Monday, March 15, 2010

Jai Jawan! Jai Kisaan! Jai Mahila!!

Guys. I am off to Paris in an hour to launch 'Les Nuits aux Etoiles," which is the French translation of an early novel, 'Starry Nights'. The book is being published by France's most prestigious imprint, Actes Sud. And the event is being hosted by Yves Carcelle, who is the President of the LVMH Group. I am fortunate to have two such powerful brands for my French debut!!

All set for the soiree . And all set to answer questions on the luscious Carla Bruni, anything else the press throws at me. Wish me luck!!


This appeared in the Asian Age\Deccan Chronicle :

Ji haan.What Soniaji wants, Soniaji gets! God is also great, ji! He likes Sonia. What a bhet! That too one day after International Women’s Day. Am I thrilled to bits?? Nope. I have never been pro-reservations. And that cuts across the board. I don’t believe in subsidies and quotas. But my far worthier sisters say, I am being silly about this. Super sensitive and even selfish. Theek hai. I guess we should be rejoicing, and eventually I too may get co-opted. But till such time, I’m keeping the bubbly on hold. My biggest and main concern is that the bill does not remain a naam ke vaastey grand gesture, in the same tradition as our Jai jawan! Jai kisaan! programmes, which sounded terrific as slogans and won elections for the then leaders…. but left those poor jawaans and kisaans exactly where they were…where they still are.

I am in distant Dubai, attending the Emirates Writers’ Festival,and it seems slightly surrealistic to be talking about the women of India being on a collective high, especially to the ladies here, who look away uncomfortably and change the subject when the topic of womens’ rights comes up. A lovely woman who has written her first book based on a true story of a thirteen year old local girl who’d been married off to a much ,much older, much ,much married man, lowers her voice to confess, “ We have to be careful what we say… and who we say it to. I would have preferred to write a stronger book, but I also knew it wouldn’t get published.” A poet seated at the same table, nods his head sympathetically, but says nothing. His own poems on exile are filled with yearning for a different life. But even poets know when to hold their tongue.
Later, the same evening, I listen to Martin Amis, the star of this festival, talk about dealing with age. He discusses vanity and fear, insecurity and loathing. I wonder whether his talented wife is in the audience listening to him, and where she fits in,especially when he reads a passage from his latest book ‘The Pregnant Widow.” My mind is only half here. It has been a tumultuous two days in India. We’d like to believe the world was wearing blinkers and not watching the disgraceful Rajya Sabha drama… the shame and chaos … those demeaning demonstrations of protest from so-called ‘netas’. I cringed at the images and wondered whether Lalu is so used to dealing with cows, he can’t tell the difference between his farm animals and us ! As for Mulayam, what is it they say about taking the man out of his mohalla but not the mohalla out of him? Hours of unbearable suspense later, came the historic voice vote. Strangely enough, the world remained somewhat impassive and indifferent to India’s ‘Mahila Moment’. When the topic did come up over dinner here in Dubai ( in a vague and distracted way), a few British journos said something like, “ Splendid! Splendid! Jolly good show.” That response depressed me still further.
Earlier in the week I had attended a panel discussion on the subject and come away disheartened by the shallow and superficial reactions from some of the participants who seemed to believe all it takes to alter the destiny of our women is a piece of legislation. A magic wand waved by India’s fairy God mother, Sonia Gandhi, and voila ! we’ll be singing, ‘Aall eez well.” I wish I could share their optimism. I wish I could believe India will witness dramatic change on account of a percentage in parliament that is meant to take care of its most neglected resource – women. ‘Songs of Sorrow, Songs of Joy’, was the poignant title of an exhibition featuring the works of several women artists. The driving force behind the show (which was a fund raiser for ‘SPARROW’, a valuable archival centre), is the committed and dynamic Dr.Laxmi who is trying to preserve the oral and visual histories of women. At the elegantly presented function on the lawns of the jewel-like Bhauji Lad museum, Laxmi spoke about the house sparrow in India, which faces imminent extinction and when she mentioned how it was possible for that sparrow to create a ball of rice out of each painstakingly picked grain, it said it all. Through that single image, it was possible to predict the future of our women. Even as Laxmi and the artists present celebrated the successful start of the initiative which had managed to raise over ten lakh of rupees via a raffle, the aftermath of the rowdy, disruptive scenes that had interrupted the smooth passage of the bill a few hours earlier, were being played and replayed on news channels across India. We were left to console ourselves that with any luck, perhaps ten years down the line, Songs of Joy would outnumber Songs of Sorrow, at least for those women who would directly benefit from the bill. But despite our feelings of hope and cheer on that mellow evening, perhaps most of us knew in our heart of hearts, it would be foolish to over-invest in the instant magic promised by this breakthrough legislation.
About the same time as we were coming to grips with the euphoria of the moment, history was also being at the Oscar’s ceremony, with the first woman ever to win the most coveted statuette ( the award for Best Director). And oddly enough, I thought to myself, “ Why the hell are we making such a big deal out of this? Doesn’t that say something? Something not terribly impressive? If we need to draw attention to the winner’s gender, and make it into a battle of the sexes, we are guilty of continuing the stereotype… of segregating winners and losers, not on the basis of merit, but according to the male-female divide. This is astonishingly passé, even embarrassingly old fashioned. Ms. Bigelow’s win had nothing to do with her being a woman. At least one hopes so. For if it did, it would be yet another strike against feminism in its more evolved avatar – ooops, wrong word!
Back home in India, Lalu is still waiting for the cows to come home.


Jogeshwar said...

Hi, good luck for your journey. I hope the book turns out to be a best-seller. I was just wondering do you speak French ?? Is that how you would address the press?
Yes even I found the headlines of a newspaper first woman to win the best director Oscar very odd. Why did they have to mention the gender?

Alex Engwete said...

Well good luck, Madame. I'm still immersed in Superstar India, on Page 175 now. Today on the subway I was reading the part where you describe how, while watching The Last King of Scotland, you "felt numb just connecting with the mirror-images". Well, I burst out laughing, and people thought I had lost my mind!... Thank you for your honesty and your uncompromising dissection of the country you love so much! You remind me of the French writer REGIS DEBRAY, who also wrote texts like yours, which he called "hetereobiography", that is, while talking of oneself, the author also talks about about a slice of his/her society, generation or country.

Anonymous said...

Contesting election or not?
May be we need better Neta/s than better writer/s. Go there And implement the change if possible.

Vinay. said...

Hi, why are you so depressed? nobody believes that the reservation bill is panacea, but every step forward,however small is to be hailed. all the best.

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Unknown said...

Shobhaa, you seem to be an eternal pessimist about any change that the govt brings. We know you are anti-Congress but you need not wear blinkers all the time. Do not look through a prism of negativity at issues which may be sometimes beyond your understanding !! Remember the worlds most liberal country is still waiting for its first woman President while we are moving way ahead !! For all our country's and neta's deficiencies, I am still proud that the bill is being debated and considered !! So should you be !!

About your debut with Starry Nights, could you not have chosen one of your better books or is it because of the French and their passion for love that you so avidly detail ??

Nirbhay said...

Happy New Year(Gudi Padwa/Yugadi).

ekta khetan said...

Have Fun & Happy Gudi parwa!

And yeah meanwhile you can send laloo some "food-der for thought". :)


Shweta said...

Hi Shobhaa,
Read about you paris visit from Chetan bhagat at Twitter.Nice to read your posts.
Cann't you remove word verification from the comment window? great if you could.

sonal said...

Dear ms.De, I am country like India, we do need theeeee political system to back what so many of us believe.I know the discriminationms women face at every stage and so even if it is by hook or cccrook, we need to make sure our lot progresses. Anddd legislation is a big step forward coz it will give a legitimate voice to so many dispossessed and displaced women. And not everyone is as priviliged as u are with a supportive family not to mention husband.
Also dont discount Soniajis power and also the fact that Bigelow won the best director. It goes to show that even in a country like America geeender stereotypes and biases exist.Women in india are a different story altogether!

Madhu said...

I did not realize you are bi-lingual!! I am going to buy this book.

I am eagerly waiting to hear what you got to say about our Behenji's recent stunt (garland made of 1000 rupee notes).

Unknown said...

and nice pictures of this Louis Vuitton incredible event in Paris at

Gorgeous Shobhaa as usual ;)

a hindu seeker said...

no in america gender biases dont exist. women just dont choose to be directors (they r busy stripping)there are very few female directors. till today only 4 women have got the nomination for oscar best directors. please stop whining and get your head in the line.
as for the reservation issue: i am not against the reservation provided in the parliament. it's just that in india, reservation spreads like poison. may be men believe in survival of the fittest, and women in survival of the reserved.

read this: (source wikipedia(dont tell me it's not legitimate))

Discrimination against men is rampant in India. Indian laws are biased against men. The following instances show this sexist trend:

Alimony: Husbands are forced to pay alimony, while wives don't pay.
Arrests: Females are not arrested between 6pm to 6am, while men are arrested at any time.
Boys are discriminated against in primary school admissions, with extra points given to female children. Schools say this is necessary in order to encourage continues enrollment of girls. However, some parents of boys call this discriminatory, and say that girls no longer face discrimination in educated families so differing treatment by schools in unwarranted.
Seats and compartments reserved for females: Seats are reserved for females in buses, trains, metros and many other places. Entire railway compartments are reserved for females, where men are not allowed to enter. Kolkata Metro Railways started the practice of reserving two entire compartments for females. There are even whole trains only for women.
Taxation: Women have to pay less income and property tax than men, with tax brackets set at higher income intervals. Likewise, in Delhi, property taxes are higher for men who have to pay a 6% stamp duty for registration of property, whereas females pay only 4%. Now a female minister wants lower tax rates for females.
No combat roles in the armed Parental leave: Female government workers get 3 years of maternity leave, but fathers do not get paternity leave.
Delhi government and Municipal Corporation of Delhi have schemes only for girl children. They are called "Ladli" and "Sumedha".
Free legal aid is given to women and children, while it is denied to men.

a hindu seeker said...


Crime and punishment: For committing the same crime, men and women are given different punishment. A famous case is the assassination of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. The only living member of the suicide squad, Nalini Sriharan was given the death sentence by the Supreme Court of India. But on the request of Rajiv's Italian wife Sonia, the President commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. No such favor was bestowed on the men prisoners, including Nalini's husband Murugan

Dowry and Domestic violence legislation
In India many laws have been enacted, which seek to protect women. Some of these laws like the anti-dowry legislation and the domestic violence acts were vociferously opposed by a few men's groups as being fundamentally biased against men.

These groups argue that these laws don't follow the fundamental legal premise that a person is innocent until he is proven guilty. For example, a man accused of verbal or physical violence against his wife or other female in his household must prove that the abuse did not take place, rather than the reverse. Acts such as 498A, dowry prohibition, domestic violence prevention, and sexual harassment legislation have been accused of being tools of the state to harass men, amounting to "legal terrorism," according to the Save Family Organisation.

The threat of legal action by women has been used in a number of cases to blackmail men. Some cities, such as Bangalore, now have help-lines for victimised men to call for advice.

Men complain of being forced to pay maintenance for females, but not the other way round, after the National Commission for Women sought a change in the definition of "wife". Section 125 provides for maintenance of wife, children and parents, who cannot maintain themselves; there is no provision for abandoned men. Adultery by a wife (or long-term female partner) is no longer grounds for denying maintenance, Husbands being compelled to pay alimony while wives are exempt has prompted claims by husbands that the Domestic Violence Act is being misused. Women's reservations
Women get 33% reservation in panchayats and municipal elections. There is a long time plan to extend this reservation to parliament and legislative assemblies. They also get reservation or preferential treatments in education and jobs. Men are also discriminated against in admission to schools, colleges, and universities. In this regard, law schools in India have a 30% reservation for females.
There are very few colleges exclusively for men, whereas there are many colleges exclusively for females. Many subjects are taught exclusively in girls colleges, thereby severely restricting the choice of courses for boys.
The Prime Minister of India and the Planning Commission also vetoed a proposal to set up an Indian Institute of Technology exclusively for females

Harish said...

i am not pro reservation.. im pro representation though...

yes... naari ab tumhaari baari. ::)

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Ankush Naik said...

Great post Ms De.

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sonal said...

Krunal, Women strippers and men Directors, Gender stereotypes??!!!!!
U sound like a real paranoid man.All the benefits for women that u mentioned, i say more like them.!

Unknown said...

Dear Ms, De a request, do check out our dear friend Krunals blog, if there existed a true hater of women we have found him here!Sorry Krunal no offence, u may have ure reasons, justified or then ill founded!

Unknown said...

ahoy, mz de! shabbah khair! i see the maha tamasha followed you to the land of al jaljeera and the monument that looks like a slice of cake standing up. the women's bill is just that - the price women will have to pay for being women. now, only if they had called it something else, say - women's protection bill, women's prohibition bill, women's exorcism bill, there would be no problem. the objection is to the word "reservation". most hillarious sight: ministers from the states with the highest crimes against women screaming about their rural and dalit women not getting a special mention! know what? if our govt was really working for women's welfare, we would never have seen the millions of NGOs spring up where they have sprung up!

ps: bigelow and honey irani, what's with these scorned wives?

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Unknown said...

u r very irregular in adding to your blog for which i crave too much. i feel very disappointed when it is not there. u have not written after 15th of the month. Be regular like big B. He also travels so much and remains busy so much but he doesn't ever miss to write his blog. A remarkable thing about him. I love your write ups and wait eagerly for your and big B's blogs first in the morning.

Unknown said...

Hi Shobha

Yups it was quite a drama when "Jai Mahilla" bill was in Rajya Sabha...
so now do you have any plans of entering politics...ballsy woman :)?
As far as Lallu, Mullayam r concerned "kutte ki doom kabhie sidhi nai hotti"

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Sidhusaaheb said...

Reservation, in general, as a policy, is fundamentally flawed, because it breeds and perpetuates incompetence and largely benefits the elite sections of the demographic that it is supposed to alleviate, which has become evident over the past six decades.

The policy of reservation should be scrapped and replaced with scholarships, fee-exemptions and free board & lodge for bright students among the poor and allocation of more election tickets to candidates from the so-called underprivileged sections of society by political parties that really want to help them.

Unfortunately, however, it has become a tool in the hands of politicians, who use it to build captive vote-banks for themselves, since whichever section of the population is brought under its purview suddenly seems to discover how noble it is supposed to be, even if vehemently opposed to it earlier.

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