A bad night…and a worse day ahead

I was planning to move to WordPress today. But, there seems to be a problem with the move. I still haven’t figured out how to move without damaging the blog. But, all these troubles suddenly seem trivial. I sat glued to television for almost 2 hours this morning. I couldn’t react. I was shocked beyond measure. A bomb blast is one thing. It has happened before, and will continue to happen for many years to come. But, the audacity with which terrorists stormed the Taj and Trident, is too horrifying to analyse. It has taken me nearly six hours to come to terms with the tragedy, and gather my thoughts to actually write about it. I am still not being very coherent. I am sitting in far-off Chennai, but you never know. I could be next on their radar. Or the people I love and cherish. Suddenly, the world seems a lot more unsafe than it was yesterday.

But, taking a step back from the human tragedy that is playing out all around us, we must ask the all-important question, "Is the Indian State soft on terror?" I am not an expert. I have no idea what kind of intelligence the government had. But, I do wonder how 20 terrorists managed to sneak into Mumbai, armed with AK-47 assault rifles and grenades, by sea, without being detected. Are our coastlines that porous? I understand that the coast can never be hermetically sealed. Fishing trawlers, merchant vehicles and catamarans will continue to ply, and for entirely innocent purposes. But, the terrorists used rubberised boats to get into Mumbai. It’s too scary to contemplate what this means to other, not-so-safe locations along the coast.

Amidst all this drama, the Prime Minister has not uttered a single word. We hear he has called for an emergency meeting. Good. But, is it not his responsibility, as the Head of the Government to reassure his people that his government will act? I don’t know about protocol, but the PMO claims it will be inappropriate for the PM to address the nation while military operations are still on. I just do not get it. Why? Why is it not appropriate for the elected representative of the nation to talk to those who elected him? We are not asking him for information on the operations. We are simply asking for a reassurance that the state will not hesitate to act. Is it too much to ask?

I have refrained from criticising the government so far. I have tried my best, despite my dislike for the Gandhi family, to give the government the benefit of doubt. But now, I am not so sure. They are keeping a convicted terrorist alive and politicking. Politicians are busy playing the blame game. They are delaying Afzal Guru’s execution for fear of hurting minority sentiments. Do we really think our country’s Muslims are pro-Guru? I seriously doubt it. What are they waiting for? For another attack on Parliament? Or one on 10, Janpath maybe? It is time for the government to act. Before it is too late.

Comment policy revisited

Ok. This is getting annoying. I really need to reiterate some things. I have a comment policy. So, please read it before commenting. Also, I need to add a couple of things to it. Insulting me (or women in general) via e-mail and claiming it is personal just does not cut it. I am open to discussion, but that means my readers must be open to criticism too. If you can’t take it, stay away. Here is an updated version of my existing comment policy.

  • All opinions expressed in the blog posts are mine and mine alone. If I have used someone else’s comments or opinions, I either cite them verbatim, or link to their blog (assuming they have one) or at least credit them in some way. So, if you have a problem with it, you are free to say so. But, that DOES NOT MEAN you insult or degrade or threaten.

  • Opinions published on the blogs do not reflect those of my past, current or future employers. Here again, I am solely responsible for all that I say.

  • Comments on my blogs are not moderated. That is because I believe in the right to free speech. But, let me make it clear that the site, and blogs associated with it, belong to me. If I find inappropriate or insulting comments, I reserve the right to delete them. I refrain from moderation because I believe my readers are informed and educated people who can differentiate between a disagreement and hate speech.

  • Comments that spread racial, ethnic or caste hatred, and those that are discriminatory will be summarily deleted.

  • I neither endorse nor necessarily agree with opinions expressed in the comments.

  • If you want to send me an email, you are most welcome. I entertain mails on my site, things that I have said, or professional inquiries. I DO NOT, however, entertain any provocative comments. If you want to be provocative, you are free to be so on my comment forum. My email is not a tool to fight.

  • I made the mistake of bothering to take someone seriously once. All provocative emails will henceforth be summarily deleted and NOT ACKNOWLEDGED.

  • Finally, please leave a name when you comment. Anonymous comments are not disabled, but you will make a better impact if you leave a name, any name, even if it is a pseudonym. I don’t take opinions of those who refuse to name themselves seriously. Nor to I deign to reply. That should speak for itself.

Got it?

On Feminism – II

Cris commented on my previous post saying my post was more subtle than she expected it to be. I explained that the stimulus was intellectual and not emotional and so I was able to take an objective stand. But, it seems that the heavens think otherwise. Why else would I get a mail, with a comment to the post, that provokes and insinuates and almost dares me to respond? Sigh! Divine providence! 😛

Mahesh Anand, who commented on the previous post, (I removed the link because the author deleted the post) also sent me an email with comments. I will try and rebut the major points. He says he does not want to start an argument. Doesn’t matter. Some things must be discussed. For the better or for the worse. So, here we go.

First, the question of smoking and drinking. He says smoking and drinking are a vice anyway. I agree. But, my opinion is slightly different. I have no problems with smoking being condemned and criticised. It ruins one’s health and can cause a wide range of ailments, from impotence to cancer. But, I feel the need to clarify that alcohol in itself is not bad. It is the excessive consumption and abuse of alcohol that make it dangerous to well-being. But, my idea was not to eulogise smoking and drinking. People are free to decide what the limits of socially acceptable behaviour are. But, whatever they may be, they should be the same for men and women. That is all. Whether that freedom is exercised by the woman is another question. The keyword here is equality. As for women smoking in Mumbai, I do not see the connection. Men smoke in Mumbai too. Why are women singled out to become symbols of decadence? I don’t get it.

Next, to my comment on beauty treatments and threading, he says, "To your comments about beauty, waxing, facials, eyebrows…. i feel that you are being noticed for all these that you are doing this." I am sure many of you will agree, but what women do is their business. And the men may please stop deluding themselves. We do not do our eyebrows and fingernails, wax or get facials for you to notice us. You are not the be all and end all of our existence. As a woman, I do all this because it makes me feel great. Just like getting a nice oil massage makes anyone, man or woman, relax. And there is a more important person in the whole waxing, threading, facials deal. Me. Men just happen to occupy the same part of the world. That’s all. Thank God, all men are not the same.

Finally, a comment on women wearing sleeveless. "I have always wondered why its the ladies who always prefer tops without sleeves.I have never seen gents preferring the same to show their biceps." Same answer as above. We wear sleeveless because we feel nice in them. Men just happen to be there when we wear them. We do not wear them so that men can ogle at our skin. Ok? If men do not wear sleeveless, it is their choice. Don’t expect us not to wear it simply because men do not.

On Feminism

I have been tagged (by Cris) to write on what feminism is to me. Well, ok. Here we go. First of all, I do not like the term feminism. It has too many negative connotations, too much baggage and too much snobbery associated with it. Many people seem to think that feminism means man-hating. Or man-bashing. Sorry, but I do not agree. So, to avoid all that historic and cultural baggage associated with the term, I will try and not use the term.

To put it simply, feminism to me, is the notion that women must be as free as men to do what they want to. Note that I have deliberately used the phrase "as free as men". I do recognise that as human beings, we are all bound by society, by rules and by traditions. But, if something is morally and ethically wrong for a woman, it must necessarily be so for a woman too. Take for example, drinking and smoking. If it is socially unacceptable for a woman to smoke, it must necessarily be so for men too. What I cannot tolerate, is mothers defending their drunk, and totally brainless sons by saying they are men. Trust me, it happens. My friend’s husband comes home drunk every night. His mother defends him thus, "He is a man. He must be having a million problems in office. So, he drinks to relax. You have no business asking him to stop." This violates my innate sense of justice. If the mother’s justification must be accepted, then the daughter-in-law must be permitted to come home drunk after a long day’s work too. Ok? Got it?

Also, being a feminist does not mean doing things like a man. I am not a man. I cannot behave like one. I will not keep my nails dirty, my underarms unshaven and my eyebrows looking like a forest simply because men do have to wax, pedicure or thread. This is ridiculous. I have heard many self-proclaimed feminist protest against the feminine stereotype of beautiful, smooth legs and shaped eyebrows. Excuse me, but I love to do all that and more. It makes me feel feminine. I refuse to change for some deluded notion of feminism. I am a woman, and I would like to feel like one. This includes having regular periods (and no, periods can never be happy), waxing, getting facials, going shopping and buying footwear. I love all of those and I am not planning to stop any time soon.

Another difference of opinion I have had often with feminists, is on the question of parenting. I admit that men have an equal responsibility towards their children. But, I still believe that a mother’s caress and care is irreplaceable. I believe that nobody can do a better job than mom in caring for the babies. If it means that my career takes a back seat, so be it. It is for my children. My career can wait. I simply do not agree with some feminists equating stay-at-home moms with prisoners. Many do it because they care. I would.

Feminism means not being forced to do, or not do, certain things simply because we were born women. It means having the right to take decisions that will affect us without external interference. It means that as a girl, I must be treated exactly the same as my male siblings or cousins. It means being respected as an individual, cherished as a daughter, pampered as a sister and loved as a wife/girlfriend or mother. Is that too much to ask for?

I tag:

Nita – Expecting a balanced opinion on things. 🙂

Christina and Deepan – Very occasional bloggers. But have a blog dedicated to feminism. Would like to hear both.

Roop – Runs a blog against female foeticide. Feminism is her pet subject.

Indian Homemaker – Would love to hear her reaction on the stay-at-home mom bit. 😛

Legalising live-in relationships

No, I am not doing that mandatory post on Obama. Many others have done it. You can read those. I personally do not care what happens to Obama. I am going to wait and watch how this reflects on US-India relations. In the meantime, read this article on the Times of India, on legalising live-in relationships. It contributes very little to the debate, being as it is, a report. But what gets my goat is the refusal of either the media or the people involved (husbands, wives, lawyers or the general public) to recognise that the live-in girlfriend need not necessarily be the "other woman." She may as well be the only woman in the man’s life.

One comment by an aggrieved wife goes thus.

“If those who are living together want the same rights as married couples, there’s an easy answer: Let them get married. They can’t have their cake and eat it too. And has anyone spared a thought for the wife,’’ says Riddhima, a 36-year-old whose husband left her two years ago and has since moved in with a colleague.

Right! Of course. I agree that she has been wronged and have every right to feel that way. But, how is it fair that she blame the girlfriend? Also, what difference does it make to her status as wife? She is still the legally wedded wife. She still has a right over her husband’s property, and alimony in case of divorce. Why is she so against the girlfriend having the same rights? To say, "let them get married" is ridiculous. Any number of people stay out of wedlock for many reasons. It is the unwillingness to commit for some, the fear of responsibility for some, and maybe an ideological problem for others. Marriage is essentially a social contract. Personally, I think marriage is the way to go if the people are serious in the relationship. But, I do know some who consider marriage a waste of time, money and energy, especially the way it is done today. Are we going to penalise them for wanting to live their lives the way they deem fit? I think not. While social sanction cannot be forced, at least the law must take steps to ensure that cohabitation is treated on par with marriage. The Maharashtra government proposal is a step in the right direction.

Next, the question of children arises. There should be no legal difference between children born to married partners and those born to unmarried partners. The concept of an illegitimate child, in itself, is too archaic to be retained in the 21st century. After all , it is not the child’s fault that the parents chose not to get married. How is fair to label a child as "illegitimate"? Adultery or not, the children must be given equal rights as children born within a marriage. The protests of the "wronged woman" are, more often than not, a case of misplaced anger. They find themselves incapable of doing anything their cheating husbands and thus turn their anger on the "other woman." I find that grossly unfair. For all we know, the other woman is a victim too.

Finally, one argument against the proposal was made by a noted lawyer, Mahesh Jethmalani. He asks,

But the amendment has its critics, as noted lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani says, “It is like allowing bigamy for married men. Is the government trying to recommend polygamy?”(…)“Only a small number of couples live in, so what is the urgency for such a proposal?’’ asks Jethmalani.

Wait a second. Only a small number are live-in couples. So, there is no need for a law. By that logic, only a small number of people commit murder. So, there is no need for a law there either right? Since when is law governed by the will or need of the majority? Do minorities of all hues and shades not have a right to a decent law? Even if only 1% of India’s total population lives in, they still must have a law to ensure that their rights are protected. The law of the majority is simply regressive in this case. That such an argument is coming from a noted lawyer is shocking. I can only hope that the debate is conducted the right way, taking into account the fact that an increasing number of young, never-married, couples are choosing to live-in without marriage. We need comprehensive guidelines for them. Even if they are minuscule portion of India’s population.

The spirit of debate

There was an excellent article in the Times of India today, on how children are actively discouraged from asking questions by educational institutions. First, check it out here. We pride ourselves on our intelligence; we wax eloquent about how good we are in the sciences, how we excel in everything we do, and on how India is the destination for tomorrow’s world. But, we cannot answer one single unexpected question. Most Indians cannot think outside the box. What else can explain the appalling lack of innovation in Indian industry?

Take for example the question of patents. Statistics show that India is approximately ten years behind India as far as patent-filing and innovation go. The WIPO Patent Statistics Report 2008 (PDF) presents an even more depressing picture. Consider this, The United States is the world’s largest seeker of international patents. India does not even figure prominently. It is relegated to the dungeons of statistical tools under the catch-all phrase "other". Given below is the graph illustrating this statistic.


What this statistic illustrates is more important than the statistic itself. India is the world’s second most-populous country. We have a population that equals one-sixth of humanity. We have the world’s largest number of English-speaking people. We pat ourselves on the back for being a fully-functional and vibrant democracy. But, we cannot manage to obtain even a minuscule fraction of the world’s intellectual property. To me, this is a damning evidence of the gross failure of the country’s educational system. I have written about this before. But, nothing seems to change. In the mad race for marks and grades, we seem to be losing focus of the very objective of education: to educate. We are so obsessed with being the best that we forget that all this to actually learn something.

A student in India’s schools and universities are banned from asking questions. We fear that questioning will lead to indiscipline. We look upon contradiction as a lack of respect. Personally, I have never felt any respect or sympathy towards teachers who stop students from asking questions. Only a teacher who lacks confidence and self-esteem will fear a student’s questions. As the TOI article so aptly points out, it is Indian tradition to question, critique and argue. Why then, are we suppressing this basic instinct in the name of discipline and respect?

I am a debater. I do not participate in debates any more, but I deliberately use the present tense because I still debate in everyday life. I debate the crashing economy with my father, the reasons behind the fall of the stock market with Anand, the necessity to translate every word from French to English with my students, the price of a kilo of tomatoes with the local vendor. It is in my nature. Why then should I, or anyone else for that matter, not be allowed to question a rule, demand an explanation, argue a point or even prove a teacher wrong in our schools and colleges? I fail to see the logic. Dissent is healthy. In fact, it is life. Tell me if I am wrong.