sure of what exactly was being discussed. There were mumblings about “the male organ” and “the female organ” and admonishments for the students who asked questions. Mrs. Prakash on the other hand had life-like, three-dimensional, plastic models of all the human systems, including the reproductive system. She would use these, pulling out and fitting back the organs, to help give us a clear vision of our own bodies. She’d use the proper names of body parts–stomach, pancreas, testis, penis, vagina–with a normalcy, that made us feel comfortable and normal about our bodies. When she taught us, she looked into our faces, and made eye contact, making sure none of us was confused. What made her different from the other teachers, I realize was her love and enthusiasm for her subject. She was not mechanically transmitting information. Biology was her world, and she was drawing us into this world to show us how wonderful and interesting it was.

4. If you tolerate injustice inflicted on you, you will end up doing the same to others.

As professors today race to publish and compete for huge funds from wealthy foundations, their exploitation of students also increases. This I found particularly so in my field, the sciences where research involves a lot of physical labour and time. I watched my seniors literally burn out, working in the lab on their professors’ research till 3 a.m. and then struggling to stay awake in class the next morning. In the end the credit for the research and its publication would usually, all go to the professors. And so, I decided I wanted to design and do my own independent project, and I put this proposal before my department. I also indicated that if an advisor, which was compulsory, was not available, I’d prefer to forgo my thesis. So I was very happy, when one of the professors who had taught me, and was familiar with my work, accepted my proposal. However, over the next few months I found him to be strangely evasive. When finally I told him this was causing me to lose time and doing a lot of damage to my project, he bluntly replied that that’s the only way he would treat a project that was not his. He then suggested I switch over to his research, and he’ll be much more accessible. I was shocked to realize that his intention from the start had been to have me do his research, but he had chosen a deceitful way to do it. I spoke to few faculty members, and though they felt it was wrong, some still urged me to do as he wanted. They said this is how it was always done and that someday I would have my own students and they would have to do the same for me! Translation: take this abuse now, and someday you can abuse others! This was what helped me make my decision to reject my research professor and accept the losses that came with it: work credits, time, and academic honours.

What I realized was that our teachers don’t always teach us the right thing. But if we trust our conscience, we can still learn our lessons from it. The lesson I learned, not just from this incident, but life in general, is that abuse is a cycle. When we negotiate with it, and accept it in our lives, we are bound to inflict the same on someone else. The way we allow people to treat us, is how we will treat others.

5. If you are dazzled by power, image and glamour, you will always be blind to the truth.

One of my professors, Girma Kebedde, loved to trip his students on their own assumptions. One of the biggest eye-openers for me was a book he had us discuss in class called ‘Africa in Crises.’ Much about the perception of famine in Africa was that it has been caused by droughts and was a “natural disaster.” It was a shocking revelation about how the famine in Ethiopia, Prof. Kebedde’s country, was a created crisis because of rampant corruption and greed in governments, multinationals and international organizations.

The ugly truth about that famine (and indeed food shortages the world over) is that it was politically constructed. Hunger is the most powerful tool with which to control people. Is it any coincidence that in India food prices recently shot up by 300% in just a few months, even as the government, in a pre-election bid announced a Food Bill for 67% of India that it said goes hungry, while there were massive quantities of food being secretly stockpiled in warehouses and allowed to rot? Many western countries make food mountains of excess food which they dump into the oceans so that global food prices remain artificially inflated, even as millions around the world go hungry. During the Ethiopian famine, when Africa needed food, they were being forced to grow cash crops like cotton and coffee that were in demand in global markets. This also degraded the soil, and made growing food even more difficult. But like the youth of my generation, I too was inspired by that very glamorous, multi-starrer ‘Band-Aid’ song production “We are the World!” It made us all feel like we should go and ‘save the world!’ I too had thought working with some big, international humanitarian or development organization would be a great way for me to help ‘save the world!

But what sense does it make, when we kill the food on people’s lands and plates, drive them to starvation, and then with much fanfare give them charity? When I sit with my cup of Ethiopian roast coffee, do I ask how many children there had to go without food so that their family could instead grow that coffee, underpriced at their cost, on their farm, for me to enjoy? The ad promoted by a glamorous, over-paid supermodel or movie-star promises to give 1¢ from the profits to children’s food or education in Africa, and we think that we are actually doing charity here! We don’t challenge the system that allows a select club to hoard 60% of the world’s wealth, and control the world–who grows, sells, and trades, what, and where–and then pretend to dole out charity!

Why don’t we challenge this? What I came to realize is that most of us are dazzled by organizations, institutions, and even individuals who have glamorous and powerful images. We aspire to work with them, or be like them. And so we choose not to see the reality of their corruption. We choose not to see that people or organizations we want to believe are ‘saving humanity’ are actually hurting human lives by their political and financial manipulations.

I realized that if I want to be a part of the change in this world that creates a more equal and just living place for all human beings, I must, first and foremost, refuse to be dazzled by the powerful and glamorous images of people and organizations that we are bombarded with all the time. Only then can I see the truth.

face of india

By Rita Banerji:

I was pleasantly surprised by the loud protests from Indian-Americans when Nina Davuluri was attacked with racist slurs for winning the Miss America title. This is because while living in the US, I found that first and even second-generation Indian-Americans, generally take a submissive approach to racist abuse, and choose to live with it silently. I was often advised by well-meaning “aunties” and “uncles” against resisting or protesting too loudly.

miss america

Still, after the Davuluri incident, some have pointed out that Indians cannot complain about white racism since we ourselves bear such extreme prejudices against darker shades of brown among our own communities! Personally I believe we need to confront both! But what we are not talking about yet, is that there is actual racism in the Indian mindset that goes beyond fifty shades of brown skin!

For example I can’t help wondering, “What if Nina Davuluri was mistakenly identified as African instead of Arab?” In the barrage of protest tweets from Indians would we then have seen some blatantly racist ones too? I put this question to some Indians, and I was told vehemently that Nina could pass for Arab because there are Arab women with darker skin, but there is no way Nina looks African! So I ask, “What if an African woman was mistakenly identified as Indian?” I was smugly told that would still be “American ignorance!”

But the fact is that there are people of mixed African descent who many Indians would assume to be Indian. For example, one of my closest American friends whose family descends from Eritrea (in North Eastern Africa) was baffled when while travelling in India, she was constantly assumed to be Indian, and ‘Eritrea’ was assumed to be a non-descript village in southern India!

But our ignorance and racist assumptions get more amplified when I point out that there are indeed communities in India, that Indians would not only assume to be ‘African’ or ‘Chinese,’ just based on instant appearance, but also treat with extreme prejudice. There are many indigenous Indian communities like the Kondh and Bonda, who have African facial features, and whose faces are conveniently used to eroticize the Indian tourist industry, but who are never accepted as representative of the Indian face, the way Nina Davuluri wants to be representative of the American look. There are also millions of Indians with oriental facial features, yet if you scan the faces in the Indian film, advertisement and television industries, their representation is literally nil! No actors or actresses, no models, and there is only one major Indian television channel with one newscaster from the NE. This is shocking, because this is not a miniscule population in India! There are eight states where majority of the people have oriental features. These include 7 states in the North-east and Sikkim. And there are at least four other states– Bengal, U.P., Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh, where there are substantially large populations of Indians with oriental facial features.Yet, there is no indication that this is also an average ‘Indian look.’ Even more ironically, unlike Nina Davuluri who is from an immigrant family in the U.S., these communities with African and Oriental racial features in India are native to India! Their history and roots trace back 5000 years to the Indus times, as DNA evidence from archaeological sites indicate.

If native Indians with oriental and African facial features are so blatantly excluded, what hope do immigrants have of being embraced as Indian? Oddly, this perhaps is one of the finest examples of India’s inherent racism! The Parsi community, that is far smaller than the other racial communities mentioned, has been whole-heartedly embraced as ‘Indian.’ They are represented in films, advertising, T.V. and indeed Parsi women have been celebrated as the ‘Face of India’ in various beauty pageants. Undoubtedly this is because the Parsis of Iranian origin with their fair, almost white skins, and Caucasian features are much more desirable of being seen as ‘Indian’ than the other races are! There also are immigrants from China in India, who’ve been here 250 years, but even now they are referred to as ‘Chinese,’ and relegated to small corners of newspaper articles hunting for ‘good Chinese restaurants,’ in India.

There are also African immigrants of long in India, who many Indians don’t even know about. A few years ago, I attended a Sidi Goma concert. The Sidis are a community in India whose ancestors it is believed were brought to India from Africa as slaves more than 700 years ago. However, over the centuries the Sidis have lost all touch with Africa and their roots there. Their clothes, food, language, and customs are all local; in the case of this Sidi community I met — Gujarati! The younger musicians talked about the extreme prejudices and isolation they faced growing up, both in their neighbourhood and in the schools, and the constant humiliation they had to tolerate being bombarded with racist slurs like “Habshi” (Nigger!)

How long does it take for an immigrant community to have its face counted as representative of the nation they call home? Isn’t that the question we have asked of Nina Davuluri’s representation as Miss America? Is 700 years enough for the Sidis? Get this: the Sidi Goma group was detained for hours by Indian airport authorities when they tried to leave for a concert tour once. The airport authorities, despite their Indian passports, believed they were illegal Africans in India!

Sometime ago, there were a series of rapes that targeted women from the North-eastern states studying or working in Delhi. Where violence on women is an escalating factor in India, there are factors like caste and race that compounds the threats with prejudices that go beyond gender, and make some women in India even more vulnerable. But even when faced with organized protests from North-eastern communities in Delhi, there was reluctance in the media and in the public in general to acknowledge racism behind these attacks.

It was during this time that I was sitting with some friends and family at a Café that is frequented by college students. There was a group of students at the table next to us, loudly discussing the rapes of the North-Eastern women, in language that was unabashedly racist. One of the men after referring to the oriental facial features of the women in unflattering terms went on to ask why any man would want to rape these women! No one from the group seemed to find this objectionable. People at my table shifted uncomfortably, and pretended like they didn’t hear!

Finally I stood up, and pulled my chair up to the next table, informing the young crowd that since they were speaking loud enough to include me in their conversation, I was joining them too. I then told them, “Listen carefully. I’m going to tell you something that I believe your parents have never discussed with you. And your teachers have never discussed with you. But it is something you need to know. And I promise you, you are not going to forget this for the rest of your life. What you just said about these women, your fellow citizens, was not just sexist, it was racist. If you deny it, that will make you racist too. If you can accept it and change the way you speak and think, it will make you a healthier human being.” There was a stunned silence, some feeble protests and the group quickly paid their bills and left immediately after. But what I know is that they will never forget that little chat.

What I hope from the Davuluri incident is that Indians will find in this the motivation to turn the mirror inward and examine our own national conscience for the deeply entrenched racism that mars us. And as a little step in that direction I’ll advise this little exercise to all Indians (and non-Indians) reading this. Click on the photo montage below to see the beautiful slide show of Indian women. And as you see each face say it aloud, “She is the Face of India!



Ram Jethmalani

By Sumedha Bharpilania:

“Power corrupts, but the prospect of losing power corrupts absolutely” — These were some wise words that Mr Ram Jethmalani, one of India’s most noted lawyers and politicians had said during the extensive debate around the Lokpal Bill in the Lok Sabha in December 2011. “I decide according to my conscience who to defend. A lawyer who refuses to defend a person on the grounds that people believe him to be guilty is himself guilty of professional misconduct” were also some words spoken by this esteemed individual much before he started to follow the religion called ‘hypocrisy’. But we shall come to that later.

Ram Jethmalani

Time always tends to fly and it often takes along with it the glory that an individual once held. It does not care about the Rams or the Asarams. They say that the old and the senile do not know what they happen to be talking about. After having bid a sad farewell to the Bharatiya Janata Party, which he blatantly termed as ‘’stupid’’, Mr Ram Jethmalani seems to have also bid adieu to what can be termed as common sense.

According to Mr Jethmalani, the girl who accused Asaram Bapu of sexually assaulting her was suffering from a chronic disease that “draws a woman to a man.” You mean ‘love’ Shri Ram ji? Why would she choose Asaram Bapu of all people to shower with all the passion she held inside her? Did he have ‘Amul Macho Innerwear’ on during the time of the act? And then why would she accuse him of rape if she was so immensely ‘’drawn’’ to him? Asaram may obviously not have had brotherly feelings for this ‘diseased’ girl because she probably wasn’t carrying a rakhi with her and the fact that she was like his granddaughter. Also taking into account the sleeplessness he has been suffering from, Asaram ji might have easily somnambulated and began an ‘unholy’ act while exorcising her, without realizing the enormity of what he seemed to be doing. Is this what you mean to say Mr lawyer?

Considering the magnitude of the statements made by Mr Jethmalani, it is not entirely difficult to assume that the gentleman, in all probability, suffers from a chronic disease that draws him away from logic. It is supposed to be a fatal, crippling disease which is also known as ‘idiocy’. The ailment usually is found in ‘exotic’ ‘tropics’ like India and mostly affects those responsible for running the nation. The cure is not entirely known, but a good dosage of ‘shaming’ does relieve the problem to some extent. Arnab Goswami is known to be the pioneer of this medicine though it did cause some of his patients to have ‘withdrawal’ tendencies. However, judging the resistance Mr Jethmalani seems to be showing to such drugs, chanting the spiritual mantras that Godmen like Asaram ji have to preach, instead of defending them is a good way to go. Because old age, right?

Till the nation waits for Ram ji to recover from his illness, we firmly believe that the English version of the Hindi pronunciation of the word ‘lawyer’ suits him better. Aren’t your pants on fire already, Mr Jethmalani?

life prison

By Rita Banerji:

I know that there’s been a lot of debate about the death penalty in India after the judge in the Delhi gang rape case handed death sentence to four of the convicted men. And that’s why I want to make clear that this article is not about whether or not India should abolish death penalty. What I am interested in finding out is why so many people in India, across all different sections of society, believe that ‘Death’ is the ultimate and most apt form of justice for the convicted men.

life prison

Right from the start, in December 2012 when thousands came out onto the streets to protest, there were placards everywhere demanding that the courts ‘Hang the Rapists.’ Nirbhaya before her death had also said she wanted them to get the death penalty. And her parents too consistently maintained that until these men got death penalty they would not find peace. In fact the response of the crowds outside the court house was far more jubilant when the death sentence for the four men was announced than when the guilty verdict for gang rape and murder was announced three days prior to that.

Because this case involved murder, the judge had one of two options under the Indian penal code: life term imprisonment with no parole and death. If the judge had announced life-term imprisonment undoubtedly the crowd would not be jubilant. They and a majority of the public in India would have been very angry and upset, because they would think that justice had not been done to Nirbhaya. They believe that justice will be done to Nirbhaya only when death penalty is executed. Justice here is being seen as a measure of the penalty imposed on those convicted. What kind of a penalty should the men be made to pay that would be an adequate punishment for the crime they’ve committed? If the men were given a life-term the price they would be paying is their freedom for the rest of their lives. But those who demand death penalty are saying that freedom is not the most precious thing a person can sacrifice when they pay for a crime, their lives are far more precious. Hence they should pay for this crime with their life. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is my understanding of why there is this widespread call for death penalty for these men in India.

But what I don’t understand and that’s why I will now put the question to you, is why people think death is a bigger price to pay than your life-long freedom. So if you are reading this, consider this question: Imagine you are standing before a judge in a court and awaiting a sentence which could be either death or life-time imprisonment. What would you hope for?

If you think you can’t be in that situation then perhaps your faith in the criminal justice system in India is stronger than mine. I think of the Aarushi Talwar case, where a 14-year-old girl was found brutally murdered in her bed in an upper-middle class home in Noida. Aarushi’s parents have been put on trial for her murder, and that of the male domestic help, based entirely on the police’s supposition of what they like to believe happened, that is the father killed them because he found them in a sexually compromising position. This charge was leveled with no credible criminal and forensic evidence, and I think that that could be anyone in that box, standing trial for murder, facing the option of death or life-time imprisonment.

I wonder if they have public tours of the inside of Tihar jail or any other jail for I have never seen the inside of a prison in India. But I have seen photos, heard second hand reports, and the picture is not pleasant. They are dirty, filthy, crammed Hells on earth. It’s hard to imagine how appalling they can actually be. A few months back when actor Suraj Pancholi was arrested for his girlfriend Jiah Khan’s death, and put in a jail in Mumbai which actually is much better than a majority of jails in India, I was struck by how he described his time there. He said, “They took my phone, iPad, drives and…For [first] four days, I did not have a bath or brush my teeth, remained in the same clothes, had no pillow or a blanket. There was one wall fan and I shared Odomos [ointment] with the guy who I shared the cell with. There was pee on the floor on both sides. The guy I was sharing the cell with was 20 and told me he had raped two girls and was a drug addict. There would be vomit on both sides and paan and tambaku spat on the floor. They did not let me talk to my family in the lock-up for those four days… There are about 10 gangs there and fights and stabbing take place routinely. I saw them stabbing each other using spoons… I was kept in what they called the ‘unda cell’ so I would not be stabbed or subjected to extortion.”

And then it is not hard to imagine what the police and officers who run this place inflict on the inmates. Harassment, bullying, belittlement, bribes, corruption — this is like the basic expectation of the Indian public from the police. We’ve seen videos of policemen smacking a woman across the face for protesting peacefully, four policemen with batons beating up a woman for trying to file a sexual harassment complaint, and beating to the ground a mother protesting lack of police action for the rape and murder of her little girl. A senior policeman who gang rapes a woman in a police station, get only one year in prison. And all this is while the police deal with people in the open — in public spaces and in police stations. It is hard to imagine what kind of fearsome, demons they become in those dark, dirty corners of jail houses where there are no cameras, no media or public eye to be witness to what they do and how far they can go. What would it be like to live in these filthy, lightless, hopeless dungeons, lorded over by the Indian police day after day for the rest of your life?

Recently a young man who had been sent to a youth reform prison for drugs talked about the extensive physical, emotional and sexual torture he had to endure every day. He said, “I was [12 when I was] brought to the home where I found that more than half the boys were drug addicts like me…If you pay money to the guards, any jugaad is possible. I have seen drug packets being procured even when the boys go to the court for hearing…Many boys have had their face disfigured by blades, or worse, stomach slashed by broken glass from window panes. You have to be on your guard all the time when you are inside. The older boys treat you like their slave. If you resist, they pour boiling water on you. Next come the slashing… The older boys – who are usually repeat offenders – hold sway. Fights break out many times during the day especially when the ‘repeaters’ are high on what we call the ‘Dus number’ tablet. It removes all feeling of pain. It also makes them very dangerous. We used to dread it when the lights were switched off. Woh bahut galat kaam karte the chhote bachhon ke saath [The older boys sexually abused the younger ones].” If someone had to live with this, day after day might he choose death as a means to freedom from this life-long hell and torture?

Indeed, I believe that even when prison systems are half-way more human than what we have in India, the idea of the loss of freedom is equivalent to the loss of life — but in a more excruciating way. Why do many people with life-term sentences commit suicide in prison? It’s because there is nothing in their life that represents living. What are the little things that give you most pleasure about your life? Watching the sun rise? Picking up the phone to hear your mother or father’s voice? Baking a cake on a whim to surprise your kids? Chilling out with your friends over some great chai and snacks and a silly movie you all laugh at together? To be mechanically eating the same, unhygienic, prison food and sleeping behind bars under a police baton is not living. What would it be like to just repeat a set pattern mechanically everyday till you die? What does it matter whether you die 30 years from the day you are sentenced, or you die the day after? Wouldn’t death be a form of mercy? A welcome relief?

So do take a few minutes to really think over this. If you had to choose between a life-sentence and death penalty for yourself what would you choose? What is a bigger punishment — one death or a life where you die a little every day just waiting for death?


By Pradyut V. Hande:

In what can be construed as a blatant testament to India’s fractured and feeble educational system, the latest QS World University Rankings does not feature even a single Indian University or higher education institution in the top 200. Optimists may point to the fact that 11 Indian institutes feature in the top 800, but surely that is no reason for jubilation.

universityThe highest ranked Indian institute happens to be IIT Delhi at 222. While IIT Bombay at 233 and IIT Kanpur at 295, just about make the top 300. IIT Madras features at 313, while IIT Kharagpur makes an entry at 346. Our fabled institutions have fallen short on the selection criteria – Academic Reputation, Employer Reputation, Faculty – Student Ratio, Citations – Faculty Ratio, International Students and Faculty. If one thought that the bad news ended there, one would be sadly mistaken. Closer scrutiny reveals that India’s premier educational institutions have actually fallen down the rankings over the past year. This appears to be a greater cause for concern.

For a country that has always prided itself on its rich educational tradition and history…and places such great importance on the procurement of a quality education; these rankings are a scathing reminder of our systemic failures and lacunae. An emerging socio-economic powerhouse such as India can ill afford to let the dearth of world class educational institutions impede its ascent on the global arena. What is worrying is that even though these rankings have put things into perspective (yet again), these are ground realities our policy makers are well aware of. The sector is in dire need of widespread reform, influx of capital, infrastructural improvements and periodic curriculum related overhauls. The emphasis ought to be on the provision of quality education to greater sections of the society as a logical step towards greater inclusion and not on offering sub-standard education restricted to certain pockets. This has to begin at the grassroots level, i.e. primary education. Only then can we hope to mend the system, up the ladder.

Countries such as the USA, UK, Germany and France feature 144, 69, 42 and 40 institutes/universities in the top 800. One may argue that these are developed nations with sound educational foundations and a healthy R&D culture propelling the job market; but India would do well to take a leaf or two out of their books. It is not that we don’t possess the ability or wherewithal to breathe new life into the currently decrepit system; it is just that we have thus far lacked the vision, motivation and political will to drive positive change. A nation’s progression can be measured in terms of its holistic educational system quality and depth. Unfortunately, that is one among many parameters on which India finds itself wanting.

There is an urgent need to revamp the entire system in a phased manner. No longer can we afford to “compartmentalise learning”. The need for standardisation to ensure greater uniformity and consistency in the quality of education imparted is also critical. Mushrooming private educational institutes across the country do not guarantee a concurrent rise in the standard of education. The accent must be on equipping students with marketable skills rather than on purely theoretical knowledge that contributes precious little in an increasingly competitive and contracting job market. Will this latest glaring report awaken our policy makers from their voluntarily induced reverie? The optimist in me sincerely hopes that is the case. However, the realist leans on the edge of trepidation and resignation.


By Lata Jha:

Dear Mr. Shah Rukh Khan,

I want to begin by saying that I’ve loved you for as long as I can remember. And I shall continue to, always. You’re as much a part of my childhood and my growing years as the friends I made, the school I went to, the books I read, and the music I heard. Like the sights, sounds and smells of home, I’ve carried with me your performances, dialogues and unmistakable charm. You’re inexplicably dear to me. You’re the only guy whose posters I ever put up in my room. And you shall always be the only one. I’m told I smile like a retard each time I see you. And I’m not surprised. In a world that threatens to make it only tougher for me progressively, I have tended to seek a lot of joy in you.

I don’t hero-worship you. I look out for you like I would, for friends or family. I’m anxious when you falter, and ecstatic when you rise. As fandom studies would show, we’re a strange country. We love our celebrities like no one else. We bring them out of screens into our homes and hearts. This is why I know I’m not the only one who feels that for me and a lot of people belonging to generations even other than mine, you’re a part of our lives and dreams. We grew up watching and loving you. We hate to see you get hurt. We love it when you fight back and even more, when you emerge victorious.


There might be other competent actors and better films. But for Shah Rukh Khan loyalists, he matters much more than the quality of his work. So we try and make peace with a Don 2 and even a Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Because though we have our reservations about the films, there’s no denying that you make the entire movie experience worth while by just being there. By making it the event of the year for us, something we look forward to, irrespective of the frills.

What we cannot take is, have you embrace and endorse the frills and fear that we might be losing you. A Chennai Express hurts us. We don’t just hate to see your sensibilities get encumbered under mindless gibberish masquerading as comedy. What makes us really upset, is to see you stoop to this level. It’s like you’re trying to prove a point. All our lives, we’ve seen you as this effortless charmer. Why this sudden attempt to be cool and funny? You always were cool. You never had to try. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is one of the coolest takes we have seen on romance. Because it’s genuine and heartfelt. It’s not trying to be a classic. It’s this ordinary, simple film that we love to death.

Your latest release, on the other hand, is just the opposite. It’s not funny. It really isn’t. Not one moment in the film made me laugh. And I don’t say it was something I regret wasting my time, energy and money on. I’ll do anything to be able to watch you once a year. It’s something I look forward to.

But of late, with Ra.One, Don 2 and the newest monstrosity, I don’t feel I’m watching you at all. You’re just out there to prove a point. And which, despite what you say, is not to entertain your audiences. The point is to make more money than anybody else. The point is to be the biggest star and belt out the biggest hit, the most popular film of the year. And if slapstick, moronic comedies seem like the flavour of the season, so be it. I’ll get on to the bandwagon ( read train) too. Life was so much better when you were just an entertainer. Now of course, you’re this superstar who has to walk around with the weight of his stardom. He just has to be better than everybody else. And in doing so, he ceases to be himself.

By trying your hand at everything from mindless comedy to science fiction, it’s like you’re trying to tell us that you’ve moved so well with the times that you can give the people who rule these genres a run for their money when you dabble with them.

You don’t have to. Trust me, you’re the best. When we say we’d love to see you experiment, we don’t mean you should get into spaces that don’t deserve you only to prove a point. Swades is about being experimental, Chennai Express is just about being arrogant, overconfident and irrational.

It’s okay when other actors ask us to leave our brains behind when we go watch their ‘massy’ films. We never expected them to sweep us off our feet. We do expect you to. And we always shall.

In anticipation,
A face in the crowd.

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