Archive by Author | abohemiansrhapsody

Jenner-ally Speaking

jenner

Today, Caitlyn Jenner came out to the world, happy and finally free to live her life as herself, and be true to her own identity. She debuted some beautiful pictures on the cover of Vanity Fair, and they were deservedly lauded.

As a cis*-woman myself, I have never and will never know the struggles of being trans. However, the cover got me thinking about gender binaries. Is femininity, merely the idea of being a woman, so closely associated with an external, physical ideal of beauty? Why must being female necessarily mean fitting some external ideal of ‘beauty’, whatever it is?

It is one thing to applaud Jenner’s admittedly gargantuan courage in taking the step publicly – it will doubtless provide some inspiration and courage to those who could not, for whatever reason, come out as trans. However, it seems as though it is the ‘prettiness’ that is being publicly lauded, with plenty of online commenters comparing Caitlyn to her ex-wife, Kris, pitting the women against each other.

And that brings me to a more pertinent question – is the gender binary so pronounced that dressing in lingerie, hair styled, posing and makeup are construed as a true portrayal of femininity? Is that all there is to being or identifying as a woman?

Humanity begins the binary at youth. Dresses versus shorts. Pink versus blue. Barbie vs G.I Joe. (This brings to mind an old episode of Friends, where Ross was correctly called out by his ex-wife’s wife, after constantly trying to replace his son’s Barbie doll with an action figure.) Short hair versus long.

Left to their own devices, children have been seen to play with whatever toy is nearest them, or whatever catches their fancy. The gendering of those toys, if they are humanoid, does not matter. Unfortunately, people gender the most inanimate, genderless things – like Lego or Meccano toys, which contribute to children’s analytical and cognitive development – and they somehow take on the label of being ‘for boys’.

As adults who could know better, these same children, as all of us once were, are trapped in a cycle that we do not know how to get out of. The cycle of fitting, or being made to fit into boxes and compartments that as fluid beings, mentally, sexually or otherwise, we do not need to belong in. And thus femininity comes to be associated with dresses. With lingerie and red lipstick and roughly tousled hair that looks as if a woman is in the throes of amorous passion but still immaculately made up. That is our ideal of ‘sexy’, of ‘feminine’, when those words cannot either be defined or boxed in. As many women adhere to conventional standards of ‘fashion’ as do not. Does that make the latter group any less feminine?There are women who are fond of heels, high, low, anything in between. There are also as many women who would rather wear slippers or trainers. It does not make either group any more or less feminine either.

But Caitlyn’s cover, and so many Vanity Fair covers before hers, seem to ideate female beauty as being just that – a dressed up, made up, posing, pouting being on legs.

There is often an interview that accompanies the glossy, high-end pictures of a Vanity Fair spread, but the interview tends to be secondary to the photographs. Every bit of publicised coverage about Caitlyn mentions that Annie Leibovitz is the photographer, but there is no mention of the writer assigned to the job – his/her job is a secondary, cursory thing. The interview may focus on Caitlyn’s struggles, her transition and what came with it – but the piece at large focuses on her new physical attributes, which while I am sure are important to her, unfortunately seem to connote that that physicality is the essence of femininity. There are several other things popular media seems to label as decidedly feminine, in the absence of which women are ‘less woman’ somehow – however, those are not relevant to a discussion of Caitlyn and her journey and will be discussed separately.

Is Jenner an icon for inspiring many young transwomen to be able to come out? Yes. We must remember that transwomen and transmen are not all from the same circumstances – they may not have access to medical facilities, counselling, healthcare and the other things Caitlyn has had access to. Will Caitlyn’s courage still inspire them to be able to be able to publicly embrace their identities? One hopes so – but we should not denigrate, belittle and compartmentalise women and box ‘femininity’ whilst we try to publicize and bring attention to what it means to be trans, and help the public understand it.

One should not be at the cost of the other.

Either way, I wish Caitlyn every single happiness, and I am sure she will have more of it now that she is able to freely embrace her life in all its glorious entirety.

*cis implies that your gender identity matches the sex you were assigned at birth

This Indian Blogger Wrote About Indian Men Apologising To a British Blogger…

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and you WON’T believe what happened next! 

Apologies. If that clickbait headline didn’t suck you in, I hope what I have to say will. Recently, a well-known website ran a piece on a British blogger, Lucy Hemmings, who visited the country, but went through some horrific experiences and felt the awful effect of our completely patriarchal society first-hand. I would like to preface my piece by saying I do not wish to belittle her or her experiences. I’m certain they must have been extremely traumatic, I’m sorry that she went through them and I wish her luck in healing.

This is addressed to the Indian men ‘apologising’, and that being seen as a wonderful thing. It isn’t.

The motive of these ‘apologies’ is suspect, as is the language used in them. One reads: “thank you for showing that India is not Slumdog Millionaire! Thank you for showing people we have a beautiful culture.”

‘Culture’ is not just one thing. It isn’t the backwaters or the marshes, or the palms swaying in the background. ‘Indian culture’, that oft-repeated term, is also a fictional angel or demon, depending on who is playing that card and how. It is as much ingrained in the Indian psyche to stoop to patriarchy as it is to boat in the backwaters. Or likely far, far more. Going by the state of roads in every single city in this nation, open defecation is also part of this ‘culture’. So is marital rape, which somehow still has no legislation against it.

Comments on various websites show men saying “its all a feminazi [do NOT fucking use this word] activist for dowry (sic)” or somehow implying that a) feminism and feminists are evil incarnate, or b) working for women’s rights is somehow unnecessary in ‘Indian culture’. These comments, many of which declare allegiance with an idiotic concept known as ‘men’s rights activism’, are ironic in their very existence, displaying exactly why India needs feminism so badly.

Another comment read, and patronisingly so: “So I just thought to say sorry (on behalf of everyone in India). I know you have moved on, learned the rules to live with more security. But I thought a sorry would make a difference.”

A ‘sorry’ for what, exactly? For reaffirming the patriarchy? For ‘ensuring’ she ‘learned the rules to live with more security’, security that is a basic human right and should not be tied to what I wear, how I look, how long or short my clothes are, my size, and so on and so forth?

What about all of the INDIAN women who face this garbage on a daily basis? Are we supposed to have internalised the ‘rules’ this wonderful man reminds us so we can ‘live with more security’, and a failure to adhere to these ‘rules’ is an instant ‘rape me/molest me/sexually harass me’ license?

Another man wrote about how he felt bad because he “had a little sister at home” that he “could not imagine all these things happening to”. Maa-behen feminism is the bane of Indian feminist existence. Is the only way for a man to know how to respect a woman as a human being to imagine her as his mother or sister if he has one? Must one need some sort of personal visualisation to be able to understand the issues women face? Or does human empathy not exist anymore? I have never needed to imagine myself as a dog to feel the pain of a dog (my own) that injured his leg. I felt sympathy and understanding for what he was feeling.

Pain does not have to be somehow astrally projected onto a loved one for one to fully comprehend its effects, something the people who espouse maa-behen feminism do not seem to understand, or even want to. Signs plastered all over the Bengaluru metro say “she is your daughter or your sister – do not steal her innocence.” Can one not feel sympathy and understanding for a victim of molestation unless she is related, or we somehow mentally pretend she is?

The men apologise furiously for a ‘foreigner’ having had a man masturbate at her. Except that there are millions of women every single day who are masturbated at, or have been masturbated at in the street. I am one of them, and I was too mortified to inform the police. I continued on my morning run, but the incident is quite unfortunately burned into my memory. I have had men ‘accidentally’ push me aside, their hands too close to my chest for comfort. I am a hundred percent certain I am far from the only person this has happened to, and I’m sorry to say it is likely happening to somebody as I type this.

Where are the Indian men apologising for the people who do this to Indian women? Plenty of them are guilty at staring 6 inches south of a woman’s face whilst talking to her. Where are the men apologising for the fact that our ‘culture’ promotes products like Fair and Lovely, which by its very name implies that fairness is lovely?

This entire incident proves how rampant racism is in India – and it’s entirely reflexive. In the Indian obsession with white skin and white people, these poor, apologetic men seem to have entirely overlooked the biggest demographic that suffers the repercussions of our wonderful ‘Indian Culture’ – Indian women. 

The article ends with a letter from a man who writes: “P.P.S thank you for wearing kurta and kameez and respecting our culture and traditions”, which seems from the letter to have been something she did after being masturbated at, to prevent it from recurring.

Which would be fine… if that ‘kurta and kameez’ wasn’t what more than half the population of women wear in this country, every single day, and get masturbated at, catcalled, sexually harassed, molested or raped in spite of wearing. And that, dear man who wrote the letter, is because sexual harassment has nothing to do with what’s on my body, and everything to do with what is in your mind and those of men all over the country. That a woman exercising her own right to wear what she pleases, do whatever or whomever she wishes to, is a license to judge her character, and an open invite from her to sleep with you. It is not.

This somehow seems to all tie in with an attitude I have observed to be a very Indian phenomenon: the obsession with how others perceive us, our nation, our everything. These letters seem less to do with actual concern for Lucy or the awful incident that happened, and more with how people perceive India – as a ‘land of rapes’, a place where women are not respected, treated as equal beings, a country so steeped in patriarchy it’s emanating from the street, from the urine of all those men who piss on the street with impunity, with neither civic sense nor the risk of getting raped as so many women and young girls do when they are forced to void themselves in the middle of nowhere because there are no toilets for their use.

Instead of sweeping, insincere, misappropriated apologies that reek of desperation, the best ‘apology’ would be changing attitudes. This means not questioning what a woman was wearing, or her character, when she was sexually harassed. This means not condoning marital rape, not excusing its legality. This means treating women with respect, as equal human beings, which is what they are, and respecting their choices. This also entails not poking fun at an actor for starring in a video that may have been an ad campaign, but held a pertinent message all the same, a message the large demographic of Indian men want to deny – that sex is not something a woman is ‘expected to give a man’ – it’s an activity that is supposed to be pleasurable for both sexes. Marriage does not give a man the right to demand sex as he pleases. But our sex-starved nation, which is depraved enough that our ministers think sex education will somehow lead to promiscuity, will not acknowledge this.

This means not posting ‘behen ki ****’ on an online forum, or leering at a woman’s legs or breasts. No disparaging Sunny Leone for her choice of career. She chose to be in adult films – that was her prerogative. She now chooses to be in Bollywood cinema, which I argue is possibly more covertly sexual than adult films, and in the dirtiest way possible. That, again, is her prerogative, and it is not any more or less ‘respectable’ than anything she chooses to do – because she has chosen to do it.

Is anyone going to apologise to the women in the Sports Authority of India hostel, for the authorities who harassed female athletes for consuming alcohol and drove them to suicide?

A final rejoinder to the man who wrote in thanking Lucy for ‘respecting traditions’ by ‘wearing kurta and kameez’. Hey, the skirt I wore the other day was longer than the veshtis most men wear to go about their daily business – is that an open licence to molest them,too? [Hint: It’s not. What I’m wearing, or not, gives you NO license to touch me, or even look my way.]

I thank Messrs Rodgers and Hammerstein for providing me the inspiration for my conclusion, which is what I truly see as the reason for the ‘viral’ nature of those insipid, sickening letters.

White skin and ‘Indian culture’ tied up with string, two of the populace’s favourite things.

Checkpoint Charlie Hebdo

drewfirst

A barbaric attack this afternoon at the Paris offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo left 12 dead and several others severely wounded.

“…in [what is purported to be] an apparent militant Islamist attack, four of the magazine’s well-known cartoonists, including its editor-in-chief, were among those killed, as well as two police officers.”

Reports from several reputed news sources claim the attack as being carried out by people claiming to be part of Al Qaeda, although this has not been entirely corroborated yet.

While multitudes [myself included] have come out in strong support of the cartoonists following the attacks at Charlie Hebdo, some media outlets seem to highlight the ‘fact’ that Charlie Hebdo persisted in its irreverence, subliminally implying somehow that they deserved it. A perverted apologism of sorts for a violent, ruthless attack.

Irreverence can go to extremes, and it has done so repeatedly. In its most modern form, it has all but regressed in its entirety to its original iterations: to use, manipulate and control masses, a tool for power, whether that power is political, monetary or plain old physical might.

That oft repeated quote still stands: “Religion is like a dick. It’s fine to have one, but don’t go waving it around in people’s faces…”

AND don’t go stabbing people with it.

I would like to openly aver that there may be personal bias in that I am personally against the concept of religion in and of itself, and of the opinion that it has done far more harm than good in society. However, it is not anybody’s place to state to another what they may and may not believe [a job extremists take entirely upon themselves, and have done violently in this case].

Extremists seem convinced somehow that their beliefs are the ‘truest’, the strongest, the most faithful to an imaginary sky being on which they base their entire set of values and morals. (To the woman in Central London who once told me atheists ‘have no morals’, we choose to found ours on a reason unrelated to fear of punishment, retribution, becoming a Christmas turkey et al.)

Is your belief so weak that pens and pencils can shake it, cause it to be insulted, irreparably damaged? Is your ‘all-knowing’, ‘all-powerful’ being, the creator of all humanity and everything in existence, the one for whom you commit these crimes, so fragile that words will hurt it? The same being that threatens to punish a being for eternity for being ‘evil’ needs guarding and protection from a few words? Less reminiscent of a god, more reminiscent of a schoolyard bully too chicken to get a taste of his own medicine. Is THAT your belief?

Is belief asking people to ‘multiply’ to ‘replenish their numbers’? To arrest, silence, kill those who disagree?

Censorship is a world issue; Indian cartoonists have in the past been arrested for what was interpreted as ‘seditious work’. Protests are currently on in India against a film that showed, according to detractors, the country’s biggest religion in a ‘bad light’. [It didn’t – it was a sardonic, much-needed take against godmen and the money-spinning, divisive business that is religion.]

Multitudes protested  – on the internet, vocally, in their homes, which, while I personally disagreed with, is perfectly alright. Extremists took it further, with picketing, physical violence and threats.

No physical harm came to any being, however, which is a significant relief, but does not condone the attacks.

Extremism, specifically extremist religion, is a plague. A veritable cancer, seemingly attempting to eat humanity and peace from the inside out; by attacking people, education, free speech and thereby, rational thought.

People have protested from time immemorial, with religion as their goal, their instrument, tool, their means and their end.

To protest film, literature, thought or dissent. In an ideal world, Deepa Mehta would never face widespread protest, and neither would Rajkumar Hirani. Salman Rushdie would never have had to flee, and neither would M.F. Husain. In a sane world, nobody would die as a result of the rabid insecurity of extremist factions, and their cowardly, bloody violence.

Perhaps we should remind ourselves today that if our beliefs (whether in a sky being, a tenet, a school of thought) are as unflappable as we believe them to be, names will never hurt them. It is that belief that should be under question in the end.

To those who believe an absence of religion necessarily means an absence of morality, where is YOUR morality now? In the pointlessly spilled blood of 12 innocent people?

Today, instead of backing down to those who have proclaimed themselves defenders or protectors of faith, each one of us must make a conscious effort to defend something ourselves: the license for others to say things we may not like or agree with, but respecting utterly their choice to express it anyway. The freedom of expression includes the freedom to offend (and being offended is one of humanity’s favourite pastimes).

With these attacks, extremists hope, in silencing those who disagree, that others who disagree will silence themselves. Fear for self censorship. That the threat of attack will lead them to ‘fall in line’.

Today, write more than you did yesterday. Say something you were afraid to say. Speak up about atrocities against everyone. If you protest the Paris attacks, protest those threatening the freedom of expression in your own political and geographic arena. Each time you feel personally slighted or violently offended at a film meant to point out exactly that, check yourself.

Murder is never defensible, and this was not merely an attack on the 12 victims at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. It was an attack on the freedom of expression, of the expression of that opinion without threat. It was an attack on every one of us with a voice that wants to be heard without silencing itself in fear. It is now up to us to not be cowed down; in the words of the slain Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier, to die standing, rather than live on our knees.

#JeSuisCharlie.

Kiss-ko Pyaar Karoon?

kiss-of-love-protest.jpg.image.784.410

Recently, Free Thinkers, a group of Facebook users, organised the ‘Kiss of Love’ movement. The kiss of love was floated in social media by a group of youngsters known as free thinkers, in protest against Bharathiya Yuva Morcha attack on a hotel in Kozhikode last week, alleging immoral activities. 

The movement, in which people who signed up decided to have a kiss-a-thon in Kochi, a major city in the southern Indian state of Kerala, was intended as a symbolic message to the police…the moral kind. The kind who persist in bandying about that oft-repeated turkey, “Indian Culture”. The self-appointed upholders of what is truly Indian. Morally. Sex sadly is not one of these ‘moral’ things to them. However, it is deemed perfectly acceptable to urinate, defecate and masturbate in the street. I have personally seen a street masturbator and multiple street urinators and defecators in the past week.

These Indian religious nuts are probably all living in Biblical times, then. The times of immaculate conception, over and over and over again. The sort of immaculate conception that is repeated in every corner of the country. The kind that has got us to a 1.252 billion strong population as of last year’s census. [Probably higher this year.]

But no, let’s get back to how sex is bad and immoral and corrupting people, shall we? Nobody’s having it, how dare they? It is against the culture of the country with the world’s second-highest population.

Kissing is a beautiful thing. So is sex, but it is possibly too ‘scandalous’ for our upholders of tradition and culture to discuss (the stork dropped them all from the sky, of course), so let’s start small. Kissing. Affection. Love. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in a sexual context, but is a thing of beauty even then. Sexual =/= bad, dear desi culture upholders.

This movement was meant to show two fingers to the moral police, comprised of individuals, groups, families, and scariest of all, political parties. [I say the scariest because of the sheer monetary and physical power they hold and wield as dangerously as an unsheathed sword.]

Trolls to the Facebook page for supporters of the Kiss of Love movement have variously posted things such as these

“will you marry the ‘thing’ you brought to kiss”

“I don’t have a problem. But everyone should take those ‘things’ you kissed back home with you”.

But dear man, you do in fact have a problem. The same problem far too many people in India face. That rape, sex and ownership are all somehow interconnected. And the topic that interconnects them in your mind is that timeless Indian favourite, virginity. Specifically, female virginity.

Countless films, instances in real life and suggestions by ‘well-meaning’ MORONS suggest to survivors of rape that they marry their rapists. Marry the people who chose to violate them and their space to exert power.

Their ‘logic’? That the rapist has already ‘taken’ this girl’s virginity, which of course is the entire deciding factor in her value as a woman and human being, so he might as well keep it.  This patriarchal, backwards mindset is sadly echoed by women nationwide, women who write into advice columns asking about ‘how to hide from my partner that I have had sex with my previous boyfriend’.

Nobody should need to ‘hide’ anything. And by nobody, I mean  no woman, because this ‘sexual shame’, this stigma women are made to feel if they are even the least bit free with their sexuality, is suffered by them and them alone. Men wear their sexual prowess like badges of honour. Women are slut-shamed instead.

Religion divides our nation, and has done so for years and years. However, causes like these seem to unite every regressive, extremist religious wingnut against one massive cause, in their quest to both decide and enforce what is ‘moral’. Freedom. Self-expression. Feminism. Nationwide equanimity.

India does not talk about sex nearly as much as it should, and this is very likely one of the causes for our uncontrollably high population. Nobody TALKS about sex or the issues that come with it. STDs and Venereal Disease. Pregnancy. Family Planning. Safe sex. EQUAL PARTNERS in sex and the fact that it is not just for ‘male pleasure’. The whole she-bang.

The prudish and religious both like to pretend sex doesn’t happen, exist, is ‘western’, the result of a foreign invasion. Ironically, it is possibly due to repeated foreign invasions that a liberated, mentally, physically and sexually free country became the nation of prudes that it now is. Victorian ideals have been left behind while conquerors left for their own lands, their own countries now societally liberal and their people liberated.

Unfortunately, this specific colony has decided to keep these classically ‘Western’, colonial ideas of propriety and prudishness, adopting them as their own, and becoming resistant to freedom of thought or expression, or the expression of sexuality, which to them is inherently baaaad. Here, however, is an excerpt from a book by a very non-Western man. A certain Vatsyayana. The writer of our lovely sex manual written nearly two millennia ago.

In the style of one of my favourite comic-book villains:

  Riddle me this, prudes who’ve appeared, who’s afraid of the big S-word?

I had the opportunity to speak to organisers as well as representatives of the movement. Several organisers and participants in Kochi were taken into custody by local police in what they described as ‘preemptive action’. To ‘prevent disruption’. Disruption of what, exactly, they did not mention. Several religious extremists attempted to attack them as well. The movement, however, has gone from strength to strength. The Facebook page for Kiss of Love was reported by the cultural torchbearers I have expounded upon, and was subsequently shut down. Support has multiplied since, however, with a burgeoning number of subscribers to a new page that has since appeared.

Reflective movements are now happening across the country – one of the country’s leading educational institutions, IIT Bombay, held its own kiss of love movement, which was a roaring success, and supported by the faculty at the institution too. Under conditions of anonymity, one of the organisers of a specific city-based movement shared with me the sort of language that has been used against him: he and his fellow protesters have been described by “the majority of people [who] called this movement as “drunkards and drug-addict” movement”.

Not one of these people has been able to articulate why exactly this movement is so offensive to them, what they think will happen as a result. Meanwhile they have no public outcry against rapists who roam free and assault women and children with absolute abandon, and question women on what they are wearing, if they ‘dare’ to report sexual assault.

Support, however, is growing among the rational, by leaps and bounds. We are now in exciting times. Free Love movements may have happened half a century ago in the rest of the world, and we are behind by all means, but it is incredibly exciting that it is now actually, actively happening here.

This support has, contrary to cultural torchbearer belief, not been restricted to ‘educated’ ‘westernised’ English-speaking intelligentsia. Translated below, a post off the site, originally in Malayalam:

If we have mentioned we will kiss then we will and we have
 
We will do it

 In public, in police station and even in front of police station

 
Inside ,outside 
What else do you seek
 

We have unity

Unity that can never be broken

 

You are the ones who have lost and not us.

We have created history.

* Many thanks to the wonderful NM, a lovely friend and person, for patient and beautiful translation.

Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bright

tigers

Stop Blaming The Tiger.   Today, a man was mauled to death by a tiger in Delhi Zoo. Any loss of life is sad, and so it was in this case.

But the current blame game that is ongoing within and outside the media conveniently overlooks the most important being in this case – the tiger, for whom one must feel nothing but pity.

The Bengal Tiger (panthera tigris) is one of the world’s most endangered species. There are currently fewer than 2,500 of them worldwide. They have officially been classified as endangered by the IUCN, but are still hunted by poachers worldwide for their ‘exotic skin’, among other things.

Found primarily in the Bengal region, the tiger is the national animal of both countries in that region – India and Bangladesh. Shamefully, there have only been sporadic forces of activism to protect this beautiful animal, which continues to be killed by unaware villagers, townsmen, poachers. All from the same species of animal – homo sapiens. 

Homo sapiens, which are apparently the only species capable of having governments, laws, upholders of these laws, compassion and empathy, choose seemingly to exercise absolutely none of these even though heart-rending stories of animals being killed are aplenty. Snared in wire traps. Poisoned. Hunted in cold blood for their hides, for the use of their bones in traditional Oriental medicine. A quick read of the stories on tiger poaching is enough to break even the stoniest heart.

Although carnivorous, tigers are not known to be man-eaters, instead preferring to prey on herbivores within their ecosystems, such as several subspecies of deer and buffalo. It is very rare for a tiger to be a man-eater, a fact endorsed by renowned naturalist and famed protector of the Bengal tiger, Jim Corbett.

The more one reads about this incident, the less one is inclined to blame the tiger.

Taken out of its natural habitat, the tiger is in a small enclosure not even a tenth of the size of the forest it is used to. While the enclosure may seem ‘large’ to the human eye and human standards, it truly is not. Second, it is simply not the tiger’s natural habitat, and it is unlikely the tiger will feel particularly comfortable or at home there. Zoos are a concept that I completely abhor; putting live animals that cannot resist and do not know any better on display for human pleasure is sadistic, cruel and entirely unnecessary.

In this still-slightly-unfamiliar environment, the tiger is put on display, for people to watch, ogle at, laugh, scream, yell and seemingly attract attention. Reduced to a circus show (which, in my opinion, should also be entirely outlawed. At the very least the use of animals in circus acts should be completely banned) with spectators watching it go about its life. A Truman Show for the poor animal.

Indian public etiquette is nonexistent, to put it mildly, be it at a swimming pool, a railway station, an airport, a government office, a restaurant, anywhere. [An article on this is currently in the works.]

The same goes for zoos. Honestly, as abhorrent as public etiquette is, I would much rather humans inconvenienced each other than hurt an animal, something that makes my blood boil. People throw stones, pebbles, food, popcorn, the works at poor, confused animals in spite of signs in multiple languages telling them expressly NOT TO DO SO. But who cares about instructions?

And so cue our strapping young man, king of the creatures, selfie-clicking enthusiast, who attempts to climb the barricade to the tiger’s limited area. Hoping to get its attention, he walks towards a tiger that is at a fair distance, 500-600 metres away, shouting to attract its attention.

The tiger comes towards our selfie young man, our social media maven, who by now has realised entering the tiger’s area was not a smart idea. Cue Darwin award, please.

Ill-informed ‘spectators’ begin to throw stones at an already scared tiger who perceives this man as a threat to his territory. Territorialism is animal instinct (unfortunately, humans do it too, for reasons that are not instinctual, sadly), and I assure you a pet dog would do exactly the same were its territory threatened. Many pet dogs are quite capable of mauling a person to death as well.

Now scared and confused, the tiger attacks the man in its enclosure, mauling it to death. To the tiger’s mind, it has eliminated the threat to its territory – it did not eat, prey on, or generally ‘use’ the human that entered its enclosure for anything; it merely eliminated the threat it felt, a natural animal instinct. I also assure you if you were to barge into my home and throw stones at me, or threaten me or my family in any way, I would attack you too.

In the blame game, eyewitness dramatisations have tried to blame tiger and zoo. While the tiger could have been better cared for, the fact remains it was IN A ZOO. OUT of its natural habitat. Not protected, as it would be with its pack, but alone, in a physically limited area, threatened by a human looking to encroach upon what it knows as its own ‘home’.

In his quest to click a picture, this man went TO the tiger, attempting to attract its attention – surprisingly, neither common sense nor the human instinct for self-preservation seems to have worked for him.

At that point, it is unfair to blame either zoo authorities or animal for someone intentionally needling an animal, needlessly provoking it, turning it into a spectacle for human entertainment in a tiny space.

While sorry for the loss of life, I find that I feel sympathy for the poor tiger, rather than the man who lost his life. I wish painful deaths to those who poach. If you willingly hunt an animal in its own natural habitat, ousting it from its home, killing it in cold blood and with the utmost cruelty for money and perverse pleasure, an animal that neither knows nor understands humanity, you are a disgusting blot on the human race, which, by the way it has been acting recently, has not been all that great to itself.

These creatures may be large, they may be equipped to protect themselves. But against the awful weaponry and ammunition the human race has designed and continues to use with reckless abandon, these animals are well and truly defenceless (when the men throw down their spears).

A strong advocate of national parks and sanctuaries, I believe entirely that animals should be protected in their natural habitats. 

For this, we also need to look at our green laws. Large sections of forest have been continuously razed, displacing entire biomes and ecosystems, and every last bit of flora and fauna. Forest and wildlife protection are an absolute need of the hour, and I hope the new government makes note of these facts. An open request to the new administration: please look into the existing wildlife protection laws. Please help enact new laws to protect our natural wealth.

In the quest for financial and infrastructural development and national monetary wealth, let us not forget the abundant natural wealth that we need to preserve, to foster, to nurture, to protect from man, from ourselves. In a race to build factories, economies, in the rush to lead the pack of nations hunting to be economic superpowers, let us remember to protect the animals that cannot protect themselves anymore.

Large wildlife belongs in its natural habitat – in which case stringent measures need be taken to actually protect these beautiful creatures from the species from which they suffer the most significant harm.

Us.

Homo Sapiens may not be such a wise man after all.

Let’s Play a Game

Deepika Tweets!

That game would be victim-blaming, female shaming, target naming, scapegoat framing. All of them sides of the same multi-dimensional terrestrial entity known as misogyny.

There have been several high-profile cases in the public eye and national media, each of them an instance of one or more of the above. Most recently, a certain extremely famous national starlet, recently in the news for her latest film release, was featured on the front page of a national daily in what can only be described as the most crass, appalling way possible, in a tweet that has since been removed. [It described ‘OMG, Deepika’s cleavage!’]

Some attempted to pass it off as a ‘marketing ploy’, ‘strategically placed’ to market Ms. Padukone’s new film. While I appreciate that film marketing can often stoop rather low, the use of the female body in the basest of attention-seeking ways was beyond repulsive.

Fortunately, in an extremely positive move for not only herself but for women across the nation, the star in question did not stay silent, instead choosing to respond to the article in kind.

Historically, in India, women have been taught and conditioned, generation by generation, to be ‘ashamed’ of their bodies, that their bodies are something to be ‘hidden’. It is a regression to the ideals of a woman’s body being a ‘gift’ to be given to one man and one man only: the woman’s husband.

Regressive, misogynist and attempting to not only impinge on but entirely destroy a woman’s self-will or own right, this sort of ideal continues to persist in 2014, and unfortunately not only in rural pockets of the nation.

Worse still is that it is because of these years of being repressed and pushed down that women have begun to believe these ideals too. That their bodies are to be ‘kept pristine’ and ‘gifted’ to one man, that their virginity is a prize that goes to the ‘highest bidder’, in a way like the mizuage of the geisha of old Japan.

Most Indian women, unless from specific socio-economic strata and levels of education, are neither free nor comfortable with their own sexuality, because they are brought up and taught not to be; that it is something they should not possess, or ‘preserve’ for the man. Openness, self-belief, one’s own mind, opinions, thoughts; all repressed in the repression of the expression of their sex, of their womanhood, and of their personalities.

Breasts existed, but they were meant to be covered. Hidden in their entirety. In existence for mankind to look.  This ideal persists in the behaviour of men in public to this day, even in the most cosmopolitan of areas. Even in the least low-cut of tops, cleavage and breasts will be stared at, ogled in the most vulgar way just because, in a way that many men here seem to consider their birthright.

In personal experience: I was walking down a street to find an auto-rickshaw to take me home from a friend’s at 9 a.m., not by any means an ‘ungodly hour’ in our great ‘Indian culture’. A man on a bicycle drove past, shouting ‘arre khulla hai, aam dikhte hain!’ – roughly translating to something too disgusting for me to want to explain, but I will try “It’s open, I can see them mangoes”.

I was wearing a regular t-shirt.

While it is entirely irrelevant what I was wearing, a lot of the Indian public (men, women, ‘upstanding, educated’ members of society) use  the way a woman is dressed as a reason to lech, ogle, or take it further to molestation and rape – everything from end to end on the spectrum of sexual harassment.

The star in question, however, questioned the publication, letting them know she was a woman with breasts that she was not ashamed of, a first for women in public in the country.

And in an extremely heartening move, the country stood behind the star, who has since gone on to publicly admit how violated she felt after the tweet. The publication responded with a rejoinder that only worsened the situation, but the actor stood her ground.

However, women, whether in the public or private eye, are rarely spared the ignominy of being taken apart like this, judged for their situations, their sexuality, blamed for being the victims in this Circus de Chauvinism, with the trapeze acts of the tabloid media.

A former actor, an incredibly talented young woman who has been in a few films before, was recently found to have been involved in what was described as a ‘high profile’ prostitution racket involving ‘rich, high-profile industrialists and businessmen.’

I appreciate that there are countries where prostitution is legal, but I also believe a very small number of women currently choose willingly to engage in the profession, at least in South-east Asia. Trafficking is a very, very real, very pressing issue that needs to be dealt with, and unfortunately most women, sadly of all ages, are forced into prostitution. Until that issue is even slightly alleviated, which does not seem like a reality in the current situation, and in consideration with several other factors, this will not  happen in my opinion.

In the press, however, really all over it, was the name of this starlet, which, although it is open information, I choose not to repeat out of respect. Not the ‘high-profile rich businessmen’, the ‘industrialists’, the men who paid the prostitutes,  because their ‘identities needed protection’,  because they were ‘not to be exposed’, because ‘their family lives would be ruined’.

The young girl whose acting skills and life fell by the wayside, the young girl who was forced into the flesh trade. Her name was emblazoned across publications, headline news, lurid details all over the media. The men’s identities were hidden, protected, secret as they continue to be.

The excuse? The men deserved privacy, according to members of the public and press. The men paid a ‘premium’, and deserved to be protected. The men had families, they said, that would be broken by this revelation. Their lives would be completely altered, they said.

Do none of these apply to the young woman who was the obvious victim? Does she not have a ‘life that would be completely altered’? Privacy that she deserved, a family that would be affected? The judgement that invariably seems to follow? Yet it was HER name, not theirs, emblazoned across headlines, it was she who was blamed for being forced into the sex trade.

Finally, there is the recent case of Suzette Jordan, who was the victim in the horrendous Park Street rape case.  She was on her way home from an event, and brutally raped in a car by her attackers. Instead of protecting her, taking down her complaints and pursuing her attackers, police and ministers dismissed her, lambasted her character.

Due to the fact that she had been drinking (shock, horror, only a man is supposed to do that in India!), she was dismissed as ‘characterless’, a drinking single mother? “Devoid of morals”, they called her. The chief minister of West Bengal, the capital of which is Kolkata, where the rape occurred, dismissed the case as a ‘sajano ghatana’, or a made up story.

Suzette was accused of being a prostitute, and that the ‘deal had gone wrong’. She was merely a single mother going out to a discotheque.

What ministers, police, lawmakers, locals, the chief minister even, failed to understand was that it was a violation of her personal rights. Even if she had been a prostitute, no person had any right to do anything with her against her own wishes. The so-called ministerial diaspora thought that was the ‘excuse’. Suzette’s family were judged, her daughters stared at.

Recently, Suzette and her fiance visited a Kolkata restaurant for what seemed like a routine meal. They were however refused entry by the head waiter, who labelled her the ‘Park Street Victim’, and refused her entry on that basis. She was sent away from the restaurant after being derided and shamed by the management.

Yet again, the second time for Suzette, the victim, it was she who was blamed. The first time, for being raped. For being ‘loose’ and ‘going to a disco’ and ‘drinking’, things the “aadarsh bhartiya naari” is not supposed to do, haye haye!

This culture of shaming the woman, this idea that it is the woman’s fault, needs to stop. The ideal of the man needing to exert and assert his ‘power’ over the woman, which is what rape really is (it’s not sex!) needs to end. This sexism, this easy selling of women’s sexuality needs to stop. Women need their own right over their own sexuality, not permission from anybody else or the right for them to do with it as they please, for games to be played with those who are helpless.

Women are not men’s to be sold or bought in any way, shape or form. They own themselves and everything that comes with it. And that is something they should be proud of, not need to hide behind closed doors out of fear.

Fingers need to pointed, publicly and legally, at the true perpetrators of the crime, not the scapegoats who can be easily framed, not those whom it is most convenient to blame.

Sadly, when the wheel of fortune is spun, the arrow of the blame always lands squarely on the woman. We need to stand up, as many have recently done in each case, protesting against this blame-the-woman culture, and change the way the wheel spins entirely.

A Womb with a View

leoheader

On Ectogenesis and What it Could Mean For Society

Ectogenesis refers to the “growth of an organism in an artificial environment”, outside the body of its parent.

Recent developments and scientific research have meant that ectogenesis in humans could become a reality in a realistically close time frame, one that could have ramifications for current generations; as soon as the next 20 to 30 years.

Research has extended beyond theoretical hypothesising and macro-testing.  Mammalian testing has shown positive results, which holds significant meaning for future endeavors involving humans.*

Experiments on smaller mammals have, in light of their limitations, been successful†.

The potential effects of this research are gargantuan, and could change the course of human life entirely. Several significant effects come to mind, and are significant from both feminist and scientific perspectives.

First, the mass availability of this scientific method would spell the end of ‘non-viable uteri’ ; with the creation of an artificial gestation container, the conditions provided to the foetus by the uterus and other components of the female reproductive system can be externally created and regulated. Constant mechanical monitoring will minimise intra-pregnancy risks or accidents that are simply down to sudden chance. Pregnancy losses due to accidents would be entirely negated, as would possibly any other uterine issues, foetal nutrition, placental detachment and a host of other issues those in Obstetrics and Gynaecology could explore in more significant detail.

Mechanical monitoring and constant, programmed adjustment of conditions could also be more reliable than its manual counterpart, as the aspect of human error would then have been largely removed. This would also remove the ‘biological clock’ aspect of conception, pregnancy and childbirth, although detractors may have issues with the ‘age’ at which it is ‘suitable’ to be a parent, and the limitation of the physical strain on child-rearing is a possibly significant issue.

Homosexual couples, for example, gay men who wish to conceive naturally, would no longer be dependent on surrogacy to have a child. Ova, donated either anonymously or with the consent of a loved one, could be gestated with no physical strain or dependence on a third party. This also solves several other issues related very closely to surrogacy.

Ethics and legislation surrounding surrogacy are rather nebulous, and the potential issues are enormous. A very real example relates to the surrogate, who may not be the egg donor, desiring to keep the child she has gestated. In this event, while legislation may or may not be available, dealing with the potential issue of a surrogate going rogue, or developing an attachment to the foetus, a desire to keep the child might prove difficult to deal with, an issue that has occurred in the past.

Surrogacy and the selection of a surrogate mother is an arduous, tenuous process inundated with extensive paperwork, which leads several people to seek surrogate mothers in countries where legislation is more lax and human life more abundant, and, consequently, less valuable in terms of legislation. Women from these countries, including India and Thailand among others, are paid money to be surrogates. Human life is commodified, these specific lives reduced to wombs-for-hire, and several of the women in these countries are trafficked, leased out as ‘wombs-for-hire’, receiving a negligible chunk of the sum paid to their ‘lessors’ for those with access to funds, reduced, as it were, to characters from a dystopian world straight out of the mind of Margaret Atwood.

The existence of external wombs would pare down significantly the quest for ‘wombs for hire’, although this could be over a longer time frame because the technology will be expensive in its nascence and not entirely widely accessible to begin with. However, it could help combat a significant social evil.

The possibility of extra-body gestation also opens up several avenues for women who wish to have children in view of their careers. Pregnancy would no longer be a physically taxing stretch of life that forms an encumbrance on work, physical activity or any other task a woman wishes to undertake, and no longer cause a pregnant pause in careers, which could then progress as normal as they do for men.  This could result in a move towards more equanimous parenting, beginning to break patriarchy-imposed barriers which are ‘reinforced’ using ‘nature’ and ‘biology’ as excuses for inequality. Women would no longer be necessitated, forced to stay exclusively within or around their homes, as further and further excuses for the justification of gender inequality are eradicated.

This scientific development could have the potential to help break glass ceilings.

The effects of body issues, dysmorphia and changes are significant, even on non-pregnant women, and entire industries function off these aggressively marketed, purely appearance-based products. This could put an end to the significant medical and physical effects of pregnancy on a woman’s body, therefore affecting neither her physical health nor her mental health, by way of impacting her body image.

However, is the philosophical issue largely surrounding the ideal that childbirth is attributed saintlike, magical qualities even though it is merely a biological process common to every mammal in existence? It is not ‘sacred’ in any form of the word; this is merely a human endeavour to make fantastical that which is not.

The oft-repeated ‘wisdom’ of the patriarchy, in order to cause the virtual imprisonment of the female within the home, has been, across geographies and socio-economic strata, the avowal of the basic reproductive differences between the sexes, the need for the mother to be the ‘primary provider’ simply because  ‘science’ or ‘biology’ dictated it.   That the woman was meant to be the bearer of children for the family she married into, which continues to be the widely, nay, primarily held belief in several developing and developed countries. The familial and societal pressures in these countries cause a Handmaiden’s Tale-esque scenario, with an actual alienation in the minds of the women who go through these experiences between their bodily choices and the decisions they are forced to take, the societal pressures to have a child that one may not necessarily desire.

While these scientific developments may blur some ethical lines, they elucidate and outline far more clearly some others that could help science, legislation, the structure of society and the human race at large, in a multitude of ways, although they may bring with them some potential issues that will need to be discussed and examined in far greater detail.

The termination of pregnancy and related issues would need to be analysed. Although ectogenesis, as a deliberate scientific process, is entirely intentional, the potential for the desire to terminate the pregnancy is entirely possible.

Considering Roe v. Wade is based on the ‘viability of the foetus outside the mother’s womb’ to adjudge the potential for termination of pregnancy, this issue would need to be explored in greater detail in the future, as a foetus potentially growing in a ‘pod’ is entirely viable ‘outside the mother’s womb’.

 

If ectogenesis becomes a reality, science will dictate a new reality, one that, to me, heralds positivity in terms of biology and sexual equality.  Pregnancies would be easier, safer for both foetus and mother, and natural childbirth more accessible across society.

Women need not be primary caretakers anymore, and the reality of ‘househusbands’ that John Lennon imagined, of men being the principal caretakers of their children, taking over more traditionally ‘female’ home duties’, or becoming ‘mothers’ in the historical sense of the term as they take over the majority of caring for their children, a task previously relegated automatically to women, irrespective of career, choice or personal desire.

Our world is changing every day, from the bottom up, and should ectogenesis become a reality, the dichotomy of a gender-based societal division of roles would cease to exist, or at the very least pare itself down on a long enough time frame. These roles would affect significantly patriarchal societies that consider women mere tools for reproduction, should human ectogenesis become a reality, the kind that is widely available to those who wish to use it.

 

As of now, external wombs are still experimental, so until further study and work,  the term ‘Human Ectogenesis’ is up for grabs. Perhaps a collaboration among Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, Egon Spengler and Phil Collins?

 

 

*Japanese professor Dr. Yoshinori Kuwabara of Juntendo University has successfully gestated goat embryos in a machine that holds amniotic fluid in tanks.

 

† Over a decade ago, Dr. Helen Hung-Ching Liu, Director of the Reproductive Endocrine Laboratory at the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility at Cornell University, engineered mouse endometrial tissue (the tissue that forms mammalian uterine lining) to an extra-uterine framework or ‘scaffold’, as described in her research, successfully growing a mouse embryo to term.

Although human trials are not permitted for ethical and philosophical reasons, Dr. Liu grew a human embryo for 10 days in an artificial womb, with the goal of developing, someday, an external womb. Legislation, however, permits a fourteen day cap on this sort of research.

 

 

Who Has The Power In The Information Age?

Who Has The Power In The Information Age?.

 

A piece I wrote whilst at the LSE, post a talk by Alec J Ross, former security adviser to Hilary Rodham Clinton. An analysis of data, snooping, internet espionage and the USA.

(And We Could Have It All) Our Empire of Dirt

My beef is not with Airtel, but with the recent advertisement they have out, promoting their mobile internet facilities.

 

For an introduction, watch here:

 

The new advert has people divided, apparently, over whether it is anti-feminist or not. While I think it is, several Twitter users have messaged me with names like ‘sad feminist bitch’ and some sexually suggestive comments. Itself an interesting insight into the perception of feminism in this country.

 

Advertisements need not necessarily be realistic, and so the obvious markers in this specific ad: the fact that spouses don’t generally report to each other in any sort of management structure, and *most* employees in India do not address bosses by their first names.

 

Bosslady (dressed, funnily enough, exactly like Priya Tendulkar in Hum Paanch)  is at her desk, looking very stern, or whatever she perceives as stern.  Employee complains about the workload. So far, so good-ish. Bosslady.

Cut to diligent employee at his desk, still complaining.

That  cuts to a yummy set of dishes filled with steaming, delicious looking food, being prepared by a disembodied phantom hand. (You won’t believe what happens next!)

 

The husband receives a video call, happening (presumably) in HD thanks to the superfast internet connection on dearest husband’s mobile phone, disembodied hand and yummy food in frame.

 

And it’s at this point you realise nobody but M. Night Shyamalan could have directed this ad…

“Wifey boss people.”  (to be said in a Haley Joel Osment-like fashion)

Frazzled husband is still at work, working on the work bosslady has left him. Plaintively, like every dutiful desi biwi should, she begs him to come home to eat.  He capitulates, they grin, and the ad ends.

 

Realism issue: What management structure allows spouses to be in direct managerial hierarchy? If there are some that do, this is the first I’m hearing of it.

 

I’ve read several arguments saying the wife ‘wanted’ to cook for her husband, so sweet, and that I was just a ‘rabid, unhappy, sexually dissatisfied feminist.’

 

Tackling the first of those statements first: I enjoy cooking, funnily enough. Mostly for myself, occasionally for family and friends. I do it of my own volition and own free will, entirely unencumbered by the expectation of having to have a hot meal ready for somebody. I was brought up independently by parents who cooked for themselves, me and each other (incidentally, my father is quite a magician with chicken) and if any of us was hungry, we cooked.

 

It would be utter folly to deny the expectations of an extremely patriarchal Indian society with regard to these bahus, however. Hindi films and Bollywood portray wives and daughters-in-law as such as well. Tea and food aren’t things you make. They’re things you are supposed to not only make, but have ready, and keep hot as you wait for your hubby dearest to finish whatever he’s doing/wants to do/following which he can sit and fart around.

And it is to these expectations that I take the utmost exception. I’m sure the agency that handled the ad thought they were being extremely ‘progressive’ and ‘feminist’ by showing a female boss.

When it’s ‘progressive’ and ‘feminist’ to show a female boss, and not just a normal thing, your society is VERY patriarchal.

As the daughter of an incredibly accomplished woman who has been on the boards of several multinationals, and a very accomplished businessman who also changed my diapers and does a mean grilled veg casserole, I was never brought up to believe that women belonged to certain roles, and men to certain others. I have unfortunately, while interacting with certain people, seen just how ingrained these retrograde expectations are.  Other women  have come up to my mother and asked her why she worked, ‘does your husband not earn enough money?’ ‘Do you have financial issues?’  as opposed to that wondrous, all too impossible possibility that my mum is very intelligent and good at what she does and wants to work. Fuck that, right?

To those who deny flat out that these expectations do not exist, have some empirical proof. Crunchy and nutritious.

Examine the press coverage of any intellectual, accomplished woman in the public eye in this day and age. 2014.

 

Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook.

Indra Nooyi, CEO, PepsiCo.

Hilary Rodham Clinton, Senator, former U.S. Secretary of State. Potential candidate for 2016 Presidential elections.

 

All of them repeatedly asked how they ‘balanced home and work.’ How they managed motherhood and their high-profile jobs.

 

Has anybody asked Bill Clinton how he managed home and work whilst he brought up Chelsea? Has anybody asked Sheryl Sandberg’s husband if and how he managed to be a good father while still going to work?

 

Has any man ever felt guilty, as Indra Nooyi recently said she did, because of societal expectations to be a good parent and successful at work?

 

Why, in India, is  ‘housewife’ an extremely normal term and part of the daily parlance of the majority of the population, but nobody has ever heard of a househusband? And men who even live with their wives’ families are called derogatory slurs like ‘Joru ka Ghulam’ (the slave of the wife)?  Are the women who are forced to be glorified cooks and cleaners then not slaves of their husbands?

Trick question – yes they are. They’re cooking, cleaning, sexual-pleasure-providing, childbearing slaves.

The day women are free of the expectation that they have to have ‘chai’ ready, or lunch, or dinner, or any damn meal whatsoever, is when people can point fingers and say the ad ‘portrays sweet relationships where people cook of their own free will.’

 

Now to address some Twitter trolls:

Exhibit 1 – “Its a way of women balancing home and work”

I’d like to see a man balance home and work and THAT be portrayed on an ad. I’ll even write the ad if any agency wants to take me up.

Exhibit 2 – “Take it in a good way the woman does the cooking work which requires more finesse”

Sanjeev Kapoor. Marco Pierre White. Heston Blumenthal. If they’re not men, that’s news to me.

 

Exhibit 3 “You dirty feminist you must be sexually unsatisfied no man wants u and so u hate men”

And that is why we need feminism. When idiots measure a woman’s idea of self-worth by how desirable she is (or perceives herself to be) to the opposite sex. That is, of course, all that should matter in her life, right?

 

[P.S – Dear person who DM-ed me that on twitter, please explain why my sexual satisfaction is any of your business.]

Until the expectations go away, until feminism stops being a dirty word, until women stop feeling guilty for pursuing their dreams, we need feminism. Until we can break out of gender roles and stop following or believing in established gender tropes, we need feminism.  Until the day the media and the public either stop asking women about the work-home balance, or ask it of men too, we need feminism. And for every day after that.

To the anti-feminists I had the absolute pleasure of interacting with, with their ‘men’s rights’ persecution complexes, I leave you with Trent Reznor’s lines:

 

I wear this crown of thorns,

Upon my liar’s chair”

 

 

 

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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