Monday, November 19, 2018

Not letting it slide


At a literary conversation (about a year ago?), the audience expressed fear and helplessness about violence, rifts in the citizenry, prejudice. I remember saying, there are ways to counter it. I don't know yet but we've got to think about ways so we all feel less helpless.

I thought about it and wanted to post this on Gandhi Jayanti. Belatedly, here are some suggestions for those who wish to do something.

Food and diet habits are at the crux of a growing attempt to control and limit freedoms. Women's bodies and 'purity' of clan is another major zone of control. Both of these are linked to perpetuation of caste, class, and deepening prejudices.

One simple thing middle class people can do is say 'no' to school restrictions. Write to schools and tell them that you reject restrictions on eggs and meat in tiffins as well as canteens. Schools have a responsibility to ensure that they teach freedom and choice; they do not have to impose the dietary preferences of one group over the rest. Students have to learn to deal with differences. Parents have to learn too.

Write letters of protest. If you have the option, withdraw your children from schools that do not respect your own choices or your child's right to experiment with theirs. Insist on sending whatever you want in tiffin boxes. Teach your kids how to talk about food diversity.

Suggest to your employers, if they maintain “pure” vegetarian canteens, that they should consider allowing separate counters for eggs and meat. Nobody HAS to eat meat, but is discriminatory to assume that all employees will be vegetarian, all the time.

Campaign for literature produced by marginalised groups to be included on syllabi, starting at the primary school level, all the way up to University. Are children reading Ambedkar and Maulana Azad alongside Gandhi? Are they reading Urmila Pawar alongside Margaret Atwood, Shakespeare alongside Mohan Rakesh? Is the fiction list inclusive of translations from various languages and regions?

Check out the school and college libraries and ask if the admin will not acquire or encourage more diverse readings. Send letters of disapproval and approval. If schools can't handle the extra work, then offer to organise readings in extra-curricular time.

Organise events in each others' homes, and invite your children and their friends. Talk about the difficult stuff.

Make days like Gandhi Jayanti, Children's Day and Ambedkar Jayanti really count. For far too long, we've reduced Gandhi to his half dhoti and his spectacles. Kids are dressed up in his image, ironically enough, by spending more money. If anything, Gandhi was against wasteful expense!

I didn't have 'My Experiments with Truth' as school reading. The book wasn't in the library. Someone – a retired Brigadier Sahukar – once gave me and my brother money as a gift, asking our mother to buy books. She bought us 'My Experiments with Truth' and Nehru's 'A History of India'. We hadn't even heard of Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste, not even through college, although I did study Sociology as a subject. Nobody mentioned it. Nobody recommended it.

We don't need token school holidays. Prepping for such days means prepping for life in India. Dressing up in wire framed glasses and dhotis is okay for six year olds. It isn't enough for 10 year olds or 16 year olds, who are on the cusp of voting.

Start campaigns to get discussion groups going and workshops that encourage critical thought in government and municipal schools. Gandhi, whatever his faults, examined ideas and changed his mind when he was persuaded. It's the least we can do to honour him. The same applies to other leaders and thinkers we have been honouring only through lamp-lighting and garlanding of photos.

Parents need to use platforms such as parent-teacher meetings to talk about bias and prejudice. Start the conversation. Don't be shy to ask the school what they do to ACTIVELY foster diversity and understanding of different cultures. Ask how many kids from different backgrounds – economic, religions, castes – are admitted. Point out the dangers of insulation. Don't be afraid that your kids will be asked to leave. If they are, you are really just saving your kids.

At job interviews, ask prospective employers if they are investing in diversity and multi-culturalism. Ask, why not?

Build pressure to de-segregate apartment complexes and neighbourhoods. Talk at RWA and Cooperative housing society meetings. Write letters. Write anonymously if you are afraid that you will lose your own housing.

Ask if there's a policy of not accepting tenants or buyers from various communities and ethnicities, or if there's a policy against single people.

Also, ask whether this separation of elevators for 'staff' or 'service people' is not akin to racism and very, very close to untouchability, which is against the law. If you are already aware that there is such segregation, then say that this makes you uncomfortable. Say that you don't buy their arguments about 'hygiene'. Instead of calling out random strangers or celebrities on twitter, call out the uncle-ji and bhabhi-ji upstairs.

Call out brokers too, and builders.

Resenting loss of freedom and tolerance is pointless. Send out positive messages, and do so publicly. If you are looking for tenants, or putting out ads on property sites, say specifically that you will not discriminate.

Actively support single men and women. If you have problems with their choices, focus on spelling out those problems, rather than shifting blame onto their personhood. Say you don't want noise. Say you don't want to hear from the cops. Don't say “no visitors or parties”.

If neighbours or your own landlords complain about parties, learn to keep your chin up and say: Then don't celebrate kiddie parties or religious festivals because those events also involve visitors and noise, and you are not obligated to trust that the neighbour's brother-in-law as a decent or trustworthy person.

Build consent as an active rather than passive practice. Teach girls emotional and financial responsibility as much as you teach them to be safe. And teach boys the same.

Campaign for social conflict becoming a module at the high school level. Pretending that conflict doesn't exist, only fuels more conflict.

Build a debate about social and economic development, what existing systems are costing us, and what alternative models look like. Make that conversation mainstream. Talk about how much things cost in the short and the long term. Put this information out everywhere. Not just on social media. Put it where the schools are, where the PTA is, offices, wherever you can.

Start campaigns against parental interference in registered marriages. People who choose not to marry in traditional ceremonies should be able to walk into a registrar's office and, without any notice period or any fuss, be able to do it instantly. Build pressure for the law to be changed accordingly.

Stop interfering with your own kids' romantic aspirations once they attain legal age.

Start campaigns to equalise marriage age. There is no logic to the minimum age of marriage being 21 for boys and 18 for girls. The implication is that boys need to study or work a bit more before they can support a wife. This is discriminatory and embeds notions of inequality in marriage. Both need to be 18 or both need to be 21.

Please feel free to add to this list.






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