Wednesday, February 23, 2011

smell the skinny latte, ladeez

"I don't like the jargon "sex workers". We are all sex workers these days, unless we are celibate, as we are all encouraged to pursue lifelong sexiness. Most young women are endlessly groomed to be desirable after all. Yet the men who have sex with young, frightened, addled girls choose to do so. Such sex, we are told, is about power. To have sex in a car with a heroin addict is very cheap indeed. It goes on day in and day out, and of course it makes me wonder about male sexuality. As does the use of rape as a weapon of war. To say these things is not to say all men are rapists. But some are. To not say them does not make it stop.

It is as though feminism had to sex itself up to keep itself interesting. We are not hairy man-haters who bang on about domestic violence and abuse. We are fascinating women interested in fashion, relationships and true intimacy. OK, so we have a few little problems like having it all turning into doing it all, and finding a nice guy to do any of it with at all, but look on the bright side! We have got a few more female MPs, our girls are doing well at school and isn't life grand?

Well no. No it isn't.

That was Suzanne Moore in the Guardian. And this is my internal countdown to March 8 as I think about womanhood, liberalism and modernism. As Moore says: "Reasonably sitting around waiting for equality while empowering oneself with some silicone implants does not really seem to have worked wonders, does it ladeez?"

Monday, February 21, 2011


Everyone who likes to talk about the public distribution system, foodgrains subsidy, tribal unrest etc, should look at the way crime unfolds, as it did recently in Alirajpur.

'the salesman of the public distribution outlet in village Chapria some forty kilometers from Alirajpur took out all the wheat, rice and sugar meant for subsidised distribution to the villagers during the night on 2nd February, 2011 and then lodged a complaint with the Police outpost in Phoolmal village nearby that some unidentified thieves had stolen the foodgrains and sugar. The policemen... made a visit to Chapria village on 9th February in search of a person named Kalia and not finding him caught hold of his wife Vechli and gave her a solid caning on her buttocks and thighs and left her writhing on the ground. When her cries brought the other villagers to her house the policemen threatened them with dire consequences if they did not bring Kalia to the outpost... the villagers next day... came to the office of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath (and complained) to the Collector and the Superintendent of Police. The SP, a woman, was aghast at the purple weal marks of the beating on Vechli's body shown in the picture below and immediately ordered her to be taken to hospital ... The media too were given the story and the next day the papers were full of it... the doctor (at the hospital) had said that the wounds were superficial and needed only first aid and no hospitalisation. Shankar had to rush back to the hospital and give the doctor a dressing down to get the woman admitted.'
[Read full post here]

Imagine that you are Vechli, or Kalia. How invested in this thing called 'democracy' are you likely to be? And if some airhead sitting in some urban university decided that the moral of the story is: 'stop foodgrain subsidy for the poor', what would you want to do to him?

And here's another gem about police procedure and the rule of law. This time, from Mumbai.

'1:45am – People start calling their friends and relatives who could get us out of this mess. The 3 star police officer enters and tells us to shut up. When asked why we were brought here and treated like absolute shit, his response was “You were drinking in a bar without a liquor permit.”

“Why the fuck aren’t the bar owners in this room then?” asked someone to which we never got a clean response, ever.

A relative of one of the boys happened to be the leader of the Youth Congress in south Mumbai . He tried to talk the cops out of it by asking them how we were supposed to know about liquor permit. He said “I have been to LP for over 30 years and this has never happened before.” But the cops didn’t budge. They didn’t even do a breath analyzer test or any concrete medical test to even have any evidence to put us behind bars. It turned out that the lifting-shirt-up fiasco was the check for signs of assault.'

Read the whole messy story here.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tragic and tender and brutal and funny

Those are the words in which this reviewer describes my last book. Am very flattered. Actually, I'm halfway over the moon. And I promise to work hard at my writing so that every book is tragic, tender, brutal and funny.

And for those who possess those things, Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales is also available on Kindle now, which means it will not be so insanely expensive for those who are abroad and gazing longingly at the book cover (insert self-deprecating but still hopeful roll of eyes here) on Amazon.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Triptych from yesterday's paper

Guns: Two groups allegedly affiliated to the Maulana and his opponents openly clashed on the Deoband campus to sounds of booming gunshots.

Wailing: The shop keepers said the women had been lying there for a few days and the wails from the younger one never stopped.

Quiet: The high hunger States are Orissa, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Bihar.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Hence, the nausea

There are things one knows about the world. That is can be ugly, for instance. And beautiful. Most things are a little of both, and most people can find it in themselves to see a little of both in and around themselves.

Being able to see both sides of a picture is important to writers like me, writers of non-fiction particularly. It is important to measure intent against action. It is important to balance outrage against insight. And it is important also to recognize that sometimes, a bad approach overshadows all good intentions.

Am still disturbed by news of how a charity is asking us to 'buy' little girls. Because if we don't 'buy' the girl, someone else will. And that someone else will probably sell them into slavery and prostitution.

Yes, yes, I know. The intention is supposed to be good. They are probably only trying to help. They probably want to save little girls from suffering unbearable, untellable traumas. And they are resorting to the tricks of the trade to do so - the language of the bazaar, the gimmicks of advertising.

If I know, why am I so offended?

I have spent the last few days thinking about this article. What exactly is the outrage about?

As the article says, there is something definitely creepy about 'disheveled Indian girl smiling bashfully as an unknown cameraperson pans up and down her body, lingering on her little hands, before finally settling on her face'.

I avoided seeing the actual video on the site for a few days. Just reading the language was off-putting enough. The site uses words like 'Innocent and Available... Experience the sensation of buying a girl'. But I made myself watch. Twice.

Nauseating is the word. I am trying to think of another word that might be more appropriate. And I don't know why. Maybe because we use words so generically these days. From jokes to bad theatrical performances to footage of human rights' abuses - everything is nauseating. Perhaps I should clarify that I did not exactly throw up. But I wanted to. When I saw pictures of distraught little girls with tags of $22 etc against their nervous bodies and the words 'purchased' written boldly, I found myself wanting to physically assault the person who came up with this idea.

Even an already sympathetic, already outraged and pretty tired journalist like me was disgusted by those visuals and those words. They did not help evoke any sympathy for the child - none that would not have been generated by an ordinary photo and an ordinary appeal. Dozens of NGOs have been using photos of children that melt tight fists and unseam the lightest of pockets. They have done so successfully without exhorting us to buy little girls like the one in the video.

Yes, I am afraid for the kid in the video, and all kids who might be sold for any reason whatsoever. And yes, I'd buy a damn pencil box if I was persuaded that it would stop the sale of a child. But I'm damned if I will contribute to an organisation or a campaign that uses, or pretends to use, the methods of child pornography to make an appeal. Who does such a video appeal to anyway? Why would anyone go to a website called The Girl Store? Why would anyone continue to watch visuals after the first few seconds? Who, except child pornography enthusiasts (or those who have been forewarned by outraged feminist magazines)? And does the person who made that website seriously think that people trawling the net for child pornography will suddenly be transformed by the words 'buy her life back'?

And just for the record, especially for the semi-literates who wrote content for that website, girls in India are rarely 'sold' into marriages. Even poor families often 'buy' into marriages. Which means they rarely benefit financially from the girl's wedding, even if they are poor. At best, they abandon the girl to her admittedly rotten fate. At worst, they cough up thousands of rupees to get rid of her in the time-honoured way - marriage. The problem is not so much poverty or illiteracy (girl children are rarely killed, bought or sold within illiterate and extremely poor tribal communities). The problem is the attitude that a little girl (or a boy) is a commodity that can be traded at certain times (of stress, of need). Which is the same idea this idiotic website is actually helping to promote.

Hence, the outrage. Hence, the nausea. Now somebody go shut down that store.

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