Despite being ‘civilized’, humans are animals after all – April 13, 2012
Life has always been about survival, and will always be. For all animals, humans included.
At present, I am reading ‘The White Queen’ by Phillippa Gregory, an author better known for her book ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’. As I read about the rise and fall of the fortunes of Edward IV, Yorkist King of England in the 15th century, I marvel at how hard life was for royalty, nobility, peasant and serfs in Medeival times. To lead a regular life even as a moneyed landlord or a noblemen in the King’s Court, one had to be remarkably astute, alert, politically savvy and brave enough and talented enough to go to war several times for your King. If you lost or fell out of favor, the change in your fortunes could be so dramatic as to cost you your life, your wife, your children and your lands. People lived in constant fear in the years before and during the first half of Edwards’s reign, when Edward (claiming right to the throne through his York lineage) and Lancastrian forces under Henry (with support of the French owing to his wife being Margaret of Anjou) clashed time and time again.
Boys went to war in their teens, women learnt to survive in difficult times through remarriages and by changing loyalties, and royal women were constantly under pressure to produce mail heirs to continue the line. Boys and girls were given away in alliances when they were as young as three or four!
A lot of what went on sounds remarkably like what we still see in conservative Indian society. Marriage is still regarded as a method to consolidate kinship, make strategic alliances or improve fortunes and is a decision your parents take for you. Clan (in our case caste) is more important than any sensibilities you might acquire through education and exposure.
Medieval nobility was also amusingly irreverent. Men married women far older than them for their fortune. Men accepted the children of their wives by other marriages because they saw advantage in marrying her. Edward of York married Elizabeth Woodville (who is the heroine of the book I am reading) who was older than him, a widow of an opponent and a mother of two sons because he literally couldn’t keep his hands off her and she wouldn’t sleep with him unless he married her! Royal women had to accept mistresses and whores their husbands took on and live with the knowledge that their husbands sired many children outside their marriage and provided for these families as well. A far cry from the almost prude workings of Indian society today, whether rural or urban, conservative or relatively modern.
As I read on and look around me, I am amazed at the final truth. In the end, no matter how much society progresses, human beings are animals too. Viciousness, pettiness, infidelity, lust, jealousy, a fanatical desire to be superior (and to procreate to further our species) are attributed coded into our DNA. We can thank our stars that ‘civilization’ and the rules of modern society protect us somewhat from loot, plunder and rape at the hands of the victor when we are on the losing side. We can also lament that the negative side of human nature asserts itself anyway and we get looted, plundered and raped by people who sometimes don’t even know us too well or bear any serious grudges against us (or are on the other side of the war in a very different sort of conflict, as we have analyzed in the recent rapes and molestations in Gurgaon)!
We would all be wise to be warned that it is and will always be a wild world where survival is of the fittest and success goes to those who seize opportunities confidently and give no second chances to those they defeat.
Women feel unsafe: Of petitions, activism and perceptions- March 19, 2012
The atmosphere of festive bonhomie at India Gate yesterday morning could have fooled some, but there was real anger simmering inside for a lot of us who chose to show our support by walking from India Gate to the President’s home Rashtrapati Bhawan to hand over a petition asking for measures to enhance safety for women.’We want women safe’ was what the event called itself….
The most unlikely people have spoken to me these past few days about feeling unsafe in Gurgaon. A girl who works at the beaut parlor across the road left her job after the latest rape that has triggered the spate of protests. Her friend recounted her personal experiences of being teased, heckled, harassed, a male friend who was dropping her home being beaten up, etc. My maid spoke about not being able to take up work on winter evenings as it wasn’t safe to walk or cycle back to her basti; she spoke of relatives being groped, pushed over from their cycles, people in passing cars trying to pull one young girl in…. Amid the outpouring is a scary sense of helplessness…there must be some way to change attitudes!
On Sunday morning, we saw a group of enthusiastic cyclists (some had come in from as far as Noida and civil lines), many walkers and a show of support from the Harley Davidson club; plus kids on skates, a street play, drummers….the works. I wouldn’t say there were a lot of emotional moments, but everyone felt strongly for the cause and proud of being able to do something, release the frustration and angst that was festering inside. Nupur and me clicked some pictures that document the protest march.
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…..