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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

On Feminism and Feminism-bashing : Random Thoughts

Even as I type this I realize it might not be the smartest thing to do – especially since, as a man, I open myself up to accusations of mansplaining, or, of being patronizing towards women.  But , as if to prove true the adage “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”, I am going ahead and putting my thoughts out there on a topic that’s been bothering me for a while now.

The trigger for this post is a development that I’ve been observing of late –  of a number of women suddenly going out of their way to trash feminism. I’m not the least bit surprised that men do this – but it does come as a bit of a surprise to see so many women now get into the act. Not only do they seem to consider being called a feminist a grave insult, they do not miss any opportunity to mock feminists and the entire feminist movement.

In a sense, this post is addressed to them.

I see that there’s an entire movement out there called “Women Against Feminism” . On the site by this name one can see pictures of women holding placards explaining why they do not need feminism in their lives. 

Fair enough. Each one of them has a reason not to support the feminist movement.  Either they feel it doesn’t help women, or they think men are being unnecessarily targeted, or they feel they want to fight their battles on their own.

It is of course an individual choice but I think that somewhere they are missing something fundamental to not just feminism, but to any movement.

And that is, you don’t fight only for YOURSELF, the individual – you fight for the rights of a much broader section of society. You fight against injustice to this section of society. You fight against discrimination that this section of society faces.

In the case of feminism, it is about the female gender.  You don’t have to individually have faced injustice or discrimination to know that millions of women all around the world are subject to injustice and discrimination every single day of their lives, purely due to their gender.

This isn’t made-up, it’s a fact. And  if you’re a woman and haven’t faced this, good for you. I’m happy for you. But the world is a little larger than just you – and there are, sadly, many more women out there who aren’t quite as fortunate as you.

So the very least you can do is to acknowledge this fact and not make it all about yourself. If you don’t want to participate in any effort to improve the lot of all those women, fine. Nobody is forcing you to. But by mocking the efforts of those who ARE trying to make a positive change for these women, you are, even if unintentionally, harming the cause of these, less fortunate, women.

Let’s just take stock of the situation for a moment.  

For centuries, women have been suppressed and not treated as equals in society. They’ve been relegated to doing tasks than men did not want to do. Under the pretext of being the persons “bringing home the bacon” (often conveniently appropriating for themselves the sole right to do so), men have dominated family structures, and, by extension, society at large.

Of course, there have been exceptions. But this is exactly what they have been – exceptions. To the norm of male domination.  Anything women have achieved has almost always been INSPITE of the odds being severely stacked against them.  Which is why, when you look at history, you hear of a woman here, or a woman there – when half the world’s population is female.

When this has been happening for centuries, generation after generation, small wonder that in many societies, women have got conditioned to playing second fiddle to men.  Right from their birth, they are made to feel that men are the stronger sex. And not just physically so. They are made to feel that their raison d’etre is to serve men. That they are the “natural nurturers”. That their lives are incomplete without men. That they would be lost without men in their lives. A single woman is either frowned upon, or pitied. She needs to be married off as soon as possible.

Whether we choose to use the term “patriarchy” or not, the fact is that there has been, for centuries, a power imbalance between men and women.  One of the most striking examples of this is that in one of the supposedly most progressive societies of them all, the United States of America, on a national level, women did not have voting rights till 1920!

Today things are better, no doubt. Especially in western societies, the fight for gender equality has presumably made considerable progress, although even today gender-based discrimination is prevalent. It still manifests itself in multiple ways – whether in the form of less compensation for women compared to men, or women being overlooked when it comes to breaking that glass ceiling. And women continue to face harassment and abuse of all sorts – a result of men feeling a sense of entitlement to treat women this way.

In any case, whatever has been achieved, it has not come easy. Giving up power is never easy. And rarely voluntary.  So to make men share power with women has always been a challenge.  Women have had to fight for their rights. They have had to fight to force legislative change.  They have had to fight to get themselves better education, better jobs, more financial independence.

The picture is much bleaker in societies like India where patriarchy is far deeper ingrained. Social mores and conditioning have made life in India incredibly tough for most women. In fact, even before they are born, even as a foetus, many are discriminated against and unwanted.

And then,  right through their lives, it is a struggle for most women.

A struggle to live their life THEIR way instead of having to fit their life to suit other people. (In India, women seem to be perennially living for other people and never for themselves).

A struggle to ward off harassment by men, who seem to have an idea that the sole purpose of existence of a woman is for their (men's) enjoyment.

A struggle to be recognized as equal in society to men (although, as one wise woman said, this is too low a target to aim for).  

A struggle to even be treated as just a person with her own identity, instead of only having an identity as somebody’s mother or sister or wife or daughter.

There’s much more that women go through, all through their lives.  And I’m talking millions of women out there.

It’s an uphill struggle – but thankfully there are people who care to bring about positive change.  They call out gender injustice and gender inequality at every opportunity, they work on improving awareness and reducing conditioning, they fight for legislative change. In general, they do whatever they can, with their limited means, to redress the power imbalance that is still very heavily stacked against women.

If they call themselves feminists it is because it has to do with women’s rights and gender equality. Nothing particularly complicated about the term.

Yes, some of them possibly do this term disservice by making this not about gender equality, but turning it into an anti-men tirade. They may have their motivations and frustrations to do so – I do not wish to speculate on these. 

I'm quite clear about one thing. Not being a woman, however much I might emphathise with women, I do NOT go through the experiences they go through in life. That is why, although I might disagree with the views of some "feminists", I do not let it cloud my view on feminism. I distinguish between feminism (the movement) and feminists (the practitioners). And just like with any movement, not all practitioners get everything right. To find fault with a movement based on the acts of a few, is unfair to the movement. If you fundamentally disagree with the movement because you believe it is completely unnecessary, that's a different thing.

Although feminism gets a lot of flak for coming across as being anti-men, I've never seen it so. To me, it's always been about gender equality. And that means women and men sharing space as equals.

Since historically the affected gender has been female, it is hardly surprising that an overwhelmingly large number of feminists are women. However, there are many men out there too who do understand the need for gender equality. And try to practise it in their own lives. These are just as qualified to be considered feminists and, in my opinion, should not be shut out purely because of their gender. Doing so would only play into the hands of those who claim that feminism is anti-men. After all, men are the cause of the problem and they need to be a big part of the solution. That is why I often wish these men would be more vocal about their views - whether they choose to call themselves feminist or not. 

Finally it doesn't really matter whether you call yourself a feminist or not. It's a tag (much like "capitalist", "socialist",  "communist", "right-wing", "left-wing"). If you don't want to be tagged, fine. What really matters is whether you agree that we need to work towards a more gender-equal society. And that we are still far from it at the moment. At least in some societies. 

If you agree, then doesn’t it make sense not to ridicule efforts of those who are working towards this end? And if you agree with the goal but not with the methods, there are constructive ways of getting that message across. Without just coming up with a blanket “I’m against feminism”  slogan.

For, when we do this, we just make the whole struggle that much harder. Already vested interests ensure that it’s  going to be an uphill struggle.  The last thing we want is for their hand to be strengthened.

I know there are those who feel that sometimes the pendulum might have swung too much to the other side. That there are also men who are disadvantaged by the women’s rights movement.

Let’s be clear about one thing. This is NOT a men vs women thingThis is about gender equality.  So if men are now having to concede ground to women, ground that gave them an unfair advantage until now, I am all for it. But if women are now having an advantage over men, while in the longer-term it might need redressal, in the shorter-term it might be the only way to ensure longer term equality. So I would be less keen to attempt a correction rightaway.

Let’s also remember that any movement has a life only as long as it has a cause. The fight for gender equality is only as long as there is gender inequality. Just as feminism came into existence because of inequality, it will cease to have a purpose to exist, once we have gender equality (although that might be still be a long way away for now, I’m afraid).

Lastly, while this entire piece has been about women, gender equality and feminism, at a higher level, this is about injustice and discrimination in society.

Discrimination can be for a whole host of reasons – religion, region, race, caste, class, sexual orientation, gender. So gender is just one basis for discrimination.

Much of what I’ve said here applies to other forms of discrimination too. One doesn’t have to be specifically discriminated against, whether as an individual or the target group, to know that discrimination exists.

So if you genuinely believe that we need to end such discrimination, even if you are not able to participate in the process, the least you can do is to not hinder the process.

Thank you.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

IPL : In a lighter vein

This post was written on 24th May 2011. The 2011 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament was on then.

For some reason, this post never got posted on my blog. Maybe it was just some lazy writing from me that was never meant for public consumption. I sometimes do that - just dump my thoughts into a Word document (or an e-mail to myself) to get them out of my system and on record somewhere.

Anyway, when I was sorting out old files on my computer, I came across this write-up which I had long since forgotten about.

It is naturally somewhat dated, seeing as it was written in 2011. But I still had a bit of a chuckle, reading it all over again. Am therefore sharing it here on the blog.


*DISCLAIMER: This is not a criticism of the IPL. There’s much more to the IPL than just a casual conversation between two persons, so I would request the reader not to read too much into this. *

One of the many things I enjoy, while in India, is watching TV with my mom.  It is not about what we watch, but just the fact that we’re watching TV together. My mom watches only a few TV programmes and, though they wouldn’t be my first-choice shows otherwise, I do like to watch them along with her.

So here we are, watching one of her programmes today and it is about 8.20 p.m. The IPL play-off game between Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and Chennai Super Kings (CSK) is underway and is being telecast on SetMax. I want to check out the scores quickly and ideally watch the game, rather than the current programme. My mom, ever-obliging, has no problem with my changing the channel.

So here we are, watching the game. I am feeling somewhat guilty for hijacking my mom’s programme. My mom is not at all into cricket - though she surprised me a few days ago with an absolute googly.

It was Shane Warne’s last IPL game and, just for conversation, I asked her whether she’d heard of Warne. 

“Oh yes, he’s a famous Australian cricketer, isn’t he?” 

I was stunned. 

“Wow, I never expected you to know.”

"Oh, he’s been playing for a long time.  His brother also was very good, wasn’t he?” 

After a moment of surprise, I realized she’d got confused. I corrected her.

“That was Steve Waugh. And his brother Mark Waugh.”

“Maybe. But I’ve also heard the name Warne”. 

I was very impressed. 

"Well, this is Warne’s last game today. In the IPL”.

My mom knows the IPL. I mean, she’s heard of it. It's difficult  for anybody who watches TV in India NOT to be have heard of the IPL. A few days ago, she stunned me, when, after dinner, she asked me 
“So is there another IPL game today? It is 20 overs per team, isn’t it?”

I was  taken aback. I knew that she wasn’t interested in the cricket as such. Clearly her interest was more because IPL was clashing with her TV programmes.

Anyway, so here we are today,  watching the IPL game instead of my mom’s preferred TV programme.

In the hope of getting my mom slightly interested in the game (the guilt was beginning to get to me!), I embarked on a rather feeble line of channel-change justification . Here is how our conversation went.

Me:  It’s Bangalore vs Chennai. (Hmm..maybe my mom gets interested. After all, she has a stake in both cities).

Mom: (just as the camera zooms in on Doug Bollinger bowling): He does not look like he's from Chennai. Or from Bangalore. In fact, he does not even look Indian.

Me: He’s not. He’s an Australian. In the IPL, each team is allowed to have four foreign players.

Mom: (looking puzzled) Oh, ok. So you mean the rest are from Chennai and Bangalore?

Me: (after a pause): Hmm..not really.

Mom's looking even more puzzled now, so I decide to explain.

Me: Though the teams are called Bangalore and Chennai, they’re allowed to have any players from all over the world. They can have four foreigners in the team, the remaining players have to be Indians. But they don’t have to belong to Chennai or Bangalore as such.

Mom: (now at a new level of being confused) : But you said it is Bangalore vs Chennai. Based on what are you saying this?

Me: (having to think now): The thing is, Mom, it has to do with franchise and ownership.

Mom: (amazingly still hanging in there): I don’t get it.

Me: (thinking hard, how to explain this in lay terms): You know India Cements in Chennai, right?

Mom: Yes.

Me: And you know Mallya here in Bangalore, right?

Mom: Yes.

Me: Well, the owner of India Cements has bought a cricket team in the name of Chennai.  And Mallya has bought a cricket team in the name of Bangalore. Their teams are playing against each other today. 

Mom:  Oh, it is not really Bangaloreans and Chennai-ites? Anybody can play?

Me: There are a few from Bangalore and Chennai but that’s not the main point here.

Mom: How can you call it Bangalore vs Chennai if you don’t have Bangaloreans playing against Chennai-ites?

Me: This is not like playing for your country, Mom. You cannot play for India if you are not an Indian. This is not like that. In fact, you have the same type of thing in football also.

Mom: And this is what is called the IPL, is it?

Me: Yes.

Mom: (getting up and leaving the room) Yeddo. Panum pannartakku yeddaane paninDe irukkunum, illiya? (Whatever! They need to do something to keep on making money, right?) (Excuse my Tamil, it's terrible).

I am left wondering. And watching Bollinger and Albie Morkel bowling to Virat Kohli and Luke Pommersbach. 

Chennai vs Bangalore indeed. 

Friday, May 09, 2014

Namma Bengaluru (Our Bangalore)

The purpose of this poem is not to criticize, but to reflect.
Not just on WHAT we are doing, but HOW we're doing it.
Ask ourselves: Even if what we're doing makes sense, is this the best way?


I remember a Bangalore green
Its roads lined with trees
Its weather, everyone’s envy
All day, a cool breeze

‘Twas the pride of India
Its Garden City, no less
Who could’ve thought this city of charm
Would end up in such a mess

But the state and people alike
Gave in to their innate greed
The once “pensioners’ paradise”
Was left to go to seed

Aye, a city must grow
To modern times, adapt
If only this were done with care
The changes would’ve been apt

But now just bricks and mortar
Stack up each corner and nook
Broken pavements, traffic and crowds
Anywhere you look

The summer sun now burns
As it does the city taunt
No escape from me, it says
Try as hard as you want

Oh, how the heart now yearns
For that cool breeze of yore
But the sad truth for one and all
Is, it’ll return no more

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Open Letter to Arvind Kejriwal

Dear Arvind,

First of all, congratulations on Aam Aadmi Party now forming a government in Delhi. I was waiting for this to happen before writing this piece to you. Now that it has happened (and I hope it will last long enough for you to implement some of your plans), here are some thoughts I’d like you to consider during your governance. I’m sure you must be getting a lot of suggestions from lots of people – here’s another set for you.

As you know, even as you start, you walk a very treacherous path. You have plenty of aam aadmi support, no doubt - but there are plenty of vested interests, waiting to trip you up. So while it’s important to stay focussed on the job, it’s also very important not to give ammunition to these vested interests.

I know you have a detailed manifesto - and you and your team must be working on it with a lot of focus and enthusiasm. I will not get into its details – I am not competent to do so.

At a more general level, however, I’d like to make a few suggestions :

1) Baseline your start.
You are taking over administration of Delhi from a previous government. You need to baseline this – meaning, you should be able to measure your starting point. Make sure you have the social development (and economic) metrics available to you. Get any existing figures re-checked if you like. Statistics can be notoriously off for a whole host of reasons, as you know. When you need to ever measure your government’s achievements (or discuss it with the media or others), you would know its starting point.

2) Use a project management approach.
I do not mean you need to get caught up in all sorts of charts and graphs. But in execution of your plans, whether at mohalla level or a higher level, insist on everything being treated as a project – with tasks, deadlines, budgets, responsibilities and tracking. There’s a lot to be done, and this method will go a long way in bringing about efficiency in delivery on projects, as well as optimal use of resources.

3) Continue to keep things transparent.
One of the biggest pluses of your party’s style of functioning is that it is very transparent. No other political party can claim this. I can assure you this alone has won you a lot, and I mean a lot, of goodwill amongst the people. So please continue with this. I’d suggest the following in this context:

a) If I understand it correctly, in your devolved mohalla sabha approach, each ward is further comprised of mohalla sabhas. Each mohalla sabha is run as an administrative unit, with its management committee, its projects, its budget and so on. Please set up a website where one could navigate easily to the lowest devolution level, see what projects are going on, what funds are being used and so on. Keep it transparent and updated for all to see.  This is not just for the public but also for you. You might want to personally visit mohalla sabhas to catch up with them – this update would be useful for you.

b) Have an Information Officer. It would be his/her responsibility to ensure all the information provided on the Delhi Govt’s website is updated and accurate.

c) Believe in suo moto communication, not just in RTI. I know you championed RTI all those years ago – and it has helped a great deal. But it would be better if people did not even need to ask for basic information – it should already be available to them from the government. In an easy-to-digest format. Especially information on projects, their budgets, delivery deadlines, any cost overruns etc.

So please provide this to the public as their right to know. And please do so in an easy-to-use format (maybe spreadsheet-based) , not hundreds of pages of PDF files that sometimes government documents end up being. We then cannot see the woods for the trees.

4) Ensure the economics side works too.
One of the biggest criticisms about you is about your apparent disregard for the economic impact of your policies. You are seen not just as “left of centre but, even “left of left”. In other words, a mindset of extremely populist policies which could be a major financial burden on the exchequer.

I am not saying I agree with this opinion of you (my opinion doesn’t really matter), but it is very important that your policies always have an economic impact assessment too. Finally you will need to balance your books as part of your governance – and while the people do come first, poor economics in the present only means robbing from the future.

5) Use people power.
In your administration, there may be many a time that you feel you are not able to push something through, for a whole host of reasons. I suspect this might very often be because of entrenched systems. Or vested interests. Or, especially in the case of Delhi’s peculiar situation of being both a state, and the country capital, a conflict with the Central Government. 

In such situations, use people power to put pressure on whatever obstacle comes in your way. You have tremendous goodwill with the people of Delhi (and I daresay, rest of the country too). In the new style politics that you and your party have engineered, people seem to have much more power than they’ve ever had before. This is also making other political parties (and the central government) have to listen more to the public. So use this fully to your advantage.

6) Be firm in dealing with compromised people.
You are seen as a person who wants to bring about a new style of politics in the country. One that is clean, one that cares about the people, one that seeks or uses a position of power only for the people’s good. The people you carry with you also need to reflect this same mindset.

This is not an easy line to walk – and it is possible that, somewhere down the line, some of your associates might get compromised. While that will be personally difficult for you, given your association with them, it is necessary that you do not allow this to sully your image, or distract you from the larger task on hand. Many a political party has turned a blind eye to compromised members. If your party is different, that needs to be demonstrated in those testing times.

7) Keep government and party affairs and finances separate.
AAP is a new party and still evolving. This is also the first time it is forming a government. There is a chance that, in all the enthusiasm and inexperience, there is often an overlap between the two.

Keep them separate. The people of Delhi (even those who didn’t vote for AAP) deserve governance and transparency from the government of Delhi, not from a political party.

At the same time, AAP needs to continue to evolve and establish itself across the country. I am confident it will do that on its own strengths. Of reaching out to the aam aadmi, of being transparent in its dealings and finances, of sticking to its value-based and principled politics.

So while you and others in government can help the party evolve, it is important to keep the two separate and do justice to both.

8) Continue to be yourself.
You are where you are, because of who you are. People respect your sincerity, your humility, your dedication to your cause. People trust you – and trust is one of the most precious assets a person can have. So please ensure you do nothing to lose this trust.

Stay on the side of truth. This might sound like a silly and absurd suggestion, especially in the world of politics, but there’s something to be said for this old-fashioned value that’s sadly fast going out of fashion.

And continue to rant about injustice and corruption. It might make some people queasy but the public needs to know what is going on. Far too often, we have seen politicians, and people in the know, turn a blind eye towards wrongdoings. By being in the know and not speaking out against injustice, you would be indirectly supporting it.

I could think of a few other points that I’d like to share with you – but I think this is already a lot to digest.

I wish you all the very best, Arvind. It is not going to be an easy road – if only because of entrenched interests that will try to thwart you at every step and try to break you and your team’s resolve.

But as long as you have the people’s support with you, I think you can overcome any obstacle in your way. Systems of governance have, after all, been set up only for the people – and therefore need to be changed if the people want this change. Nothing is sacrosanct if it comes in the way of delivering justice to the people.

So, good luck!

Oh, and one last thing. Please do accept the security offered by the state police to you. I know you are refusing it because you think it is a privilege the aam aadmi does not get – but trust me, most of us feel very uncomfortable if you don’t get some sort of security cover. So, please accept this. We would be happy – and relieved.

An aam aadmi

Monday, December 02, 2013

Morning coffee

The hustle, the bustle
The flexing of the muscle
Cars at the signal
Like ants in a beeline
Furrowed foreheads
Impatient, raring to press on

From a distance I observe
This world around me
Buzzing, frenzied, frenetic
I quietly smile to myself
Lazing in my chair
Sipping my morning coffee
Is the world mad?
Or is it I?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Mumbai gangrape and our outrage - some thoughts!

(At the outset, I'd like to say that while most of this piece refers to rape, it applies just as much to VAW (Violence Against Women). And in fact, it applies not just to women but to men too. It needs to be seen in its broadest sense, even if most of the context seems to be, quite understandably I would think, women-related.).

There’s been another gangrape in India. This time in Mumbai.

The entire country is outraged.

Mumbai? Supposedly India’s safest city? That too in broad daylight?

And the girl was accompanied by a male colleague?

How could this happen?

Within a couple of days, we have more rape stories. Like this , this and this .

Over the next few days, as the outrage continues, I expect the media to keep unearthing more stories of rapes.

The subject will be hot for a few days, so it makes perfect business sense for the media to keep rape in the news.

Till, like any product that has reached its sell-by date, this topic is also discarded by the media and replaced in its space by the latest hot topic.

That’s how things work in the media world.

The fact is the truth has long since stopped being absolute. It has become what we are told it is.

The fact is before the Delhi gangrape last December, rapes used to happen in India every single day.

The fact is that after the Delhi gangrape, rapes have been happening in India every single day.

The fact is that a few months after the Delhi incident, the media moved on to other topics.

And, in a sense, the foot went off the pedal.

During those early days following the Delhi rape, there was intense pressure on the government and the police to be seen to be doing something. 

The Delhi police chief held press conferences, explaining what actions he and his staff were taking. The CM of Delhi felt public pressure as there were protests in the city. The government constituted a 3-member commission, headed by Justice JS Verma, to look at stronger anti-rape laws. The commission submitted a 630-page report within 29 days. This led to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013.

The topic of women, their empowerment, their safety was so hot that even the Finance Minister had special provisions in his budget for women. Including the setting up of women’s banks and a Nirbhaya fund for women.

But then the foot went off the pedal.

As it will, once this Mumbai case also goes off the media radar.

For a while, there will be debates on TV channels with “experts”.  There will be a lot of people active on social media – on their blogs, on Facebook, on Twitter – outraging and, like the “experts” on TV, discussing what ails the system and what needs to be done.  There will be talk of the “death penalty” and “fast track courts”. There will be protests and candelight vigils.

And then, undoubtedly, something else will happen and capture everybody’s imagination.  And that will suddenly become the debate topic, the blog topic.

That is the nature of news.  Mediapersons love to tell us that it’s about the people – but actually it’s about the story.

And a story has a shelf-life.

The fact is that the people who CAN make a difference are just not doing it.

Society at large, the government, the police force, the media – we are all part of the problem.

As a society, we create a mindset where women are objectified. Where they are not seen as human beings, but as a set of body parts. We have the advertising industry thrusting female body parts at us to sell products that have nothing to do with women at all. We have men glorified as “macho” men depending on how many women they can “conquer”. 

This objectification is sweeping in its ramifications - we have the man whistling at the girl walking past and passing lewd comments, we have the male office colleague staring at his female colleague’s body lustfully , we have men groping and grabbing women in public spaces. Each of these men is not seeing the woman as a human being, he is seeing her as an object.

So we as a society need to first change ourselves. In right earnest. Coming down strongly on anything that suggests objectification. I know some will think I’m making too much of a deal of this point, some may even consider objectification a way of life in today’s society, but I do think its role in how men see women cannot be overstated.

Another thing we really need to do as a society is to try to understand the mind of (potential) rapists better.

Now, although some women may not agree, not every man is a pig. There are thankfully still many men out there who respect women for who they are. We need to see why these men respect women - and others don’t. Is their upbringing different? Are their living conditions different? Is it to do with social circles they move in? Is it that acts of rape happen more under the influence of drugs or alcohol?

If we are to reduce rape, we need to reduce the conditions under which this happens, in every possible way. Nobody is born a rapist – but somewhere along the line, rapists and potential rapists get created.

There's much more we can do as a society.

For example, bringing up our children to respect all others, regardless of gender (or other discriminatory societal grouping).

For example, not tolerating patriarchal behaviour, regardless of where we see it happening.

The fact is, we are just not doing enough. 

As a society, our end-objective is to ensure that men and women are both seen and treated as equal human beings, with their sex being only a biological differentiator. It is much easier said than done, no doubt – but I believe it is very much doable. And the onus is very much on us as a society. We keep making demands on our government but there is a lot we can do ourselves.

Talking of the government, it is of course one of the government’s primary functions to provide a certain level of security for its citizens. Clearly, this is not working well enough at the moment. And although there have been some changes in the laws recently, clearly more needs to be done.

And not just on the legislation front. Much more needs to be done at the ground level. Police reforms have been talked about for ages, but somehow it keeps going off the radar. If we need deterrence against crime, we need criminals first and foremost to be brought to book. Only then can the law kick in at all.

While various political parties will keep pointing fingers at each other, I believe the best way to get the government to act is to make personal security an election issue. Governments, even in a democracy, have been known to have scant respect for the common man – until they feel that their existence is at stake. So the common man needs to hurt the government where it hurts – and that is usually at the polling booths.

Then there is the media.

I am sometimes amazed at how much power the media has – and how poorly it has used this power. The media is supposedly the fourth estate – it is supposed to safeguard the interests of the public. And it can do SO much. Governments may not care about the voice of the common man – but there is not a politician out there who would want to run foul of the media. The media has been known to make or break personalities. And politicians need the media to build their image and to carry their message to the public.

With all this power, the media could support the fight for equality of the sexes by supporting and promoting the right messages to the public. By coming down strongly on all things patriarchal and discriminatory. By following up on stories and ensuring that appropriate pressure is put on law enforcement agencies to book criminals. And pressure is put on the judicial process to ensure criminals are not allowed to get away lightly. 

Fighting crime (of which VAW / rape is a part), using its power, could be one of the media’s most responsible actions. 

One thought. If we can have an NDTV Profit channel to discuss money, maybe we could even have an NDTV Crime channel? Or a Times Crime or Zee Crime channel? Or a Doordarshan Crime channel? Surely there's enough 24 / 7 material for a full time crime reporting channel?

I know much of what I am saying will be dismissed as wishful thinking. We live in cynical times. And yes, going by evidence on the ground, one can hardly blame the cynics.

Yet, I think we have the solution only in our own hands. Things are not going to change overnight – but they are also not going to change with these debates on TV or these candlelight vigils.

As a society, we talk too much. Maybe it’s time all of us backed up that talk with some action.

(I recognize that this blogpost is also another of those blogposts written in the aftermath of the Mumbai gangrape.  The very blogposts that I have referred to earlier in this piece. The point is not that we should not express our views – of course we should. The point is that we need to do much more than just “outrage and move on”).

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Independence Day (15th August) thoughts

Today is the 15th of August – a date that has a very special meaning and significance for all Indians, wherever they may be in this world.

For it was on the 15th of August 1947 that India got its independence from British rule.

This date is therefore understandably celebrated by Indians. It is a national holiday in the country too.

Such an occasion is also a good moment to reflect on the state of the nation. What its achievements are, how it has got to where it is, what its aspirations are, and what needs to happen for it to meet its aspirations.

Before I do my bit of reflection along these lines, my mind goes back to Independence Day 1972.

I was then in primary school. As usual, Independence Day was a holiday but there were events lined up by the school to celebrate the day.

There would be the usual flag unfurling by the Chief Guest, there would be a March Past at 7.00 or 7.30 a.m where we would salute the flag as we marched past it. Later that day, there would be some sports events, mainly athletics.

Like most of my friends, I would enjoy the day. Dressed in uniform but wearing white canvas shoes, it was a day of great joy and pride for all of us. When the flag would be unfurled and all those petals would come down, we would all heartily clap and our chests would swell with pride.

This would be the school routine every year. I specifically remember, and mention, 1972 because I remember it was the Silver Jubilee year of independence and we had even more activities and events lined up that day.  The mood was very upbeat – the war against Pakistan had been won in December 1971, so this was the first Independence Day after that achievement.

(Of course, a year later, the OPEC financial crisis happened and inflation went through the roof. A couple of years later, Emergency was declared and the 70s in India suddenly began looking different. I was too young then to understand the rationale or significance of these events, though I did notice the price of Coca Cola significantly going up. But even at that young age, since I used to read the newspaper regularly, I could notice changes happening, even if I didn’t understand why.)

The other non-school related elements of Independence Day used to have a comfortable ritualistic feel about them. The Prime Minister would address the nation, there would be patriotic songs played on radio. No radio programme on Independence Day was complete without airing “kar chale hum fidaa jaan-o-tan saathiyon”. We didn’t have a TV in those days but later when we did get one, we would see the Doordarshan film on Independence Day.

Those memories still linger on in my mind, although forty years have passed since. The rituals continue to this day – even today, the PM of India addresses the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi. Even today, All India Radio plays patriotic songs on Independence Day. Even today, there is the flag unfurling ceremony and there are March Pasts all across the country.

Even today, in schools, there must be excited children waiting for Independence Day, wearing bright white canvas shoes and waiting excitedly for the Chief Guest to unfurl that flag. The players are different, the rituals are still much the same.

This is part of tradition now. And, whatever our reservations about a whole host of things, I am glad that we still perpetuate these traditions, at least for the sake of the youth and children of this nation. They need to grow up with a sense of pride and belief in their country – and these rituals, though they may only be symbolism, help in building this sense in them.

Later in life, as they discover more about their country, they may not have quite as rosy a picture of it as in their childhood. But I think every child deserves to live with pride in his country and hope for its future. It is hard to find a sadder spectacle in society than a disillusioned and embittered child. If a child has no hope, society has no hope.

This now ties in, even if somewhat uncomfortably, with my reflection on the state of the nation.

(I want to clarify that my views are about the country as a whole, not about any political party.)

It would not be unfair to say this this is one of the most sobering Independence Day celebrations that we’ve had in a long time. I thought last year was sobering enough, but this year seems to be a notch lower in terms of people’s moods and spirits. If last year, cynicism had entered the public mindset and found its place, this year its roots deepened as it firmly entrenched itself across the national psyche.

It’s not hard to see where this cynicism is coming from. Every day when we open the newspapers (or read news on the net), it’s not difficult to see that there’s not exactly a whole lot of good news to read about, is there?

From bad economic news (rising inflation, rising fiscal deficit, falling rupee, falling industrial production) to bad governance news (rising crime, increasing corruption and scams) to the rising risk to internal security (thanks to an increasingly fractured social fabric due to religion-based or deprivation-based divisiveness), there is not very much for Indians to feel good about their country right now.

Many Indians today have no trust in their government or in their institutions, be it the police or the judicial system or the media or any other institution. There is a sense of lack of accountability across the board for those in power and in positions of responsibility. And, at the same time, a sense of helplessness amongst those who have ironically vested in these powerful people this power.

While this is understandable, it is clearly not a healthy situation. Many Indians are celebrating this Independence Day with a hollow feeling within. I have already had people telling me “what’s there to celebrate?”. Some are even questioning whether they are really independent. Their feeling is that they may have got freedom from British rule but are now being ruled by a different set of rulers, albeit Indian.

My mind often goes back to our Founding Fathers and to those who fought for freedom from the British. What struggle they must have gone through! So many of them sacrificed their lives. So many spent years in jail.

Even when they did wrest independence, India was a very fragile newborn. There were communal riots and a lot of tension. There were 500+ kingdoms/states to be united as part of the same nation. There was rampant poverty. There was rampant illiteracy.

Despite all this, those Founding Fathers persevered. They had a dream, they had come this far in getting independence for India, they were not going to slacken their efforts. Although Gandhiji died soon after independence, the rest took upon themselves the task of building the country in right earnest. They came up with the Indian Constitution, which in itself is a tremendous achievement and the basis for running the nation.

If they were alive today and could see the state of the nation, how would those Founding Fathers feel?

Would they be proud of today’s India? Is this the India they dreamt of? Have we done justice to their dreams?

The famous words, as if spoken by our Founding Fathers, “Hum laaye hain toofan se kashti nikaal ke, is desh ko rakhna mere bachon sambhaal ke” ring in my ears. And I cannot help feeling somewhat ashamed that we might just have let them down.

We are not answerable only to our Founding Fathers. We are also answerable to our future generations.

Our children and grandchildren will inherit the India that we leave for them. Just as we inherited the India that our Founding Fathers left us with. 

Are we leaving them an India that they can be proud of? That they would be happy living in?

Let me not paint too bleak a picture here. To be fair, we have come a long way. It is not all just doom and gloom.

Overall, we have far better literacy, far better lifespans, far better standards of living than ever before.

India today is counted among the more powerful countries in the world, even if it is still tagged (as it was way back in 1972, when I can recall this tag) as a developing nation and not a developed nation.

And very importantly, inspite of the occasional threat to it, we are still a proudly pluralistic nation.

And we are still a vibrant democracy, where we have (at least on paper) a choice in who we elect to represent us in Parliament.

But all this is not enough. There is still a long, long way to go. And all of us know it. There is no point in fooling ourselves.

Now, we can keep complaining about all that’s wrong with the system and in the country. But the fact is that we ourselves are responsible for the society and nation we build. Each society builds itself, it is not built from outside. We need to stop blaming the British (they left the country  66 years ago) and look at ourselves.

In a sense, we are both the problem and the solution. We haven’t quite taken proper care of the country that our forefathers fought so dearly for. And yet, only we can solve our problems.

I believe it starts with a belief that we can – and will – stem the rot. If we give up, saying “nothing can be done”, the battle is already lost. Sure, the problems facing the country are huge, but they are not insurmountable. 

We need to realise that as an independent country, India is only 66 years old – and in the lifetime of a country, this is nothing. You could even say much of what has happened is part of the churn from a colonial mindset to an independent, confident mindset. "Power to the masses" is a great slogan but these are masses who are used to having been ruled for centuries. 

Following on this belief, there must be a strong desire, a burning passion to change. Passion does strange things – it makes people far more powerful than they think themselves capable of being. If everybody just wants to run away from the problem (“let somebody else fix it”), we deserve whatever mess we get.

Following on this belief and passion, we need a community spirit. There is only so much an individual can do. Even Gandhiji, for all his belief and passion, would never have succeeded if he had not got the support of the millions of Indians who went along with him. And this spirit must cut across all the barriers that we have placed on ourselves – barriers of religion, of caste, of class, of language.

And then of course, action. Finally all this has to culminate into a series of actions that will deliver us the India we dream of. It is not enough to just discuss or to write books – we need to translate all this into action.  And though we have our unique issues, I do think it would help perhaps to learn from experiences of other nations. What do they do well that we don’t? It’s important to keep an open mind and learn from others.

I could go on and on – I have a lot more to say on this subject. But I think I’ll take a break for now. It’s already become a long post and perhaps I’m beginning to get a bit preachy. I do tend to get carried away, my apologies.

I’d like to end this particular post with one point though that I’d like all Indians to remember.

Today we are a free country. And despite everything that’s not going right, this freedom is something that we hold – and need to hold - very special to our hearts. It didn't come easy.

This freedom allows us to hold our heads up high. It allows us to express our opinions freely – something that we were not allowed to do during colonial rule.

So let’s all appreciate the value of this freedom.

Let’s all make it count.

We owe it to our generation.

We owe it to our future generations.

We owe it to the Founding Fathers of our nation.

Happy Independence Day! Jai Hind!