Dec 24, 2009
19 years ago, a man twice molested a 14-year-old child - a budding tennis star and a chirpy teenager. Today, he smiles as he fishes out a crisp 1000-rupee note to offer as 'punishment' for his 'frivolity'. As for the girl, she died 16 years ago, unable to seek justice and compassion, unable to see her tormentor tormenting her and her family, unable to ask for her right as a human in a state where a woman is hardly so, unable to look at tomorrow in a society where a girl is both unwanted and dispensable plus a lot of trouble, unable to live her dreams (or even her rightful life) in a nation that can see no reason but only power and clout. The story of Ruchika Girhotra is too common, too repetitive, too frequent.
In the summer of 2010, a woman will turn 58. Only, she will never know that, just as she has never known herself since 1973. A wardboy raped and sodomised a nurse, brutally assaulting her and asphyxiating her with a dog's leash. Today, the man walks the streets after a six-year sentence - not for rape, though. The woman, brain dead and oblivious to life, remains permanently vegetative in a hospital bed. The 'honourable' court demurred that the victim had been anally penetrated, so she was still technically a virgin - and thus could not have been 'raped'. The accused had gone to her 'with the intention to rape' - which, of course, was not seen as important enough. The nation has failed yet another woman, and Aruna Shanbaug will never know what she went through that night, what it has cost her and her loved ones.
In mid-2003, a nurse employed with a prominent hospital in Delhi was tending to a patient. Suddenly, she found a ward boy pressing into her from behind. As she turned to protest, the man plunged his fingers into her eyes - gouging out her right eye and grievously injuring the left. He then raped her and left her in a storeroom to be discovered unconscious the next day. The woman approached the court for justice and patiently waited for the judge to pronounce the sentence. Suddenly, the unthinkable happened. The rapist Bhura proposed marriage to her in order to 'wash off her stigma' and 're-establish her in society', for he felt no one else would want to marry a 'used' woman. The Additional Sessions Judge J M Malik took up the offer and delayed the judgement, giving the victim time to 'consider the proposal'. The victim refused, citing the offer to be intensely degrading and humiliating to her. Bhura was then awarded a life sentence, but not before the judge stated that the 'last-minute marriage offer' was rendered 'malafide' since the accused had not expressed 'remorse' throughout the trial.
But no, all of this does not shock India’s judiciary. The Supreme Court and the not-so-supreme courts all remain mute as India goes on violating human rights. We continue to have abject poverty, appalling malnutrition, intense infant and maternal mortality, extreme numbers of farmers committing suicide, an unacceptable number of boots in the Kashmir valley, unspeakable atrocities in the North East, a laughable role in many of our neighbourhoods. But this does not awaken the citizens of this great nation, nor the many supposedly 'honourable' courts.
Judge Sturgess of England has famously remarked: "Justice is open to everyone in the same manner as the Ritz Hotel." At home in India, we can seamlessly substitute 'Ritz' with 'Taj' or 'Oberoi' or whatever takes our fancy. The truth remains the same - justice, far from being the most basic of human rights, becomes the personal possession of the privileged few. But then, a court of law need not necessarily be a court of justice.
These tragic tales are not only about justice delayed and denied. Importantly, they are about justice being made a mockery of, and of appalling disrespect for a fellow human. More importantly, they are also about the ruthlessness with which the morally corrupt seek to silence the victims of their misdeeds. But most importantly, these are sorry accounts of how the State, as we understand it, colludes with criminals to whitewash their crimes. When certain individuals - the rich, the famous, the mighty - get away with the most heinous of crimes, society loses respect for the law of the land. When such people are not shamed, let alone punished, the law-abiding citizen loses trust in those who supposedly implement/uphold laws. Worse, the judiciary becomes an object of ridicule.
I feel that dog collar around Aruna's neck is a manifestation of all that is wrong in the Indian society today. It is the noose that hangs around your neck for all your life, if you are not the high and mighty, and especially if you are a woman. Men get their fair share of injustice and harassment, no doubt. But it is a fact that, especially in India, wherever a case involves a woman, the public already has its verdict - the said woman must have overstepped/crossed some invisible line, the 'lakshman-rekha'. Why is it that, in a nation that virtually deifies the woman, it is so difficult for a woman to find respect for herself? Why is it that in India 'boys will be boys', but girls are always a burden (or politely put, a responsibility)?
If a woman's honour must be protected, why should it be at the cost of her freedom and her right to live her life as she wishes to? Shouldn't such protection come from educating our men - and women - to respect her as they would want to be respected themselves? Shouldn't we teach our sons and brothers that our daughters and sisters too are individuals - with the same dreams and wishes, with the same aspirations, with the same need for space, with the same right to oneself? Why do we instead choose to silence our sisters' laughter, strangulate our daughters' dreams - and draw their space for them? It is easy, isn't it, to control the one who can be easily controlled, rather than hold ourselves responsible for our actions? Let men molest and rape - it will always be because the woman was not appropriately attired or did not behave within the limits we defined for her, never because the men saw her not as a human but as their personal belonging.
Why do men think that women are their private property, that they can do with them whatever they fancy? Why do women think they can (or must) not raise their voice, or even their eyes, up to men within their homes and outside? Why is it that a man can get his way around by beating his wife, but a wife must stifle her dreams and desires to live the way her husband wishes her to?
Outside her home, why is it that a woman must take resposnsibility of the behaviour of men towards her? Why is she asked to dress in accordance with men's wishes? Is it because men are so intellectually and emotionally defunct that they go raving mad whenever they see as much as a stray hair or a bare arm of a woman? No, it is definitely not that, for men are beings of reason and understand their instincts/emotions perfectly. Then it must be because some men molest and rape, know it was wrong on their part, appreciate that the society will always judge the woman and not them, and therefore waste no time in pointing their finger at her.
Is this injustice so hard to spot, or is it that it has now become a way of life for our men and women? In a free society, anyone can have their own set of norms for acceptable behaviour which they would like to see in others. But they can do nothing at all to enforce that behaviour - that is simply not acceptable.
Even if a woman walks the streets stark naked at 1 am, it still does not give any random man the authority or the license to violate her freedom. At best, the said man can report the matter to the police if it violates the law of the land. But how does he suddenly get bestowed with the power to vitiate her private space? If a man gets aroused seeing a woman (and it could be her bare breasts as much as it could be only the veil over her face that aroused him), it is his problem and not her. It is his responsibility, and not hers, to control his urges. Tell me, what does a 2-month-old infant or a 90-year-old woman do to arouse a man? Contrary to popular imagination, they get raped too. It is about time men seriously grow up and start taking responsibility for their own behaviour. It is also about time women start taking responsibility for their own lives - their freedom, their space, their wants and desires, their rights.
But no, these stories do not shock us.
I simply have two questions to ask. If not us, who? If not now, when?
Dec 15, 2009
Jul 27, 2009
I'll only say, "Support bacteria - they're the only culture some people have."
I'm not trying to be funny or insensitive, but I'm too disgusted to comment on those. And sickened with seeing this happen every damn day.
How, how, can we accept people hating each other as part of culture and look the other way, yet not accept people loving each other (and I'm not even talking about same-sex)?
How is it that we think nothing of humiliating, hurting, harassing, raping, killing other people yet would never ever wish the same upon ourselves or our dear ones?
How is it that we are so blind to others and so full of ourselves that we just cannot accept anyone who is even slightly different than us or does not think/act/live/drink/eat in the same way?
How can we justify any amount and any magnitude of wrongdoing under the labels of 'culture' and 'religion'? How can one person/group have a definition of 'culture' or 'religion' that can be applied to the family, state, nation or even humanity as a whole?
When will we see a woman as just another individual and not a 'woman'? When will we see her as a human being just like any of us? When will we see her as a person and not our or someone else's or just anyone's property? When will we see her as an equal?
Why are we tolerant of the wrong things - harassment, rape, murder, crime against women, crime against children, deceit, betrayal? Why are we not tolerant about religious freedom? Why are we not tolerant about artistic expression? Why are we not tolerant about relationships - between the same or opposite sexes? We could be but we are not. What we are tolerant of, instead, is bullying, crime, gross neglect of safety, and the subversion of justice.
Why do some of us, despite being taught to worship women, go about raping/molesting/killing them? Why do some of us think that if a girl wears a sleeveless top or shorts, she is 'available'? Why do some of our men have serious issues with reporting to a female boss? Why are some Indians so sexually repressed that even looking at a woman arouses them enough to molest/rape her?
The real issue that we must grapple with when such incidents occur is India's collective inability to accept that women have rights, that they are human beings, that they should be left alone, and that they have a right to occupy space in the public arena. If we do not tell a woman to eat brinjals instead of potatoes or drink juice instead of water, what possibly can give us the right to ask her to wear a saree instead of jeans?
It runs deep into our collective psyche. Most of our men wish to marry so that they won't have to eat outside food while living alone in their city of work. In a family run by a working couple, it is the woman who is expected to carry out all the household chores after performing her duties at the office. The men just take it for granted. The women do, too. What's worse, if an understanding husband tells his buddies that he manages the home/kitchen or babysits while she is at work, as a genuine gesture for the woman he loves and not as a favour, he is likely to be ridiculed and laughed at.
It is an insult of the highest order to call a man a woman, or to say he tends to display certain 'feminine' qualities (such as love, caring, understanding). Why can a man not be accepted as being loving and caring and understanding? Why is a man who loves his wife and stands up for her called her slave, or even an eunuch? Why does a man constantly need to prove his manliness to the society by lording over the women in his life? Can he not love her or care for her as she does?
The answer is staring us in the face - everyday. In our towns and villages, millions of little boys grow up listening to someone telling a woman that she should not hold her head high when she walks, or that a woman's true calling lies in serving her husband and his family (mostly extended). In some small town a rape victim is asked to marry the rapist. In another village, a girl without a dupatta is called a whore and beaten and/or killed, and I haven't even mentioned jeans yet! In a well-built house in an affluent colony, a mother calls upon her daughter to help her with the dinner, never her son. In the same house, the father asks his son to get stuff from the market, never the daughter. So deep rooted are these gender roles that it is almost impossible for the average Indian to think of an gender-independent environment. Most of us discriminate without even realising it!
We as a nation are so sexually repressed and so condescending/patronising towards our women that we make it seem acceptable for a guy to feel a girl up in the bus, or slap her bottom on the road, or grab her chest in a shop, or touch/look at her inappropriately. Every single woman in this country will have a similar story from her life - regardless of whether she was wearing a burqa or a ghunghat or a saree or a skirt or a two-piece bikini. So much for the attire being responsible! Those who say women must not show skin since that turns men on must remember that their are men who can get turned on even by a glimpse of a woman's eyes or hair or hands or feet. Or simply her height - that turns on people too! So what must women do, be seen with a blindfold? Or not be seen at all? Or not be at all?
Indian society, with its holier-than-thou hypocrisy thinks nothing of perpetrating crime against women. Not even babies are spared! How do we stop it? Do we make fornication legal? Or do we make being a woman illegal? I believe a better way would be if we stop blaming the woman for the crime against her. If we really can accept that if drinking or smoking or dancing or losing your virginity is wrong for girls, it is wrong for boys too. If it is okay for boys, why not for girls? Our Constitution says we are all equal. So why do we add an asterisk to that and say 'conditions apply - check if you have a penis or breasts'?
We can never completely eradicate crime in a society, and even not crime targeted at women. But we definitely don't need educated (not simply literate) men demeaning their wives. We definitely can't accept mobs sexually assaulting women. We definitely can't tolerate a woman being shamed for being molested or raped. Lastly, we definitely must never let a woman feel she ought to have been born a man. How, as a nation, can we be outraged if a terrorist goes about killing innocent people, yet not feel even as much outrage if 50 men strip an innocent woman?
When will we learn to treat our women well? When will we give them the respect that they so deserve - if not for being women, at least for being humans? When will we stop judging our women on the basis of how and what they eat/drink/wear/say/act/live? When will we see our daughters and sons as no different from each other, both being our children? When will we see our husbands and wives as our partners and friends, with equal rights and equal responsibilities?
The links at the start of this post say (rather scream in my face), "Not any sooner."
Edited to add:
It was a saree-clad Sita that was abducted by Ravan. It was also a saree-clad Draupadi who was publicly stripped by Dushasan. Yet, it is Sita's fault coz she overstepped her boundary and Draupadi's fault coz she laughed at Duryodhan. Never mind what Ravan and Dushasan did! And if they could do it and get stories written and TV serials made for themselves, so can we. Behold the modern Ravans and Dushasan - a dozen a penny! Oh, and 'God' Krishna could get away with stealing the clothes of women who were bathing, and we proudly narrate the story to our sons!
Jul 3, 2009
Its been an unintended break, longer than expected. But like it tends to, life intervened. I’ve been busy with work, practically trying to keep my job in the dark economic times. Work aside, I have been suffering from the worst writer's block ever. Maybe the turmoil at work had something to do with this.
I promise to be up and shining soon, but it may take a little more time so don't forget to watch this space (and my other one too). I failed to write the last few weeks, which have been some of the most turbulent in my professional life. This, I confess, was totally deliberate. It just felt like I wasn’t doing justice to my writing if I wasn't writing with my mind and heart in it, and both these critical components of my being were kind of preoccupied with seemingly mundane issues. Nonetheless, enough excuses.
If there's one thing my being absent from the blogging scene has shown me, it is how much my writing is valued and appreciated, even eagerly awaited, by my friends on the blogosphere. Many thanks and a zillion hugs to my bestest friends here, especially Solilo, Indyeah, IHM, Monika (in no particular order). And everyone else who patiently awaited my return and regularly visited this space to check on me. I am ashamed to admit I'd actually thought my friends would have lost interest in my blogs since I'd not written for so long. I'm so very touched to see they are as loyal to my blogs as I am to theirs, even when I never announced I wouldn't be writing for a while. Thank you.
May 10, 2009
Bringing up a child or two of unpretentious birth.
I'd rather tuck a little child all safe and sound in bed,
Than twine a chain of diamonds about my carefree head.
I'd rather wash a smudgy face with round bright baby eyes,
Than paint the pageantry of fame or walk among the wise.
She is 85 and has mothered 81 children. One, her biological daughter. And the others, abandoned children from the insurgency-hit North East. She is Zaputou Angami, the Founder of the Kohima Orphanage in Nagaland's capital.
It all began in 1973 with one child. Zaputou was a nurse at the Government Hospital in Kohima when she brought home a baby abandoned by his parents. From that moment on, there was no looking back. Zaputou had brought home seven children when it hit her. She wondered how and why so many babies did not have parents.
Zaputou found herself to be very happy in the children's company. She found the job of feeding hungry mouths and singing to sleepy eyes and tending to injured knees to be more rewarding than any other job she wold ever do. The rest, as they say, is history.
To say it has been easy for Zaputou, or that life has been kind to her and her children, would be an insult to what this great mother has done and continues to do. She has seen days when there wasn't a paisa in her pocket but there were mouths to feed. She has seen nights when insects ravaged tiny bodies that only wished to sleep but there was nothing that could be done. She has also seen times when illness rampaged across the orphanage, and all that she could give to the children was her love.
37 years later, the road remains as difficult. Yet, Zaputuo has never thought twice about her journey. In insurgency-torn Nagaland, the Kohima Orphanage stands as a symbol of love and strength for children without a home. Amidst all the hate and the killings and the unrest, here is a place where life and hope abounds, where a goodnight kiss can wipe away tears of strife, where the strains of a lullaby can silence the loudest of bombs.
Zaputou's home runs on help that comes in bits and pieces from the state government, well-wishers, the church and the Assam Rifles. Today, a total of 80 children - from across Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, and even Myanmar - are all proud members of Kohima Orphanage. Also with Zaputou is her own daughter Nebunuo, who smilingly supports her mother in the best and worst of times.
Sometimes, in this certain yet uncertain life for Zaputou and her children comes the time of presents and cakes and songs - a time all the little ones look forward to for simple joys. Beyond all this, the truth remains that this home survives on meals and clothes donated by people. Yet, unperturbed and undaunted, two brave and loving mothers - Zaputou and Nebanuo - continue on with the calling of their life, day after day.
Today, on Mother's Day, I pay homage to Zaputou and the many women like her around the world - who define motherhood in the true sense. Who are mothers not only because biology made them so, but also because they possess the grit and strength that only a mother can, and the will to not merely survive but actually live against all odds.
Picture courtesy: www.realheroes.com
May 1, 2009
Defying all rational thought, and in a declaration that would scare the daylights out of any sane individual, the Catholic Church declared the decision to abort the foetuses as amounting to 'murder'. Although abortion is illegal in Brazil, there are exceptions - and this case certainly qualified. Unfortunately, the child has now been labeled a murderer. I can not help but wonder how furtive glances of pity and shame would affect her as she attempts to build her life over the years with the weight of what she has already endured on her heart.
Then there is the man who raped her. He is in jail and will hopefully endure severe repercussions once he is convicted, although that may not be likely. Brazil's laws on rape would have been laughable had the situation not been so grim. Rape in this country is considered a crime only if the victim is a virgin or 'an otherwise noble woman'. Not surprisingly, the term 'noble' is not defined in the country's law books and is left to the imagination. Moreover, rape of a virgin whose age is between 14 and 18 is only punishable by 6 years in jail. Victims only begin to recover after 6 years; in Brazil they would be forced to live with the reality of once again running into their rapist on the streets. Again, kidnap and subsequent rape of a woman is a crime, provided she is a virgin, but the maximum sentence is only 48 months.
In Brazil, an unmarried woman who is not a virgin cannot legally be raped. Never mind that the emotional rape will continue to haunt her for the rest of her days. In the eyes of the law, violation of a sexually-active unmarried woman, or one who is not a virgin, is not recognisable as an offence. But the most horrific flaw in Brazil's legal construct is the fact that it makes no mention of any repercussions for raping girls under the age of 14.
What's with the world that they judge a woman against a flimsy tissue called the hymen? Why?
The vicious cycle associated with all forms of child abuse is reliable by definition. Some warning signs of abused children include:
- Depression at an early age
- Withdrawal from friends and those outside immediate family
- Addiction and substance abuse
- MPD (multiple personality disorder) or DID (dissociative identity disorder)
- Suicide attempts
- Inappropriate sexual behaviour even before puberty
What, then, can be the answer? Experts usually disagree on the best solution, but most endorse the presence of the victim during the legal proceedings. If these children do not witness justice meted out to them in an accepted manner, they will equate it to not being important enough to be given justice. Sadly, even despite a robust legal construct that are in place, far too many victims either fall through the cracks or do not survive to seek justice. For those who are removed from their abusive homes and placed in protective custody, history repeats itself in more terrifying ways. The most frustrating aspect is breaking this cycle before it sends up the red flags.
That said, it is certainly not a lost cause to ensure protection for these children. A collaborative and coordinated team approach can be designed to protect the rights of these children. The legal representative must work hand-in-hand with government agencies, counsellors and guardians or custodians of the victims. Such combined effort can work to the advantage of the children and are make them feel as though someone is looking out for them.
We can only hope (against hope) that the Catholic Church reconsiders the label it has so carelessly placed on this innocent little girl. She already carries enough on her young mind without being accused of murder too.
Edited to add:
Someone actually wrote this in his comment on a forum: "Why do you need to give a man a life sentence or death for a rape when the female can easily get on with her life after sometime? It is a crime that can in no way equated to murder or cutting off a person's hands or legs."
Apr 27, 2009
The picture above shows a resplendent and radiant mother-daughter pair. But behind the radiant smiles and crinkled eyes are ears of trauma and a long struggle. A struggle to give birth. A struggle to be born. A struggle to live.
This is the story of three persons who were told they deserved to die, or at the most live a second-rate life. Just because they were women. They were abused, abandoned, berated, belittled, disowned. Just because one was a mother who was not given the right to beget a daughter. Just because the other two were offsprings who carried a different DNA pattern than the one desired by their family. Just because Neera had the guts to bear and raise Shubhra and Pooja despite the hardships she had to endure for doing so. Just because Shubhra and Pooja were determined to live the life their mother struggled to provide for them.
Like any other Indian girl, Neera was married to a well-placed and fairly well-to-do man who she'd thought would be her 'partner' for life. The marriage was not the perfect romance or a bed of roses or a perpetual honeymoon or any other simile the word is accorded by poets and romantics. But like any other Indian wife, Neera tried her best to pull the relationship through. And then she discovered she was pregnant with her first child.
Neera's in-laws told her everything would be back to normal with her husband if she could give him what she had been brought into the family for - a son. When Shubhra was born, the marriage predictably went from bad to worse. Her husband decided to seek on the streets the son he did not get from his wife, and made no qualms about flaunting his many 'women' in his wife's face. Despite that and everything else she was subjected to in her marital home, Neera did not (read could not) walk away. Just like any other Indian daughter. She tried her best to please everyone from her malicious mother-in-law to her adulterous husband, all the while hoping and believing that she could win them over. This despite the fact that she served her cancer-stricken mother-in-law with all her heart only to hear abuses hurled at her. This despite the fact that her husband brought one of his mistresses home and announced their imminent wedding. This despite the fact that there was nobody who stood up for Neera or even felt for her.
Then Neera was pregnant a second time. This time, she fervently hoped and prayed for a son. But I wouldn't have been writing this and being inspired, had Pooja not been born to her.
Neera's worst fears came true when nobody from Pooja's paternal family ever came to see her. She had to borrow clothes for her newborn daughter from the new mother in the adjacent bed. When Pooja was 20 days old, Neera made a choice. She left her marital home with her daughters, and hasn't looked back since.
This was not the end of misery or hardship for Neera, but she could breathe again. The freedom from a shame and a guilt that were in no way hers brought the courage to live again. For herself. For her daughters. Needless to say, the little girls imbibed their mother's grit and devotion to them, returning and sharing the feelings in equal measure. They not only lived for each other, but were determined to live for themselves as well. Not surprisingly, Shubhra today is a management professional happily married and blessed with a daughter.
As for Pooja, we saw her crowned Miss india-World 2009 on a night when the stars shined down upon her. Amidst these, the brightest star is her mother, who truly and completely gave her life. More than any ordinary mother could.
Apr 11, 2009
Now this ad left me shocked, and not to mention disgusted. Shocked because the ad had one of the cutest little girls I have seen on TV saying those lines and portraying those feelings. A child - who should be spending her time playing and studying and making new friends and discovering new wonders, instead of fussing before the mirror or vying for a classmate's attention. Disgusted because of the advertising world's obsession with the feminine to sell any and every product. Never mind if this time it was a little girl instead of another of those models with unrealistic bodies and unrealistic emotions.
Every channel we flip to and every show we watch is interspersed with a plethora of ads. Almost all of them (and the exceptions are right on top of the 'highly endangered ads' list) use women and their body parts to sell everything from food to toiletries to cars to men's underclothes. Any women's magazine one may open is full of articles earnestly proclaiming that if a woman can only just lose those so many 'extra' kilos, she'll have it all - a perfect marriage, a doting spouse, loving children, amazing sex, and a rewarding career. Bliss lay all this while in the race to size-zero (or even negative), while I ran after chocolate and friends and fun and love. How naive of me! Phoo!
Discriminatory, unrealistic, and even insulting standards of beauty are imposed on women, a majority of who are naturally larger and more mature than any of the models. Ever wondered why? The roots to this practice are clearly economic. By presenting a target of outward appearance that is obviously difficult (sometimes impossible) to achieve and maintain, the cosmetic and fitness industries are assured of growth and profits. It is no coincidence that flawless youth is increasingly promoted as the most essential criterion of beauty. Either all women need to lose weight, or they are ageing. If nothing, their complexion has yet not reached that perfect shade. According to the industry, age is a disaster that needs to be dealt with.
The stakes are huge. On one hand, women who are insecure about their bodies are more likely to buy the products that promise them socially acceptable standards of beauty. On the other hand, a deliberately constant exposure to images of stereotyped female bodies that are presumably deemed acceptable by society's yardstick may culminate in loss of self-esteem and the development of an alarmingly unhealthy lifestyle in women. Worse, the age profile of these women gets younger every passing day; it has begun to influence girls as young as 5. The evidence - the ad I mentioned at the start.
What is perhaps the most disturbing facet to this image-consciousness is the fact that media images of female beauty are unattainable for all but a very small number of women. Recently, researchers in the USA generated a computer model of a woman with Barbie-doll proportions. The study found that if such a woman were to exist, her back would be unable to support the weight of her upper body, and her body would be too narrow to contain more than half a liver and just a few centimeters of bowel. Incidentally, the small and large intestines together are a total of upto 8.5 meters in length. Such a woman would therefore suffer from perpetual chronic diarrhoea and eventually die from malnutrition. Frightened? Here's more. A Mattel study also indicates that 99% girls aged 3-10 years own a Barbie doll, or at the least have seen one.
The deluge of overt and covert messages about warped ideas of beauty tells 'ordinary' women that they are always in need of adjustment, that their body is an object to be perfected. These overwhelming reminders mean that real women's bodies have become invisible in popular media. The real tragedy is that many women internalize these stereotypes and begin to judge themselves by these standards. They learn to compare themselves to other women and compete with them for male attention. This focus on beauty and desirability insidiously destroys any awareness and action that might help to change this situation. Women across ages and ethnicities get and stay trapped in this vicious circle, a proverbial catch-22 situation.
Like a whiff of fresh air comes the Women's Horlicks ad with Konkona Sen Sharma as the face of the product. The film shows Konkona waking in the morning and beginning her day with running down a a list of things to do. She is shown taking up one task after another - from household chores to professional responsibilities. As the day passes, she looks at the myriad notes that she had made at the day's start, and realises that she forgot about herself. A voice-over says, "Aaj is badi si list ne chhoti si baat ka ehsaas dila diya. Apni hi list main apna naam nahin." Konkona enjoys a cup of the drink and indulges in a variety of pursuits for her health. The ad ends with her proclaiming, "Because your body needs you too."
It is high time we women (and our men) begin to look at ourselves as a whole person and not focus on body parts. We deserve to do things that we enjoy, no matter what shape or size we are. We can begin by understanding that images and stereotypes portrayed by the media are created for a commercial purpose and are not reflections of reality. This understanding must also be shared within our family and other social units to avoid misconceptions and dissonance in thought. We can encourage ourselves and each other to think beyond traditional stereotypes. For instance, instead of complimenting someone or ourselves by saying, "You/I look great/ pretty today", we can actually say, "You/I did a great job today". This would help widen the range of appeal beyond the aesthetics to grounded realism. Lastly, everyone should be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.
Consider this. What would life be if not a melange of different people - truly different and not assembly-line products similar in appearance? Variety, as they say, certainly is the spice of life! So let us all be different and celebrate the fact. Surely, love and laughter, and not external appearances, make the world go round.
Now go watch this, rejoice the fact that you aren't there yet, and promise yourself you never will be.
"Then be bold and love your body and stop fixing it. It was never broken."
- Eve Ensler, "The Good Body"
The comments on the advertisement of "Maruti Suzuki Dzire" do not necessarily become applicable to the actual product. The description is also not intended to discourage purchase of the same.
Source: Media Awareness Network
Video Courtesy: JaagoRi
Apr 5, 2009
I will never till my dying day forget two trips in Delhi's acclaimed Blueline buses. Two different days, two different occasions. A similar experience each time but two strikingly dissimilar reactions.
The first incident happened at nearly 5 pm one sweltering summer evening. I got on to a bus, crowded but the first to come. It was unbelievably hot and I wanted to get home quickly. It was a long journey home. Now I was clad in what is unanimously considered to be 'decent' clothing - a simple churidar-kurta with that 'modest' dupatta draped around my shoulders. What's more, the dress had sleeves. Think I would have been safe from prying eyes, a dowdy demure girl? Like hell I was.
I stood right in the front of the bus at the start of the aisle, with some other girls my age. A few minutes before the second stop since I got on, a guy come up and stood behind me. The bus was packed fit to burst, and I suddenly felt him pressing into me from behind. I felt uncomfortable, and not just because of how stuffy it was inside the bus. However, I told myself the poor fellow probably had no choice, considering we were all stuffed like sardines in a tin. You'll have to believe me when I say that I actually felt he must be fidgeting like I was, and that given a choice he would have maintained a respectable distance. I was about to discover how ridiculously naive I was.
Two stops later, there was more space in the bus. But this guy was either blind to this obvious fact, or his legs had been nailed to the bus floor. He stood exactly as he did three stops and fifteen minutes earlier. What did I do? Nothing. What did I say? Nothing. I simply stood there, without a single expression of discomfort but screaming and howling inside. Each jerk and turn of the bus would literally throw the man on to me. I still stood as if carved out of stone. An eternity of agony later, I got down at my stop.
I wish to this day I’d done or at least said something, to someone if not to him. I did not. Instead, I endured in silence. I wish to this day I'd felt enraged. I did not. Instead, I felt dirty, even ashamed. I went home and threw up. When Mom asked, I said it was the samosa I'd eaten earlier in the day.
If there was one thing I learnt that day, it was this. The next time I encountered anyone who doubted his being a man and tried to reassure himself thus, I had to stand up for myself, because no one else would or even should. And stand up I did.
Three weeks later, I again stood in the bus, at the front of the aisle. Same place, same bus. And suddenly, same situation. This time the creep tried to run his hand up my back. That day I did what I had learnt. I gave it right back to him. I asked him to get away just once, and he leched in a totally sick manner with the oft-heard and dependable, "Arre madam ji, itni bheed hai, kahan khade honge hum?" Then, that touch again - even as he spoke. I turned to face him fully and slapped the living daylights out of him.
Before he could even recover, the three conductors who'd been listening to songs on a mobile phone came and surrounded him. Using the best cuss words I knew (and I know quite a few, mind you), I demanded the creep be deboarded that very instant. Not only did the conductors instantly do exactly as I said, they even got down to give him company and thrashed him nicely. Then they brought him back up into the bus from the back gate this time, and took him to the police station at Pragati Maidan, the next stop.
That day I learnt another lesson. It never is our fault. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We did not ask for it. We do not invite it. Never ever. Yet we take it. Silently.
As far as I believe, people you'd go to expecting support or even empathy would unanimously think (or be kind enough to say it on your face), "Well, you know you are dressed in such a way. What's more, you have breasts and other typically female apparatus. So believe it or not, you asked for it!" So today, such creeps have obviously decided that any woman is an easy picking, so they can easily cop a feel or worse any time of day or night. They see no rhyme or reason to stop, seeing as the makers and implementors of law have seemingly better things to do. The creeps have been doing it for years and nothing earth-shattering has happened to any of them yet. What is there for them to fear?
If we have reached a time when we need to think before stepping out of our homes, or indulging in the simplest of pleasures and innocent pursuits, then we seriously need to stop and take stock. Hell, we need to actually give everyone (including ourselves) a vigorous shake from this deep slumber. The government needs to actually do the job they were meant to in the first place - 'govern' the goddamn place. The law and order machinery needs to do what they are supposed to - make sure there prevails at least some bloody sort of law and order. What kind of a country are they running where women cannot even welcome the New Year without getting groped and stripped by a deranged mob in the process? Remember Gateway of India?
What is it with creeps and this behaviour? Is it their long-repressed sexuality? Is it their suppressed curiosity about the other kind of human? Is it their utter depravity? Is it their unfulfilled experience of sex? Do they not get any or enough? Is that why they decide to let themselves loose on any and every woman out there? Is that really it? What do they wish for? Touch her? Fondle her? Is that it? And now that they’ve done that and got a nice buzz going, what? Pounce on her? Rape her? What?
I seriously doubt such creeps themselves know what they actually set out to achieve. More often than not, these men are cowards. They feel that the crowd gives them a perfect opportunity, and anyway the woman won't protest, her honour and all. They feel their being a man will help them get away with it. They expect no or at the most feeble reaction from the woman they creep up on. And that is exactly why most of the time a shrill yell or a tight slap sets them right.
To my fellow women, I say this. Stand up and fight right back. Scream your lungs out. Make a scene. Slap as hard as you can. Stomp down on to his foot. Push him away hard. Most importantly, look him straight in the eye. Help yourself. No one else will.
Who was it that once said, "Until the day a woman can go for a walk at midnight and return safe, we haven’t got true freedom"? Looks like after 62 years of freedom, we aren’t free yet.
Mar 31, 2009
Did I give you your due?
For all that you've done for me,
Did I ever thank you?
For all of my childhood memories,
For helping me with life's stresses,
For helping me accept my defeats,
And celebrating my successes?
For teaching me the value of hard work,
Good judgement, courage, and being true,
The laughter, the smiles, the silence we shared,
Did I ever thank you?
If I have forgotten, I'm thanking you now,
You taught me right from wrong;
I hope you know how much you're loved,
And I know you knew that all along.
Mar 27, 2009
This post is a piece of fiction. It is meant as a tribute to Elisabeth Fritzl, her children, and all the other children who lose out on their childhood and innocence due to the horror called incest.
Why wasn’t I ever your little girl or your baby? Who was I all those years that you never called me 'yours'? You never held my hands and taught me to walk, one tiny step at a time. You never bought me toys and chocolates and little trinkets when you came home from work. You never listened to me gushing about my first day in school or my first prize or my first crush. You never took me for walks in the park or shopping sprees at the market. You never hugged me when I was sick. You never wiped my tears when I was hurt.
Where were you all these years, Father? Oh, I forget. You were between my legs all this while. You never came up to look at me - your daughter, your flesh and blood, your child.
Surely I must have been, like all daughters in the world, the apple of your eye. What could have possibly turned me into a receptacle of your carnal desires? Did you hate me? Did I annoy or upset you? But I was always a good girl, the right mix of innocence and naughtiness. Wouldn't it have been good if the characteristics of this 'good' girl weren't also the characteristics of a daughter living with a terrible secret, trying to cover up the shame that should never have been hers? I grew up in a home where I was taught valuable lessons about not wasting money or time or an education. Why then am I left with a wasted childhood?
I will never forget that night. It was exactly a week after my seventh birthday, which you had failed to attend yet again. That evening, Mom had to go to a relative's place for a function and would only return the next morning. I was overjoyed thinking that I could finally have some time alone with you, Father. Evidently, you had the same thoughts. For very different reasons. You asked me if I'd like to lie down with you on the bed you shared with Mom and watch some TV. I was on cloud nine. My father was actually willing to spend quality time with me. I jumped up and reclined beside you, unaware of how that innocent decision would change my life forever. I found the TV program boring and soon drifted off to sleep. Suddenly, I woke up completely and found myself to be drenched in cold sweat. By the time I could even comprehend what had woken me so abruptly, I became aware of your fingers groping under my frock and beneath my panty. I saw you wearing nothing but a crazed expression on your face, your eyes glazed over with something so unfamiliar yet so familiar. Lust, I later learnt. I froze, and in that very instant, time froze for me. Forever.
Had it been a one-off incident, as I fervently hoped it would be, I could have tried to forget and move on with my life. I could even have forgiven you for what you did to me that day. But it happened again, and again, and again. I tried to explain to Mom the very next day after that first time, but I just couldn't believe what had happened could possibly be true, and I forbade myself from ever again mentioning it to her till I lived. I had no one to go to except you, to satiate your perversion and make you feel 'like a man'. That was what you said it was for, didn't you? I was fortunate to have been chosen by you, you had said. Only I didn't know it was to remind you of your masculinity whenever you had the tiniest of doubts about it. Over the years, my body became numb to the disgust I felt each time you ravaged me. Now I felt nothing but my soul getting crushed every time. I found my self blown up into a zillion shreds, never ever to be brought together again. Worse, I was alive the morning after each night of abuse.
I taught myself to believe I was not being raped. I told myself it was not happening to me. Bit by bit, agonisingly slow, I could feel life draining out of me. I had travelled beyond the boundaries of pain, beyond the worst of nightmares, beyond the greatest of fears. I saw you every morning, smiling at me like a doting father would and a ravager would never. Every fraction of every moment I realised that I was going to die. But I didn't. Maybe I wasn't meant to die. Maybe I had to live through and out of this. Exactly ten years and a thousand deaths after you had first defiled everything that was supposed to be sacred to me, I told Mom.
I saw the horror in the eyes and on the face of my mother. How she had loved me and cuddled me whenever I had wanted her to. She had such radiant dreams for me, dreams that she could now see shattering before her very eyes. I was terrified, possibly even more than that night I had felt your hand inside my panties. Had I failed her? Would she hate me and be repulsed? Would she blame me for letting you do this to me? Would she berate me for not having told her the very next day it first happened? Would she side with you and leave me to deal with my broken self alone, yet again? She knelt in front of me, looking straight into my stricken eyes. In that instant, I saw sense in all this madness. The eyes that were locked on to mine were, for a welcome change, glazed over with love and kindness. She understood.
I was going on a journey which I couldn't avoid. I had no idea where it would take me. But I knew this - I would not let you steer my life anymore. I had to pick up the pieces of my shattered being and put them back together. I promised myself I would do all I can to see that you get what's coming to you. That day I had told Mom. Now I told the world.
Today, exactly twelve years after that day I cried with joy when you asked me to share your bed, I cry with joy again. Not because I have won the lawsuit I filed against you sexual abuse. Not because I have managed to get you sentenced to a lifetime behind bars. Not because I know you will pay for some fraction of your crime now. Because I can breathe again. Because I am free, finally free of the horror I witnessed even before I was old enough to understand what horror was. Because I have finally shed the load of guilt and shame that I was forced to carry - your load, but my burden. Because I am going home for the first time today, a place where Mom and I will begin to build our lives anew. Because I know that, like yesterday and like today, Mom will always be with me and stand by me tomorrow, no matter what. Because I can smile again. Because I am free - free of being your daughter.
I sometimes suffer the guilt of sending you, my own father, to a harsh and merciless life. But one look into the mirror, something I had despised for twelve years, convinces me that I did what was right. Nothing would have been able to rest my conscience if I had faltered in taking this one difficult but morally correct step. The silence is gone, there is no more silence now. Today is the beginning of my new life. I am starting over today. I am surrounded by my Mother and my friends who all love me. I look out my window and see beauty all around me. I have begun to talk and laugh and sing. I am awake. I am alive. I am happy.
I believed in these words that first night twelve years ago, though in a strikingly different context I look at Mom and repeat them one more time. "There is no place like home."
Mar 12, 2009
A recent World Economic Forum (WEF) study has placed India at a proud 113 amongst 130 countries in terms of gender equality. In fact, India ranks behind countries like Bangladesh and several Middle East countries which are notorious for the harassment of women. A shocking revelation, no doubt. But is it really that astounding?
Today, I shall not talk of rural districts or femicide or even domestic violence or rape. I will rather discuss the role of popular media in unwittingly or otherwise inflicting a sense of disparity amongst us boys and girls.
By the time a girl reaches the age of 16, she is forced to look decently good to be accepted by the common standards of society. If boys wear spectacles, they look handsome and studious and clever and mature. Says who? The fashion police, of course! But what if a girl sports glasses? Oh no, who in the wide world would marry her? Yeah, right! Remember what Aamir Khan told Salman on 'Dus ka Dum'? When Kiran Rao offered to do away with her glasses, Aamir said he married her with glasses and curly hair et al, and therefore saw no reason for any change now.
It is perfectly fine for a man to be fat, and not at all obnoxious. In fact, it signifies 'happy' things as a loving family or a wealthy life and so on. But if a girl does not possess that coveted Miss-India-esque curvature, she is frowned upon. She is gawked and stared at and snide remarks reach her, all while overly-anxious aunties and didis fear for her future! Driven to the gym to break sweat, whether she likes it or not, she is taught to look desirable for the society at large. She starts to fear coming out into the stern public eye.
Open a newspaper or a magazine, or even switch on a random TV channel. Predictably, a starving model in a size-zero figure taunts at us. We resign to the fact that life is for living, and that we care a damn for our weight. But it doesn’t help that half the pages in half the magazines rave and rant on 'weight'y matters. So much that the Obamas and Osamas and Chandrayaans of the world are content with a second place to this most critical of human issues.
Men are tall, dark and handsome. But girls must be fair and lovely to even live a life of dignity and respect. Reason - they appear gorgeous that way only. Once they reach the blessed twenties, they must be listed as 'fair' and 'slim' and 'v. beautiful' on shaadi.com, bharatmatrimonial.com, jeevamsathi.com and even Times of India or Hindustan Times by concerned parents. Every television show broadcasts a fairness product advertisement at least thrice. Oh, sure we have a 'Fair and Handsome' product too, but in the world of TV as well as the actual social scenario it is twice as less in demand than its feminine counterpart. Never mind that Bipasha Basu is dark yet so stunningly sexy!
I haven’t even reached the part about acne and skin blemishes. How well do we know those mornings when we wake up wishing death for every pimple out there. Societal pressures, you say? Bingo, girl! You're right on it. So when I watched in utter horror Dr. Kiran Bedi of all women endorsing 'NoMarks' anti-blemish products, I felt we'd achieved what our fashion-crazed nation has always wanted - that beauty obsession runs deeper than nation-wide unrest! That advertisement actually prompted me to write this post.
Our men have donned 'western' apparel ever since we remember. I mean, we hardly see a young uppity boy dressed in a lungi or a dhoti or a langot, do we? But our 'desi girls' are expected, and even allowed, to sport only sari and salwar-kameez for the society to see them as existing. Maybe we have girls on city streets dressed in denims and skirts, whose styles change every so often. Nothing wrong with that, you say? How many of us would be dying to wear our 'decent' and 'homely' salwar-kameez but cannot do so due to pre-determined societal rules? None, since only 'western' attire is restricted and frowned upon, therefore making it that much more desirable.
Let us move on to more serious issues. If a man has a fling or a one-night-stand or an extra-marital affair, it is accepted by the large-hearted society as being a man's 'needs'. But when a woman engages herself in any relationship not mentioned in the society's rulebook, she is termed as 'loose', 'unchaste', 'characterless', 'available' and what not. She brings shame upon her family and society, so she pays for it with her life (which was dispensable anyway). So what happened to women's needs? And if unacceptable by society, why are female bar dancers and prostitutes more common than their male counterparts?
Nature decided to make male birds more attractive than female birds and female humans more striking than male humans. But for once, just once, accept us for what we are. We are beautiful inside even if it does not reflect on the outside. Physical attractiveness in a woman is good, even desirable, but can never be essential. We have achieved our right to work, to exercise financial control, to speak our mind. None of this happened because we wore a sari or had a flawless fair complexion or a 36-24-36 figure. It happened because we had a brain and a tongue that we used effectively. Now we wait to be liberated from unreasonable and derogatory societal demands. Like Priyanka Chopra’s popular ad goes, "Why should boys have all the fun?"
Mar 8, 2009
Gender apartheid exists. Yes, it does. So? So nothing. Let's go deal with it. Women are and women will. The challenge lies in the 'how's and 'when's.
In over 60 years of our democratic history, each ruling government has deliberately and insidiously ensured that women remain invisible and silent. How mahaan does that make our Bharat? Why have we not all hung our heads in shame? Why does nobody speak up? Is it because we actually believe a woman's worth is actually nothing? Do we see women as dispensable, of which kind many are available? The answer was 'yes' 60 years ago. Today, it remains just that. Not that it still affects us. We continue to pretend all is well.
Our President is a woman. Our chief of the ruling party is a woman. We have formidable women chief ministers. Women are increasingly joining their male counterparts as the nation's workforce. Isn't that enough cause for celebration? In this day and age, celebrating the achievement of less than 2% of the female population in India is ridiculous to the point of being laughable.
It is no longer astonishing how depressingly low we estimate the worth of our women, even as we reveres the Goddess in her various forms! So how does that happen? It happens because we are too busy deluding ourselves that all is hunky-dory. That beyond the beatings and burnings lies a good heart that 'loves' women and wants them to 'improve'.
Well, guess what? The beatings and burnings worked. The new and improved woman has arrived. But, alas, there still is no celebration, really. She isn't what we exactly wished for, now, is she? To 'man'kind's eternal horror, the new and improved versions came equipped with a mind - to think! Too bad. What do we do about this? Can we again control her? Should we create a remote for this mind? Why, of course. It ain't too tough to teach her a lesson. We've been doing that for ever since we care to remember!
So we go right ahead. We strip her clothes. We kick and punch her. We fondle her and feel her up. And when all that does not satiate us, we rape and plunder her. That, if nothing else, teaches her a lesson.
Yes. It teaches her the lesson that she must stand for herself, because no one else can. It teaches her the lesson that if they unite, along with real men (who respect women and therefore earn respect for themselves), their numbers will multiply. It teaches her the lesson that she must do things with freedom, no matter how hard it is. It teaches her the lesson that she must always stand on the side of truth and justice, no matter what it costs. It teaches her the lesson that she alone owns her honour; no one has a claim to it and it cannot be ever taken away from her. Most importantly, it teaches her the lesson that she does actually possess a mind to learn these lessons with.
With elections just round the corner, we do not hear a single political party address women's issues, not even their pet topic - women's reservation. It is as if women don't exist - not even as a vote bank. They may talk pretty about some obscure temples or mosques that no one really cares for. They may invoke the dependable ideology of Hindutva or minority-appeasement to fill their vote-hungry coffers. They may play the divisive card and arouse the dormant pride in their voters for their region (read party). But they fail to see that the society they so earnestly solicit votes from is one that marginalises half its population. Such a a society can see nothing but decline.
Domestic violence is our best kept dirty secret. Not a single politician has recognised this skeleton in their closet, or the devastating effects it has on their voters. As long as our women continue to be either battered or ignored, we cannot call ourselves a civilisation, let alone a developing one. Pratibha Patil may come and go, but her own kind only goes, never comes. So, all in all, a thoroughly depressing scenario for the erstwhile 'sone ki chidiya'. Oh come on, of course not.
SRK once said, "Hamari filmon ki tarah hamari zindagi mein bhi, end tak sab kuch theek-thaak ho jata hai. Aur agar aisa na ho, to ye samjho ki kahaani abhi khatam nahin hui. Picture abhi baaki hai." Yes, there are more reels to go. This year, this year, we subvert the usual gender agenda - a literal gender bender. The eternally enslaved and exploited woman will always find her crusader. But the new age truly and completely belongs to the dangerously liberated and obnoxiously loud-mouthed woman. You don't like her? Then its time you learnt to live with her.
The new and improved 'desi girl' has decided she isn't going to wait for help - she will help herself. She is not the martyr - she is the marauder out to reclaim her life. The knight in shining armour has finally been laid to rest, bless his soul. The change is here, and the change is her. Maa di laadli bigad gayi, so, enna rascala, mind it!
Happy Women's Day!
Mar 7, 2009
GM asked me (and I thank her for it) to enlist 25 random facts about myself, including weird quirks and lofty dreams. Here I am, rediscovering myself, introspecting and talking aloud. Much as I tried, I couldn't come up with anything cynical/hypercritical (like me on "The XX Factor") or preachy/patronising (like me on "Hate, Actually")! Nevertheless, here's me described best by who else but ME!
1. I believe it takes one person to show the world how change can happen. One person, really. And nothing better than that one person being me.
2. I believe in the power of love, which I think can do miracles when nothing seems to work. I believe a child's love is the best and the purest - it is unconditional. I love babies and children for that very reason. I also believe in the power of positive touch - a pat, a hug, a kiss, a caress, a handshake. I believe a touch can communicate much more than words, and equal if not more than eyes can.
3. I am a sentimental fool. I have preserved letters and greeting cards and non-perishable gifts from friends and family, even those I no longer talk to. I just can't throw them away. Ditto for my old/torn/damaged possessions - I feel such pain throwing or giving stuff I've used/owned away.
4. I am a gab, but I am a great listener as well. I love it when my friends share their problems with me. If I can't offer them help or support or advice, I simply listen to them; it does as much.
5. I sign off all my mails (except official or those to unknown people) with the word 'Cheers!'. And I have 350+ people in my 'Friends' list on Orkut - not all of them are friends now, though; they are classmates or coaching-class-mates or people I met through people. No strangers, though.
6. I have huge crushes on Hrithik Roshan, Arjun Rampal, John Abraham, Farhan Akhtar and Dhoni. And I call Dhoni as Mahi, not as MSD or whatever else he is called. If I were a man, I'd have the hots for Preity Zinta, Juhi Chawla, Priyanka Chopra and Bipasha Basu. My favourite directors are Satyajit Ray and Ingmar Bergman. My favourite musician is A R Rahman. My favourite lyricists are Gulzar, Javed Akhtar and Prasoon Joshi. My favorite films/ actors/ actresses/ books/ authors/ singers are too many to list here.
7. If I love someone truly, I love them with all I have. If I hate someone truly, I hate them with all I have. For all the others, I'm a pretty nice person to be with. I love making friends, and if I can, keeping them.
8. I believe friendship overrides all relationships - even those we call love. Friends bare their souls to each other, and know each other inside out.
9. The foundation of any relationship on this planet, trust is, without a doubt, the single most important element in any of my relationships. There are many relationships that are equally important to me, and I expect each of them to trust me with the others.
10. I believe no person can survive without respect for the self. That is the first step. If you don't respect yourself, you'll never respect anything or anyone.
11. I am fiercely protective of my personal space, and no one - I repeat, no one - can encroach over it.
12. I expect a lot of my friends, and sometimes get hurt in the process. I have taken to limiting myself to a very few chosen friends who are mirrors to my soul, and I to theirs. One of them I spent two memorable years of hostel life with, and he is like the elder bro I never had.
13. There are only two other people, apart from my Mom and Dad, who I can talk about anything and everything with. They are my best friends from school.
14. I am a reasonably good singer, though I think myself to be better than I actually am. I love to sing; it makes me happy and content. I sing both inside the bathroom and outside it. I can write and tell good stories, and have a reasonably good command over both the languages I know - Hindi and English. I love to act, and am a big drama queen when I want to be. I also nurture a secret ambition of being a teacher some day.
15. Music to me is my religion, my chicken-soup for the soul, my escape, my haven. Music is to me what God may be to you. I especially love classical and Sufi. My favorite bands include Indian Ocean and Mekaal Hasan Band (the most talented band ever from Pakistan). I revere classical music (Hindustani and Carnatic, vocal and instrumental), Sufi music and ghazals.
16. I am an atheist. I believe in no religion, though I respect others' right to believe in their respective faiths. I love listening to religious songs (bhajans, sufi music, carols) but they fail to arouse any reliious instincts in me; they are simply another beautiful form of music.
17. I abhor superstitions and the gender-bias inherent in each religion of the world. It simply makes me so mad. I hate religious fundamentalists and bigots to the core - they are the worst thing to ever happen to the world. All the world needs is rational thought and common sense. Is that too much to ask?
18. I cannot stand or accept discrimination or injustice of any kind. I hate it with my core. I see all people as humans, regardless of their gender or name or appearance or lifestyle or religion or nationality. We are the same race - homo sapiens.
19. It is essential for me to have fun in life, to laugh and smile without inhibition, to do what I love doing.
20. I have only cried in only three movies so far - Titanic, Taare Zameen Par and Matrubhoomi. One of my favorite films in recent times has been "Chak De India", especially for the dialogue "... agar ladkiyan kisi ko paida kar sakti hain, to wo kuch bhi kar sakti hain ..." Also, the only two books I ever wept (and even threw up) reading are both penned by Khaled Hosseini - The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. I threw up when Laila has her Caesarean without anaesthetics.
21. I am a big fan of the Harry Potter books and Robin Cook. I own the entire respective series and have read them multiple times. I also love to read Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens and P G Wodehouse. I would want nothing more than Wonka's chocolate factory to be real, and me to be let loose in it. Ah, heaven!
22. I nurture a secret desire to travel to Pakistan and meet the people I share common roots and a common history with. I would wish to understand and end the hostility between us and them, seeing as we are essentially the same people.
23. I love to eat most things, especially salads and desserts of all kinds. Chocolate is a necessity. I hate to shop, especially for routine stuff. I even hate to shop for clothes or shoes or accesories, though I love having as many of them as I can. I love buying gifts for my closest friends and immediate family. I absolutely detest jewellery (esp. if gold) and make-up (except moisturiser and lip balm/gloss).
24. I value humility greatly, and abhor arrogance especially if it comes from someone not worthy of it. I hate hypocrisy and double standards with all my heart - there are very very few things I hate more than that.
25. Delhi and Noida are home to me, and I love them despite all the associated evils and issues.
Errr... 26. I can never love anyone more than my Mom-Dad and Bro, my kid(s) in future, and my bestest friends. No one. Can't say about my partner coz I haven't met him yet.
Whoa! I could have said so much more about myself, but my 25 points are over. I did try to fit in as much as I could, though, and one extra point too.
I now bequeath the said responsibility on to the following worthy souls (if someone else didn't already beat me to them):
Goofy Mumma (returning the favour), IHM, Solilo, Chandni, Roopie, RK, Mad Momma, Chikki, 1conoclast, Yaamyn, Rakesh, Usha, Monika, Indyeah, Tarun, Madhu, freespirit. Okay, maybe Prashant too, but I know all about him.
August 12, 2008. A day of contradictions and controversy. A day when history was rewritten. A day when a woman challenged the tradition of centuries and rescripted the scriptures. A day when Lucknow smiled with Naish Hasan and her to-be husband, as Islamic laws breathed in a gust of fresh air.
August 12, 2008 was a day when the wedding of a Sunni couple was attended by Shia guests of honour. If that was not scandalous enough to make an entire nation sit up and take notice, this nikaah was to have only women as witnesses. But what actually made jaws drop and eyes pop out was the fact that a woman acted as the qazi to solemnise the marriage. In fact, the only male presence at the venue was that of the groom!
Twenty-nine would hardly be the age when history is made, but Naish achieved this feat in 30 minutes flat. An economics post-graduate working as a vocal women's rights activist with the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Aandolan that she founded, Naish and her fiancé Imran, a PhD from AMU, taught the world the true meaning and nature of the Quran. By opting for an all-woman nikaah, even as venom-spewing hard-line fundamentalists receded to the background, the young couple volunteered to make a beginning and break the shackles of deep-rooted patriarchy that haunts every religion. They are fortunate, especially Naish and her qazi Dr. Syeda Hameed (a member of the State Planning Commission), for few can actually practice what they preach.
The courageous couple and their gutsy qazi have raised a firm voice against the subjugation of women which had for centuries plagued a religion whose name means peace. The spunky bride had other unheard-of pre-conditions. She refused to dress in the traditional bridal finery, refused rituals as baraat and vidaai, and scoffed at the idea of mehr (the bridal dower). She also refused to allow herself and Imran to be seated in separate veiled enclosures; the two sat together on a table, separated only by Dr. Syeda. The nikaahnama or marriage certificate was drafted by Naish's organisation and proudly displayed the equal rights it bestowed to both Naish and Imran in matters of decision-making, finances, marital responsibilities and divorce.
The extremists and religious bigots boiled their blood and simmered their tempers over the flames of revolt, the least of their worries being the bride's age which they perceived to be way beyond marriageable. Nevertheless, several eminent Muslim scholars endorsed the nikaah and hailed the courage of the newly-weds and Dr. Syeda. Tahir Mahmood, a celebrated Islamic scholar and member of the Law Commission, lauded the nikaah as a symbolic resentment against an unbridled male chauvinism typical of Indian society. Also supportive of the event were Kalbe Jawwad and Khalid Rashid Firangimahali, both highly respected Islamic scholars and members of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. Very surprisingly, Shaista Amber, the President of the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board, chooses to remain sceptical of the incident that took the world media by storm. She exhibits her patriarchal mindset in advising that religious work is best left to men and women should only fill in as stopgaps for men's absence.
For Naish and Imran, however, advices never mattered. They have come to be seen as crusaders in their own right, disregarding archaic customs and leaving the world over-awed with their brazenness. Cameras covered this historical event held in a hotel of all places, and fawned over the facts that stirred a hornets' nest amongst the Islamic clergy. The day belonged to these iconoclasts, because even while the bride wore no veil and the groom had no customary cap on his head, an important part of a traditional Muslim nikaah went missing - the recitation of the Quranic verses and the mandatory khutba (sermon). The nuptial vows were taken in English.
As Naish and Imran tied the knot on August 12, 2008, they and Dr. Syeda also untangled conventional binds and misogynist nooses. Whether it remains an isolated epoch-making event or encourages other Muslim women to fight for gender equality is too early to predict, but the credibility of the audacious bride, along with her spirited husband and their brave qazi, surely represents a serious challenge to the established order.
Mar 5, 2009
At first sight, she may seem frail and even a little sickly, but this gutsy lady is truly a woman of substance. For when a 59-year-old illiterate Dalit woman from a non-descript village transcends the shackles of traditions and addresses the United Nations, history is written.
Girija Devi belongs to the Mushar community from a dingy village called Bhirkhia-Chipulia in Bihar's Motihari district. Her community has been the subject of talk recently, when it was discovered that they are so named because they eat rats. But Girija's unusual taste for rodents is not what caught New York's fancy. It was her courage to tame the abusive men in her village who turned up drunk every evening and mercilessly battered their wives. What is even more notable about Girija's crusade is that it began with her own home, against her own husband.
Life has changed for the once demure housewife who suffered humiliation at the hands of the male members of her family, including her husband Singheshwar Manjhi. The day she received the invitation from UN to address the 15th session of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Girija's husband saw red and told her in clear terms that in no way was she to break tradition and leave the confines of her hut. To drive home the point, he pounced on her and began beating her mercilessly. That day, Girija picked up a heavy lathi and hit him right back.
The very next day, journalists thronged the village in hordes, all for a glimpse of the woman whose courage changed the lives of her community, and to inspire others with her success story. Girija, a mother of four and a trained midwife, was informed of the UN invite by Action Aid, an NGO with which her 'Mushar Vikas Manch', which she formed six years ago, works in close cooperation to fight against alcoholism. For a woman who could barely sign and who spoke only in Bhojpuri, this news was literally a bolt from the blue. She was understandably nervous, but saw it as an opportunity to raise her voice on a global scale. Her grit finds a testimony in Jaimangal Manjhi, an ex-drunkard and ex-wife-beater, who extols Girija as the beacon of his life that had been blinded by toddy and other distilled liquor.
Men in this village, until some time back, used to return home from work drunk, having spent the day's entire earnings on alcohol, forcing the children to sleep on empty stomachs. Then Girija gathered the members of her Mushar Vikas Manch, men and women alike, and handed them lathis, one of which had once put an end to her own abused life. Together, this motley gang would crack down on homes where they heard a woman scream. The cause of the scream - a violent husband or cruel in-laws, sometimes even sons - would be tonsured, adorned with a garland of the shabbiest and stinkiest chappals, and paraded round the village on a donkey. The fish would catch the bait - hook, line and sinker.
It would be an insult to Girija's efforts if we were to think this massive upheaval of Bhirkhia-Chipulia happened overnight or even in a matter of days. Her method of checking the bacchanalian conduct of the menfolk did not go down well with many, but the aggressive style of her Manch gang was the proverbial zipper on their loud mouths. Many stopped drinking out of sheer fear of humiliation, and once they did, their eyes opened to the dark shadows under their wives' and children's eyes. In fact, such was the revolution Girija introduced to her Manch loyalists that two of her associates registered FIRs against their husbands for misbehaving with them under the influence of liquor.
The story was never intended to end the day Girija stood proudly at the dias in New York and addressed a multi-cultural and multi-national gathering in February 2006. She was elected representative of Ward No. 3 of the local Gram Panchayat for the next five years. She diversified the activities of her Manch with the help of local NGOs and now fights for minimum wages for landless farmers. Her life may resemble a fairy-tale, but the challenges of her responsibilities are real and many. She may have reined in the wayward men of her community, but her international recognition has not helped in her persuasion of the local administration to get homes in her village repaired for ill weather. Girija was never one to give up hope; she proved that the day she picked a lathi to hit her abusive husband back.
Despite her meaty and diverse portfolio, her pet project remains deterrence on marital violence and irresponsible drinking. "I will never allow men to drink beyond their capacities. But I will also never allow women to ruin their lives and those of their children for men who beat them." The voice that galvanised a sleepy hamlet in Bihar and could be heard as far as New York is no less than the sunshine that burns up an arrogant sun to provide warmth and hope to life on earth.
Feb 26, 2009
The morning of 15 January 2005 heralded the annual village festival of Magha Parab. For Minati and other members of Orissa's Munda tribe, the occasion is a chance to be gifted new clothes and knick-knacks, coupled with lots of dancing and merriment. Minati, adorned in a new dress and flower ornaments, went to the festival ground with her friends. At midnight, she along with other girls started dancing to the beats of dhol. Steadily, as the beats turned faster, the skies turned red with the sindoor that men threw at the dancing girls. Minati's life took a dramatic turn when 50-year old Suna Hembram threw sindoor at her and it settled on her forehead. The next moment, senior members of the community declared it a 'marriage' in accordance with a bizarre tradition of forced child marriages. That was when Minati stood up and said 'No'.
Amidst a crowd of dumbstruck onlookers, with her head held high, Minati walked up to where the village elders sat and refused point-blank to give in to the ridiculous custom. She accused them of trying to control her life, and warned that they had no business imposing their decisions on her. She firmly asserted that she would not accept a man fit to be her grandfather as a husband. Having said so, Minati went back home and locked herself in her room.The next morning, and many such mornings after, her entire family accompanied by Hembram tried to convince her but failed. The bruised ego of Hembram was further riled by Minati's 'attitude', and he cornered her when she was alone at home one day. When Minati later complained to her mother that she had been raped, the entire family took it upon themselves to shame Minati for what was in no way her fault. The gritty girl gave her family one smoldering look and walked out of the hut she used to call home. Her family searched far and wide for her, while she slept peacefully in the forest for seven nights of hard-earned freedom.
Support came in the guise of a friend, whose husband helped Minati lodge complaints against her family and Hembram with the local police. Fortunately for her, they were all arrested. Later, while her mother and sister-in-law were released on bail, her father and brother awarded their sentences. As for the groom, he was booked for rape, and as Minati says with her impish smile, was good riddance.My heart swelled with pride as I wished there were more girls like Minati who can make a difference. She has not changed the world, or the country, or even her village. She stood up for herself. By standing up to and against injustice. By not accepting anything just because it is religion/ tradition/ culture/ etc. By showing her friends the courage to do the same. By showing what is right and what isn't in our society. By having a mind of her own and using it.
I firmly believe that any individual who can't stand up for himself/herself will fall for anything on earth. Minati showed the world how standing up for yourself is bravery, not impudence or disrespect. She also showed us that all individuals, and women too, have a right to decide what is best for them. In India, this right is constitutional and irrevocable. How many women know that? How many women would use that right? Sadly, a woman in India may have her constitutional rights, but not her humanitarian rights - to happiness and to a mind of her own.