Who Are Nero’s Guests?

Nero, a great Roman emperor from 54-68 AD, was known to people as mad and cruel. But he was also known for his grand and élite feasts which were attended by Rome’s Who’s Who. Now, one such feast is fondly remembered by the great Roman historian Tacitus who in his book, The Annals (XV, C.E. 62-65) notes:

“(they) were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle.”

What Tacitus refers to is a small problem that Nero faced whilst throwing lavish feasts to the intelligentsia, the gossip columnists, certainly the political correspondents, and anybody who mattered in Rome. When dusk fell and night arrived, there was no light around for the guests to continue to enjoy the festivities. Nero came up with an innovative solution and how! The prisoners and poor were brought and burnt on the stakes party all around the arena to illuminate the garden.

However, the issue is not Nero. The issue is Nero’s guests. Who are Nero’s guests?

P.Sainath, former Rural Affairs Editor at The Hindu, looks at and reports on farmers’ suicide and the clear inequality in India’s agrarian crisis in a documentary titled Nero’s Guests directed by Deepa Bhatia.

According to statistics, in India 60% of people are still dependent on agriculture. 836 million Indians live on less than 50 cents a day. Nearly 200, 000 farmers have committed suicide since 1997, driven by debt and distress. A number of reasons have been cited by research scholars, journalists and activists ranging from monsoon failure, high debt burdens, genetically modified crops to government policies, public mental health, personal issues and family problems. Yet the mainstream media hardly reflects this reality. We have correspondents for every field including fashion, Page 3, Bollywood, but we don’t have a poverty correspondent. What does it say about our society?

The suicides have increased drastically over the years. In 1998, it was one suicide a week, by 2002 it was one a day. Then in every district one heard of 2-3 deaths. This has increased to 6-8 suicides each day. Now, the government’s policy to compensate the family who lost their breadwinner is also very tricky. The person who committed suicide might be the only working farmer in the household but may or may not own the land. In this case, the family of the suicide will not be compensated. Likewise, women farmers won’t be compensated. The society does not recognize women farmers and women in India rarely have land or property in their names.

Credits: Balazs Gardi/Flickr (Used under a CC license)

Credits: Balazs Gardi/Flickr (Used under a CC license)

The farmers feel that no one cares about them. This was clear during the protests on the streets of Nagpur, Maharashtra in 2011 which is also shown in the documentary above. The farmers feel isolated & duped and there is never enough to eat. In years of extreme hunger, i.e., 2002-2003 India exported 20 million tons of food grains when the farmers who harvest these very food grains were starving. The rate at which the food grains were exported was lower than the rate at which it was sold in India. Interestingly, these food grains were exported to Europe for the cattle. There is a small inside joke among the farmers that their dream is to be born an European cow. This is both sad and shocking and itself calls for action.

Although the poor and the farmers go hungry and starve to death in India, there is surprisingly a huge amount of food wastage. According to the 2013 Global Hunger Index (GHI), India ranks 63rd, out of the 78 hungriest countries, substantially worse than neighbors like Sri Lanka (43rd), Nepal (49th), Pakistan (57th), and Bangladesh (58th). Statistics have indicated that food spoilage in wholesale markets is hindering food availability. For example a fresh vegetable is sold at Rs.10 while a delay in arrival means a decrease in the price and a cut and a huge loss to the vegetable dealer and the farmer.

Likewise, food is also wasted by the Indian metropolis, the urban middle and high classes. A more variety and luxury in food availability has given the urbanized options to play with and discard to one’s taste buds. Grand parties, weddings and the day-to-day lifestyle just adds to it. One doesn’t need to read research and statistics, a mere look at your nearby garbage dump will give you a fair idea of the amount of food wasted.

Credits: Japleen Pasricha

Credits: Japleen Pasricha

In short, while one half of the population is starving and dying of hunger, the other part is busy in wasting food to extensive amounts. The loop that closes here is while Nero did burn prisoners, slaves and poor to illuminate his feast, there were a bunch of people who wined, dined and made merry in the glowing light of burning bodies.

I think, now we all know who are Nero’s guests.

An open letter to the Founder of IITIIMshaadi.com

Dear Dr. Ajay Gupta, Founder of IITIIMshaadi.com

Dr., eh? That too from Delhi School of Economics? Pretty impressive! Just a quick question, did they also teach you something called mutual respect and equality? Oh wait..

I just stumbled upon a Facebook post which said now men from IIT and IIM have a place to find their “soul mates”. I clicked on it and whoa, was I fumbled? Your extremely fresh idea to build a matrimonial website based on educational qualifications than evils like caste, class, race etc is damn progressive, I must say. Even trivialities like common interests and hobbies and compatibility didn’t find a meager mention because as the tagline of your website goes Alma Mater Matters. Well, I must congratulate you, Sir. You have solved that mystery which even Chetan Bhagat with 6 books down couldn’t.

You see, Sir, I have recently turned 25 and your website has come like a blessing in disguise to me. Like every dutiful, middle-class, educated Indian girl, it’s time for me to stop and smell the rose in my journey called marriage. After all, what good is my education when I can’t garner a good husband? You see, Sir, just like you, even I’m a PhD student at Jawaharlal Nehru University. And after three degrees down and on the way to the fourth one, I think I have realized the true meaning of my education, all thanks to you! However, Sir, when I with utter joy tried to log in to your site to search for that true soul mate, I found out to my dismay that I do not “qualify” to register on your prestigious site iitiimshaadi.com. Why, Sir if I may ask, why? Am I not good enough? Is it my qualifications, double major in German Studies that didn’t find any parent group it could attach to?  Is it because Humanities is as it is a disrespected field? Or is it because my university is largely a leftist one? Even the poor university couldn’t get enlisted in your élite group of institutions.

Or is it so because your pretty boys from the IITs and the IIMs might get intimidated by a highly educated woman like me? Is it why the eligibility criteria for women on your website and I quote is “Country-wide reputed graduation institutions on wards“. If I may ask, why Sir, would you need women from even “country-wide reputed graduation institutions“? If I’m not mistaken didn’t you mention the site has lower entry requirements for women to give “a larger pool of choice to the men“. I mean, as you rightly mentioned “some highly educated men, in terms of practicality, like women who also consider taking care of the home a task as good as a job.” Weren’t you the one who said, “They were looking for intellectual compatibility, but at the same time wanted women who would understand their hectic lives and dedicate more time to the house—while doing some part-time work, someone with a half-day job would have also worked.” After all, that is the true meaning of a woman’s life to serve as a maid and a fuck-buddy for her man, isn’t it, Sir? To be highly educated and intellectually compatible but dissolve herself in-house and part-time work. My parents would be so proud of me today, after all, this is why they brought me up and provided me the best education. They owe you, Sir, they owe you.

But I haven’t even come to the best part of your excellent website, Sir, if you may allow. The homepage of your site has a slide show of a few images with the header “Preview of things to come“. What a stroke of brilliance, Sir, what a stroke! The image starts from a marriage ceremony being culminated to a fancy car with the tag “IITIIM shaadi“. The message behind the images is loud and clear: Enroll in IIT or IIM and get a bride and a car FREE FREE FREE! Voila! After all, this is a “gift” and not dowry. You Sir, win hands down.

I’m grateful to you for making me realize the true meaning of my existence. Now, I’m just waiting for some IIT/IIM boy of yours to pity on me with my useless humanities degrees from an even useless university, marry me and end my misery. However, if you or any of your pretty boys somehow didn’t like my earnest appreciation of your venture, they are welcome to shoot questions at me. I do hope your pretty boys will come up with some quality arguments. The whole point is to have a dialogue, right Sir?

Enroll into IIT/IIM and get a bride and a car FREE FREE FREE!

Enroll into IIT/IIM and get a bride and a car FREE FREE FREE!

 

Update (as on 29.08.2014): I emailed the above letter to the Founder, Dr. Ajay Gupta on 26.08.2014 and received a response within less than an hour. Like the website, Mr. Gupta’s words were big and hollow. He mentioned he “respects”others’ opinions and expects the same. Very politely and smartly he has tried to explain his “philosophy” behind the site and conveniently ignored all my questions. However, fearing such angry letters, I assume, a few changes has been made to the website. The changes are following:

  • The image with the car has been removed and replaced with an image showing the wedding venue. Mr Gupta surely feared dowry accusations, but how much his mentality has changed, if he or his relatives will demand dowry for future weddings can only be speculated.
  • The introduction of the site has been changed. It no longer says that women must be from “reputed institutions” while men from “élite”. The current introduction is a more general one without any gender bias. However, if this bias is carried out in further steps, one can’t be assured.
  • More options have been added to the “Am I eligible” list including PhD and Masters, however Humanities still didn’t find a mention. According to the site, the list of institutions are also being updated.

The post will be updated if any other changes occur. Although, Mr. Gupta is trying to cover up his sexist remarks and patriarchal attitude towards women, how much will be put into practice cannot be said. Let there be hope!

Update on 12.09.2014: I and the open letter were recently quoted in an article in Deccan Chronicle, Banglore. Check out below:

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Disclaimer: This article has been previously published on Feminism in India here.

Happy Independence Day?

Yep, you read that right! Another critical I-day special article floating around the web and appearing on your social media timelines. And yet another cynic who likes to ruin your festival by writing big fancy words and trying to engage you in a pseudo intellectual dialogue.

However, I’ll try my best to ruin your festival as less as I may be capable of and zip up the do’s and don’ts. After all, let’s be honest, we all will celebrate our “freedom” by flying kites, dressing in funky tri-color combinations and trying to get passes of one or another “Independence Day” special party.

Next day, major newspapers will cover the top-notch parties on Page 3, there will be a few cases of street harassment or sexual assault on women by some drunken men (the blame would be of course why women were roaming around the streets on a national holiday), a gigantic lot of litter created by people “celebrating” I-day in Lodhi Garden or Nehru Park, a few cases of road brawls created due to huge amounts of cars trying to get away from the city and as far as possible and the day will go on.

If it would have been so easy to celebrate and more importantly, commemorate I-day and be truly happy about it, I wouldn’t be writing this post, right? But, how can I truly be independent when I don’t even feel free from within? When will I feel free? Will it be when my country would become a rape-free country, when I won’t have to consider to settle abroad to secure mine and my children’s safety, when other people won’t curtail my freedom to walk around the streets anytime day or night without any fear of harassment, when boys could be home makers and girls could work as mechanics without being judged, when I’d be free from the shackles of stereotypes of being a militant, anti-men feminist?

Credits: Must Bol

Credits: Must Bol

Or will it be when urinating in public would be a crime and not couples holding hands? When people would be fined for throwing waste on the streets, when one would obey traffic rules because one should and not because a cop is nearby, when people will help the needy/elders and people with special needs without the need for posters, bill boards and reserved seats in the public transport?

When religion won’t restrict you to view the larger socio-economic, cultural and diverse image of your country? When even though you love your country, you’d still be able to criticize it without being or feeling offended? When love would mean improving our country’s situation and not turning a blind eye to it in the name of patriotism? When nationalists would see a child selling the national flag on the road as a sign of poverty instead of patriotism?

Too many questions, not enough answers and so little time. I, in my capacity may not be able to answer all these and many more. But, I can certainly do something to amend some of these issues plaguing my country. My freedom can only come from within me and only I can take action to bring the change I wish to see: Change Myself!

Hence, I pledge. I pledge to break my silence. I pledge to raise my voice. I pledge to stand up and take action. I pledge to publicly shame the person who is harassing me. I pledge not to judge someone by their appearance. I pledge to wear the seat belt ALL the time and throw the litter ONLY in the dustbin. I pledge to reclaim my day, my night, and my space. I pledge not to be afraid. I pledge to smile more. I pledge to look for happiness during gloomy days. I pledge to be more patient with children and elders. I pledge to show my gratitude to the door man, the guard, the peon, the auto-walla, and my domestic help and smile some more, smile to them.

To write and promise is easy, but to change your words into action is no child’s play. And forgive me, for I’m mere human. I will be true to my words, even if I’m not always able to turn them into reality. I will try my best and be my change.

Anyhow, I’m going to a potluck picnic in Nehru Park (Delhi) on I-Day. The idea usually is that everyone will cook and get their dishes and we all will sit together, fly kites, sing songs and basically enjoy. However, I had some concerns in mind and volunteered to clean the park after we are done littering it. To my utter pleasure, many people on that Facebook event raised similar concern and joined in to help me. So, I’d be doing all the above but also cleaning my mess afterwards. This is my way of celebrating Independence Day. Let me know what you plan to do and please feel welcome to join me if you are in the vicinity.

Oh, and yes, happy Independence Day!

 

India’s first ever “I Need Feminism” campaign at IGIT and AUD

Feminism in India Project is an initiative started by me last year to learn, educate and develop a feminist consciousness among the youth. It is a social media movement required to unravel the F-word and demystify all the negativity surrounding it. I have been working on this project since a year now and plan to take it forward by holding campaigns and events and providing sex education workshops in schools and universities.

One such campaign was held on 15th April 2014, i.e. last Tuesday when I with a group of close friends and volunteers organised a ‘I Need Feminism’ campaign at Indira Gandhi Institute of Technology and Ambedkar University Delhi.

Poster for INF campaign

‘I need Feminism’ campaign is a public awareness campaign aimed at asking people why and how feminism is important to them. The campaign is directly inspired from a similar campaign organised at the Oxford University and at the Cambridge University, which later became a rage at many campuses across the globe. The INF campaign is a collection of photographs of people using words to voice their opinions about feminism. Both young men and women hold placards, which through the written word raises their voice against gender discrimination and baseless societal and cultural stereotypes. A similar campaign was also organised by the Feminist society at LUMS, a university in Lahore, Pakistan and it was a remarkable success.

We need feminism because we need to bring so many issues to light. There are too many of us getting groped in public, stared at, catcalled, insulted, teased and abused. There are too many headlines about girls getting raped. Too many people are trying to fit both the male and female genders in a box. Too much of “girls can’t do this” and “boys should do this”.  We initiated the ‘I Need Feminism’ campaign to set a platform for both women and men to voice out their opinions and beliefs.

Our team reached IGIT at 10 AM and started preparing for the long eventful day. We began by asking people what they understand by the term ‘feminism’ to break the ice. Once the discussion got into gear people started warming up to the idea. After that it was one slogan after another, we were running from one group of excited students to another. We made it clear right at the beginning that these photographs will be published on our Facebook page and those who were shy held the posters right in front of their faces. We did not convince anyone forcefully to participate as quite a number of students turned down the offer. After collecting a good amount of 45-50 posters from IGIT, we then rushed to AUD where we got an even better response and quality conversations on related topics like gender, patriarchy and women’s rights. Some of the students were skeptic and some didn’t want to include the term ‘feminism’ in their slogans but almost everyone wanted to participate. We even crashed a Gender Studies class and after due permission from the professor requested all the students to participate. The friendly professor also wrote a slogan and got herself clicked. The campaign ended around 4 PM when we started counting our posters and realised that we have crossed our target of interviewing 100 people. The overwhelmed team then as a closing shot wrote our slogans.

It was our first ever offline campaign which is also India’s first ever ‘I Need Feminism’ campaign successfully organized and executed. We received an overwhelming response both at IGIT and AUD. We talked to 100+ people, got posters and photographs of their personal slogans clicked and documented. We plan to do more such events in future and hold INF campaigns at University of Delhi and JNU during the upcoming semester.

Equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women, and the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who’s confronted with it. We need equality. Kinda now.” -Joss Whedon

All the posters along with the photographs can be accessed on our Facebook page here. Below is a collection of some of my top favorites, although it was a little difficult to choose, as everyone who participated in the campaign wrote what they felt and experienced. Some of them even narrated true incidents of street/sexual harassment. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did and I wish to see you in the next round. Cheers!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Update: Since its initiation, the campaign has been a huge success, a lot of people who could not directly take part in the this particular campaign due to time and space constraints, requested for an online one. And therefore, we have organised an online campaign on our Facebook page where one can send in their photos with their slogans and posters.  Another great news is that we have been featured on various online magazines who loved what we did and wanted to write about us. The voice of our campaign can be found at Life Beyond Numbers, Women’s Web and The Alternative. Hoping for more love and support. Peace.

On legalization and regulation of prostitution in India

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Prostitution has been described as the world’s oldest profession. One of the first forms of prostitution is sacred prostitution where each woman had to reach the sanctuary of Aphrodite and have sex with a foreigner as a sign of hospitality for a symbolic price. In India, it was practiced extensively, so much so that Kautilya mentions it in his master piece ‘Arthashastra’ written around the 4th and 3rd century BC.

In South Asia, a tawaif was a courtesan who catered to noble men, especially during the Mughal Period. The tawaifswould sing, dance, recite poetry and entertain their suitors at mehfils. Their main purpose was to entertain their guests and sex was not always a part of the contract. High-class or the most popular tawaifs could often pick and choose between the best of their suitors. They contributed to music, dance, theatre, film, and the Urdu literary tradition.

Today the world’s oldest profession remains sketchily legal in India. Prostitution is legal under certain conditions but, a number of related activities including soliciting in a public place, kerb crawling, owning or managing a brothel, pimping and pandering are crimes. The current law allows prostitution to thrive but attempts to hide it from public.

The primary law dealing with the status of sex workers is the 1956 law referred to as The Immoral Traffic (Suppression) Act (SITA). According to this law, sex workers can practice their trade privately but cannot legally solicit customers in public. As long as it is done individually, voluntarily, sex workers can use their bodies’ attributes in exchange for material benefit. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) which predates the SITA is often used to charge sex workers with vague crimes such as “public indecency” or being a “public nuisance” without explicitly defining what these consist of. Recently the old law has been amended as The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act or PITA.

Currently, prostitution is not regulated. Soliciting sex is an offence though practicing it ‘in private’ isn’t. And more often than not, clients are criminalized and prosecuted. Organised prostitution isn’t allowed either. Also, Indian law doesn’t recognize male prostitution. Unlike the case with other professions, sex workers are not protected under labor laws thus, making it uncontrolled, unregulated and very unsafe. And this is not counting the huge amounts of human rights violations and human trafficking that is a part of this illegal state of happenings.

Prohibiting prostitution isn’t going to stop it from existing. Until and unless it is completely eradicated, which by and large is a very far stretched idea considering its existence and practice since ancient times, proper legalization and regulation of prostitution will not only benefit sex workers but also the society as a whole.

Most of the girls in various brothels come in through human trafficking. A firm, liable to the higher authorities, must be established, where every sex worker would undergo an interview with which her views, ideas, choice would be taken into consideration and only then can she she work in such an environment. If found forced, then the dealer who brought her could land up in jail. Secondly, regular and surprise inspection must take place. During such inspections, if revealed during conversations with sex workers that appropriate money is not being given then the brothel could be shut down and the license cancelled. Thirdly, as they also constitute under the domain of ‘ workers’ so they must be protected under labour laws, given aadhar cards, various rights under the law, voter identity card, etc. Fourth, they shouldn’t be denied the basic human rights conferred by the constitution and various central govt schemes.

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If prostitution is ‘properly’ legalised, it will help control illegal human trafficking, help fight HIV/AIDS and other STDs which are rampant in India. It will ensure better living conditions for sex workers as well as their children. Most importantly, it will give sex workers protection under labour laws. At present, they don’t have any rights and as such are forced to lead miserable lives. If the law recognised it as any other profession, violent clients could be taken to court which at present, is not possible. Brothels could be issued proper licenses and therefore regulated. Other positive points are revenue generation, choice of profession, less trafficking, better health conditions due to awareness, acceptance to achieve equality in the society, optimum satisfaction level of living in a country, employment, more of external finance to overcome the deficit, security, tax revenue and many more! Legalising prostitution will regulate the trade and help in curbing down the way HIV spreads in our country. It will officially recognise those practising it and entail them to basic human rights which they are denied till now.

Sex workers will be more respected and less abused. They will be raped less and there will be less number of reported rapes. They will be pimped less and will receive better health care. They can openly talk about their profession and not be ashamed about it. They will receive benefits from the central vis-à-vis state government. They will no longer be treated as second-class citizens because legally they will be bearer of rights. Regulation must be implemented properly in consultation with the sex workers. This will ensure good working conditions can be legally enforced, thus reducing exploitation. It will improve public health, increase tax revenue, help people out of poverty and get sex workers off the streets.

It will drive a lot of pimps out of business; women and men alike will work of their own accord and not against their wills and desires. It may also lower some forms of crime. Without legal protection, exploitation will remain unpunished, just like in any other unregulated industry. Sex workers must be directly involved in this process, they have a right to political participation.

When abortion is legal, so should be prostitution. The ‘my body, my right’ argument should apply here too. Moreover, morality is subjective and as long as no one is being forced, it shouldn’t disturb anyone. Sex work is a human right; it’s as respectable as anything else.

 

Disclaimer: This article has also been published on Women’s Web and Youth Ki Awaaz

Post Dec 16: Has Anything Changed For Women In India?

After the fatal gang rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey on December 16 last year sent shock waves around the world, India has done some self-analysis on how it treats its women. Stricter laws on sexual violence have been implemented, but even a year later, a lot needs to be done to make women feel safer.

Legal changes

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, recommended by Justice Verma Committee was passed by Lok Sabha on March 19, 2013 and by Rajya Sabha on March 21, 2013 and replaced an Ordinance promulgated on February 3. The Centre also amended various sections of the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Indian Evidence Act and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

The new law stated that an offender can be sentenced to a minimum of 20year prison sentence for rape and, in the event the victim dies, death penalty. Perpetrators of acid attack will get a 10-year jail term. But the law refused to criminalize marital rape, which disappointed many activists. Ranjana Kumari, a women’s activist and director of the Center for Social Research think-tank, said, “If bodily integrity is the issue, and consent is the issue, than certainly rape in marriage should be included.”

The definition of rape was expanded to include penetration by objects or any body part. “Sexual abuse in all its forms including sexual harassment was made illegal,” said India’s additional solicitor general, Indira Jaising. New laws aimed at safeguarding women were passed; the Parliament overhauled its criminal code and criminalized offences such as stalking, sexual harassment and voyeurism.

Fast-track courts were established to speed up trials in sexual assault cases which earlier took years to conclude. Some ten months after the crime, such a court found four of the adult suspects guilty on all counts and sentenced the men to death by hanging.

“We have a collective responsibility to ensure the dignity and safety of women”, said Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, while announcing women’s-focused initiatives as part of the 2013 federal budget.

Delhi Police set up women help desks at police stations and a Crime Against Women Cell was established for redressal of complaints and grievances of women in distress.

In the spotlight

The gang rape triggered a wave of nation-wide protests demanding stricter laws and better safeguards to combat violence against women. The widespread media coverage of the case has also led to an increased awareness of the issue. The assault sparked public dialogue on patriarchy, which many blamed to be the crux for lack of respect of women in India. It helped alter the way many perceive victims of sexual violence as well as women who are victims of sexual violence see themselves.

“Rape victims are no longer considered outcasts. Stories of rape survivors are now being used as a medium to instil courage to fight sex crimes in India,” said Ranjana Kumari.

Greater reporting of sex crimes                                                                

“Women have been forthcoming in reporting crimes against them. They have been empowered by law and the response of civil society,” said Jaising. This view is shared by K. T. S. Tulsi, a senior lawyer practicing in the Supreme Court of India. According to the lawyer, the social stigma associated with rape is getting reduced. “Girls are becoming more assertive and they are open to complaining. They don’t feel that the society is going to stigmatize them.”

This development is supported by the latest government figures. According to local media reports, 1,330 cases of rape were reported to police in New Delhi this year until October, against 706 cases for the whole of 2012 (via The Hindu).

Safeguarding women at work

“The sense of security at the workplace will improve women’s participation in work, resulting in their economic empowerment and inclusive growth,” said the Indian government in a statement after the law was passed. The Supreme Court is one of the most high-profile bodies to have set up an internal committee to combat sexual harassment. Many other private and state-run companies have now setup a mechanism to address violence in the workplace, although many more are yet to.

Challenges ahead

Experts say that a lot still needs to be done to make women feel safe in the country, as there has been little progress made in addressing the attitudes that legitimize violence and discrimination against women. “Rape cultures are nourished by norms, attitudes, and practices that trivialize, tolerate, or even condone violence against women,” Ranjana Kumari explains.

“The subject of gender sensitization must be introduced from the grass root level in schools, colleges and the workplace. We need to educate men and women on women’s rights under the law and work with communities to develop a gender sensitive society that is underpinned by respect and equality,” the rights activist said.

This view is supported by Kamini Jaiswal, a legal expert and lawyer at India’s Supreme Court, who believes that in order to bring about real change, it is imperative to empower all women, most of whom are still financially and emotionally dependent on their male relatives. “What we see in the bigger cities and metros is not the true picture. Women can barely raise their head and voice in most households. This needs to be dealt with literacy because most women don’t even know their rights.”

Despite the increased attention on women’s issues, crimes against women are on the rise. In the latest high profile case, police arrested the editor-in-chief of India’s leading investigative magazine, Tehelka, after a female colleague accused him of sexually assaulting her. Following this was a similar case where an intern filed accusations of sexual assault against a retired Supreme Court judge.

“The concern for personal security and perceived increase danger to women as a result of the rape cases was perhaps a factor in US students’ decision regarding study in India,” said Nancy Powell, U.S. ambassador to India. Fear of violence has even deterred some students and tourists from travelling to India.

But, this is not enough. India still needs to go a long way if it wants its women to feel safe, respected and socially accepted.

 

Disclaimer: This article has also been published on Women’s Web

The haste of CBI and media: Aarushi-Hemraj muder case

crime-scene-was-dressed-up-aarushis-body-tampered-with-cbi_151013102416

What do you do when a high-profile case has been stretched for more than five years, has been investigated by the state police, then by a said team of CBI who claimed something different to an another team of CBI who turned the tables, when there are two sets of suspects, five arrests and countless fumbles and when the supposedly ‘accused’ ask for a re-investigation just to get themselves arrested and prosecuted? You wrap it up as quickly as you can, boggle with the common man’s minds and gift it to the nation. The Aarushi-Hemraj murder case has been twisted and turned by the police officials, the CBI, the media that it is impossible to see the forest for the trees. The case remains unsolved.

Firstly, I would want to clarify my position on Aarushi’s parents, I do not believe that they killed their daughter and their domestic servant but I also do not believe that they didn’t kill their daughter and their domestic servant. So if someone would ask me, I would say, I don’t know. I will not dwell further into this, as there are two particular points that struck me while I was following the case and I was appalled to see how we as a society have a complete lack of understanding and sensitivity towards a 14-year old and an underprivileged migrant.

So just because the police officials and the CBI couldn’t provide any substantial evidence or ground basis as to why Aarushi and Hemraj were killed or what was the motivation behind the killing, the best thing they could do was to conjure up a set of filthy patriarchal excuses and stamp the tag of ‘honour-killing’ on the case. The gossip- hungry media was eager to spread this claim like fire without even blinking for a second what injustice is being meted out to the demised. What does it say about us as a society that we are so freely able to say that a 14-year old can and was having an ‘affair’ with an adult man, given that Aarushi was a child at the time of her death. There seems to be a complete lack of understanding that a child cannot “have an affair”, that it is rape even if true – quite apart from the ethics of speculating on something like this.

There is no evidence of this claimed ‘affair’. The CBI and the state police have failed to produce anyone who would support their claims. But still they were adamant to point fingers at Aarushi and Hemraj’s character. Is this how we treat the dead? Does this not show our typical patriarchal mindset? Why is it that a woman is seen as a sexual object? If Aarushi was not the Talwars daughter but their son who was murdered, would the police and the CBI still come to this conclusion? Would they have said that a 14-year old boy was having an ‘affair’ with an adult man? Oh, I don’t think so, because our society is not just patriarchal and misogynistic but also homophobic.

Another point that struck me was how quickly the ‘big daddies’ of the glamour industry pounced on the case to make even bigger bucks. Rumours have been doing rounds that the Talwars were offered a royalty of Rs.5 crore by a London-based writer and filmmaker if they cooperated with him in publishing a book and making a movie on Aarushi. Our Bollywood celebs are not behind and many prominent directors have shown interest in the Aarushi-Hemraj murder case. This after the Talwars have already mentioned that they will not allow any book or film on the murder of their daughter and anyone taking up such a venture without their consent will face legal action. How can we be so insensitive? The pain has not even subsided and we are trying to commercialize the case and make money.

This is the state of our judiciary and our law system. We have a long way to go before we can expect any kind of justice from them. Till then, Aarushi and Hemraj will live in our memory as an instance of elephantine failure. As a society we owe Aarushi and Hemraj justice and truth.

 

Disclaimer: This article has also been published on Women’s Web

11.12.13: A black day for the Indian Judiciary and Human Rights

Today is a black day in the history of Indian Judiciary. The Supreme Court has criminalized homosexuality again and set aside Delhi High Court’s ruling in 2009. The SC judgement on Article 377 is a step backwards and is a barbaric and medieval act. It only shows how regressive world’s largest democracy is. We are going back to Barbarism in 2014 when we deny basic human rights to all the citizens irrespective of their gender and sexuality. Shame on you Supreme Court, shame on you.

Section 377 was introduced by the British Rulers 153 years back, who were under the influence of Victorian morality and values in regard to family and the procreative nature of sex. The Indian society prevalent before the enactment of the IPC had a much greater tolerance of homosexuality than its British counterpart, as it was not a reflection of the existing Indian values and traditions. Although the British read down this section and decriminalized homosexuality in 1967, it took India 62 years after independence to take this landmark decision. It was still a welcome and historic moment when the Delhi High Court read down Section 377 and decriminalized homosexuality in 2009. After such a progressive act by the Delhi HC in 2009, the Supreme Court’s decision was expected to be positive till yesterday. It was hoped that after SC reads down Section 377, it will just take a couple of years when same sex marriages would be legalized in India and the future of LGBTQI community seemed to be bright. After all, we saw Pride Marches happening in every big city, more people coming out and joining in, parents, relatives, friends, supporting their loved ones and the various state police departments being tolerant and in some cases also supportive.

But, alas, we hoped too much. Too much from the world’s largest democracy. Too much from an emerging economic power. Too much from a country that is proud of it’s rich culture. Yesterday was Human Rights Day, and today the Supreme Court showed us “all humans are equal, but some are less equal than others”. The constitution calls our nation a secular state and still we succumb to the pressure of various religious leaders and take such a retrograde step. Why is it that religion likes to control sex? What one does in private with a consenting adult shouldn’t be a matter of religion. Then we have those who claim to ‘cure’ homosexuality. Baba Ramdev has greeted the judgement and asked all homosexuals to visit him and attend his sessions to have a ‘better’ life and get rid of this ‘bad addiction’.

As John Lennon once said, “We live in a world where we have to hide to make love, while violence is practiced in broad daylight”. So homosexual sex between two consenting adults is illegal while it is perfectly legal to rape your legally married wife. The SC doesn’t want to recognize marital rape as domestic violence because it contradicts with our traditions and culture. This is what happens when a bunch of patriarchal bigots sit on our heads and have the power to tell us what to do with our genitals. Maybe, we shouldn’t call them private parts anymore as we can see, there isn’t any privacy left. They want to control whom we love and with whom we have sex. Then, why call yourself a democracy, be open and upfront about it, say it out loud that we are turning into a regressive society and a monarchy. The minimum sentence for rape is seven years while for homosexual sex life imprisonment. This says a lot about our justice system. Maybe, all women and queer people should mass apply for asylum in more tolerant countries with better human rights. The SC has proved, India: no country for women and homosexuals.

The verdict has come as a shock and exploits the fundamental right to equality and freedom from discrimination, violence and harassment. But today’s verdict is not the last verdict on Section 377. There will be more unless and until the SC completely reads down and deletes Section 377 from the Indian Penal Code. The verdict is a huge setback for the entire LGBTQI community but it is not just a gay issue anymore. This has become an issue of violation of human rights and people will stand up to it, be it straight or queer. One positive thing that comes out of this verdict is that more and more people will support homosexuality now, they will turn up in large numbers and the queer community will grow even stronger.

Dear SC, we are queer and we are here to stay.

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Why do we get raped and how can we avoid it?

Ladies, ladies, ladies! It’s time for an intervention. I have been defending you, putting up with your excuses and sometimes rubbish for a long time now. But your imprudent behavior and “I couldn’t care less” attitude has disgusted me. You are becoming a menace to the society by spoiling the reputation of innocent young men.

Didn’t so many of our well-wishers such as politicians, policemen, VC’s of different universities, god-men, members of Khap Panchayat tell us how we can avoid getting raped? But you madame just won’t listen. Didn’t you learn anything from probably the first media hyped rape of a North East student which happened in Delhi? Don’t you remember why she was raped? Because she was roaming around at night at 2 am with another girl friend wearing a mini-skirt. Of course, she deserved it. What was she thinking that a group of innocent young men who were just having a night stroll in their car would leave her unattended? As it is North East girls are famous for being “easy” and they usually “ask for it”. You still didn’t learn when our very concerned Chief Minister Smt. Sheila Dikshit advised women “not to be too adventurous” at night. But, you were too arrogant to pay any heed to her words. You called the poor lady names who only wanted the best for you. Girls today have no respect for their elders. Is that what you have learnt from your mothers? What kind of mothers are these, I wonder.

Then you had another chance to improve when a BPO employee in Gurgoan was gang-raped at night whilst returning from work. The Police Chief gave a perfect solution that women shouldn’t be working after eight, but alas, he was just banging his head against the wall. Poor soul, he tried to help you. Little did he knew that his true concerns for women would backfire and he too would be called names.

You did not listen when the honorable Chief Minister of West Bengal Smt. Mamata Banerjee analysed the cause of increasing rapes in India. She was very right in saying and I quote, “earlier if men and women would hold hands, they would get caught by parents and reprimanded but now everything is so open. It’s like an open market with open options,” but you still shamefully interacted with men on the streets, in your neighborhoods, offices, schools, universities and only God knows what happened behind those bushes.

Pearls of wisdom poured in from various sides during the 2012 Delhi gang-rape case. Shri Abhijit Mukherjee, son of Honorable Pranab Mukherjee opined, “What’s basically happening in Delhi is a lot like Egypt or elsewhere, where there’s something called the Pink Revolution, which has very little connection with ground realities. In India, staging candle-lit marches, going to discotheques – we did all this during our student life too, we were students too – I know every well what kind of character students should have. Those who claim to be students – I can see many beautiful women among them – highly dented-painted – they’re giving interviews on TV, they’ve brought their children to show them the scenes. I have grave doubts whether they’re students, because women of that age are generally not students.” The famous scientist, Dr. Anita Shukla gave her expert advice and said, “The victim should have surrendered when surrounded by six men, at least it could have saved her intestines.” Then the very pious god man Shri Asaram Bapuji showered his holy blessing on you. He immediately knew the cause of the gang rape and solved the case in a jiffy. His holy words were “Only 5-6 people are not the culprits. The victim daughter is as guilty as her rapists… She should have called the culprits brothers and begged before them to stop… This could have saved her dignity and life. Can one hand clap? I don’t think so.” But did you call the rapist “bhaiya” while he was raping you? Did you plead and beg with him? No, you did not. Then why cry? Why blame the rapist when you yourself couldn’t avoid your rape . Remember learning this phrase during school days, “God helps those who help themselves.

Then the very honorable judge, Shri Virender Bhatt came to your rescue. He made the observation, “Girls are morally and socially bound not to indulge in sexual intercourse before a proper marriage, and if they do so, it would be to their peril and they cannot be heard crying later that it was rape.” So ladies, what do you think, that you can just saunter around, flirt with men and then cry foul. Didn’t you learn anything from the even more honorable lawyer, A.P. Singh? Didn’t he say, and I quote, “…if my daughter was having premarital sex and moving around at night with her boyfriend, I would have burnt her alive. I would not have let this situation happen. All parents should adopt such an attitude.” I’m sure you would all want to have such a doting father who cares so much about you. But what do you do to such a father? You play around with men and bring shame to the family. Of course, the father will have to take such a step with his darling princess. Did you leave him a choice?

Also you didn’t take the advice of our very deemed and sensible Khap Panchayat. These intelligent people came up with so many solutions from not consuming chowmein, to stop using mobiles and wearing jeans. From getting married at the age of 16 to banning Bollywood movies and TV serials. But, did you listen lady, did you? No, you did not. And that is why you get raped. I hope you see the sense here and learn something.

When RSS Chief Shri Mohan Bhagwat advised you not to live in India and instead migrate to Bharat and blamed western culture, you didn’t listen. When SP leader Abu Azmi advised you not to roam around at night with young boys, you didn’t listen. When Andhra Pradesh police chief V Dinesh Reddy said women provoke men to rape them by wearing flimsy clothes, you didn’t listen. When the Puducherry government advised school girls to wear overcoats, you didn’t listen. When the Mumbai government banned lingerie mannequins to stop rape, you didn’t listen. When Chattisgarh Home Minister Nanki Ram Kanwar asked you to perform pooja to put stars in their correct position in order to avoid rape, you didn’t listen. When BJP minister Kailash Vijayvargiya advised you to maintain “maryada” or face music, you didn’t listen. Then how can you cry when you get raped? How can you blame those innocent men and ruin their future when you yourself won’t budge a bit.

You don’t even know how to report a rape. And when one poor SHO in UP asked the victim to take off her clothes and show him where she was raped, little did he know that his true concerns would be considered as barbaric and misogynistic. I don’t understand what has come into these ladies. So many sensible men as well as women trying their best to help them and these ladies just won’t listen. Later they crib that the government isn’t doing enough to ensure women’s safety.

Then you had the audacity to question one of the most reputed university. How dare you woman, how dare you! You thought men and women have equal rights in this country, only a fool would believe you. You thought you could also stay out of the hostel premises as late as men do and enjoy the relaxed rules which only men have access to. Of course, the university took the right action by whisking you off its campus.

Last of all, our very own protector, the brave director of Central Bureau of Investigation, Shri Ranjit Sinha gave the utmost perfect solution to all your woes. He argued, “if you can’t prevent rape, enjoy it.” How could you miss this mastermind ladies, how could you? After all the above measures fail including pleading and begging with your rapist and calling him “bhaiya”, you should just stay silent, keep calm and enjoy the rape. After all how many times in this lifetime will you get this golden opportunity. You think, you’re that lucky that you might get raped twice or even thrice? Nah!

Why have you become so selfish? Have you forgotten your true duties to the society? There is a phrase in German which says that a woman has three K’s in her life, i e., Kinder, Küche und Kirche which roughly translates into children, kitchen and church. But ladies nowadays neither care about their household duties nor the beautiful gift they have received from nature, that is, to make babies. I read this amazing article by a very concerned mother, Chandrika R. Krishnan, assistant professor at the Manipal University who was advising women to stop and smell the rose in their journey called life, but today’s modern ladies even tore her down into pieces. But ladies, it’s not all your fault. Who made you aspire to careers you couldn’t have in the first place? Who tricked you into believing that marriage wasn’t your best option? That’s right: feminists! They are to blame for society’s evils, be it the decline of traditional marriage or the increase in divorce cases, the feminist agenda is behind everything.

Now, you still have time to save yourself, to mend your ways, that is, if you have any shame left. You just need to take the free advice that people keep pouring in and you might be able to live a “respectable” life.

And you might, just might stop disgusting me.

Disclaimer: This article is a satire (if you don’t know what that means, please Google it) and has also been published on Youth Ki Awaaz.