You CANNOT Blame the Rape Victim!

March 25, 2012 § 2 Comments

I just read a series of articles related to rape on Tehelka.com. They were to do with a first person account of the aftermath of being raped, a middle level policeman’s (from Noida) views on rape, a lawyer’s take on rape, a village ‘elder’s’ take on how women invite rape, an NGO’s bleak report on how difficult it is to get a rape conviction.

All these articles saddened me and enraged me. It tore me up to read the first person account of what a woman goes through after being raped and lodging a complaint and then appearing in court to face the rapist; the kinds of questions she is asked in a court room full of strangers about what she was wearing, the size of the erect penis, number of penetrations – how is this of any importance??

What really gets me is that a woman’s character is always dragged up – what she was wearing, does she usually hang out with men, does she drink, does she party, does she stay out till late at night? Why should any of this matter?

It really says a lot about a society who is ever ready to persecute a woman and point fingers at her and blame her for her “wild lifestyle” and say, “Oh! But she wears short skirts and drinks with men! She surely must have invited it!” It loudly proclaims that the society we live in refuses to protect, safeguard and uphold the rights of women. Women are still treated as second class citizens, bound by rules for our own “safety” – don’t step out after 8 PM if you don’t want to be raped! Women are just property, to acquire and throw away, do as you please, it’s OK, you are a man, you have the right to do whatever you want!

A wonderful picture circulated around Facebook, a couple of weeks back, in which a woman holds up a placard saying, “Don’t tell me what to wear. Tell them not to rape” This echoes my sentiments. What a woman wears at the time of rape should not be the primary, secondary or any consideration. Women who wear “provocative” clothes DO NOT have a board on them saying “Come rape me!” They are not “Asking for it” or “Inviting trouble”. Even if a woman stands in front of you without a stitch of clothing on, you cannot lay a finger on her unless and until she says it is OK to do so. Or are you telling me that the thousands of children who are raped everyday were also dressed provocatively? That a grandmother raped by her own grandson and his friends was wearing revealing clothes?

Rape isn’t even about sex; it is about power, pure and simple. How about the media trying to dig up information about the rapist – his lifestyle, where he likes to hang out, how many women he has violated earlier. Doesn’t make for a good enough copy? More fun to dig up dirt on a woman, who was anyway dressed provocatively in jeans and T-shirt and had gone out to meet him willingly?

Mind-sets need to change. But how do you make a village “elder” understand that it’s not what women wear that causes them to be raped, that it’s not the advent of the big bad Western culture that is to be blamed? This man interviewed above asserts that no rapes take place in his village. How can he be so sure? A lot of urban women do not report rape, it would be even tougher for a rural woman to do so. How do you get through people with such a blinkered attitude? Who refuse to even acknowledge the possibility that a woman is not to be blamed at all for rape?

I have heard about “gender sensitization” workshops. I have no idea what goes on in these workshops or even how effective they are. I think gender sensitization should start at home, in the class room. It should be something natural, not an afterthought… It actually just saddens me to think that the society we live in requires gender sensitization workshops.

We are a society suffering from psychosis – for a goddess-worshiping country we sure do know how to disrespect our women.

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Overcoming Fear and Prejudice

March 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

I just watched 8, a play directed by Rob Reiner and written by Dustin Lance Black. It was broadcast live on YouTube on 3rd March. The interesting part about this play was not its star cast (a veritable who’s who of the top brass of Hollywood), but it’s subject matter – the landmark Perry vs. Schwarzenegger case where United States District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker deemed Proposition 8 as unconstitutional. In a nutshell, Proposition 8 aims to prohibit same-sex marriages. Though Proposition 8 has been overturned, there is still a stay on the ruling pending further appeals, during which time same-sex marriages would still be considered illegal.

8 is a powerful piece on the fear and prejudice that run through society against anything that the majority consider abnormal or against the “natural order”.
India is still far away from the day when same-sex marriage will even be considered a legal right. Even though the Delhi High Court had decriminalized consensual gay sex, there are still a number of fearful and prejudiced people fighting against the ruling. Their arguments that decriminalizing gay sex would lead to the breakdown of society or even to the rise in HIV/AIDS has no real proof. If the incidence of HIV/AIDS is high among gay people, then it is because of the stigma attached to it, which causes them to follow unsafe sex practices. In fact, by decriminalizing gay sex, society would be able to provide a safer environment in which to follow safe sex practices.
But in reality, that is easier said than done. We all know that even though Section 377 has been amended, the majority of Indians look upon same-sex relationships with abhorrence. A survey carried out by Bangalore Mirror found out that more than 50% of Bangaloreans do not agree that a homosexual relationship is a “valid form of relationship”.
Putting homosexual relationships aside, majority of Indians today still do not accept inter-caste or inter-religious unions. They are still caught up in “What will society say?” “We will be ostracized by our family and friends!” “Will she be able to adjust to our customs and food habits?” and so on.
For someone at the receiving end of the above comments and struggling to get married to her boyfriend since the past year and a half, 8 really resonated with me – because at the end of the day the plaintiffs, Kristin Perry and Sandra Steir, and Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo just want to be a family, to enjoy the legal rights that are a part of a legal union, to not refer to their significant other as their “partner”, but as their “wife” or “husband”, to live with dignity.
It saddens me that as the earth grows older, we as a people are not becoming any wiser. We are still narrow-minded, prejudiced, fearful, bigoted, knocking down anything or any person who is seemingly different, not giving people a chance to live as they wish to.
At the end of the day, how does it matter if your neighbours are a same-sex couple raising children or if your son is in love with a girl from a different religion or caste? You might be surprised to learn that you share the same child rearing beliefs as the same-sex couple, or the girl belonging to the wrong religion might surprise you by trying her best to adapt to customs she was not raised with or introduce you to an entirely different world, which might be similar to yours in more ways than one.

Human Rights Professor is Anti-gay!

July 27, 2009 § 5 Comments

I came across this article in Feministe, which talks about a Singapore professor, Dr. Li-ann Thio, who was invited to teach human rights at NYU Law. Dr. Thio has extreme views on LGBTs. Her comments are quite shocking. It is amazing that someone who teaches human rights believes in suppressing the rights of a certain group of people.

Gay is as Gay Does

July 3, 2009 § 4 Comments

The Delhi High Court has decriminalized same-sex relationships. That is indeed a great leap in terms of the law, but what about Indian society? The majority of Indians still view homosexuals with open horror and disgust, with religious leaders condemning this amendment. According to them homosexuality is unnatural and against god’s plan because they cannot procreate.

I would like to ask these so-called religious heads who appear to believe so deeply in god and the fact that god is responsible for earth and all its creatures: Well, if god was against homosexuals, then why are there homosexuals in the world? If god thought that homosexuality was “unnatural” then how come it has figured in his “plan”?

Homosexuality is not a choice, it is innate, it is just how a person is born. It is so natural that it also occurs in the animal kingdom – “some same-sex birds do do it. So do beetles, sheep, fruit bats, dolphins, and orangutans.” And the gay penguins in a New York zoo are also quite well-known now. All these animals are also following their own natural instinct. The big difference between these animals and us being that they are not castigated for their actions by their own species, they are not made fun of, or regarded with animosity and disgust.

I certainly don’t buy the argument that gay people lead to a breakdown of the family system. The family system today has already broken down, what with the steep increase in the rise of divorce all over the world. And there are so many dysfunctional families out there, who do nothing to provide a stable environment for children to grow up in.
Another argument is that a gay couple cannot possibly have a “normal” family because they cannot have children. Well, gay couples can adopt, or have children through a surrogate or sperm donor. And how can one say that they will not make good parents?
There is bound to be some confusion when their children see that other families have one father and one mother, while they have two fathers or two mothers. But it shouldn’t be too hard to explain to children. Children are naturally receptive to new ideas. In fact, children of gay parents could grow up to be less prejudiced and more open to new “radical” ideas.

Another bone of contention is that gay people give rise to more cases of HIV/AIDS. As we all know, HIV is passed on through four different way, one of them being indiscriminate sex with unknown partners. Because gay people are persecuted, they seek out unsafe methods of obtaining sex. This is one of the reasons why HIV/AIDS is high among the gay population. Now, if people would just be more tolerant towards homosexuals and not compel them to hide in the closet, they would hopefully not indulge in risky behaviour, as they could seek out a single partner for themselves. This is of course, a hypothetical situation. If a person, gay or straight, wants to indulge in high-risk sexual behaviour, then that person is going to have to deal with the consequences.

As is the case, people are afraid of anything that they cannot understand or relate to. Trying to explain to homophobic people that gay people are, well, just people, is very frustrating! I have noticed that men, especially, are extremely wary of homosexuals. They are afraid that just by being in their presence they could be “bitten” by the “gay-ness bug”! In fact, a cousin of mine refused to get his hair cut by a gay hair stylist. When I asked him, why not, he said, “What if he ‘tried’ something?” To which I replied, “You sure do have a high opinion of yourself!”

The situation is not really all that much better in so-called developed countries, such as the USA, where a Massachusetts school librarian was told that she might lose her job over a reading of ‘And Tango Makes Three’ – a “fictionalized children’s picture book based on two real-life male penguins at New York’s Central Park Zoo.”

I have begun to look at ‘conservative’, ‘orthodox’, ‘old-fashioned’, and ‘traditional’ as synonyms for ‘intolerant’, ‘unprogressive’, ‘backward’ and ‘bigoted’. And I’m not about to change my opinion anytime soon.

Intolerance Only Breeds More Intolerance

June 30, 2009 § 2 Comments

“If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.” Mahatma Gandhi

The Bajrang Dal seems to have taken Gandhi’s words in a quite literal, but skewed manner. It holds an annual week-long training camp in Delhi to teach young boys and men to “protect Bharat Mata” from the Christian and Muslim “infidels”.

If you read the Tehelka article cited above, you would see how well the Bajrang Dal and VHP fundamentalists are succeeding in brainwashing these young boys and men. They are told to beware of the “six Ms… Muslims, Missionaries, Marxists, Lord Macaulay, foreign Media and Maino [UPA President Sonia Gandhi’s middle name].”

Ladies and gentlemen, this is how religious bigotry is spread through the veins of a people. The policy of catch ’em young seems to work wonders for religious zealots. Islamic fundamentalists are doing the same thing, preparing their young men for jihad. I have not really heard of any Christian groups indoctrinating their young to be prepared for a “holy war”. But I guess one could say that the Bush administration had filled up that position pretty neatly.

All religious fanatics think that their religion is under attack from other religions. The Hindus think that Muslims and Christians are up to no good and are ready to destroy their culture at the drop of a hat. Muslims feel that all Christians and Hindus want wipe them out; and many Christians seem to have a morbid fear of all things Muslim and Hindu.

(I’m talking about just these three religions because they are in the news more than any other!)

I’m not going to profess that I know everything about these religions, but I do know that none of these religions preach hatred. They do not ask their followers to go out and bomb innocent people, just because they do not pray to the same god.

Religious text is open to interpretation. This, I feel, is one of the main causes of religious bigotry. Certain ‘holy men’ claim to understand religious text, but they are interpreting them in a manner that they deem fit. They preach their hate messages to a populous that does not know any better. Of course, political agenda also plays a big part here. Politicians target vulnerable populations and promise voters that they will keep them safe from the fearsome Hindus/ Muslims/ Christians.

Christianity and Islam have a common ancestry – Abraham/ Ibrahim, Moses/ Musa, Jesus/ Isa Masi. How many Muslims and Christians acknowledge this fact? And even if they do, does it really make a difference to them? Does it give them more food for thought? How can two races who share a common ancestry not see how similar they really are?

Strip away the religious identity of any group, and what you will get is a bunch of people with similar dreams and aspirations. Everyone wants to have a family and enough money to provide for that family.

Why do people have a need to wear their religious identity on their sleeve and condemn those that belong to an allegedly opposed religion? When scripture asks you to “believe in the one true God” it is not asking you to denounce all other gods. Why should your belief in a certain god, a certain way of life be better or greater than another’s? You practice what you want and I’ll practice what I want.

It is sad that more people would rather abide by intolerance than try to have an open mind. It is difficult to have someone come up to you and tell you that what you have believed in all of your life is not true – not all Muslims want to kill Hindus and vice versa. But to try to change your point of view is an even more arduous task. And I think despite hate camps, like the Bajrang Dal one, there are people all around the world who are waking up and smelling the coffee for the first time in their lives. May their tribe increase!

To Wear or Not to Wear

June 25, 2009 § 5 Comments

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy has declared that Muslim women cannot wear a burqa in France, as it is “a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement” and that it “will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic”.
Read the article here.

While I do agree that women should not be forced to wear burqas, I also believe that women have a right to wear whatever they want. I’m personally not pro-burqa, but I do know of some Muslim women who wear burqas because they choose to, and not because they are being forced to. Therefore, it would be subservient or debase only if women were being coerced into wearing burqas.

The argument that in France the stat is separate from religion is no excuse to ban overt religious symbols. This is religious intolerance in reverse, extremist secularism, if you may please. Though I do see the point that wearing a burqa may come in the way of getting assimilated in a foreign nation, all people, no matter where they choose to live, should have the right to dispay their religious identity.

Perhaps the problem here is not that it prevents burqa-clad women from being more social, but what the burqa is associated with – Islam. This is conjecture on my part, but many people are uncomfortable with conspicuous demonstrations of religious identity.

But I don’t want to talk about religion here, I want to talk about women in general.

On the one hand, we have M. Sarkozy who wants to ban the burqa as he thinks that it is against the basic rights of women, and on the other, we have dubious groups like the Sri Ram Sene, who would prefer it if women cover themselves from head to toe to maintain “decency”.

Who is actually upholding the “rights of women” here? Both the individual and the group are telling women what they must do and how they must be dressed. How about letting women decide how they ought to dress? No matter what I wear – be it a short skirt or a burqa – no one (not least some stranger) has the right to tell me how I should dress.

It’s a sad state of affairs indeed when people still think that women need to be told how to dress and how to conduct themselves. The rights of women go beyond cultural differences. Women have dealt with oppression since time immemorial. Forget about developing countries, women are subjected to subliminal (if not blatant) oppression even in so-called developed countries. Even now, in the 21st century, there are just a small hand-full of women who truly enjoy freedom – freedom to dress as they please, freedom to behave as they deem fit, freedom to work at a job they want to, freedom to marry or not, freedom to have children or not, etc. These may seem like small, superficial freedoms, but they add up to a freer life.

I don’t see these freedoms extending to all women on earth, at least not in my lifetime. And maybe it won’t be possible for several generations to come. But, there is always the hope that some day, all women from New York to Zambia, from Saudi Arabia to Japan, from Ireland to India would enjoy freedom from self-proclaimed moral and social guardians.

Autorickshaw "Travails"

July 21, 2007 § 6 Comments

I have lasted a whole year at my new (and first) job! And what an eventful year it has been, in more ways than one. I have met loads and loads of interesting people, some who have become good friends. But this post is not about these interesting people; it is about some other “interesting” people who my friends and I have come across – the ubiquitous Auto Rickshaw-wallahs!

Most of us have to travel by auto to office, and in doing so, we have come across some of the most colorful Rick-wallahs, and I am not referring to just their clothing!
My office was earlier located at Hiranandani, Powai. So a bunch of us used to meet up at Kanjurmarg station, and try to get a Rick-wallah to take us to Hiranandani. And that was no mean task! Sometimes we have had to wait for 15 minutes, trying to persuade a Rick-wallah to agree to take us to our destination. And in the process we have received some of the dirtiest looks from many a Rick-wallah! It’s like they are thinking, “How dare you even ask me that question?!”
Or some put on a really pensive expression on their face, trying to decide, I guess, upon the pros and cons of taking us to our destination! And in the end, most of these “Mr. Pensives” shake their head regretfully and zoom away, leaving us gagging on the fumes! One of my friends, RT says that it’s like we are asking them to marry us, and that’s why they have such ponderous expressions on their faces!
Some also give us explanations for why they would rather not take us, “Nahi mai-dum, wahan bahut traffic rehta hai. (No ma’m, there is too much traffic in that area).”
But the craziest incidents have occurred when the big bosses of our company decided to change the office location to SV road. It has to be one of the worst areas in Mumbai! It is tiring just getting to this place because of the massive traffic jams, which we have to endure every single day.

Anyway, two of my friends, JJ, RT and I decided to meet up at GTK station every morning to “rick” it to office. As usual most of the Rick-wallahs would either give us dirty or apologetic looks, or just ignore everyone trying to hail them down and speed away. Most of the times the Rick-wallahs who agree to take us to SV road, have never heard of it!
And getting back to GTK station is just as bad! One Rick-wallah had actually said, “Woh manhoos jagah kaun jayega?! (Who will go to that god-forsaken place?)”

An “incident” occurred on the very first day that we took this route. All three of us were talking non-stop. When we had stopped at a signal, the Rick-wallah, a rather thin, stern-looking man, suddenly turned around and to our utter shock said, “Aap log kitni baat kar raheein hai! Thodi der ke liye chup ho jaeeye, sab dekh rahein hai!! (You people are talking so much! Please be quiet for sometime, people are looking!!)” We were left speechless by this outburst! I actually looked around to see if anyone was actually looking in!
JJ was the first to recover and said that we can’t help if people look, and we continued our conversation, but in lowered tones.

Another incident occurred after we had discovered a less congested route to SV road. It is simply referred to as Pipeline road, as a huge pipe runs down its entire length. It is quite narrow and passes through a market place. So we would direct all the Rick-wallahs to take us through this road.
One time, as usual, we told the Rick-wallah to take the Pipeline road. He turned to go towards the place, but overshot the tiny opening of the lane. We all shouted, “Bhaiyya (Brother)! Pipeline road! Left turn!” only to have him brake hard. He looked resolutely ahead, shook his burly head and stated, “Market se to main kabhi nahi jaaoonga (I will never go through the market!” We tried to convince him saying that we take this route everyday and that it is always traffic free. To which he demanded for us to get out! He was behaving like a petulant child and I was convinced that at any moment he would jump out of the auto, stamp his foot and throw a tantrum!
So we just sat there for a few seconds, after which I said, “Ok, at least turn around and take the other route.” He sullenly turned around his vehicle and we trundled down the regular route. But he seemed to be quite angry and began driving quite rashly, as if to punish us for our impertinence! But we did reach office in one piece!

Another time a really funny incident occurred. This time we were going back to GTK station from office. The Rick-wallah this time looked barely 18 years old. My friend RT, who is (or rather was!) a big Abhishek Bachchan fan, was a bit upset that he had gotten married, and stated that he should not have “done the deed”. The Rick-wallah piped in just then and said, “Par Abhisek ki saadi nahi huyee hai (Abhishek has not gotten married).” All of us were quiet for a while, and I wondered if I had heard right. As RT and JJ weren’t sure of what he said either, JJ asked him what he had said. He once again said, “Par Abhisek ki saadi nahi huyee hai”. So JJ said, “Yeh log Abhishek Bachchan ki baat kar rahein hai (They are talking about Abhishek Bachchan)”. To which he reacted as if he had an epiphany, “Ohh! Aap Abhisek Bachchan ki baat kar rahi hai! Mera naam bhi Abhisek hai, aur meri saadi nahi huyee hai! (You are talking about Abhishek Bachchan! My name is also Abhishek, and I am not married yet!)”
At this I dissolved into giggles, especially on seeing the look on RT’s face! She looked like she had been slapped! Abhisek Rick-wallah had left her speechless, which is an achievement in itself!
Sadly, since the past few months our little auto misadventures have all but stopped. The office has started a bus service. JJ has moved to another city, while RT is going to leave for another country soon. I’m going to miss these two girls and our auto rides…

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