Intimidation by NDTV

The blogosphere practically exploded today with protests against NDTV’s silencing of a blogger’s criticism of Barkha Dutt’s coverage of the Mumbai attacks. Before I link to everybody else who has written on this, I would like to  point you to the Google cache of the original post that was later deleted by Kunte. That’s not enough.

We all need to write about just why NDTV’s actions are reprehensible. They probably threatened to sue the poor blogger for libel. But, for what? For quoting a Wikipedia entry that criticises Barkha Dutt’s handling of the Kargil War? Or for commenting on what all of us saw on television for more than three days? Many other bloggers have made the point much better than I can. Trailblazer, Gaurav Sabnis, Shripriya, Rohit, and Prem Panicker have made the point several times over.

But, I have one question for Barkha Dutt and Co. They were justified in feeling insulted that one blogger, sitting at home and watching television criticised them. They chose to sue. The allegations against them were, in their opinion baseless and libellous. So, they agree that people are free to sue for libel. Right? In that case, would they tender an unconditional apology to the Talwars for slandering them after the murder of their 14-year old daughter? Would they retract all the speculations they made on national television of the sordid details of Dr. Rajesh Talwar’s adulterous relationship with his colleague? Would they offer to bring back the time the family lost in mourning their daughter? Can they do it? Ever?

Would they apologise to the Unnikrishnans for airing the news of their son’s death even before it was communicated officially to the family, thus shocking them into learning of such a tragic news through a flash running at the bottom of their television screens? Would they apologise for shoving mics, rather insensitively, into the face of the worried husband of a trapped guest at the Oberoi, and asking him how he felt? I guess not. Because they call it freedom of speech. So, according to them, freedom of speech is only for multi-million dollar businesses that are nothing better than money-making ventures. It does not apply to individual people like Cheytanya Kunte who was bullied into withdrawing his post and apologising for citing a Wikipedia entry. Right?

Wrong. Because we live in a democracy. Because we are free to express whatever opinion we want. Because NDTV, like all other news channels, is in a business that leaves them vulnerable to criticism. Because Kunte’s post does not, and never did, fall into the category of libel. And because, as a blogger, as a human being, and as a citizen of India, I genuinely believe in the freedom of expression. Also because, the freedom of expression must apply to everyone, irrespective of money, race, sex, caste, creed or identity. Today, NDTV has silenced one blogger. Let’s see how many other bloggers they can silence. Let’s see how successful Ms. Dutt and her friends are at silencing its critics. If we are true to ourselves, our voices will be heard, whether NDTV wants it to be heard or not.

On marriages – love or otherwise

Yesterday, I watched a programme on television. It was a talk show discussing love marriages. Before we go on, tell me something. Aren’t marriages in general supposed to be about love? But anyway, to come to the point, one set of people was vehemently opposing love marriages on the grounds that they broke relationships.

One elderly couple, married for 37 years were among those who opposed love marriages. The point to note here is that the couple had themselves married for love.The man repeatedly called his wife, someone affected by infantile paralysis and unable to walk properly, as handicapped. At one point, he said he married her because he wanted to do social service by marrying a handicapped girl. As he put it in Tamil, “Evvalavo paeru kalyanam pannikuraanga. Naan oru handicapped ponnukku vaazhkkai kodukka virumbinen.” Translated, it means “Many people get married. But, I wanted to give life to a handicapped girl.” My first reaction to this statement was one of shock. The first word that came out of my mouth was, WTF?

Correct me if I am wrong, but a man who feels he has sacrificed his life to marry his wife of 37 years doesn’t really know the meaning of love. He married her out of pity. He is living with her out of a sense of sacrifice. Frankly, I can never love someone who doesn’t love me unconditionally. Love is accepting someone for who he is. Warts and all. Love is wanting to spend the rest of your life with that someone because you know that’s what you want. You can’t marry someone out of pity. If you do, then there is no love in the equation.

The second question is that of parents and family. Most people who spoke against “love marriages” said that love marriages break up families. In practically all these cases, the parents had stuck to their positions for reasons ranging from caste and religion to plain ego, and had refused to accept the marriage. The blame for that invariably falls on the couple. The couple is blamed for falling in love, for wanting to act outside of accepted societal norms, for daring to take a decision on a life that’s rightfully theirs, and accused of being selfish for not thinking of their parents feelings. I mean, what the hell? Why should I be apologetic about falling in love, about choosing the person I am going to live with for the next 40 years, about just wanting to live my life? I don’t get it at all.

Next, the question of the parents’ aspirations for their child. Parents bring their children up with utmost care. They choose the best school, the best college, the best clothes and the best food. Great! I am happy to have parents like that. But, what about what I want? Parents who allowed their children a choice in clothes, education, food and career refuse to allow them the same choice in life. Why? Why is it that I am old enough to vote, mature enough to choose my career, good enough to travel the world alone, but not fit to choose the man I want to live with? Are parents’ dreams of a grand wedding for their child more important that the child’s dream of spending the rest of their life with a person of their choice? Are society’s expectations more important than a person’s free will? And just who is this society to judge every one of our actions?

Finally, people need to get one thing right. We don’t fall in love because we want to have sex. Love affairs are not equal to pre-marital sex. Certainly, sex is a part of the equation, like it will be in any romantic relationship. It’s foolish to expect it not to. But, do we seriously believe that arranged marriages are better because there is no sex possible between the couple before it? If we do, then we are fooling ourselves. We do not choose to fall in love. It just happens. Not all love marriages succeed. Just as some arranged marriages may fail too. But, why beat us because we have fallen in love? Why lecture us about how important it is to let the family choose our partner?

To be honest, it would have been easy for me to walk out and get married. But, I don’t want to. Because I, just like him, want to keep my relationship with my family intact. The fact that a couple in love thinks about family and relationships while taking the plunge is proof that love does not always break a family. It can actually help build it. Stop beating us up about the choices we make. Stop asking us to explain, justify and describe our relationship. Anyone can fall in love. It’s human, it’s natural. Stop criticising “love marriages” in support of a system that was created to keep property within the community, and society divided into thousands of castes.

21st Century feminism

Check out this excellent article from today’s edition of the Times of India. We are justifiably angry with Sanjay Dutt for his lessons on tradition and Indian culture. Me too. I even blogged about it a couple of days ago. And, I stick to what I said then. That a woman’s surname is her problem. She must be free to choose what she wants to do. If, as the article states, feminist opinion is really divided over Michelle Obama’s choice to quit her job and support her husband’s run for presidency, then something is wrong. As we keep saying, it’s about choice. What I don’t understand is, why do some people dictate to us what that choice must be? Basically, what these feminists are saying is this. You are free to choose as long as we approve of the choice. Right?

Now, I have a problem. My problem is the label of feminism. If feminism is about choice, if it about the radical notion that men and women are equal, then these people must not be called feminists. Let me clarify. If a man chose to take on his wife’s surname, it would raise many eyebrows. But, nobody would condemn him for it. Maybe he would be called hen-pecked, but that’s about it. If a man chose to get back to work after a month of debilitating sickness, he would be called committed. But, if Aishwarya Rai or Sonia Gandhi or Michelle Obama choose to take their husband’s name, they are compromising the basic freedom of women. If Rachida Dati gets back to work just five days after she delivered a baby, she is giving away the right to maternity leave and putting pressure on hundreds of other women to do the same. Don’t we realise? Don’t we realise that we are imposing double standards of men and women in the name of upholding equality? Don’t we realise that by criticising these women’s choices, we are in fact denying them the right to choose?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not anti-feminist. Far from it. But, I genuinely believe that women’s choices must be theirs alone. The choice to take on the husband’s name, the choice to refuse maternity leave, the choice to stay at home and care for their children, the choice to give up a flourishing career for the sake of her husband: all these choices are hers. One argument often put forward is that these women are never actually given that choice. That the decision is imposed on them. My question is: how do we know? Why do we assume we know? Why do we refuse to recognise that the women themselves may actually want to take these decisions? I have no answers.

Of surnames and married women

The Sanjay Dutt controversy is something everyone is talking about. I just want to know why he can’t shut up and stop behaving like a spoilt brat. There is simply no point in discussing whether Priya Dutt should remain Dutt. A woman’s name is her business. She is the only one who has the right to decide what it should be. It’s quite simple you know?

A woman is an individual in her own right. She is not just Mrs. So-an-so or Miss. So-and-so. She is just herself. She has an identity, a job, a passport, a driving license, and maybe even property in her name. It is entirely her right to decide what that name should be. Marriage is something that happens in everyone’s life. I don’t see why that should bring about a major change in identity. Chandni speaks of this issue here. She can’t understand why a woman should undergo a major change in everything she holds close to her heart simply because someone has walked into her life. I agree. Why? Why should I change my name?

Now, before you think I have an attachment to my name, let me clarify. I don’t exactly like my surname. I have no emotional attachment to it. I am Ms. Upendran. Great! But, tomorrow, if I cease to be Ms. Upendran and become Mrs. XYZ…well…ok too. But, whether I stay Ms. Upendran or become Mrs. XYZ is my choice. Right? Why is this so difficult to get? I may choose to keep my maiden name for the convenience it offers. I may also choose to take on my husband’s name because I know it means something to him. But, in a civilized society, I should not have to justify my choices to anyone. I should not have to explain why I retained my maiden name. That’s my business.

Many people, especially women, don’t get this simple thing. A friend from college sent me a friends’ invite on orkut. I didn’t recognise her. The reason is that she had changed not only her surname, but also her first name. And suddenly, I receive a request from someone called ABC DEF while I knew her in college as PQR XYZ. What the hell? How am I supposed to react? When I asked her why she changed her first name, she told me her husband did not like her first name and so she was forced to change it. I have responded to the name Amrutha for the last 26 years. Someone comes along and declares he hates that name and henceforth I should be called Alamelu. And to oblige him, I change it too. What the hell? Where is my individuality? What happens to me, the person? I am someone’s wife, someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s daughter-in-law, but me? Ever thought about it?

Sanjay Dutt was only echoing the sentiments of millions of Indians who think the same way. He can be branded an MCP, but we are only fooling ourselves if we believe that he is the only one around. Unfortunately for us, most people think this way. It is a woman’s responsibility to do everything possible to be accepted into the husband’s family. What about the family’s responsibility? Is it not their responsibility too to ensure the new bride does not feel left out? We never talk about it. We don’t have the guts to do it. Because, all said and done, we live in a male dominated society. Whether we like to accept it or not.

Abuse

I read, in quick succession, a couple of posts on domestic violence. It got me thinking. Why do men beat up their wives? Anger? Passion? Inability to keep one’s sanity? Drinking? Most of the time, we assume that men who drink, who are unfaithful, who are inept, are the ones beating up their partners. But sadly, I find that none of these need to lead to violence. Yes, drinking makes it easier for a man to justify his behaviour. But, the actual reason lies elsewhere. It’s about control. It’s about domination.

When I was in college, I studied Women’s Studies. I studied rape from an academic perspective. The first thing I discovered was that rape was not a sex crime. It was not for sex that women were raped. They were raped because the men who raped them had a point to make. Of being stronger, more powerful, better. Domestic violence falls under the same category. Only, it’s more difficult to detect, identify or control. For one simple reason. The man who beats is the one who is supposed to protect. And more than anything else, it is not the wife’s responsibility to ensure she is not hit. Why do people not understand that the abuser is at fault? The comment quoted by Ra is a case in point. Women are attracted to violence? What the hell? Why are women always held responsible for what happens to them? It hurts when girls are told that they were teased on the road by some loafer because they must have dressed provocatively. It angers me that women are told to wear only salwar kameez because boys will be distracted by me if they turn up in jeans. It irritates me and causes me to rebel when I see some vague engineering college in Chennai enforce gender-based segregation because they don’t want their boys getting spoilt by under-dressed female classmates. Why can’t the world see sense?

As a woman, it’s my business how I want to dress. A woman’s dress, her job or her behaviour is not an excuse to beat her. I fell the need to tell all those women out there who are in abusive relationships one thing. If a man hits you, he can’t love you. A man who loves you will get upset when he sees you hurt. A man who loves you will risk his life to ensure you are not in pain. A man who loves you will get angry with you for crying over a friend’s death because he can’t see you cry. A man who really loves you will suggest you don’t do things that make you unhappy. So, if you have a partner who is abusive, he probably doesn’t love you. Stop deluding yourself. Walk out when you are still alive. Please.

On hot chapathis

Read this post by IHM. I love the rebuttals. I love the comments even more. As she says, it’s not about the chapathis. It doesn’t matter whether the chapathis are eaten hot or cold. I know many people (both men and women) who can’t eat their food hot. That is not the issue. The issue here is the commentator in question assuming that the woman must always eat last. I don’t get it. If you are hungry you eat.

Dinner time is bonding time. I come back around 8 30 every night. My parents and I have dinner together. They choose to wait. After I get married, maybe I too will choose to wait. Maybe I will be too tired to wait and leave food in a hot pack and go to bed after having had my dinner. Maybe I won’t cook at all. The problem here is men assuming that women want to do all this. Sometimes, even other women (mothers in-law) assume that it’s a wifely duty to wait until the husband has eaten. They call it tradition. I call it chauvinism. I hate to eat alone. It makes me cry. It makes me lonely. So, I wait. For dad, mom or husband. But, that’s just me. Why do men assume the wife will wait. Why do they expect her to stay up until midnight without eating. It’s inherently unjust. Don’t they realise that? There is no harmony possible if one person is forced to do all the work, and wait until the rest of the family has eaten. Agreed. Someone must cook. But, can’t you at least show empathy? If not love. Could you at least ask why she hasn’t eaten. Could you sit with her while she eats? Could you help her clean up? Could you at least leave her alone to eat in peace without demanding paan and dessert immediately? Is that too much to ask? Tell me please.

On that note, Nimmy has a post on How to be a better wife. I would rather not go into the details of all that I feel. But, let me express my indignation at being told to be a domestic Goddess and appreciate my husband’s…er…manly things. And also at being told to honour his right to rule over me and my kids. Rule? Did you say rule? I am sorry. I am not a kingdom, or a piece of cattle. Nobody has the right to rule over me. I am a living and thinking individual. I wish to bring up my children as thinking individuals too. Not as a cattle herd. This reminds me of Subramanya Bharathi’s words,

“Solladee Sivasakthi, ennai sudarmigum arivudan padaitthu vittaai.”

God has given me the brains. I will use it. I am sorry if it too inconvenient for the rest of our sexist friends.

Of secularism and terrorism

I knew editorial standards in journalism were pathetic, but I frankly did not expect a newspaper like The Hindu to publish total bullshit like this. This article is offensive at so many levels that I don’t know where to start.

First, the author seems to confuse secularism with impartiality. Secular means non-religious. Terrorism is never about religion, it is simply about power. Religion is only a means to an end. She becomes incoherent when she cites Mahatma Gandhi and the Kanchi seer in a completely irrelevant situation. She then becomes outright offensive in this sentence.

A few Hindu militants emerged here and there only after the aliens who arrived in India provoked them or forcibly converted them. But their number has been too insignificant as otherwise India won’t be the multi-religious country that it is.

She basically implies that all Hindu fundamentalism is caused by the presence of aliens, supposedly Muslim invaders and European colonisers. Such a wild accusation, especially published in a respected paper like the Hindu is condemnable. That’s not all. As if wanting to prove that she understands zilch about either politics of foreign affairs, she asks why Mr. Vajpayee chose to inform Mr. Bush of the parliament attack. She wants to know who Mr. Bush is to decide the fate of our country. It just makes me wish she would shut up.
Let’s get one thing right. Secularism or religion has nothing to do with terrorism. Terror must be dealt with firmly, irrespective of the religion of the perpetrator. Equating one with the other is criminal. The task at hand is not to shun or criticise one community. It is to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice. Their religion must be of no consequence to us. Nor the religion of the arrested Sadhvi or anyone else who perpetrates terror attacks. When will we understand that talking secularism in such troubled times only makes things worse. The question now is only of whether we can meet the challenge posed by terrorism.

Happy new year!!

Yay! I finally did what I was planning to for over a month. I have migrated to WordPress. I hope Nita, Krishna and everyone else who wanted me to come over are happy. The blog URL remains the same and so does the feed address. So, keep reading. Be back soon with more. And yes, here’s wishing you a very very happy new year. 🙂