A senior leader of India’s leading IT Services Company took a moment on March 8th to send a note to his colleagues wishing them on International Women’s Day. In the mailer, he also exhorted his colleagues, among other things, to strive towards building an environment that appreciates variety. The variety of Race, Ethnicity, Gender or Generation! He did not stop there, but went on to talk about drawing strength from these differences. Caste, quite evidently, is conspicuous by its absence in the corporate discourse on diversity (or variety as they also like to call it).
We received two brief submissions separately sent by two women, reflecting on incidents in their childhood or youth that returned to haunt them more recently. Rethinking, reworking their own sense of self, they present before us questions both timely and urgent.
AYSHWARIA SEKHER looks back on her ignorance of caste, PRANETA JHA revisits a childhood game that taught her about sexual violence.
I was seventeen, and an undergraduate when I met this friend at hostel. She was from a southern district of Tamilnadu almost near Kanyakumari. I was always amused by her southern dialect and teased her immensely, for it was very different from what I was used to speaking, being a northerner. She lived next door at hostel, so we got into conversations every time we bumped into each other. One evening she was sweeping her room and cleaning it. I stopped by to see the way she swept so I could bully her. As I observed I did realise that she was so much better than me at it and did it with ease. As we got talking, she revealed that she always did it at her home, and it was not a task for her.
Ignorantly I enquired why they did not have a help at home, which according to me was something that every household possessed. She looked at me, and brushed aside the question plainly, saying simply that they just didn’t have any help. I pestered with the question giving her no space. She stopped sweeping and rested her hand against the wall and said that people would not come to her house to work. I was amazed at why people would not go to a home for work. So my cross questions persisted and she had no choice but to answer.
Nine years ago, on a hot summer day, I was sitting in the New Delhi railway station waiting for a train to Dharamsala where I had planned to do my summer internship in a human rights organisation. There, I met a person who used to live in the same locality as I did when I was a child. He asked me where I was headed and I excitedly told him about the summer internship I was going for. He gave me a sympathetic look and said in Nepali “God, what all, daughters have to do these days”. I was taken aback by his statement but I knew where it was coming from. I come from Sikkim, a beautiful state in the foothills of the Himalayas. Students from Sikkim generally come to Delhi for graduation and after completing their higher studies most of them return back. After their return, they either start their own businesses or get into comfortable government jobs and live with their parents. This is how things work there. So, I think he felt bad for me since he thought that I was being made to “face the big bad world” when I could have gone back home happily. I didn’t agree to his logic then and have not till date. Continue reading Letting Go of Fear: Tenzing Choesang→
Rarely does a city experience the sort of upheaval that Delhi is witnessing. Everyone is talking about it. Everyone has an opinion. It is impossible to walk down the street without overhearing snatches of conversation. Issues that usually find brief mention in some obscure corner of the newspaper are now being subject to analysis by every passer-by. A rickshaw driver refuses to take any money when he realises I am on my way to a protest. I remember the old man at a photocopy shop who had looked up and asked no one in particular: do you think she will die? The receptionist at the doctor’s clinic is distraught, providing waiting patients her explanation for the recent events. Men huddled around tiny fires littered across the foggy city carp on about the state of politics, the police and the government. Everyone is invested in this moment of reckoning.
[ Click to play above Youtube video of young women and men, led by Com.Lokesh (‘Lucky’) of Stree Mukti Sangathan (Women’s Liberation Organization) articulate their desires on the ‘Take Back the Night’ night walk and street party from Anupam PVR Complex to the road outside Select City Walk in Saket, New Delhi on the night of the last night of 2012 and into the early hours of 2013. ]
A couple of months ago, I was given two books which I was asked to review. Published in India, both were compilations of abridged versions of popular children’s fairy tales and fables. One book, however, had a pink cover; the other was bound in blue. The former said clearly, on the cover, that it was meant for ‘little girls’, the latter was for ‘little boys’.
Having grown up surrounded by books, I wondered, when I saw these two copies, as to how one could tell which stories were meant for girls and which were meant for boys. As a child, I never saw the difference. Lo and behold, the tables of content in both books gave me my answer (and destroyed my peace of mind): the volume with the pink cover was full of stories about lost princesses and damsels in distress seeking saviours; the one with the blue cover had stories such as ‘the boy who cried wolf’. Continue reading Stop gendering children: Urooj Zia→
Below are excerpts from an interview I did with a fascinating artists and activist who initiated a process in me, simple and obvious, and yet complicated and hardly ever embarked upon- vis-a-vis the politics of gender and sexuality. Ins has challenged the routine of the politics we engage in and the world view we sometimes unintentionally take for granted and thus make static, Hoping for an engaging discussion on the issues Ins lays out below.
Also, something to think about: how we write articles in popular media about difficult, unspoken of issues to just put them out there. To bring about some visibility but at the cost of some of the complexity? Sometimes visibility even at the cost of compromise on our politics of how we speak of pain and pleasure in all our lives and in the context of the frameworks of oppression? I see myself having done this below in my fleeting account of Ins’s life and work. How then do we engage with the mainstream media and find the language to articulate complexities approachably and regularly? It’s the eternal question but lets ask it again because, as we all know, we have to. :) Continue reading Interview with Ins Kromminga, German intersex activist and artist→
[This article was first published in Dawn 12 April 2009. It is reproduced here courtesy South Asia Citizens Web. The recent reports of the most spine-chilling instance of flogging of a young woman by Taliban goons unleashed a wave of indignation across Pakistan. This comment by Pakistani journalist Beena Sarwar is self-explanatory. For all the political illiterates and those given to anti-Muslim hate-speech in this country, this report and the innumerable discussions and posts on sites like Chowk, should indicate how much the Taliban and terrorism are hated and resisted by ordinary ‘secular’ people and women’s and human rights groups in Pakistan. They should indicate that ‘Islam’ and ‘being Muslim’ are themselves intensely contested ideas. But of course, we know that nothing can teach these hate-mongers anything, for they are the mirror-image of the Taliban. And as for us, as the old song goes: hum korea mein hum hain hindustan mein/ hum roos mein hain, cheen mein japan mein…And one might add: Pakistan mein bhi hain aur sare jahaan mein…
(There we are in korea and in hindustan/in russia we are, in china and in japan/and in pakistan too we are, we’re in the whole wide world…)
It is people like us there who must fight the Taliban, and people like them here who must fight the Hindutva fascists – always, relentlessly…Even when in the minority and especially when the political parties and leaders desert en masse. – AN]
In the “flogging video’s” undated footage shot with a cellphone in Swat (judging by the language and clothes) a man whips a woman in red, her pinned face down on the ground and encircled by men. The leather strap strikes her back as she cries out in pain.
The video, circulated on the Internet before local television channels broadcast it, caused a furore both in Pakistan and internationally. What caused the outrage? The public punishment meted out to a woman â€” or the fact that it was broadcast?
I want to go off on a bit of a tangent here. Just to open a different discussion in the spirit of thinking, and muddling along together. It seems to me that one of the axis on which the debate has turned is on the question of desire and its representation. Who is the desiring subject, towards whom is this desire directed, who represents this desire in what way, what are the slippages therein, who has the right to speak about whom.
I was wondering if we can approach this from a slightly different angle by taking this question of desire beyond the individual subject (variously defined). And in fact nameless did gesture to this in one of her responses where she raised the question of the appropriation of what she termed subaltern practices by elite intellectuals where certain practices and forms, in this case autos, are made to stand in for certain values – in this case progressive, ‘left” etc – which says more about the locations of the intellectuals and their insensitivity to their own class-caste positions, in a move which is patronizing at best and exploitative at worst. I think inherent in this critique is the shadow of a kind of objectification of a certain experience, so that a symbol becomes alienated from the actual life practices in which it is located to circulate as some empty signifier, to be appropriately filled as per requirement.
Like many other lovers of Bollywood cinema, I too was caught up since October this year in the countdown to the battle of all battles, with the release of Om Shanti Om (OSO) and Saawariya on 9 November 2007. Reams have been written, debated and analysed on the two films in newspapers, television networks, and everyday discussions. They have been depicted as films catering to very different sensibilities, and representing vastly diverse forms. The verdict seems to have declared both as average films, though OSO seems to be faring better than Saawariya at the box office. I enjoyed the first half of OSO particularly and thought Saawariya as a film with great form, but not much content.
However, as a fan of Bollywood popular cinema, what struck me most was one striking similarity between the two films. I thought both the films offered great visual pleasure and feast for the female spectators, where the spectacular and stylish nude male bodies and images of both Ranbir Raj Kapoor and Shahrukh Khan, though very different from each other, were the prime objects of desire and erotic spectacle. Both OSO and Saawariya have urban heroes, whose bodies are produced and carved, rooted in providing a voyeuristic visual treat especially to most straight women and gay men. The identity of both the heroes in these films in centrally tied to the consumption of their nude bodies by the viewer. The films in some senses signify the coming of age of a new genre of Bollywood cinema, where it is not so much the female body but the male body which circulates and is on display, offering a sexualised imaginative anatomy. They also signify that the language of discourse of Hindi films has undergone a dramatic post modernist change in its conception of desire, where most of it is conducted not through the soul but through the body. There is no central heart, but a decentring of emotions at play here. In the recent past too, nude male bodies of Hrithik Roshan and Salman Khan have been offered to the viewer. It perhaps is also a reflection of the fact that more and more women are crowding the cinema halls and form at times the major chunk of spectatorship, and they are a vital part of the cinematic experience.