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Gurgaon rape: 5 points for a petition to demand facts and improve policing in the city- March 15, 2012

As the momentum built up through the day among Gurgaon’s citizens to protest against police apathy towards the recent rape and of course, many other rapes, molestations and other crimes against women in the city, I began to wonder about what a petition to the government would look like if I were to write it.

Well, with regards to safety, my first concern would be to examine the quality of policing and the condition of police reforms in the country, especially Haryana. After all, policing is one of the central functions of governance, public health and safety being the overall objective of good governance.

Here are some of the points I would put in.

1. Police-population ratio: As per data from the Ministry of Home Affairs in 2010, there are only 130 policemen in India per 100,000 people, way below the stipulated UN norm of 220. Fewer policemen are recruited in most states than the sanctioned number of posts. This also means most policemen never get a day off and this hugely impacts their performance and motivation. A petition to the Haryana government would need to ask (or find out beforehand) what the figures are for Gurgaon and demand a better ratio for an upcoming urban area that is a lucrative source of revenue for the state government.

Poor quality of policing is also closely linked to the mode of recruitment. Widespread corruption and the usual practice of ‘buying’ jobs means there is no control on the quality of recruits.Which brings me to reforms, the main point on the agenda.

2. Adoption of police reforms as dictated by SC in 2006: Policing in India was governed by archaic laws made in 1861, until in 2006, the SC laid down seven directives for states to adopt. These included functional autonomy for police (via tenure security, streamlined appointment and transfer processes, a buffer body to delink police from government), more accountability (organizational and individual).

The petition should ask the Haryana government whether any of these reforms have been implemented and urge them to do so. Less political interference would directly result in better policing as rapists and perpetrators of other crimes with political patronage would not get away as easily. Recruitment process should also be addressed.

3. Training programs and general capacity building: Does the Haryana government regularly train its police force? A research exercise conducted by MIT and IIM in Rajasthan in 2008 shows that public perception about police force as well as actual performance can improve with small interventions like training in hard and soft skills, giving policemen a day off, etc. Building motivation, sensitizing police to social conditions is especially important in Gurgaon, which is urbanizing rapidly, creating stress between existing and new populations. The petition must demand information on existing training and suggest capacity building programs.

4. Creation of a mechanism to engage with community: Citizen groups must demand a cell within the police that will engage with citizens and seek to understand issues, address problem and foster an environment that is capable of evolving creative solutions for the long-term issues threatening the city’s socio-economic fabric. This cell must communicate outwards to offer correct information to the public. Citizens can help provide professional PR and communications support so the police don’t keep goofing up on what they have to say!

5. Protection of victim’s identity: ‘No loose talk by police personnel’ must be included the petition. It is important to protect victims if we are to get more rape cases reported, investigated and hopefully more rapists convicted. The petition must urge the government to make this a legally binding order. Citizen groups also need to take it upon themselves to specifically protest if this is violated. Media should take voluntary responsibility to refrain from publishing identifying details.

I guess I could go on, with more research. But I will stop at this for tonight.

My point is that, as citizens, our approach should be well-researched and we should be willing to get involved in this through till the end. Perhaps it is the job of a focused citizen task force to pursue this, but it needs to be done in a sensitive and sustained manner. It’s our city and we need to rally together to ensure these questions get answered and reforms addressed and implemented. Otherwise, it is our lives at stake!

 

Gurgaon rape: To bring change, we need sustained effort beyond immediate anger and protests- March 14, 2012

I try and not rant against the system on this blog, but when you read about rape everyday and then it happens in your backyard, it’s just too much provocation! I took a taxi back from the airport close to midnight yesterday and I was glad for the paternal polite sardarji who was my cabbie, while still wondering about whether appearances can be deceptive. I am not a paranoid person, but when brutal incidents happen everyday, it twists your mind, doesn’t it?

And then, to top it all, the police response is to stop women from working in pubs after eight in the evening. Sure, they caught some of the rapists, but I’m not willing to forgive an attitude that resorts to curtailing the freedom of citizens rather than taking measures to increase the safety of our city.

My first reaction, of course, is how easy it is for society (the authorities are reflecting a larger social attitude) to ask women to behave ‘within limits’. Just like recent incidents in which airline staff asked people with disabilities to deplane, the attitude reeks of a mindset in which women are considered weak, disadvantaged and mostly a problem.

Why can’t we do something to promote (among men and potential rapists and everyone) understanding and tolerance, perhaps by creating common platforms to bring people from diverse backgrounds together? Culture and sports, community building activities like planting trees, cleanliness drives…I don’t know. There must be something we can do to stop the ‘us’ and ‘them’ thinking. Urban vs rural, rich vs poor, modern vs traditional, boys vs girls……as a society, we seem to be losing our balance and lashing out against something. And I am, perhaps naively, convinced that rape, brawls and bad driving are symptoms of a problem, while also being problems in themselves and therefore we need to take a larger view and address the issue at many levels.

Of course, there is a disregard for the law and authority, which needs to be addressed by harsher punishments and better policing. But I cannot believe a rapist thinks he is right or isn’t shit scared when the police actually catch him. Then what makes him do it? What makes him not stop? Its insensitivity, the prioritization of his pleasure over anything else, the importance of ‘I’ and our own and the absence of an inclusive sense of community. If I were to actually know a girl who worked in a bar and see her as a normal person trying to earn a living, would I be less likely to rape her? (For that matter, I don’t happen to know a rapist, so its hard to profile one!)

I don’t know how to think all this through. But I do know that citizens have a right to expect governments to act. The action, however, must be long-term and two-pronged and a diverse range of citizen groups must be involved. Protests should convert to some sort of sustained communication, building of trust and spreading the message that crime against anyone is a crime against yourself, your community, your family, your women……..yourself…..

Are we reinforcing inequality in our homes? Examining my attitudes towards my domestic help- Feb 02, 2012

Hindu’s op-ed about domestic help makes a few hard-hitting points that forced me to examine the following questions for myself:

Why do I employ domestic help? Is it because of what the article suggests- I need to work outside the house, so in employing domestic servants, am I using my class advantage to minimize my gender disadvantage? In my case, the latter isn’t so much about my husband not being willing to be a caregiver to my children or taking on housekeeping responsibilities (which is what the article outlines as the typical situation), but simply because of the nature of his job, when he may not be in town for long periods of time!

Do I think its unskilled labor and do I devalue it? Certainly not. I have gone with little or no domestic help for short periods of time and I think I (and most of us) employ domestic help because housework is tedious work and not intellectually stimulating, NOT because we think it is unskilled work. In fact, many domestic workers have excellent skills and many more need training, which unfortunately needs to be given by us who are relatively unskilled in this department!

What is my attitude towards my domestic help? Do I treat them with dignity? How does my behavior towards them affect my children?

Now this these are tough questions to answer honestly. Let me say I try and be fair to my help, in exchange for a sense of responsibility from their side. I do not go as far as asking them to sit and dine with me. To that extent, the class differences are ingrained, on both sides. But I do not ask them to constantly run errands for my children and certainly not my son, who is old enough to clear his toys and get himself a glass of water. My help eats what we eat and participates normally in conversations between us as far as it involves her. Fortunately, I haven’t needed full time domestic help in the past several months, so we have adequate privacy once the maids leave. Yes, I think I treat them with dignity. They get pulled up for mistakes, just like any team worker at work would get, though I admit I do raise my voice with my help, which I would never do at work.

What are my children learning? Here, I’m thinking back to an incident from my childhood. The only time by father hit me in my life was when I mistakenly said something rude to our domestic help Manda, who I treated as family and very much still keep in touch with. I must have been seven or eight, about as old as Udai is now. My father’s reaction taught me to measure my attitude towards those who help us early in life. I urge my children to form a bond of some sort with anyone who works at my place. Often that does not happen because the domestic worker rejects their affection and I have seen how deeply that affects the kids. Sometimes the kids tend to get violent, over criticize and tattle on the help. I treat that the same way I treat their friendships with their peers- ignore and intervene when I must.

I hope these are the right things to do. Undoubtedly, our children lead a life of privilege and class distinctions are deeply ingrained. I can only hope to teach them to be empathetic, by example. Even in that, I can only try!

Why the tremendous urge to know the future? A doubting Dragon’s musings on the Chinese New Year-Jan 24, 2012

Dragons are destined for success, as per Chinese beliefs and it is expected that there will be a 5% increase in the number of children born to Chinese parents this year. This isn’t just speculation, its what actually happened in 2000, the last Year of the Dragon!

Well, I’m a Dragon too, so is Rahul and a lot of our friends and I’m really wondering if we are more ‘successful’ or ‘fortunate’ or ‘intelligent’ that other people born under the other eleven Chinese signs! Of course it’s nice to think so, but it’s really hard to believe this could be true. Yet, belief in all sorts of astrological phenomenon and deductions seem to play a significant factor in our lives. While in India, the traditional Vedic system of astrology that uses birth charts (the janampatri) is predominant, urban Indians are adopting all of the new systems being practices the world over

In my teens, I remember that the Greco-Roman zodiac signs (Aries, Taurus, etc) being a huge craze. Propagated by Linda Goodman, whose book was referred to endlessly and formed the basis of many gossip sessions, many of my peers went to the extent of pursuing or terminating relationships on the basis of Goodman’s interpretations.

By the time I was in my 20s, I became aware of a confusing array of beliefs, some based on astrology, others on differing systems that claim to understand current situations and predict the future. The Chinese Zodiac, Tarot cards, healing crystals, numerology, Feng Shui and Vastushastra as well as the old palmistry stuff are now all around to add to the pleasure of finding out what the future holds for you.

I have always been extremely wary of any methods that claim to offer all of life’s decisions on some sort of a platter. Experts practicing any of these systems, I feel, have been developing an increasingly stronger hold on their followers. Its not just readings that they offer; they go on to suggest and sometimes prescribe how their followers should lead their lives.

Now individuals are free to believe in what they wish to, but it seems to be extremely irrational to place my faith in any of these systems instead of on my own judgment! Of course, I happen to be born to parents who made their disbelief clear to me, so I was never predisposed to seeking my answers through this route. My dad did not waver in his disbelief even when he was detected with cancer and in the entire year of his fight against the dreaded disease.

I also observe that the higher the stakes, the more the urgency to know the future. So celebrities, politicians and industrialists frantically consult soothsayers, as do ordinary folks when they wish to take decisions about their careers, marriages, children, etc. Clearly, as the stresses of life increase, these kind of beliefs prosper. Urban centers where concentrated populations compete bitterly for opportunities to progress become great markets for opportunists who exploit insecurity.

I guess my basic question is- What’s wrong with leading life without knowing? Isn’t most of the fun in the journey anyway, learning along the way, tweaking strategies and being able to take credit for the good stuff also 🙂 Do we really believe that bad luck is avoidable (through pujas, chants, crystals and other forms of ‘good energy’)? It’s an open question. My skepticism is apparent…and I’m willing to take my chances!

 

Work-life balance=Work on weekdays and balance on weekends! Jan 22, 2012

Have just looked at the site stats on my blog and realize that the least views over the past month (since I’ve been writing regularly) have been on weekends! Kind of kills my motivation to write, but that thought has me doing the double take as well! What am I writing for? Myself? For the appreciation of those who read? And since the latter undeniably plays a role, will I end up pandering to the public and not really writing what I want to, what comes from the heart?

The stats also tell me that most people don’t spend much time before their computer screens on weekends and that’s great news. Urban life is firmly entrenched in the weekday-weekend mode, and while this has been so in the West for a long time, life in urban India has become like that too.

Weekends are now filled with chores, family outings, social visits, lunched, dinners, coffees, mall outings–all the hectic stuff you have to squeeze in because you’ve spent all week working, sending children to school, meeting deadlines of various sorts. Sunday evening blues, I suspect strongly, are not so much about not wanting to get to work on Monday morning, but about the sheer exhaustion of the weekend past!

The work-life balance is all about working the week and balancing on the weekend and unfortunately, that doesn’t always work! How does the body understand that sleep deprivation over weeknights is to be compensated on weekends, for instance?

So what is one to do? Here’s what works for me. I try to schedule one day in the weekend as a blank day, meaning no preset appointments and social calls at all. Errand running has been moved to an extra hour on the way back from work. I long for US-style 24 hour supermarkets sometimes, so that stocking up can be done after the children sleep. Movie watching is also on weeknights; we have the luxury of extended family to perform babysitting duties. I also try and take up a couple of hours of hobby classes on weekends. Right now its music, it used to be dance. This is to force me to take my mind off work, home and all the other commitments and stresses of life and…. it works just great!

What works for you? Do write in!

No Big Picture! Hoping the short-term targets will take me through…Jan 18, 2012

I drove home with a friend last evening; we were catching up after a long time. As it happens with people you have known for long, the discussion journeyed from comparing jobs, kids and hobbies to ambition. Something Maneck said during the course of the evening said struck me. He said he wanted to change the world!

Change the world, make a difference, leave a legacy…. Now I haven’t had that kind of grand, sweeping, idealistic thought in a long, long time! Maybe I have succumbed to the humdrum routine of day-to-day living or maybe nirvana has not happened to me yet.

Thinking it through, I realize that every time I have tried to set myself such any long-term goals, it has been a disaster of an exercise. When I set short-term targets that span 6-12 months, I find I am much more focused and geared towards fulfilling these. Of course, as it happens in life, sometimes you change direction as well, but its possible to look back and view your achievements in the light of what your expectations were, in the short-term.

Yet, the general message we get from the world around us (parents, teachers, peers, all play a role in getting this through) is that it is important to have a plan in life, a general direction in which we move and its best to have a burning, higher ambition. The sub-text is always that this will help us achieve success, which in itself is a super -loaded concept (I could go on and on about what success even means, but that’s for another day!).

For most people, ambition is interpreted as a more practical set of broad rules to live life by–like ‘I want to get rich’, ‘I want to save enough to buy a home’,  ‘I want to see my children settled’ or ‘I want to perform on stage some day’. But to leave a legacy, in my view, it is important to look beyond the self-centered, material perspective and examine how your plans will change the lives of other people. For those burning to become successful entrepreneurs, this may be about introducing new products and services that impact people, or about building a successful corporation and benefiting future shareholders. For creative people, it could be about bringing audiences pleasure through music, dance, theatre, film, art….. For architects, it’s about creating spaces that are functionally or aesthetically excellent or innovative. Increasingly, many of us are highly motivated to impact what the economists call the ‘bottom of the pyramid’; find solutions to improve the lives of the poor.

Whatever it is that pushes your buttons, drives you, its impossible without the counterpart of the ‘ambition’- the action plan! It’s a bit like cities that want to become ‘world-class’ but have no short-term action-oriented guidelines to achieve that long-term vision. Sometimes, the vision itself is also not crystal clear and motivated by a competitive streak and not really by a desire to improve the lives of citizens (I’m wondering if Kamal Nath’s dream of a high-rise Delhi considers how this will impact the man on the street, for instance!).

For those of you who do have a driving ambition, I’m sure you are already on your way to translating this into reality through shorter-term targets. As for me, I don’t have the big picture yet, but I’m happy setting short-term targets and ‘going with the flow’. It’s hard, but I tell myself everyday that I am destined for greatness, and focus myself on the week, month and quarter ahead. Stick around for another ten years and I’ll tell you if it worked 🙂

Is adapting to new technology changing humans fundamentally? – Jan 12, 2012

This is the day I was waiting for and was wondering how far down my blogging project (Project 365) this would happen! Day 12 nearly spelt the end for my resolution, as my Internet connection refused to work. Was nearly giving up and feeling pretty miserable when, on the umpteenth reboot of the modem, it has started working feebly once again!

Our urban lives have become so dependent on technology, especially mobile phones, computers and the Internet, that it is impossible to imagine what life was before! I am pretty tech-dumb and have taken long to adapt to each new technology change. Today, when I am able to figure out a cellphone menu, its only because these devices have become inseparable from us and literally rule our lives.

So does technology only mean that we do things faster and more easily, or does it signify a deeper shift in the way we think, learn, experience and communicate? Up until recently, I had the more conservative, former view. But as I watch my children effortlessly navigate an ipad, I am changing my views on this.

Not so long ago, I read an interview with a gaming technology expert who talked about how gaming, if used correctly, can help in skill development, education, enhancing reflexes, etc. Then, I went blah! Today, I think there might be something to it.

Sam Pitroda, at a curtain raiser to the India Urban Conference organized by Janaagraha, Yale University and IIHS in November 2011, spoke about our inability to adapt to the mind blowing changing that are taking place in technology. Life no longer has to be the way we have practiced it for so long, but since human nature is to resist change, we continue to live life in the same vein. He gave the example of how much energy was wasted traveling to face-to-face business meetings and how much more efficient it would be to do these by teleconference. In the past few years, I have been on the editorial team of an international publication and have used Skype innumerable times to conduct meetings and interviews. Since I have crossed the invisible line of acceptance in this specific context, I didn’t find his suggestion strange. Many in the room sniggered, though!

My concern is with battling with the mental acceptance of technology change as an inevitable reality that we constantly need to adapt to. Is it crazy to lead your entire social life on social networking sites? We all thought so a few years ago, but many of us are actually able to have meaningful conversations with dear long-lost friends and family only because we DO live our lives on FB!

As a parent, its doubly confusing. I have total screen-time limits for my kids per day, which means computer+ipad+TV+cellphone. Right now, its an hour for holidays and half an hour for weekdays and these are increasing as they grow older. Is this too conventional, based on the thinking that staring at a screen is bad for your eyes, that watching mind numbing programming is killing your brain cells? Already, interactive software on ipads and computers (and even TV!) have blurred the lines terribly!

Technology will continue to blur the lines, challenge our business-as-usual attitude, create excitement and shape our behavior. Will it also impact deeper things like our value systems, the depth of our relationships, the tenor of our emotions?

 

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