Friday, November 24, 2006

Sacking the order

I have always wondered why this didn't happen sooner.

"Deep in the heartland of Uttar Pradesh... the priests are getting sacked.

Dalits have stopped depending on Brahmin priests for weddings, funerals and other ceremonies. Instead, they have turned to a Buddhism-inspired book which has rituals that can be performed by any literate person. The wide use of the Bhim Patra, named after Bhimrao Ambedkar, is part of a quiet rebellion against upper-caste domination.

"We have nothing to do with the Brahmin pandits," said Chhabi Lal of Ghunghter village, 45 km from Lucknow. "They tell us, 'Your parents died; so to make their souls happy, give us a bed and a cow as gifts.' As if it is all going to reach them."

For weddings, the bride and the groom light candles, exchange wedding vows and garlands. No dowry, no auspicious dates and times and as witness, a statue of a man you respect and venerate... finally!

Do read the report here.

(Update: Sorry, the link doesn't seem to work anymore, but the report appeared in Hindustan Times a few weeks ago)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Trading sides

zig has put forth a challenge - don't take sides; trade sides. Try and be somebody you're not. Try and put on someone else's shoes.

The challenge has been posted in the form of an exercise, over at Caferati, and I'm copy-pasting the rough guidelines.

Pick any topic on which you have very strong views.
Write about it.
The idea is to write postively about something you'd normally write negatively about.
To stretch your imagination to encompass a world view that you despise, ridicule or just don't believe in.

No restictions on genre or style.

You can write it on the exercise thread, or on your own space, or as a comment on the Caferati blog.

Actually, Caferati promotion apart, just do the exercise - write it in your private diary if you please, and don't show it anybody, if you can't. But attempt it.

It should be interesting, at the very least.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bad girls!

Yes, yes, stealing is a bad thing to do. But for some reason, I can only shake my head and laugh at this
all-girl gang of teenagers who call themselves the 'spider-girls' in Chile, who are 'infamous for climbing up buildings in Santiago to burgle luxury apartments'.

And what's more -
Despite both being heavily pregnant, they still managed to climb up to the third floor of some flats.'

What I am not so pleased about is that those who affected - probably the legit occupants of those luxury apartments whose jewelry and clothes these girls stole - want these girls to go to jail. Not to reform centres, not under juvenile justice laws, where some of these girls have already been before.

"Many Chileans have been angered by the girls' antics, saying the law is too soft and needs to be changed so under 18- year-olds get tougher punishments and do not think they are above the law."

Well, they aren't. But why does the idea of stringent punishments for teenaged daredevilry (for admittedly grubby motives) make me so uncomfortable?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Class as a function of fear (Auto-maton 7)

"Classy film."
"He's got class"
"What do you expect? That place has no class."
"Class! Disperse!"
"She must repeat the class."
"You can either cater to the classes or the masses."
"Arre, it's an everyday thing, with that class."
"That class of man is not used to seeing women out, alone. They can't handle it."
"Mom! They don't even have third class seats any more."
"First class first."
"Business class."
"A class apart."

Do not take autos at night. If you must, take a taxi. Take a prepaid taxi. Take a taxi where the driver knows he will not get away with it.

11.30 pm. Airport.
There are pre-paid taxis. There are also autos.
You take an auto, because the driver agrees to a reasonable price. It is an old-ish man. A minute later, he stops and asks another to join him on the front seat. It is a young boy - not more than fourteen. You are relieved it is such a young boy.

12. Midnight. Lutyen's Delhi.
You are lost. In the dark, nothing is familiar. You suspect the driver is lost too. He has not been paying attention to the roads at all, and has kept up a steady stream of conversation with the boy, mostly revolving around what to eat for dinner, and where.

12.15 am. Chanakyapuri.
You know this is the embassy zone. You just don't know how to get out of here. The driver has no clue either.
You admonish him with a single word - "Bhaiyya!"
He reassures you with - "Yes, yes. I'll just find a way."

12.25 am. Chanakyapuri.
The driver is looking grim. The boy is silent. They keep trying various small lanes, some of which lead to a dead-end, others seem to lead you around in circles. You are definitely lost.
You admonish - "Bhaiyya, what are you doing?"
He reassures - "Bas, bas - I'll just find a way."

1 am. Lajpatnagar.
Familiar zone. You are no longer lost and giving crisp, rather cross directions to a clueless old man.

1.15 am. The street outside your home.
The driver stops and does not ask you for any extra money, though you are half-prepared for the demand, after such a long time on the road.
He apologizes - "I'm sorry. I know it is worrying to be lost so late at night."
You decide to be gracious - "That's okay."
He adds - "But I have to say, you're a brave one. Any other girl would have been frightened."

You decide not to dispel the illusion.

1.16 am.
A car slows down when you are paying the auto driver. There are two prosperous-looking young men inside.
One of them peers out and addresses you - "Where do you want to go? We will take you."
You snap - "I want to go to hell. Will you come along?"
Sheepishly, he mutters - "Oh! Well, we could go there too."
but they do not hang around. The car picks up speed and leaves.

The auto driver clicks his tongue - "It is a bad world out here at night."
You shrug, "It's an everyday thing", but you remember to thank him warmly.

Do not take autos late at night? Take taxis, instead?

More on the 'auto' : Auto-maton 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The economics of motherhood - 1

Food is a human 'right'.
Maternity is a 'benefit'.
Gender is a 'problem'.

Never mind, let me tell you a story.

Khairi is a new mother. Khairi has just given birth, at home. Hours after the birth, Khairi is seen sitting up, pressing warm pads (an old saree folded into a cushion and heated on top of a stove) to her belly, in a futile effort to ease the pain. For the next two days, her baby will survive (perhaps) by licking jaggery off her fingertips. The first feed (the thick yellowish breast milk) within hours of birth is crucial to the baby's health - Khairi knows. But she is not feeding the baby, because she has not eaten herself. Even through her pregnancy, she never had more than two-three rotis a day. She hopes that to produce some milk, hopes to feed the baby, hopes to keep it alive.

Khairi will not get three months' leave from work. She is an agricultural labourer. If she does not work, she does not eat. The government offers her or her child no guarantees. She can go to the anganwadi and collect her allocation, which is supposed to supplement her diet. Supplements, yes....but supplement what?

Khairi might have a husband. In this story, we don't know for sure. He is probably a labourer himself. Perhaps, he makes enough to feed his wife well. Perhaps, he does not. Perhaps, he does not think that he needs to make enough for her or her baby.

Let us assume that Khairi's husband did not want the baby. He just wanted uncomplicated sex.

Let us also assume that Khairi is willing to bring up her own baby, and that society will not ostracise her. Khairi goes back to work within three days of having a baby. She carries the baby around with her (she can do this since she is an agricultural labourer; it would have been difficult if she made presentations in corporate board-rooms). Perhaps, she already had another child. This child will most likely be pulled out of school to look after the newborn.

We (society) have the following options:

- Let Khairi's baby die. It is unwanted and if the mother cannot keep it alive, well, tough!
- Insist that Khairi's husband pay for the child. Acting on the philosophy that there is no such thing as uncomplicated sex, and that reproduction is the natural outcome thereof.
- Find out whose decision it was to have the baby (after having established without doubt that abortion facilities were freely available to the couple) to assign responsibility for the child.
- Pay for the baby collectively (through taxes), but not enough for Khairi's survival.
- Pay collectively for Khairi, at least for three months, possibly for eighteen months.
Which option sounds the most reasonable to you?
Did you decide that ALL mothers must be taken care of, regardless of background or type of employment, to allow for motherhood?
If not, then - in all fairness - you must also decide to abandon all child nutrition/health/education/safety services; after all, your logic suggests that children are the parents' (at least, the mother's) responsibility. They only deserve as much health, as much protection, as their biological parents can afford. Correct?
And if this too is not acceptable, then, what do you recommend?
Do you recommend that women go on pushing themselves to work, to the dishes, to the hospital, to the boundaries of endurance, because they are the ones who have babies?
Do you recommend that women stop having babies, unless they can find a male human who coughs up enough money to survive a few years?
Do you recommend that companies who refuse to hire mothers (or are found to suffer from a disproportionate lack of mothers in their work-force) be penalised?
Do you recommend that women confine themselves to kitchen, crib and bedroom, and put up with anything their men may throw their way - in exchange for the glorious opportunity to get pregnant?
Do you recommend that women give birth and then abandon babies, because, surely, people can change their minds?
Do you recommend that we allow women to sell babies? Why should the state intervene? Why does society (we) feel outraged and/or concerned when a woman sells her baby? Do we assume the right to prevent such sales? (But rights bring responsibilities.)
I make none of the aforementioned recommendations.
But I would like to know - especially those who disagree with the suggestion that mothers be allowed at least eighteen months of social support - What do you recommend?

[In response to - Why mothers? Why now? Why, when half the nation's children are hungry, and half the women don't have access to pre/post-natal care, and half the men are jobless and half the world at war? Why, when we can't seem to get the population to stop producing a more infernal population?]

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Zigzackly points us to Esha, and a simple project through which you could help blind kids.

"You pay a rupee a card to get your visiting cards Braille-embossed. So, your cards can then be read by people who read Braille. And you help visually-impaired people get a little more financial independence.
You can reach Nidhi and Esha at Esha_braille AT yahoo DOT com."

Monday, November 06, 2006

A new kind of fruit.

I get a little frustrated with conversations about 'gender'. It is almost as if we were talking about an interesting vase on the dining table, or a new kind of fruit.

As if, it has nothing to do with the salaries we draw, the amounts we spend on travel and/or self-indulgence, our health, our place in newspapers, the status of the kitchen sink, the vocational courses offered by the ashram for rescued street children. As if, gender was something to be tucked into a recycled paper folder, on a conference table.

Every conversation about gender or feminism quickly disintegrates into 'emancipation' or 'but it should not become a man vs woman debate' or 'learn to be equal, first'.

In recent memory, not one person (politician/activist/student/feminist/writer/friend) has spoken to me about gender from the perspective of motherhood. About the economics of motherhood.

Three months' paid leave, yes. Creches at the work-place, yes. But what about the fact that, despite maternity benefits, a new mother often runs the risk of becoming an economic liability unto herself? Because, with a baby in her arms, it is not easy to cook, clean, commute, stay up late working on projects, functioning on too little sleep.

It is easy to say - let the man take half the burden. What happens when there is no man in the picture? Because, often, there isn't. In any case, that argument is a flawed one, based on the assumption that every mother WANTS to be married/live with a man. What if she doesn't? Where does she get financial help, or social support?

And why are Indians not pushing the boundaries further? Are three months enough? Is it fair to expect a mother to return to work with a three-month old infant? Let me put it this way - does society want three-month old infants in day-care centres, to be taken home by a frazzled mother who must go on working - cooking, cleaning, etc? Is that the ideal way to bring up a generation?

Another question - do we, as a people, as a species, accept that children are our collective responsibility? That children belong to the world, and the world must do its bit to bring them up?

In a world where men do not always assume paternal responsibilities, especially if they have not legally married the mother, how do we make them do their bit? If men were wild creatures like wolves or penguins or something, one could count upon them to feed the young ones, and let the mother recover. Since this trait, however, does not seem to be part of their DNA, how do we, as a world, make men pay their share of the price for the continuation of the species?

Like the USA, do we keep track of fathers, using the law to hunt them down, and MAKE them pay for their biological children? Or do we impose a tax on ALL men, to extend social security to ALL pregnant women?

Do we extend maternity benefits to a year, or eighteen months? Or does the mother quit her job, avail of social support for upto eighteen months, and then look for a new job?

But what happens next? When the benefit-zone comes to an end, do we welcome this not-so-new mother back into the work force? By all reports, we do not.

According to a study, "Mothers face greater discrimination in finding a job than disabled people, Asian women and the elderly, new government research has found.
Women returning to work after starting a family face the highest 'personal employment penalty' of any group in society - they are around 40 per cent less likely than the average white, able-bodied man to be offered a post, says the study.

If we do nothing at all, if we expect that women will fight for equality, on men's terms, and deal with the world of men, by trying to turn into men, this is what you will be confronted with - a baby shortage.

"Britain is suffering a baby 'shortage' with potentially disastrous consequences as work pressures force young women to shelve plans for a family, according to dramatic new research, urging an £11bn campaign to boost parenthood. Women have not turned against becoming mothers and, if they could have the number of children they actually wanted, more than 90,000 extra babies a year would be born."

India is young. India does not yet have the spectre of an aged, dependent majority looming over a shrinking work-force. But we'll get there, some day. It would not hurt to prevent a crisis, for once.

Priyanka will not be avenged

I should have written about Kherlanji earlier, perhaps. Except that I did not know what to say.

When Shivam first sent me the link to the story, it took four attempts to read it through to the end. With each reading, I'd be overwhelmed by a wave - something between frustration, nausea, panic - rising up in revolt.

I did not want to read the story. I did not want to confront the fact that it was true, and that this was what the world like. That the perpetrators were ordinary villagers - like the ones I meet when I travel. Ordinary young and old men with complaints about electricity, the lack of health services and joblessness. That it is not one or two or three or four but nearly a whole village.

I still don't know what to say.

Except that Priyanka will not be avenged even if the whole village hangs. Priyanka will not be avenged as long as you have even one square inch on earth where a woman is held as the repository of male honour.
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