Women should lead the way in rebuilding Kerala

Today, we know that while floods, droughts, fires, earthquakes, and tsunamis do not discriminate on the grounds of caste, religion or gender, their impact is profoundly discriminatory. Studies have shown that it is women (and the poor and marginalized) who bear their heaviest burden.

When Swarna Rajagopalan, a political scientist who specialises in gender issues, mentioned the g-word at a meeting to discuss natural disasters, she was told curtly: “This is not about gender. It’s about an emergency.”

That was 10 years ago.

Today, we know that while floods, droughts, fires, earthquakes and tsunamis do not discriminate on the grounds of caste, religion or gender, their impact is profoundly discriminatory. Studies have shown that it is women (and the poor and marginalised) who bear their heaviest burden.

Continue reading “Women should lead the way in rebuilding Kerala”

Hell house ‘shelter’ horror

Muzaffarpur is emblematic of the large-scale systemic abuse of institutionalized children that we choose not to see.

One fought with her stepmother and ran away from home. Another was sold into prostitution and rescued in a raid. And a third was brought in by her mother who was too poor to feed her.

The girls who end up at shelter homes are, very often, nobody’s children; society’s most vulnerable. They have no one to ask, are you okay?

Not even the State whose job it is to protect them.

While the scale of horror at the state-funded hell house shelter in Muzaffarpur run by the politically connected Brajesh Thakur is staggering — 29 of 42 minor girls reporting rape, torture and being drugged — it is not unprecedented. Continue reading “Hell house ‘shelter’ horror”

Worst, second worst or 5th worst doesn’t matter. India is bad for women.

In Hindustan Times: Frankly, I find this business of ranking ‘worst’ countries to be tedious. To be bad is bad enough; better or worse is an academic argument.

That report, the one that damns India as the worst country in the world for women, came out in a week when one of the country’s most powerful women, our external affairs minister, was being trolled for transferring a passport official who had allegedly exceeded his brief over an interfaith marriage.

Of course, we’d like to believe that our women and girls are completely in charge of their lives — in charge of who to love, where (and whether) to study, what career to pursue and, even, to be born. Right?

So forgive me if I’m not joining the chest-beating mob howling in outrage over the Thomson Reuters Foundation perception survey that places India below Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia.

Continue reading “Worst, second worst or 5th worst doesn’t matter. India is bad for women.”

The bigot in my drawing room

In Hindustan Times: Atul Kochhar is the symbol of a far more widespread problem – the normalization of prejudice against Muslims.

I run into my college friend after a gap of some years. Post the usual small-talk, she wants to know my views on the tolerance/intolerance debate. I tell her I am worried about the erosion of this country’s social fabric in recent years.

Elaborate, she says.

Muslims, I tell her, at least the ones I speak to, are scared of living in this new India. They worry that they are being watched all the time. They worry that the mutton they cook at home could at any minute turn into beef and this would have deadly consequences for them. They worry about their children. They are just scared.

Good, she says. They should be scared. Continue reading “The bigot in my drawing room”

Children don’t seem to be a priority in this country

In IndiaSpend: Anti-trafficking activist Sunitha Krishnan, one of three finalists for the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity spoke to me on sex slavery, rehabilitating victims of sex trafficking and death for raping children.

New Delhi: She’s dodged an acid attack, had a fatwa issued against her and survived 17 separate physical assaults. But Sunitha Krishnan, 46, doesn’t seem to be the sort of person to be easily disheartened. The founder of Prajwala, an organisation that describes itself as a “pioneering anti-trafficking organisation working on the issue of sex trafficking and sex crime”, has just been chosen as one of three finalists for the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, a global humanitarian award established to recognize modern day heroes.  The prize-winner gets $100,000 (Rs 66.3 lakh) and an additional $1,000,000 (Rs 6.63 crore) to distribute to organisations doing humanitarian work.

Continue reading “Children don’t seem to be a priority in this country”

Why women are falling off the employment map

The murder of a woman in Alwar points to India’s most shockingly under-reported story on why nearly 200 lakh women have quit jobs.

All Usha Devi wanted was to give her kids a good education. The wife of a construction worker knew that her husband’s income was not enough to educate her children, Tanuja, 15, and Dheeraj, 10, and, so, she took a job at a plastic factory.

Not everyone was pleased. Incensed that she was ‘going against Rajput tradition’, her husband’s uncle, Mamraj Singh, objected and, when she refused to quit, hacked her to death on March 15. Mamraj Singh has since been arrested and the murder weapon, a sword, has been recovered. Meanwhile, at Alwar district, Rajput villagers are reportedly collecting funds for the children’s education. Continue reading “Why women are falling off the employment map”

The official government patronage of godmen and sadhus is worrying

It has been reported that these godmen had planned to launch a Narmada Ghotala Yatra on April 1 to highlight a slew of ills from Chouhan’s apparent failure to stop cow slaughter to alleged corruption in the planting of saplings along the Narmada river.

By some uncanny coincidence, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led Madhya Pradesh government’s decision to confer minister of state (MoS) status on five godmen, one of whom goes by the name, ‘Computer Baba’ (apparently he has a memory ‘like a computer’), comes days after Netflix began streaming Wild Wild Country, the true story of the misadventures of ‘Bhagwan’ Rajneesh in Oregon, USA.

You’d be forgiven for believing it’s fiction. A charismatic godman, flowing beard and all, sells his koolaid philosophy of free sex and conspicuous consumption (one of his wristwatches cost a million bucks – that’s dollars, not rupees) that finds a market among westerners but is greeted with somewhat less enthusiasm in Pune where the ashram is based. Continue reading “The official government patronage of godmen and sadhus is worrying”

The lamentable humiliations of Hadiya

At the heart of this controversy lies not so much the right of a woman to choose her religion and spouse, but society’s attitude to women.

We should be grateful for small mercies. On International Women’s Day, a day when hashtags were declaring ‘Time’s Up’ and ‘My Body is Mine’, our highest court reaffirmed a more basic right: the right of an adult citizen — woman citizen, I should clarify — to marry.

Social media was split into two camps: Those still convinced that the 24-year-old Hadiya was a victim of brainwashing and, thus, incapable of making rational choices, and those celebrating the court-ordered granting of her ‘freedom’. Continue reading “The lamentable humiliations of Hadiya”

Love and longing in modern India

We are simply not prepared to grant daughters the right to choose their spouses, particularly in inter-faith marriages.

In New Delhi, Ankit Saxena made the fatal error of falling in love with a 20-year-old Muslim woman.

In Kerala, Akhila Ashokan converted to Islam and, as Hadiya, married a man in accordance with her new faith. Convinced she had been brainwashed, her father got the Kerala High Court to annul the marriage. Hadiya has, since, told the Supreme Court that she wishes to continue with her studies and live with her husband. The court has granted part one of her wish.

Nobody has the right to interfere in a marriage between two consenting adults, the Supreme Court declared this past week. The court’s ire was directed at khap panchayats. Left unsaid is what it makes of the Kerala High Court’s observation that, as per Indian tradition, “The custody of an unmarried daughter is with her parents, until she is properly married off.” Continue reading “Love and longing in modern India”

Childcare should not only be a woman’s job

All over the world, the responsibility of bringing up children lies disproportionately with women. A 2015 report by McKinsey Global Institute found that 75% of unpaid care-work – cooking, cleaning, washing, caring for children and the elderly – is done by women.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tweeted this past week that she and her partner Clarke Grayford will “join the many parents who wear two hats. I’ll be PM & a mum while Clarke will be ‘first man of fishing’ & stay at home dad”. The idea that a Head of State is going to experience what countless women in the free (and unfree) world go through is not new.

Benazir Bhutto, once disparagingly referred to as the ‘permanently pregnant prime minister’ — the acronym dovetailed neatly to the party she headed — had three children in and out of office. Her second child, a daughter, was born while she was Pakistan’s prime minister. Perhaps to prove that she was asking for no special concessions for being a woman, Bhutto, who delivered that child by Cesarean section, returned to work the very next day. Continue reading “Childcare should not only be a woman’s job”