Category Archives: Politics

Chronicles of a roving protester

For nearly two hours this morning, I tried finding out if there was a fast or protest planned in Mysore today. If people were gathering somewhere it would be good to add to the numbers, I thought, rather than fragmenting the effort. But I was told, “We are planning, but there is nothing today”. Nothing seemed to have been done yesterday or the day before, so I decided to make my own placard and go sit under Gandhi’s statue outside the court, for a few hours while it was still day.

I made a sign saying “We Want Jan Lokpal” in English on one side and “ಭ್ರಷ್ಟಾಚರ ವಿರೋಧಿಸಿ” (Oppose Corruption) in Kannada on the other. And around 4.45 I left the office, with the placard. I had decided not to go sit by the G. statue, because I could easily be missed and because it seemed a rather boring thing to do.

I walked along the Hunsur Road, but for the first ten minutes or so, I was on the left hand side, with my back to the traffic. I realised this wasn’t such a good idea–I need to face the oncomng traffic, only then would people pay attention to the sign. And it worked. People would slow down to read the sign and then speed up.

It was rush-hour traffic, people were going home from work, which also meant they were not in a mad hurry to get to office and face their workday. They had a moment to indulge their curiousity about this woman with a placard walking by herself.

For the first couple of minutes I was a bit shy about meeting people’s eyes. But I plucked up courage when I saw someone smile. And after that I kept looking at people’s faces, with as neutrally pleasant an expression as I could manage (or should that be ‘as my perpetually frowning face would allow’?).

Most people, about 60-65%, would see me, but would simply not care and drive past without slowing to read the sign. A smaller percentage read the sign, shrugged either physically or mentally, and drove on. Some read the sign and took a look at my face, but on meeting my eyes, immediately pretended I did not exist. Many looked completely cynical. One man said “ಅಷ್ಟೇನಾ?” “Is that all?”. A fraction looked at me and smiled, some in embarrassment at having been ‘caught’ looking at me and some in encouragement. Some wanted to talk to me, but were too shy. A few felt compelled to read my sign out aloud to me.

My first conversation was with a young man who drove up and asked why I was alone. I told him that i had tried to find out if anyone was organising a public event, but was unsuccessful and decided to go it alone. He said ph, that is very good madam, smiled and went away. He was wearing a helmet, but driving on the wrong side.

A minute later a slightly older man slowed down and said, “All the best!” I asked him how good wishes would help, and he looked sheepish. Unrelenting, I went on. Instead of good wishes, would it not be better if he also did something to change things? Poor man, he simply said, “Yes, yes, you are right, madam,” and sped away.

A little ahead, a man in a watchman-like uniform, with an Alsatian on a leash, asked me in Kannada, what my sign meant. In terrible, incoherent words I tried to explain, and through more effort from him than from me, managed to get the idea across. He asked if I was a lawyer. I lied and said I was a student.

Another man, (again driving on the wrong side!), stopped, introduced himself as a doctor and asked where the fasts had been organised. I told him I had tried to find out without much success. “So you are walking alone?” “Yes.” Good, good, all the best!” “Thank you.”

And suddenly, I didn’t know how to go back. Called M and asked for directions. Got them and went on. Two boys in the university compound, read the sign aloud, in funny tones, false voices, falsettos. I grinned and waved. They looked embarrassed and then waved back, jumping up and down for some reason. I felt like a celebrity.

At a crossroad where I was trying to do the right thing by using the zebra instead of walking diagonally, a group of young men in sports uniforms crossed ahead of me. One of them, not in uniform, asked me, “ಏನಿದು?” “What is this?” I replied, “The sign says ‘Oppose Corruption,’ and that is what this is about.” “What does that mean?” “Umm, it means we should all try to stop corrption and not be corrupt ourselves.” “What does that mean?” At this point, the rest of the group has begun to get impatient with him: “Don’t you know what corruption means?” “Why are you asking silly questions?” “Come on, man, you know exactly what this is about!”

I smiled at all of them and started to cross the road, when two men on a bike, one holding a camera waved at me and yelled for me to come to where they were. I waved back gesturing that I was crossing the road. The man with the camera kept shouting “Look here, I want to take a photo!” I hid my face with the sign and gestured that he should photograph that instead. Some of the sports people were still shouting questions to me: “Which college, akka?” I moved the sign to shout back some completely untrue response, when the photographer went click, click, click. Bleddy! I muttered some curses and moved on, hiding as well as I could behind the sign. He followed me for a while, but the traffic at the railway crossing got the better of him.

At the tracks, vehicles, children, university athletes and one large goat were all squeezing past each other. One motorist called out something complimentary about the placard being in Kannada.

The sun had nearly set by now. The roads were fuller than earlier, but fewer people seemed interested in the sign. People were not going to make the effort to read my squiggles in the semi-darkness.

Near the DC’s residence, a pillion-rider smiled and saluted. I saluted back. Two cops at the Valmiki Road signal said, “ಏನು ಮೇಡಂ, ಒಬ್ಬರೇ ಇದ್ದೀರಾ?” “What madam, you are alone?” “Yes, what to do, if no one joins, you must go alone, no?” “Yes, yes, you are right.” Smiles all around. Nods also.

Auto drivers at the Paduvarahalli stand, pointed at the placard and spoke to each other in a babble I couldn’t decipher. I did the usual thing: I smiled. They just stopped speaking.

M called a couple of minutes later. I was less than a kilometer from home. “I’ll come pick you up.” Sure, do! It was too dark for anyone to read the sign anyway. Or even to see me. I crossed the road to where M would meet me. A couple of auto drivers at the corner read the sign by the glow of the streetlamp and asked me what it was about. Before I could launch into my converses-only-with-in-laws-and-the-domestic-help-lady Kannada, M arrived and I extracted “politician”, and other crucial words from him and managed get the explanation across in a somewhat less garbled manner this time. M helped immensely by throwing in a metaphor about bandicoots.

Shoved the sign gratefully into the back of the car and went home.

The most significant observation I made today was that not a single woman wanted to acknowledge the sign or me. If I looked at them directly, they would not break the gaze, but simply shift focus, as if I was invisible and they were looking at something beyond. Most pretended, extremely effectively, that I did not exist. Women have a LOT of practice at this, with all the unwanted attention they get. But I must have looked into the faces of at least a thousand women today. Not one smiled. Not one looked curious. Not one stopped to ask me anything. All the people who commented or spoke to me, or even raised their eyebrows were men. I have no clue what to make of this.

It is almost three hours since I got home. My hands are still aching. Who knew a one-kilo placard was this heavy?

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Conversion

L, the lady who comes to help my mother with chores around the house was crying today. I asked her why and she said her daughter had converted to another religion. Her daughter works at a small scale factory, making some plastic ware. She discovered the religious pendant on her daughter’s chain yesterday.

When confronted by the family, her daughter told her that everyone in the factory had been coerced into converting. Refusal meant losing the job. When I suggested she could find work elsewhere, L sobbed louder and said all factories were the same. They all wanted you to convert.

I am not particularly religious, and don’t see the problem if the whole world were to convert overnight to one or another religion. What does bother me is the use of coercion. Forcing anything on anyone, whether a religion or a food habit or a clothing sensibility, gets my hackles all raised and my neck bristling.

I feel helpless for L, because they need the money her daughter brings home desperately. Buying their religious allegiance is blatant exploitation. Being told if you don’t want to convert, you are free to quit the job is clearly giving you a false choice. But I don’t know what options she has, considering her daughter did not even complete class 8. If anyone reading this has something to suggest, I would be happy to hear it.

Post some Pink Chaddis

The Pink Chaddi Campaign kicked off on 5 February 2009 to oppose the Sri Ram Sena. The campaign is growing exponentially and that is not surprising. Most women in this country have enough curbs on their lives without a whole new franchise cashing in with their bully-boy tactics. Of course, a lot of men have joined the group as well.

The first part of the campaign is to gift Muthalik and his goons with pink underwear on Valentine’s Day. Everyone is invited to mail in their pair of the pinks!

Am sending off a large parcel first thing tomorrow to:

The Pink Chaddi Campaign,
C/O Alternate Law Forum,
122/4 Infantry Road (opposite Infantry Wedding House)
Bangalore 560001
Karnataka

Contact persons:
Nithin (9886081269)
Jasmeen (9886840612)
Divya (9845535406)
Nisha ( 09899228060)

Welcome to our police state

From here.

In the name of fighting terrorism governments across the world have been creating new regulations that infinitely augment the state power of surveillance with no meaningful public or parliamentary debate.

The Information Technology (Amendment) Bill, 2006 passed by the Indian Parliament recently allows the government to intercept messages from mobile phones, computers and other communication devices to investigate any offence. Not just cognizable offence, the kind you witnessed in Mumbai 26/11, but any offence.

Any email you send, any message you text are now open to the prying eyes of the government. So are the contents of your computer you surfed in the privacy of your home.

Around 45 amendments have been made to the original Act, which now treats both publishers of online pornography and its consumers on equal footing. A law so sweeping in its powers that it allows a police officer in the rank of a sub-inspector to walk in or break in to the privacy of your home and see if you were surfing porn or not. It’s the personal morality of the official that will decide whether the picture/content you were looking at was lascivious or appeals to prurient interest.

For worse go read the article. More information on Wikipedia.

Women’s liberation in India: is a revolution possible?

IHT carried a very insightful article by Anand Giridharadas titled “A feminist revolution in India skips the liberation”. I would have posted excerpts, but the piece is worth reading in its entirety, so I suggest you make a quick detour to the IHT site before taking a deep breath (highly recommended) and plunging into my response.

Modernity involves more than sin. It demands irreverence. How many urban young women chop off their hair, or choose not to procreate, or dine out alone?

I’m glad I can say yes to all three! But I am still not sure that defines ‘liberation’.

1. As our Civics textbooks pointed out year after year, we are social animals. Individuals may be liberated in their minds and to some extent in practice, but that practice will always be limited by social contexts. I may not have any hangups about dining out alone, but that freedom in my mind is curtailed by factors that I have no control over – the biggest among them being safety. If I dine out alone, will I get more lecherous looks than if I had company, will I be groped on my way out of the restaurant? There are other limiting factors too – public infrastructure for instance. If I do dine out despite the lecherous looks, how will I get home, if I don’t have private transport?

Often, these very real limitations are mistaken for some sort of conformism, for an absence of feministic assertion. Liberation in women’s minds is all fine, but very little of that can be put into practise without other support structures. Yes, the west has had a feminist revolution, but that change came alongside another kind of transformation – after the two world wars, many many western nations and societies consciously built accountability into their administration and governance. We in India have simply not had that change. In fact, we have regressed greatly in that area.

For a feminist revolution to take place, there has to be a wider sense of rights and entitlement. No, I don’t mean that society in general will or should support a feminist revolution, but that it should actively believe that people have a right to better lives, that those in power should be accountable. To illustrate: most people in India (this is not restricted to women) will not approach a policeman for protection or help. Because you are likely to get further victimised (think custodial rapes, murders, disappearances). Elsewhere in the world, that is largely not the case – if it were there would be outrage, because the public feel entitled to trustworthy protectors. But we simply don’t have this in India – what you see here is acceptance, resignation and an amazing ingenuity in working with and around the ‘system’. This is not necessarily bad, it is simply a different kind of adaptation from the one that took place in the West. But one that will not aid revolutions.

Without a parallel revolution in the perception and demand for ‘public good’, whether in law and order, education, health, transport or any other area of public interest, no marginalised group – women, Dalits, religious minorities – can bring about a public revolution. This is not to say no revolution is possible. Of course it is. Only, it will be of a very different kind from the that took place in the west, for it will take place in the absence of other support structures that existed (or were built) in those parts of the world.

2. This alternate revolution is something Anand Giridhardas has already recognised – he speaks of stay-at-home fathers in rural India, of women panchayat leaders, etc. This revolution is a quieter one – being brought about not by the urban empowered, but by those who need the change the most. Women in Arshi’s socio-economic strata do not need the change. They are rejecting the freedoms available to them precisely because they have never experienced what it is not to have that freedom. Perhaps if it were taken away from them, they would begin to truly value what is being handed to them on a platter.

Apologies to feed subscribers – the article was edited several times after posting, hence must have showed up a dozen times on your readers. My mistake.

Read, please

I don’t often post links. In fact I can’t recall the last time I posted a random link and asked people to read. But this one demands it. No, that isn’t right. It does no demanding at all. It simply lies in a corner of a busy news site, unread, ignored and very, very still.

Bihar: http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/ndtv/showcolumns.aspx?id=COLEN20080066718

Shut up.

I don’t know about Vir Sanghvi and TCA Srinivasa Ragahavan but there are dozens of others on mailing lists, blogs and everywhere I seem to (mis)step on the internet who have an opinion on a land they have never been to, on a people they have never met.

For once, can we all just shut up and hear what the Kashmiris have to say?

Update in response to philramble’s post: Of course it is an oversimplification. The valley has suffered enough – both from Pakistan and from India. Have you ever heard the disputed area being referred to as Azad Kashmir by anyone in India? That is what it is, really. They have elections and political parties and leaders. And a government. Just because they are Muslim does not mean they are Pakistani – PoK is a political term and a lie. Kashmiris I know say they just want to be left alone. Without food being smuggled out or drugs being smuggled in. Or their women being raped.

Yes, yes, there is a strategic problem with China being so close, etc. But isn’t it blindingly obvious that it would be better to let Kashmir go, to support the local people’s decisions and to win their trust as a way of ensuring that they back India rather than China during a crisis? Beating the hell of out them seems like a very stupid thing to do, if we really want to have on-ground support, in the event of a conflict with Pak/China.

I am all for separatist movements. The EU set up works best really – many countries but one economic region allowing free movement of goods and labour.

(And thus I disregard my own advice to SHUT UP.)