Saturday, 31 December 2011

Some questions for Andhra top cop - Dinesh Reddy

A factor behind the increasing number of rape cases is that women dress provocatively.
This is a considered view of one of India's top cops, the Director General of  Police, Andhra Pradesh, V Dinesh Reddy. He also thinks the salwar kameez is a provoking dress!

What does he want us to do? Cover ourselves with a chadar and lock outrselves at home - Taliban style?

And Mr Dinesh Reddy,  tell us why are children and babies raped? And elderly women? And women in burkhas? Why is there incest?

Kudos to home minister,  P Chidambaram for taking objection to the remark. He is reported to have strongly disagreed with the statement. To read a full report click here.

Now, how do we educate men like Reddy?

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Convoluted Justice: Violence most foul

I am proud to get this badge from blogging gurus, IHM and her Team, for the post that follows.  It is an honour that I treasure.
To read other award winning posts click here. Each post makes one THINK!

The post appeared as an article in The Tribune on September 2, 2011

Violence most foul

Rape is one of the most heinous crimes, impacting the victim for life. Given its enormity, it should be considered next only to murder. Sadly, it has not been given the attention it needs by social scientists, law makers and justice dispensers. When two Class IX boys attempt to rape a Class I girl, as in a Bathinda school recently, it is time society introspected. What kind of signals are we sending out to our young?

The National Crime Records Bureau had termed rape "India's fastest growing crime". We have complete figures for 2009, when according to the NCRB, a total of 21,397 rape incidents were reported countrywide. Add to this, 25,741 cases of kidnapping and abduction of women and 38,711 cases of molestation, and you get 235 reported cases of molestation/rape/ abduction of women every day. These are just the reported cases. Most, especially molestation and rape cases, go unreported in the name of guarding 'family honour'.

Let us examine some recent sentences proclaimed by our justice dispensers and the messages these have sent out to society.A few months ago the Supreme Court decided to let off three farmers, who had been convicted of gang raping a woman in Ludhiana district. A sessions court had awarded a 10-year imprisonment to them. The Punjab and Haryana High Court had upheld their conviction, following which, the criminals appealed to the Supreme Court. Their sentence was cut short after a few years under a "compromise formula" that entailed paying Rs 50,000 each to the victim.

The rapists had appealed to be let off as "they and the victim were happily married to their spouses" and "wanted to live peacefully". The fact that the victim is "happily married" is no credit to the rapists. Did the judges ascertain the happiness quotient of the criminals' marriages? Did they speak to their wives? Men who rape, make for draconian and violent husbands. As far as "wanting to live peacefully is concerned", it is easy to say that after committing a violent crime. The fact that they can indulge in rape makes them dangerous criminals. If they could do that to one woman, they can inflict themselves on another. How does the court ensure that this does not happen? The National Council for Women has asked for a review of the case for it sets a bad precedence of reaching a compromise in rape cases, where conviction rates are extremely low anyway.

Wrong signals embolden rapists

It is not surprising that such a judgement should come from our highest court. The former Chief Justice of India, K G Balakrishnan, is reported to have said that society and the state must respect the decision of a rape victim if she chooses to marry the rapist. His words as reported by a newspaper: "Due regard must be given to their personal autonomy since in some cases victims may choose to marry the perpetrator." Imagine the trauma of a woman having to spend her life with a man who has raped her? It is like inflicting a lifelong sentence of mental and physical cruelty on her, while the man goes scot free. And then, what would prevent the rapist from marrying the victim to escape punishment and then deserting her? This kind of a mindset furthers the warped view society holds that marriage is the be all and end all for a woman. And that it is better to marry a man who has raped you than not marry at all!

Now look at the punishment a panchayat in Ghaziabad meted out to an rapist uncle: It ruled that five smacks with a shoe was enough punishment for raping his niece. In another case, also in Ghaziabad, a five-year-old was raped by her 19-year-old cousin. But the family chose to keep quiet, not even getting medical attention for the little girl.

She was sent to school the next day where she complained of abdominal pain and died. It was only then that the parents approached the police. The girl's mother said she had raised an alarm when she saw the cousin raping the child. The family elders had caught him, slapped him and let him off. Consider now how these family elders and panchayats handle youngsters who marry outside their caste group or marry within their own gotra. The punishment has ranged from social ostracism to even death! Obviously, rape is considered a minor crime compared to violation of caste and kinship lines.

Compounding victims' trauma

The law as it stands today is weak and archaic. Apart from woefully inadequate sentences, it only recognises vaginal rape and does not believe that children below 12 can be raped. Women's groups have been demanding its amendment but though decades have passed, the bill is still in a draft stage.

The Aruna Shanbaug case illustrates the complete warpedness of our justice system. While Aruna, the nurse who was raped and maimed for life has been lying in a hospital bed for the last 37 years, the rapist, ward boy Sohanlal Walmiki, is a free man today. He is said to have changed his name, moved to Delhi with his family where he works in a hospital. He was imprisoned for only seven years for attacking her and stealing her jewellery, but not for rape as it was anal and not vaginal rape he indulged in as Aruna was menstruating at that time. What kind of justice is this?

The death penalty awarded to rapist and murderer Santosh Kumar Singh was commuted to a life sentence because of what is termed as "mitigating circumstances". Among them were that he was "young, just 24 years old" at the time of his crime. At 24 years, one is an adult! The fact that he was "married" and "the father of a girl child" were the other "mitigating" factors. Now, how does this help either the wife or the daughter? They have to fend for themselves anyway and live with the knowledge of having a rapist and murderer as a husband and father for the rest of their lives. In fact, the law should give the wife and children of a rapist the choice to walk off from the relationship with no legal binding on their part, while retaining all their rights on the family property. If the wife has the option of being legally freed of the relationship, she can think of starting her life again. It is extremely traumatic for a young girl to grow up knowing her father is a rapist. In fact, such men are best kept away from their daughters.

We have also had judgments where the sentence was commuted when the rapist passed a civil services exam. What is the message that went out? That if you pass the exam, all will be forgiven and you will occupy an important government post. In fact, the opposite should be the case. Convicted rapists who have served their term in jail should be debarred from holding a government job.

Need for unorthodox methods

The law must acknowledge that rape mars a person for life. The condition has been recognised as Rape Trauma Syndrome where the victim suffers from phobias and nightmares and feels emotionally crippled, unable to form meaningful relationships and friendships for life.

Kamini Lau, Delhi's additional sessions judge, recently called for a public debate on “chemical and surgical castration” of child rapists and serial offenders as an alternative punishment. She said this while delivering a sentence for a man who raped his minor step daughter for four years.

Chemical castration is being used in parts of United States and many European countries, with the rapist's consent. Sweden, France and Germany are among them. In Poland it is mandatory. A province in Argentina is the latest to adopt it. It involves an injection of an anti-pregnancy drug every three months to lower libido and uncontrolled sexual impulses. There is much evidence in the medical and psychiatric world that a rapist cannot be cured unless there is a medical intervention. It is time to act. There can be no compromises with a rapist.

To read other Tejaswee Rao award winning posts click here

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Anna and spontaneous protest

At my neighbourhood market in Delhi:
 The protest against the denial of the right to protest builds up. It began when a group of persons holding candles and shouting pro-Anna and anti-corruption slogans came in a procession and entered the market square.
PS: Notice the 'Citizen First' board. Ironical?
Quickly, the group swelled. The late evening shoppers, the momo munchers, the pani-puri poppers joined them. There was the aunty, the uncle, the dude, the dudette, the bhaiya and the bhenji. One aunty stepped on to a cement platform and urged the gathering to come out in support for Anna. "Act NOW!"  she urged. A dude took over. There was some slogan shouting. 
They lit the candles. The little platform was soon ablaze. It was a fire of protest againt a system that was throttling free expression.  The last time I had seen candles on the platform was during Diwali, put up by the shopkeepers in celebration. But today, the candles were an Indian's expression that all was not right with her/his world.  The news of the government deciding to release Anna came in. But the people did not go away. Instead they decided to gather there every day at the same time and continue their struggle.
And the little flames that flickered seemed to be saying: "Let there be light. Let us lift the darkness, the cover of corruption from Indian life..."

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The weight of undernourishment

In 1970, a young community health physician, Saroj Pachauri in her PhD thesis focused on low birth weight, which was a major cause of death among infants in India at that time. Thirty per cent of all babies born then had low birth weight. Today, the figure remains the same and low birth weight continues to be a major cause of death among infants.

Decades of various family planning and welfare programmes have not been able to give our babies a better start in life. Of all infant deaths, 65 per cent occur in the very first month, and majority of them are babies with low birth weight. It becomes very tough to save them in the sub-optimal conditions of our rural health centres, if they reach there at all.

Dismal picture

The health of the Indian women is among the worst in the world. A recent World Bank report put the figure of anaemic and undernourished girls in India at 300 million and women at 30 million. This should jolt a country to remedial action.

Poverty, poor infant feeding practices, neglect of the girl child and social customs like eating after the men and the boys have been fed, leave the females undernourished. When under and malnourishment is coupled with early marriage as over 50 per cent of Indian women marry before they reach 18 years, it spells danger, especially during childbirth.

A recent study puts the maternal mortality figure at 254 per 1,00,000 live births. Infant mortality, defined per 1000 live births, is at 53. Both the figures, though improved over the last few decades, are still extremely high. A real shame! For a country, which attracts people from around the world for complicated medical procedures, cannot save its own women and babies. India’s maternal mortality ratio is 16 times higher than Russia, 10 times that of China and four times that of Brazil.

Both the babies and the mothers die largely from the same factors – apart from poor hygiene, lack of adequate newborn and maternal care. Low birth weight predisposes them to complications and death from malaria, pneumonia, and diarrohea.

Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal and Assam contribute 75 per cent of all infant deaths in the country. Maternal mortality figures are high among, what are now termed as the Empowered Action Group states - Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Uttaranchal, Chhattisgarh and Assam.

Schemes don’t reach out

India has been dispensing iron and folic acid tablets to the pregnant women for decades and dishing out meals to its school going children. For the last 40 years, the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme has been running. However, these schemes have had only limited success. One of the criticisms against ICDS was that it failed to reach the very vulnerable 0-3 year age group, in any significant way. By then, under-nourishment had done its harm.

The upcoming Fourth National Family Health Survey will reveal just how well the efforts at improving the health of women and children have been. Since the third survey in 2005-06 the National Rural Health Mission and the Janani Suraksha Yojna (JSY) have been launched, entailing large-scale employment of resources, human and monetary, like never before.

In 2005, JSY, the biggest cash transfer scheme ever, was launched. It aimed at getting the women to deliver at a medical centre, as opposed to home, so that they and the newborn could get timely medical attention. Initial studies show that women have started going to institutions for delivery, but they are being discharged within a few hours, so that they become eligible to receive the Rs 1400. Health scientists point out that woman and her baby need to be under medical care for at least 48 hours. The neonatal period is a critical time and many infants and their mothers could be saved.

Interviews by the writer in Uttar Pradesh villages revealed that people are happy with the cash amount they get, at times given after a mandatory ‘cut’ to the ‘authorities’. But it is not being spent on food for the mother; instead it goes towards buying household items. Even the National Rural Health Mission, which has improved the demand for public health facilities, has not been able to check infant mortality rate in any substantial way.

The results of NFHS 3 have been disappointing. Around one third of the women were having their first child while still in their teens. The risk of low birth weight and neo natal mortality increases when the woman is an adolescent. The Indian Council of Medical Research has found maternal mortality among adolescents to be as high as 645 per 100,000 live births.

Think beyond numbers

In 1983, the National Health Policy had expected to reach the replacement level total fertility rate (TFR) of 2.1 per cent by 2000. TFR is calculated as the average number of children a woman will have in her lifetime. But by 2000, we were nowhere near. However, the year saw the establishment of a new National Population Policy and the goal of 2.1 TFR was extended to 2010. Today ten states – Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Dadra and Nagar Haveli have TFR between 3.0 and 3.9. Demographers now predict that the near replacement TFR is still some decades away. The US Census Bureau calculates a fertility rate of 2.2 by 2050! By then, we would have become the most populous country in the world with numbers that could range from 1.5 billion to 1.8 billion, overtaking China in 2030.

We will soon have the largest ever generation of adolescents. They can be a ‘demographic dividend’ only if they are healthy. But a half of India’s children today are moderately or severely malnourished.

What is more, most Indian children suffer from at least one micronutrient deficiency. Over 75 per cent of preschool children suffer from anaemia and almost 60 per cent have sub-clinical Vitamin A deficiency. Progress in reducing the prevalence of micronutrient deficiencies in India has been excruciatingly slow. Child morbidity and mortality is higher for girls aged one month to 5 years than for boys, as the girls receive less food and health care. It is a vicious cycle—an undernourished girl will grow up to be unhealthy and give birth to low weight babies.

In 1994, some health scientists brought out a book – “Listening to Women Talk About their Health”. It featured health studies from different villages and slums of India and made a strong case for population-based studies on women’s health instead of hospital/clinic ones to get a better picture so that better policies can be framed and their needs addressed. For often poor women do not, or to put it better, cannot access the health system. Therefore, listen to what they are saying, what they want from a health system.

Some health scientists have been critical of India’s obsession with numbers, i.e. population control, and not focusing enough on women’s health and well being. At the end of it all – a healthy woman means a healthy baby. And a healthy and an educated woman means a healthier child and adult. Forty years down the road, Dr Pachauri, now heading Population Council of India, is saying the same thing: Improve the health of the women if you want to save the babies.

The above article by me appeared in The Tribune on July 12, 2011.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Handcuffed in school in the US

What do you say when a teenager is HANDCUFFED in a SCHOOL in the US for a crime she never committed?

The news that a school girl, Krittika Biswas, who happens to be the daughter of an Indian diplomat, was arrested, handcuffed and thrown in with criminals for a crime she never committed, has shocked India. (Her supposed crime was sending some obscene emails to her teachers). The fact that these actions have been taken in the United States of America is all the more shocking. For we all know that the United States shouts the loudest on human rights, and is the self appointed monitor of human rights records of other countries through its NGOs like Amnesty. But its own status surfaces through actions like these and leave a very bad taste in the mouth. For the leader has a different set of rules to judge others, and ignores the wrong doings in its own house. 

There are some very basic issues in this case, which are very disturbing:.
1. Should societies that pride themselves for being civilized resort to handcuffing school children, even if they have committed a crime?
2. Treat someone as a criminal even before the charges against the person are proven? What has happened to the justice system of the country?

3. Should a crime like sending some obscene emails warrant handcuffs?

4. While Krittika was held in custody she was not even allowed to use the bathroom and had to go in front of everyone. Which medieval society are we talking about?

5. Krittika has been quoted as saying that the arrest was based on nothing and even when the real culprit was found, neither the school nor the state apologized to her. What does this say of a school system, where young are supposed to be guided and nurtured, where the teachers set examples? Even if the girl had sent the obscene emails, the teachers and the school should provide a system where the child can be counseled. In India, the police is kept out of educational institutes, and can be called in only in case of physical violence or damage to property. Now, what is the role of the teachers? Are they there merely there to teach maths or physics? Does their role end there? What is the purpose of schools?

6. And this one takes the hamburger! Even after the charges were dropped against her by the district attorney, the school officials sent her to a suspension centre! Some gross negligence here -- adding insult to injury.

Krittika has sued New York city for $1.5 million. But I feel justice would be done only if the school principal and other concerned authorities are arrested and tried for gross negligence of duty and torturing of a child.

To read about the case in detail click here.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Chemical castration for rapists? Why not?

Kamini Lau,  Delhi's additional sessions judge, has shown a lot of pluck in calling for "chemical castration" of child rapists and serial offenders. It is high time we had some stiff punishment for these criminals. In our country rapists rarely get the imprisonment they deserve. At the end of this post, I give links to some cases which show the non serious manner in which society and our judges have been dealing with such cases. A former Chief Justice of  India had even suggested that the victim marry her rapist!

Kamini Lau is quoted as having said: "A full public debate, with regard to imposition of castration (both surgical and chemical) as an alternative punishment for the offence of rape and molestation, is the need of the hour." She made the observation while delivering a 10 year rigorous imprisonment for a man who raped his minor step daughter for over four years. To read the report in full click here.

Rapists in our country are let off  very lightly with just a few years in jail at best. The woman however goes through a private hell her whole life. The most telling example is the case of the Aruna Shanbag, the nurse in a Mumbai hospital who was raped by a ward boy.  Walmiki, the rapist, is a free man today after a few years in prison. He lives with his wife and children and works, (really horrifying as per some newspaper reports) in a hospital! Aruna, instead, lives a life confined to the hospital bed, having lost her power of speech and movement. Her fiance and family have deserted her. She has been alone for decades. The punishment meted out to the criminal in this case does not match his crime. He should have been imprisoned for life. And kept away from his wife and children. If he could behave in this way with a woman who was a senior colleague, it does not need much imagination to think how he must be treating his wife and daughters, if he has any.

A couple of years ago I had asked women bloggers from around the world what they felt should be the punishment for rape. What do you think they said? Prison for life or castration! The similarity in their response was amazing.

Some earlier posts -
Another shocking judgement on rape

Rape victim has to resort to legal action to take an exam!

Six month old baby girl raped

Rape, fastest growing crime in India

Society elders decide five shoe smacks enough punishment for a rapist

Friday, 22 April 2011

It happens only in India!

There are some things that can happen only in this colourful land of ours. It never fails to surprise. Have a laugh!

Termites eat crores of rupees! Where? In a bank strong room in Barabanki district of Uttar Pradesh. Click here to read.

One interesting comment on the site by a reader, Bharat Bhushan:
We have the biggest living termite species called "POLITICIANS & GOVT OFFICIALS"... They have eaten up 70% of tax-payers money... without a trace...
Do you agree?

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

'Family honour' more important than 'justice'

Another one of those stories of misplaced family honour was in The Hindustan Times today. It makes you wonder what is wrong with our value system. A five year old was raped by her 19 year-old cousin. The family came to know about it, but chose to keep quiet in the name of family honour. They probably did not seek medical help for the child and sent her to school. She complained of abdomen pain and died a little later. A complaint with the police was lodged only after she died.

Some hard facts -
The family prizes 'honour' over a member's life. 
The family does not even think the man needs to be punished for the barbaric act.
Female lives are cheap. Especially a little girl's life.
Adults even today find it  tough to argue their case in front of  'family elders'. Reminds one of the khap panchayats ruled by patriarchs where the young  and the women have no say.

Wouldn't the family be held in esteem if its elders had tried to pursue justice for the victim and get the criminal, even if he happens to be from the family, punished?

This case reminded me of an earlier one where a few hits by a shoe was considered enough punishement for a rapist!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

India is rising against corruption

With you, Anna Hazare!
Something is happening finally. The anger of the common man and woman against corruption is building up. We have had enough of scams - one after the other. We have seen our politicians prosper at our cost. They seem to become rich overnight. There are more billionaires in the Parliament now than there ever were. The bureaucrats have joined the politicians, in diverting funds, amassing wealth. Judges, who were once considered above board, have joined the corrupt ranks. Even the armed forces.

The rich are becoming richer. Our MPs and MLAs give themselves periodic pay rises. And the poor? There is no end to their miseries. Rising prices, homes beyond reach,  a government school system for their children that makes a mockery of education, a health system difficult to access...

Anna Hazare, began his fast unto death against corruption yesterday.Thank God we have people like him, Arvind Kejriwal, Kiran Bedi...They give us hope. That it is in our power to change things and we shall. They have the support of the common people of India. Now, it is upto us to build this no corruption movement. Give our voice to it.

The Lokpal bill against corruption is the longest pending bill in Parliament: For some reason or the other it has been held back for 42 years by various governments! It has seen many drafts and the latest one is one weak one. Hazare has a very simple demand. That the team that scrutinises the Lokpal bill clause by clause should be 50 per cent people's representatives and the other 50 per cent be the ministers. But so far the government is showing no mood of relenting.

Every time the bill emerges there is some viogorous discussion and then it goes into abeyance. But this time, I sense a difference. The public mood is WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH. You cannot loot us anymore. We wont allow it.

I hope the mood sustains. And we get a strong law against corruption. So that politicians, bureaucrats, judges, persons occupying high public posts, who have looted this country, are brought to book.

Whew! Wouldn't that be wonderful?

More on Corruption and India

Corruption in India : A rotten state
Fastest way to become rich, become an MP
Where is my leader?

Monday, 28 March 2011

Rape fastest growing crime in India, says National Crime Records Bureau

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) says rape is the fastest growing crime in India. NCRB figures available for 2009 show that 21,397 rape incidents were reported in the country in 2009. There were also more than 25,000 cases of kidnapping and abduction of women, aside from cases of molestation which numbered more than 38,000.

This means that every day -
about 60 women who get raped in India, report the crime. There will be many more who keep quiet.

About 68 women get abducted and kidnapped and 104 women who are molested pick up courage and report the crime.
To read a detailed report by Inter Press Service, click here.

Other posts - Rape and punishment
Is there something seriously wrong with the way we bring up boys?

I came across this post - Valuable advice
What do you do if you have been raped 

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Is Climate Change an Exaggerated Concern?

Here is an event open to all college students. Bring your i-card along! 

Is Climate Change an Exaggerated Concern?

Location:  Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi

March 24, 2011 From 11.30 am to 1 pm

Prakriti- The Environment Society, is pleased to invite you to join us for a panel discussion on ‘Climate Change is an Exaggerated Concern’ organised by Green Karbon, a Deutsche Bank- Sanctuary Asia Climate Change- Biodiversity initiative.

The Speakers
· Muhammad A. Khan, Advisor of Law and Policy to Ministry of Environment and Forests
· Professor Vinod Chandra Menon, Former Member National Disaster Management Authority, Government of India
· Samir Menon, Head of Eco-Sustainable Services, Tata Consultancy Services.

Speakers from LSR
· Dr. Kalyani, Senior Assistant Professor, Department of Education, Lady Shri Ram College
· Preeti Venkatram, President, Prakriti- The Environment Society of Lady Shri Ram College

Please register at the link given below:

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Lady Shri Ram College's Go Green Week

Lady Shri Ram College is hosting an environment week from March 21 to 26 with competitions galore for college students!

Make an ad, design a folder, take part in a quiz, make a photo story or participate in the LSR MCOP.

Certificates and prizes to be won!

For details click on LSR Prakriti Week.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Another shocking judgement on rape by the Indian Supreme Court

All it needs is Rs 50,000 as fine to buy freedom from a prison sentence for gangrape.

Three men were convicted of gangraping a woman and the Punjab and Haryana High Court had upheld their conviction and punishment. The three criminals appealed against their conviction and the Supreme Court of India let them off after (as reported in The Hindustan Times) they agreed to a "compromise formula" of paying Rs 50,000 each to the victim.

Note what has been considered by the court -
1. The rapists had said that "they and the victim were happily married to their spouses".  Consider, if a man can rape a woman, what torture he must be inflicting on his wife? Did the judges talk to the wives? Did they find out what kind of husbands the men were? I think the wives are better off without having to live with such men. The court would have done the three wives a big favour by keeping their men locked up.
I would go so far as to say that the wife or fiancee of a rapist should have the freedom to walk off from the relationship with no legal binding if she so chooses and take the children with her. The man should lose all his rights to his property which should go to the wife and other dependant relatives.

2. The fact that the victim is "happily married" is no credit to the rapists. I would say that the woman's husband has shown maturity and not reacted the way we have known some husbands to behave.

3. The men said "they wanted to live peacefully". It is easy to say that after committing a violent crime. What happened to their desire of living peacefully earlier? The fact that they can attack a woman in this way makes them dangerous criminals. They should be kept behind bars for life. For they spell danger for women. How will the court ensure that they do not repeat their act? It is not only the safety of the victim but other women too in question.

I am happy to see two eminent women advocates Kamini Jaiswal and Pinky Anand crticise the shocking judgement of the highest court in land.

India does treat its women shabbily.

My reaction to the judgement is as an Indian woman. To read what lawyers are saying about the judgement read here.

It was heartening to see the National Commission for Women react to the judgement and prepare to seek a its review.  But I am wondering why there were no protests by Indian women. What has happened to our women's groups? I remember the mid-Seventies and the early-Eighties when as young women we marched to Parliament, held protest marches, organised sit-ins and gheraos on so many issues affecting us - dowry, rape laws, portrayal in the media. The activism helped initiate many changes in the laws and society.

But where are our young firebrand women today? 

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

A lesson in living

The following article by me appeared in the Speaking Tree, The Times of India, under the title "Lessons from Ma Ginger"
Behind the trunk

She was a lady of the streets. She lived by her wits and gave us menacing stares. But we were persistent. We looked out for her, knew the time when she would hit the front yard or the back lane. The boys were after her — human as well as feline. For she was a real beauty — a beige cat with brown stripes and the cutest face you ever saw.

I found her one morning in my backyard, looking as if she owned it, and I was the intruder. I raised my arm threateningly. She got up lazily to plonk herself a little distance away. There was some movement behind the steel trunk. She had brought her day-old kittens — three ginger like her, and two black and white after the father. We knew him. He would stretch out in the park, his black coat striking against the monsoon grass.

One could not possibly drive away a mother and her babies, and so she stayed. You could catch her most of the time feeding and tending litter, taking short breaks for herself, when she ensured the kitties were securely behind the trunk. She suffered our presence silently, kept a suspicious eye on us, inflicting us with steely glares and an occasional snarl.

One night we woke up to much whining and crying. We ran out to see Ma sitting on her haunches guarding her brood from a big brown cat on the boundary wall with the meanest face you ever saw. Seeing us, Meanie slunk off, and we got back into bed only to be woken up moments later by feline cries.

This time we picked up a walking stick, feeling very sorry for the family and hoping to teach him a lesson. Ma had moved back many paces while Meanie was now on the ground ready for attack. Seeing us, he jumped back up on the wall and Ma picked up courage to give a chase. The kitties were quivering in fear. We left the stick out hoping it would instil fear in Meanie.

Suddenly, there was much snarling and whining. We dashed out to discover he had killed a kitty. Meanie jumped up the wall and vanished into the dark. A lifeless kitten lay there, while its siblings and mother gathered around it. It was a deeply moving moment. Sorrow hung visibly over the little family that had frolicked during the day. Ma did not bother about us, so great was her grief.

As the early morning sun rose, I saw Ma on the boundary wall. The kitties had gone, even the dead one. Ma had probably found a safer place. The family emerged a week later. The kitties were bigger and Ma had brought them to our front lawn. They tumbled about in the pots. But by the end of the day, the family had moved again. We were horrified to learn that she had moved next door, probably thinking the overgrown bushes would provide the much-needed cover. But she had not contended with two little horrors who lived there. We knew they had spotted the kitties, for we heard their squeals and that of their little sister. What would Ma do now?

That night we found a dead kitty on the compound wall. The next night, we heard a lot of screeching and whining and knew Ma was in trouble again. Sure enough, a third kitty was dead in the flower bed. Ma was down to two kitties. We watched out for her anxiously. We do not know whether she moved house again, but she preferred the quiet of our garden for her late evening feeding session.

Once again, the family disappeared, only to reappear a few days later. Ma’s beautiful face had a wound. We knew Meanie was on her trail. Sure enough, there was only one kitty and she was back living with us. She hid it sometimes behind the garbage bin, or under the staircase, even under the stationary car before she took off for a break. It has now been a week, but we have not seen the pair. I used to think life was hard and unfair.

I used to crib about small things. But seeing the way Ma fought a battle for survival every minute of the day, with no support system or friends, humbled me. She faced life as best as she could… against great odds, never quitting. Ma taught me a lesson in living.

Scurrying for cover

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Corruption and India and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi

How many employees does the Municipal Corporation of Delhi have on its rolls?

One would think in this age and date the figure would be readily available. But no. It is the biggest mystery. And it is taking the form of an action thriller. The Delhi High Court, the Delhi police and the MCD itself are trying to unravel the mystery. And I, as a resident of Delhi, am waiting with baited breath to know the number. But it seems the wait is going to be long.

Various figures  have emerged at various points in time of the MCD's elusive employees --the sweepers, the gardeners that are supposed to keep India's Capital city clean and green but are missing from its rolls:  22000, 29680, 43415 even 212 and now some strange new figure. We rarely see the elusive workforce. And the biometric system discovered what we always knew, that there were a substaintial number of ghosts on the rolls. So a machine did what we residents could not achieve for years. It got the authorities in charge to ponder. Yes, yes, there was some deep rot here. These ghosts were sucking the organisation dry of funds. Salaries were being given to the ghosts. Newspaper reports told us that the amount ran into many crores ( a crore = ten million) every month.

But  with bigger and full bodied scams hitting the country - the CWG scam, the mine scam, the  fodder scam, the Taj corridor scam, the 2G spectrum scamthe chief justice scam, the Adarsh scam, and then Bhopal's land  scam, the NOIDA land scam, and now the IAS-Joshi couple scam, and an even bigger the Indian black money-Swiss bank scam, the MCD scam was ghostly in comparison.

I maintain the biggest asset India has is its press. Which brings to the fore the doings of our leaders, our bureaucrats,  for us minions, who work instead of loot and cheat for a living, to see.  If it was not for India's press we would never get to know of the horrors the leaders we elect, the bureaucrats who we hope will give us  functioning systems, the judges who occupy the hallowed confines of court rooms, do upon us. It is then not difficult to relate why millions have no access to health care, why our children are given a shoddy or  no education, why farmers are driven to suicide and getting a roof on one's head remains a lifetime achievement for millions of Indians.

When there is so much corruption around, even the MCD vampires pale in comparison. I was however heartened to see that the police on orders of the court has been tracking some of these employees, to see if they are human or indeed ghosts. So what better way than to go to their houses and verify their human existence. The exercise did reveal that there were indeed some ghosts.

But then, a surprise, the MCD came up with another figure. I was amazed to see a new word crop up in its lexicon. 'Substitute' is the word used for the ghosts now. And the figure of these 'substitute employees' is almost double that of the ghosts. Vexed?  A 'substitute employee' sounds better than a 'ghost employee'. It is more respectable for sure! At one time, there was talk of thousands of 'temporary employees'.

Meanwhile, I wait for one to show up on my street. I am not choosy, ghost or substitute, either one would do. The leaves, the plastic chips packets, the bits of paper and the dog shit are piling high. One day during the Commonwealth Games, I thought I had a vision. I blinked. Yes, indeed there he was, holding a long broom and sweeping the street. I wanted to go up and touch him to see if he was real. He must have been for my street was clean for a few days. Even the kerb stones got a watery coat of white paint. Never mind, if it was as elusively faint as the ghost. You could see it was white, if you tried hard to ignore the grey of the kerbstone that stubbornly showed its face. Now, the ghostly paint has disappeared and so has the man with the broom. 

All that remains now are streams of dry leaves, mounds of paper, the dog shit and the peanut shells....
When will the ghosts get real? Your guess is as good as mine. Meanwhile, I will track the news reports of the scams and the scamsters. I do not need any Western make believe thrillers. Made in India stories provide a real good read. And what is more, they are for real!

An earlier post -

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