My husband is more to me than a living jar-opener

There is no post that I have come across that sums up real everyday feminism better.  (Reblogged)

Fit and Feminist

If you’ve been on the internet at all in the past week, you’ve probably already seen the Women Against Feminism tumblr going around, or at the very least read about it.

I didn’t think too much of it when I saw it, for two reasons. For one, most of the women had a tenuous grasp (at best) on the definition of feminism, one that seemed like it was informed in its entirety by Rush Limbaugh and Jessi Spano, and also the belief that “misandry” jokes are actually serious.

The other reason was that most of the “women” actually looked like teenage girls. Considering that I was super into Ayn Rand when I was a teenage girl, I can’t get too far up on my high horse with regards to the contributors. Let’s just say that if Tumblr was around in the late 1990s, I’m sure there’d be a photo of…

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Kuch paane ke liye kuch khona padta hai- Why Corruption stays.

Recently a friend and I were traveling by a ‘premium’ train, a new offering that takes you from New Delhi to Bombay (and back I presume). While this train does guarantee you a seat, and gets you to your destination quickly.. there is nothing premium about it.

Anyway, the story I want to relate has nothing much to do with the quality of services on the train. When we got there, we realized that all the other people in that unit of 6+2 seats were men. (And very nice accommodating men, I must say). Nevertheless, given the absence of curtains and other women, I felt I would be more comfortable if we upgraded our seats to the 2nd AC, or changed the seats.

We learnt that upgrading could be really easy as more than half the 2nd AC was going empty. Since it was my idea, I asked my friend to watch the luggage, while I went and spoke to the TT.

The TT of our coach had previously told us that we needed to speak to the TT in charge of up-gradation, and when I asked the train staff they told me he was near the pantry car.

I went and found him and told him that I preferred a lower seat, and was willing to upgrade to 2nd Ac etc etc. Would he please grant my request..

Mr TT told me that this train had no official method of up-gradation of tickets, but if I wanted I could ‘unofficially’ get it done by paying Rs 1500. On seeing the look of confusion on my face he asked whether I was traveling on  ‘company money’, and would need to claim the same. I said no, it was my own money. He asked me ‘then what is the problem?’.

I was still trying to process the fact that someone had asked me for a bribe. (Yes, I have had a somewhat sheltered life).

He then continued smugly ‘dekhiye madam.. kuch paane ke liye kuch khona padta hai’. (to gain something, you have to lose something)

He even asked a couple of other colleagues of his, about this arrangement and the colleague agreed. By this time I was just curious more than anything else, about where this was going.

A couple of times I requested him whether he could find us different seats in the 3rd AC coach that were going empty, to which he said, I needed to do that myself by requesting other passengers. (A fair point I think)

I mumbled something about asking for my friend’s advice, and left the pantry car. I then went back to my friend and discussed the situation. We agreed that it was unnecessary to pay the bribe.

We managed to travel comfortably enough on the seats we were given, especially since the other passengers were quite accommodating.

So what was the point of telling you this story, given that it is not very extra-ordinary? Indians are routinely  asked for bribes by various functionaries, and pay the same.

The point was, that at the moment the smug man told me ‘kuch pane ke liye kuch khona padta hai’… I felt like it threw the past few years into stark relief for me. So much had happened in the country, and yet so little.

When the Anna Hazare movement started, people in my peer group went mad. A lot of people wore those ‘I am Anna’  caps, and talked of how this movement was as big as ‘Gandh-ism’. There was a genuine people’s involvement in the movement, to be fair.

Demands were made by people about the Lokpal Bill without quite understanding what they were demanding, and members of Anna Hazare’s team described all politicians as thieves.  (http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/all-political-parties-are-thieves-says-team-anna-member-manish-sisodia-148065)

I was quite unmoved during these protests, not because I did not think corruption was not an issue, but because I thought the protests were a passing fad. They did not echo any real sentiment against corruption, because they essentially looked outside.

Anyone who understands the way Indian publife life works knows that corruption is  not limited to the bastions of power where high profile scams happen. Those high profile scams, while terrible, take out attention away from the moral decay of our society. We have become a society that promotes and revels in corruption, by taking and giving small bribes. But not just that.. often we do not see corruption as corruption.

I was once talking to a rather dim gentleman who was going on about bribes as corruption, when I happened to mention that there can be other forms of corruption where money does not change hands.

What do you mean he said, frowning at a thought that did not quite fit his scheme of things.

Nepotism, I said. Or quid pro quo.

‘Oh that!’ The gentleman replied. ‘I would call that a cultural issue. That is not corruption.’

So there we are. A cultural issue.

But now that we have brought up culture and nepotism, I must tell you the story of Ekalavya.  This can be found in the Mahabarata. Ekalavya was a Bhil boy who was keen on learning archery. Given that fighting was what kshatriyas did, Ekalavya did not find a suitable teacher. Drona (the royal teacher) refused to teach him. But Ekalavya was stealthy. He built a statue of Drona and began considering the staute a teacher. He would go and observe Drona teaching the princes, and began learning. Gradually Ekalavya became so good, that his skills surpassed that of Arjun (the teacher’s favourite). When Drona saw this, he asked Ekalavya who his teacher was. On learning that it was Drona himself who had inadvertently ‘taught’ Ekalavya, he asked his student for what is called a ‘Guru-dakshina’ (teaching fee). He demanded that Ekalavya cut-off the thumb  of his archery hand. Ekalavya complied.

He did later learn how to shoot from his other hand, but that was that. He was not as skilled as he would have been had his thumb not been cut-off.

So here we see a clear case of corruption don’t we. Drona was not merely favouring his pupil, but he forced a more skilled young man to mutilate himself in order to allow his favourite to get ahead. Is that corruption or is it a cultural issue?

Why did Ekalavya face the disadvantage he did? The most specious answer is, because Drona liked Arjuna.

But why did Drona like Arjuna? Caste was definitely relevant here. A Bhil, i Drona’s eyes, could not beat a warrior prince, and he could simply not allow that to happen. This is similar to why another talented warrior Karna, was never allowed to challenge Arjuna, as Karna belonged a supposedly lower caste of Charioteers.

Some of you will be rolling your eyes now. Am I really ascribing the failure of the Anna Hazare movement to stories in the Mahabharata?

Certainly not. I am just trying to show through these examples that there are several factors that have made our society rigid. The caste system has played some sort of a role in our rigid conception of society and the resultant decay in values. And yes, that has lead to corruption in the form of nepotism and quid pro quo.

Also, on another side note, the Mahabharata does give you a lot of parallels across the ages. When a certain party leader can not look beyond their incompetent son, are you not reminded of Dhritarashtra? (this, my dear non-Indian reader, you will have

With that there is the culture of ‘adjustment’. Taking bribes is not really a big deal for a large amount of service providers, and not all of them work in the Government.

Lift boys in hospitals, university staff, our corporate honchos, or aunties keeping money stuffed in a mattress. Everyone practices a kind of corruption or the other.

Most importantly, being asked to pay a bribe is not a big deal to most people. In fact, in certain cases people prefer paying the small amount of bribe money rather than following the due procedure of law. (Such as during traffic violations).

I have been asked for bribes rarely. On all occasions I have refused to pay, and played dumb. Sitting around till I was given the service I needed. This approach is okay sometimes, but not really when bribes take the form of extortion.

For bribes that take the form of extortion we have legal remedies, and social remedies like shaming (though how well these work is open to debate).

But what about corruption that does not bother people? What about acts of quid pro quo that we practice and condone, or the bribes that we think are okay because it saves us time? These chip away at the core of our moral values, making our society empty.

This article turned out to be more preachy than it intended to be. Many of you will have problems with a lot of things that I say, and correlations I make. Correct me where you feel it is necessary, but I firmly believe no Anna, no movement can save us till we decide to save ourselves.

The death penalty. Or ahem. how I learnt to love dispassionate debates.

Yes that was a badly executed Kubrick reference.

There is something that often happens whenever the death penalty comes to be discussed. Those against the death penalty will talk about the value of human life, and why we can not play God. Those in favor of it will mention that there was a person X who brutally murdered Y (usually a child). They will then go on into the gruesome details of the murder. Those listening will get extremely worked up. The person against the death penalty will shake their head dolefully, ashamed and chastised.

The implicit argument here is: how dare you suggest that THAT man/woman live!!

Now what this sort of a debate ignores is that the issue of the death penalty does not have much to do with THAT man. It is a bigger issue, involving nuanced ethical questions. The problem with introducing ‘THAT’ man into the equation, is that it clouds your judgment, as well as that of your listeners. 

The truth, that debates have to be dispassionate, dawned on me before I was a ‘grown-up’. I had decided, very early in life, that Saurav Ganguly (the Indian cricket player) shall never be criticized. I went on to enforce this by attacking those who criticized him, with all my might (verbally of course). What soon happened was that people stopped discussing the man with me. It is not that I had changed their mind. I had just cowed them into not bringing it up anymore. 

This is how we talk about most pressing issues of the day, whether it be the merits of a leader or the relevance of an ideology, and especially something like the death penalty. We take a stand, backed up by one shocking example and then fit the facts to match that stand. We do not leave any room for the possibility that we may be wrong.

But given that the death penalty is literally a life and death matter (yes, an example of where literally CAN be used), there needs to be a dispassionate discussion on it.

I am using this post to highlight certain issues that seem to be pertinent to me. I am not going to stick to strict legality, but am going to go into the ethics of the issue as well. I have tried to make this a post that both lawyers and non-lawyers can read, and I have also tried to build a sort of consensus with this post. Also this post is India centered. I have tried to make it easy for people from outside to follow by giving related links (usually wikipedia).

The most important issue with the death penalty is the possibility that innocent people may be hanged (or whatever form of punishment it is that your country practices, in India it is hanging).

In America we have the phenomenon of DNA exoneration (something that has shown that a small but significant number of innocent people were given the death penalty). 

Here is a video of Jon Oliver discussing the perspective from USA.

I highly recommend the video as it was one of the seeds for this post.

But! Some of you will exclaim. How relevant is that in India? We hang far fewer people here, and the threshold is the rarest of the rare case. Is it possible then, that an innocent man will get the punishment?

Let us examine the case of Mr Devinderpal Singh Bhullar, a man who is in most quarters believed to be a terrorist. He was sentenced to death due to his involvement in a bomb blast case.

So far so good?   No.

Interestingly the only evidence against Bhullar was a confession he ‘voluntarily’ made to police about his involvement in the bomb-blast, while he was being questioned on passport forgery. The dissenting judge, Justice M.B Shah, acquitted Bhullar on the ground that his conviction in the lower courts was based on one uncorroborated confession to the police (www.huffingtonpost.com/marcia-g-yerman/bhullar-case-india-human-rights_b_4582716.html)

Under Indian law, confessions to the police are not admissible as evidence. Of course the law Bhullar was convicted under was the Terrorist And Disruptive Activities Prevention Act which allowed placing reliance on such confessions.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrorist_and_Disruptive_Activities_%28Prevention%29_Act).

Mr Bhullar’s death sentence was finally commuted by the Supreme Court on the ground that there was an inordinate delay in executing it.(http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/SC-commutes-Devinderpal-Singh-Bhullars-death-sentence-to-life-imprisonment/articleshow/33006245.cms).

But this leaves us with the question that ethically do we think that a guilty man was sentenced to death given the nature of the evidence against him?

Since newer questions are being raised on the veracity of eye-witness testimony and the wisdom of sentencing people to death based on circumstantial evidence, we need to put a system in place that allows for things like DNA exoneration, so that we know how many innocent people we sentence to death. Additionally given that poorer people often do not get good legal representation, whether one is sentenced to death or not, does have an economic angle to it.

The second issue is the issue of the arbitrariness inherent in the death penalty.

There are some judges who are more likely to give the death penalty and some who never do. This is an open secret of our judicial system. In fact it is not even a secret. There are instances of people getting different verdicts for similar crimes, depending on the bench they came in front of.

Given that it is human beings who hand out these sentences, it is very possible for subjectivity to enter the equation. But the problem is, this subjectivity decides who gets to live and who gets to die.

Even if one admits that, in principle, it is okay to sentence people to death, can any reasonable person be okay with it turning into a lottery based on the subjective sensibilities of a judge?

There are rigorous guidelines in India regarding when the death penalty can be given, something that was done in the Bachan Singh Case { for those who want to read it http://www.indiankanoon.org/doc/1235094/}  but these guidelines are not always followed.  In 2012, 14 retired judges asked for 13 cases of the death penalty to be commuted after admitting that the original sentence was handed down ‘per incuriam’, i.e. not in accordance with the procedural safeguards laid down in the earlier cases.

It requires a bit of reflection, and perhaps impartial studies into how arbitrary the process of sentencing someone to death, in India, actually is.

The lynch-pin of the argument for the death penalty is deterrence. The jury is still out on that, though more studies seem to suggest that there is no deterrent value in keeping the death penalty out of the statute books http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/death-penalty/us-death-penalty-facts/the-death-penalty-and-deterrence). Though intuitively people will be inclined to reason that the possibility of death would deter a criminal, the most heinous of crimes (rarest of the rare) are often committed by psychopaths or hardened criminals. Neither are very likely to be deterred by the prospect of the death penalty (given the complex factors that go into the commission of a crime by them). 

The average person is much more likely to be deterred by a swift trial and the very real likely-hood of serving jail time. In fact crimes like rape-followed-by murder, acid attacks that cause death, khap panchayat killings or dowry deaths (where a woman is killed because she can not pay a certain sum of money to her husband’s family) often happen due to the culture of impunity in our society, where people believe that they can ‘get away’ with committing a crime. These people are certainly not deterred by the academic possibility that they might be sentenced to death someday. Till we address this culture of impunity and fix the delays in our criminal justice system. the death penalty will just be a placebo we take to feel better.

Phew, so at the end of all this we come to the thorniest subject.

Retribution.

Are the crimes committed by some people so terrible that they deserve to die?

I feel that while people cite different reasons for supporting the death penalty, it often boils down to some sort of idea of retribution. Why should THAT man live? Why should we spend on THAT man’s food and lodging? Have you no consideration for what the victim’s family goes through.

Of all these questions it is the last one that deserves the most serious thought. Honestly I have no answer to that particular question. I can not preach to the family about the need to forgive, or the need to let go of what is termed as ‘blood lust‘. Losing a near one to a violent crime must be a traumatic incident that I can not even pretend to comprehend. How one copes with the grief, is an entirely personal matter.

But should this consideration dictate policy? In my opinion,no. Policy should be dictated by the larger ethical issues of the arbitrariness of the death penalty and issue of innocent people being convicted.

So what I want you to do dear reader, is to ask your self whether living or dying, under the criminal justice system should be a matter that depends on who your lawyer was, who the deciding judge was, and various other subjective factors.

I also want you to think about the fairness of an irreversible punishment like the death-penalty, when there is a real chance that the person concerned may be innocent, as the innocence project in the United States of America has shown. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Innocence_Project).

And leave your comments below.

Cheers!

Why I am an atheist Hindu.

The durga of an artists imagination

No, that was not a typographical error.

I am an atheist Hindu.

How is that possible you will ask? Aren’t the ideas of atheism and religion antithetical to each other.

Well sure, maybe for some religions, but I have never come across a rule that says atheism and Hinduism are antithetical to each other.

So here I am writing about the religion I grew up with. What gives me the right some might ask. Me and the ‘sikularists’ of my ilk have spent so much time bashing the caste system, the militant aggressive Hinduism of certain fundamentalist groups. Do we have the right to write about Hinduism? What gives me the right, when I don’t go to the temple ever, and think that the Ramayana was really the tragedy of a woman called Sita?

Well the thing is, it is as much my religion as that of anybody else. And while it is true that organized religion is a huge juggernaut hurtling towards something with an unstoppable speed, with all its experts and pundits on board, religion is also something deeply personal.

I grew up listening to stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. I was enthralled, as a child, at the exploits of Krishna, when I first heard the story of how Krishna managed to join the Pandavas.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramayana)

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahabharata)

The story goes somewhat like this. (I heard this a long time ago, so I may have got some details wrong):

Arjuna and Duryodhana both go to recruit Krishna on their side before  the battle of Kurukshetra. While Duryodhana actually arrives early, he goes and sits near Krishna’s head. Arjuna comes a bit late, but goes and sits near Krishna’s feet.  When Krishna wakes up, he first sees Arjuna and exclaims with joy. But then Duryodhana points out that he came there first. Krishna then says that ‘Duryodhana, since you came here first you definitely have a claim on me. But I happened to see Arjuna first, so he also has a claim on me. In order to do what is equitable I give you a choice… On one side is the WHOLE Yadava army. On the other I stand. Alone. Unable to bear arms for either side. Pick whoever you want.’

Duryodhana of course picks the Yadava army, thereby nailing his own coffin. When he comes back to give the news to his camp, someone (Shakuni, I think)  reportedly tells him ‘You picked the 1000 sheep, and left the lion behind’.

Well Lions are legendarily lazy (given that lionesses do all the hunting), but I love the story as illustrative of the particularly wily nature of Krishna.

Something that I often wondered was, how Krishna-the-political-strategist is so different from the Krishna-of-Gokul. Are they the same person? If so, how could he forsake Radha and never call for her. Did he ever wonder how Radha was doing? Whether she missed him?

But when I read bits of the Gita (the bits that I can understand), I see that he did put into practice his idea of nishkam karmayog. After the Gokul chapter was closed, he did not look back, simply because his Dharma did not allow him to.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagavad_Gita)

Another incident that comes to my mind is the first time I learnt about Pap-and-Punya. On a hot summer afternoon in Bhubaneshwar, when I must have been four, one Bhagirathi (an Oriya boy about 20 years of age) told me about what Paap (sin) was, and how we acquired Punya (I don’t know what the English translation of Punya is, virtue doesn’t quite cut it). But his idea was (and a rather crude one it was), if you did good things you got Punya and would  be born as a higher life form in your next life. If you committed Paap, you would not be born as a  very nice life form. And the two things tended to cancel one another out.

Now this system really made sense to me when I was four.(though I later learnt that there are far more intellectually sophisticated schools of thought in Hindusim). So the next day I was on the lookout for ‘good’ things to do. As I lay in ambush I saw a Gecko in our compound wall, stealthily approaching a moth. The moth seemed blissfully unaware of what was going to happen to it. Quixotically I stepped in, and shooed the Gecko away.

I then went to Bhagirathi and reported to him that I had done my good deed for the  day. Bhagirathi was pleased at his pupil’s sincerity, but delivered a crushing blow to me by saying ‘But you deprived the Gecko of its food! It will have to go hungry now.’

That was when I, as a four year old, realized how complex right and wrong were. It is sad that so many people, baying in the name of religion, don’t understand this simple truth that was evident to a four year old child.

I also remember going to the temple every evening as a child. This was the red brick Ram-mandir in Bhubaneshwar. It had a lot of shrines dedicated to different Gods. The Rama shrine was the biggest of course, but I never took to it. Firstly because it was big and impersonal, and secondly because even as a child I did not like what Rama did to Sita. But my favourite was the Krishna shrine, because I loved the god, the Hanuman Shrine, because no one visited him much, and I felt a little bad for him. I am very ashamed to admit that I went to the Shiva Shrine simply because the pujari used to bribe me with sweets. But hey! I was seven.

Later ofcourse I saw Shiva as the radical God that he really was, and some what of a destroyer of the status quo. (Primarily because he just destroyed stuff when he got mad, so the status quo had to be very careful, as one Daksha learnt when it was to late). I will now go to a Shiva shrine gladly. Bribe or no bribe.

One particularly sweet memory is that of listening to the story of Mahishasur-wadh in Oriya on a cassette player. My baby sitter and indefatigable housekeeper had this tape that he loved playing. In the afternoons I would sit by his side and listen to him play this cassette till the point that I had memorized it.

I remember why Durga was created, and how she was empowered. I remember listening to how Mahishasur taunted her till a great battle ensured, and how she killed the demon.

Ujjal Chakraborty, an uncle of mine, gave this a beautiful interpretation. He designed a Durga idol once, for a pandal in Kolkata. The Durga was a tribal girl, armed with beautiful birds. Wearing a white saree with her  dark hair flowing, she was slaying the colonial conqueror. The demon was a European man, come to drain the country of her resources, and Durga was a slip of a tribal girl, standing up to him..

So yes, Hinduism is as much my religion as that of anyone else. To me it was never an insecure religion. You could believe anything you wanted, you could form your sect, have your beliefs and it would embrace you and your new ideas. Its beauty was that it did not need to discredit others or make them feel small, to be big (I doubt any religion does, but then I am not an expert). But this was the religion I grew up with.

And slowly I began to read history. I learnt about the caste system and the terrible ways in which some castes were exploited. I also learnt about how wiser, greater men than most, tried their best to fix it. I learnt about the unforgivable horrors of the partition, and the lie that two big religions could not co-exist. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Partition)

After that I got bitten by a radioactive bat and turned into a ‘sickularist’.

Of late focus has shifted away from this tolerant beautiful Hinduism. People feel the need to assert it aggressively. I don’t know if I have a right to comment on that, since religion is deeply personal. But such chest-thumping distracts one from the beauty of the religion, its many nuances.  I just wanted to show you, dear reader, what this religion can be.

I can say no better thing about it, than the fact that it lets me be an atheist Hindu.

Who needs Political Correctness (when you can be a jerk)?

There is nothing that is reviled as much these days as the concept of Political correctness. You would think that there are enough things to hate in the world such a greed, ignorance, the fact that not everyone gets access to medicine, or that people use the term ‘Soccer’ to describe football (while calling a game where they use their hands football!!!). Okay, I need to stop now. As you can see, for people who want to get upset about things, there is no dearth of choices. But people have decided to get upset about Political Correctness.

The seed for this blog past actually came from a vlogbrothers video I watched (yes, don’t you just love them). It is called ‘how to apologize like a fartbag’ and here is the link to it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qc_XWlqURTg

The point of this video was to show us how when we make mistakes, the thing we ought to do is simple. Reflect on what we did wrong, and then apologize. Instead what we do is apologize like a ‘fartbag’. I am trying to extend this to the concept of how we respond to statements we make in public.

Ask someone not to use the term handicapped,  or to not use terms like ‘rape’ in the context of a football match, and you will get a rant about how people are becoming so politically correct these days, that it is impossible to speak anymore. The funniest are the people who use racial slurs and then try to justify them by saying that people of ‘so and so’ community use it to describe themselves, so it can not be wrong.

There was a very interesting exchange I saw on a Facebook friend’s wall. She put up a status update talking about how unfortunate it was that people used the term ‘rape’ to describe Germany’s victory over Brazil in the recent football world cup. To this, the response of a large number of people was ‘pray-how-is-it-different-from-using-the term murder?’. The conversation, of course, derailed into a discussion of whether the using the term ‘murder’ in that context is any different from using the term ‘rape’.

Well the fact is that rape (unlike murder) is still a taboo issue in many societies. Many cases still go unreported and many genuine cases result in acquittals due to the culture of shame surrounding rape. Given that there is no culture of silence and SHAME surrounding ‘murder’ (even though its a terrible thing to happen), the two phrases really cannot be equated. So when you take the lived reality of men and women (yes, rape happens to both) and use it to describe a football match outcome, you are being particularly hurtful. And then when your attention is called to that, and you respond my asking how it is different from using the term X or Y, you are being a ‘fartbag’.

Just in case I have not been clear enough, let me give you another example. Suppose you were to call the German victory a massacre, it would just reveal a lack of articulation, that can understandably be brought on by a post-football match excitement. However, if you refer to chapters of Germany’s past, which are quite painful, to describe what just happened, people can be forgiven for thinking of it as an act of calculated malice. While both choices of words are unfortunate, there is a line that we can (and need) to draw between the two.

It is not like I have been the picture of consideration myself. For the longest time, perhaps due to callousness, or perhaps due to ignorance, I thought it was okay to use the term ‘retard’ to describe willfully ignorant people. Perhaps it took me longer than it should have, but at some point I realized it was wrong, and stopped using it in public. Even now if I slip up and say it in private conversations, I make it a point to correct myself right there.

Of course there are people who take political correctness too far and try to describe persons with disability as ‘special’ or ‘handy-capable’, These terms a inaccurate, and condescending and WE DO NOT NEED TO USE THEM. With a little effort people can learn what the correct term to describe a condition, an ethnicity or a group is. It does not take too much effort. TRUST ME.

Of course it would be easy for me, instead of admitting my mistake in using the term ‘retard’, to say that people with disability should just ‘stop being sensitive’. Or come up with gems like ‘the world doesn’t owe you anything, you gotta toughen up’. This is the language the haters of political correctness often use.

But I feel we have a choice. We can leave a trail of hurt in our wake and congratulate ourselves on a world we have made tougher, or we can decide to apologize. We can see the world from the eyes of another human being, and decide that we don’t need that punchline on our Facebook wall.

Maybe it took me too much time to realize this, and my language and behavior are still work in progress. But it is never too late to stop being a fartbag, eh?

Marital Rape: A contentious site

It was a few years ago that a friend of mine was asked the following question by a colleague:

‘Suppose you were to be raped, would you not prefer to be raped by your husband or a friend, rather than a complete stranger?’

Now while this statement is callous and inappropriate on several levels, to me it was an illustration of the huge gulf between the way people with and without empathy view rape. This gulf is hardly noticeable when people are talking about a brutal gang-rape, which inflicts grievous injuries on the victim. In such a situation it is very easy for most people to agree that what happened was terrible, and that the perpetrators should be given swift punishment. The gulf, however, becomes increasingly visible when some of the ‘typical’ features of a rape are missing. A few common examples are when the victim happened to be out late, or when she was drunk or had been in a prior relationship with the accused.

Our collective consciousness, fed on decades of television and cinema portraying rape as, ‘izzat lootna’ (robbing of honor) with a ‘hapless’ ‘chaste’ victim, just cannot process the idea that rape is something that can happen to a woman who wears dresses, has a boyfriend, or goes to bars.

One such contentious issue, which is a product of our inability to process what we consider ‘atypical’ rapes, is the idea of marital rape. To be absolutely clear, under Indian law, forced intercourse between a man and his wife is not rape, unless she is less than 15 years of age, or unless the wife is living separately. Hence, marital rape is not really recognized under Indian law, except in these two circumstances.

Whenever I have articulated the idea that marital rape should be a punishable offence, I have made even the most well-meaning men uncomfortable.

Some reasons for this discomfort are genuinely products of flawed logic. Try and tell them that marital rapes happen, and that they should be punished just like any other rape and you will have people bring in the issue of the misuse of Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code into the equation. When you try to tell them that statistically it has not really been established that Section 498 A is abused more than any other law, they will tell you about an uncle who had to go to jail because his daughter-in-law filed a false complaint. By this time the conversation would have shifted away from rape, to how educated women misuse laws, and the women laws are really supposed to help (i.e. hapless chaste women) are not really getting the benefit of the law.

What people who engage in this form of a ‘Straw Man’ debate completely forget is that not recognizing marital rape is an invidious discrimination against women who are married, and perpetuates the idea that it is acceptable for husbands to violate the bodies of their wives. Given this situation the law must provide a remedy, and it is lamentable that the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 2013 did not take the opportunity to do this.

We must, however, examine one fear regarding the recognition of marital rape that has some merit. I feel that while the ‘preservation of the family’ argument is generally believed to be the reason marital rape has not been recognized as a crime, another reason is the nature of the of proof under Indian Law for rape cases. Under Section 114 A of the Indian Evidence Act where sexual intercourse by the accused is proved, and the woman states in her evidence that she did not consent, the court shall presume that she did not consent.

This shifts the burden of proof on the accused to prove that he is innocent and that the intercourse was consensual. The reason for this reversed burden of proof, of course, lies in the social and political contexts in which rapes take place, and is meant as a shield for a survivor who is already faced with the difficult prospect of a trial. Our law makers have attempted to save a victim from the arduous process of having to prove that she did not in fact consent, in a criminal justice system that is already extremely hostile to the victim. Even though this is a departure from the traditional burden of proof, most reasonable persons can see the rationale behind this.

However, where this provision becomes problematic is while looking at the issue of marital rape. Traditionally, in the Indian legal system, the fact of marriage is adequate to prove what is termed as ‘sexual access’ i.e. proving that sexual intercourse took place becomes extremely easy. If you combine this with the fact that there is a reversed burden of proof regarding consent, we arrive at a very tricky situation.

In the event that the accused is in fact innocent, it will be nearly impossible for him to prove his innocence due to this double presumption. It is this possibility that adds fire to the ‘the man will be damned’ fears of certain groups of people. Irrespective of whether these fears will come true, there is a reasonable possibility of an innocent man getting trapped due to the reversed burden of proof.

Of course this argument does not mean that marital rape should not be recognized as a crime, or should be given a lighter punishment, but that we need certain procedural safeguards in case of marital rape.

I understand that this suggestion will be incendiary since there will be a section of people who will see this as an attempt to draw an artificial distinction between marital rape and other kinds of rape (something that I criticized at the beginning of this article). There will also be people who will think I am buying into the idea that women actively misuse laws. I am trying to do neither. I do not think there is any evidence to prove that women misuse laws any more than men, or that marital rape is in any way a ‘lesser’ offence. But as a person who values liberty, I approach all reversals of the burden of proof with some skepticism. Due to developments in our rape jurisprudence, and the hostile nature of our criminal justice system, we had to make changes in the burden of proof. In the case of marital rape, I feel that it is this reversed burden of proof (combined with the presumption on access) crossed a line and becomes draconian. This burden of proof is, in my opinion, one of the things preventing the law-makers from bringing marital rape into the statute book, and till we bring procedural safeguards on the table, marital rape will not be recognized as a crime.

I understand that these procedural safeguards will shift the burden back to the victim (merely because she is the wife of the accused), and this situation is far from satisfactory. But marital rape is a complex issue, and I do not anticipate that there will be a clean solution that will satisfy everyone. This article was an attempt by me to call for a certain amount of pragmatism, and maybe highlight the need to reflect on the anomalies that reversed burdens of proof throw-up. There is nothing I would love more than those with better ideas, coming up with a solution to this problem. But given the time of outrage we live in, what we need to most is to start a dispassionate dialogue.

 

 

 

Growing up with Jo March, Harry Potter and D’ Artagnan

It is not that I don’t like kids. I like them well enough. I just don’t know what to do with them. Being 24, I remember what it was like, being a kid. But try as I may, I can not get into the heads of the enigmatic kids today. Frankly, they make me feel like a duffer. When I was a kid, I had a house set, a few dolls, books and that was that. A lot of time was spent day-dreaming. I had no idea how to play angry birds, and I certainly did not give adults a look of pity mixed with condescension when they failed to destroy the turtle nest (or whatever those fiendish creatures that steal the eggs of the birds are called). In school we used to play games like kit-kit when young, and this later became kho-kho for the more athletic kids. I personally just played dodge-ball (which is a bit of an insult to human intelligence). But it sufficed. Anyway, so when it falls to my lot to entertain the kids that come home to visit now and then, I am at a complete loss on how to entertain them. It usually ends with me letting them use the computer, much to the satisfaction of all parties. But I wonder if the kids today experience childhood the way I did. Am sure they do. What I have seen of life makes me think that there is nothing really new that people can experience. Its all the same wine in different colored bottles, or something like that. The point of this whole preface was really to talk about the books that I grew up with. The most interesting part of growing up was the books really. I firmly believe that the way in which I read and enjoyed books then, can never be replicated in the cynical age of adulthood. The genuine pleasure and involvement in the fates of characters, is something peculiar to childhood. (Though I still tend to get very involved in the books I read). The first memory I have of a book is a very distant one. It was about an old red fire engine, and how he was going to be replaced by a new one. This must have been when I was very young. Later, at the age of four, my Mother bought me an abridged version of Little Women. It was a tiny book, with beautiful illustrations of the March girls. Jo March obviously exercised a fascination over me, because she was the kind of girl I wanted to be. ‘When I grew up’. It’s funny how that phrase has never left my psyche. I still have things I want to do ‘when I grow up’. But interestingly, I really liked the little March sister Amy. I later found out that most Jo March fans hated Amy for being a spoilt and  entitled brat. Somehow, while I found that I had a lot in common with Jo’s sensibilities, I could relate to Amy (maybe it was the sense of entitlement). The next book I vividly remember was Alice in Wonderland. Actually, to be more precise, it was ‘Through the looking glass’ which impressed me far more than Alice in Wonderland. The white knight, tweedledum and tweedledee, humpty dumpty, have been lifelong friends, and I have never stopped revisiting that book. I don’t know whether when I read the book I understood all the political undertones, that gradually became clearer to me. But the beauty of great books (note: great books, not necessarily clever books) is that you change with them, and they change with you. I also remember when I was in class 3, I was given a copy of Oliver Twist as a prize. I remember asking my brother very quizzically, who this ‘Charlie’ Dickens was. I think it took him all the effort he could muster, to answer me with a straight face. Dickens soon became the pillar of my childhood. I have to say very emphatically that he is one of the greatest authors I have ever read. In this day and age, confessing to be a Dickens fan is like inviting trouble. Its not quite different enough, too mainstream perhaps. But the truth is that the greatness of Dickens lies in his ability to write incredible, riveting novels without any contrivances, manipulation or cynicism. Those to whom this sounds like a mean feat, I would like you to try. Somewhere later, I bumped into the phenomenon that was Harry Potter. Those books cast a spell on most kids (pun intended). A vivid memory of those books I have is that when I would buy a new Harry Potter book, I would spend several minutes smelling it! There was a very unique smell that the books had, which I came to associate with Harry Potter books, and which even now, when I get a whiff of it, makes me giddy. I don’t think I will be saying anything new if I tell you I spent a large part of the year when I turned 10/11 waiting for an owl. A big white owl even came to our house once. Sadly, there was no letter. In time the Harry Potter books grew darker and more complex, just as my world view did. The series finally ended when I was in college, with a close friend buying me the final copy. I still have bittersweet memories when I look at that copy, because it reminds me that college friendships, like fantasy fiction fascinations, pass. Like most things do. Perhaps that is why I dread reading Harry Potter again. I don’t want to stop liking it. I don’t think that this little walk down memory lane would be complete without me mentioning two men. Dumas and Karna. The Three Musketeers was a favorite book of mine while growing up. As much as I loved the Count of Monte Cristo and the Man in the Iron Mask, there was a heady and powerful feeling you got while reading the Three Musketeers. Whether, reading about the Cardinal writing out a Carte Blanche to the ‘lady’ or while reading about the Musketeers trying to recover the diamonds that the queen had given away to the Duke of Buckingham, the thrill of that book never leaves you. I read and re-read that book so many times (though at the time, I hardly knew how to pronounce the names correctly). It was much later that I learnt more about the political-context in which the book was written, and the crucial nature of the struggle for supremacy between the Church and the State. At that time the book was just about five brave men. The musketeers and the Cardinal. And here we come to the last milestone of the little walk I have taken you down. Karna, I am convinced was my first crush. I don’t think any man has actually made me go weak kneed before that. I actually spent a considerable part of my childhood reading Karna-related books, such as ‘Mrutunjaya’ by Shivaji Sawant, and ‘Karna ki atma katha’ by Manu Sharma. To me Karna was the perfect man, with his loyalty and his predilection to sacrifice. But wisdom dawned and I began to question this ‘ideal man’, as all ideals must ultimately be questioned. I realized that this was the same man who egged the Kauravas on, when they were trying to disrobe Draupadi, and that he ganged up with several other men to kill Abhimanyu (the boy-warrior). With age the realization comes, that your heroes have clay feet, just like you. But I must thank the reader who has made it this far on this rambling journey of mine. These recollections mean the world to me, and I might have succeeded in what I wanted to do, if (for a moment) I made you wear my shoes. That is all for today. Cheers!