I used the same roads everyday. I stopped at the same red lights everyday. I saw the same transgenders begging for food and money everyday. And I looked the other way, just as I was taught to do, everyday.
Except the day I didn’t.
Always gazing through the glass window between me and the transgenders on the street, a thousand questions would run through my mind. I would wonder why these young, healthy, active individuals were begging on the streets when they could just as easily be doing something productive – something more suited to their abilities.
So one day, impulsively, I decided to get my answers. I rolled down the car window and handed a fifty rupee note to one of them. She gave me blessings and before she moved on to the next car to carry on with the same task, I quickly asked ‘Why don’t you work instead?’. She just sort of mock-laughed and gave me a look that answered all my questions.
As my driver sped the car away (he was afraid of ‘such people’), I thought to myself about all the superstitions and taboos regarding the transgender community that exist in our society. Even though now our Supreme Court has legally recognized the transgender community, and has called upon the government for their equal treatment, discrimination against the transgender people is ingrained in people’s minds. They are economically and socially marginalised. They are not even treated as humans. This is precisely the reason why a majority of them end up on the streets, reduced to the status of beggars, and are forced to earn their living working as entertainers or prostitutes. A community of three million people in India isn’t even given a fighting chance to live a dignified life.
Transgenders suffer social ostracization. It’s an issue we create and the one that we can, together, fight against. Our society needs to know that trangenders aren’t people to be afraid of, or people to be looked down upon. Therefore, inspired by the Palestinian scarves that were born at a time of national conflict, I created a scarf to raise awareness about the issue of gender discrimination in India. The words on my scarf represent the 58 named genders that fall on the gender spectrum. Every person who wears this scarf highlights this cause of gender based discrimination, and promotes the ideal that all 58 genders should be allowed to exist with equal dignity and have the freedom to express themselves in any way they please.
My scarf stresses the need for all genders to be granted basic human rights – dignity and equality. I’ve sold 450 of these scarves in my hometown – Delhi, and the transgender hub of our nation, Calcutta, with the aim of making people aware, and helping them move past the regressive notions they hold which ultimately lead to gender based discrimination.
Aditya is a computer science graduate from IIT Delhi. He worked as a consultant for few years, but soon quit his corporate life to start an NGO – People for Parity (PfP). As described on its website, PfP “works to curb gender based violence in India, via engaging youth to create deep understanding and action on gender violence in their lives and communities and engaging institutions like the police, school and university authorities, and others for effective prevention of gender-based violence”.
While working on various ways to make our society equally safe for all genders, PfP came up with the idea of a smart-phone based app that could help police rescue citizens, by dynamically tracking their locations (when in danger).
To rope in the police was anything but an easy task! Shashank Yaduvanshi and Ravikant Bhargava, also from IIT Delhi, added on to Aditya’s idea and developed the app (called Pukar), within a few months. But thereafter, the PfP team had to struggle for one full year before getting their first breakthrough with any police department. Credit for their first breakthrough goes to Arushi Mittal, another batch mate of Aditya, who is also his colleague at PfP.
By the time they had their app ready, a lot of other distress apps had already been launched, especially after the infamous Nirbhaya bus gang-rape in Delhi. But most of them only helped in sending out distress SMSs to one’s friends / relatives. Almost no one considered bringing the police in the loop. And very few considered live tracking of the sender’s whereabouts using the existing GPS feature of the smartphones. The few that did were not free!
This short documentary is the story of Aditya and his friends from IIT Delhi; how they almost gave up on the Police but how they finally did achieve their goal of convincing them about the value that such an app brings, not only to them, but also to the citizens in general. Pukar’s journey has just begun and let us wish them all the very best in their noble mission.
This is a fictional conversation influenced by reality that I feel the need to mention at the beginning of this article for reasons that shall follow soon; also, this is not just a conversation, it’s the very mindset of most of the ‘let’s be the change makers but first let me buy some weed and add my wonderful photography skills to my wonderful CV this instant’ youth community that I’m a part of, that I wish to highlight.
Before I begin ranting and yapping about all things wrong with our young adults’ current mindsets, I must state that I do not hate this community and am of the opinion that this community has all the potential to become better than the aforementioned group of people. Yes, I am saying all this because I belong to the same community and you can’t live your life hating yourself or warding off the sense of belonging that you’re supposed to have forged with the society.
Also, I’m pro marijuana and believe that photography is actually a difficult skill to master.
But this is not remotely close to what I want to bring forward in this article; this article is for all those people who have an itching sense of rebellion brewing in their minds combined with an innate need to bring about justice, but are being veiled by people who say “There are a million things wrong with this world, you can’t fight for everything. Why don’t you simply, for your own joy, see the good in things sometimes and stay happy?”. What is further annoying is that these very people also have the same sense of rebellion brewing in their minds, but have become complacent and comfortable around injustices and inequalities and have been living in their bubbles for so long now that their bubble is now a concrete room of forced lies subjugated by the more “experienced” members of the community.
It seems like this is a right moment to mention that despite all these variants in our opinions and cognitive processes, we have youth fuelled campaigns like Hysteria by Eye Art Collective, Pukaar by Artist At Work, Kiss of Love by the ‘let’s be the change makers’ community of Kerala, all working for causes such as feminism, raising money for the estranged of natural disasters like the 2013 Uttarakhand flash floods and recently occurred Kashmir floods, and acceptance of public display of love by prejudiced and experienced members of our country.
Um, so you want to say that …
Yes, I want to do something exciting. Really Exciting!
It’s sad and funny to see that some parts of our community consider members of the LGBT community, sex workers and tribals as “exciting” while a few others say “Well, even my life is not perfect. Do I cry about that on the streets while holding banners?”.
I’m tempted to mention here that despite the aforementioned campaigns, we still have a part of our ‘youth community’ who think that feminism is about sword fighting with men while burning bras in the background, and LGBTQ is a community which can be exploited for comic relief while making commercial student films. Oh, is someone going to protest against PDA on the streets? I’m in.
It hurts to live alongside such distinct groups of people, all claiming to be intellectual and educated and opinionated, and it hurts further more when these very people start to symbolise the ‘let’s be the change makers’ community.
To clarify why it hurts so much, I must mention the incident where one of my friend’s friend posted a comment on the beautiful social networking site Facebook saying “Why do housewives need to wear shorts in public? They can do so in front of their husbands in the privacy of their bedrooms!”. He is a journalism student at the Mumbai University.
I realise that this sounds very derogatory and downplays those who don’t seem to possess such emotional quotient towards social welfare, but that’s exactly what I want to say – get on the streets and fight for your rights, your desires, and your passion. Get up and get on their nerves. Do something beyond sitting at your posh cafes with free wifi. Do something beyond going to music festivals and getting wasted. Do something beyond existing. Live.
*Disclaimer – posh cafes with free wifi and music festivals are my secret go-to places.
I must add, you and I cannot generalise the entire youth and call them a bunch of hypocrites fighting for a lost cause about whether Lana Del Ray’s lyrics being anti-feminism should be considered an artist’s freedom for expression or another reason for us to get on the streets holding banners.
Possibly, that’s why we’re a better community of people and need to be told that more often.
Okay, go for animal rights. It might excite you to know that PETA is doing a nude photo-shoot for their current cover to spread awareness about the wellbeing of snakes.
Are you kidding me!
No, I’m serious.
That was rhetoric.
Personally, I think doing nude photo-shoots for animal rights is like feeding cerelac to a patient suffering from HIV-AIDS.
On a related note, believing that somebody who considers members of the LGBT community, sex workers and tribal people “exciting”, and gets high when told of a nude photo-shoot for animal rights would not know what ‘rhetoric’ means is implying what I’ve just asked you to not imply.
We’re not that easy to generalise and we all like ‘exciting’ internships.
Connoisseurs of food, tears and drama, rejoice! MasterChef India, the colourful desi cousin of the hit competitive-cooking reality show featuring the world’s largest assortment of cooks, will be back on TV soon. And this time, the show isn’t just desi, but absolute, immaculate, ‘shuddh’ desi. For the uninitiated, that reads ‘pure vegetarian’.
Promoters of the show expect this announcement to prematurely well-up the eyes of the gastronomically downtrodden and oppressed – the hardcore vegetarian cooks of the country who have been bidding their time, waiting for their justice to be served in those glittering plates.
Ordinarily, an announcement of such gravity would be rightfully greeted with a grunt and a gentle shrug, but not this time. This time, it has cooked up a spicy debate. India happens to be one of the only places in the world where you can whip up communal tension by merely discussing food. And vegetarianism sits right at the altar when it comes to controversial culinary subjects.
For a little perspective, the last time vegetarianism was in the news, it was when the HRD ministry decided to support the noble and completely pointless exercise of re-organizing IIT and IIM canteens, by providing separate spaces for vegetarian and non-vegetarian food, thereby helping preserve the sanctity of the holy vegetarians, who apparently are the true practitioners of ‘Indian culture’. Obviously, the move attracted widespread scorn and frustration, with accusers pointing fingers at the Modi government for endorsing such discriminatory practices. What has that got to do with MasterChef? As I said – perspective.
A decision as ground-breaking as this is normally dictated by either of two the factors: the market, or the stake-holder. Here is a smattering of statistics: According to the Hindu-CNN-IBN State of the nation survey taken in 2006, more than 60% of our population is non-vegetarian. The number is bound to have increased now, given that today, India is the fourth fastest growing market for chicken, and the seventh fastest for fish in the world, with number of consumers rising by the day. In the history of its run, only 20% of all dishes portrayed in the MasterChef shows have been vegetarian. Invariably, all winning dishes have been meat-based. With such overwhelming arguments against a totally vegetarian cooking show, the only comprehensible reason for this decision would be the interest of the sponsors.
According to the Economic Times, “Executives, who spoke on the condition they not be identified, said at least one sponsor was ‘in favour’ of a MasterChef that keeps non-vegetarian food out.” There are two big-ticket sponsors for the show, and both happen to be Gujarat-based, one of which, Amul, has been with the show since its inception.
The other, a very recent entrant, is a joint venture between a Singapore based company named Wilmer International Ltd., and our very own Adani group. The Adanis, if you have been listening to at least every third word uttered by Mr. Arvind Kejriwal, are known for their cosy relationship with our PM. Yes. In a country where every business is also everybody else’s business, one can rest assured that wherever there are dots to be connected, they will be connected.
An un-nameable Adani executive has further gone on to share such wisdom to the world about how they were “always in favour of bringing down the non-veg content in the show and have been in talks with the channel for a while now” and that the Adani Group has conducted mythical studies that show “customers moving towards healthy, nutritious alternatives to fat-heavy meat products.”
Take a moment for that to sink in. MasterChef India is looking to endorse vegetarianism because apparently, meat and fish don’t have adequate nutritional value. The world is moving towards a low-cholesterol diet, and MasterChef India will champion the movement, sporting vegetarian food because cholesterol is a purely meat-related concept. Perhaps we should be thinking of raw, natural, oil-free vegetable dishes when they say vegetarian. One can’t help but wonder about the magic it would do to their TRP ratings, because evidently, who wouldn’t love to watch a TV show about people making salads.
The reason that vegetarianism is such a delicate issue is that it is most extensively practiced among India’s upper castes. Modi’s stand on the issue is a common knowledge. He has done an effective job of linking vegetarianism with the Indian identity, when in reality, it signifies only a small proportion, mostly consisting of ‘privileged’ Indians.
Maybe we are reading too much into this potentially suicidal vegetarian obsession of the show-runners, or maybe we aren’t and this is a conscious attempt to impose vegetarianism on the masses. We can only guess. But if it is the latter, well, one can only say that a television reality show is a funny place to start.
Recently, everybody’s favourite late night talk show host/journalist John Oliver asked a question - “How is Ayn Rand still a thing?”. Turns out, that is a pretty scintillating question. Why are we still obsessed with a woman who professed selfishness, greed and a stone cold rational approach to life? A woman who loved the rich and dissed on the poor? A woman who regarded religious people as nuts? The present pope recently said that “he believes in angels”. We should be discussing that awesome topic. It should be a global concern if there are people dressed in white flying around messing with our lives. But we are still concerned about what that evil woman said. Maybe what she said wasn’t evil. Maybe what she said makes sense if you try and understand it. Also, maybe we are still obsessed about it because it rings true to our nature as human beings. The maybes were just there to ease you into the fact that I agree with Rand’s philosophy. She wasn’t evil. Maybe a bit strong worded about her thoughts. But not evil.
There are three different ways in which you can react if you read her books on Objectivism (that’s what she called her philosophy). One is ‘Meh…too many words..can’t focus for this long’. Or your second reaction might be ‘What kind of satanic evil is she professing!?’. Probably because it will directly hit against everything that has been taught to you about your role in this world since you were born. Your third reaction, if you really get what she means and give it a deep deep thought will most probably be ‘F*ck me, that made too much sense’. Being from India, where one can hear the chants of socialism and theism around every corner, the book made a bigger impact on me. A country where individual life is almost worthless, where mob mentality takes over basic reason, where billions are spent over imaginary beings is a country where even a whiff of Objectivism smells like fresh baked cookies. In a country of a billion people, creating your individual identity is tough. Since the time you are born, you are categorised based on religion, caste, community, politics and whatnot. Trying to force your way out of these dogmas is nearly impossible when everyone around you follows the same way of life. Freeing the mind, letting it form it’s own thoughts, making it capable enough to ask questions about everything is a difficult task. Not even our education system is equipped to open a child’s mind to the vast possibilities of thoughts and ideas. Even an inquisitive mind needs a proper nudge. A nudge that opens up the mind to other possibilities. And Atlas Shrugged was my nudge. It wasn’t just the philosophy that effected me. It was just the basic simple idea of letting go of previously held thoughts. That was a big load off my head. Just bringing your mind into that phase where it is ready to accept new ideas as long as they make sense is a pretty great feat. Some prefer to remain shackled for life to the ideas they were taught.
Back to the evil woman. Whenever I hear Ayn Rand being talked about by someone who read about her on wikipedia or in an article, it’s mostly the same half baked judgements based on what their minds could decipher. Rand never had the patience to reason with the people who rejected and disagreed with her philosophy. Because these people had given up reason long ago and just thrived on raw human emotions. These people created their moral rules based on what they felt and believed was right and wrong, usually disregarding even a shred of reason in that process. What I am trying to achieve here is to build an interest about Ayn Rand’s work. She has been masked in a series of sensational criticism by people who couldn’t understand her work. Here, I am trying to unmask those false pretences as simply as possible. To understand her ideas more, you will have to just pick up one of her books.
Objectivism has always been associated with narcissism. And that’s wrong. Egoism is the correct term. Both are completely different in nature. But most importantly, objectivism is associated with a man’s ability to reason. The most important characteristic that makes us different from animals. Look at the world around you. Every tiny achievement came from this ability, and objectivism uses that as it’s central idea. The conscious use of reason and logic to make decisions disregarding any emotions, faith, or forced ideas to reach a conclusion. No matter how cold this approach looks, decisions based on emotions have always been whimsical in nature. They have no basis or sense. And that is a frightening approach and in no ways a virtue. Some fine folks say – go with what the heart tells you. Tell them that is a similar approach used by a terrorist with a bomb attached to his body.
Another idea of Objectivism that people can’t seem to digest is the whole “be selfish” approach. That’s understandable. We have been told that altruism and selflessness is a good thing since we were pooping in our diapers. Hearing something completely different from that rock solid moral code will obviously be rejected by the mind. But you will be surprised that a selfish approach makes a lot more sense than any selfless one. The reason is pretty simple – pursuit of happiness. Every person wants to be happy. We wake up every morning to achieve things that would make us happy. It’s in the innate nature of man to pursue happiness. Making selfish decisions that would make us happy is something we do on a daily basis, and it’s in no way wrong. A person’s own well being and related happiness is of the highest moral value and therefore it is necessary to make selfish decisions in our own favour. Being selfish is often confused with being greedy and in-compassionate, and this is one of the greatest dogmas of Objectivism. Even when we help a fellow being out of compassion, we are being selfish. If helping someone gives us a feeling of joy, that is our selfish motive. You might say that you have done a selfless deed, but that would be untrue. There is always a selfish motive behind whatever we do and it’s not immoral as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. Whenever you help someone learn to observe your selfish motive in it; whether you are showing-off (in the case of most charities and donations) or just basking in the happiness of helping someone, there is always a selfish motive. Like Joey said to Phoebe in an episode in Friends - “There are no selfless deeds”, and that dude was right on spot. All those deeds are only moral if they don’t require you to sacrifice your happiness. Donate if you have the luxury, the time, and you appreciate the values associated with that charity. The funny thing about altruism or self sacrifice is that you will see a lot of people preaching it, but won’t find any person practicing it in it’s pure form. And if you do find one, you will see that he is miserable and has no clue why. After all, altruism is suppose to get him closer to God and make him happy. But the only thing true about altruism is that it’s unnatural. Man isn’t here to sacrifice himself for his fellow beings selflessly.
Moving on to a more well-debated topic- that of God. Any philosophy that holds reason and logic in esteem rejects the idea of God as a mystical being created by man, and Objectivism is one of them. Objectivism doesn’t harp on belief, faith or any mystical thoughts and for a very simple reason – it has no reasonable or logical backing or proof. I won’t dig much into this topic right now. I will leave this part by only mentioning one thing – God (any one of those ‘supreme’ beings) has the same probability of existence as superman. Maybe there is an answer to how and why we were created. But we haven’t found it yet. So, my God as a three-legged unicorn running through space shitting stars is as true as your God. The difference is I can’t find more followers. Maybe, and I am just throwing it out to you, maybe it’s better if we don’t kill each other over fictional stories created just to scare us. If your religion is the only thing keeping you moral than you have a deep deep problem and you should be locked up. Our morality is not handed to us in a book by God. We created and developed it through reason throughout the centuries of our existence. And we still continue to do so.
Finally, moving on to the economic and political view point of Objectivism, which is Capitalism. Again a pretty hated system by people who never understood Capitalism. It does in no way favour the rich and disregard the poor. Capitalism is not designed for that. It is designed to help the more competitive and talented individuals grow. The laissez-faire capitalism doesn’t allow any state interference and favours, unlike Socialism. Pure and free competition dictates this system and that is achieved only through private means of production. In simple words, no one can force any other person in any way and violate his rights. State and economics are separated in this system, and they should be. Any Government involvement in any business simply throws away the competitive factor and leads to corruption. Corruption’s basic cause is unreasonable power to the Government in areas where it has no right to be in. Do that and corruption will automatically follow, no matter how intrinsically moral a society is. “Capitalism demands the best of every man—his rationality—and rewards him accordingly. It leaves every man free to choose the work he likes, to specialise in it, to trade his product for the products of others, and to go as far on the road of achievement as his ability and ambition will carry him”. Socialism, on the other hand, seeks to achieve anything for “the common good”. In Socialism, everyone is rewarded equally, disregarding individual talent and competition. Think about it. Once you remove the factor of competition, the whole system falls. Talented individuals won’t work with positive motivation when they are rewarded equally to their untalented peers. In Socialism, the needy is rewarded rather than the talented, and that system can in no way be moral.
I think I pretty much chalked out why Ayn Rand is still a thing, and I suppose she will continue to be a thing. Whether she is appreciated or misunderstood, her ideas continue to test the tides of time.
It was just another day in the life of my ‘Others’ folder on Facebook:
1. When this guy just wouldn’t let up:
2. Or the one who just came to the point:
3. Or when this one was way too confident:
4. When this person questioned my beliefs:
5. And when I met the guy who loved pulling legs:
6. Then this guy questioned my capabilities:
7. He wanted me to pop the question because I wasn’t that bad:
8. And then the notification light wouldn’t stop blinking:
9. Things then stopped being funny:
10. They were not funny at all:
However, this is not just another curation of the kinds of creepy messages women receive on Facebook on a daily basis. Let us try and reverse the scenario. I would request the men reading this article to imagine themselves in the situation mentioned below:
You come back home after a long day at work and decide to spend some time on Facebook. You are scrolling through your notifications and inbox and are curious to know what your ‘other’ folder contains. You chance upon messages sent by females you have never known or met; messages from girls whose Facebook profiles say that they have attended the “University of Swag”, work at “None of your business” and live in “Your heart”. Girls who are clad in aviators in their profile pictures; pictures that invariably have deep captions about life and the importance of having a boy in that life. Girls who have full faith in the power of fonts that take you back to the propaganda posters of the Russian Revolution. Women who believe that the internet is a place where strong and true friendships are made and consider Facebook and Shaadi.com to be synonymous.
These messages are from women who love you for your eyes and desire to get lost in the expanse of your shiny and perfectly set hair. They are from girls who compare you with Greek Gods reeking of masculinity. They are from those who pen down ballads for you, odes that could put Anu Malik to shame. Some of these females merely want to be decent acquaintances because you fascinate them while some are slightly more direct and are enthralled by the size of that thing you are hiding in your pants.
Now think of how you are conditioned to believe that you will receive messages from a plethora of random women on the internet because that’s how they are and it’s your responsibility to not make yourself conspicuous and attract attention. That you are expected to put up modest pictures of yourself on your Facebook profile and learn to avoid having a conversation with these strangers who approach you. With this thought, you decide to conveniently ignore the messages you receive but they just keep coming like a tidal wave.
Now how would you feel if the same girl contacts you through other social media outlets or creates multiple profiles to talk to you after you have blocked her from Facebook? Or if she calls you an arrogant little dog for not responding to the hundred messages that she sent you because she thought of you as an attractive man. That you have been extremely disrespectful by ignoring her compliments and that you are playing too hard to get. That men like you deserve to be shamed.
And then, how would you feel when you complain about the fact that these messages are disturbing you and get scoffed at for the same. When people tell you things like “It’s just the internet. You are supposed to take these things lightly”. When you are accused of bringing this upon yourself. That it’s nothing but your fault. Or better still, “Come on. Girls will be girls”
Disclaimer:The author is well aware of the fact that men do face a good amount of harassment on the internet. But it is also a well-known fact that such instances are few.
There is this giant courtyard in my village where many families have lived for more than 200 years, together, in their separate rooms. My paternal lineage also started in one of those tiny, congested rooms.
The courtyard was beaming with beauty that afternoon. The ground was mopped with fresh cow muck and marigold garlands were nicely wrapped over the bamboo pillars of the mandap (pavilion) which was standing right in the centre of the courtyard. Inside the mandap, five of my distant young cousins (whom I had perhaps never seen before) were being indoctrinated by their father and a group of pundits. It was their ‘Upanayan Sanskar’- the thread ceremony. It is a very sacred ritual here, which many Hindu boys must go through. The father or the guardian confers the sacraments of his family and the society onto his boy child. (I could never understand why a girl never went through a thread ceremony.)
A thread ceremony is considered to be the ‘second birth’ for a Brahmin child and he is called a ‘Dwija’ (born twice) after this day; he is not only born in flesh and bone but also in intellect from now on. Anyways, so inside the courtyard, this beautiful, sacred, age old ritual was taking place. Other than the father of the children who were being threaded and the pundits, only ladies were allowed there. My grandmother told me to go out as well, with the ‘men’.
So there I was, sitting beneath the giant tarpaulin on the outer verandah. Around 100 plastic chairs were set up and all the men, from the age of 5 to 85 had gathered there.
Generally, orchestras are organized for the entertainment of the guests as these ceremonies are kind of monotonous and long. Women are never bored though (sarcasm alert). As half an hour passed, the singers of the holy hymns disappeared and a girl clad in a skimpy outfit came on the stage. She gyrated for a while on a cheap Bhojpuri song and looking around, I could see grandpas with no teeth relishing the show as much as toddlers whose milk teeth were yet to come out. Everyone else was there too. After one entertainer, came another, in even skimpier attire and whistles were heard. The orchestra master screamed her name on the microphone and ran into the crowd to collect tips for her.
I felt disgusted and bored after a while and went inside the courtyard where the women were busy with the thread ceremony. It was a different sight altogether.
I went in and showed my disgust to my relatives. One of my aunts looked at me in shock. She then giggled and told me to go out and enjoy as that is what “real men” do. Then she told an anecdote about how her father-in-law would keep one dancer on his thigh and made the other one dance for him. While I was coming back, I heard her asking my mom, “What is wrong with your son?”
Soon, the thread ceremony was over, the five boys, now bald and semi nude in their dhotis, were sent out “to feast” (to eat food, I guess).
Last I remember of them was when I saw them sitting around their fathers on one of those plastic red chairs in the veranda as the orchestra master announced, “Here comes another gem, talented, sexy, the heartthrob! Vaisaaaaaaaaaaaali!” Everyone around me roared to her name.
Later I saw the Punditjee (priest) who had orchestrated the entire ceremony, coming to occupy one of those red chairs, beside the baruas (ceremonial kids).
The “sacred sacraments” were passed fruitfully by their father onto them. These kids would go on to become “the future of this country”, the “men”, men who would “respect” women and protect the legacy of their great country.
And we wonder what is wrong with our country? *sigh*
This article delineates my own experiences of three years as a student in St. Stephen’s College and as a female hosteller in the college’s ‘residence’. It consists of four sections that collectively present a narrative of rules surrounding girls’ blocks and the student movement in 2013 questioning these rules. Like all narratives, this is a personal one and reflects observations and inferences that might not be shared by others.
The rules regarding the girls’ hostels at St Stephen’s College will sound pretty familiar to anyone who has studied in Delhi University (and any other institution of higher education, with a few honourable exceptions). I shall proceed to list them out, as they now stand:
Female hostellers are required to be inside their blocks by ten o’clock at which time they are physically locked in. Entering after ten o’clock results in severe rebuke and a visit to the principal’s office, after which they may take any disciplinary action as they see fit.
Girls are permitted to take six days of ‘night-outs’ in a month, and the permission process involves getting a letter from one’s local guardian (if one is visiting the local guardian). If one is not visiting the local guardian – and instead, say, staying over at a friend’s house – one has to get a letter from one’s parent stating the address and giving permission. This letter is scrutinized by both warden and dean and has to be submitted three days in advance.
To highlight the extent of the ridiculousness, such permission letters have to be given even when a girl leaves college for the holidays (a letter from her parents that she is ostensibly returning home). In fact, even after finishing my BA and leaving Stephen’s, I had to give such a letter.
Taking night-outs on weekdays is discouraged: one is asked the ‘reason’ why one is taking the night-out, if it is advisable to miss classes, et cetera et cetera. Needless to say, as boys have to hand in none of these letters, no such questions are asked of them should they choose to absent themselves at night.
To summarise, female hostellers are subjected to an entirely different regime than their male counterparts – definitely more cumbersome and burdensome, and to some at least, deeply frustrating, humiliating, and demoralizing. Accounting for cultural and ideological differences and respecting the non-homogenous views of my fellow female hostellers, I can only say that I found it to be a disturbing loss of my own autonomy. I also found a gaping contradiction in my own life as a student, where, on the one hand, I could be as radical as I wanted and discuss feminism and neoliberalism in the classroom, but could not be trusted to make decisions about my own safety.
Broadly, one could say that it was these concerns of lack of autonomy for female students as well as unequal access to public spaces that prompted a movement in the student body from March to June in 2013.
Discrimination was appearing in more and more blatant ways – girls were being asked as to where they were going, and why they were going there. Girls who were going home and were being picked up were asked to meet the warden with their male escorts so she could verify that it was indeed their ‘brother or father’. Parents had to send text confirmations to the wardens. These demands made of the female hostellers were entirely arbitrary, unbacked by formal rules, but with the clear support of the administration and the principal. One was told that disobeying would lead to drastic consequences and questioning was not encouraged. Beyond the rhetoric of ‘safety’ and ‘decency’ (so odd to find a discourse eerily similar to the morality of the RSS in a Christian minority institution!), no answers were given.
And a group of students took it upon themselves to demand these answers. Nightly meetings were held, class-to-class campaigns conducted and a vast number of pamphlets and other writings disseminated. A sample:
“Are we going to be passive adherents to the new rules that are imposed on us, indifferent bystanders who consider them unacceptable but don’t believe in voicing their opinions? Or are we students who believe that education and learning empower us to understand that this isn’t about our safety but a way of curbing our space and taking away any agency that one may possess?”
Or this (interrogating the discourse of privileges as emphasised by the administration – as in, you are privileged to be part of this college, you are privileged to have a hostel seat, you are privileged to have a microwave in your hostel even though you are locked in):
“The privilege of being under surveillance. The privilege of a pre-decided academic routine for my studies. The privilege of the knowledge that greater freedom is available right outside. The privilege of difference, as between apples and oranges, eggs and stones. The privileges have been far too many. Now for some rights. To set some privileges right.”
Negotiations were held with the student’s union as well to hold a general body meeting (GBM) with the principal on the specific issues of the girls’ blocks.
Apples and oranges, and eggs and stones
In the GBM, many students came prepared with arguments as to how the present system treated girls and boys unequally. We were stunned, however, when the principal cheerfully acknowledged that yes, they were being treated unequally, and of course it had to be that way – girls and boys were as different as ‘apples and oranges’ and ‘eggs and stones’. Reverend Thampu went on to give many more illuminating analogies – of one’s family locking the door at night, of an airplane where the doors were sealed, and so on, in order to explain to the students why locking female students in at ten and subjecting them to a set of rules different than for male hostellers was perfectly justified.
Following the GBM was a complete crackdown by the administration on a scale none of us had anticipated. CCTV surveillance was deployed with a vengeance. Interviews were held for residence seats and every single hosteller had to present themselves to be scrutinized by the principal as to whether they would receive residence or not. Naturally, a number of people were thrown out, many of whom had participated in the movement. The atmosphere took on a kind of sick fear (rather reminiscent of the Nazi regime) – students complained about other students in order to get seats, wardens gave the principal names of girls they didn’t like and – while I joke about this – at that time, everyone was truly terrified. We didn’t know if our parents would be called, if we’d be thrown out of residence, or if we’d be suspended. It was a week before the exams, and we were hunting for flats and PGs to stay.
But what killed the movement even more effectively than administrative retribution was the resentment and anger of fellow students. The campaign of fear and intimidation unleashed by Reverend Thampu radiated well beyond those involved in the movement – it affected the entire student body. Students felt furious about being threatened and harassed for what they saw as a consequence of the movement against discrimination. Even now, talks labelled ‘feminist’, or groups discussing these issues, are treated with no small degree of skepticism/suspicion/derision.
St Stephen’s is a sick place in many ways. I use such a strong phrase deliberately. The metaphor of disease is very useful in describing an institution that practices sexual discrimination with such deep determination. In a context where gender and violence is gaining greater space in discourse, the college administration refuses to pay any sort of attention to issues that both students and teachers raise. It refuses to be self-reflexive. It refuses to acknowledge that patriarchy is a real issue. I have heard statements like: “If the girls’ blocks are open, we’ll have to open a maternity ward” or “feminism is a disease that’s spreading far beyond where it should stay”. A recent development has been that the Gender Sensitization Committee of St Stephen’s College (at one point, it had filed letters to the principal against his comments in the GBM) is disbanded to be replaced by a committee headed by members nominated by the principal.
The other reason it’s a sick place is the administrative regime. Consequences to rule-breaking are arbitrary inviting punishment that depends on the whims and fancies of the principal Reverend Thampu. He does not consult a single person (a case in point is the recent suspension of a student for asking him a question regarding the banning of paper cups – the suspension was handed out on the spot without the boy’s head of the department or professors being consulted).
Ideologies such as those glorifying St Stephen’s are dangerous. It allows the creation of a space that stifles questioning and interrogation of its beloved traditions and customs. It allows a megalomaniac to treat students’ lives and values with complete arbitrariness, simply because everyone is thankful that they’ve gotten in to this hallowed college and wants to leave with a degree. It silences the most marginal voices under the all-prevailing twin discourses of ‘academic excellence’ and ‘quintessential Stephania’.
Of course, the issue of fascist administration is one that is reflected in the university level and after general elections 2014, at the national level as well. The culture of patriarchy is even more diffused and entrenched. Perhaps what enabled this movement (and many others) was the space created by the December 16 protests. What’s happening in my college – and in the university at large – is a whole set of autocratic, violent measures to discipline students and faculty. This will no doubt generate pockets of resistance. It’s important that these become broad-based.
The author is an aluma of St.Stephen’s College and has recently graduated from the college.
Summers in Nagpur tend to be brutal. It’s a city known for its oranges- those, and the summer. And one such summer afternoon, as Arun Ferreira- a social activist since his college days, variously called the “Bandra Naxalite”, and “one of the most important Maoist leaders to have been arrested in recent times,”- waited for his meeting with some other activists at the Nagpur station, some two dozen men grabbed him. They bundled him into a car and took him to the Nagpur Police Gymkhana, where they started doing what they usually do to other suspected Naxals- blindfolding them and torturing them using various innovative methods. In Ferreira’s case, his belt was used to tie his hands, then he was kicked and hit, and his body stretched- which is to say, his arms were tied to a window grill high above the ground and all the while, two policemen stood on his outstretched thighs so as to pin him down on the ground. This, writes Ferreira in his frank and no-holds-bar account of his arrest and subsequent torture at the hands of the Anti-Terror Squad, Colors of the Cage, was to ensure that no external injuries be evident on the body of the tortured. And this was only the beginning for the new addition into the list of all those suspected Maoist leaders supposedly trying to spread propaganda in cities, which, in most cases, later turn out to be innocents.
Ferreira is a St. Xavier’s college alumni, and was known around the college circles as the “khooni cartoonist,” because of the way he promoted the annual blood donation drives- by creating a caricature of the blood donors on the spot and offering it to them as a keepsake. As a firebrand student activist leaning left, Ferreira organized a lot of drives and campaigns, including visits to villages and the places of the unprivileged. The 1993 Mumbai riots evidently shook him up, and he soon joined the Vidyarthi Pragati Sanghatan, a “student organization that aimed to build a democratic, egalitarian society.” Helping several campaigns across the state aimed at development of the poor and the unprivileged, Ferreira was a witness to structural poverty and the cruelty of the state towards them very early in his career. Soon, he turned into a full-time activist. He felt that only helping the poor won’t really prove to be progressive, for the situation they found themselves in never changed- to help the poor question the methods of the state and its wielding of power and organizing and protesting against the denial of justice was what was going to have an effect in the long run. And Ferreira began doing just that.
But things started changing after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Terrorism had a new face, and countries across the world jolted up to the reality- that terror as they perceived it was never going to be the same, and, moreover, it was never going to ignore their state either. One day in the future, 9/11 could repeat in any country, any city around the world- and that country and city might even turn out to be theirs. To them, this was unimaginable, and they started working to curb whatever they perceived to be terror, pressuring the activities of armed forces in Kashmir and North-East. While it may be said without any biased attitude that such kind of forceful penetration into the terrorist hot lands did prove to be of use, since it almost surely evicted the face of separatism from the North-Eastern front and, to a certain extent, proved to be a blow for the separatist activity in Kashmir, it had its own offshoots.
And one such offshoot was the fact that the Indian state and consequently the Indian army began to commit atrocities against those who had nothing to do with the terrorist forces. Under the umbrella of AFSPA, everything, for the army, became legit and justifiable. The security forces no more were the armed gunmen people should be feeling hopeful or secured about- they were no different from the other breed of gunmen going village to village singing songs and shouting salutes. To the villagers who found themselves sandwiched in between, the colour red and the colour green mixed to form a colour of terror and despair. For them it didn’t matter from whose hands they received the beating- in the end, they were the ones who suffered.
In circumstances such as these, when the army had swooped down upon the separatist forces and the Naxal terror, both the Naxals as well as the state trained their sights upon the rapidly developing urban cities of India- cities where hardly anybody seemed to be caring about what goes on in, say Dantewada or Bastar. The aim of the Maoists was to do just the opposite- to make people care about their struggle and make them understand that this was not just another terrorist group fighting on the basis of some religious motive or a separate state. They were trying, by and large, to gain what we in cities receive everyday- food, clothing and a shelter. The state, on the other hand, rightly believed that propaganda spreading to the cities might influence a call for arms, and then that would be an all-out civil war, not the revolution of Maoist belief. To prevent this from happening, the state began cracking upon suspected Naxals, or even Naxal-sympathizers.
And this is where Arun Ferreira and literally countless others like him come into the picture. Social activism was misconceived to be Naxal propaganda even when activists were actually doing nothing of the sort- neither were they producing pamphlets exalting the Maoist ideology nor were they pasting posters of the Party on the walls of the cities. All the activists were fighting for- through the legit mediums of writing in magazines and newspapers and making films among others- was the right of every living citizen of India to have the basic needs of human life provided to them. Their argument was logical and they believed in it, but ended up paying a heavy price.
The state perceived every act of pro-Naxal sentiment, like an article in a magazine, a correspondence or films or documentaries to be all-out exaltation of the Maoist ideology. That is surely not so, because sympathizing with something and acting for it are two different matters altogether. The police and anti-terror squads spread out all over cities, tracking down social and human rights activists and arresting them on mere suspicions, not understanding that the activists are people vying for peace at any cost, and they more often than not discourage the use of violence by the Naxalites but empathize with their cause and struggle.
In times when the literature and books from those imprisoned and then acquitted are being published and their voices heard, it is important for us to ask certain questions and seek answers for them. Ferreira was released in February, after years of mental and physical torture, which he describes poignantly in his prison memoir. A recent biography of Kanu Sanyal’s- one of the first ideologists of the Naxal movement along with Charu Majumdar- seeks to understand him as a man removed from the violence and grappling with his ideas. The revolutionary radical Naxal poet Lal Singh Dil’s memoir, The Poet of Revolution, translated- wonderfully, I should add, by Nirupama Dutt- last year, speaks of his torture at the hands of the local police and even more so, he writes, because of his lower caste status. The memoir, coupled with other such books and biographies, including the journalist Rahul Pandita’s wonderful Hello Bastar and his extensive reportage from the Naxal zones, has, to a larger extent, revealed to the general public another face of the Red Terror.
And the fight must go on to seek justice for those who are innocent- and there are many to be included along with Ferreira. The case of Soni Sori, who was a teacher teaching tribal students in the dangerous area of Dantewada, highlights the fact that those who try to balance the insurgency and counter-insurgency are always the first ones to be targeted as Maoist sympathizers. So is the case with Sheetal Sathe and her Kabir Kala Manch, a band of singers, poets and musicians formed in Pune after the Gujarat riots, seeking to profess protest poetry against class inequality within the Indian society and the Dalit struggle. The members of the Manch felt threatened in 2011 when the ATS began cracking down upon musicians and poets whom they felt were exalting the Maoist ideology. Although Sathe and her husband went underground, they surrendered to the police two years later, in 2013, all the while maintaining their innocence. The case lags on.
Binayak Sen, Prashant Rahi, Ferreira and Hem Mishra are only a few names in the recent arrests and torture of cultural activists, who are, at their best, trying to make a difference. Indeed, it cannot be denied that some actually turn out to be related to the radical Maoist movement, and their acts should be prosecuted, but torturing them while in prison still remains unconstitutional. The intolerance of the state towards those who dare to raise the concerns of underprivileged is shocking, not to mention sad and tragic. It should be understood that social and cultural activism is not a form of revolt but that of peaceful dissent, and repressing these voices is nothing but a shame to democracy. Writing about the movement and caring about those affected by both the insurgency and the counter-insurgency is in no way exalting any ideology- except, maybe, the ideology of human rights and a peaceful living.
Manmohan Singh, in 2010, called the Naxal movement “biggest threat to India’s internal security,” and an act of “internal terror.” The violence that the Naxals have produced throughout the decades it has been active should, indeed, be severely condemned, there’s no two-way about it. But accusing those who try to understand their problems and provide a solution to them of being ideologists or “couriers” is ridiculous, and dangerous, for this useless clampdown on innocents serves no purpose except to increase the dissent. The question these arrests and the question, consequently, the recently released books by those arrested raise is a vital one: whose internal terror is it anyway?
When Sheikh Abdullah and his wife Waheed Jahan Begum had started the Women’s College of Aligarh Muslim University, back in 1906, they wouldn’t have imagined that the same university will be accused of gender bias 108 years later. What had started out as a high school was converted into a fully fledged college in order to encourage women’s participation in higher studies. Over time, it has established itself as one of the pioneer institutes of India with a wonderful reputation, until now.
When the new students’ union of the Women’s College appealed to the Vice Chancellor for the inclusion of women in the central library, the VC rejected it by saying they would attract “four times more boys” leading to the problem of space. In another statement, he added that the problem of eve teasing is also a threat to the security of the female students. The principal of the college added fuel to fire by objecting against girl’s access to the library which she says could lead to discipline crisis. Furthermore, in a television discussion on the topic, a professor from AMU was reported quoting “cultural constraints” as the reason for the exclusion.
I want to start a conversation about ‘culture’, a word that has come to be associated ominously with almost every argument in India; the notion that it carries an essential quality that defines what Indian society is. I mean how many times have we heard this – using ‘culture’ as a defense for justifying unequal treatment? Our level of tolerance has gone down and so has their ability to come up with better excuses. I want to study how the word has in the present times come to normalize an idea of Indian society.
Let me first start with the gender issue:
Our ‘culture’ has normalized the idea of ‘boys can’t control themselves, so let’s lock the girls in’ as a solution to the problem of eve teasing. Going by this logic, women should just stop stepping out of their houses because some rowdy men cannot respect women. The suggestion then seems to be that women should have to adjust themselves to the situation because ‘prevention is better than cure’. Indeed the cure, which would ideally be discouraging impudence on the part of those rowdy men, is itself missing from the discourse. Why do we always come up with some warped notion of what one should and shouldn’t do, instead of facing the real issue head on?
Moreover, the VC’s statement reinforces absurd gender stereotypes of women as seducers and men as sexual predators. It is ridiculous to suggest that the solution to the problem of eve teasing is by compromising on the freedom of women. If it is the security that concerns them then it is the responsibility of the institute to ensure that the students feel safe on campus, instead of preaching lessons on moral correctness.
Differential treatment, even if done with the best of intentions, is not the answer to the problem; in fact it only makes one party feel inferior to the other party. Denying women access to the library is also a form of the same systematic oppression that denies education to women.
As if that wasn’t enough, the media didn’t fall short of bringing in the politics of hate into the discourse. What ensued was a protest march by the students of the Women’s college accusing the media of using a defamatory campaign against the institution. What was supposed to be an administrative issue in addition to outlandish remarks running along the lines of sexism, it now also included the prejudices that feed the flames of communalism. The students accused the media of biased reporting, and a gross abuse of their power. As the students echoed the idea of ‘daughters can’t be against their fathers’ (father would be the VC in this case), and as the media reprimanded the university for its regressive tactics. the situation became the perfect ground for prejudices to be reinforced.
Now, let’s talk about how dangerous such a mad use of language can be:
It didn’t take long before certain antagonistic sections of the society ran the issue along the lines of religion. I myself came across many hateful speeches in the comment section of various news articles. They were harsh and ruthless – using an issue for provocative statements meant to stigmatize a group. Evidently, as a result of the kind of discussions that took place in the sensationalism driven media, the students had taken upon themselves to show the world why we should refrain from derailing from the main issue. Indeed, while the rest of us were focusing on critiquing gender biased statements, all of us steered clear of touching this sensitive topic.
In India, it is very easy for a small issue to turn into a raging controversy regarding religion and culture. It is our responsibility to monitor the issue at hand and prioritize on how to handle it. In my opinion, all of us are at fault here. The VC for his careless remarks regarding gender, the media for its devious ways of making News and the rest of us for letting this issue slip into that deep dark hole where there is only hate and despair. Prejudices only hurt and restrict. On the offset, there are two things that we can do – deal with the issue at hand and find out the way to solve it, or let it slip into something vain and inane that could only make the matter worse. Using the concept of ‘culture’ to force diktat is always going to lead to the latter. So, let us stop preaching to each other what ‘Indian culture’ is. It is a dynamic concept that evolves with time; it is never a relic of the past, especially not a retrograde past.
The Supreme Court last week asked the Cine Costume Make-up Artists and Hair Dressers Association (CCMAA) to allow female make-up artists in the film industry. It’s a practice that for the past 59 years, has restricted women to hairstyling jobs. What’s even worse, they have had to work in the background, share their credits and salary with men (who don’t do the work) because of this clause in the Association’s Constitution.
This marks a sort of half-victory for petitioner Charu Khurana, who fought a year-long legal battle and went through over five years of professional struggle. When I spoke to her, she still hadn’t received a membership to the union, which is a pre-requisite to work on films and she confided that there was a deep resentment in the union regarding the decision. So much so that she went to file her application after the order, with police protection.
My first reaction to the judgment was one of bewilderment – the fact that women were not allowed to work as make-up artists seems to defy logic, and social convention. How do you even separate blush and lipstick from us? It was bizarre.
When speaking to Charu, another realization hit me hard. “Have you ever seen women hairstylists anywhere around some of the biggest stars of our country?” she asked me. I hadn’t even noticed.
So I looked around me. What were the women doing? Handling boutiques, working in banks, and so many other things. Yet, men far outnumbered them – from the closest nariyal paaniwala to drivers of public transport, in shops and bars, in films and behind the scenes too.
I was reminded of my childhood – I loved a game called Mechanix – a construction game for kids complete with tiny spanners and nuts and bolts. Yet I can’t recall thinking about engineering seriously. Educationally, we have moved forward from that era. In USA, women make for only 12 per cent of engineers and only 6.3 per cent of engineering managers are women. Are we focusing too much on academics, less on its application then?
There is no need for a Rise of The Planet of the Women where we barge into every male bastion just to prove a point, but what is it that keeps women in the background? Is it society? It’s probably that we haven’t even thought of the possibilities of certain occupations. I decided to look this up. And there they were, the women pioneers who are slowly but surely making their way into what are considered to be essentially ‘male’ professions, a glance:
Mechanics – How many of us have ever fixed a car or even a leaking faucet? Meet Shanti Devi, who started out as a tea-stall owner and expanded, along with her husband into repairs. For about a decade now, she has been a truck mechanic. Yes, trucks. On the Delhi route, where they had their tea-stall, it seemed a logical step forward. And her story is a fine example of how common sense and hardwork defy odds, that no ‘rural’ tag can stop you from doing anything you want or must.
Take another case – that of Savita Kabirdas, from Choti Madhaiyan fondly called “Mechanic Sir” in her village. She has the responsibility of repairing hand-pumps. That’s not all. The Washington Post did a story on her 10 years back in 2004! For a social environment where women bring water from the pumps, how convenient it is that they know how to fix it? Kabirdas and her team are among 45 illiterate lower-caste women in the district who were trained 10 years ago in pump repair.
The impact is multi-fold. Not only do women set an example but also in times of crisis such as a broken water pump, people forget caste prejudices. This social impact indeed, is as important as the gender impact.
On a side note – have you ever met a female plumber?
Public transport – “Bhaiya, insert place chaloge?” As a resident of Mumbai, buses, rickshaws and taxis are my home. I fear to travel late hours by these modes and even so, have never questioned why women never drove them (not even after Bachchna Ae Haseeno).
In March 2014, 341 woman auto drivers received permits to drive autos. Yet, one hardly sees them on Mumbai roads. Even before that, Anita Kudtarkar, from Vasai, became the first female rickshaw driver in 2010, braving many odds, including questioning attitudes by her co-drivers. 50 others were trained with her a decade ago. None hit the roads.
It isn’t always a pleasant experience to break the patriarchal pattern of things. Ask Yogita Raghuvanshi, who, in 2013 set heads turning (few with an approving glance) as she steered a truck carrying 16-tonnes of potatoes into the APMC market at Vashi in 2013, amid catcalls and much booing. It was her determination to be unaffected that finally won others to her cause.
Fire-fighters – Globally, women have been fire-fighters for a long time. It wasn’t until 2003 that India got its first woman in the team of men ‘who serve to save’ – a motto that inspired Meenakshi Vijayakumar. She joined the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Service in 2003 as a Divisional Officer, after a gruelling six-month training session. In 2012, Mumbai (Wadala Fire Station) inducted five women fire-fighters, because there had been complaints by victims that they didn’t feel comfortable being rescued by men. Other states have followed with baby steps. Without women themselves participating and coming ahead, they will never be anything more.
Bouncers – Let’s shift our focus to the happy hours of modern life – bars. Big burly men, towering over everyone, clad in all black, have achieved symbolic status. Refusing to let this stereotype stop her from earning her living, Sunita became a bouncer in 2008. Women in bars do not paint a pretty picture but things changed eventually, she said to BBC in 2013.
This trend is increasing, especially on occasions like the New Year when extra hands are needed. Chandigarh, Punjab, Delhi are all seeing women bouncers, especially given the security concern in the NCR.
Bartenders – We can’t leave them behind can we? This is probably the coolest of jobs and one where urban India finally finds a voice – women from leading metros have taken up bartending as a profession. Aided by (yet another) landmark judgment of the Supreme Court in 2007 that changed a law that barred women from tending bars in the NCR, today they are less rare than before.
Collete Pereira, one of the first women to take up the profession had said in an interview, “It is interesting to see how mainstream media usually portrays bartenders, even in the West – take Moe from The Simpsons or Nick Miller from New Girl”
Combat – In January 2013, the U.S military ended its policy excluding women from combat jobs and opened direct combat units to female troops.
In India, since 1992 women have been a part of the army, but not on the frontlines. In August 2014, IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha hinted at the possibility – of women in combat. The CRPF, for the first time, has deployed women paramilitary troops to fight the Naxals in Jharkhand and Chattisgarh – makes sense, given that women constitute nearly 50 percent of the Maoist forces. This however, is an exception.
Train Drivers – Eleven years ago, Surekha Yadav became Asia’s first female passenger train driver in Mumbai and since then 50 others have followed. She was also responsible for the inclusion of for-women-only trains, having been witness to harassment, personally driving the Lady’s Special into Victoria Terminus for inauguration.
These women are examples that if you think big enough, the obstacles won’t seem too big to conquer – without reservations, that too.
Engineers, chiropractors, detectives, investigating officers, pilots, – why, pan shop owners, brewers, butchers, driving instructors, F1 racer –anything you want, you can be.
The core of feminism is to give women an opportunity, yet if we continue to have blocked minds and narrow visions about the size of the actual playing field, it won’t be enough. We have degrees, we demand for equal pay, we demand to wear what we want, we ask the boys to help at home, we speak against violence and we stand up to every challenge life throws at us. Now, it is time to think about whether we are truly looking at the big picture. It is time to question what we see, the dominating presence or absence of males and/or females. Not because we are rebels, but because equality is still a little farther down the road, and we want to reach it quicker.
Every 4 minutes, 1 person dies in a road accident in India.
Every day, 380 people die in road accidents in India.
More than 10 lakh people have died in road accidents in the last 10 years.
These, are just a few figures from a multitude of statistics; numbers which fail to bring forward the pain of those who have suffered. The stories of real people behind the statistics are almost always forgotten. This video, shared by SaveLIFE Foundation on World Remembrance Day, gives a glimpse of heart breaking human stories behind these numbers.
The inspiration to shoot this video came from our Street Production ‘Chidiya Ki Kahaani’ which we performed the whole of this year. The play was about ‘Patriarchy’, what does it mean in Modern India, how patriarchy has changed its form and ideologies over the years and how it still exists in our mindsets making things taboo in the Indian Society. We shot this video recently in BITS Pliani’s annual fest Oasis. It was fun shooting the video and hearing responses of girls. What was was equally surprising and amusing were the responses of guys on this topic.
Picture this: Railway station, one in the afternoon. A suburb of Mumbai. Girl rushing to a birthday party, realises she doesn’t have the balance on her “Smart Card” to get a ticket. Gets a ticket, then, seeing as she’s going to be late anyway, stands in line to recharge the damn plastic rectangle. There are only two people in line, she reasons. She’ll just catch whatever train.
A man stands behind her, a couple just behind him.
Here’s where things get weird.
The man behind her stands really, really, really close. Keeps bumping into the girl. Girl says ‘Excuse me, please don’t touch,’ in three different languages (who knows who speaks what language in polyglot Mumbai), moves twice or thrice herself. Finally, she pushes him with her elbow.
Then the couple notice something is very wrong. For one, the guy’s fly is open. For another, he’s intent on grinding up against the girl. For a third, the girl is clearly trying to avoid him.
The guy in the couple (let’s call him A) grabs hold of the man (let’s call him Umbridge) and the girl of the couple (B) grabs me and drags me to the RPF on the nearest platform. The RPF officer comes with us and we reach the spot just as the crowd starts laying on the attacker.
We take Umbridge to the railway station chowki to find that we can’t register a complaint here. We go to the main police station in town.
(By then, the birthday party was pretty much just a distant daydream.)
A and B come with me in one auto, Umbridge and one male and one female cop in another. We reach the station (no, the police didn’t pay for the auto). The guy starts whining and cringing, forgive me, I didn’t do anything, first time I did this… no juice.
We take him inside, to the front office, there’s a lady cop waiting for us. She takes down my name and details, and asks me if I want to file a complaint. A and B are willing to sign along, but then she cautions us in Marathi – don’t file if you don’t intend to chase it. The guy will simply get off on bail otherwise, and you won’t be able to do anything about it.
Practical advice. We reconsider. But I’m angry and upset. I want to see him punished. I say so to her. Her face literally brightens. She says, come with me.
She takes Umbridge and we follow, to an upstairs room which looks like a large common room. Some odds and ends of furniture (a wooden bench, a few plastic chairs, a shelf, two Godrej cupboards and some hooks on the wall) are there, as well as a doorway into another room, where we can see some cops drinking chai. The room has a small window. No curtains, but it has some very aesthetically pleasing bars.
She calls in a male officer, asks him – where’s the belt? He looks confused. A and B are standing behind me, looking worried. The male officer then says, never mind. Let’s start.
Apparently, the whole station knows about my case. Bizarre.
The officer starts slapping Umbridge, hard. On both sides of his face, on his back. He then moves on to kicking him and saying, ladki ko aisa karta hai? The guy has the guts to say, ghar pe maa hai, maaf kar do. This enrages the male cop more. He kicks the guy in the groin a few times – when Umbridge finally bursts into tears.
We go back to the front office, where they now take down his details. Finally, the unfindable belt is found, and we go back up – now they make him kneel, hands in the air, and start hitting him on his palms. After every few strikes, the policewoman asks him to slap his hands on the concrete floor.
A and B, who’ve been anxiously following this entire process, now look utterly shell-shocked. Umbridge’s face is bright red and sweaty, while both the police officers are looking hard and self-satisfied. And I? I feel nothing. I’m just watching them hit this man.
After a bit, they start hitting the soles of his feet. Again, after every few strikes, they make him jump up and down, as hard as he can. Umbridge by now keeps trying to retreat into any corner he can find. The room seems danker, and for some reason, I feel brutal and guilty – is it indeed because of me that this man is being beaten?
This goes on for some more time. By the end of it, the man is sweating profusely, and crying – weeping is a better word – his face is red, his nose is running and his hands are shaky. He can’t stand up, but they make him do it anyway and we troop back into the front office.
Finally, I file an FIR – though the offense is entered as “Public Nuisance”. Molestation isn’t entered on to the record. A and B also agree, no point in pushing it. It’s also obvious that the cops aren’t keeping on the paperwork, all that a formal complaint entails.
The sad puddle of snot and tears is still sitting on the floor in the room. We leave.
No one ever tells a girl what to feel after something like this happens to her. No one helps very much. One friend says oh sh*t then changes the topic. Another has selective memory apparently and doesn’t remember an hour later.
But I can’t bloody forget!
I’m depressed, upset, tired. My mother and my best friend dragged me out, took me for dinner. I went for a movie the next day. The same image pops into my mind. A balding, middle aged man, wearing a tee shirt and jeans, standing in line behind me at the station.
I keep feeling I could have avoided it. Why did I need to put money on my card anyway? I already had a ticket.
Is this survivor’s guilt? I don’t think so. I think this is a result of how I’ve been conditioned to think of myself since I was a kid – with confidence, but also in a shrinking manner. Oh, me? No, not a big deal, really. Don’t trouble yourself.
And I also keep wondering, was it me? My clothes? My demeanour? But what me? I was wearing a full sleeved tee shirt, dark pants and floaters which I’d bought with my mum at Bata. Comfortable. I simply wore them because I had a train ride ahead and wanted to nap. And what demeanour? I was standing in a line, damn it. Is there any provocative way to stand in line? I’d love to know.
Too often, people play games to blame the victim when something like this happens. It was her fault. Her clothes, the way she looks, the way she stood. The way she behaved or the fact that she drank. Or the time she was out. Tell me, does this apply to me? And what should I do, then?
And regardless of whether it was my fault or not, I still feel guilty. I feel like I’ve vindicated all the old women who told me, in whose faces I’ve always laughed, that young girls shouldn’t travel by local alone. I’d asked, and why shouldn’t I? Now I know, don’t I? They’re crowing in my head now. Smirking, saying, I told you so.
Violence against women in India is only increasing. There’s even a Wikipedia page dedicated to it, which gives us some startling statistics: the number of reported rapes has gone from 21,467 in 2008 to 24,923 in 2012. Modesty related offences (Assault with Intent to Insult Modesty and Insult to Modesty) have gone from 52627 in 2008 to 54524 in 2012, and so on.
And these are only the reported offences. As is well known, a large proportion of incidents against women in India go unreported.
You know what I thought, after looking up these statistics?
I’m glad I was only molested.
What I feel whenever another sensational rape case is reported in the news?
Thank heavens it wasn’t someone I know, or heaven forbid, me.
May God smite me for saying that! I’m sure it’s ridiculous to express an interest in God right now, but who knows? A lot of these people, the attackers and the attacked, need Him or Her right now. I am literally counting my losses. As if sexual offences tally up in the balance sheet at the end of the day.
India is facing an epidemic of attacks on women, young and old. Women, the beautiful, are being attacked by men. Beauty, at what price?
15 women dead after an assembly-line series of operations in a sterilization camp in India’s Chhattisgarh state. Spurious drugs with traces of rat poison, from a dubious pharmaceutical company that didn’t have its licence cancelled in spite of having a record of manufacturing sub-standard drugs. Horrific conditions of hygiene, and callous unconcern for the niceties of informed consent from the women. Sterilization as the favoured method of contraception. And a policy of ‘population control’ by the Indian State and international funding agencies – disguised as a concern for women’s reproductive health. The entire story raises the spectre of concentration camps and Goebbelsian eugenics.
‘Development’ and ‘Clean India’?
The massacre in Bilaspur is a grim reality check on the model of ‘development’ of which India’s governments and ruling parties have been boasting.
An advertisement by the Chhattisgarh Government (ruled by the BJP that is also in power at the Centre) recently boasted of the forest cover and mineral wealth that the State could offer investors. The unspoken truth is that the forests and minerals are being grabbed from the adivasis (indigenous people) by force. But more importantly, who is that model of ‘development’ benefiting, if the state’s poor are condemned to receive no healthcare, except what is made available in ‘camps’ from time to time? This camp-based healthcare has taken a grim toll before. In 2012, nearly 7000 women were subjected to forced operations to remove uteruses, in Chhattisgarh’s private hospitals within a period of 30 months. The private hospitals had done the operations to profit from the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (National Health Insurance Scheme) package money. Between 2011-2013, around 100 people lost their eyesight due to botched up cataract operations in an eye camp the same state.
During the ‘Clean India’ campaign flagged off by the Prime Minister recently, many MPs, MLAs and bureaucrats got themselves photographed holding new brooms. The sheer hypocrisy and superficiality of the campaign is underlined by the contrast with the conditions in which the women were operated upon in Chhattisgarh: operations taking place on floors, filthy surroundings, and dirty drugs to boot.
The Chhattisgarh Government is desperately trying to insulate itself from responsibility for the mass deaths, restricting liability to the doctor who performed the operations and the drug company that manufactured the spurious drugs.
But this doctor is the same one that the Chhattisgarh Government awarded a medal on Republic Day, for performing a “record number” of 1,00,000 laparoscopic sterilizations in his career. How can the Government that was thus encouraging doctors to set records for numbers of sterilization surgeries, wash its hands off responsibility for the massacre that resulted from the same urge to break records?
The fact is, that the state policy of setting targets for ‘population control’ has led to the race to perform operations in an assembly-line manner, in ‘camps’, and this had led to botched surgeries in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh before – and now the massacre in Bilaspur.
The Human Rights Watch in a report published in 2012 established that target-based sterilizations, pursued by the Indian Government, are coercive and endanger women’s safety. They quoted ASHA and anganwadi workers saying that they and doctors are under pressure from Governments to “meet targets”. The report observed that “Two years after the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, India announced that it would take a “target-free” approach to family planning. Since then, the Indian government has stopped setting centralized targets. But in practice, state-level authorities and district health officials assign targets for health workers for every contraceptive method, including female sterilization. In much of the country, authorities aggressively pursue targets, especially for female sterilization, by threatening health workers with salary cuts or dismissals.”
How can the Health Minister, whose house is a few kilometres away from the spot where the sterilization massacre took place, possibly keep his job after this horror? He claims to be unaware of the target-driven surgeries, filthy conditions of the camps, and procurement of drugs from a company with a record of sub-standard drugs. Wasn’t it his job to know? Surely he should lose his job for his very lack of awareness of these facts?
A BJP spokesperson, responding to the allegation of target-driven sterilizations in India and Chhattisgarh, responded by claiming that the sterilizations are in fact, ‘demand-driven’.
This is a deliberate obfuscation of facts.
The truth is that women demand contraception. Why is sterilization offered by the State as the first option for contraception? A piece in the Guardian quotes an HRLN lawyer who met the affected women in Bilaspur, “Only three of 15 women (spoken to) had heard of any other form of contraception,” and quotes one of the women saying, “This was the only way to stop more children from coming.” So, if women are not informed of other forms of contraception and not told that in fact, sterilization is the most invasive method, there was no informed consent.
The women demand contraception. But the State, and international funding agencies, are clearly not concerned with offering contraception to women. They are interested in regulating women’s wombs, so as to ‘control population’. Sterilization takes the decision out of the hands of women, permanently. And this suits the ‘population control’ agenda of the State much more effectively than other forms of contraception that women, and couples, can start and stop at will.
The Indian State and the funding agencies may tell each other the convenient lie that ‘target-driven population control’ has been given up in favour of ‘demand-driven contraception’ and ‘women’s reproductive control’. But the fact remains that women will continue to be herded up and cut up in sterilization camps, unless there is an urgent reversal of the very notion of ‘population control’.
‘Population control’ and ‘family planning’ policies promoting contraception are not viewed by the Indian Government and international funding agencies in the framework of women’s rights and control over their bodies and reproductive rights. Rather, the policies are framed as a way to control ‘overpopulation’ in India and other similar countries.
The very question of ‘overpopulation’ is a racist one, of Malthusian origin. The premise is that unchecked ‘overpopulation’ is responsible for poverty, and for climate change. And this is a lie. Poverty is due to skewed distribution of resources – whereby a tiny fraction of the world’s richest people and countries control and hog the world’s resources. And climate change happens due to the way in which this tiny minority ravages those resources and the earth for the sake of profit. Blaming the ‘teeming millions’ of poor people and poor countries is a deliberate, racist myth.
But shouldn’t a poor country like India worry about exploding population? Well, in the first place, we need to ask, why is India poor? Isn’t it because it was colonized by England?! Now, how can the same England turn around and tell Indian women that they need to produce fewer children in order to end India’s poverty?! And inside India too, people are poor not because they have too many babies but because they have too little access to land and other resources! Our resources are grabbed – not by the millions of poor people – but by the tiny slice of richest corporations!
Adivasis and State Control
There is one issue that especially disturbs me. There have been several news reports that among the women who died in the sterilization massacre was a woman from the Baiga tribe. Papers reported that the tribe was exempted from ‘population control’ measures. The truth is more complicated.
The Down to Earth reported in November 2012 that “During the Emergency period when the Indian government had initiated forced sterilisation to control population, five primitive tribes in Chhattisgarh were left out because they were having very few children. The reason for their dwindling numbers–acute poverty and lack of health facilities–was ignored”. But in 2012, the government again began extending family planning facilities to these tribes, including the Baigas.
Another story recounts how Primitive Tribal Groups (PTGs) in Chattisgarh, India, struggle to provide for their families and were forced to lie about their identity to overcome the restriction on family planning owing to a three decade old order of the Madhya Pradesh government that restricted PTGs from being targeted during the family planning drives of the time. So, the adivasis themselves, are considered incapable of deciding if they need contraception or not! They are infantilized, just as all women are, and the decision is taken by the State!
Meanwhile, government representatives on TV channels have spoken blithely about how certain states and regions are “high fertility” and therefore “high focus” for population control.
What these stories bring home, for me, is the casual way in which we in India accept that the State can decree which states, regions or communities are “high” or “low” fertility; which need to be denied access to contraception, and which need to be subjected to mass sterilization drives!
This is a very far cry from contraception being an individual woman’s decision. Women, in this scheme of things, are mere wombs – and the State decides which wombs must be harvested and which neutered.
The decision to bear a child or to avail of contraception cannot be one that anyone other than the would-be mother must make. For the State to decree that abortion is illegal (as some US states still do); for the State to decide that abortion must be illegal because the ‘population rate is too low’ (as the Soviet Union did under Stalin); for the State to decree that a woman can only be allowed to bear one child (as the State in China does) because the ‘population rate is too high’ – these are all instances of unconscionable control of the State over women’s bodies.
We in India have to tell our Government to put a firm end to the framework of ‘population control’. Governments simply cannot be allowed to regulate and control women’s bodies. If they do, there is little we can do to prevent horrors like Bilaspur from recurring. And the horror doesn’t lie in the deaths alone. The horror lies in the reality of poor women denied the informed choice and access to safe contraception – and instead at the mercy of a system that incentivises sterilization.
The ways in which incentives are offered is especially shocking. A newspaper reported last year that touts in Madhya Pradesh are offering a Nano car for anyone who brings 500 patients (male and female) for sterilization; a fridge for 50 and a 10gm gold coin for 25! In Rajasthan in 2011 (then ruled by the Congress), health officials themselves endorsed such incentives, approving offers by a local charitable trust of “a car, motorcycles and television sets to men and women who volunteer for sterilisation”.
Literally, our so-called ‘family planning programme’ has become a head-hunting game, where touts herding people into sterilization camps can get some quick cash and commodities.
Funding Agencies – The Hidden Hand
The British Government’s DFID, USAID and the Bill Gates Foundation are some of the agencies that are rendering India’s poor women at risk in the name of ‘family planning’. But these agencies and the Governments that back them, have learned to speak a more politically correct language. For instance, British MP and DFID Minister Stephen O’Brien, speaking on behalf of the British Government on World Population Day 2011, said “the Coalition Government does not support programmes that coerce individuals and couples to have fewer children. Population control, in the sense of government edicts and targets on fertility levels, has no ethical place in contemporary rights based development policy making.” Instead, he claimed his Government was only interested in promoting women’s control over their bodies and right to choice. But the truth is quite different.
The DFID has funded ‘population control’ in India – and is thus implicated in the mass sterilization deaths that took place in several states. Not only that, DFID has promoted contraceptive implants that have been proven to be unsafe for women. As Kalpana Wilson writes, “DFID (is involved in a joint operation) with Merck to promote the long-lasting implant Implanon to ‘14.5 million of the poorest women’ by 2015’. Implanon was discontinued in the UK in 2010 because trained medical personnel were finding it too difficult to insert correctly, and there were fears about its safety. As well as a series of debilitating side-effects, the implant was reported as ‘disappearing’ inside women’s bodies. Merck has introduced a new version Nexplanon, which, although almost identical in other ways, is detectable by X-ray, but have been allowed to continue to sell their existing stocks of Implanon.”
Similarly, the Gates Foundation was involved in a clinical trial of the HPV vaccine against cervical cancer in India in 2009, (that) falsely claimed to be a ‘post-licensure observational study’, for which 23,000 girls aged 9-15 from impoverished communities were selected and requirements for parental consent were bypassed. The trial was suspended following the deaths of seven adivasi girls aged between 9 and 15. A government enquiry found that the process of obtaining consent amounted to ‘covert inducement and indirect coercion’, and expressed concerns over a ‘hidden agenda’ to push the expensive vaccinations manufactured by Glaxo Smith Kline and Merck Sharp and Dohme into India’s Universal Immunisation Programme.
Earlier, other contraceptive implants like Net-En (Depo-Provera) have been promoted in India, that had widespread side effects on women’s reproductive health and safety.
We must of course demand action against Chhattisgarh’s Health Minister. But the matter cannot end there. We must demand a moratorium on the Indian Government’s policy of sterilization as a form of family planning, and a review of the whole ‘family planning/population control’ framework. Instead, we must demand an expansion of women’s access, through informed choice, of a range of safe methods of contraception, with non-invasive methods being promoted instead of surgery. Indian women must not be seen as ‘wombs’ needing to be controlled by Indian Government and imperialist funding agencies. Indian women and Indian children are not the cause of their own or the world’s poverty and destruction of the environment – that responsibility lies with the world’s corporations and the rapacious capitalism that promotes profit over people and environment. Target-based sterilizations – as well as other invasive forms of contraception, should be recognized as a form of violence against women that can no longer be tolerated, in any overt or covert way. Instead of viewing women’s reproduction as a ‘problem’, the policy thrust should be to enhance the rights of women – over their bodies, but also over resources and environment. For this, corporate control over bodies, resources and environment must be dismantled and resisted!
(Kavita Krishnan is Secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association and tweets at@kavita_krishnan)
Ever since I spoke on TV about the AMU library issue, students from a variety of other institutions (ranging from Delhi to Guwahati to Hyderabad to Allahabad) have reached out to me about gender bias and moral policing on their campuses. These students have spoken about how those who have raised their voice have been victimised and so they are in fear to speak out openly. And yes, what is a common feature is the logic given to justify all the double standards for women students - ‘….. is an unsafe city/town, we are in your parents’ place, we can’t allow girls to take risks since we’re answerable to your parents, if you raise these issues you are maligning/betraying the institution.”
Isn’t it alarming that barring a handful of rare exceptions (less than a handful really), all higher educational institutions in our country seem to insist on treating adult women students as ‘wards’, infantilising them? Is it not unfortunate that instead of offering a welcome break from the regime of surveillance they experience at home, these institutions take on the mantle of surveillance and restrictions in the name of safety – reproducing and replacing the ‘family’ institution?
What happened in Lucknow University on 15th November – where an ABVP mob could act as censor and effectively impose a ban on a public meeting that I was addressing, declaring that ‘we wont let her speak on OUR campus’ – shows that the patriarchal discourse of ‘honour’ spreads from family and community to educational institution as well, threatening violence against those who ‘betray’ this ‘code of honour’ and mobilising the campus to rise up in defence of this ‘honour’. The space for women to speak freely about their grievances or assert their rights, effectively shrinks, in the face of this aggressive display of ‘honour’.
This report observes that most campuses do not have properly functional gender sensitization and anti-sexual harassment mechanisms. It also observed that it the Open Forums organised by it, “Several speakers stressed that locking the women up was not the answer; the custodial responsibility was to make university spaces safe enough for them to live with a sense of freedom and equality. There were protests about early hostel hours where women students had to be “in” by 6 pm; hostel terraces were locked at 6.30 or not open at all; transport between the main campus and undergraduate hostels stopped at 7pm, and in some universities did not exist at all.”
The report also said that in the Open Forums, “Students and faculty in minority institutions were particularly vocal about the need not to compromise on issues pertaining to gender equality on campuses. While respect for diversity is necessary, every encouragement must be provided to minority students to express their experiences of harassment or discrimination in an atmosphere of safety and conﬁdentiality. The procedures and guidelines to handle complaints must be seen to be adhered to.”
The report also observed, “The university was a living space as well as a work space. It was a place where it should be possible to think further about equality, to take risks, to experiment, to learn about how not just to tolerate but to live well with others who are different— socially, economically, in terms of religion, race, sexual orientation or ability. Students felt that the university should help women transition from the protected atmosphere of the home, into a real life situation where she had to be independent. They felt the university did not take the women students seriously enough. Notices for lectures rarely reached women’s hostels; they were not encouraged to go on educational trips or speak up at lectures or in class. Many stressed excessive moral policing, and insistence on dress codes was echoed by several students.”
Here’s more from the report, “Concern for the safety of all women, but particularly young women students should not lead to discriminatory rules for women in the hostels. The attitude to women’s safety in hostels often infantilizes these adult women and does not empower them to learn to strategize about their own safety. Most importantly the focus would have to shift to ensuring a safe environment around the hostel and campus. An urgent issue to address is safety for all women on campuses who want to sit in the library till late or in the science departments to do experiments. Proper lighting and shuttle buses that take students to the hostel or the nearest bus stop are necessary. The mentality of “policing” as a panacea for deep prejudice only spawns alternative forms of violence and subjugation.”
While the students and faculty members spoke to the Task Force about their frustration that ‘security’ resulted in moral policing and gender discrimination rather than gender sensitisation and action against sexual harassment, the authorities appeared to be in denial.
One of the questions in the questionnaire posed by the Task Force to the authorities who ran campuses was “what measures existed to ensure that women students have equal access to campus facilities such as the library, laboratories or any campus event at all times.”
The answer from those who ran educational institutions was disappointing: “This question did not elicit any interesting responses – women’s colleges said that it did not apply to them, and co-educational institutions declared that they were equal access institutions overall. A few mentioned that they had separate facilities such as common room for girls, or separate stair cases even. Others mentioned efforts such as giving women ‘priority’ space in the library or promoting sports events for women. It was the following more focused question on whether differential timings for male and female hostel residents to return to their respective hostels (including night outs) that provided some indication of differential policies and rules in place that are quite widespread. Once again women’s colleges (and of course those institutions that did not offer accommodation to women students) said the question did not apply to them. Among the rest (about 800 institutions) 349 (or 44%) admitted that they had differential timings, often amounting to at least one hour or more in the evenings. Further details included having to give notice well in advance to a warden or proctor for staying out. A few said that they applied strict timings to both male and female students equally.”
Alarmingly, several of the institutions also recommended moral policing as the answer to sexual harassment. Asked by the Task Force about any suggestions they might have to improve the situation in relation to cases of sexual harassment, “about 3.5 per cent suggested self-defence classes for women students, 5.3 per cent women/gender studies classes, and 19.5 per cent awareness programmes. Among other suggestions (totally 21.5%) the predominant ones were security and surveillance related, including raising boundary walls, more security, installing CCTV cameras and such like. Still others called for proper dress codes for women, self-monitoring among students. Even more problematic was the suggestion from a few that parents or guardians needed to be brought into the picture and should be the ﬁrst to be informed about any problem on campus.”
It was students in the Open Forums who protested vociferously against differential rules, differential timings, and differential access (as quoted early on in this article).
Clearly the concerns that emerged in AMU are by no means peculiar to AMU or to institutions with a ‘minority’ character. Is the media pursuing AMU with a zeal it does not show for other institutions? Is it interested in painting the whole thing as a problem of ‘minority’ institutions (and therefore minority/Muslim communities) alone? In my opinion, yes. And this does not help the women students of AMU in any way.
When beleaguered as a community and isolated as an institution, women in institutions like AMU are, rightly, wary and suspicious of being ‘used’ (by media, by the HRD Ministry of a BJP Government, and so on) to target the community and institution. Therefore, we see a zealous show of loyalty on their part. Ironically, the same institution that normally prevents undergraduate woman scholars from participating in marches on campus, allows them to participate in a march where they can declare the VC to be their father! The inevitable result is that the women students’ own voice finds it more difficult to articulate itself in a way that is not appropriated either by a right wing agenda or by the paternalistic institution.
AMU’s undergraduate woman students need to know that in fact, their articulation of their demand for access to the best library on their campus, has inspired students of other campuses to relate to them, and to raise demands on their own campuses.
Instead of allowing the media to frame the debate as ‘gender-biased AMU vs the righteous rest’, students of various educational institutions should themselves pursue the recommendations of the UGC Task Force. This would include demands to ensure functional committees against sexual harassment and for gender sensitization, and an identification of all the differential rules and regulations (such as hostel timings) and absence of infrastructure (such as adequate hostels, transport) that make women’s experience of campus life less rich and less free and more insecure than that of men. It would be ideal if the AMUSU and the women’s students’ union in AMU (that have, by all accounts, taken a reasonable and sensible approach and have condemned the VC’s sexist response to the women undergraduates’ demand), could take a lead in forging this discussion across campuses. Media institutions, if they are indeed not interested merely in singling out AMU, should also do stories from private and government-run campuses in every state, enquiring from students and faculty if the recommendations of the UGC Task Force Report have been implemented.
You can read the entire text of the UGC Task Force report here. I hope that students in campuses all over the country read this report, and reach out to each other in solidarity to take the discussion forward.
For women, persuading parents to send them ‘far away’ to study is hard enough. This is why many women students have to think many times before raising their voice against sexual harassment and gender discrimination openly. If they do so, they fear that their parents will recoil in fear, and discontinue their education in the institution of their choice. It is the duty of institutions to ensure that women students can raise their voice with their privacy intact – to complain about sexual harassment, and also to challenge and change discriminatory rules and regulations. If women are locked up in hostels, if they’re restricted from enjoying access to the city/town they live in, to films and public meetings and protest marches – they end up learning less. Their experience of higher education ends up being less rich than that enjoyed by men. Telling them they have to put up with discrimination in the name of their safety, is an insidious form of victim-blaming for the sexual harassment they face all too often. In every institution, they are protesting against the double standards. Let’s reach out to them, and tell institutions to treat women students as adult women, to do their duty to create an atmosphere on all campuses that repels discrimination and sexual harassment and promotes equality.
(Kavita Krishnan is Secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association and tweets at @kavita_krishnan)
Every second child in India is a victim of sexual abuse, and this is not just a figure of speech. Official statistics* state that more than 53% children in India are exposed to some form of sexual abuse and most of them never report it to a parent or a guardian. Yet, we as a nation remain surprisingly tight-lipped over the subject.
A comment from a fellow activist prompted me to write this blog. She observed that our “sanskars” prevent Indian parents from having an open dialogue with their children. Blasphemous as it may sound, the biggest reason an abuser takes advantage of a child is because his/her parents failed to abuse-proof the child. Which leads to the obvious question — Can we raise abuse-proof, empowered children?
The answer is a resounding YES!
The solution is simpler than you imagine — Educate, Communicate & Empower.
1. Educate yourself on the psyche of a child molester:
The molester could be a man, woman or teenager. Could be single or married, homosexual or heterosexual, most often a friend or family member. Paradoxically, the person causing damage to your child is often someone you trust. Financial and educational background doesn’t matter – this person can be a domestic aid or a corporate executive. (Sometimes the Devil does wear Prada)
Basically, anyone can be a child molester and since there is no way you can identify them on the basis of their appearance, you must understand their psyche.
The molester begins by gaining the trust of your child (and yours too). He/She gets to know their likes and dislikes very well. This person often buys goodies, treats and gifts for your child. He/She tries to get alone time with them. They will go to the extent of touching your child in your presence so the child gets the (wrong) message that it is OK for them to do so in private too.
Molesters are smooth operators who prey on a child’s feeling of guilt, fear or shame. They even go to the extent of manipulating a kid to believe that this is somehow the kid’s fault.
What you can do to avoid this:
2. Communicate With your child:
a) Keep all lines of communication open with your child. If there is lack of communication between parents and children, the Molester takes advantage of the situation to further isolate the child.
b) Teach your child the difference between the ‘good touch’ (like a mother’s hug) and a ‘bad touch’ (anyone touching their private parts).
c) Since you can’t tell who is a molester and who is harmless, discourage people you are not too sure of from seating your child in their lap as a preventive step.
d) Tell your child that it is not OKÂ for anyone to touch their private parts and if someone does so, they must report it to you immediately.
e) Never let anyone crack a dirty joke in your child’s presence.
Signs you must take note of:
– Child remains angry all the time
– Cries a lot or remains depressed
– Tries to avoid being with a certain elder
– Is unusually attached to a certain elder and tries to protect them
– Seems withdrawn and doesn’t communicate
3. Empower your child:
Let your children know that you are there for them no matter what, and mean it. Trust a child when he/she complains to you. It takes a lot of courage for them to speak up and if you take them lightly, they may not approach you again.
Most importantly, if you find out, do raise your voice and confront the molester. Such people are serial offenders and if not confronted, they will find another prey. Public humiliation is the only thing that will stop a molester.
The question remains – will we continue to live in denial or will each one of us find the courage to break social stereotype and have a heart-to-heart talk with our children?
(1098 is a free emergency child helpline number)
*(Ref: 2007 report by UNICEF & Ministry of Child and Women Development)
The section 497 of the Indian Penal Code is patronizing towards women, and like the hypothetical theory of love jihad, relegates them to that of passive recipients of male action. Sex being something that is done to them, rather than performed of their volition. For the reader’s benefit, I would like to quote it verbatim-
“497- Adultery: Whoever has sexual intercourse with a person who is and whom he knows or has reason to believe to be the wife of another man, without the consent or connivance of that man, such sexual intercourse if not amounting to the offence of rape, is guilty of the offence of adultery, and shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or both. In such case the wife shall not be punishable as an abettor.”
Even though it seems to safeguard women, it actually asserts that women are incapable of sexual choices. In the past week, the Kiss of Love protests took place, the Chairperson of the National Commission for Women demanded rights for sex workers (The Hindu, November 10) and Rang Rasiya, stuck in the good offices of our censors for a long time, released. But then a chauvinist VC of a top college supported restriction of women undergraduates to the university library and a Congress MP filed an election nomination with his daughter listed as a liability. Also, a film called In DinoÂ Muzaffarnagar,Â which according to its makers shows Hindu-Muslim harmony in Muzaffarnagar, was not cleared by the censor board apparently because it showed certain politicians in bad light while day after day they clear films with ‘item songs’ which objectify women’s sexuality.
Now that socialism and secularism have been made to bite the dust, there is no business for the ‘so called progressive liberals’, punned Swapan Dasgupta (a right wing journalist who recently replaced ‘sickular’ Ramachandra Guha in a government committee) in a recent newspaper article. We all know that Labor Laws and the Land Acquisition Act will be diluted. With Giriraj Singh installed in the cabinet, Sanjeev Baliyan already there and Amit Shah helming the BJP, the project to silence ‘sickulars’ and teach a lesson to ‘anti-nationalists’ and ‘naxalites’ too will intensify. They will also look to impose their ideas of morality and culture.