Don’t be Loose

India’s religious right has been taking a public relations beating this past week. The newly formed Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women (which, by the way, is the greatest name for a group since the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice) has organized the Pink Chaddis Campaign to oppose the Sri Ram Sena’s despicable actions last month and their impending Valentine’s Day protests:

The group says it will give the pink underwear to Sri Ram Sena (Army of Lord Ram) on Valentine’s Day on Saturday.

[SRS] was blamed for the bar attack in the southern city of Mangalore last month.

Pramod Mutalik, who heads the little known Ram Sena and is now on bail after he was held following the attack, has said it is “not acceptable” for women to go to bars in India.

He has also said his men will protest against Valentine’s Day on Saturday. [Link]

Let’s just hope that the SRS leaders don’t have a fetish for women’s underwear or this campaign will not have its intended effect.

In other news (perhaps not entirely unrelated) the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), India’s Hindu nationalist group, has decided to start marketing a soft drink that contains cow urine. They see it as a refreshing alternative to Coke or Pepsi. I am sure they would rather young women kick back with a six pack of these instead of be loose at a bar with a beer:

Om Prakash, the head of the department, said the drink – called “gau jal”, or “cow water” – in Sanskrit was undergoing laboratory tests and would be launched “very soon, maybe by the end of this year”.

“Don’t worry, it won’t smell like urine and will be tasty too,” he told The Times from his headquarters in Hardwar, one of four holy cities on the River Ganges. “Its USP will be that it’s going to be very healthy. It won’t be like carbonated drinks and would be devoid of any toxins.”

The drink is the latest attempt by the RSS – which was founded in 1925 and now claims eight million members – to cleanse India of foreign influence and promote its ideology of Hindutva, or Hindu-ness. [Link]

I am curious, does anyone know how the cow urine aftershave splash has been doing in sales?

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Life is Stranger Than Fiction.

Twice a week, a very kind gentleman comes by with a nifty vacuum cleaner strapped to his back, to spruce up the floors. I say nifty because it looks more like a jet-pack or something a lot more fun than a mere appliance. Anyway, when he strolls in with his trademark, “Hell-oooooo!”, I know it is time to stand up and get out of his way. I usually just move to the other side of my desk and prepare myself for a minute or two of nothingness, but apparently, today will be…something. I hear a familiar voice, but I can’t make out the words above the din of the machine.

I turn around to see who is speaking to me. It is the one Pakistani man I work with, an uber-sweet coworker who likes to make halwa to bring to work, which he then guilts me in to eating—not the first portion, mind you; that goes to our other, “grown-up” coworkers. Oh, no—he comes by towards the end of mithai-madness and always authoritatively says, as he spoons at least three servings on to a paper plate he has helpfully brought with him, “I make you halwa. Eat.”

When I protest meekly, saying, “It’s too much!”, because I don’t want to waste food, he gives me the exact same look I get at home, from my Mom at the end of dinner.

“It’s so little. Why you make me put back in dish? If dish is empty, I can wash. Finish it. Be helpful. So I can wash. I not have all day.”

So, much in the same endearing, parental way he force-feeds me food which my tummy has no room for, he often comes by to “check on” me, the youngest brown member of the team (nine desis work here, total). To see, as he inimitably pronounces it, “how you arrrr DEW-wing!” When I moved away from my desk to facilitate vacuuming, he saw an opportunity and approached.

“Hallo En-ah!”

“Hi…Mm-…hi” I stammered, just barely resisting the urge to call him Uncle. I can’t bring myself to call him by his first name, which is Mohammad, so I just…well, call him nothing. Who cares if it’s a work environment? The man guilts and keeps tabs on me. Being on a first-name basis ain’t happenin’.

“How is your Mum? She in Kelly-for-nya? Or she visit home, maybe?”

I have always loved that: home. My heart immediately softens. No matter how many decades my late father lived in this country (three, if we’re counting), despite the American flag planted dramatically in our front yard, when he wasn’t communicating mindfully, he always said that about Kerala, too. Home.

“No, she is in California. She is well, thank you for asking.” Continue reading

A mother’s work is never done

For one women it seems, the biological work of mothering continues even well after menopause:

A woman said to be 70 years of age has given birth to twins in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh state after taking IVF treatment… The couple were so desperate for a male heir that they spent their life savings and took out a bank loan for IVF.

Omkari Panwar already has two daughters and is a grandmother to five children. “We already have two girls but we wanted a boy so that he could have taken care of our property. This boy and girl are God’s greatest gift to us,” Omkari said. [Link]

That’s right – she got pregnant at age 70 so she could produce a male heir! This boy isn’t even going to be able to take care of its parents in their old age, they’re already there. The sole reason for his conception was so that he could inherit the property.

While I shake my head in confusion at this (why do you care who inherits after you’re dead – you’re dead, right?), is the average American any better? It turns out that they have a strong preference for female children when they adopt:

… there are about 105 boys for every 100 girls in the general population of biological children under the age of 18. Adopted children … [however, have] 89 boys for every 100 girls. What’s more, adopted children under the age of 6 constitute a group where there only are 85 boys for every 100 girls…. the sex ratio of adopted children goes still further off-kilter if you look only at international adoptions… Girls make up about 64 percent of all children adopted by Americans outside the United States. That’s a mere 56 boys for every hundred girls. [Link]

When adopting abroad, Americans have a 2:1 preference for girls over boys. And that’s not a matter of supply, it’s purely demand:

It doesn’t matter if they’re adopting from China, where girls far outnumber boys; from Russia, where the numbers are about even; or from Cambodia, where there is typically a glut of orphan boys and a paucity of girls. Everywhere, demand tends to favor the feminine. [Link]

There are good reasons to tsk over the desi preference for boy children. Should we do the same when it comes to the American preference for girl children when adopting?

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Mera Farz? How do you say, “A Blogger’s Duty”, in Hindi?

them lashes are real :D Dear ING Direct,

I blog this with a heavy heart.

Earlier today, mastervk submitted a link to a news story which caught my attention; it dealt with gender inequality and speaking out against a regressive advertising campaign in India. Duly noted, I thought, rather sure I was going to blog about it later. I saw the excerpt for this story a few more times throughout the day, but apparently I was not really understanding it, for if I had, the disappointment I suddenly feel would have flattened me earlier.

I didn’t realize they were talking about you.

You, ING, you are the one behind this?

In the commercial, the birth of a girl is followed by what the Delhi government considers as a derogatory statement: Hai To Pyaari Lekin Bojh Hai Bhari (Though loveable, she’s still a burden). “It sends out wrong message,” said education secretary Rina Ray. She has written to National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and Delhi Commission for Women(DCW) asking them to ensure the advertisement is withdrawn and also a public apology is issued by the insurance firm on all channels.
Ray is unhappy with the overall gender bias in the ad, particularly the scene which depicts fathers being weighed down by the financial costs involved in bringing up their daughters and funding their studies so much so that the ground beneath their feet caves in. Ray quotes a hospital scene from the commercial in her letter which depicts girls as a burden.
Ray said: “This is unfair. Parents spend money for a boy’s education too. Then why single out girls, especially when the country is positively debating women empowerment.”
The DCW has written to the insurance company asking them to stop airing the advertisement. “Promoting such biased views on the girl child may have a demoralising impact on women,” said Barkha Singh, DCW chairperson.

The TOIlet paper concludes with this paragraph: Continue reading

Drunk Women in Juhu: “What were they expecting?”

shame on them.jpg Soon after New Year’s Eve, we began receiving tips about a dreadful incident in Bombay involving two young couples who were on vacation (Thanks, Rahul and many others):

A mob of 70-80 men groped and molested two young women for some 15 minutes on a busy main street in Mumbai’s glamour district Juhu early on New Year’s Day.
An identical incident had shamed India’s safest city exactly a year ago — a girl was molested by New Year’s eve revellers at the Gateway of India. That incident was captured on film by a popular Mumbai tabloid; Tuesday morning’s horror was shot by two Hindustan Times lensmen who happened to be on the spot.
The women — one in a black dress, the other in a jeans and top — emerged from the JW Marriott with two male friends around 1.45 am, and began walking towards Juhu beach close by.
A mob of about 40 got after them and began teasing the women. One of the women swore loudly at the hooligans.
But the mob, now 70-80 strong, wouldn’t let go. They trapped the women near a vehicle and a tree, and pounced on them. A man in a white shirt tore off the black dress. Another, in a blue shirt, led the assault. As the women fell on the ground, dozens of men jumped on them. [HT]

The story and the wide-spread, collective anger it inspired grew considerably when the Police Inspector tasked with the case expressed himself in a regrettably insensitive way:

The comments of the Mumbai police commissioner, DN Jadhav further enraged the people: “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. Keep your wives at home if you want them safe. This kind of small things can happen anywhere”. [meri]

Excellent. Two women who were brutalized deserved it because they were out and about, instead of in the kitchen. While a few Mumbaikars agreed with that unfortunate view, others certainly did not:

Arjun Ghai, executive with an MNC says, “The act was shameful but the attitude of the police in this regard is even worse. If MF Hussain puts up his paintings or a Hollywood star kisses a Bollywood actress, the Shiv Sainiks come to life, but what about such cases? It is the people of our great nation who need to be blamed. I am sure those who were involved in this gruesome act had sisters and wives sitting at home. Did they think about them even for an instance? No wonder we are living among vultures ready to pounce on the flesh of vulnerable women at the drop of a hat.”
Mira Sud, boutique owner opines, “I heard someone say that the girls might have been drunk or led the guys on. This is absolutely crazy. In a nation like ours where we worship Sita and Laxmi, people tend to lose their moral sense at times. Claiming that a woman might have been drunk is no reason or excuse. What about those instances where the men get drunk and pounce on women? Nobody blames them. In this male-dominated society of ours, we tend to blame the female gender without even considering the situation.”[meri]

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Displaced People, Especially Women (Guha Chapter 5)

(Part four in an ongoing series dedicated to Ramachandra Guha’s India After Gandhi. Last week’s post can be found here. Next week we will look at chapter six, on the Constituent Assembly and the writing of India’s constitution. )

There are lots of interesting bits in Guha’s fifth chapter, on the resettlement of refugees scattered across India after Partition. The part I will focus on in particular is the status of women who were abducted, forcibly married, and then forcibly returned to their families. But to begin with, here are some general facts on the displaced people who ended up in India:

  • Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of refugees in Punjab were temporarily housed in camps. The largest of these was at Kurukshetra, where there were some 300,000 refugees. Over time, a major land redistribution effort was initiated, so that farmers who had been displaced from land in Pakistan were granted land in India. More than 500,000 claims were processed through this effort. (According to Guha, the effort worked, by and large; withing a few years, many displaced Punjabis from farming villages were back at work on new lands.)
  • Nearly 500,000 refugees ended up in Delhi, fundamentally changing the character of the city. Some settled in outer districts like Faridabad, while others were given land immediately to the south and west of New Delhi. Many of Delhi’s new residents thrived in trade, and came to hold a “commanding influence” over the economic life of the city.
  • About 500,000 refugees also ended up in Bombay, including a large number of Sindhis. Here resettlement did not go as well, and Guha states that 1 million people were sleeping in the streets (even in the early 1950s).
  • 400,000 refugees came into West Bengal during and immediately after the Partition, but another 1.7 million Hindus left East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) following communal riots there in 1949-50. At least 200,000 ended up in desperate straits in “squatter colonies” in Calcutta, where the refugees effectively overwhelmed the city. Conditions here were much worse than they were in Delhi or in the resettlement camps in the Punjab. The government may have been slow to respond because it presumed that many of the refugees would be returning — and that communal feelings in Bengal were not quite as bad as they were in Punjab. (A mistaken presumption, Guha suggests.)

Those are some of the general facts Guha gives us. What stands out to me is how effective the new Indian government was, on the whole, in responding to the mass influx of people. There were failures — and again, Guha singles out West Bengal as the worst — but if you think about the numbers involved, it’s astonishing that the process was as orderly as it was. Hundreds of thousands of displaced families were allotted land through a rationalized, transparent process oriented to ensuring their survival. And food relief and temporary shelter was provided to thousands more (not without international help).

However, one area where the state really did fail — astoundingly — is with women who had been abducted, converted, and forcibly married in the Partition. Guha’s account here is quite thin, so I’m supplementing what he says with material from Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin’s book, Borders and Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition. Continue reading

“…given up hiding and started to fight”

October 31, 1984

“Mummy, Daddy can I dress up for Halloween this year?”

“No.  You are not allowed to participate in this ritual begging for candy.”

“Daddy, I meant for school…we’re supposed to…”

He eyed me suspiciously.  “I thought fifth grade would mean the end of such nonsense, but if you are supposed to…what do you need to wear”

I had thought about this.  Based on what the popular girls were last year, I decided…“I want to be a cheerleader!”

“Absolutely not.  Those skirts are indecent.”

“Caroline Auntie was a cheerleader!”

“In college.  When you’re in college, I’ll forbid you then, too.”

Nine-year old me promptly burst in to tears.  Later, my mother came to my room and helped me match a v-neck sweater from my old Catholic school uniform with a pleated skirt I usually wore to church—i.e. one which went to the middle of my knee.  She unpacked a box in my closet and wordlessly handed me my toy pom-poms.  My six-year old sister glared at her indignantly, so Mom rolled her eyes and did the same for her.  I was so excited.  Finally, a “cool” costume, one which didn’t involve an uncomfortable, weird-looking plastic mask to secure with an elastic band, from a pre-packaged ensemble.  I went to sleep feeling giddy.

The next morning, for the first time ever, I was tardy for school.  I don’t remember why, but I was.  When I walked in to class just before recess, everyone froze and stared at me.  The hopeful smile on my face dissolved; this year, the popular girls were all babies in cutesy pajamas with pacifiers around their necks.  I thought the weirdness in the air was due to my lame costume, but within a few minutes I discovered it was caused by something else entirely. 

The moment the bell rang, my desk was surrounded.  This couldn’t be good.  Was I going to get locked in a closet or a bathroom again? 

“Why are you here?”
“Yeah, we thought you weren’t coming.”
“Shouldn’t you be at home crying?”
“Mrs.  Doyle said you wouldn’t come in today.”

The questions assaulted me one after the other.  I was baffled. 

"Why…would…Mrs. Doyle say that?” I stammered.

“DUH, because Gandhi’s daughter got killed.”
“Isn’t she like your queen or something?  Or a Hindu God?”
“No you buttheads, she’s like the president of her country.”

At the end of the last sentence, the boy speaking gestured towards me.  When did they get so enlightened?  Last week, they asked if I was Cherokee and said “How” whenever I walked by, or pantomimed yowling war cries with their hands and mouth.

“She’s not the president of my country.  I’m…I’m from this country.  My president is Ronald Reagan.”

They got impatient and vaguely hostile.

“No, you’re Indian.  Mrs. Doyle said you were in mourning.”
“Did you not like her or something, is that why you don’t care?”
“I heard they dip her in milk before they burn her up.”
“Duh…that’s because they worship cows.”

I put my head down on my desk, as if we were playing “heads up, seven up”.   

“See?  She’s crying now…she is Indian.”

And with that they walked off, to do whatever it was that popular fifth-graders did.

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Another “Isolated” Incident of Infanticide.

A few days ago, I wrote a surprisingly controversial post about a baby girl who had been buried alive, in Andhra Pradesh. Stupid me, I thought everyone would find such news abhorrent. But, in a shocking and to some, sickening twist, it would seem that condemning infanticide is wrong because it is more important to engage in the worst sort of cultural relativism.

Disagreeing with a man’s choice to bury his newborn granddaughter alive would be Western and especially Feminist stupidity. Are you perplexed? Wondering what I am going on about? Ah, then enjoy the following amuse bouche of comments from a few lurkers and readers, which that post inspired:

Dont get carried away by sensationalism
Everyone has it bad in India. you’re the only one who choose to single out the plight of women and measure it by YOUR western standards. It MUST be measured by Indian standards, i.e. the plight of Indian men, children, grandpas, grandmas, the whole society. Everyone has it bad in India, not just little girls.
just don’t forget, we live in the West, lets not judge everything by Western standards…If they want to kill their girl babies because girls mean one less hand to till the soil (by hand, of course), that is their buisness.
Poor people will do anything to survive. As long as its their family, and not anyone else’s, no one has a right to interfere.
you, possessing such a craving for attention, would rather start a thread focused on a single baby, a TOTALLY isolated incident, just so you can feel better!

Yes, I felt much better after that depressing thread, especially after I naively attempted to offer a counterpoint to it while proving that feminism can be a desi concept, too. As one of you said via email, after wading through comment-sewage, “I can’t believe there is so much misogyny and so little outrage here.”


Isolated. I thought of all those apologist quotes when I read the story which MasterVK was alert enough to submit to our news tab earlier today, about another newborn baby girl, who was also found and rescued:

AHMEDABAD: Her feeble cries help almost drowned in the din of the heavy downpour near Kankaria lake on Monday. Until a fireman found the newborn baby shivering in the rain, abandoned mercilessly without a piece of clothing on her body!
The child’s cries had gone unheard for hours and she had turned pale, lying in the incessant rains, near Kankaria lake. The baby was found by a team of firemen led by Rajesh Goswami who heard the faint cries early in the morning when they embarked on duty to check the oxygen levels in the lake.
Instead of the fish, the firemen found the freshly delivered girl who was dumped from the womb straight into the lake to die. “The girl did not have any clothing on her and had turned completely white. We had become sceptical about her survival,” said Goswami.

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