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The Guardian has an excellent long-form piece on the gang-rape in Delhi that shook us all. Please read it.
I’ll even go so far as to say it captures contemporary India very well. The piece made me realize that it wasn’t so much a perfect storm of things being wrong that led to the crime occurring. It is that they all were wrong and will continue to be wrong for the foreseeable future. And women in India are walking in this minefield every single day.
That thought almost makes me despair.
My good friend Aditya Khanna* who blogs anonymously as Overrated Outcast hits it out of the park in this week’s column: Do we really want to join the superpower sorority? Think again.
When someone says that they want their country to be a ‘superpower,’ what they’re trying to say is that they now want their country to be the world’s ‘decider’ — the sort of a**hole country which tells other countries what to do and where they can stick their ‘sovereignty.’ What they mean is that they want to be the guy in the room who has the remote to the teevee and will continue to watch a documentary on the drainage system of the Aztec civilisation even though everyone else wants to watch that show which has ‘everyday people’ eating bugs for money.
*Name changed to protect identity.
I often view the trending topics in India on Twitter to keep up with the latest news. There was a recent trend of hashtags that I didn’t quite get at first glance: #PappuCII, #Feku, #InternetPappus. They coincided with public appearances of Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi—of which there have been many for they are our presumptive Prime Ministerial candidates. If you haven’t read the tweets, I don’t advise you do. It’s a cesspool of hatred and name calling by BJP and Congress supporters.
Now it has come to this: A prime-time news show that ought to be about issues ponders how the Twitter war of #Feku vs. #PappuCII is going to affect political agenda in India. Seriously.
As an observer, it’s been fascinating to watch how the use of Twitter has evolved in India. Early adopters were the socially hip people who, if I may use a broad brush, were social liberals. Right-wing ideas did not have a voice. I’m using a loose definition of ideas here. Calling Rahul Gandhi dumb and Sonia Gandhi by her maiden name Maino are not ideas.
As a natural reaction, over the past year there was a meteoric rise of right-wing Twitter accounts. Follow the retweets and you can track the influential users: Kanchan Gupta, parody accounts of Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi, “proud Hindus” or right of center folks, or as this guy calls himself: a right-wing fanatic with interest to shape 21st century as India’s century. He has about 6,000 followers and I’m like:
This had to be a paid, organized effort. After all, who has time on their hands to defend a political party all day long, every day? It is really just that: defending the BJP and dissing the Congress, on every single point, on every single incident, day in and day out. Surely that can’t be a coincidence?
But what’s interesting is that it worked. And well. Not because of the ingenuity of the idea but the terrible governance of the UPA which kept giving the movement the momentum and people it needed.
Some time back I wrote about Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. One comment insinuated that Rahul Gandhi was dumb and used the phrase Amul Baby. It was obvious the commenter was plugged into the right-wing universe. Those word associations don’t exist in the real world.
The Congress then realized it was losing this war very visibly. The retaliation began with pro-Congress Twitter users cropping up causing trending topics such as #Feku (a reference to Narendra Modi and his allegedly lofty claims.)
This too has to be an organized effort, and much more likely than the right-wing rise. The reason as I see it is this: I get that enough people buy into the identity politics of BJP to defend them at every opportunity. But I do not see why a person with no incentive would defend the Congress after its performance since 2004.
I should add another category to the type of content I avoid: Hatred.
Spiritual guru Ravi Shankar speaks about Bollywood:
It is so tempting to write a snarky gotcha post just by quoting him verbatim: Saying that one cannot generalize that all ashrams are corrupt to saying all Bollywood stars are despicable within the span of two sentences; the questionable claim of Bollywood wanting to turn the youth towards Naxalism (?!); the claim that lack of religion will cause India to become like Afghanistan where the Buddhas of Bamiyan were destroyed (it was a fanatic adherence to religion that caused it); the claim that religion keeps one away from drugs (this guy disagrees); his conspiracy theory that there is a drug lobby is working with Bollywood to get Indian youth addicted to drugs; his equating of religion to all creativity. I could go on.
One thing on which I do agree with him is that it has become common to criticize religion. And thank god for that, for we now atleast have a debate.
It is said—and I have experienced it in minute ways—that meditation and yoga help clear one’s mind and give a fresh perspective towards life. That in my book sums to being a tad wiser. I also equate wisdom with having fewer opinions, not more.
Which raises the obvious question: With all his spiritual practices, why is Ravi Shankar not wiser?
The larger question is: Why is he even being asked questions about something a movie depicted? Can’t we learn just spiritual practices from him and figure out the rest of the universe for ourselves? I don’t expect him to be wise about economics, computer science, or mountaineering—and he proved as much with his answer.
Then again, if I were as wise as people say he is, I would use silence to better effect.
Allow me one snarky comment: For someone who blames Bollywood for showing people practicing ancient wisdom in bad light, you know who else is practicing ancient wisdom and yet showing it in bad light?
The Justice Verma Committee report, something the Anti-Rape Bill was asked to be based on, recommended reducing the age of consent from the existing eighteen to sixteen. You can read about it on pages 443 and 444 here. [Warning:PDF link]
The BJP and TNC blocked it:
Trinamool and BJP are objecting to a lower age of consent on the ground that this is in conflict with “conservative norms” of Indian society.
I disagree but fair point.
My next thought was—and it ought to be obvious why—When did Rama get married? It’s hard to know for sure but after a bit of searching, the most generous estimates put the age of Rama at around 16 and Sita at just below 16.
Hey BJP/TNC, you know who was doing it before 18? And you know who was probably guilty of statutory rape at some point?
You should know that there is a heated debate about how old Sita was when she was married. There is one group which claims she was really young (around 12). It is easy to see why this group is consists of liberals hell bent on tarnishing Hinduism, the best religion eva! The other group is trying hard to put together incomplete pieces of information from various versions of the Ramayana because nowhere is this clearly cited. Damn you, Valmiki! You had one job!
This group insists it is around 16 which is reasonable in today’s world as well.
Then there’s a third group which takes the short-cut to hilarity without getting caught up in integers below 20:
But Ramji didn’t send Sitaji immediately for exile. They lived happily for 10,000 years and then Sitaji became pregnant.
I find these so you don’t have to.
A Congress MP on Wednesday faced the fury of film actor and Samajwadi Party (SP) MP Jaya Bachchan in the Rajya Sabha for allegedly clicking her photographs from his mobile phone.
After Bachchan complained to her colleagues, senior Cong-ress leader Ambika Soni pulled up Pradeep Kumar Balmuchu, asking him to delete the photos and apologize.
This wasn’t voyeurism in the sense it is defined in the Anti-Rape Bill, but it is a problem nevertheless. How many of us know that it is common courtesy to ask someone before photographing them in public? So many of us think it is our right to capture anything in a public area. There is no such right.
Asking “Can I take your photograph?” is one of the first things I learn in the local language before visiting a country. Ahead of even customary greetings. It shows respect and sometimes sparks an interaction that has led to wonderful moments.
This common courtesy not something that can (or should) be enforced by law. It’s a cultural change that needs to happen around the world especially with the prevalence of smartphones.
Fun fact: There actually are certain laws governing taking pictures in public. Take this example. Funner fact: Yours truly is one of the people responsible for that.
Lawyers didn’t have a good feeling about the movie, Jolly LLB:
Trailers of the film — which released on Friday — show Jagdish Tyagi aka Jolly LLB (Arshad Warsi), a struggling lawyer from Meerut, get a rap from a judge (Saurabh Shukla) for misspelling prosecution as prostitution. Lawyers from the UP town found it offensive and contemptuous.
They approached the Supreme Court which obliged with a bitchslap: (Can we redefine bitchslap to be “admonishment of frivolous lawsuits?”)
The court advised the lawyers not to watch the film or take their families to the theatre if they found the dialogues offensive. “If the movie is useless in your opinion, don’t watch it at all. You know you will not enjoy it, so don’t go. You are giving undue importance to the issue. Let those go to theatres who want to watch it.”
A tiny victory for free speech.
As part of the Anti-Rape Bill which is an amendment to the Indian Penal Code., stalking, voyeurism and acid attacks are in particular called out. So far so good. But it went downhill rather quickly when a discussion ensued in the parliament. Here’s Sharad Yadav:
He also said provisions to make stalking and staring a crime can be misused. “Who amongst us have not followed girls,” Yadav said evoking peels of laughter.
He said this while making a larger point that men make the first move and approach women when they are interested—which I’d say is accurate. But there’s a vast spectrum between approaching a girl and stalking a girl. I’d leave it to the girl to decide which is which. I trust her judgement. Because all women are not stupid. Because women are as intellectual as men. Because women are equal to men.
Which is the whole fucking point of all this!
His exact words, “Kaun hai hum mein sey jo peecha nahin kiya?,” taken verbatim tend towards stalking. And that’s how it should be. I can’t think of any legitimate reason why a guy is following a girl. (Fine, I’ll give you going-shopping-with-some-girls. But if that’s outlawed, who’s complaining?)
Back to the point. In all social issues, there is always a fear that is voiced: We want to do something but let’s not dial the knob too far! From gay marriage to women’s safety. If there’s something worse than the bigotry of opponents, it is their non-imaginative counter examples. For gay marriage, it was polygamy and bestiality (both of which don’t scare me.) For women’s rights, it is always men making this point and the point is always: But .. but this will give them too much power which they might then misuse!
Irony, meet Anti-Rape Bill.
I wish Sharad Yadav and those who think likewise took a moment to step in the shoes of the girl they are “following” and considering a hypothetical where the girl doesn’t like them at all. Or in concepts that bigots understand: What if Sharad Yadav was followed by a gay guy who wanted to have sex with him?
Not so appealing now, is it?
That is why things will be alright if stalking is recognized as an offense.
Now there will be cases where you might be interested in a girl, you approach her and say as much in the most non-threatening way and she still feels threatened. A valid point. But in those cases, I fear an immediate-justice mob mentality than a judge taking facts into account and ruling against you. Let’s even say the girl is excessively paranoid and feels threatened just by you talking to her. That’s a rare edge case but I’d side with the girl because you did harass her psychologically. (And to be fair, you also did approach someone you knew nothing about.)
We Indians really need to sit down and have a conversation about the concept of healthy dating. If only there was a culture we could emulate for the right reasons ..