My “Problem” with Glamorized Awareness.

I am somebody who can today safely say “i have seen the world of television go through a sea of change”. I grew up with Star Plus having its 7-8pm slot of Barkha Dutt, Vikram Chandra. I was inspired to become a journalist and therefore the right cause. I then grew into a heralded era of it becoming a mixy matchy world. Television grew into a new animal with soaps, “new gen serials”, news becoming the empowering tool. I remember i started getting irritated, very early on, when i noticed news channels becoming the self proclaimed judges of the evils of society. I had started getting bemused by how medias role was going through such metamorphosis.

Alongside i was growing up, making my choice of legal studies over journalism, human rights study over corporate law, exposing myself to the world of “causes” and training myself to become a change maker. I trained with NGO’s, kept my theoretical knowledge in place by studying the subjects and learnt that the world has never been as nice as i imagined it sitting inside my home.

“Change” through the power of masses has always been a part of my training’s. Advocacy/ awareness are words integral to a person working in the social sector. Therefore when Jessica Lall solidarity march took place and masses walked to the India gate it mattered to me that people are “aware”. The throng of emails stirred the emotions about “the wrongs of law” and the masses were affected. I was a part of the walk too as a young law student and remember asking people around me do you know what went wrong in the court and did not hear a single yes. That somehow mattered to me but i brushed it away as a law student ego rush. Lot of years after that i was thronged with emails about “its time corruption is weeded out” and while i was trying to read the proposed law and the older one i kept away from the march, the protests, the frenzy. Somehow this time it mattered more, that the masses had no clue of the proposition being made but were gung ho becoming “part of the aware population”. I was questioned and re questioned about my non participation and my social sector work status vi-a-vis my complete indifference to “the movement of the century”.

Just when Anna and team decided to take a breather, the television started becoming interesting on a channel that is not the news channel. The promo having Aamir singing “meri jaan, meri jaan sunday ke sunday” had a lot of people around me having exciting conversation about what was to come. The first episode made the skeptic in me stronger ,about where the stream about “awareness” was flowing. Female foeticide as the starting episode, the tears, the gasps, the bewildered looks were nothing compared to what i heard around me in the “educated, informed class”. I was again asked about “my problem with awareness” and i started to think about it.

Aware implies knowledge gained through one’s own perceptions or by means of information. When i hear the reactions around me i see the two aspects of the definition getting mixed up! Issues like what the serial is trying to address are what have existed in the society forever. If a country with a growing rate of “educated, intellectual youngsters” needs to form perceptions now that “gosh it happens in cities” through the “informed knowledge” being fed by the show, i see a huge problem there. What such awareness is not doing is what ‘awareness’ is used for in the social sector. It is used as a tool to bring about factual knowledge to bring a perception change that triggers questions relevant to the context of the issue. There is responsibility attached to this, since awareness has to make action oriented people a reality. Perceptions cannot be fed to masses that are already becoming lethargic to the social realities. Creating real crusaders is far more critical and requires more responsible citizens created and not just high drama dose of crying victims! Does this glamourised dose ask questions beyond the typically expected ones? Did the episode on female foeticide probe into why are girls killed in cities? What has the affect of upward social mobility of women been on this trend? Did anyone question  the credibility of the evidences that are produced?

The medical debacle episode had the doctor writing a public letter to Aamir Khan stating the facts of the case and how the protagonist in the story (the husband of the dead wife) had hidden some key facts. Every episode did what it had set out to do- titillating the senses of the “empowered class” in the country. The actor reached places where activists should have been- in the PM’s office, in articles about social impact, becoming the mascot of change. What i found missing was his responsibility to say that i will also lead the actual change. I was saddened when a friend, who is a crusader for children’s sexual rights, called me after the CSA episode and said “i have media calling me to ask if Aamir Khan led to the releasing of the law in the country”! I have a problem with glamorized awareness as it does not answer the real question “who will bring the change if everyone is happy with just high drama sitcoms?”


The Youth, The Reservations and Super power India!!

Past couple of weeks have been very exciting for the country. We managed getting the Women reservation Bill through, Save the Earth by switching off the lights has become a huge campaign, virtual world becoming a factor for social cause has become huge and many more such events. I have been following these trends closely and reading comments, blogs about this stuff. Whats struck me has been the underlying current of focus on the youth, the school children, college students, young working people etc.
I can probably write about a lot of things here and link them but i somehow drew a connection between a few things i read. A post on what IIM-B has shown , the women reservation bill and the discussions surrounding them and what it means to me and this small initiative on facebook by kids of defence personnels.
The Reservation law has been discussed in detail all over with all its aspects being dissected and the whole topic of equality coming back to hound us. Honestly whether or not “Protective and Positive discrimination” is good or not is very contextual. India with all its myriad of cultural, traditional, religious dichotomies and adding to that its experiments with all kinds of reservations, does have what i can call a very skewed under standing of development. How and what of it is something i am sure can be a whole range of discussion all over again, but here i am drawing a link between this “ground breaking law” and the IIM-B news. The reservation law has been hailed as something that will bring in women to the political juncture and we will have the new age woman striding ahead in policy discussion process. The men all around have been talking about how getting more youth participating in this process is also needed. The Congress drew upon it young and vibrant band of leaders to get mileage in elections and still does actually. So reservation coming should actually be a reason for the youth and young women to get out and be there- becoming a part of the policy deciding structure right. despite what ever is being said and spoken about it shouldn’t it be something that positively encourages me to stand in the elections and try and become a part of that system? So for that comes the whole range of debate of this law helping only the “women from strong and powerful families” and what it will become. I am wondering then that are we such skeptics and actually have no faith in the “not so powerful family women” doing well. And secondly we have a lot of young people discussing this aspect too and therefore this kind of skepticism should have probably been followed by discussion on what this can mean as a future for young women who should get into politics. Maybe i have missed those kind of discussions but why is it that its not been so resounding! here i bring in the IIM-B post which is an indicator to me of what the youth is thinking actually. The organisation had absolutely no takers for social development sector despite the fact that the fee was being waived! two things disturb me- 1. the institution has to bring a “fee return” clause to make the social development field become lucrative! 2. A student saying that if “the trend catches up probably students will take it up”. Now when i read this i am able to draw a link between why a step like reservation which can be made a new step ahead has become a skeptical topic! If we have the Generation next not looking at social development as “lucrative” or “enterprising” or anything at all actually! So then how do we leverage this whole segment called “that-women-in-a-simple-life”? Why then do we complain that only the powerful will leverage this opportunity at all? The SC/ST reservation had a whole history that was not only started out wrong but also became a skewed reality when implemented. But why can’t we look at having more seats in the parliament etc as that one step at getting into the change mechanism! Are realities only meant to be dealt by “jhandaadhaari group”, only for speeches and not for the youth to get into at all! I look back at my under graduation days of law and the fact that out of a batch of 100 students in the college and many more in the university i was the only student who pursued human rights! There is nothing to boast about it but i do remember what my colleagues had to say. There were things like “i would rather have a safe career option” “i am not cut out for this” “you are passionate about causes”! So really are we to blame for this whole process of condemning the reservation law too soon without even realizing its worth!
I will say yes to this. The women today have this as an opportunity to utilize. maybe it is unfair on the men, i am no feminist, but then why not make social development a career choice? I look at this as a dismal portrayal of what we are becoming. Just like many other things we will dissect, post mortem everything and talk and discuss. But it isn’t “lucrative” so well why try it. Am i disheartened completely? Not really actually. I see discussions like these and i know there is a segment of youth which is talking. They are people who have seen what giving is all about. Coming from the defence the discussions there are what i call passionate and thought provoking. Am i biased? I come from the forces myself so yes i probably am but then i see that at least this can be taken forward. The youth is creating a dialogue of prospective roles in the politics of this country. Maybe that is the way forward which needs nurturing and guidance. Even if it is a group somewhere on a virtual world it’s at least something that makes me optimist and a believer that i will see some young guns break it out in the world of policy making soon.

The Discourses and social mores that stiffle me!

I just got introduced to wordpress and well since social media is such a re invented world i decided to give blogging a shot too.

The past few weeks have got me introduced to a whole lot of views, ideas, perspectives from different angles on issues that are daily life topics. Somewhere they linked to my professional issues too and therefore all the thinking is probably the reason why it becomes important for me to start out my blog with issues that matter.

I had a friend discuss with me about why “khaap panchayats” are the best working solutions in haryana and how the whole dictate of not allowing a girl and a boy living in the same village marrying each other saves the women there from any harm. For the uninitiated ” khaap panchayats” are a group of elderly men in the village who pass dictates on anything and everything in the village which they consider in the interest of the people. In haryana, india, this has come to mean that a boy and a girl in the same village have been banned to marry by this body of people on the premise that they are “almost siblings”. The recent times has shown the passing of “orders” by this council for murdering young people who do this and carried out effectively by the community! While discussing this my friend , who belongs to haryana and more importantly is a judge, i was shocked when he justified this by stating that , ” we don’t allow this because as long as all the boys and girls in the village boundaries consider themselves siblings the women will be safe.” He further says,” this is a system of protection brought about in the times when your latest legal dictum’s didn’t exist, when the elderly knew what they were doing.” I didn’t consider any further arguments with him because it was clear that he had his mind set on the fact that “protection of the weaker sex needed regulation of what relationships people in the village can get into.”

A couple of days after this i was in mumbai and out for a team dinner and travelling by an auto rickshaw, wearing a dress which i felt like, and in between changing autos on the street, i had a few stares, a few top to bottom look overs and heads turned! Inspite of being the impulsive i dont care person i felt uncomfortable, maybe for a second made me think about maybe i should have worn a jeans and a tee!

The BlankNosie movement and the BBC World Have Your Say, have brought up discussions like ” Its a man who commits rape and not about the woman being raped” and  “Is a rape victim to be blamed for being raped”, which somehow linked the whole thread for me.

What are the social mores that decide whether or not i can assert my right as an individual and who decides them? Maybe this discussion has been happening for like decades but it assumes important focus with legal implications and also large scale changes that are the need of the hour. What happens when we curtail the basic inherent rights of any individual? What repercussions will it have on the future law making trends? What bearing it has on our collective thinking about our own rights?

I have been a student of human rights law for almost a better part of my professional studies and been  closely associated with human rights issues right through my childhood. So, yes at some level i have  a very strong sense of assertion and realization of rights and it may show in what i say here. But at a very basic level, at a very primal level- dont each one of us think about what we should have because we are humans and therefore is our right. When we become okay with the fact that a drunk woman shouldn’t really fight too much against her rapist or when a community becomes okay with the fact that the only way of protecting its women is by forcing sibling relationships on everyone- are we not circumventing the basic social contract theory?

When a community says that no boy or girl in the village should marry each other because they are like siblings and this protects the women what have we done? We have made ourselves believe two things:

1. That man isn’t capable of keeping his primal instincts in check and therefore this forced rule is the only way of keeping protection. This takes the community almost to the cavemen era where in man had no control over his primal needs and lived like he wanted.

2. Everyone’s individual rights assertion will be dependent on what a few people consider a convenient solution to a particular problem.

Culture, mores,norms are a pattern of practices that a large number of people have followed for a certain duration of time and therefore becomes a discourse. But should a persons right be violated because she/he is different from the discourse! And more importantly why should a discourse or a set of beliefs become the yard stick to regulate rights. When a community isnt able to instill amongst its people that respecting a woman’s space is important then how can its impose all are siblings rule!

Similarly why should a woman walking on a busy road think twice before wearing a skirt,a jeans and not walk free? Yes eve teasing happens to even burqa clad women, but generally women dressed in what is termed “provoking” clothes are easy targets. Should a discourse hold women down? Society has to move forward and ensure that every individuals liberty is guaranteed and has a free expression. How a man behaves should not be determined by what a woman wears, and how come the mores and the norms don’t establish respecting a woman in all her form!

When a man rapes a woman, even if shes completely out of her senses, he is violating the fundamental right of an individual to her body, her being.
Another pertinent thing to notice and for everyone to keep in mind is that the law is punishing the offender. Reparations though form a big part of victim rehabilitation, but the primary aim of rape laws is to punish the man who has done it. Therefore the important fact to bear in mind is “THE MAN COMMITTED THE RAPE” and not “SHE HAS BEEN RAPED”. This is an essential difference to keep in mind, sadly something not many judges in India understand this, but the law is evolving, our sensitivity levels are evolving too. Law has evolved enough to take into account various developments and understanding of victims perspectives and judgments are an indication that slowly but steadily the law is evolving.Law recognizes that even sex workers have the right to consensual sex and no client can violate her right to her own self and this goes on to show that every woman has the right o decide what she wants. A woman who is raped carries the mark with her all her life, hell i know what it means to have the ghosts of childhood sexual harassment torture you, and therefore no woman can be out there having a nice time wanting to have her self molested!
I am no psychologist or a doctor or a sociologist but maybe people in this field have some kind of statistics about male sexual reactions and their tendency to objectify women. But a woman having a drink with men in a bar is not looking for herself to be forcefully assaulted. The very word rape is intended to ensure that every individual has the RIGHT to decide what they want and who they want it with and nobody has the freedom to violate that basic right. This whole societal cacophony, about a woman asking for it because of her dress,her values,her principles, her lifestyle,her mores,her way of talking, way of walking etc , only reflects how evolution is not moving ahead but degenerating into a very appalling state of affairs. Individuality is the basic fundamental of evolution and the human race can get better on the survival of individuality! So lets not get into “she should follow the dictate of the societal norms” because a woman, wearing a jeans and a cleavage showing top or having tattoos or drinking, was not born to follow those norms. She has the individuality and the inherent right to decide what she does and nobody around her has the freedom to ambush her when she has been violated.
Nobody who has ever faced a direct violation of their physical space can ever agree with “certain things are self inflicted”, so from my personal experience i can say that those who talk about societal mores are the people who dont know what sexual harassment is! Having worked with rape victims i know a victim (man or a woman) goes through her/his life traumatized and loses faith in any kind of human relationships, therefore saying that she/he should have known better is not only appalling but more importantly demeaning ourselves and the concept of human evolution moving forward and not degenerating.

Yet there will be discourses built and mores that will curtail individuality and maybe take lot more lives. And when i see such criminals and hear victim stories i actually wonder that did darwin really have an idea about evolution at all!!

Thought Catalog

Thought Catalog is a digital youth culture magazine dedicated to your stories and ideas.

Thought Catalog

Thought Catalog is a digital youth culture magazine dedicated to your stories and ideas.

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