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Ab ki baar….bas karo yaar.

abkibaar

An homage, a tribute to the Indian Elections of 2014. A set that I was physically apart from, and from this geographically distant vantage point I was able to finally be an observer, or as Derek Zoolander would put it, a eugooglizer.

This set of elections was rather different from any I’ve seen so far as long as I’ve understood what elections were. In a move that I’m certain was meant to capitalise on the youth vote bank, campaigns this year were massively focussed on social media. This increased online participation meant that everyone and their mother was now on Twitter, Facebook and whatever other social network is there, looking to participate. This, as a standalone fact, is an excellent thing in the world’s biggest democracy.  The wave of politicians (and therefore, more and more users) on social media meant a massive online democracy had been mobilised to opine, to rehash, to ruminate and philosophise.

 

Or so it would seem.

 

While there have been voices from and about every part of the Indian political spectrum, this past election has seemed overshadowed by a very specific section, whether in the press or on the internet. A little digging and some investigative articles suggested that a lot of this publicity was paid for. The entire idea of the press not being neutral is absolutely infuriating, but in a largely capitalist world where money talks, and talks louder and more forcefully than anything ever has, it’s going to happen. Should there ideally be rules against this, irrespective of the type of economy? I believe so. Are there? I’m not so sure. But it is absolutely a worldwide phenomenon, spurred on not by the beliefs of news disseminators, but investors.

Various media outlets nationwide, barring fewer than a handful, have taken rather specific political stances – interviews, analyses and  ‘debates’ have all been biased, slanted rather obviously in favour of one candidate or the other. That has happened since public media has existed, and will continue to do so for a while, or at least until some extremely advanced technology, some form of Artificial Intelligence kicks it into obsolescence.

Unfortunately, while the ‘world’s largest democracy’ has now begun to be online, it is unclear whether this media is deliberating on issues to the extent that a democracy does, a la the  idea of agonistic pluralism theorised by Chantal Mouffe.  It hasn’t just been the victory that has been a landslide, the campaign has seemed that way too. There has been pluralism, there have been campaigners, there have been voices of dissent against what can only be described as predicated on the subject’s apparent success in his home state, the facts and numbers of which seem to indicate thus.

However, it is neither sensible nor fair to pick a candidate entirely on the basis of success in his home state, the data behind which may or may not be true, but was, and is bandied about repeatedly on social media by said supporters.

It is to be noted, however, that the same people refuse to mention, or even entertain any discussion regarding the 2002 Godhra riots, largely seen to have been a form of communalist violence, which happened in the exact same state. If one were to go by the oft-repeated statement that the Supreme Court of India granted the candidate a ‘clean chit’ in the matter, the fact still remains that not nearly enough was done to stem the violence, which seemed to become, to the perpetrators, some form of pogrom, an ethnic cleanse in their minds. The attacks were seemingly allowed to continue well beyond what they should have, the violence unimaginably gruesome and gory. Even if they were, according to the Supreme Court, not premeditated, and no political influence was involved, the fact remains that the same political power permitted the violence to continue. It must also be noted that said party (honestly, much like any other political party/politician in India) is communalist and plays on religious sentiment (sadly all too strong and polarising in India) in order to garner votes.

 

This is not exclusive to India, however, these communal, divisive politics, this ‘othering’, with a small section of political parties in the UK using this sort of tactic to pull in votes.

Temporarily, however, there was a glimmer of hope in the form of the Aam Aadmi Party. The name literally translates to the ‘Common Man’s Party’, and although they started small, they seemed to want to move in the right direction, their goals for once truly in line with what the country needed. They did not play at looking for votes from a specific sect, religion, section of the economy, but society as a whole. Unfortunately, their campaign petered out early, with their candidate withdrawing 49 days in. In the end, a real pity, as they were the only party that seemed to treat the people of India as people, as an actual society, instead of bits and bobs of an economy, or a market to be sold a product entirely. They cared about the aspects of social change that other parties either claimed to care about or in the case of the currently ruling party, are vehemently against. Regretfully, while their ideals were wonderful, it seems their ultimate execution was not.

 

Back to the politics of the specific state in question. Numbers were marketed, nay, hard-sold to the public, epic tales were told of wondrous development, of progress and the sort of magic one might seemingly only find at Hogwarts. But ask questions and you may as well be entering the Forbidden Forest.

Statistics show that despite the grand claims of development, education, nutrition and clean drinking water are all but accessible to significant sections of the population, and in some cases a majority of the state.

Child nutrition is at an all-time low – 47 per cent of children below the age of three in the State were underweight. That figure was 45 per cent in NFHS-2. That’s about twice the average for sub-Saharan Africa.

 

When a state claims as significant development, or at least a party does, surely nutrition is part of this ‘development’? Or is their idea of ‘development’ only the sort that is measured in money the rich can bring in? The metrics for the analysis that caused state, masses and media alike to arrive at the wonderful rosy scenario known as ‘development never seem to be revealed. When your nutrition rates are abysmally lower than those in sub-Saharan Africa, can you really claim development?

 

“According to Census 2011, 43 per cent of the rural households in Gujarat get water supply on their premises and 16.7 per cent get treated water from a common tap”

That leaves a staggering 57% of households that do  not have access to water, having instead to travel several kilometres, very likely on foot, through arid, harsh conditions, often to bring back enough water for entire families. This water, too, is often not fit for any form of consumption, as “67 per cent of rural households in the State have no access to toilets and members of more than 65 per cent of the households defecate in the open, very often polluting common water sources.

Well, shit.

It seems from this that the purported economic gain did not reflect within the state itself.

While the religious fundamentalism that has historically characterised the party has seemed to be absent from this round of elections, with a significant non-Hindu vote going towards the party, a fair number of significant members of the party hold rabidly religious and social views that seem to be stuck somewhere, perhaps a century ago. With several social movements in India in the last few decades geared towards eradicating exactly this sort of thought process, one worries that this might be a step backwards for India as a functioning society.

 

The Indian LGBT movement has gathered steam in the past few years, and a general awareness of what many, sadly, across generations, believed to be a ‘curable disease’, rather than an innate biological characteristic, spread. More and more of the Indian public began appearing in public, at movements and rallies protesting the criminalisation (and re-criminalisation!) of homosexuality. It was no longer the taboo it had been in the past, and pride movements became a thing. It was absolutely wonderful.

 

And now, a party that has stayed apart from the religious fundamentalism it has marked itself by in the past has come to power. But while the party may have stayed away from communalist marketing tactics, its leaders, and the men at its helm still believe in archaic ideals, such as these -

 

BJP President, Rajnath Singh: “We will state (at an all-party meeting if it is called) that we support Section 377 because we believe that homosexuality is an unnatural act and cannot be supported.”

Senior member of the party, Subramanian Swamy, an erstwhile intellectual and former Harvard lecturer, described homosexuality as a ‘mental disorder’ in a series of tweets.

 

Sadly, the Congress party was not much better, with the Health Minister in 2011, Ghulam Nabi Azad, describing homosexual sex, or ‘MSM’ as a ‘disease’.  While these archaic ideals may not be party-specific or community specific (in fact, some of the major religions practised in India sadly all view homosexuality as some sort of ‘disease’ or ‘disorder’), it is a massive blow to the movement that the newly forming cabinet is against progress and change in the social fabric of the country.

 

As I publish this, a woman has just been appointed the Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat, which is a wonderful thing. Anandiben Patel is, by all means, an accomplished person and politician, and her history seems to bode well for reform.

However, it now remains to be seen whether this is merely lip service or the sign of better things.

It is unfair to treat the country entirely as a market and focus merely on economic development, which, while important, needs to occur concurrently with social change. However, the focus on this seems to have been lost, buried somewhere beneath the cries of ‘development’.  Statistics can be bandied about that prove said development – but this is something everybody needs to keep in mind.

 

“So at the state and city level, things are far more complex than a simple copy-paste Guj-India job.”  (Shared courtesy Anupam Gupta ‏,

 

Change is never instant, and it is wrong to expect it to be.  However, I sincerely hope checks and balances, from within both public and establishment, can keep India as democratic as it has been. Perhaps this election was about development. Perhaps it was also predicated on a strong anti-incumbent sentiment that is fairly justified, all things considered.

Ab ki baar, the change that occurs remains to be seen. The latest developments, however, do not seem to be very promising, with AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal arrested today for expressing an unsavoury opinion of a prominent BJP leader. Genuine worries for the freedom of expression have now grown – will all public opinion be hereafter, er,  modified?

One can only hope that in this race, this mad quest for ‘development’, this live-action form of  Temple Run, India is still, in the eyes of the powers that be, not a corporate entity that needs to maximise profit, but a country. Made of living, breathing people who retain wholly the right to express themselves, personally and publicly, people who need more than just progress for progress’ sake, and not just the economic kind, .

 

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One Down: First Woman.

cw3

If only it were just a crossword clue anymore.

‘Eve-teasing’. An all-too-popular pastime in this wonderful country we call home. It isn’t even English, really, but an Indianism, ifyou will, much like ‘prepone’, ‘reply back’, ‘do the needful’ and our Indian version of ‘propose’, which doesn’t mean what it means everywhere else.

It is commonly defined as men ogling at women on the street, whistling, singing songs, basically boorish men behaving like they own a woman they see. Or at least that is how it starts off, with men at street corners singing the cheapest Bollywood songs they can think of, with the most crass lyrics imaginable (and my goodness me, our lyric writers give them so much to choose from it’s like listening to an even less melodious version of the radio).  There are catcalls, whistles, remarks like ‘item’ and ‘wah’, and then there’s outright groping.

I have been fortunate enough not to ever have been groped or had anyone attempt to do so, but for your average Indian woman, tapori ‘seeti’ and catcalls have become a way of life, something that’s in the background, like annoying white noise you cannot get rid of.

As we all are FULLY aware, rape has nothing to do with sex, or titillation, or whether my clothes are too tight or too short or too something-or-the-other.  It’s to do with a moron (or an entirely stupid, backwards society) SO steeped in patriarchy that he is convinced he absolutely must show his masculinity, or as they like to say here, ‘mardaangi’. What better way to show you are a MAN than by subjugating a woman, no? Of course! What better way to subjugate a woman than to violate her?

Of course, with this comes the wonderful label of a woman’s ‘modesty’. My sexuality. My ‘modesty’. Her modesty was violated. The farmer committed suicide because his daughter’s modesty was outraged. Modesty in India is a wonderful umbrella term that covers virginity (only for a woman, though, let it be remembered), female sexuality, anything that could possibly even indicate that the woman has her own independent thought processes, makes, nay, even wants to make her own decisions – and god forbid they are sex-related – or just wants to be considered a human being like any other, and the way to show what I shall subsequently call ‘penis-power’, you grab this ‘modesty’.

Recently, an acquaintance of mine I met through mutual friends when I studied abroad, and a Facebook friend, did this, and it was amazing.

He was crossing the street in Bangalore with two female friends, when two uncouth hooligans on a bike began to ‘eve-tease’ them. Akshay Kingar, instead of bowing his head and walking on like most of us (myself included) do, he took a photograph of them and posted it to the internet.  Our two lovely idiots may not have been aware of the power of social media when they so wonderfully flipped Akshay the bird. They’re likely more than aware now.

In addition to garnering immense Internet traffic, the post was brought to the attention of the Bengaluru Police. Members of Parliament, news channels, publicists and even average Joes working in the field of the media latched onto the story and brought it to the attention of the entire country.
Those two upstanding pillars of modern society have, I hear, since been arrested by the Bengaluru police.

Unfortunately, there are many like them that roam the streets unfettered, feckless pieces of filth that live with no fear of the law (which, of course, inspires no fear in anybody because it might as well not exist), and only two days ago, in spite of ALL the lip-service the public received post Nirbhaya, THIS was a headline: “Woman gang-raped on bus in Indore”.

Clearly a LOT has changed since Nirbhaya, then.

Lip service, lip service, and more lip service. Changing the law may be one thing, but changing people’s mindsets is another.
A wonderful guy left this nugget of wisdom on the photo Akshay shared on Facebook [and I've left his name in because he deserves to be shamed publicly in every way possible].

Venu Krish Reddy first over girls must wre the proper dress’s den y the hell da guys ll teas them, so guys plz think of t also k..,”

That comment was ‘liked’ by 3 different people, one of them, sadly, a woman.

In our country, it doesn’t really take much for something to escalate into violence. It could start off as vile jeering and creepy leers, but with no legal regulation, anybody can pick up a bottleful of acid at a corner store for a nominal amount, and, should his lecherous advances be spurned, use this to prove his might. (I am penis, hear me roar?)

Everybody now, Delhi police included, seems to be telling women how to ‘take precautions’ so that they are not attacked. That in itself is ridiculous, in that the police is obligated to make people abide by the law, the same law that should punish them if they do NOT. Unfortunately, that is not the way it works here.

No, instead of that, let’s tell women what ‘modesty’ is. Modesty is not showing your shoulders/arms/legs/cleavage/neck/ANY skin whatsoever, because otherwise you’re just asking to be raped. How DARE you show skin? And if you do, how do you expect the man to control his sexual urges?? Poor diddums!

Then, we shall make ‘historical’ reference points to outline what exactly we define as modesty. Draupadi, Sita, Parvati, Sati, whatever mythological woman was the most subservient is automatically the most modest.

Indian men (and again, I do not mean educated Indian men – I mean the ones who lean on their bicycles/motorcycles by the side of the street, wearing their ‘Dabang’ glasses, thinking they have all the swagger in the world) seem to consider ogling a birthright, something that they just do. Then you have this man proving it’s not just your average cheapo who does it. And he’s wonderfully shameless about it, too.

Tie this in with our leftover white supremacist ideals and our obsession with whiteness in general, which have seeped so far into the cracks of our broken society that they have become part of its very foundation (and are proved, time and time again, by the staggering sales of fairness creams and bleach, or even the sheer volume of advertisements you see about them on the television), and you get an increasing spate of crimes against foreign tourists, who from what I gather are looked upon as ‘itummm’. While I was writing the article, this happened and it is terrifying. I think I might have done much the same.

Victim-blaming is a lovely, lovely pastime of (in increasing order of the gravity of how stupid this is) the people, the law and the upholders of the law.  First you have idiots like Mr. Venu on Facebook, blaming the girls and asking them to ‘look at what dress ur wearin’, an idiot I saw on the Times of India comment board implying Nirbhaya deserved to be raped because ‘what did she expect travelling so late wid boyfrnd’, the Swiss tourists who were told by Madhya Pradesh police ‘not to be wandering around so late’, and the Suryanelli rape case, where her tormentors, among them Rajya Sabha MP P.J Kurien, said she was ‘of age’ and the sex was consensual. In addition, THIS:

The Court order described the alleged rapes as a “willing journey of a misguided girl”, and claimed that the male accused were “guilty only of the immorality of going to a woman, who they thought was a prostitute.

Of course, this is entirely logical, because if she’s a prostitute, it’s totally okay to rape her, right? It’s not like she is providing business that SHE should conduct at her OWN discretion, right? (However, considering the level to which trafficking goes on in this country, this is an article I would like to save for later.)

The JUDGE in that case, a man named Mr. R. Basant had  said “The girl is not normal, she is deviant. All these are there in the judgment”.

First off – even if she was a prostitute (which I sincerely doubt), that gives nobody the right to rape.

Second, considering legalese is supposed to be extremely accurate, with no room for any ambiguity whatsoever, I wonder if there is any way for Judge Basant to explain the word ‘deviant’. Perhaps he means what the collective Indian male I mentioned earlier believes. ‘Immodest’.

There can be all sorts of banter about laws being changed, anti-rape law this, anti-rape law that, anti-rape anything. But at the end of the day, it all boils down to this. We have to, as a society, bring up men that do not think of themselves as a superior being or species, but just a homo sapien that happens to have a penis. It is a fleshy, vascular appendage. Not a Golden Excalibur between your legs that you draw out to proclaim your kingship.

We need to stop calling the cheap morons by the street Roadside Romeos, although I quite approve of the name if it involves them ingesting poison of some sort.

Dear 19-year-old guy at my gym, this means that when you ask my friend “Why do you cook your own dinner, aren’t you married? Doesn’t your wife cook for you?”, or “You change your daughter’s diapers??”,  you are part of the problem. The very, very big problem. The law may precipitate the problem, but the problem is your mindset, and that of a billion others, not all of them men.  The problem is that these people need to be taught something that most of the civilised world has been aware of for a long, long, long time.

Gender equality.

18 Again.

I’ve written very recently about genitalia (my article on labiaplasties here), and here’s another little article for you, one about a product that claims to be about the ‘feel’ and not the ‘look’.

What now seems like many, many years ago, Madonna sang that she felt ‘like a virgin, touched for the very first time’.   Couple years later, the genius Weird Al Yankovic parodied this and made ‘Like a Surgeon’. Both of these are relevant to this issue. First, watch this lovely, lovely ad, which is a masterpiece, even more romantic than the Raymond’s ads with random hot twirly dancing couples.

Once you’ve gotten over that (which may take a while), let’s talk virginity. By ’18′, these people are implying ‘young’, ‘fresh’, ‘tight’, ‘virginal’. First off – for some reason, in India, virginity is an ‘asset’, something to be prized, a ‘gift’ to be given to the future husband – I must remind you, of course, that for these people, the guy’s virginity doesn’t matter at all – virginity =tight hymen. So many people write into ‘ask the Sexpert’ columns (yes, I shall refer to them continually because they need to be referred to) asking Mr. Sexpert WHY their ‘wife didn’t bleed on their wedding night’. I remember reading one that said he ‘felt cheated becausemy wife is not a virgin’. Cheated of what, exactly?

To begin with, I think the concept of ‘arranged marriage’ is disgusting. It makes me want to throw up, hit someone, murder somebody else, and all of those simultaneously. Get married IF YOU HAVE FEELINGS FOR SOMEONE AND WANT TO GET MARRIED, not because you’re ‘of a certain age’ and need to prove something to the world (and in the process, to yourself). It is NOT important to find someone to saddle yourself with – if you crave companionship so much, find a friend. Date. If you don’t want to, find a friend with whom you are mutually agreeable to having sex. Have protected sex with a prostitute if you must. But for a lot (and I mean a LOT) of Indian men, getting married merely implies access to regular sex. That is NOT what a marriage is for, (except to these people).

Before I rant any more, let us discuss the actual advert. A woman, who looks to be only 30, is hanging out with her husband, in their fancy, open Indian style home. Like a ‘dutiful bahu’, she brings hubby dearest his dabba for the day. The in-laws are there too, doing in-law stuff. What I’m assuming are husband’s little brother and sister are on deck, too.

Suddenly, the woman begins to dance (inexplicably, the flamenco, which has naff all to do with India anyway). A soundtrack begins to play in the background – what is supposed to sound like flamenco guitar, while a woman makes oohs and aahs and other (what the makers of the ad think are) sex sounds while singing “I feel like a virgin”.

No, it is not in tune.

They begin to dance as she ‘tickles’ him and sings, and the creepy little brother begins to record this courtesy the camera on his cell phone. They then dance whatever their dance is around their compound and he lifts her romantically and dips her.

“Feels like the very first ti-i-ime”, the singer croons, lustily.

The dancing finally comes to an end, as does the ad, with mother- and –father in-law at a computer, MIL going clickety-clack at the keyboard – “18 again dot com?”. They grin at each other, and then an announcer comes on and in the same lusty, whispery voice tells you what the product is, which is (or at least claims to be) a ‘vaginal rejuvenating gel’.

I’m not sure what the scientific credibility of that statement is, but in all likelihood, it is marketed, useless spiel, like all the other ‘rejuvenating’ rubbish in the market that promises to ‘erase laugh lines’ and ‘make wrinkles disappear’. Our society (all over the world, not just in any one country) seems to think ageing is the worst possible thing that could happen. It’s not natural to age, is it? Must. Fight. Urge. To. Inject. All. Sorts. Of. Crap. Into. Face. Lest. I. Look.My.Age. What is wrong, exactly, with looking however old you are? I look at it as an extension of some constant, innate desire to feel attractive to everyone else, when what really matters is being attractive to YOURSELF. But of course, that is never enough.

The company claims the product is to help women experience better sex. Obviously, the only way for her to do that is to ‘tighten’ her lady parts, not by any extra effort on the part of the man. No, the way to remedy sexual issues is not by going to a sexologist/andrologist/gynaecologist, but by buying something they advertise (and rather badly so) on television. What this brought to mind was the fact that we so badly need sex education in India, but our lovely higher-ups in the government seem to think that this will make us imbibe ‘western culture’ (a term that angers me immensely, what is Indian culture anyway??An article on this soon) and ‘make young children sexually promiscuous’. That’s like saying if you were to send a teenager to a driving school, they’d crash the car. If anything, sex ed classes would help them understand sex better, and then have it only when they are mentally and physically ready, as opposed to becoming sexually active to be ‘cool’, or trying to fit in because being a virgin is not what ‘popular’ people do. I have seen children as young as 12 and 13 bragging on Facebook about their sexual prowess and conquests. Incredibly weird.

At an age where their bodies are only just beginning to mature, I wonder how physically ready they really are. The really sad thing is that they grow up this way, learning their ‘moves’ from porn, which we ALL know is of course completely realistic, right?

So instead of having 30-plus-year-old men write in with puerile, borderline insane queries about their wives’ virginity (or lack thereof), maybe we could educate young kids so they don’t grow up into the sort of idiot that would buy into the ideal of an ’18 Again’ cream.

The product makers claim they’re ‘breaking new ground’ by being willing to talk about ‘women’s intimate health’. No sir or madam, you are not. Just like the morons who marketed the ‘intimate wash’ by saying it was a ‘fairness treatment’ for your nether regions (more on my views on fairness here).

If we go by today’s average Indian 18-year-old, being ’18 Again’ simply means being completely unaware of sex, intercourse, foreplay, or even what real genitals *look* like, but doing it because you think you’re cool.

But hey, the shoe fits.

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