Friday, December 28, 2012

Rapes .... Apes

If it were to take people a whole ten days to disaster to start thinking of how to tackle it, in this era of weapons of mass destruction, the globe would be totally destroyed before any remedial action would be taken, wouldn’t it!

That is the spectacle in India just now.  Almost a fortnight after the gruesome gang rape in Delhi, after the poor girl has been flown out of the country, finally a sane voice has spoken. 

Lawyer and columnist in Ahmedabad Mirror (28.12.2012),  Gautam Patel  has listed the various sections of the law on rape which need amendment and then implementation, rather than the  death penalty being touted.   That penalty, in all probability, will never happen, given the judicial system of our times that lets off the rapists in no time. He covers a whole range, from criminal assault to outrage 'modesty' ( what is that, if not another male / patriarchal concept??), adultery which only men are entitled to, along with the right to react when cuckolded, the issue of consent ... under what circumstances will a woman or a girl say yes to rape, a gun pointed at her head or a knife at her neck perhaps,   marital rape, custodial rape and that of underage girls, even infants!!  Plus the case of the rape of a sex worker who is deemed habituated of sex, which reminded of that infamous case in which the judge who accepted this 'habituated of sex' argument in the case of a young runaway, was asked what would be his sentence for the rapist who may rape his wife who was already 'habituated to sex' after years of marriage!!

Another VIP lawyer, MP and former chairman of the parliamentary committee for law and justice Abhishek Singhvi recommends speedier appointment of more judges to deal with all the demands for fast track and other courts. Plus the stalling of  frivolous litigation by making the loser pay full costs to the winner …..  in short,  clearing of the aegean stables of justice.  Will the rape issue  do it better than the no-show of the Anna Hazaare movement.   

The question is: which comes first, amending the laws and implementing them or clearing the judicial backlog of judges and cases?    The chicken or the egg?

From day one, everyone was  out there making statements about the gruesome bus gang rape,  demanding action from the government,  from the harshest possible  punishment from a fast track court, sensitizing the police,  intensive patrolling instead of VIP security duties, to a data base of bus personnel.

Somewhere along the line, the plot was lost, just as had happened in Anna Hazare’s Anti Corruption drive.   A massive protest in Delhi without adequate safeguards and organsiation to keep out unwanted elements.  The protestors were largely working women and college students, every day of their lives victims of eve teasing and much more, finally venting their wrath  and their fears.   But no responsible person warned them of what would happen …. And it happened.

Result: infiltration,  silly slogans and random persons throwing stones at police vans and then water cannon and tear gas and the whole protest was derailed, just like the Hazare one, by elements not only irrelevant but actually anti the motive of the protest.

How shameless a people are we?  How we love to boast of  our venerable ancient pious heritage!!  Yet

amidst concerns over whether the rape victim will survive at all, a channel telecast a horrific film which was, I am told, a big hit.   The theme song says "kudiyan nu thag le" and the story is of how one 'macho' guy sold four girls down a drain. After seeing such films which make it sound so easy and girls so stupid, is it any wonder that guys feel they can get away with rape and murder?

This was followed by another gang rape right there in Delhi itself,  along with notice that since one of the  rapists in the first case is technically a minor, he'll get off even though he is said to be the most vicious of them all!!

Amidst all the ‘Rape, rape” noise in the news and TV, what are we missing? The voices of not only political leaders, but also social ones, the Big League ladies, the film stars whose portrayals create the format for the rapes, both male and female and sane suggestions on what should be done and can actually be done, instead of merely ranting and sloganeering.                                 

None of the A List Heroines scrambling for the next Item Song with suggestive Fevicol, Iodex, Chameli and Munni and their fraternity in Big Biz are firmly Out of the protest picture.   Every TV channel worth its salt has a daily crime serial.  A good majority of the episodes depict crimes against women in all their amazing variety.  How much do these daily doses plus their promos  infect the mind,  showing viewers how things can be done, rather than scaring them away, given the rest of the social input from other media?

Our Delhi girl wants to live. More power to her. It is up to all of us to respect her life and her privacy, no matter what direction is taken by the mass upsurge of anger this incident has generated.  Interspersed with medical progress of the young woman were details of the young woman’s family and her statements to the authorities.    One can safely assume that half of Delhi now knows who she was.

What of the  culprits perpetrators of the crime?  For media, it is so much easier to  camp in the hospital to dig out juicy details, rather than chase up those culprits.  Only  one Sunday paper Indian express carried a story on them with a paragraph each on their backgrounds.

What about more with their photos, along with  those of a slum and their parents! and those of their associates etc so that they may be recognised in public as RAPISTS. When this is done on a regular basis  and a couple of their sisters or cousins face rejection in the marriage stakes for being related to a RAPIST, family pressure from maa-baap, chacha, mama taya , dadi, bua, mausi could work better than all the moral studies and policing in the world, on other would-be  rapists.  Society needs to start reinforcing those old rules that prevailed in our childhood, to  make a better world for our grandchildren.

Anti Rape Protest Leaders, wake up and smell the coffee. Are we looking from neta wormed governments and babus the protection that fathers, brothers and husbands do not give us?
Or are we looking for a society which accords us due respect and upholds a level playing field between man and woman?

Why  ask others to do something about an issue that begins in the home? As parents, do we give equal treatment and respect to daughters and sons?  Or do we, like the majority in the country, pander to the sons ...'ladka hai. shararat to chalti hai'.    That my dear friends, is where it all starts ...  and then continues to plaguing sisters and cousins, then in school and college until they become hardened criminals of women teasers and rapists.  

Amidst all those candle marches and TV protests, what is needed is some deliberation over the answers that are in the people’s hands.

One is teaching our boys to respect all human beings, men and women.

Another is to instill in the minds of our girls that their feminity does not lie exclusively between their legs.  There is this huge stigma attached to a 'rape victim'.                       

Is all her femininity merely between her legs, not in her head or her heart?     

This is a difficult concept , but it must be mastered and taught to women so that they will stop fearing that 'stigma' of rape.  RAPE must not be the dreadful capital letters that dominate their lives forever more, whether the rapist is an unknown person, a known one or a family member.

So while waiting  for the government to decide on what actions fall rationally within the regime of official dictat, after all do we want to go back to the license and danda raaj? ....
Let us as parents and grandparents, take a pledge to teach our boys that they have to respect women, whosoever they may be, mothers, sisters, maids or just a woman on the street, age, caste, creed no bar. Take that pledge and stick to it, thru thick and thin.  TAKE THAT PLEDGE.

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Friday, October 05, 2012


Gandhigiri, A Contrary View

Eons ago, I was in college when Mahatma Gandhi's birth centenary rolled around and campuses went into a whirl of Gandhi related events; not quite unlike the drumming up of the recent Gandhigiri frenzy .

Unfortunately for my college, I took a contrary view. Taking a cue from the space mania of those times, I declared at one public speaking contest that perhaps Gandhi mania should be packed off into space for sometime, to give the economy a chance to get out of the corruption, dharna, public sector, strike syndrome then inflicted on our generation.

At this point of time, I cannot remember how we connected these four to the Father of the Nation phenomena; no doubt, fertile collegiate minds must have done so; but I do remember the shocked expressions of the convenors of the event, who communicated their indignant trauma to the college management, which was conveyed to yours truly by a Vice Principal hard put to keep a straight face when he asked 'How did you manage to articulate such a thought in such a gathering?' He was particular to inform me that that was his private thought, not that of the suitably chastened college management!!

Well, it seems that Gandhi mania, lying dormant for a long while (though not quite in outer space) has been revived. How much on account of the recent spate of films and how much as a reaction to the prevailing international mania for violence at the drop of any proverbial hat is of course an open question.

The concept of Gandhigiri, enunciated in Munnabhai Laage Raho, is an interesting one. How successful will it actually prove to be in the age when India is marching forward full speed, led by our industrial biggies with the rest trailing behind and the majority hard put to stay anywhere in that march, remains to be seen.

What is Gandhigiri? Perhaps the most popular expression of it is the Jaddoo ki Jhappi which was actually patented in Munnabhai MBBS, the precursor to Munnabhai Lage Raho. In a world increasingly addicted to flying kisses brushing past cheeks, touch-me-not and hands off, even within families, the concept of a warm, close hug is very very heartwarming; even psychiatrists have accepted that the human touch is needed to make a connection; that it is the touch of the mother which is the most effective one for any baby.

The Jadoo ki Jhappi has moved on to simplistic solutions to many every day problems, most of which center around making the decision maker guilty about taking a wrong decision. One hears of streams of stories of how some expression of Gandhigiri has worked for ordinary citizens: students have presented dozens of roses to teachers to avoid extra tough tests or marking, or for restitution of some sort, tenants to landlords and vice versa, or the aam admi tackling officialdom with roses etc. No doubt, rose mania has certainly meant good news for the flower sellers and cultivators. But picture these scenarios: students trooping into a staff room for flowers for stern professor would most probably mean even colleagues adding their pressure on the stern teacher; a huge assembly of poor people handing out marigolds or roses to a block level official may impact some local scheme mired in corruption, at least until the local bigwig or contractor makes his presence re-felt. How varied would be the response to say upper caste petitioners and those from the scheduled castes or tribals?

For that matter, can anyone imagine any top or even mid-level babu or neta returning the expensive mithai ka dabba or bouquet without pocketing the attached bulky envelope sent by King Capital in favor of accepting the single roses handed to him by ordinary constituents who may be losing their land to some new industry or project? Would those roses actually instigate him into conceiving of some proposal to ensure that the aam admi also got some tangible benefits out of the gigantic investment which is going to earn humongous returns for the industrial biggie? Had that been so, would we have seen such blood and gore in West Bengal over an SEZ?

Massive peace rallies have been organized not only in India but across the world. They happened even in the run up to the Iraq war. Did anyone seriously envisage President Bush overlooking his personal stake, financial and political, in the Iraq war to heed to popular non-violent demands? Will any politician worth his salt overlook re-election factors in favor of the 'public good'?

Isn't that what Gandhigiri is all about? The public good? Non violent solutions to everyday and extra ordinary problems which face the individual, the community, society at large, humanity?

Media and marketing driven Gandhigiri bears an excellent gloss; brings good cheer to the young people who are the flavor of the season in India Shining and Incredible India@60.

But what of Gandhi himself? Gandhi My Father exposed a clay chip through the travails of his son. What about his political heir, Jawaharlal Nehru and his desperation to be prime minister? Where was the Gandhigiri in staving off the partition, its blood and gore?

At that time the flavor of Gandhigiri prevalent meant that one 'loved' the British, at home in India and when they quit India. Went a long way to winning an international statesman image for Nehru. But once his Guru was gone, the new Prime Minister went the Big Industry way of those times, married his Fabian Socialism to the foundations of the Public Sector and the Big Dams.

In our times, a 'formidable world leader' professed to be a disciple of Gandhi: Nelson Mandela. After an initial stint of violent protest against apartheid, he chose to sit out decades in a South African prison, knowing full well that his violent campaign was in the able hands of his wife Winnie who fought in the streets and in the international media, not unlike the wooing of the international media by our Nehrus and Gandhis in the run up to Independence.

Once Winnie managed to bring Nelson out of prison, Mandela's Gandhigiri led to reconciliation with the perpetrators of apartheid and divorce from the 'violent' Winnie, followed by prime time romance at a ripe old age which precluded him taking on the 'onerous' task of overseeing South Africa for too long. How much attractive the charms of flying in and out of world capitals, waving to crowds and spouting speeches!!

And for the others? For Gandhigiri to become more than an optimist' fad, it is vital that the leaders of every Gandhigiri campaign work out the economic benefits that can accrue to the oppressor by taking a peaceful path. Otherwise the campaign will meet a dead end.

Will the US stop preparations for the next war designed to send arms and ammunitions makers laughing all the way to their banks, unless it sees some much bigger profit from stopping another war which will tear yet another country asunder with yet another Partition. And our home grown netas?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sketch of a Rapist?

As a society, we are so hung up on the victims of rape alone. All the newspaper column inches and their graphic focus on the female in ‘shame’ mode. Her home, family, neighborhood, school are visited, so that it is easy for neighbors to figure out who the victim is. In one celebrated case, apart from the family home in the village, a married sister of the victim living in town was tracked down for a quote!!

What of the Rapists? Why are they never shown for everyone to recognize later “There goes that Rapist.” Why are their faces covered, their names given one minor court outing, their family background, extended families, friends, school and colleges never visited.

Let us take a look at this scenario: Young guy is tracked down by police. At the media meeting, he is paraded. Then media hunts out his school and college pals, office colleagues for quotes about him. His family, immediate and extended is visited for pictures of the spaces he grew up in, the people who brought him up. The notoriety extends beyond the one person to his entire network. With their pictures in the newspapers, they would be recognized and pointed at for quite a while.

Can you just imagine how the army of irate aunts and uncles and cousins etc would come down on him like a ton of bricks to berate him for a crime which brought ignominy to the entire family ‘teri bahen ka kya hoga?’ types; the mother/bhabhi weeping piteously on how they will face their families etc.

May be, just may be, that sort of pressure would serve to hold back not all, but at least some would-be rapists. Prevent that number of young men from down the slippery path and saving that many women from life long trauma.

There are those who will argue that the publicity to the rapist’s family would traumatize those lives. No doubt. But then, haven’t the lives of the victims and their families been traumatized by rape while the rapists live in impunity. Which ensures that few families ever see fit to warn off their young blood. Instead we have communities that believe that it is their birthright!

I would vote for an example being made of some of the hoodlums and their families, to warn off a whole lot more from playing with lives of others. Unfortunately, our society places heavy veils over rape, especially when most of it is within the family itself, never mind the trauma endured by the victims. And then makes a righteous hullabaloo, if a woman dares to meet another man who is not her husband or within that ‘charmed’ family circle. Or if the woman acknowledges that she is being ‘used’ by various males in her family, without the dignity of a Draupadi.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Re Dola Re, Dola Re, Dola Re, Dola.....

I have been fascinated by the magical Dola Re dance ever since I first saw it on a big screen.  Never could decipher its allure until recently, after catching it for the umpteenth time on TV.
Here are two beautiful women, dancing gloriously for themselves and enjoying every moment of it in pure joy, taking pleasure in themselves and their dance.  That the piece has been magnificently choreographed only adds to the viewer pleasure.  The lyrics are not the key to the performance.
It is the sheer enjoyment in the dance of two women from vastly different backgrounds, who love the same man and know that neither of them can have him; ……deciding to let that regret be and just revel in their feeling of joy at being in love;  and being friends;  and being free to sing and dance their joy in what should have been an all-woman moment.  
The follow-on was of course, filmy drama.  How else would the story move forward?  But those moments of unadulterated joy,  at losing themselves  in song and dance  were a masterpiece which have their own corner in my heart.  Lucky women! who have such opportunities and grab them with both hands.
dola re

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

This is being written not merely as a journalist, but also as a woman who has been wife of an Army officer and mother of another one.
In the entire noise made over the Leh incident, there was little said about the genesis of the spat:  the lady wife.
What was she doing at a post virtually under the nose of two aggressive neighbors, triggering off an ugly spat?  When  wives of officers are allowed to make such excursions, they are also expected to follow some niceties, including making themselves presentable before the sahayak enters the officer’s quarters or wait till after;   instead of triggering off  such incidents, if those reports are actually true??   One can only wonder.
Another key element to the Leh episode is the level of jawan – officer antipathy.  What is the cause of this? Is it merely the lack of discipline that triggered it off?  Or do the causes lie deeper?
Perhaps it  begins at the recruitment level itself.  As the Army becomes increasingly technology based,  more and more technically qualified  persons make it onto the ranks.  In fact, today most jawans are graduates. On the other hand, the crossing lines for officers seem to have been lowered, since fewer candidates show interest in a uniformed career.  Thus instead of the upper and upper middle classes, we see a more democratic make up in the officer ranks.
But this democratic trend has a fall out as well.  There is little difference in the qualifications of the officers and the men, no matter the great difference in their trainings.  But   how many officers do actually live up to their training and their duty, instead of splitting hairs over their privileges and perks and post retirement benefits?  Plus of course the corruption which has become embarrassingly open?
Very often pals try their luck at the CDS exam,  only to have one get through and the other not?  If the not is sufficiently motivated, he will try to get into the Forces, by hook or by crook, even without the officer rank, which can be earned later in service.
But until it is earned, the not carries a chip on his shoulder at being given orders by those whom he considers his peers, guys-just-like-him, whom he grew up and studied and played with!!   And then, resentment runs high.
Extremely sad state of affairs, which the Forces  have to find ways of dealing with  to stave off any repeats of Leh.
How much of Leh, one wonders, was thanks to the Army Chief Gen. V K Singh, who set the entire Army a terrible precedent by taking the government of India to the court over an extra year in service?
It is an open question still what Singh hoped to do in that extra year which he had not been able to do during his term as Chief?  Or what perhaps was lined up for him in that extra year in terms of orders to be signed for some massive consignment of hardware for the Army?
The precedent set by the chief is going to have an unhappy fallout, unless action is taken right now. 
The Leh episode cannot but be labeled MUTINY, for which, under the Army Act , the unit can be disbanded and all the men and officers sent right back home.  Surveillance will continue and a new unit can be raised immediately.
Stern action against indiscipline, without waiting for committees and enquiries, a media trial or attempts by various MPs to get their own caste or community boys off the hook etc etc., is a must to stem future mutinies in our Army No. 1. 
As laxity creeps into all areas of public and private life, discipline is the need of the hour. And where else can we make a start but with the most disciplined force, the Army, which must be seen to be doing its clean up act after the spate of scams that have marked the Singh era. 

Hurt Sentiments?

So many religious, social, cultural sentiments are hurt nowadays in India.  the Dirty Picture was banned for TV fearing exposure to young children.  But what about the exposure to delicious boobs?  No voice has been raised against repeated Ads on TV, purportedly for our 'national' dress, in which the model displays her curvaceous booty clad in wispy lacy bras?   Not even after Jashwant Singh let fly at the white paper, declaring that it was like a bikini that 'covers only the essentials and reveals the non essentials'?
Hurt sentiments anyone?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Land of contrasts

India as the land of sharp contrasts was brought home on a fleeting visit to a mall on Sunday. 
In many rural areas, bathing is a luxury not frequently afforded. When possible, some one will run to the store for that tiny cake of soap ususally used in guest rooms. There it will do for the whole family, with any leftovers carefully stored for some future emergency.
And there in this lavishly appointed store were huge chunks of different flavored soaps offering customers exquisitely different experiences.  Inquiries yielded that the cost of a 10 gm sliver would range from anywhere from Rs. 40 / to 60/-.  Would that little sliver suffice for the generous abulations of M'Lady or M'Lord, or perhaps one of their little ones, I wondered.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

A New Mastani

MASTANI is  unique book in that it is India’s first historical novel that offers its readers two endings, diagrammatically opposed to each other;  the second one  plugs all the holes left in the story of Mastani left by traditional renderings of the myths and legends that surround the second wife of Peshwa Baji Rao I, widely accepted as India’s answer to Napoleon Bonaparte as a unbeaten general.  Congratulations are due to Mr. Kapish Mehra of Rupa Publications for allowing this to happen.

As a history buff, every reading of Maratha history left me bewildered at the steadfastness of historians in never failing to mention Mastani as leading influence in Baji Rao’s life; and then leaving that mention as a single sentence or paragraph without any elaboration of such a ‘towering’ personality, so to speak. Hence the research that went on and on and on to explode all the myths and legends that surround Mastani, to expose her tragedy, her true character and her royal background.

Mastani was perhaps in some way inspired years ago by a fellow traveler in a Mumbai-Pune taxi, discussing the absurdity of all historians remembering to mention Mastani's influence on Baji Rao's life and then dismissing her in one paragraph with no mention of her antecedents or whatever. That sounded strange enough to embark me on what was to become my life's mission...about 30 odd of my 61 years. Hope that fellow traveler remembers that conversation and reads my book now!

Mistresses have been the rule rather than the exception amongst rulers, usually more than one. His father, Balaji Vishwanath and his king Shahu Maharajswami had them too. How many mistresses have been mentioned in history books? Even as a footnote?

History records an Indira Gandhi, Razia Sultan and Nur Jehan; Mumtaz Mahal is more a footnote because of the Taj Mahal. And the Rani of Jhansi found mention thanks to British applause, more to show up Indian manhood of those times wanting, especially in contrast with the British. But Roshan Ara, Jehan Ara, Anarkali…

My MASTANI was written to blow away all those cobwebs that surrounded Peshwa Baji Rao I’s second wife who is portrayed by historians as a ‘dancing girl’….legends that have outlived their lives now.

The book establishes her royal persona from the house of the Bundelas of Madhya Bharat and the original benefactress of an otherwise impoverished peshwa much more that stands standard maratha history on its head.

25 years of research and 3 of writing reveal a dramatic tale that turns the entire Mastani dancing girl on its head. That nugget egged me on but i could only devote x amount of time on it, along with my duties as a working journalist, wife and mother. So it carried on over years, the Pune side of the story whenever I visted the city where two of my children were in boarding schools close by, one after another.

There were also trips to Indore and Mhow to seek out the descendants of Baji Rao and Mastani to get that side of the picture. Info yes, but very sad that they had never bothered to unveil their mysterious ancestor themselves, although their branch owed their existence to her.

The trip also put me in touch with a very valuable resource person, Ahsaan Awara, a retired post master of Banda, who had put in a lifetime in the search for Mastani and was a mine of information for me.      Ahsaan saab and Mr. Mabi, my teacher from school days, ussed to regularly ring me to egg me on, to start writing the story as it developed, over-riding all my protests that I had yet to reach the end of the research. They always argued that I had to start shaping up what was fresh in my mind and before it went stale as age crept up and may be stalled the book forever. It is very unfortunate that Ahsaan saab who had shared all his info with me is not alive to see my Mastani, a book has been sent to Mr. Mabi.

Now comes a bombshell. Several weeks after the finish of the book, one night I saw a dream in which Mastani's story unspooled with an ending that was startling. It offered answers to all the unanswered questions that plagued Mastani's story. Making swift notes of recall before the dream vanished, morning saw me reviewing all my material to find that it actually made a lot of sense, even if it was dramatically different and quite controversial.

That is how the book is two endings, one taking the conventional path of Mastani dying after Rao did and the other that takes a very different and controversial route.    Another controversy will be my interpretation of the material on the fatal illness of Baji Rao, based on a lot of medical interpretation of the record of his symptoms.

Now I hope Mastani gets a new lease of life and  her rightful place in history.