Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Rapists challenge India's conscience

[This appeared in The Financial World on April 23rd]

It is pathetic, heart-rending, sad, outrageous...indescribable. In less than four months after the gang-rape of the medical student in a moving bus that shocked the nation, now a little girl, tortured in confinement, has once again brought protestors out on the streets.

But, this time, the scale of protests isn't the same. The unprecedented agitation that broke out across the length and breadth of India in late-December and January is not repeated. At least not as of now. Social media users are sharing and voicing their feelings, but that contagious angst is missing. Some quote why only cases that happen in Delhi are highlighted, when rapes happen across the country almost daily. A few even posted that she is not the first 5-year-old to be tortured.
Sounds callous, indeed.

Graphic Courtesy: The Financial World

Laymen vent their frustration thus, when the system drags its feet. The Nirbhaya case suspects should have been done with by now. The case is often referred to as the one that ‘stirred India’s conscience’.

Well, our minds were stirred once prior to that. Remember the old social activist who resurrected Gandhi topi? Anna Hazare’s agitation against corruption was also described as “arousing nation’s conscience” then.

And here, now, we have policemen bribing the family of the little one to hush up!
Wonder whose conscience we referred to. The bureaucracy which doesn’t pull up its act to keep countrymen safe? Sinister minds that have no fear of the law of land? Media channels that play up a case until they get another one to keep their TRP ticking? Laymen who react for some time and continue to live life as if nothing ever went wrong only to wake up at another point to blame authorities for not doing enough?

Who, who is to be blamed for the atrocious treatment of women in the country? Bureaucracy blames democratic shackles; Media blames survival rules; Laymen blame both the above.
Passing the buck with impunity happens only in a democracy. What use is democracy if citizens fear for their lives and that of their loved ones? It’s time the government clamps down on sick minds. Capital punishment may sound barbarous, undemocratic and against human rights. But only this will instill the fear in beasts that is missing now.

The law should have zero-tolerance for rapists. The victim should serve as both the practical evidence and witness. Hear her out and act. Punish her torturers publicly. Cops and officials who tamper with the case illegally should be held accountable and punished immediately.
Meanwhile, each person, each household must act conscientiously. Treat sons and daughters equally. Educate little boys to respect girls. Include a topic on sexual ethics for high-school students. So at least the next-gen can say with pride that ‘the nation's conscience has been stirred’ and Indians are an awakened lot.

Monday, April 22, 2013

When a daughter calls her parents ‘naughty’…

If your pre-teen walks into your bedroom one morning, stands imposingly, looks at you with a slanted head and queries, “So you guys are getting naughty, aah!”, how would you react?

At least I missed more than a few heart beats. I also squeezed hard at my husband until he shrugged and moved away, adding to my discomfort.
“Where are you going?” I snapped at him, feeling rather exposed by his assumed abandonment more than the situation we were thrown into together.
“You are hurting my armpit!” He whimpered.
Was it the pain I inflicted or his lack of coherence in stringing thoughts of the previous night, I couldn’t exactly place.  
My poor man! His underarm was the closest of him near me that I could grab for support before my balance threatened to leave me after our daughter’s broad daylight accusation.
I attempted to speak and thought it was wise to play coy this time. Dads are better at handling daughters, I’ve learnt with recent experiences. Especially pre-teen girls are to be precariously dealt with, I have been advised by my friends, too.
So, I drew closer to his new position, on the bed, and nudged, “What is she saying?” Before, he could answer, our young lady replied, “Oh! Oh! What ignorance!” Now her hands were on her hips and one foot stepped in front of the other. She guarded a sly smile, which unsettled me.
“You can’t be walking into our bedroom like this,” I blurted throwing my resolve to the wind.
“Whoowaat!” she drawled and I pressed myself beside the husband as if his touch will transfer in me some courage to handle the situation.
“You like to sit cozy, cozy like this, yeah. And do all naughty things?”
The husband picked up his mobile in an impulse as if an earth-shattering bulletin was waiting for his attention. I grabbed the phone from his hand, “This can wait.”
“Remember, the phone rang early morning. Let me check who it is.” He was wriggling out. No way!
“This can wait,” I ordered.
“Let him check. May be it’s from his office. The server might be down, you never know,” our girl philosophied.
“Yeah, beta. Your mama can never understand such things.” He sat scrolling the BB screen.
And I followed suit. Sat still, gazing at his mobile screen, like an athlete concentrating to take off on the field.
“Hello! Leave Papa alone. You tell me. Why were you both reading my friend’s message yesterday night?”
So much for giving kids your email id!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Iron Lady - who's that?

[This appeared in TFW on April 16]

Margaret Thatcher’s funeral today has become a contentious issue, challenging the government. No woman in the recent past has triggered such hate posts in her demise.

She was a woman who stood for what she believed was right even in the face of opposition. The fact that she was a woman of substance, irrespective of whether her beliefs were right, wrong or fatal, is what intrigues me the most when I see the reactions to her death.
Indeed, a tough lady. For only a strong-willed woman can evoke such interest. Isn’t our very own Iron Lady – Indira Gandhi - still passionately debated and discussed almost three decades after her assassination.

Interestingly, even Irom Chanu Sharmila has been referred to by the same title by a section of the populace. Good to learn the crusader has been conferred some recognition. Otherwise, her fast and cause are hardly covered by the mainstream media.
She turned 40 this week. Did anyone care? Well, if a Bollywood director makes a biopic and, only, if only, it crosses the Rs100 crore mark [given that the figure is the latest blockbuster benchmark], then the national media would play up her cause. Oops! would mention her cause and play up the actress who essayed her character.

The woman has devoted more than 12 prime years of her life to have the Armed Forces Special Powers Act repealed. Anyone listening! And all she got is a title Iron Lady.
Graphic Courtesy: The Financial World
Though the term was first used by the Soviet Union to mock Margaret Thatcher, it has been conveniently used by all to address their own women who speak their mind throwing caution to the wind, who squash their opponents like flies on the wall and who is despised...may I say even in death?
Aung San Suu Kyi is also termed an Iron Lady of her country, commanding world respect. Hatred she does breed in some quarters, but has not 'ironed out' her opposers yet. Can we draw parallels with Irom , who is tossed between hospital cells and court rooms, letting her restraints communicate louder.

But unlike Irom, Suu Kyi got a platform. Hope the authorities pay heed to the Manipuri's cause before it is too late...And we re-define the title Iron Lady. Resurrect the name and cloak it in democratic colours.

Meanwhile, may Lady Thatcher's soul rest in peace. She is sure to go down history books as the longest serving woman prime minister. That, indeed, is no soft task.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Talking sexual ethics with children

This appeared in TFW on April 9... 

Graphic Courtesy: The Financial World
When my primary school child quoted the word 'stranger-danger' from her life skills lesson, I was intrigued as to what was explained in school.

Catch them young, we say, for all developmental matters. Then why camouflage sexual assaults under stranger-danger? Times have changed. Do not take chocolates from uncles, and do not smile at mamas are fine. Do not allow any one touch you inappropriately! This, this sentence, is what parents and teachers need to explain to youngsters. This explanation creates awareness.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month!

All modes of transportation - running buses, moving cars, speeding bikes - are being utilised to make women of all ages in all nooks across the country 'aware' that India's conscience might have been stirred when the Nirbhaya flame simmered but that of the beasts are yet to be nudged.
What an irony that thepace of brutality continues unabated even as laws are being revised andcreated. By ensuring stringent punishments, quicker trials and widening the umbrella of assaults under unpardonable crimes, politicians are doing their job. The media is also doing their part by reporting, analysing and debating the same.

So who isn't doing their part right? None. All are doing their best. It's the culture that needs to change. With details of rape, sex and attacks blaring our living rooms at prime time, we can't afford to say our culture doesn't allow discussion of the same with our growing-up children. And with technology threatening to invade every inch space of our lives with each passing day, children's curiosity cannot be contained either. Therefore, it is time we revisited the list of 'taboo topics' in family and educational institutions, if we really care to snub sexual attacks.
By informing women about their rights or threatening men about the consequences of sexually attacking females, one is definitely spreading awareness, but that is akin to focussing on pedicure, ignoring foot care.

General knowledge quizzes in schools should include such incidents. Especially with pre-teens, for whom teachers' words are the Bible, classrooms are the best platform to reveal the real world to impressionable minds. As for teenagers, again a neutral environment of a school is the best place to quell their curiosity on sexual topics and answer their doubts.
And this should be taken forward by parents. Gone are the days when birds rubbed their beaks and flowers brushed against one another to let couples make love on screen. Let's not change channels or look into space when that happens. Sit along with your children and watch. That would be the beginning of getting comfortable to discussing sexual ethics with youngsters.

You never know, this small step could lead to the much-needed cultural change for a better tomorrow.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Spare a thought for Sanjay Dutt’s children

If you err you face the consequence. And when the highest court of law in a country sentences an individual, the person ought to humbly accept. Period. So should it be. But the emotional vortex the verdicts unleash within the loved ones of the affected unsettling their lives is indescribable.

So is it with all the number of people convicted in the 1993 Bombay blasts, including actor Sanjay Dutt. But when a celebrity is punished, the national interest it generates is immense. Unfortunately, it can be more harmful for the family than the jail term for the individual.

Petitions seeking Dutt’s pardon are forwarded to the competent authorities; movers and shakers are all over social media voicing their solidarity, an ex-Supreme Court judge has taken his plea to the highest office, not to mention his innumerable fans who pray and fast and curse… all citing that he has suffered enough.

There are yet others who are opposed to any leniency, asking ‘then why not others?’

Why? Why such hallabaloo even after the actor has announced he will surrender on April 18. He’s being a man.

Let’s not be hypothetical in our attack or support. Give him a chance by respecting his decision. He owes it to his children, for Pete’s sake!

Imagine all these hateful words of defamation, sympathetic display of support and zooming close-ups of him at his most vulnerable moments documented for posterity!

If at all anyone cares to continue speaking about Sanjay Dutt, they should do it for his family. For his two innocent toddlers who are unaware of what’s happening around. For his wife, the woman who needs to carry on each day without support and worse still protecting her children from the current media glare and upholding their dad’s stature.

This is a stigma the kids will carry, irrespective of whether Dutt serves the remainder of his jail term or receives a pardon. A pedigree tainted by prison records!

The fact that Dutt’s name is taken in congruence with the 1993 blasts, even when the Supreme Court has acquitted him of terror charges, convicting him only for illegal possession of arms, is pathetic.

No punishment is bigger than one's inability of being there for their children. Media reports allege that Sanjay Dutt cannot travel to countries that deny visas for the convicted, which includes the US, where his eldest child lives. But at least she is witness to the happenings and old enough to sieve through the interpretations.
Imagine the two toddlers, who will have to do it on documented information when they grow up.

Time is a great healer. For all you know, Dutt will walk out a hero! He has done it on previous occasions. Pray he does it again - this time for his kids!

[Picture Couertesy: www.sanjay-dutt.info]

Monday, April 1, 2013

An IT professional’s promise to his wife

[This is a real-life story that unfolded in my hometown]

The cows walked along Sector 7 road as the occasional motorist meandered his way between the holy beings and stray dogs. The only activity on the morning of February 9th as the sun warmed up the sleepy town of Bhilai in Chattisgargh was skittish puppies exercising their energy.
Untouched by the bustle of modern-day Indian life, the residents of this Township are at all times relaxed. A sense of calm defines their ethos. The elderly listen to bhajans and watch soaps on TV, the middle-aged work for a living and the youngsters scoot between classrooms from dawn to dusk. In fact the only common obsession among all age groups is their collective passion for education.

Absolutely no sense of urgency on a week day morning
Guess that’s the reason why you find more teachers in Bhilai than there are women. Beena, the 30-something wife of Mahesh – an IT professional ­- is also a teacher. A post-graduate with 10 years’ experience, she refused promotion a couple of times and prefers teaching kindergartners because she likes to return home along with her kids.

Her dedication to family allows Mahesh to clock 11-hour shifts. Long work hours by young professionals are the only sign that the place is keeping up with the anxiety gnawing the rest of the country, because otherwise the evenings are strictly family time. And weekends are confined to calendar leafs that disappear with mechanical precision. They are particular days, when Bhilai residents do nothing in particular but prepare elaborate meals, eat and visit places of worship, in no particular order.

So when Mahesh had asked Beena to take leave from school on February 9 – a Saturday - for a weekend getaway, it was celebration time for the extended family as well. Beena’s parents had collected the kids the previous night to let the couple make preparations.

The sun smiles at early morning commuters
But on Saturday morning, as Beena was readying up, Mahesh received a phone call. He had to rush to office – an hour’s drive from home – as an emergency had cropped up.  “What!” Beena was exasperated but not annoyed.

IT professionals across the globe have emergencies at the most intimate of moments!
Mahesh apologised, and his wife slumped down. “So what do I do now? You are going, kids have gone?” She asked maintaining her nerves.

“I’ll drop you off at school. Cancel the leave…”

“How can you even suggest that? I told my friends that I’m not in town today and…”

“Why do you have to go telling people details?” He asked, tucking in his shirt, just as a reply without meaning what he said.                                                                                                                             

“Oh! Blame me.”Beena was now angry, but her man was already on a phone call assuring the caller that everything would be taken care of and that he was on his way. His ignorance after instigating her further agitated her.

He picked up the car key, phone glued to his ear, and drove away leaving Beena fuming.

About 20-minutes later, the land phone rang. Beena saw his number and returned to the sofa to continue sulking. When his rings persisted, she picked up the receiver and yelled, “What the hell do you want now?’

“Sorry Beena. I’m really sorry. I just can’t help it. Next Saturday, I promise…”

Beena slammed the phone down.


She hit the bed and woke up only at 2pm.Sleep is an excellent antidote to anger as well. She called to check on Mahesh.

On hearing the engaged ringtone, she set about preparing an elaborate meal. A wifely act of ablution for all inappropriate feelings towards her spouse! She prepared his favourite dishes – laid out a three course meal and tried his number again at 7pm.

Mobile phone switched off.

At 8pm she positioned herself next to the land phone. By 10pm she had already made about a dozen calls to Mahesh – both on his mobile and office number.

She waited the whole night and early Sunday morning called her parents, who rushed to her place. They deliberated on the previous day’s happenings. Her mom was inconsolable and her dad lost strength. He called in his best friend, whose family joined them in an hour. Hearing the elderly woman wail, the neighbour on the left came in, followed by the one on the right and the one across the street as well.

By 9am Beena’s home seemed a mourning place. Two men set out to check out at Mahesh’s office. “We can at least get some details from the security,” they reasoned.

One of the elderly neighbours advised to file a police report, which made her mother’s tear glands vocal. She started telling stories of how loving and well-behaved her son-in-law was in between sobs and blowing her nose. What curse has befallen on her daughter and she even prophesied her grandchildren’s bleak future.

The elderly men sat in the varenda, while the younger lot animatedly spoke about possible reasons for Mahesh’s disappearance.

At that point, the stray dog and her puppies scurried away as a car came to a grueling halt over the gravel.

The calm and serene street before the drama unfolded
A worried Mahesh stepped out and hurried in. A couple of elderly men stopped him in his tracks and ran their hands over him as if he were a piece of Fine China.

Sheepishly, he announced, “I had to abandon the assignment half-way and return because I knew Beena would be worried.”

The entire room fell eerily silent on his words. Yet the collected well-wishers waited at their spots eager to witness some forbidden scenes. A couples emotional outbursts is always so very pleasing to the public eye!

But Beena sat put on the bed and her mother shut up as if the plug was pulled off her being.

After what seemed more than eon, Mahesh’s father-in-law asked calmly, “Why didn’t you answer phone calls?”

“I lost my mobile. When I reached office I learnt that I had to go to our head-office in Jabalpur. In the confusion of picking up things, I can’t remember where I kept the phone. I only realised when I reached there. And…”

“It’s okay, Papa,” interrupted Beena, getting up from the bed and thanking and apologising everyone for having troubled them.“But there are other means of informing,” said the elderly neighbour.

“It’s alright uncle. He was busy, I understand. I’m sorry, you had to leave your breakfast and come in. I’ll get tea.”

“No beti. Take care.” He walked out and the others followed suit as if leaving after having witnessed a mock drill for an emergency. Important insights revealed, yet nothing valuable to take home.

When Beena walked into the kitchen, her mother moved towards the son-in-law wiping her nose with her saree pallu: “I understand your work is crucial Mahesh. But do you know how concerned Beena was. You could have just…”

“Mummy, can you please leave him alone.” Beena hurried back and pulled Mahesh by the hand and thrust him into the washroom. “Freshen up. I’ll fix breakfast.”

“We are fools, to be concerned about you. Come let’s go,” said the old woman turning to her husband. Women will tolerate anything but not being snubbed by their adult-daughters. “Why the hell did we rush on her call…”

“Hold your tongue. Mahesh has had a genuine problem. Don’t add to the children’s misery,” counselled Beena’s father, calling out, “So we’ll leave Beena. We’ll take the kids along, too. You both need some rest.”


 Mahesh walked out and panned the house.

A deserted roundabout on a Saturday morning
“What’s for breakfast? I’m famished,” he tried seeing Beena on the bed.

 “Breakfast only after you say these two numbers by heart.” She handed him a piece of paper comprising their landline and her mobile phone numbers.

“How many times, I’ve told you to learn important numbers and not to depend on your damn mobile…I knew…I knew…this would have been the reason…you would have misplace the mobile and…..and would be lost… don’t know any number by heart….but…but…do you know what I went through…how could I have just believed…how could I…you…”

It took Mahesh more than an hour to dry her tears…

PS: Names have been changed because the wife still refuses to make her husband’s ignorance public, though he downloads it on anyone at the least trigger.