Saturday, 29 December 2012

India today- Reality bites (Part I)

India. The Land of a 370 million Gods and Goddesses. India with its holy Ganges ,the river that purifies our soul, the river that Hindus have worshipped as Ganga Maiyya since time immemorial, whose swirling waters gush down from the Himalayas and enrich the flood plains of Northern India. The ghats of Varanasi, the Temples of the entire Subcontinent hail the feminine form as the source of 'Shakti' or  Divine Power. India. The Largest Democracy in the World. The Country that, in Jawaharlal Nehru's own words, "Awakened to freedom".. on 15th August 1947. Awakened ?? Did it really wake up!?

 In a Nation with a population of over 1.25 billion people; about half of them women- a girl, a woman, is deemed to be 'asking for it' if she ventures out alone, or steps out at night without a male companion. She is told that 'boys are boys' and that girls must 'behave' if they want to be good, virtuous and live a honourable, safe life. In our Patriarchal society, men are routinely hailed as the kul-deepak, or 'light' that bears the family name forward. What can one expect from an Indian civilization whose Epic the Mahabharata recounts that a hall full of male relatives sat and silently watched Draupadi being disrobed in the presence of many senior and brave warriors??! Yes, it began the MAHABHARATA, but did that make our BHARAT MAHAAN!!??? I do not think it does. The true horror lies in the fact that in a Country of over 1.2 Billion, who worship, and salute the Goddesses in female form as almost all Hindus do, women are still treated as second rate citizens.

Today, a brave young girl died fighting for her life. Only because she was a woman. She was minding her own business, doing what billions of young people all over the globe do when they want to relax- spending some time with a friend, doing nothing out of the ordinary. She was merely out in public in the Capital City of the Nation, (also unofficially dubbed as the 'rape- Capital' of India) and was returning home from the Cinema at half-past nine in the evening and took a bus home with her male companion. This is not something that is unheard of in India today. Youth have their freedom. Youth have the right to freedom too. I cannot imagine anyone who would say that in 2012, it is unsafe to travel in the Capital at nine-thirty p.m. It is not something that would warrant such a horrific attack on her person. Today, she has lost her life. This Unnamed and unseen young woman has struck a chord with millions of Indians all over the world who salute her spirit and vow, silently, not to let things go 'back to business as usual' as one activist put it. This time, the Awakening has to be for ever. Today, India is united in grief, anger and dismay; shame, pain and disbelief. Nothing unites a people the way sorrow does- as did this one incident in Delhi 14 days ago.

Rape is not something Indians routinely shudder at. As a nation, we have become desensitised to this horrific attack on another human. Often, we begin the day reading about an incident of rape each day, every day, in the hundreds of reports in the Daily Newspapers all over the nation. From Metro cities to small, obscure or remote villages, men often control, dominate and treat women in this manner. Every year, thousands of girls are denied the right to be born, by families that want to have a 'boy' child . Stifled and murdered in the womb, the lucky few that see the light of day are 'indoctrinated' in the millennia old traditions of chastity, virtue and dignity being the sole responsibility of the female.  A few weeks back, another young teenager committed suicide, harassed by her rapists and troubled by the indifference of the Police Force-  a force employed explicitly for the protection of all citizens. A force led by an ignoble officer in that remote village who was even reluctant to lodge an FIR against the 'upper caste' rapists of the young Dalit girl.

 As I read the articles and soul-search within, looking at NDTV footage of Sunitha (a brave Rape-Survivor who was gang-raped 24 years ago, as a young girl of fifteen) a cry of unbelievable horror involuntarily escapes me...My little girls (8 and 6yrs old) look up from their playing and run up to me, abandoning their toy-train games on the carpet. "Mummy, what happened, why are you upset..?" I silently hug them, burying myself in their innocence, their childhood.
I search for words to explain to them in a way that they will understand, why being a girl/woman in India today is such a horrendous disadvantage.... Why men, unknown/ known/ strange/ familiar, must be approached in a guarded, manner, lest we be labelled 'frivolous' or 'flirtatious', 'coquettish' or worse....Why a raped woman is questioned about her 'past' , criticized for her choice of 'clothes' an the length of her skirt, the 'westernised' youth are told that these things did not happen in the last century? Isn't it true that looting, raping and killing innocents was part of the horror of partition?? This is the way most of our grandparents remember that most painful cleaving of the subcontinent. not only that, in the year 2000, Gujarat again reeled under the attack when the communal riots broke out...

I have questions but no answers, anger but no fury...just a quiet, silent, cry of horror...  As a society, we have a lot to answer for- be it individually, or in our world-view, our predisposition to creating and viewing  'ladki dekho- seeti maaro,' kind of films. In our refusal to see the 'symptoms' as symptoms and the 'disease' as DIS-EASE... In my eyes, the malaise of our society is the 'superiority complex' that some Indian Men are encouraged to adopt- be it via their upbringing, when parents and elders routinely favour the 'son' and 'truss' up the daughter to be the 'virtue' of the family. Where all the tenets of chastity and dignity are applied to a girl and rape is the ultimate degradation- the blot, that is likened to an indelible stain on her soul.
Many a time, a family with only daughters is looked upon as unfortunate, incomplete. Sometimes, an elderly relative or unassuming Asian patient (who I attended to as a Healthcare Professional) inquires if I have any children, and when I tell them, yes, I have two little girls, I am told, don't worry, God will bless you with a son too, someday. The sad fact is that they don't even think of the possibility that I am totally happy with my two Angelic Brats, and thank God every moment for the blessing of their lives.

Someday, I know, I will have to acquaint my daughters with the sad truth about the reason behind the regressive Indian mindset. Someday I will  have to tell them, of how walking, cycling, riding a scooter 'safely' back home in India, used to be an achievement in my University days... Eve-teasers abounded on every College corner, checking girls out and freely commenting on looks, hair, clothes etc. Often, I felt anger, a rush of disgust and solid good-old contempt for the mean-spirited sons of a society brought up with the mindset 'Menfolk are superior', just because they are men. Just because they possess the XY chromosome, and just because they have 'that' piece of equipment hanging between their legs.

Rape, Female Infanticide, Domestic Abuse and Crimes against women are the symptoms of our Patriarchal Society that is steeped in disease. The disease born from the 'superiority complex' that India has bestowed on all things Male. Forgetting the Value-system of our ancient forefathers, our Upanishads and the Vedas, the selective filtering of the desire for a 'son' has made India forget that Lord Rama was called Maryaada-Purushottam Ram because of Sita being his one and only wife. Even he was guilty and pined for her when he banished her to the forest, as an expectant mother...
Gone are the days of the sensitivity and gentleness of  actor Balraj Sahni and the Kabuliwala, who raised menfolk to the status of a fatherly figure in the eyes and psyche of his beloved mini bitiya. In India today, a three year Old girl is brutally raped in a kindergarten by one of the School support staff, and the deplorable, despicable vermin is merely locked up for the better part of a decade. What about the innocent child whose life he had so brutally and irrevocably damaged?! 

Most boys and men in India today are well-educated, conscientious and respectful of women and elders alike. It would be wrong to paint an entire populace with the same brush as the perpetrators of these heinous crimes against humankind. But then again, there is a well-known saying, "One rotten apple spoils the lot." Granted, that not all of the nearly half a billion men are eve teasers or rapists. But as a society, we are going terribly wrong somewhere as we have done since time immemorial, to have brought a daughter of our country such untold physical and emotional anguish. That she fought for her life bravely is a testimony to her spirit, and it is this spirit that we, all 1.2 billion of us Indians must salute and resolve to imbibe. It is when a horror such as this strikes us, that India looks a little bit deeper into its heart and sees the elements of a regressive, sickening mindset searing the millions of good men who are innocent. So who do we blame? The Police, the Rapists, the Politicians? Why not address the issue of gender inequality in India at its most basic. Let us begin at the lowest rung of the ladder and eradicate the problem from the grass-root level??

 Long ago, in pre-Independence India, Raja Ram Mohan Roy had protested against the Sati pratha . his reform was the spark that ignited the change, until the practice was eventually outlawed by the British Raj in 1829 A.D. Now,we only read about it in books, or see it in remotely grainy Black & White films or a bygone era...At present, though, I content myself with making these notes for the future, chronicling our life and times. Hoping for a much better tomorrow when rape and Female Foeticide, dowry and the circus of the 'superior male' will have been wiped out. I hope for a future of equality and promise, wherein girls can be born and grow as equals to any boy or man in India. When they can thrive and realise their potential, fulfil their dreams and achieve their ambition.

India today, needs to awaken again. The country needs to adapt itself to be fit to function in the 21st century. On one hand, we have women in our Armed forces, Police and Paramilitary forces, we have women stand alongside and often overtake men on the professional front. on the other hand, we treat women in such a reprehensible manner- assaulting them physically, verbally, emotionally and in countless other ways. The perpetrators are not men alone, but all of society. Each and every one of us is culpable. From the miscarriage of justice to the one who does 'nothing' when faced with these atrocities. So what can we do!? One thing we ALL can do is start small. in our communities, in our localities- if we see someone behaving badly, make it 'our  business' to stop them. Not by violence. Not by attacking them, but by joining hands with like-minded people and showing them that this will not be tolerated. Also, a petition written by Namita Bhandare is to go out to the President of the Republic of India. you can read and sign it too, if you wish. (here)

Let's not dissect this incident alone and sensationalise the young woman who lost her life by singing odes to her, or lighting candles. By signing posters or shouting slogans. All this is going to be short-lived. What we need is a slow, steady flame that becomes a blaze. a Blaze of reform and change. A fire that burns evil, purifies our conscience and shows each one of us a mirror. Let us not question why we were silent for so long- this has been allowed to fester for far too long anyhow- the time to Act is NOW! The fight has just begun. Tough times lie ahead, and if we all can make our localities, our communities or streets that little bit safer, then India will, one day, be truly FREE.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

A silent Prayer...

Please click this link to hear the background score for this short, mental, 'film'. Now imagine yourself for a few minutes as if you are in an ocean, drifting along, floating on waves of pure joy... Now read on...

Dearest Daddy,
 I really feel you and Kaka will have a great time together after many years!! I still smile to myself whenever I think of the two of you TOGETHER, as the first image that comes to my mind is like a flash of a fast forward movie- the kind of visuals my mind has always been able to relive of the times Kaka visited us and vice versa. THE BEST image in that 'flash forward' is an imaginary one, of course- !! - it is the image which you 'made' for me!! When you narrated the times you & Kaka were slogging and sweating in Dilli ka Ghar room, trying to make your own water-air cooler as young boys!! The fact that Bapuji and Ba gave you all children ample chance to explore, learn and grow is a testament to the wonderful and well-rounded individuals you grew up to be. It is one of my favourite 'family movies' to 'watch'  when I miss you, Daddy, and its all the more special because in those days you and Mummy consciously decided to keep our lives simple- so we had none of the overwhelming technology (which, at the time meant Black&White T.V's, VCRs imported from Sri Lanka, Radio etc) in short, any thing and everything that was fondly referred to as Idiot Box-   to distract us.
We did have cassette tape players, LPs, 45 RPMs, and other kinds of influences, which one can 'stream' or 'control' by choosing the one suitable for the mood, atmosphere, feelings of others.....Pesky mosquitoes hummed and sang in my seven or ten year-old ears, stinging the legs and arms. We all sat in the IAF home front or back gardens. Being kids, we would drift outside to sit with you & Mummy, and often fall asleep in those chairs! We sat in the semi-darkness as a family and you talked to us. A lot of parents today (and I am guilty of it too) seldom find time to interact with children. We all have our stock of inexcusable 'excuses' like mine- lack of 'time' with kids being at school all day, and me always working afternoons and evenings and returning long after the kids are in bed already... and weekends at work too...)
A whole generation is growing up on iPad Apps and super-fast broadband and we have all but lost the time to enjoy TIME. TOGETHER... Life is like a sherbet drink; keep the flavour basic and simple, stick to what you really like and you will always enjoy it! Mix in too many different flavours and you might end up with something you don't want to drink, but cannot waste, either. Cos its life, and you MADE it- adding the flavours you consciously chose.

 With my own children, I try to give them a positive, lifelong experience of the simple joys. My daughters love walks, and their amazement and delight at all of nature- be it forests, hills or parks, the changes in the seasons, or the frost on the ground, the snow on the streets and the first signs of spring- are wonderful to experience as a parent. My husband plays with them, looks after them and makes us all laugh with glee. He is muscular, and yet makes a mean dish of Potato Curry and rice. One day last week, I was rushing to get things done, cooking alu Parathas for the family dinner before I shooted off to work at midday. I had spent the morning with my daughter's school team, and after an emotional rollercoaster, I was finally home. As soon as Raj realized I was rushed, he started helping me- doing the dishes, minding the parathas and We go for walks as a family, collecting resinous gum off Cherry Tree bark in the Summer and visit the forest in all seasons, really!
 We try to teach them the values we both hold dear- like being honest and kind. Sometimes, we do fall off the path ourselves and we do make mistakes too. I 'react' but the good thing is that I apologise to them respectfully and explain that my 'reaction' was sudden, and just a re-action. That, given the chance, I would ensure that the next time we would both have learned our lesson. I try to talk to them and we interact and spend more and more quality time together as we do things like go fora walk, run, dance, play, sing, laugh. Daily chores like cooking and cleaning become interesting- and Shivangi and Rani help me if I request them to hand me something from the fridge or freezer, or peel garlic, potatoes, and I slice up vegetables and they wash them.... This 'quality' time is the only 'Viraasat' I can give them, as I am enriched by my interactions and learning from you and mummy... Memories these children will carry will shape their whole future lives, existence, emotions and the way they cope with life itself.

See, Dad, the way I look at it is life is a series of events. Some of these 'events'  are not in our control. A bit like a bus where we are a passenger, not the driver!! (The driver, I feel is God!) So, whether the journey takes half an hour of going through heavy traffic that slows it down to take one hour, its not for us to change/ control (unless we get off the bus physically, which is NOT an option!!) Or unless the driver says, look guys, the bus journey is to be terminated here, so would all of you people please get 'off' the bus here??! You can catch the next bus coming in, or ask for a refund and your time wasted is regrettable, but not in MY control either....!
So, like a passenger on THAT kind of bus, I can choose to watch the things flash by, smiling at the good, quirky memories/ places/ etc or choose to ignore things 'outside' the bus, just observe my fellow passengers, maybe chat with them/ respond if they start chatting with me!!? Or, like I do when 'alone' on a bus (i.e, when my kids are at school and not part of the journey with me), I think of them, pray for them, send loving vibes to my loved ones, or listen to music on my headphones!!
So many various 'reactions' to one same, recurrent journey (the cyclical rhythm of birth and death, that a soul undertakes in order to attain nirvaana.... (for example, if I go to town on the same bus on the same route for a meeting/appointment very regularly, I will still meet 'different' people, 'have'  the same old 'different' experiences each time.... but what remains constant each time??! It is the 'I' myself. my SELF.) The journey that the Self undertakes each time may be different, and , that 'experience' of the journey will depend on:
My frame of mind,
My 'inner' peace, and how low/high are the reserves at that moment,(like bhai and you often used to say, life a sinus wave- कभी ऊपर तो कभी नीचे।
आप सोच रहे होगे की मैं क्या बोलती जा रही हूँ।।?? (You must be wondering , "What is she talking about, exactly"??!)
Simply, that events, interactions, reactions from people may have affected how I feel on that day....
but when the journey is going on, or the destination (foreseen or unforeseen, as the case may be!) is near, one prepares to leave to bus. taking their 'I' ness with them, off the bus!
All that, then, remains to be said is a polite and heartfelt Thank You to your driver (God) for the journey...
Yesterday, early in the morning, I woke up and felt like 'talking' to God. After more than three restless, sleepless nights, I was physically and mentally drained and my silent musings had travelled, predictably, on the path. So beginning with " I'm OK, you're OK" (remember imok-youreok, Dad!!??) to, very briefly,I must say-" I'm not O.K, You're not O.K", I had finally reached the realisation that I'm (probably) not O.K, but my I (soul)  is O.K. I was ready to open my arms and say " I'm O.K, You're O.K"  He appeared to me and blessed me so that all my anxiety, worries, stress and fears were wiped out and I was left with a feeling of total peace and resignation to His will, As it says in the Lord's Prayer, worldwide-
...Thy will be done: on earth as it is in heaven.
These days, in my darkest hour, my spirit is revived by prayer and prayer alone.
One day, early this week, when my husband asked me, "What do you want??!" (he was talking about this marriage- whether we should be together/get a divorce... What would be my 'needs' financially, materialistically, emotionally etc)....I said, simply, that I want you to be happy, and our children to be happy. I said and I feel I 'want' nothing other than for the children to grow up 'whole' and that I would not like their innocence to be destroyed, faith to be lost or love to be divided. Because LOVE can never, EVER be DIVIDED... It can only be given and it only multiplies....
O.K, Daddy, I am going to get ready for my 0700 Hrs shift, as the kids sleep silently, contentedly with their Dad, or PAPA WOLF (from Alpha n Omega) as they call him!!
All is Well...
Love and hugs,
yours Ruch