Verma Committee report kindles hope: Let’s fan the flames!
Most, if not all reviews of the Justice Verma Committee Report on Amendments to Criminal Law in the context of gender-related safety and sexual offences, declare it to have seized the moment in proposing changes that could have far reaching impact if implemented. It is indeed a hopeful sign for all those of us who have fretted and worried, stood in protest, and hoped to hell something will happen of the momentum of activism and sheer anger that our nation’s citizens unleashed post the Delhi gang rape.
To sum up the report’s positives, rape is now defined within the context of sexual crimes as any act of non-consensual penetration, while sexual assault includes all forms of non-consensual non-penetrative touching of sexual nature. Marital rape is very much recommended to be within the purview of this criminal offense. The committee recommends that marriage cannot be offered as defense and is not relevant to the matter of rape. A huge step forward for the country this would be, if implemented.
Much praise has come in for the committee’s inclusion of people of all sexual orientations in its recommendations. This broader view of dealing with sexual crime as perpetrated against any citizen regardless of gender or sexual orientation, in my opinion, is really relevant in making this issue universally relevant and not just about women’s safety. For the inclusion of a gendered perspective in our society is necessary so that we all evolve to be more sensitive citizens and so that we deter criminals of all types.
Further, the recommendations of increasing the punishment terms of rapists from a minimum of 10 years to a maximum of life imprisonment is a balanced one; the report rules out both the death penalty as well as castration and this too sends out the right signals about India’s position as a humanitarian democracy. I have been really disturbed about the baying for blood that has been a strong strain in protests post the Delhi gang rape and am heartened by the Verma Committee recommendations.
Police reforms and the amendment of AFSPA, in which sexual offences in conflict zones are specifically addressed, are other positives that deserve mention.
Of course, we can take the cynical view and despair about whether these would be implemented. However, this is precisely the reason why the activism must continue. Not just women’s groups, but all concerned citizens must speak out for the need for legislation to prevent sexual exploitation. This, along with physical planning measures to increase safety in public spaces as well as support groups to help victims speak out and tackle sexual crime in their lives, are the way forward, certainly. For once, I would think the Opposition wouldn’t really have objections to most of these recommendations.
So friends, don’t let the fire die out. Speak, protest, write, do what you have to do and we can together hope for a safer India!
Loving myself, working towards the body I want and other self-obsessed thoughts
For all the love-yourself-the-way-you-are sentiment that I carry around myself all the time, for all the self-confidence I have and the unadulterated vanity I can live with; for all the feminism I think I believe in, for all the women’s empowerment I want- I do still want to look good, wear the clothes I want to wear, I do still have serious body image issues, however disguised I might make them by telling myself that the motivations are health, fitness, energy levels, etc. Yes, we humans are tremendously delusional and I live with the constant sense of just how many conflicting and contradicting thoughts and feelings I walk around with. Of all the issues I feel confused about, hypocritical even, body image aka weight issues holds the first place.
I’ve blogged about this before, but really- What do I do when I just feel depressed about being fat, even though I know it doesn’t matter in the larger scheme of things, whatever that might be! As I grow older, I get more practical about it. I can look at a garment and tell that it will be a frustrating experience trying it on, even in my size! I know that shopping time is over after 2 hours, 7-8 shops. I know where the enjoyment stops and the frustration begins. I have learnt to stop short of that point and avoid going down that spiral of self-obsessed self-pity that was such a familiar state in my 20s!
These past few months though, I have had the growing realization that dealing with the problem in my head is not going to make it go away! I am obese (and perhaps unfit too?) by any standards and I simply have to do something about it. What the targets should be and whether the strategy for reaching there should be drastic or tempered are matters of detail, but there had to be a structure to this process. So I made a small beginning today, in my head and in reality. No procrastination, Mukta! I have a target- to be as gorgeous as the image in my head by the time I hit 40. That is a few years away, but even so, having that target makes me feel a whole lot better!!
To hell with faux-feminism and pretend emancipation, if looking good is important to me, it simply is and I have to be true to myself first before being true to any cause! This is one of many battles to fight and I intend making it as fun as it can get.
Beyond protests, what’s next? Snippets from the media that cleared my mind
It’s been hard to lead a normal life amid the shrill noise of protest and violence in India-out on the streets as well as in the confusing, noisy world of news and media, life’s been tough. Especially for those of us who tend to be emotional, patriotic, easily involved and passionate about issues like rights, respect, dignity and all that good stuff.
For many of us, there has been no doubt that protesting the state of affairs has been long overdue and yet, there is a sense of despair about what the outcome of protests could be, will be. I work in the development sector, though not in women’s development, but since so much is interconnected, I have the small consolation that I do get to play my little itsy bitsy role in the fabric of ‘change’.
Satheesh Namasivayam’s editorial on The Hindu’s Open Page on Sunday, though, was a mood-lifter. It gives tremendous credence to the act of protesting as well as clearly outlines the various ways in which protests can be and must be taken forward to bring out meaningful outcomes. The last of Sateesh’s points addresses the work to be done within us. “You do not go too far in the work of leadership without beginning the evolution work on self,” he writes.
And in that vein, Tabish Khair’s piece in the Magazine section of the same day’s Hindu turns the discussion on young men. Titled ‘A letter to young men who protested against rape’, the article praises men for joining the protests, but also asks them to really prove their intent by shunning the patriarchal habits ingrained in themselves and those around them. The piece speaks to the youth and I’m curious about reactions from young men about being asked to cook, clean and do housework alongside their mothers and sisters. More importantly, Tabish tears apart a lot of the generalizations and assumptions we have been making while protesting crimes against women. Which women? What kind of women? He exposes us- we have been driven to impassioned protest because we see in Damini ourselves, what of the thousands of ‘other’ women who face worse? In calling on men to set an example for their sons and daughters by shunning age-old patriarchal values and truly respecting women, Tabish calls for real change.
And finally, there can be no change without collaboration. Union Minister for External Affairs Salman Khurshid’s editorial in The Hindustan Times today is likely to be seen by anti-government readers as a too-late too-false too-tame apology, but I would rather acknowledge his point. Perhaps there is no way for a public figure to grieve publicly without seeming to resort to cheap publicity or adding to the stress of the already too-tense atmosphere (or take the risk of falling flat seeing as we are so used to political figures turning up with blank faces to announce relief money or empty condolences after a tragedy). It is true, though, that governments and citizens would need to be on the same side to truly fight societal menaces like corruption or lack of safety. Khurshid brings up the issue of India’s image in the world’s eyes at the end of his piece.
Yes, India is being touted as unsafe for women, unsafe in general. And while there are rape statistics, records of poor justice, etc to back up these claims, I think we go completely overboard with sweeping statements about safety after a sensational crime takes place. At our weekend workshop with students from Katha and University of Minnesota, we inevitably ended up discussing the infamous Delhi rape case, and safety in general. One participant from the US pointed out that she felt safer (in the daytime at least) in a Delhi slum that in a poorer part of an American city; another mentioned that in a Brazilian favella, it would have been impossible to take out an iphone and take a picture without having it stolen (or forcibly taken from you) and so on…. We judge ourselves too harshly and we let the world pass judgement on us too easily. Yes, we hate the government right now, but in our passion to protest we also forget that we are proud citizens, that we love our country and our city and that there is so much positive about where we live as well. Let’s not forget this even as we go about doing all we can to make our public spaces and our lives safer and better.
And I have to point out, as a parting shot, that the best thing to come out of all the protesting, from my perspective, is a renewed focus on public spaces, urban design and infrastructure. When citizens begin demanding better urban spaces, a lot can be done. Here’s to a permanent change from citizen apathy (and sheer lack of awareness) to an informed, invigorated bottom-up process of urban renewal!
Feminism ahoy! We need more brave, outspoken women to inspire a contemporary feminist wave in India
This was a strong strain at THiNK2012. Shoma Chaudhry at one point actually said the audience had been complaining about it! We aren’t really comfortable with feminism are we? Well, I am, and increasingly so. That does not mean I think women must become like men, nor does it mean that men must defer to women, though most sensible ones do for obvious reasons!
For starters, I think we misunderstand feminism considerably and have a fuzzy idea of what it entails. The fact is that like any other movement, feminism has evolved over the decades. In its current form, the movement rejects absolute definitions of what being a feminist is, and includes the experiences of women from diverse racial, ethnic and class backgrounds.
I had a chat with Mona Eltahawy, a prominent figure in the activism related to restoring democracy in Egypt, a feminist and a grassroots leader. The experiences she shared silenced the audience into a hush. She was herself a subject of brutal sexual assault and threatened gang rape by the Egyptian police in the wake of the Tahrir Square liberation. She told us that women activists were picked up en masse and assaulted, raped, beaten into silence. And this continues. Horrifying? Well, just as horrifying as the rapes in Haryana, which aren’t political, but born out a deep sense of male superiority. Apparently it is fine to believe that women can be beaten and raped into silence.
I agree with Mona’s appeal that women must speak out and I admire her bravery for being able to do so again and again. I was rivetted when she declared “The shame was that of my assaulters, not mine!” It is terribly hard for women to believe that, but we must if we are to lead dignified lives.
I was also struck by the parallels between what is happening in Egypt and in the part of India where I live. The constituent assembly in Egypt, which is rewriting the country’s constitution, has suggested bringing down the marriageable age for women to, hold your breath, nine! Thos violates all child rights norms, conventions, treaties and is downright inhuman. Like many khap panchayat leaders in Haryana, these guys seem to not have heard of marital rape. To think that a woman can only exist under the protection of a man is regressive and reprehensible. Women must speak, write and stand up against it. For starters, those of us who consider ourselves liberated must stop thinking and living within this disgusting framework (yes we do, we all still do in some ways). Perhaps if we can negotiate our own balance, we could dream of a world in which women are respected and treated as equals.
Can women have it all? Who can? Aug 19, 2012
“Can a woman have it all?”
It is a statement that infuriates me no end. Can anyone have it all? No, right? So it’s a stupid question. Yet, the perception is that love, riches, power and fame, in no particular order, constitutes ‘all’. That love can be substituted by sex and happiness, whatever that elusive thing is, plays no part in this construction further muddies the myth of ‘having it all’ for me.
It upsets me that the rhetoric around compromise is assumed to apply more for women than men. Is not life a negotiation of compromises and priorities for each one of us? Is it not about recognising opportunities and choosing which ones to take and which to let go?
At certain points in their lives, men and women feel their disappointments bitterly. At others, they feel let down, either by themselves or by others. In this, perhaps men are wont to take responsibility more often for their losses, while women might tend to blame it on others. That goes with the territory of patriarchy that we accept around us, especially when we question if women can have it all!
I wouldn’t want it all. I couldn’t handle it, I’m sure!
Satyamev Jayate: Can so much reality shake Indians out of their stupor? May 6, 2012
I missed the first episode of Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate this morning, but when I saw it trending on twitter and the sort of overwhelming response twitterati was coming up with, I had to watch! I am not a TV watcher at all, so its a big deal for me to stay up just to watch a TV show! Now, this better be good…
Just finished watching. It was good. All the right elements- well-researched, a tear jerker, Aamir’s humble attitude….Yes of course, as the twitter folks said, it is commendable that he’s putting his star power behind issues that matter, using his fame to change attitudes and influence personal decisions. I can actually imagine, in today’s Bollywood obsessed India, some guy (or woman, shocking but true and not an aspect Aamir dwelt upon!) actually refraining from female foeticide because Aamir Khan said it is a despicable thing to do.
But the most important thing Aamir said today, the one thing that struck me, is that we really need to believe that we are the change. The onus of India’s problems is on us, on each of us, and it is we who have the responsibility and the power to make the change.
What’s bringing India down is not the dysfunctional government or the corrupt babu; the real problem is us, for taking things lying down, for always passing the buck, for never taking initiative, for being passive citizens. We need to change that within ourselves, we need to reassert our right to live in a fair and just society, where everyone has equal opportunity; to live in well-governed cities and villages, breathe clean air, afford the basic necessities, live with dignity.
For any of us who have stepped outside India and visited developed nations, it’s not the glitz that dazzles us any more. We have plenty of our own in India now. It’s the fact that every citizen, however poor, can rightfully expect to live a dignified life. When we return, we are shocked to register that back at home, we have learnt to live without the basics. It makes my blood boil to live in an address where property prices per square foot are through the roof, but the road outside has no street lights. But we say nothing! People would rather lose their dignity and leave town than report a rape to the police for fear the victim, their daughter or wife or daughter in law, would never be able to live a life of dignity again! And we say nothing? This list can go on. We need to find a way to make ourselves heard and change will come!
That would be Aamir’s true contribution. If Satyamev Jayate can be a conduit to capture the voices of India’s people, not just as statistics, but as footage, as letters, as outpourings of thousands of people who want to see the change, be the change, it would have done its job! Hopefully, the ‘last mile connectivity’ that the program offers in the form of support to NGOs that work for the causes he takes up, will also make its impact. Bravo Aamir, for subtly showing Indians that we’re sleeping while the nation falls apart, and then showing us how we can save it! Done like a true showman by changing the rules of showbiz once again!