Sunday, 18 March 2018

Men, be allies, not apostles of equality

A Facebook friend, a guy, once tagged me in a video. It showed men apologising for what women have to go through every day because they are, well, women. Several men stood by their women friends in the wake of the #metoo movement as well.

A number of men are coming out in support of feminism. They appear to understand the need for gender equality. Still at times they slip, and you draw their attention to it. You expect that they would discuss the situation with an open mind. You don’t require them to know every aspect of the problem but you have seen them being sensible and compassionate. So you assume they would agree that those regularly privileged by hierarchies of religion, caste and gender should now take a step back and listen to others in the room. But this supposition is often broken with a “now this is too much” from them.

They draw the boundaries, and decide what is enough or too much for those who have been marginalised for centuries. In that moment, they cease to be your fellow travellers moving towards a common goal. They start worrying you’re going to jump over their backs and gallop ahead leaving them behind. In that moment, they become a peeved donor and you, a greedy, ungrateful beggar.

I have faced being patronised by men who tell me how I am quibbling over small things while I should be focusing on bigger issues widening the gender gap. I would like to share a “small” example here of why we as women stand up for these apparently bite-sized issues.

A literature festival invited many authors; I was one of them. The invites and posters carried the names of the men. For the women, they had used the prefix Mrs. Anyone reading would have got this information about the men in the following order: an author named so-an-so is going to be there at the festival. About the women, they would have learned: a married woman, called so-and-so, who also happens to be an author (apart from being married), is going to participate in the fest.

I had a problem with this partisan approach, and the organiser understood and tried to fix it. But many men who heard termed it as nitpicking, and started stressing on how their knowledge of what was important should gain precedence over my lived experience.

Something similar happened around the time of my wedding. My partner and I had chosen to have a Brahmo Samaj wedding, which is supposed to be egalitarian towards the couple irrespective of their gender or religion. The acharya/priest who was to conduct our wedding was a highly placed official in a private body. His gentle smile and soft-spoken demenaour immediately put our wedding jitters to rest. He proudly shared with us the tradition of equality practised in Brahmo weddings, and showed sample scripts which had detailed the rituals. In the days to come, my partner was in constant touch with him. We modified some of the rites to make them even more uniform for the couple and the acharya readily accepted the tracked changes.

A few days before the wedding, I noticed the word “brotherhood” in the script. No matter how much thought I give to women, when it comes to such words I am unable to visualise women in the picture. I politely, and with much hesitation, talked to the acharya about it. (I was hesitating because my feminism had not erased from my mind the taught fear of upsetting men in the venerable role of elders or priests.) He was irked at my suggestion: “This is how language is. You cannot change language. If you have a better word, tell me.”

I did not say that language wasn’t discovered while it was roaming about like innocent, blitzkrieged sheep. It was shaped with a design in mind; it has its history and politics. I only tried to find a substitute, and when I suggested ‘kinship’ in place of ‘brotherhood’, he gave it his go-ahead.

Had he been upset at first because he was tired of our various modifications? Would he have reacted differently if, as usual, my partner had spoken to him?

When people announce themselves as allies to a certain movement or an ideology, they should not expect that the ones they are supporting should take it as a favour and not raise questions. It was precisely by dominating clans denying the truths and everyday realities of certain sections of society that these groups had originally got pushed to the periphery.

Allies to the feminist, or any other, movement would have to stop being imperious in order to contribute and gain equally, just as those who have faced persecution needn’t always be right about everything. The words of Australian activist Lila Watson makes sense in this context: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

First published in Deccan Herald, 17 Mar 2018.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Chhattisgarh Farmers Protest on Rail Tracks Demanding Jobs Promised by Railways

Even as thousands of farmers from Maharashtra head towards Mumbai, their compatriots in Chhattisgarh have also been protesting since March 5, demanding jobs in lieu of their land acquired by the Railways.

In Bhanupratappur, situated in Kanker district in the North Bastar region, farmers whose land had been acquired for the Dallirajhara-Rowghat-Jagdalpur rail project have been sitting on the railway tracks since the past week demand jobs promised to them. Resolved to stay put till they get job appointments hundreds of protesters have spread tarpaulin and durries over stones on the tracks.

The rail line project would be carrying iron ore from Rowghat mines to the Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP). Rowghat had also been in news earlier because of the local resistance to the mines.

Chandrashekhar Yadu, one of the protesters, said those whose land ownership is covered by the Forest Rights Act have not got any compensation or even the application forms for jobs. “The few farmers with revenue land who have jobs have got meagre amounts in the name of compensation. More than 400 farmers are waiting to get jobs. When we met officials from the Railways, the local administration and BSP on March 8, 2018, in the office of the sub-divisional magistrate, we were told that in 2012 there was a change in the 2011 policy, which now covers only those whose 75-100% land was impacted by the project. But the public wasn’t informed of any such change. We would believe the papers we have in our hands right now, which talk of jobs and compensation for all whose land was affected to any extent. Amendments can keep taking place.”

The farmers are against the provision, as listed in the notification issued by South East Central Railway on April 8, 2011, of jobs being granted only to the landowner, the spouse or their sons/daughters. People of the 28 affected villages feel it excludes those who don’t have children but may want jobs for other family members.

The 2011 notification also doesn’t take into account the fact that many elders own the land so it would be their grandchildren, and not their sons and daughters, who would be in the right age group for jobs. The prescribed age bracket is 18-33 years, relaxed by five years’ for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, and for three years’ for other backward classes.

The farmers are demanding that the affected people should get appointment letters first and then should be sent for the technical training required. They do not want the candidates to be first sent to pass the training in an industrial training institute (ITI) and then kept under training again in BSP as they say the actual appointment in this case takes years.

Nandlal Jaiswal, a participant in the protest, said, “The government talks of sabka sathsabka vikas. But how is this development for all? It is only for the government. It is also unfair that the Dalli-Rajhara farmers in Balod district were given jobs and we have been discriminated against.”

First published in The Wire, 11 Mar 2018.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Modern-yet-traditional: The fantasy woman of matrimonial dotcoms

A friend registered on a matrimonial website got a call from a man looking to get married. Their conversation went like this:

Man: What will you do if I get a promotional transfer to another city?

Woman: I think if one partner, be it the man or the woman, gets a better job opportunity in another place and the other partner can move without adversely affecting her/his career, the shift can work out.

Man: Suppose the domestic worker hired for the house doesn’t turn up one day. What will you do?

Woman: That’s ok. Both partners can get together and finish the housework.

The next day the man’s mother called my friend’s parents to not-so-regretfully convey that my friend was too modern and won’t “fit” into their family. The man’s family had sought a “modern yet traditional” woman. In matrimonial parlance, modernity is like red blood cells whose presence in the body is essential but their count should fall within a certain range for a person to be healthy. My friend, according to the wife/daughter-in-law seekers, had scored too high and, therefore, negatively, on the modernity barometer.

What are these traditional values which our modern women have been failing? To be kind and empathetic, caring and considerate, are not traditional values. They are (timeless) values a decent human being has or aspires to develop regardless of their gender.

But to expect the woman to do all the housework or to jeopardise her work-life to make way for the man’s is unjust, regressive, hypocritical and discriminatory. And therefore a lot of the over 70 million single women in India are choosing to reject such propositions. A neighbour had once suggested a match to me. While I wasn’t interested, I decided to humour her and continue the conversation. I said I hoped the man’s family knew there would be no dowry. “But your parents will give something, right?” She meant that the amount of money to be given as dowry would be negotiable. For her, it was tradition; for me, a crime, not only a legal but a moral one.

My friend’s father, who had been disappointed that the match didn’t work out, had raised his daughter to be an educated woman with a career. He had often given her examples of trailblazing women to take inspiration from, no matter what their marital status. Yet society’s spectre of marriage being an essential rite of passage loomed over him when he couldn’t “get” his adult, perfectly capable and independent daughter married. He had encouraged my friend to grow throughout her life and then, frustrated with the matrimonial scene, had advised her to shrink, which she could not do, and rightly so.

What needed to be cut to size were the unreal expectations of the man and his family, who had raised their son to believe that somewhere a woman was being brought up with the sole purpose of fitting into his life. If it weren’t so outrageous, it would be amusing to observe that these men manage to live in a bubble for the greater part of their lives. I have known of prospective grooms who assume that the woman would be more than happy to leave her job and join him for greener pastures (read cards). One guy was taken aback when his online match wanted to discuss with him the subject of children, for he had grown up thinking that all women have their maternal instinct handy, and would love to turn the tap on and spout forth cherubs at the first chance they can grab. Another character insisted that he can get the woman a job through his illustrious connections and networks, while she repeatedly asserted she was perfectly happy in her current employment. When it comes to appraising each other for matrimonial symmetry, such men’s being out of tune with the women of the world leave the former confused and gaping in wonder, and the latter pulling out their hair in exasperation.

Perhaps that’s why a report found that ahigh percentage of men with higher-education degrees are looking at profiles of women less educated than them”. Such people would do well to know that my “modern” friend and women like her, who refuse to be gaslighted into believing that to want equality is to be selfish, are setting up a new tradition. Our hitherto cloistered dotcom men would urgently need to bring themselves up to speed.

First published in Deccan Herald, 16 Feb 2018.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

How Kalam's admirers at times do him greater disservice than his critics

In east Rajasthan, there is a folk tradition of Hela Khyal—which has reportedly been going on since before Independence—where political questions are raised in poetry and have to be answered in the same format. Sadly today there is neither the brilliance of witty poetry nor the glint of sharp logic in the nature of so-called debates in this country.
Looking at the response to critiques of India’s former president APJ Abdul Kalam, there is a sense of things—read a healthy tradition of debate—falling apart. Those who adored Kalam say he was people’s president, yet they are not allowing many others to see him as their leader too and question him.
German poet Bertolt Brecht had asked leaders to allow the led the right to doubt, reminding them that they became leaders in the first place because they, too, had once doubted authority. Kalam’s followers are upset by critical appraisals of him, but in expressing this hurt are they following the values which they staunchly state Kalam had—and for which they idolised him?
After his death, one of the many quotes of his being remembered is: “One of the most important characteristics of a student is to question.” Why aren’t his own students, those who fondly say they saw him as their teacher, encouraging others to question?
Scientific enquiry requires that an issue be examined from multiple perspectives. The aim is to achieve an effective result that benefits the populace, not to create paeans around one’s own work. Would a scientific man, a great teacher, want his students to blindly accept the mainstream discourse and to let their impulsive, unfiltered emotions rule their heads and attack the challengers?

Examining flaws is critical

Now to examine why such evaluation and recalling of flaws is important. These dissenters are not celebrating his death but cautioning against all the values and achievements being talked of after his death, because they see the belief in those values and the subsequent actions as having adverse effects upon many in the country.
As far as I am concerned, we have to question Kalam’s staunch support for nuclear weapons. There are some great scientists, including Albert Einstein, who have regretted their role in producing weapons of mass destruction. Why is it that if Einstein could question himself for his role in producing the atomic bomb so many years ago, we are not allowed to criticise the man who played an enthusiastic role in developing the Indian nuclear and missile programmes?
Kalam was also superstitious, despite being a man of science.
In the book Building a New India, Kalam writes of “an extraordinary spiritual experience… The deity of the Brahma Kumaris, Shiva Baba, descended on one of the disciples, Dhadhi Gurzar. Before our eyes, her personality changed. Her face became radiant; her voice became deeper… We… were lucky to be called by her to the dais and blessed. As she blessed us she said, ‘Bharat will become the most beautiful land on earth.’” Should we not question such superstitious practices in a country where anti-superstition activists are killed?
In making someone a hero we distance them from ourselves, not allowing them to be their own selves but seeing them as we want to. After all our praise for them for attaining such heights, we then say we cannot follow the ideals they did because they’re up, up, up there and we are ordinary people, down here. And therefore those on top end up looking down upon people—often with contempt—and maybe in the case of Kalam, who opened his office to the public and said he wanted dialogue, with sadness?

First published in Quartz, 30 Jul 2015.

गुठलियों के दाम

घरबाहर मुझे सब कहते हैं, ‘कुछ ऐसा करो कि नाम हो.’  
पर नाम तो मेरा पहले से है,
लिखनेकहनेसुनने में है.  
तो क्यों ना चुनूँ कोई ऐसा कामजिसे करना ही इनाम हो?

First published in Jankipul18 Feb 2016.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

जाड़े का पिटारा

चटाई पे टाँगे पसार धूप खाता गरम गेहूँ
नानी के साथ घिसे काले तिल की खुशबू
संक्रान्ति वाला कोंहड़ा
बोरसी के पास वाला मोढ़ा.
मुँह से निकलने वाला कुहासा
बस थोड़ी देर में रजाई समेटने का झाँसा
शाम का शटर जल्दी गिराने वाली गली
बालू पे भुनतीबबल रैप सी पटपटाती मूँगफली
नहाने के पहले सरसों का तेल,
शरद विशेषांक वाला स्वेटर बेमेल. 

First published in Jankipul18 Feb 2016.

Monday, 29 January 2018

क्या ही अच्छा हो

जो नाच कहूँ हर बात,
तो यारों क्या ही अच्छा हो.  
छुट्टी जोहे हमारी बाट,
तो सोचो क्या ही अच्छा हो.  
बकरों साथ पढ़ें हम बच्चे,
तो क्या ही अच्छा हो.  
हम घास चरें वो पर्चे,
तो क्या ही अच्छा हो

First published in Jankipul18 Feb 2016.


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