Friday, June 30, 2006

Ahem! This way, please

A friend mentioned that my name was entrenched in the midst of a pitted blog-war over at Great Bong's. I followed the thread (which, of course, in a different metaphorical thread of thought, led me to feel slightly disgruntled because, hey, if you're talking about me and my views, come do it on my blog, will you? This whole experience felt like eavesdropping outside a stranger's drawing-room where the conversation is all about me) with part-horrified fascination and part-bewildered amusement.... I mean, gosh! 'Intense hatred'?

Surely, surely not.

I would not have reacted except for that phrase. Hatred disturbs me. Hate is a strong word; I use it advisedly.

But let me clarify a few things here (and let this also serve as a response to those who did leave me comments, whether in agreement or not) with reference to my last post:

Okay, I'll concede that women too live trapped in women's bodies, as much as men in men's bodies. However, in general, women are not given to making assertions about men being the weaker sex. What's more, we are not permitted to make decisions based on such assertions. Hence, the reference to logic and rationale. What I was trying to say was - 'don't talk about the abilities and limitations of a woman when you don't know what it means to be one'.

The bit about women being more qualified to be in/lead armies, was based on an assumption made in the previous paragraph. There was an 'if' there, without which it wasn't complete. That 'if' was ignored and the whole sentence made non-contextual, and thereby, unfair. Which, to me, seems a little bit unfair.

Am I a female chauvinist?

Let me tell you something. It is said that all battles are finally fought for jar, joru, jameen. Gold, women, land. All three being things that are valuable. And possess-able.


Because women are the source of the most basic of all resources - human resource. And so, they had to be possessed. Controlled.

I believe that right through the history of mankind (and I use the term 'mankind' instead of womankind, with a careful pause for thought, because history in general has been written by men, for men), there has been an ongoing battle of the sexes. This is not a battle for a metaphorical supremacy. This is a battle for real power.

I don't like such battles. I think 'make love, not war' is a very good motto. But the battle-lines were drawn long before and the battle is being well and truly fought, like it or not. Sometimes, it was verbal, or artistic, fought through words and images. Most often, it was fought on terra firma. A fight for social control.

There were times when women were in control of human civilisation. Most societies have had some sort of matriarchal past. There was a time when women controlled land/property. And property is one of the main sources of power. Material/money/resource power.
The other major source of power was spiritual, which translates into religious, in practical terms. We all know that before the gods came, there were the goddesses. All humanity began with worshipping the earth-mother: the source of all life.

Which leaves one source of power - armed collectives - or the army. If we are to trust history, most armies (with the exception of records about tribes like the Amazons) were male.

We do not know, at what point of history men took up the sword/the gun/the missile. It might have begun as tribe/clan-wars. It might have been that women fought alongside. I don't know. Maybe it was that one group decided, maybe both did. Maybe women stayed away from war at first, in the mistaken belief that it was better for self/child-preservation. Maybe the men discovered soon enough, as was inevitable, that with a weapon in your hand, you become even more powerful than nature intended you to be.... who knows how it happened. But it did.

Like I've said before, swords and guns are dangerous things. Groups of people with arms are dangerous things. When you arm only one group, you make the world a more dangerous place for the other group. When you restrict weapons (and most countries do restrict weapons to the police and the armed forces) and the training required to use weapons to only one group, you automatically disempower and disarm the other group. When you say 'only men will fight', you automatically say 'women will not fight', which soon becomes 'women cannot fight'.... which becomes a belief. And widespread beliefs are often mistaken for facts.

Between the battle of the sexes, that leaves women staring into the muzzles of guns. Always. Never holding the gun. Not allowed to.

As long as society stayed matriarchal and matrilinear, and God didn't become a single HE, the balance of power was manageable. But as things stand, and have stood for centuries, the balance of power is tilted against women. Patriarchal systems ensured that women have control over nothing - not religion, not property, not arms-and-ammunition.

Do I want the balance of power to shift?

Yes, indeed. Equality is not even debatable. Like independence, it is our birthright. If it is not given, we will take it. But if it is a choice between male domination and female domination, I want the latter.

Does that make me a female chauvinist sow? (shrug-shrug) Please feel free to call me a sow. If it pleases you, you can even append 'virulent' and 'sophomoric' (Is that a bad word? Explain yourself, please) as adjectives.

But 'Misandrist'?

No, I do not hate men. I do NOT want to rid the world of all men. There are some men I love. I trust them with my life and I would give my life for them. But, there is not one man on earth who can persuade me that women cannot do X or Y task because they're not good enough.

Also, I've lived long enough in a male-dominated world. I'd like to live at least some of it in a woman's world and see if I don't prefer that instead, thank you very much. Does that spell misandrist? If it does... guess what I'm thinking?

On an entirely different note, I find it strange that a discussion about armies and women should lead to a generic discussion on feminism and that should prompt people to start mentioning lesbians and dildos.


Misogynists are simply called misogynists. Nobody refers to them as homosexual men running about with penis pumps. Why do feminists attract the lesbian-dildo analogy?

You guys wants to think about that?

PS - Did anybody notice that certain people slip in 'nutty' along with 'feminists' completely unselfconsciously. As if it were the most natural combination of words possible?

And this one is for the mirthful Mental Baba -

PPS - Aravind said, elsewhere, that he would never come back here. Will somebody please communicate to him that I do NOT make gentlemen get up for me in buses or trains, even if it is a seat reserved for Ladies? On the contrary, when I see elderly men, I offer my seat to them - and they gratefully accept. I have also seen several instances where men occupy the handicapped/eldery seat and do not get up when a handicapped or elderly person enters the bus. It was the women who vacated their seats and offered them to the person on crutches, each time.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Women and the warpath.

Here I was, lounging through desipundit, thinking how lucky I am to live in times when we can demand gender sensitivity, when wise people are beginning to ask themselves whether the world would not be better if run by women, when every so often we hear that delicious crunchy sound of the another crack in the glass ceiling, when it is universally acknowledged that women are people too... things could be worse. A lot worse. They have been.

But suddenly, I was forced to sit up - did I hear that right? In this lovely liberal blogosphere, did I hear someone say ‘Does the army really need women’?

The trouble is that men live trapped in men’s bodies (and of course, they don’t have a choice in the affair) which makes them utterly incapable of forming rational, logical views on the subject of strength, fortitude, courage etc. Some of them labour under the mistaken assumption that pressing a trigger or flicking open a switchblade requires a great deal of strength and fortitude and whathaveyou.

You’ll must have heard that one about the man who wanted to know why his wife claimed to be so tired, when he (glorious HE) did all the hard work? It’s an old one. Man prays to God to let him switch bodies with his wife. God (probably a wicked man with a bizarre sense of humour) grants his wish. A day later, man begs on his knees, to be given back his body. He’s seen and felt and suffered enough. But God, chortling, tells him to wait nine months; man just got pregnant.

While making random statements about strength, training, courage etc, do people stop to think about childbirth? Think about it. It involves having your pelvis ripped apart, pretty much. If somebody did that to you in Guantanamo, you’d be crying torture.

Have you thought about what comes after childbirth? Sleepless night, after sleepless night, after sleepless night… Don’t you know that it is an oft-used method of torture – not allowing a person to sleep for long periods of time?

Have you considered the fact that female foetuses have a naturally better chance of survival than male ones? Naturally tougher, if you like.

Or, thought about walking twenty kilometers or more, to fetch water. Twenty kilometers a day in the blistering deserts of Rajasthan. Without protective gear or proper shoes. I’ve seen soldiers in Rajasthan. They travel in jeeps, gypsies or trains.

You tell me: who’s tougher? Who’s more likely to survive under tough conditions, assuming they’re given the same kind of nutrition?

People also seem to fail to notice that in most mammal species, the task of protecting (the army’s task, in effect) falls to the female. She protects her young, even against her own mate, if she has to. It is not for nothing that they say, there is nothing more dangerous than a new mother in the wild.

In short, if you left mothers to mother nature, each one would be like a one-woman army. And each one would be like a mini-academy, because she teaches the young ones too. Combat or training, the responsibility is as feminine as it gets.

We, being a flawed, weak species, needed to stick together to survive. So, we worked out this whole division-of-labour civilization. Some dude, in a moment of self-delusion about his own abilities (or possibly in a stroke of genius for the rest of the male population) decided that it would be men who’d take up arms and join armies. Because women and children needed protection (but guns and swords represent power and control; see? Stroke of genius, after all).

The question is – who did women and children need protection from?

Obvious, isn't it? From other men. Other armies.

Because, really, what else is there to protect against? Against the forces of nature, men are as helpless as women. Except when our flawed civilization renders women even more helpless than they were intended to be. For instance, during the Tsunami, more women died because women are not taught to swim. Because women must not be seen at rivers and swimming pools. Because women’s bodies were made for the express purpose of tempting men to sin. Because….oh, don’t let me start on that, now.

Point being: in general, men fight for, and against, men. Not for women.

And if you want to talk about masculine/feminine natures, then, as history is our witness – the male fights to acquire. The female fights to protect.

So, let me pose a more pertinent question – Do women need the army?

An army serves only two functions. Either to protect, or to conquer.

There might well have been a time when women were not fit for war. Not because they were physically weaker – after all, a feminine hand that is strong enough to plow a field when the men run off to play with swords is definitely strong enough to use that sword.

But it is possible that women were emotionally unprepared for a conquest war. War meant looting, burning villages, raping, impaling children. Ever heard of a historic battle where women took the initiative to loot, rape or impale, en masse?

Neither have I.

(We’re not talking about individual cases of brutal murder that may have been motivated by greed, jealousy or a twisted mind. We’re talking war. Because that’s what armies are for. Conquest is a brutal business. Torture and enslavement is a brutal business and possibly, women were possibly ill-equipped to deal with it. )

In my imagination, once upon a time, a bunch of men OD-ing on testosterone must have decided that women are tender, fragile, weak things who were at their mercy and that they were going to play this game of attacking and abducting of other clans and tribes, so they could possess many more tender, fragile things. Just to protect them, mind you. Noble creatures, them.

That’s probably the history of war.

Now, some things have changed. We’ve got things like the UN and the international courts of justice and human rights commissions and television and journalists who will tell on you if you let your testosterone get the better of you. Conquering territory is frowned upon. To make war, you have to find defensive reasons; pretend to be under threat (as we have witnessed in recent times, the whole WMD-that-never-were war in Iraq).

We also have bombs nowadays, and hey, you don’t need to be a wrestler to hurl a bomb. All you got to do is push a few buttons, operate a lever or two – and boom! Half a country gets wiped out. Guess what? You don’t even have to fly too close to destroy. You don’t have to be directly overhead where you might be a target for retaliatory fire. You’ve got guided missiles! (I personally believe that modern warfare is an act of cowardice, not courage, but more on that another time)

But let me be bloody-minded and, for a minute, assume that women lack those necessary masculine qualities of strength, ability and aggression that an army needs.

Even so, how much strength does it take to fly a plane? And how strong do you think a fingertip needs to be, to direct a guided missile?

Oh, I know all the usual arguments. Soldiers need to be fit. To survive in difficult conditions.

How many soldiers survive in the kind of conditions that the average slum-dwelling mother in our metros? No toilets, queuing up for hours for drinking water, or walking miles for water, and a husband who might beat you if you complain. How many brave soldiers in the country have had to put up with that every day, day after day? And how many can, with all honesty, claim that a woman might not have survived just as well in those circumstances?

As a woman and a citizen, I can say two things with certainty.

One, that if an army requires strength, courage or sheer tenacity, women are more fit for the job than men are.

Two, that what the average soldier in the average army today needs, is not strength or aggression, but the ability to take orders without questioning them. To be able to blow up a school or a hospital without asking why. To counter ‘militants’ or ‘separatists’ without thinking about whether they have a right to separate or not. In short, what you have as your average soldier is a guy who doesn’t often exercise his mental/emotional/spiritual/social faculties. This is true of the average guerrilla soldier too. Or the average jehadi. He’s a trained killer, who is paid to kill without allowing his personal conscience to get in the way. Sure, he probably believes that he’s doing it for the motherland. But he doesn’t wonder, isn’t allowed to wonder, about what or who this motherland is and how it benefits. The day he starts asking questions, he stops being useful.

That is the way of the army (for which, we, the civilians, pay taxes... and no, we don't sleep in peace at night).

So, here’s another question – are women more likely to ask questions, worry about who they’re killing and why, as compared to men?

I wish I could say an emphatic ‘yes!’ ... but, I don’t know. Yet, I do know this – if women are more likely to stop and think before killing, then that is all the more reason to have women in the army.

Who knows, we just might have fewer wars?

PS – I cannot resist telling this little story that's not about the army:

I went to a girls’ college. The undergraduate cricket team once played against grown men from the town. They got beaten. Hollow. The men, that is.

Most of these girls hadn’t played cricket before, not even in the gully behind their homes. But they trained well, trained hard, for two years. These were girls who weren’t afraid of getting their hands calloused and bruised. I was not one of them, but I took immense pride in them. It was said in our college that you could tell a cricket-team-girl by her hands. You could. They felt like men’s hands.

The same girls who were so tough, went out into the world of men, and felt the need to become ‘feminine’. Girls who worked out two hours a day and could lift toss another full-sized girl in the air, learnt to paint their nails, straighten their hair and wear gold. Nothing wrong with that. But they’re not beating the men hollow, anymore.

All girls begin by being tomboys, if you let them be. But if you keep telling a girl that feminine means soft and smooth, and that masculine means rough and tough, and that she is a ‘tomboy’… of course, she’s going to try and change. Become soft. The opposite of male. Because that’s what she is. She’s not going to roll about in the mud. She’s going to wear fairy frocks and dream of a prince who will ‘protect’ her. And the prince will have a sword or a gun. He will lead armies. Because that’s the masculine thing to do, right?

What makes (or breaks) a woman is attitudes. What makes (or breaks) a civilization is its people. And women are people too.

Friday, June 16, 2006

What is wrong with them?




What is wrong with them?

And now that I'm angry, I might as well say that I have often wondered why the RSS doesn't get married to the Taliban.? When it comes to gender, they're on the same wavelength. May they be marooned on a desert island and may they live happily ever after.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Crows, Peruvian voters, Brazilian farmers, Indian theatre

Speaking of crows, according to nature writer Candace Savage, crows can make tools, play tricks on each other, and caw among kin in a dialect all their own.

As a sign of crows' advanced smarts, Savage cites Kacelnik's 2002 study in the journal Science on a captive New Caledonian crow that bent a straight piece of wire into a hook to fetch a bucket of food in a tube. "No other animal—not even a chimp—has ever spontaneously solved a problem like this, a fact that puts crows in a class with us as toolmakers," Savage writes in her book.

Go here, to see a video of a crow making that hook.

---- ----

And it would seem that Indians are not the only ones who make incomprehensible voting decisions. Peru has returned to power a man who led the country to the brink of destitution and despair in the eighties.

This article says -

'... shortages meant nonpowdered milk was an inconceivable luxury, and hours-long lines for food were a weekly occurrence... One woman described how her next-door neighbor was gunned down by Shining Path guerrillas; her friend talked about an uncle who was unjustly imprisoned as a Maoist sympathizer. These young professionals were spared the most horrific experiences of the 1980s—like mass executions in the countryside or outright hunger. Still, even as 10-year-olds they knew Peru's chief executive was grossly incompetent. And yet on Sunday each of them voted for Alan GarcĂ­a to be returned to the presidential mansion 16 years after he left in disgrace.'

The turn of events in Peru is mystifying, but awfully interesting. Also, please note that Peru has compulsory voting; there's a fine for those who don't vote. It would be very interesting to find out how the administration manages to keep track of who votes and who doesn't and what happens if people cannot pay the fine.

---- ----

Another bit from South America : landless farmers have decided that if the law will not do anything about land reform, they're going to break the law, under the aegis of the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST).

'The goal of the MST is to force the federal government to speed up land redistribution. Theoretically, the group has the constitution on its side. Much of the privately held farmland in Brazil lies fallow.... guided by the spirit of the legislation, the movement's strategy is to break the law....The MST has moved more than 300,000 Brazilian families from temporary quarters like the one in Sinop to permanent farm settlements. But the confrontations have levied a heavy toll. Police and landowners have killed more than 1,200 landless activists since the movement began in the mid-1980s...'

How many more will it take?

---- ----

Did you know that India could have more than 40,000 theatre groups?

I certainly didn't.

This article has much information about theatre in India, though it is essentially a review of Aparna Bhargava Dharwadker's Theatres of Independence.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Libertarianism, and the escaping of hurt

People have often thrown strange tags at me – this -ist and that -ist.

Now, there are several online tests that will give you your tags if you’re fond of wearing them. I took a test, and it turns out I’m libertarian. Though my quadrant is left-libertarian rather than right, and since I appear to stand close to where Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and the Dalai Lama are positioned on the analysis graph, I'm not worried.

Yet, on the face of it, who isn’t a libertarian?

If the essential guiding philosophy of libertarianism is ‘liberty’, then I certainly am one.

Freedom - of the individual, of the community, of the mind, of the body, of the species, of other species, of speech, of action, of thought, of expression, of enterprise, of art, of science, of trade, of service – is precious.

If there is one thing worth fighting for – it is freedom. The right to live as you choose. The right to say what you think. The right to do what you will – as long as you’re not hurting anybody.

But that is a bit of a stumbling block - this business of 'victimless' living. It is so easy to assume that you’re not hurting someone else, and so impossible to believe it. Like the poet said, ‘No man is an island…’

In fact, no island is an island, either. One volcano on one island causes currents and ripples in the ocean, which might cause a Tsunami on another island.

Let’s begin with simple examples.

You want a divorce.

Your husband doesn’t. Would a libertarian go ahead with the divorce? Because the husband is going to hurt like hell... What’re you going to do?


Your son wants to be a Bollywood actor.

You want to thrash him, but you don’t. You simply cut off his allowance. Your money… you have the right to do what you want. Your son has the right to pursue his Bollywood career. But he can no longer afford to. He gives in to your wishes and decides to become a bank manager instead. He spends the rest of his life feeling miserable. And hurt.

What’re you going to do?

Now, let’s take this to another level.

Let’s say you drive a car.
You need this car. You may have worked your backside off to acquire and fuel this car. You might drive very carefully, following all the traffic rules, but what will you do about pollution? Pollution in a major city might translate into a toddler being exposed to the equivalent of twenty cigarettes a day. If there are one million cars and one million toddlers…?

Are you hurting nobody?

Let’s say you live next door to an unhappy Muslim woman who wants a divorce but is not getting one, because she will lose custody of her children. It is none of your business, so you do not interfere. You are not a Muslim woman so you will not campaign for changes in the Sharia, nor fight to change the law of the land.

Have you hurt nobody?

Let’s say you set up a cola factory in a rural district where there’s only one source of fresh water. You set up shop, you pay your taxes, you put your little profit in the bank. It is true that there’s less water available for the villagers’ drinking, bathing, cooking, irrigation…

But nobody’s getting hurt, surely?

Let’s say you’ve got a girlfriend in another city. With cheaper airlines, it is absolutely glorious being able to fly down every weekend… and let’s assume that you’ve been convinced, beyond your ability to doubt, that human self-indulgence has led to climate change. That every decade of our development leads to rivers receding, polar bears dying, Amazon rainforests shrinking, deserts expanding, more frequent floods and hurricanes. The events that in the long history of planet earth used to occur at intervals of a thousand years, are now occurring at intervals of a hundred years, and by the time our kids grow up, will by happening every few years. There is more drought, more famine… and there’s cheaper air travel. Now, you just want to hold onto your girlfriend. You don’t want to hurt anybody.

In all honesty, have you hurt nobody?

Sure, we’re all advocates of individual freedom here. We’re all libertarians here… but each minute of each day, you are hurting someone.

Because you hurt people through silence. You hurt people when you refuse to rethink what you’re doing and why. You hurt people when you fail to acknowledge their needs and rights and ambitions and furies, as equal to your own. You hurt people when you betray their voice by superimposing your own agenda over it. You hurt people when you form opinions without checking on facts, when you fudge data, or tell only half the truth, show only half the picture, or fail to ask questions.

For, no man is an island...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind...

I know I should get on with my life. It is beyond one individual, trying to tackle the concerns of an ever-expanding, forever-besieged world…

But you know what?

I want those polar bears to live... I want the desert to stop somewhere far, far away from the doorstep. And the tides to stop at the shore. I want rivers to flow. I want children to eat. I want women to feel free. I want men to be happy and non-aggressive. I want everybody to work equally, but also to have the leisure to write poetry and paint masterpieces…

And it hurts me to see a pregnant mother bear dive into a frozen sea, again and again, coming up empty-handed, going hungry for eight months, giving birth, only to see a cub die...

It doesn’t kill me. But it hurts. It hurts even more to think that I am as culpable as anybody else, since I’m so busy doing my bit to warm up good old mother earth.


I don’t know about being this ‘-ian’ or that ‘-ist’. But I know we need to rethink ‘humanity’ and ‘equality’ and ‘justice’ and ‘growth’. A close friend recently pointed out to me that human civilization has charted a warped course for itself.

It has given us the tools to make nuclear missiles and to create the wonders of the world, to write poetry and to perform brain surgery. But it has failed to give us the tools to be content, to give each other the minimum possible pain. We have failed, as a species, to avoid hurting ourselves or each other.

We’re quite pathetic, come to think of it. We cannot be content with three pairs of clothes, or even thirty. We buy new jeans (and cell phones and ipods and laptops and television sets and insurance) each year. We buy bathtubs to bathe in. We buy plastic shower curtains for our bathrooms. And we don’t just take a dip in the sea. Instead, we buy bottled ‘sea minerals’ mixed with ‘soap-free shower gel’.

Guess what nobody buys?

An argument.

The argument that we need to stop, and think about all this ‘growth’ and where we’re headed. To think about reversing some of our damage, and to acknowledge the victims of our passivity, to acknowledge the need to make amends when we do cause damage. That argument, nobody wants to buy.

(Disclaimer: There is no particular agenda to this post. I was writing all this in my diary really, chewing my intellectual cud… and thought it might be fun to get others to chew along. Chomp-chomp.)
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