Monday, September 23, 2013

No real narrative for women in 2014??

This appeared in Mumbai Mirror....
                           No real narrative for women in 2014?
More than six decades have flown by in a blink. We have Elections 2014 in our backyard. And so far, at least, I have not really noticed any narrative for the women of India. Isn’t that sort of dim ? Night after night, the nation watches mainly men thundering away on assorted panel discussions that deal with political issues of every hue. The expressions on their faces are suitably grim ( I miss Manish Tewari’s supercilious smirk ) as they dissect what went wrong in Muzaffarnagar ( come on, chaps, we all KNOW what happened there!  But do any of you know how to fix it?). The economy and its ding dong condition ( “Oooooh! Sensex close to a 3-year high. Thanks Uncle Sam!”) is tediously analysed on biz channels, often by chirpy young things wearing startling shades of  lipstick. Then there are the heavy duty interview/ issue based programmes anchored by our tv star presenters ( male and female). Since their thrust is to generate fiery exchanges via an aggressive, confrontational approach ( I long for the full on attack mode of the  original – Karan Thapar at his fiestiest), the topics are picked accordingly. Right now, one cannot escape Narendra Modi. And here’s the interesting bit: he is the only neta to be actively courting the female vote. Ever since my spoof on Raghu, the RBI Guv appeared in ET,  and got everybody’s knickers into a right royal twist (that was amusing!), I have been inundated with requests from other publications to ‘do a Raghu on Modi.” No chance! I was informed Modi had won a recent poll conducted with middle- aged house wives who had declared him their ultimate heart throb. Good for the house wives and good for Modi. Count me out of this one.
To his credit, Modi has been overtly courting the female constituency in his own State and launched several initiatives which, on paper at least, sound positive, pro-active and most crucially – possible. His ‘Mission Mangalam’( launched in 2010) and the ‘Sakhi Mandals’ are designed to create livelihoods for a million women over the next five years. Understanding the cultural dynamics of  Gujarat, these self- help groups are transforming lives, albeit slowly. When Modi addresses rallies, at least a few of his bombastic utterances sound female- inclusive and in sync with women’s expectations. The rest of the political big wigs behave like women don’t exist ( except as rape victims), and nearly all their reference points are stubbornly male.  Amazingly enough, the three , four or five heavy weight Devis in the political sphere have breezily ignored issues that concern India’s female population. They go into strident mode only when  a tragic Nirbhaya case or a spate of horrific gang rapes galvanize the country. One rarely hears Sushama Swaraj, Sonia Gandhi, Jayalalitha, Mayawati or Mamata Banerjee, invest any real time or thought on women specific concerns. This is not just short sighted of them, but also rather dumb. One doesn’t really expect or even want special concessions, but it is a reflection of the indifference of the ruling class that not a single leader has bothered to make women’s welfare a key issue so far.

The female rupee has already impacted the economy in a significant way. If our money counts, shouldn’t our minds? While emotive subjects like curtailing violence against women have been taken up by a few political parties( no matter how clumsily), the lives of women in a wider perspective remain side lined and ignored. This is really where Rahul Gandhi comes in. Forget the poor fellow’s Kalawati episode (yes, I know that’s hard!). Forget his more recent roti-for-every-Indian speech (the Baba meant well, and at least he didn’t promise pizzas to poverty stricken villagers ). It’s an interesting head-to-head contest between two bachelors now. How they woo and court the ladies may turn out to be the biggest differential in the months ahead. Both should look at hiring teams that are tuned into the specific needs of today’s woman – rural and urban. The guy who’ll walk away with the female vote will be the one who doesn’t talk down to us. Word is out that both the bachelor boys are working on pumping up their sex appeal  - getting more in touch with their feminine selves. Which is fine, I suppose. But the thing is, we aren’t looking to bed them. We want them to work for us. Huge difference!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Spare our bodies....

This appeared in The Week...
                     Spare our bodies….
I am writing this just a few hours after the critical verdict ( Nirbhaya case). And asking myself in a somewhat cynical way – does it matter? Even if the rapists / butchers are given the death penalty, will the rapes end? I think we are deluding ourselves by pinning all our hopes on one very critical judgement. And we have fooled ourselves into believing the mindset in India will alter dramatically after Nirbhaya’s killers are given the severest punishment. This is simply not going to happen. And here’s why : Rapists in India are as varied as our culture itself. They come in all shapes, colours and sizes . There is no standardized profile of a rapist. The urban rapist is no different from the rural rapist. A man in a well cut suit is as much of a rapist as that petty criminal clad in rags. A husband can also be a rapist. So can a brother, father, grand-father, uncle, cousin and son – no class barriers here. Rape takes place within the four walls of a home, at the work place, inside a hotel room…. or on the street, in a moving bus, at an abandoned mill. The rapist can be a colleague in a swanky corner office, or the shabbily dressed watchman of  the building. Often, the rapist is a person the woman knows and trusts. With her life. She is still not spared.
Rapists rarely stop to think about the punishment that awaits them once the nasty business is over and done with. Most rely on the woman’s silence to protect them from the law. A victim’s silence is the rapist’s best insurance against getting nailed.  And here we are talking about reported cases. There are millions of unreported rapes which feature repeat offenders. Do those men ever imagine they’ll be exposed some day? Nope. They are super confident it’s the woman who will fear exposure far more and keep mum forever. So, even if our laws are changed overnight, the crimes against women will continue unabated. Because it is our society that is guilty, not just the individual rapist. What can be done about that collective guilt? Where does one begin? At home, is the general opinion. Worth a go, if we can forget the alarming statistics involving domestic rape. Can we? Should we?
The other theory talks of shame. Especially the shame society imposes on the victim. Social workers tell us to free women of the stigma of shame. Others insist on the survivor’s identity being made public. We urge women to look the world in the eye and carry on with their lives sans shame. But, for starters, how does one explain the meaning of  ‘shame’ to a three- year- old little girl whose tiny body has been ripped apart by a brute? What do we say to that 15- year- old villager whose ‘virginity’ is sold to a 70-year-old widower? How does the concept of  lifting the veil of shame enter the picture when the woman has been gang raped in public?

The truth is, we are all struggling to find solutions to this scourge, when there aren’t too many. Rape is one of the original sins, as ancient as the other seven. Rape goes hand in hand with a sense of entitlement and power. Rape is about violence, not sex. And the men who commit it, are often convinced they are well within their rights to go ahead and violate women. Educated, elite men commit rape as casually as street goondas. So, it’s clearly not about the college degrees you possess or the cars you drive. It is not about an enlightened upbringing, either. Some of India’s most ‘cultured’ families have shielded rapists and damned the survivors. To talk about raising baby boys with the ‘right values’ has become an annoying television cliché. I cannot believe any family actually ‘endorses’ or encourages rape. It’s a daunting scenario, no matter which way we look at it. And please let’s not talk about chemically castrating rapists  stoning them in public, or adopting any other medieval form of  justice. If crimes against women have gone up dramatically, it is because of a set of altered social circumstances that we are still not comfortable with. The elephant in the room has a name and identity. The creature can best be called an ‘empowered woman’. Today, most women are empowered in their own unique way. Even the impoverished, illiterate ones. They know who they are. And what they want. The day rapists realize they can rape a woman’s body but not her mind, heart and soul, perhaps the futility of their vicious acts will finally sink home. And our bodies will be spared. This is more my prayer than a real hope. Is the Almighty listening?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

End for the rapists... but rapes go on.

This appeared on the front page of the Mumbai Mirror today....
                        Death to rape…. or rapists???
So, the four will hang. When? Where? Don’t ask. The only thing we know right now is that the Judge, Yogesh Khanna, took under ten minutes to announce what India had anticipated. The second he finished reading out the short judgement, spontaneous applause broke out inside and outside the court. Frankly, I was a little sickened by that. The ghastly rape and murder of an innocent young woman was horrific enough. Then came the applause. I have to add here that I am opposed to capital punishment. Having made my position clear, let me explain why the public’s reaction distressed me. It was a grim case to begin with. For nine long months we had hungrily fed on gory details about the crime – which of the men did what, who did it first, why was a metal rod involved, what did the rapists actually do with it, did her male companion watch all this, how come the juvenile rapist turned out to be the most sadistic, did  Nirbhaya, a paramedic, lose consciousness at some point, for how many hours were the two victims lying stark naked on the road after being flung out of the bus…. and  some even more intrusive queries that cannot be printed in a family paper. Were we genuinely concerned about their pain … or acting plain voyeuristic? The girl was dead. Did it matter how precisely she had been sexually assaulted? Is our society really that sick? We refused to spare the memory of a woman who’d suffered what no human being ( man or woman) ever should. We just blabbed on and on…. demanding a death sentence…baying for the  blood of Nirbhaya’s killers. Hooting and howling like crazed beasts ourselves.
Tomorrow, we’ll demand these men are hanged in public. We will talk idiotically about ‘closure’ ( as if there can ever be closure in such circumstances).We will speak airily about the death sentence sending out a strong signal that will deter other men from committing such a heinous crime in future. Even as I key this in, just a few short minutes after the judgement, there must be an equally ‘heinous’ rape taking place in some part of India – perhaps in your own backyard.What has changed?  If and when Nirbhaya’s rapists swing, do we really want to participate in the actual hanging, even as bystanders? Come on, which country are we living in? And in which century? Next we’ll start stoning criminals to death at Flora Fountain, and attempt to justify the barbarism on the grounds that public stoning discourages crimes. That is absolute rubbish! Even in countries that accept this medieval style  of delivering ‘justice’, the crime rates are comparable to the rest of the world’s.
To call Nirbhaya’s rape, the ‘rarest of the rare’ is in itself misleading. Every rape is just as terrible. In this case, Nirbhaya succumbed to her serious injuries. Survivors (male and female) will tell you, they die a little every day they are alive after being violated. Nobody ever ‘gets over’ rape. There can be no real closure. Judge Yogesh Khanna must have faced a tremendous amount of  public pressure, no matter how impartial and objective he tried to be. He is human, after all.If every future rape judgement is going to be measured against this one, we are asking for trouble. It raises a very disturbing issue in a larger context. As it is, the judiciary seems to be in charge of India (just as well). If the judiciary starts taking its cues from public sentiment and emotional issues, we  too will start behaving like we are in a banana republic – let the mobs decide! This is dangerous in the extreme.
Four men will go the gallows soon. So be it. One juvenile from their gang will walk free a few years from now. So be it, too. And the violence against women will not abate. I certainly won’t say ‘so be it’ to that! The fight must go on. But in a more meaningful way. Let’s revisit dated laws and demand change. Constitutionally. And quickly.

Meanwhile, can we please keep that uncivilized applause on hold?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Dandiya Raas, anyone?

This appeared in Asian Age...
                            Who’s ready for a round of Dandiya Raas…?
Navratri is round the corner, and there must be feverish activity in Modi-land. But I wonder how locals will celebrate these nine days of feasting and festivity given the somber mood in Gujarat right now? Is anybody ready for Dandiyaa Raas ? Or will the dhols be silent this year? And will the dhoklas remain uneaten? There are far too many party poopers pouring cold water on planned celebrations. And one wonders: has the time for divine justice, finally arrived? Events of last week have confirmed what ought to have been evident years ago . But now that  Gujarat’s disgraced cop and encounterwalla, D.G. Vanzara is singing like a canary (popat?) from his prison, there is no place to hide. Provided we are interested in paying attention to the jailed cop’s explosive accusations. The timing of his candid revelations is undoubtedly suspect, according to critics. Who cares? In this case, content is king. And truth is more important than lousy timing. Is the suspended IPS officer (DIG) lying or not? That should be our sole concern. The Modi show has been steadily gathering momentum and Modi’s rocket speed rise to the top has happened (“Modi is so dynamic… he is the only person who can pull our country out of the mess… look at what he has done in Gujarat… he is so organized…he means business…. even the foreign press is saying so”). But, as the Gujaratis themselves say when all else fails, “ Javaa do….” In other words, “ Let it go…”  Moral issues, be damned. They would like to bury Godhra and carry on like nothing major happened in 2002. Is the rest of India ready to forgive, forget and move on?  Young voters are in a total flap : No Modi. No Rahul. Then, who?
Well, the dice is loaded against Modi right now. The final straw was the arrest of a perverted ‘Godman’ called Asaram Bapu. With Vanzara connecting the dots as only a cop can, and clumping Modi with the depraved Guru (“Why didn’t Modi save Asaram?”), we now have a tricky situation to deal with. Heaven knows how many more dirty secrets will emerge from this scandal, but one thing is clear – Modi’s band baaja baraat moment is temporarily on hold. Shrewdly, Modi has been quick to announce his decision to serve Gujarat till 2017! No suicides reported so far! Vanzara has cooled his heels for seven long years in jail ( along with 32 other cops), charged with extra judicial killings (read : staged encounters). These seven years , he claims, were spent in cleaning up his soul, thanks to the spiritual guidance given by his Guru ( Asaram). Vanzara has suddenly woken up to the startling discovery that his ‘God’ ( Modi) has feet of clay. With his strongly worded 10 page letter spelling out his disillusionment with Modi and Modi’s henchman Amit Shah ( BJP campaign head in Uttar Pradesh), Vanzara has drawn attention to the netas’ complicity in the encounter killings. He accuses Modi and his men of more or less ordering loyal cops to go forth and murder (“ we simply implemented the conscious policy of this government.”). But Vanzara himself expresses zero regret for what he did ( if he had moral issues, he could have resigned and exposed Modi back then). Modi and Shah will no doubt pooh pooh Vanzara’s letter. They will probably declare him insane and recommend psychiatric treatment. If the Congress also decides it isn’t worth its while to invest in Vanzara, he will rot in  jail , and soon, everybody will forget about his existence. Disowned and discarded by his political bosses, this self-styled ‘desh bhakt’ will become another minor irritant, a pesky mosquito, easily swatted by his mighty opponents. He himself may become the victim of a mysterious encounter in prison. And that will be the end of the story.

For a police officer to be in such a sorry position is indeed a shame. But for that same man to admit he has been Asaram’s ardent disciple for years, is a bigger disgrace. The Godman’s dirty trail in India has not changed over the decades ( remember our desi Rasputin, Dhirendra Swami, and his absolute hold over Indira Gandhi?). Today, there are several Asarams running the God business like an industry. Their track records are pretty similar. There’s no business like God business in this part of the world. And if one digs a little deeper, nearly all the top ‘Gurus’ plying this trade have criminal records. But such is our pathetic surrender to humbug , we refuse to take action against their known criminal activities.Why? Because all of them have powerful political patrons. It’s a convenient arrangement. And there is one hell of a lot of money involved. Money that is rarely accounted for, much less audited. Those ‘ashrams’ ( super luxurious palaces) are protected by private armies that keep outsiders at bay.  It is inside these very ashrams that unspeakable crimes are committed. Yet, nobody dares to move against these fake Gurus. Insulated and protected, these villains in robes continue to cheat the gullible . Asaram’s case could be the turning point in India’s fight against so-called Holy Men and Women.  Most start their lives as petty thieves, small time conmen, serial molesters, till they move up the ladder by preying on powerful people in search of  spiritual salvation. Vanzara was one such believer/ sucker, who was convinced he’d be saved by Asaram …and Modi. Vanzara killed in the name of religion. That’s his ‘alibi’. He also killed because he was instructed to do so by his political mentors. Today, Vanzara has been deserted by both  -  the netas he did it for, and the Godman he believed in. It’s all over for Vanzara. There are many more villains like the jailed cop. But there is only one Narendra Modi. What do we do with him?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Monday, September 9, 2013

Shuddh Desi Hypocrisy...

 Ganpati Bappa Morya....
This appeared in Mumbai Mirror...
                   Shuddh Desi Hypocrisy…
The movie’s title is sexy and provocative (“  Shuddh Desi Romance”). The teaser promos were promising, too. The print ads flashed all sorts of  authentic sounding statistics ( “73% Indian men believe that women who smoke are characterless…”). Now to watch the film and see how right/ wrong they’ve got it. Often, the premise is perfect,but the pulse isn’t. Phut! That’s the end of the story. I caught a couple of tv interviews with the young stars, and smiled indulgently at their enthusiastic , breathless responses to the standard dumb questions. “The romance in this film is totally real!” declared a newbie…. Right! Of course, it is honey. And I wondered what exactly she meant by  ‘real’? Romance in today’s zamaana …. and real? The film’s makers claimed to have arrived at these startling statistics after conducting surveys across 40 cities in India. Let’s take their word for it. Assuming they really did take the trouble to quiz thousands of youngsters ( no numbers mentioned), are we surprised by the findings? I certainly wasn’t. The concept of romance these days is a lot like contemporary politics – it’s all about numbers, equations, setting, jugaad, manipulation, popularity, approval ratings, “Likes” on FB, canvassing, switching camps, offering incentives, false promises, rivalry, back stabbing, name calling. There is nothing ‘shuddh’ about either – romance or politics. Sigh….
I conducted my own personal research, and the findings of my small survey echoed the sentiments of the movie’s promoters. Scary but true. Here’s another gem : “80% Indians feel couples who live together are ‘loose characters’.” Bang on. There was another one about Indian guy’s and their attitude to virginity ( they all want to marry one). Bang on, again ( pardon the lousy pun).This is of a piece. And in a way, all the rough stuff we are living through in our metros is directly linked to these findings. Our cultural conditioning is so strong,blinding and binding, we can see these ‘eternal truths’ in motion every single day and in every which way. I am an incorrigible eavesdropper. I love over hearing comments in public spaces like airports and stations, where clumps of  strangers kill time together,watch television in a desultory fashion and pass idle comments on whatever the channels are showing – be it mythologicals, news, soaps, reality shows, panel discussions. If I close my eyes and  just focus on these conversations, it could well be my grand mother or great uncle holding forth. Yup. The antiquated views expressed don’t seem to have moved an inch beyond the last century. Which is why despite all the posturing and condemnation, honour killings are accepted if not directly condoned by a vast majority of urban Indians. A ladki’s izzat and honour remain tied to how “shuddh” she is. Or how ‘shuddh’  society thinks she is ( like she is a tin of ghee). If she also projects ‘desi’ vibes, she is home and dry. Young men in our society do not have to conform to any such standards. Though being ‘Shuddh’ in terms of showing respect to elders, is considered a male virtue. Being desi for guys means wearing kurtas to family functions and dancing to Bollywood hits at a friend’s sangeet. For women, ‘shuddh’ also includes being a strict vegetarian, and not ‘taking’. As you must know, when an aunt looks suspiciously at you and demands, “Do you ‘take’?” she means just one thing : “are you a drunken slut who smokes, eats meat and sleeps around?” I love society’s code words! There are some things that are deemed so terrible, one cannot articulate the nature of the awful deed. A woman who smokes will be identified via mime….  someone will puff an imaginary ciggie and whisper, “woh peeti hai…”  Of course, such a woman can never become the bahu of a ‘decent’ khandaan.Well you can keep your decent khandaan. Some of us are unashamedly ‘indecent’. Hum log khaatey hain, peetey hain … we ‘take’. Kuch problem?
In an age of ‘halkat jawaani’, it’s time to abandon hypocrisy and embrace reality – shuddh, unshuddh, desi or not.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A rape epidemic in India...

This appeared in The Week...
                          National joke: Safety for women
I am putting myself in my mother’s chappals right now. She raised three ambitious daughters and one equally ambitious son in a city called Bombay. Let’s stick to the daughters for now. We went to school and college using public transport. Later, when I joined the city’s formidable female work force, I walked back from the office to my home a good kilometer and a half away.  Most times I was alone, often, the hour was late, and I didn’t carry pepper spray in my handbag. Nor did I practice Karate. Did I feel safe? Yes, I did. Did my mother suffer daily anxiety attacks till I got home? No, she didn’t. And remember, we are talking about pre-cell phone days. Let’s go back a few more years. As an athlete through school and college, my training started at dawn. I would leave home when it was still dark outside and walk half a kilometer to the maidan at Dhobi Talao. Not once did I feel unsafe or scared as I rushed to my coaching lessons through semi-deserted back lanes of Churchgate. Neither did my mother.
Same city.  Last week. Wait a minute. Did I state ‘Same city’ ? I guess that is the essential difference. Mumbai is unequivocally NOT the same city anymore. It’s not even Bombay! Something snapped somewhere and we are still trying to come to terms with what that ‘something’ could be. Today, my daughters are a part of the female work force here. And I am on tenterhooks till they get home every evening. Which is why, I can totally empathise with the mother of the gangrape survivor when she pleads with the media to leave her and her daughter alone. I can only say how incredibly proud we feel to read her daughter’s courageous statement -  “ Rape is not the end of life…” coupled with her desire to get back to work as soon as possible. That will certainly reassure the countless women professionals in our city. But will it make life any safer for them?
One of the reasons why rape is not looked at as a ‘serious’ crime in our society is because women themselves are not taken seriously.  Our attitude to sex itself is hopelessly warped, since we see it in isolation – we ‘have’ sex. Like we ‘have’ daal-chaval. It is to satisfy hunger, not enjoy the meal. Our men grow up believing women are created specifically to cater to their sexual  urges. The thought that  women have an equal amount of sovereignty over their body, their desires, their emotions, does not occur to a vast majority of men, raised as they are with an exaggerated sense of entitlement in a patriarchal society.
Do  women in today’s India have the luxury of time ? Can we afford to wait for that all important ‘mindset change’ ( how I loathe that cliché!). For how long? Another fifty years? Hundred? Platitudes have piled  up on more platitudes as we discuss gender senstisation programmes for our children. And talk about real change starting at home. Getting to the root of the problem…blah blah blah. But where is this mysterious root?Shall we give it a name, please? Can anyone identify what the real problem is? Even as we debate on this issue, a female is being violated somewhere in our country.  Regardless of age or social status.There were one lakh pending rape cases in 2012. And we are talking about reported assaults. One can multiply that number by 100, and it will still be low.

There is a rape epidemic raging across India. It has already claimed a record number of victims. The world sees us as a seriously sick society, with sexual deviants attacking women every minute of the day. And yet, our government has not woken up. Violence against women is treated in the same casual way as violence against animals. Both are condemnable and shameful. But so long as we continue to tolerate the presence of men facing rape charges in Parliament , nothing is likely to change.Will we have the guts to debar such criminals from contesting the next election? Do we have the will to make gender equality our main election issue? If we don’t, we shall be condemning ourselves to another century of escalating violence against our women. And rape will be reduced to just another four letter word. As easily thrown around as the other one that starts with an ‘F’….revolting, but inescapable .God help the women of Bharat Mahan.
This appeared in Sunday Times...

                   A tale of two Mumbais…
The survivor of the gangrape in Mumbai, walked out of the hospital at midnight on Wednesday , face uncovered, and with her head held high. That much we know. And our respect for her, only grew. We also know she wasn’t  crushed after enduring the worst form of violence, when she declared, “Rape is not the end of life….”  In fact, she boldly stated her intention to get back to work as soon as possible. And we applauded her extraordinary courage. Not many survivors of such a vicious sexual attack would have had the strength to take this position. Our girl is obviously made of sterner stuff. She is someone with pricy platinum, not lowly steel in her spine. And that’s what makes her an epic hero. Unfortunately, not every woman has her formidable shakti. And that is the real tragedy we have to confront today. For every such survivor, there are thousands of nameless/ faceless others who remain silent…who take the horror and humiliation of rape to the grave with them. But this survivor was different from the very start of her trauma. Twice, when her anxious mother phoned to check on her, she managed to calmly reassure mom that all was well.  She had the presence of mind to keep panic out of their voice while rapists armed with broken beer bottles towered over her. Even after the ghastly assault, she  kept her cool , said nothing to her male colleague in the presence of the rapists, and  sensibly went to a hospital, before approaching the cops. Had she not sought immediate medical help, and reported the rape, not only would she have harmed her own recovery, but the sexual predators would still be at large in search of new victims.
Getting back to work is perhaps the strongest message sent out by the survivor. She is our very own Malala.   She is the never-say-die Mumbaikar.  Hopefully, the damaged spirits of Mumbai’s working women ( millions of them), will seek inspiration from her decision to resume her normal life. Despite the best counseling, the trauma of what she endured is inescapable, and it may take years for the scars to heal. But heal they will. Because she is determined to erase them. The city’s scars are likely to take longer to fade, and this is essentially the problem which has no clear cut answers or solutions. Tougher laws and fast track courts can take care of one aspect of the countless crimes against women. But who can tell us why these crimes are on the rise? Why are women being targeted? Why has India become a nation of women baiters and haters? When, where and how will this rape epidemic end?
Unfortunately, Mumbai’s cops are a demoralized lot right now, even though the rapists were  nabbed in record time .The aftermath of the crime that rocked Mumbai  is interesting  - finally, the city has woken up to its own vulnerability, the fragility of its future… its survival… even, its imminent death.  People say there are many Mumbais within Mumbai. I’d say there are precisely two – the super moneyed Mumbai and the abjectly poor Mumbai.  Both co-exist uneasily, side by side. Soon , Mumbai will become another Sao Paolo, with vast and violent  inner cities that are out of  bound to ‘outsiders’. Lawlessness and anarchy rule in several sensitive areas as it is.  Already, there are hubs which discourage strangers from entering or ‘snooping’. Even the cops stay away. There exists an immeasurable socio-economic divide we are in complete denial about. We have blinkers on and dare not identify the problem. We refuse to recognize the existence of these two cities within a city. A case of two radically different mindsets. There is Ratan Tata’s refined, posh Bombay. And there is R.R.Patil’s rough and rustic Mumbai. These two polar opposites don’t speak to each other. They can’t ! They have absolutely nothing in common. Yes, it’s a class war. Let’s stop pretending it isn’t. Because we don’t know what to do about either version of Mumbai. It is this disturbing phenomenon that is resulting in an escalation of crime… especially crimes against women, since women remain society’s softest targets. The gutsy survivor of the recent gangrape belonged to the ‘other’ Mumbai. She was educated, confident, assertive and unafraid. Her rapists were jobless, illiterate and desperately poor. She had a lot to lose. They had nothing. She was a stake holder in the city. They weren’t. She had a future. They had none. She was seen as the enemy – first strike against her being her gender. Second, her social status. Both were effortlessly attacked during the assault.
 In such a grim scenario, is it any wonder that the real loser is Mumbai?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

This appeared in Mumbai Mirror yesterday.... and ruffled a lot of feathers. That was the general idea!
  Mere Chhotey Bhai, Satyapal,
What have you done? After all that good and efficient work of catching the Shakti Mills’ rapists in record time, you’ve gone and ruined it all with your ulta-pulta remarks.  Now the city’s presswalla’s are after you. Everybody’s baying for your blood. And ridiculing your outburst. Naturally!  How can you make statements like, “Today you want to legalise prostitution, tomorrow you will want to legalise rape and murder ” ? These sort of comments make you sound like an uneducated, medieval , feudal  man, living in the 15th century -  or like your minister, R.R,Patil. Not the dynamic, take charge 21st  century Police Commissioner of India’s premier city. Bro, I have figured out the problem. The villain is not you. It is English. You have a problem with Angrezi bhasha. And you have an even bigger problem with those who speak  it.  Theek hai. We get it. English = Promiscuous =  Rape = Suicide = Depravity =  Guilt. Case closed. In the first week of January you made this preposterous observation : “ A majority of those who commit suicide are English-educated people.” So, according to you, millions of Mumbaikars  should be on a suicide watch? Had this come from someone else, we would have laughed at the person and moved on. But Satyapal Singh, you are in charge of our city! The women of Mumbai are under your protection! Your men and women in the police force are supposed to look after us. How can they do their jobs if the boss himself has such a low opinion of  women in general, and today’s women in particular?
As a badi behen, I feel protective towards you!  The entire city is after you now.  People are shocked, horrified and revolted by your misogynistic, misplaced, mistimed comments, that too, at such a sensitive time. The thing is, Mumbai’s Police Commissioners have always enjoyed a special status  - Top Cop of Mumbai! It’s the most coveted position for a police person to hold in all of India. It comes with power, glamour and responsibility.  Over the years, Mumbai’s high profile Commissioners have enjoyed not just the confidence of the public at large, but have also been larger than life figures who have inspired citizens and struck fear in the hearts of criminals. They were our heroes. They excelled at their jobs.  And that happened only because they understood the pulse of the city. Understood  its women. Accepted that Mumbai was indeed unique. And went about their work  with  sensitivity and understanding , factoring in the rapidly shifting socio-cultural  developments that define teeming  metros globally. To talk about Raavan and Sita to such a community is asking for trouble. You landed yourself in a mess with that throwaway line in          July this year. Since then, it has been downhill all the way. Poor you.
We expect a lot from our Police Commissioners. It’s true. And perhaps, a little unfair, as well. By the same token, we empathise with what they are up against –  an acute shortage of  beat cops in a city that  grows and grows by the micro second. You don’t have enough support on the ground. We get it. Your people are over worked and underpaid. We get that, too. Forget guns and  bullet proof jackets. I doubt we have enough lathis to go around! It is a daunting job.  The public understands your challenges on this level. But what nobody understands is your attitude. Your mindset. You also said , “ Countries with sex education in their curriculum have an increased number of crimes against women!”  Whaaaat?How could you! It gets worse ( if that is possible!). You asked , “Should we allow couples to kiss in public and indulge in obscenity?” You also added, “We have to strike a balance as to what kind of a culture and society we want.” Correct! To that last observation, Mumbaikars across the board  have an answer ( it is the same in Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati and English) : Leave that to us.  We can decide for ourselves what we want. We are capable of figuring it out, without the cops. We’ll do our bit. And you do yours. Which means,  make Mumbai a safer city. Especially for women. We agree not every woman is a Sita ( or even wants to be her). Just as not every man is a Raavan. We just want to be us – Mumbaikars. Jhakaas people.
Go on… go for it. Learn the lingo of the streets… the lingo of our hearts. It’s not all that tough. And we’ll back you all the way. Kyon? Are you game?Abhi bhi chance hai.
Aap ki Didi,