Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ma Nishada!

The Ramayana dramatically begins with the poignant story of the Hunter who happened to kill the ‘Krauncha’ (heron) bird – and thus the sadness of Valmiki is brought out with spontaneity through a mighty holler, Ma Nishada, meaning ‘refrain, wild hunter!’ or ‘Don’t do that, wild hunter!’
From the Ramayana to the present times, the scene has just changed to this: in place of the bird is the woman and that of the wild hunter, the modern day man.
Today, everywhere she is targeted. She is branded. She is hounded. This doesn’t seem to be a new phenomenon for it has been so from time memorial. Look at our own scriptures – the ones I am familiar with - the Hindu scriptures. A recent reading of The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni which lends a poignant yet powerful voice for Draupadi, made me realize that she was truly a woman born into a man’s world. It must have been so difficult for her to be wife to five men! But who has drawn our attention to this aspect? She is in fact looked up as one super woman, one of the ‘panch kanyas’ (meaning five ideal wives) whose very remembrance is enough to wash off even the worst of sins, as per this sloka:
'Ahalya, Draupadi, Sita, Tara, Mandodari tatha,
Pancha kanya smare nityam maha papa vinasanam'
I chanced upon another eye opening article by Nilanjana S Roy (in the Business Standard) which relooked at five rapes/sexual assaults in our epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata: that of Sita’s abduction by Ravana; the disfiguration of Shoorpanaka; the disrobing of Dhraupadi in the royal court and the ‘sanctioned’ rapes of Amba and Ambalika. Yes, these made me look at our epics in a fresh perspective - that there are so many instances that smack of patriarchy and chauvinism.
Times now are no different. When I point out some cases here, it does not mean that there is nothing more than these. Oh, yes! There are ever so many Daminis. Anamikas. Nirbhayas. They all suffered. Few fought and won the battle like Sohaila Abdulali, who was raped in 1980. A born fighter, she writes, ‘I was wounded; my honour wasn’t.’ Some fought tooth and nail but lost the fight in the face of the powers of the establishment and male aggression. Some amongst them were hounded in police stations and courts, where they were forced to relive the horror and pain of the events, day after day. Many silently bore everything. Some weakly succumbed and found solace in a bottle of poison or a piece of rope.
Along with assault & rape comes pure vitriol. Look at how elected representatives and law upholders refer to rape victims with absolute impunity and insensitivity. With Jyoti Singh Pande’s incident we saw many who came out with ‘dented and painted’ remarks - which just revealed their dented and painted minds. With people like Dr. Ratish Kumar and Justice Basanth unleashing their venom on anti-girl tirades, I am proud that a chit of a girl like Arya stood up to protest, when a sea of women sat listening dispassionately to the speaker. Then came the saga of Amritha who was returning after ‘One Billion Rising” and was lewdly teased by some youngsters. When things reached a flash point, Amritha did not hesitate to bring out the tricks up her sleeve. A Kalaripayattu expert and a Karate Black Belt, she rattled her tormentor. “Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it", said Saint Augustine of Hippo. Atta girls!
One of our ministers, Vayalar Ravi, hurled sexist innuendos at a woman reporter of a media house and then in the face of rising rage and criticism from all quarters made a semblance of an apology. I saw the video wherein the Minister said that he told the girl “not to take it to heart.” Even then the word “sorry” was least forthcoming.
Each day new twists are breathed life by our drama-savvy politicians. After 17 years of unmitigated distress and harassment - physical, mental and emotional -and another politician, MP Sudhakaran, spewed venom today and says the Suryanelli girl had consensual sex and it is not rape!! Actually what the man, who is notorious for his antics, a loud mouth and who suffers from verbal diarrhoea did was mirroring the insecurities of the psyche of his ilk. Looking at reactions of many men to this and other similar incidents, i.e. the character assignation of the Suryanelli girl by Justice Basanth, the veiled innuendo of Vayalar Ravi against a lady reporter and comments in the social media in response to the bravado of Arya and Amritha make me wonder if the highly patriarchal men are losing their foothold and orchestrating support for their tribe!
They are worried that women's empowerment is gaining momentum.
They are apprehensive that their sense of security and supremacy is gradually eroding.
They dread that the economic freedom as well as power of choice that women enjoy will sabotage the upper hand that they have gained over women many many centuries ago.
If The Report of the Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law headed by Justice J.S. Verma and his colleagues are enacted in the parliament, they are vexed it will protect the right to dignity, autonomy and freedom of victims of sexual assault and rape – thus cramping the style of many who have money and power with them, to get away not only from these crimes but also cold, premeditated murder.
Come on women. Let us unite. May a billion of our kind rise all over the country! Let us voice our strong opinion against any kind of oppression. Yes, only the drum is to be beaten! That is the very need of the hour!!!
PS: And to patriarchal men: Ma Nishada!!
Sources and reference:
1. The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
5. (Dr. Rathish Kumar’s controversial talk)
6. (Interview with Amritha)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Leaders or Dealers???

The land of spices, coconut and lush greenery…
God’s own country, carving a niche for itself in world tourism…
First state to achieve near universal adult literacy… developed-world like life expectancy rate and good quality health care…
(The much touted Kerala Model of the 1970s has sadly collapsed and crumbled since then.)
Women outnumber men and that is so rare when compared to the typical Indian scenario…
The much prized secular co-existence with people of all religions… (even here dents are making inroads, thanks to vote bank politics.)
Politics courses through the peoples’ veins and newspapers are a must read for even the very average Keralite…
Along with all these feel-good factors in the field of education, health care and harmony, Kerala has so much to offer by way of resources also – be it natural resources including water and the most important of all – human capital. Yet, development is scarce. It is also stagnant. Politics, infighting, corruption and a host of other issues plague this little state of mine. Hartals and strikes are our regional pastime. Threats to public and private property during such enforced holidays have stunted growth at a cost of very large number of man hours. Boozing is the state hobby. The enormous consumerist culture, conflicting interests and petty politics have come to vitiate the very fabric of the once peaceful and productive state.
The young population is the pillar of any region. They are tomorrow’s citizens, nation builders, leaders and peace makers. What if some of these youth show signs of deviancy and delinquency? That is frightening. And it is sad and shocking to see that this happened in of all places, Kerala.
IAS officer

A gang of politically inclined youth affiliated to the Congress’s youth wing, Kerala Students Union (KSU), marched into the Higher Secondary Education Director, Keshvendra Kumar IAS’s office on last Tuesday. After some slogan shouting and in spite of hearing a patient explanation by him, without any provocation they splashed black engine oil all over the IAS officer. (Earlier cowitch powder was sprinkled on unsuspecting students by teachers in the course of a teachers’ strike. What ingenuity when it comes to rotten deeds! I wish people could use their brains for creative purposes and not for such heinous acts!!) The Officer has gone on record saying, “I never expected this to happen in a civilized state like Kerala known for its progressive ideas and a high literacy rate,’’ said HSE Director, the incident. Ouch! Civilized? Progressive ideas? What bearing does high literacy have on a person? Culture and wisdom? I wonder if anyone would call us having any of those after what has happened.
The young IAS officer, Keshvendra, who hails from Sitamarhi district in Bihar on the other hand worked as a ticketing clerk in the Railways in Kolkata. After his day time work with the Railways, he toiled hard at night preparing for the civil services exam. He enrolled for a distance education course with IGNOU, passed IAS in his first attempt in 2008 and was ranked 45, an amazing feat from a man who could not even continue his regular classes after school. He needed a job to support his family which had been struggling hard to meet his education expenses.
It is indeed a blot on the state that these rogues engaged in such vandalism and deviant behaviour. Punitive punishment must be meted out to such disgruntled elements. These youth are the canker of the society. They should never be allowed to be part of any political party now or ever.  That will serve not only them but also those who sport such ideas a very essential lesson.
Mr Kumar, I apologize, profoundly and sincerely, for what a few of my compatriots did. I hope and pray that you will not judge the state and its people by the hooligan act of a handful. We need more IAS officers like you, Mr Kumar, to showcase strength of character, tenacity of purpose and  high aspirations to these youth who are honestly devoid of role models and are totally value-less. May your life and the insight into your travails in the course of your journey to the IAS be something inspirational to each young mind, here and all over the country.