Monday, June 25, 2018

After the Ordinance

After those banners, candles, petitions,, rants and slogans,  the slog overs.
What have we in hand? A death penalty. Who will locate the rapist, stand witness for death penalty, for surely the girl will be killed.
Is anyone aware of the volume of studies on death penalties and their actual deterrence value? Especially when murder is cheaper than rape?
What after the Ordinance? Legislation? How?  All those MPs and MLAs are hard boiled politicos, many themselves involved. What would it take to make them vote for a Bill to offer India’s females security?
Did legislation work after Mathura and Nirbhaya.  Read and find out.
Patriarchy has always existed; but from ‘Avuncular’ in the recent past, it has moved  Now to Rabid!
The present lot of ragamuffins and their minders in Parliament will go much beyond That “ cut balonwali” stigmatisation, bolstered by the saffron ladies brigade, to stall any legislation.
Now, if wishes were horses— any those ‘ek Dhaka macro’ brigade were to shift focus from pativrata  to respect at home in their door- to-door rounds, change would come up from grassroots.
So where do we start from? THE HOME!
The Return of the Dadi Nani brigade to inculcate into our boys what we inculcate in our girls:  all those niceties of social interaction, walk, talk and wear.  Make them as fearful of social ire as the fear we instill in our girls.
We celebrate Rakhi when a sister ties a thread and the brother promises protection. Will the boy ‘respect’ only his own sister while sizing up others’ sister? Will he respect his sister after she’s raped?  High time to teach our males that Womanhood does not exist between the legs of a Woman; and show them that respect at home, within the family circle too; ease gender divides by letting them play together whether dolls or Lego….. change the “ ladke rote nahin” to “ladke ro to sakte magar rulate nahin”.
The Return of Naming and Shaming.  But this time of the Rapists, their families and friends, their paanwala, garage wala, parlorwala, everybody.  Some women will be hurt, mother, sister whose engagement may be broken or sent home from sasural for a Rapist Bro…. but it will make that fear of breaking the rules as real for the guys as it is today for the gals.
It’s  the Conditioning that matters— so rewrite the nursery rhymes and school textbooks to start gender equality hardwiring  from the beginning.
Are there any options?


Sunday morning the center page story of a leading paper talked about what could be a modern version of the Scorched Earth policy of yore, when retreating forces would torch villages and fields to deny resources to conquering enemy forces.  So often in our history and so dramatically by the Russians to foil Napoleon.
Until sometime ago, the last villages on our borders were our Defense Forces’  eyes and ears that reported the first signs of intrusion. In the northern areas, having at least one family member in the Forces was a matter of family honor. 
Post retirement, ex servicemen, especially the lower ranks with inadequate pensions would settle in ancestral homes and till the soil for an additional living, keeping a wary eye all round their segment of Uttarakhand’s border with China, thanks to ingrained training.     Now, while State data reveals 37 attempted intrusions between  2006 - 2011, in July 2017 alone, twice!

How has this happened?  Because most of these border villages have seen dramatic migration of populations, leaving anywhere from one to three households left to hold fort against the steady intrusion of forest weeds and brambles and leopards against crumbling empty houses, fallow fields ... remaining residents, inevitably senior citizens attached inextricably to their homes, counting days for as long as they can manage on their own.  And these include the native village of the present Army Chief, in whose village his uncle and aunt are sole residents.

The drastic migration has happened because these villages have witnessed total neglect, instead of succor. No water connections, no power, no roads, no healthcare or education facilities apart from everything else mean that no young person wants to stay here. And as the older generation becomes careworn and ravaged by age related problems, they too choose a less stressed life closer to the towns where simple facilities like water, power, doctors n medical shops are available, and where Internet not only keeps them abreast with the rest of the world, but also with their children, wherever they may be.      
Whatever happened the Border Area Development Programme?  It used to do pioneering work, once upon a time.

Between the Census of 2011 and 2017, 734 villages have emptied totally, 565 are down to half with 28.72% of the state’s population having left the state.  Empty, unsown fields are a sharp contrast to Himachal Pradesh next door, where horticulture, floriculture and off season vegetable production offer stable incomes to rural populaces.

Fallow fields, deserted houses in many of which only the locks are intact and a dwindling border population that is beginning to live up to an  ominous ancient warning heard in my youth almost 50 years ago, about a time when  “kos kos pe diya jalega”. 

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

What about the boys?

Now the Kathua case has been transferred, everyone piously hopes that some semblance of justice,(?) will happen, in how much time, no one can guarantee.
After all that Shor, everyone spoke to females... protect yourself, learn martial arts, carry pepper spray etc, acknowledging that family males cannot protect?
Should women now turn violent, carry acid to throw in their faces or a sharp scissors for a Bobbit? Or what? What about little girls at the hands of family members?
Why is no one thinking of the boys?  Why do they feel the urge to rape ... even babies?
I often wonder: is this a side effect of digital India, with mobiles penetrating where health, education, or even proper roads have not.  So they, the boys have access to PORN... great inspiration!
Add to that the frustration of watching girls snap up top spots in all exams, jobs, laurels, even encroaching into earlier male arenas and making good there, albeit with hard work.
The male encroachment into previously female areas such as nursing, teaching, beauty, fashion, air hostessing has somehow not thrown up role models.
Hence frustration intensified by joblessness.... ending in female deaths rising in a land already suffering from a negative sex ratio.
Who is thinking soberly about these issues?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Pitralok congame

The guys who wrote the Ved Purans must have been a real misogynist lot.
Hey, wait a minute; didn't the Brahmins do all that transcription,
Centuries after their actual creation and oral traditions?
Hmmm Brahmins?        It figures.
Some say, after the release of the soul in cremation,
It goes to Pitralok. 
This enables a forefather to move to his next birth.
Hey!  No instant rebirth?
Anyways, so grandson releases grandfather, and so on.

Now what about the women?
Does grandma also need a grandson?
Does it have to be her son’s son or Beti‘s son will do?
Or a grand beti will do?  Is there any mention?
After all in our times when one son is common,
What happens to Daadima,  Naanima and  Mausima? 
Everyone doesn’t have a son.
Some don't have kids at all.   If no grandkids, toh?
Agar bete ki Beti hai, toh?
Agar Beti ka beta hai toh? Uske Dada ka kya hoga?
If only one child releases grandpa, what about grandma?
Or are women to remain souls floating in ether forever?

Hold on guys. If that happens,
What happens to the guys’ vows of "janam janam ka Saath" For the prescribed saat janams?

How long should we wait for a relook at these Puranic tales 
To spot a clause that  can be interpreted:
It’s ok for a boy to kick off the next birth of one forefather

But each girl will have to kick off at 4-5 of her foremothers 
To make up for the backlog of centuries.

This piece was written in the aftermath of a mental churning and research on Hindu last rites after attending the funeral of my elder sister who died a spinster.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Ladders Against the Sky by Murli Melwani

A Review by Kusum Choppra

The title of Murli Melwani’s collection of short stories should have been “Against Many Skies.”      More than half the stories crisscross  India and her myriad cultures; the rest follow the ancestral trading trails beyond India’s borders trod by the hoary ancestors of a unique community, the Sindhis.
I was so impressed by the perspectives the stories present that I could not  help but make brief comparisons of today’s  reality with the  layers of  literary pastry, appealling to different sensibilities, across numerous boundaries into the hearts of many readers.

“ A Bar Girl.” A  touching story  woven around the life styles that both Amar
Badlani and Rak have  chosen, that prevent them from stopping and evaluating
their lives or asking where there are heading. For me the significant event
was  Amar heading for Rak’s village, where it came home to him that his
estrangement from his family had its roots in his  working life.
His damage control efforts lead him to finance  Rak’s nursing education and
make overtures to his kids and grandkids.  Did he succeed?
The young Jimmy Ramnani, In ”Writing a Fairy Tale,” had literary aspirations.
But the attraction of money and the ties to family led him into a comfortable life
that distracted him from his dream. In Carmen, the wife of one his bigger
 buyers, he found a kindred spirit who revived the dormant literary aspect of
his personality. However, when push came to shove, money does very often edge
out emotions.    Call him a nice and warm human being but a calculating one.

As a kid in Jakarta, I remember seeing and hearing about Sindhi men with local
wives. People talked disparagingly about them. But then that’s life, you take the
sour with the sweet and turn it into bhel.  Sentiments echoed same community
wives, with the  “Mei Mard hu” attitude  in “The Mexican Girl Friend” and  in
“Hong Kong Here I Come” quite forcefully.
The feelings and unhappiness of the women  in their life matters little to both men. 
Ego justifies coldness to a wife selected  with such clinical calculation from the
arranged marriage market.
There are comic mini dramas of the arrange marriage arenas  in “The
Bhorwani Marriage”; while   “Requital,” apart from the refreshing atmosphere
of the North East, reminds the  reader of the universality of being a Chicken
Head, young men, who steal the customers and data bases of bosses who gave
them that start in life.

Perhaps the story with the most empathy for mingling of communities was  
“Water on a Hot Plate.” The narrative flows with events, meaningful conversations,
memories, touching on classic dilemmas of expatriates. In this case an element of
poignancy is added by the fact that the chief concern of the older characters
 is about the loss of their unique culture with its blend of Hindu, Islamic and
Sikh traditions.  While Gen Next had other weighty concerns.

“Sunday with Mary” is  typical middle class life and yet it is atypical. How
many couples take that trouble to ferret out that little space in a hard existence
for each other and organize the day and week around it? Six days of spoken
and unspoken bickering? These are the marriages that survive all the odds and
there plenty of them around.
“ Shiva’s Winds,”  is about those who challenge the elements;
why the seasonal laborers trek to higher altitudes, the  vagaries of weather,  
and finally the baby who conquers the elements while adults don’t.
What is different about the “Inner Light”story is that the brainwashing of a young
kid practically from birth!  As gory as those reality shows featuring children,
put them through such terrible wringers by parents, for those 15 minutes of
fame on the idiot box.
“The Shrine” is yet another take on sati, after Padmavati, this time for a lover
where the husband failed to ignite.

Not one, but four stories draw focus on our innate refusal to accept each other,
zeroing in on and shows our biases against background, economic status, caste,
region, or religion. Why do we insist on creating and drawing lines instead of
dissolving them when we do  have a hoary  history of merging n mingling.
Who decreed that death by fire was the punishment for stealing two brass

I love the irreverent as in  “Waiting for Leander Paes, Sania Mirza or Somdev
Dev-Varman.” It speaks up, while examining the players’ personalities via
their playing styles, and mastering it's master!

Let me confess.  As a post-Partition Sindhi, these stories evoked so much
delightful nostalgia for a long gone past, those memories of eavesdropping
on conversations of homecoming uncles and cousins, accidental overheard
chatter, tales of wheeling dealing, adjusting to different environments, the
second families abroad, the celebrations, the songs, looking, listening,
absorbing, until one day one realized  - so this is what being Sindhi is
all about!

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

An Ancient Matrilineal Code

"Whistling or hissing, inviting by winking, soliciting or beckoning, writing songs with suggestive words or tunes, using amorous words, grasping and squeezing the wrist, caressing, placing a foot on the toes, touching the breasts, embracing and clinging, knocking down or forcing to lie down, assaulting while lying down , etc....."
LIsten folks, this is not a list of the Do Nots under any modern Sexual Harassment of Women Act of our times. 

It was found by Pro. Bina Agarwal while researching India's matrilineal Garo tribe in the North East, part of an ancient oral code of "moral laws" followed by the Garos for generations. 
Any of the actions mentioned were punishable if reported to the village chief. 
In our times, which is that Chief to whom women can go to report with any assurance that needful/justice would be done?