Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I don't know if i am a feminist

I grew up playing with My bright-eyed Susan,
I grew up with My kitchen set,
Grew up buying clothes for My Barbie,
Wearing colourful frocks myself,
I grew up trying on my mother’s make-up
And with the scolding for the same,
I grew up admiring the gorgeous and always helpless heroines,
Grew up with secretly idolizing them,
Tried adopting the painful heels,
Subscribed to ask Pooja, Linda, Cathy.

But then one day,
The lightning of “liberation” stuck.
All this objectifies us, they alleged,
Makeup for male gaze,
Skirts for their fantasy.
My floaters replaced all other footwear,
Earlier the world was between feminine and masculine,
Now it was between feminine and feminist.
My friend’s bangles became a disputed issue,
A ‘girly’ voice became a target,
If earlier if it was all white,
Now it was all black,
Still no shades of grey.
And It was also internalized now…
And my mind was now a seat of conflict.
My mind, my conscience restricted me now,
Restricted me to follow the “restrictions”.
In breaking the “glass ceiling”,
I constructed a new one.
In ‘exploring’ myself,
I lost myself.
But now I wish to really break ‘free’.
And the ‘freedom’ may consist of
Going ‘back’ or moving ‘forward’,
May be full of contradictions,
Of hypocrisies and of confusions.
But then will this be ‘feminism’ I wonder?
But should I really care, if it is not, I wonder again.
Whether “WOMAN” has “MAN” in it
Or “MAN” comes from “WOMAN”,
It is ultimately we who shall decide
And this power of decision is Feminism,
Or atleast it is, according to me.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Rationality v/s Human emotions

The debate on the abolition of the ‘barbaric’ death penalty accompanies the “masala chai” these days. The sudden popularity is because UN has now declared it to be one of its never-ending missions to abolish this ‘draconian’ law . So now everyone everywhere seems to be discussing this ‘cruel’ law which exists only in few countries including India.

The proponents of “Human Rights” argue about how it is cruel to take someone’s right to life away. There are others who feel that punishment is given to reform someone. Capital punishment kills the ‘hope’ of reform. Some others argue, “an eye for an eye makes everyone blind”. They all, uninously, agree for a life imprisonment.

When I talk about how AFSPA has violated basic civil liberties like right to life, people argue how it is an ‘unnecessary evil’. “Without AFSPA, Kashmir and the north-east states will seccede so its important for the army to step in”, they argue. AFSPA is also important, according to them, because these states share an international border.

Naxals blowing up trains, blasts in crowded markets, communal riots…their source of ‘anger’ is explored. The ‘intellectuals’ analyze what must have ‘compelled’ the ‘grieved’ classes to have gone the violent way. They prove how the violence was reactionary and in a way, do end up ‘justifying’ violence.

The intellectuals view an issue with different lenses…there exists different schools of interpretation. The intellectuals are supposed to be having a broader outlook, unlike the narrow-minded commoners. But sometimes, in their outlook, the human angle is underplayed. It’s the battle between rationality and human emotions, for them.

On the debate concerning capital punishment, the grounds are human rights. They argue that criminals should not be killed because it infringes upon the basic civil liberties. But then are the human rights meant only for criminals? They had also taken away someone’s right to life. What about that? They say, punishment is meant for reform. I think there is a need for a reality-check. This may still hold some truth, to an extent, for small criminals but I wonder if mass-murderers, serial rapists and especially terrorists can ever be reformed!
People justify the draconian law of AFSPA(Armed Forces Special Powers Act) which has led to extra-judicial killings, illegal detentions, fake encounters, rapes and torture of the civilian population in AFSPA-affected regions in India. They argue how it is important for keeping the people ‘together’. Without AFSPA, they will go out of the Indian union. I wonder if they would share the same belief if they would have personally experienced or had a relative subjected to such a rule. It is scandalizing to even imagine the situation but which is a reality in J&K and North-Eastern states.

The human emotion of grief, loss is unimportant. In their debates, the ‘Intellectuals’ do not talk about the human perspective. They do not talk about their sufferings. I, sometimes, feel that maybe they can no longer understand it. Paradoxically, Marx had defined Ideology as “something which misinterprets reality”.
Sometimes I feel that the common people are stuck in between, with the oppressors above and the intellectuals below. 

I now realize what Rousseau had said, “The ‘uncivilized’ man is much more humane than a ‘civilized’ man”.

Monday, October 3, 2011

why women don't protest

I remember how we had dared to cheat during our board examination because there were boys in our class. Ofcourse, this is not a very good example to give but it reflects social reality. Expected to be honest is not gender discrimination but cheating requires guts and ‘team spirit’. Women are gutsy…ofcourse or else we would have been frozen in time and would have been still exchanged for a commodity. And yes they can and have united themselves as in during the feminist waves but the question then is of “how much”. Why is it that I find more women rebelling against the idea of feminism than men? Why is it that the ideas of the patriarchy are disseminated by women? Why is there no ‘womanhood’, ‘sisterhood’?
Simon De Beauvoir, author of the phenomenal “The Second Sex”, wrote “unlike other discriminated groups, women are not organized into a community. There is no women community. Women never use “we” for themselves”.
Sadly, I do agree with her. I am not talking about “girl power”, “the girl thing” here. Being a woman, I know that a woman gels better and deeper with a woman, than a man. Female bonding is deep…its beautiful. They say, even if a woman does not say anything, other women are able to understand what she is going through. Yes, I agree. They do understand but they don’t speak up. So why they don’t women stand for another woman? A better question is…why don’t they realize their own power?
I claim to find the answer in their nurture. We are nurtured to live in a shell. We are ‘moulded’ in that way. We are given dolls to play with but actually, we learn from them. We grow up imitating them. We have to be pretty, adorable and voiceless. A doll always has a very serene expression… a smile on her face. We never come across a sad-looking doll ever. So a woman also has to learn to be serene, calm no matter what happens to her. She has to accept the discrimination, injustice, brutality as her destiny. This is what is taught to her. She accepts it with pride as they say, only women have the power to suffer, to ‘sacrifice’. Women are wild, they say. They have to be ‘tamed’ , ‘controlled’. So our freedom is controlled. It is not just the freedom of mobility but also the freedom to raise our voice, to question, to make decisions and to dream.
We also grow up with the notion of ‘survival of the prettiest’. We have been taught to compete. So the beauty, the appeal of a woman is judged more by a woman, than a man. So if a guy finds a girl pretty or appealing, his friend will list out ten points that this girl have missed out on. We are made the ‘guardians’ of the culture. We have been taught to keep a check on each other. So you have women disapproving of another woman who has ‘dared’ to ‘venture out’. Because, this is how we are nurtured. We are expected to realize our womanhood only to uphold the discrimination so we unite and tell them to act like ‘women’. That’s our job.
I know I might receive some comments from my female counterparts calling me ‘traitor’, ‘betrayer’. I will be accused of conspiring against my own ‘community’ which does not really exist. But I don’t think I have done anything of what I might be accused of. I have dared to state the unfortunate reality. I have written this article to make them realize how society has forced us to conspire against each other…to be ‘betrayers’ to each other and has disapproved us to realize the power of our female bonding. We need to stand up...for ourselves and for each other. We need to realize what womanhood is really about. Women are ‘wild’ and so we have to be ‘tamed’, they say but in this wilderness, lies our liberation. We need to come out…we need to break the glass ceiling and for that, it has to be “we”.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Are there “Undeserving” females in your college?

Some years back when the girls had apparently scored better in maths than guys, the headlines read “even girls can do maths”…there was a very interesting FB status during the world cup inquiring if women could really understand cricket... there was this FB poll asking if the IQ of the girls was decreasing continuously… ofcourse, when you confront these people, they express surprise on not understanding the ‘joke’ and accuse us to be frustrated females. I am very used to this and had always ignored writing on this matter. But this had to come… and it came when someone talked about the ‘unfair’ women quota in some universities.
This article, however, is not a personal attack. This is an attempt to attack another common mentality or I should say illusion that people have. This article concerns itself primarily with the women quota which exists in JNU.
JNU needs no introduction…it is supposed to be the hub of the so-called intellectuals of this country. JNU also has one of the lowest fees and that’s another reason for the monstrous competition. Besides the standard SC, ST, OBC reservation…there are many other quotas as well. Among which is the women quota. The Women quota in JNU simply means a deduction of 5 marks which is just about 1%. The quota does not have an internal reservation. It is for women…irrespective of their locale. So apparently a lot of girls make it to JNU, every year. But is it only because of the quota? And is the quota unnecessary?
So apparently a lot of girls make it to JNU. The quota is held responsible. But is it that all the girls who are in JNU had 5 marks less than the required marks? Girls from the top institutions make it to JNU so are they actually that ‘undeserving’? That’s my point about the girls of the urban locale where supposedly the gender discrimination is minimal. Now let me talk about the girls of the small towns and rural locale. Opportunities are limited for them. Investment in the higher education for girls is still not very popular. Education in these regions is also not very competitive. So reservation for women is as important as reservation for the other long-discriminated sections of the society. It is not because girls are “less intelligent”… it’s because girls are “more discriminated against”.
I also remember this debate with a friend about the minimal female population in top engineering colleges. He argued how girls had less “logic”. Ofcourse, that’s another myth but I must admit I consider this better than “because girls think more with their heart, than brain”. Some days back someone tried arguing “scientifically” how women use the right side of their brain which is more creative so they are better in expression than “logic”. Men, on the other hand, are supposed to be using the left side of their brain which is more “logical”. My reaction to this so-called “scientific” crap has always begun with me expressing a great amount of surprise as inspite of being from a science background, they are unaware of the different schools of interpretation of facts which exist in science. So even in this very “objective” discipline, interpretation of the ‘objective’ facts is subjective.
Though there is a lot of confusion (different groups of scientists) about which side of the brain do women use, here I’ll try to argue by considering that women use the right-side of the brain. I am a female but I happen to be a left-hander and according to science, left-handers use the left side of their brain. Now left-handedness is supposed to be more common among males. But the famous left-handers are generally people associated with the “creative” domains. Any arguments? Also, I think it’s also a matter of how one defines “logic”. According to Hegel, logic is the essence of human thought. There can be no creativity without logic! Further, I would also talk about the sociology-biology debate which features in the study of evolution. It is believed that sociology or society can have an impact on our biology. The transition leading to human evolution took place when the apes due to societal tendencies preferred to settle on the land. So even if one ends up proving that some things are probably due to the nature and not nurture, one must remind himself/herself of the sociology-biology debate.
Let me come back to the issue of the engineering colleges. I think I’ll repeat my points about the societal set-up. If we analyze the regional background of people who generally make it to the top engineering colleges, we’ll find that majority of the people come from the lesser-developed regions. So for them, competition and making it to the top colleges is the only way-out. And in this endeavor, men are in the fore-front. Investment in a girl’s education is still not very widespread, it is negligible in these regions. Girls are recommended to go for the ‘soft’ subjects like history, political science etc. I also feel that the fact that girls can afford to neglect higher studies because of their later recruitment as homemakers may add to the laid-back attitude in these regions. Infact, there may be a lot of other reasons. But the source, as we have realized, is just one… the societal set-up.
So yes..the second gender may not be ‘deserving’ the quota but do they deserve this discrimination?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The aam insaan - frozen in time and space

I live in the city of qilas and makbaras. For Dilliwalas and especially, purani dilli walas, Lal Qila is the most important monument. It stands as the symbol of a romanticized imperial past. It was, afterall, the residence of their beloved emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar and also of their culture. Whenever I look at the Lal Qila...the beautifully-carved halls...the jharokas...the massive Darwaza and the pit outside the Qila which in its heyday, had water with crocodiles, I try to go back in time, trying to imagine how life must have been in those days. While scenes from Jodha Akbar and Mughal-e-Azam would help me in my quest, a smile would flash across my face and I’ll lament, “wo bhi kya din hote honge”. I would imagine if Bahadur Shah would have never been defeated… how things would have been so different… No, wait…DIFFERENT …really??
Even in the time of mughals, if I was what I am now... would the Lal Qila be mine? The grandeur attached with it and with the Badshah…the mehfils… the chaka-chown, in short, the romanticized past…Would I have had a stake in it? No... Because I am just an aam insaan. Whether it is Bahadur Shah or Manmohan Singh… whether it is Lal Qila or the Rashtrapati Bhawan, I am but the aam insaan. I was suppressed in the 18th century and still am. Whether it is for their Mahals or their swiss bank accounts, it is I who suffers the burden of heavy taxation. I am the mohra in their political games. In their fights, it is I who pays. I am the one who dies when there is a ‘disagreement’ between two rulers. I am the one who dies, gets raped or become orphaned during the communal riots. I am the one who pays the heaviest during an economic crisis.
There have been movements and revolutions which are attributed to the ‘will of the people’. French Revolution…America’s war of Independence and Russian Revolution, they boast about the support of the masses. But little did the masses actually achieve. Even Russian Revolution, ultimately, led to the dictatorship of the rich and the powerful. Infact, when Lenin claimed to established the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, the rural proletariat referred to him as the new Tsar! Today, the general political form of existence is democracy or rule by the people(demos) but we know the reality. Our ‘representatives’ have now even established dynastic rule. Their posts are even becoming hereditary.
So why should it matter to me If it is Shah Jahan or Vajpayee on the throne? They are the rulers and I am the one who is always the ruled.

Monday, July 18, 2011

UID- For whose benefit?

When UID was introduced to the general public, it was regarded as the sole primary document which would determine their fate. Everyone(1.2 billion people) would be issued a unique identification card and would be expected to carry it wherever they would go. Even the refugees and migrants would be issued the card. It was mandatory in the beginning so failing to produce it may have you branded as a terrorist. The Government defended this mammoth-size project by arguing that it will help check illegal immigration and terrorist activities. UID will also have other benefits. UID has been linked to social-welfare programs. There is now a proposal to use UID for realizing the goal of online voting. So UID will ‘empower’ India and Indians, they argue.
This was the Government version of UID. Let’s now see the reality.
UID is proposed to create a central repository of information of each of the 1.2 billion people. The data involves personal information as well as the bank details. It’s a risky affair. If not the ever-hungry Government, the Corporates or anyone can misuse the information.
The Government’s response to this was technology. The data will be stored in an online database. But let’s consider the technological challenges. 1.2 Billion people will mean 6 petabytes(6,000 terabytes or 6,000,000 gigabytes). It will be the world’s largest database. But can we imagine managing this volume? The technological challenges involve system performance, reliability, speed and resolution of accuracy and errors. But a more serious issue is regarding the security. The information can be hacked.
UID will also capture biometric information from the population. The fingerprints and IRIS will be scanned. Apart from the lack of technological infrastructure, a more important concern is the reliability of this information. Patterns of Iris change with age and disease. Also, What about the millions of people with corneal blindness? Fingerprints also face a similar issue. Fingerprints can be tapped and copied. There are also millions who may be without hands. Also, the labourers have their fingerprints marred.
One of the benefits listed out by Government is that it will be linked with the social welfare programs like PDS. Critics argue that the Government does not have resources to extend them to UID applicants. Jean Dreze, a development economist and the man behind the NREGA, argued, “I am opposed to the UID project on grounds of several civil liberties. Let us not be na├»ve. This is a national security project, not a social policy initiative.”
There is also fear that instead of checking illegal migration, it can actually ‘legalize’ it. The Indo-Bangladesh Border is porous. UID may actually increase the illegal immigration. Bangladeshis will be able to get themselves listed as Indians easily and enjoy the ‘privileges’ and ‘benefits’(if any).
Some months back, there was a demonstration by students of Indian Institute of Science against UID. One of the placards read “Happy New Fear”. UID demands our bank details. So though UID is an attached department to Planning Commission but in reality, UID can enable the Government an access to our bank account. They will be able to view all our transactions. So UID carries major privacy issues.
But the best thing about the UID is the inherent contradiction in its voluntary nature. Even though, it is voluntary. It is ubiquitous. UID holders are entitled for exclusive schemes and opportunities.
The idea of UID has been rejected by many countries. From privacy concerns to technological challenges, the concept has met severe opposition. So the effectiveness and nature of UID(whether compulsory or voluntary) varies among different countries. But inspite of this, India has decided to waste crores on this largely rejected policy.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Beauty Respected, Beauty Degraded

Looks are an attraction. There is no denial of this ‘fact’. We may not go for them but we do notice them. So appreciation of beauty is one universal ‘fact’. Another is how we degrade it.
Skepticism always trails behind beauty. Our society expects women to be attractive, no matter what. So in whatever role or occupation she may be, she has to be ‘feminine’ in her way of conduct and dress. Even female POLITICIANS are expected of the same. This is one side of the story. The other side is how there is the famous crap about how pretty ladies manage to get the top posts. Let me put this more bluntly…so people say “you can promote it better…afterall, you are a WOMAN.” A well-known blogger and critic had said(to an all-girls audience), “a girl’s blog always has more followers than a guy’s”. Who should be blamed is not the debate here. I wish to question this mentality.
Then there is this famous actress who is blamed to have destroyed many actors’ careers. I wonder how! She is known only for her beauty. How has her dumping them affected their career? But then beauty is also an easy target point. We can put all the blame on it.
Most men desire for a stunning-looking wife but do not how to ‘handle’ them. One male friend and she will be beaten day and night. She will be accused of an extra-marital affair and no one will question it because she is beautiful! A beautiful girl is always supposed to be a wicked temptress. She is blamed for ‘luring’ the otherwise ‘innocent’ man. Beauty makes her a natural victim.
A very common and widely-accepted concept is that of dumb and beautiful. So a hunk or a pretty lady is not supposed to be brainy. “Just study a bit. You can go for modeling later”, suggested a male teacher to a school classmate. Being dumb and beautiful is a person choice…it is not a ‘fact’.
This article is not in favour of those who are very obsessed about their looks and are very full of themselves because of it. No, this is meant to have a general appeal. It is an attempt to question our contradicting mentality. We appreciate beauty but then why do we degrade it?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Religion- All Faith, no Science?

Religion is unquestionable

“shastro mei likha hai, karna toh hoga” , “ye sab bhagwaan ki maya hai”, “ye toh sadiyo se ho raha hai”…

But it is not always irrational and unscientific.

Religion, like science, begins with a question. Religion is the quest for finding the “ultimate truth”. Religion, like science, searches for that only ultimate path. But that’s not the only connection. Many of our samskaras show not only our cultural(indicator of our kul) but a scientific leaning too.

The Pandit choti is not just a mark of distinction and high(highest) status. According to charaka school of philosophy, there are seven charaka or energy points. The one on the head is the crown charaka called sahasrar. The bunch of the hair protects this point from exposure to sun which can cause a sudden stroke. Even while blessing someone(aashirvaad), the person places his/her hand on the sahasrar. It leads to the transfer of energy. This transfer of energy is also the logic behind touching the feet of the elder or the guru.
The Tika or Tilak is another important religious symbol. The size and form varies with the caste so it represents the ‘irrational’ system of caste. However, the Tilak is rational enough. It is backed by the same charaka point theory. The Tilak is applied on the forehead, between the two eye brows. This is the Aajna chakra point which is the seat of memory and thinking. The tika which is generally of chandan, thus, prevents energy loss by keeping the point cool. But it is to be noted that the bindi applied by women do not serve the same purpose. Neither is there any scientific logic behind the sindoor.

Aarti is a fundamental aspect of the Hindu rituals. Aarti purifies the person not just spiritually but quite literally as it purifies the air around the person. The Agni kills the germs and bacteria in the surrounding air.
The benefit of Upvaasa or vrats is well-known. During an upvaasa, we consume only water and fresh fruits. Thus, they are beneficial for our digestive system and the entire body.

Offering water to the Agni god at the break of the dawn is a common daily ritual. It is believed that the first rays of the sun are beneficial for the eyes.

In Jain tradition, one is not supposed to eat after dusk. Modern science lends support to this practice. It recommends no meal or a light meal at night.

The most controversial domain in this issue is reserved for the taboos on a menstruating woman. While the origin theory of menstruation is not very rational- Indra had slain a Brahmin and it is his blood that a woman secretes out after every 28 days, Ayurveda views the menstruation cycle as a purification process- the impurities are dispelled with the blood discharge. With the discharge of the blood, women lose out on vital minerals, particularly iron. The body is weak with the loss of blood and the accompanying body pain. Thus, women are ‘advised’ to rest. However, this advice took the form of taboos- women cannot enter the temple, the kitchen; they were shunned in a room because they were ‘impure’.

Thus, we started out being all scientific but to make it binding on the people, a supernatural/sacred dimension was added to it. Their blind faith in the omnipresent and all-powerful God provided the perfect platform to sell rationality. They fear that the inability to follow these customs will provoke the wrath of Gods and all hell will break loose. And this is how it always works. Rituals are also used to please the Gods. The world exists on a ‘patron-client relationship’. It is a ‘mutual’ relationship between God and Human Beings. Both are dependent on each other, for survival or means of survival. There is no end to the demands of the ‘greedy’ human beings. God is the patron of these rituals and offers spiritual and material wealth, in return. The best example for this is the Upvaasas or vrats. Vrats are contracts between the God and the devotee. Religion is the binding to be good and ‘moral’. Anything can be sold in the name of Religion. Here, rationality and scientific logic mixed with religion has been passed down for centuries. So is Religion still un-necessary and useless?

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review of the latest Cadbury Ad

Its 2 in the night… the girl was coiled up in the bed, fast asleep… it was all silent and dull…until the door bell rings. The girl wakes up and looks around…everything seemed fine and she thinks that she must have been only dreaming. She decides to go back but the bell rings again… she looks at the table clock and wonders who can come at this hour...she gets a little scared. She then musters a lot of courage and proceeds towards the door… meanwhile the bell keeps ringing mad... she then takes a deep breath and opens the door…and…and… There comes the break!

The viewers were also at the edge of their seats but the story has been disrupted but do not think that the Ads do not get their share of attention. The 30 second documentary is not just a technique of increasing the curiosity of the viewers…its not even just a promotion of a brand…its much much more. Advertisements reflect and contribute to the popular mentalities. Jean Kilbourne’s Killing us softly tell us about the impact of advertisements on our sub-conscious. Advertisements, thus, can be used as an important social tool. But interestingly, Advertisements are also a part of our memories. I often watch the advertisements of the 90s on Youtube and feel nostalgic. One of my favorite Advertisement brand has been Cadbury. Cadbury came in India in the 90s with the liberalization. I was born around the same time and so I and Cadbury India have actually started our journey together. I have grown up watching all the Ads and needless to say, but I still sing their jingle “kuch khaas hai zindagi mei…”. The Cadbury Ads have always tried to capture the “Indian-ness” – they have always revolved around and celebrated relationships. Some of them have been beautiful...they used to leave us with a smile on our face or having us do an “awwwww”. Some Ads,infact, have been really special to me. But then with Amitabh Bachchan, there came a break. The “kuch meetha ho jaaye” series was not that appealing…Cadbury was losing its touch. But the latest Ads, I am afraid, have been even more disappointing.

The latest Ad still shows a joint family. They are having their dinner and this little girl is making faces as it’s not her favourite dish. Her grandmother then tries to cheer her up by asking her mother what’s in the sweet dish. The girl immediately hides the Cadbury chocolate. Her grandmother starts teasing her by claiming the chocolate, making her cry. The mother then brings in another chocolate bar and the atmosphere becomes light and happy again.

Most of the people didn’t like the ad, and I am one of them. Some find the ad to be very illogical, others think the girl is ill-mannered. But I feel that this is the death of the Cadbury appeal. Cadbury Ads, as I stated above, celebrates the beauty and selflessness of relationships. Our society is based on a network of relationships. Though in the confused capitalist transition, relationships are taking a backseat. But the Indian society still credits relationships over money. Our society is trying to struggle with this social ‘crisis’ and in this regard, respect for elders, mutual respect in all relationships is still considered essential. This ad has actually captured this undesirable and unfortunate reality where relationships are breaking down. The little girl is shown to be this stubborn, self-centered kid. The girl is not very good to her grandmother but she is not corrected by anyone. Infact, her grandmother apologized! They had all give in to her demand. The ending is pathetic. It kills all hopes. An ideal ending could have been to have the girl share her chocolate with everyone or atleast apologise to her grandmother! Earlier, the Chocolate bar was just ‘in the scene’...they would celebrate their joy through the bar. But now the bar would create the peace and lead to happiness. The brand that had once touched our hearts has become just too commercialized. It has lost its magic…

The agony of an auto-rickshaw wala

They are a notorious bunch… known for demanding arbitrary prices (50 rupees for south-ex from LSR), having a faulty meter (if they agree to use it) or finding excuses to charge extra. These little tanashahis(dictators) on wheels are a part of the everyday lives of the middle class. Yet, the middle class know (and care) so little of their grievances. Auto-hartals yields attention but not sympathy.

I had also belonged to the same “it’s his problem” attitude, until yesterday when I had an unusual auto ride yesterday where I was turned a mute listener. I had been advised to hire an auto from the prepaid system. It is easy and hassle-free but the auto drivers are not in favour of it (afterall, it kills their hope to ‘loot’ the ‘poor’ customers) so they try to convince you against it. But I had it my way. The traffic policeman then helped me find an auto. The auto driver that he had chosen tried to refuse as he had to go in the opposite direction for some work. But the traffic policeman did not listen. I felt a little bad for him but I couldn’t do anything (you don’t really argue with a policeman in Delhi).

Since I was coming from the station, he thought I was new to delhi so he started telling me the important places. He then told me how he had to report to his owner immediately. I told him that he should have told the policeman the same. I think that had pinched him. He then started off telling me how everyone- the policeman, the prepaid system, the government and even the trade union members are betrayers (he used “Harami” for each group).

The prepaid system has an in-built commission in the name of service tax. He told me the importance of that 5 rupees per ride. He argued that the policeman chooses the passing-by autos rather than the ones which are standing there as he takes money from the latter (they still have the hope to ‘loot’).

The government is a pain for everyone. But with the recent law, it has stung the auto drivers most bitterly. According to the new law, the autos will have a GPRS system and will have a machine which would calculate the fare and give a receipt. It will help exercise a lot of check on the drivers-turned-monsters and make the rides safe. It seems to be pro-customers (I don’t know if it means an increase in the fare). But one’s boon always turns out to be bane for another. The government expects the auto drivers to pay for this new facility. The original demand was of 50,000. After a hartal, it was pushed down to 14,000. But this is unacceptable and illogical. Why do they have to incur the cost? They will not be getting anything out of this unprofitable investment.

Auto driving is also not a very lucrative career option. How much can an auto wala earn each day? They also have to pay 250 or 300 rupees to the owner every day. CNG cost is also incurred by them. They work day and night to earn a few hundreds. Like their customers, they also have a family to support. I asked him about his family. He had two kids and a sister for whose marriage he had to save 5 lakhs.

I enquired about the auto trade union. I realized I had touched another nerve. He told me how they were all betrayers. Some would see the hartal as an opportunity for earning more. He had idealized the auto trade union of Maharashtra. The Delhi auto union, in contrast, is not well-organised and is divided on the lines of regional identities (He considered people from a certain state the worst of the betrayers).

This auto driver, whom I happened to meet, was not extraordinary. He was a simple man who just spoke his heart out. And by doing that, I saw the real face of an auto-wala…Another victim of this oppressive Govt. I am not justifying the harassment by most auto drivers. Cheating is unfair but they are also helpless, to a large extent. The new GPRS law is even more unfair. In their struggle against the Government, we can atleast sympathise with them, if nothing more.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Irom Sharmila – The “Iron Lady” of Manipur

This post has been written for nextGen India’s blog contest (http://www.nextgenindia.com/this-months-contest/)
India is known as the ‘land of the miracles’. Indians have always surprised the world. Another interesting but hidden aspect of this “incredible india” lies in the lush green, hilly valleys of Manipur. Here, a poet has been on a hunger strike for 11 years! In a democracy, someone has been on a hunger strike for 11 years. She has been neglected and brutally suppressed. Can’t believe it na? We’ll be setting a record soon!

Irom Sharmila Chanu who is a poet, civil rights activist and a journalist has been on a hunger strike since November 2000. She demands the revoke of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act(AFSPA). The AFSPA calls for an autocratic rule by the army. In the name of ‘protecting the law and order’, anyone can be arrested or shot. The officers cannot be prosecuted for the same as he is believed to be ‘punishing’ the defaulters. The act was passed in 1958(enforced in 1980) and was to be in effect for six months only but ASFPA continues to destroy the valley till date.

The act was supposed to deal with the “disturbed areas”. It was supposed to combat ‘militancy’…’terrorism’. But its AFSPA which is, in reality, the sole terrorism. The AFSPA has led to extra-judicial killings, illegal detentions, fake encounters, rapes and torture of the civilian population. According to official records, since 1980, more than 25,000 civilians have been killed. The condition of the women, as always, has been worse. “I was half conscious most of the time but whenever I regained consciousness, the commandoes were molesting me…but, I am grateful to them for giving me the chance to narrate my agony by sparing my life at least”, revealed one of the thousands of the victims. In 2004, there was a nude protest by Manipuri women. They held placards reading “Indian army rape us”.

The government has reacted to these protests and Irom Sharmila’s heroic struggle by ignoring these pleas and by suppressing the “Iron Lady”. The Government has been forcefully feeding Irom Sharmila through nasogastric incubation to keep her alive. She is also re-arrested and released every year. The Government argues that AFSPA is a necessary evil in the “disturbed areas”. I wonder what is disturbing the state more… militancy or the army rule. The Manipur militancy revolves largely around development. The aam insaan doesn’t want a different state, a different administrative unit. They do not understand these things...they only want bread, land and peace.

Irom Sharmila has been awarded with many International awards. But what’s the use?

The fate of Irom is such that she has been a topic only among the so-called intellectuals of this country. She hasn’t received much support from the media either. She could never become Anna…Anna who had fasted for mere 3 days.

What Anna and Baba Ramdev had and Irom didn’t and still don’t is media coverage. Though some channels have given some respect to the “Iron Lady”. Others have been busy…terribly busy telecasting episodes of comedy shows. Katrina’s kaif new boyfriend is apparently more important a news than another murder of a civilian in Manipur. Their sense of “news” has become ‘different’..it has become ‘spicy’. But Anna and Baba made headlines…for some hours, the comedy shows received a backseat. Irom Sharmila could not. Why?
In this capitalist society, Media is another business. It has become a buyer’s market. It sells news which people want to buy. Anna’s anti-corruption campaign became pan-Indian but Irom sharmila could not appeal to the middle class sensibilities. Why? Because Irom Sharmila and Manipur terrorism is the story of the secluded north-east. What is north-east for an average North-Indian? North-east… land of tribes and the tribal full stop. It’s known for scenic beauty but they don’t know and don’t care that the water of the Loktak Lake has turned red with the civilian blood. Racism…thats another aspect of “Incredible India”. Racism is the answer to the “unity in diversity”. The north-east people are called “chinkis”. By calling them that, they are not even considered a part of India. But interestingly, when it comes to the cause of support for a secession struggle, the same people turn patriotic. “North-east is an integral part of India”, they will argue. Another problem is the demand to repeal AFSPA. There is a great reverence for the army and the army rule by people who see them only during republic day parades. “Soldiers are the reason why we are able to sleep peaceful at night”, they argue. So while ignorance is one problem, the constructed pro-north Indian nationalism is another reason for this neglect. Media is also supposed to be propaganda-based with some being clearly pro-Government. This could be another plausible reason.

The voice of the voiceless is silenced..but till when? Thanks to the social networking media, awareness about the “Iron Lady” is on the roll. There is now a ray of light at the end of the tunnel. Irom will get justice…

Also published @

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

M.F. Hussain - An artist misunderstood

M.F. Hussain has passed away at the age of 95. Within minutes of the reporting, Facebook and twitter was flooded with condolence for the most-famous and also the most-controversial artist. The news had come as a shock for many. I, myself, took some time to accept this news. I wasn’t his fan but his struggle which continued until his last breath earned him deep reverence from thousands like me. I am not a student of art nor have I ever made serious attempts to study art so for me, Hussain Sahab was the ‘man in great controversies’.
The first time I heard of M. F. Hussain was when he was barred from entering a hotel as he was barefoot. I was fascinated by his sense of ‘style’. Then he became for the little girl, the ‘notorious’ artist. But not that I cared about it! Last year, following a lecture by an eminent Historian, M.F. Hussain re-entered my domain of thinking. I then got a different version of him. When I heard of his demise, I was remorseful. But what added to my grief were some tweets and comments. Some continued to label him as “Anti-hindu”, “obscene” and “anti-Indian”…and even swore. I found that disgusting. But more than that, I thought that M.F. Hussain died without being given justice.
M.F. Hussain was a proverbial figure in the Indian contemporary, modernist art. He had bagged the highest National awards in India and was also nominated to the Rajya Sabha. Being an Art illiterate, I don’t think I can discuss his contributions but the title of “Picasso of India” accorded to him is suffice..isint it? So what had went wrong? Hussain’s controversial paintings revolve around nude Hindu deities, naked picture of Mother Goddess and caricatures of Prophet Muhammad. Religious fanatic groups had opposed these paintings and had threatened the life of the artist. Hindu fanatic Organisations accused him of hurting the sentiments of the Hindu community and labeled him as “Anti-Hindu”, “Anti-Indian”. Seeing the extremism grow, M. F. Hussain went into self-imposed exiles.
But was he really a communalist? Had he really degraded Hinduism and Hindu deities? The art community has a ‘different’ take. The celebration of nudity explicit in Hussain’s art was not new, they argue. The Ancient and Medieval past is full of it. One bicycle round around Khajuraho will be enough to prove his innocence. Hussain, any art student will tell you, in these controversial paintings had only combined mythical imagery with modernist techniques. It was his visual translations of Ramayana and Mahabharata. And I said “translations” not interpretations! Hussain’s “Mother India” is another unlucky painting. This painting depicts a naked woman representing India. Art Historians like Sumathi Ramaswamy have pointed out historical parellals for this inconography. So again, Hussain was just following the legacy. But yes, she was potrayed naked…sparking a more fierce protest. Nudity in Art is seen as a symbol of purity and has a long history. Besides, Hussain’s “Mother India” cannot hurt the hindu sentiments as she was a national deity…not their jagir!
The artist community sees the transformation of Hussain as a symbol of secularism into “a muslim sexual predator who’s act of painting nude is seen as an act tantamount to rape” (Art Historian Tapati G. Thakurta), in the background of emerging fascist forces. The paintings were released in 1970s but the petitions began post-babri in 1996.
M.F. Hussain has been seen as an “Anti-Indian”, an “Anti-Hindu”. But he is seen as a post-colonial, nationalist artist. His work has been seen as national in content and international in form. His gesture of being barefoot is dubbed as “nationalist”. Through this, he sympathized with the impoverished masses who were also barefoot. His act is also seen as symbolizing him being in direct contact with the “soil” of India. Historians such as David Gilmartin and Barbara Metcalfe refer to him as the “civilizational” artist. He considered the Hindu deities to be Indian deities. M.F. Hussain could not have hurted “hindu” sentiments also because he was an agnostic. He was, thus, not under any “religious” obligation to proclaim the superiority of Islam.
He is described as a “simple and great man” by his contemporaries. His only misfortune was his family religion. It made him a good target. He became the victim of the dirty politics in this country. He was an “artist misunderstood”.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Aruna Shanbaug's case - Is there no god?

The movie “Guzaarish” unleashed a new ray of hope for some. It renewed the debates revolving around euthanasia. Aruna Shanbaug’s case re-entered the public sphere for discussion. I got to know about the case and the issue of Euthanasia after watching the movie but I tried to avoid it… the ‘story’ was too tragic…unbearable for me.
But few days back, I watched a documentary on her on a news channel. I won’t say how it moved me to tears because that seems too underestimating. I just could’nt hold myself…I was silent...staring in blankness. What she went through and is still going through every passing moment of her ‘life’…I don’t think I or anyone can understand it. But the image of her lying paralysed in the hospital bed…blind and screaming haunts me.
I don’t think I can pen down what had happened to the once young and vibrant Aruna…No, I cannot recount how inhuman her assaulter could become. Inhuman is again an overtly-underestimated term. Aruna, the doctors say, “is neither in our world nor in the world unknown. She is somewhere in the middle”. Aruna has been in this state for the last 38 years.
As about her accused, Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki, any Indian can guess his fate. He was in jail for 7 years. And now he is out to live a normal life…a life of dignity and honour. 7 years for the devil…the haivan but 38 years of his haivaniyat.
But why should Aruna suffer? What was her fault? And till when should she suffer?
Aruna deserved to live with honour and dignity. But she was not allowed to do so. But now she should be allowed to die in peace. She should suffer no more. Her soul should be freed of these sufferings.
But the legal system in India has a different take. The law has literally become blind as it can’t see her sufferings- she has been in the same hospital for almost 40 years, she is paralyzed, blind and deaf and is still under the trauma. Giving a 7 year imprisonment to the demon seemed harsh-enough. Aruna has been fighting for her ‘life’ for the last 38 years but the court cannot see it. Why? Because they think that only God has the right to take away life. Well, does the court consider what Aruna is trying to live, a ‘life’? Aruna doesn’t deserve this torture. The court holds that patients like her should await the advancement of technology which will someday ‘treat’ them. Can the doctors ever treat her back to normalcy? Can they ever bring back the 40 years of her life? Aruna could not live on free will but now she should die on it. She has suffered immensely and deserves to die in order to end the sufferings. But the court, by prohibiting mercy killing, is now acting ‘inhuman’.
I kept thinking about it all evening. Why couldn’t the doctors just do it one day? They could have said anything! Or why couldn’t any of her relatives liberate her. It’s just a matter of 7 years(of imprisonment). I wish I could do it. I know I’ll be taking ‘law’ in my hands but then what do we do when the law itself is so inhuman?
I am an agnostic so I don’t know if there is any hell or heaven…good or evil. But now I hope there is. I hope justice is done. Her accused gets the burning hell. And I hope she rests soon…

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Indian Cinema - only for entertainment?

Two teenagers meet in a straw-filled carrier of a truck, fell in love and try to create a world of their own in an isolated, rough-terrain area… The father is convinced, “Ja simran jee le apni zindagi”… rags to riches overnight… Heroines are an eye-candy, they are there to sing and dance around trees and to be caught by the villain… the inevitable happy ending.

Cinema is a creative platform to reach out to the society. Thus, it influences and is influenced by it.

Mainstream cinema is famous for painting a superficial image of things. In films, life is oversimplified. The many hurdles are all solved in mere three hours and a ‘happy ending’ is imposed. Movies are, afterall, for mere entertainment, they say. Love stories rule cinema. Even a patriotic movie tends to have some ‘masala’. Love in movies is generally love at first sight. The boy will stalk the girl and after resisting for few days, she will eventually accept the eve-teasing as love. There is also the glorification of first love- “pehla pyaar hi aakhri pyaar hota hai”. In reality, however, it is difficult to distinguish between love and infatuation as symptoms for both may be same (“hawa ka gungunana, dil mei violin bajna.. etc etc”). This notion also forbids the person from moving on. Movies generally terminate with the marriage but in reality, it is after marriage that the real test begins. The deal is not to build a love relationship but to maintain it. Problems arise when the two love birds actually get to live 24*7. But Movies never talk about this. They don’t even consider the differences- inter-caste and inter-religious marriage issues are hardly ever taken up. The issue is generally the difference in status. Love stories also glorify run-away brides and teenagers running away for some ‘adventure’. The society which watches ever step that we take is completely ignored. In movies, life, in general, is shown to be waiting for that one opportunity. Take one right step and everything becomes smooth. The complexities and struggles in life is never shown. Why? Because people want to leave the hall with a smiling face. “It only happens in films”, “How filmy”...This is how people understand the movie culture- interesting but unrealistic.

Movies exaggerate but they are definitely not alien in representing the society. Infact, they play a very crucial ‘social duty’ in terms of upholding the ideals and stereotypes of the society. The basic component of the society is the family. “Marriage is the union of two families” so the approval of the family is very important for a marital relationship. So from getting a family member kidnapped and then faking a rescue to getting beaten up by the girl’s brothers, the boy will do anything to get the acceptance of the family. Marriage is seen as the most sacred institution in our society. The boy’s or the girl’s family may have organized a battalion but the moment the lovebirds reach the mandir, the war will get over and the love-birds will become inseparable. The reason why inter-caste or inter-religious marriages are not a popular theme may be because the society does not approve of them. Cinema is also phenomenal in creating and consolidating gender-related stereotypes. In the beginning of the movie, the boy will describe his kind of girl. It is here that they specify how an ideal girl should be like. Women are seen as mere symbols of love and beauty. With only shakal, no akal, her role is to look pretty and smile. Even today, when the condition is a little better, when asked about their favorite actress, people will oblige some bimbo. The person will then be asked - “and in terms of acting?”. The role of the heroine ranges from being negligible to consisting of 5-6 dialogs including “bachao”. As is believed, Women are shown to be helpless. They also do not have an identity of their own. She will only be someone’s girlfriend, daughter or mother. And Even if in the beginning of the movie, the girl may have some identity, by the end of the movie, she will loose it and become helpless. For the woman, the earth is supposed to be flat. If she ventures out, she will fall off the edge. So when the heroine sets out, the series of events that follows discourage her and she is disillusioned, regretting her decision. This is what the norm of the society is- women should not try to alter the constructed order. Since the past few years, forces of liberalism are attacking our society. And some of the movies are also trying to represent this change. So the image of the hero is no longer that stereotypical one. Ab mard ko dard hota hai.. he can get beaten up, like pink and can cook and do other household chores(he even manages kids now!)Many strong women characters have come up. The new-age woman(‘the modern woman’) is shown to be independent and career-oriented. Issues like homosexuality, teen pregnancy, prostitution and other types of social stigma are also entering the mainstream. So Cinema is also becoming ‘bold’..or I should rather say it is mustering the courage to reflect the changing reality.

In the media culture, Cinema has emerged to be the most important weapon. It, thus, can be and should be used interactively and positively to reach out to the masses. It can, thus, be used to bring out that desired change.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Children and the reality shows

Little girls showcasing their ‘talent’ through racy, anarkali numbers, where they are marked for their expressions. Pre-teens singing intense love songs. A 10-year-old boy was asked if he had dedicated his performance to his girlfriend. A little girl ends his life when her parents refused to let her participate in a reality show.

There was a time when ‘reality shows’ for kids meant quiz competitions. Boggie Woggie was just a dancing competition. Children either won or take back with chocolates. But today, all major channels offer ‘great opportunities’ to kids- toddlers, kids and adolescents. They can be seen singing their larynx out, dancing till their little feet swell and cracking jokes on issues they hardly understand and sometimes, its better that they don’t even try to.

It is always a delight to see kids perform- the cuties beam with innocence. But today, people judge them on ‘real’ talent. Today, they either win or take back failure and rejection. As children, we always wanted to speed up our growth somehow and become adults. But now we know how beautiful the process of growing up actually is. We now cherish that innocence, the care-free attitude and a simple and optimistic outlook towards life. But today, children are being judged by their capability of acting and behaving like adults. We learnt with time and experience. They learn by ever-increasing competition. Young children are being exposed to ‘the mad world’ for which they are not ready yet. They are being exposed to the world of glamour. They don’t understand the risks involved. The adults find it difficult to cope with the competition. The mad-rush sucks life out of people. How can we expect kids to deal with this? We were exposed to competition gradually...But they are being exposed to high-level competition at an early age. Why? And who is to be blamed for this?

School? Media? Or peer pressure? Well there is a closer agent. A group of people who tirelessly remarks about the ‘Gen-X’ or the “Aaj kal ke bachche”. They lament how in their time, they never had so many facilities or the exposure. They idealize their childhood...How they used to spend their vacations in their villages, how they neither had nor required TVs and cellphones...And how their lives were ‘simple’. So what has compelled them to give a different childhood to their kids? They say the times have changed.. “aaj ke bachcho pe bohot pressure hai”. What kind of pressure are they talking about? Who is creating that pressure?

The state of our economy is always the scapegoat. Money alone speaks. They say, for money, people can give away everything. And in this case, people are even ready to sell their kids’ childhood. Talent, competition, pressure…it all boils down to one thing and that is money. It’s like the economy is the stove, the capitalist forces are the flames and the children are pressure cookers. Isn’t this child labour?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Illegal Religious sites: Law v/s Politics

Following the order od the Delhi High Court, Delhi Development Authority (DDA) demolished an illegal temple and a mosque. Wasting no time, the ‘religious-senti’ people of both communities mobilized protests. The Shahi Imam Syed Ahmad Bhukari led people to the disputed site to offer the Friday prayer. Bajrang Dal and VHP held a dharna on Friday.
Appeasing them was our ‘deeply-concerned’ CM Shiela Dikshit. She started her blame-game “It is very unfair of DDA. They should have asked the waqf board before taking such a step. I will talk to the PM.” The opposition also did not lose out on this golden opportunity. Samajwadi Leader Mulayam Singh Yadav highlighted the importance of Mosques – “Mosque is the identity of a Muslim. By demolishing them, the Govt is trying to oppress the community.” LJP and RJD leaders have also offered their support for the reconstruction of mosque and the ‘Muslim identity’. The Shahi Imam notorious for his violent streak also harped on this opportunity to bring in the Babri Masjid dispute again.
Now if the Congress which is also called “the appeaser of Minority” gives in to the demand of the Muslim fundamentalists, there will be anti-Muslim riots. But if it does not then there will be anti-Hindu riots.
But the question is.. Was this a religious issue? This is the state of secularism in India. We are secular but the moment the word “Hindu” or “Muslim” comes up, the state intervenes. From a case of illegal encroachments, this is now a political issue which will remain unresolved forever. It will now become a new point on the agenda for the next elections. In this case, the court is determined to uphold law and restrict illegal structures to come up in the name of religion but the politics is exploiting the case for its own interests. It is now a case of law v/s politics in which the common people will, ultimately be dragged in.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ab kaha hai "dharma ke rakshak"?

The above image is a scene from a popular reality show "Truth, Love and Cash", Channel V. The show tries to test which is more powerful- love(lust) or money? There are many 'temptation tasks'. One of the tasks was this - the female contestants had to pour chocolate on any part of their body and the guy had to lick it off. But this show is just one of the many popular shows objectifying men and women. The Youth channels(MTV, Channel V,Bindaas) are full of women in bikinis, semi-nude men and tutorials on seduction. Ofcourse, its all for money. But the shows sell this obscenity as "entertainment". They can sell anything for TRPs. The need to be the temptation is being absorbed by the adults(those in their 20s), the teenagers and the pre-teens. "The channel does not support or promote any view". It, infact, creates it. These shows sell a mentality. Money and Sex are the two things that rule. And these two are inter-connected. A sex appeal can give you money and fame. This mentality is accepted by people consciously or unconsciously. They will argue that people always have the option of not watching them so they have no social responsibility. The pre-teens and Teenagers only have the ability to grasp. They are too immature to reflect on this. Many people watch these shows because they make a good 'time-pass'. But eventually this 'timepass' will influence their mindsets.
These shows try selling obscenity in the name of being 'liberal'. But our society is not becoming 'open' or 'liberal'. The word is disgusting.