India’s child rape crisis

When the religion of the perpetrators becomes more important than the crime of rape itself, then you know you are witnessing a civilisational breakdown. 

To find evidence of the epidemic of violence against young girls and women gripping India, you have only to flick through your newspaper.

In the recent past: Two minor sisters, 13 and 15, gang-raped at gunpoint in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh (UP). In Singrauli district, Madhya Pradesh, an eight-year-old gang-raped by two boys aged 15 and 16. Also in Madhya Pradesh, near Bhopal, a 10-year-old girl first murdered, then raped and sodomised.

These are a fraction of the horror stories in a country where, according to National Crime Records Bureau data for 2016, not updated since, 19,764 rape cases were registered — an 82% jump in rape cases from the preceding year, with the worst rise in UP where figures have trebled. These are, of course, reported cases in a country where, according to Mint, 99% of sexual assault goes unreported.

Continue reading “India’s child rape crisis”

Why is triple talaq more important than nikaah halala and polygamy?

Why does the five-man bench get to decide which of the three issues in the triple talaq case is more important than the others?

When the history of Indian women is written, 2017 will go down as the year when the Plight of the Muslim Woman was uncovered.

So grave is this plight that politicians have sworn one law for all citizens. So pitiable her condition that Supreme Court judges have sacrificed their vacation to come to judgment.

Inside the court, men argue to follow practices that go back 1,400 years. The courts cannot interfere. Others say, they must, especially if religion clashes with fundamental rights.

The clutch of petitions in court is led by Shayara Bano, a sociology postgraduate, divorced in 2015 by speed-post. She says no woman should have to go through this humiliation and wants the court to ban three practices permitted by her personal laws – triple talaq, nikaah halala and polygamy. Continue reading “Why is triple talaq more important than nikaah halala and polygamy?”

Welcome to the vigilante nation

The meek acquiescence by citizens to the growing intrusion of state and other actors is alarming.

Don’t eat beef. Don’t transport cows. Don’t buy cows.

Don’t drink alcohol if in Gujarat and Bihar or within 500 metres of state and national highways. Don’t play cricket with Pakistan and don’t hire Pakistani actors in films. Stand to attention during the playing of the national anthem before watching culturally appropriate movies. Scenes that show that Hanuman Chalisa doesn’t scare away ghosts will be excised. Tasteless remarks about Hindu Gods and sages will lead to arrest warrants.

Do yoga. Dress decently. Do not loiter in parks and malls. Definitely do not loiter with people of the opposite sex, even if they are your siblings. Sing Vande Mataram if you’re attending municipal corporation meetings in Bareilly, Meerut, Varanasi and Gorakhpur or if you’re a college student in Uttarakhand. Continue reading “Welcome to the vigilante nation”

Hyper-nationalism does not help the cause of the Army

We do the army no favours by placing it on a pedestal from where it cannot be asked legitimate questions. We do it no favours when we seek to draw it into an emotional public debate. Military action cannot be based on populist sentiment; wars are not fought and won in TV studios. A solution, when found, will not happen by placing hot emotion over cool strategy.

A soon-to-be-launched news channel has declared public enemy #1. Not poverty, disease or illiteracy, it’s Pakistan.

The channel isn’t on air, but if you watched the news on other channels this past week, you’d imagine that war had been declared as retribution for Pakistan killing and decapitating two of our soldiers – not for the first time.

News channels went into overdrive, and a senior officer had to clarify. No, he told Hindustan Times, India had not destroyed Pakistani bunkers and killed several soldiers. “They [TV channels] go ballistic without asking us anything,” said the unnamed officer. Continue reading “Hyper-nationalism does not help the cause of the Army”

Fear and loathing in new India: Dadri, Alwar lynchings leave us unmoved

Nothing exemplifies the moral slide from Dadri to Alwar as much as the indifference on display.

A family counts itself blessed that the 85-year-old mother is blind and is ,therefore, spared from having to watch the video of her son being told to escape – then chased and lynched.

We shrug at a bride’s disappointment at a curtailed wedding feast because her family is too scared to serve buffalo biryani (legal but risky), opting for chicken korma (expensive but safe). You can understand the caution. The bride’s hometown, Dadri is a landmark in India’s recent lynching history.

Young Hindu men run amok in Uttar Pradesh, identifying Muslim-run butcher shops and force their closure. “Muslims will feel the pain,” Pankaj Singh of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, the organisation founded by Adityanath Yogi, UP’s new chief minister, tells Reuters. Continue reading “Fear and loathing in new India: Dadri, Alwar lynchings leave us unmoved”

Shah Rukh Khan, don’t blame the media if we don’t have an Indian Meryl Streep

The price of annoying the establishment is steep, as Khan knows, it’s perhaps easier to compromise — a simple answer to the question of why we don’t have our Meryl Streep.

A sure way of knowing when a superstar is about to release a film is by seeing how accessible he becomes. Voila, suddenly, there he (or she) is, popping up on television, in newspapers, on social media and, if you happen to be Shah Rukh Khan, at railway stations too.

But Khan’s edit page piece in The Indian Express, excerpted from an interview to Alaka Sahani , goes beyond trade practice to answer a question heard this past fortnight: Why is there no Indian equivalent to Meryl Streep? Continue reading “Shah Rukh Khan, don’t blame the media if we don’t have an Indian Meryl Streep”

On social media, facts are less than sacred

All of us with smartphones are now publishers of our own stories on social media, consuming, sharing, forwarding often to groups that think and feel like us. The truth must be out there, somewhere. But when we have a yarn to spin, does it really matter?

The great truth about social media, it used to be said, was that it provided an alternative to mainstream media. Traditional media were almost pathologically biased against the BJP, or so went conventional rightwing lore, and, therefore, social media would right a historical wrong and open up a democratic space with ordinary citizens driving the narrative.

There is much that is wrong with old media. Paid news, where advertisers purchase news space, for instance. But the alternative narrative seldom, if ever, dwells on this. Instead, a vast spin factory that straddles geography, language, gender and, now, even ideology has come together to obscure the meaning of ‘truth’. Continue reading “On social media, facts are less than sacred”

Is India sliding down the slippery road to anarchy?

When Bollywood bluebloods like Karan Johar must prove their patriotism and grovel before the ruling regime for protection, you know you’re in trouble. Like the writer Perumal Murugan before him, you know which side is winning: The thugs with muscle.

Perhaps we should have been more worried about the images on our TV screens in February when the nationalism debate was only warming up. On that February day when tricolour-brandishing lawyers and one BJP MLA proceeded, within the premises of a Delhi court, to chase and beat up journalists and student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, we should have known that things would only get worse.

The irony of “nationalists” acting with impunity, without any fear of consequence or rule of law now oppresses India like a thick fog. The jingoistic justification of BJP MLA OP Sharma who asked in February, “If someone abuses your mother, then will you not hit him?” is now reason enough. Continue reading “Is India sliding down the slippery road to anarchy?”

Annihilation of an old order

Atrocities against Dalits are hardly new, even if the sense of impunity to the gau rakshaks is. Dalits have been denied entry into temples, access to drinking water and beaten for the most minor ‘transgressions’. Beyond the politics lies the far greater moral question of social justice. How does any modern nation tolerate such widespread, blatant apartheid against its own citizens?

T he yatra is on the move. Starting on August 5 from Ahmedabad, the Azaadi Kooch March (march towards freedom) will cover 350 km to converge at Una where it all began with a video of Dalits being thrashed for skinning the carcass of a dead cow. Neither Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel’s resignation nor Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s belated condemnation of vigilante ‘gau rakshaks’ has made a dent. On Independence Day, if things go as planned, the procession will arrive at and unfurl the tricolour at Una.

The purpose is not to raise the flag as much as it is at ‘giving a message to the government that Dalits will not tolerate any atrocities’ 35-year-old Jignesh Mevani, a former reporter turned activist who is leading the march, told PTI.

Mevani wants alternative economic opportunities for Dalits. At every village the rally passes through, Dalits take an oath to never pick up a carcass again. But the implications of the padyatra go beyond Gujarat.

Dalits comprise 16.6% of the total population; in Gujarat it’s 7% and in poll-bound UP, 20.5%. This might explain the uncharacteristic alacrity with which the BJP expelled its vice president Dayashankar Singh for his offensive remarks against Mayawati.

The Dalit vote is impossible to ignore. An analysis by India Today magazine finds that the BJP’s Dalit vote share doubled from 12% in 2009 to 24% in 2014. But caste-based violence continues to plague India 69 years after Independence. Article 17 of our Constitution bans the practice of untouchability while the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989 provides for strong legal protection. Yet, the data is grim. The National Crime Records Bureau reports a 44% increase in violence against Dalits — up from 32,712 in 2010 to 47,064 in 2014.

Partly this spike is because of better reporting, partly it’s a backlash from upper castes as Dalits grow more assertive. “The upper castes are still stuck in a world where the Dalits and tribals are untouchables,” Kancha Illaiah, director of the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy told the website IndiaSpend.

But it is not just crime, including routine rape and systemic murder. It is not just the denial of jobs or the persistence of abhorrent practices like manual scavenging. It’s the ingrained and persistent practice of untouchability that grates. A November 2014 survey across 42,000 households across India by the National Council of Applied Economic Research and the University of Maryland found that one in four Indians admitted to practising some form of untouchability.

The focus on cow vigilantes is undoubtedly political. Emboldened by the BJP’s victory of May 2014, thuggish gau rakshak groups have crossed a line that could cost the BJP valuable votes in states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab that have sizeable Dalit populations. It could also serve to create a new Dalit-Muslim political alliance that could potentially destabilise this government.

Atrocities against Dalits are hardly new, even if the sense of impunity to the gau rakshaks is. Dalits have been denied entry into temples, access to drinking water and even cremation grounds and beaten for the most minor ‘transgressions’. Beyond the politics lies the far greater moral question of social justice. How does any modern nation tolerate such widespread, blatant apartheid against its own citizens?

There is one difference and it lies in the nature of the protests. What we are witnessing in Gujarat could mark a new beginning of the annihilation of an old order. A new generation of a largely apolitical movement that is savvy on social media and articulate on various platforms, is no longer willing to tolerate the indignities heaped on their parents.

To dump the carcasses of cows outside administrative offices is a dramatic signal that sends an unambiguous message: Dalits can no longer be taken for granted. Patience for injustice is running thin, as it should. “My birth is my fatal accident,” wrote scholar Rohith Vemula in his suicide note. The march to Una aims to reverse that thought. Here’s wishing for its extinction.

See the article in Hindustan Times

Offended? No matter. Ignore and move on

The failure of the Supreme Court to recognise just how damaging criminal defamation is to free speech is only the latest in a series of assaults. The point about free speech that has been reiterated more than once is that it necessarily includes the right to cause offence.

The newest controversy to erupt over free speech is Tanmay Bhat’s tasteless spoof of two of India’s most famous icons, Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar.

Coincidentally, I became acquainted with the standup comic only the previous week when I watched a video of him raging against those who claim not to be feminists. At that time, Bhat emerged as a sort of hero for liberals. Since I count myself as one, I found myself nodding in agreement though I thought at some point the video began to drag — how long can you sustain a rant — and switched off.

This presumably is what all those self-professed grievously offended should have done when Bhat used Snapchat’s face-swap feature for an imaginary and derogatory conversation between the two Bharat Ratnas. Instead, we’ve had days of outrage and chest-thumping on social media and primetime television, police inquiries being ordered, and politicians blowing off steam. Continue reading “Offended? No matter. Ignore and move on”