Monday, December 31, 2012

Ladoos and Barfis

'Will you distribute ladoos or barfis?', a nurse at a Delhi hospital had asked my mother, just hours before I was born. My mother did not understand the gist of this question, but my aunt who had lived in the capital long enough to understand quickly responded, indignant that it was even asked. 'It doesn't matter to us', she replied.

Barfis are usually distributed to mark the birth of a girl (assuming that a family obsessed with having a male heir does not resort to female foeticide). Ladoos, the richer, more expensive sweet of the two, are distributed to celebrate the birth of a boy. See how the birth of a girl is merely noted, but that of a boy is celebrated? And therein begins a journey of inequality, right from the proverbial cradle to the grave, sowing the seeds of a chauvinistic, misogynistic society.

A girl is taught to dress appropriately, talk and conduct herself in a manner that doesn't bring herself or her family any shame. A girl who is provocatively dressed 'deserves to be raped' because 'she asked for it'. How about men? Oh! They are men, and after all, 'men have their needs'. I have often heard people state, 'Even if you say a thousand things, she is only a woman'. Just take a look at all our movies, which is perhaps a reflection of  our society. The femme fatale is the bad woman, using her charm to seduce unsuspecting, innocent men. She is always the English speaking, pub frequenting, provocatively dressed woman who smokes, drinks, and sleeps around. On the other hand, the good heroine is always dressed conservatively, knows her 'place', sacrifices her own identity, gives up her dreams and ambitions, so that she can become an ideal wife. Incidentally, these things do not apply to men, of course. We are not only a misogynistic society but also a hypocritical one. We ask our daughters to cover up, as if that will stop rapists, and yet, we have no qualms watching the thousands of item numbers that desperate movie makers include in their mindless movies, just so that they can sell. And in a country that is crazy about Bollywood, they sell like hot cakes! Indeed, who has not heard of Munni or Shiela? A society where women are objectified, routinely harassed just because they are women, where respect seems to have vanished- this is our society today.

The past fortnight brought with it one of the most shocking incidents our country has ever witnessed. Like thousands of people across India, I was struck numb. The brutality of the rape stung me, and I was horrified that it could ever happen in a society which is supposed to be civil. Even worse, I soon realized that this could happen to anyone! Collective outrage against our impotent laws, against our corrupt system, against our indifferent chalta hai attitude poured into the streets. Candlelight vigils were held all over India, expressing our sorrow for India's 'braveheart', calling for stricter laws (Castrate the criminals! Hang them!) I fully agree that there needs to be a fear of law, and there have been far too many rape cases where the survivor is reduced to the label of a 'rape victim', destined to live the rest of her life, burdened with social stigma. Indeed, look at the phrase used to describe such circumstances- she lost her honor. How unfair can it get! Remember the Park Street incident? A politician allegedly stated that this was not a rape case, but rather a 'misunderstanding' arising out of a deal with a client. I cannot even fathom how a woman can say such things about another woman. Remember Soumya's story? The beast, who brutally raped her and left her to die, is still alive, living comfortably on taxpayers' money in prison. These stories are frightening, but what remains even more distressing is that the rapes continue to happen, the misogynistic attitudes remain defiant. And there seems to be deafening silence all around when it comes to concrete long term solutions.

One of the perpetrators behind this extremely heinous incident is a juvenile. I cannot even believe that someone who is of my younger cousin's age could even think of such an act. Isn't this a sign of how the government, schools, families, our society as a whole, have failed? Ironically, this incident has brought to light our mindset, even within the elite so-called educated society. When former actor Smriti Irani, a member of the Parliament, spoke about the issue, she was ridiculed by Sanjay Nirupam, another Parliament member, the gist of the entire remark being- till today you were dancing on TV and today you have become a politician? Abhijit Mukherjee, another MP, and the son of our President, recently passed a remark on how the women protesting against the streets of Delhi are 'painted and dented'. Even as young women gathered at Raisina Hill and other locations across the country, there were cases of them being groped and eve-teased. I read about how certain Haryana politicians think that reducing the marriageable age for women would be a solution. Let's reduce it to ten or twelve maybe, shall we? That way we can kill all hopes of an education and a future for young girls! As they say, nip it in the bud! Another honorable politician went on to recommend that skirts should be banned as school uniforms since 'it attracts sharp and dirty glances and lewd comments'. He went on to suggest that they should be made to wear salwar kameezes or trousers instead. Note that there was no mention about implementing strict punishment for eve-teasing or taking the men to task. What next? Ban girls from going to school all together? Because you know, it's all this education that is making girls bolder and taking them far from where they are supposed to be; stopping them from attending schools would teach them a lesson, and put them back in their places. If this is the attitude of our elected leaders and urban citizens, I shudder to think of the plight of those in rural areas, buried in some forgotten corner of the nation.

This is probably one among hundreds of blog posts written about the issue. I write about this because it angers me, it makes me feel helpless. Our society is crippled, our justice system flawed, and our attitudes frightening. As a woman, as an Indian, as a human being, I hang my head in shame for being a part of a society which has permitted this to occur. I do pray that Nirbhaya's death does not go in vain. An eye for an eye does make the world blind, but in a society such as ours, only fear of the law will work. My opinion may not matter much but I do believe that India can learn a lesson or two from Singapore and Saudi Arabia in this regard. The six accused in this brutal gang-rape must be brought to justice. However, that is only the tip of the iceberg for these incidents continue to occur, and very often they go unnoticed. Think about rapes by family members, forced prostitution in rural areas, honor killings, dowry deaths...The only long term solution is to change the way we think. Our children must see good examples in their parents. From childhood, they must be taught that men and women are equal, and that should be practised in reality. Inequality starts from the choice over a ladoo or a barfi. Sometimes it starts even before a child is born. This isn't about politics or feminism. It all boils down to respect and dignity, something which is central to the existence of any human being. Women deserve to be treated with respect and dignity; we too are human.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Books and Memories

Books have always been an important part of my life. I cannot remember not having one with me at any point in time. Of course, there was a brief period when I just couldn't find the time to read, or even if I had time, I was too tired and preferred to switch on the idiot box instead. But I am glad that I did return to books, and although I don't read as fast as I once used to, I still love to curl up on the sofa, and soak in the pages, savoring the smell of the paper, (which probably explains why I still cannot come to terms with e-books) and drowning myself in the stories unfolded in those pages.

Now that I am back home for the semester break, I spent some time looking at old books on the bookshelf, and realized why I am so attached to them. To me, each book is a memory, and looking at those books helps me revisit those memories. At home, every birthday, vacation, or special celebration has always been remembered through books. Indeed, I received my first book when I was three years old. It was a tiny Ladybird book, titled 'Story time for 3 Year Olds', and Appa had also written in a small message- For Dear Sruthimol. A number of other books followed, each one with a message from Appa or Amma, each one as precious as the very first. I came across a Laura Ingalls Wilder book (Little House on the Prairie), a gift for my eleventh birthday, with this message from Appa- Dear Sruthimol, Eleven today! (Going on fifteen?). I loved the Little House series, and I got the last one (On the Banks of Plum Creek) in celebration of me getting a school leadership position. I re read the message from Appa, and it brought back so many memories, a time when Appa would lovingly call me poochakutty,  me wearing my blue school pinafore and proudly pinning on the Assistant Literary Secretary badge, the school in Bahrain...

It's not just the books on the shelf that bring back memories. There are also prayer books in the puja room, old yellowed pages, often dog-eared and slightly torn. The old Bhajanamritam copies remind me of bhajans sung together as a family. The Lalitha Sahasranamam booklet reminds me of Friday mornings, where we would sit together and chant the 1000 names of the Goddess. Each time I use the book, I remember how Amma and I would always smile at each other, in between the chants, whenever we reached the 879th name, Sudha Sruthi. (My mother's name is Sudha, and most of my family and friends know me as Sruthi, so this name of the Goddess is a combination of both our names.) The faint fragrance of vibhuti in the folds of these pages is a reminder of God's omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience to me, and it brings me tremendous solace in trying times. 

Every book is a memory, and that makes each book special to me :)

P.S: I'm finally out of my blog-hibernation mode! Although I would like to think I have been really busy, it was sheer laziness that prevented me from blogging this past month.

Mol is a Malayalam term for daughter.
Poochakutty literally means 'little cat' in Malayalam.
Puja is a Sanskrit term for worship/prayer.
Bhajans are devotional hymns
The Lalitha Sahasranamam is a Sanskrit prayer, consisting of the 1000 names of the goddess. (Sahasra meaning 1000, and Namam meaning name)
Vibhuti refers to sacred ash, often worn on the forehead as a sign of faith.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Ladoos and Barfis

'Will you distribute ladoos or barfis?', a nurse at a Delhi hospital had asked my mother, just hours before I was born. My mother did not understand the gist of this question, but my aunt who had lived in the capital long enough to understand quickly responded, indignant that it was even asked. 'It doesn't matter to us', she replied.

Barfis are usually distributed to mark the birth of a girl (assuming that a family obsessed with having a male heir does not resort to female foeticide). Ladoos, the richer, more expensive sweet of the two, are distributed to celebrate the birth of a boy. See how the birth of a girl is merely noted, but that of a boy is celebrated? And therein begins a journey of inequality, right from the proverbial cradle to the grave, sowing the seeds of a chauvinistic, misogynistic society.

A girl is taught to dress appropriately, talk and conduct herself in a manner that doesn't bring herself or her family any shame. A girl who is provocatively dressed 'deserves to be raped' because 'she asked for it'. How about men? Oh! They are men, and after all, 'men have their needs'. I have often heard people state, 'Even if you say a thousand things, she is only a woman'. Just take a look at all our movies, which is perhaps a reflection of  our society. The femme fatale is the bad woman, using her charm to seduce unsuspecting, innocent men. She is always the English speaking, pub frequenting, provocatively dressed woman who smokes, drinks, and sleeps around. On the other hand, the good heroine is always dressed conservatively, knows her 'place', sacrifices her own identity, gives up her dreams and ambitions, so that she can become an ideal wife. Incidentally, these things do not apply to men, of course. We are not only a misogynistic society but also a hypocritical one. We ask our daughters to cover up, as if that will stop rapists, and yet, we have no qualms watching the thousands of item numbers that desperate movie makers include in their mindless movies, just so that they can sell. And in a country that is crazy about Bollywood, they sell like hot cakes! Indeed, who has not heard of Munni or Shiela? A society where women are objectified, routinely harassed just because they are women, where respect seems to have vanished- this is our society today.

The past fortnight brought with it one of the most shocking incidents our country has ever witnessed. Like thousands of people across India, I was struck numb. The brutality of the rape stung me, and I was horrified that it could ever happen in a society which is supposed to be civil. Even worse, I soon realized that this could happen to anyone! Collective outrage against our impotent laws, against our corrupt system, against our indifferent chalta hai attitude poured into the streets. Candlelight vigils were held all over India, expressing our sorrow for India's 'braveheart', calling for stricter laws (Castrate the criminals! Hang them!) I fully agree that there needs to be a fear of law, and there have been far too many rape cases where the survivor is reduced to the label of a 'rape victim', destined to live the rest of her life, burdened with social stigma. Indeed, look at the phrase used to describe such circumstances- she lost her honor. How unfair can it get! Remember the Park Street incident? A politician allegedly stated that this was not a rape case, but rather a 'misunderstanding' arising out of a deal with a client. I cannot even fathom how a woman can say such things about another woman. Remember Soumya's story? The beast, who brutally raped her and left her to die, is still alive, living comfortably on taxpayers' money in prison. These stories are frightening, but what remains even more distressing is that the rapes continue to happen, the misogynistic attitudes remain defiant. And there seems to be deafening silence all around when it comes to concrete long term solutions.

One of the perpetrators behind this extremely heinous incident is a juvenile. I cannot even believe that someone who is of my younger cousin's age could even think of such an act. Isn't this a sign of how the government, schools, families, our society as a whole, have failed? Ironically, this incident has brought to light our mindset, even within the elite so-called educated society. When former actor Smriti Irani, a member of the Parliament, spoke about the issue, she was ridiculed by Sanjay Nirupam, another Parliament member, the gist of the entire remark being- till today you were dancing on TV and today you have become a politician? Abhijit Mukherjee, another MP, and the son of our President, recently passed a remark on how the women protesting against the streets of Delhi are 'painted and dented'. Even as young women gathered at Raisina Hill and other locations across the country, there were cases of them being groped and eve-teased. I read about how certain Haryana politicians think that reducing the marriageable age for women would be a solution. Let's reduce it to ten or twelve maybe, shall we? That way we can kill all hopes of an education and a future for young girls! As they say, nip it in the bud! Another honorable politician went on to recommend that skirts should be banned as school uniforms since 'it attracts sharp and dirty glances and lewd comments'. He went on to suggest that they should be made to wear salwar kameezes or trousers instead. Note that there was no mention about implementing strict punishment for eve-teasing or taking the men to task. What next? Ban girls from going to school all together? Because you know, it's all this education that is making girls bolder and taking them far from where they are supposed to be; stopping them from attending schools would teach them a lesson, and put them back in their places. If this is the attitude of our elected leaders and urban citizens, I shudder to think of the plight of those in rural areas, buried in some forgotten corner of the nation.

This is probably one among hundreds of blog posts written about the issue. I write about this because it angers me, it makes me feel helpless. Our society is crippled, our justice system flawed, and our attitudes frightening. As a woman, as an Indian, as a human being, I hang my head in shame for being a part of a society which has permitted this to occur. I do pray that Nirbhaya's death does not go in vain. An eye for an eye does make the world blind, but in a society such as ours, only fear of the law will work. My opinion may not matter much but I do believe that India can learn a lesson or two from Singapore and Saudi Arabia in this regard. The six accused in this brutal gang-rape must be brought to justice. However, that is only the tip of the iceberg for these incidents continue to occur, and very often they go unnoticed. Think about rapes by family members, forced prostitution in rural areas, honor killings, dowry deaths...The only long term solution is to change the way we think. Our children must see good examples in their parents. From childhood, they must be taught that men and women are equal, and that should be practised in reality. Inequality starts from the choice over a ladoo or a barfi. Sometimes it starts even before a child is born. This isn't about politics or feminism. It all boils down to respect and dignity, something which is central to the existence of any human being. Women deserve to be treated with respect and dignity; we too are human.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Books and Memories

Books have always been an important part of my life. I cannot remember not having one with me at any point in time. Of course, there was a brief period when I just couldn't find the time to read, or even if I had time, I was too tired and preferred to switch on the idiot box instead. But I am glad that I did return to books, and although I don't read as fast as I once used to, I still love to curl up on the sofa, and soak in the pages, savoring the smell of the paper, (which probably explains why I still cannot come to terms with e-books) and drowning myself in the stories unfolded in those pages.

Now that I am back home for the semester break, I spent some time looking at old books on the bookshelf, and realized why I am so attached to them. To me, each book is a memory, and looking at those books helps me revisit those memories. At home, every birthday, vacation, or special celebration has always been remembered through books. Indeed, I received my first book when I was three years old. It was a tiny Ladybird book, titled 'Story time for 3 Year Olds', and Appa had also written in a small message- For Dear Sruthimol. A number of other books followed, each one with a message from Appa or Amma, each one as precious as the very first. I came across a Laura Ingalls Wilder book (Little House on the Prairie), a gift for my eleventh birthday, with this message from Appa- Dear Sruthimol, Eleven today! (Going on fifteen?). I loved the Little House series, and I got the last one (On the Banks of Plum Creek) in celebration of me getting a school leadership position. I re read the message from Appa, and it brought back so many memories, a time when Appa would lovingly call me poochakutty,  me wearing my blue school pinafore and proudly pinning on the Assistant Literary Secretary badge, the school in Bahrain...

It's not just the books on the shelf that bring back memories. There are also prayer books in the puja room, old yellowed pages, often dog-eared and slightly torn. The old Bhajanamritam copies remind me of bhajans sung together as a family. The Lalitha Sahasranamam booklet reminds me of Friday mornings, where we would sit together and chant the 1000 names of the Goddess. Each time I use the book, I remember how Amma and I would always smile at each other, in between the chants, whenever we reached the 879th name, Sudha Sruthi. (My mother's name is Sudha, and most of my family and friends know me as Sruthi, so this name of the Goddess is a combination of both our names.) The faint fragrance of vibhuti in the folds of these pages is a reminder of God's omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience to me, and it brings me tremendous solace in trying times. 

Every book is a memory, and that makes each book special to me :)

P.S: I'm finally out of my blog-hibernation mode! Although I would like to think I have been really busy, it was sheer laziness that prevented me from blogging this past month.

Mol is a Malayalam term for daughter.
Poochakutty literally means 'little cat' in Malayalam.
Puja is a Sanskrit term for worship/prayer.
Bhajans are devotional hymns
The Lalitha Sahasranamam is a Sanskrit prayer, consisting of the 1000 names of the goddess. (Sahasra meaning 1000, and Namam meaning name)
Vibhuti refers to sacred ash, often worn on the forehead as a sign of faith.