CS Sharada Prasad | 2014 July
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Protecting women?

Of late I am seeing videos and posts about how men ought to protect women, how protecting women is religion etc. An example video is below.

The worrying part of messages like these is that they portray perpetrators, men and religion, as saviours, and women as vulnerable beings who need protection. But that vulnerability, a kind of oppression, imposed on the women from the outside by the societies.  Before saying ‘men should protect women’, we should understand who has made them vulnerable. Then, instead of saying “Men should protect women”, we will say,  “Religions – stop oppressing women!” and “Men should stop being assholes!”

India’s rape culture

Why do people rape? I wish the answer was as pithy as the question. But some of the solutions that have emerged to end rape culture in India are short-sighted.

The most touted of all the solutions is introduction of harsher laws. Some people even stoop to the level of listing a few countries with tighter laws as examples India should follow. The irony is that those very countries also have strict laws to oppress women. For a law to be effective, its enforcement should be facilitated by an efficient police force and a prudent judiciary. But in India, rapes occur inside police stations, and lawyers, judges, and police ask demeaning questions to the victims in public. Indian state itself has been accused of using rape as a weapon in Jammu and Kashmir, North East, and regions affected by Naxalism.

Building toilets is not a solution either. No doubt, building toilets upholds the right of people to live with dignity, and reduces diseases due to water contamination, but, sadly, it cannot stop rapes. The fact that women with access to toilets are also harassed and sexually abused negates construction of toilets as a solution.

Installing Closed Circuit (CC) cameras in public areas and schools is not a solution because CC cameras cannot be installed everywhere, even where they are installed, there can be blind spots. CC cameras cannot always be used to identify the perpetrator, and they cannot be monitored all the time. CC TVs are an expensive and ineffective solution.

Signing online petitions won’t stop rapes. Such things are good for asking the government to extend bus timings, fill up potholes, and clean up a ditch in the neighbourhood. Online petitions have been effective in other countries. But in India, they have not been effective in prodding government to provide better governance. The heights of the naiveté of India middle class lies in sharing and liking posts on social media. Such things work well for kitten pictures, not for social change. The change happens on the ground, in the sweltering Sun. Social media has aided change by being a tool of effective communication and organization. But till people assemble in person, demonstrate, and exert demand, change remains elusive.

There are people who clearly understand that the above solutions don’t work. Such wise people, with deeper understanding of Indian society and culture, have listed radical reasons and solutions for thwarting sexual crimes. These people, mostly right-wing fundamentalists, blame women for aping western culture by wearing skimpy clothes, media for airing provocative images, and internet for facilitating access to pornography. Putting the burden on the victim reflects not the ignorance of these fundamentalists of the fact that women have been the victims even during the pre-public media and pre-internet era, and even when they are fully clad, but the shrewdness behind perpetuating male patriarchy and female oppression. This is also an evidence of the double standards of current Indian society dominated by fundamentalists who brag about the details depicted in Kamasutra and Khajuraho temples but supress expression of sexuality, one of the most natural human tendencies.

A person commits sexual violence for various non-sexual reasons. Though drugs, and alcohol top the list, sexual violence is used to vent pent up frustration and insecurity, and assert gender and caste superiority. The frustration could be a result childhood abuse, high school bullying, or disappointment due lack of upward mobility, and the perception of superiority could be the result of existing social structures. While the rape cases have been increasing, the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, displacement in the name of development is increasing, migration to urban areas is raising, communal hatred and religious fundamentalism is growing, sexual expression is contained in the name of moral policing, middle class is becoming more and more self-centred, politician’s understanding of social issues has hit a new low, and judiciary continues to be slow and inefficient. Some of these factors might be strengthening existing social relations or manifesting themselves into frustrations and insecurities.

Increase in the number of sexual crimes is a reflection of the health of the society, not just of the individual who commits crime. As a society, we need to introspect. Together, we should work towards reducing income inequality, creating safer and educated environment for the interaction of men and women, providing opportunities for people to express their sexuality confidently, building better sanitation facilities, improving childcare and nutrition, treating men and women equally, eradicating caste system and other types of discrimination and exploitation, creating stronger democratic systems, providing employment opportunities, and eliminating of moral policing. As always, it is important to address the cause, not the symptom.

It is time to invest in future generations. Men, from an early age, should be taught to treat women as human beings and not as sexual objects. Men are not entitled to women. Unfortunately, the fact that forced marital sex is still not considered as rape in India legitimizes such entitlement. The oppression of women in Indian families in the name of traditional values is so sophisticated that the oppressed are not even aware of such an oppression. A married Hindu woman carries more external symbols such as mangal sutra, toe ring, and sindhoor, than a married man, that depict her as a property of some man. The confidence among girls needs to be boosted by reassuring them that they matter to the parents, and to the society, irrespective of their profession or complexion. The emphasis should be on girl’s independence and not on obedience to husbands and in-laws. She should be educated to make her realize her innate worth. She is more than a person who just bears a son for the family she is married into.

Time to rethink public radio in India?

Media in India will inevitably fall into the hands of businesses that have vested interest in politics. May be in India it is time to think of a donation and grant based, non for profit, public radio service such as National Public Radio of USA.

Why radio?

When I think of the term media, I hardly think of radio. TV and news-magazines have appropriated the term ‘media’, denying radio the well deserved credit. Compared to the radio, TV and news-magazines pose more barriers to production and consumption of programming. Though production of good quality radio programs is not easy, listening to a radio station cannot be simpler. One need not be literate and wait for a day or week for a new publication, one need not invest in expensive electronics and cable connection. A radio is a medium for all. It does not require the exclusive attention TV or news-magazines demand.

Private radio in India

Currently, private radio stations in India can only entertain people but not educate them. There are community radio stations which can do so, but cannot debate politics or broadcast news. News broadcasts and political discussions in India are monopolized by the radio owned by the government. When businesses control the government, they will also control the flow of information to the public. While a religious fundamentalist heads ICHR and claims that caste system has worked well, there is no discussions about the beneficiaries and victims of caste system on All India Radio. What are the implications of a muted sex education in a country like India?

The production of radio programs is controlled by Prasar Bharathi and people have no say in what kind of programs they want to listen to. Just as people request for their favourite film songs, there should also be a way to choose a favourite discussion panel on a sensitive issue. Though Prakash Javadekar is planning on opening up options for private stations to broadcast news, the sources are limited and the minister is not clear about whether the stations will be allowed to come up with their own news bulletins.

Independent radio stations should be encouraged in a country that touts democracy. People should have the freedom to choose news bulletins, listen to different views and opinions. This will help Indians to develop a well-rounded view of the world. When Indians are blindly supporting Israeli attacks and celebrating the formation of a new BRICS bank, there must be at least one radio station which informs people about the downsides. Democracy can only be strengthened by creating platforms for expressing dissent.

Public money – Private career

Today the finance minister announced the setting up of five new IITs, IIMs and 12 medical colleges. How much will they help India?

IITs and IIMs subsidize the education of Indians, most of whom, after their education,  migrate to other countries without contributing much back to the country that educated them. Some of the professors in these institutes conduct research using public money, patent the findings, and transfer the technology to private companies.

Medical schools are not any different. Very few doctors get into public service. It’s time that India rethinks the way it is subsidizing higher education.

I belong to the roads!

I started my fieldwork in January 2014 and I halfway through. Since then I have travelled to two countries and more than 25 cities, close to 12,000km. The best part is, all of this is by road. Not even a single flight.

Yes, travelling by road takes time but gives you back a unique experience. Time allows to absorb the landscape around you, observe your fellow passengers, see the world where you really belong to, up close!

I prefer waiting on a railway platform to waiting in an airport. In an airport, I am surrounded by snobs who are upset with flight delays, long check-in lines, and cumbersome security checks. In an airport I am surrounded by disappointment. But on a train platform, I see hope, I see support. When I travel by road, I see how 90% of India really lives. On an aircraft, people wear earphones to avoid conversations with fellow passengers. On a train, people share food and tea with fellow passengers.

Trains - The lifeline of India

Trains – The lifeline of India

I usually travel alone. That pushes me to trust people. I leave bags with strangers when I go to use restrooms or buy something to eat. There are still trustworthy people out there. World has always been bad and cunning. In the recent days, media is more focussed than ever on highlighting crime. This has made every traveller suspicious in in the eyes of other travellers. As long as we can trust people, there is joy left in living, and there is peace left is breathing.

I have six more months left. More travelling and bonding with the earth and its people. I am grateful that my fieldwork has given me ample opportunities to travel by road and interact with people who keep this country going. Every mile I travel, I get to know India a little better.

India, I LOVE you!

Kalindi Khal – Elevation Profile

Below is an approximate elevation profile of Kalindi Khal trek from Gangotri to Badrinath. A group of 15 of my friends and myself attempted this in May 2007. We had to retreat because of a snow storm.

Using paper maps, I have created a google map and an elevation profile For the people who are curious about the path of this trek.

If Google Maps interest you, here is the link.

If you wish to view the below profiler in a separate page, click here.

Open defecation inside IIT Delhi Campus!

This morning I went for a run inside IIT Delhi campus. While running on the south side of the campus, I saw a person emerging out of the bushes with an empty plastic bottle. Considering that it’s 6:15am in the morning, I had a strong feeling that the person was defecating behind those bushes. I immediately looked around to see any informal settlements. I saw a large camp of people. I thought that they must be there working on some temporary maintenance or construction project. Not to embarrass anyone, I just continued running without striking any conversation with any of those people.

I went in search of that camp during lunch time and found another large camp of 30-40 people right by the side of the main road, next to the swimming pool. I went inside the camp hoping to speak to someone. A guy in the camp greeted me and we started chatting.

People in the camp are from Bihar, a state with large dalit population. The people in the camp don’t have access to toilets or washrooms. Everyone, including women, bathe near the water pump and defecate in open. Fortunately, they have access to water and electricity. They run tiny fans inside their tiny tents to get some reprieve from the heat of Delhi. I walked through the camp-site into the construction site. The huge hole in the wall led to into the swimming pool premises. No surprises here. No worker, other than the people who were cleaning the pool, wore any safety gear; not even the guy who was using a big demolishing driller. No goggles, no gloves. I took some photographs and returned to the campsite.

I am more concerned with lack of sanitation than lack of safety gear. That brings us to this question of – Why are people defecating in open inside IIT campus? My guess it this. When the contractor hires temporary / migrant workers to do the job, he does not account for the proper living conditions and facilities. These workers are compelled to live in shanty houses or tents without basic amenities like water, toilets, and electricity. Contractor either makes more money by not paying for these services or charges less money and hence appears competitive by not providing these basic services to his workers. The administrators at IIT Delhi, one of the technologically forward institutes in the country, should insist on providing better living conditions to these informal workers inside its campus.

What is the result of all this? Ordinary public thinks of migrant workers as dirty and shameless people. While the reality of the situation is that these people want to live a life of hygiene and dignity. But it comes at a cost. Construction and maintenance of toilets costs money, washing and bathing costs too – cost of water, cost of storage container, cost of soap, and cost of the washroom structure itself. The builder is not willing to pay that cost. The helplessness of the workers makes them take up jobs even if those jobs don’t provide any basic services.

The hot and humid climate of Delhi is a killer. I am staying in one of the boys hostels. A fan inside a badly ventilated room does not provide any respite from the heat of Delhi and IIT students are not allowed to have coolers (not AC) inside their rooms, unless you bribe the security. If a student cannot sleep well at night, he cannot be alert and productive in class during the day. But that room is any time better than the tents in which those workers are living in this heat. The bathrooms of the hostels with broken doors and dysfunctional taps are any time better than defecating in open. I am grateful for what I have but I am deeply troubled by what is provided to the workers inside the campus.

Apathy is deeply embedded in Indian society and IIT administration is no exception to that. The double standards of Indian government is appallingly visible in its own institutions. At one end, the government talks about safety regulations and total sanitation campaigns. At the other end, the same government is not providing any basic facilities or safety gear to the construction workers working inside its own premises.

I don’t know what happens in other government projects. But I am deeply disappointed with IIT Delhi. A premier institute in the country should know better and set an example for rest of the country. Every human being has the right to be treated with dignity. Exploiting the helplessness of the lower class in a society is social and political, tyranny.

Upset with the situation, I started walking out. I stumbled across a woman preparing pakoras.

“They smell good. I am sure lunch is going to be delicious” I said peering through the tent.

“Come, eat with us,” she invited me with a bright smile on her face.

“No no, my friends are waiting for me. But thanks”

I started walking towards the entrance of the camp and I saw a guy carving a lotus out of a sheet of foam. Two kids were staring at the process with complete concentration.

“Wow, that looks beautiful. Who is this for?” I asked. The kid standing next to the guy raised his hand. Another kid ran inside the house and fetched a large bird.

“Look at the peacock he made for me,” said the kid raising his hands to show me the bird. His prideful face was hiding behind the bird.

“It’s so big and colourful,” I replied.

“Oh it’s getting late. I should go and get something to eat,” I said looking at my watch.

“Why go somewhere, eat with us!” the kids said earnestly

“My friends are waiting for me. I have to go,”

“Come some other time then”

“Sure,” I said with heart filled with gratitude.

Here are some photos for you all