Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Right at any cost?

I went to a police station a few days ago to report a vehicle that had collided with my almost stationary car as I waited for the signal to turn at a traffic police juncture.  The driver of this particular two wheeler had pushed passed my car to come between me and the police podium in the centre of the road, to try and squeeze b. She lost her balance as she took off, and then careered into my front bumper on the right hand side thereby  pushing me towards three guys on a motor cycle on my left (also stationary!) who then clipped my left fog lamp and damaged it's rim! I got down to reproach the girl and inform her that she should never do such a thing again. However  the young girl had become aggressive and attempted to be physical with me, and so I seized her vehicle keys and went to the nearest police station which is a stones throw away from the incident, to report the matter.

The girl soon came to the police station only she had gathered a HUGE crowd of "supporters" (since it was next to the college campus) who had been NO WHERE on the scene when the accident occurred! In this unruly mob were half a dozen screaming thugs all claiming they were the girls brothers, cousins and uncles, in true filmy style!! The unfolding saga that then took place had me and my girl friend who came over after I phoned her up,  sitting in the thick of verbal abuses being flung around us,  and the scene completely unravelling into an unmanageable mob hysteria and fast becoming a free for all; with the culmination of the screaming thugs getting a few slaps and roughed up to quieten them down!

The police took my side. That was comforting and I am glad about that factor. However I cannot help being troubled by the knowledge that there was no real control, authority nor cohesive management to a simple matter at a police precinct that should have people trained to deal with situations far more complex than this. 

As I sat listening to the ranting of people who had no clue as to the truth of the issue, (most of whom were there for the tamasha), I could see so clearly how wrong becomes right by the insistence of a mob mentality in India. You merely have to gather the "numbers" and intimidate and the  minority will always be placed in a space of feeling threatened.

The Indian male gaze is one that needs greatly to be changed.....
.......you are visually assaulted by those men who desire to show their power to you.

At one point I said to the main rabble-rouser (who must have been in his late twenties), that I was saddened that he was deliberately being untruthful about an incident he wasn't even witness to, and that I was in fact old enough to be his mother, so could he in that spirit comprehend that what he was doing was incorrect.  I saw a momentary flicker of unease as though I had hit too close for comfort;  and then he chose to continue to stir the crowd on,  I suppose to teach me a lesson. Finally the focus became the issue that I spoke English! Well we were colonised,  and so there isn't much that I can do about that historical fact nor the legacy of a language that now is part of our educational system; so where did all this finally boil down to?! 

With the police fearing that tables and chairs would soon start to be smashed, they ran the crowd out with an aggressive show of force.....all the while whilst I sat in a rickety chair wondering what a sad mess the situation had become. I however insisted that the erring young girl had to acknowledge her mistake and apologise if she wanted to have repossession of her vehicle. At the very start of the fracas on the road itself,  I had told her the same thing.....but bravado and aggression appears a heady mix these days as the new street culture of our cities. 

Indian men should be instructed  that "protection" of women isn't about haranguing other women! Mores the pity that simple traffic rules are not implemented with punitive actions of driving licenses being impounded when violation of any traffic rules are flaunted. 

But then simple measures are too much to hope for in a chalta hai country steeped in corruption.
At 54 sitting in that police station I thought for the first time that perhaps my political choice to live in India may have been a mistake......

Sad isn't it that ones spirit sometimes feels so worn down.....

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Rape:Responses and reactions

With crimes and atrocities towards women becoming more visible and therefore more focused upon by the media, society at large can no longer feign ignorance regarding it, nor wish it away as being a rarity rather than the norm it has unfortunately become in this overriding patriarchal system we are living in. Good girls versus bad girls is the usual line that gets pitched by ultra conservatives as the analysis of rape, instead of calling it for what it is which is wilful acts of heinous violence and abuse that reek of male power to subjugate and humiliate as a means of self gratifying perverse pleasure. Dis-functionality and mental instability alone does not trigger these acts. Today the culture of abuse is rampant against women and any women who stands up for her self dignity and equality in situations that are offensive to her,  will become fair game to be crushed into silence by a system that has endorsed such acts by not quashing them through punitive methods of justice in fast track courts

Remedial factors to address these areas of sexual violence and crimes against women  that include domestic abuse, paedophilia, rape and incest  must become central to debates that engage with family welfare, educational syllabi, governmental policies for gender issues, police training, health care systems and the judiciary and bring clear directives as to how we bring a sensitised mindset to gender issues. The central and state governments must play pivotal roles in being pro-active and evidence that safety for women is mandatory. The likes of Shiela Dixit lighting candles at the site of an atrocity will do little. What should be done is for an accountability that shoulders responsibility without passing the buck.

What is worrying is to see retrogressive reactions come into play after the increase of focus on rape and women's safety issues. The M.S.University campus management contemplating imposing a curfew of 8 pm to all the residents of the women's hostels is one such stupid example.  We view women from a medieval prism of morality that sees her as an object whose protection lies in keeping her under lock and key! It is outrageous to imagine that in the 21st century that the campus management of the M.S University imposes curfews upon female students that are intended to be the methods that address the issue of sexual harassment. The violation of the basic freedom of an individual appears to have not been even remotely addressed. It is imperative that safety for women must be dealt with in a manner that does not caricature us into being feeble creatures in need of "protection". It is about time that issues of dignity and equality related to gender politics enters the debate. 

Women in India are subjected to having their identity conjoined to a space of belonging that is inherently patriarchal; where their roles are determined by yardsticks that are conventional and conservative. Unfortunately an increasing regressive environment of conservative traditionalism is shaping mindsets in India today, where  pro-choice and empowerment is not a norm that is advocated for women.

Equally disturbing for me is to see protests mushrooming that centre around rape that do little to comprehend the seriousness of the issue,  but which instead  become nonsensical rather childish activities related to the feel good factor that appeases our conscience. Young artists, earnest in their need to "do" something must recognise that political intent cannot be imposed upon anything and everything merely because they are good intentioned,  and that the vehicle of art has to be used appropriately if it is to hold that required potency to provoke discourse and new ideas. There is a fine line that one must be aware of where the enormity of an issue does not get trivialised and become instead celebrated.

We need young volunteers to go into schools across the board and do work-shops and have in-depth conversations that address breaking down stereo-types within gender politics. The rot is deep and nothing can happen overnight.....but the longer we postpone the inevitable which is to address this skewered mindset that produces violence against women and makes them targets of assault, the more effort will be required to refashion  a societal malaise that shouldn't have occurred in the first place!

So lets get real and stop beating around the bush.
Equality is a fundamental constitutional right.
Freedom at midnight was not intended to be the hour of rape.
My body is my personal territory.
Don't imagine it becomes the playground of the perverse.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Belated Happy New Year!

Belated Happy New Year to All!

I must apologise for this long lapse between the last blog post to this one....

A dear friend's aunt was terminally ill and the last three weeks have been a blur of hospitals and the  ICU with my night becoming my day for painting. She passed away peacefully yesterday amidst the embrace of her family and loved ones, and so the rigours  of duty and the sustained support group for this emotional health crisis is finally over. We bade farewell to Dr. Aravinda Chandra at her funeral last evening. A women of determined strength and conviction, who was a true survivor; and whose elegance and dignity will be the gift of her legacy to us.  

This New Year of 2013 has seen us all as a nation completely let down with deep sadness regarding the growing trend of violence towards women in our society. For those of us who are do not posses such a mindset, nor are brought up within traditional molds that preference gender-bias, the despair for such attitudes is immeasurable. The more details that spill out of the police and civil societies apathy to the plight of the victims makes me consider that our educational systems certainly need to be appraised. The higher the percentage of marks in schools does not appear to reflect that the moral fabric of a juvenile is equally elevated to a higher level  of action.

All of us grapple with our conscience on a daily basis. But the hope is that our conscience is fed by the information to know right from wrong. These days entertainment walks a thin line between endorsement of violence as entertainment and the power of influence. I am rather appalled by the naivety of many actors who felt compelled to defend scripts that hold such blurred territories within  which interpretations of sexual harassment being heroic can be inferred. 

As for the political class today in India; all I can say is it is deeply saddening to see the criminalisation of power occur with such blatancy under our noses.

I am going to applaud some sections of the television media. The young brave hearts story was compellingly portrayed to keep up the factual need of the hour. Arnab Goswami, Barkha Dutt, Nidhi Razdan & Rajdeep Sardesai were anchors whom I continuously listened to during these bleak days of this tragic story. 

I hope India can change the direction of the persistent lethargy of a judicial system that appears the biggest malaise of our country,  and make fast track courts address the multitude of lingering cases such as the chillingly story of the gang raped abducted victim whose ordeal stretched forty days and whose captors added to 42 men. 

But this is going to continue unless each of us feel that such stories are ours......
....and stand up and be counted for the values we know to be right.